A Canadian View of the War


By SIR EDWARD BEATTY, Chairman of the Canadian Pacific Railway

Delivered at a Joint Complimentary Dinner of the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Canadian Club of Vancouver and theVancouver Bar Association, September 5, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, p. 49-52.

YOU must pardon me if I commence with the somewhat unusual remark that I had grave doubts as to the advisability of accepting the invitation which I received to speak at this gathering. It is, of course, entirely unnecessary for me to tell you that these doubts were not based on any lack of appreciation of the triple honor done me by the members of the Board of Trade, the Canadian Club and the Vancouver Bar Association or any desire to abandon my long-standing custom of occasional frank discussion of our national problems with the businessmen of Canada, who constitute the chief clients of the corporation of which I am an officer. Indeed, it has always been my conviction that it was the duty of men occupying positions of business responsibility to accept invitations to make public addresses, and thus to give the business community at large an opportunity to understand and to judge the philosophy which directs the policies of our larger institutions.

My hesitation in this case arose from the fact that this country is a nation at war—engaged in a desperate struggle to maintain civilization, and that, in such circumstances, the sort of leadership which we want is rather that which can be given us by those elected for that purpose. I have welcomed the occasional addresses of the Ministers of the Crown, and only wish that they could find the time, from their multifarious and pressing duties, to speak oftener to the people of the nation. In such circumstances it has not seemed to me particularly advisable that private citizens, however responsible their positions in the business world, should undertake much in the way of speech-making.

One reason for this feeling is that it is clear that no artificial lashing of public enthusiasm for the war has been or will be necessary. If ever there were a war which was that of the ordinary man; a war in which our nation and our Empire were engaged, not to serve ambitions of a dynasty or of a class, not unwillingly and as followers of some half understood theory or some policy incomprehensible to the ordinary man, this is such a war. It is a war in which the free peoples of the world have decided that, in the name of God and of justice, we must be prepared to risk everything and do everything to guarantee that Christian civilization does not vanish from the face of the earth.

However, there can be no harm done by a frank discussion between Canadian citizens of the situation in which we find ourselves, and of the outlook as we see it. I promise to avoid prophecy—which is, today more than ever, the most gratuitous form of error, as has been so justly observed.

Another matter which I can pass over, with but the barest reference, is the tremendous question of what caused the war, and any justification of our being party to it.

We know that the world was struggling back, very slowly and very painfully, to sanity after the last war. We know that grave errors of policy had been made by victors and vanquished alike, and we were trying to find out what they were, and how to correct them. International good will was actually beginning to revive, and it might have been followed by a restoration of true comity of nations and the resumption of really friendly relations.

In this picture there suddenly appeared two gangsters.

Herr Hitler was an obscure ex-soldier of another war, a neurotic student, poorly educated, and totally inexperienced in either public or private affairs. To what extent he captured the imagination of the German people, by his violent and reiterated denials of all that history showed to be the truth concerning the origins, course and consequences of the previous Great War, or to what extent he was merely a useful tool of other men, history alone can tell us many years from now, if ever.

What is a fact on which we can base something real in the way of conclusions is that he wrote a book. It was a book which, written by an ordinary man, might reasonably justify his being certified as a lunatic. It reminds its readers most forcibly of the statement in "Alice in Wonderland" that "if I say it three times it is so." Herr Hitler asserts in that book that black is white, right is wrong, and the devil is God, and he not only says it three times, but many times that, and boasts that if lies are told frequently enough, and in a loud enough voice, they will become the truth.

That man seemed to meet some need in the German soul. Crushed in a war which they themselves had provoked, the German people were eager to hear that the war was no fault of theirs, and that their loss of it was a mere illusion. Herr Hitler gave them this doctrine and imbued them—or a great majority of them—with a fanatic willingness to live for the one object of revenge.

To his aid came the peculiar figure of Benito Mussolini— a typical adventurer; an anarchist, a socialist, and the most violent of Right Wing reactionaries in turn; a typical blusterer, who, in the more suitable surroundings of the slums of Chicago, might have become another famous leader of a gang.

Instead, by one of the great accidents of fate, he made himself the dictator of Italy, and promptly joined Herr Hitler in a campaign intended to destroy liberty and civilization, and to substitute force and fraud.

