January 18, 1945
New York Times.
I gathered that it was the desire of the House that there should be a further discussion of the war and foreign situations and policies at this time and before any new important international conferences take place. I will try to survey the whole of this, or a large and selected portion of this vast scene, to the best of my ability.
It has fallen to the hard lot of Britain to play a leading part in the Mediterranean, and particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean. We have great responsibilities and we have made great exertions there.
In Italy, British, or British-controlled divisions under Field Marshal (Harold R. L. G.) Alexander's command, and still more if the whole area of the Mediterranean should be included, outnumber threefold those of the United States. There is battle along the whole front in Italy.
Behind the front, in the hard-stricken Peninsula, are many economic and political difficulties. The old structure, with its hateful rigors, has been destroyed and in its place we have had to raise a government of improvisation. We have the Bonomi Government, which has been trying to do its best under extraordinary difficulties, but which, of course, has no electoral authority behind it.
But now at any time, perhaps in a few months, perhaps much sooner-for no one can tell what reactions are proceeding in the minds of the German War leaders-the Germans will be driven out of Italy or will perhaps withdraw.
Immediately the great populous districts of the north, the cities of Turin and Milan and other centers of industry and activity and the large population of all kinds of political views, but containing great numbers of violent and vehement politicians in touch with brave men who have been fighting and maintaining guerrilla warfare in the Alps-all these will be thrown, probably at a time when the northern regions have been stripped bare of food by the retiring Germans-hungry upon the fragile structure of the Italian Government in Rome with consequences which cannot be accurately foreseen and certainly cannot be measured.
How necessary it is for Britain and the United States, who bear the chief responsibility, to maintain the closest contact, the closest and most intimate contact, in the solution of all these new problems!
Let me say once and for all that we have no political combination in Europe and elsewhere in respect of which we need Italy as a partner. We need Italy no more than we need Spain, because we have no business which requires the support of such powers.
We must take care that all blame of things going wrong is not thrown on us. This, I have no doubt, can be provided against and to some extent I am providing against it now.
We have one principle about liberated countries, or repentant satellite countries, which we strive for according to the best of our ability and resources. Here is the principle. I will state it in the broadest and most familiar terms: Government of the people, by the people and for the people, set up on the basis of free universal suffrage, elections with secrecy of ballot, and no intimidation.
That is, and that always has been, the policy of this Government in all countries. It is not only our aim and in our interest; it is our only care. It is to that goal that we try to make our way across all difficulties, obstacles and perils of the long road. Trust the people. Make sure they have a fair chance to decide their destiny without being terrorized from either quarter or regimented. There is our policy for Italy, for Yugoslavia and for Greece. No other interest have we than that. For that we shall strive, and for that alone.
The general principle which I have enunciated guides us in our relations with Yugoslavia. We have no special interest in the political regime which prevails in Yugoslavia. Few people in Britain, I imagine, are going to be more cheerful or downcast because of the future constitution of Yugoslavia. However, because the King and the Royal Yugoslavian Government took refuge with us at the time of the German invasion, we have acquired a certain duty toward the Government and people on the other side of the Adriatic which can only be discharged in a correct and formal manner, such as, for instance, would be provided by a plebiscite.
I am the earliest outside supporter of Marshal Tito. It is more than a year since in this House I extolled his guerrilla virtues to the world. Some of my best friends, and Maj. Randolph Churchill, are there with him and his forces now. It is my earnest hope he may prove to be the savior and unifier of his country, as he undoubtedly at this time is its undisputed master.
Recently Bulgaria and Rumania have passed under the control of Soviet military authorities, and Russians and Russian-controlled armies are in direct contact with Yugoslavia. As we feared that there might be misunderstanding and contrary policies between us and the Soviet Government about Yugoslavia, such as might early arise when armies enter a country in great disorder, the Foreign Secretary reached at Moscow an understanding with Marshal Stalin by which our two countries pursued a joint policy in those regions after constant discussions. This agreement raised no question of division of territory or spheres of interest after the war. It aimed only at avoidance, during these critical days, of friction between the Great Allies.
In practice I exchange telegrams on behalf of the British Government personally with Marshal Stalin about difficulties which arise and about what is the best thing to do. We keep President Roosevelt constantly informed.
In pursuance of our joint policy we encouraged the making of an agreement between the Tito Government, which, with Russian assistance, has now installed itself at Belgrade, and the Royal Government of Yugoslavia which is seated in London and recognized by us, and I believe, by all the Powers of the United Nations. Marshal Stalin and the British Government consider that agreement on the whole to be wise.
We believe that the arrangements of the Tito-Subasitch agreement are the best that can be made for the immediate future of Yugoslavia. They preserve the form and theme of the monarchy and the taking of a fair and free plebiscite as soon as conditions allow.
King Peter II agrees in principle with the arrangement, but he makes certain reservations. The nature and effect of this is, I understand, at present under discussion. I should hesitate to prophesy or promise how all this will turn out, but under all circumstances and having regard to the chaotic conditions arising out of this war, I do not see what else except this Tito-Subasitch agreement could be done by the British Government and the U.S.S.R. to contribute what they can to bringing about the widest possible measure of agreement among the Yugoslavs and to insure that those issues should not be a cause of friction among the Allies.
It is a matter of days within which a decision must be reached upon these matters and if we were so unfortunate as not to be able to obtain consent of King Peter, the matter, in fact, would have to go ahead, his assent being presumed.
The King's point of view, as I understood it, was that he was anxious about becoming responsible while he had no power for any severities which might take place in his country before a plebiscite decided whether it was to be a monarchy or a republic. Such scruples must be respected but they cannot necessarily in these times indefinitely prevent the march of events.
From the problems of Italy and Yugoslavia we come naturally to those of Greece. Once more we are guided by our simple policy: victory against the Germans, establishment of aid to the most coherent and most substantial Government machine that can be found, delivery of such food as we and our Allies can spare and our combined shipping can afford, maintenance of tolerable conditions of law, and order, and holding of plebiscites or general elections fairly and squarely, and then exit at the earliest practicable moment.
We are toiling through a mighty maze, but I can assure the House it is not without plan. The story of events in Greece has been set out so fully in the newspapers that I shall not attempt a chronological or descriptive account.
