BRITAIN FACES GERMANY
AN ADDRESS BY MR. WILLSON WOODSIDE
Chairman: The President, Mr. J. P. Pratt, K.C.
Thursday, December 1, 1938.
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: Britain faces Germany. Those ominous words are the title of the subject to be discussed today by our guest, Mr. Willson Woodside, Canadian traveller and journalist who has made a special study of European conditions in general, by means of a series of annual visits abroad in recent years.
Mr. Woodside is no stranger to either Canadian or United States readers, for he is a frequent contributor to standard periodicals in both countries. In fact, he was asked by Harpers Magazine to write their article on the Munich Conference. In his talk today he will discuss, among other things, possible developments within Germany and German foreign policy, and how long it may be before Britain and Germany are linked in another great crisis. I have much pleasure in presenting to you Mr. Willson Woodside. His subject is "Britain Faces Germany." (Applause)
MR. WILLSON WOODSIDE: Mr. Chairman and Members of The Empire Club: It is particularly gratifying to be back with you today, because my last appearance here four years ago was, I think, my first public speech and I am sure I never expected to be invited back. I had just returned from Germany at that time. I had seen the digging of underground air hangars, all done in secret at that time, the training of huge para-military forces, the building of new aircraft factories, the opening of new flying fields, and in a rather incoherent fashion, I tried to warn this corner of the world about the new German might.
All that we feared then has now happened, and again Britain stands face to face with the aggressive might of Germany, as she has so often done during the last forty or fifty years. Long before the last war there was intense colonial, commercial and naval rivalry between the two countries, and during the Boer War there was exhibited for the first time the extreme envy and hatred of Britain which was growing up in Germany. During the Great War, Britain was portrayed by German propaganda as the chief enemy of Germany: England ist der Hauptfeind! And German housewives went around solemly greeting each other: Gott Strafe England! "God punish England!"
So in the recent crisis nothing was so clear as that the question of peace or war in Europe was a question between Germany and Britain. Throughout the crisis Britain and Germany were the chief actors. France tagged along with Britain and Russia stayed back in the obscurity of the wings. Italy was scared to death.
During the last half century there have been two policies in Britain for dealing with Germany. One was to join a bloc and restrain her through overwhelming opposition; the other, to try and find some working arrangement with her.
To show how little there is new under the sun, this latter policy of trying to find an arrangement with Germany was tried out just forty years ago this year, by the father of the present Prime Minister, "Joe" Chamberlain. Between 1898 and 1901 "Joe" Chamberlain worked very hard for an arrangement, even an alliance with Germany. At that time, as now, the price was to be colonial concessions.
The next approach to Germany was in 1912, when Lord Haldane went to Berlin to try and negotiate a naval "holiday" between Britain and Germany. But the Germans thought the advance only a proof that Britain was weakening, that she couldn't keep up the pace, that they had her on the run; so they refused the naval "holiday."
Twenty years have passed since then; the rivalry at sea has changed to rivalry in the air, and again we see a British Prime Minister trying to make some arrangement with Germany. Now, just exactly what is the policy of appeasement with Germany which Mr. Nevill Chamberlain has been pursuing? The best statement have seen of it, the clearest, has been by Lord Lothia Speaking before the Royal Institute of Internation Affairs last March, after the Austrian crisis, Lord Lothian gave in clear words his view of what British policy toward Germany should be. He said that Germany's aggressiveness and unrest sprang from a sens of resentment against the injustice of the Versaille Treaty. She was filled with an urge for racial unity justice, secure frontiers and assured markets in Eastern Europe. Britain should help her, he went on, to achieve racial unity within strong frontiers, and allow her a sphere of economic influence of her own. Then the Nazi ferment would die down, German aggressiveness would pass, Hitler's cause would be taken away from him, and we could live in peace with Germany.
We should be ready, Lord Lothian said, to negotiate these things. And we are willing to negotiate about further German minorities in Europe (the Sudetens) about trade pacts and even colonies, but we shall not accede to any more violent grabs.
