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A Policy of Defence (S698: 1912)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor published on page four of The Daily News & Leader (London & Manchester) issue of 9 August 1912. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S698.htm

    Sir,--I wish to give my cordial assent to Mr. Massingham's proposal that Liberals in Parliament who disagree with the present mad and apparently indefinite extension of our already monstrous fleet should, as a matter of principle, vote against the Estimates whenever they involve any further increase of expenditure upon it. The present policy seems to me to constitute an incitement to war, instead of being a safeguard against it.

    But I also wish to lay before your readers, and also to invite the opinion of non-official experts, on an alternative policy, which, if begun now, will, in a few years, and at a comparatively small cost, render us absolutely secure against invasion, even if every one of our warships were scattered over the seas in defence of our Colonies or of our world-wide commerce.

    It is, I believe, an admitted fact that a battery on shore with the same armament as those of our Dreadnoughts is much more effective, both on account of its absolute stability and of the means available for getting the exact range of any attacking vessel. If such batteries are composed almost wholly of earthwork, each one would cost, perhaps, not a hundredth part that of a ship of corresponding power; while instead of being liable to destruction by accident even in time of peace, and of becoming obsolete in a few years, the fortification would be almost indestructible either by an enemy or by the forces of nature. The disproportion in cost is so enormous that it seems probable that all our seaports, as well as every vulnerable point of our entire coast line, could be absolutely protected against the combined navies of Europe at a cost less than that of our existing navy. Such a defence would comprise sunken mines and torpedoes wherever considered necessary; while searchlights might be so placed as to enable us to see an enemy at night without affording any knowledge of the exact position of our guns. The earthworks might be constructed by our Territorials, who would be afterwards in charge of them.

    The colonies would probably follow our example, and all necessity for incurring the enormous cost of building more warships, as well as the tremendous annual burden of their manning and upkeep, become available for great social reforms. Of course, this proposal will be rejected with scorn or ridicule by the various parties interested in our mad expenditure being continued and indefinitely increased. Naval officers of every grade will look for better chances of employment and promotion; while the whole army of contractors for the ships, their armament, and the supply of fittings, food, etc., will be clamorous for even more powerful vesels, and insistent on the necessity for adequate fleets in every part of our vast Empire. But the opinions of all such interested parties should be treated as absolutely worthless.

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