British Library of Information.
February 15, 1942
Nearly six months have passed since, at the end of August, I made a broadcast directly to my fellow countrymen. It is therefore worthwhile looking back over this half year of struggle for life-for that is what it has been and what it is-to see what has happened to our fortunes and to our prospects.
At that time in August, I had the pleasure of meeting the President of the United States and drawing up with him the declaration of British and American policy which has become known to the world as the Atlantic Charter. We also settled a number of other things about the war, some of which have had an important influence upon its course.
In those days, we met on the terms of a hard-pressed combatant seeking assistance from a great friend who was, however, only a benevolent neutral. In those days, the Germans seemed to be tearing the Russian armies to pieces and striding on with growing momentum to Leningrad, to Moscow, to Rostov and even farther into the heart of Russia.
It was thought a very daring assertion when the President declared that the Russian armies would hold out until the winter. You may say that the military men of all countries-friend, foe and neutral alike-were very doubtful whether this would come true.
As for us, our British resources were stretched to the utmost. We had already been for more than a whole year absolutely alone in the struggle with Hitler and Mussolini. We had to be ready to meet a German invasion of our own island. We had to defend Egypt, the Nile Valley and the Suez Canal. Above all, we had to bring in the food, raw materials and finished munitions across the Atlantic in the teeth of the German and Italian U-boats and aircraft, without which we could not live, without which we could not wage war. We have to do all this still.
It seemed our duty in those August days to do everything in our power to help the Russian people to meet the prodigious onslaught which had been launched against them.
It is little enough we have done for Russia, considering all she has done to beat Hitler and for the common cause. In these circumstances, we British had no means whatever of providing effectively against the new war with Japan. Such was the outlook when I talked with President Roosevelt in the middle of August on board the good ship Prince of Wales, now, alas, sunk beneath the waves.
It is true that our position in August, 1941, seemed vastly better than it had been a year earlier, in 1940, when France had just been beaten into the awful prostration in which she now lies-when we were almost entirely unarmed in our own island and when it looked as if Egypt and all the Middle East would be conquered by the Italians, who still held Abyssinia and had newly driven us out of British Somaliland.
Compared with those days of 1940, when all the world except ourselves thought we were down and out forever, the situation the President and I surveyed in August, 1941, was an enormous improvement. Still, when you looked at it bluntly and squarely, with the United States neutral and fiercely divided, with the Russian armies falling back with grievous losses, with the German military power triumphant and unscathed, with the Japanese menace assuming an uglier shape each day, it certainly seemed a very bleak and anxious scene.
How do matters stand now? Taking it all in all, are our chances of survival better or worse than in August, 1941? How is it with the British Empire, or Commonwealth of Nations-are we up or down? What has happened to the principles of freedom and decent civilization for which we are fighting? Are they making headway or are they in greater peril?
Let us take the rough with the smooth, let us put the good and bad side by side and let us try to see exactly where we are.
The first and greatest of events is that the United States is now unitedly and wholeheartedly in the war with us. The other day, I crossed the Atlantic again to see President Roosevelt. This time we met not only as friends, but as comrades standing side by side and shoulder to shoulder in a battle for dear life and dearer honor in the common cause and against the common foe.
When I survey and compute the power of the United States, and its vast resources, and feel that they are now in it with us, with the British Commonwealth of Nations, all together, however long it lasts, till death or victory, I cannot believe there is any other fact in the whole world which can compare with that. That is what I have dreamed of, aimed at, and worked for, and now it has come to pass.
But there is another fact, in some ways more immediately effective. The Russian armies have not been defeated. They have not been torn to pieces. The Russian peoples have not been conquered or destroyed. Leningrad and Moscow have not been taken. The Russian armies are in the field-they are not holding the line of the Urals or the line of the Volga-they are advancing victoriously, driving the foul invader from the native soil they have guarded so bravely and loved so well.
More than that, for the first time they have broken the Hitler legend. Instead of the easy victories and abundant booty which he and his hordes had gathered in the west, he has found in Russia, so far, only disaster, failure, the shame of unspeakable crimes, the slaughter or loss of vast numbers of German soldiers and the icy wind that blows across the Russian snow.
Here, then, are two tremendous fundamental facts which will in the end dominate the world situation and make victory possible in a form never possible before.
