Read CHAPTER II - THE KEEPER OF THE SEAS of The Crime Against Europe, free online book, by Roger Casement, on ReadCentral.com.

As long ago as 1870 an Irishman pointed out that if the English press did not abandon the campaign of prejudiced suspicion it was even then conducting against Germany, the time for an understanding between Great Britain and the German people would be gone for ever.

It was Charles Lever who delivered this shrewd appreciation of the onlooker.

Writing from Trieste on August 29th, 1870, to John Blackwood, he stated:

“Be assured the Standard is making a great blunder by its anti-Germanism and English opinion has just now a value in Germany which if the nation be once disgusted with us will be gone for ever.”

Lever preserved enough of the Irishman through all his official connection to see the two sides of a question and appreciate the point of view of the other man.

What Lever pointed out during the early stages of the Franco-German war has come to pass. The Standard of forty years ago is the British press of to-day, with here and there the weak voice of an impotent Liberalism crying in the wilderness. Germany has, indeed, become thoroughly disgusted and the hour of reconciliation has long since gone by. In Lever’s time it was now or never; the chance not taken then would be lost for ever, and the English publicist of to-day is not in doubt that it is now too late. His heart-searchings need another formula of expression no longer a conditional assertion of doubt, but a positive questioning of impending fact, “is it too soon.” That the growing German navy must be smashed he is convinced, but how or when to do it he is not so clear.

The situation is not yet quite intolerable, and so, although many urge an immediate attack before the enemy grows too strong, the old-time British love of compromise and trust in luck still holds his hand. The American “alliance” too, may yet come off. The Entente with France, already of great value, can be developed into something more assuredly anti-German, and if present-day relations of friendship with the United States can be but tightened into a mutual committal of both Powers to a common foreign policy, then the raid on Germany may never be needed. She can be bottled up without it. No man who studies the British mind can have any doubt of the fixed trend of British thought.

It can be summed up in one phrase. German expansion is not to be tolerated. It can only be a threat to or attained at the expense of British interests. Those interests being world-wide, with the seas for their raiment nay, with the earth for their footstool it follows that wherever Germany may turn for an outlet she is met by the British challenge: “Not there!” British interests interdict the Old World; the Monroe Doctrine, maintained, it is alleged by British naval supremacy, forbids the New.

Let Germany acquire a coaling station, a sanitorium, a health resort, the ground for a hotel even, on some foreign shore, and “British interests” spring to attention, English jealousy is aroused. How long this state of tension can last without snapping could, perhaps, be best answered in the German naval yards. It is evident that some 7,000,000 of the best educated race in the world, physically strong, mentally stronger, homogeneous, highly trained, highly skilled, capable and energetic and obedient to a discipline that rests upon and is moulded by a lofty conception of patriotism, cannot permanently be confined to a strictly limited area by a less numerous race, less well educated, less strong mentally and physically and assuredly less well trained, skilled and disciplined. Stated thus the problem admits of a simple answer; and were there no other factor governing the situation, that answer would have been long since given.

It is not the ethical superiority of the English race that accounts for their lead, but the favourable geographical situation from which they have been able to develop and direct their policy of expansion.

England has triumphed mainly from her position. The qualities of her people have, undoubtedly, counted for much, but her unrivalled position in the lap of the Atlantic, barring the seaways and closing the tideways of Central and North-eastern Europe, has counted for more.

With this key she has opened the world to herself and closed it to her rivals.

The long wars with France ended in the enhancement of this position by the destruction of the only rival fleet in being.

Europe, without navies, without shipping became for England a mere westward projection of Asia, dominated by warlike peoples who could always be set by the ears and made to fight upon points of dynastic honour, while England appropriated the markets of mankind. Thenceforth, for the best part of a century, while Europe was spent in what, to the superior Britain were tribal conflicts, the seas and coasts of the world lay open to the intrusions of his commerce, his colonists, his finance, until there was seemingly nothing left outside the two Americas worth laying hands on. This highly favoured maritime position depends, however, upon an unnamed factor, the unchallenged possession and use of which by England has been the true foundation of her imperial greatness. Without Ireland there would be to-day no British Empire. The vital importance of Ireland to England is understood, but never proclaimed by every British statesman. To subdue that western and ocean-closing island and to exploit its resources, its people and, above all its position, to the sole advantage of the eastern island, has been the set aim of every English Government from the days of Henry VIII onwards. The vital importance of Ireland to Europe is not and has not been understood by any European statesman. To them it has not been a European island, a vital and necessary element of European development, but an appanage of England, an island beyond an island, a mere geographical expression in the titles of the conqueror. Louis XIV, came nearest, perhaps, of European rulers to realizing its importance in the conflict of European interests when he sought to establish James II on its throne as rival to the monarch of Great Britain and counterpoise to the British sovereignty in the western seas. Montesquieu alone of French writers grasped the importance of Ireland in the international affairs of his time, and he blames the vacillation of Louis, who failed to put forth his strength, to establish James upon the throne of Ireland and thus by a successful act of perpetual separation to affaiblir lé voisin. Napoleon, too late, in St. Helena, realized his error: “Had I gone to Ireland instead of to Egypt the Empire of England was at an end.”

