War and Peace Aims


By NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN, Prime Minister of Great Britain Delivered in Birmingham, England, and broadcast to the United States, February 24, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 342-345.

MY Lord Mayor, my lords, ladies and gentlemen: This speech which I am going to make to you this afternoon is the last of a series of addresses which have been given by the members of the War Cabinet during the last two months in order to keep the country informed of the progress of the war. And I rejoice that since it falls to me to conclude the campaign, I should be able to do so here in the midst of my own fellow citizens, to whom I owe my political education and without whose unfailing support, I might say without whose hereditary support, I should not be occupying the place that I am today. And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that I was never prouder of my native city than I am today, when she is making so magnificent a contribution in every sphere to the national war effort.

My Lord Mayor, my mind goes back this afternoon to the last time when I spoke in this hall. It was nearly a year ago, and it was just after Herr Hitler, in spite of his solemn pledges, had proclaimed the annexation to the Reich of Bohemia and Moravia. That was a black moment for me who had worked so hard and so long to preserve peace and who had hoped against hope that the Chancellor who had broken the promises that had been given by his predecessors would at any rate keep his own. But by that one act Herr Hitler shattered any faith that was left in his pledged word and he disclosed his ambition to dominate the world.

Even then I could hardly believe that he would be so mad as to plunge his country and the world into the course that he was pursuing. I would like to repeat to you the words I used on that occasion. With the lessons of history for all to read, it seems incredible that we should see such a challenge. And I went on to utter a warning so explicit that there could be no misunderstanding. I feel bound to repeat. I said that no greater mistake could be made than to suppose that because it believed war to be a senseless and cruel thing this nation has so lost its vigor that it will not take part to the utmost of its power in resisting such a challenge if it ever were made.

Well, the challenge was made. Czechoslovakia was followed by Poland, and with that wicked and cruel attack upon Poland the die was cast, the challenge was accepted and the acceptance was approved by the whole British Empire.

Alas! ladies and gentlemen, a bad example soon spreads, and these conquests seemed so easy that an apprentice thought he could safely make a similar attack upon Finland. But the Russian apprentice, though he has little to learn from his German master in brutality, has not yet acquired his craft or his force and the whole world is rejoicing over the heroic stand that is being made by little Finland against her gigantic adversary.

Recent events have shown that the Nazis are not content with the conquest of a small State by the force of their arms and their equipment. Terrible stories are reaching us of the treatment of the Poles and the Czechs, and it is evident that the Nazi aim is not merely conquest but the extermination of the peoples who resist their aggression. And in their effort to destroy the soul as well as the body of a nation it is those who are distinguished for culture and for high character who are picked out to be the first victims.

Can you wonder that those small nations who are near enough to Germany to be within the reach of her claws, and who are neither numerous enough nor well equipped enough to resist her, live in a perpetual nightmare of fear? And can you not be surprised that there could be any in this land who doubt what would be our fate if we were not able to hold our liberties and our lives by our strong right arm?

As the days pass, as one by one Germany abandons every international rule to which she has subscribed, as one by one she abandons every pretense to the commonest considerations of humanity in her treatment of the helpless citizens of States with which she is not even at war, the issue of this conflict becomes ever clearer to the world.

That whole system which has gradually been built up by civilized States and which with all its faults does represent an earnest and genuine endeavor to free ourselves from the barbarities of the Middle Ages, and to establish an order more in keeping with the fundamental principles of Christianity. If that whole system is at stake, and only by the victory of the Allies can it be preserved, that is a proof which by now must be apparent to the countries which live in constant fear lest even by maintaining their neutrality they should create some pretext to the European bully to mete out to them the same treatment that has already befallen the earlier victims. So little do the Nazis regard interests

that neutral ships are no longer free from their attacks even when they are sailing only from one neutral point to another. Merchant vessels may be sunk, cargoes may be destroyed, the crews may be turned to drift, to burn, or to perish from exposure, and the neutral country must not complain.

But if we, the British, in order to save some of our countrymen from the brutality of a concentration camp, if we commit a mere technical breach of neutrality, which takes no neutral life and touches no neutral property, why then the Nazis exhaust themselves in exclamations of this terrible English nation. Well, whatever outrages the enemy may commit, one thing at any rate is certain, we have no reason to fear the results of this conflict however long it may last.