It would be useless at this stage in the world's history to attempt to review the history of the years since these men came to power. They faced free nations, slowly recovering from the economic and psychological shocks of the war— nations in which too many disillusioned men were decrying patriotism and courage, and were trying to build a feeble theory that all that was needed to meet force was kindness and good will; a world also in which too many younger men were preaching doctrines subversive to our system of society, and were deeply influencing the youth to believe that solid devotion to established institutions was a mark of intellectual weakness.

Free nations refused to meet the challenge of the dictators to see who could best provide himself with arms. They wanted butter, not guns. They wanted to improve the material lot of humanity, and to substitute an ideal brotherhood of man for the harsh realities of a world in which it is still evidently only too possible to rouse bitterness.

In the end, after repeated attempts to correct any errors which had been made in the liquidation of another war, and to establish some system of international justice, the free nations found themselves with their backs against the wall,and forced to accept the destruction of all civilization, or to fight.

As free nations it was inevitable that they would make the mistake of democracy, which is never to be ready for war. For months after the actual outbreak of war we still continued our vain imaginings, first about the ease with which the power of the dictators over their own peoples could be shattered by internal disturbances, and then of the economic advantages which we were assured, with endless columns of figures, would soon lead the aggressors to throw up their hands and drop their weapons.

The result of this was to make our efforts unduly feeble. I do not think that it has ever been wise, or ever will be, to attempt to allocate the blame for this situation. It existed because the people of the democracies willed it to exist.

Our failure to oust the invaders from Norway, followed by the over-running of the Low Countries, brought this phase of the war to a very sudden conclusion. The effect of these events was accentuated by the collapse of France—a nation which had suffered, more than any of the Allies, from the corrupting influences to which I have already referred, from the illusion that a defensive war would be enough, from internal political weaknesses, from the economic consequences of rash adventures in socialism which had failed, and from the actual impact of German attack.

It is the fault of democracies to make such mistakes, but history makes it clear that it is the virtue of democracies to recover from them, and to destroy the tyrants who would wipe them out.

When we awoke to the realities of the situation, we showed a spirit of realism, of courage, of resolution, of willingness to subordinate personal interests to the common defense, that makes it certain that we shall win the war.

Democracy has not failed. Democracy, with its fumbling wisdom, brought to the leadership of our cause a Churchill. This man is one of the those figures whom the human race produces, in great crises, for its salvation. He is brilliant and fearless and he incarnates, in his own character, the patient courage of his race. He leads the British peoples successfully, because he is the typical example of their natural qualities.

Throughout the Empire, there have arisen an army of men, each in his own place attempting, with more or less success, to emulate, on a smaller scale, the leadership which Mr. Churchill gives to the nation which is the center of our Empire and of civilization.

So far, I have been on the ground of recorded history, and there will be found few in this country to disagree with anything which I have said. I now come to the more difficult and dangerous task of attempting to describe the situation which now exists. It is one necessarily concealed, in most of its details, behind the veil of secrecy which military necessity imposes. It is one which alters so rapidly that, even as I speak, events may occur, thousands of miles from here, which might enhance or destroy any value which my statement here contains. In such circumstances, it is the part of wisdom to speak cautiously, and with every possible reservation—making it clear that this is the best judgment which one individual can form of the realities of a situation of which he knows but little.

We have Europe prostrate at the feet of tyrants. One small European nation—Greece—and Turkey—a nation of Europe and Asia—show determined unwillingness to concede the claims of the dictators. Jugo-Slavia appears to be with them, but even that is not certain to our knowledge here. The other nations of Europe are either—like Hungary —apparently willing participants in the increased growth of the power of the dictatorial states, or have been forced toabandon any semblance of national liberty, on their own soil, at least for the moment.

It is true the courageous representations of Czechoslovakia, of Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France have collected around themselves in London enough of their own people to justify them in claiming still to speak for nations which are otherwise crushed under the power of Germany, and that, beyond the seas, the representatives of these nations, in the colonies which they govern, are, in many cases, still refusing to admit the right of the aggressors to dictate.

In Eastern Asia, Japan continues her attack on China, and adds to it constant hints of further adventures in search of conquest.

The great and kindly nation to the south of us has, up to this time, not attempted to intervene in this situation, beyond the offering of endless marks of good will to the free nations, and so small contribution of practical assistance.

In the end, the war has become one between the peoples of the British Empire and the tyrants.

Each nation of the Empire is contributing, realistically and practically, to the common effort, but, as might be expected, the brunt of the battle falls on Britain.

