THE IDES OF MARCH
AN ADDRESS BY GEORGE A. DREW, K.C., M.P.P.
Chairman: The President, Mr. J. P. Pratt, K.C.
Thursday, March 16, 1939.
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada, this is going to be an easy task, for I can quickly dispense with the usual words of introduction. I am particularly pleased that I can do so for the reason that I do not know which of the two posts--that now occupied by our speaker, or that formerly held by him as president of The Empire Club-would take precedence. However, I have been asked by Col. Drew to say that he has changed the title of his address, not because he has changed his views, but because he wants to discuss it from a broader angle. He also asks me to assure you that the words he uses in discussing his subject will not give rise to any political discussion. Gentlemen I have great pleasure in calling upon Lieut.-Col. Geo. A. Drew, K.C., M.P.P., former president of this club, and leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition in Ontario, to address us. His subject is "The Ides of March."
LIEUT.-COL. GEO. A. DREW: Mr. Chairman and members of The Empire Club, I do appreciate the honor you have done me very sincerely, and the friendship you have shown by the reception you have just given me.
I do not propose to make any attempt to entertain you. I do not propose to try to amuse you, or to make you laugh, for the occurrences of the last thirty-six hours of which I am going to speak must be closer to tears than laughter everywhere in the world. I do not propose to make any pretence at humour, because, although it is the custom of the British to smile in the face of tragedy, the thoughts of every one of us should not only be directed toward the tragedy that is taking place, but toward the future and all that it implies for us.
The title I chose when I was asked to be your guest is indicative of the sudden change that has taken place in a comparatively few days. When I chose the title, "Britain Wins the Second Round," it was perhaps rather like leaving a game with 20 seconds to go, and then finding you had missed the final result. I based my second choice of title on an article by an extremely able commentator on foreign affairs. It is very hard to realize that the article appeared only last week, for it starts with these words: "There will be no Ides of March."
For some months past students of the European situation have been looking forward to the month of March in the fear that during this month some new move would be undertaken by the Axis Powers that would again threaten the peace of Europe as it was threatened a year ago. He would be rash who would venture to prophesy for this month or the months to come for we have seen that the situation can change over night.
The commentator I have quoted wrote that there would be no Ides of March. Gentlemen, these are the Ides of March, and Hitler has marched into the Czech part of Czecho-Slovakia on the anniversary of his march into Austria a year ago. There is about this date, however, something that may offer hope.
You will remember that it was at the height of Caesar's power; when, by unscrupulous use of the Roman legions, he had subjugated a vast territory, that a soothsayer said to him: "Beware the Ides of March." While I hesitate to prophesy, I can express the hope that the Ides of March may be just as disastrous for this new and crueller Caesar, this man who has jettisoned international honour, this man who has disregarded everything that resembles international decency.
Munich was a bitter pill for every one of us to swallow, but it did offer hopes. There were reasons to believe that Munich might be the basis which would give Europe the opportunity for a return to sanity, and also that in due course of time Germany might take care of its own madman. Unfortunately another six months have passed and that has not been achieved. Instead, all hopes of Munich were shattered beyond repair yesterday. But I refuse to believe that because of what has happened in the last thirty-six hours, we should jump rashly to the conclusion that the stand taken by Britain and France at Munich last September was wrong. Weak though the arguments of Germany were; completely lacking in justification as they certainly were, there was, nevertheless, some ground for their claim that they were only seeking the union of the German speaking people of Europe in one greater Reich. After all, whether it was or was not justified we had been warned that that was their intention. You may remember that at Berchtesgaden, Godesburg, and then at Munich itself when we thought we were on the brink of war, Hitler emphasized the point that all Germany wanted was the incorporation within the Reich of those people of German race living in the Sudeten territory because they wanted to be part of Germany, and their right to self-determination should not be denied.
There was another reason why it was difficult for Chamberlain and Daladier to take the stand they might otherwise have taken, and that was that Chamberlain had sent Lord Runciman to Czecho-Slovakia. He was a man with a keen, clear and judicial mind, and whether he was right or wrong, the fact remains that Runciman reported that the Sudeten territory which comprised people of German origin should not be deprived of its right to decide whether it would join with Germany or not.