Every two or three minutes an honorable member who receives exceptional courtesy from this House thinks it necessary to assert himself by making some half inaudible and occasionally partially intelligible interruptions. I do not think it is in accordance with the wishes of the House or the conditions of our debate.
I said I should not attempt a chronological or descriptive account, but there is no case in my experience, certainly not in my wartime experience, where a British Government has been so maligned and its motives so traduced in our own country by important organs of the press or among our own people. That this should be done, among the perils of this war, now at its climax, has filled me with surprise and sorrow. It bodes ill for a future in which the life and strength of Britain, compared to the other Powers, will be tested to the full, not only in war but in its aftermath.
How can we wonder at, still less how can we complain of, the attitude of hostile or indifferent newspapers in the United States, when we have here in this country witnessed such a melancholy exhibition as that provided by some of our most time-honored and responsible journals and others to which that epithet would hardly apply.
Only the solid and purposeful strength of the National Coalition Government could have enabled us to pursue the unflinching and unyielding course of policy and principle to which we were and are resolved.
But our hard task, as it has been and is still, is being rendered vastly more difficult by the spirit of gay, reckless and unbridled partisanship which has been let loose on the Greek question and it has fallen upon those who have to bear the burden of government in times like these. I have never been connected with any large enterprise of policy about which I was more sure in mind and conscience of the rectitude of our motives, of the clarity of our principles, and of the vigor, precision and success of our action, than what we have done in Greece.
We went to Greece for the second time in this war. We went with the full approval of both our great Allies. We went on invitation of the Greek Government, in which all parties, even Communists, were represented, and as a result of a military conference in which the generals of the Elas and Edes were equally present. We came with good gifts in our hands: civility and assistance to all parties of the Greek Government, which was formed and had to face the confusion left by the flight of the Germans.
We brought food, clothing and supplies. We came with a small force of troops. We took up our positions from no military point of view, spreading our troops in a number of places on the coast and at small points inland, where we hoped to be able to pour in the largest number of supplies as quickly as possible to a very hungry people.
We were received with flowers and cheers and every expression of rapture, and we British-wicked British, so denounced by American correspondents whose names have no doubt been noted by the House, and so hounded by some of our own-busied ourselves in distribution of supplies throughout the country to which we had access. We had made Greece safe for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration before the outbreak took place.
Meanwhile, for a period of six weeks or so, the Greek Government, representative of all parties, was distracted by internal division and street demonstrations, and at all times Communist-directed forces were drawing down from the north and infiltrating into the city of Athens, in which they had also a strong local organization.
We had provided these men over several years with arms in considerable quantities in the hope they would fight against the Germans. They accepted the arms and kept them and other arms they captured or bought from the Germans in their retreat, or otherwise obtained, with a plan to seize the power of the Greek State in Athens once the Germans cleared out and went away.
I must speak a little about these Greek Communists among whom Macedonian and Bulgarian elements are also found, possibly with territorial ideas of their own. They are very formidable people. They have a theme and policy they pursue by merciless methods while other people in this region have only been trying to keep body and soul together.
I have been told I made a mistake in underrating the strength of the Communist-directed Elas. I must admit I judged them on their fighting against the Germans. I do not wish to do them any military injury. It was not against the Germans they were trying to fight but to a great extent they were simply taking our arms and lying low and awaiting the moment when they could seize power in the capital by force and make Greece Communist, with the totalitarian liquidation of all opponents.
I was misled by the little use they were against the Germans, especially once a general victory of the Allies became probable, in spite of the arms we gave them. I certainly underrated them as a fighting force. If I am accused of making a mistake, I can only say, as did Clemenceau on a celebrated occasion, "perhaps I have made a number of other mistakes of which you have not heard."
While the British were busy distributing food and endeavoring to keep things steady, the Eam and Communist ministers, who were eventually increased to seven in the Papandreou Government, were playing a different game. Throughout this has been a struggle for power. They were playing a game of Elas bands and their Communist directors. While sitting in Mr. Papandreou's cabinet, they were working in closest combination with the forces gathering to destroy it and him, him and his colleagues representative of everyday life in Greece.
The Eam and Communist ministers threw sand in the wheels of the Government at every stage. They did their best to hamper the landing and distribution of food by provoking strikes on some occasions. In addition they fought over every officer which it was necessary for the State to raise. You cannot have a State without some kind of national army. I am entirely against private armies. We are not going to have private armies. Every single appointment was wrangled over in this time of crisis until the last minute and then when the moment came when the forces who had been so tame and idle against the Germans had got well into the city of Athens--
[S. O. Davis, Laborite, interrupted with: "That is not true."]
Well, I speak according to the best information I have. I spared no pains to try to learn what I believed to be the facts and I consider myself far better informed on this matter than I was a month or six weeks ago.
What I have learned with great pains and patience has led to the strengthening of my original opinions, and among them is undoubtedly the conclusion that the Elas armed bands, at any rate for the last two years, played very little part against the Germans. I really cannot argue with the honorable member. No doubt he and some who hold other views will have opportunity to extol their glorious deeds. I personally am not prepared to pay them anything like the tributes which were paid to the heroic French Maquis or Belgian Maquis or men in Italy in the mountains who fought very desperate battles.
It seems they took it very easy, with their eyes on more important local matters, when the general war should be over. Every single appointment was wrangled over and when the fierce mountaineers had got well into the city, all those seven Communists resigned like clockwork, except one who was a little late but by running very hard under threat of death managed to keep his appointment.
So far the Allies seemed very content with what had happened in Greece. Our minds rested upon its liberation from the Germans. We expected a certain amount of tribulation while matters adjusted themselves and food could come in. There were other things going on at the same time. We rested upon the pleasure which our early reception in Athens and other Greek cities and islands had given to all of us, especially to those who cared deeply about Greece and her future, but now we came to a new phase about which it was not possible to consult any of our Allies and upon which action had to be taken immediately.
On the night of Dec. 4-5 a series of telegrams arrived showing that advancing Elas forces were about a thousand yards from the center of the Greek Government and the Hotel Grande Bretagne and also the same distance from the British Embassy in which our women folk of the cypher department and others had been gathered, and seemed to be overrunning this place, or at any rate the seat of Government by this well-armed and well-directed mob-(after an interruption)-brigands, if the honorable member wishes; this was about to take place.
