The Future of Europe


By DR. EDUARD BENES, President of the Czechoslovaks Government in Exile

Dithered before the Council on Foreign Relations, New York City, May 19, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 528-532.

FIRST of all permit me to thank you for your friendly words which were so full of encouragement for me and for my country. I have often recalled the last occasion on which I was with yon. It was more than four years ago, in February, 1939, that I addressed the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York. The shadows of the Munich decree lay heavily over my country then, a month before Hitler entered Prague and occupied Czechoslovakia. Naturally, 1 had very much to say about mistakes in European policy. I spoke of the grave menace of dictatorial expansion. I mentioned the conflicts which were certainly coming in Europe. And yet, I think, my picture was not unduly pessimistic I was certain that in the coming clash the forces of darkness and evil would be doomed. I had no doubt that before the year was out, Europe would be engulfed in war. I did not actually say this in my address to the Council on Foreign Relations. I was your guest. I did not particularly want to be a European warmonger.

And now four years of war and crisis are behind us. Next year, I believe, the United Nations will have wontheir victory on the European battlefield. The end of the war in Europe may be rather a sudden affair. We must be prepared, and the need for preparation justifies, I hope, some of my own reflections on the future of Europe. Though the past four and a half years have been terrible for my country, I try to remain calm, objective and, so to speak, scientific in my approach to these problems.

The President of the United States has expressed very cogently the aims for which we are fighting: freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and freedom from want. I agree fully with this striking formula and I add that since the beginning of the present war I have seen this struggle as a fight:

first—for certain moral values [those embodied in the democratic way of life];

second—a fight for a new social and economic order on the European Continent;

third—a fight for the securing of a more or less permanent peace, and

fourth—a fight for the political re-organization of Europe and of the world.

We in Europe are, of course, particularly concerned with the political re-organization of our own Continent and I apologize for speaking especially on this particular subject.

Our first problem is one of procedure. Mr. Sumner Welles and other American statesmen made it clear last year that we cannot proceed as we did after the last war. I am in full agreement with their views. We must prepare the conditions of the Armistice before the end of actual warfare. These Armistice conditions must contain the fundamental features of the peace to follow. They should, I think, include at least a provisional settlement of the basic territorial questions, the disarmament questions, the questions of raw materials, etc These are questions which ought not to wait—as they did unfortunately in 1919—for a vast world peace conference which would be convoked several years after the Armistice. There will be chaos and disruption on the European Continent after the collapse of Germany. We must waste no time, if we truly wish to reconstruct Europe properly and hope to restore order and peace and try to relieve the terrible sufferings of the European people promptly.

The grand alliance known as the United Nations, must, in my opinion, continue to function. Together they must win the war completely. That is their first task. They must then make a military occupation of all the enemy territories which are of any political or strategic importance whatsoever. There they must implement the Armistice conditions as quickly as possible. Together they must also decide the procedure and methods of reconstruction in Europe. The real peace conference should be postponed until such a time when the Armistice conditions have re-established some kind of provisional peace and order and when the war with Japan will be finished as the integral part of the whole world conflict.

It is essential, therefore, that the Armistice conditions for Europe should embody the essential features of the new reorganization plan for the European Continent. The United Nations must see to it that the Armistice conditions provide for at least a provisional system of security. Its enforcement must be the common desire of all the victorious United Nations. These United Nations would later work out their permanent system by establishing a new international peace organization. This new organization already foreshadowed by the Atlantic Charter and the Anglo-Soviet Treaty, must be neither a theoretical construction nor an exclusively juridical instrument enshrined in the Armistice terms or the Peace treaties. It must be a severely practical organization built step by step on the firm foundation of daily political practice and experience, developing gradually as the result of post-war collaboration of the United Nations. It must, of course, make full use of the experience gained in Geneva during the past two decades.

Now, what is to be the position of the Soviet Union or France in post-war Europe? To my mind, the Soviet Union is bound to play her full and rightful part in the post-war settlement. She entered the last European conflict as a Great Power. Her soldiers, then as now, were patriotic and brave. War exposed all the weaknesses and decadence of the Czarist regime and inevitably the people rose in anger to destroy the traditional leadership and the Russian ruling class. Russia became the theatre of a revolution even more far-reaching than the French revolution in 1789. She rebuilt her social and economic life on new foundations.