In the face of that recommendation it was difficult for Chamberlain and Daladier to follow any other course than they did. I believed, and still implicitly believe, that although Chamberlain and Daladier knew they were dealing with a madman, they thought they were dealing with a madman whose course was fixed, and whose particular form of insanity had been disclosed in his own book, Mein Kampf. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had laid down in clear words exactly what it was that he thought the German people should have, and you must remember that long before Mein Kampf was written, the Nazi party had laid down the programme of twentyfive points that is still its programme today. And the first point of that programme, the point they have always emphasized as the predominant feature, was the incorporation of all German speaking people in Europe into one greater Reich.
It was possible to say exactly what they meant by that, because beside the shrine of the Nazi faith in Germany, the memorial to those men who died in the first putsch there were the names of the territories that Hitler had promised to incorporate in a greater Germany. Those names were clear, and when one looked on those names and the wreaths that were over them, never to be removed till those territories became part of Germany, one could have no doubt about the intention of the Nazi party in regard to Sudeten-Deutschland, Memel, Danzig, Schleswig-Holstein and other territories that included German speaking people. Therefore nobody should have been surprised by the Austrian coup, or the Sudeten occupation because of the perfectly clear declaration of what they proposed to do as soon as they had the power to do it.
The whole method and intention is clearly defined in Mein Kampf--it is a book that should be read and studied by all-and Hitler first of all stated that there was no use talking about what they wanted, no use telling the rest of Europe about their demands. Their first step was to increase their power till they could take what they wanted whether the rest of the world wished it or not. He said, further that they should make no demands till they were ready to enforce them, and then they must go out and take what they wanted. A simple doctrine, gentlemen; the doctrine of Genghis Khan.
But the difficulty we face now is this. We cannot know what the discussions were at Munich. We cannot know all the considerations before them at that time. But the fact remains that Hitler, speaking on behalf of Germany, said that if the Sudeten German areas were ceded they had no further aspirations against the rest of Czecho-Slovakia and would co-operate in preserving its boundaries. True there are those who contend that Chamberlain and Daladier were wrong to try the policy of appeasement with this man, but whether they were right or wrong, Chamberlain and Daladier did not know that they were dealing with a lying gangster.
Gentlemen, yesterday morning the Al Capone of international relations not only tore up every international agreement signed with his country but he announced to the whole world that no longer, so far as Germany was concerned, would any argument or any question of international decency have any effect. That, gentlemen, is the situation that we face, and it is a situation which Canadians must consider very gravely.
Today it broke. This morning Hitler made his first speech in Czecho-Slovakia--in ancient Bohemia--and he had the effrontery to tell its people and the world that they were not being taken arbitrarily under the control of the German people but that they had been part of Germany for the last thousand years. They had been torn away, and Germany could not tolerate that situation.
The man is mad, of course he is mad, but not one of us has lived before in a period of history when there was no pretence at least on the part of the head of a great state that he should even recognize the truth. Bohemia was never German. It is a country with a culture far more ancient than that of Prussia. Bohemia was perhaps one of the loveliest spots in Europe until its people were taken into slavery yesterday. The people of that territory were as cultured, as capable, as honourable, as decent and as liberty loving as any in the world.
Most of you saw in this hotel, speaking to this club a few weeks ago a representative of the Czech peopleJan Masaryk, and I thought his speech was so moving as to bring tears to one's eyes. Here was a man whose father had created the nation which was founded on the ancient culture of the Czechs and Slovaks, a nation which I can say from what I saw in Czecho-Slovakia, had worked out one of the finest forms of democracy in the whole world.
What must these men think today, these men like Benes and Masaryk who had seen their nation freed from those who held it in despotic control and given an opportunity to become a first rate democratic power. And now it is again in slavery. In this case there is none of the pretence of a year ago when Hitler marched into Austria. Here there was no pretence of an argument that Germans were menaced and Hitler was their liberator. The situations are entirely different. There was in Austria a very strong pro-German feeling because they were all German speaking people. When I was there a year and a half ago I was convinced that possibly a majority of the Austrian people were in favour of the union with the Reich. It was probably very close, but we must remember that only a few years before Austria had herself proposed the Anschluss because of the truly intolerable position their country was in. I believe a measurable majority of these people wanted union, and because of the propaganda that had taken place, it is also true that a majority of the Germans in the Sudeten wanted union. Please understand me, I am not attempting to justify either of these annexations, I am simply pointing out that because of propaganda, in the case of Henlein particularly, there had been created some demand for union with Germany.
