War Aims of Great Britain


By VISCOUNT HALIFAX, British Ambassador to the United States

Delivered to the Pilgrims at the Hotel Waldorf Astoria, March 25, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 394-398.

MR. CHAIRMAN and Pilgrims of the United States. My first words must naturally be to thank you for the privilege of allowing me to be your guest tonight and for the generous way in which you have received me and the chairman for the all too generous words in which he has introduced me to you.

Lady Halifax and I have been deeply touched by the spontaneous kindliness of the welcome which awaited us—I was about to say from the first moment that we touched American soil. But we can never forget that the welcome had begun before we ever landed with the President's truly wonderful gesture in coming to meet us. And that was an act of kindness which went straight to the hearts of my countrymen and which they will always gratefully remember.

There had naturally, as you will believe, been an element of sadness for us in saying farewell to our home in England at such times as these. But if we felt a pang at leaving old friends there, you have gladdened us greatly by making us feel that we have the opportunity of making countless new friends here.

I was very sorry that it should have been necessary to postpone the date of this gathering and in so far as I was the unwilling author of such inconvenience, I would ask leave to express my own personal apologies. But that postponement has had at least one happy consequence, for it has enabled us this evening to enjoy the presence and presiding genius of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, than whom no one has done more by the word spoken and written to place before his fellow-countrymen and the world the realities of these present times.

Last Engagement in England

My last engagement before leaving England was to meet the Pilgrims at a farewell luncheon which they were good enough to give me on the eve of sailing. And it is in accordance with tradition that the first public speech of a new British Ambassador in this country should be made to the kindly and distinguished audience of the Pilgrims of the United States.

I must confess that one of my earliest feelings on appointment as Ambassador to the United States was a tremor of apprehension at the number of speeches which I might be expected to make. Nor was it possible for me, if I maymake a confession to you, except at a price that I should have been reluctant to ask you to pay, to find relief in the advice once given to me by Lord Balfour when I first entered the House of Commons thirty years ago. I told him that I felt rather like a new boy arriving at a strange school.

"My dear fellow," he said, "there is never any need to be nervous in the House of Commons. All you have to do is to speak as often as you can and as long as you can, and you will rapidly lose any sense of mercy for your audience, as every bore always does."

The reason of my coming here is well known. I told your fellow-Pilgrims in London some of the reasons which had moved me to submit to the King the name of Philip Lothian to be His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington. He came to you, indeed, as no stranger, but as one who already knew and loved your country, and who had many good friends among you, and who was in especial degree equipped to undertake the task. I little thought at that time that it would fall to me to succeed him after the tragically short period of fifteen months.

Long Prepared for Service

But the value of men's work and lives is not to be measured in length of days, and I do not hesitate to say that the year that Lothian spent here was the most formative and important of his life. He had long prepared unconsciously for it, and when the opportunity came he gave himself without stint to that which is the purpose of your society, the cause of better understanding between our peoples. The fruits of his labor stand today for all the world to see. He would not, I think, have wished any better monument.

Seldom before in the world's history can so much have depended on that understanding—and for that reason the Prime Minister rightly described this post that I have the honor to hold "as the most important at this time which any British subject can occupy outside the United Kingdom."

Nor is the reason far to seek why recent months have seen a steady drawing together of the thought of our two countries. You and we have felt from the outset that the instinctive reaction of our two peoples to the challenge offered by the new philosophy of totalitarian dictatorship must be identical. And as the struggle has grown more intense, reason and conscience have combined to make us both realizeever more clearly the dark menace to things that are equally precious to your country and to mine.

And this common purpose has been sealed anew by the recent passage into law of the Lease-Lend Act. It is difficult to exaggerate what this means. Across the seas, in the front line, which is Britain, as in the hearts of those submerged for a time under the German wave, there will be felt new confidence; in the camp of the enemy new doubts; as all alike remember the history of the last war and see the time surely approaching when the weight of this nation must tip the scales.

