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Title: Great Britain's Sea Policy - A Reply to an American Critic reprinted from 'The Atlantic Monthly'
Author: Murray, Gilbert, 1866-1957
Language: English
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                          GREAT BRITAIN'S
                             SEA POLICY

                   A REPLY TO AN AMERICAN CRITIC,
                    REPRINTED FROM "THE ATLANTIC

                       PROFESSOR GILBERT MURRAY

                        T. FISHER UNWIN, Ltd.,


                      Great Britain's Sea Policy.


An article in the _Atlantic Monthly_ for October by Mr. Arthur Bullard
has set me thinking. It was hard to classify. It was not exactly
pro-German. Most of its general sentiments were unexceptionable. It did
not seem to be written in bad faith. Yet it was full of sneers and
accusations against Great Britain which almost any candid reader, who
knew the facts, must see to be unfair. I did not know what to make of
Mr. Bullard till at last there came across my mind an old description of
a certain type, the second-best type, of legendary Scotch minister: "In
doctrine not vara ootstanding, but a Deevil on the moralities!"

Mr. Bullard's general doctrine is fair enough. There have been two types
of foreign policy in Great Britain, one typified, if you like, by Lord
North or Castlereagh or Disraeli, a type which concentrated on its
country's interests and accepted the ordinary diplomatic traditions of
old-world Europe; the other typified by Fox, Gladstone,
Campbell-Bannerman, Bryce, which set before itself an ideal of
righteousness and even of unselfishness in international politics. Both
parties made their mistakes; but on the whole the Liberal movement in
British foreign policy is generally felt to point in the right
direction, and its record forms certainly a glorious page in the general
history of civilization. Mr. Bullard, speaking as an enlightened
American, is prepared to befriend, or at least to praise, Great Britain
if she walks in Liberal paths, but intends to denounce her if she
follows after Lord North. For example: he denounces the policy of the
Boer War, but he praises warmly the settlement which followed it in 1906
under the guidance of Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith, and Sir Edward Grey.
"The granting of self-government to the defeated Boers will always rank
as one of the finest achievements in political history." This is all
sound Liberalism, and I accept every word of it.

There is nothing peculiar, then, about Mr. Bullard's doctrine; it is
only when he applies it that one discovers his true "deevilishness on
the moralities." His method is to ask at once more than human nature can
be expected to give, and then pour out a whole commination service of
anathemas when his demands are not complied with. He begins, as it were,
by saying that all he expects of Mr. X---- in order to love him is
common honesty and truthfulness: we all agree and are edified. Then it
appears that Mr. X---- once said he was out when he was really at home
and busy. The scoundrel! A convicted liar, a man who has used the
God-given privilege of speech for the darkening of knowledge! How can
Mr. Bullard possibly be friends with such a man?

To take one small but significant point first. Mr. Bullard, like most
people, sees the need of continuity in foreign policy, and the great
objections to a system in which a new government, or even a new
influence at court, may upset a nation's course. But he does not see
that such continuity implies some sort of compromise. A continuous
foreign policy in a country governed alternately by Foxites and
Northites is possible only if both parties abate their extreme
pretensions. And Mr. Bullard, if I read him aright, expects it to be
continuous Fox. As a matter of fact, we have had lately a continuous
foreign policy in Great Britain, because Grey, while moving always as
best he could toward arbitration, equity, and a "cordial understanding"
with all powers who would agree to it, was felt also to be keenly alive
to his duties as the steward of a great inheritance.

But let me begin, as an Englishman, by seeing what Mr. Bullard thinks of
us. We have apparently started "a wholesale repudiation of legal
restraints." We have "decided that there is to be no sea law."
Consequently we "alienated neutral sympathy more gradually, but more
surely than the Germans." And this alienation, we are led to suppose, is
not mainly because of any selfish annoyance on the part of neutrals
whose interests are crossed; it is just their high-minded disapproval
of wickedness. They are all just as deevilish on the moralities as Mr.
Bullard is. Naturally, however, they dislike our "brusque denial that
nations with smaller navies have any voice in defining the law." "The
Sea-Lords have decided what they would like to do, and His Majesty's
Privy Council has announced that that is the law." In English opinion
and action "Might makes Right"--this phrase is constantly repeated. We
are always "hitting below the belt." And lastly and most explicitly,
"The scrap of paper on which Great Britain had promised fair play at sea
is torn up!"

I leave out certain passing accusations of hypocrisy and proceed to
examine the grounds for this invective.


"The scrap of paper on which Great Britain had promised fair play at sea
is torn up." By the "scrap of paper" Mr. Bullard means the Declaration
of London; and he knows perfectly well that the Declaration of London
was never passed into law, never accepted either by Great Britain or by
any other nation. It is simply untrue to say that we promised to observe
the Declaration, or that that document has in any way been violated,
since it never was law. Mr. Bullard himself gives most of the facts; so
it is apparently just for fun, or in the joy of rhetoric, that he
writes such nonsense as this.

