THE GERMAN PEACE OFFER
AN ADDRESS BY COLONEL GEORGE T. DENISON
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto
December 28, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN.--The reason I wish particularly to speak to you today is, that just at this moment there are propositions being made by our enemy which to my mind are exceedingly dangerous, and which make one exceedingly anxious for the future. I have not been afraid for one minute from the beginning of the war, as to the ultimate results of our fighting. When interviewed by a newspaper man a fortnight after the war opened, I said it would be a long war, lasting two or three years and most likely longer. He asked, " Have you any dread of the war going against us? " I replied, "Not the slightest." I said, "Our soldiers will thrash them; we will go at it with vigour and I am sure we will defeat them; but there is one haunting dread in my mind, that when our men have fought and died for our Empire, when they have won brilliant victories, when they have got our enemy beaten, that then some philosophic fool or diplomat or politician will come in, and give away all that our men have died for." I foresaw that danger before the war had lasted a fortnight, and now I begin to see the first symptom of the intrigue, to try and take away from us what we have won, and to do it by treachery and by a diplomatic trick. We have to consider most seriously what we ought to do in the face of this. I wrote a letter to one of our papers a short time ago in which I said that the Allies should give no indication of what their terms were; that they should put no weapon in the hands of the enemy, nor aid him to incite his people to further exertions. Now that they have made this effort, there is no reason why an individual like myself, should not say what I think ought to happen to them; they can't use what I say as a weapon in Germany, to urge their people to go on further with the fight, but I might say something today that might have some little influence towards causing people to look upon this question in the proper light.
I intend to deal with this subject from the historic standpoint. I want to go back into the lessons of history, because I tell you candidly that there is nothing more educative, nothing more illuminating, nothing that helps a man more to form a correct impression, than a careful, full, complete study of ancient and modern history. It was partly through that, I suppose, that I saw this war coming nearly ten years before it came. Of course I was ridiculed a good deal about it, but that did not bother me; and now the ridicule is on the other side, yet those who attacked me, will now turn around and say they saw it coming all the time it is a most extraordinary conversion.
I intend only to deal with the two greatest and most important wars in past history which were fought for worldpower, because they both give useful lessons for us to consider today. One was the great struggle between Rome and Carthage; the other was the war of Napoleon. The Emperor William's war now going on, came on without any reason; the Germans had no wrongs to redress, no slights to resent, no grievances to complain of; they went into this war purposely for- world-power; their best writers admitted it--they wanted to get the mastery of the world.
The war between Rome and Carthage continued from 264 B.C. to 146 B.C., a period of 118 years, broken by two treaties or truces or armistices. The first Punic War lasted for 23 years. It was a bitterly contested struggle between the Romans and the Carthaginians, and at the end of 23 years, in a great naval' victory, the Romans got the upper hand. The war lasted so long, that great numbers of the men who fought in that big battle at the end of the war, were unborn when the war began. The Romans tried to prevent a recurrence of the trouble, so they took Sardinia from them, they took Corsica, they took an immense money indemnity from them, and they thought they would have lasting peace. They had peace for something like as years; then Hannibal and his party in Carthage deliberately manoeuvred, and intrigued and planned, to bring on another war, and they made another attack upon Rome. They went through Spain, across the Alps and down into Italy. Hannibal won several battles, the most important was that of Cannae, which was the most deadly battle in history; 76,000 Roman soldiers went into the battle, and when it was over 70,000 of them lay strewn upon the field. Among them was one of the consuls; a large number of their knights, their "equites," and a great number of their prominent men. One consul, Varro, escaped with about 6,000 men and got to Rome; he tried to hold this remnant of men together, and told them they would still have to fight on, and in spite of that awful defeat where nearly all the gentlemen of Rome were killed-there were three bushels -of knights' rings picked off the dead and sent over to Carthage as trophies of victory-In the face of that, when these men came back to Rome, the Roman Senate did not