THE FIFTH YEAR AND THE FUTURE
AN ADDRESS BY
PERCY JAMES PHILIP.
Chairman: The President, Mr. W. Eason Humphreys
Thursday, January 6, 1944
MR. HUMPHREYS: Prominent men whose words are read and heard by thousands of people, shoulder great responsibilities, for what they say influences the thinking (and consequently the behaviour) of many. Percy James Philip, 'our guest today, possesses a fine conception of these responsibilities. That, perhaps, is why The Empire Club has invited him to visit us for the fourth time.
Many of us know how, in the midst of battle, Mr. Philip left France and all his belongings. Later on, we were grateful to him for his grave, yet steady, words when he arrived on this side, for he is one who had tasted the kind of war called "Total".
Mr. Philip did much for civilian war effort in the columns of the great newspaper with which he is associated-the New York Times. I need hardly remind you that he is Ottawa correspondent of that newspaper now. Our guest is of Scottish descent. Percy James Philip is a prominent Watsonian, for he attended the George Watson College, Edinburgh, before going to Oxford. He has a vast knowledge of English, and assisted in the compilation of the Oxford Dictionary. He has also been associated with medicine, farming, and is well known, too, for his writing of nature sketches. Above all, journalism--to which he has devoted so much-is his great work.
For his fourth address to this Club, our guest has chosen as his subject: "The Fifth Year and the Future". Gentlemen: An old-friend: Percy James Philip.
MR. PHILIP: If it is true, as I am told, that this gathering is just as large as that which assembled on December 2nd, when I failed to appear, I can only very humbly express my appreciation of your great politeness. I have seldom endured a more uncomfortable half hour than the one which followed my discovery at 12.20 on that day that I should have been here and not where I was. It was most disagreeable. I had the sensation that my heart had turned upside down and my stomach was behaving in a manner reminiscent of a sea-voyage. You at least had a good lunch. I didn't.
May I again tender my most sincere apologies and thank you for having so sportingly overlooked my error and asked me back to your table.
This is the fourth successive season that you have done me the honor of inviting me to speak to you. It is an honour which I have esteemed very highly, for the repetition of your invitation has seemed to me to imply your appreciation of my effort to present a fair picture of the war situation, concealing nothing, distorting nothing, telling the truth plainly as it is given me to see the truth. And today, with your permission, I propose to continue in my role of reporter and give you, for what it is worth, my estimate of our position now and of the main problem which will face us when the fighting ends.
Some of you may remember that in the first speech which I made to this Club on November 21st, 1940, I began with the statement: "I am sure that we can win this war". It was rather a bold claim to make at that moment for France had been beaten, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States showed any intention of fighting and we were alone at war with Germany. The outlook was grim but I found that like all other British people from the King and Mr. Winston Churchill down to the humblest Londoner and the furthest Australian, you here in Toronto were also soberly confident that we would never be beaten, that we would never surrender, that somehow, some time, with God's help to our efforts we would come through.
At our next two meetings in October '41 and November '42 the tale I had to tell was scarcely less grave. We seemed to be getting many more hard knocks than we were giving. But we held on. We have come through, and today, this time among a band wagon majority of prophets, including Stalin, Eisenhower and Montgomery, I think I may amend my prediction of three years ago that "We can win this war," to make it read "We can win the war against Nazi Germany this year."
Please note that I do not say we will do so. I am much too cautious for that. Newspapermen are always well advised to be more cautious than political leaders and generals. Besides there are too many unknown factors in the situation to risk any such categoric prediction. Still I think we are at last justified in indulging in a feeling of sober confidence based on realities.
What are our chances? Let us look at the balance sheet. The German armies have not yet been broken. The Russians have pushed them back and in these past few days especially have shaken them severely but they are still a long way from fighting on German soil. We have thrown them out of Africa and Sicily and keep hammering them up the Italian peninsula. But everywhere they have fought stubbornly and retreated in order. We have not broken them.