The Declaration of London was an attempt to codify and improve the
traditional rules of warfare at sea, which have always been very
fluctuating and uncertain. It was due largely to Sir Edward Grey. He
summoned the chief maritime nations to a conference on the subject in
December, 1908; the conference sat for less than three months, and in
February, 1909, made a report which was embodied in the Declaration of
London. It was greatly discussed and eventually rejected in the British
Parliament. It was not, I believe, even proposed anywhere else. As a
matter of fact, the Declaration did not fully satisfy anyone. It was
certainly a move in the right direction, but there were two large
objections to it. First, many international lawyers--Professor Holland
was one of them--considered that it had been drawn too hastily and was
not a satisfactory legal code. Secondly, its desirability or
undesirability depended partly on certain large political problems which
were obscure in 1909. They are anything but obscure now.

To take one point only--the one that specially affected Great Britain.
We were then in the midst of our long negotiations with Germany for a
reduction of armaments and a cessation of naval rivalry. The Liberal
policy was, in general, to conciliate Germany by every possible
concession that could be made without fatally weakening ourselves or
betraying the rest of Europe. For example, we deliberately kept our army
very small, to prove that we intended no aggression. On the other hand,
we could not give up our naval superiority because we are an island
power; and, if we were once defeated at sea and blockaded, we could all
be starved to death or submission in a few weeks. The Germans, on the
other hand, objected to our naval superiority on a number of vague or
inadmissible grounds (e.g. that "the German eagle was lame of one wing
so long as her fleet was not as powerful among other fleets as her army
among other armies"), and on one that had some shadow of reason. They
objected to having their very large mercantile marine at the mercy of
Great Britain in case of war. Consequently it was worth our while, if we
could thereby avoid war and secure good relations with Germany, both to
abandon the right of prize and, in general, to cut down the rights of a
power commanding the seas in such matters as blockade and contraband.
(When I say "rights," I mean practices claimed as rights by ourselves
and others when in command of the sea during war, though often disputed
or denied by other powers, or by the same powers in a different

That is, we, as the power commanding the seas, were arranging to give up
certain traditional advantages for the sake of getting a better code of
sea-law universally recognized, and in particular for the sake of
ensuring the good will of Germany. What happened? In the first place the
proposed code turned out to be unsatisfactory, and was not adopted by
any single nation. In the second place, instead of responding to our
overtures of good will, Germany sprang suddenly at the throat of Belgium
and France and drove us into war. And Mr. Bullard coolly assumes that we
ought to put in practice against ourselves, in war, the code which no
nation had adopted and which had been meant as a concession to avoid
war! And not only that. I can conceive a sort of visionary, like Edward
Carpenter, arguing that such an angelic example would have softened the
heart of all nations and made them hasten--I will not say to help us,
but at least to write us some most flattering obituary notices. But Mr.
Bullard takes quite another line. He thinks we are thieves and
scoundrels and tearers up of treaties, because we did not penalize

What we did was to announce at the beginning of the war, as a guide to
other nations, that, though we did not of course accept it as a code, we
should in general and with some deductions follow the lines of the
Declaration. This seems to Mr. Bullard worse than nothing: it seems to
me about the best thing that could be done in the circumstances.


But here Mr. Bullard has a very cunning point to make. It has been made
also by Professor Liszt. He knows and admits that the Declaration was
never ratified and had no legal force. But he points out that, both in
inviting the other nations to the conference and in recommending the
Declaration when it had been framed, authoritative persons explained
that the purpose of the whole proceeding was "not to legislate but to
codify." "We obtained recognition of the fact," says Lord Desart, "that,
as a body, these rules do amount practically to a statement of what is
the essence of the law of nations."

Consequently, argues Mr. Bullard, to repudiate the Declaration, even if
it was never ratified, is to repudiate the essence of the law of

A clever piece of trick argument. What is the answer to it?

(1) A very simple point. Mr. Bullard, following Professor Liszt, does
not give the whole of Lord Desart's sentence, but stops in the middle of
a phrase, where there is not even a comma! The whole phrase is, "amount
practically to a statement of what is the essence of the law of nations
properly applicable to the questions at issue under present-day
conditions of international commerce and warfare." That is, (_a_) it is
admitted that the existing rules do not cover the questions at issue
under present-day conditions; and therefore (_b_) the Conference has
done its best to apply the essence of the law of nations to the solution
of these new questions. Lord Desart thought the attempt was successful,
and that the Conference really had produced what was "practically" a
statement of the essence of the old law as applied to the new problems.
This view was not accepted by the British Parliament, nor apparently by
any other, since they did not ratify the Declaration.