We do not stand alone. In the six months of war that lave passed our alliance with France has deepened into a friendship and an understanding so close that, as M. Daladier remarked at a recent meeting of the Supreme War Council, The two governments today think and act as one." And as with the governments, so with the people.

On a recent visit to France I had the opportunity of seeing something of that great and growing army of ours which is side by side with the magnificent soldiers of France keeping watch and ward over the Western Front. I was proud to see that hard-bitten force, fortified and strengthened by months of hard work and intensive training, cheerfully enduring a particularly severe and tedious Winter but ready to meet the foe at any moment when he might venture to advance. And I was no less proud of the cordial and friendly relations which I found everywhere existing between British and French troops working together in the Maginot Line and between individual British soldiers and the inhabitants of the villages in which they were billeted.

Ladies and gentlemen, there could be no more hopeful assurance for our common victory and there could be no more fruitful basis of a lasting peace because this intimate understanding which has grown up between us must not be allowed to come to an end when the war is over. It must remain in order to help us to work out together the problems of a new Europe in the reconstruction which must come after the war in an association to which we shall gladly welcome others who share our ideals.

Already France and we have established close relations with Turkey and only recently we broadened that pact of assistance—mutual assistance between us which was signed last October by fresh commercial and economic agreements. There is another source of growing strength to the Allied cause upon which we can look with particular satisfaction and pride. Before the war they had that common belief in Germany that if ever this country was again engaged in hostilities with her we should not be able to count upon the support from the dominions which we got in 1914. Well, once again Germany has been gloriously disappointed.

There is coming from all parts of the empire not only enthusiastic approval of our cause but a steady stream of men, munitions and material which is daily adding to our strength. Only the other day the Secretary of State for the Dominions, Mr. Eden, returned from his long journey to Egypt and to Palestine, where he had the privilege of conveying the King's welcome to the contingents from Australia and New Zealand. And he has given me an enthusiastic account of the bearing and of the efficiency of these first-class fighting men.

In London we see every day Canadians, on leave from theirheadquarters in the country, and when you consider the thous ands of miles that these men have come, leaving behind them parents, wives and even young children, one cannot but be profoundly impressed by the moral greatness of the cause which has been able to inspire so intense a conviction of its righteousness.

I told you just now that we were receiving from the Dominions not only men but materials and ammunitions. I would like to give you some idea of the scale on which we are working. For instance, in the first twelve months of the war we shall be spending over £100,000,000 sterling in Canada alone; from Australia and New Zealand we have contracted to take the whole of their exportable surplus of wool clippings for the duration of the war and a year afterward; from South Africa, too, we have made supplementary purchases of wool, so that altogether we have now arranged for the purchase of half the normal export of wool from the whole world.

From Canada and Australia we have already bought nearly 4,000,000 tons of wheat, and I might add that we have purchased 437,000 standards of soft wool from Canada and 350,000 fathoms pitch wood from Canada and Newfoundland. I could go on giving you clearer examples to an endless extent, but I have perhaps said enough to show you the formidable character of the resources which are open to us but which are denied to our enemy.

And that brings me to this reflection, that these tremendous advantages are ours by reason of one thing, and that is the command of the sea by the Royal Navy. That command of the sea has now been established and maintained for nearly half a year. The German Fleet has been driven off the oceans and forced to take refuge in neutral ports.

Of those German ships which have broken out, some have been captured, more have ignominiously scuttled themselves and only a few have succeeded in reaching home by sneaking through the territorial waters of Norway. By our continuous system of contraband control the seaborne trade of Germany in neutral ships has been strangled, but, on the other hand, in spite of every kind of attack, from submarine, from aircraft and from mine, British ships have continued to pass in and out of this country carrying their precious cargoes.

You may be surprised to hear that since the beginning of the war no less than 50,000,000 tons of shipping have either entered or cleared from our ports. And the convoy system, which we started in the first year of the war, has proved so successful that out of 9,000 British and neutral ships which have sailed under the protection of the convoy only two-tenths of 1 per cent have been lost. The net result is due not only to the ceaseless vigilance of our warships but also to the constant toil and labor of our mine-sweeping flotillas who keep the channels free for the ships of all nations that approach our shore.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us pay our tribute to that courage, that dauntless courage and tenacity of the reservists, and of the volunteers from the fishing fleet who have carried out their tasks without failing through Winter storms and in face of a ruthless and unscrupulous foe.

