James Connolly


Tell the Truth

A Challenge to Mr Birrell


Irish Worker, 28 November 1914.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.
The notes, which are © 1997 Pluto Press, have not been included.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Every day it is becoming more evident that the slaughter of men in this war exceeds anything known in human history. The vast numbers of men engaged and the deadly character of the weapons employed have combined to make of the scene of conflict one vast slaughterhouse. No longer is it the case of the comparatively small numbers of a professional army, but rather of the contending forces of the entire manhood of nations. Along the battle fronts of France and Belgium, as along the battle fronts of Austria and Poland, it is nations that are marching out to slaughter, and along those battle fronts each day sees the destruction of as many human lives as were lost in a month’s warring on the old scale and in the old manner. France and Belgium, Poland and Austria are becoming vast graveyards in which are being buried the flower of the manhood of the warring nations, in which are also being buried the hopes and brightness of life for countless thousands of women, and millions of children left fatherless to face a heartless world. On the sea the same toll is being taken by this horrible war. In the full bloom of health and strength one moment, in the next hurled into eternity before being able to realise that even a blow is being struck; the manhood and courage, and love, and capacity of the sailors whelmed in oblivion at one fell stroke.

The hospitals of every city in the three kingdoms are crammed with the mangled, twisted, and maimed bodies of the wounded; more than half-a-million soldiers we are told by eminent authorities lie groaning in the hospitals of France, and lying under the sod of France and Belgium or under the heaving billows of the oceans are many thousands whose names are still appearing in the lists of missing, and whose relatives still hopefully believe they are alive and safe as prisoners of war.

We are told that the truth must be kept back lest it give comfort to the enemy. If a town is taken by the Germans or the Boers the fact is concealed for weeks, and we only learn that it was in their hands when the war correspondents are able to tell us that it was re-taken by the Allies. It cannot be that the truth is withheld for fear the enemy should know; if the enemy takes a town, he surely knows that he has taken it. It is not he, but the peoples of these countries that are being deceived. Similarly, if a Dreadnought is sunk by the enemy, or a cruiser sent to the bottom, the news is withheld on the same alleged lying excuse.

We assert that the truth about the loss of human lives in this war is being kept back because it is too awful to be told, because the hopes of the human race are being slaughtered; because if the truth were known people would realise that no victory would compensate any of the warring nations for the loss of the flower of their male population; because the governing class believe that it is necessary that the peoples of the world shall never learn the fearful price mankind has to pay as a punishment for allowing such a criminal class with such murderous instincts to be a governing class. For this reason the Government has issued orders to the Press to keep back all news of disasters, forbade the Press to issue posters telling of British defeats, instructed the Press to avoid keeping track of the totals in the casualty lists, and in general insisted that nothing must be sent out that would be ‘calculated to depress the public’. The punishment for refusing to obey these orders would be a suspension of telegraphic service.

We on our part have a duty to perform. A duty to our class and our country. That duty compels us to do what in us lies to avert the slaughter of any more of our people in the shambles of the Continent. Our duty to our people is greater than any supposed allegiance to the British Empire. The value to Ireland – aye, the value to humanity of any breadwinner of a working class Irish family is immeasurably superior to the value of all the crowned and coroneted murderers and exploiters that ever gibbered in glee over the number of corpses on a battlefield.

Let the truth be known! Count every corpse that the Empire requires us to pay for its victory; add up the total of the wrecked human lives of the wounded soldiers, let us know the sum of the tears that the women and children must shed in oceans that Britannia might rule the waves and browbeat the nations.

We challenge Mr Birrell to the issue. Let he and his fellow conspirators take us into court, not into a secret military tribunal, but before an open court of our fellow subjects. Let them tell the truth about what this war has cost day by day in human lives, and we will guarantee to prove that it is a crime against humanity, and that every person who in this crisis urges the nation to continue the conflict is a traitor to the highest interests of the human race, that every man or woman who does not raise his or her voice in protest, or who pretends that because we are in a murderous conflict we must continue murdering and being murdered – that every such person is a coward and dastard.

Let Mr Birrell test the matter in open tribunal, find out what are the “sentiments of the vast majority of Irishmen”, and then – bring on his gaolers.


Last updated on 14.8.2003