The one alternative was tried, and failed. We proffered our good offices, we urged our counsels of moderation, all in vain. That, at any rate, is among the certainties. And it is also among the certainties that, although this alternative failed, it brought us two signal benefits, in the unity of our own people and the goodwill of the world.

About the other alternative, which was not tried, we cannot of course speak with the same sureness. If Sir Edward Grey had taken the step which {34} M. Sazonof desired him to take, he would at once have been vehemently opposed and denounced by a very large body of his own fellow-countrymen, who, never having been taken frankly into the confidence of the Government with regard to the foundations of British policy, were at this early stage of the proceedings almost wholly ignorant of the motives and issues involved. This being so, if war had ensued, we should then have gone into it a divided instead of a united nation. On the other hand, if peace had ensued, it must have been a patched-up ill-natured peace; and it is not improbable that Sir Edward Grey would have been driven from office by enemies in his own household, playing the game of Germany unconsciously, as on previous occasions, and would have brought the Cabinet down with him in his fall. For at this time, owing to domestic difficulties, the Government stood in a very perilous position, and it needed only such a mutiny, as a bold departure in foreign affairs would almost certainly have provoked among the Liberal party, to bring Mr. Asquith's government to an end.

As one reads and re-reads the official documents in our present twilight, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that on the main point Sir Edward Grey was wrong and M. Sazonof right. Germany, with her eyes wide open, had determined on war with Russia and France, unless by Russia's surrender of her prestige in the Balkans—a surrender in its way almost as abject as that which had already been demanded of Servia—the results of victory could be secured without recourse to arms. Germany, nevertheless, was not prepared for war with Britain. She was reckoning with confidence on our standing aside, {35} on our unwillingness and inability to intervene.[11] If it had been made clear to her, that in case she insisted on pressing things to extremity, we should on no account stand aside, she might then have eagerly forwarded, instead of deliberately frustrating, Austria's eleventh-hour negotiations for an accommodation with St. Petersburg.

No one, except Germans, whose judgments, naturally enough, are disordered by the miscarriage of their plans, has dreamed of bringing the charge against Sir Edward Grey that he wished for war, or fomented it, or even that through levity or want of vigilance, he allowed it to occur. The criticism is, that although his intentions were of the best, and his industry unflagging, he failed to realise the situation, and to adopt the only means which might have secured peace.

The charge which is not only alleged, but established against Austria is of a wholly different order. It is that she provoked war—blindly perhaps, and not foreseeing what the war would be, but at any rate recklessly and obstinately.

The crime of which Germany stands accused is that she deliberately aimed at war, and that when there seemed a chance of her plan miscarrying, she promptly took steps to render peace impossible. Among neutral countries is there one, the public opinion of which has acquitted her? And has not Italy, her own ally, condemned her by refusing assistance on the ground that this war is a war of German aggression?


[1] The name of the Russian capital was not changed until after the declaration of war, and therefore St. Petersburg is used in this chapter instead of Petrograd.