The Responsibility for the World War

What was Sir E. Carson's share in deciding the German Emperor for his World-War? is a question which has hitherto been ignored as an unpleasant topic, but which History will unquestionably insist upon investigating. Nobody except Mr. Dillon would have thought of accusing the Ulster leader and his Covenanters of being in consciously guilty relations with a German spy. Sir E. Carson had, of course, as little prevision of what was coming as he had when he rivalled Mr. Dillon in his gloomy forebodings of the repudiation and general bankruptcy that were to follow the Wyndham policy of 1903. The problem is not what Sir E. Carson was thinking, but what the Kaiser was thinking, and how far his knowledge of what was going on in Ulster affected his meditations whether Der Tag had arrived. It was an innocent thing enough for Sir E. Carson to accept the German Emperor's invitation to lunch on August 29th 1913 (as his Orange organ in Belfast proudly announced at the time). We may be quite sure they did not discuss plans for an Ulster Rebellion to cripple the arm of England whenever His Majesty gave the signal. But it is a significant bit of evidence that Ulster was very much in His Majesty's thoughts at the time, and his notorious partisanship with his fellow Protestants of the North had assuredly not cooled since he used to invite the former Ulster leader, Col. Saunderson, to his board. It was before August 29th, 1913, Sir E. Carson had made some of his most violent speeches of defiance, including his announcement at Belfast (July 26) "I hope in September to call together the whole of the Ulster Council and complete our arrangements for taking over the Government ourselves upon the day that Home Rule is put on the Statute-Book," volunteering the admission that "it will probably be an illegal procedure: if it is we give the challenge to the Government to interfere with it, if they dare." All of which his Imperial host of a few weeks after might not unreasonably construe as proof that a widespread rebellion against the authority of the King and Parliament was brewing.

Then the despatch to Ireland of Baron Von Kühlman was a still more significant portent. He was not a poor "spy" carrying his life in his hands, but a German Minister of the first consequence and an intimate adviser of his Emperor. And Baron Von Kühlman's visit, be it marked, a few months before the outbreak of the war, was made not to the Sinn Féin leaders or to the South, but to Belfast, where he was lionised by the military Commanders of the Ulster Volunteer Army and was enabled to inspect "eight battalions armed with Mauser rifles and accompanied by two Colt machine guns and a Maxim"! Who can doubt what sort of report was carried back to his Imperial Master by Baron Von Kühlman, who had seen nothing but a province teeming with armed rebels, a King's army honeycombed with mutiny and a Government paralysed with vacillation and terror? Who can fail to understand the effect upon a man whose consuming speculation at the time must have been the part England would or could play if he unloosed his hordes against France?

Again, it was little more than a month after a Cavalry Brigade at the Curragh had with impunity refused to march North, when the news came that the Fanny had successfully run her cargo of arms from Hamburg through the lines of patrolling British warships which refused to see. Is it credible that the purchase and transport of German arms and munitions sufficient to equip an army, and their loading and free departure from His Majesty's principal seaport can have escaped the vigilance of a War-lord whose thoughts at the moment turned above all else upon whether England was or was not in a position to take part in a Continental war? The questions where these arms came from, who purchased them (if they were really purchased), how the Fanny succeeded in loading her cargo and clearing the great port of Hamburg without interruption, and what became of the cargo after it was landed, were the first any Government worthy of the name ought to have cleared up by interrogating, if necessary under the Star Chamber provisions of his own Coercion Act persons like Sir E. Carson, who openly identified themselves with the expedition. But no such questions were asked, and the mystery would to this day remain a mystery, only for the publication of the "story," which Sir E. Carson told Col. Repington "a man who had been on board the Fanny on its famous gun-running exploit was writing" (of this publication more hereafter). Full of enlightenment though Mr. Ronald McNeill's book is [24], we will probably have to wait for the completion of our information for some official revelation of the transaction from the German side like Lieutenant Von Spindler's account of his own gun-running expedition to Kerry later when it was the Sinn Féiners who were the consignees.

