THE MOOD OF BRITAIN AT THE END OF AUGUST 1939
(I) IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONSóAUGUST 24th
August 24, 1939
Freedom and Order, Selected Speeches 1939-1946, pp. 34-36
It is not my intention to delay the House for more than a few moments. As I conceive it, this is an occasion upon which we must each of us try to contribute something to the expression of that national unity which undoubtedly exists in the country at this time. We all appreciate the sincerity with which the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has expressed his point of view. He is not alone in hating war. That is an issue upon which we all join. Nor is he alone in believing that the continuance of a state of war is the continuance of a state of barbarity. Indeed, man's whole effort in creating civilization has been an effort to attempt to build up some system of international order which will make it impossible for us to lapse into a state of barbarism. But if it is true that it takes two to make a quarrel, it is also true that it takes two to make a peace. I have tried in vain to see any small
indication of reciprocity, however many concessions we may make, however far we may go along the path to meet the demands. Surely recent experience has shown us that the only result is more demands, more unjust and more ruthless demands, at the expense, not of ourselves, perhaps, as yet, but of other people.
As I conceive it, the House has met to-day not in a mood of demonstration, still less of recrimination, but rather in a mood of sober resolution. The Prime Minister's declaration has, I believe, voiced the feelings of the people of this country. The situation with which we are faced is, in my judgment, as grave and as perilous as any that this country has faced at any time in its history. I say that deliberately. Everywhere in the world where peoples are still free they are at this moment asking the questionóDoes this mean war? I believe that at the moment the gravest danger of war lies in the belief of the German people, a belief which has been fostered by every means of a powerful propaganda machine, that whatever action the German Government may take against Poland will not result in war with this country and France. I believe, also, that in signing this Pact with Russia the German Government have made the gravest miscalculation. They appear from their own declarations in their own Press to believe that as a consequence of that Pact we should go back on our pledge to Poland. That is unthinkable; and the Prime Minister has made that plain. Indeed, the leaders of the German people would appear to know little of our history if they are unaware of the fact that the greater the odds and the greater the difficulties which the British people have to face, the stronger becomes their determination to stand by those to whom they have pledged their word.
The Prime Minister said that he did not want to take any action in a military sense which might be regarded as provocative. I think we shall all endorse that but I would add this. I do not believe that the chief danger of war lies in that. I believe that the chief danger of war still lies in the German refusal to believe that we are in earnest in what we say, and, therefore, I say that if any action can be taken in a military sense, such action would only add to the deterrent value of the statements which have been made. There are many things that could be done. I think there is another danger, and not having the responsibility of office I do not see why I should not state it. It is possible that there are at this moment many people in Germany who believe that in the event of hostilities with Poland they may in a few short weeks or months obtain their military objectives in the East, and that, having done that, they
appear to believe that we should take no further interest in the matter. If there are any who really think that, they are making the greatest error in history. Having given our pledge and repeated it, there can be no turning back.
Before the House adjourned we had a foreign affairs Debate in the course of which I ventured to forecast that it would not be very long before the Danzig issue was broadened to include the issue of the Corridor and other large areas of Poland. And so it has been. The methods which have been employed are exactly the same as those which were employed against Czechoslovakia last year. Step by step and stage by stage the subjugation of Poland has been the object, and if that process is continued, if we do not join with others to resist it now, who can doubt that there will be yet another victim next year? While it is fearful to have to contemplate the use of force, I am convinced that the attitude of a large and overwhelming majority of the House endorses that determination as the only means by which at this late hour we may save Poland, and also save our children from what some of us went through in the years gone by.