But there is another heavy and terrible side to the account, and this must be set in the balance against these inestimable gains.
Japan has plunged into the war and is ravishing the beautiful, fertile, prosperous and densely populated lands of the Far East. It would never have been in the power of Great Britain, while fighting Germany and Italy, two nations long-hardened and prepared for war, while fighting in the North Sea, in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic-it would never have been in our power to defend the Pacific and the Far East single-handed against the onslaught of Japan.
We have only just been able to keep our heads above water at home. Only by a narrow margin have we brought in the food and the supplies; only by so little have we held our own in the Nile Valley and the Middle East.
The Mediterranean is closed and all our transports have to go round the Cape of Good Hope-each ship making only three voyages in the year. Not a ship, not an airplane, not a tank, not an anti-tank gun or an anti-aircraft gun has stood idle. Everything we have has been deployed either against the enemy or awaiting his attack.
We are struggling hard in the Libyan desert, where perhaps another serious battle will soon be fought. We have to provide for the safety and order of liberated Abyssinia, of conquered Eritrea, of Palestine, of liberated Syria and redeemed Iraq, and of our new ally, Persia.
A ceaseless stream of ships, men and materials has flowed from this country for a year and a half in order to build up and sustain our armies in the Middle East, which guard these vast regions on either side of the Nile Valley. We had to do our best to give substantial aid to Russia. We gave it to her in her darkest hour and we must not fail in our undertaking now.
How then in this posture, gripped and held and battered as we were, could we have provided for the safety of the Far East against such an avalanche of fire and steel as has been hurled upon us by Japan? Always, my friends, this thought overhung our minds.
There was, however, one hope and one hope only-namely, that if Japan entered the war with her allies, Germany and Italy, the United States would come in on our side-thus, far more than repairing the balance. For this reason, I have been most careful all these many months not to give any provocation to Japan and to put up with Japanese encroachments, dangerous though they were, so that, if possible, whatever happened, we should not find ourselves forced to face this new enemy alone.
I could not be sure that we should succeed in this policy, but it has come to pass. Japan has struck her felon blow, and a new, far greater, champion has drawn the sword of implacable vengeance against her and on our side.
I shall frankly say to you that I did not believe it was in the interests of Japan to burst into war both upon the British Empire and the United States. I thought it would be a very irrational act. Indeed, when you remember that they did not attack us after Dunkirk, when we were so much weaker, when our hopes of United States help were of the most slender character, and when we were all alone, I could hardly believe that they would commit what seemed to be a mad act.
Tonight, the Japanese are triumphant-they shout their exultation around the world. We suffer-we are taken aback-we are hard-pressed; but I am sure, even in this dark hour that criminal madness will be the verdict which history will pronounce upon the authors of Japanese aggression after the events of 1942 and 1943 have been inscribed upon its somber pages.
The immediate deterrent which the United States exercised upon Japan-apart, of course, from the measureless resources of the American union-is the dominant American battle fleet in the Pacific, which, with the naval forces we could spare, confronted Japanese aggression with the shield of superior seapower.
But, my friends, by an act of sudden violent surprise, long calculated, balanced and prepared, and delivered under the crafty cloak of negotiation, the shield of sea-power which protected the fair lands and islands of the Pacific Ocean was, for the time being, and only for the time being, dashed to the ground.
Into the gap thus opened rushed the invading armies of Japan. We were exposed to the assault of a warrior race of nearly eighty millions with a large outfit of modern weapons, whose war-lords had been planning and scheming for this day, and looking forward to it perhaps for twenty years-while all the time our good people on both sides of the Atlantic were prating about perpetual peace and cutting down each other's navies in order to set a good example.
The overthrow, for a while, of British and United States seapower in the Pacific was like the breaking of some mighty dam. The long-gathered pent-up waters rushed down the peaceful valley, carrying ruin and devastation forward on their foam and spreading their inundations far and wide.
No one must underrate any more the gravity and efficiency of the Japanese war machine-whether in the air or upon the sea, or man to man on land. They have already proved themselves to be formidable, deadly and, I am sorry to say, barbarous antagonists.
This proves a hundred times over that there never was the slightest chance, even though we had been much better prepared in many ways than we were, of our standing up to them alone while we had Nazi Germany at our throats and Fascist Italy at our belly.