(2) Codification without alteration is really an impossible achievement.
Every person of experience knows that you cannot codify a large mass of
floating customs and divergent laws without, by that very fact,
introducing changes. I doubt if there has ever been any large work of
codification accomplished, which was not both recommended to its
admirers as being a great reform, and defended against its opponents on
the ground that it was a mere registration of existing practice. Every
great codification creates new law.

(3) The Declaration is specially recommended by its authors as being a
compromise. The claims and customs of different nations conflict; each
one yields here and is recompensed there. The best statement perhaps of
the work of the Conference is contained in the General Report of its
Drafting Committee.

"The solutions have been extracted from the various views or practices
which prevail, and represent what may be called the _media sententia_.
They are not always in absolute agreement with the views peculiar to
each country, but they shock the essential ideas of none. They must not
be examined separately but as a whole, otherwise there is a risk of the
most serious misunderstandings. In fact, if one or more isolated rules
are examined, either from the belligerent or the neutral point of view,
the reader may find that the interests with which he is especially
concerned are jeopardized by the adoption of these rules. But they have
another side. The work is one of compromise and mutual concessions. Is
it as a whole a good one?"

Thus the Declaration is not a mere declaration of the existing law of
nations. It is a compromise in which different parties make concessions,
in response to other concessions which are made to them. And Mr. Bullard
expects Great Britain, when suddenly involved in war with the most
terrible enemy known to history, to make gratuitously all the
concessions contained in the proposed compromise, and leave it to
chance, or to the mercy of the Germans, whether she should get any of
the compensations! And concessions, too, which her Parliament had
considered excessive in peace time, even with the compensations


What then is left if the Declaration of London is not accepted? Is there
to be no law of the sea at all? What is left is exactly all that there
was before the sittings of that Conference, plus a certain extra
lucidity in places due to its reports. The British courts simply
continue to administer international law on the basis of precedent
adapted to new conditions, exactly as all powers in the world have done.
This offends Mr. Bullard, but I find it difficult to make out what other
course he would recommend.

To establish an international court _ad hoc_, in the middle of the war,
and ask it to settle the new questions as they arise? To submit all
cases to the neutral powers, with all the small European neutrals
terrified of offending their big military neighbours? Refer all
questions to the United States alone? Call another conference to revise
the Declaration of London, and keep all prizes waiting till it reported?
I doubt if any of these courses would please many people. There may be
some course which would have been better than the normal one, but it
certainly is not obvious to the ordinary eye. And it seems a little hard
to denounce the British Government as lawless tyrants, justly hated by
the world, because they do not pursue a better method of settling prize
cases than any one has yet practised, or perhaps even devised.


So much for general principles; let us now consider whether in detailed
practice the claims of the British Government or the practice of the
British courts have been particularly reprehensible. The two questions
are of course distinct; and my own impression, given merely for what it
may be worth, is that the decisions of the courts will bear the severest
scrutiny, while the claims of the Government are closely analogous to
the claims advanced by all governments in a similar situation. They will
compare not unfavourably, for instance, with the claims of the United
States in the Civil War. It should also be noticed that Great Britain
does not act alone; and as compared with the precedents laid down by
various nations in previous wars, a policy agreed upon by six of the
most important maritime powers in the world has at least a slightly
higher claim to validity than one laid down by a single power. Mr.
Bullard in one extremely high-principled passage explains that the
United States could not in conscience join the Allies in this war
because that would be fighting in order "to make British convenience the
rule of the seas." But here his moral feelings have evidently
intoxicated him. It is obvious that, if the United States had cared to
come in,--which I am not for a moment urging,--the law of the seas
would, at the very worst, have been interpreted, not for the
convenience of Great Britain alone but for the convenience of Great
Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Portugal, Japan and the United States.

But let us consider the particular enormities which England is supposed
to have committed. And let us be clear about the issue. I do not contend
that we have never stretched in our favour the vague body of unwritten
rules, based on conflicting precedents and unenforced by normal
sanctions, which is called international law. Every belligerent in every
war hitherto has done so; and that not always from national selfishness
alone. International law, apart from the fundamental misfortune of
having at present no sanction behind it, suffers from two great
weaknesses. It is not for the most part framed on clear principles, and
certainly has not been built up in times of peace by "calm thought and
discussion"; it has mostly been built up by precedents and protests and
compromises based on immediate pressure. In the second place, the body
of precedents is very scanty compared with the importance of the
interests involved. It is not like the English common law, so rich in
recorded precedents that almost any conceivable new complication between
litigant interests can be solved by analogy with some past judgment.
Every new war gives birth to new problems and complications which are
not covered by any precedents in previous wars, and have to be settled
by very imperfect analogies or by the violent stretching of some
previous rule. But the present war differs from all its predecessors to
a quite unusual degree, both because of its own vast scale and the new
methods of warfare it has introduced, and because the whole structure of
the world has been transformed since the last great body of available
precedents. What would be the condition of private commercial law at the
present day if it had nothing to go upon but one or two precedents in
1870, a few more from the time of the American Civil War, and a good
number between 1790 and 1815?

