Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013
By Gustavus A. Ohlinger in 1966
Mr. Ohlinger (1877-1972) was a distinguished attorney, author and lecturer. Born in China of American missionaries, he came to Toledo, Ohio in 1902, after graduating from the University of Michigan College of Law. In a legal practice spanning six decades he wrote a number of books, including an eight-volume legal treatise on civil practice. He also wrote for the Atlantic Monthly and the Michigan Law Review, which he helped found as a student in 1901. This article was first published in the Michigan Quarterly Review, February 1966.
Mr. Churchill: I was lucky enough to start with a name very well known in England, and as you know, a name counts a great deal with us. In your country it is somewhat of a handicap to have a great father—few of your great men have had great sons.
My early education was at Harrow. I chose the army for my career, and received my training at Sandhurst. On its completion I was gazetted to the 4th Hussars, then stationed in India.
In 1895, I went to Cuba. I did not fight, but wrote about the insurrection. I did not see much of the rebel army—little more than a puff of smoke now and then from some jungle. I think the material of the Spanish infantry is quite good. Governor [of New York Theodore] Roosevelt was telling me the other day that the Spaniards were very good fighters.
In 1896, I served with the 4th Hussars at Bangalore, India. The revolt of the Pathan tribes occurred about that time, and my friend, Sir Bindon Blood, was called to organize a force for its suppression. I was lucky enough to obtain a leave from my regiment and to serve under him in what was known as the “Malakand Field Force,” about which I wrote a book.
My next campaign was in Egypt. I was attached to the 21st Lancers. They were short of officers, and I was lent to them.
Going back in history, in 1883 the Egyptian government had broken down—their bonds were selling at 40—today they sell for 117. The people were starving, eating their fingers off. Under the leadership of Mad Mullah [in fact, the Mahdi] the Dervishes had revolted. The British government appointed Evelyn Baring, afterwards created Earl of Cromer, as British agent, consul-general, minister >> plenipotentiary, and financial adviser; General Charles Gordon, who had reorganized the Chinese imperial forces and had suppressed the Taiping Rebellion was summoned to Egypt. He was stationed at Khartoum. The Dervishes closed in upon him, but he stayed until everyone had left; a steamer was waiting for him, and he had orders to leave, but on January 22 [actually 26], 1885, the Dervishes swarmed into the city, killing men, women, and children; Gordon was struck down and killed on the steps of the palace.
Then the Dervishes tried to invade Egypt, and the British came in; a long warfare ensued; you must have your river or your railroad to move troops: Kitchener took his time; he built railways, started cities; gunboats, steamers and barges were either carried over the cataracts in parts or built above the rapids.
Finally, on September 1, 1898, we got to Omdurman, and landed, our backs to the river.
On the next day the Dervishes, fifty-thousand strong, debouched from the city in wonderful order and charged upon our 20,000 men and our forty-five guns; when they were within forty yards we began. The poor devils were slaughtered; we killed 10,800; the killed, in white robes, lay like snowdrifts over the desert sand. Our loss was slight— only 600 killed and wounded.
I don’t agree with those who advocated the destruction of the temple—I would have let it stand, placing a man on the outside of it to collect admission money. However, it was decided to pull it down—and that broke the Dervishes—they thought that Almighty God had turned against them.
The East is interesting, and to no one can it be more valuable and interesting than to anyone who comes from the West.
I think we shall have to take the Chinese in hand and regulate them. I believe that as civilized nations become more powerful they will get more ruthless, and the time will come when the world will impatiently bear the existence of great barbaric nations who may at any time arm themselves and menace civilized nations. I believe in the ultimate partition of China—I mean ultimate. I hope we shall not have to do it in our day. The Aryan stock is bound to triumph.
Personally, I am not greatly concerned about Russian development in China. I would rather have them develop in that way down south into India. Russia has a justifiable ambition to possess a warm water port. It is really embarrassing to think that 100,000,000 people are without one.
I think the press affords the ladder which is available to everyone in a way afforded by no other profession; put out good stuff and in time people will say, “We must have this.”
There are many tendencies in your press which are dangerous, particularly among certain members of your press. In England, the newspaper has great power; you cannot say that here. No strong paper, if it starts out to do a thing, fails of accomplishing it in England. You have no national paper. You have Chicago papers, New York papers, Philadelphia papers. These deal with the local news of these sections of the country. But you have no national, federal paper—no paper that leaves out local affairs and makes it its business to give reports of the nation, of national polities, of national aspirations and national life. A man takes a local paper and finds out what has happened at Sleepy Hollow—but at the same time he should also take another paper which shows him what a little place the town he lives in is compared with the vast organism.