With these two utterances of the French writer and of the French ruler we begin and end the reference of Ireland to European affairs which continental statecraft has up to now emitted, and so far has failed to apply.

To-day there is probably no European thinker (although Germany produced one in recent times), who, when he faces the over-powering supremacy of Great Britain’s influence in world affairs and the relative subordination of European rights to the asserted interests of that small island, gives a thought to the other and smaller island beyond its shores. And yet the key to British supremacy lies there. Perhaps the one latter day European who perceived the true relation of Ireland to Great Britain was Neibuhr.

“Should England,” he said, “not change her conduct, Ireland may still for a long period belong to her, but not always; and the loss of that country is the death day, not only to her greatness, but of her very existence.”

I propose to point out as briefly as may be possible in dealing with so unexpected a proposition, that the restoration of Ireland to European life lies at the bottom of all successful European effort to break the bonds that now shackle every continental people that would assert itself and extend its ideals, as opposed to British interests, outside the limits of Europe.

It may be well first to define “British interests” and to show that these are not necessarily synonymous with European interests. British interests are: first, the control of all the seas of all the world in full military and commercial control. If this be not challenged peace is permitted: to dispute it seriously means war.

Next in order of British interests stands the right of pre-emption to all healthy, fertile, “unoccupied” lands of the globe not already in possession of a people capable of seriously disputing invasion, with the right of reversion to such other regions as may, from time to time prove commercially desirable or financially exploitable, whether suitable for British colonization or not.

In a word, British interests assume that the future of the world shall be an English-speaking future. It is clear that sooner or later the British colonies, so called, must develop into separate nationalities, and that the link of a common crown cannot bind them forever. But, as Sir Wilfred Laurier said at the recent Imperial Conference: “We bring you British institutions” English language, English law, English trade, English supremacy, in a word this is the ideal reserved for mankind and summed up in words “British interests.”

Turn where you will these interests are in effective occupation, and whether it be Madeira, Teneriffe, Agadir, Tahiti, Bagdad, the unseen flag is more potent to exclude the non-British intruder than the visible standard of the occupying tenant. England is the landlord of civilization, mankind her tenantry, and the earth her estate. If this be not a highly exaggerated definition of British interests, and in truth it is but a strongly coloured chart of the broad outline of the design, then it is clear that Europe has a very serious problem to face if European civilization and ideals, as differing from the British type, are to find a place for their ultimate expansion in any region favoured by the sun.

The actual conflict of European interests in Morocco is a fair illustration of English methods.

In the past France was the great antagonist, but since she is to-day no longer able to seriously dispute the British usufruct of the overseas world she is used (and rewarded) in the struggle now maintained to exclude Germany at all costs from the arena. Were France still dangerous she would never have been allowed to go to Algeciras, or from Algeciras to Fez. She has uses, however, in the anti-German prize ring and so Morocco is the price of her hire. That Germany should presume to inspect the transaction or claim a share in the settlement has filled the British mind with profound indignation, the echoes of which are heard rumbling round the world from the Guildhall to Gaboon and from the Congo to Tahiti. The mere press rumour that France might barter Tahiti for German goods filled the British newspaper world with supermundane wrath. That France should presume to offer or Germany should accept a French Pacific island in part discharge of liabilities contracted at Algeciras was a threat to British interests. Tahiti in the hands of a decadent republic, the greatest if you will, but still one of the dying nations, is a thing to be borne with, but Tahiti possibly in the hands of Germany becomes at once a challenge and a threat.

And so we learn that “Australasia protests” to the Home Government at the mere rumour that France may choose to part with one of her possessions to win German goodwill in Morocco. Neither France nor Germany can be permitted to be a free agent in a transaction that however regarded as essential to their own interests might affect, even by a shadow on the sea, the world orbit of British interests. These interests it will be noted have reached such a stage of development as to require that all foreign States that cannot be used as tools, or regarded as agencies, must be treated as enemies. Germany with her growing population, her advancing industries, her keen commercial ability, and her ever expanding navy has become the enemy of civilization. Far too strong to be openly assailed on land she must at all costs be pent up in Central Europe and by a ring-fence of armed understandings prohibited from a wider growth that would certainly introduce a rival factor to those British institutions and that world language that are seriously if not piously meditated as the ordained future for mankind.

