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COMPULSORY EDUCATION AND
UNDOUBTEDLY the most striking point in the Report of the Royal Commission on the Militia and Volunteers, the point which has roused most public interest and excited most controversy, is its practically unanimous finding that the time has arrived for the adoption in this country of the principle of “training to arms the whole able-bodied male population. Whatever may be the value of the detailed suggestions made in the Report, it must be admitted that this single pronouncement marks an important epoch in the history of our military system, not because it is likely to receive immediate application, but because this is the first time an official body, after a long and searching inquiry, entered upon and conducted without any suspicion of bias or prejudice, has reported definitely in favour of the principle of compulsion.
The Report has been attacked from many sides, and among others upon the ground that the Commissioners have gone outside their reference. The complaint is made that they were instructed merely to report upon the measures necessary to render the existing system more efficient, and not to propose revolutionary changes which would entirely subvert it. In the long run the country is more likely to approve of the courage than to blame the temerity of the Duke of Norfolk and his colleagues for following the evidence brought before them down to the root principles and fundamental conditions which underlie any and every adequate system of national defence.
It is not proposed in this article to deal with the purely military criticisms which have been levelled against the adoption of universal military training as suggested in the Report. Many such criticisms are marked by a curious insularity of view and by a very inadequate appreciation of the wider aspects of our imperial responsibilities. It will be time enough, however, to consider them when the Committee of Defence has made up its mind as to what are the naval and military requirements of the United Kingdom and of the Empire, and Mr. Arnold-Forster has produced his scheme of Army reorganisation. One may say in general terms that it seems unlikely that we can, under
any circumstances, much longer resist the influences which have forced every other European country to substitute a mainly national for a wholly professional army. It is, of course, admitted that our circumstances differ from theirs, and that our needs and dangers are other than theirs.
While their military systems are based upon the assumption that they will have to defend compact territories, we are called upon to defend widely scattered oversea possessions ; while the vast majority of their land force must always serve at home, a very large proportion of ours, even in times of peace, must serve abroad. In our case naval forces, in theirs land forces, form the predominant element in schemes of home defence. No one imagines that we need the same sort of military organisation or so large a war establishment for home defence as is necessary in Continental countries, while it is universally acknowledged that our army for foreign service must always be a voluntarily recruited army. But all these differences are really arguments, not against deepening and widening the sources from which our actual military requirements must ultimately be supplied, but solely against any wholesale imitation of Continental methods. There is, it is true, no similarity between their circumstances and ours, but there is the closest possible likeness between the magnitude of our respective responsibilities and dangers. They have been driven, by menace to their national existence, to base their military systems upon the training to arms of their whole male population. The details they have worked out according to their individual requirements. We are being impelled in exactly the same direction by the rapid growth of our imperial responsibilities, and the acknowledged difficulty of meeting sudden dangers abroad and at home with an army recruited solely by voluntary enlistment. The practice of voluntary enlistment answered its purpose when only a small army was needed. Its difficulties began when larger claims were made upon it; at the present time we see it strained to its utmost limit. With the inexorable fact before us that, owing to political changes in the world about us which we are powerless to control, steadily increasing demands will be made upon it in the future, the probability of its breakdown becomes a practical certainty. When that breakdown is officially acknowledged, and we resort to some form of compulsion, we shall have exactly the same liberty to adapt and mould the compulsory system to our special national requirements as was enjoyed by our neighbours.
I have said we are being driven in this direction by the growth of our imperial responsibilities. I wonder whether we realise how much we are also being influenced by the pressure of European public opinion. When all European armies were professional or mercenary armies, we were all on the same footing, but since the epoch of national armies on the Continent the obligation of personal service in defence of the fatherland has become an obligation every man feels it his duty to fulfil, and no man desires to avoid. In our own time a great change has come over public feeling with regard to this question in Continental countries. There was a time when young men sought to evade the duty of military service, when they preferred to cross the sea to England and America, even if such flight involved perpetual banishment; but gradually such evasions have become rarer and rarer. To-day they are condemned by public opinion, and are of comparatively infrequent occurrence. A couple of generations have sufficed to remove the grievance and to accustom the minds of young citizens to look upon military service as one of the duties of life, which is performed quietly, naturally, and without heroics. One of the consequences of the change is that our neighbours are beginning to look down upon us for our avoidance of what appears to them a natural obligation to the State. We hardly understand how deep this sentiment is in their minds. We are generally inclined to think any ill-feeling they may entertain towards us is compounded of ignorance and envy. I fear there is in it more than a spice of contempt. And the greater our prosperity, the more splendid our Empire, the stronger is the conviction on their part that our power abroad is maintained and our security at home is guaranteed, not by the personal service and personal sacrifice of every individual citizen, but by a system which permits and encourages the majority to cast its burden and delegate its duties to a very small minority.
