THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE
AN ADDRESS BY MR. PERCY JAMES PHILIP
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Thursday, January 17, 1946
MR. THOMPSON: Gentlemen, the Empire Club .of Canada is today honoured by the presence of one who has graced our platform on many occasions; this in fact, will be his seventh appearance, which indicates that we have found his addresses informative and outstanding.
Our speaker, who was born in Scotland, received part of his education at the George Watson College, Edinburgh and, is prominent in the Watsonian Society. Ire later attended Oxford University in England. For 21 years he was stationed in France as correspondent of the New York Times and, now that he has established domicile in Canada by more than five years residence here, he might well be termed a Canadian.
At present, he is stationed in Ottawa as the Canadian representative of that great journal, the New York Times, which has always been so friendly to this country and which paper is so well, and favourably known throughout the world.
His speeches have been in the form of a series, tracing the progress of the war; in his first address given in November, 1940, when he had just come to this continent following the fall of France, he opened his remarks by saying, "I am sure we can win this war, though it is going to be a long, grim business." We can now in retrospect, appreciate the astuteness of this prophecy as well as many others he made before this club.
Today he has selected as the title of his address "The Uncertain Future". It is indeed with pleasure, that I now turn the microphone over to Mr. Percy James Philip.
MR. PERCY JAMES PHILIP: During the war I never indulged in any easy optimism, and I am not going to begin now. Those who live by wishful thinking perish in disillusion. Hitler was one of them. He had completely convinced himself that he could accomplish whatever he set out to do. And we have got to admit that he did pretty well. It was no small accomplishment for an Austrian-born corporal in the German army to become the Fuhrer and absolute ruler of Germany, the conqueror of France, the master of most of Europe and a nightmare to the whole world.
What play-things of the winds of fate we are. We think our regimes, our institutions, our governments, our parliaments, our churches, our insurance companies and our banks are such solid things. We regard our civilization as permanent and progressive. But Adolf Hitler nearly blew them all away. Don't let us forget him, and the fright he gave us, or minimize the danger of others like him. That one man with an idea, did more to change the face of society than a hundred years of Sunday schools.
He is dead. He did not kill himself, as I once dreamed he would, alone in the beauty of Berehtesgaden. But he killed himself knowing how completely he had failed in one part of his dream--to make Germany master of the world and establish peace for a thousand years by that mastery. He wanted to go to Berchtesgaden and fulfill his destiny. But there was feminine interference. That silly woman Eva Braun wanted to die in Berlin married to the defeated man. What play-acting. These Germans are all at heart Wagnerian sentimentalists. But it wasn't Gotterdammering. There was neither dignity nor tragedy in that hysterical final act of poison and cremation in the underground cellar of the Chalcenry, while the Russian shells ground down the ruined city.
But in one part of his prophesy Hitler succeeded. He said that if he did not win he would plunge the world into chaos and misery, into such confusion and conflict and disorder that eventually his conception of government by force would prevail. He is dead. We won the war: But we must soberly face the fact that he has left behind him a heritage of troubles and dangers far more difficult to deal with than the simple business of killing or being killed. It is no good pretending that it will all work out in time. Here on this Continent life goes on so much as usual that the tendency has already developed to disregard, as a nuisance, the hates and rivalries, the ideas and passions, the ambitions and ideals of hungry homeless millions that are rending Europe and Asia, and the magnitude of the task that confronts us if order and law and personal freedom are to be restored and peace assured.
Mr. Winston Churchill was among the first to, we and appreciate the immense difficulty of the task of making peace, as he was among the first to see the danger of the rise of the Nazi doctrine. On his return from the Yalta conference he told the House of Commons: "I never felt so grave a sense of responsibility as I did at Yalta. We have entered a world of imponderables, and at every stage self-questioning arises. It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at will."
As I have so often done in these recent years I want to take that great man's words as a kind of text for what I have to say today. And I 'am going to use them as a warning.
After the last war it was my privilege to sit as an observer close to the peace-makers--Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau. I went with them, and their successors, from one conference to another-Versailles, Spa, Cannes, Genoa, and many times at Geneva, I watched the men to whom we had entrusted our fate trying honestly, fairly, sometimes courageously, but, often, in emergency, too weakly, to make that new orderly lawful world of which we had dreamed.
