THIS is trivial enough, but what would you have? If Admirals will not strike the proper attitudes, nor lieutenants emit the appropriate sentiments, one is forced back on the truth, which is that the men at the heart of great matters in our Empire are mostly of an even simplicity. From the advertising point of view they are stupid, but the breed has always been stupid in this department. It may be due, as our enemies assert, to our racial snobbery, or, as others hold, to a certain God-given lack of imagination which saves us from being over-concerned at the effects of our appearances on others. Either way, it deceives the enemies people more than any calculated lie. When you come to think of it, though the English are the worst paper-work and viva voce liars in the world, they have been rigorously trained since their early youth to live and act lies for the comfort of the society in which they move, and so for their own comfort. The result in this war is interesting.
It is no lie that at the present moment we hold all the seas in the hollow of our hands. For that reason we shuffle over them shame-faced and apologetic, making arrangements here and flagrant compromises there, in order to give substance to the lie that we have dropped fortuitously into this high seat and are looking round the world for some one to resign it to. Nor is it any lie that, had we used the Navy’s bare fist instead of its gloved hand from the beginning, we could in all likelihood have shortened the war. That being so, we elected to dab and peck at and half-strangle the enemy, to let him go and choke him again. It is no lie that we continue on our inexplicable path animated, we will try to believe till other proof is given, by a cloudy idea of alleviating or mitigating something for somebody, not ourselves. [Here, of course, is where our racial snobbery comes in, which makes the German gibber. I cannot understand why he has not accused us to our Allies of having secret commercial understandings with him.] For that reason, we shall finish the German eagle as the merciful lady killed the chicken. It took her the whole afternoon, and then, you will remember, the carcase had to be thrown away.
Meantime, there is a large and unlovely water, inhabited by plain men in severe boats, who endure cold, exposure, wet, and monotony almost as heavy as their responsibilities. Charge them with heroism, but that needs heroism, indeed! Accuse them of patriotism, they become ribald. Examine into the records of the miraculous work they have done and are doing. They will assist you, but with perfect sincerity they will make as light of the valour and forethought shown as of the ends they have gained for mankind. The Service takes all work for granted. It knew long ago that certain things would have to be done, and it did its best to be ready for them. When it disappeared over the sky-line for manœuvres it was practising—always practising; trying its men and stuff and throwing out what could not take the strain. That is why, when war came, only a few names had to be changed, and those chiefly for the sake of the body, not of the spirit. And the Seniors who hold the key to our plans and know what will be done if things happen, and what links wear thin in the many chains, they are of one fibre and speech with the Juniors and the lower deck and all the rest who come out of the undemonstrative households ashore. “Here is the situation as it exists now,” say the Seniors. “This is what we do to meet it. Look and count and measure and judge for yourself, and then you will know.”
It is a safe offer. The civilian only sees that the sea is a vast place, divided between wisdom and chance. He only knows that the uttermost oceans have been swept clear, and the trade-routes purged, one by one, even as our armies were being convoyed along them; that there was no island nor key left unsearched on any waters that might hide an enemy’s craft between the Arctic Circle and the Horn. He only knows that less than a day’s run to the eastward of where he stands, the enemy’s fleets have been held for a year and four months, in order that civilisation may go about its business on all our waters.