To be sure, the price of her intensive attention to her social and economic affairs was a humiliating peace-treaty with Germany and with it began her tragic isolation from the affairs of Europe. She did not join the League until Germany had left it; namely, in 1934 and did her best to collaborate in the system of collective security in Geneva. But the Franco-Soviet Pact of 1935—for which, oddly enough, Pierre Laval took the credit—was never ratified. In the spring of 1936 the Western Powers refused to march into the Rhineland. They thus showed the countries of Eastern and Central Europe that the Western democracies were not prepared resolutely to oppose Hitler's expansionist policy. They were not ready to save the peace or to frustrate the aim of the dictator Powers to destroy the European political system which had been established after the last war. In 1937 and 1938 the policy of appeasing the dictators had gained the field: in the question of Abyssinia, Austria and Czechoslovakia. The exclusion of the Soviet Union from the affairs of Europe continued and became clearly marked at the time of the Munich decree in September, 1938. The Munich decree sacrificed Czechoslovakia for the sake of a temporary European peace. But it was also a four-power European Pact favoring Germany against Russia. And, of course, it marked the real beginning of the present war.

Since then we have learned our lesson. Suspicion has given place to political and military collaboration. I do not doubt that when the Japanese made their attack upon Pearl Harbor they believed that Moscow would fall within a few days. Moscow did not fall. The attackers had to fall back and endure sufferings even greater than those endured by Napoleon's retreating army. They have had two winters of severe hardships and terrible losses.

I believe that the Soviet Union will not be isolated again. A great diplomatic act was completed by the signing of the Anglo-Soviet Pact in London on May 26th of last year. It guarantees the future collaboration between Western Europe and the Soviet Union, and I feel certain that this will benefit all European countries and, indeed, the whole world. Other negotiations and treaties will follow—negotiations, for instance, between the United States and Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union and other Allied Nations. The days of Soviet Russia's isolation are over.

But if we turn from our mistaken policy towards Soviet Russia, we must be careful to avoid a similar policy towards France. Like Russia in the last war, she had to come to humiliating terms with the enemy. Even today the enemy has not exacted his last full measure of humiliation and vengeance. Germany has torn up the Armistice agreement,imprisoned her manhood or compelled it to work at forced labor. Yet France has never ceased to be capable of greatness. The regeneration of France will be achieved in a manner very different from that envisaged by Marshal Petain. Time and again French opinion has shown itself both too strong and too intelligent for the Nazis to ignore. I believe that before very long France will rejoin her Allies as a fully sovereign and belligerent nation. She will take her place at the council-table of Europe. Europe needs a strong and regenerated France. Without a strong France there will be no lasting peace on the European Continent.

I now come to the part which the United States will play in post-war Europe. You know more about this than I do. There is no need to remind you that it is a problem of the most crucial importance to all of Europe. When we Europeans plead that together the United Nations should first win the war and then the peace, we assume that the United States will continue to play her part in the new policy of securing peace for the world after the war is over. That is our assumption in Europe. But, of course, it is a question which the United States, and not Europe, has to decide. Yet, you will, I think, agree that the refusal of the United States to ratify the Versailles Treaty, or to join the League of Nations had consequences scarcely less momentous than the long isolation of Soviet Russia. Suppose that peace-time conditions had made it possible in 1936 or in 1938 swiftly to mobilize the moral and material resources of the United States and the Soviet Union together with those of Great Britain and France. Is it not reasonably certain that there would have been no Munich decree, no attack upon Poland and, indeed, no second World War in 1939? M. Litvinov voiced my own views in Geneva when he said that "peace is one and indivisible." The conditions of the twentieth century have made this profoundly true.

No European student of history will ever forget how strongly rooted isolationism was in the United States. It was strongly rooted because it was amply justified for a very long time. But again no European student of history will ever forget how wholeheartedly the United States entered the war in 1917 or how swift and positive was her response to the sudden attack upon Pearl Harbor. American troops have crossed the high seas to Britain and Northern Ireland, to French North Africa, the Middle East, India and Australia. Soon, I hope, they will be upon the soil of the European mainland. They are in the vanguard of this war, and their interests in securing a peaceful Europe are vital. A great democratic discussion on the issue of peace-time isolation is now going on throughout the United States. I shall not anticipate the results of that controversy. I am sure that American policy will be commensurate with her material and moral greatness and sacrifice.

The outstanding problem of Europe after the war will be the status of Central and Eastern Europe and its relation to the final post-war status of Germany. According to many students of history and politics, the great number of small states in Central Europe and elsewhere were a temptation to the large predatory Powers. They were also a temptation to other Powers which mistakenly believed that the small States could be sacrificed for the sake of European peace. This is what actually happened in 1938. The students of history and politics who bold this view believe that the idea of federation—or, at least, confederation—must be applied to Europe when the war is over.

