The Situation in Europe
DWELLING IN THE CAGE WITH THE TIGER
By WINSTON CHURCHILL, First Lord of the British Admiralty
Broadcast from London, England, March 31, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 392-394.
IT seems rather hard with Spring caressing the land, and when after rigors of Winter our fields and woodlands are reviving, that all our thoughts must be turned and bent upon sterner war. When I spoke to you six months ago I said that if we reached the Spring without any great events occurring we should then have gained an important success. I still feel that this additional period of preparation has been an invaluable help to the Allies.
Peaceful parliamentary nations have more difficulty in transforming themselves into vast war-making organisms than dictator States who glorify and feed their youth on dreams of conquest. The British Empire and the French Republic are now joined together in indissoluble union so that their full purposes may be accomplished. An immense progress has been made in almost every direction, in strengthening our forces, in improving our defenses and in adapting our whole economy and way of life to the credit of the common cause.
Up to the present, time has been on our side, but time is a changeable ally—he may be with you in one period and against you in another, and then if you come through that other he may return again, more faithful than before. It seems to me, in giving a general view, that an intensification of the struggle is to be expected, and we are certainly by nomeans inclined to shrink from it. We must not boast or speak in terms of vain conceit and over-confidence. We have never underrated the terrible nature of what we undertook when, after striving so long for peace, we set ourselves to the task of dealing with the Nazi and German menace, and of dealing with it in such a fashion as would clear a path of progress and enable all countries, the great and small, old and new, to breathe freely for a long time to come.
We do not minimize our job, but we can now measure it in its enormous magnitude more exactly than we could before we came into contact with our adversary on the sea and in the air. We do not conceal from ourselves that trials and tribulations lie before us far beyond anything we have so far undergone, and we know that supreme exertion will be required from the British and French nations.
We know all this, but we are entitled to recognize the basic facts. Our resources and our manpower, once they are fully developed, match and exceed those of the enemy. The British and French races together amount to 110,000,000 against less than 70,000,000 of Germans who cannot count the 16,000,000 they are holding down by brute force.
Through our command of the sea, which is becoming considerably more complete, the resources of the whole world are to a very large extent open to us, and on surveying the whole scene we may rightly feel a good and sober assurance that if we do our best we shall not fail.
Some people often ask me: "Will the war be long or short?" It might have been a very short war, perhaps, indeed, there might have been no war, if all the neutral States, who share our conviction upon fundamental matters, and who openly or secretly sympathize with us, had stood together at one signal and in one line. We did not count on this, we did not expect it, and therefore we are not disappointed or dismayed. We trust in God, and in our own arms uplifted in a cause which we devoutly feel carries with it the larger hopes and harmonies of mankind.
But the fact is that many of the smaller States of Europe are terrorized by Nazi violence and brutality into supplying Germany with the material of modern war, and this fact may condemn the whole world to a prolonged ordeal with grievous, unmeasured consequences in many lands. Therefore, I cannot assure you that the war will be short and still less that it will be easy.
It is, I think, our duty to try, so far as our strength lies, not only to win the war but to curtail, so far as possible, its devouring course. Some few weeks ago I spoke about the action of the neutral States who have the misfortune to be Germany's neighbors. We have the greatest sympathy for these forlorn countries, and we understand their dangers and their point of view, but it would not be right, or in the general interest, that their weakness should be the aggressor's strength, and fill to overflowing the cup of human woe. There could be no justice if in a moral struggle the aggressor tramples down every sentiment of humanity, and if those who resist him remain entangled in the tatters of violated legal conventions.
Hardly a day passes without fresh outrages of a barbarous character being inflicted upon the shipping and sailors of all European countries. Their ships are sunk by mines, or by torpedo, or by bombs from the air, and their crews are murdered, or left to perish, unless we are able to rescue them. Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, and even Italians, and many more I could mention, have been the victims of Hitler's murderous rage.
In his frenzy, this wicked man and the criminal regime which he has conceived and erected, increasingly turn their malice upon the weak, upon the lowly, and above all, upon the unarmed vessels of countries with which Germany is
still supposed to be in friendly relations. In the British and French convoys there is safety. Only one in 800 neutral ships which have resorted to our protection has been sunk; only one in every 800. It is 800 to 1 against a sinking at the present time. But outside the shelter of the Allied navies, merciless, baffled, pent-up spite is wreaked upon all who come within the Nazi clutches.