For English mentality is such that whatever England does is divinely ordained, and whether she stamps out a nation or merely sinks a ship the hymn of action is “Nearer My God, to Thee.” In a recent deputation to King George V it will be remembered that certain British religious bodies congratulated that monarch on the third centenary of the translation into English of the Bible.

Both the addresses of the subjects, eminent, religious and cultured men, and the sovereign’s reply were highly informative of the mental attitude of this extraordinary people. The Bible, it appeared, was the “greatest possession of the English race.” “The British Bible” was the first and greatest of British investments and upon the moral dividends derived from its possession was founded the imperial greatness of this Island Empire. That other peoples possessed the Bible and had even translated it before England was not so much as hinted at. That the Bible was Greek and Hebrew in origin was never whispered. It began and ended with the English Authorised Version. The British Bible was the Bible that counted. It was the Bible upon which the sun never sets, the Bible that had blown Indian mutineers from its muzzle in the ’fifties and was prepared to-day to have a shot at any other mutineers, Teuton or Turk, who dared to dispute its claim that the meek shall inherit the earth. The unctuous rectitude that converts the word of God into wadding for a gun is certainly a formidable opponent, as Cromwell proved. To challenge English supremacy becomes not merely a threat to peace, it is an act of sacrilege. And yet this world-wide empire broad based upon the British Bible and the English navy, and maintained by a very inflexible interpretation of the one and a very skilful handling of the other, rests upon a sunk foundation that is older than both and will surely bring both to final shipwreck.

The British Empire is founded not upon the British Bible or the British dreadnought but upon Ireland. The empire that began upon an island, ravaged, sacked and plundered shall end on an island, “which whether it proceed from the very genius of the soil, or the influence of the stars, or that Almighty God hath not yet appointed the time of her reformation, or that He reserveth her in this unquiet state still for some secret scourge which shall by her come unto England, it is hard to be known but yet much to be feared.” Thus Edmund Spenser 340 years ago, whose muse drew profit from an Irish estate (one of the first fruits of empire) and who being a poet had imagination to perceive that a day of payment must some day be called and that the first robbed might be the first to repay. The Empire founded on Ireland by Henry and Elizabeth Tudor has expanded into mighty things. England deprived of Ireland resumes her natural proportions, those of a powerful kingdom. Still possessing Ireland she is always an empire. For just as Great Britain bars the gateways of northern and west central Europe, to hold up at will the trade and block the ports of every coast from the Baltic to the Bay of Biscay, so Ireland stands between Britain and the greater seas of the west and blocks for her the highways of the ocean. An Ireland strong, independent and self-contained, a member of the European family of nations, restored to her kindred, would be the surest guarantee for the healthy development of European interests in those regions whence they are to-day excluded by the anti-European policy of England.

The relation of Ireland to Great Britain has been in no wise understood on the continent. The policy of England has been for centuries to conceal the true source of her supplies and to prevent an audit of transactions with the remoter island. As long ago as the reign of Elizabeth Tudor this shutting off of Ireland from contact with Europe was a settled point of English policy. The three “German Earls” with letters from the Queen who visited Dublin in 1572 were prevented by the Lord Deputy from seeing for themselves anything beyond the walls of the city.

To represent the island as a poverty striken land inhabited by a turbulent and ignorant race whom she has with unrewarded solicitude sought to civilise, uplift and educate has been a staple of England’s diplomatic trade since modern diplomacy began. To compel the trade of Ireland to be with herself alone; to cut off all direct communication between Europe and this second of European islands until no channel remained save through Britain; to enforce the most abject political and economic servitude one people ever imposed upon another; to exploit all Irish resources, lands, ports, people, wealth, even her religion, everything in fine that Ireland held, to the sole profit and advancement of England, and to keep all the books and rigorously refuse an audit of the transaction has been the secret but determined policy of England.

We have read lately something of Mexican peonage, of how a people can be reduced to a lawless slavery, their land expropriated, their bodies enslaved, their labour appropriated, and how the nexus of this fraudulent connection lies in a falsified account. The hacenade holds the peon by a debt bondage. His palace in Mexico City, or on the sisal plains of Yucatan is reared on the stolen labour of a people whose bondage is based on a lie. The hacenade keeps the books and debits the slave with the cost of the lash that scourges him into the fields. Ireland is the English peon, the great peon of the British Empire. The books and the palaces are in London but the work and the wealth have come from péons on the Irish Estate. The armies that overthrew Napoleon; the fleets that swept the navies of France and Spain from the seas were recruited from this slave pen of English civilisation. During the last 100 years probably 2,000,000 Irishmen have been drafted into the English fleets and armies from a land purposely drained of its food. Fully the same number, driven by executive-controlled famines have given cheap labour to England and have built up her great industries, manned her shipping, dug her mines, and built her ports and railways while Irish harbours silted up and Irish factories closed down. While England grew fat on the crops and beef of Ireland, Ireland starved in her own green fields and Irishmen grew lean in the strife of Europe.