This speech, I believe, provided almost a blue-print for what happened. It indicates, I think, very clearly, that the Munich Agreement-and this point has been too much missed--was really an agreement between Hitler and Chamberlain, that for various reasons each wanted to see Sudetenland transferred from Czecho-Slovakia to Germany. I am not imputing any treachery to Chamberlain. I am not saying that he is pro-Nazi, or anti-Czech. I think there is a lot of silly talk about this "betraying" of Czecho-Slovakia, but I do think he was actuated by strictly pro-British sentiment, and I do think that he, and the inner Cabinet, especially, were strongly motivated by fear of the Bolshevist "bogey." Beyond that, I believe that Chamberlain was motivated throughout by profoundly humanitarian motives.
This question, I think of the Munich Agreement as really carrying out a policy of Mr. Chamberlain's, is so important that I would like to advance a little evidence, if I may.
All through the crisis Mr. Chamberlain was the most active person, and his actions were certainly not those of a man without a policy. It was Mr. Chamberlain who first officially proposed the cession of Sudetenland, and Mr. Chamberlain who forced it first on France and then on the Czechs, to the consternation of the world. Even after Godesberg, when the world thought Britain was preparing to resist Hitler's demands, Mr. Chamberlain kept repeating that he would back with all Britain's moral force the promise the Czechs had made to cede Sudetenland. The only thing that Mr. Chamberlain was standing out against was the German threat of a violent solution.
As soon as the Munich Conference could be arranged Mr. Chamberlain stepped down from the head of a great European coalition which was rapidly forming against Germany almost against Mr. Chamberlain's will, and hurried to give Hitler at Munich all he had asked for, by negotiation. When Munich was finished he returned home showing every evidence of a belief that he had triumphed, that his policy had won, and that he had done something really big to please Germany and secure "peace for our time." He had carried through a sort of revision of the Versailles Treaty without a shot having been fired. He had insisted all along that there was nothing more at stake than the issue of self-determination for the Sudetens, the satisfying of a more or less just German demand, and he had settled this thorny question without war.
It is noteworthy that Mr. Chamberlain made no effort to organize a bloc of nations to oppose the German demands and that as Mr. Duff Cooper has revealed, he refused to mobilize the fleet when that might have been a salutary warning to Germany. Just how salutary it might have been we can gather from the German reaction when the fleet actually was mobilized, on the very last day before Munich. Goebbels had listened to Mr. Chamberlain's notable speech of the Tuesday, and decided that it was not the speech of a war-maker. He gave out the order to all German papers to announce Germany's general mobilization for two o'clock on the next afternoon. About midnight the news that the British fleet had been mobilized reached Berlin. Goebbels immediately countermanded his instructions and spared no effort to see that the news did not get out in the morning papers.
The British Government must have had ample information to prove that Germany did not have the iron or oil or food to fight a big war. There was no chance of Germany fighting a war against a number of major powers, and there was a very strong element in the army and in economic life that would have opposed to the bitter end such a struggle, which Germany could only lose. For if there is one thing that the German military leaders learned from the last war it is not to lose the next.
They knew, the whole world knew, that Mussolini was beside himself as to what course to take. He had a country split from top to bottom on the question of fighting on Germany's side, warweary, and lacking in supplies and war materials for a big campaign.
But of all Mr. Chamberlain's motives for this policy, I think the chief one was a belief that another war in the West was utterly senseless and futile. I think he questioned himself what could be done differently after it was over next time, or must we go on fighting Germany every twenty years? He knew that another war would help nobody and ruin them all, that democracy and civilization as we know it--and this he said several times over--would be ruined. I think he decided that if war was to be avoided there had to be a swift treatment of its causes. His diagnosis of those causes--with which all of us certainly will not agree--we have already treated.