More than 150 neutral ships have been destroyed and over 1,000 neutral seamen have been slaughtered in Hitler's frantic endeavor to terrorize all who seek to trade with the British Isles. During the last fortnight, fourteen neutral ships have been sunk and only one British ship. After all it is we who are his foes, and it is we who have the honor to be his foes.
Such a form of warfare has never been practiced since the effectual suppression of piracy on the high seas. And this is the monstrous power which even the very neutrals who have suffered and are suffering most—this is the power which they are forced to supply with the means of future aggression. This is the power before whom, even while they writhe in anger, they are forced to bow, and whose victory they are compelled to aid, even though, as they well know, that victory would mean their own enslavement.
Why, only yesterday, while the sailors from a British submarine were carrying ashore on stretchers eight emaciated Dutchmen, whom they had rescued from six days' exposure in an open boat, Dutch aviators in Holland, in the name of strict and impartial orthodoxy, were shooting down a British aircraft which had lost its way.
I do not reproach the Dutch, our valiant allies of bygone centuries. My heart goes out to them in their peril and distress, dwelling as they do in the cage with the tiger, but when we are asked to take as a matter of course interpretations of neutrality which give all the advantages to the aggressor and inflict all the disadvantages upon the defenders of freedom, I recall a saying of the late Lord Balfour: "This is a singularly ill-contrived world but not so ill-contrived as that."
But all these outrages upon the sea which are so clearly visible pale before the villainous deeds which were wrought upon the helpless Czechs and Austrians, and they sink almost into insignificance before the hideous agony of Poland. What a frightful fate has overtaken Poland! Here was a community of nearly thirty-five millions of people with all the organization of a modern government, and all the traditions of an ancient State, which, in a few weeks, was dashed out of civilized existence to become an incoherent multitude of tortured and starving men, women and children, ground beneath the heel of two rival forms of withering, blasting killing.
The other day in a well-known British harbor I inspected the crew of a Polish destroyer. I rarely have seen a finer body of men. I was stirred by their discipline and bearing, yet how tragic was their plight! Their ship was afloat, but their country had foundered. But then I looked around upon all the great ships of war which lay at their anchors, and at all the preparations which were being made on every side to carry this war forward at all costs, as long as may be necessary. I comforted myself with the thought that when these Polish sailors have finished their work with the British Navy, we will take particular care that they once more have a home to go to.
I know the fate of Poland stares every one in the face. There are thoughtless, dilettante or purblind worldlings who sometimes ask us: "What is it that Britain and France are fighting for?" To this I make the answer: "If we left off fighting, you would soon find out."
We shall follow this war wherever it leads us, but wehave no wish to broaden the area of conflict. At the outbreak, seven months ago, we didn't know that Italy would not be our enemy, we were not sure that Japan would not be our enemy. Many people, on the other hand, had hoped that Russia would re-enter the comity of nations and help to shield the working folk all over the world from Nazi aggression. But none of these things, good or bad, has happened.
We have no quarrel with the Italian or Japanese peoples. We have tried and we shall try our best to live on good terms with them. It is no part of our policy to seek a war with Russia. The Soviet Government, in their onslaught upon the heroic Finns, have exposed to the whole world the ravages which communism makes upon the fiber of any nation which falls a victim to that deadly mental and moral disease. This exposure of the Russian Army and Russian Air Force has astonished the world and has rightly heartened all that States that dwell upon the Russian border.
But there is no need for Russia to be drawn into this struggle, unless upon the promptings of obsolete imperialist ambition she wishes to do so on her own volition and on plans of malice prepense she throws her weight on the side of our enemy. Our affair is not with her. Our affair is with Hitlerand the Nazi German power. There is the head and forefront of the offending, and it is there, and there alone, that we seek to strike.
All's quiet upon the Western Front, and today, this Saturday, so far nothing has happened on the sea nor in the air. But, more than a million German soldiers, including all their active divisions and armored divisions, are drawn up ready to attack at a few hours' notice all along the frontiers of Luxembourg, of Belgium and of Holland. At any moment these neutral countries may be subjected to an avalanche of steel and fire, and the decision rests in the hands of a haunted, morbid being, who, to their eternal shame, the German peoples, in their bewilderment, have worshiped as a god.
That is the situation of Europe tonight, and can any one wonder that we are determined to bring such a hideous state of alarm and malice to an end, and to bring it, to an end as soon as may be, and to bring it to an end once and for all.
Few there are tonight who, looking back on these last seven months, would doubt that the British and French peoples were right to draw the sword of justice and retribution. Fewer still there are who would wish to sheathe it till its somber, righteous work is done.