These men did one thing at least. They did not let the grass grow under their feet. It is already eight months since the war ended. By that time, after the last war, for better or worse, we already had a peace treaty signed and in operation. This time we have scarcely begun, and the beginnings that have been made have not, it has sealed to me, been such as to inspire confidence.
I don't want to be discouraging--but I do intend to insist that if we don't want things to end in the same mess as they did last time, we must think and act very differently.
What went wrong? We cannot put the whole blame on Hitler. It began with ourselves, with our systems and our ideas, or our lack of them. We were filled with hot air idealism and taken down the easy path of national egoism, of indifference and appeasement. It ended with our lack of courage to be prepared to fight for what we believed to be good against whit we knew to be evil. Some countries, although thank God not ours, even waited until they were attacked before they dared declare war.
Our governments of that time were thinking more of politics than of principles. They were thinking more of elections than of their responsibility to their peoples. "Get the-boys home by Christmas--return to normalcy-limitation of armaments"--these were the slogans, and I have seemed to hear an echo of them now. That is not leadership. I heard it once described by a Frenchman-who was criticising his own government, as the policy of a dead dog floating down stream.
I think we should be wary of Government, and of political parties, which promise us the mood and sixpence without sacrifice and without effort in a world which is more than ever, despite all the lip-service which is paid to harmony and peace, still at the mercy of men like Hitler with immense power and secret ambitions. I do not wish to be disrespectful towards our democratic governments. They are just as the electors pick them. They are certainly not supermen--and I don't know where some of, them get the idea that they are. But--and this is what is important--their strength as the representatives of their countries depends on the support they get from their people. They always need prodding.
That is where we enter the picture-we the people. If our, governments failed last time it was largely our fault. We did not think out clearly what we wanted and demand that it should be done. We indulged in an orgy of false values. Is it going to be the same this time?
In these past months since the fighting ended I have asked a great many ordinary Canadians, both civilians and returned service men-people who had done their whole duty in the war, just what kind of world they wanted and how they were going to help make it. Solve of them had political ideas. If their party got in--then you would see. But most times I was reminded of little poem written by an English woman during the war and called Retreat:
"When there is peace again, soldier, what will you do?
I shall go back to the job I had, before
Behind the counter at the hardware store--That's what I'll do.
"And you, Sailor; when you have left the sea?
I shall go back to my job as a plumber's mate
And lean of an evening on my garden gate--That'll suit me.
"What will you do, brave man with the silver wings?
I shall return, I hope, to my pre-war life,
To my dog, and my weekend golf and my wife And such like things.
"And I myself, what is my heart's desire?
I want to go back to a house that is all mine
To lie in one of my own chairs, on my spine, By the fire.
"Back, back, is where all of us want to go,
Each to his little well-worn, well-beloved spot,
So, who in the wide world's going forward is what I'd like to know."
There is too much truth in these verses. We have all, in our way, done our job and want to relax and go fishing. But we dare not. This is far too hot a world, it is travelling at far too great a momentum, it is too full of explosives for us to turn our backs on it and think it doesn't matter. And it is no good leaving it to the big fellows to straighten out. I have no doubt they are all clever, well-intentioned men, each according to his ideas, but, whatever the communiques may say there is conflict in those ideas. And if we don't care what happens, if we don't speak up and show that we are stubborn in demanding what we believe to be right, then how can we expect those who represent us to do their best in a tough argument.
The worst of our mistakes last time, and it looks as if it would be repeated, was, that as soon as the fighting was over, we forgot our anger and we forgot our suspicions. We pretended to ourselves that our allies, and even our enemies, were just the same kind of easy-going, peace-loving fellows as we were ourselves-British and Canadian. They were not. Some of the biggest talkers among our allies backed out of their responsibilities leaving us holding not only our own bags but theirs. Others acted as if they alone had won the war and were entitled to all the benefits. Our enemies were quick to see our weakness and division and began preparing their revenge which I find a perfectly natural thing to do. If we had been beaten, we would have done the same-I hope.
This time I am not so much afraid that the Germans will start thinking of a new war. It is going to take even more than an Adolf Hitler to restore their fanatacism to the point of fighting, after the pummeling they have had. As for Hirohito--who was no upstart but a man trained in the responsibility of government--I wonder if the fact that Japan took the wrong turning, and linked her destiny to Germany instead of to Britain, was not less the Emperor's fault than that of those who, in their wisdom, broke up the Anglo-Japanese alliance after the last war. Hirohito has behaved correctly--even to the point of admitting that he is not divine. I think he should get credit for that, and not be ridiculed. We may need him. But our allies--and ourselves. Let us be practical. I wonder if we are going to be able to build that wonderful edifice of the United Nations, which was planned in semi-secret at Dumbarton Oaks, blue-printed at San Francisco and is now being given form in London. Or is it going to be another illusion, another Tower of Babel, another Hague Palace of Peace, another Geneva League of Nations?