Today, however, we have an entirely different situation. Never have I seen in any nation hatred so intense as that of the Czechs of Prague for Germany. And today Hitler is in the ancient castle of Hradcany on the hill above Prague, the castle that has ruled Bohemia for a thousand years. In this case he has taken under German control people, who, almost without exception, hate him and the form of government he represents.
I say, without any reservation at all, that yesterday was one of the turning points in the world's history. Until yesterday morning people could argue that we found in the Nazi programme and in Mein Kampf a clear statement of the German desire to have incorporated in one nation all people of German speech and race, and the return of the colonies they lost in the war, but that they had no intention of going beyond that. Now we know that there is no limit to the extent of German expansion except the limit of German desire, and you and I must consider what the impact of that may be upon ourselves. A cruel Sadist is at the head of an increasingly powerful nation, but when we recognize that we should not forget, it would be very unwise to forget, that Hitler and Nazism are not yet representative of Germany as a whole, and I do not believe they ever will be. We cannot forget these people have given to the world music, literature, art and philosophy, and I cannot believe that the spirit is dead which created this contribution to mankind. And when you think of Germany, when you think of the physical Germany, what comes to your mind is the thought of the tidy attractive homes in the cities and in the country. What comes to your mind is a recollection of the real country, the beautiful scenery of Bavaria, the simple wholesome family life of a people who, unfortunately for the moment are living under this accursed Nazi doctrine.
That doctrine has now been imposed on another people. There are few parallels in history for what happened yesterday. Only this morning an order was proclaimed throughout Czecho-Slovakia that all Jews owning or in charge of businesses must arrange to transfer those businesses to some trustee who is not Jewish by midnight tonight. No, there is no parallel to that. It is slavery of the worst type, and particularly as it applies to the Jews in Prague for Prague is one of the finest and most advanced communities in the whole world, with a culture that goes back for many hundreds of years. I visited the Jewish Cemetery there and in it I saw tombstones dating back to the sixth or seventh centuries. That measures the age of their civilization and culture in this old capital of Bohemia. And these people who have contributed so much to that splendid country are told they must give up everything they have created by midnight tonight.
Surely that must be a warning to the whole world. I think that the situation today is far more serious than at the opening of the Great War in 1914. Then the issue was one that involved national freedom of action. Today the issue involves the very survival of civilization itself.
What is the use talking about the possibility of war, and asking what we shall do if war is declared. War has been declared. We are at war now. No shot has been fired, and please God, no shot may be. None the less we are at war, and that war is going to determine whether civilization or barbarism is going to predominate. Hitler declared war a year ago yesterday when he marched into Austria. That war continued and six months later he added the Sudeten territories to the Reich. Yesterday he added a still greater territory in that same war. Admittedly it is war with a different mechanism-a war of blackmail-but it is war just the same. He told the Austrians they must submit without fighting or be obliterated from the air. It was an appalling choice to have to make to give up their freedom or be utterly destroyed. Those were the only alternatives. They submitted.
Then, last September, the Government of Prague was told that unless they submitted they would be obliterated by bombs, and with that terror before their eyes they had little choice. Now the same mechanism is repeated.
It is war by blackmail, and, gentlemen, we must fight in that war, and it is still possible to fight without a shot being fired but the only way we can fight successfully is to accept the gauge of battle now. If they are going to carry on this war of blackmail we also can fight a war of different mechanism, and we can carry on such a war as long as we wish. To do it we must get all the democratic nations to stand together and say: So long as you continue we will not trade with you in any way. Unless Germany can get the things that the democratic nations now have-metals, oil and other raw materials--they cannot fight a war, and why should we give them the means to fight a war to break down the civilization we wish to preserve.
I believe Canada is faced with one of the greatest crises in Canadian history. Canada should decide now that not one thing will go from Canada with which Germany can fight a war. And when we say that we should say to Germany as well that we have no hatred of the German people, millions of whom are as peace loving as we are ourselves.
There is discontent in Germany. Only a couple of weeks ago Goebbels talked to the nation by radio, and criticized those Germans who were complaining, and if Goebbels is so worried that he must go on the air to protest, the discontent in Germany must be very serious indeed.
