We Will Deal in Performances, Not Promises


By WINSTON CHURCHILL, First Lord of the Admiralty

Radio address from London, October 1, 1939

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 12-12.

THE British Empire and the French Republic have been at war with Nazi Germany for a month tonight. We have not yet come at all to the severity of fighting which is to be expected; but three important things have happened.

First, Poland has been again overrun by two of the great powers which held her in bondage for 150 years but were unable to quench the spirit of the Polish nation. The heroic defense of Warsaw shows that the soul of Poland is indestructible, and that she will rise again like a rock which may for a spell be submerged by a tidal wave but which remains a rock.

What is the second event of this first month? It is, of course, the assertion of the power of Russia. Russia has pursued a cold policy of self-interest. We could have wished that the Russian Armies should be standing on their present line as the friends and allies of Poland, instead of as invaders. But that the Russian Armies should stand on this line was clearly necessary for the safety of Russia against the Nazi menace.

At any rate the line is there, and an Eastern Front has been created which Nazi Germany does not dare assail. When Herr von Ribbentrop [German Foreign Minister] was summoned to Moscow last week, it was to learn the fact, and to accept the fact, that the Nazi designs upon the Baltic states and upon the Ukraine must come to a dead stop.

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a middle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. It cannot be in accordance with the interest or safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea, or that it should overrun the Balkan states and subjugate the Slavonic peoples of Southeastern Europe. That would be contrary to the historic life interests of Russia.

But here these interests of Russia fall into the same channel as the interests of Britain and France. None of these three powers can afford to see Rumania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and above all Turkey, put under the German heel.

Through the fog of confusion and uncertainty we may discern quite plainly the community of interests which exists between England, France and Russia to prevent the Nazis from carrying the flames of war into the Balkans and Turkey. Thus, at some risk of being proved wrong by events, I will proclaim tonight my conviction that the second great fact of the first month of the war is that Hitler, and all that Hitler stands for, have been and are being warned off the East and Southeast of Europe.

What is the third event? Here I speak as First Lord of the Admiralty and with special caution. It would seem that the U-boat attack upon the life of the British Isles has not so far proved successful.

It is true that when they sprang out upon us and we were going about our ordinary business, with 2,000 ships in constant movement every day upon the seas, they managed to do some serious damage.

But the Royal Navy has immediately attacked the U-boats, and is hunting them night and day, I will not say without mercy—because God forbid we should ever part company with that—but at any rate with zeal and not altogether without relish. And it looks tonight very much as if it is the U-boats who are feeling the weather, and not the Royal Navy or the world-wide commerce of Britain.

A week has passed since a British ship, alone or in convoy, has been sunk or even molested by a U-boat on the high seas, and during the first month of the war we have captured by our efficient contraband control 150,000 tons more German merchandise—food, oil, minerals and other commodities —for our own benefit than we have lost by all the U-boat sinkings put together.

In fact, up to date—please observe I make no promises, we must deal in performances, not in promises—we have actually got 150,000 tons of very desirable supplies into this island more than we should have got if war had not been declared and if no U-boat had ever cast sailormen to their fate upon the stormy seas. This seems to be a very solid, tangible fact which has emerged from the first month of the war against Nazidom.

We are told that all the U-boats have gone home to tell their master about their exploits and their experiences. But that is not true, because every day, even on Sundays, we are attacking them upon the approaches to the British Isles. Some undoubtedly have preferred to go off and sink the unprotected neutral ships of Norway and Sweden. I hope the day will come when the Admiralty will be able to invite ships of all nations to join the British convoys and insure them on their voyages at a reasonable rate.

We must of course expect that the U-boat attack upon the sea-borne commerce of the world will be renewed presently on a greater scale. We hope, however, that by the end of October we shall have three times as many hunting craft at work as we had at the beginning of the war; and by the measures we have taken we hope that our means of putting down this pest will grow continually. We are taking great care about that.

Therefore, to sum up the results of the first month, let us say that Poland has been overrun, but will rise again; that Russia has warned Hitler off his Eastern dreams; and that the U-boats may be safely left to the care and constant attention of the British Navy.

Now I wish to speak about what is happening in our own island. When a peaceful democracy is suddenly made to fight for its life there must be a lot of trouble and hardship in turning over from peace to war. I feel very keenly the reproaches of those who wish to throw themselves into the fight but for whom we cannot find full scope at the present time. All this will clear as we get into our stride.

His Majesty's Government is unitedly resolved to make the maximum effort of which the British nation is capable, and to persevere, whatever may happen, until decisive victory is gained. Meanwhile patriotic men and women, especially those who understand the high causes in human fortunes which are at stake, must not only rise above fear, they must also rise above inconvenience and, perhaps most difficult of all, boredom.