Points to Britain's Courage

And if the British Commonwealth have felt able, as we have, to count upon the increasing support of your moral and industrial partnership in this business, we hope that you too have seen the bearing of the British people to be such as you would have expected from your own people if they were similarly placed.

Certainly, as personality often lingers where at some forgotten time has been stamped the mark of deep human feeling, so day by day the number of those places grows, which will long speak to any Englishman of the courage and self-sacrifice that they have seen.

We are wont to say that we are fighting for freedom and for democracy—for freedom, as the quality of life that we desire; for democracy as the system of government which is at once its best expression and the surest guarantee for its protection.

What do we mean when we use these large words?

I can only tell you what I mean, and what I know my fellow-countrymen mean, even if they do not always translate it into precise language; and I do not think you will take any different view.

There seem to us to be certain principles that are essential to life as we wish to live it and see it lived. And those principles are now in dire peril, and we believe therefore that we are truly fighting for our lives, since life to us is worthless if the principles on which it is built are to be destroyed.

We do well to remind ourselves of what these principles are. For, they, like the iceberg, of which the greater part is out of sight, lie deep down below the surface of man's outward being.

Principles in Many Minds

I would state thus what in varying forms is in many minds today:

First, the religious principle of the absolute value of every human soul;

Second, the moral principle of respect for personality and for conscience;

Third, the social principle of individual liberty, finding its expression in two ways: in the sphere of politics through equal opportunity, justice and the rule of law; and economically, through the direction of national effort to the creation of conditions that may bring some real security into the daily life of our humblest citizen;

And, finally, the domestic principle of the sanctity and solidarity of the family, which is the natural development of the individual.

But I venture to say that, unless we build on these foundations—religious, moral, social and domestic—we have no hope of finding the way of happiness.

It is only by slow process that man has learned to apprehend these principles. They have come to him by Christianity and by other great religions. They have drawn vitally from the best of human thought throughout the centuries. Forus they are expressed and protected by democracy, and that is why we value it. There are, of course, other nations, who have different systems of government, but who are not less concerned than ourselves to secure the way of life which these principles reflect. And this is because it is on their maintenance that rights fundamental to human life and progress plainly rest.

President's Historic Speech

From those principles, I believe, derive the rights that, following your Declaration of Independence more than one hundred and fifty years ago, and following also that historic speech of your President ten days ago, I would assert for all men today:

The right to think, speak and act freely within the law, and to have free access to the thoughts of others;

The right of free association, both national and international, with their fellow-men;

The right to live without fear of aggression, injustice or want;

The right to believe and worship as conscience may dictate.

It is the vindication of those rights that men today passionately desire.

It has sometimes been suggested that the tradition of freedom in Western Europe is a recent growth. But the heroic struggle for popular government, continuously waged since the early Middle Ages, in my own country as in almost every part of Europe, proves conclusively how old and how widely rooted is the idea of freedom.

Your country America is the creation of men who so valued freedom that they called a new world into being in order to maintain it. The British Commonwealth has grown in an atmosphere of freedom and has developed the principle and practice of self-government. We see the fruits of it in the march of free men from the four corners of the earth, men whose loyalty to the common Crown—for them the symbol of liberty—has brought them to fight by sea, and land, and air, at our side today.

Now there is no inch of common ground between those who accept and reject those principles, or assert and deny those rights,

"Nazi System Is Bondage"

The Nazi system is bondage, bodily and spiritual; political and economic.

According to Nazi philosophy, the State both may and must claim the whole allegiance of man's body and soul. Truth, conscience, mercy, honor, justice, love; where these clash with what is held to be the over-riding interest of the State, they are regarded by Hitler as offenses.

As Hitler plans the world under his so-called "new order," it would be divided into Germans, the master race, and other nations, second-class peoples, with rights and interests subordinated to those of the ruling caste.

For Europe such a system involves the shackling of industry and commerce, ruthless compulsion in place of free contract, and the permanent enslavement of all peoples.

But German ambitions do not stop at Europe. Already Hitler is scheming to overrun great tracts of Africa and Asia.