Then I believe that the present British Government had decided several years before that it was wise to attempt only to hold the West of Europe, that the best that Britain could hope to do was to keep war away from there, which was, after all, the treasure house of civilization. A war in the West would destroy the museums, the art treasures, the great cities; it would irreparably smash the fabric of our present civilization. If there must be war in Europe, the argument ran, then it is better to have it in the East than in the West. It is better that the bombs drop on peasants' fields than on the museums and the great cities and populations of Western Europe. If Germany has to be stopped, let the Slavs stop her; and I think at the back of all this there is a hope, perhaps more than a faint hope, that Germany might work off her Nazi aggressiveness on Russia's Bolshevism.
Having made up his mind that the West should be held, and that all Britain could do was to hold the West, Mr. Chamberlain had to seek to break the entanglements which drew France into the quarrels of Eastern Europe, the link between France and Russia which Czecho-Slovakia formed, and the chance that the strong Czech frontier always held for starting a war in which the French would follow automatically, and into which Britain would again be drawn, into which we would all be drawn, as someone said, like a chain of box cars.
Now, it is my opinion that a solid front formed when Eden asked for it last spring, or even last summer, any time before Nuremberg, would have stopped Germany. I believe that was the right policy to pursue. But one must face the fact that standing up to Germany always implied the risk of a war. Of course, I think it always will imply the risk of war and the only way we can ever stop the aggression of the Fascist powers is to be willing to fight, if necessary. When you get to that point you have to realize that, militarily speaking, Czecho-Slovakia was a lost position, certainly after the German invasion of Austria. Hitler had played such a clever game in assuring Britain and France and concentrating his whole might against Czecho-Slovakia, and in winning the sympathy of Poland, Hungary and Italy that he placed Britain and France in the impossible position of having to take the offensive if they were to aid Czecho-Slovakia. After thinking for twenty years only of the defensive this was for them, I think, a psychological impossibility.
Now, what has been the effect of this policy of appeasing Germany? Well, far from satisfying her, it has only served to prove to the Germans that it is strength that counts. Goebbels has said, "We have learned that the only instrument with which to conduct foreign policy is the sword." 'The Agreement of Munich has been presented to the German people as "The German Peace of Munich," wrung from the democracies by German threats. Goebbels said, "By threatening war we avoided war."
If you study the German publications you can learn everything that is in the German mind. It is one of the great German weaknesses that they are unable to keep anything to themselves.
We have seen how German arrogance and ambitions have soared. At Saarbrucken Hitler practically told Britain who she should have for Prime Minister. Far from learning to respect and admire Chamberlain and be grateful to him for all his pains in arranging thins so nicely, as I think Mr. Chamberlain hoped he would, Hitler has gone about making insulting speeches about "umbrella statesmanship." He has arrogantly offered the British a one-third air ratio. 'Thinking themselves already the masters of Europe, the Germans have taken for granted that they would soon have the colonies back, and I have even seen it hinted in Dr. Schacht's paper that after the return of the colonies they would consider having the reparations back.
Throughout Eastern Europe the Germans have acted, as they well may, as masters. They have forced Benes out. They have forced an authoritarian regime on Czecho-Slovakia. They have forced a highway corridor across the latter country. They have demanded further purely Czech territory and they are obtaining it. They have had the Communist Party dissolved and are forcing anti-Semitism on Czecho-Slovakia. They have gained control over the coal supplies of Czecho-Slovakia, and have strengthened their hold on the Czechs in various other ways. Their argument is a brutally simple one, something like this: It is liable to be very cold this winter--wouldn't it be nice to have some coal? You realize that this is a very strong argument. The Germans have a thousand ways of pinching the now helpless Czechs like that, if they don't understand plain talk.
We have also seen the Germans shake their fist at Helsingfors and demand the retirement of the Finnish Foreign Minister. The Finnish Foreign Minister has retired. The Germans can demand the expulsion of any editor, any Foreign Minister, any Prime Minister, and even any King in Eastern Europe. The Germans are masters of Eastern Europe and they know it.
