England and the United States


By the MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN, British Ambassador to the United States

Delivered at the dinner of The Pilgrims, held in New York City, October 25, 1939

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 66-70.

I FEEL that the welcome you have given me tonight is also a testimony to the remarkable men who preceded me in my present office, Lord Bryce, the writer of what I suppose is still the most authoritative work on the American Commonwealth; Sir Cecil Spring Rice, who was here during most of the World War; Sir Edward Grey and Lord Balfour, who were Ambassadors for short periods during and after the war; Lord Reading, Sir Auckland Geddes, Sir Esme Howard, who passed away only a few days before I sailed, and last, but by no means least, Sir Ronald Lindsay, who for nine years represented my country with such wisdom, steadfastness, dignity and strength in Washington. They set a high standard and will be a hard company to follow.

I am glad to think that the mutual comprehension between our two countries is much better than it used to be. There is certainly far greater knowledge of the United States in my country. That is partly because the reading of American history now has a definite place in our colleges and schools; partly because we have become much more American in our mode of life than most of you realize.

I think you, on your side, came to realize how greatly our life had been democratized from the formalism of the Victorian era when you saw our King and Queen only four months ago. Both they and we are immensely grateful to you for the wonderful welcome you gave them. You certainly rapidly came to recognize the simplicity of character, the genuine humanity and the spirit of public service which have endeared Their Majesties in so short a period to their own subjects.

In some ways I regret that I have to speak to you at all tonight. It is very difficult for a belligerent to address a neutral, especially at a time when there is legislation pending before Congress, without saying something that may be misunderstood as an attempt to interfere. But it is an old-established custom that shortly after his arrival at his post every new American Ambassador has to address the Pilgrims in London, and that every new British Ambassador has to address the Pilgrims in New York. So I am here. And being here it is not possible for me not to talk about the subject which is uppermost in the minds of everybody throughout the whole world today—the war—what it is about, how it will end, how it can be prevented from recurring.

This war is a far more portentous thing that the last. It is likely to leave the world far more deeply transformed, for better or for worse, than the war of 1914. The ideological conflicts go deeper. The armaments are more gigantic. There is far less confidence that there was twenty years ago in the strength of our Western institutions and in democracy, as we have known it, as the simple specific for all governmental ills. Immense as were the changes wrought by the years 1914 to 1918, the present war, if it lasts as long, is likely to end the transformations far more profound.

I have been told that if I talk about so dangerous a subject as the war I shall be accused of propaganda. You are quite rightly suspicious of propaganda. But may I say this about propaganda. There is all the differences in the world between the publicity characteristic of the democracies and the propaganda of totalitarian States. The very basis of democracy is faith in the capacity of the individual for responsible decisions. The success of democracy, in the long run, depends upon the wisdom, the public spirit and the self control of the individual citizen.

A democracy invites publicity. It wants to hear all sides; it must hear all sides, for unless it does it cannot judge properly. The great difficulty about democracy is that the citizen is expected to arrive at conclusions about public affairs, not in the calm of the library or the court room, but amid the clamor of opposing parties, the propaganda of selfish and vested interests, and constant appeals by politicians of the baser sort to selfishness and greed. But it is precisely the capacity to think for himself and herself which is absent from among those who have only to obey the command of authority.

As a fellow-democracy, therefore, we feel we have theright, indeed the duty, to tell you our story, to explain to you and all other democracies what we are doing and why we are doing it. But having done that we feel that it is for I you and you alone to form your own judgment about ourselves and about the war. That, of course, is your inalienable right.

That is what we mean by saying that the British Government conducts no propaganda in this country. We want to tell you the facts as we know them, and our point of view about them, from London. But having done so, by our own democratic principles we are bound to leave you perfectly free to form your own judgments.