Almost all police stations in Athens and the Piraeus had been occupied or stormed by Elas forces, some with the slaughter of every single inmate. Firing was widespread throughout the city. It was growing; it was approaching. General (R. M.) Scobie signaled that a general strike had been declared in Athens, all power and utility services had ceased working, and that unless order could be restored, the situation of the Government would be critical. All troops, including paratroopers, were being held there. We were about to take away a large part of our troops when this happened. So little had we any designs that the paratroop brigade which was needed in Italy was about to leave.
The hour was early, 2 o'clock in the morning, when orders were given to General Scobie to take over command of Athens and restore and maintain order by whatever measures were necessary. If that were wrong, I take full responsibility with my colleagues who are most desirous of sharing it with me.
For three or four days or more it was a struggle to prevent a hideous massacre in the center of Athens in which all forms of Government would have been swept away and naked, triumphant Trotskyism installed. I think Trotskyism is a better definition of Greek Communist and certain other sects than the normal word. It has the advantage of being equally hated in Russia.
However, by the skin of our teeth and thanks to the resolution of a handful of British soldiers on the spot, the assailants were hurled back and Athens, and I firmly believe, Greek freedom were saved. On Christmas day I thought it necessary to go to Athens with the Foreign Secretary. There was a demand from many quarters for a regency and for the Archbishop; which I was anxious to test on the spot. I was anxious to see what could be done at a conference of all parties, including a representative of the Eam, which I asked the Archbishop to convene in Athens. At this conference those severed by a mortal and living hatred were seated around the table and found themselves united upon the regency.
In their minds there was obviously only one man who could fill it. The Foreign Secretary and I on our return labored with the Greek King in order to secure his assent. We were successful. On Dec. 31, Archbishop Damaskinos was vested with royal power pending the regency, and I think with more than royal power.
We did not seek to be consulted about his measures, nor did we interfere with his Prime Minister, nor in the character or composition of his Government.
I did not know with any assurance when I left who would be his Prime Minister or the men who would be chosen by that Prime Minister and approved by him to fill the Government. But I gathered that there was a general desire to avoid merely getting the leaders of parties together but rather to fix on strong and real representatives of these parties, the leaders of whom are very numerous and not always free from the danger of being discredited. It is different in Greece than it is in many other countries.
The Archbishop struck me as being a very remarkable man, with his headgear towering up morally as well as physically above the chaotic scene. I am sure he would not have undertaken his responsibilities unless he had been free to exercise his own judgment. He called upon General Plastiras, who, under his close guidance, formed a Government of the character I have described, Liberal-Socialist-Left Wing-Democratic and Republican-in fact all, as we are assured, of modern versions but undoubtedly violently against the Communists.
People here talk of making governments of all parties and of everyone's being persuaded to fall upon each other's necks, or, at any rate, to work together in a sensible manner. I must admit that I, too, had some of these ideas when I flew to Athens Christmas Day. But the House must not suppose that in these foreign lands matters are settled as they would be here in England; even here it is hard enough to keep the coalition together between men who, although divided by party, have the supreme objective and so much else in common.
Imagine what difficulties there are in countries wrecked by civil war, past or pending, and where clusters of petty parties have each their own set of appetites, misdeeds and revenges.
If I had driven the wife of the deputy Prime Minister out to die in the snow, or the Minister of Labor had kept the Foreign Secretary in exile for a great many years, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer had shot at and wounded the Secretary of State for War or the head of one or the other of the spending departments-if we who sit here together had all backbitten and double-crossed each other while pretending to work together, if we had all put our own group and party first and our country nowhere, if we had all set ideologies, slogans or labels in front of comprehension, comradeship and duty, we should certainly have come to a general election much earlier than it is now to be.
When men have wished very much to kill each other and have feared very much that they would be killed quite soon, it is not possible the next day for them to work together, as friends and colleagues, with the men against whom they have nursed such intentions or from whom they have derived such fear.
We must recognize the difference between our affairs and conditions and those which prevail in Athens, especially while firing is continuous all around and cannot possibly be overlooked.
We would have been very glad to have seen a united government set up. We left them to it with a strong urge to unite and save their country, no exceptions being made to Communists or anyone at that moment. All next day they struggled. On several occasions the entire Liberal party left the room and were, with difficulty, shepherded back. All next day they struggled and it was absolutely certain that no agreement to form a united front would be reached. And, since then, far worse things have happened than had happened before.
Days passed. Our reinforcements rapidly and steadily arrived. They were found without altering operations on the Italian front but by putting, I'm sorry to say, extra efforts on divisions which were resting and would otherwise have gone to rest camps. Troops accepted these duties in a most loyal and hearty spirit, and they frequently expressed the opinion that the people they were fighting were even dirtier than Germans.
Street by street was cleared. The progress was very slow because of the care taken to disentangle women and children, innocent civilians, who all Intermingled with people in plain clothes who were firing.
The assailants have fled. Attica is free. A truce has been signed, giving a much larger area of peace and order around Athens and the Piraeus, which are the heart of Greece and have always been a dominant center of life of Greece.
More than one-quarter of the entire population lives there and in the region now liberated. I have not the slightest doubt that in the opinion they express and views they take represent at least four-fifths of the whole Greek nation, if it could give its views under conditions of peace and normal tranquillity. Fighting has ceased except for skirmishes with parties of Elas troops who have probably not heard the news of this primitive country.
Now that fighting has ceased, these Greek people can talk things over as they choose, under the guidance of Archbishop Damaskinos, who is ready to receive and has invited representatives of the Eam, or what is left of the Eam in the political structure, and the Elas to come to meet him.
What do we seek in Greece? Do we want anything from the Greeks? What part do they play in our so-called power politics? How much does it matter to us from the national point of view what form their Government takes? I repeat that we want nothing from Greece but her friendship, and to earn that and deserve that we have got to do our duty.
We cannot disentangle ourselves from Greece immediately after what has happened. We cannot do so until there can be either a free vote or guarantees for free vote under the most stringent and impartial supervision-the vote of all Greek peoples as to what they want for the future. Whatever they decide, monarchy or republic, Left or Right, that shall be their law as far as we are concerned.
