THE NEW ALIGNMENTS IN EUROPE
AN ADDRESS BY MR. HARRISON BROWN
Thursday, November 21st, 1935
In the absence of the President, Mr. J. H. Brace„ the Chair was occupied by the Vice-President, Mr. H. C. Bourlier.
MR. BOURLIER: Gentlemen of the Empire Club Your Executive takes much pleasure today in presenting to you a gentleman who by reason of his many accomplishments has attained a high position in the field of journalism and on the public lecture platform, both in Great Britain and the United States. Mr. Harrison Brown enlisted in the British army in the year 1914, and some years after the War occupied the position of European representative of the American Committee for the Outlawing of War, in which connection he was in constant attendance at Geneva. He has also engaged in radio lectures for the British Broadcasting Corporation and it is a matter of interest to note that he made the last uncensored political broadcast in Berlin. His residence on the Continent has enabled him to make a very close study of the political situation there and it is in that connection he is to address us today, his subject being, "The New Alignments in Europe." I have pleasure in introducing Mr. Harrison Brown.
MR. HARRISON BROWN: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen: I am a wanderer on the face of the earth, with precious little other qualification to address such an audience as this, but if constant travelling does teach you anything then possibly I am in a position to say something about the present tensions in Europe since I have been travelling over and over that ground practically since the War.
One of the chief factors in my opinion in European politics today is the attempt on the part of the present government in Germany to form a Fascist bloc which the Nazis hope shall stretch from the North Sea to the Bosphorus. I am not going to prophesy, Gentlemen. I don't know much but I do know the utter futility of prophecy about European policies. No doubt all you gentlemen here have followed and do follow international affairs. If you think back over the last four or five years and imagine that at any given period in that time you had had a vision and had known what were going to be the chief happenings the following six months and supposing you had published or broadcast these, you will agree, I think, you would be denounced as one of the worst sort of alarmists. So I have felt at any time even to mention the most major changes of the next few months was dangerous.
To illustrate how enormously what they call the atmosphere has changed, I remember very, very vividly, less than ten years ago, one afternoon in Geneva. It was at the time that Briand followed Stresemann at the Tribune of the League of Nations. Stresemann had impressed most of us with the emotion and sincerity with which he had given thanks for their having reached that particular stage in the process of Franco-German reconciliation. Stresemann did a great job. He had no particular platform manner, nevertheless he had got across enormously that day. Then Briand followed. It was probably one of the greatest days of his career and probably the most hard-boiled among us were thrilled with that speech, as he addressed himself to the mothers of Europe, telling them that now the hatchet was buried, they could sleep in peace. There would be no more war between France and Germany.
All that seems a long time ago. It is not so long since Mr. Stanley Baldwin was telling us that if the Disarmament Conference failed, then Europe would be face to face with the suicide of civilization. It did fail.
It is still less time since Stanley Baldwin said in the House of Commons, and you probably heard about it here, "I have been rendered physically sick these past weeks to think that I and my friends, statesmen in every nation are spending their time thinking how they can take the mangled bodies of little children to hospitals and save men and women from being choked to death by gas."
Today, an armament race is in full progress and a permanent member of the League Council is committing, perhaps, one of the very few open, blatant acts of aggression in history.
In such a state as that, obviously any attempt to discuss the present tension in the shape of alignments must be in the shape of an interim report. The post-war division of Europe has changed and is changing to a degree only comparable to the change of the atmosphere to which I have just referred. There is no longer that clear cut division between the pro-status quo group of nations and the anti-status quo, which was the predominant feature of the political map of Europe during the twelve post-war years. It is only necessary to remember very,, very exactly the present setup to see how things have changed. Russia, for instance, after being an Ishmaelite among the nations, her hand against every man's and every man's hand against hers, Russia today is the ally of France, the near-ally of Czechoslovakia and Roumania. Italy, after officially at least being somewhat pro-British for years, is now obviously almost violently anti-British, while her attitude toward France has changed almost to the same extent in the opposite direction. Little Austria, in size of no importance at all,, in geographical position predominant in importance, Austria is a vassal of Italy, almost, one might say, a vassal of Mussolini. Hungary, in the shape of her Premier, Julius De Gombos, is the chosen intermediary of Nazi Germany for its diplomatic manoeuvres in Central Europe. Strangest metamorphosis of all, Poland, so long the king pin of the status quo group is now, superficially, at least, deserting the status quo group and throwing in her lot with her age long enemy, Germany, in all this business is working over time to form an anti-French bloc.
