How Can You Help to Make a Better Peace Next Time?


By SIR NORMAN ANGELL, Author and Lecturer

Delivered at the Middle Atlantic Division of the Unitarian Laymen's League, Tarrytown, New York March 27, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 446-448.

TODAY, our thirty allied nations are fighting for their freedom. We shall win. And when we have won how shall we keep our freedom so that we shall not have to fight for it all over again in a decade or two after the next peace, as we are now fighting little more than two decades after the last peace?

Many of us feel perhaps that when the enemy has been defeated the job will be done. But we must keep reminding ourselves that we defeated him completely, utterly, twenty-five years ago. Then why do we now have to do it all over again in a second world war in many respects bloodier, more devastating than the last? If we don't answer that question in our minds we shall not profit by experience, and may make exactly the same mistakes ail over again. We may once more throw away our victory.

Why did our peace fail? Why is the freedom of ninety per cent of the people of the earth now in jeopardy?

You may answer that question by saying that we did not treat the enemy severely enough on the last occasion; that we should have occupied his country, should have seen to it that he never again had weapons.

Very well. But to have carried out such a policy one thing was absolutely indispensable; namely that the victors of 1918 were prepared to stay on the job over a long period of years and did not quarrel among ourselves. If, as soon as the fighting stopped, each was mainly concerned simply to get back home and forget the whole business; if one ofthe allies wanted one kind of policy and another an entirely different kind; if none of them wanted to accept any obligation or bear any part of the burden of carrying out a policy of repression, how was it to be done?

Just recall for a moment what actually did happen. Within a year or two the whole grand alliance which had fought the war against Germany had gone to pieces. Long before the Peace Conference was over, bitter differences had arisen between practically every member of the alliance. Britain and America were at outs with one another and both with France. France, you recall, had surrendered her policy of a separate Rhineland Republic and a complete permanently fortified Rhine frontier, in return for a promise of aid from Britain and America in the event of another German attack. Those Anglo-American guarantees of French security were never ratified; and it was from that moment that the post-war peace of Europe began to disintegrate. France adopted towards Germany a policy of inflicting damage with the idea of keeping her weak. The Ruhr invasion a little later was a characteristic feature of that policy. We in Britain and America were shocked, but failed to do the one thing which would have stopped this policy; we failed, that is, to say to France, "We will guarantee your security by everything we have, if you on your side will so behave towards Germany as to give this Weimar republic a chance of life." We did not do this, which would have helped a decent Germany to survive.

We did, however, adopt a quite futile pro-Germanism. We began to say—particularly in America—that Germany had been badly treated; that the Treaty of Versailles was a wicked document, and much more to the same effect. The result was to encourage the growth in France of an Anglophobia which was to explode later at a tragic moment, and to involve the surrender of France to Hitler.

Meantime the dissolution of the association which had secured victory in 1918 went on. France and Britain and America became separated from Russia, and mutual distrust grew. Japan, one of the Allies, attacked another ally, China; later Japan, who had fought Germany, became Germany's ally; Italy, who, also, had been the enemy of Germany, also became her ally.

If disintegrations of that kind, and the tempers which go with them, are to mark the period of victory when it comes, what is the good of talking about the permanent repression, not, this time, merely of one people like the German but of two such nations, Japan in addition to Germany. It is obvious that if sheer repression of those two nations for whole generations is to be our policy it will demand on the part of the United Nations a degree of unity, cohesion, co-operation, which not even two nations, to say nothing of thirty, have ever been able in the past to achieve.

I suggest that whatever policy we ultimately adopt our freedom can never be secure unless we recognize, far more clearly than we have done in the past, that the real price of freedom is the fulfilment of certain obligations, that the right to freedom carries certain duties; obligations we have repudiated and duties we have neglected.

Note what failure of co-operating involves. We have seen the rights and freedoms of nearly the whole of Christian Europe destroyed by a relatively small group of ruthless and evil men; twenty states have passed under the power of one. We have seen states whose democratic freedoms date back a thousand years to Icelandic sagas overthrown during a week-end. Norway and Denmark are among those who have passed under the heel; their people have become victims of an alien and detested tyranny. This has also been the fate of the people of Belgium, of Holland, of Poland, of Czechoslovakia, of Hungary, of Austria, of Bulgaria, of Roumania, of France, yes and of Italy, and of a great part of the German people themselves who loathe the Nazi regime hardly less than do its non-German victims. Populations which in total amount to something like twice the population of the United States now live in fear and dread of the merciless terror of an organization, the Nazi party, which does not number more than a few million men.

How has this amazing thing, the defeat and subjugation of vast millions by just a few evil men, come about? Surely that of all questions is the very first which should concern those who desire to develop a free and humane civilization. For if we refuse to face it, boggle at answering it, evade an intellectually honest answer, then it is quite evident that humane and free civilization cannot endure.

The answer to the question, the explanation of this amazing domination of the many by the few, is extremely simple, yet the answer which comes nearest to being the complete and obvious answer is one very seldom given; the answer which we all in some measure evade.

