- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Nov 1909, p. 38-46
- Merritt, Lieut.-Colonel Wm. Hamilton, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The speaker's plea today for national safety and national defence as advocated by such leagues as the United Service League in England, and the Australian Defence league. Hoping to have a similar league in Canada. Comments on the attitude of the Canadian people to considerations of national defence. Symbolizing the British Empire as a chain girdling the world, composed of alternate links of blue and brown, sea and land: one weak link and the chain is gone. Canada as a very, very, weak link. Making the link strong as Canada's first duty to the Empire. Ways to make the link strong. An examination of Canada in this regard: why she is such a weak link. Some facts and figures. Two sorts of military service. A comparison between Great Britain, the U.S.A., France, Japan, Switzerland, and Canada. China and Canada as varying from the rest of the world since they have neither the "patriotic" basis system of many civilized nations, nor can they adopt the "blue-water" isolation basis for safety, for both have a land boundary between them and great nations. Comparisons which show that Canada is the only country that can dare rely on practically nothing for her defence stock-in-trade. What Canada does gives practically no results. A consideration of what has given the moral fibre to the nations of the world. All great nations learning their truth of word, and strength of thought, in war. Being prepared for war in order to avoid it. Suggestions for what can be done: determine that we will preserve our present Nationality at any sacrifice; satisfy ourselves that we are ordinary men and women in Canada, like the rest of the world; look round at all the rest of the civilized nations of the earth and see what their patriotism impels them to do for National safety and the moulding of their national manhood; consider the history of our own country—what has happened, what was then done, and follow the example of our forefathers. A look at the Militia Law of 1808, which saved Canada.
- Date of Original
- 25 Nov 1909
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- A WEAK LINK IN THE IMPERIAL CHAIN
Address by LIEUT.-COLONEL Wm. HAMILTON MERRITT before the Empire Club of Canada on November 25, 1909.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
I need not tell you that I feel very highly honoured by the compliment paid to me in asking me to address a body which has accomplished such splendid work towards furthering the unity of the Empire. My plea today is for national safety and national defence, as advocated by such leagues as the United Service League in England, and the Australian Defence League. We hope to have a league in Canada on somewhat similar lines, because, as I shall endeavour to point out to you, the principles lying at the basis of these Leagues are all vitally important. This naturally is a very large subject. Not only does national safety, but such important considerations as national health, national physique, national cleanliness, national civility, and many other adjuncts, belong to it.
If you find I am a little strong in denunciation or in suggestion, I hope you will not think it is in a spirit of fault-finding but in order to attract attention and give emphasis to considerations which are looked upon by a great many people rather lightly. In fact, I think the people in Canada, when it comes to considerations of national defence, as a rule look upon it from an academic point of view, as if they were inhabitants of Mars or some other place, and were listening to some interesting thing that did not concern them. But we are in this world and we have to stay with it. We are living absolutely in a danger-zone.
Suppose we liken the British Empire to a chain girdling the world, composed of alternate links of blue and brown--sea and land--we then have a symbol of the Empire. One weak link and the chain is gone. The blues would all go together, but each brown link might perchance exist alone. Canada is a very, very, weak link, and the best and first work Canada can do for the Imperial chain is to make the brown link of Canada strong. This should be her first duty to the Empire. Let us begin at the bottom, the land safety first, then we can look out for the sea. We got the worst of it on the water in 1812, but we did not lose Canada.
If the United States took Canada tomorrow could the Empire wrest it from her if it held the sea? I think not. Don't let us risk it at any rate. Let us make our link strong by training the manhood of Canada, every man training to fit himself to serve at sea or on land in defence of his beloved country should it become necessary. This is what Cartier, that great Minister of Militia, advocated. First, the land, then, he maintained, the sea defence would come in due course. However, if the Motherland needs cooperation on the sea at once, then, let us start both the land and sea defence basis together, but we should not neglect the former. We should safeguard our soil. The Rev. Dr. Carman puts Imperial Defence as follows in his recent splendid letter
"Strengthening the parts we most effectually strengthen the whole and protecting the whole we most surely protect the parts."
