General Bramble Listens

AURELLE, over from France, ran into Dr. O’Grady on the streets of London. They had spent the four years of war together.

‘What luck!’ cried the Doctor. ‘I am on my way to lunch at the Army and Navy Club with Colonel Parker and General Bramble. You must come along too.’

The General had not changed. He still kept the same serenity; his skin was still rosy, his eye still ingenuous. He was delighted to welcome Aurelle again, and Colonel Parker, for all his sarcasm, was no less friendly.

‘What, Aurelle,’ he said, ‘you dare to risk your life on this dangerous island? Your papers are carrying, or were three months back, such astounding stories of our deviltry that I am frightened myself. A little proud, too. I never thought Englishmen were capable of the sophistries you ascribe to us. Tell me honestly, Aurelle, are there really many Frenchmen who picture us as at once — how shall I put it? — wise and wicked?’

‘There are many Frenchmen,’ Aurelle answered, ‘who have never seen an Englishman in their lives, and who are ready to believe as much of you as you are of them. Even I, Colonel, — dare I confess it? — have had some trouble understanding your convolutions of the last three months. That Laval-Hoare agreement, for instance, first, adopted, then repudiated — it does n’t strike me as being quite in the grand British manner.’

‘No doubt about it,’ the Colonel agreed, ‘Palmerston or Disraeli would not have handled it that way. In my eyes the question is simple. If the presence of the Italians in Ethiopia were a real threat to the Empire, we ought to have been firm from the outset, no matter what the risk. Otherwise, if their invasion did not endanger us, — and from the expert reports I have just read such is the case, — then it was absurd to irritate Italy, with whom we have always been friends, by these ineffective sanctions.’

‘That’s what you have chosen to do, all the same,’ Aurelle said.

‘My friend,’ the Colonel answered, ‘during the war I explained to you many times that there are two Englands, the Cavalier and the Puritan, the cynical and the didactic. In this mess we have been pursuing the policy of Puritans. It will not last for long. Thank Heaven, this is the most unreasonable country in the world. The wind is changing already. In a few months we shall have fixed things up with Italy.’


‘Asked like a Frenchman,’ laughed the Colonel. ‘And how, let me ask you in turn, can anyone tell ahead? We must take our opportunities as they come. Remember that England is a realist, and is always ready to admit her mistakes. She grits her teeth and carries on to the end when she has to; otherwise she does not insist on her own way. You Frenchmen cling to principles. We worship facts. That is why we made that naval deal with Germany, for instance, which offended you so, but which in reality helped you as well as ourselves.’

‘It offended us,’ Aurelle pronounced, ‘because it violated a treaty.’

‘Maybe, Aurelle, but see the mess you are in with your land forces. You have championed treaties with the most praiseworthy persistence. Yet actually you have allowed Germany to rearm to an extent far more dangerous than the compromise we have been thanklessly holding out for so long. You may have saved the letter of your treaty, but where is the spirit?’

‘It seems to me, Colonel,’ Aurelle broke in a little peevishly, ‘that you know just as well how to stick to the letter when it serves your purpose. You held us down very strictly to Article XVI. What is more, since the war you have persuaded or forced us into so many compromises — each of which was to be the last, and none of which was respected — that now it is we who, as you put it, are gritting our teeth.’

Dr. O’Grady now took the floor.

‘One of your countrymen, Aurelle, said that generals are always getting ready for the war that has just ended. Diplomats likewise each time draw up what should have been the previous peace treaty. In 1814, at the Congress of Vienna, Metternich, Talleyrand, and Castlereagh at last cooked up a treaty as reasonable as could be expected, considering the ideas of those times. They secured the balance of power in Europe — of the power that had been. But they forgot a new power, which was nationalism. It ruined their work. In 1919 the treaty makers of Paris, with that example before them, strove with all their might to respect the lines of nationality. But they were so anxious to correct the previous treaties that they forgot all about economics. Now the countries they carved out so cleverly cannot subsist. You can be sure that the next peace conference will think of nothing but the allotment of raw materials and will forget some other factor which does not occur to us now but will turn out to be the only one that matters at all.’

‘Doctor,’ Aurelle laughed, ‘I recognize your old sermon. What is the moral?’

‘Why, that treaties must always be imperfect, and that we must try to avail ourselves of a revived League of Nations to correct them, one after another, if it can be done without too much breakage.’

‘You must admit,’ said Aurelle, ‘that our first experience with that, piece of machinery has not been happy.’

‘First experiences never are,’ the Doctor answered. ‘Remember that the League should have had the support of the United States from the start. If we get it, everything will be different.’

‘Do you think we might?’

‘Possibly,’ the Colonel answered. ‘For ten years America has clung to the idea of neutrality. Now she may find out that true neutrality is a mirage. The first effect of war in Europe would be to throw millions more out of work in America. Do you think any government could then prevent manufacturers from taking orders payable in gold? Even if it could, would n’t the goods slip out by Mexico or Canada? Then the story of 1916 would begin again. The most intelligent Americans are already wondering if it would not be wiser at this moment to throw the weight of their country into the scale of peace.’

‘I hope they hurry,’ said Aurelle.

‘Messiou,’ General Bramble interrupted, ‘for one hour, while listening to you, I have been wondering —’

‘What, sir?’

‘Only this, gentlemen — what shall we have for lunch?’