Our first great offence is our extension of the doctrine of "continuous
voyage." This doctrine was first applied on a large scale by the
Government of the United States during the Civil War; it was an
extension of previous belligerent rights, was discussed by Great Britain
and other powers, and finally accepted as legitimate. The point is a
simple one. By the old rule a belligerent has a right to prevent certain
ships and cargoes from going to the enemy; he has no right to prevent
their going to a neutral port. But suppose he finds them going to a
neutral port from which the cargoes are to be taken straight on by a
protected road to the enemy? What is the rule to be? The United States
argued that the goods were really on a "continuous voyage" or a process
of "continuous transportation" to the enemy, and could therefore be
treated just as if they were going direct to the enemy port. This
argument was generally accepted by publicists, notably by Bluntschli. It
was accepted by the International Commission which sat in pursuance to
the treaty made at Washington on May 8, 1871; and it was acted upon in
the South African War, when stores shipped to Delagoa Bay and clearly
intended for Pretoria were treated as contraband.

In the present war the extension became inevitably far wider. Germany's
own ports are closed; she proceeds to import whatever she needs by way
of Copenhagen or the Dutch ports. We assert the doctrine of continuous
voyage and treat all contraband goods shipped for Copenhagen but
obviously intended for German use just as if they were shipped for
Hamburg. Let me first illustrate this point, and then deal with a
difficulty that arises.

The cases of four ships, the _Kim_, _Alfred Nobel_, _Björnstjerne
Björnsen_, and _Friedland_, were considered between July and September,
1915, when judgment was given on all four together. The cargoes had been
seized and there were numerous claims against the British Government for
compensation. Some of these were allowed by the High Court on various
grounds, but most were rejected. The main facts were as follows. Certain
exporters, mostly American, sent to Copenhagen enormous quantities of
lard and "fat backs," which were in great demand in Germany. They
contain glycerine, which is the basis of various explosives. There is no
beast so charged with potential explosive as a fat hog. More lard was
thus sent to Copenhagen in three weeks than had entered the whole of
Denmark in the previous eight years. There are differences of detail in
the various transactions, but one company, for instance, consigned its
goods to an anonymous agent in Copenhagen, who had no address beyond a
hotel where he happened to be staying, and who proved to be their
permanent representative in Hamburg. The company a little later received
a telegram from this Hamburg agent saying, "Don't ship lard Copenhagen,
export prohibited" (i.e. export to Germany was prohibited by the Danish
Government). In other cases there were misleading descriptions o£ goods
and deceptive consignments. There was not the remotest possibility of
question that the fat backs and lard were in the main meant for German
explosives. Our High Court gave the benefit of the doubt to those
claimants whose case seemed really doubtful.

So far can anyone blame us? Can any reasonable person argue that Germany
ought, by international law, to be free to import all the explosives she
liked, under the nose of the Allied fleets, by simply making them land
at Copenhagen instead of Hamburg?

But now difficulties begin. I will not spend time on the curious
argument that continuous voyage, though it applies to absolute
contraband, should not apply to conditional contraband. A compromise on
these lines had been proposed in the Declaration of London, but is
obviously illogical. Neither will I discuss the point, dear to technical
lawyers, that the doctrine of continuous voyage, though sound for
contraband, perhaps does not apply to blockade, on the ground that the
cargo may continue its journey by land and a blockade by land is not a
blockade but a siege. Such an objection, if correct, can hardly be said
to "apply the essence of international law to present-day questions."

The real difficulties of the situation lay in sifting the goods intended
for Germany from the _bona fide_ imports of Denmark and the other border
countries. Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden all had their
normal needs. They used butter and dynamite and rubber and copper and
lard and fat backs themselves, and we had no right, and certainly no
wish, to interfere with them. What were we to do? Were we to examine
every ship and sift the whole of her cargo? That would involve immense
labour, infinite waste of time, and the certainty of many mistakes. We
discussed with the various parties concerned all kinds of arrangements
by which our legitimate suppression of supplies to the enemy might be
carried out with the minimum of inconvenience to neutrals. The exact
arrangements vary in different countries, and none can be entirely
without friction, though of course our natural object is to reduce
friction to a minimum. I only wish I could make Mr. Bullard realize the
enormous amount of work and ingenuity which our officials devote to the
task of preventing incidental injustices and appeasing injured

The main methods are twofold. (1) We invite those merchants and
corporations in neutral countries who are importing goods _bona fide_
for their own country's consumption, and not for re-export to our
enemies, to sign an agreement to that effect. In most countries there is
a large union or trust which has collectively made such an undertaking,
and which endeavours to prevent breaches of the agreement by its
members. (2) We try to ascertain the _bona fide_ imports of each country
by taking the average imports of some ten previous years, and allowing
some extra amount--varying in different cases--to replace such imports
from enemy countries as may have disappeared. If these averages are
greatly exceeded--and they sometimes have multiplied themselves by ten
or twelve--we become suspicious, make further searches, and generally
find some enterprising smugglers who have broken their undertaking to us
and are consequently added to a black list. They are people who prefer
to supply the enemy; and we do not willingly, in war time, allow people
to supply the enemy, any more than the enemy, when he can help it,
allows them to supply us.