It is notorious that the Orange masses looked to the sabre-rattling Protestant Kaiser as their deliverer, as their ancestors had looked to King William of Orange. Even one of the most sober leaders of the Ulster Council—Right Hon. Thomas Andrews—did not hesitate to say, "If we were deserted by Great Britain, I would rather be governed by Germany than by Patrick Ford and John Redmond and Company." Perhaps the most characteristic of all the Ulster fighting-men, in the straightforwardness as well as obstinacy of the breed, was Captain Craig, M.P. (afterwards to be Sir James Craig, "Premier" of the Six Counties "Parliament ", and the future Minister and Chamberlain of the King) candidly blurted out: "There is a spirit spreading abroad which I can testify from my personal knowledge that Germany and the German Emperor would be preferred to the rule of John Redmond, Patrick Ford, and the Molly Maguires." Above all, what must have been the conclusion of the German Emperor when he read that Mr. Bonar Law, speaking for a Unionist Party composed of a majority of the representatives of England, had made with quite evident relish in the House of Commons the following astounding revelation of the mentality of "Ulster"?

"It is a fact which I do not think anyone who knows anything about Ireland will deny, that these people in the North-East of Ireland, from old prejudices, perhaps, more than anything else, from the whole of their past history would prefer, I believe, to accept the Government of a foreign country rather than submit to be governed by the hon. gentlemen below the gangway."

The Kaiser must have been the last to have any doubt what was "the foreign country" referred to, and can have had little less difficulty in making up his mind when weighing the probabilities of England standing up to the armies and fleets of Germany, that the House of Commons was as debauched as the Army, or as the Ulster emissaries who were negotiating for cargoes of German rifles and machine-guns from Hamburg, to be employed in rebellion against the law of Parliament, of which the King constitutes the first Estate. While the Kaiser's orders for the mobilisation must have been already in type, on July 13, 1914, Sir E. Carson gave his benediction to a resolution practically announcing that the Ulster Rebellion would be simultaneous with the German declaration of war, in words scarcely less definite than an ultimatum: "That in view of the imminence of the final struggle against Home Rule, we call upon our leaders to take whatever forward steps they consider necessary, inasmuch as we, like our forefathers, stand upon our guard, and do resolve, by the blessing of God, rather to go out and meet the danger than to await it."

Once more, be it freely conceded, Sir E. Carson and his foolish friends did not know; the unfortunate point is that the Kaiser did. When in the years to come, the favourite outcry against Ireland was that Sinn Féin "stabbed England in the back" by importing German arms and courting a German alliance, those who raised it failed to remember that, while the Emperor was coming to his fateful decision, the Irish Republican Army was not yet in existence, and Sir Roger Casement had not yet been heard of in Berlin, but the Ulster Covenanters were talking of going over to Germany, and looking to Germany for their arms, and openly telling a shivering Government that the hour for the Ulster Rebellion had come. When all the evidence sees the light, posterity—even English posterity—will perhaps judge more sternly those who "stabbed England in the back" by helping to precipitate the World-War in the name of loyalty, than those who, after the mischief was done, faced the might of England in clean fight and cheerfully gave up their lives for their ideals, when the contingent rebels who to the last hour before the war gave aid and comfort to the Kaiser were kissing King George's hands for Cabinet Ministerships and Premierships on the winning side.

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The Irish Revolution

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William O'Brien was a County Cork M.P. who participated in the negotiations for Home Rule in Ireland. In this account, first published in 1923, he provides an insight into the politics and politicians of the time - John Redmond, John Dillon, Arthur Griffith, Sir Edward Carson, Bonar Law, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, etc. - and gives his analysis of the origins of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent Irish Civil War. From his own perspective, O'Brien was very much anti-Partition, and was evidently frustrated at the failure to give adequate reassurance to the Northern Unionists.

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