Now, I want, as briefly as I can, to get to a point where we can assess the importance of this present German attempt to form a Fascist bloc across the Continent and perhaps we can form some sort of opinion as to whether it will succeed and what the effect if it succeeds or fails is likely to be.
I will have to go back a little bit and I will be as quick as I can on that point. I am of those who have always considered that the Versailles Treaty was a deplorable piece of business. There is, however, some case to be made for those who say it is the best that could be done at the time. There is in my opinion, no case to be made out for the post-war diplomatic policy, either of Great Britain or France, for a considerable period of years after the Versailles Treaty. In other words, I believe we might with advantage have dictated to Germany in the early 'days after the Versailles Treaty. I do not think that we had any excuse whatever for the policy of pin-prick humiliation which we followed. That policy was inexcusable. The result is what we see today - Nazidom, and a barbarian Germany.
I remember at the Hague Conference in 1929, Stresemann in so many words prophesied to me the present developments. He said, briefly, after a long talk, "Unless your people give me something to take home to my people to convince them that my policy is getting somewhere, you will before long have an ultra-nationalist, intractable Germany which neither you nor I nor anybody else will be able to deal with." That is precisely what happened. I lived for a considerable period of years in both France and Germany. I think I can say with pretty intimate knowledge of both peoples that it was possible for at least ten years after the Treaty of Versailles, or probably longer, it was possible to form a true reconciliation between those nations and thereby make a true foundation for peace in Europe. I very much fear that now the last opportunity may have been lost. That is not a prophecy. I say I very much fear it may have been lost.
A few weeks ago I was wandering about Central Europe, in Prague, Vienna, Budapest, little towns in central districts, talking to everybody I met. I came back with two main impressions. One, that of the absolute fatalism of the informed opinion in those countries -by informed opinion I mean the opinion of those people whom I had known long enough for them to talk intimately to me in legations, in foreign offices and editorial rooms-in contrast to that which I can only call the absolute innocence of the uninformed masses, in this sense. If you venture to give them a simple analysis tending to show the possibility of war, the reaction, particularly among the middle classes, was inevitably one of incredulity as well as horror.
In the present setup, Nazi Germany is without any doubt at all the most dynamic force. The fact that Nazi Germany exists today is, in my opinion, an indictment of European statesmanship in the immediate post-war years, particularly. I had hoped and I still venture to hope that
Anthony Eden may do something to redress it all. That we have yet to see. It is by no means certain that Anthony Eden will be returned to the Foreign Office, though if he is not returned there is no doubt his removal from there will be distinctly unpopular with the country. I think one can say that without fear of exaggeration. After all, there is a pretty definite feeling in Great Britain that the discrepancy of the advanced age of the Cabinet is too pronounced and after all, Eden is the one outstanding figure of British politics belonging to the war generation.
My opinion is that definitely Germany is launched on an expansionist policy which is extremely likely to lead to war. Somebody once said and there is a good deal of truth in it, though the generalization is obviously not a hundred per cent true, somebody said, the Germans, as a whole, as a nation understand inferiority, they understand superiority; they do not understand equality. You will find practically everybody who is at all interested in international affairs in Europe will have an opinion on this expansionist policy and nearly all of them will agree that that is so, that they are launched on an expansionist policy. The controversy only comes as to whether it is temporary or otherwise. In relation to that, latterly there has been a good deal of publicity about the so-called demand for colonies on the part of Germany and in some quarters to say, "For Heaven's sake, let us settle the matter. Let us give them .something so they will keep quiet." Without going into that, I, personally, think that is not at all a wise view. The reason I mention the subject at all is that I feel quite definitely that in so far as the demand for colonies with Germany as official backer as it has appeared to have, I think it is a bluff. You see the demand for equality in all things which all German governments have been proclaiming for many years now. That demand for equality is now in danger of being rather lost. I mean Germany has taken practically all the things which she said prevented her from being on an equality with other nations. Colonies she still has not. Therefore, it is a good agitation point and I think largely from the point of view of that prestige is the fact that she is to some extent pretending to be officially interested in colonies. No, I don't believe Hitler's view on that subject has much changed since he wrote "Mein Kampf," and in that great work you remember he is very emphatically of the opinion that the colonial era is over and that Germany cannot solve any problems by colonies outside Europe.
