"THE WORLD SITUATION"
An Address by DOUGLAS JERROLD Author and Publisher of London, England
Thursday, October 12th, 1950
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Sydney Hermant.
MR. HERMANT: Members and Guests of The Empire Club of Canada: We are to hear an address today by Mr. Douglas Jerrold, Chairman of the famous old English firm of Eyre & Spottiswoode who, among other things, are printers of The Bible for His Majesty The King. Mr. Jerrold, a grandson of the famous English Humorist of the same name, is a noted Military Historian and Novelist. He served with the Royal Navy Division at Gallipoli, and later with the Ministry of Food. We welcome Mr. Jerrold back as an old friend. Many of us were privileged to be present last year when he made such a fine contribution to the Club, and we are looking forward to hearing him again today.
MR. JERROLD: Mr. Chairman, Members of The Empire Club of Canada:
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to be asked to speak to you again. My only complaint is that I had last year a comparatively modest assignment: I was asked to talk to you about England; but today, Sir, you have given me the world as my problem--the most generous gesture since the pope divided the New World between Spain and Portugal.
I hope you will not rule me out of order if I begin by making some reference to the British political situation.
After all, my country is still a part of the world, even if not quite as big a part as it used to be a century ago.
I am always asked two questions about the English political situation. The first is: when is the Election coming? and the second: What is the result going to be? Well I need hardly say I am not in a position to answer either question. Nobody is; but I think it is now generally agreed that an election this year is very unlikely and most well informed people tell me that an election next year is extremely likely. Well, you know as well as I know what is the value of the opinion of well informed people. Personally I do not believe there will be an election next year. I think it is unlikely for this reason: It is quite clear that public opinion in England and Scotland is divided--there is no sign of any shift in public opinion, and I do not believe that either Mr. Attlee or Mr. Winston Churchill, in these circumstances, is likely to force an election for the reason that whichever party forces an election on the other is going to lose a certain number of votes. People do not want to be disturbed. It is a peculiar reflection on our political system that we should have got the idea that if a Government has only a small majority the business of the country can not be carried on. It is quite a modern idea, peculiar to this age, and it comes from the mistaken idea that the business of governments is to pass new laws every year. Goodness knows we have had enough new legislation in the last five or six years, and everybody except the politicians are delighted to have a situation in which the government can attend to its proper task of administering the government of the country. So I don't think we shall have an election immediately--As to what the result will be when it comes, the general view is that it will depend on whether Mr. Attlee goes to the country with a full Socialist programme or whether he goes with an appeal to the Middle Class vote. A lot of people seem to think that, if Mr. Attlee goes to the country with a very moderate programme, his prospects will be improved.
I believe that to be a complete misunderstanding of the position. If Mr. Attlee could persuade his Left Wing socialists to drop Socialism, his position would be improved, but there is no possibility of his doing so. If, therefore, he goes to the country with a camouflaged programme, soft-pedalling Socialism, he is certain to displease the hard core of the Socialist movement, he is going to get a lot of abstentions and a large drift to Communism.
The position of the Socialist Party in England at this time is that the more they soft-pedal Socialism the more they lose their working class support, and the more they speed it up, the more they lose their Middle Class vote. If Mr. Attlee goes as a convinced Socialist and tries to persuade the majority of the people of his sincere belief in Socialism as a remedy for all ills, the more solid his support in the Country, because his are hard core supporters in the Trade Union vote.
That is what I believe he is going to do, but I think that the effect of five years or more of Socialist government will inevitably lead to some form of Liberal-Conservative fusion, and I believe that the Conservative party will be returned with a small majority, probably a very small one. But that is the position as I see it.
But then the other question I am asked is: Who are the Conservative party? Are they really in a position to form a strong government? What leaders have they got with the one notable exception of Mr. Winston Churchill?
There is of course a great feeling of doubt in England and all over the world, about the quality of leadership which may be expected from the Conservative party as a whole. I believe that raises an issue, which is very fundamental with all the democracies, and particularly my own country. It is quite clear that something has happened to lower the standard of ability in public life in Great Britain. Naturally I speak at this point only of my own country. I don't believe for a moment--I may be wrong, but I don't believe for a moment--that there has been a falling-off or lowering in the standard of ability in the country as a whole; but it is quite obvious that the modern political conditions make it extremely difficult for young men, young men of ability, to go into the British House of Commons and learn their trade. It is virtually impossible. We have taxed the leisured class out of existence, and the political and economical conditions impose, as you all here know well enough, such a strain on those who are responsible for running large industrial or commercial enterprises, that they can not give the time they used to give to public affairs, and it is therefore extremely difficult to find out of any Party in the House of Commons enough men of first class ability to form a really first class administration.
