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The Honour Of Your Country
by [?]

We were resting after the first battle of the Somme. Naturally all the talk in the Mess was of after-the-war. Ours was the H.Q. Mess, and I was the only subaltern; the youngest of us was well over thirty. With a gravity befitting our years and (except for myself) our rank, we discussed not only restaurants and revues, but also Reconstruction.

The Colonel’s idea of Reconstruction included a large army of conscripts. He did not call them conscripts. The fact that he had chosen to be a soldier himself, out of all the professions open to him, made it difficult for him to understand why a million others should not do the same without compulsion. At any rate, we must have the men. The one thing the war had taught us was that we must have a real Continental army.

I asked why. “Theirs not to reason why” on parade, but in the H.Q. Mess on active service the Colonel is a fellow human being. So I asked him why we wanted a large army after the war.

For the moment he was at a loss. Of course, he might have said “Germany,” had it not been decided already that there would be no Germany after the war. He did not like to say “France,” seeing that we were even then enjoying the hospitality of the most delightful French villages. So, after a little hesitation, he said “Spain.”

At least he put it like this:–

“Of course, we must have an army, a large army.”

“But why?” I said again.

“How else can you–can you defend the honour of your country?”

“The Navy.”

“The Navy! Pooh! The Navy isn’t a weapon of attack; it’s a weapon of defence.”

“But you said `defend’.”

“Attack,” put in the Major oracularly, “is the best defence.”


I hinted at the possibilities of blockade. The Colonel was scornful. “Sitting down under an insult for months and months,” he called it, until you starved the enemy into surrender. He wanted something much more picturesque, more immediately effective than that. (Something, presumably, more like the Somme.)

“But give me an example,” I said, “of what you mean by `insults’ and `honour’.”

Whereupon he gave me this extraordinary example of the need for a large army.

“Well, supposing,” he said, “that fifty English women in Madrid were suddenly murdered, what would you do?”

I thought for a moment, and then said that I should probably decide not to take my wife to Madrid until things had settled down a bit.

“I’m supposing that you’re Prime Minister,” said the Colonel, a little annoyed. “What is England going to do?”

“Ah!… Well, one might do nothing. After all, what is one to do? One can’t restore them to life.”

The Colonel, the Major, even the Adjutant, expressed his contempt for such a cowardly policy. So I tried again.

“Well,” I said, “I might decide to murder fifty Spanish women in London, just to even things up.”

The Adjutant laughed. But the Colonel was taking it too seriously for that.

“Do you mean it?” he asked.

“Well, what would you do, sir?”

“Land an army in Spain,” he said promptly, “and show them what it meant to treat English women like that.”

“I see. They would resist of course?”

“No doubt.”

“Yes. But equally without doubt we should win in the end?”


“And so re-establish England’s honour.”

“Quite so.”

“I see. Well, sir, I really think my way is the better. To avenge the fifty murdered English women, you are going to kill (say) 100,000 Spaniards who have had no connexion with the murders, and 50,000 Englishmen who are even less concerned. Indirectly also you will cause the death of hundreds of guiltless Spanish women and children, besides destroying the happiness of thousands of English wives and mothers. Surely my way–of murdering only fifty innocents–is just as effective and much more humane.”