Ever since the days of Frederick the Great, Central or Eastern Europe has been the first point of Prussian or German attack. It was so in the days of Bismarck. It was so in 1914, and again in 1938. And on every occasion the German "Drang Nach Osten" or "nach Sudosten" has beenthe prelude to a "Drang nach Westen." As soon as Germany was master of Central and Eastern Europe, she proceeded to make herself the master of the Continent. But this was merely a step toward world-domination. By denying German troops access to Central Europe the whole scheme for European and world domination could have been frustrated. It is a fact which I cannot emphasize too strongly.

We cannot even begin to decide the status of Central Europe until we have found, and applied, the just solution for the German problem. Germany must surrender all territories which she seized along the wrongful way of aggression beginning with Austria. To my mind this is definitely a condition sine qua non of permanent European peace. We cannot, I believe, allow Germany to retain even an inch of the territory which she acquired by force or threat of force and for which she launched the present war. The whole international policy of the United States is based on this sound fundamental principle. Otherwise force and violence would appear to have been justified. Such a justification, even if Hitler and his regime were to belong to the past, would tempt successors to take the same path to destruction. Today brute force does not pay. It involves useless sacrifices and stern retribution. This lesson needs to be learned thoroughly by the Germans of both today and of tomorrow.

I am not an uncompromising Germanophobe. I do not pretend that the Germans are a thoroughly bad people or that all Germans are bad. But there are certain facts which we cannot ignore. Nazi leaders with the powerful help of non-Nazi Germans had been elaborating their theories of total war for more than twenty years. Many Germans, I believe, sincerely regretted Hitler's advent to power in 1933. None the less the German people are as responsible for Hitler and Himmler, as are the Americans for Lincoln and Roosevelt, the British for Gladstone and Churchill, the Russians for Lenin and Stalin, the Italians for Mussolini, the Japanese for their present warlords and the Czechoslovaks for Thomas Masaryk. No sane person would order the destruction of the German nation. But we must make it clear that aggressive war always involves punishment and that civilized man simply will not accept racial or anti-Semitic theories which are crude, cruel and bestial. Otherwise there can be no hope for Europe or humanity. In any case we must remove the threat of a new war if we are to build anew in Europe.

In my personal opinion, we should agree on the problem of Germany on the following six major principles:

1. Nazism must be completely eradicated.

2. All territory taken by threat, force or violence must be surrendered.

3. Germany should be found guilty of provoking the second World War and, in accordance with the terms of the Atlantic Charter, she should be held disarmed.

4. Her guilt should be clearly established. War criminals when found guilty, should be punished without mercy or delay.

5. When the difficult transitional period of internal fighting and violence is over, the Prussia of 1933 with her Herrenvolk and goose-stepping mentality should be newly organized, her military and Junker ruling class replaced once and for all time by a democratic regime and the whole of Germany must be put under very strict international supervision for a definite period of time. Her people should be re-educated and completely democratized. But, letus not be led to believe that anyone other than the new Germany herself can make that re-education a reality. I know, it will be a long-term measure. It will involve profound changes in the social and political structure of Germany as well as in the methods of training a better generation.

6. Somehow or other, Germany and the German people must undo, at least partially, the almost incredibly inhuman harm they have done to the occupied countries and their inhabitants. The main burden of this task should certainly fall to Germany. It must not be forgotten, however, that the other Axis Powers, to a greater or less degree, share Germany's guilt.

I now come to the consideration of Central Europe, which geographically, is situated between Germany and Soviet Russia. As I have already explained, the Rhineland crisis of 1936 revealed the essential weakness and unpreparedness of the Western European democracies. It showed that German intrigue and imperialistic expansion at last had a fairly clear field in Central Europe. At that time great difficulties existed between Poland and the Soviet Union. Germany always cleverly exploited the disharmony between Warsaw and Moscow. Thereafter events moved with a swifter tempo. Austria was annexed, Czechoslovakia threatened and the Munich decree enforced. The Soviet Union was driven still further into isolation. After Munich I had no doubt that a military conflict had become inevitable and I was certain that first of all Germany would destroy Poland and that finally Germany and the Soviet Union, representatives of two fundamentally different ways of life, would find themselves locked in combat. This is what actually happened. Soon afterwards the state of war between Poland and the Soviet Union gave place to a military collaboration.

By that time the Polish and Czechoslovak Governments in London had spent several months exploring the possibilities of their declaration that, when the war is over, their independent countries would enter into a closer union. They intended this collaboration or alliance and pact of mutual assistance. Their declaration, made in November 1940, brought into special prominence the part which the principle of federation or confederation has to play in the future of the small States of Central Europe and in the general settlement of post-war Europe. In general I accept this principle as one of those ideas which in some cases should be applied when post-war Europe is reorganized.