The propaganda of totalitarian states is necessarily on a different basis. For by the law of their own being they do not entrust the final decisions on public policy to their own citizens. They set out to manage their thinking for them; as they think, in their own interest, through official control of the schools, the universities, the press, the radio and the movies. It is a central purpose of totalitarian countries to manipulate opinion at home. And that fact, I think, necessarily colors the purpose of their foreign propaganda also.

So I am going to brave the critics and talk to you about the war. If we British and you Americans, indeed all the free peoples, cannot speak frankly to one another about what is deepest in our hearts, and what most effects the future of the world, then there is no possibility of arriving at the sane policy for peace. I believe that you want us to talk to you frankly and honestly about these vital things, as we certainly want you to do to us.

This war, of course, is the outcome of the mistakes of the past. All wars are. There has been endless discussion about who is responsible for this war. We can all draw convincing pictures of how our neighbors have contributed to the reappearance of world war, just as twenty years after the conclusion of the war which was to have ended all wars. My country must certainly bear its share of blame. But, if we are to see the picture clearly, I think we must admit that no nation and no statesman can establish a clear alibi for what is now happening. A little humility, sometimes, does not do any harm—for, as Christianity makes clear, humility is one of the portals to the discernment of the truth.

I want, in the first place, to say a word about the Treaty of Versailles. It has become the fashion—Dr. Goebbels has made it the fashion—to attribute every evil to that unfortunate treaty. There were certainly defects enough in it. But it is absurd to attribute all our troubles to it. A very distinguished German democrat only a few weeks ago said that the rise of national socialism was due 30 per cent to the Treaty of Versailles, 30 per cent to the inexperience of Germany in democracy and 30 per cent to the great depression, which in your country began in 1929. I would put it somewhat differently.

Hitlerism is the child of Bolshevism out of universal economic nationalism.

But do not let us lose sight of the ideals which moved us in those remarkable days from 1914 to 1920. We then entered an epoch in which an old world began to die and a new world began to be born. Before 1914 international relations were governed by the old diplomacy. It was regarded as natural and right that every nation should think only of its own interests, and should feel no responsibility for any one else.

But in 1914 the democracies, which had previously concerned themselves almost entirely with their internal affairs, began to take charge of international relations. Democracy, as Thomas Mann has so brilliantly said in his great address "The Coming Triumph of Democracy," by the law of its being, inevitably gives its allegiance not to dreams of powerbut to moral ideals. It may not always live up to these ideals. It certainly does not. But they are the stars by which it guides its life.

And so, immediately the democracies became actively concerned with international affairs they proclaimed their own ideals about them.

Mankind is a community. War is fratricide. Nations as well as individuals have the right to life, liberty and happiness. Backward people have the right to security against exploitation and to be guided toward self-government. The status of all nations, great and small, should be equal before the law. And the establishment of a true reign of law between the nations is the only remedy for war.

Those were the ideals which underlay the war and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. They are, I believe, eternally true. And they were expressed with immortal eloquence by your own President Wilson.

But the democracies had not thought out what the establishment of this New World implied. They did not realize that the New World was incompatible with universal national sovereignty or with many other features of the old order.

That is not the only reason, but it is one reason why the war has returned; and why it is still in doubt whether the break-up of the old order is going to end in a new advance to freedom or in another plunge back toward barbarism.

But the victorious democracies in 1919 in the Versailles Treaty, did apply their principles to the territorial settlement of Europe. They did give every nation the right to separate autonomous existence, and they did try to give protection to minorities, and they did set up the mandate system to give protection to backward peoples.

The number of free nations in Europe rose from seventeen to twenty-six including the terribly delayed freedom of Ireland. People criticize the frontiers drawn at Paris. Admittedly some of them were not very good. But at the worst they were only a few miles wrong. What Herr Hitler is challenging at bottom is not the frontiers made at Versailles but the whole democratic conception of international life. His remedy for frontier mistakes is not to correct them but to annihilate Austria, Czech-Slovakia, and Poland by violence, in order to establish a Nazi empire controlled by a secret police, which destroys not only national but individual freedom within it, and give minorities no rights at all.

