(II) A BROADCAST TO U.S.A., AUGUST 30
August 30, 1939
Freedom and Order, Selected Speeches 1939-1946 36-39.
I deeply appreciate the compliment paid to me by this invitation to broadcast to the people of the United States this evening. At the same time you will, I feel sure, all understand me when I say that the task has its difficulties. Certainly none but the rashest and most impulsive of mortals would try to forecast the
international future at this time. I, at least, do not propose to make any such attempt, nor is the moment one at which it is possible to essay any reasoned appreciation of the foreign policies of the Powers principally concerned in the present international crisis. Not one of us would be willing to increase, by even a careless word, the risks of a European conflict: its deep shadow is all too near to-night.
But if I cannot speak to you of foreign principalities and powers I can speak to you of England. I propose, therefore, to use this opportunity to put before you what I believe to be the British point of view in these critical days.
Would, that you, who are listening to me, could now pay a visit to us in these British Isles. Some of you, I know, have done so in more settled and happier times, and we have been very glad to welcome you. But if you were to come now, your dominant impression would, I feel sure, be one of surprise at the normality and calm which characterize our national life to-day. There is no excitement, no hysteria, no demonstration; the national spirit is essentially one of sober resolution. This even temper is due neither to fatalism nor to any lack of imagination, but to a much simpler reason: the British people has made up its mind. The days of false optimism or of wishful thinking are gone. At long last the issue has become clarified to all, and it is being squarely faced. There is no hesitation anywhere.
And what is the issue which confronts Europe to-day? It is not merely a question of the future of Danzig or as to whether this great Power or that is to rule the Polish Corridor. We are not here concerned with some recent phase in the age-long conflict betwixt Teuton and Slav. Something much bigger than this is at stake for us all. Whether Europe is to be ruled by the threat of force, whether free peoples are to be called upon one by one to stand and deliver, or whether aggression is at length to be checked and respect for international engagements restored. These are the true issues, of which the threat to Poland is only the immediate expression.
In the last resort all civilization depends on the maintenance of certain standards of international conduct. At this moment it is the doctrine of force that is in conflict with these standards. But if the doctrine of force were once abandoned, so that the world was no longer haunted by the daily fear of war, who can doubt that all outstanding questions would become possible to solve? Surely the possibilities of international economic progress would then become
well-nigh immeasurable? Whatever the differences in respect of the conduct of our foreign policy in the past I should like to emphasize that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have the support of each one of us, and indeed of the whole country, in their determination to fulfil our engagements and in their desire to build a constructive peace, if once the method and menace of force is removed.
Thus it is that we are all of us convinced that the issues by which we are confronted can admit of no patchwork compromise. We are in an era of fateful decision. For us no solution of the present situation can be acceptable unless it decisively strengthens the peace-front, unless it manifests beyond cavil that this time the attempt to extract concessions by force has failed. This time the conception of good faith in international dealings, of respect for the rights of peoples, be they small or great, is going to prevail. We pray that the victory will be peaceful, but whether peaceful or not, the challenge will be met.
For too long Europe has lived under the threat of recurrent crises. That situation has now become intolerable. The British people could not accept a compromise solution which merely postponed until six months hence another world crisis of a similar character. Nothing is to be gained that way.
In the meanwhile it becomes daily more evident that in its negotiation of the German-Soviet Pact the German Government has been guilty of an extraordinary psychological error. It is now clear that the German Government thought that the conclusion of this Agreement would create such dismay in the hearts of the nations composing the peace-front that their whole attitude to the German demands upon Poland would be radically modified. The Western Powers, it was considered, would be so thunderstruck that they would at once go back upon their pledge to Poland. There could not have been a more extravagant miscalculation.
It is true that the Western Powers were taken completely by surprise, but those who have been thunderstruck have not been the Powers of the peace-front who had given their pledge to Poland but the friends and political allies of the Nazi Government, whose whole political philosophy has thus been thrown into confusion. How is it possible for even the most gullible any longer to pretend that the present regime in Germany is a bulwark against Communism when the German Foreign Secretary within the last few days has himself been warmly clasping the chief protagonist of this alleged menace by the hand?
But whatever we may think of these abrupt changes in international policy, they cannot affect the main issue so far as the commitments of this country towards Poland are concerned. Our obligations will of course be honoured. They will be honoured not only because our pledged word has been given, but also because it is now universally understood that something of much greater significance is at stake than the determination of one frontier, or even the freedom of one people, however brave. The world has to choose between order and anarchy. For too long it has staggered from crisis to crisis under the constant threat of armed force. We cannot live for ever at the pistol point. The love of the British people for peace is as great as ever, but they are no less determined that this time peace shall be based on the denial of force, and a respect for the pledged word. Only when good faith between Governments has thus been restored can the nations again enjoy security, only then can mankind look forward with confidence to a future of happiness and hope.