HITLER'S DEMANDS: HOW BRITAIN MEETS THEM
AN ADDRESS BY S. K. RATCLIFFE
Thursday, January 13th, 1938
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen: Our guest-speaker today, Mr. S. K. Ratcliffe, is one of Britain's outstanding authorities on European international affairs. He is well known as a journalist throughout the English-speaking world and as a special correspondent for The Observer and The Spectator and as a foremost speaker on the British Broadcasting network on subjects of international policies. Mr. Ratcliffe brings to his subject not only the analysis of intimate studies but prior to coming to Canada he paid visits to Vienna, Prague and Southern Germany where he renewed acquaintance with leaders of various political schools of thought. Thus he possesses the background of authority which can be attained only by those who through long years of identification with European politics have met and studied statesmen of various nations. We are exceedingly fortunate in having Mr. Ratcliffe with us today and I have much pleasure in introducing him to the Members of The Empire Club of Canada and his radio audience. His subject: "Hitler's Demands: How Britain Meets Them." Mr. Ratcliffe. (Applause.)
MR. S. K. RATCLIFFE: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: You have asked me to discuss for a brief time today one of the most urgent problems confronting Europe and especially confronting the government of Great Britain, a question that is certainly causing a great deal of anxiety on our side of the Atlantic.
I am sure it will be in accord with your wishes if I say something first about the general world outlook. 1937 was a year of multiple troubles and anxieties, 1938 will certainly not be an easier year than the last. Problems of world affairs which must involve momentous decisions are pressing upon all the governments. Wherever we look to Central, Europe, to the Near East, to the Mediterranean, to Japan--we see these problems crowding upon the statesmen and the peoples. Before 1938 comes to and end we should be able to sex the direction in which the world is travelling. Thus, we may know how the decision in Spain will go. We should be able to tell, a little more clearly what is likely to happen in the new imperial adventure of Italy in North Africa. We may be able to see into that obscure situation in Soviet Russia. We may even be able to gauge some of the main results of the great Japanese adventure now going forward in China, and let us hope that in Europe generally we may see an approach to peace.
This is not only a momentous year, it is especially interesting on one account. In November we shad be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the close of the war. We elder's are compelled to realize the swiftness of the world's movement and to realize also that our memories axe full of experiences which the young people cannot share. We cannot transfer or pass on these experiences. There is a deep gulf between a generation involved in a terrific experience like that of the war and the generation which comes afterward. We who remember the war are conscious of the crushing of our hopes, and the reversal of our expectations. In 19 19 we hoped at feast for the establishment of a system of international accord through the League of Nations. We are compelled to realize that the collective system as attempted at Geneva has failed, that the League of Nations is in suspense. I was present at the last Assembly in September. I happened to be there on the day when the Assembly held its inaugural meeting in the great new hall of the Secretariat, that magnificent building overlooking the lake which today makes the impression of being nothing more than a grandiose shell. The debates and the decisions in the League of these days have little indeed to do with the great issues that are being decided between the powers. There is the center of our disappointment, in the hopes that were taking shape when the peace period began. Again, we hoped there would be a quick renewal of the normal relations between governments and people, that the great and varied enterprises of world commerce would in due time be restored and the peoples be living and working together in normal, healthy circumstances and states of mind. But we have seen in the intervening period nearly every country on the earth's surface shutting itself up behind barries and dividing walls. Further we hoped that there would be a progressive reduction in the terrific burden of armaments which, as we have heard from so many different authorities, must be regarded as a main cause of the great World War. We are now witnessing the piling up of armaments of the modern ultra-scientific kind, representing an expenditure, a consolidation of power, and an extreme development of scientific precision which would have been unimaginable when the nations laid down their arms in 1918. A more appalling destruction of human hopes the world has never seen.