They have been encouraged to go ahead with their grandiose scheme of having the "oppressed" people of the Ukraine cry for "liberation." You notice how they have insistently held on to that little bit of the tail end of Czecho-Slovakia--Carpathian Ruthenia, adjoining Roumania. In an interesting speech recently, the Premier of this province announced that the name would be changed to the Carpatho-Ukraine.
Now, this movement on the part of Germany has a very strong appeal to the Ukrainians in Soviet Russia. They are not happy. Many a Ukrainian in Russia told me a couple of years ago that the best rulers they ever had were the Germans in 1918. They have not particularly enjoyed Soviet rule. The Ukraine is the richest part of Russia and it suffered most in the Revolution, in the Kulaks expropriation, and in the famine of 1933, when the Soviets came in and simply took the peasants' wheat. At least two and a half to three million Ukrainians died from this forced starvation in 1933.
I think Hitler has a very strong cause there. In a world dominated by fear, confusion is a powerful weapon, and one man spreading hate and confusion can outdo a thousand talking tolerance, good will and brotherly love. I think Hitler might succeed with his Ukrainian programme, and not necessarily through a military campaign, but simply by worming away and spreading confusion and disunity.
No more than the Munich Agreement appeased German demands did it appeal to their finer nature, as Lord Lothian hoped. We have seen the recent brutal outbreak of persecution of the Jews. We have read excerpts from the Schwarze Korps, as published in the Globe and Mail a few days ago. This is reality, Gentlemen. The Schwarze Korps is the organ of the Black Guard-which should be pronounced quickly--"blackguard!" The Schwarze Korps said during the Jewish persecution:
"Before Munich we had to pay some heed to world opinion. Since Munich the swords of the democracies are as though made of pasteboard. We need heed now neither their leaders nor their masses, their Jews or non-Jews, their Christians or atheists. We will dictate peace in Europe on our terms."
There are Britons who could have foretold this reaction, who did foretell it.
In what is perhaps the most complete modern statement of what British policy ought to be, made in 1907, Sir Eyre Crowe said that the worst possible policy to pursue with Germany was one of concessions. These only increased her appetite and her arrogance. You will find a similar view laid out in a remarkable little book, "Germany and England," by Professor J. A. Cramb, published early in 1914. You will also find it in a fine little book, "The German Tragedy and its Meaning for Canada," by Sir Robert Falconer, that might have been written last week but that actually bears the date of 1915.
One of the best and most succinct explanations of why this policy won't work with Germans was given not long ago by Harold Nicolson, well-known British diplomat and writer. Nicolson explains the fundamental difference in the British and the German view of diplomatic negotiations. The Briton looks upon them as little more than a business deal. He wants the parties to sit down on either side of a table and come to some satisfactory compromise, each yielding a little, and then agree that this being the best possible solution, they will keep to it. The German regards this as little better than horse-swapping. To him it is a demeaning process. To him diplomacy is something much more glorious, a form of warfare, and he brings to it the technique of warfare, attacks and camouflage and flanking manoeuvres, and strategic retreats if necessary to more solid positions. What he is pursuing is really some abstract goal, Triumph--Power. He looks upon every concession demanded of him as an insult and on every concession which you show yourself willing to make as a proof of your weakness. He considers the concessions he gains not so much valuable in themselves as a proof of his triumph, and this is what has always made it so difficult for the British and Germans to come to a solid working agreement.
Consider this when you reflect on Chamberlain giving away the fortress of Central Europe at Munich and accepting a little piece of paper which he waved in triumph before the crowd at the London airport, a piece of paper which said, "I will promise not to fight you," signed "Adolf Hitler."
