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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

The War in South Africa.
The Terms of Settlement.
What Should They Be? (S595ad: 1901)


Editor Charles H. Smith’s Note: Wallace’s reply to an enquiry regarding this question, printed along with another’s (J. A. Hobson) reply on page 1g of the 16 November 1901 issue of The Clarion. Stirring prose, to say the least. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S595AD.htm

Dr. Alf. Russel Wallace writes:—

    In reply to your letter, I find myself at the outset so opposed to what you seem to take for granted, that I fear no union on this question is possible. You say: "We assume that none of us are prepared to advocate the complete restoration of the status quo ante bellum." I, on the contrary, cannot understand how any Liberal (in more than name), any genuine Radical, much less any Socialist, can advocate anything less than this; and I am glad to know that many in these three political groups do advocate it. I hold that the war was, from the time of the Jamieson raid and what followed it, deliberately prepared and forced upon the Boers by our Government for the express purpose of getting possession of their country. I believe, further, that war for such a purpose is the most heinous of crimes--that to destroy a nationality, whether great or small, is a worse crime than the murder of an individual in order to plunder his family and turn them out to starve; and I cannot support any proposal which aims at less than complete restoration of independence to the nations so unjustly deprived of their freedom, with ample indemnity for all the homes and property unnecessarily and wickedly destroyed.

    You will, of course, say that this is utterly unpractical, and that neither the present nor any other possible Government will ever listen to such proposals. I quite agree that they will not. But neither will they listen to any other far less drastic measure of justice that any of their opponents may advocate. They will be satisfied with nothing but conquest; and, apparently, are now looking forward, without any misgivings, to the almost complete extermination of the two small nationalities which have so bravely defended their native land against the overwhelming forces of one of the Great Powers, who, though fresh from taking a foremost part in an international peace congress, has not scrupled to add to the inevitable horrors of war the destruction of a thousand happy homes and the consequent lingering death of many thousands of innocent children! As compared with this, Herod's crime sinks into insignificance. And to think that this should be done by England--the upholder of freedom! the country that has long been proud of being considered the protector of weak and oppressed nationalities!

    In view of this carnival of blood and fire, of pitiless destruction and devastation, how incredibly petty, how false and hypocritical appear the alleged justification for all this hellish work--the five years' franchise for those who never wanted it and the "grievances" of the Outlanders! One class of these--the capitalists--were daily piling up wealth, but wanted to pile it up quicker; while the other and more numerous class--the manual workers--were perfectly contented with their high wages and rapid savings, while many of them have declared that they never knew they had any grievances till they were told so by their employers. Although there are thousands of these men now in England, the Government has never dared to justify its allegations of "grievances" and that Englishmen were treated as "helots," by appointing a commission to take the evidence of these men. If there is anything more wicked than the war itself, it is the systematic lying by which it was attempted to justify it.

    For the reasons now briefly stated I can join in no demand for anything less than complete restoration of independence to the Boers and complete and liberal compensation for the property our army has destroyed; and even when this is done we shall still remain their debtors for the many thousands of lives we have destroyed and the incalculable amount of pain and misery we have inflicted--a debt which whatever we do we can never repay to the sufferers, although we certainly shall have to pay dearly for it in the loss of that character for a genuine love of freedom and justice, and for advocating the cause of the weak and the oppressed which we have so long enjoyed.

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