In thinking of the way in which Europe and the world are going today, we need not look back before the beginning of the great depression in 1929 or the deeper depression in 1931. At the beginning of 1933, as you remember, almost exactly five years ago, the German Republic collapsed, and the extraordinary reign of Adolf Hitler began. In 1931, two years before Hitler, we entered upon a new period of aggressive war with the invasion of Manchuria by Japan. In 1935, two years after the coming of Hitler, came the Italian war in Ethiopia; and in the meantime we have seen increasing power of the Fascist states, and the enormous increase of armaments in Europe, beginning with the rearmament of Germany and continuing, momentously, through the present rearmament of Great Britain. It is in connection with those events especially that we are thinking of the difficulties today between Germany and Great Britain. Before the coming of Hitler to power our difficulties in relation to Germany always had France in the forefront. I suppose it would be accepted today that if it had been possible for British policy from 1922 onward to have been made effective in Europe, the destiny of the German Republic, which came to an end in 1933, would have been different; the chances of a general settlement would have been much greater. Until the coming of Hitler, then, we were considering questions of policy mainly in relation to Britain, France and Germany. One undoubted result of the events and decisions of recent years has been to bring Britain and Germany once again into direct confrontation. We see this in the German demands that have been stated from time to time since Hitler's first important declaration, and more specifically since that notable date in 1936, March 7th, when, perhaps on his own responsibility and against the advice of the Army Chiefs, Hitler gave the word for the reoccupation of the demilitarized Rhineland. The Fuehrer had shown very little respect for the Locarno and our treaties, and by ordering the military occupation of the Rhineland he virtually announced the end of the Versailles Treaty. Germany sees the events of these recent years, through the assertion of the power and will of Germany, as a progressive destruction, of the whole Versailles system-the ending, point by point, of the Treaty. The reoccupation of the Rhineland, with its repudiation of the Treaty of Locarno, could be taken as an announcement to the world ,that the Treaty was now in the view of Germany at an end. The only things that remain of the Treaty are the changes of frontier in Europe, the Polish Corridor in particular, and the confiscation of the German Colonies, the return of which, as you know, is at the present moment the central point in the German demands.
This insistence in his demands, especially upon Great Britain, for a return of the German Colonies, stands for a very interesting change in Hitler's own position, in his political philosophy. Hitler, as you all remember, declared the aims of Germany in the big book which he began in prison during 1924 and completed two years after, Mein Kampf, partly translated as My Struggle. As regards his view of Europe and what Germany would need to do in order to reestablish her position, Hitler when he wrote Mein Kampf was a European politician. He viewed the present and future of Germany in what we may call Bismarckian terms. Bismarck was the great European statesman of Imperial Germany. He had no belief in expansion. He did not wish to see the energies of the German people expended on territory overseas. His view was that Germany must be the dominant power of Europe; that Europe must be the region of German strength and consolidation. When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf he confessed himself a member of that school. That was his view of the future of Germany and he stated it in the clearest terms. Let me quote a sentence or two. He said: "Germany must take care that the power of our people is not based upon colonies, but upon land in Europe. We are through with the pre-war colonial and trade policy and we go over to the land policy of the future." He might have said, "The land policy of the past and the future." "Today," he added, "when we stalk about new land we think of Russia and the border states of Russia." He went on to say, "Germany's territory is too small for 80 millions, and therefore expansion, and expansion in Europe is inevitable for this vital nation." "Our policy," he added, rather startlingly, "will be judged successful, only if in a hundred years 250 million Germans are living on the European continent."
We must remember, of course, that Hitler is much more of a prophet than he is of a statesman, although we have also to recognize that in this respect he has made noteworthy advances since he published Mein Kampf, The National Socialists, Hitler said, claim the right to, force their principles upon the whole German nation, without consideration, for example, of the old boundaries or other things. Mein Kampf is not only-the scripture of National Socialism but it is in theory an unalterable scripture. You may think there isn't very much in that when we of the Western nations remember what our historical experience has been in relation to one scripture. Perhaps we cannot wonder that an unalterable scripture has been changed so much in the mouth of its author. Anyhow, Hitler today has abandoned the Bismarckian position. He no longer insists that the future of German strength is to be seen in terms of European territory and population, but is putting into the forefront of his policy the demand for the return of the colonies; and he does not make that demand as though it were to be the basis of negotiation or bargaining. When, for example, British statesmen say, "By all means let us prepare for a reconsideration of the colonies question, but it must be and can only be as part of a general settlement of Europe," the reply of Herr Hitler is, "We are asking for the return of the colonies as a matter of German right," and he has put aside, time and again, the suggestion that this question can only be discussed as part of the general settlement for which we are all hoping.