These two methods applied in conjunction are the best instruments that
we have discovered for carrying out without undue friction our
necessary, although somewhat oppressive, task. The war does impose on
neutrals a considerable amount of hardship; there is no use denying it.
And the enormous opportunities for money-making which it also affords to
a good number of traders in each country is only a poor excuse for the
general inconvenience. Still, I doubt if much improvement is reasonably
possible upon these measures which "Great Britain in concert with all
her Allies" has taken to prevent trading with the enemy through our
lines, so long as neutral states meet us in a neutral and conciliatory
spirit. When they do not, of course there is trouble. The absolute
refusal of the Swedish Government to sanction any agreement for the
purpose of determining what imports were going to the enemy and what
not, has led to much friction and mutual reprisals. And similarly in
Greece, the perpetual series of frauds and secret hostilities which have
followed the King's unconstitutional dismissal of Venizelos, his trick
upon us at Salonica, and his breach of treaty with our ally Serbia, has
produced a policy of pressure on the part of the Allies, which can be
justified only as preferable to actual war. For there is no doubt that
from the original breach of treaty onward the Greek Government has
provided us with abundant _casus belli_. But these painful controversies
are not the result of our trade policy: they are incidents of natural
friction with Germanizing courts or governments. But Mr. Bullard is for
some strange reason speechless with horror over the first of our
instruments. It seems to him a "humiliating surrender of sovereignty"
that the Dutch Government should sanction the existence of the Overseas
Trust, which undertakes, so far as overseas imports are concerned, to
trade only with one side in the war. It is a purely business
arrangement, by which certain firms who want for themselves goods
passing through the hands of one belligerent, undertake, if they receive
the goods, not to hand them on to the other.


I pass to a real difficulty, where I do not feel at all sure that our
policy was wise, though on the whole the balance of well-informed
opinion seems to approve of it. I mean the so-called total "blockade" of
Germany, including the shutting out of foodstuffs. The history of this
policy is as follows.

On February 4, 1915, the Germans announced that all the seas round Great
Britain were a "war-area" in which they would sink without warning all
ships whatsoever. (Neutrals might be spared on occasion, but could not
complain if they were sunk.) This was a proposed blockade by submarine,
which has hitherto proved to be impracticable. If Germany had commanded
the seas she would, of course, have proclaimed a real blockade and
prevented any ship from reaching Great Britain.

Now we made no objection to the enemy's wishing to blockade us. We
objected to the submarine blockade on its own special demerits, because
it could not be, or at any rate was not, carried out with any respect
for humanity. A regular blockade may be compared with putting a line of
policemen across a street to turn back intruders. A submarine blockade
was as though a man, having no police at his disposal, were to make
occasional dashes into the street with a revolver and shoot passers-by.
But this point need not be laboured, since American opinion was quite in
agreement with ours. The point to consider is the retort that we made.

Up to February we had allowed, not only foodstuffs but important
articles for munition-making, like cotton, to proceed freely to Germany.
On February 4 Germany announced that no ship would be allowed to sail to
or from Great Britain and that all our shipping, including even fishing
boats, would be sunk at sea by submarines. We replied on March 11 that,
if they chose to put the war on that footing, we took up the challenge.
After a certain date we would allow no ship to carry goods to or from
Germany, and, as for their murderous submarines, our fishermen should
have arms and fight them. The submarine war has been at times extremely
dangerous to us, and may be so again: but, as far as we can at present
judge, we have won it. By unheard-of efforts of daring and invention our
sea-faring men have baffled and destroyed the submarines, and we have
turned the tables of the blockade completely against the enemy.