When we are accused, without one shadow of truth, and know we do not want more islands or bases from Greece or need their aid to keep ourselves alive, I feel added anxiety for the future which, with all its somber and infinitely complicated problems, is rapidly closing in upon us.
However, there is truce now. Cease fire has sounded and the rejoicings of the people of Athens have once again acclaimed the liberating British troops, this time with an intense added fervor. At any rate, there is a region where about 1,500,000 men and women can earn their daily living without fear of murder or pillage or being killed in the streets.
Meanwhile, as a result of these events and also of the complete clearance of the city which proceeded for several weeks, with heavy fighting day and night, various alphabetical groups like SKE and ELD have, I am informed, speaking by the best available leaders which they have, for all its confusion, subtracted themselves from the Eam, leaving now only Communists in uncomfortable isolation clinging to their hostages.
Let me now read an extract from a dispatch of our Ambassador, Mr. Leeper, whom I have seen in close quarters in difficult and dangerous circumstances and who, I am bound to say, has grown in stature with the tests which have been applied so severely and increasingly to him, a man now laboring with utmost earnestness for peace on the broadest possible basis.
This is what he says: "Ever since the Germans left, a small but well-armed Communist party"-he wrote this in a dispatch a day or two ago-"has been practicing a reign of terror all over the country. Nobody can estimate the number of people killed or arrested before revolt in Athens actually began, but when the truth can be told there will be a terrible story to tell. When fighting began in Athens brutalities increased rapidly. Men, women and children were murdered in large numbers and thousands of hostages taken, dragged along the roads and many left to die. Reports from Salonika show much the same thing was happening."
[Aneurin Bevan, Laborite, intervened with: "I understand that the Prime Minister is quoting from a telegram sent to him. Might we be allowed to move that these papers be laid on the table?"]
[William Gallacher, Communist, asked if it were in order for the Prime Minister to quote from one of his own speeches of twenty-five years ago about Soviet Russia.]
Evidently the chance remark which I made the other day to Mr. Gallacher has stung him deeply.
[Mr. Churchill offered to lay the telegram which he had quoted on the table, subject to anything which might be excluded on grounds of public security. He added that there was very little more in it than what he had read.]
But some of the things in it may not be more palatable to the honorable member than those I've read. I am not accepting at all as an absolute rule that in time of war documents can be quoted without most careful survey by the Government. That is absolutely necessary. At the time when blue books were given to the House even in peace, frequent excisions were made by ministers on their own responsibility for safety of the country.
Here is another statement by a British officer, Lieut. Col. H. G. Morrison, who obtained this information by personal cross-examination of a large number of hostages whom he met in advanced dressing stations. I will lay this paper down, too.
"On Christmas Day," says the colonel, "a column of hostages, men and women, were dragged from their homes by insurgents and moved northward from Athens. They were collected in one suburb and, after they had been relieved of their footwear and some of their clothing, including their coats, they were driven along roads in mountains covered by snow. Every day some died from exhaustion and others were executed. For food, these miserable hostages were left entirely to their own resources. Inhabitants of villages whom they met and from whom they begged food during their halts were mostly too terrorized to do more than look on in impotent sympathy. Their guards proposed to find them food if they provided money. The equivalent of about a hundred pounds was raised, but all they received was half a loaf each.
"A favorite trick of the guards was to assemble these bewildered people and inform them that after so many hours march they would find a hot meal, billet and bed. After several days of this, the hostages realized that it would be useless to rely on any promise of food of any description. I'll give two characteristic details. One woman discovered to have money on her was deprived of it and shot. When the other hostages protested, the guards justified themselves by saying, 'She has been working for the British.'
"In another case, a man managed to extract a gold tooth from his mouth and bartered it for food. The hostages had to march in their bare feet and with their clothes in ribbons. A few fortunate stragglers were picked up. Hitherto, those no longer able to walk were executed. Guards were in a hurry one morning as they received information that British armed patrols were on their tail."
[Mr. Gallacher interpolated: "Tell me the old, old story."]
You are going to have the pleasure not only of hearing it, but of reading it in documents.
[Mr. Gallacher: "We have heard all those lies before."]
I'm reading you facts and you do not like facts. I am telling you the truth and you fear the truth because it reflects upon those you have so thoughtlessly championed. I give you further warning: There is a good deal more to come and I think the House has a right to hear it. When I quote the British colonel and say he gathered information from an advanced dressing station where he examined a number of those victims, the honorable gentleman immediately rises to suggest this is all some faked propaganda. He did not use those words but the whole sense of his interruption was to cast doubt. This about an officer who has not the slightest interest but to gather and quote the truth.
Mr. Leeper adds this story: Of one column of 800 hostages, 200 were dead within ten days. The total number runs into thousands and includes many reputable men and women well known in the Greek republic.
A good many survivors now returning to Athens tell a similar tale. Following is an eyewitness report of another British officer. I don't have his name but I have telegraphed for it and will lay it before the House:
"While at Peresteum, a suburb of Athens, I was interrogating Elas prisoners and I was informed by civilians and National Guards that a great many hostages had been executed by Elas and buried in ditches outside. I went to the place and interrogated the cemetery guard and, according to his statement, fifteen to twenty were brought to the northeast corner of the cemetery and murdered by Elas. The bodies were then buried in system trenches which now cover some 200 yards. They were covered with earth but trial diggings have uncovered bodies along most of its length."
He estimated that, in all, 1,200 to 1,500 people were executed, mostly with knives or axes. He saw partially exhumed bodies which had deep wounds in back of head or neck, apparently inflicted by knives. Apparently, hostages taken in the early days were systematically exterminated up to the time that Elas had withdrawn from Athens.
This is one which only arrived this morning. This is from the Consul General at Salonika, who says that "between 1 and 2 P.M. yesterday, Jan. 16, civilians, of whom seventeen to twenty were in a dying condition, were removed by Elas from a municipal hospital in Salonika, led on to bullock carts in pajama trousers only, and taken into the interior."
These facts have been verified by officials of the Greek Red Cross, who followed the cart some time later and distributed blankets. It is possible that some had already died from exposure. British military authorities are taking all possible steps to secure their immediate return. Some three days ago, roads leading out of Salonika were crowded with long columns of horse or bullock drawn vehicles which left the city, piled with loot, having stripped every house, rich or poor, in which they found anything worth carrying away. I know perfectly well that the member for Ebbw Vale [Mr. Bevan] would not stand for anything of this kind.