This small group of peoples have met the onslaught of German force with a courage and calmness which will shine in the pages of history. Defence for the home country has been improvised so rapidly that the boasted air power of the Germans has failed to make even an impression upon it. Furthermore, the Royal Navy, assisted by the smaller forces of the Dominions, still holds the seas of the world, depriving Germany and Italy of access either to the markets of the world, or to the sources of many vital raw materials, while still sharing, to the full, in the defense, not only of Britain, but of the shores of the whole Empire. In addition, the Royal Air Force has not only, with infinite courage and capacity, met the German air threat to Britain, but has, for two months now, systematically carried destruction to military objectives and sources of supply in Germany and German occupied Europe.

Outside of Europe, the only battlefield which exists is that in North Africa. Recent events have indicated that it will be necessary for the comparatively small number of British troops which garrison great areas to face grave dangers, and it would be rash boastfulness to claim that the situation there is not a grave one. Despite this, there is every reason to believe that, with the assistance of the Royal Navy, and what air forces can be spared from Britain for the task, the British in North Africa may hold out long enough to permit the bringing up of the reinforcements necessary to inflict a decisive defeat on the enemy in that theatre of war.

One point on which it is impossible to speak with certainty, but on which we may feel the greatest encouragement, is the condition produced in Germany and Italy by the incessant bombings by the Royal Air Force of factories engaged in producing material of war, and of the transportation systems which link these sources of supply to the German armies throughout Central and Western Europe.

Almost all that we have to guide us in assessing the extent of this damage is the series of communiques issued almost daily by the Air Ministry of the United Kingdom. On this point, I should like to point out the folly of those who, from time to time, doubt the accuracy of the statements in these communiques. I have heard it said that it is impossible to accept the statement that 600 planes, appearing over the British Isles, could, in one day, lose 132 of their number, with a personnel of probably over 350, while the Royal Air Force lost, in the same engagement, no more than 22 planes and 10 pilots.

In one way these doubts are quite understandable. A victory on such a scale requires such superiority of equipment, and such heroic skill in battle, that the figures might well seem incredible.

I should like to remind you that the men who issued these figures are not likely to be liars. They reiterate descriptions of the conservative methods of computation which they use, and, especially in air battles occurring largely over the British Isles, it is possible to obtain fairly exact information as to actual losses of both sides. Such statistics as those which showed the number of British bombs dropped on Germany, as compared with the German bombs dropped on the British Isles, are easily prepared with absolute accuracy. There is not the least reason to doubt them—if we assume, as we should be fools not to assume, that the men who issue them are telling the honest truth as they know it.

It is for these reasons that I accept so readily the specific claims of the Air Force concerning the damage done to the industrial equipment and productive power of Germany and Italy, and pay no attention to enemy counterclaims. I do not think that we may hesitate for a moment to believe the statement that this damage has already been on a scale which will be effective in deciding the course of the war.

It is far from my intention to suggest for a moment that the danger of heavy destruction of life and property in Britain is over, or that the bombing of military objectives in Germany and Italy has, so far, really crippled the ability of those nations to provide for their armies in the field. It does seem highly probable, however, that, with what we know of the psychology of the German and Italian peoples, the material damage already done to their countries may have had a determining effect on the course of the war, and there is no reason readily visible at the moment to believe that this damage will not continue, and will not increase steadily, as the air power of Britain grows.

In time I believe that the mastery of the air will pass completely to Britain, and that it will become obvious that Germany will lose the war.

I wish, at this point, to remind you that I said that I would not indulge in prophecy. It is with a very apologetic feeling that I venture to discuss technical questions of naval, military and air strategy, and I may be entirely wrong. I am merely trying to picture to you the impressions which I gather from the information which is available to the public, and I go no farther than to say that I feel confident that a period will come when we feel absolute certainty that we are winning the war.

The coming of such a certainty will not be the same thing as the end of the war. One of the most puzzling questions ahead of us is how the war is to be brought to its final conclusion. It seems unthinkable that a peace conference could ever be held at which Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini would be present. There are other figures in Europe, now the heads of important states, who do not seem likely candidates for a peace conference. My own feeling is that we shall have to continue the war until revolutionary alterations of the governments of several countries have occurred, and that we may even see the necessity of policing a great deal of Europe, by comparatively large numbers of troops, until order can be restored, and the life of many nations assumes a more normal aspect.

