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in the “Land of Paradox,” had to be ultimately responsible for the maintenance, and even to some extent, for the movements, of an army of some 25,000 men in the field.
That good results were obtained under this somewhat anomalous system cannot be doubted. It will not, therefore, be devoid of interest to explain how the system worked in practice, and what were the main reasons which contributed towards the success.
I have no wish to disparage the strategical and tactical ability which was displayed in the conduct of the campaign. It is, however, a fact that no occasion arose for the display of any great skill in these branches of military science. When once the British and Egyptian troops were brought face to face with the enemy, there could-unless the conditions under which they fought were altogether extraordinary-be little doubt of the result. The speedy and successful issue of the campaign depended, in fact, almost entirely upon the methods adopted for overcoming the very exceptional difficulties connected with the supply and transport of the troops. The main quality required to meet these difficulties was a good head for business. By one of those fortunate accidents which have been frequent in the history of Anglo-Saxon enterprise, a man was found equal to the occasion. Lord Kitchener of Khartoum won his well-deserved peerage because he was an excellent man of business; he looked carefully after every important detail, and enforced economy.
My own merits, such as they were, were of a purely negative character. They may be summed up in a single phrase. I abstained from a mischievous activity, and I acted as a check on the interference of others. I had full confidence in the abilities of the commander, whom I had practically
myself chosen, and, except when he asked for my assistance, I left him entirely alone. I encouraged him to pay no attention to those vexatious bureaucratic formalities with which, under the slang phrase of “red tape,” our military system is somewhat overburthened. I exercised some little control over the demands for stores which were sent to the London War Office, and the mere fact that those demands passed through my hands, and that I declined to forward any request unless, besides being in accordance with existing regulations-a point to which I attached but slight importance—it had been authorised by the Sirdar, probably tended to check wastefulness in that quarter where it was most to be feared. Beyond this I did nothing, and I found—somewhat to my own astonishment—that, with my ordinary very small staff of diplomatic secretaries, the general direction of a war of no inconsiderable dimensions added but little to my ordinary labours.
I do not say that this system would always work as successfully as was the case during the Khartoum campaign. The facts, as I have already said, were peculiar. The commander, on whom everything practically depended, was a man of marked military and administrative ability. Nevertheless, I venture to indulge in the hope that some useful lessons for the future may be derived from the Soudan campaigns of 1896 to 1898. It is in no spirit of conventional eulogy that I say that the British army consists of as fine material as any in the world. Apart from any question of national honour and interests, it positively chills my heart to think that the lives of the gallant young men of whom that army is mainly composed, may be needlessly sacrificed by defective organisation or guidance. This is no place to write a general essay on our military administration, but I cannot
refrain from saying that, from what I have seen of the administration of the British War Office, it stood at one time in great need of improvement. It was costly. It was hampered by tradition. It was, to use an expressive French word, terribly “paperassier”; neither, for many years, was sufficient care taken, in every branch of the military service, to put the right man in the right place. In order to reform it, men rather than measures were required. I should add that there is reason to believe that, since the South African War, the administration of the War Office has been greatly improved. It is, however, impossible to speak positively on this point until its efficiency has undergone the crucial test of war.
The elation with which the news of the capture of Khartoum was received in England was in direct proportion to the despondency which chilled the heart of the British nation when, thirteen years previously, it was known that Mahdiism had triumphed and that General Gordon had been killed. Lord Kitchener, on his return to London, was received with an enthusiastic and well-deserved ovation. Indeed, one of the principal arguments in favour of recapturing. Khartoum was that the British public had evidently made up its mind that, sooner or later, Khartoum had to be recaptured. It might have been possible to have postponed decisive action. It would probably have been impossible to have altogether prevented it. The national honour was not to be indefinitely baulked of the salve for which it yearned. An argument of this sort, albeit it is based on sentiment, is of intrinsic importance. In the execution of the Imperialist policy, to which England is pledged almost as a necessity of her existence, it is not at all desirable to eliminate entirely those considerations which
appeal to the imaginative, to the exclusion of the material side of the national character. Moreover, whatever may be thought of the undesirability of admitting any emotional lines of thought as guides to practical action in politics, it may be regarded as certain that the politician who endeavours to run absolutely counter to the impulse of the national imagination, instead of seeking to guide it, will find that he is attempting an impossible task.
The policy pursued by the British Government in 1896 is, of course, capable of ample justification on other and less sentimental grounds than those to which allusion is made above. The effective control of the waters of the Nile from the Equatorial Lakes to the sea is essential to the existence of Egypt:
Whatever opinion may be entertained of the policy itself, or of whether the moment chosen for its execution was opportune or the reverse, it cannot be doubted that the capture of Khartoum did more than appease those sentiments of national honour which had been stung to the quick by the events of 1885. The cannon which swept away the Dervish hordes at Omdurman proclaimed to the world that on England—or, to be more strictly correct, on Egypt under British guidance - had devolved the solemn and responsible duty of introducing the light of Western civilisation amongst the sorely tried people of the Soudan.
My hope and belief is that that duty will be performed in a manner worthy of the best traditions of the Anglo-Saxon race.
Question of the future political status of the Soudan-Anomalies of the
British position_Objections to annexation-And to complete incorporation with Egypt-Intricacy of the problem-The two flags -Speech at Omdurman—The right of conquest—The Agreement of January 19, 1899—Its unusual nature-Its reception by Europe - Advantages of a Free Trade policy.
THE Soudan having been reconquered, the question of the future political status of the country naturally presented itself for solution.
British policy in Egypt since the year 1882 may be said to constitute a prolonged and, so far, only partially successful effort to escape from the punishment due to original sin. The ancient adage that truth is a fellow-citizen of the gods is as valid in politics as in morals. British statesmen were continually harassed by a Nemesis in the shape of the magna vis veritatis, which was for ever striving to shatter the rickety political edifice constructed at the time of the occupation on no surer foundations than those of diplomatic opportunism. At every turn of the political wheel, fact clashed with theory. Nevertheless, in the year 1898, of which period I am now writing, Ottoman supremacy in the Soudan, whether in the person of the Sultan or the Khedive, presented à sufficient character of solidity to necessitate its recognition as a practical
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