To many of us this question of compulsory military training is much larger than a purely military question, and should be discussed upon broader and more general lines, upon the basis of national wellbeing as well as of national safety. The army of a modern State has ceased to be a mere fighting machine, created and maintained for defence or aggression. It performs two distinct functions which it is important to keep clear and separate in our minds. It is primarily a great instrument of national defence, but it is also the nation's chief school of physical training and moral discipline. Discipline and physical fitness lie at the very root of national efficiency, and it is because we see in universal compulsory military training one of the main routes which lead to national efficiency that we should continue to advocate it, even if our military requirements were less pressing than they are.
The object of the present writer is to examine briefly a few of the objections which are urged against it, not from the military, but from the industrial and social side, and to endeavour to show that they do not possess anything like the weight which is commonly attributed to them.
What are these objections ?
It is asserted that compulsory military training involves' deplorable economic waste,' inasmuch as it withdraws young men for a time from the pursuit of industries; that it dislocates industrial life, and would never be accepted by employers; and further, the fear is expressed that, if it were adopted, it would bring with it all the admitted evils of Continental conscription and the barrack system.
Taking these assertions in their order, it may first of all be asked whether, in the long run, any economic waste is incurred by interrupting for a time the industrial occupations of young men and submitting them to a careful course of physical and military training. We have an idea in this country that there is some superior cleverness or wisdom on our part in keeping the whole youthful male population uninterruptedly engaged in the production of wealth, while our neighbours have to take a year or two out of the lives of their able-bodied sons. There is a suspicious reminder in this view of a state of public opinion now gone by, which in the name of industry drove children of tender years into the factory, and which till quite lately, in the same cause, permitted and almost encouraged them to leave school at an earlier age than the children of any other enlightened people. The truism that the strength of a nation does not lie in the amount of wealth it produces, but in the physical vigour and trained intelligence of its people, can never cease to be one of the most vital of truths. As a matter of fact, the European country in which military service is most strictly enforced is the very country which has increased most rapidly in wealth, and has become our most formidable industrial rival.
German writers and public men, while admitting certain incidental drawbacks, not only refuse to allow that military service is an economic burden to their country, but declare that its educational and disciplinary value are among the principal causes of Germany's progress and success. I think this view is shared by the majority of those in this country who have an intimate knowledge of international labour conditions. My own experience as an employer of labour in England, and as a director of British undertakings, which have in their service thousands of skilled and unskilled workmen on the Continent of Europe, in Austria, Bohemia, Germany, Belgium, France, and Italy, enables me to say, without any hesitation, that military training in the countries where it is practised has not only a high physical and moral, but an appreciable and calculable financial value, which varies in direct proportion to the thoroughness and strictness with which it is carried out.
The loss of time involved in submitting every able-bodied male to, say, a year's military training is more than counterbalanced by the extraordinary improvement in national physique, and by the acquisition of habits of ready obedience, attention, and combined action, which have so high an importance in industrial life. Even if some economic sacrifice were called for, it would surely be worth any country's while to make it, in order to arrest that physical deterioration which
follows the flocking of population into towns. No country is more exposed to the danger of physical deterioration than our own, both absolutely and relatively, for here, more rapidly than elsewhere, the urban districts are growing at the expense of the rural. All the nations of Europe are giving systematic physical training to their whole male population (for every conscript has to pass through the gymnasium), with the best possible results. In England physical education among the masses stands very much where education in general stood before the Act of 1870: that is to say, it can be obtained by those who have money to pay for it, but, in spite of considerable recent improvements, it does not form an integral and obligatory part of our national educational system. It is useless to delude ourselves with the idea that the national love of games is so strong that it is not necessary to give physical exercise a serious place in the curriculum of our elementary schools. We do not act upon this view in the case of the only class of whom it might possibly be true, for the boys and young men of the richer classes are taught games with at least as much care as they are taught languages and mathematics. Experience shows that among the population of our large industrial towns, owing, no doubt, mainly to the absence of opportunity, the slightest desire for active physical exercise is rather the exception than the rule. For every youth who plays football, a hundred prefer to look on, with their hands in their pockets, at a match between professional players. In any case, spasmodic efforts to popularise games among the working classes can no more supply the need for national physical training than the night schools and Sunday schools which preceded the Act of 1870 could supply the place of compulsory elementary education. If we persist in pitting our haphazard methods against the carefully reasoned and elaborately organised systems of our neighbours, we must relatively decline in physical fitness. It is only a question of time. When none were trained, our racial gifts, our climate, even our national food, gave us a certain physical preeminence; but natural gifts, however great, natural predispositions, however strong, cannot in the long run take the place of careful professional training.
It is easy to level the accusation of 'economic waste' against the military systems of the Continent, but surely the most deplorable of all waste is to be found in the condition of the 'slum' population of our large cities. Any system which helped to restore these physically degraded people to a more vigorous state of mind and body would, to say the least of it, have a high economic value. By the adoption of any form of compulsory military training, whether it be that of the Commission's Report or other more simple plans, we should be able to pass every individual under review, exercise control over him at a critical period of his life, with the result that many depressing social problems, which at present we are afraid to tackle, would find