The Private Manufacture of Armaments

by Philip Noel Baker
[Oxford University Press, $3.75]
A BOOK which, as Viscount Cecil of Chelwood says, should be read by everybody who cares for peace.
Mr. Noel Baker sits in the Parliament of Great Britain and is one of the leading authorities in the Labor Party on foreign affairs. He was a junior member of the British Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. Ten years later he joined Mr. Arthur Henderson, the ablest British Foreign Minister in recent years, in the Foreign Office as his Parliamentary Private Secretary and afterwards went with him to Geneva as his personal assistant during the earlier part of his presidency of the abortive Disarmament Conference. Mr. Noel Baker thus brings to his subject much first-hand experience which, together with a decade of special, though often interrupted, study, has enabled him to produce a book as illuminating to the ordinary reader as it is indispensable to the expert on international relations.
Mr. Noel Baker deals, as he explains, primarily with the moral and political aspects of the manufacture of armaments by private firms and will shortly publish another volume upon the economic, industrial, and technical aspects of that controversial trade. Though he favors its abolition, he is no impetuous propagandist. The sentimentalist is not allowed to get the better of the student or the party politician of the constructive reformer. Facts, thoroughly documented, are allowed to speak for themselves. Arguments pro and con are set out with dispassionate lucidity. The governments are held responsible for the continued existence of private armament firms; but their reasons for not taking them over are stated.
The armament manufacturers are roughly handled, those in the United States being chastised largely by scorpions collected by Senator Nye and his investigating committee; devastating stories are told of international intrigue, of the soulless and sometimes anti-patriotic hawking of wares from country to country, of the control and manipulation of the press and public opinion, of an amorality so sodden at times as to prompt the question whether it may not have been due rather to lack of imagination than to a cynical disregard of the decencies of life. The figures in the principal munition-industry scandals, from the egregious Mr. Mulliner of pre-war days in Great Britain to Mr. Shearer and his more recent activities in Geneva and Washington, walk across Mr. Noel Baker’s pages in sombre and, it must be added, picturesque procession to which Paris, Berlin, and other capitals make their contributions.
Mr. Noel Baker stresses the point that the private manufacture of armaments is but one of the many factors which obstruct disarmament and produce war. ‘But they are one of those factors; the evils do exist. This book sets forth only a tiny fraction of the evidence which would be revealed if the files of the Arms Firms could be searched. But if only the evidence of this book is taken, the case against the present system is amply proved.’
One feels after reading the evidence that the Arms Firms and their activities, besides being a bad factor, are also an unnecessary factor in the distempers of the world. Why should profit-making companies be left in a position in which they are constantly tempted to muddy the waters of international relations through the medium of men like Mr. Shearer and by more subtle agencies? Why should they be allowed to aggravate, as they indubitably have done in the past, what is of necessity one of the worst features of an international armaments race, namely the advertisement which the governments concerned feel constrained to give sometimes to the allegedly bellicose intentions of neighbors, sometimes to the general threat of war, sometimes to both in order to persuade their peoples that the game of rearmament is worth the candle of taxation?