Don't let anyone say: "Well, it is a strange way to show your friendship to the German people if you refuse to send them what they need to eat." The only way we can tell these people how much we hate the system of government which they tolerate is to tell them that if they want our friendship, if they want the things we have, and the things they need, they must get rid of that system.
We must look to the future.
Only last week one of the most responsible papers in Europe-the Journal des Debats, of Paris, a great newspaper-came out with the statement that they had conclusive evidence of the plans of the Axis powers for the coming year. They made a statement last week which unfortunately was not recognized as being of much importance. They said there would be a sudden surprise move of conquest, and that the plan was to follow that up by increasing pressure on the democratic powers at various points with the aim of world domination by the Axis powers. How far are we away from that? The taking of Hainan was part of that plan. And is Mussolini, who has supported Hitler so strongly, going to sit still while Hitler absorbs the rest of Europe and get nothing for himself? The Italian people, if they believe his promises, may turn to demanding something from him. Those three powers of the axis--Germany, Italy and Japan--if they work together at the present time and can lull the fears of the democracies about their future course, will come very close to dominating temporarily the world situation. The only thing that will stop it is unreserved and unrelenting action on the part of the democratic powers to preserve freedom. The only answer they will understand is another three-power pact just as real and just as vigorous-a London, Paris, Washington axis. Their dream is world dominion--world dominion with tyranny--and the only way we can meet it is by a world organization for the preservation of freedom, justice and decency.
And we must take our part if we are to be worthy of any consideration in the Empire and the world. We should take to heart the statement that DeValera made to the Irish parliament a few weeks ago. In effect he was asked what the position of Ireland would be if Great Britain went to war. Few would ever accuse DeValera of loving Britain, but you will remember what his answer was. You will remember his answer because of its implications for Canada. He said: "If Britain is at war, Ireland is at war at the same time." He explained why he said it. He explained that the whole economic structure of Ireland was built up on the basis of continued trade and exports to Britain, and if Ireland were to continue to exist she must carry on that trade even with Britain at war. Ireland, therefore, would be considered a hostile nation by the enemies of Britain unless they gave up that trade, and this they could not do.
Is there any possibility that we should refuse to give her any help that was in our power, that we would refuse to send her any goods she might need? Never. And if we ship goods to Britain, any nation seeing those goods going from Canada will consider us a hostile power. This is not Imperialism in the narrow sense of the term. It is simply a common sense recognition that we are part of the British Empire.
Gentlemen, we are facing the greatest crisis since Canada became a nation, and in facing this crisis there are certain essential things we must remember. Whatever may have been our need two days ago there are four things that are vital to us today. They are: first, national unity; second, a clear national policy; third, an understandable Empire policy; and fourth, a foreign policy for the whole Empire.
Gentlemen, I will repeat them to you because they are vital to the survival of Canada as a nation. We must have national unity, a clear national policy, an understandable Empire policy, a foreign policy for the whole Empire. In addition to understanding these policies we must be prepared to stand behind them. I am not going to define any one of them. They must be defined by those who have the responsibility of putting them into effect. When I speak of an understandable Empire policy, I simply mean some definite statement as to where Canada stands in relation to the Empire.
And the time has come, I think, under pressure of this crisis, to re-create the old Empire Cabinet so that we can never say that anything is being done by Great Britain with which we are not acquainted. Such a move would give the whole Empire new vigour, courage and hope--and there still is hope that sanity can be restored.
We are part of a world in which we must play our part if we are to survive as a nation. A house divided against itself cannot stand. A divided Empire will mean the loss of our own sovereignty. I do urge that every one of us work, as we never worked before, for the unity of all the democratic powers, and particularly for the unity and co-operation of those people who have the same background-the people of the British Empire and the United States. That, I suggest, offers our only hope of peace.
And our part in Canada, gentlemen, is to work with all the vigour we possess for a truly united Canada within a united British Empire.
(As Col. Drew sat down there was prolonged applause followed by three cheers and a tiger for him.)
THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Drew, I am not going to utter one single word of thanks. These cheers speak for themselves and for the men who have listened to you.
Gentlemen, the meeting is adjourned. (Applause)