We see that the time is now here when it may be very dangerous to talk of opposing conscription in Ireland, and yet that opposition must be organised, and to be organised it must be discussed.
It is to be hoped that whatever discussion takes place now, those taking part in it will recognise that the time has gone past for smooth-sounding generalities, or mere political make-believe. We are now living in an era of ruthless brute force, of blood and iron. Whatever effect public opinion may have in times of peace it has little practical effect in time of war. In times of peace human life weighs heavily in the balance, and the most brutal of our rulers shrink from too readily shedding human blood. But in time of war all such considerations vanish, and the spilling of a torrent of blood in the city streets would cause the ruling class no more compunction than the slaughter of game on their estates.
Indeed that lesson has been all too tardily learned by the people and their leaders. One great source of the strength of the ruling class has ever been their willingness to kill in defence of their power and privileges. Let their power be once attacked either by foreign foes, or domestic revolutionists, and at once we see the rulers prepared to kill, and kill, and kill. The readiness of the ruling class to order killing, the small value the ruling class has ever set upon human life, is in marked contrast to the reluctance of all revolutionists to shed blood.
The French Reign of Terror is spoken of with horror and execration by the people who talk in joyful praise about the mad adventure of the Dardanelles. And yet in any one day of battle at the Dardanelles there were more lives lost than in all the nine months of the Reign of Terror.
Should the day ever come when revolutionary leaders are prepared to sacrifice the lives of those under them as recklessly as the ruling class do in every war, there will not be a throne or despotic government left in the world. Our rulers reign by virtue of their readiness to destroy human life in order to reign; their reign will end on the day their discontented subjects care as little for the destruction of human life as they do.
Hence they who now would oppose conscription must not delude themselves into the belief that they are simply embarking upon a new form of political agitation, with no other risks than attend political agitation in times of peace.
We will not be asked to accept conscription by the British Government unless the British ruling class has made up its mind that only conscription can save the Empire. If it does make up its mind to that measure it will enforce conscription though every river in Ireland ran red with blood.
The people of Ireland have been so long accustomed to temporising, and evading straight issues, that there is great danger that they may fail to recognise the gravity of their action, and attempt to fight conscription as they would attempt a cattle drive, or the making of poteen. That is to say in the spirit of a joke at the expense of the police.
Such an attempt in such a spirit would fare badly against a drastic resolve of the military to "make an example" of the first conscripts who refused to obey. A round dozen corpses of young Irishmen would strike terror into thousands, but would not affect the appetites of those who daily order to their death thousands of young men in the prime of life and vigour.
Oppose conscription, by all means, but let us not teach those who look to us for leadership that such opposition can be conducted on the lines of dodging the police, or any such high jinks of constitutional agitation. Those who oppose it take their lives in their hands. Let them be made to realise that in advance. A fool, and ten thousand times worse than a fool, is he who would teach them otherwise. Our rulers will "stop at nothing" to attain their ends. They will continue to rule and rob until confronted by men who will stop at nothing to overthrow them.