IX. The problem of reform
One contemplates such a solution as this with a sense that it is in itself as practicable as it is desirable. And yet the forces which make for it are feeble and those which oppose it deplorably powerful. We have to reckon as much with the timidity and indifference of the disinterested nations, as with the greed for territory of the two Eastern Empires. In theory I suppose there is now a consensus of opinion in England, France, and Italy that the one hope of a bloodless and humane solution rests on the slender prospect of a joint intervention undertaken by these three Liberal Powers. Austria is preoccupied by an internal crisis, Russia is broken by war and struggling to avoid revolution. And yet the certainty that neither of these Powers could offer any determined opposition to an initiative from the West, does not suffice to overcome the caution and inertia of the three peoples whose hands are free. There is too little to be gained by action, and even France under a Radical Government is content to fold her hands in face of the Macedonian anarchy, while her Ambassador threatens Abdul Hamid with the dire wrath of a humanitarian Republic if he fails to buy from the Creusot forges, the cannon destined to crush the last hopes of the Bulgarian race. Official France objects to Turkish excesses only when they are perpetrated with Krupp guns. As for ourselves, while it is thought decent to profess a perfunctory sympathy with the victims of Turkish misrule, there is
always some reservation. It is said that the affairs of Turkey are after all no concern of ours, and this ignorant repudiation sweeps away in one cold phrase the whole history of our action throughout a century, in maintaining the integrity of Turkey and lendiflg our fleets and our armies to perpetuate the Ottoman tyranny. We did not think that the affairs of Turkey were no concern of ours in 1878, when we tore up the Treaty of San Stefano and were ready to use "the ships, the men," and "the money too" in order to prevent the liberation of Macedonia by its inclusion in a free Bulgaria. The actual situation is of our making, and the Macedonians have endured a generation of oppression because we conceived that their emancipation was inconsistent with our own Imperial interests. There are other languid excuses. It is said that the Eastern Christians are unworthy of our interest because they quarrel among themselves. Is the armed camp which calls itself Western Christendom so entirely free from racial jealousies or else it is urged that these noisy little peoples should keep quiet and await our leisurely decision: the majesty of Europe cannot allow its hands to be forced. But we know in our hearts that we should do nothing whatever, unless our hands were forced. Indeed, the more we condemn the efforts of the Christians of Turkey to help themselves, the more we emphasise our own responsibilities.
There is, however, one argument against action which deserves to be weighed. It is said that any intervention might precipitate a European war. The vague fear sounds alarming, but from what quarter does the risk come? When Lord Salisbury decided that the butcher of the Armenians must be left to the vengeance of Heaven, it was of Russian opposition that we were afraid. We always are afraid of Russia when it is proposed that we should do a disinterested and generous action. We defy her only when we are engaged upon some forward move for our own aggrandisement like our last exploit in Thibet. But that particular menace is happily removed. No English statesman would venture to say to-day, that he shrank from a naval demonstration in the Mediterranean, because he
dreaded what is left of the Russian fleet. No other Power possesses either the means or the motive to resent the intervention of a Western coalition. There is, I agree, every reason to handle Turkey with tact and even with consideration. She could make no serious resistance to any European Power in her present condition, since she has no financial resources and no navy; while her army, for all its dogged courage, is not very much better in point of training, organisation, and intelligence than her civilian services. But if she were to be driven to extremities, she would undoubtedly let loose the Albanians upon Macedonia, and massacre the populations whom we sought to liberate. For that reason it would be well to make demands which she could grant without abject humiliation, and to back them up at once with some prompt and unanswerable pressure, which would allow her no leisure to organise a systematic butchery. On the whole, one is inclined to suspect that this dread of war, so far as it is sincere, springs from precedents badly analysed. There have been wars enough in the Near East to make us cautious. But in both the modern instances the cause of war was not the action, but the inaction of the Concert. Had England sincerely supported the moderate demands for the autonomy of the Slav provinces put forward by Russia at the Conference of Constantinople in 1876, there is little doubt that Abdul Hamid must have yielded, and there would have been no Russo-Turkish war. Again, had Europe occupied Crete promptly and proclaimed its autonomy, after the Canea massacres in 1896, as in the end she was obliged to do, it is fairly certain that Greece would not have committed the chivalrous folly of rushing into war. It is the procrastination and the indecision of the Concert which have endangered the peace of Europe in the past, and unless the Western Powers are prepared to force the pace in the present crisis, history is only too likely to repeat itself. There are after all two ideals of peace, a negative and a positive. The negative conception tolerates any abomination and sanctifies things as they are, provided only that the bloodshed does not come within the definition which diplomacy recognises as
a state of formal war. Such a conception is a survival of the organised callousness of the Holy Alliance. The other conception, which excites the enthusiasm of every civilised democracy, is an ideal of co-operation. It looks for the gradual elimination of self-seeking and militarism, and it regards Europe as an association of nations animated by aims which a humane and enlightened individual would not be ashamed to avow. Of such an ideal the existence of an Oriental tyranny on the very highways of European culture and commerce is the crudest negation. From such a standpoint a state of anarchy is not a state of peace, and slaughter is no less horrible because the victims are not uniformed soldiers, but merely women and children.
To refuse to act in face of such a situation, is to take the narrowest view of national interests and European prestige. In the French Chamber M. Delcassé, speaking for the Republic, has deliberately stated that the misgovernment of the Sultan leaves to his Christian subjects "no resource save insurrection." In Constantinople, Sir Nicholas O'Conor, addressing the Sultan in the name of England, has declared in set terms that his misrule renders the existence of the Christians "intolerable." It seems scarcely credible that two great Powers, enjoying the right of intervention and claiming the guardianship of these same Christians, should hold such language and yet remain inactive. We have it in our power to do a good deed at a trivial cost to ourselves. To rescue two millions of miserable peasants from their daily purgatory, needs no greater effort than we expended to extort a petty debt from the coffers of Venezuela. For our pains we should have the knowledge that the dread of violence had passed from the life of a race which for five long centuries has tasted neither honour nor peace. In our own affairs it would be but the crisis of a season and the excitement of an hour. To the Macedonian villages it would mean the ending of a secular terror and the beginning of a new career. To the humblest cabin it would bring hope, and send free men with a new motive to their daily toil. Such an achievement a statesman might contemplate with a lofty pride — the pride
which Goethe thought the best thing in human life. One thinks of the supreme joy of the aged Faust when in his last moment from the terrace of his castle, he watched his workmen completing the dyke that wrested from the sea new homes for the multitude, and fresh fields for the plough —
"Solch ein Gewimmel möcht' ich sehn
Auf freiem Grund mit freiem Volke stehn.
Zum Augenblicke dürf' ich sagen
Verweile doch, du bist so schön."
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