Now, in my opinion the aim of Germany is new territory in Europe and the territory on which she has her eye is the Ukraine. Coupled with that is the desire for domination, economic and political of Central and Eastern Europe. Just as Mussolini is convinced he is the re-incarnation of Julius Caesar, so is Goering convinced he is the predestined German Colossus bestriding Europe. Vienna is slated to be the purged capital of the new holy German Empire. Therefore, it is not from mere cussedness that the powers are preventing the Austrian people from self determination. They realize, everybody realizes, Italy included, that Germany in Vienna today would mean Germany in Trieste, in Belgrade, in Bucharest and possibly in Strasbourg tomorrow. As Spengler has said, Germany is a country in the making.
Well, these German aims are obtainable at the expense and only at the expense of both Great Britain and France. Therefore it is my opinion that those Germans who are determined on this policy and who have thought things through must see before they can launch on it they must be or consider themselves to be materially in a strong enough position to knock out both Britain and France. By "to knock out," I don't say conquer, but to knock them out of the fighting line. The present stage is that of the attempt to cross the diplomatic threads, to cause and profit by any dissension which exists between those nations which are not too friendly to Germany and it is also a period which Hitler very well described in "Mein Kampf," that in which the chief aim of their foreign policy is seeking of comrades in arms.
Goering fancies himself as a great statesman. You may remember, he got married this year to Emmy Sonnemann, the actress, and in the Spring he made a honeymoon tour, not maybe the sort of honeymoon most of us would enjoy. He toured around Europe in an aeroplane, and was trailed everywhere by another big aeroplane filled with European officials, and he spent most of his honeymoon wining and dining and banquetting these officials. As a aid to the anti-French bloc, it had its uses. Though it was not an outstanding success, it was a negative success for it taught the Germans what they could not do, at least.
Since then the German diplomacy has been carried on in this new form which I have called a hunting party diplomacy. It is at the hunting parties the attempt to form a Fascist bloc is being pursued.
Superficially, it would seem almost inevitable with such strong nations so whole-heartedly Facist, it would seem inevitable they must come together. There are a lot of people who say it is coming, that is must come. I don't quite agree with that. I think, tempting as it is to believe it and by and large this must be, particularly when one is a long way from the scene of action, nevertheless I feel the more you study the details, the more the difficulties get almost into the realm of the insuperable.
I am just going to run hurriedly over some of the chief difficulties. Poland. In any Facist bloc alignment, Poland must be the kingpin of the outfit. Now, the Polish people, although they are now being told all the nice things about Germany and nothing unpleasant as they have been for at least two generations, and the same applies of the Germans in Germany, nevertheless, the Polish people find it very hard to believe that Germany has forgotten all about the Corridor. Colonel Beck, the Polish Foreign Minister is motivated partly by personal considerations. He dislikes the French very much. He was turned out of Paris as Military Attache, and he has the support of some of the large landowners in Poland, but so far as I can see he doesn't get away with the majority of the mass of the people.
More interesting, certainly more important in attempting to establish the likelihood of German success is the fact that 'despite the extremely pro-German policy of Poland during the last two years particularly, relations between the French General Staff and the Polish General Staff have hardly changed at all, or at least they had not changed up to a very few weeks ago. That is important because after all it is the Polish General Staff which in the long run has, I would say„ more in the last word in Polish affairs than the French Staff has in French affairs at the moment and the Polish staff officers remember that in 1922 when Soviet Russia was overrunning Poland the French General Staff saved the day. They have a holy terror of history repeating itself and Germany getting in bad again with some neighbour and, in other words, being in a spot where they would be badly in need of help and finding the French General Staff turning a deaf ear. Therefore, though one reads time after time about the increasing pro-German attitude and policy of Poland, I. still remain skeptical as to the likelihood of Poland breaking away definitely from the status quo bloc.
