DICTATORS AND DEMOCRATS
AN ADDRESS BY MISS ROSITA FORBES, F.R.G.S.
Chairman: The President, Dr. F. A. Gaby.
Thursday, March 7, 1940
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a distinct honour to welcome as our guest-speaker today, Rosita Forbes, the world famous explorer, writer and lecturer. Her love of adventure has led her to most of the countries of the world, and the story of her travels, as our announcement says, reads like a Thousand Arabian Nights.
Miss Forbes has made important contributions to our knowledge of geography, notably as a result of her expeditions in Africa in 1920, to the sacred Moslem centre of Kufara in the Libyan desert, and through Abyssinia in 1926. The route which she mapped out through Abyssinia was, strangely enough, the one chosen for the invasion of that country.
Miss Forbes is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, and an Honorary Member of the Belgian, Dutch, Italian, Swedish, French and other Geo graphical Societies. She has received the Gold Medal of the Royal Antwerp Geographical Society and the French Geographical Society, and the medal of the Royal Society of Arts.
Miss Forbes' travels have brought her into touch with rulers and statesmen throughout the world. She has had the opportunity to investigate the trend of their thoughts, and to discuss with them the problems of peace and war.
With all of the work that she has done in exploring and investigating in high places in these various countries, she has been a prolific writer, and her many books, with their wide range of subjects, are in great demand.
I have the honour to introduce our distinguished guest, Rosita Forbes, whose subject is "Dictators and Democrats". (Applause)
Miss ROSITA FORBES, F.R.G.S.: Gentlemen and Ladies (There are two ladies, aren't there?): I am told I may begin with a rather absurd joke, just to make you feel happy, because the last time I was asked to address a gathering that was almost entirely men, was at Pentonville Prison. The Governor thought the minds of his prisoners needed enlightening, so he invited me to talk to them about travel and this, unfortunately, is how he introduced me: "Men", he said, (not Friends), "when I told the men that Rosita Forbes was coming to talk to us this afternoon, they said, 'Dear me, that is very odd. We understood this was a prison for men, and murderers, too. Who has she done in?' "
Now, I have come to try and give you some glimpses into the minds of the half dozen men whose greed, whose ambition, whose loves as well as whose hates have made the war today and, because all of us as Democrats are are entitled to our own ideas, however original they may be, about the war they are waging today, I would like to say just this. It seems to me that this war is not one of nations or of patriotism. It is not even one of an Empire, or two Empires against totalitarian states. We are fighting for a system of living, just because that particular system of living happens to appeal to us more than the tyranny of Russia and Germany. Therefore, this war is not so much a crusade or an adventure as a job that we have simply got to put through in order that our own particular jobs may be safe for the rest of our lives.
Now, I have known Hitler since 1933, and because I have seen it so often said in the Canadian papers, in spite of most strenuous denials, I must put on record this fact: I have never, never in the whole course of my life interviewed anyone at all, except Hitler once, for fun, in June, 1933.
Neither Mr. Chamberlain, who has known me personally for fifteen years, nor Mussolini, whom I have also known for many years, would dream of according me an interview. Nor, I am sure, would Stalin, whom I met through my friendship with his second wife. Nor would the Kings or statesmen of Europe whom I have met through my husband's and my brother's official positions, and through the fact I have accepted invitations to speak at various European and American Geographical Societies.
So what I am speaking of are merely conversations at luncheons or dinners during country house visits.
When I first knew Hitler in 1933, he was greatly depressed over the position of the defeated nation as among the great powers. In those days he was fond of saying, "It is happiness I want for Germany. We don't need very much, but we must have something."
I quote that, not because I believe Hitler ever told me or anyone else the truth in all his life, because words, to him don't mean facts, they are just a pretty pattern, or a weapon that will gain him a momentary advantage. I tell you this to show you he has changed very much in six years. In 1933, when I asked him what he was going to do for the women of Germany, he said, "Give them better husbands." When I asked what had most moved him in all his life, he said, "The death of my mother." In those days he had, presumably, a human side.
This year, in July, on the last of many, many visits to him in Berlin and Berchtesgaden, he was obsessed by war, but even in July he did not believe he would have to fight the British and the French Empires. I am convinced that he believed he could put off the final war with the two great democracies, that he knew would eventually stand in his way, for five or six years.