Now, what are Hitler's promises worth? He promised Mussolini solemnly in 1934, in June, that he had no designs on Austria. The next month he attempted a coup in Austria and Mussolini furiously marched his divisions to the frontier. Four different times Hitler promised to the world that he would respect the independence of Austria, that he had no desire to infringe on it. That didn't affect the final result. In a big speech in 1935 Hitler promised solemnly that, although he was determined to smash Versailles, which was forced on Germany, he would respect Locarno, which Germany entered into of her own free will. (As a matter of fact the negotiations were started by Stresemann.) Ten months later when Hitler smashed Locarno and marched his troops into the Rhineland, he said, "Germany is entitled to smash treaties any time she feels herself strong enough to do so."
This is the man who said, after Munich, "Now, there is an end to all the foolish talk about the rights of little nations." This is the man who wrote in "Mein Kampf" that "since everybody tells little lies, if you are going to tell a lie, don't tell a little one; tell such a big one that nobody will ever dream it can be a lie."
We should also keep in front of us when we listen to Hitler's promises, this saying which he has uttered over and over again, "What is right is what is good for Germany."
Nor do I think it would be much different if Hitler should suddenly die and we had to deal with a different leader in Germany. Of course, there would be changes. What I mean is we would still have an aggressive Germany. After the great Bismarck passed we had the Kaiser to deal with. After the Kaiser we had Hitler. I think he expresses something deep in Germany, some deep, historical urge, an urge which has persisted since the days of Frederick the Great, a belief in Germany's unique mission to rule the world and confer on it her superior Kultur. Many Germans are so convinced of this superiority of Germanism that they don't take seriously promises which they make for purposes of policy to "inferior people."
So, I am brought to ask whether this whole premise underlying Munich, that Germany was suffering from the sting of Versailles still, and really only wanted to achieve her racial frontiers and secure markets in Eastern Europe, isn't entirely illusory, whether there isn't some stronger historical urge that must be kept in mind all the time.
What on her part has been the effect of the Munich Agreement on Britain? Has it brought her peace? If so, why is she preparing for war as never before? If Britain has to arm, and I quote here a catechism which I saw yesterday by Vernon Bartlett, against whom is she arming? If she is arming against Germany, why did she give away the fortress in Central Europe and the Czech army? If, on the other hand, it was her unpreparedness that brought about Munich, if this really was a capitulation before Germany and not an agreement, why aren't the men responsible for her unpreparedness courtmartialled and put out of office?
Now, how far away is the next crisis? That depends on the governments in a number of places, not least of them, in France. We have seen France stand together in the crisis and fall apart as soon as the danger was removed, and this will always be the case. Time is not on France's side. France always appears weak in peace time and always stands together when there is danger, but this appearance of weakness is a great danger. We see in the papers today that Mussolini has been so far encouraged by it to demand Tunisia, Corsica and Djibouti. If France gets weaker, if she sees Italy thundering in the Mediterranean, and a Fascist state arises on her southern borders, and the present rearmament blundering goes on in Britain, won't Germany be encouraged to demand Alsace-Lorraine next year? Sooner than later, I would say. Don't forget, Germany hasn't that great supply of iron that a warlike state needs, above all. She hasn't secured that yet. There are only three big supplies on the Continent--in French Lorraine, in the Soviet Ukraine and in Swedish Lapland. Germany's logical source is Lorraine. She is bound to ask for it some time. She could apply the same technique-hold a pistol at Paris and London, and make the same threat of a barbaric attack. We mustn't rule out altogether the fact that Germany's young men are being assiduously brought up as barbarians, their humanitarian scruples repressed. Hitler has been quoted as saying, "I won't have my young men going to church; they might learn scruples." These young men are being brought up to believe in everything that we don't believe in. It is quite conceivable for Germany to launch just such a terriffic assault on London and English industrial centres, as she practised on Barcelona last March. The Nazi leaders, drunk with the success of their forceful methods, and believing Britain to be weakening, might be tempted to drive through one great body punch in the hope of snatching the Empire away from her. This has to be considered as a possibility today. We only have to look at Spain and China, and the threats held out at Munich to realize the situation.
