In the early days of the war, when all kinds of devices were being used to induce young men to enlist in the Army, Mr. Lloyd George used his famous rhetoric to assist the cause of his employers. We called attention at the time to many of his remarks in speeches urging young men of our class to join their comrades in eternity, but it may not be out of place here to recall some of his statements—just to keep their memory green !
When speaking in Wales on the 29th Sept., 1914, at a national Welsh Conference for the purpose of assisting in the formation of a Welsh Army Corps, he made the following remarks :
The vast majority return from a war to tell the tale and they will have accumulated experiences which will illumine their lives for ever after. Most people’s lives are dull, grey, and monotonous, and these men will come back with a fund of recollection to draw upon which should cheer and brighten their lives at the dreariest moment. . . . I am glad that the War Office are recognising the value of this national sentiment as a military asset. —”Manchester Guardian,” 30.9.14.
We now have plenty of evidence of the “joys ” those returned from the war have accumulated. Ask any of the returned soldiers how they would like to go through their war horrors again! And what was the nature of these experiences? They saw the heads of their chums blown off while standing beside them; their friends disemboweled by murderous iron splinters. They experienced the horrors of battle, with the nerve strain and tension of going “over the top,” the verminous sleeping places, the months of wallowing in mud and water to the hips in the depth of winter, the lack of food and the ravages of disease, the lying, perhaps for days, stricken things on the shell-swept field, the ever-present spectre of Death.
Many have lost their reason on account of the experiences they have gone through. Many more have been converted into permanent wrecks. Many of those who returned home found homes that had been wrecked by their thankless rulers in their absence.
What a fund of recollections to brighten their lives at the dreariest moment !
The “vast majority” who were to return turned out to be a rather small “vast majority.” According to the latest figures (and we may be sure it is an under-estimation), nearly a million British soldiers were killed, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands totally or partially disabled for life. A walk through the streets of any town will provide the observer with numerous illustrations of the havoc wrought by the war that, according to Lloyd George, was to accumulate experiences that would illumine lives for ever after. The blinded or limbless soldier can have little but bitterness in his heart for the rest of his life.
In spite of all the cant and humbug of early war days the war veteran has returned to working conditions even worse than obtained formerly. While the papers are prating about “booms” in the cotton, woollen, boot and shoe, and other industries, and labour leaders are urging workers to greater efforts in production, ex-soldiers are scouring the country in vain for the elusive job.
Earl Haig (who is not one of them) has been appealing to employers all over the country on behalf of the thousands of ex-soldiers unemployed. Speaking at Leeds the other day he made following remarks:
It was impossible to suggest that the nation’s debt had been discharged while men who had fought in the desperate battles at Cambrai, Ypres, and Arras were seeking employment and finding none. They were asking some small share in the prosperity which their efforts had made possible. —”Daily News,” 24.1.1920.
The callous indifference to the claims of the soldiers shows once again the hollowness and fraudulent nature of capitalist promises. The general attitude of the masters was fittingly illustrated by the remarks of Judge Cluer last year in a case where an ex-soldier (five years in the Army and thrice wounded), his wife, and three children were evicted from their home and forced into the workhouse. The following quotation was taken from the “Daily Chronicle,” 16.7.19.
The Solicitor : But this is the case of a hero and his family. He has sacrificed everything for his country. To be turned into the street to go into the workhouse is a scandal. He is entitled to special consideration.
Judge Cluer : He is entitled to the same consideration as anybody else. The reasons given for wanting possession are good.
At the present moment a wail is going up about a wave of “robbery with violence” that is sweeping the country. Referring to this Sir Robert Wallace
(Chairman of the London Sessions) said:
It is sad to see the enormous number of men in Khaki, or recently demobilised, in the dock, but there was a carelessness about property in campaign life. Habits which we may call military but not wicked have unfortunately transplanted themselves into civil life, and this won’t do. —”Daily Sketch,” 22,1.1920.
Aha ! there is an awkward side to war experiences for the capitalists; the “accumulated experiences” are apt to lead to capitalist discomfort. The violation of working-class lives is a detail, but heaven forbid that private property should be violated— in civil life.
Numberless are the cases of returned soldiers evicted from their homes. The pensions to the disabled and the bereaved are an insult to the memory of the living and the dead, and a crushing illustration of the parsimony and cold-blooded selfishness of the worst slave-owners known to history. Out of the many instances that spring to the writer’s memory the following will suffice for illustration :
The pathetic circumstances of a soldier’s widow, with nine children, who had to apply for out relief in consequence of a refusal by the Ministry of Pensions to allow her more than 6s. 10d. a week was strongly commented on at the East Preston (Sussex) Guardians yesterday. —”Daily News,” 3.9.19.
To such a state as this has the “national sentiment as a military asset” brought numbers of our fellow workers. How some of us must love Lloyd George and his tribe may easily be imagined!
As to the “accumulated experiences which will illumine their lives for ever after,” the following extracts will provide a perfectly fitting commentary :
Reverting to influences which might help crime, the commissioner (Sir Nevil Macready) said men had taken life lightly and been encouraged to do so. It could not be expected that every individual would get back to a normal state of mind immediately. —”Daily News,” 24.1.20.
The same paper, same date, referring to a meeting of Birmingham magistrates to discuss after-the-war crime, stated :
It is largely a post-war problem. The experiences which men have gone through in the last five years have left a mental disturbance that has led to wrongdoing.
The experiences of the war wrecked many a working-class home, and the experiences of “peace” are extending the havoc further. It is small wonder that those who have been taught for years to spread ruin and destruction everywhere, whose lives were held cheap and who were brought to hold the lives of others equally cheap, should carry these ideas into civil life. The thorn in the side of our rulers is, however, that they are being to some extent hoist with their own petard. Working men were strenuously urged to ruin and destroy during the war, and consequently they have a tendency to ignore the glorious and eternal rights of private property now that they have returned to their ordinary occupation of producing wealth for idlers to enjoy.
However, Lloyd George was somewhere near the mark. Working men have “accumulated
experiences” during the war which, along with other experiences which will help them to an understanding of their wage-slave position, and in due course they will take measures to ensure
a cheering and brightening of their lives by abolishing capitalism and introducing Socialism
from the ruins.