Our action, however, has been criticized on several grounds. (1) On
grounds of international law. Here I must stand aside and allow the
lawyers to speak. It is no part of my case to argue that in all the
innumerable controversies produced by the war England has always been
technically in the right. But it seems pretty clear that in this matter
a condition has arisen which has no precedent in previous wars and is
not covered by any of the existing rules. If our action is to be
described as a "blockade," there has certainly never been any blockade
like it before, either in vastness of scale or, I think, in efficiency,
or in the leniency with which it is exercised. Neither has any
government of a belligerent nation before commandeered all foodstuffs
for its own use, as Germany has, and thus brought them under the
category of contraband. Nor again, so far as I know, has there been a
parallel to the curious position in the Baltic, where our command of
the sea suddenly ceases, not from any lack of strength or vigilance on
our part, but because the neutral powers who own the narrow entrances to
the Baltic have closed them to our warships. We seem here again to be
creating a precedent, but not, I think, a precedent that is repugnant to
the "essence of international law properly applicable to questions at
issue under present-day conditions." Mr. Asquith seems to have accepted
some such view when he explained that our policy was to exclude supplies
from Germany, and at the same time refused to use the term "blockade" in
order "not to be entangled in legal subtleties." The gravest objection
to the whole policy is, no doubt, the hardship which it inflicts on
neutrals. All blockading, all stopping of contraband, all interference
with shipping, inflicts hardship on neutrals; and the immense scale of
the Allied operations in this world-war makes the total hardship
inflicted very large.

I sometimes doubt whether the Allies would have taken this drastic step
had they not felt that, on the main issue of the war, neutral feeling
was so overwhelmingly on our side that it would probably accept a good
deal of inconvenience in order to have the war finished more rapidly and
successfully. And I do think that the general attitude of most neutral
nations, and most especially of America, has shown a high standard of
generosity and of what I may call world-patriotism.

(2) Secondly, on ground of humanity. We are said to be "starving the
women and children of Germany." The answer is, first, that such a
blockade is a normal measure of war in all sieges and was practised,
e.g. by the Germans in the siege of Paris. It has always been understood
that the siege process would be applied to Great Britain by any enemy
who should command the sea. It was attempted by Napoleon, and it has
been applied already by Germany, though with complete lack of success.
We are doing to Germany what they are trying to do to us. Secondly,
while we are a nation vitally dependent on sea-borne imports for our
food, Germany is almost completely self-supporting. She can live for an
indefinite time on her own produce; and the most that our "blockade" can
do is to make life less comfortable, and the supplying of the army
vastly more difficult. No human being in Germany need starve because of
our "blockade."

There is a further development of this argument which causes many
people, myself included, grave searchings of heart. It is connected with
the treatment of conquered territories, such as Poland, Serbia, and to a
lesser degree, Belgium. By every canon of law and humanity, as well as
by the express stipulations of the Hague Convention, a nation which
holds conquered territory assumes serious responsibilities towards the
inhabitants. All these the German Government has repudiated. It appears
certain that the German Government has not only destroyed during its
military operations practically all the food-supplies of Serbia, and
much of the food-supplies of Poland: it has further, during its
occupation of those territories, carried off into Germany, with or
without pretext, almost all the food that remained in them. It has
produced famine of a ghastly description, and excused itself by
attributing all to the British blockade.

This is bad enough, but worse remains. Appeals were made to us to do for
Poland and Serbia what we did for Belgium: to admit food for the
starving natives and of course also contribute to the food-fund
ourselves. This we were willing and anxious to do if we had the same
guarantee as in Belgium, that the Germans would not take the food,
native or imported, for their own use. They were not to take the
imported food themselves; nor were they to sweep the country bare of all
the native-grown crops and cattle, and leave us to support entirely the
whole population of their conquered provinces. To the surprise of most
people concerned they refused to give this guarantee. By starving these
territories, it appeared, they gained two advantages. First, they forced
large numbers of Poles, and perhaps a few Serbs, to seek work in Germany
and set free so many Germans for the fighting line. Secondly, they
could use the famine to stir up hatred against the British. Mr. Bullard
assures us that even in America the starvation of Poland is generally
attributed to our blockade, and if writers of his tone have much
influence, I have no doubt that what he says is true. As for the
unfortunate Poles themselves in their misery and isolation, who can tell
what they believe?

This is a hideous state of things, and if our blockade is at all an
effective element in causing it, I would be in favour of dropping the
blockade forthwith. But it does not seem to be so. If Germany did not
wish to starve these people she need not do it. We are willing, both to
admit food and to send food, so long as she will promise not to steal
it. If it be argued that Germany cannot be expected to look on at a
crowd of conquered Poles and Serbs enjoying themselves while good sound
Germans are short of pork and butter and bread, the answer is that, even
at the best, we should hardly be able to bring the food-supply of two
utterly ravaged and devitalized countries, like Poland and Serbia, to a
level approaching that of Germany. Germany is living on her own
resources and those of her allies, true; but the territories in question
are both vast and fertile, and scarcely the extreme fringe of them has
been touched by the war. On the whole, it does not look as if Poland or
Serbia would appreciably benefit by our admission of food to Germany.