Many are the duties of the Royal Navy and they have to be carried on at one and same time over the widest spaces of the earth. But wherever they are, whatever they are doing, whether they are patrolling the high seas, or protecting convoys, or taking part in such a heart-stirring battle as that of the River Plate, whose heroes were honored in London yesterday, or in that brilliant cutting-out and rescue expedition which rang round a delighted world last week, Isay wherever they are the British tars show such seamanship and skill, such doggedness and daring that they can bear comparison with the greatest sailors of the past.

One of the most remarkable features of this war has been the partnership which has been carried on between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The air force has its own work to do, and members of the air force have penetrated deep into Germany and demonstrated over and over again that they can go where they please, regardless of enemy fighters or anti-aircraft gunfire. And when they are operating over the sea they plan and work with the Royal Navy.

In all weathers they patrol the North Sea and discover the haunts of the enemy. They repel the German bombers that dive out of the clouds to bomb and machine-gun defenseless fishermen or lightships whose crews are only doing their humane work for the benefit of all nations alike. They search out and guide the navy to the lurking submarine, and they join efforts in sending those murderous craft to the bottom.

The strength of the air force in men and machines is steadily increasing, and by our plans for training expert pilots and crews at home and in Canada we are going presently to provide ourselves with tens of thousands of airmen who will, in turn, rival the splendid deeds of daring that already stand to the credit of the Royal Air Force.

We may well be proud of our fighting men in all our services, but while we sing their praises, while we pay our tribute of admiration to their exploits, let us not forget the price that has to be paid in the loss of many brave lives given for their country, nor the heartache that has come to many wives and mothers whose happiness has been wrecked by the blind strokes of war.

I think sometimes we do not think enough of our women or sufficiently realize how they are dedicating themselves in this country to the winning of this war. Their sacrifices take many forms, but whether they are just hiding their anxiety about their men folk, whether they are giving up their recreation and their leisure for voluntary work, whether they are looking after strange children, or securing economy and preventing waste, or just keeping the homes going without losing their patience under the tiresome restrictions of war and the blackout, all of them are helping the country in good heart and courage, all of them are making their contributions to victory.

In recent weeks many families have had to suffer from a shortage of fuel. Certainly we have been singularly unlucky, for just at the moment when everybody wanted more coal the severity of the weather conditions was such that the working of our railways was completely dislocated. Well, I feel a great deal of sympathy for those who had this unexpected trial added to them, and I have been going into the matter myself with the Secretary for Mines and all the other Ministers concerned, and I think I can tell you with confidence that the worst is over and that the situation will soon be materially improved.

Well, my Lord Mayor, sitting as I do for long hours every day in Cabinet, or in receiving reports upon the infinite number of problems which have continually to be settled, and generally under pressure of time, reading corrections from my correspondents, and I haven't time to read them all, listening to visitors who come to tell me what they themselves have seen—from all these things I get a pretty good idea of what is going on, and I confess that I am equally amazed at the vastness of the national effort and at the spirit of unity and determination with which it is being conducted.

I have just spoken about the women, but I think also of those tens of thousands of young men who have so cheerfully responded to the call to the colors; and I think also of that great army of older men, men numerous enough now to make an expeditionary force by themselves, men who couldn't wait to be called up, but have volunteered to give their services in the Royal Engineers, the Royal Army Service Corps, the Royal Ordnance Corps, the Home Defense Battalions and the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. I think, too, of that million men and women who have enrolled themselves for civil defense. I think of the householders who have sacrificed their home comforts in order to help in the evacuation scheme.

I think of the civil servants, many of whom toil far into the night or over the week-ends without uttering a word of complaint. I think, too, of the vast expansion of our factories and workshops which has taken place to meet the national need.

I think of the employers who have given up their established trades and turned their machines to unexpected uses. I think of the workers who have set aside the rules and customs that they have painfully established in order to hasten the output of weapons for the fighting services.

I think too of the farmers who are short of labor, but are still doggedly plowing up their millions of acres in order to increase the production of food at home.

I think of the people who are gathering together their little savings and lending them to the government to finance the war, and of those who are organizing these savers and lenders in groups and in parties, and I think it must be a satisfaction to them to know that in the thirteen weeks which have elapsed since the war savings campaign opened no less than £92,000,000 have been put into national war savings certificates and defense bonds. As I consider this picture that I have been drawing for you of what all our people are doing, I feel that the nation is united today as it never has been before in its whole history in its determination to grapple with the forces of evil and to overcome them.

