War's End Still Distant
GREATEST EFFORT NEEDED FOR LAST LAP
By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain
Delivered in House of Commons, London, November 29, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 133-134.
THIS is more somber digression. All our affairs down to the smallest detail continue to be dominated by the war. Parliamentary business is no exception. I must warn the House and the country against any indulgence in feeling that the war will soon be over. It may be, but do not indulge in that feeling, that we should now be able to turn our thoughts to a new phase in world history which will open with the close of this war.
The truth is that no one knows when the German war will be finished and still less how long the interval will be between the defeat of the Germans and the defeat of the Japanese.
I took occasion some months ago to damp down premature hopes by speaking of the German war as running into January and February. I could see disappointment in several quarters as I looked around the house and I followed this up quickly by indicating late spring or early summer as periods which we must take into account as possibilities.
My present inclination is not at all to mitigate those forecasts or guesses—for they can be little more than guesses. Indeed, if I were to make any change in the duration of the unfolding of events, it would be to leave out the word "early" before the word "summer."
The vast battle that is in progress in the west has yielded to us important gains. The enemy has everywhere been thrust back. The capture of Metz and Strasbourg are glorious and massive achievements.
The brilliant fighting and maneuvering of the French Army near the Swiss frontier and their forcing of the Belfort Gap and the advance on a broad front to the Rhine is not only a military episode of high importance but it shows what; many of us have never doubted: that the French Army will rise again and be a great factor in the life of France and Europe and that the French soldier, properly equipped and well led, is unsurpassed among nations.
I had the opportunity of visiting this army and had hoped to be there at the moment when its attack was delivered upon the Belfort Gap, but in the night twelve inches of snow fell and everything had to be put off for three days. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity of seeing a very large number of troops who were going to be engaged, if not in the first stage, in the second stage of this battle, and for an hour or more they marched past in the swirling snowstorm. I had a good look at them, though the light faded, at very close quarters.
They were all young men of eighteen to twenty-two. The average age was twenty—and what a thing to be a Frenchman, twenty years of age, well armed, well equipped and with your native land to avenge and save.
The light in these men's eyes and their alert bearing give one the greatest confidence that our nearest neighbor and long friend in the war and in these great struggles of our lifetime will rise in clarity and force from the miseries and disgraces of the past and will present us once more with a France to be numbered among the greatest powers of the world.
I have spoken of the fighting in the Belfort Gap and Strasbourg and, farther to the north, of the great battle which the Americans have gained opposite Metz. Opposite Cologne and northward fighting has been severe, and it is here that gains in ground will be most important and consequently are more disputed.
The weather, which it is always customary and excusable and even legitimate to abuse at this season of the year, in those regions has made the task of American troops and that of the British on their left flank extremely difficult. What is called the fourth element in war—mud—had played a formidable part. We have not yet succeeded in driving the enemy back to the Rhine, let alone have we established a strong bridgehead on it. The battle is continuing with the greatest vigor. Immense losses have been inflicted on theenemy. The wearing-down process here, at cost to the United States forces, has been far greater in its effect upon the enemy.
Of course, any large and effective break on the German fronts in these regions of Cologne and northward would have the highest strategic consequences.
I may mention that in the interval between the liberation of France and the greater part of Belgium, Field Marshal Montgomery's group of armies, with substantial United States assistance, drove the enemy back to the line of the Maas, or Meuse, and established a secure flank barrier in Holland protecting the whole line of the main armies operating eastward. It also opened the great port of Antwerp which we captured intact and is now receiving large convoys of ocean-going ships, thus making the incomparable sea base available for the nourishment of the northern group of British armies and various groups of American armies also deployed in those operations, including storming of islands, which contains episodes of marvelous gallantry and grand feats of arms.
In these operations British and Canadian forces suffered about 40,000 casualties. That is, in the interval between the two great battles. In the new battle which runs from Field Marshal Montgomery's army, broadly speaking, opposite Venlo down to the Vosges Mountains where the French take up a long line, the front is held by Americans who are bearing the brunt with their customary distinction and courage.
I am not giving a review of the war situation today. I have no intention of doing it. Later on, perhaps, when we meet after Christmas, it may be right to do that and it may be much easier to put hard facts and cheering facts before the House—and the House knows I have never hesitated to put hard facts before them.
I know the British people and I know this House and there is one thing they will not stand and that is not being told how bad things are. If it is humanly possible to do it without endangering affairs, one is always well advised to tell people how bad things are.
On a number of occasions I have greatly revived the energy and ardor of this House by giving them an account of the shocking position we occupied in various quarters and how very likely things were to get worse before they got better.
We share the glory, but my motive in doing so was to strengthen the position of the Government. I am not giving a review of the war situation but I mention these commanding facts in order to dissipate lightly founded sensations that we can divert our eyes from the war and turn to the tasks of transition and reconstructions or political controversies and other diversions of peace which are dear to our hearts and rightly dear to democracies in action, because without controversy democracies cannot achieve their healthening processes.
I do not think we can look on in all these matters with a sense of detachment from the war issue, which is right over us.
It weighs intensely and preponderantly upon us and upon every form of our national life. All else must still be subordinated to this supreme task.
It is on the foe that our eyes must be fixed and to break his resistance down demands, and will receive, the most intense exertions of Great Britain, the United States of America and of all the United Nations and their converted satellites—all the forces that can be brought to bear.
This is just the moment not to slacken. Of races which the calendar holds, nearly all of them are won in the last lap and it is then when the sense of boredom seems a weight upon one, when even the most glittering, exciting and brilliant events are, as it were, covered by satiation, when headlines in newspapers, though perfectly true, succeed one another in their glowing emphasis; and yet the end seems to recede before us.
As when climbing a hill, when there is always another peak beyond, it is at that very moment that we in this island have to give that extra sense of exertion and effort, that boundless and inexhaustible dynamic energy that we have shown, and which records made public emphasize in detail that we have shown during this struggle.
Tirelessness is what we have to show now, and here I must observe that it is one thing to feel this tremendous drive of energy at the beginning of the war when your country is likely to be invaded and you don't know that you will not have to die honorably. It is one thing to exhibit those qualities, which the House has never been restrained from at such a moment, and quite another to do them in the sixth year of the war.
On the other hand, we must remember that the enemy whose country is being invaded has also the supreme stimuli which we ourselves responded to in the very dark days of 1940 and 1941.
The preponderance of the war weighs down upon us all. And after the German war we must not forget there is war with Japan.