Tremendous Issues Are Being Decided


By VISCOUNT HALIFAX, British Ambassador to the United States

Delivered before the English Speaking Union, New York, April 15, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 426-428

I AM particularly glad of the opportunity of thanking the committee for what they have done in helping British mothers and their children who came here at the beginning of the war.

I speak to you tonight at a moment big with fate, when the war is entering on a new phase, and tremendous issues are being decided. Nothing is to be gained by underrating the grave repercussions caused by the events of the last few days in the Balkans and North Africa. Let us look at them straight for what they are—black spots in the picture of the war, and having done that, take a general view of the whole situation.

What has happened in the Balkans? Hitler has played his usual game of pretending to negotiate with his victim while all the time preparing for that victim's destruction. The people of Yugoslavia fortunately resisted the methods which had betrayed Bulgaria to Hitler without recourse to arms, and chose to do battle rather than tamely suffer slavery.

The moment Hitler found that cajolery and blackmail were alike unavailing, he struck. Yugoslavia was caught before her mobilization was complete, and before the staff conversations which, alas, her previous government had declined, could be made effective.

Initial Success Inevitable

The situation is still far from clear, but it is evident that the German forces, moving in overwhelming strength at a moment chosen by themselves, have had, as they were bound to have, a large measure of initial success. Their armored columns have traveled with great speed along the valleys which divide Greece from Yugoslavia, and are reported to have joined hands with the Italian forces in Albania, whichhave themselves been almost certainly reinforced by German mountain troops.

Salonika has fallen, and the Germans are already striking at the Anglo-Greek lines which guard the heart of Greece. Part of the Greek and Yugoslav Armies have been cut of.

Meanwhile, in order to support Greece and Yugoslavia, we had deliberately weakened our forces in North Africa. We were well aware of the risks involved, but we were determined not to leave those gallant allies unsupported, it has accordingly been necessary to withdraw in Libya to net positions, and though we have suffered loss in doing so, we have made the enemy pay dearly for his advance.

While the present situation is not free from anxiety, there is no reason to suppose that it will not be held, and every stage in the forward movement of the enemy imposes new difficulties on his problem of maintenance and shortens the British supply lines. A stream of British reinforcement? in men and material is steadily flowing into that theatre and as I shall mention later, this process is greatly helped by the recent action of the President in opening the Red Sea to shipping of the United States.

Side by side with the unfolding of these great events, we have seen Hitler intensify his efforts to destroy our shipping and to break the morale of our people by night bombing. Such is a truthful presentation of the more ugly facts, and there is nothing gained by not looking them squarely in the face.

British Stand Ready

The British people will certainly be ready to do so; for one of the chief reasons for the Prime Minister's hold on their trust is that he has never been afraid to tell them the truth. And they are accordingly prepared to take long views.

The tremendous run of success against the Italians caused them no exaggerated feelings of elation, nor will they be unduly disturbed by the present set-backs.

The late Lord Salisbury used to advise statesmen always to use large-scale maps. The spirit of that advice is equally good in taking stock of our situation today.

I make no claim to be a military strategist, but there are certain large facts which are plain. Germany went into this war with the accumulated strength of long years of preparation. We have always known that we could not reach anything like our full strength till more than two years had gone. During the whole of this period we knew, quite apart from all the hazards of war, that we were bound to be at grave disadvantage. Only now is the balance in material for us, with your help, beginning to be redressed.

But on closer study of what is happening in the Balkans it is important to remember that Hitler always hoped to achieve a bloodless victory over both Greece and Yugoslavia. How much easier would have been his task if both these countries had allowed him uncontested passage!

His expectations have been rudely deceived and he is now committed to a campaign in the Balkans against sturdy fighters with all the expenditure of effort and interruption of vital economic supplies that this involves.

German Help Delayed

In North Africa it was always within the power of the Germans, with great superiority of numbers to send powerful reinforcements to their unhappy Axis partner at any time since the collapse of France. It would have been far more dangerous if they had done so before we had destroyed most of the Italian Army and a large part of the Italian Navy. I constantly wondered why they did not do so.

There is one further fact of first importance to be entered on the credit side. In the great trial of strength last Autumn between the German and British air forces, when our force was nothing like as strong as it is now, the German air force was decisively defeated.

What is the broad picture that emerges? A Germany more powerful, but compelled to strike in one direction where she surely thought her Axis partner ought to have been able to secure favorable results unaided, and obliged to strike also in another direction where no doubt a few months ago Hitler counted on undermining resistance without the necessity of fighting.

The result is that, instead of being able to concentrate his strength against ourselves in the only theatre which could be decisive, he has been forced to send his legions into fields in which, whatever success he may win, he cannot achieve that success against Great Britain which can alone win the war.

That is why he will continue to make every effort, by ruthless attacks on shipping and indiscriminate night bombing, to smash the center of resistance. Our Air Force is an incomparably more formidable instrument than it was even a few months ago and with your help is beginning to be able to give Hitler as good as and better than he gives us. We must not look for speedy results in the conquest of the night bomber. But if you watch the communiques—which tell the truth, you know that the toll of machines destroyed by the aid of science slowly mounts and there is here certainly no reason for discouragement.

Shipping Situation Grave

The Prime Minister dealt at some length in his recent survey with the shipping situation. He made no attempt to minimize its gravity, but he gave good ground for thinkingthat the Battle of the Atlantic is a battle we can certainly win, provided that our joint resources are, to the full limits of our respective possibilities, brought to bear.

The President has just taken action in three directions of great practical value.

First he has added to our anti-submarine forces an invaluable group of United States Coast Guard cutters, and may I add that with your rapidly growing Navy I trust that your officers will not long remain without the sea-going command of which the transfer of these ships deprived them.