Ladies and gentlemen, what is it that has inspired this universal determination? I don't think there can be a doubt in the mind of any reasonable man or woman as to the purpose of our crusade, for it is a crusade. That purpose has been described and defined by my colleagues and myself over and over again, but the propagandist, and particularly the Nazi propagandist, who is subtle and insidious, and in his unscrupulous insinuating talks he ascribes false aims and false motives to us which he himself has invented, and so perhaps it may be well if I state once more at the end of this campaign what it is we are fighting for and what we are not fighting for.

I pause one moment to consider what are the aims of our enemy, because when you think of them you can see more clearly the contrasts between their views and ours. Now the Nazi aims have been made manifest to the world. In the preface to the German White Paper on the origin of the war Herr von Ribbentrop stated the German aims. Germany, he said, will not lay down her arms until she has reached her goal—namely, the military destruction of her opponents, and Dr. Goebbels, on the nineteenth of January stated that in Germany there was only one opinion about the English —destroy them. There never was a time, he went on, when Germany had such splendid prospects of achieving a dominating position in the world. And there it is, in two phrases, you have the Nazi aims—destruction of this nation and domination of the world.

Now, on the other hand, we are fighting against German domination of the world. That is the challenge that we have taken up, but we do not desire the destruction of any people. We are fighting to secure that the small nations of Europe shall henceforth live in security, free from the constant threat of aggression against their independence and the extermination of their people, but we do not want domination for ourselves, nor do we covet the territory of anybody else.

We are fighting to right the wrongs that Germany has inflicted on people who once were free. We believe we can achieve that aim. We know it can be secured without putting other peoples in bondage.

We are fighting for the freedom of individual conscience. We are fighting for the freedom of religion. We are fighting against persecution, wherever it may be found. And lastly we are fighting for the abolition of the spirit of militarism and of that accumulation of armaments which is pauperising Europe and Nazi Germany herself, for only by the abolition of that spirit and of those armaments can Europe be saved from bankruptcy and ruin. Well then how, in concrete terms are these aims to be achieved? After all, the independence of the Poles and the Czechs must be restored. And secondly, we must have tangible evidence to satisfy us that pledges and assurances when they are given will be fulfilled. Under the present government of Germany there can be no security for the future. The elements in Germany who are ready to cooperate in hiding the new Europe are ruthlessly proscribed. The nation itself is isolated even from contact with neutral opinion and the rulers themselves have repeatedly shown that they cannot be trusted to keep their words to foreign governments or even to their own people.

Therefore it is for Germany to take the next step and to show us conclusively that she has abandoned that thesis that might is right. Now let me say this. We and France are determined to do what we can for security by the continuance of that complete identity of purpose and policy which now unite us and which will serve after the war for the firm foundation of the relations between our two countries.

Only so do we believe we can establish the authority and the stability which is necessary for the security of Europe during the period of reconstruction and fresh endeavor to which we look forward after the war.

Ladies and gentlemen, France and Britain, powerful as they are, cannot and do not want to settle the new Europe alone. Others must come in to help us and particularly must they come in to bring about that disarmament which is an absolutely essential feature for any lasting peace.

That problem of disarmament has hitherto baffled all attempts to solve it because no nation is willing to abandon its own powers of defense while it thinks that others who have not disarmed may take advantage of its helplessness. But if once we could exorcise that fear, why then disarmament would surely follow as day follows night.

Although disarmament must be a gradual process, although it may and probably will take many years to complete, yet if only we could establish confidence between the nations in one another's good faith we could at least make a beginning, and every step that we took forward in disarmament would make easier the step that would follow.

Now in re-establishing that confidence among nations Germany can do, herself, more than any other country, for the simple reason that it is Germany who has done most to destroy confidence. And when she shows that she is ready to give proofs of her goodwill and her good faith she will not find others lacking in the will to help her to overcome the economic difficulties that are bound to accompany the transition from war to peace.

My Lord Mayor, in the aims that have once more recapitulated there is nothing that is humiliating or oppressive for anybody, and on such a basis we for our part would be ready to seek a settlement with any government which has subscribed to those aims and given proof—proof that can be relied upon of its sincerity. But let me conclude by repeating that the next step does not lie with us. We are resolved that freedom shall prevail, and it is because tyranny and intimidation sought to overcome freedom that we entered this war.

And therefore I say, and here I speak not only for this country, but for the whole empire, I say that until we are satisfied that freedom is safe we will continue to do battle with all our soul and with all our strength.