Our bombers have wiped out over half of Berlin and pounded and pulverized the German cities and industries as Mr. Churchill promised the English people he would, giving back ten bombs for one. We have done fearful damage but the German people have not yet broken or cried for peace. They have endured as the people of England endured. What a pity it is that the record of Nazi cruelty and evil is such that it makes it difficult to pay tribute to their courage and discipline as a fighting people.
In every occupied country there is revolt and sabotage and terrorism. Every German soldier goes in fear of assassination. But the Nazis have not yielded an inch of ground. They are ready and resolute to defend every gateway and barrier to that immense fortress they have made of Europe. Rommel and von Runstedt have just been examining and no doubt strengthening their defences. They boast their confidence. Hitler has warned his people that they must either throw back the invaders or perish. He is getting more hysterical than ever.
Don't let us make the mistake now of underestimating him and his forces. They will fight fanatically. We are going to have many Dieppes and Salerno beaches. The Nazis have sworn that they will fight to a finish, and we must be prepared to fight to a finish too.
It is time we got going. I have never been one of those who clamored impatiently for a second front. I was too well instructed regarding the difficulties and dangers of a landing in Europe. When we strike we must be sure that we can hold. We cannot risk a Gallipoli or another Dunkirk. Salerno was both an example and a warning. We almost failed. The Germans claimed precipitately that we had failed. Only the naval gunners, fighting ships against tanks, and our airmen when the weather cleared, held that beach for the invading forces.
But the time has come when we must take the risk. What have we got on the credit side? I would put first our air strength, not just the bombers, who are breaking the enemy spirit. No country can stand long under that menacing rain of bombs. But that enormous fighter strength that has been built up, which will put a sure umbrella over all landing operations. The situation of Dunkirk has been reversed. We have the pilots and the machines and we have also generals who have come to realize that air fighting and air protection are an integral part of any operation, and not something separate from the infantry and the gunners.
Next we hold the sea. The sinking of the Scharnhorst and the Nazi destroyers in the Bay of Biscay were just the final proof that the long fight against both surface vessels and submarines has been won. We have nothing to fear from Hitler's navy. There has been something so coldly, calmly efficient, so tenacious, so noble in that long fight on the part of every seaman from First Lord Sir Andrew Cunningham and his predecessor Sir Dudley Pound down to the officers and men of the little corvettes, the minesweepers and the merchant ships who have kept the white and red ensigns flying on all the seas ferrying men and food to the battle fronts that I often think it is to them more than to all others that we owe it today that we can hope to win the war this year.
Third I would put the heavy toll of Germany's best troops that has been taken in the Russian fighting. There are never in any army, however many millions it may number, more than a few hundred thousand men in each million, a few divisions in each army group, who are storm troops in the best sense, who have the physique, the training, the discipline and the spirit to do the fiercest fighting. Of these top troops in the Nazi army the Russians have killed innumerable thousands. In Africa and Sicily we took heavy toll of them and the fighting of these past weeks at Ortona, where young strong Canadians were matched against specially trained paratroops and won, has shown that the Nazi reserves of these best men are wearing thin. They are reaching the point of which Ludendorff complained in his memoirs when he told how, when he launched his 1918 offensive, the "iron" divisions of first rate attacking troops had been depleted by casualties to only one third of their normal strength.
Our fourth reason for confidence is that, as in 1918, the numbers and enthusiasm of the American forces have turned the balance in our favor. We could not invade Europe without them. We now have the men, we have the ships, we have the guns, we have the planes and we believe that in Eisenhower and Montgomery and all those who surround them we have the right kind of organizing and fighting leaders.
I would add a fifth element. All the peoples in the occupied countries of Europe are on our side. They have waited very long for this day of liberation and their steadfastness has been one of those things that has redeemed the soiled honor of this generation, and kept our confidence high that the love of liberty has not died. Let us, as conquerors, keep these people as our friends and not offend them. Those who fought and were wounded deserve as much honour as those who win.