Across what have now become the Straits of Dakar the invader of Africa, if he could once establish undisputed mastery of Europe, could swiftly pounce upon your Latin neighbors to the south. The American Continent, a standing challenge to German domination, could be attacked before it had time to arm in self defense. In any case, the doors of trade in Europe, Asia and Africa would be closed to it except on terms laid down by Germany.

Would Hitler Attempt It?

Would Hitler in fact attempt this last and greatest act of highway robbery? We cannot tell. Some will advance arguments against the likelihood of his so acting; he might indeed achieve much the same result without actual armed attack. Others may surely feel with greater force that where national security is involved it is not enough to rest upon a disputed balance of probability. We in Great Britain had to answer much the same question for ourselves. I have no doubt that at the price of allowing Hitler to work his will in Europe we could at any time in the last few years have temporarily reached an understanding between the British Commonwealth and the German Reich.

But, quite apart from the morality of any such arrangement, what would have been the assurance of its durability? Lust for power is like a cancer that must constantly extend its ravages, and with all the experience we had had, I have no doubt whatever in my own mind that any such arrangement would only have served to establish Hitler in a position of still greater strength to attack the British Commonwealth at his own selected moment. And certainly no pact or treaty ever made with Hitler, who has broken nearly every international promise he has ever made, would either have been, or be worth any more than all the others made in all good faith by his European victims.

I am not surprised, therefore, that the overwhelming sense of your people should be to reject the new dispensation that, with all its inevitable consequences, Hitler seeks to impose upon the world.

Recalls Strife of the Past

I have heard it suggested that the evil things against which we strive are less black than they appear. We are but witnessing today, so runs the argument, one of those titanic outbursts of human energy that since the dawn of history have blazed the path of progress. As then, so now. Time will purge the dross, until from the ashes, new truth, new beauty spring.

Such judgment takes no account of the stark realities with which we are faced. This struggle is a mortal clash of two philosophies, and we only delude ourselves if we suppose that the civilization that we share with you could survive a Nazi victory. It is not only with physical invasion that you or I are concerned, but with a spiritual invasion which, if permitted, would work greater havoc than all the tons of high explosive that it is in the power of the German Air Force to unload.

For human society is ultimately subject to the same law that in the individual sphere makes it impossible for any man to keep his soul alive if he consciously permits his life to reflect two contradictory ideals.

That, then, is why we are at war—to save our freedom and the world's freedom from being murdered, as it has been successively murdered in Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg and France. We will never accept Hitler's new order, which is in truth a reversion to the old order before men were civilized, and which would paralyze them again with chains of brutal, selfish and material force. We reject it because, as the President finely said on the 6th of January, we prefer that conception of a moral order based on noble human qualities that Hitler would destroy, by which nations and men can grow to full stature through service freely given to the common good. And so the principal war aim of my people and of those who are fighting with us is to win this life and death struggle for the cause of human freedom.

But even the achievement of victory would be Dead Sea fruit unless we can also achieve that which must be the greatest peace aim, of securing the world, so far as it is within human power to do so, against a repetition of this tragedy.

Churchill's Words Quoted

Mr. Churchill, in a moving passage at the end of one of the volumes of the "World Crisis" said:

"Merciful oblivion draws its veils; the crippled limp away; the mourners fall back into the sad twilight of memory. New youth is here to claim its rights, and the perennial stream flows forward even in the battle zone, as if the tale were all a dream.

"Is this the end? Is it to be merely a chapter in a cruel and senseless story? Will our children bleed and gasp again in devastated lands?"

These questions demand an answer today even more insistently than they did when they were first asked twenty years ago. For one large attempt at general resettlement has crashed in ruins, and left the pieces to be put together under conditions of infinitely greater difficulty.

This is not the time to appraise the several elements which have conspired to defraud the deepest hopes of men. It may be argued that the authors of the Treaty of Versailles were overburdened with political problems to the detriment of economic. But if so, they are not the only people who have made mistakes. We must all acknowledge part of the responsibility for failure, and, if we may, learn wisdom from itAnd when this great battle has been won, the nations which have preserved or regained their freedom will have a sovereign opportunity to show what freedom means, and what it can do for the welfare of mankind.