Of course, the great size of your country is an obstacle in the way of a successful national paper. From London, we can send our papers all over England in a day. To overcome the difficulty you must call in the aid of the telegraph. There should be centers in different sections of the country where the national paper could be published for the section. Your millionaires could do a great deal better than founding hospitals, endowing universities, and building libraries by starting some good national paper that would give correct news that would aid in forming national sentiment, and in giving expression to national aspirations.
The London Times satisfies my ideal of a newspaper—a paper that gives a great deal of space to news from foreign countries. In England, nobody pays any attention to a person so long as he is a private person. If you become a public personage, such as a writer, an actor, an orator, or a statesman—anything of that kind—then notice is taken of you. English newspapers take no notice of private affairs.
Some years ago, they set up a London edition of the New York Herald. The paper published sensational news, social gossip. But it did not pay. The Daily Mail has the biggest circulation of any paper in England. It is what we call a sensational paper, but it is not anything like yours. The people, however, who run the country, who take an interest in polities, read the London Times. It goes all over the United Kingdom. The other papers have a circulation which extends as far as they can reach by a nine hours run from London.
You ask my advice to the young correspondent? It is: verify your quotations and avoid split infinitives—phrases like “to utterly destroy the enemy.” In his reply to Kruger’s ultimatum Mr. [Joseph] Chamberlain used a split infinitive, using the phrase “to further prolong negotiations” and it caused furious comment.
I think it is very curious that nobody takes any care of language today. It goes along now just as anybody likes. In olden days, in Greece and Rome, the best educated people, the lawyers, the statesmen, the orators, and actors looked after the language. Nowadays, the language does not get this inspiration from the highest sources. It follows the line of least resistance; it follows those who are least qualified to direct it. The tendency of language nowadays is to diverge into dialect. But I think the newspapers will have the effect of fusing all these dialects into one.
It is an enormous commercial advantage for the United States and Great Britain to speak the same language. It is a tremendous advantage in the way of trade. The same books can be read by twice as many people —a writer or an actor has two reading publics to appeal to. What fools we should be were we to allow our languages to drift apart! I should hope before I die to see an International Society between these two English speaking countries whose object it would be to keep the language together, each year to take certain expressions into the language—like the Académie française—to incorporate certain changes as are necessary to a healthy principle of growth in the language and to procure uniformity. Otherwise, we will lose our unity of language—there is danger of our drifting apart and losing our common tongue, by making it too common.
The more you combine, the better you will be able to produce. There, of course, comes a limit when a trust is so large that it makes an illegitimate profit. But its profit in no case makes the manufactured article dearer than it would have been if made by a number of small men. They can always produce cheaper. Although I know that the more you combine, the richer the world will become, yet that is not the end of human existence. You must think of the breed of men you raise. It is well that a number of men should be exposed to the ups and downs of life, that they should be compelled to cudgel their brains and fight for their existence as independent producers. That is the factory where the national fibre is made. It is therefore a question from this point of view how far combination is advantageous. Combination will always make the world more comfortable, but comfort is not the end of human existence. It is the moral character of men. But in stamping out the individual producer, it seems to me that although the material wealth of the world may increase, the moral wealth of nations would be decreased.
The war in South Africa is a war between the Cape Dutch and the Cape English, each looking to their own nation as a national center. The Cape Dutch look to Pretoria and wish to see South Africa united under Dutch rule. The Cape British desire to see South Africa made a part of the British Empire. It is merely a contest between these two races, each having its natural national center and each wishing to see South Africa united under it. The Cape Dutch outnumber the Cape British. They outnumber them in the Cape Parliament, and they have had their own ministries. In this war these two elements have simply called in their big brothers;—the Dutch, their brothers in the Orange Free State and in the Transvaal; and the British, their countrymen beyond the sea. If England had sunk in the ocean and dropped out of sight, there would inevitably have been a war between these two races. There would have been a hell of a row between the Dutch and the British even if England had never come in. If they had not been aided by their countrymen, the Cape British would have got licked. The Dutch population is closer to the farms—the British population is one of traders and manufacturers. The men who live in the country always last longer in a racial war. But before the war is over I am sure that more of South Africa will fight voluntarily on the side of the British than were ever commandeered by the Dutch.