Parliament will be kept in session and all grievances or muddles or scandals can be freely ventilated there. In past times the House of Commons has proved itself an instrument of national will power capable of waging stern wars.

Parliament is the shield and expression of democracy, and Ministers of the Crown base themselves upon the parliamentary system. You have seen the power of Parliament manifested in the last week, when a budget, gigantic in its burdens, a budget which would have infuriated everybody a year ago, has been accepted with prompt and stolid resolve.

In other fields our work goes forward. A large army has already gone to France. British armies upon the scale of the effort of the Great War are in preparation. The British people are determined to stand in the line with the splendid army of the French Republic, and share with them, as fast and as early as we can, whatever may be coming toward us both.

It may be that great ordeals may be coming to us in this island from the air. We shall do our best to give a good account of ourselves, and we must always remember that the command of the seas will enable us to bring the immense resources of Canada and the New World into play as a decisive ultimate air factor beyond the reach of what we have to give and take over here.

Directions have been given by the government to prepare for a war of at least three years. That does not mean that victory may not be gained in a shorter time. How soon it will be gained depends upon how long Herr Hitler and his group of wicked men, whose hands are soiled with blood and corruption, can keep their grip upon the docile, unhappy German people.

It was for Hitler to say when the war would begin, but it is not for him nor his successors to say when it will end. It began when he wanted it, and it will end only when we are convinced that he has had enough.

The Prime Minister has stated our war aims in terms which cannot be bettered, and which cannot too often be repeated: "To redeem Europe from the perpetual and recurring fear of German aggression and enable the peoples of Europe to preserve their independence and their liberties." That is what the British and French nations are fighting for.

How often have we been told we are the effete democracies whose day is done, and who must now be replaced by various forms of virile dictatorship and totalitarian despotism. No doubt at the beginning we shall have to suffer, because of having too long wished to lead a peaceful life. Our reluctance to fight was mocked at as cowardice. Our desire tosee an unarmed world was proclaimed as the proof of our decay.

Now we have begun: now we are going on; now with the help of God, and with the conviction that we are the defenders of civilization and freedom, we are going to persevere to the end.

After all, Great Britain and France together are eighty-five millions, even in their homelands alone. They are united in their cause and convinced of their duty. Nazidom, with all its tyrannical power, controls no more. They, too, have eighty-five millions, but of these at least sixteen millions, new conquered Czechs, Slovakians and Austrians, are writhing under their cruel yoke and have to be held down by main force.

We have the oceans, and the assurance that we can bring the vast latent power of the British and French Empires to bear upon the decisive points. We have the freely given, ardent support of the twenty millions of British citizens in the self-governing dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. We have the heart and moral convictions of India on our side.

We believe we are entitled to the respect and good-will of the world, and particularly of the United States.

Here I am in the same post as I was twenty-five years ago. Rough times lie ahead; but how different is the scene from that of October, 1914! Then the French front, with its small British army fighting in the line seemed to be about to break under the terrible impact of German imperialism. Then Russia had been laid low at Tannenberg. Then the whole might of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in battle against us. Then the brave, war-like Turks were about to join our enemies.

Then we had to be ready night and day to fight a decisive sea battle with a formidable German fleet.

We faced those adverse conditions then. We have nothing worse to face tonight. In those days of 1914 also Italy was neutral but we did not know the reason for her neutrality.

It was only later on that we learned that by a secret clause in the original treaty of the Triple Alliance Italy had expressly reserved to herself the right to stand aside from any war which brought her into conflict with Great Britain.

Much has happened since then; misunderstandings and disputes have arisen but all the more do we appreciate in England the reasons why this great and friendly nation of Italy, with whom we have never been at war, has not seen fit to enter the struggle.

I do not underrate what lies before us; but I must say this: I cannot doubt we have the strength to carry a good cause forward and to break down the barriers which stand between the wage-earning masses of every land and a free and more abundant daily life.

Of all the wars that men have fought in their hard pilgrimage none was more noble than the great Civil War in America nearly eighty years ago. Both sides fought with the high conviction, and the war was long and hard. All the heroism of the South could not redeem their cause from the stain of slavery, just as all the courage and skill which the Germans always show in war will not free them from the reproach of Nazism with its intolerance and brutality.

We may take good heart from what happened in America in those famous days of the nineteenth century. We may be sure that the world will roll forward into broader destinies. We may remember the words of old John Bright, after the American Civil War was over, when he said to an audience of English working folk:

"At last after the smoke of the battlefield had cleared away, the horrid shape which had cast its shadow over the whole continent had vanished and was gone forever."