There can, I think, be little doubt that in this matter two main influences have been working upon Hitler. He has changed his position first, I should say, through the influence of the school of German thought represented by Dr. Schacht, who, only the other day ceased to be Finance minister of the Reich: And in the second place he has changed his way of talking in response to a popular demand. The Germans, since the overthrow of the Republic especially, have had drilled into them that as part of the necessary restoration of equality for Germany there must be a return of the colonies as a basis of recovered prestige. The popular view, immensely stimulated by national leaders of various kinds, is that Germany must again be a world power, and this world power must be expressed in territorial possessions beyond the seas, valuable, according to the orthodox argument, as room for an expanding German population, as the source of raw materials, and as a widening area for German commercial expansion and enterprises. When we are dealing with a leader who expresses a popular view with the dynamic force of the German Fuehrer, it is not much use to make play with the argument, so popular on the other side, that colonies are not themselves a source of wealth for the possessing power, and that they are not much good even as a reservoir of raw materials, since those who use this argument lay themselves open to .the obvious retort, "Well, then, if colonies have so little use and value for raw materials and other important things, will you tell us why in the Empires which hold large possessions, the continuance of those possessions is looked upon as something that must not be changed?,"
There, very roughly, is the outline of the problem with regard to the German demand for the return of colonies. It is worth nothing that ever since he felt himself secure in power, Herr Hitler has repeated these demands carefully, in phrases that have been thoroughly thought out, and as a general rule he has done it in a polite form. That is especially noteworthy, I think, in his way of replying to Mr. Eden, the Foreign Secretary, whenever Mr. Eden has given him an opportunity of taking up the points. He has laid emphasis especially upon his point that the colonies were acquired by Germany in peaceful ways, without a war, and has insisted that Germany does not want colonies for military purposes, but only for its economic needs. But, as I say the interesting point is, that latterly Hitler has made these demands in careful words and with a studied politeness of tone.
One effect of this, together with other things that have been happening, has been to increase the strength of opinion in Britain in favour of exploring the ground, in order to discover what can be done by negotiation and agreement with Nazi Germany; and that brings me to an important aspect of the problem. You will remember that last fall the National Government sent Lord Halifax to Berlin on a special mission. We all knew why Lord Halifax was chosen. He is peculiarly suited to be a special envoy of the British Government; he is a public man of the highest character and, as you will remember, he was a recent Viceroy of India, with probably the most noteworthy record of his generation: And he is on terms of intimate friendship with Lord Baldwin, the last Prime Minister. The official view is that Lord Halifax's visit did good, and that it had had certain encouraging results. This was said to me by a man high up in the Government only a few days before I sailed from England, but I think it is now agreed that that is somewhat too roseate a view. Lord Halifax had to discover not only what the feeling of important people was in Germany, but also to form a conclusion as to whether it was at all hopeful that we might begin discussing the Hitler demands. No one in London now, I think, would tell you that the result of Lord Halifax's visit can be stated in positively hopeful terms.
But over against that we have what is undoubtedly the changing opinion and sentiment of a large section of the British people. I will put it in this way. I am myself convinced that a majority of the Conservative Party, and. perhaps of the greatly reduced Liberal Party, is in favour of doing everything possible to establish the basis of an understanding with Germany, if it can be done without the sacrifice of any essential British interest and without imperilling the position of Great Britain in relation to the maintenance of world peace. There is a growing feeling that, if possible, an understanding with Germany must be reached. We used to think of the gulf between France anti Germany as the greatest danger in Europe; we now have to regard the confrontation of Britain with Germany as the greatest peril.
Apart from the increase of Conservative sentiment along those lines, there is a feeling among other sections of the British people leading in the same direction. Although, for example, the Labour Party is fierce in its hostility to Fascism and to the Nazi part, that great section of British opinion has the feeling deep down of injustice with regard to the Treaties of 1919. It holds that the victorious allies were to a great extent responsible for the unfortunate turn in Central Europe and that, to put it in the simplest form, Versailles to an uncomfortable extent explains the phenomena of Nazism.
Hence it is not surprising, while on the Conservative Imperialist side we have a steady growth in the opinion that an understanding with Germany should, if possible, be reached, so also in the other parties we have a feeling that attempts should be made toward a greater measure of justice for Germany.
So far in trying to explain what has been happening, and how important bodies of people in England are feeling with regard to the present situation, it is not very difficult for the speaker; but it becomes difficult when we face the problem as to what should now be done and what steps should be taken by the National Government in the presence of these problems of 1938.