These states have perished as free nations because each said in effect this: "We refuse to be concerned in defending: the security or the rights of others; we will defend only our own." Because all said this in one form or another, they were all at Hitler's mercy; at his mercy however much they armed. A Norway or a Denmark might devote ninety per cent of all its national resources to arms and they would still be at his mercy. How could a Norway of less thanthree millions defend itself against a Germany of eighty millions? The more these democracies armed while refusing to co-operate for mutual defense, the better were the Nazis pleased, for they knew that given this one condition of separate and individual defense, the arms they piled up would, by their inevitable conquest, become instruments of Nazi power. The vast armaments of Czechoslovakia, the great arsenal of the Skoda works, became part of the armament of Germany without the firing of a single shot because the men of Munich had for years made their slogan: "We will not defend others, but only ourselves." The slogan had become the guiding policy of all. In France men said not merely, "Why should we fight for the Czechs?" but also "Why should we fight for the English?" The idea had eaten into the heart of many English, who years before had said: "Why should we fight for the Manchurians, or the Chinese, or the Abyssinians, or the Spanish Republicans, or for Danzig or the Rhineland?" From the moment that Hitler could get those whom he desired to conquer to be guided by such slogans he knew full well that they would be at his mercy, for he could pick them off one by one. As I happen to have said about a thousand times this last twenty years, ten men can overcome a thousand if the thousand say that each will defend himself individually, for in that case the ten do not face a thousand; they face only one. One at a time.

Now I do insist that we are here confronting a fact self-evident and undeniable. Is it, or is it not, true that it is clearly impossible for a Norway, or a Belgium, a Holland or a Czechoslovakia, or for that matter a France, or, as we are now learning, a Britain, to defend itself by its own power? Amongst so much that is obscure, doubtful, uncertain, we have something here which is quite certain, quite undeniable. Indeed we now—our governments, yours and mine—no longer deny it; we both act upon it. Weknow now that the defense of China is part of our defense; the defense of Russia is part of that defense.

This is the most hackneyed, the most obvious, the most platitudinous, tiresome, of all the truths concerned with our present situation. It is also the most important and the most ignored; was yesterday, and may be again tomorrow, the most passionately repudiated and denied. Why do we go on denying the most elementary perhaps of all the social truths, the truth that if the most vital right of all, the right to life, whether of persons or of states, the right not to be tortured, killed, destroyed, if that right is not defended collectively, by society as a whole, then it cannot in the long run be defended at all; that if we will not defend other nations, their right to life, then inevitably the time will come when it is impossible to defend our own nation, our right to life? If each is to be his own and sole defender, then any minority which can make itself stronger than one can place not one, but all, at its mercy.

We admit this truth as self-evident today, a platitude. But after the last peace we, all the nations more or less, denied it passionately. It was objected that we could not defend the law or the status quo so long as they were unjust; although there never has been anywhere in the world, and there never will be, an entirely just law or status quo. We were told that the way to get peace between nations was to settle the differences between them, which is much the same as saying that the way to get peace within the nation is to compose all the differences which divide the parties within it—Conservative, Labor, Tory, Radical, Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Capitalist. Of set purpose, we keep alive differences; we daily create new ones, for we know that progress and freedom are born of them. What we insist, however, is that no party shall use violence; shall impose its program by arms. And this we achieve by coming to the aid, through the Constitution, of any party organization trade union, church, as well as individuals, victim of armed violence; and by that common action in support of law insure that the changes in the status quo shall be peaceful.

If I dwell upon truths as old as the thinkers of Athens and the seers of Palestine, it is because we are still, in the midst of the second world war, denying them as first and last things. To ensure the right to life, the right of the ninety per cent not to be killed, destroyed, enslaved, by the ten per cent, is the first right which we have to ensure, because without it no other right whatsoever, whether of religious or intellectual freedom or economic welfare, has the slightest value. It will not serve much purpose to tell a man that society will defend his right to a livelihood, or to go to the church which he prefers, but will do nothing to prevent his being killed in his church or his home, whenever some gangster takes it into his head so to do, by dropping bombs or poison gas. Yet to prevent that, is not going to be easy. It is going to be exceedingly difficult. History, experience, would seem to show that it is the most difficult of all the tasks to which men can set their hands. Probably it cannot he done at all unless we put it first—put it first, not because it is the only thing men need do, but because unless it is done, all other objectives will be put in jeopardy. We did not put it first at the last peace-making. We put various phases of nationalism and nationalist spites a long way ahead of it.

We are not putting this purpose first now. Indeed we are apt to insist that of itself it will not suffice to move men; that the people will not work and fight merely to be free of violence and terror and enslavement; that they must be offered new economic orders of one kind or another. Yet that new economic order itself cannot possibly survive—as Russia is finding—unless we fulfill this other condition of common resistance to violence, of political unity rising above economic doctrine, about which incidentally men are apt to quarrel most violently.

It serves no purpose to create a new social order, as Russia has discovered, if it cannot be defended. And it can only be defended, again as Russia has discovered, collectively, with the aid of other nations which may not share at all the same social ideology. Russia has learned that though communism may be the ideal form of society, she cannot have it unless she is prepared to co-operate with nations which are not communist; as capitalist nations have discovered that they cannot have free enterprise unless they are prepared to co-operate with nations that are not capitalist. A new economic order is not the alternative to common action against aggression. The common political action, the hanging together, is the indispensable condition of the new order. Do not let us make the good material life the enemy of the means by which alone we can achieve it and make it secure.

If we are not to miss the truth that political unity comes first, as we missed it before when we needed it most, we must go on stating it. It is an ancient truth, though one we are always forgetting, that every right, including freedom, demands duties. Personally, I believe that the people will stand the truth that rights mean duties, freedom means surrender of some freedoms; that a better future demands unity, and unity demands toleration, discipline, obligations. On a certain grave occasion a bribe was offered to a certain people, in order to induce them to make a great and supreme effort. The bribe was the offer of toil and sweat and blood and tears. Those to whom it was offered seemed to find it sufficient, for they made an effort seldom equalled in history. Let us assume that men hate evil and will fight it because it is evil; and that if they clearly see the right, they will give themselves to its cause, because it is right.