I saw Hitler in July. He said such things as these "Truth is a luxury, it is always a luxury. In time of war it immediately becomes contrabrand." That, by way of a joke. I think it is also one of his fundamental principles. He knows the value of words and uses them as weapons. He said, "It is ridiculous to talk of international law and of war in the same breath because the two words are directly contradictory. You cannot have them both."
He said to me, "There can be no front line in the next war and every human being who is against me will be my enemy."
But I never heard Hitler boast of secret weapons. Goering was present at one of the interviews with Hitler and it is he who is rather the Robin Hood of Germany and I think a more boastful individual than the Fuehrer. It was Goering who said to me, "We have enough secret weapons to sink your whole fleet. You can never hope to blockade us effectively. We can close our land frontier (that means the Westwall), and a few of the northern ports." Goering went on, I think quite intelligently, under the circumstances, to point out that during the last war we were able to effectively blockade Germany because we closed all of the Russian and the Italian frontier, as well as the Baltic. He said, "Think how the position is today. We have two Allies, Russia and Italy, through whose frontiers we can obtain everything we require." And I would point out that Italian importing is' up forty-five per cent since the war broke out.
Then he said, "We shall acknowledge no neutrality in the next war. Every country not with us will be against us." Hitler, listening, nodded and said, "Yes, that is quite true. Neutrality is another expensive luxury we cannot possibly allow ourselves if we have to make another major war." Goering went on all through the conversation, emphasizing the point that Germany could blockade usa little vulnerable island, entirely surrounded by the sea, very much more effectively than we could ever hope to blockade Germany.
I do think we should think of that when we think of the various ways in which we can win the war. Personally, with eighteen years of intimate acquaintance, since 1918, I do not believe the blockade we have instituted can possibly be effective for some years.
I believe Germany needs nickel and wolfram (not wolframite)--the Chinese product comes from the Valley of Hanghow--and tungsten. Those three metals are necessary. Are you sure Germany is not going to get Finnish nickel if her ally, Russia, wins this abominable war? Are you sure she cannot get the Chinese products of wolfram and tungsten through the Siberian railway?
I asked Hitler in July if he were quite sure that Russia would come in as his ally. As early as July he said, "The terms of the Russian-German Pact may not be quite settled, but I am convinced the two great totalitarian states of Central Europe and the North will fight together." That did not surprise me because as early as March last year my German friends had been quoting to me actual terms of the Russo-German Pact. If you had studied the newspapers you would have realized that for a whole year Hitler had been saying nothing against the Communists. I don't believe Hitler's loathing for Communism has changed. I think that is still one of the strongest points in our. favour. He once said, "My last war will be against the Soviet. There is nothing good in Russia. To say there is anything good in Communism is treachery to humanity." I think quite possibly he believes that. I am sure his Generals refused to fight on two fronts and persuaded him at least a year ago into this alliance with Russia.
I think another mistake, perhaps we are making, if you don't mind my saying so, is to hope for a breaking up of Germany, as a result of the blockade. When I was in Germany last July, one of the German leaders said, "Russia will starve a few more miserable millions in order to feed a few more Germans, if necessary." None of the German leaders have an illusion about their Russian ally. They know that Communism is complete tyranny, but they are convinced that Russia, with German organization, can supply them with practically all the raw materials, they need.
One interesting point that I should like to offer is this. I have travelled the length and breadth of Russia, through all the industrial areas and the cities of the north, and every, effective person I met in all that territory was a German. When I required any information about getting around I walked through the streets of the town until I met a person, well dressed, clean and capable, and asked him for assistance. He was always a German engineer, scientist, architect, technician or oil man. That I do think is interesting.
I will suggest also, as the civilian population in Germany has no voice whatsoever, they can be quite safely left to starve without being able to make a revolution. Since I have been in Canada, I have been often asked how much of effective Germany is behind Hitler. Whatever I answer always annoys my audience. Let me say, first, of course there must be many brilliant Jews who are not behind Hitler, there must be some intellectuals of the universities, there must be some deeply religious people, in Bavaria, perhaps, and there must be priests, and perhaps some of of the friendly company, mostly old German folk, who drank beer with us in Berlin and Berchtesgaden and discussed philosophy with us to all hours of the night, but those people are not armed. How in heaven's name, can you expect them to make a revolution when the total armed forces of the country, backed by the Nazis are to a man behind Hitler? I think if we are honest with ourselves today we will acknowledge that ninety per cent of all the effective, strong forcible people in Germany today are solidly behind the Fuehrer. First, because of their intense gratitude to him. He has given them back their great position among the nations of the world, he has given them work, he has given them their self respect, their pride of race and the chance, they imagine, of world dominion.
