Saturday, 23 August 2014

Peasants at War: Part 7 - Joseph King on the eve of WW1

Whilst Maude Egerton King in her editorial for The Vineyard (September 1914) stated that they did not express political views, it is interesting to see what her husband, Joseph King, MP said on the subject of the forthcoming outbreak of war in Parliament, as recorded in Hansard (3rd August 1914).  

Newspaper headline, 5th August 1914

These speeches took place after 9pm on the 3rd August.  The next day Britain declared war on Germany.  After some preceding exchanges where King was accused by other honourable members of making “a wicked suggestion!” and another exclaiming “it is scandalous!”. King makes a significant speech (see here for the full exchange).  It is worth bearing in mind that The Congregationalist (March 23, 1911) records King as spending the summer term of 1885 “at Geissen University, where ….he translated some of his (Dr Harnack’s) works into English.  From Geissen he proceeded to Berlin, but his stay there was cut short through the death of his mother”:

Mr King “I say without any hesitation that the House and the country has not sufficiently realised that if we are going into this war, it is a war against German civilisation, and the German people who are our friends, and the German Government is not.  The bureaucracy and the military caste that mismanaged, and I believe grossly mismanaged, the affairs of Germany, are the enemies of the peace of Europe, and it is that caste and those men that we have to stand out against.  Old man as I am, if I were asked to take up arms and fight myself against those men, I would be glad to do it.  But the misery and tragedy of the position is this: We cannot fight against those masters of tyranny, and against those men who misgovern, without fighting at the same time against the German people. That is what puts many of us in the gravest difficulty.  That is what makes this matter to me personally a question of intense pain and trial, I have many dear personal friends in Germany whom I value and respect and love as much as any men on earth, and to think that from this time forward, not only for a few years but perhaps for the rest of my life, I am to be estranged from the influence of those men by a tragedy of this sort is something which I cannot contemplate in silence or light-heartedly say that it must come, and it is not something I can allow to come to pass without uttering one more warning, and if it be not too late a plea for reconsideration of this question.  When we are going into a war like this, we cannot say we are fighting for the small independent State of Belgium.  I admit that is a noble object on which to shed blood and money.  We cannot even say that we are fighting for the integrity and independence of a great Power like France.  We must look upon this question as a whole, and remember that we are fighting for Russia when we fighting against Germany, and that if Germany stands for tyrannical Government, Russia stands for atrocious tyrannical Government. "

Sir J. D. Rees “Is the hon. Member in order in accusing a friendly Power of atrocious tyrannical government?  I believe it has been ruled that an hon. Member is not in order in using such language in regard to this particular Power.”

Mr. Deputy-Speaker “I do not think the hon.Member was going quite so far as the hon. Baronet has indicated.  I may perhaps again suggest that it does not add to the strength of the hon. Member’s case to use language of that kind.”

Joseph King, MP
reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

Mr. King “I shall be glad to withdraw anything I have said which is inappropriate or objectionable, but I cannot put aside this plain fact, that in Russia at the present moment you have 100,00 people in prison without a trial.  You have three executions a day, or over 1,000 a year, of men who are executed under martial law without even a semblance of a trial at all.  You have, moreover, this fact, that a few weeks ago, just before the time of mobilisation on Russia, you had uprisings, strikes, and threats of civil war, such as have not been known there for half a dozen years.  As one who has tried to understand the affairs of Russia, I believe that this diabolical mobilisation of the forces of Russia was largely occasioned by her own internal difficulties.  In order to save the position, the emoluments and the prerogatives of men in power in that land, they have mobilised their Army, and thrown the whole of Europe into a conflagration of war.  They have done that not from any patriotic motives, not because they really want to preserve any great ideal, but because their own position, power, and place are in ganger.  Remember – I remember it and I cannot forget it, and  as far as it is in my power I will make others remember it – that if we are fighting against Germany we are fighting for Russia, and if we are fighting for Russia at the present time we are fighting for an amount of tyranny and injustice and cruelty which it is quite impossible to think of without the deepest indignation.  We must not ook merely at the question of the neutrality of Belgium, and the freedom of attack of the Northern ports of France – after all, these ports are only small spots in the great field of war.  Let us least least carefully consider the whole question, and let us realise something more of the great issues involved. 

“I shall only touch upon one more aspect which seems to me not without deep significance.  Only five weeks ago we heard of the assassination of the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, and we all know that is was the assassination that has led by a strange, swift series of events to the present terrible state of affairs.  When, on Tuesday the 30th June, the Prime Minister came down to the House and proposed a Resolution which was accepted in solemn silence, and with the deepest feeling and approval, I believe that by the whole House, absolutely irrespective of parties or personalities, he moved an address of sympathy not only with His Imperial and Royal Majesty the Emperor of Austria and the King of Hungary on the part of this House, but their sympathy also with the peoples of the Dual Monarchy.  He spoke in words which impressed the House deeply at the time, and said we felt “a tender respect for the great family of nations of which the Austrian Emperor is the head, and our hearts go out to them in affectionate sympathy.”  It is affectionate sympathy five weeks ago for the men and the peoples of the nations that we are going to wage war against perhaps to-morrow!   That seems to me a tragic, and I would go further and say a bitter and cynical fact.  Is our foreign policy so shifting and changing, so liable to sudden emotions and rapid evolutions, that the people to whom we express with absolute unanimity one day our affectionate sympathy we declare to be our foes the next?  Whatever this House decides to do, whatever may be the line taken by the Government, I may add perhaps, and add seriously, that whatever mistakes of taste or language I have made here to-night, I am not afraid and I am not ashamed to have stood up here and said that this is not a simple question of the neutrality of Belgium, nor a simple question of whether the Northern ports of France shall be shelled and bombarded.  It is a question we must consider in all its bearings, and I believe, from all I have heard and all I can think and judge of this question, that the policy of the Government has been too precipitate and that they have not sufficiently realised that though they may fight for the right, honour and just cause in one part of Europe, they on this occasion will be fighting for tyranny, injustice, and reaction in others parts of Europe.”

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