The Government yesterday decreed general mobilization.
The whole nation is answering the call with serious and resolute calm. The young men have rejoined their regiments. They are now defending our frontiers. The example of dignified courage which they have just set to the world must provide inspiration for our debates. In a great impulse of national brotherliness they have forgotten everything which only yesterday could divide them. They no longer acknowledge any service but the service of France. As we send them the grateful greeting of the nation let us all pledge ourselves together to be worthy of them.
Thus has the Government put France into a position to act in accordance with our vital interests and with national honor.
It has now the duty of setting forth before you the facts as they are, fully, frankly, and clearly.
Peace had been endangered for several days. The demands of Germany on Poland were threatening to provoke a conflict. I shall show you in a moment how - perhaps for the first in time history - all the peaceful forces of the world, moral and material, were leagued together during those days and during those nights to save the world's peace. But just when it could still be hoped that all those repeated efforts were going to be crowned with success, Germany abruptly brought them to naught.
During the day of August 31 the crisis reached its peak. When Germany had at last let Great Britain know that she agreed to hold direct negotiation with Poland, a course which she had , let it be said, refused to me, Poland, in spite of the terrible threat created by the sudden armed invasion of Slovakia by the German forces, at one endeavored to resort to this peaceful method. At one o'clock in the afternoon M. Lipski, the Polish Ambassador to Germany, requested an audience from Herr von Ribbentrop. Peace seemed to be saved. But the Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs would not receive M. Lipski till 7:45 P.M., seven hours later. While the latter was bringing the consent of his Government to direct conversations, the German Minister refused to communicate Germany's claims to the Polish Ambassador, on the pretext that the Ambassador had not full powers to accept or reject them on the spot.
At 9 P.M. the German wireless was communicating the nature and the full extent of these claims; it added that Poland had rejected them. That is a lie. That is a lie, since Poland did not even know them.
And at dawn on September 1 the Fuhrer gave his troops the order to attack. Never was aggression more unmistakable and less warranted; nor for its justification could more lies and cynicism have been brought into play.
Thus was wear unleashed at the time when the most noteworthy forces, the authorities who were at the same time the most respected and the most impartial, had ranged themselves in the service of peace; at the time when the whole world had joined together to induce the two sides to come into direct contact so as to settle peacefully the conflict which divides them.
The Head of Christianity had given voice to reason and feelings of brotherhood; President Roosevelt had sent moving messages and proposed a general conference to all countries; the neutral countries had been active in offering their impartial good offices. Need I say that to each of these appeals the French Government gave an immediate welcome and complete assent?
I myself, Gentlemen, if I may be allowed a reference to my own person, thought it my duty as a Frenchman to approach Herr Hitler directly. The Head of the German Government had let me know on August 25, through M. Coulondre, our Ambassador in Berlin, that he deplored the fact that in case of an armed conflict between Germany and Poland, German blood and French blood might be shed. I immediately had a definite proposal put to the Fuhrer, a proposal wholly inspired by the real concern to safeguard without any delay the peace of the world now imperiled.
You were able to read, I think in fact that you must have read these texts. You know the answer I was given; I will not dwell on it.
But we were not disheartened by the failure of this step, and once more we backed up the effort to which Mr. Chamberlain devoted himself with splendid stubbornness. The documents exchanged between London and Berlin have been published. On the one side impartial and persevering loyalty; on the other side, embarrassment, shifty and shirking behavior. I am also happy at this juncture to pay my tribute to the noble efforts made by the Italian Government. Even yesterday we strove to unite all men of goodwill so as at least to stave off hostilities, to prevent bloodshed and to ensure that the methods of conciliation and arbitration should be substituted for the use of violence.
Gentlemen, these efforts towards peace, however powerless they were and still remain, will at least have shown where the responsibility lies. They insure for Poland, the victim, the effective co-operation and moral support of the nations and of free men of all lands.
What we did before the beginning of this war, we are ready to do once more. If renewed steps are taken towards conciliation, we are still ready to join in.