The second reason, of course, is ambition. Nobody who isn't a Nazi in Germany today has any chance at all. The third reason, quite probably, is fear. Don't for a moment let us kid ourselves that the ordinary German in Germany today believes if we win the war there is to be a great improvement in their situation. They all know they are fighting with their backs against the wall to stop another fifteen years of bitter defeatism, such as followed the last Great War. We may in our idealistic hearts, and we in the democracies are idealists, imagine that after years and years of war, after losing our sons and brothers and husbands, we may be still so Godlike as to impose a merciful treaty on a defeated Germany. You will never get Germany to believe that, so the last ten per cent, out of fear, possibly are behind the Fuehrer.
The people of Canada ask what has the man actually done to change the spirit of Germany? He said, "I will not have a Christian in my bodyguard. No patriot should need a better heaven than his own country. Religion is effete and it is a barrier to patriotism." He also said, "If a man does not agree with me he might as well take his own life because he is of no more service to Germany."
When you get a man conceited' to that extent and so one-idea'd as that, you must realize he started what is a new religion in Germany. He has started the religion of violence, of force, of cruelty, and unfortunately, in Germany there was always that element of cruelty. Unfortunately, also, Hitler's first persecution of the Jews was popular with a very large number of Aryan Germans, because the Hebrews had the best brains in Germany, therefore, the best jobs,--and Aryan Germany was jealous of the Jews in the great positions in art, in the municipalities, in the universities and in the schools. Therefore, that first persecution was distinctly popular with the ordinary German people and that, as you know, is the reason why future persecutions have had such success. In the first one the seeds of violence and cruelty were sown.
Last July--you know I was going to Africa-Hitler said, "I don't want Africa, I don't think I really want colonies in Africa. They are too inconveniently situated, but if I conquer Europe I shall undoubtedly have all America to colonize." To which I said, "Don't you think you will find that difficult?" He replied, "O, no, I don't think America will ever fight until it is too late."
Hitler once said to me when I suggested that all Europe would unite against him, "O, no, each country will imagine it is the only one to escape, and they will wait to fight until it is too late."
Of course, it sounds absurd to us, west of the Atlantic, that Hitler should ever dream of world dominion. You must remember this, he already has enormous organizations in the United States. I have seen many of them, and with all my respect for the States, and my immense admiration for the people of the United States, I think the most complete, the most solid organizations there are German Bunds. I was amazed at their force and power and their connection with Europe. Do you think it is so hard to imagine, if Europe really were defeated in the struggle, that instead of democratic ideals here there would be a flood of German ideology, and of German trade? Of course, after all, it was your ancestors who brought democratic ideals from Europe because they had a solid democracy behind them. What happens if there is a Nazi or a Soviet tyranny all over Europe? Of course the ideas of the whole American Continent would have to change in keeping with the vast change that would have swept over Europe.
That, I think, is one of the great dangers. Whatever happens to the democracies after the war, whatever path we choose' to follow, I am sure we must fight now for our system of living.
Stalin, of course, is an entirely different proposition to Hitler. He has told me again and again, "I am not a dictator. I am not interested in Russia only, I am interested in the working world." He said to me once, "You must learn to distinguish between what is Communist and what is Slavonic. Nothing in Russia is permanent or secure today. I am working for the future, for generations hence. If in a hundred years we have discovered the model for future civilization, then I shall be content," and I think that is the whole basis of Stalin's organization. I once asked him if Russia would ever make another war of aggression. He said, "No, it is not the business of the Soviet to make a war for any capitalist country's selfish purpose, but it is our business to watch events all over the world and to interfere, if possible, either on behalf of the worker or to solidly establish our own position."