Second he has taken steps to make available for use the foreign shipping lying idle in the ports of the United States.

And third, he has declared the Red Sea no longer to be within the combat area, because of the fact that recent British victories have removed the danger in which American shipping might otherwise there have been involved by reason of belligerent activities. Whether at any time it may be within your power to take further action to meet the situation as it develops, it is not for me to say.

Hitler is now faced by the spectacle, which is for him a spectre, of the growing productive strength of the United States and the British Commonwealth, reflected in the increasing military resources that are being steadily marshaled against him on land and sea and in the air.

Language A Strong Bond

That joint effort is the translation into action of that which is the purpose of this union. The name of your society rightly lays emphasis on language as one of the most potent bonds by which men are held together. Not only does it simplify the process of reaching common thought, but those who enjoy a common language are common heirs and possessors of all its greatest treasures. You have as much right as we to be proud of those Englishmen who through centuries have made the English language the vehicle of much of man's finest thought.

It ought to be significant to us all that their main and most enduring contribution has been directly concerned with interpreting in words those ideals which we are fighting to protect today—human personality and the freedom which is at once its guardian and its goal.

It is this love of freedom that in the case of the British Commonwealth impels the march of freemen from the four quarters of the world, and which is the most precious thing we all share in the darkest days that mankind has known. We should be false to everything that has made us what we are were we to shrink from any efforts to save our heritage.

There is always a danger that those who enjoy some gift won for them by their fathers, may come to forget the price paid for it, and to feel it so secure that they need do little to deserve it. We shall not make that mistake. If we are indeed in earnest when we think of freedom as the pearl of great price, we cannot count the cost of keeping it.

The record of what the British Commonwealth of Nations has done and is doing in this struggle shows more clearly than words that it is not content with lip service to the ideals which it proclaims. Without grudge or stint it is giving all it has to the common cause.

From each of the great Dominions and from India comes the same message of work, of struggle and of sacrifice. If money be any criterion, expenditure upon the war is now running at half the total national income of Great Britain and her partner nations.

This, translated into production, has meant a steadily increasing flow of munitions of war from new factories and workshops throughout these vast countries and from Indiawhich are now coming into war production at an ever faster rate. Their output is moving across the seas to the points where it is required, and it is that movement which at all costs must be maintained.

Most important of all, in the realm of man power is the same tale of open-hearted sacrifice, and behind this many-sided effort of the British Commonwealth stands the United States, with its vast productive power now steadily getting into its stride, and determined, as the lease-lend bill shows, to "give us the tools with which we can finish the job."

I wish I could convey to you, and through you to every man and woman in the United States, the feeling with which my countrymen have seen this new evidence that your people are firmly ranged with us to see that freedom shall not perish from the earth. This great association of free men, resolute and determined, is not far short of 200,000,000 souls. Democracies are traditionally difficult to organize and slow to move.

Men conscious of their part in a nation's life, feeling their own responsibility and their right to decide as conscience may dictate, need time before they reach final, and perhaps irrevocable, decisions. Conviction often comes gradually, even though there is no time to lose and tardiness in war can be dangerously costly. But when democracies do move as they are moving today, with united and inexorable purpose, their momentum has a drive and thrust denied to enslaved people.

And can Hitler with all his Nazi organization, with his tremendous array of guns and tanks and bayonets, even supported by all the unnamed torture of the concentration camp and all the weapons of secret fear that the Gestapo can employ—can Hitler with all this hold down indefinitely millions of men and women whose hatred of him and all he represents grows daily? I have no doubt about the answer which all history gives to such a question.

Sea Power Still Stands And there is one other of these large factors, perhaps the most important, which I have not mentioned. After just over eighteen months of war, after considerable successes, and with perhaps further successes still to come, Hitler still finds himself obliged to reckon with the heavy hand of sea power.

Have the aid or the resources of Nazi science, or the economics of the New Order been able like Delilah of old to shear the locks of Samson and rob sea power of its virtueand its ability in the end to play its historic role? The history of the struggle at sea since the war began gives every reason to believe that the strength of sea power is undiminished, and in the end will play the largest part in bringing down the pillars of the Nazi temple.

Ebb and flow must always mark the tide of war, but there are two main lines of thought which give me complete confidence in the ultimate outcome. First, the mass of practical facts, some of which I have outlined. These take time to make their weight felt, but in the end must be decisive.

But over and above all this I find my mind constantly turning back to that which is cardinal and matters most of all. The same spirit, the same thirst for freedom which created this United States, which created the British Commonwealth of Nations, cannot, so long as it retains its true vitality, go down before so vile a thing as the Nazi system has shown itself to be.

And here I beg you to remember this: the battle is engaged, and, has happened more than once before, Hitler is straining every nerve in an endeavor to undermine British morale, your morale, and to discourage our friends by making them think that their help will arrive too late. German propaganda is coming over in waves—not of the future, but of the present. In one more despairing effort to sap our will power, for this is one of the great weapons in Hitler' armory, he uses it with no greater scruple than he uses his other engines of destruction, but we have it always in our power to defeat it.

Our own will and our own faith are our best defenders, provided that they constantly inspire our action with their own resolution.

More than 2,000 years ago the great Athenian spoke, over the graves of his countrymen who had died in defense of their sovereign city, words which have never ceased to move the hearts of men:

"There was no one of the fallen," he said, "who, preferring the further enjoyment of his life, was thereby grown cowardly, for they fled no death but shame, and with their bodies they stood out the battle."

The call may not come to us all in the same form that it came to the Athenians of old, but if when judgment is recorded on these present days we are found to stand in the spirit of that tradition, then none of us need fear for the triumph of our cause.