France Cannot Stand By
WE MUST SAVE OUR HONOR AND SECURITY
By EDOUARD DALADIER, Premier of France
Speech made to the Chamber of Deputies, September 2, 1939
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 5, pp. 710-712.
TODAY the government has ordered general mobilization. The whole nation has answered the call with grave and resolute calm. Our young men have joined their regiments. They are now on guard along our frontiers.
The example of dignity and courage which they have set before the world must give the key for our discussions. In their spirit of national brotherhood they have forgotten everything which even yesterday held them apart. They know no other service but the service of France.
And in addressing to them the grateful salutation of the nation, let us take an oath to show ourselves worthy of them.
The government has put France in a position to act in accordance with her vital interests and her honor.
Its duty now is to set before you the facts to their fullest extent and with frankness and clarity.
It is now several days since peace became once more endangered. German exactions from Poland threatened to create a conflict. In a moment I will show you how all the peaceful influences in the world were concerted during these last few days in order to save peace. But at the moment when it could be hoped that all these constantly renewed efforts were going to be crowned with success, Germany brutally reduced them to nothing.
During the day of Aug. 31, the crisis reached its culminating point. As soon as Germany informed Britain she would accept direct negotiation with Poland, Poland, despite the menace caused by the sudden military invasion of Slovakia by the German armies, immediately tried to have recourse to this peaceful method.
At 1 o'clock that afternoon Ambassador Lipski asked for an audience with Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop. Peace seemed to have been saved. But the Reich's Foreign Minister would not receive M. Lipski until 7:45. Although the latter announced the agreement of his government to direct conversations, the German Minister refused to communicate Germany's demands to the Polish Ambassador, on the pretext that he did not posses the full power to accept or reject them on the spot.
At 9 o'clock the German radio made known the nature and extent of these demands and added that Poland had rejected them. It was a falsehood, since Poland had not even been informed of them.
On Sept. 1 at dawn the Fuehrer gave his troops an order to attack. Never was aggression more evident or more unjust. Never was such a work of falsehood and cynicism invented to justify aggression.
Thus war was launched at a moment when great forces had been set in motion for peace and when the most respected authorities of the entire world were exerting their influence on the two parties to induce them to open negotiations for a direct settlement of the conflict which was confronting them.
The head of Christianity had made his voice heard in favor of reason and fraternity: President Roosevelt had sent moving appeals for a general conference; neutral countries actively profferred their good offices for impartial mediation.
Is there any need for me to say that each of these pleas received an immediate warm reception from the French Government?
I myself, gentlemen, felt it my duty to intervene directly with M. Hitler. The head of the German Government on Aug. 25 had made known to me through Ambassador Coulondre that he deplored that a conflict between Germany and Poland could cause French and German blood to be spilled.
I immediately had transmitted to the Fuehrer a positive proposal, framed with a sole view to saving peace without delay.
You have been able to read those texts. You know the answer that was given. I shall not dwell upon it.
But we were not discouraged by the failure of this step, and a second attempt was made by M. Chamberlain with his magnificent perseverance. The documents exchanged between London and Berlin have been published. On the one hand, they showed impartial and steadfast loyalty; on the other, embarrassment, false answers and evasions.
I am also happy to pay homage to the noble efforts made by the Italian Government. Even yesterday we were still trying to unite all the forces of good-will in order to avoid hostilities and obtain the methods of conciliation and arbitration instead of the use of violence.
These efforts for peace, if they have been ineffectual thus far, have at least placed the responsibility upon Germany. They have assured for Poland as the victim, the effective aid and moral support of free nations and free men.
All that we did before the outbreak of hostilities we are still ready to do. If a move for conciliation is renewed we still are ready to join in it. If the fighting should cease and if the aggressors should return within their borders, and if free negotiations could then begin, you may believe me, gentlemen, that the French Government would spare no effort to attain success, even now, in the interests of world peace.
But time is pressing. France and Britain cannot stand by and witness the destruction of a friendly people which foreshadows other violent attacks to be directed against themselves.
Is this the simple question of the German-Polish conflict? No, gentlemen, it is a new phase in the march of the Hitler dictatorship toward its goal—domination of Europe and of the world. How, indeed, can it be forgotten that German claims to Polish territory have long been written on the map of Greater Germany and were only camouflaged for a few years in order more easily to accomplish other conquests!
A long as the German-Polish pact was profitable to Germany it was respected by her. The day when it became an obstacle in the march toward hegemony she did not hesitate to abrogate it.
We are told today that once the German claims on Poland have been satisfied Germany will bind herself to everlasting peace with the world. You may recognize these words!
On May 25, 1935, Hitler agreed not to intervene in the internal affairs of Austria and not to add Austria to the Reich. And on the eleventh of May, 1938, the army entered Vienna, and Dr. Schuschnigg, for having dared to defend the independence of his country, was thrown into prison, and no one can say today what has been his true fate after untold sufferings.
But it seems that it was Chancellor Schuschnigg's provocations which caused the invasion and servitude of his country!
On Sept. 12, 1938, Hitler said that the Sudeten problem was an internal question which concerned only the German minority in Bohemia and the Czecho-Slovak Government. A few days later he unmasked his ambitions, pretending they had been legitimatized by violence of Czech persecutions.
On Sept. 26, 1938, Hitler declared that the Sudeten territories represented the last territorial claims he had to make in Europe. On March 14, 1939, President Hacha was called to Berlin and ordered in the harshest terms to accept an ultimatum. A few hours later Prague was occupied without regard for the given signatures.