This proves something else-and this should be a comfort and reassurance. We can now measure the wonderful strength of the Chinese people, who under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek have, single-handed, fought the insidious Japanese aggressor for four and a half years and left him baffled and dismayed. This they have done, although they were a people whose whole philosophy for many ages was opposed to war and warlike arts, and who in their agony were caught, ill-armed, ill-supplied with munitions and hopelessly outmatched in the air.
We must not underrate the power and malice of our latest foe, but neither must we undervalue the gigantic, overwhelming forces which now stand in the line with us in this world struggle for freedom, and which, once they have developed their full natural, inherent power, whatever has happened in the meanwhile, will be found fully capable of squaring all accounts and setting all things right for a good long time to come.
You know I have never prophesied to you or promised smooth and easy things; and now all I have to offer is hard adverse war for many months ahead. I must warn you, as I warned the House of Commons before they gave me their generous vote of confidence a fortnight ago, that many misfortunes, severe, torturing losses, remorseless and gnawing anxieties lie before us.
To our British folk these may seem even harder to bear when they are at a great distance than when the savage Hun was shattering our cities and we all felt in the midst of the battle ourselves. But the same qualities which brought us through the awful jeopardy of the summer of 1940 and its long autumn and winter bombardments from the air will bring us through this other new ordeal, though it may be more costly and will certainly be longer.
One fault, one crime, and one crime only, can rob the United Nations and the British people, upon whose constancy this Grand Alliance came into being, of the victory upon which their lives and honor depend: a weakening in our purpose, and therefore in our unity. That is the mortal crime. Whoever is guilty of that crime, or of bringing it about in others, of him let it be said that it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea.
Last autumn when Russia was in her most dire peril, when vast numbers of her soldiers had been killed or taken prisoner, when one third of her whole munitions capacity lay, as it still lies, in Nazi German hands, when Kiev fell and the foreign ambassadors were ordered out of Moscow, the Russian people did not fall to bickering among themselves. They just stood together and worked and fought all the harder. They did not lose trust in their leaders. They did not try to break up their government. Hitler had hoped to find Quislings and fifth columnists in the wide regions he overran and among the unhappy masses who fell into his power. He searched for them but he found none.
The system upon which the Soviet government is founded is very different from ours or from that of the United States. However that may be, the fact remains that Russia received blows which her friends feared, and her foes believed, were mortal; and through preserving national unity and persevering undaunted, Russia has had the marvelous come-back for which we thank God now.
In the English-speaking world we rejoice in free institutions. We have free parliaments and a free press. This is the way of life we have been used to. This is the way of life we are fighting to defend.
But it is the duty of all who take part in those free institutions to make sure, as the House of Commons and the House of Lords have done, and will, I doubt not, do, that the national executive government in time of war have a solid foundation on which to stand and on which to act; that the misfortunes and mistakes of war are not exploited against them; that while they are kept up to the mark by helpful and judicious criticism or advice, they are not deprived of the persisting power to run through a period of bad times and many cruel vexations and to come out on the other side and get to the top of the hill.
Tonight I speak to you at home. I speak to you in Australia and New Zealand, for whose safety we will strain every nerve, to our loyal friends in India and Burma, to our gallant allies, the Dutch and Chinese, and to our kith and kin in the United States. I speak to you all under the shadow of a heavy and far-reaching military defeat.
It is a British and Imperial defeat. Singapore has fallen. All the Malay Peninsula has been overrun. Other dangers gather about us afar and none of the dangers which we have hitherto successfully withstood at home and in the East are in any way diminished.
This, therefore, is one of those moments when the British race and nation can show their quality and their genius. This is one of those moments when they can draw from the heart of misfortune the vital impulses of victory.
Here is the moment to display that calm and poise, combined with grim determination, which not so long ago brought us out of the very jaws of death. Here is another occasion to show, as so often in our long history, that we can meet reverses with dignity and with renewed accession of strength.
We must remember that we are no longer alone. We are in the midst of a great company. Three quarters of the human race are now moving with us. The whole future of mankind may depend upon our actions and upon our conduct. So far we have not failed.
We shall not fail now. Let us move forward steadfastly together into the storm and through the storm.