What will happen, and the nearness of the next crisis will also depend, however--fortunately--on developments in Germany. We have recently seen a wave of violence break out there. This wave of violence may be checked by some blood purge, or it may sweep on as other revolutions have done; carrying its leaders along with it, and perhaps go on from violence against the Jews, to violence against the Christian churches, especially against the Catholic churches, which have large properties in Germany and Austria, and from that to a revolution against property itself. But I don't believe there will be such a revolutionary move in Germany. I remember, after four years of suffering in the war, the terrible revolutionaries of 1918 went around the signs, "Please Keep Off The Grass" in Berlin. There is something too orderly in the German nature, apparently, to permit of a violent revolution.
There is a possibility, I think a certainty, that Germany will run into plenty of trouble in Eastern Europe. There will soon be a hornets' nest stirred up there. Germany will move too fast and prove too arrogant with these so-called "inferior" people and will, as before, turn all against her.
I think if you consider, as I do, that the next war, which will be merely the second phase of the struggle begun in 1914, is on now, then Germany has suffered in the last couple of weeks in the great outbreak of world opinion against her over the Jewish pogrom, such a defeat as she suffered in the Great War through the burning of Louvain, or the sinking of the Lusitania. The New York Times asked the other day, "Who could believe that the Germans would so soon turn a great victory into a great defeat?" I believe the masters of Germany will end by turning the whole world against them. I think that here is perhaps our best chance of salvation, for our own defence preparations are going ahead far too slowly. I think probably we agree that the maintenance of peace depends more on Britain than on any other country. Britain's survival, it seems to me, depends first on a great effort at home, a unity of, her people and a willingness to make sacrifices such as have not yet been made; secondly on very close, trustful co-operation with France and thirdly on a close cooperation with the United States.
Now, personally, I don't see any prospect of this being achieved under present British leadership. It seems to me that very shortly, if not already, Mr. Chamberlain's policy will have been proved false, if not disastrous. I do not think the men of the present Inner Cabinet--there is Hoare, who certainly lost face in the democratic world with the Hoare-Laval deal, and Simon, who has no backing at all in the United States--can unite the British nation and carry out the necessary preparations, work closely with the masses of France, and win the trust and co-operation of the Dominions and the United States.
So I ask myself, does an alternative to the present Government exist in Britain? A Cabinet of young Conservatives, I think, would do. It seems to me that Britain needs younger leadership, that only in Britain is the older generation, the pre-war generation, still in control. Younger men wouldn't just look for "peace for our time," a comfortable seat by the fireside. That was not the spirit that built the British Empire. That isn't the spirit which has held it together. You have to take risks if you are going to be a world leader. Better than a Cabinet of only young Conservatives would be one of National Union. These are affairs of Britain's internal policy, I know, but I can't help feeling that a Cabinet of such men as Churchill and Eden, the young Conservative ministers, and young Liberals and Labour members would be immensely stronger than the present array, and more inspiring to the Dominions and democracies in general.
It seems to me more than that is needed; that a really realistic policy needs to be developed in Britain, a policy of ideals, a policy of advancing the ideas of freedom, the rights of little nations, tolerance and international law-the things which we have come to think Britain stands for. It is the only policy, Gentlemen, which will unite the British people, hold the Dominions behind Britain and win the co-operation of the United States.
Some say Britain is "old." Just as a man is first young, then matures and finally grows old, so they say that the British nation has become "old." I don't know about that. I am going back soon to try and see for myself. I know it was said before the last war; they have been saying it for a long time. Personally, I think there is something very tough in the Britisher, something very resilient. But I also know that war today comes quicker than it ever did before and that Britain can't just blunder through next time. She will have to prepare and prepare swiftly.
Thank you, Gentlemen. (Applause-prolonged)
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Woodside, on behalf of the members of the Empire Club, I thank you very sincerely for the splendid address which you have given us. I do not know how the members feel about this, but I can not help feeling in the back of my head, that when the next war comes, if come it must, Great Britain will win the last battle. (Applause)
The meeting is adjourned