So I beg you not to be misled by this ceaseless attack upon the Treaty of Versailles. The greatest mistakes made at the peace conference were not political but economic. Few people seemed to realize the inevitable consequence of dividing Europe, or, for that matter, the world, into water-tight economic compartments and then of imposing on these States fantastic reparations and other forms of intergovernmental indebtedness which it was quite impossible to pay across these economic frontiers, without disaster for all.

Fundamentally the British are fighting today for the preservation of some of these new values, which the democracies declared during the last war. I am not sure that our ultimate goal is yet visible, any more that we were able to see in 1914 what we came to see, largely under American leadership, in 1918. But there are, we, feel, two points which are clear.

The first is that there can be no basis for a lasting peace which does not give to all the nations of Europe their right to autonomous freedom and until the Gestapo is cleared out from among them.

The second is that we should establish some security against constantly renewed wars of aggression and against the situation in which Hitler has been able to annex a new country by war or by threat of war every six months. Wefeel than an armistice now would simply play into his hands. That would give him months in which to decide where his next attack is to be made, to reorganize his preparations in the right direction, to get the democracies demobilized, so that the initiative in attack passes back to him and he can make his next pounce before they are ready to meet it. No stable peace can be made on that basis.

I am sure there is no desire in my country to impose another dictated peace on a prostrate Germany, or to take from her any lawful rights. On the contrary, I think there is a clear conviction that only through a peace negotiated with a government they can trust can Germany, and all other nations also, obtain that legitimate place in Europe and the world which is the only possible basis for a lasting peace.

But let there be no mistake. We feel that today we are fighting for some of the vital principles upon which a civilized world alone can rest—a world in which the individual and the nation will be free to live their own lives in their own way, secure from sudden attack and destruction. Therewe stand; we can do no other. And unless I misjudge my fellow countrymen, there we shall stand until that purpose is achieved.

But you constantly ask, what are your ultimate peace aims, what are your ideas about the kind of world you want to see established if you win the victory. We can understand that request because the way the war will end will affect you as well as us. Today the war in Europe is our concern as a belligerent and not yours. We understand your attitude of non-intervention better perhaps than you think, because for many long years splendid isolation was our own attitude to the constant wars and struggles of Europe—so long as the Channel was as wide as the Atlantic and so long as nobody threatened to be able to dominate Europe and so cross it, I have told you our views so far as they have been formulated up to the present. But we think we are entitled to ask you the same question. What do you think should be the settlement we should aim at after the war, the kind of settlement which will end the risk of another world war in another twenty years? At bottom we are fighting a defensive war. We are trying to prevent the hordes of paganism and barbarism from destroying what is left of civilized Europe. We are putting every nerve into the task. We are up to our necks in action. But you are outside the maelstrom. You get more and better news than any country under censorship in Europe. Perhaps you can see things in a better perspective than we can.

The war is following a different course from that which any of us expected and the peace to which it ought to lead is likely to be different from what we have expected also.

As I always tell my fellow-countrymen, it is inconceivable to me that the United States, which has already done such immeasurable things for the freedom of mankind, which in the past has produced the greatest democratic leaders that the world has seen—Washington, Jefferson," Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson—every fiber of whose tradition spells faith in the perfectibility of man, in his progress and freedom, should not have its own contribution to make to the solution of the greatest problem that has ever presented itself to the genius of man.

Tonight, pending answers from you and France and Britain and elsewhere, I am going to venture, on my own responsibility, to make my own contribution to the discussion of the kind of world we want to see after the war. I am going to appeal not to theory, but to experience. I would ask your consideration of certain remarkable facts about the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century, or rather the century from 1815

to 1914, was a century without world war. That was a very striking and significant fact. It was the only such century since the breakup of the Roman Empire, or, at least, of the medieval world. Three-quarters of your history as a nation have been spent in a totally unusual era—an era without world war.