It is an encouraging balance sheet. But do not let any of us misjudge the hazardous nature of this enormous enterprise. From our bases on the island of Britain and from Africa our armies are setting out to invade the Continent of Europe, fortified and defended as never before. It is a fantastic undertaking almost beyond belief. They only think that we can be sure of is that the first contact with the enemy will be very bitter and very bloody. When we break through that outer crust we must drive forward so swiftly, so relentlessly that the enemy is never given time to gather his forces and make a stand. We must fight and beat the Nazis by the same blitz tactics, the same crushing superiority in the air, the same speed on the ground as they beat us and the French in 1940. It is not going to be easy. Let no one think that because the invasions plans have been made and the leaders chosen that this war is practically won, that we can afford to slack a bit, to turn to other things. It is going to take all the punch and resolution and effort and brains and courage and faith that we have to come through this last test. It is going to cost great toll of brave men's lives. But, with God's help, we know now that we can do it. We can beat the Nazis this year. That is our objective.
Now, as is fitting at this New Year season, I would like to speak a little of the future which is beginning so to occupy peoples minds. During these past weeks we have been heartened by the proclaimed success of the Moscow, Cairo and Teheran conferences. For myself I have seen and reported too many international conferences to attach any excessive importance to what three or four men, who will have disappeared from the human scene in a few years, may claim to have agreed about regarding the future of the world. It is so difficult to agree. Also I have learned that life is a continuous process, and never an accomplishment. Although it may be canalized for a moment, and given a good or bad direction, it is beyond the power of any man or group of men to plan the future with certainty. All that any of us can do is to keep on hammering away, trying to do what we believe to be right.
When I think about the future what I am most afraid of is that "let down" feeling which will come over us the moment the war is won. I was in Paris and in the Place de la Concorde on that armistice day in 1918 when we thought we had won a war to make the world safe for democracy, a place for heroes to live in. We were all deliriously glad and we certainly made plenty noise. But behind the noise and shouting there was a queer little uncertain feeling in everybody's heart. We were glad the killing was over, that there was no more danger, that we had won. But there was a kind of anti-climax about it all. The hope we had lived by so long had been realized and there was as yet no new hope to take its place. The objective we had set ourselves had been won and we went vaguely asking what next?
It is in that dangerous moment at the end of this war when the necessity for effort and discipline and union and patience is removed by the defeat of the Nazis that the real test of our worth will come. It is then that our weaknesses or our strength will show.
I am just a reporter. I am not of those who see visions and who dream dreams. It was as a reporter that I watched the quick fantastic collapse of the dreams and ideas and good intentions we all had in 1918 into the petty quarrels of the 20's, the impotency of the 30's and the calamity of 1939. I watched political rivalry and the egoism of men and nations destroy the strength of the allied union which Wilson had sought to perpetuate in the League of Nations. I watched rival idealisms tear each other to pieces so that finally even their supporters turned away in disgust to greedy selfish materialism. I watched the bankers and business men who wanted to organize life on a material basis, on what they called a sound economic and financial foundation, so quarrel although we can be sure it will survive this storm we shall have to tread carefully and firmly. We must stick together or cease to be strong enough to be free.
The Soviet Union which was founded on the communist conception of equality of right and international peace has become the greatest military power not just of Europe but of Asia. The abolition of the Commintern and the official adoption' of a new national anthem are only superficial indications of the immense changes which have been wrought under Stalin's rule, although our communists in other countries seem not yet to have noticed them. Hitler was sure that he could beat Communist Russia. This other authoritative disciplined Russia, where privelege by merit has taken the place of the communist idea, has beaten him.
And then there is the great individualistic republic of the United States, enormously wealthy in resources, throbbing with energy, invention and industry, constantly elated by some idealism as an escape from something which I have never been able to define and, despite its written constitution, which is so difficult to amend, capable of reversing its whole policy every fourth year, and this is one of them, in a Presidential election.