I am quite satisfied that when I speak of a weak link the majority of our fellow-citizens will say: "We wonder what can be meant, probably India or South Africa is to be the subject of the address." I make bold to say that the indifference of the great majority of our fellow-countrymen to the matter of our National existence, to the safety of our hearths and homes and of our flag, is so great that most people away down in their hearts feel real and sincere pity for the poor fools who "waste their time playing soldier." We poor fools often go to that other superior citizen, who is pitying us while we are spending our time and money, and ask him to help things along, but we are generally told "Oh this is the Government's concern, go to them." If we then go to the Government they say, "Why this is an enlightened voluntary system, go to the financial Institutions you protect, and to the rich men!" Militia plans for safe-guarding Canada fall hopelessly and helplessly to the ground. I will say emphatically and without exaggeration, it would be far better, from a national defence point of view, to throw the money spent on the Militia of this country into the lake. This statement is not intended to signify that another Government would do differently, or that other persons would give better results for the money spent on them, but merely that the basis of the existing system is wrong, that we are leaning on a broken reed, that we are living in a fool's paradise. If we were spending nothing, an adequate system would be demanded.
Now, these statements may seem to be unsupported generalities, let me therefore give a few facts and figures. First of all I would point out that there are two sorts of military service. One is based on the principle that it is a man's duty to fit himself to defend his hearth and home, his flag and his country on sea or on land, just as it is made his duty to pay his taxes. Some men do both loathfully, some willingly, but, in most countries it is conceded to be their duty and they are made to do it by law. This principle is followed in the Argentine Republic, Australia, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Chili, Denmark, France, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, Brazil, Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal and Spain. The other principle, of paid service is in vogue in England the United States, China and Canada, who all rely on the "dollar" basis for their defence. The first two of these latter countries, England and the United States, have adopted the "blueWater" defence basis. They consider that they are isolated and can be defended by a Navy on which they spend vast sums of money. Leaving out the expenditure on the Navy, the following comparison with France and Japan, for example, will show a soldier getting a cent a day in France and a dollar in Canada
War Field Cost. establishment. Guns. Great Britain $137,295,000 712,864 1,675 U. S. A.* 125,078,025 213,770 316
(*Reg. army only State Militia not included in cost, but included in W.E.)
France $129,645,000 3,630,200 2,834 Japan 34,104,500 1,115,000 1,446 3,000,000 (untrained) Switzerland 7,500,000 540,000 343 Canada 6,749,275 60,000 108
China and Canada vary from the rest of the world. They have neither the "patriotic" basis system of all of those civilized nations, to whom I have alluded, nor can they adopt the "bluewater" isolation basis for safety, for both have a land boundary between them and great nations. China and Canada depend on the force of willpower, the bulwark of "Super-intelligence" for their defence. China has indeed stink-pots, weird banners, alarming masks, some warships and about 300,000 modern armed troops to defend her; which, for the real serious practical purposes of national defence, leaves Canada further isolated, the only civilized nation which has developed a strong, masterful, serene, super-intelligence which can in some mysterious manner drive an armed foe from her borders. Or, speaking seriously, comparison shows that Canada is the only country that can dare rely on practically nothing for her defence stock-in-trade, for, indeed, it is too absurd to think that she leads the whole world, instead of toddling a long way behind it in the matter of taking precautions for national safety. What she does gives practically no results. For less money than we spend Bulgaria can put 381,000 and Servia 352,000 men in the field, and Roumania 555,200, Sweden 494,350, and the Argentine Republic 500,000 men in the field.