I am not trying to suggest that the honorable gentlemen opposite, even those who are most excited, are in any way associating themselves with this sort of thing. There, I am taking great pains to show them what has gone on and is going on so that they may carefully choose their steps and their language so that they may keep themselves clear of all taint of approbation.
I give my warning to what I must call the Elasites of this country that prisoners are coming home and the truth is coming out. Horrible stultification awaits them. There is going to be a great surprise which will one day come upon them in the vote the Greek people will give about these matters when our purpose of free election has been achieved.
I warned the House that if we are going to tear ourselves asunder in this island over all feuds and passions of the Balkan countries which our armies and Allies have liberated, we shall be found quite incapable of making our influence felt in the great settlement which awaits us.
It is, I believe, the intention of the Regent and General Plastiras to broaden the Government continually, but we really must leave this process to them and not try to interfere with it from day to day. It is only fair for me to tell the House that I do not believe any of the existing authorities in Athens will work with the Communists who have assailed the city. There is feeling throughout the liberated area that there would be no amnesty.
Even when we were there three weeks ago bands of these men were wailing about the poorly clad, with placards bearing the words: "No amnesty." Passion is tense and I am told that it is becoming more tense because of questions and answers given to this House.
The Government have been committed by me to the principle I have described so that no person, whether ringleader or otherwise, shall be punished for his part in the recent rebellion unless he is found guilty by a properly constituted court of personal breaches of the laws of war or of private crimes for which ordinary citizens are punished. This principle has been accepted by the Greek Government and all statements to the contrary are overridden by a quite definite agreement which I made on the spot in respect to these matters and which I have every reason to believe will be maintained.
It is quite possible that General Plastiras, under the tremendous pressure of people boiling with rage and bursting with revenge, might have used some sentence which might not correspond, or seem not to correspond, with the interpretation I have placed on it.
But the position of His Majesty's Government has been definitely taken up and our opinion is, I am sure, one which will be treated with respect and consideration by the Greek Government, who is so largely dependent upon our armed forces for their existence.
[Mr. Bevan interrupted to say: "This is of the utmost importance. The Prime Minister may have heard that statements are being made to the effect that the Government is already rooting out from the administration in Athens all those persons who recently sympathized with the Eam. I don't say it is the truth, but will you make it quite certain that British arms will not be used to sustain a Government which does not honor the pledge now given to this House?"]
There is a great difference between putting people to death for the crime of rebellion or bringing them to penal process and making sure that your Government departments are not full of people who are working with the other side. I am dealing with the question of amnesty, and that relates to penal processes of law. Amnesty certainly does not mean that persons who are not trusted by the Government of the day will immediately be made Cabinet Ministers or that employee who have left their places in a crisis and taken part on the opposite side in fighting the Government of the day are to be reinstated or left in their positions. No one can stand for that.
This principle has been accepted by the Greek Government and no doubt will be observed while any of our forces remain in the country. But after that the Greeks will be completely free and sovereign and I cannot tell what terrible feuds and campaigns will be carried on. There is, however, one further reservation I have made.
A promise of proscription or amnesty, whichever term you prefer, is dependent, as we see it, upon treatment and delivery of hostages. The reason amnesty was declared while hostages were held in grip was because we thought it better that firing should stop. It is always a good thing for firing to leave off when you want to reach a parley and we thought that talk about hostages would take place more smoothly after than before it.
The name of Britain and the honor of the country are deeply engaged in this matter of hostages. We cannot let it be said that we have made arrangements for all our people to be saved and then left 5,000 to 10,000 Greek men, women and children to be carried off to the mountains by the Elas and its remaining associates to be used as weapons of blackmail, not merely to procure their own immunity from the crime of rebellion, for that is open to them if they take the proper course, but to be used to enable them to obtain political advance and entry into control.
I tell the House quite plainly that His Majesty's Government will discharge their obligation, however painful, with complete integrity. Whether it is popular or not, we shall not hesitate to rescue those hostages or punish their slaughter or maltreatment if we are to continue to hold office under the Crown.
I finished, before lunch, dealing with the Greek situation and quoted a statement by a British officer about bodies which were being dug up and I did not get his name. It has since arrived by telegram-Capt. R. F. G. Blackler, Royal Artillery. Now I turn to a very different theme and story. I turn from the pink and ochre panoramas of Athens and the Piraeus, scintillating with delicious light, plumed by classic glories and the endless miseries and torments of its history. This must give way to the main battlefront of war.
In this, my chief contribution will be a recital of a number of facts and figures which may or may not be agreeable in different quarters. I have seen it suggested that the terrific battle which has been proceeding since Dec. 16 on the American front is an Anglo-American battle. In fact, however, the United States troops have done almost all the fighting and have suffered almost all the losses. They have suffered losses almost equal to those of both sides at the Battle of Gettysburg. Only one single British Army corps has been engaged on this occasion. All the rest of thirty or more divisions which have been fighting continuously for the last month are United States troops. The Americans have engaged thirty or forty men for every one we have engaged and have lost sixty to eighty men to every one of ours. That is a point I wish to make.
Care must be taken in telling our proud tale not to claim for the British armies undue share of what is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory. I have never hesitated to stand up for our own soldiers when their achievements have been cold-shouldered or neglected or overshadowed, as they sometimes are, but we must not forget that it is to American homes that telegrams of personal loss and anxiety have been coming during the past month and that there has been a hard and severe ordeal during these weeks for our brave and cherished Ally. To say this implies no disparagement of our own exertions. We ourselves, a month or two earlier, lost 40,000 men in opening the Scheldt.
The bulk of our army, on this occasion when von Rundstedt attacked, was separated by scores of miles from the impact of the new offensive. They could not possibly have been moved into battle in large numbers without crisscrossing all lines of communication and creating utter confusion. The British Army stood and stands in its northern position between the enemy and Antwerp, in a strategic attitude, capable of averting all possibility of major disaster.