I believe myself the showdown will come next March and it is a moment which I would rather like to commend to your attention, to watch the papers at the time. If the Polish-Roumanian Treaty is renewed at that time-it comes up for renewal then - then I think that its renewal will be almost a definite sign to Goering that his diplomacy has failed. On the other hand, if she refuses to renew it, it will certainly be a sign to France that she must take the pro-German tendency of Polish policies very, very seriously, indeed. So, by and large, one must write the success of Goering in this diplomatic attempt as doubtful.
Now, Hungary. Hungary is a small nation, a weak nation. They have had long conferences with the Ger mans. They feel very flattered that such a great country should be courting them and asking for their help but they have very few illusions as to the extent to which Germany would consider the sentiment of the cat's paw, after she had gained her end. In other words, while the big fellow is getting into the saddle it is very nice but after he is in the saddle, the situation may change. That is the fundamental situation, so far as I can gather in the nation of Hungary. I have found in business circles in Hungary considerable antagonism, certainly no enthusiasm for the pro-German policies of the Hungarian people. One other outstanding reason why Hungary must be very careful where she steps in this matter of a Facist bloc is that the Magyars are isolated in Europe. They are surrounded by Slavs and Germans. They are neither the one nor the other. The Slavs are of oriental origin. They are racially isolated from the Slavs. They know they have nothing to look for, in the sense that Panslavism is dead, and even though the Slavs want to turn Hungary from the Germans they have some justification in being a little less certain about it. Therefore, Hungary, much though her Premier apparently would like to, is likely to be pretty chary in tying herself up to the German chariot.
As regards Italy, there is general uncertainty there. Everything depends on the outcome of the Ethiopian adventure. I don't pretend to know anything about that but I would just like to say that in the few conversations I have had since I came to Canada, I have found rather surprising the wide spread view that it is going to be a walkover for Italy. I, as I say, know nothing about it, but I assure you that view is by no means very common in Europe. The fundamental thing, however, is that they don't know whether Italy can be a useful member of the Facist bloc. It is entirely uncertain. Nobody knows where Mussolini will be a year hence, much less what will happen to Facist Italy. The fundamental thing in the relations of Italy and Germany, whether Facist or anything else is that an all-powerful Germany sitting on the precipice has been and always will be a threat to Italy. That, then, would become a threat to Trieste which Italy took from Austria after the war. Austria, another potential Facist ally is officially anti-Nazi and proItalian.
That pretty well sums up the picture. It is a platitude, Gentlemen, to say we are living on a volcano in Europe. That roughly, is the volcano. In my opinion, I disagree with those who say the volcano may explode any moment, simply because we are living on a volcano. People say it has to come some moment, that it may come any minute. I think, though irrational to an unprecedented degree, at the moment we are in one of those possibly very short lulls in which one can say an explosion is not likely to occur. I repeat, it may be a very, very short time. I believe the possible moment of eruption of the volcano will come from the moment when Goering and the German Nazi leaders, if or when they are finally convinced their attempt to produce a great diplomatic success have definitely failed. From that moment on, I think explosion is possible.
Well, Gentlemen, that is merely the diagnosis of a wanderer. Very inadequate, full of implications, but you may remember, to quote our friend, Mr. Stanley Baldwin„ a few weeks ago he said, "When I examine international relations, I really feel I am living in a mad house." If that is the opinion of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, I would hope you wouldn't expect the likes of me to reduce everything to a lucid and a logical conclusion. (Hearty applause.)
MR. BOURLIER : In thanking the speaker of the day, Mr. Brown, may I refer in brief to the address we had last week on "Britain's New Responsibilities," and say how well the two addresses combined will give us a picture of the very troubled situation, politically, in Europe today. We greatly appreciate Mr. Brown's coming to us and I am sure I only voice your sentiment to him when I say that we have listened with rapt interest to his commentary on the situation abroad. (Applause.)