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National Defence for Small Communities (S557a: 1898)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A response to an inquiry from Herman Heijermans, Jr. (1864-1924) printed in 1898 as part of an article entitled 'Holland's Militairisme' in Volume Two of his socialist journal De Jonge Gids (Amsterdam), along with similar remarks made by a number of other prominent people. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S557A.htm

     [[p. 193]] However great an evil may be a large Army and Navy, the loss of national independence would be a still greater evil; and in the present state of Europe, with all the Great Powers armed to the teeth, and their military rulers eagerly awaiting the time when they can use their vast armaments for further aggrandisement, it is to be feared that, in case of war, the independence of their [[p. 194]] smaller and weaker neighbours would not be respected. Against this danger, however, the most ruinous expenditure on army and navy would be of no avail, and it would therefore appear, at first sight, that no preparations for national defence are needful or would be of any use. But opposed to this view there are two important considerations. The first is, that in case of war between Germany and France or between either of those countries and England, it is certain that, were Holland and Belgium completely undefended, they would be overrun by one or both of the combatants, and would thus have to endure some of the worst horrors of war, and perhaps ultimate loss of national freedom. Some force therefore is necessary to preserve the inviolability of the frontiers.

     In the second place, although the forces of a small country would necessarily be powerless against those of any of the great powers, yet they might be of the greatest importance as an ally; and the knowledge that any invasion of the frontier by one of the combatants would not only be vigourously opposed but would place the smaller country at once on the side of the enemy, would probably serve to safeguard the territory of the small nation.

     But in order to serve these two purposes all that would be required would be a small but well-armed and well-trained body of soldiers, with a reserve of all adult males trained as they now are in your country. The whole question is, as to the size of the permanent army, and of that you are the best judges.

     The greatest economy might probably be effected in the Navy, which should exist solely for coast protection. It seems to me to be madness for a small power to expend money on huge ironclad war-ships. All that is needed for defence are a few forts at critical points, thoroughly well armed: together with a sufficiency of small torpedo-vessels, and of torpedoes and mines at the entrances of all the ports. A very effectual defence may thus be obtained at a comparatively small cost.

     But the agency to which I look with the greatest hope, is the extension of the feeling of social brotherhood among the workers of the different nations, leading them to refuse to invade other countries, or to fight at all except for purposes of national defence or in aid of nations justly struggling for freedom. This should be a fundamental principle of all Democratic or Socialistic associations; and when the armies of the great powers become permeated with it, peace and disarmament will follow, since kings and generals would never run the risk of bringing armies into the field when the majority of the soldiers would refuse to fire at their fellow men with whom they had no quarrel.

     Till this state of feeling becomes general, I fear it will not be safe for the smaller nations to refrain altogether from military training and preparation for defence. As regards the standing army, however, the cost might be considerably reduced, and as regards the navy almost wholly abolished.

     In conclusion, I wish to add that I have made no special study of this subject. I write only as a lover of peace and of human progress, and in response to the request you have done me the honour to send me.

Alfred R. Wallace.
Parkstone, Dorset, England.
July 3rd 1898.

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