Our armies are under the supreme command of General Eisenhower and we march with discipline wherever we are told to go. According to professional advice which I have at my disposal, what was done to meet von Rundstedt's counter-stroke was resolute, wise and militarily correct. The gap was torn open as a gap can always be torn open in a line hundreds of miles long. General Eisenhower at once gave the command to the north of the gap to Field Marshal Montgomery and to the south of it to Gen. Omar Bradley. Many other consequential movements were made and rightly made.
Judging by the result, both these highly skilled commanders handled very large forces at their disposal in a manner which I think I can say without exaggeration may become a model for military students in the future.
Field Marshal Montgomery, at the earliest moment, acting with extraordinary promptitude, concentrated powerful British reserves at decisive strategic points; and, having been placed in command as he was by General Eisenhower of American forces larger than those he holds from the British Government or from the Canadian, larger than those he holds in the Twenty-first Army group, he fell unceasingly upon the enemy in the north and fought the battle all the time from that part of the assailed front. The United States First Army, which was one of a group of armies under General Bradley, was severed by inroads.
It was reinforced with extraordinary military efficiency from the Metz area by General Patton's army, who hurled themselves on those intruders from outside of Bastogne. All movements of commanders would have been futile but for the bravery of the troops. General Omar Bradley was commanding the American forces and so was Field Marshal Montgomery. All these troops fought in magnificent fashion and General Eisenhower, balancing the situation between his two commanders, gave them both the fairest opportunity to realize their full strength and qualities.
Let no one lend themselves to the shouting of mischief makers when issues of this momentous consequence are being successfully decided by sword. Unless it should be thought that the British Commonwealth and the Empire are not playing their part in the battle on the Continent or in the general war, let me give a few facts and figures.
We are maintaining, at the present time, in the field and in our garrisons, the equivalent of upwards of one hundred divisions, apart from the vast Navy and Air Force. Many of these, of course, are not mobile, but sixty-seven of them are at the front and in constant or frequent contact with the enemy, fighting unceasingly on three separate fronts in northwest Europe, in Italy and in Burma.
Of all troops landed in France, losses sustained in fighting by British Empire and United States troops have been very level in proportion to the number engaged. Of course, there are over twice as many American troops on the Western Front as there are troops of the British Commonwealth and we have, in fact, lost half as many as our American Allies. If you take killed only, British and Canadians have lost a larger proportion than the United States, heavy though the United States losses are.
We have taken measures which I announced some weeks ago to keep our armies up to full strength, whatever losses may be, and also to reinforce our divisions, I wish they were more numerous, by supplementary units, brigades and so forth. We shall feel it necessary to make this demand for movement toward and into battle of about a quarter million additional men to be drawn from every possible source within the next few months. Not only men but women in the combatant sphere of AA batteries will be needed. No women will go but as volunteers.
In the United States also extraordinary measures have been taken. Let the Germans dismiss from their minds any idea that losses or setbacks of the kind we have witnessed will turn us from our purpose. We shall go on to the end, however stormy it may be, and for myself, I do not hesitate today to give my own opinion, not dissenting from the experts with whom I am living in constant contact, that the decisive breaking of this German offensive in the west is more likely to shorten this war than to lengthen it.
We must regard von Rundstedt's attack as an effort to dislocate and, if possible, rupture the tremendous onslaught across the Rhine and the Siegfried Line for which the Anglo-American armies have been preparing. The Germans, no doubt, hoped to throw out of gear, before the onslaught of the Russian armies from the east, this main stroke from the west.
They have certainly lost heavily in their efforts. They have cast away a large portion of the flower of their last armies. They have made a slight and ineffectual dent on the long front. The question they will be asking themselves is whether they have at this heavy price delayed appreciably the general advance of the armies of the west beyond the period when it had been planned. That is the question which no doubt German headquarters today are anxiously asking themselves.
I have always hesitated to speak at all about the military future, but it is my hope and belief that by this violent attack, by which they have lost perhaps double what they have inflicted, they have in no wise delayed, or still less averted, the doom that is closing in upon them from the west.
Harsh as it may sound to us-a terrible thing to say, dealing with flesh and blood-it is to our interest and to the American interest that the whole Western Front and air everywhere in every theatre at all possible flying time should be in continuous action against the enemy, burning and bleeding his strength away at every opportunity and on all occasions, if we are to bring these horrors to an end.
I think it not a necessarily bad thing and possibly a good thing if large parts of the Western Front were thrown into counter battles in open country in the forests and undulations and hills of Ardennes rather than that all our troops should be compelled to advance at this season of the year across great rivers and seas of mud and against lines of concrete fortifications. It suited the Allies that there should be as much fighting as possible in open country rather than that the whole front should be a crunching up of pillboxes.
In short, as I see it, the Germans have made a violent and costly sortie which has been repulsed with heavy slaughter and they have expended in their endeavor forces which they cannot replace against the enemy, who has already more than replaced every loss that he has sustained. These German forces are needed now not only to support the German front in the west but even more to fill the awful rents which have been torn in their Eastern line by the magnificent onslaught of the whole main Russian armies along the entire front from the Baltic to Budapest. Marshal Stalin is very punctual. He would rather be before his time than late in combination with the Allies. I cannot attempt to set limits to the superb and titanic events which we are now witnessing or their reactions in every theatre.
I can only say that it is certain that the whole Eastern and Western Fronts and the long front in Italy where twenty-seven German divisions are still held by no more than their number will now be kept henceforward in constant flame until the final climax is reached,
The advance of the enormous forces of Soviet Russia across Poland and elsewhere into Germany or into German territory must produce consequences of a character and of a degree about which the wisest and most far-sighted prophets will reserve their opinion until the results are known.
Simultaneously with the battle of the Ardennes another battle almost as great has been fought by the United States in the Philippines at the other side of the world. The Philippines and the Ardennes-two vast military episodes-have been proceeding simultaneously.
When we think of the distances to be traversed in the Pacific and the vast consumption of shipping and war materials entailed, of the mighty fleets and air forces engaged, as well as large armies convoyed and supplied in every detail, we must marvel at the triumphant military strength of the United States, now roused from its peaceful, free and easy life against its desires, to become the greatest military force in the world.
We may also marvel at the folly of those treacherous schemers in Japan who so wantonly called out against them this incredible manifestation of armed power.