Now, it may be hard to believe but Stalin, together with others of his great leaders, suffers from a persecution complex. All have said some such thing as this: "The only thing that would ever unite America and the great countries of Europe would be invasion of the Soviet."
There is one thing that is very interesting. The whole of the Russian military system is based on defence. They are not prepared for war of aggression. That is perhaps why they started so badly against Finland. All their airdromes were far inland and their final system of defence is based on the Urals, that means on the borders of Siberia, so you see how far the Soviet leaders imagined they might have to retire before a war of aggression. Stalin once put the subject more amusingly when he said, "Between Siberia and the Caucasus we can grow everything except cocoa. Do you think a great nation is going to war to change the national drink from tea to cocoa?"
I discussed the possibility of a European war. He said, "It is absurd of the British to say that the era of colonization is over because they have all the land they want. Inevitably, Germany will colonize Europe. It is equally inevitable that Asia will be Sovietized, and the only system that will benefit will be the Soviet." I said, "Why?" He made a very sensible answer: "No other country is large enough or sufficiently resilient enough to be able to stand years and years of another frightful war. We, the Soviet Republics are so vast we could fight year after year a war of defence without eighty per cent of our population being disturbed at all, so we have lots of resilience, lots of recuperative powers left to recover from such a war."
I asked Stalin who he thought would make the next war in Europe. He said, "If Germany chooses the moment when the next war will commence, it will be indescribably fearful and quick, because Germany never goes to war until she sees victory is certain. If you, the British, succeed in choosing the moment, it will be much longer because you are the only people who go to war thoroughly unprepared." That night I happened to be dancing with the Commissar for War, Voroshilov, and he, commenting on events said, "After all, by the time you British are prepared for war, it is quite wasted because you have already won the war."
I don't suggest that Russia, or in any case, Stalin did not regard the war as a war of aggression. Stalin probably thought that he was successfully following Hitler's horrible habit of picking up another little defenceless country we had left lying about. But I am sure the defence put up really brought the surprise of Stalin's life.
Stalin did say a vital thing, concerning us. He said, "I am oil-minded. I realize that the distances in Russia are so vast that they are only overcome with oil. Now, we can produce a- very high grade of oil at Baku that is exceedingly suitable for aeroplanes. We have not the crude oil for trucking plants. If I find we cannot produce the harsher oils in Baku that are necessary for land transports, then, naturally, I shall be interested in your oil wells in Persia."
Now, you know it is not a very easily defended road across the Elburz hills to the mighty oil wells of Southern Persia, and if Stalin, as I read in the Canadian papers, really dreams of an eastern march, perhaps it is not India, so well defended, so admirably defended by the mountains of Hindu Kush, or the sea of salt, but his object is the oil fields of south-western Russia which would be easier to reach.
Now, I am sure you are all interested today in Mussolini. I find Mussolini the most difficult of the Dictators to talk about. I met him in 1920, when I was a girl and he was an Editor in Milan, and it is my proud privilege to affirm that Mussolini interviewed me when he was the Editor of Il popolo d'Italia. In those days he asked me what I most wanted to do with my life. In those days being very young, under twenty, I said, "I want to live dangerously." He said, "What a fool idea. I want to live alone."
I think there is the keynote of this very great man, and at once his strength and his weakness. Because he wanted to live alone he has kept Italy out of many inconvenient foreign alliances, but at the same time he hasn't listened enough to foreign ministers and ambassadors who could have put the foreign point of view before him far more effectively than Count Ciano.
I saw Mussolini next in 1929. He asked me to go to tea. He has a brilliant memory. He remembered everything that he and I had talked about nine years previously. He is also the only one of the Dictators who asks intelligent questions and then listens to the answers. I can't remember Hitler ever having asked a question at all. He once said, "Of course I shall make mistakes with regard to other countries. I don't know other countries. I have never travelled. But I shall never make mistakes with regard to my own Germany." You see, he thinks he is a Messiah. His first thought is that he has a mission to restore the greatness of Germany in Europe. Now he has a mission to establish Germany as a dominating power in the world. Stalin, on the other hand, asked very intelligent questions. He asked about labour in Canada, and the hours of work and I took a great deal of trouble to tell the truth. He said, "That is a flat lie. I know all the workers are starving and there will be a revolution in all the main towns of the capitalist countries." So, you see there is no use trying to tell the truth to Soviet Dictators--they don't believe me.