But I do not think that is going to affect the quality of any alternative government in Great Britain, I think it is almost certain, and if Mr. Winston Churchill is spared to be Prime Minister again, it is quite certain, that the next Conservative administration would draw very largely for its leading members on people outside the ranks of professional politicians. I think it is certain our constitution must approach more and more to that of the United States where the Cabinet is not chosen from the members of Congress but from the leaders of finance and industry, men who have made their name in other walks of life; and I think that is really the answer, and of course, as long as the Labor party is obsessed with Socialism, it is certain that a Conservative Prime Minister would have the call on the services of almost all the leaders of finance, industry and commerce in the country.
I think that is the answer. I think we shall get, when a new government comes into office, a government with a large number of names new to politics but not new to the conduct of public affairs.
The situation that faces all democracies today is whether that solution is really adequate in the world situation which confronts us; particularly is it adequate in relation to foreign policy and defence? And I am bound to say that I do not think it is adequate. I think that it would be fair to say that it takes any administration today two years really to pick up the threads of the very complicated world situation. I don't believe it really begins to function efficiently as a team until it has been in office for two years. I think we probably all agree that one of the main causes of the disastrous world situation today was the fact that owing to Mr. Roosevelt's death and Mr. Winston Churchill's Parliamentary defeat, the conduct of the Free World's affairs passed into new hands in 1945, I think that it took those undoubtedly zealous and disinterested men who succeeded Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill, and whatever we think of their domestic policies, we have none of us any doubt as to their good will and conscientiousness, a long time to measure up to the situation. That delay is very serious indeed when we remember that they are facing a highly centralized military power with a constant policy and a government which never changes. We are facing men who are able to make their plans--and they did, as we know, make their plans--many, many years ago, and who are able to proceed to carry them out slowly, with a perfect knowledge that they will not be interrupted in the course of their execution. After all, to attempt to interrupt the policy and the conduct of the policy of the Soviet government is a task which requires a considerable measure of personal courage, and I think it is fair to say that the few people who have ventured to attempt to deflect the government of Soviet Russia from their course were very quickly liquidated. But the knowledge that they have these vast reserves of power behind them does enable the Russian Government to make long-term plans, and the whole drift of the democratic system is to make it virtually impossible for us to lay long-term plans as long as our present constitutional arrangements remain exactly as they are.
Now I want to refer very briefly, as an instance of these things, to four points which I mentioned last year as the four main sources of weakness in the world position of the democracies.
The first was the gap, as I called it, in the Atlantic Pact owing to the fact that neither Spain, nor effectively Portugal, were included in any of the schemes for the defence of Western Europe. That gap remains unclosed, and it remains despite the fact that the chiefs of staff of all the free nations are well aware that the Iberian Peninsula has to be included in any effective scheme of European defence. It remains unclosed because neither President Truman faced with Congressional elections, nor Mr. Attlee faced with the prospect of an election, is prepared to court the unpopularity which would come from recognizing General Franco. As I said last year, I do not defend General Franco's regime. I am merely stating that from a military viewpoint, this powerful body of anti-Communist people happen to occupy a territory which is vital to the defence of Western Europe; if they are prepared to co-operate, the view of the chiefs of staff is that they should co-operate.
It is an instance of the very grave difficulties under which the defence of the Western world is conducted that our statesmen do have to think all the time of the urgent needs of the military situation and also of the electoral position at home.
The second point on which I touched last year was the question of South-East Asia. Well I regret to say that the doubts and fears that I then expressed have been rather painfully realized. The situation in South-East Asia has deteriorated and is deteriorating, and nothing has been done to better it, because I believe that, with the democracies organized as they are, there is really no machinery in existence which enables them to take the necessary action in advance unless and until some actual crisis arises, as it arose in Korea.
The third point to which I drew attention was the extremely unsatisfactory currency situation at that time in Western Europe and indeed in most of the world except the dollar countries. Well, some progress has been made here as a result of administrative and political action in the sterling area, and the sterling area currencies are undoubtedly in a much healthier condition than they were twelve months ago. But unfortunately the world is now faced with the prospect of re-valuation in the sterling areas as a result of the dollar inflation, an inflation presumably due to the coincidence of the Korean war and the impending elections in the United States.
Anyway, that is the position, and an extremely unsatisfactory position it is, because for any long-term recovery of the world economy of the Free Nations there has got to be a large amount of capital investment by the dollar countries in Western Europe and in the New World, notably in Australia, and as long as this currency uncertainty remains, long-term capital investment is virtually an impossibility.
The last of the dangers to which I drew attention was the purely directly military danger which would continue, I said then, and I say it again, as long as and unless and until the Free Nations have been able to place and keep in the field adequate military forces, trained and ready for action, and under united command. Now everything I said on that subject has been painfully emphasized and clarified by the Korean campaign. It has been proved once again that you can not improvise armies to fight organized professional military invaders without a tragic loss of life, equipment and time and ground.