Once, when I was at the Geneva disarmament conference, my father who was a minister of the Church of Scotland, wrote me chidingly, as if I was responsible, that we seemed to be talking a lot about disarmament but from what he read in other columns of the newspapers everybody was acting differently. Although I did not feel called upon to defend the Conference I replied that the Church had been in existence for over 1900 years, and the Popes, priests and parsons had done a lot of talking but I still did not find that the world had been entirely converted to Christian principles.
The old man sent me back a sporting telegram with the two words: "You win".
Now, it seems to me that these paper edifices of U. N. O. Bretton Woods, the Farm and Food Organization, the Atomic Bomb control Commission, Tariff agreements and every other document we have signed or are being asked to sign with other nations will depend for success on two things, the solidity of the foundations in popular confidence and the honesty of the contractors charged with the building. It just is not any use building churches if the people don't believe, and it is a mockery of the people if the priests and ministers do not set high example.
I don't know how it is in other countries, but I have not been struck here in Canada by the extent of public enthusiasm for U. N. O. You never hear it talked about, outside the very limited circle of those in Parliament and in the press who are interested in external affairs. Even the press has shown how casually it regards it by printing such nonsense as that the Duke of Windsor would be the first director-general. It will be interesting to see which gets the most space in the newspapers during the next few weeks: the U. N. O. organization meeting in London, jail breaks in Toronto or crime in Toronto. The front page is a very sure barometer of public interest and I shall be pleasantly surprised if the U. N. O. meeting makes it more than twice a week-unless of course there is a good healthy row between the delegations. If our people feel that way about it, what public support is U. N. O. getting in Bolivia and Bulgaria and the rest of the world.
And that brings us to the second of the two conditions for the success of this effort to make a new world in which international cooperation and law will take the place of national rivalry and force. We have this time, either voluntarily or through weakness handed over the task of preparing the peace terms to a handful of men representing the three big powers. You know the argument--if they cannot make peace among themselves what chance have the rest of us. It is about the silliest argument I ever heard. It just dodges the issue.
In a long life of reporting human error I have lost what tendency I ever had for hero worship, and I refuse to believe that any trinity of men, of different nationalities; with different political creeds and of different moral concepts, with at the best only a superficial knowledge of the immense problems that must be solved can find the right solutions. They disagreed in London, and in Moscow they have patched things up only by avoiding all the controversial issues. Some of these avoidances, and even some of the points of agreement, indicate that we are no further advanced in the morality of treaty making than we were when all the nations solemnly signed the Kellogg pact and forgot it, when Hitler and Mussolini signed the Munich agreement with Chamberlain and Daladier and tore it up before the ink was dry, when Ribbentrop, now on trial in Nuremberg, and Molotoff, still representing Soviet Russia, signed the agreement to divide Poland, to dispose of the independent countries of Esthonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and, by doing so, gave Hitler the security he needed on his eastern frontier before he could risk having to fight the western powers of Britain and France. who at least kept their word, not just to Poland, but to the principle that what has been established in law, by signed agreement, shall be maintained.
Excuse me if I seem somewhat pessimistic. But I have seen so many treaties made and broken during these last thirty years. I have seen so many grandiose schemes for universal this and that collapse that my confidence has been severely shaken.
In the old days, when international relations were conducted by Kings, even the worst of them, felt himself under a personal and religious obligation to keep his word when he signed a treaty. It was a matter of honor. Grotius in the concluding chapter of De Jure Belli ac Pacis appealed to "the duty of kings to cherish good faith scrupulously, first for conscience sake, and then also for the sake of the reputation by which the authority of the royal power is supported".
It is not a matter of opinion, but of historic fact, that our democratic governments, and those which call themselves democratic have not 'conspicuously "cherished good faith scrupulously". It was not a 17th or 18th century autocrat but a 19th century American democrat who proclaimed that silly slogan which puts nationalism above truth and honor: "My Country, may she be always right; but right or wrong, my country."