Let us for a moment consider what has given the moral fibre to the nations of the world. Is it peace? Ruskin says "We talk of Peace and Learning and of Peace and Plenty, and of Peace and Civilization, but I found that those were not the words which the Muse of History coupled together; that on her lips the words were Peace and sensuality, Peace and Selfishness, Peace and Death. I found, in brief, that all great nations learned their truth of word, and strength of thought, in war; that they were nourished in war, and wasted by peace; taught by war, and deceived by peace-trained by war and betrayed by peace--in a word that they were born in war, and expired in peace." As Thomas Adams "the prince of Puritan theologians said: "Shall war march against us with thundering steps, and shall we only assemble ourselves in the temples, lie prostrate on the pavements, lift up our hands and eyes to heaven and not our weapons against our enemies? Shall we beat the air with our voices and not their bosoms with our swords? Only knock our own breasts, and not knock their heads? Sure, a religious conscience never taught a man to neglect his life, his liberty, his estate, his peace. Piety and policy are not opposites; He that taught us to be harmless as doves, bade us also be wise as serpents."
"Fight, say you; why, who strikes us? Yield that no enemies do, are we sure that none will do? When our security hath made us weak, and their policy hath made them strong, we shall find them, like that troublesome neighbour, knocking at our door early in the morning, before we are up, when it will be too late for us to say, `If we had known of your coming we would have provided better cheer for you.' They thank you, they will take now such as they find, for they purpose to be their own carvers, and the morsels they swallow shall be your hearts. Let us, therefore, like good housekeepers, when such unbidden guests come, have always a breakfast ready for them; which, if we give them heartily, they shall have small stomach to their dinners. Be you but ready for war, and I durst warrant your peace. That war at some time is just and necessary; indeed, just when it is necessary, as here. For shall it come to the gates, and shall we not meet it? Yea, shall we not meet it before it come near the gates? There is, then, a season when war is good and lawful. St. Augustine observes that when the soldiers, among the rest of the people, came to John the Baptist to be catechized, and said, `What shall we do?' he did not bid them leave off being soldiers, but taught them to be good soldiers. `Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages."' Does not common sense and ordinary observation dictate that a strenuous life of self-sacrifice develops best that form of character which we denote as "Christian?" "To be weak is to be miserable!"
In the recent debate on Lord Robert's Defence Bill the Bishop of Exeter said: "The young men of the country are very much in need of some reinforcement of those manly capacities of endurance and discipline which have been at the back of whatever the country has achieved . . . . Some such influence as that which would be furnished by the Bill would do more than anything else to counteract this softness and unmanliness which are becoming apparent."
I met, recently, a German gentleman who had lived for 30 years in England and married an English wife. He told me that the German Military Service System had made that country, commercially and otherwise, that the results on the manhood and womanhood in Germany were immeasurably superior to the results he saw in England under the military system there. That if there was universal peace he would, in the cause of health and humanity, advocate the continuance of the German Military system. Lord Milner has pointed out that no financial institution is safe without a large reserve force in cash, so also no nation is safe without a large reserve force in men. On the one hand it means safety and not panic, on the other hand it means peace and not war. A strenuous life of self-sacrifice makes men and nations, this simply means physical and military training. And this training is good to make healthy men, to make strong men, to make men with discipline and system, and to make men think of the bad effects of insubordination and lawlessness.
WHAT CAN BE DONE? We can
(1) Determine that we will preserve our present Nationality at any sacrifice. (2) Satisfy ourselves that we are ordinary men and women in Canada, like the rest of the world. (3) Look round at all the rest of the civilized nations of the earth and see what their patriotism impels them to do for National safety and the moulding of their national manhood. (4) Consider the history of our own country; what has happened, what was then done, and follow the example of our forefathers.
