The Cause and Conduct of the War (7 february 1902)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Cause and Conduct of the War is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 7 february 1902.

It concerns The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct published on 16 january 1902.

The Cause and Conduct of the War

The Times (7 february 1902)


Sir, — I hesitate to intrude again so soon upon your valuable space, but the letters of your three correspondents to-day call for an answer.

Lord Monkswell will, I am sure, understand that in contributing to my fund, Lord Rosebery, who had not to the best of my belief read the book at the time, was simply giving his kindly support to a venture which had his general approbation. If in matters of detail it differed from his own view, it makes his action the more broad-minded and generous.

I am sorry that my account of the negotiations does not satisfy Lord Monkswell. My conclusion was drawn from Botha's own words as quoted in the text.

As to the point of the General who is in doubt about the meaning of the Hague Convention deciding it for himself in order to preserve his army, what else could he do ? He could not wait with his communications cut while the question was being referred to an international Court. The point of law appears to be an ambiguous one, and it is therefore upon quite a different footing to an admitted abuse such as the poisoning of wells. On this subject, however, I must confess that my opinion is of little weight beside that of Lord Monkswell.

I can understand Lord Monkswell's contention that the book might have been more effective if it were confined to the conduct of the war. After some thought, however, I decided to widen its scope to the causes as well. My chief reason for this was that it is written to give a foreigner the British point of view. Had it treated only the cause of the war he would say after reading it, "that may be true and the war may be just, but you have waged it in an inhuman fashion." On the other hand, if I had treated only the conduct, he would have said, "you may have acted humanely, but your whole action was unjust from the beginning." It was only by treating both questions that I might hope to convince him of the truth that our action has been both just, and humane.

Lord Sherborne, I see, despairs of my enterprise. He may be right, but you only know by trying. As to his contention that it is more dignified to be silent, it would have more force if this were an official answer. If there is a chance of having our case considered, then I think we may well abate our dignity a little, now that the very policy which Lord Sherborne recommends has bad the effect of raising the hatred of the world against us to a point which is, as I think, a serious national danger. Besides, apart from politics, let Lord Sherborne consider the bitter lives of those numerous English governesses and others who spend their days among foreigners and who suffer intensely from their inability to find an answer to all the foul charges which are continually made against their country. If Lord Sherborne were in that situation, he would modify his somewhat cynical philosophy.

I am sorry not to have come up to Mrs. Melladew's test of historical accuracy. I took such pains as I might, and I duly read the Blue-books in question. I observe that the lady offers me £5 for my fund if I will prove two statements to her satisfaction. I have often had to earn money hard in the course of my life, but I strike against such remuneration as this for the colossal task of persuading a lady against her formed convictions.

In response to many letters, may I add that Messrs. Smith, Elder, of Waterloo-place, will answer all questions about the translations?

Yours faithfully,

The Athenaeum, Feb. 16. [1]

See also

  1. It seems there is a typo here, probably 6 instead.