The eighteenth century, the seventeenth century, and the sixteenth century were periods of almost continuous world war. During the whole epoch from the first Spanish settlement, America, both North and South, was the scene and subject matter of world war. Your own destiny turned upon the outcome of the Seven Years' War in Europe from 1756 to 1763, on whether the British Navy was able to drive the French fleet off the seas and allow the British and colonial forces to take over Canada and free Mississippi Valley.

And that victory was the prelude to that "incident"—to use the now fashionable term for war—in which you drove King George III out of the United States because he unwisely insisted on trying to make you pay part of the cost of that war.

Even after that, and during the Napoleonic wars, you were in constant danger; and in 1812 you were drawn once more into world war. But then the picture changed. For a century there was no external war in North and South America, and no world war. It was not till 1914 that the era of World war began again. It engulfed you in 1917 and now in 1939 it has already sucked in the British Commonwealth and has come near enough to you to make it one of your serious preoccupations how you are to avoid being sucked in yourselves also.

This era of world peace did not happen by accident. It was the result of definite policy and action. That is why I think it worth while to consider how this century of freedom from world war was achieved. The reason was because you and we, between us, created a rudimentary but, in the circumstances of the time, none the less effective system of world order. We did not attempt to prevent all war. But we prevented world war—and that was the essential thing. Local wars only do limited damage. It is world wars which destroy civilization.

Your part in the system was the Monroe Doctrine. The underlying idea of the Monroe Doctrine was originally proposed by Canning as a joint Anglo-American policy. It was eventually proclaimed by President Monroe, quite rightly, as I think, as a unilateral policy of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine was fundamentally a strategic doctrine. It aimed at preventing European political intervention in, and the transference of European wars to, North and South America, and it put the American Navy behind the independence of the American republics, as the sanction behind the doctrine. The principle of the Monroe Doctrine is now, I am glad to see, becoming a Pan-American doctrine as well as a declaration of American policy.

But the Monroe Doctrine did not, in practice, stand alone. You and we each of us carried out independently our own share of the original Canning proposal. The Napoleonic wars had taught Great Britain the value of sea power and that her own freedom and that of the whole overseas world in which she was interested depended upon her having an invulnerable base at home, a paramount navy, and naval bases all over the world.

This meant that no European or Asiatic power could cross the oceans and annex overseas territories against her will unless they had a navy powerful enough to challenge hers.

We had a kind of Monroe system of our own, reinforcing yours, but extending it to overseas territories like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, or countries like India, which could not be easily reached over land. It was this

double system which was the power basis of the ninete nth century peace. So long as it was unchallenged not only were we and you safe from attack, but there could be no world war. There could be local wars. There was the Franco-Prussian War, the war for the unity of Italy, the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, your own Civil War, and other local and less important conflicts. But there was no world war until there arose in Europe a power which was able to challenge Great Britain at sea, as Germany challenged it by the building of the new German Navy at the beginning of this century.

But there was another element, an economic element, in the nineteenth century system, which explains why it was a century of unexampled prosperity and why the industrial revolution was able to develop without world war. It consisted of three parts.

The first was that there was, in effect, a world currency based on gold. This was initiated by the Bank of England in cooperation with other national central banks with which, in due course, the United States cooperated, and created a stable basis for world trade.

The second was that during most of the period the world was either free trade or relatively low tariff. The conditions therefore existed for that free movement of capital and labor all over the world, which was the secret of the prosperity of the Victorian Age and which prevented much international rivalry and friction.

The third was that there was practically free immigration to the New World. This relieved those population pressures in Europe which, with present-day extravagant economic nationalism, have been, in my judgment, the main cause of the rise of the dictatorships. And in this, the United States, by opening its doors to millions of immigrants from Europe, played the principal part, and gave, in the melting pot, the answer to the present racial doctrines of totalitarian Europe.

