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Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, Volume 1 by John Bright

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I have said nothing here of the fact that all these troubles have sprung
out of the demands made by France upon the Turkish Government, and urged
in language more insulting than any which has been shown to have been
used by Prince Menchikoff [Footnote: Col. Rose to the Earl of
Malmesbury, November 20, 1852--Blue Book, part i. p. 49. Lord J. Russell
to Lord Cowley, January 28, 1853--Ibid, part i. p. 67.]. I have said
nothing of the diplomatic war which has been raging for many years past
in Constantinople, and in which England has been behind no other Power
in attempting to subject the Porte to foreign influences [Footnote: Blue
Book--Correspondence respecting the Condition of Protestants in Turkey,
1841-51, pp. 5-8.] I have said nothing of the abundant evidence there is
that we are not only at war with Russia, but with all the Christian
population of the Turkish Empire, and that we are building up our
Eastern policy on a false foundation--namely, on the perpetual
maintenance of the most immoral and filthy of all despotisms over one of
the fairest portions of the earth which it has desolated, and over a
population it has degraded but has not been able to destroy. I have said
nothing of the wretched delusion that we are fighting for civilization
in supporting the Turk against the Russian and against the subject
Christian population of Turkey. I have said nothing about our pretended
sacrifices for freedom in this war, in which our great and now dominant
ally is a monarch who, last in Europe, struck down a free constitution,
and dispersed by military violence a national Representative Assembly.

My doctrine would have been non-intervention in this case. The danger of
the Russian power was a phantom [Footnote: 'There never has been a great
State whose power for external aggression has been more overrated than
Russia. She may be impregnable within her own boundaries, BUT SHE IS
the House of Commons_, 1853.]; the necessity of permanently upholding
the Mahometan rule in Europe is an absurdity. Our love for civilization,
when we subject the Greeks and Christians to the Turks, is a sham; and
our sacrifices for freedom, when working out the behests of the Emperor
of the French and coaxing Austria to help us, is a pitiful imposture.
The evils of non-intervention were remote and vague, and could neither
be weighed nor described in any accurate terms. The good we can judge
something of already, by estimating the cost of a contrary policy. And
what is that cost? War in the north and south of Europe, threatening to
involve every country of Europe. Many, perhaps fifty millions sterling,
in the course of expenditure by this country alone, to be raised from
the taxes of a people whose extrication from ignorance and poverty can
only be hoped for from the continuance of peace. The disturbance of
trade throughout the world, the derangement of monetary affairs, and
difficulties and ruin to thousands of families. Another year of high
prices of food, notwithstanding a full harvest in England, chiefly
because war interferes with imports, and we have declared our principal
foreign food-growers to be our enemies. The loss of human life to an
enormous extent. Many thousands of our own countrymen have already
perished of pestilence and in the field; and hundreds, perhaps
thousands, of English families will be plunged into sorrow, as a part of
the penalty to be paid for the folly of the nation and its rulers.

When the time comes for the 'inquisition for blood,' who shall answer
for these things? You have read the tidings from the Crimea; you have,
perhaps, shuddered at the slaughter; you remember the terrific picture,--
I speak not of the battle, and the charge, and the tumultuous
excitement of the conflict, but of the field after the battle--Russians,
in their frenzy or their terror, shooting Englishmen who would have
offered them water to quench their agony of thirst; Englishmen, in
crowds, rifling the pockets of the men they had slain or wounded, taking
their few shillings or roubles, and discovering among the plunder of the
stiffening corpses images of the 'Virgin and the Child.' You have read
this, and your imagination has followed the fearful details. This is
war,--every crime which human nature can commit or imagine, every
horror it can perpetrate or suffer; and this it is which our Christian
Government recklessly plunges into, and which so many of our countrymen
at this moment think it patriotic to applaud! You must excuse me if I
cannot go with you. I will have no part in this terrible crime. My hands
shall be unstained with the blood which is being shed. The necessity of
maintaining themselves in office may influence an administration;
delusions may mislead a people; _Vattel_ may afford you a law and a
defence; but no respect for men who form a Government, no regard I have
for 'going with the stream,' and no fear of being deemed wanting in
patriotism, shall influence me in favour of a policy which, in my
conscience, I believe to be as criminal before God as it is destructive
of the true interest of my country.

I have only to ask you to forgive me for writing so long a letter. You
have forced it from me, and I would not have written it did I not so
much appreciate your sincerity and your good intentions towards me.

Believe me to be, very sincerely yours,


October 29.

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