What then is the first part of the answer to those who feel the danger of Fascism and the Nazi philosophy with their enormous expansion of military and air force the last few years? It is this: that the coming of the Fascist and Nazi power in international affair's has brought a new danger to Europe, a peril which all the political democracies are bound to take with the greatest gravity. We have two positive things to deal with here. The first is the recklessness with which governments of this character have shown in dealing with treaties and with the plighted word. A new kind of international morality, or rather' non-morality, between governments has been brought in and has been greatly increased since the coming of the new dictatorial powers.
In the second place, it is said, you cannot hope to satisfy Germany with any reasonable answer to the demands. Colonial concessions would not avail to check the inordinate ambitions of a restored autocratic Germany. In opposition to those who say that the major interest of Britain now is an understanding with Germany, and who add this is an essential basis for peace, we have the profound feeling, certainly among the more democratic sections of the nation, that this is not the way to reduce the present danger in Britain, nor the way to arrive at a foundation for the new Europe.
I will try to support a practical answer to the challenge of this problem in the few minutes that remain. First, as to the present foreign policy of the British Government. You all know how that policy has been attacked, how it is censured from time to time, frequently in the strongest terms. Well, I don't disguise from you that a great many of those belonging to my part of England feel strongly upon the subject. We feel, especially since 1931, when the first great challenge to the collective system came in the Far East and since 1935, with the beginning of the Ethiopian War, that something has been gravely wrong with the international position of Great Britain. There should have been a clearer and stronger proclamation of British policy--under MacDonald, under Mr. Baldwin, and now under Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Eden. The best way to meet the attack-I do not say it is a complete way, but it is something that must be said in fairness-is this: The governments of Europe today, and especially those of Britain and France, are entirely conscious of the peace feeling of the peoples behind them. When their policy is attacked they are always confident that they can throw themselves on the will and conviction of the people. The spokesmen of the Government say: "You are demanding a different line of action--for example, in Spain, toward Italy, toward Germany; but you must know that a different line of action would increase the danger of war, and that would be a general war." However much we may agree with the opposition, we have to admit that the Government, when it comes to the test, has the overwhelming support of the people, and that they are compelled, in view of the wish of people, to pursue a policy designed to maintain the peace of Europe.
But, the critic says, the peace of Europe and of the world is not maintained. Since 1931 we have had war in several continents and for nearly two years a civil war in Spain, with aggressive action on the part of several powers. But the aim of the Governments of France and Britain has been to prevent the spread of that civil war into a general continental war. And on their behalf it is argued that, while there is danger in a cautious policy and much danger in a policy that seems to be irresolute, any policy that had a most positive character might well increase the danger of war.
If we ask the question, what could or should be done in this exceedingly perplexing and dangerous year in the face of the German demands and other difficulties in Europe, I think I should finish by saying this: Nothing that can happen in the world could be so evil as another general war. Therefore all foreign policy must be based upon the necessity of holding the peace. And what is the next step? I think this: A clear distinction between those powers for which the maintenance of peace is the imperative thing, and those powers which have once again accepted a theory of force and a doctrine of violence. The more extreme of their leaders are preaching that the noblest activity of man is warfare. There is the unavoidable contrast between those people who have accepted that philosophy and those of the other part who believe in the essentials of political self-government and social freedom. Sooner or later, in my judgment, we shall see a line-up between the two sides with greater and greater clearness, and it looks as though geography, politics and economics were working in this direction.
That does not make the task of the British National Government and of the greater British Commonwealth, any easier. It increases its difficulty and perplexity. No one of us can be in doubt, that some time or other a decision will have to betaken by those who occupy the seats of authority among us, and I am certain it is the wish of the vast majority of the British people that such decision on the part of the British people shall be taken on the side of the wider human freedom, the sanctity of the individual and of the healthy movement of society, and not on the side of systems which if made effective would bring darkness over our civilization. I do not think we should shut our eyes to the possibility that this year may bring the imperative need of something coming very near to that decision. (Applause-prolonged.)
PRESIDENT: Mr. George Bernard Shaw once said, "S. K. Ratcliffe is a very accomplished lecturer and a very remarkable plan. He is a student of public movements and he keeps in front of them all, without ever letting himself get caught in a groove. He knows everybody worth knowing." (Applause.) We have not always agreed, Sir, with Mr. Shaw, but we do so most heartily in his opinion of you. You are no stranger to this audience or to your radio audience but you have neglected us of late. Please do not let this happen again.
On behalf of The Empire Club of Canada, and your radio audience, I thank you sincerely for this most interesting address.
The meeting is adjourned. (Applause.)