This nineteenth century system of world peace can be criticized, of course, as being arbitrary and dog in the manger. Europe, indeed, has frequently criticized the way in which the Monroe Doctrine reserved the vast areas and unexampled resources of the New World for the relatively small population which has been fortunate enough to live there. And the British Empire, as you all know, has been a target of ceaseless abuse as a purely selfish imperialistic concern, some of which no doubt is deserved.

But the fact remains that while both Britain and America profited enormously from the nineteenth-century system, so did the rest of the world. Just consider the record of that remarkable but most unusual century. Because world war was prevented, because the system was administered by two powers which were on the whole liberal and democratic, because its economic policies were sound, it saw an unexampled expansion of human freedom and prosperity.

The North and South American continents were left free to develop without external war and without liability for maintaining burdensome armaments or those restrictions on individual freedom which are inevitable when war comes near. The British Empire became transformed into a Commonwealth in which not only Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have taken their place as independent equal nations, but every other part, India, Ceylon, Burma, Jamaica and many other peoples are now far on the high road to self-government.

During the century the system of individual economic initiative and private property, known as capitalism, raised the standard of living in the western world four-fold between 1815 and 1914. And toward the end of the century democracy was learning how to remedy, by old age pensions, graduated taxation, unemployment and health insurance andso forth, many of the evils which unrestricted capitalism had begun to bring forth. Naval power was the sanction behind this rudimentary system, but because navies cannot move on land, made the system one of peace and freedom rather than of domination. The best proof that on the whole the system benefited the world was that at no time was there any serious thought by other nations of trying to upset it.

In 1914, this marvelous era came to an end. I cannot discuss tonight the reason. I would only say that one main reason was that Europe, during that century of world peace, failed to find any basis for its own federal union, as you and Canada and Australia had done.

But while, after a century of achievement, this rudimentary system of world order failed to prevent another world war, it did succeed in its primary purpose of protecting the liberties of North and South America and the British territories across the seas. At the end of the World War there was more political freedom and democracy in the world than there had been before. And today, early in the second great war of this century, it is precisely the future of this freedom which is at stake.

If the barrier now erected by Britain and France goes, the victor will control the seas, the bases upon which that control has rested will necessarily pass to him, and the system behind which you and we have lived on the whole so freely and so prosperously for 150 years will have disappeared.

I do not propose tonight to try to discuss why the League of Nations, which, in 1919, was erected to replace the nineteenth century system and which was based on the ambitious hope of giving security for national freedom everywhere, has so rapidly and, at the moment, so completely broken down. There are many reasons, some of which I have already mentioned. I would only add that one main reason was the failure to distinguish between world problems and the internal problems of Europe. Some form of economic federation, perhaps even of political federation, at any rate for part of Europe, is, I am sure, a necessary condition of any stable world order.

I have returned to give you this brief retrospect of the history of the nineteenth century because I believe it contains lessons which it is well worth our while to study today. Conditions of course are different today. It will not be possible to reconstruct the eighteenth century system with its old forms, but when at the end of this war we come to consider how world war, though not perhaps all war, can be prevented from happening again, I think it is worth while to consider the factors which underlay the successful experience of that century.

There has been a tendency among some writers in this country to regard this war as a struggle between Britain and France on the one hand and Germany on the other, with diplomatic manoeuvres going on in Eastern Europe on the side. Repeatedly I see it said that this a mere contest for power between rival imperialisms. I think this is to misunderstand what is at stake. It is a question of whether power is going to be behind a liberal and democratic world or a totalitarian world.

One of the mistakes the democracies made after the last war was to think that peace would come in the main through disarmament. Disarmament on a large scale, of course, is necessary. But peace comes from there being overwhelming power behind law—as you found when you had to deal with the gangsters within your boundaries.

The real issue in this war is whether there is going to be power behind the kind of world in which France and the British Commonwealth and the democracies of Scandinavia believe, or far more relentless power behind the world in