The extension of the doctrine of continuous voyage, and the prevention
of all sea-borne trade to or from Germany: those are the two main
problems. The remainder are smaller things, although in many ways
interesting and important. In all of them, I think, the central fact is
that we have extended some existing doctrine of international law to
meet the special situations produced by this war. I do not say that in
all cases we have decided rightly. Sir Edward Grey has definitely
offered to submit to a convention after the war the whole question of
what is called "The Freedom of the Seas," and such a convention will
probably settle some of these points in our favour and some against us.
At present there is no convention either existing or possible. There is
no fixed code of the sea and never has been. We have to use our own
tribunals, which administer international law to the best of their
ability according to precedent. They have on certain occasions decided
that our government has gone wrong and can be compelled to pay damages;
they have decided that certain orders in council were against
international law and have disallowed them. They have, I may note in
passing, declined to admit the plea of the Crown that it was following
an American precedent which was afterwards embodied in an act of the
United States Congress, on the ground that the said precedent and act
were too oppressive. The United States claimed that the government could
requisition any goods or ships which had been captured by their fleet,
without previous trial.[1] When the convention comes to sit on these
questions which we have tried to settle, they will probably, as I said
before, decide some for and some against us; but I am confident that
they will not find that our courts have acted with either levity or

I mention summarily the chief remaining points. We treat "bunker coal of
enemy origin" as contraband; and Mr. Bullard considers this as
absolutely the very worst thing we have done. He quotes ancient
precedents to show that "things needful for the working of the ship or
comfort of the crew" are not to be treated as contraband. But the
rulings in question all date from before the time of steam and refer to
sailing ships. Coal is admittedly in a special position, and
international law has not yet pronounced upon it.

Thus far, then, our "very worst" offence is not so serious. But perhaps
it is our motive that is so infamous? Our motive is simple. As explained
above, we do not allow traders to carry through our lines goods
intended for the enemy, and we ask all traders for an assurance that
they are not doing so. If they refuse to give this assurance, and if
further we find them buying enemy coal, we treat them as if they had
been buying any other enemy goods. What does the enemy do to ships from
England or Russia in the Baltic? And do we ever think of complaining?

[Footnote 1: Judicial Committee of Privy Council, in the _Zamora_ case,
April 7, 1916.]

We examine neutral mails. This seems a bad case. We have actually a rule
of the Hague Convention against us, just as all the belligerents
have--or have only just missed having--in the matter of aeroplanes. The
Convention maintains the inviolability of all mail-bags, and used to
forbid all dropping of explosives from the air. Yet I feel some
confidence that any future conference will recognize that both these
rules are "unemployable," and will justify our action about the mails.
The old precedents do not apply at all. There has never been in any
previous war anything approaching the present network of commercial and
political correspondence across the Atlantic. Suppose in the Civil War
there had been large settlements of Confederates in Mexico and in
Canada, who were engaged in plots against the United States: Is it to be
believed that President Lincoln would have refrained from opening the
captured mail-bags passing between Canada and Mexico? A German in
Denmark or Sweden arranges for an Indian in San Francisco to come to
England with a false American passport in order to murder Sir Edward
Grey: is he to have the right of sending and receiving letters,
unhindered, under the eyes of the British fleet? Plots about contraband
are of course much commoner. Are we to be allowed to search ships for
nickel and rubber, but forbidden to interfere with these plotters'
mail-bags? The rules and the precedents of other wars are here against
us, but I must say that such a complete change in conditions seems
absolutely to demand a change of rules.

"The closing of the Suez Canal to neutrals is a measure for which no
military necessity has been shown." Mr. Bullard does not seem to
question its legality, and I have not tried to find out exactly what the
rights of either Egypt or Great Britain or the Suez Canal shareholders
may be. But as for the military necessity, surely a child can see it. To
block the Canal would be worth some millions of dollars to the enemy. A
much smaller sum would suffice to induce a dozen Greeks, or Swedish, or
even unprejudiced Dutch skippers to play certain tricks which I need not
name, but which might make the Canal unusable for several weeks.

Mr. Bullard ends with a number of vaguely prejudicial statements,
largely in the form of innuendo or parenthesis. He seems really unable
to understand the conditions produced by war. He says we regard it as
"moral for neutrals to help England but a deadly sin to trade with
Germany." Of course it has nothing to do with sin. We do not fire at
German men-of-war because we think them immoral, but because they are
our enemies. We do not confiscate cargoes of rubber consigned to Germany
because it is essentially immoral for Germans to use rubber. We only say
to every neutral trader, "If you trade with Germany we will not trade
with you." Or rather that is the extreme limit of what we say. The
opposite conduct was once considered possible, but seems to us of the
present generation a little dishonourable. It makes us a little ashamed
when we learn that Napoleon's armies were often clad in cloth from
Yorkshire and boots made in Northampton. The view of the British
Government at that time was that it was good business to make money by
supplying the enemy and use the proceeds for defeating him. It is a
possible view, and apparently is the view that appeals to Mr. Bullard.
And doubtless it would enable both ourselves and certain neutrals to
make more money. But--well, we do not like it, and do not believe that
in the end it pays.