Mussolini did ask questions last July. When I saw him I thought that he had made one mistake. He believed that France was finished. He said, "I can't think why you British have such faith in France." I asked him who had told him that France was finished. He said that his son-inlaw, Count Ciano, was his informant. You know, Count Ciano has always detested the French because he was such a great failure with the hostesses of France. Mussolini hasn't travelled and he hasn't listened to men of eminence who could give him more accurate information. He doesn't realize that the statements made by Count Ciano are inspired by such petty emotions as his jealousy because the hostesses of Paris didn't like him, and so he deprecated France to his great father-in-law.
While we are on the subject I quoted Hitler. I said, "Do you realize that a week ago in Berlin, Hitler said that no Frenchman will ever spend a penny in time of peace to save his country, but every Frenchman is willing to die any number of the most horrible deaths to defend his country in time of war."
Between Mussolini and Hitler there is a very sincere friendship and admiration. Hitler once said, "There is nothing to choose between Italian and Rumanian soldiersthey are both equally bad-but I have a great admiration for Mussolini, because with poor material he has succeeded in doing very good work."
Mossolini, of course, knows his own people very well. He knows their limitations, as well as their genius. In his autobiography he wrote, and indeed he repeated to me, "I have always hoped to make my own life a masterpiece. That I shall never be able to do because everything I achieve falls so far short of my dreams." I disagreed with him. I think he has achieved his masterpiece by keeping his recreated country out of a war in which he would be only a tool of Germany. I think that Mussolini has proved himself a great statesman, as well as a genius, by realizing that his people are not the type of race that must be mass-driven into an unpopular war.
I have been asked very often since I came to Canada, "What are the feelings of the ordinary Italian people about war?" Do you know, it is very difficult in Russia or Germany to find ordinary people today. The ordinary, intelligent men, the individual mind, like yours, have ceased to exist entirely under the pressure of the prevailing ideologies in those countries. In Italy, it does exist. I think this is a true answer. I believe the Italian Government are not certain we are not going to win and therefor they propose, quite rightly, from the point of view of Italy, to watch events until there is proof of what side they are likely to get the best perquisites and pickings on.
On the other side, there is the Fascist dislike of England because of the sanctions we applied with regard to Abyssinia. Go further still and you find the ordinary Italian population not entirely Fascist. In the north, they are very Anti-Fascist. There is devotion there to the House of Savoy, rather than to Mussolini. Those ordinary people consistently hope that England will win. They haven't forgotten the days of Garibaldi, when my own grandfather, and probably some of yours, fought on behalf of Italy, and they think of us as natural allies, culturally and militarily.
Count Grandi, Minister of justice, until a few months ago Italian Ambassador in London, wrote me only a few weeks ago, and he said, "The war has ceased to be a military effort. It has become an intellectual conundrum, the answer to which may be any combination of nations, but," he added, "among the ordinary Italian people you will always find a great deal of affection for the British race." Now, in conclusion, for sixty seconds, I would like to say something about Canada. We have talked about Russia and Germany and Italy. If you want the three men summed up for you, I would suggest Mussolini is a genius and a statesman, whose greatest ambition he gave in his own words, "I want to colonize. I am tremendously a Roman and I would like to re-establish the Roman map of the Mediterranean."
Hitler is a genius. Like all geniuses, he is probably very unbalanced, but he is in no way insane, nor on the border of insanity. But he is no statesman and he is profoundly ignorant, psychologically ignorant of points of view or character of all other nations, although I do believe he respects the British powers of fighting.
Stalin is neither a genius nor a statesman. As a disciple of Lenin he has attempted to implement the ideals of socialism left by Marx by methods which are unsocial and completely inhuman.
Now, with regard to Canada. You insist in all your papers on bewildering admiring travellers like myself. I have just had a 48-hour journey from-where?-from Regina. (I never know where I am, I go so fast.) I don't . know Canada. I have merely been a very grateful and admiring guest for six weeks. I have been very touched by the generosity with which Canadians have listened to me. Obviously, in half an hour I cannot give correct, logical studies of the great men of Europe, and you must accept this impression of Canada as an impression and no more.