There again Hitler attempted to throw upon the victim blame which hung solely on the aggressor.
Finally, on Jan. 30, 1939, Hitler lauded the pact of non-aggression which he signed five years previously with Poland. He hailed this accord as a contribution to freedom and solemnly proclaimed his intention to respect its clauses.
But it is Hitler's acts which count and not his words.
What, then, is our duty now? Poland is our ally. We contracted agreements with her in 1921 and 1925. These agreements have been confirmed. From the tribune of this chamber last May 11, I said:
"Following Foreign Minister Beck's visit to London and in accord with the giving of reciprocal guarantees between Britain and Poland, we made a common accord with that noble and courageous nation for measures of direct immediate application of our treaty of alliance."
"Parliament unanimously approved this policy.
"Since then we never ceased in diplomatic negotiations and public statements to show ourselves faithful to this pact. Our Ambassador to Berlin several times recalled to Hitler and his collaborators that if German aggression against Poland should take place we would fulfill our engagements. And on July 1 in Paris our Minister of Foreign Affairs told the German Ambassador:
"France has definite agreements with Poland and these have been strengthened since the recent events, and consequently France will be on Poland's side immediately as soon as she takes up arms to defend herself."
Poland has been the object of the most unjust and brutal aggression. Nations that guaranteed her independence are bound to intervene and come to her defense. Britain and France are not countries which disregard their signatures.
Yesterday evening, Sept. 1, the Ambassadors of France and Britain made a common demarche with the German Government. They placed in Herr von Ribbentrop's hands the following communication which I will read to you:
"Early today the German Chancellor published a proclamation to the German Army which clearly indicated that he was about to attack Poland.
"The information which reached the French Government and the Government of the United Kingdom indicates that troops have crossed the Polish frontier and that attacks against Polish cities are in progress.
"Under these conditions it appears to the French Government and the United Kingdom that by its actions the German Government has created conditions [that is to say, acts of force of an aggressive character threatening that country's independence] which demand execution by the Governments of France and Great Britain of their obligation to come to Poland's aid.
"Consequently, I must inform Your Excellency that unless the German Government is disposed to give the French Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government has suspended all aggressive action against Poland and is ready promptly to withdraw its forces from Polish territory, the French Government will without hesitation fulfill its obligations with regard to Poland."
Moreover, gentlemen, it is not alone a question of our country's honor. It also concerns the protection of her vital interests. For a France which has failed to keep its signature would soon become a France despised and isolated, without allies and without support, and would soon be subjected to a dreadful onslaught.
What worth can be attached to a guarantee given for our eastern frontier for Alsace-Lorraine after disavowal of guarantees given to Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland? Rendered more powerful by their conquests, gorged with the plunder of Europe and masters of an inexhaustible natural wealth, the aggressors would soon turn on France with all their force.
Our honor, therefore, is today the gage of our security. It is not the abstract, archaic honor which conquerors talk about to justify their violences. It is the dignity of a pacific people which entertains no hatred for any other people in the world and which engages in no undertaking except for the safety of its liberty and life.
At the price of our honor we could only purchase a precarious peace which would be revocable, and when later we should have to accept the struggle, having lost the respect of other nations, we would no longer be anything but a miserable people doomed to defeat and servitude.
I am sure there is not a Frenchman who would embrace such thoughts. But I know nevertheless, gentlemen, that it is hard for those who have devoted their whole life to defending peace and who have always been inspired with that ideal to meet acts of violence with force. It will not be I, as head of the government, who will present any excuses for war.
I fought, like the greater number of you. I remember. I will not speak one single word which the veterans would think a sacrilege. I shall simply do my duty as an honest man.
While we are deliberating Frenchmen are joining their regiments. Not one of them has hatred in his heart for the German people. Not one of them permits himself to be mastered by a spirit of violence and brutality. But every one is ready to do his duty with calm courage, which is inspired by a clear conscience.
You who know, gentlemen, what Frenchmen think, you who even yesterday were among them in our provincial towns, our countryside, you who saw them leave, you will not contradict me if I evoke their thoughts. They are pacific men but determined to make all sacrifices to defend the dignity and freedom of France.
If they, answer our appeal as they have done, without hesitation, without murmur, it is because they all feel France's existence is in danger.
You know better than any one that nothing could mobilize France for a mere adventure. It will not be Frenchmen who will rise to invade the territory of a foreign State. Their heroism is that of defense, not that of conquest. When France rises it is because she feels threatened.
It is not only France who has risen, but all the immense empire that lives under the protection of our tricolored flag. From all corners of the world moving testimonials of loyalty arrive these days in the mother country. To the union all Frenchmen reply. Also beyond the seas all the peoples living under our protection in this hour of peril offer us their arms and hearts.
I want also to salute those foreigners living on our soil who today by the thousands—as volunteers of peace in danger—place their courage and lives in France's service.
Our duty is to finish with enterprises of aggression and violence. By peaceful settlements, if we still can. By the use of our force, if all moral feeling and all light of reason have disappeared from the aggressors.
If we did not keep our pledges, if we let Germany crush Poland, within a few months, weeks, perhaps, what could we tell France if she should again rise to meet the aggressor?
Then these so determined soldiers would ask what we had done about our friends. They would feel alone before the most terrible menace and would lack, perhaps, the confidence that animates them today.
In these hours when the destiny of Europe is being decided, France speaks to the United States through the voice of her sons and all those who have accepted the supreme sacrifice if necessary. Let us find, like them, the spirit which animated all the heroes of our history. France does not rise with such spirit except when she believes she is fighting for her life and independence. It is France today who gives us her commands.