It is not possible, of course, now to draw detailed plans for the future structure of the community of nations. These must naturally await discussion in free council by those concerned. But we are, I think, already in a position to see the basis on which agreement must be founded. Nations like individuals can only exist in freedom and security if they are prepared to cooperate for mutual economic welfare, and, if need be, for mutual defense. In the economic sphere indeed, everything depends upon such cooperation. But no party to such an association as we picture will be ambitious to dominate its partners. Every nation, great or small, will have its place and make its own contribution.

Ordered Change in Relationships

Moreover, past experience teaches that a stable international order must admit of ordered change in the relations between States, Just as the liberty of the individual must have regard to the needs of the community, so must every nation in future accept its obligations to the general family of nations. All rights, whether personal or national, tut always morally linked with duties. The spirit that impels a good citizen to give willing service in one form or another to the State will imply for the nation a readiness in both political and economic spheres to consider the welfare of its neighbors.

We for our part are prepared to join hands with any State which genuinely seeks the peace and prosperity of the world by loyally observing engagements and by ensuring individual liberty within its borders. It will be of no value to force unwanted associations upon unwilling nations. We must rather try to create conditions, political and economic, in which there may grow among the peoples themselves a real sense of their community of interest.

In the British Commonwealth of Nations our experience has taught us that nations differing greatly in numbers andwealth, in race and social structure, can yet freely associate together. What has been possible for them is not impossible for others, and the British Commonwealth, which, by the quality of its resolution, is the bastion of world defense today, may well by its geographical dispersion become the bridge of greater world unity tomorrow.

In many respects the world must be treated in future as a single whole. Since the last war we have seen an increasing difficulty in securing the distribution of the world's abundance both within and across national frontiers, with adverse effects upon the workers' standard of living everywhere. We had hoped to see the vision of plenty banishing the specter of scarcity; but what in fact we have seen has been the failure of men to exchange with their fellow-men the abundant products of both farm and factory. When therefore victory has been won, it must be our aim to promote the common interest in the greatest possible inter-change of goods and services. Problems involving common needs can only be solved by common action.

Economic Cooperation Urged

We see the urgent need for economic cooperation and we are ready to take part in plans to promote it on a worldwide scale. Our aim will be prosperity justly shared. Even now we are making plans to remedy the impoverishment which must follow in the train of war. We are arranging to establish stocks of food and raw materials which can be released as soon as we can be sure that they will be used for this work of healing and not for our destruction.

This business of rebuilding after the war will be a task far beyond the strength of any single country. Great Britain is resolved to do her utmost, but it is clear that if the world is to be brought back to health after so devastating a sickness, it will only be by the united action of all men and all nations of good-will.

It will not be easy, for we may be very sure that the upheaval now convulsing the nations will not leave things as they were. A new world is being born of bitter suffering, and the problems of peace will in many ways be more difficult than those of war. New needs will demand new remedies, and there will be room alike for all the courage and imagination of youth, and all the clear thinking of experience that can be rallied to the task.

In this war Great Britain seeks no selfish end. Its immediate cause, as in 1914, was the German breach of a treaty on the one hand, and the fulfillment of a treaty by Great Britain on the other. The ultimate cause was Germany's lust for world power and the concentration of her resources for the single purpose of military conquest. Therefore, it must be our aim in the present war to convince the people of Germany that these traditional ambitions and methods do not pay.

One of the greatest tragedies of this time is that for years German youth has been impelled by its rulers to the pursuit of spurious ideals and the worship of false gods. The gulf that has thus been dug between them and the younger generation here and in my country will take time to bridge. And therefore after the war is over, and until we can be satisfied of Germany's cooperation, I can hardly doubt that nations resolved to preserve both peace and freedom must needs retain sufficient armed strength to make their will effective.