If the fighting were to stop, if the aggressor were to retreat within his own frontiers, if free negotiations could still be started, you may well believe, Gentlemen, the French Government would spare no effort to ensure, even today, if it were possible, the success of these negotiations, in the interests of the peace of the world.
But the time is pressing; France and England cannot look on when a friendly nation is being destroyed, a foreboding of further onslaughts, eventually aimed at England and France.
Indeed, are we only dealing with the German-Polish conflict? We are not, Gentlemen; what we have to deal with is a new stage in the advance of the Hitler dictatorship towards the domination of Europe and the world. How, indeed, are we to forget that the German claim to the Polish territories had been long marked on the map of Greater Germany, and that it was only concealed for some years to facilitate other conquests? so long as the German-Polish Pact, which dates back only a few years, was profitable to Germany, Germany respected it; on the day when it became a hindrance to marching towards domination it was denounced unhesitatingly. To-day we are told that, once the German claims against Poland were satisfied, Germany would pledge herself before the whole world for ten, for twenty, for twenty-five years, for all time, to restore or to respect peace. Unfortunately, we have heard such promises before!
On May 25, 1935, Chancellor Hitler pledged himself not to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria and not to unite Austria to the Reich; and on March 11, 1938, the German army entered Vienna; Chancellor Shuschnigg was imprisoned for daring to defend his country's independence, and no one to-day can say what is his real fate after so many physical and moral sufferings. Now we are to believe that it was Dr. Schuschnigg's acts of provocation that brought about the invasion and enslavement of his country!
On September 12, 1938, Herr Hitler declared that the Sudeten problem was an internal matter which concerned only the German minority in Bohemia and the Czechoslovak Government. A few days later he maintained that he violent persecutions carried on by the Czechs were compelling him to change his policy.
On September 26 of the same year he declared that his claim on the Sudeten territory was the last territorial claim he had to make in Europe. On March 14, 1939, Herr Hacha was summoned to Berlin: ordered under the most stringent pressure to accept an ultimatum. A few hours later Prague was being occupied in contempt of the signed pledges given to other countries in Western Europe. In this case also Herr Hitler endeavored to put on the victims the onus which in fact lies on the aggressor.
Finally, on January 30, 1939, Herr Hitler spoke in loud praise of the non-aggression pact which he had signed five years previously with Poland. He paid a tribute to this agreement as a common act of liberation, and solemnly confirmed his intention to respect its clauses.
But it is Herr Hitler's deeds that count, not his word.
What, then, is our duty? Poland is our ally. We entered into commitments with her in 1921 and 1925. These commitments were confirmed.
I, myself, in the Chamber said, on May 11 last:
"As a result of the journey of the Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs to London and of the reciprocal pledges of guarantee given by Great Britain and Poland, by a common agreement with this noble and brave nation we tool the measures required for the immediate and direct application of our treaty of alliance."
Parliament approved this policy.
Since then we have never failed both in diplomatic negotiations and in public utterances, to prove faithful to it. Our Ambassador in Berlin has several times reminded Herr Hitler that, if a German aggression were to take place against Poland, we should fulfill our pledges. And on July 1, in Paris, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said to the German Ambassador to France:
"France has definite commitments to Poland. These engagements have been further strengthened as a result of the latest events, and consequently France will at once be at Poland's side as soon at Poland herself takes up arms."
Poland has been the object of the most unjust and brutal aggression. The nations who have guaranteed her independence are bound to intervene in her defense.
Great Britain and France are not Powers that can disown, or dream of disowning, their signatures.
Already last night, on September 1, the French and British Ambassadors were making a joint overture to the German Government. They handed to Herr von Ribbentrop the following communication from the French Government and the British Government, which I will ask your leave to read to you:
"Early this morning the German Chancellor issued a proclamation to the German Army which indicated that he was about to attack Poland.
"Information which has reached His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the French Government indicates that attacks upon Polish towns are proceeding.