Well, as we know, thanks to what I think we must all agree to have been a magnificent feat of generalship, the United Nations forces succeeded in saving themselves at the last moment. They were just able to hold on to enough ground to enable them to bring their troops into action. But we must not be misled into thinking that that is enough, or that the same situation could be met in the same way either in South-East Asia or in the Middle East, or in Europe. It could not. This was a small localized campaign, and the United States had fortunately enough long-service troops available to turn the scale.
I would point out, moreover, and I suggest that we should keep it well in mind, that the amount of time lost and the amount of ground lost would have been absolutely fatal to the defence of Western Europe and would be equally fatal either in South-East Asia or the Middle East. If an attack developed there it would be far longer before any forces could be brought from the United States to the scene of action, or from Great Britain for that matter, and there is no time or space for retreat available. The strategy of retreat is just not possible in the defence of Western Europe. Well I think that is generally, and to some extent, agreed as regards Western Europe itself. There has been a movement to send further substantial long-term forces to Europe, and pressure has been exercised, and effectively exercised, on France substantially to increase her military preparations, but I do not believe that as long as we have a universal military service, it will in the long run be possible to maintain enough professional troops.
We in the British Empire have more than a century's experience of this urgent problem. In the days of our power and dominions we found it absolutely impossible to combine national service with the maintenance of the long service army which was necessary to maintain the outposts of a great empire. And I am sure that this is the case today.
If we would look at it only from the economic point of view, you have no doubt seen the immense increases in pay which have recently been arranged for the Armed Forces both in Great Britain and in the United States--increases very well justified--but those scales of pay are entirely incompatible with Conscription. You can pay those high wages to first class professional soldiers-but for a conscripted man who is going to stay in the forces 18 months and leave before he is fully trained, the cost is enormous and you are not getting anything for it. I am quite certain that all countries will in a short time be forced to the conclusion--this, of course, does not apply to you in Canada because you have not got conscription--that the defence of the Free World can only be entrusted to professional soldiers. We must think of the enormous military disadvantages of the conscript system--that a conscript army takes anything to three months to be mobilized, that when they are mobilized, they are halftrained, and they are not physically fit; they have to be hardened before they go into action. And this type of army is not suitable to the enemy whom we may have to fight, whom we are fighting in Korea, and whom we are likely to have to fight in Indonesia, and the enemy which certainly threatens us in Western Europe.
The reason why this problem of military organization is not tackled lies partly in the democratic system. I don't believe that any government like Mr. Attlee's government, with a majority of seven or eight, would dare to tackle the problem of the long-term re-organization of the British military system, and I am sure that they are right. I don't think it is possible for a government which can't look to be in office for a good five years, and preferably more, to tackle a problem like that because it would run the risk of going out of office with the system in transition and the defence system in a hopelessly chaotic condition.
Also the change-over has to be integrated with the plans of the other Free Nations, and as long as the governments of all these nations are living under sentence of death and are subject to elections at different times and moments, you will never get the governments of the United States and the British Commonwealth and the government of France, all in a position at the same time to make long-term commitments.
Well, Gentlemen, I hope and believe that you do not think that I am leading up to an attack on the democratic system. I have said what I have said because I believe that the democratic system is what we must fight to preserve and what we must preserve. I believe that it is essential to civilization as we know it, and I believe it is in danger because the system does not permit at the moment of the adequate organization of the defence of the Free Nations. I believe, therefore, that every consideration of logic, and every consideration of the urgency of the need for saving democracy from the dangers which threaten, must drive the free nations to some form of union for the purpose of defence.
The parties to any scheme, be it the Atlantic Union or the Union of Western Europe, would remain free sovereign nations, but I think the time has come when they have got to agree for a period of at least twenty years to a union for the purposes of foreign policy and defence. I do not see that there is any derogation of national sovereignty implied. I believe that in the Korean campaign we see the faint fore-shadowing of what is necessary, where you have what is not only technically but in fact an army of the United Nations, and not an army of any national or imperialistic regime.
Why I say some form of union is necessary, is because the position does not allow of another Korea, either in South-East Asia, the East, or Europe. By proper coordination of defence, you have got to have a standing army, the army has to be on the ground, and you have to have a pre-existing military organization staffed by people who have studied the problem on the ground, and the troops on the spot. You can not have it otherwise, when you are fighting an enemy with highly trained soldiers. That is the point that I would like to leave with you Gentlemen today, I am sure that events are moving in that direction and I think that had Mr. Winston Churchill remained at the head of our affairs in England his influence in Europe would have carried the cause of union a great deal further than it has gone. But the need is urgent, the time is now ripe. Certainly, in Europe, this is the hour; for the first time in the lifetime of anyone living, there is a real dying-down of the fires of nationalism, which have paralyzed Europe for so long, and a real opportunity for effective union. And I believe that with the good will and active co-operation of the nations of North America the necessary steps can be taken, whether they will be, neither you nor I can say. Thank you, Gentlemen.
VOTE OF THANKS, moved by Major Gladstone Murray.