General MacArthur's recovery of the Philippines, which is in full progress many months before it was expected, is a fearful warning to the Japanese of their impending defeat and ruin. We offer our congratulations to General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz for the increasing success and speed of their mighty combined operations.
I cannot pass from this subject without mentioning a loss we have sustained, and I certainly have sustained, of my representative with General MacArthur, Lieut. Gen. Lumsden, one of our distinguished and accomplished officers, the man who from the very beginning of the war and from the first contact with the enemy brought the armored car back into popularity and usage with the troops from which it had been believed to have been thrown out. He was killed on the port side of the bridge of an American ship approaching Luzon by the bomb which Admiral [Sir Bruce] Fraser, himself Commander in Chief of our Navy there, who happened to be there as a spectator, only escaped by the accident of a few seconds because of the place he took his position.
There has been high loss among our high commanders. In Air Marshal [Sir Trafford Leigh] Mallory and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay we lost two out of three commanders in chief of the expedition across the Channel, Field Marshal Montgomery being the only survivor of the three.
There is one other campaign on which we and India have expended immense efforts and where good fortune has attended us: the advance of the Fourteenth Army, the forgotten army, no, not forgotten, watched carefully, its movements ever attended by our thoughts. The advance of the Fourteenth Army, in harmony with the Chinese on the north flank, has carried the fight against the Japanese in Burma at some points almost 200 miles forward from Imphal.
Now is the time when all the fierce fighting at these places last year is reaping its reward. The stuffing was beaten out of Japanese troops in terrific conflicts in which we had very heavy losses, 14,000 men at least of British, Indian and others, and in which far larger tolls, as we have told the House, were taken by disease.
But now it is reaping its reward. I had always dreaded this new campaign this year in Burma on account of the heavy toll of disease which marching through the jungle exacts, not only from British but also from Indian, West and East African troops, fighting there with great distinction. I dread it for that reason and also for the unimaginable difficulties of supply through all those hundreds of miles of gorges from India, where every bridge and culvert is swept away by torrential rains, where rivers rise twenty to thirty feet in a few hours, and over which means of communication are so primitive and scanty. I had always dreaded this new campaign but, nevertheless, it was necessary to initiate it in order that, having rid Burma of the invader, the large forces there should acquire their mobility to act in the final stages of war.
Moreover, obstinate prolongation of the war in Europe necessarily delayed movement to the East of many reinforcements of all kinds of soldiers, aircraft and vessels of all the many different kinds we use in amphibious operations. All were delayed, although Admiral Mountbatten had been led to count upon them. First things have to come first.
But in spite of these disappointments, he and his dauntless armies have made greater advances than were required or expected of them up to the present, but directions of the High Command were given on the basis of large reinforcements and they may well be described as now on the road to Mandalay-though, I think, from a different direction.
This reference to the Fourteenth Army, moreover, takes no account of the important capture of Akyab, on the coast, with its airfield. The place for which, alone, a considerable expedition at one time seemed necessary has now been picked up out of hand by troops of the Fourteenth Army. I have covered, as far as I can and propose to do this afternoon, different military theatres of war in which His Majesty's forces, in all their elements, drawn from every part of the British Empire, are contending without one moment ceasing or slackening of effort.
At a time like this it is necessary to concentrate with clarity and command of mental perseverance upon the most practical issues with which we are confronted and upon which we hope and believe we are in accord with our principal Allies. What, for instance, should be our attitude toward the terrible foe with whom we are grappling? Should it be unconditional surrender or should we make some accommodation with them for a negotiated peace, leaving them free to regather their strength for the lengthy struggle after a few uneasy years?
The principle of unconditional surrender was proclaimed by the President of the United States at Casablanca and I endorsed it there and then on behalf of this country. I am sure it was right at the time when it was used, when many things hung in the balance against us and which are all decided in our favor now. Should we then modify this declaration which we made in days of our comparative weakness and lack of success now that we have reached a period of mastery and power? I am clear nothing should induce us to abandon the principle of unconditional surrender and enter into any form of negotiations with Germany or Japan in whatever guise such suggestions may present themselves, until the act of unconditional surrender has been formally accepted.
But the President of the United States, and I, in your name, have repeatedly declared that enforcement of unconditional surrender upon the enemy in no way relieves the victorious powers of all their obligations to humanity or of their duties as civilized and Christian nations. I read somewhere that when the ancient Athenians on one occasion overpowered the tribe of Pelopennese which had wrought them great injury by base, treacherous means, and when they had the army herded on the beach naked for slaughter, they forgave them and set them free, and they said this was not done because they were men. It was done because of the nature of man.
Similarly, in this temper, we may now say to our foes that we demand unconditional surrender, but you know how strict are moral limits within which our action is confined. We are not extirpators of nations or butchers of peoples. We make no bargain with you. We accord you nothing as your right. Abandon your resistance unconditionally. We remain bound by our customs and our nature.
There is another reason why abnegation of the principle of unconditional surrender would be most important at the present time-it being by no means inconsistent with or contradictory to that which I have just given. We should have to discuss with the enemy while they still remain with arms in their hands all the painful details of settlement which their indescribable crimes have have made necessary to the future safety of Europe and the world.
And so it will go on. Great effort pulsating from the heart of this small island caught up again over the vast scope of commonwealth and empire shall not die away with long fatigue and monotonies and wearisome trials which this war imposes, not only on men who fought but on men and women who stay at home and give of all they have to soldiers at the front. We have reached the sixty-fifth month of the war and its weight hangs heavy upon us. No one knows what stresses are wrought on his friends and himself these days by this long persistence of strain quite above the ordinary, normal life of human society.
Let us be of good cheer, for both in the west and in the east overwhelming forces are ranged on our side. Military victory may be distant. It will certainly be costly, but it can no longer be in doubt. Physical and scientific forces which our foes hurled on us in early years have changed sides and the British Commonwealth, the United States and the Soviet Union undoubtedly possess the power to beat down to the ground in dust and ashes the prodigious might of war-making nations and conspiracies which assailed us. But, as sense of mortal peril has passed from our side to that of our cruel foes, they gain the stimulus of despair and we tend to lose the bond of combined self-preservation-or we are in danger of losing it.