Travelling across Canada on your trains--and I was very tired, I can't sleep on your trains, I do think your brakes are very bad--I was thinking about this war, why you fought it. These are my own impressions, as a very young woman. I have talked to many people--Tory, Liberal or Socialist--and I am generally what the other person isn't, in order to encourage an argument. I know England is fighting because of her pledged word to Poland, because the German bully is at the gate and because she realizes very sensibly--we are a sensible people at the bottom--that Hitler won't keep any promises he makes; and, finally, because the quite ordinary Englishmen in the streets has said, "My God, I can't stand this uncertainty any more. We will have to put an end to these crises. We have got to have a decent life for our children. We want them to have a bit more security than we have had ourselves. This is hell. It isn't a crusade, it isn't an adventure, it is a job we have to go through." That is why England is fighting.
I thought this over on the train. You, in Canada, are not as directly menaced, although I believe you might, if Britain were defeated, be faced by an alliance between Japan, Russia and Germany, the three countries to which the British Empire is an uncompromising obstacle, still you are far away and you are only indirectly menaced.
In the middle west, farmers who started life at $10.00 a month, riding the boundaries on the big cattle ranches, now have the west cleared up after ten years of struggle and have up to eight hundred acres of land, such men out of such years of struggle said this sort of thing to me, "I fought four years myself. I am a bit crippled up this time but I have sent my son over. Yes, he went as a pilot. Yes, the only one I have got. Wish you would look him up in England." When they have said things like that it has seemed that Canada is fighting for something even better than us-for an idea of chivalry.
It seems to me also when I have heard this song, "O, Canada, the true North, strong and free", sung over and over again at mass meetings right across your Continent and back again, at which I have had the privilege of speaking, it has seemed just then that you are fighting with a blazing faith of a free people who will not in your minds admit that any other nation should be by force less free than you are yourselves, and that has comforted me, personally--just me, Rosita Forbes--because I have thought, even if England goes down, our so little, so vulnerable island, if she went down--of course, after the manner of the Royal Navy, firing gun for gun while men are alive to work them--if we did go down, I think the Empire would be safe in your charge, and whatever you like to say about it politically in your papers, I believe our Allies, with your help, would be sure of eventual victory, whatever happens to us in England. (Applause-prolonged.)
THE PRESIDENT: I am sorry that time will not permit Miss Rosita Forbes to tell of the other dictators and high personages that she has met. Seldom have we the opportunity of listening to such an excellent address from so vital a personage, a lady who in so short a time has accomplished so much in exploration and travel in strange countries and in social conversation, and I am using "social conversation" advisedly, with men who are outstanding in the world's history today; notwithstanding the perils of travel and the hazards attending these journeys.
The interesting and vivid accounts of such conversations are of the utmost importance in the understanding of the objectives of these men who are controlling and directing the aims and policies of such a large proportion of this world, and who are causing such tremendous chaos in world affairs today.
Canada much appreciates the contribution that Miss Rosita Forbes is making toward the war effort in her lecture tour across Canada for the National Council of Education, and I am sure you will all be pleased to know that she will speak again this evening at Convocation Hall, when she will have a little longer time to discuss those personages whom she has discussed today. I am sure we have all been very much interested in hearing her today and it has been a privilege and an honour to extend, on behalf of the Empire Club, our sincere appreciation and thanks for such a marvellous address. (Applause)
THE PRESIDENT: This meeting has been chosen by the Executive, in accordance with the Constitution, to select a Committee to nominate the Officers for the ensuing year, and I will be very pleased at this time to receive nominations for the Committee to choose the Officers for the coming year.
MR. R. M. HARCOURT: I beg to move that the following Members be appointed to form a Nominating Committee of the Empire Club of Canada for the coming Club Year, of 1940-41:
Robert Fleming C. R. Sanderson J. P. Pratt, K.C. A. Ross Robertson Horace Harpham R. A. Stapells Frank Pullen W. Eason Humphreys
The President and Honorary SecretaryTreasurer to be Members ex-officio of the Committee.
MR. J. G. SINGER: I will second the motion.
THE PRESIDENT: You have heard the resolution, Gentlemen. Are there any other nominations? If not, I declare this Nominating Committee appointed to bring in nominations for the Officers for the ensuing year.
The meeting is adjourned.