No Threats Will Deter Us
WE WILL FIGHT TO ELIMINATE HITLERISM
By NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN, Prime Minister of Great Britain In the House of Commons, September 20, 1939
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 5, pp. 755-757.
EVENTS occurred last week of such far-reaching importance that there has not yet been time to estimate their effect on the fortunes of war and on the attitudes of other countries.
In my statement of September 13, I referred to the relentless German pressure on the Polish Army, which had so far been frustrated by the indomitable spirit of the Poles. This pressure, this resistance continued during the week and is still continuing in many parts of Poland.
The tide of the German invasion of Poland to the east has reached an approximate north-south line through Lembergand Brest-Litovsk, although there still remain islands of Polish resistance such as at Warsaw, which refuses to be submerged under the tide of the German invasion.
On September 17, an event occurred which inevitably had a decisive effect on the eastern front.
On the morning of September 17, Russian troops crossed the Polish frontier at points along its full length and advanced into Poland.
I cannot say that the action of the Soviet Government was unexpected.
Statements had appeared in the Soviet press and on theSoviet wireless referring to the positions of the White Russians and Ukrainians in Poland which bore the interpretation that the Soviet Government was preparing the ground for intervention.
On September 17 a note was handed to the Polish Ambassador to Moscow to the effect that Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, no longer existed, that the Polish Government had disintegrated, that the Polish State and its government had ceased to exist. In the same way agreements between Poland and the Soviet Government ceased to exist.
Poland became a suitable field for all manner of hazard and surprises that might constitute a threat to the Soviet Union. The Soviet could therefore no longer present a neutral attitude and the Soviet Government had ordered troop to cross the frontier and take under their protection the live and property of the Western Ukraine and Western White Russia. The Polish Ambassador to Moscow refused to accept this note and has since been instructed to ask for his passport. A copy of this message was sent to His Majesty's Ambassador to Moscow with a note stating that the Soviet would pursue a policy of neutrality in relations between the U. S. S. R. and Great Britain.
A similar communication was made to the diplomatic representatives of the foreign powers at Moscow.
In view of this situation, His Majesty's Government authorized the issuance of a statement September 18 that this attack by the Soviet Government upon Poland—at a moment when Poland was prostrate on its face by overwhelming forces brought against her by Germany—could not be justified by the arguments put forward. While the full implication of these events was not yet apparent, nothing had occurred which would make any difference in the determination of His Majesty's Government to fulfill their obligations to Poland and to prosecute the war with all energy until all obligations were achieved.
The effect of the Russian invasion on the hard-pressed Poles naturally has been very serious. The Polish forces are still continuing their courageous resistance.
According to the communique of September 18, the Polish Government requested the Rumanian Government to accord hospitality to the head of the Polish State and his Ministers who have taken refuge in Rumanian territory.
His Majesty's Ambassador to Poland, who was established in the Polish town of Kuty near the Rumanian frontier, was advised by the Polish Government to leave Poland as soon as the Russian troops crossed the frontier. He is now in Rumania with his staff.
It is still too early to pronounce any final verdict on the motives and consequences of the Russian action. For the unhappy victims of this cynical attack the result has been tragedy of the grimmest character.
The world, which has watched the vain struggle of the Polish nation against overwhelming odds with profound sympathy and pity, admires their valor which even now refuses to admit defeat.
If Britain and France have been unable to avert the defeat of the armies in Poland, they have assured her they have not forgotten their obligations to her nor weakened in their determination to carry on the struggle.
Against the background of these events, Herr Hitler chose yesterday to address another speech to the world. It is not our way in this country to speak with boasts and threats. Perhaps that is the very reason the German leaders have difficulty in understanding us. But in such comments as I have to make on his speech, I shall not depart from our custom of speaking soberly and quietly.
Hitler's speech at Danzig yesterday did not change the situation with which we are confronted. Hitler's account of events cannot be accepted as accurate and it contained certain assurances of a kind which in recent years Hitler has repudiated when it suited his purpose.
Among the many misstatements to which I wish to refer is his statement that the French Government agreed to mediation while His Majesty's government refused it. The reply to this statement is contained in a communique issued by the official Italian news agency on September 4, which clearly brought out the common attitude adopted by the British and French Governments.
I hope the supplementary White Paper which will be issued tomorrow will make plain the true course of recent events so that public opinion may have no difficulty in forming a final judgment.
Herr Hitler says much in his speech about the humane methods by which he has waged war. I can only say that methods are not made humane by calling them so, and accounts of German bombing of open towns and machine gunning of refugees have shocked the world.
What I have searched for in this speech in vain is one single word that Herr Hitler remembers the brave men who have already lost their lives in this quarrel of his making or their wives and children who have been deprived forever of the head of the family because their leader's lust for power must be satisfied.
Our general purpose in this struggle is well known. It is to redeem Europe from the perpetually recurring fear of German aggression and to enable the peoples of Europe to preserve their independence and liberties.
No threats will deter us or our French allies from this purpose. His Majesty's Government have not sought this war. They did, as published documents show, repeatedly state their readiness for a peaceful settlement by negotiation. Their efforts to secure this were set at naught, their hopes shattered by unprovoked, brutal aggression by Germany upon our Polish allies.
On the Western front, the French continue to make methodical, successful progress. The valuable strategical and technical objectives gained and the ground secured have been held in the face of increasingly severe German resistance.
The situation of the war at sea has been one of intense, continuous naval activity. Achievements against the submarine campaign, after a little more than a fortnight of war, have exceeded anything the British Navy accomplished even over much longer periods in the last war.