"In these circumstances it appears to the Governments of the United Kingdom and France that by their action the German Government have created conditions, (viz., an aggressive act of force against Poland threatening the independence of Poland) which call for the implementation by the Government of the United Kingdom and France of the undertaking to Poland to come to her assistance.
"I am accordingly to inform your Excellency that unless the German Government are prepared to give His Majesty's Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government have suspended all aggressive action against Poland and are prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will without hesitation fulfill their obligations to Poland."
And indeed, Gentlemen, it is not only the honor of our country: it is also the protection of its vital interests that is at stake.
For a France which should allow this aggression to be carried out would very soon find itself a scorned, an isolated, a discredited France, without allies and without support, and doubtless, would soon herself be exposed to a formidable attack.
This is the question I lay before the French nation, and all nations. At the very moment of the aggression against Poland, what value has the guarantee, once more renewed, given for our eastern frontier, for our Alsace, for our Lorraine, after repudiation of the guarantees given in turn to Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland? More powerful through their conquests, gorged with the plunder of Europe, the masters of inexhaustible natural wealth, the aggressors would soon turn against France with all their forces.
Thus, our honor is but the pledge of our own society. It is not that abstract and obsolete form of honor of which conquerors speak to justify their deeds of violence; it is the dignity of a peaceful people, which bears hatred toward no other people in the world and which never embarks upon a war save only for the sake of its freedom and of its life.
Forfeiting our honor would purchase nothing more than a precious peace liable to rescission, and when, tomorrow, we should have to fight after losing the respect of our allies and the other nations, we should no longer be anything more than a wretched people doomed to defeat and bondage.
I feel confident that not a single Frenchman harbors such thoughts today. But I well know, too, Gentlemen, that it is hard for those who have devoted their whole lives to the cause of peace and who are still prompted by a peaceful ideal to reply, by force if needed, to deeds of violence. As head of the Government, I am not the man to make an apology for war in these tragic hours. I fought before like most of you. I can remember. I shall not utter a single one of those words that the genuine fighters look upon as blasphemous. But I desire to do my plain duty, and shall do it, as an honorable man.
Gentlemen, while we are in session, Frenchmen are rejoining their regiments. Not one of them feels any hatred in his heart against the German people. Not one of them is giving way to the intoxicating call of violence and brutality; but they are ready, unanimously, to discharge their duty with the quiet courage which derives its inspiration from a clear conscience.
Gentlemen, you who know what those Frenchmen are thinking, you who even yesterday were among them in our provincial towns and in our countryside, you who have seen them go off - you will not contradict me if I evoke their feelings here. They are peace- loving men, but they have decided to make every sacrifice needed to defend the dignity and freedom of their country. If they have answered our call, as they have done, without a moment's hesitation, without a murmur, without flinching, that is because they feel, all of them, in the depths of their hearts that it is, in truth, whatever may be said, the very existence of France that is at stake.
You know better than anyone else that no government, no man, would be able to mobilize France merely to launch her into an adventure. Never would the French rise to invade the territory of a foreign country. Theirs is the heroism for defense and not for conquest. When you see France spring to arms it is because she feels herself threatened.
It is not France only that has arisen; it is the whole, far- flung empire under the sheltering folds of our tricolour. From every corner of the globe moving protestations of loyalty from all the protected or friendly races are reaching the mother country today. The union of all Frenchmen is thus echoed beyond the seas by the union of all people under our protection who in the hour of danger are proffering both their arms and their hearts. And I wish also to salute all the foreigners settled on our soil, who on this very day in their thousands and thousands, as though they were the volunteers of imperiled freedom, are placing their courage and their lives at the service of France.
Our duty is to make an end of aggressive and violent undertakings; by means of peaceful settlement, if we can still do so, and this we shall strive our utmost to achieve, by the wielding of our strength, if all sense of morality as well as all glimmering of reason has died within the aggressors.
If we were not to keep our pledges, if we were to allow Germany to crush Poland, within a few months, perhaps within a few weeks, what could we say to France, if we had to face aggressors once more? Then would those most determined soldiers ask us what we had done with our friends. They would feel themselves alone, under the most dreadful threat, and might lose, perhaps for all time, the confidence which now spurs them on.