I like to think, and I feel that I am justified in thinking, that it is because our Ministers and people feel that the personal honour of the King is involved, that our British record for keeping our signed word stands without stain. We do not lightly enter into treaties, but we do not break or denounce them when we change governments. I sincerely pray that in the confusion and imponderables of these times we shall not be led into signing any engagements which it may prove impossible to keep.
There, very clearly, we come back to the wisdom of the advice of Mr. Churchill: "It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at will."
The danger, as he saw it, is that we should attempt too much. The greatness of his leadership in the war was that he went forward one sure step at a time. There were those who clamored for a second front, who opposed the African campaign because they thought that the whole allied effort should be accumulated for a direct attack through France. They were in a hurry to get things over. In the end perhaps that hurry led us into one of the complications of the present political situation, for that situation would have been much clearer if the British plan for a drive through Yugoslavia to Budapest and Vienna had been realised. We would have been in a stronger position in Eastern Europe.
And now it is just as important as it was during the war to keep our feet on the ground. What is the good of dreaming of a world organization, a super government--if in trying to reach it we destroy what is solid and proved and sound in our present system. The pivotal factor in the defeat of Germany was the decision of the British people to fight when they did, and their complete union and solidarity throughout the long struggle. Everything else that developed was incidental to that decision and that unity. Are we going to destroy it in order to try to set up a chimeric world government, which would, in reality be a government of all the little peoples by a few big ones, with the risk that if they quarreled among themselves, and power begets conflict, all the little peoples would be dragged into the fight. What would the independence of Canada and Australia and New Zealand and Eire and England be worth in such a system. It is rather for the rest of the world to copy the tremendous example and pattern which we have shown, of a free association of free peoples, than for us to abandon that freedom in order to secure peace under the tutelage of those whose ideas of freedom have not yet advanced as far as granting the right of habeas corpus to their own citizens, where a discredited government cannot be voted out of office. I don't care who joins the British Commonwealth and Empire. Let them all come in and accept, as the only price of admission, the standards of conduct that we have set, that they should keep their given word, that they should allow freedom of speech, of assembly, of the press and of religious worship. In such a union everyone would be master of his own affairs as are all the countries of the Commonwealth, united only in allegiance to the common ideal of honor and freedom symbolized in the Crown.
This dream, if you like to call it so, of the expansion of the British system, is no more fantastic, and perhaps much less so, than some of the plans that are being put before us. Personally I would like to see Greece and Belgium and the Scandinavian countries and others which fought honorably against Hitler as members on the same footing as the rest of us. I would not exclude the return to allegiance of the United States, although they might tend to try to run things their way instead of ours. I would welcome back Hanover, which was happier, more liberal and more democratic during the 120 years when the King of England was King of Hanover than it has ever been since. We could establish habeas corpus and a decent party system of government, with ministerial responsibility, as William IVth did, and if they behaved themselves, give them Dominion status.
It is not a fantastic dream. In Eastern Europe Russia is building an Empire which is not, like ours, of free self-governing states but of satellites and subjects, like all the 14 states of the Soviet Union. Ontario and Alberta and all the other provinces of Canada have more freedom within the Confederation, as Canada and Australia have within the Commonwealth, than the Ukraine and Transcaucasia have in the Soviet Union. At least one never hears of them electing a Progressive Conservative or a Social Credit or a CCF government.
I do not criticize their system. Perhaps it is better suited to their people to be governed than to be self-governing. They may prefer discipline to orderly liberty. But I know that the people of London, who refused to surrender to the Nazi blitz, and the people of Canada who get in a passion if some old-fashioned uninformed Englishman ever refers to them as colonials, would never accept such a system.
By the mercy of God, and our own courage, we have escaped being subject peoples in a Nazi regime. Don't let us fritter away our independence of other peoples ideas of what is good for us. It is rather we who should proudly set the example of co-operation between equals.
"Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at will". The link that was forged in the furnace of these past six years, between the peoples of the British Commonwealth, was of pure gold, perfect in workmanship. We can be immeasurably proud of it. What a pity--what a disaster--it will be if through public indifference, through incompetence in high places, through weakness and illusion the next one should be only of brass or paper. It is not enough to have won the war. It is not enough to dream dreams of universal brotherhood. Our business now is to see to it that the Governments we have elected to represent us shall respect, and stubbornly defend against all pressure, those principles for which we fought, that there shall be honor between nations and that all shall have the right to freedom within the law.