Immense Responsibility Cited

I dare to hope that in this as in other matters our two peoples will appreciate the immense responsibility that will jointly rest upon them; and that, in the words of Pascal, "We may combine justice and power, making what is just,strong, and what is strong, just." So I think may the spirit of our cooperation deserve and win the support of all other peoples, like-minded with ourselves to strengthen the foundations of world society.

Thus only will it be possible to insure that neither Germany nor any other nation shall revert, or has any reason to revert, to those policies which have plunged Europe into five wars within the last eighty years.

I have not spoken to you tonight about the fortunes of war as they may be in whatever field during the coming months, and of what the future may hold for us of good or ill. Nor of the flagging purpose of the Italian people, following the rout of Mussolini's legions in Africa, and in Albania, where a small country has once again written history in letters of flaming gold for all the world to read. Nor have I spoken of that particular threat to the passage across the ocean highways, on which our war effort, and your great reinforcement of it, rests.

Certainly we do not minimize its gravity, or shut our eyes to the fact that it is here that Hitler will put forth his greatest effort. Our experience, however, shows that, while in the coming months these attacks may and will cause us grave losses, our defensive measures are sound, provided they can be developed with adequate strength and with adequate speed.

In the next few critical months it will, as I see it, be a race between the mounting total of our shipping losses and the increase in the defensive weapons that will reduce them below the danger level.

I have no doubt, with the help that you will be able to give, of our ability to win this race.

I have preferred to talk to you of other matters that were in my mind, the more so since you heard the Prime Minister himself some weeks ago make a speech which once more stamped him as a born leader of men determined to be free. There is, however, one thing more I would like to say.

Takes Up Hitler Invasion

The question which I find most frequently on the lips of my American friends is "When will Hitler invade Britain?"

The question is vital, for Hitler can sprawl across the continents where he will; but unless he can reduce that small island in the North Sea which is the cradle of the British race, the end he seeks eludes him. And he knows, better perhaps than we do, that provided we can hold, as we surely shall, his dreams are doomed. When, then, will he put it to the test?

For many months people in more countries than yours or mine have been asking the same question. I daresay Hitler has been asking it of himself, and therefore you will hardly expect me to answer it. But if you ask me: "Can such an invasion succeed?" or in other words, "Will all the help we are planning to send to Britain arrive too late?" then both my head and my heart join to tell you, with all the conviction born of my knowledge of how the British people feel, and of being a member of the War Cabinet since its formation, that the answer is a confident and unhesitating "No."

I base this belief not only upon all the preparations for defense which have been forging ahead night and day since Dunkerque, not only upon the tireless devotion with which the Navy, the Army and Air Force, yes, and men and women throughout the length and breadth of the country have been fitting themselves to do their duty in the ordeal they know they may have to face on any day, at any hour.

Nor on the generous help that you have given and are giving, and that, as Hitler's desperate bid to prevent it is brought under control, will reach our shores in steadily increasing volume. These all play great part; but there is something more which it is not easy to reduce to words.

It may be expressed by what an Englishwoman wrote to an American friend after the first great onslaught from the air: " * * * There is a complete absence of hysteria everywhere and only a lovely growth of friendly behavior."

A women in a country village writes: "We are expecting the invasion soon now, and we are told that if they get as far as this we have to 'stay put.' It won't be easy, but it's going to be done. We are not going to hamper our men by cluttering up the roads."

A London woman, a week or two ago, warned to leave her house on account of a time bomb lying nearby, declared:

"The landlord has tried to turn me out; the bailiffs have tried to get me out; I'm damned if Hitler's going to do it now."

Or one gets a glimpse of it in the words of an airman whose leg had been amputated and who, in a brief interval of returning consciousness, said: "It takes a lot to kill a man from Stoke-on-Trent."

I could multiply these stories and you have no doubt heard others. At some we laugh, but our laughter is not always far from tears. But they may explain why I feel able to tell you tonight with a conviction that is unshakable that the British people will not be unworthy of the cause by which they stand.