We know, of course, that these are fundamental and far-reaching questions. Governments established in London cannot decide upon them until they have been endorsed by the direct voice of their people and have the full approval of their legislatures and constitutional authorities. Moreover, confederation is not merely the concern of those countries which wish to confederate. It introduces a new element into the European community of nations and is a vital concern to certain Great Powers. Those Great Powers are our Allies in the present war. We do not want merely to agree on these important matters and then to present the Great Powers with some sort of fait accompli.

That is why the Czechoslovak Government is loyally informing all its chief Allies about all its discussions and negotiations. It is informing the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States. It is informing the Continental States, and especially France and Yugoslavia. The immediate neighbor to the Central European area and to a Polish-Czechoslovak confederation would be the Soviet Union. We, therefore, think it absolutely essential to keepthe Soviet Union fully informed of what is going on. More than that, Czechoslovakia considers it essential and to her own interest and to that of Poland, that we should reach a common agreement on these questions with the Soviet Union. There have been discussions from time to time on the status of other Central European small nations—Austria, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia and Greece. Here too, the principle of confederation might be applied. But you will, of course, appreciate the fact that I am not authorized to speak on their behalf and my restraint is based on my conviction that I ought to first hear their own views.

I believe that the present war gives us the opportunity of smashing, finally and forever, the infamous pan-German "Drang nach Osten" policy which has been systematically applied for the last two centuries. The present war has undoubtedly shown the need for a genuine, friendly and loyal collaboration between the three Slavonic nations—Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia's relations with both Poland and Soviet Russia are those of alliance and friendship. We want them to remain such. If we three can arrive at a complete agreement, the German imperialistic and blood thirsty "Drang nach Osten" can be liquidated forever. If we succeed in this, we shall secure not only the future of Poland and Czechoslovakia, but we shall make a fundamental and substantial contribution to the security of the whole of Europe. If we fail, however, there will be another European catastrophe. Somehow or other, Germany will find a way to bring about a third World War. In all sincerity I say this is my deepest political conviction.

Other important European questions need to be discussed before the picture is complete. Italy is sure to abandon her present regime, return to her liberal traditions and regain her old place in the Europe of tomorrow. We have to consider the future of the countries in Western Europe, Scandinavia, and the Balkans, including Turkey. All will find their proper place in the future framework of collaboration in Europe and the world, as well as in the future system of post-war security, according to their own efforts and the parts they have played or will play, in this second World War.

So I come to the last final question which, I imagine many of you are anxious to put to me. What will Czechoslovakia do in this new Europe?

You will forgive me for recalling the fact that pre-Munich Czechoslovakia was one of the best democracies in Europe. In all fields of public, social and economic life Czechoslovakia belonged to the most progressive States of the world. She was an advanced and happy State and the last democracy to resist Hitler up to the time of Munich. She did, indeed, follow the lines laid down for her by that great democratic leader, President Masaryk. From the year 1930 we anticipated much that will happen after the present war. We are even now prepared to take up our new course. We did not find it necessary to change our fundamental policy or political orientation in any way either before the Munich crisis nor after, before the present war or during it, and today my nation remains united and ready for the German collapse. Post-war Czechoslovakia will simply continue her former traditions. She will adapt herself easily to the new conditions and the great changes throughout Europe and the world. It is even possible that post-war reconstruction will be carried out more swiftly in Czechoslovakia than in any other country, for she has anticipated and prepared for many things which will be done elsewhere after the present war.

We are in constant contact with the people at home and in agreement with them we are preparing a comprehensive plan for our internal reconstruction after the war. We aredetermining our course of action when Germany has fallen, how we shall reorganize our party life, how we shall decentralize our administration, how we shall implement important social and economic reforms. After the war, we believe, we shall soon have order and prosperity in our country again. The untold sufferings the war has brought have almost completely re-established the inner unity of the Czechoslovak people. In a short time we shall again be one of the best democracies of Europe.

There are some things which we shall never forget. London has given asylum to our exiled nation, Government and its institutions. Soviet Russia has given us the greatest possible help since she entered the war. Your great democracy never accepted the Munich decree and never recognizedwhat happened to our country and to our State afterwards. Your great President has maintained your fine and traditional policy of friendship and support towards Czechoslovakia. He upheld this friendship throughout the successive phases of the present world tragedy. The American people saw that the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia in 1938 was a great tragedy, but a vain one. They appreciated our policy before and during 1938, and appraised the courageous and relentless fight of our people against the Nazi oppressor since 1939 according to its merits. Their sympathy and help give us vast encouragement and hope in our present ordeals and sufferings. Our gratitude for all this is boundless. The bonds of friendship between Czechoslovakia and the United States are and will remain indestructible.