And then the article tails off into vague horrors about the British
censorship and the Defence of the Realm Act and the deplorable profits
made by British shippers, and the "party of Lord North which is
installed at the Foreign Office!"

Everybody knows that in war censorship is necessary; every nation
employs it, Great Britain rather more leniently than the rest. It is a
pure myth to suppose that in England we are kept in the dark about
important sides of the war which are well known to neutrals. I have been
in four different neutral countries since the war began, and have read
their newspapers; so I speak with confidence. But it is just the sort of
myth that Mr. Bullard accepts without question. As to the Defence of the
Realm Act: of course the act gives the executive tremendous powers, and
would, if continued in normal times, be incompatible with civil liberty.
But everybody knows that some such special laws are necessary in war
time; there is no nation in Europe which attempts to do without such
laws, and Mr. Bullard makes no attempt to show that any other nation
applies them more leniently than England does. As to the fortunes made
by shippers, why drag in the word "British"? With the German merchant
ships out of use, with Allied and neutral ships sunk to the number of
some hundreds by submarines and extensively commandeered by the various
governments for war purposes, there is an extreme shortage of ships
together with an immense demand. Every tub that will float, of whatever
nationality, is bringing its owner fortune. And we dare not discourage
them, for we want every ship we can get. Mr. Bullard, dropping for a
moment his lofty idealism, complains simply that the British are getting
too large a share of the swag, an unproved and to me extremely doubtful
statement. Naturally ships belonging to the Allied powers are less open
to suspicion than neutrals are, and consequently are less harassed by
certain restrictions. But the British, at any rate, are not only
subjected to enormous war-taxation, but have in addition fifty per cent.
of their war-profits confiscated. And Lord North at the Foreign Office!
Really one smiles at Mr. Bullard's innocence. "The visitor thought we
were naughty, papa; but of course he has never seen us when we are
really naughty!" In every country engaged in war there is somewhere
below the surface a growling mass of passion, brutality, lawlessness,
hatred of foreign nations, contempt for reason and humanity. In Great
Britain, thank heaven, the brute is kept cowed and well chained, though
at times his voice is heard in the more violent newspapers. The brute
knows the hands that hold him down and hates almost all the present
Cabinet, but most of all, perhaps, he hates two men: the great and
moderate Liberal who presides over the government, the great and
moderate Liberal who guides the Foreign Office.--And Mr. Bullard, in his
innocence, would like to turn them out!

It is all rather pitiable. Nothing verified, nothing exact, nothing
impartially stated, not much that is even approximately true. Mr.
Bullard seems to mean well; I have no doubt that he means well. But his
present tone will not serve the ends of Liberalism. It will only serve
to foster prejudice, to make bad blood, to stir up that evil old spirit
of slander between nations, which every decent Liberal and certainly
every good internationalist would like to see buried for ever.

It is false to say that Great Britain has broken the Declaration of
London, because the Declaration was never accepted as law. It is false
to say that Great Britain is alone responsible for every unpopular act
committed at sea by the Allied navies; she is acting in concert with
nearly all the great maritime powers of the world. It is idle to
complain that Great Britain administers international law by means of
her own courts; that is the only method ever followed by other
belligerent nations, the United States included, nor has any better
practical method, so far as I know, been even proposed to her. And
lastly, I believe it is profoundly false to say that the British courts
have acted in heat and passion or at all fallen below the level of
scrupulous care which is expected from the best judicial bodies in the

It is not likely that their decisions are in every case exactly right.
It is to be hoped that after the war, if we can get some fair security
of future peace and establish some permanent and effective international
tribunal, we may reach a definite code of international law which all
nations can agree to uphold. Whatever meaning there is in the catch
phrase "Freedom of the Seas" will then come up for serious discussion,
and Sir Edward Grey has officially announced our willingness to take
part in such discussion. In the meantime the great group of powers which
is, as Mr. Bullard admits, on the whole fighting for the maintenance of
public right and for honesty between nations, cannot be expected, in the
midst of its mortal struggle, to divest itself of its normal sources of
strength, to satisfy an ideal which has never been demanded of other

There is another tale, by the way, about that minister who was such "a
deevil at the moralities." He once found a respectable citizen being
attacked by two thieves. He first thought of helping the citizen, but
eventually put his stick between the man's legs and tripped him up. "The
man was never a good churchgoer," he explained, "and his language at the
time was a most sinful example." The analogy to Mr. Bullard is closer
than I thought. But I am certain he does not speak for his countrymen.

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Transcriber's Notes:--

Page 8  "under present-day conditons" changed to "under present-day conditions"

Page 14 "What would be the conditon" changed to "What would be the condition"

Page 27 "interesting and imporant." changed to "interesting and important."

In the original, the Chapter heading VI is omitted. Comparison with the
equivalent chapter in Murray's collection of essays "Faith, War and Policy"
has been made and the chapter heading inserted in the equivalent place.

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