Britain’s predicament resulted from a split personality evident both within the Cabinet and between the parties. The Cabinet was divided, in a split that derived from the Boer War, between Liberal Imperialists represented by Asquith, Grey, Haldane, and Churchill, and “Little Englanders” represented by all the rest. Heirs of Gladstone, they, like their late leader, harbored a deep suspicion of foreign entanglements and considered the aiding of oppressed peoples to be the only proper concern of foreign affairs, which were otherwise regarded as a tiresome interference with Reform, Free Trade, Home Rule, and the Lords’ Veto. They tended to regard France as the decadent and frivolous grasshopper, and would have liked to regard Germany as the industrious, respectable ant, had not the posturings and roarings of the Kaiser and the Pan-German militarists somehow discouraged this view. They would never have supported a war on behalf of France, although the injection of Belgium, a “little” country with a just call on British protection, might alter the issue.
Grey’s group in the Cabinet, on the other hand, shared with the Tories a fundamental premise that Britain’s national interest was bound up with the preservation of France. The reasoning was best expressed in the marvelously flat words of Grey himself: “If Germany dominated the Continent it would be disagreeable to us as well as to others, for we should be isolated.” In this epic sentence is all of British policy, and from it followed the knowledge that, if the challenge were flung, England would have to fight to prevent that “disagreeable” outcome. But Grey could not say so without provoking a split in the Cabinet and in the country that would be fatal to any war effort before it began.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
They would have liked to regard Germany as the industrious, respectable ant, had not the posturings and roarings of the Kaiser somehow discouraged this view
From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.