There is, therefore, demanded from us all the moral and intellectual impulse of unity and a clear conception and definition of a joint purpose sufficient to overbear the fleeting reinforcement which our enemies will derive from the realization of their forlorn condition.
Can we produce that complete unity and impulse in time to achieve a decisive military victory with the least possible prolongation of the world's misery, or must we fall into the jabber and babel of discord while victory is still unattained?
This seems to me the supreme question both of the hour and of the age, for often have great combinations almost attained success and then at the last moment cast it away. Very often by the trials and sacrifices of armies they have reached the conference table only to cast away what had been gained. Very often eagles have been squalled down by parrots. Very often, in particular, have the people of this island, indomitable in adversity, tasted the hard-won cup of success only to cast it away.
I, therefore, consider this the most grave moment to address the House and it is one which requires the members of every party, and all parties have the credit of our war effort. There is no monopoly to be flung from side to side in some future party dispute. We are all in this for good or ill; we all go through it together.
Very often, I say, these troubles have arisen and at the moment of success, at the period when no one can doubt what the ultimate result will be, it is the duty of every party to rouse itself to the highest sense of opportunity and obligation and to the service which this House has already rendered to the cause of freedom.
This, when restated in detail, might well become a greater obstacle to the end of the struggle than the broad generalization which the term unconditional surrender implies. The Germans know perfectly well how these matters stand in general. Several countries have already surrendered unconditionally to victorious Allies, or have surrendered to Russia, to Britain or to the United States.
Already there is tolerable life appointed for their peoples. Take Finland-take Italy-their peoples are not being massacred or enslaved. On the contrary, so far as Italy is concerned, there are moments when one has almost wondered whether it was they who had unconditionally surrendered to us or we who unconditionally surrendered to them.
This, at least, I can say on behalf of the United Nations, to Germany: "If you surrender now, nothing you will have to endure after the war will be comparable to what you are otherwise going to suffer during 1945."
Peace, though based on unconditional surrender, will bring to Germany and Japan immense and immediate alleviation of suffering and agony which now lies before them.
We Allies are no monsters, but faithful men, trying to carry forward the light of the world, trying to raise from bloody welter and confusion, in which mankind is now plunged, the structure of peace, of freedom, of justice and of law-which system shall be an abiding and lasting shelter at last for all.
That's how I venture to set before the House today the grave issue of unconditional surrender.
I now come to the second of the main questions which lie before us, namely, what principle-I've already dealt with this in broad applications to Greece, Yugoslavia and Italy-should guide us in regard to countries which we and our Allies have liberated, and also in regard to German satellite States which are, in one way or another, working their arduous passage home.
Here, I can, of course, only speak of Britain and its special responsibility. The expression "power politics" has lately been used in criticism against us in some quarters. I would anxiously have asked the question, "What are power politics?" I know some of our friends across the water so well that I am sure I can always speak frankly without causing offense.
Is having a Navy twice as big as anybody else's in the world power politics? Is having the largest air force in the world with bases in every part of the world power politics? Is having all the gold in the world power politics? If so we are certainly not guilty of this offense. I am very sorry to say that they are luxuries far away from us.
I am, therefore, greatly indebted to my friend, the illustrious President of the United States, four times summoned by popular vote to the headship of the most powerful community in the world, for his definition of power politics. With that marvelous gift which he has of bringing troublesome issues down to earth and reducing them to the calm level of ordinary life, the President declared in his recent message to Congress that power politics was misuse of power. I am sure I can say on behalf of all parties in the House that we are absolutely in agreement with the President.
We go further. We define our position with even more precision. We have sacrificed everything in this war. We shall emerge from it for the time being more stricken and impoverished than any other victorious country.
The United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth are the only unbroken force which declared war on Germany of its own free will. We declared war not for any ambition of material advantage but for the sake of our obligation to do our best for Poland against German aggression, in which aggression, it must in fairness be stated, our preservation was involved.
After the defeat of France in June, 1940, for more than a year we stood alone. We kept nothing back in blood or effort or treasure from what has now become the common cause of more than thirty nations. We seek no territory; we covet no oilfields; we demand no bases for forces of air or of sea. We are an ancient Commonwealth dwelling and wishing to dwell at peace within our own habitations. We do not set ourselves up in the stigma of rivalry or might with any other community in the world. We stand on our own rights. We are prepared to defend them. But we do not intrude for our advantage upon the rights of any friendly country in the world, great or small. We have given and shall continue to give everything we have.
We ask nothing in return except that consideration and respect which are our due, and if that is denied us, we would still have good conscience. Let none, therefore, in our country and Commonwealth or in the outside world misname or traduce our motives.
Our attentions no doubt are subject to small error, but our actions, in small things as in great, are disinterested, lofty and true. I repulse these challenges, wherever they come from, that Britain and the British Empire is a selfish and designing nation, obsessed with the dark schemes of European intrigue, or of expansion. We refute these aspersions whether they come from our best friends or our worst foes.
Let us march forward against the enemy, and for the rest, let all men here and in all countries search their hearts devoutedly as we shall continue to do.
I have tried as well as I can to cover, in a time which is unconscionably long for a speech but ludicrously short for the subject-the more prominent features of the World War. I will just add that we must keep our eye on jet-propelled fighter aircraft, on V-rockets and above all upon a renewed submarine menace, the U-boat menace.
No doubt there are other dangers too, but taking the position as a whole I have never at any time been able to present a more confident statement to the House of ever-growing might and ascendancy of the United Nations or of the military solidarity of the three great Allies.
Political misunderstandings and difficulties of an essentially minor rank undoubtedly confront us. That is why I was so glad to hear the President state in public on Tuesday that he was almost immediately starting to meet me and Marshal Stalin somewhere or other and quite soon.
The Foreign Secretary and I, with our military and technical advisers, will be present without fail at the rendezvous and when the roll is called up yonder, we'll be there.
I have great hopes of this conference, because it comes at a moment when a good many moulds can be set out to receive a great deal of molten metal and also at a moment when a direct advance may be made toward larger problems which will confront the victors and, above all, an advance to that world organization upon which, as well all know, the salvation of our harassed generation and the world depends.
We shall enter into all these tasks with your sympathy and with the confidence of your support, and whatever happens the British nation and Commonwealth may rest assured that the Union Jack of freedom will forever fly from the white cliffs at Dover.