Whereas we were on the defensive against the U-boat campaign then, we are now carrying out an offensive against U-boats and they are continually and relentlessly attacked whenever they disclose themselves.
I am confident that I am understating the case when I say that already six or seven German submarines have paid the full penalty for their attacks on British shipping. In some cases the crews have been captured.
I am quite confident that with the full operation of our convoy system, a rapid increase in the numbers, power and efficiency of our hunting craft, this submarine menace will dwindle with corresponding speed.
We must expect to receive occasional blows, sometimes heavy ones, such as the loss of the Courageous. But this is an inevitable toll of the fleet in being in active control of the sea in time of war.
It is, however, already clear that the navy and the merchant service, by unceasing efforts, will be able to maintain essential supplies of raw materials and food for our population and industries.
The figures of tonnage sunk in this war show a decrease compared with the last war. Undoubtedly this decrease ispartly due to the working of the convoy system now increasingly in operation.
One hundred and thirty-nine lives of British and neutrals up to now have been lost from submarine attacks, excluding losses incurred by the sinking of the Courageous, while forty-four persons are reported missing.
In April, 1917, the peak month of action by enemy U-boats and mines in the last war, the average weekly sinkings of British tonnage amounted to 127,000, or thirty-nine ships. During the week ended September 12 the total was 95,000 tons, or seventeen ships, and for the week ended September 19, 45,848 tons, or thirteen ships.
The primary aims of the British sea policy were to destroy and render ineffective the enemy warships while at the same time to protect our own and neutral commerce.
The interests of neutrals are indeed the same as our own. In war, as in peace, we depend for our life on the uninterrupted flow of trade. It is our fundamental policy to preserve as far as possible the conditions of normal trading. The suppression of traffic in contraband must of necessity cause some inconvenience to neutrals. Our intention is to reduce this to a minimum.
British control (of the sea) is exercised only in accordance with international law. Neutrals with a normal requirement of goods for self-consumption are not interfered with. The strict adherence of His Majesty's Government to the rules of law is in striking contrast to the policy pursued by the Germans.
No loss of life has been caused by the exercise of British sea power, no neutral property has been unlawfully detained. Germany's method of submarine warfare, laying mines on the high seas, already has resulted in death to many innocent victims, regardless of nationality, and unwarranted destruction of neutral property.
In building up our land and air forces, immense preparations are being made in this country and in France. It must be remembered, however, that in all military preparations, the great initial advantage rests with the aggressor. Nevertheless, our resources are being steadily and surely marshaled. We must not become impatient because results do not become immediately apparent.
Regarding volunteers who have not been accepted, I would remind them that to enroll wholesale and without previous training would completely dislocate our plans and would result in an inevitable waste of effort. Our advance must be orderly, but the pace of the advance will steadily quicken. The efforts of this country will be the utmost of which we are capable and therefore, of course, in no wit inferior to that made even in the most strenuous days of the Great War. Similar conditions apply to civil defense services.
Regarding suggestions that we might be unnecessarily keeping mobilized the civil defense forces, it does not follow that that organization, as it now stands, would prove best adapted to new conditions or to the uncertainties we may now have to face.
The problem with which we have to deal is to determine what adjustments are necessary to enable us, with the minimum dislocation and the least burden to the country's finances, to provide over a long period for the needs of homedefense. Necessary readjustments are being carried out as rapidly as possible.
The fact that during these first weeks of the war we have not yet experienced the ordeal of aerial bombardment affords no reason whatever for any overhasty or wholesale dispersal of our home defense forces.
Regarding evacuation the scheme as a whole operated with remarkable smoothness. The proportion of cases in which real difficulties have been encountered is certainly less than 10 per cent.
It is, in the government's view, of greatest importance that the mothers and children who have been evacuated should not now return home. It would be foolish indeed to cast aside the safety which dispersal brings through a reluctance to endure some temporary inconvenience or inability to conquer a sense of strangeness in new surroundings.
In the Dominions overseas, His Majesty's Government continue to press on with preparations that enable them to take a full share in the great struggle that lies before us.
The honorable members will have read, I am sure, with great satisfaction the accounts of the part that has been played by individual Dominion members in our services in operations already taken place. The courage and resource which have been displayed on these occasions are a happy augury for the future.
The whole British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations indeed at this moment are intensely engaged in mobilizing strength under cover of our naval, military and air forces— forces which in the aggregate are stronger and more powerful than at the outset of any past war. Thus the extent of our effort is rapidly increasing in every direction.
But I want my final word today to be a word of warning. We, as a government, will not be rushed into a course which our military advisers, with whom we work in the closest possible contact and mutual confidence, do not approve.
There is no sacrifice from which we will shrink, no operation we will not undertake, provided our responsible advisers, our allies, and we ourselves are convinced it will make an appropriate contribution to victory.
But what we will not do is to rush into adventures which offer little prospect of success and are calculated to impair our resources and postpone the ultimate victory. One lesson that military history teaches is that that road leads to disaster.
I shall not hazard a guess at this stage as to where and when the decisive force will be assembled or when the decisive moment will arrive. We must depend on events which no one can foresee.
The scale of our preparations is a fact already announced. We are basing them on the assumption that the duration of the war may be at least three years. It insures that our strength will increase progressively to meet whatever may come.
Let me conclude by quoting the words of the famous Polish general who, in bidding good-bye to the recent Allied military mission, said:
"We shall fight. A large part of our country will be overrun. We shall suffer terribly. But if you come in we know that we shall rise again."