With reference to the last clause, I would ask why we have the Union Jack floating above us today? Leaving aside consideration of the splendid loyalty and services of the Six Nations' Indians and Tecumseth's followers, the thing more than anything else that saved Canada was the Militia Law of 1808. This law was nothing more or less than the spirit of devotion and loyalty to Canadian soil of French Canadians. The early British Governors of Canada had the common sense to recognize a good law. They kept on the French Militia law for fifty years after the fall of Quebec, Lord Dorchester reviving their system by his ordinances, of 1787 and 1789 which were finally embodied in the Act of 1808, which Act saved Canada, and without which it must have fallen before the 13 invasions made during the three long years of war. The invaders found an armed people on Canadian soil, both French and British.
What has been the history of the expansion of the United States? The original territory, under the Peace of Paris in 1783, covered the territory east of the Mississippi and north of Florida. Then the Province of Louisiana, the great Central West, was purchased from France in 1803 and Florida from Spain in 1819. Texas as a republic was admitted in 1845, Great Britain was euchred out of Oregon and Washington in 1846 and the remainder of the West wrested from Mexico by war in 1848, save a small piece purchased from them in 1853. Then Alaska was bought from Russia in 1867; Hawaii was absorbed in 1899; the Phillipines taken from Spain in 1898, which might as well be said to include Cuba. A pretty good record of land grabbing--a ten-fold increase to the 326,378 square miles of the original 13 States. The question is, have they finished? Will history not repeat itself? Does the world appear to be breaking into small states, small trusts and combines, decreasing expansion?
Mr. L. S. Amery, the well-known British Military expert, says: "I know that the average politician who hates all unpleasant facts will say `the Americans are our cousins and friends; war with them is unthinkable!' Unthinkable! There is no such a word in international politics. We have been at war with the United States in the past. We have more than once since then been on the verge of war with them--the last time only 12 years ago, over Venezuela." Mr. Amery, knowing the hopelessness of our Military system and military position, goes on to say: "We require a Military system capable of putting, if it came to the worst, two million men into the field in Canada in the second year of war." The humiliation of our impotence is made even more clear by Mr. Amery when he alludes to "the less critical case of India." Therefore should we not wake up, go back to the old law which saved Canada? Under it Nova Scotia alone had as many drilled militia-men as we have in the whole of Canada today, at one-sixtieth of our last year's expenditure. That old law demanded that every man between 16 and 60 should be enrolled in his local company and, under penalties, should turn out with a musket and six ball-ammunition for training for service, when called upon by his Commanding officer. The change from this good old law was deplored by those who served under it, as for example my grandfather who served from 1812-14, and says in his journal: "A new Militia bill was brought in (1846), but I much prefer the old law of 1808, inaugurated under the immortal Brock, whereby flank companies were always kept enrolled and trained for an emergency, thereby forming an active force, ready at any time to take the field, and form a rallying body for the rest. The wisdom of this scheme was well tried in 1812, when nearly the entire Militia was ready to take the field in defence of their country in from 12 to 24 hours after the declaration of war." And again he says
"In March of this year (1854) we find the first movement towards establishing a volunteer organization, which afterward entirely supplanted the old Militia, although we doubt if the result of the movement has paid us good interest on the money spent over its institution, as we are still without the efficient home army of 1794, 1812, or even 1837. The spirit of those old heroes has been well illustrated in "The Battle of Lundy's Lane," by Duncan Campbell Scott, who concludes a long story as follows
But--there's his grave* in the orchard where the headstone glimmers white;
We could see it, we thought, from our window e'n on the darkest night;
It is set there for a sign that what one lad could do
Would be done by a hundred thousand lads whose hearts were stout and true.
And when in the time of trial you hear the recreant say,
Shooting his coward lips at us, "You shall have had your day;
For all your state and glory shall pass like a cloudy wrack,
And here some other flag shall fly, where flew the Union Jack."
Why tell him a hundred thousand men would spring from these sleepy farms,
To tie the flag in its ancient place with the sinews of their arms;
And if they doubt you and put you to scorn, why you can make it plain
With the tale of the gallant Lincoln men and the fight
at Lundy's Lane.
*Note: Abner, the young Canadian hero of the story.