Gentlemen, in these hours when the fate of Europe is in the balance, France is speaking to us through the voice of her sons, through the voice of all those who have already accepted, if need be, the greatest sacrifice of all. Let us recapture, as they have done, that spirit which fired all the heroes of our history. France rises with such impetuous impulses only when she feels in her heart that she is fighting for her life and for her independence.
Gentlemen, today France is in command.
I have the honor to confirm as here below the communication which I made to Your Excellency by telephone at 1 P.M.
Herr von Ribbentrop returned at noon. I was received at this hour by the State Secretary, but the latter informed me that he was not in a position to tell me whether a satisfactory reply had been made to my letter of September 1, nor even whether such a reply could be given thereto. He insisted that I should see Herr von Ribbentrop himself. In these circumstances I asked to be received by the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the earliest possible moment.
I was received by Herr von Ribbentrop at 12:30 P.M.
I asked him whether he could give me a satisfactory reply to my letter which I had handed to him on September 1 at 10 P.M.
He replied to me as follows:
"After the delivery of your letter, the Italian Government notified the German Government of a proposed compromise, stating that the French Government was in agreement. Later, Signor Mussolini intimated to us that the contemplated compromise had failed owning to British intransigence. This morning the British Ambassador handed us an ultimatum, due to expire two hours later, We rejected it for the reason which is explained in the memorandum which I handed to the British Ambassador today and of which I give you a copy.
"If the French Government feels bound by its commitments to Poland to enter into the conflict, I can only regret it, for we have no feeling of hostility towards France. It is only if France attacks us that we shall fight her, and this would be on her part a war of aggression."
I then asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if I was to infer from his utterances that the reply of the Government of the Reich to may letter of September 1 was in the negative. "Yes," he replied.
"In these circumstances I must, on behalf of my Government, remind you for the last time of the heavy responsibility assumed by the Government of the Reich by entering, without a declaration of war, into hostilities against Poland and in not acting upon the suggestion made by the Governments of the French Republic and of His Britannic Majesty to suspend all aggressive action against Poland and to declare itself ready to withdraw its forces promptly from Polish territory.
"I have the painful duty to notify you that as from today, September 3, at 5 P.M., the French Government will find itself obliged to fulfill the obligations that France has contracted towards Poland, and which are known to the German Government.
" 'Well,' Herr von Ribbentrop remarked, 'it will be France who is the aggressor.' "
I replied to him that history would judge of that.
Men and Women of France.
Since daybreak on September 1, Poland has been the victim of the most brutal and most cynical of aggression. Her frontiers have been violated. Her cities are being bombed. Her army is heroically resisting the invader.
The responsibility for the blood that is being shed falls entirely upon the Hitler Government. The fate of peace is in Hitler's hands. He chose war.
France and England have made countless efforts to safeguard peace. This very morning they made a further urgent intervention in Berlin in order to address to the German Government a last appeal to reason and request it to stop hostilities and to open peaceful negotiations.
Germany met us with a refusal. She had already refused to reply to all the men of goodwill who recently raised their voices in favor of the peace of the world.
She therefore desires the destruction of Poland, so as to be able to dominate Europe quickly and to enslave France.
In rising against the most frightful of tyrannies, in honoring our word, we fight to defend our soil, our homes, our liberties.
I am conscious of having worked unremittingly against the war until the last minute.
I greet with emotion and affection our young soldiers, who now go forth to perform the sacred task which we ourselves did perform before them. They can have full confidence in their chiefs, who are worthy of those who have previously led France to victory.
The cause of France is identical with that of Righteousness. It is the cause of all peaceful and free nations. It will be victorious.
Men and Women of France!
We are waging war because it has been thrust on us. Every one of us is at his post, on the soil of France, on that land of liberty where respect of human dignity finds one of its last refuges. You will all co-operate, with a profound feeling of union and brotherhood, for the salvation of the country.
Vive la France!