While a million Irishmen died of hunger on the most fertile plains of Europe, English Imperialism drew over one thousand million pounds sterling for investment in a world policy from an island that was represented to that world as too poor to even bury its dead. The profit to England from Irish peonage cannot be assessed in terms of trade, or finance, or taxation. It far transcends Lord MacDonnell’s recent estimate at Belfast of L320,000,000 “an Empire’s ransom,” as he bluntly put it.

Not an Empire’s ransom but the sum of an Empire’s achievement, the cost of an Empire’s founding, and to-day the chief bond of an Empire’s existence. Detach Ireland from the map of the British Empire and restore it to the map of Europe and that day England resumes her native proportions and Europe assumes its rightful stature in the empire of the world. Ireland can only be restored to the current of European life, from which she has so long been purposely withheld by the act of Europe. What Napoleon perceived too late may yet be the purpose and achievement of a congress of nations. Ireland, I submit, is necessary to Europe, is essential to Europe, to-day she is retained against Europe, by a combination of elements hostile to Europe and opposed to European influence in the world. Her strategic importance is a factor of supreme weight to Europe and is to-day used in the scales against Europe. Ireland is appropriated and used, not to the service of European interests but to the extension of anti-European interests. The arbitium mundi claimed and most certainly exercised by England is maintained by the British fleet, and until that power is effectively challenged and held in check it is idle to talk of European influence outside of certain narrow continental limits.

The power of the British fleet can never be permanently restrained until Ireland is restored to Europe. Germany has of necessity become the champion of European interests as opposed to the world domination of England and English-speaking elements. She is to-day a dam, a great reservoir rapidly filling with human life that must some day find an outlet. England instead of wisely digging channels for the overflow has hardened her heart, like Pharaoh, and thinks to prevent it or to so divert the stream that it shall be lost and drunk up in the thirsty sands of an ever expanding Anglo-Saxondom. German laws, German language, German civilization are to find no ground for replenishing, no soil to fertilize and make rich.

I believe this to be not only the set policy of England, but to be based on the temperamental foundations of the English character itself, from which that people could not, even if they would, depart. The lists are set. The English mind, the English consciousness are such, that to oppose German influence in the world is to this people a necessity. They oppose by instinct, against argument, in the face of reason, they will do it blindly come what may and at all costs, and they will do it to the end.

Their reasoning, if reason exists in what is after all a matter of primal instinct, might find expression somewhat as follows:

“German influence cannot but be hostile to British interests. The two peoples are too much alike. The qualities that have made England great they possess in a still greater degree. Given a fair field and no favour they are bound to beat us. They will beat us out of every market in the world, and we shall be reduced ultimately to a position like that of France to-day. Better fight while we are still die stronger. Better hinder now ere it be too late. We have bottled up before and destroyed our adversaries by delay, by money, by alliances. To tolerate a German rivalry is to found a German empire and to destroy our own.”

Some such obscure argument as this controls the Englishman’s reasoning when he faces the growing magnitude of the Teutonic people. A bitter resentment, with fear at the bottom, a hurried clanging of bolt and rivet in the belt of a new warship and a muffled but most diligent hammering at the rivets of an ever building American Alliance the real Dreadnought this, whose keel was laid sixteen years ago and whose slow, secret construction has cost the silent swallowing of many a cherished British boast.

English Liberalism might desire a different sort of reckoning with Germany, but English Liberalism is itself a product of the English temperament, and however it may sigh, by individuals, for a better understanding between the two peoples, in the mass, it is a part of the national purpose and a phase of the national mind and is driven relentlessly to the rivets and the hammering, the “Dreadnoughts” in being and that mightier Dreadnought yet to be, the Anglo-Saxon Alliance which Germany must fight if she is to get out.

Doubtless she has already a naval policy and the plans for a naval war, for the fight will be settled on the sea, but the fate will be determined on an island.

The Empire that has grown from an island and spread with the winds and the waves to the uttermost shores will fight and be fought for on the water and will be ended where it began, on an island.

That island, I believe, will be Ireland and not Great Britain.