Britain’s Foreign Policy: typified by snobbery?

by Instant Noodle

SURELY we ought to be very much ashamed of ourselves, as a nation, for declining to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of men and millions of money in taking a part in Continental squabbles. If we had any regard for our reputation, we should feel very much hurt at the scornful and abusive language in which we are spoken of by the foreign Press, as for instance by a paper representing one of the parties engaged in the Schleswig-Holstein quarrel. Here are a few, out of a whole column of cruel things, which this indignant journal says about us Englishmen,

England has never made herself remarkable for the knowledge of the condition of other nations, for a just and logical mode of thought, or for the consideration of foreign interests and foreign opinions.

In the struggle against NAPOLEON THE FIRST, for example, England consulted her own interests only, and not those of foreigners at all ; witness the enormous national debt which she incurred therein simply to enrich her fund-holders. And now we have no knowledge of the state of things in Schleswig and Holstein.

The question here that they are talking about is regarding the Second Schleswig War, which was where the previously Danish Schleswig-Holstein area was violently captured, forcing the king of Denmark to renounce (on 1 August 1864) all his rights in the duchies in favour of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and King William I of Prussia.

We don’t know that those Duchies are invaded on a trumpery pretext, and that, in the former of them, numbers of brave men have been slaughtered in the defence of their country do we ? Or if we do know that Schleswig is suffering the horrors of war, cruelly and wantonly inflicted, so incapable are we of a just and logical mode of thought as not to perceive that we ought instantly to send a contingent to the Danish Army and a fleet to the Baltic, blockade every German port, and declare war against Austria and Prussia. This illogical poltroonery is so like us !

Let’s see the charges lain out against England, then.


[…] England had never based her pride on being accurately informed respecting justice or injustice ; or acting according to other motives than those of her own advantage, united with her arrogance and her insolence respecting the rights of nations ; or on magnannimity towards a weaker opponent in
renouncing grounded or ungrounded claims.

Boom. There you go. Let’s let Punch defend England, then.

Thus, of course, we labour under the mistake of supposing that justice is altogether on the side of the Germans, and mere injustice on that of the Danes. With a selfish view to our own advantage only, we not only deny the Danes assistance, but also treat their national rights, violated by Germany, with the contempt of arrogance and insolence. Our want of magnanimity is such that even if we sometimes give up ungrounded claims on a weaker opponent, we never renounce those which are grounded on even the shadow of a foundation. It was to be expected that such a sneaking set of bullies as we are would sympa-thetically applaud the putrage of Germany on Denmark. No, we are not a magnanimous nation ; but:-

On the contrary, English policy has many times distinguished itself by cringing before the strong and by naughtiness to the weak. It is the character of snobbism which is transferred from English private life to English politics. To yield to the first opposition, and to indemnify itself for so doing on those who can offer no resistance, has for a long time been the heroism of English policy, which has taken good care not to pick a quarrel with’the United States, but therefore carries off Brazilian ships because a drunken English officer, who had behaved himself clownishly in the streets of Rio Janeiro, received a duo reprimand from the police

Exactly so ; we pocketed the Trent affront on the one hand, and did not submit the Brazilian business to arbitration on the other ; much less did we accept an award unfavourable to ourselves, and apologise. Snobs that we are amongst our other mean tricks lying incorrigibly ! As to our Great DUKE of WELLINGTON, as we call him, he was comparatively a dwarf, and has had the credit of a victory which was won by a giant.

We know very well that English children are taught in the schools tht England alone freed Europe from French tyranny by the battle of Waterloo ; but we know also that the story is otherwise related in German schools, and that, according to many accounts, MARSHAL FORWARD, who was called at that time old BLOCHER, helped England out of the scrape

MARSHAL FORWARD ! Old BLUCHER ! The story of Waterloo as related in German schools ! Eh ! Why, Mr. Punch, we thought you had been quoting a Danish paper, abusing us under natural feelings of irritation occasioned by our default to afford gallant little Denmark succour against her dastardly assailants. No, my dear readers, not so ; but as our humbler classes say, more t’other. The commencement of the article of which the foregoing samples may have made you smile, is as follows :-

” We are not at all surprised at the position which England has assumed against Germany in the Danish question.”

England’s offence, you see, consists in the moral aid which she has given strong Denmark against weak Germany, and not in the reverse. It is poor Germany is aggrieved. The journal which throws all the foregoing, and much more, slops at us, is a Viennese paper, said to be the organ of the Austrian Minister. M. von SCHIMMERLING. The title under which it appears is tliat of the Wanderer. Well, well ! Suppose we call it the Vagabond.

Well, Punch was not much help there. Not being a historian, I’ll leave it there, as food for thought.

It has to be said, though, that Britain chose its fights wisely. Most of the time, anyway.

(March 5th, 1864)