Our ability to bring the war to a successful conclusion will depend on our carrying out fully the enormous programme of arming the British Empire which is now under way. It is not for Canadians to say to what extent the great Republic to the south of us will also share in the task of restoring world order. We do know that, in this country, the most desirable of possible events has been marked by the recent announcement that the United States and Canada haveentered into frank discussion of the mutual problems of defending the North American Continent and its outlying waters. We know, too, with what satisfaction we learned of the recent exchange of Atlantic bases to the United States for over-age torpedo-boat destroyers to Great Britain. The significance and timeliness of these successful negotiations speak for themselves.

It has always seemed to me axiomatic that Canada must remain in perpetual alliance with Great Britain and the United States. The interests of these two great nations will, please God, never be divergent, and there is nothing to give alarm to the most ardent British patriot in the spectacle of British North America agreeing with the United States to make tangible plans for common effort against aggression.

With the United States, to whatever extent that country feels it desirable to participate, the British Empire must continue to prepare a military force capable of restoring order in the world, and I think that it might change the minds of the dictators if they could see the preparations that we, in this one country, are making for this purpose.

It would be most improper to discuss, in a public address, even those things which I personally know of the extent of the arrangements which have been made to produce material of war in Canada. Official sources have given us, from time to time, as much of an outline of these as military necessities justify.

I can safely describe the situation in general terms by pointing out that our effort in this direction constitutes the greatest single revolution in our economic life since we first built a transcontinental railway.

Within a comparatively short time the contribution which this country can make to the supply of material of war will be on a scale which will make it a most important factor in the struggle.

As for our plans to provide the personnel for a navy, army and an air force, I do not even need to attempt a description of what is being done. The youth of this nation, already voluntarily providing the state with all the sailors, the soldiers and the airmen for which there have been calls, is now engaged in a huge programme of organization and training, to equip all of them for service in defence of their own country, and at least the preliminary training required to fit them for service in any theatre of war.

If Herr Hitler could see, as I have seen, the young men of this nation, often in shirt sleeves, lacking, for the moment, the equipment of the fighting man, drilling, night after night, not only in park squares and on parade grounds, but in every village street and every open space in our cities across Canada, I think that he might realize that, as we put it in the vernacular, "he has started something." Those whose interest lies in naval service are no whit behind the soldiers, and we all know the size and the efficiency of the preparations for the Empire Air Training scheme.

The real test which we must meet will be that of morale. That is a test which will be applied, not only to our young men who go to battle—we need not ever doubt their courage and resourcefulness; it will be a test which will be applied to all the men, women and children of the nation. We shall win this war if and because we can meet the test of courage and willingness to make sacrifices for the common good which will be required of us.

We have the example before us. The people of Britain are no whit less eager for the ease and good things of peace and wealth than we are ourselves. Today that Island meets and throws back a series of ferocious attacks aimed not at military objectives, but at the nation as a whole. It has to face the murderous onslaughts made by airplanes flying sometimes too high to be seen, and dropping their chargesof explosives without regard to the formerly accepted rules of war, or to the dictates of humanity.

That nation stands to arms to face the threat of the invasion of hordes of the most savage and ruthless soldiery which the world has yet produced—young men trained for years in the abominations of the Nazi creed.

We know the courage and resolution with which these threats have been faced, and the sufferings produced by their partial execution have been borne.

In this favored land, we have been preserved from the actual shock of war. Those of our young men who have lost their lives have done so far from Canada. We have felt no privation of any kind, and have been faced with nothing more, so far, than a demand to give a little of our time to the service of the nation and some of our earnings to the purchase of war supplies.

I have given you an optimistic picture of the development of the war as I see it. I should like to warn you, however, that there still lies ahead of us a long time of struggle and sacrifice far exceeding those which we have yet been called upon to make. We must work, save and fight. We must extend our productive activities, so as to maintain the ordinary productivity of the country, and our foreign exports,without slackening for a moment our increasing production of material of war, or interfering with the diversion of man-power to the fighting services.

We must save, so that the labour and material which would otherwise go to satisfying our own wants and indulgence may be available to supply our fighting men, and those of our Allies, with the weapons which they need. There is no source of public money except the taxes, the gifts and the loans of the people, and there is no way in which public revenues can be diverted from normal to war-time expenditures except by the ordinary citizen foregoing his right to use labour and materials which the state needs for military purposes.

We must fight, and that does not apply only to the young men who go to war. We must fight against subversive doctrines, against defeatism, against panic, against undue optimism, against weariness of war. We must fight, without weakness and without cessation, until we know that we have done what was required of us to sweep tyranny from the face of the earth, and to restore Christian civilization. The cause is perhaps the greatest which the human race was ever called upon to defend. Those who come after us will say whether we were worthy of it.