For God's sake let us begin by looking things squarely in the face and not go blindly into the future for a second time, playing with theory and make-believe.
This job of making peace with elements like these is going to be infinitely harder than has been the job of beating Hitler. It is going to be even more complicated if we exclude from our council tables the ancient civilizations of Europe, the Latin peoples with their long experience of life, who invented liberty, equality and fraternity, the Teutonic peoples-as we did last time because they were our enemies-and those other vital breeds of that little continent from which all our civilization is derived, although it is now the habit over here to criticize and look down on it in the way inexperienced and self-confident children criticize and look down on their elders.
I do not wish to be discouraging, but I have too long watched the ways of governments and peoples to believe that there is any short cut to Utopia. The truth is that we none of us really know what makes us tick as people and nations. All we can ever do is to go groping blindly along, feeling our way, and the only thing that is certain is that we shall all make mistakes, enormous mistakes like we did last time when we destroyed the ancient monarchic regime in Germany and Austria in the name of democracy, and so opened the road to the hysteria of Hitlerism, when in our effort to get rid of what was called the evil of the balance of power, we set up a system founded on the theory of national equality unsupported by force, which lived for some years in confusion and died in chaos, helped to that end by those who went on preaching, against all evidence, that disarmament was the best prevention against war.
I sometimes fear that we have already begun to make fatal mistakes by avoiding some issues, accepting compromise settlements for others, by judging cases with insufficient knowledge, and, as is the human habit, especially of elected governments, by following the line of least resistance and greatest opportunism.
But, just as three years ago I was bold enough to claim we can win this war I am ready to say today that we can win the peace. As a first step let us all get it into our heads and keep it there that none of us is winning the war alone, that separately we would all have lost it. Neither Russia nor the United States would have survived if Britain had gone down, Britain could not have won without the Empire and the others. We can none of us enter on any national ledger the dollars and cents spent to help someone else, or even the battles we fought and the lives sacrificed. They were all spent in one war. They are all just part of the price we have all paid to be delivered from the evil of Nazi rule.
If we begin to argue round the peace table in terms of nations instead of humanity, of national economy instead of world need, of interest instead of service, of regimes instead of people, of money instead of men's lives we will certainly clash again in another war, even more destructive than this, which has cost the life of Europe and come near destroying us all. But do we need to do that? The airmen of every nation who go out night after night and day after day over Germany, facing death until it comes, have set us high example of the new way we can and must think and live. They have no limited horizons, no narrow vision, no material aim. Often their crews consist of men of half a dozen nationalities. To them it is one war. It is their pride as men, each to do his best, and as a team to go together until the enemy is broken.
We who live far from the battle tend to see only our own part, to think only of our fellows and what they have done. But men in the line know that it has taken us all together to beat the Germans and it is going to take us all together, if we can manage it, to make and keep peace. It is going to be a slow business, a delicate business, possibly a harsh business for some. No one can predict what will happen, or trace exactly the road along which that stability which is peace will lie.
Thirty years of watching the ways of governments and men have taught me that the worst guides of all are often the most clamorous ones: the narrow nationalists, the doctrinaries, the moralists, the fanatical idealists, the easy optimists, the preachers of peace by disarmament, or isolation, of prosperity without toil, of social security without obligation, of life without effort.
These were the people who by their weakness gave Hitler his illusion of power and opportunity. They have not been conspicuous in the days of danger, but they are getting busy again.
Let us try to avoid false doctrines. It has been by clinging to the things we know to be true and sound that we have come through: our humble submission to the mystery of life and God's providence which we do not understand; our strong belief in the worth of every human individual, which rejects the servitude of the totalitarian state; our loyalty to tried institutions like this old but ever young Empire, which has assured safety in youth and ever increasing freedom in maturity to all its members; the companionship of men of good will, of all nationalities, and their power when armed and working together in a just cause.
It is these things that have carried us through to this year when we can hope for victory, and it is these which will, long after our time and our effort, carry humanity forward in that never ending pursuit of happiness which is happiness.