lose -heart; the Roman people who were left did not turn cowards, did not talk about peace, but they passed a vote of thanks to the consul Varro, because he had not lost faith in the commonwealth. They carried the war into Africa; they won a complete victory at the battle of Zama, where Hannibal was very disastrously defeated. Then they thought they had them down under their feet once more. They took away from them all their colonies and settlements on the northern side of the Mediterranean, they confined them to Africa for the future; they took away nearly all their ships, and all their war elephants; and they bound them not to go to war with anyone without the consent of Rome. The Romans thought then that they had probably finished them, and would have no more trouble with them. That truce did last for 53 years. About 30 years after the peace was concluded, Marcus Cato, the censor, was sent on an embassy to Carthage. When he arrived there he was astounded on looking about, being an observant man, at the extraordinary revival that had taken place in that City. He was astonished at the extraordinary fertility of their luxuriant fields; he saw that they had the most enormous magazines of arms; he found that they had stored away an immense amount of material for the building of a fleet; and when he came back he told the Romans in the Senate, that "Carthage must be destroyed"; and in every speech he made after that in the Senate, no matter on what subject, when he finished it he said, "But I repeat that Carthage must be destroyed." Scipio Nasica was a different type of man, and he would get up and say, "No, I think Carthage must be preserved" he must have been like some people we have in the old country at present-he would say, "We ought to save them and take care of them, for theirs is a very profitable country to trade with." The Carthaginians after a time got into war again with the Romans, for the last time. The Romans had had enough of it, and the Roman Senate gave orders that Carthage was to be destroyed, and when the Romans conquered them, and took possession of the city, they absolutely destroyed it, and the ruins were burning for 17 days; then they ran a plow over the site of Carthage, and after that, as Mommsen says, "Roman peasants pastured the cattle of their distant masters upon the fields where for 500 years Phoenicians had trafficked and traded." That was the way in which that greatest nation of antiquity settled with the Carthaginians; they wiped them out-and they secured peace for themselves for hundreds of years, and Rome was mistress of the world for many hundreds of years after that. They did not do that from anger, or from a feeling of vengeance, or cruelty; they did it from sheer fright, that it was the only thing they could do to save themselves. That is the lesson that Rome teaches us from that war.
The next great war was that of Napoleon, who started out for world-power. He conquered nearly all Europe. There was hardly a country in Europe that did not obey his demands; except Great Britain and Russia. He could not get at Great Britain, but he could get at Russia, and, he drove the Russian Army back in battle after battle, and at last they abandoned Moscow and burned it. When the Russian Emperor heard of it, he sent for the English Ambassador, Lord Cathcart, and told him that not one calamity of that kind, nor not twenty; would cause him to submit, or enter into negotiations, but that he would retire out of Europe altogether, to the seats of his ancestors in the Asiatic wilds. Napoleon tried to make peace with him; Napoleon sent a message to him, and in my letter the other day to the newspaper, I quoted the Emperor's most emphatic letter, in which he told his officers that there was to be no conference of any kind along with any of Napoleon's people. That is the way the Russian Emperor of that day acted. It became necessary for Napoleon to retire out of Russia because of the burning of Moscow, the shortage in supplies, the want of food, and the fact that the Russian Cossacks were hovering around the flanks and rear of his army. The Russians followed him, but Napoleon could not get them to listen to terms of peace. When he got back into Germany from Russia, then Prussia and Austria rose against him, the whole people rose-it was called the war of liberation-and they fought Napoleon during the two years 1813-14 and they kept driving him back farther and farther, and drove him all the way to Paris, and when he got near there he fell back to Fontainebleau. He was trying to get to terms with them. I think it is a most pitiful story that is told of his messenger, Caulaincourt, whom he sent to Paris, when the allied powers were there, to discuss with them in conference what was to be done with Napoleon. There were orders in every outpost near Paris that they were not to allow any emissary from Napoleon to enter. The allies turned Caulaincourt back from Paris. He took refuge in a farm house, but afterwards through the friendship of the Grand Duke Constantine he obtained a secret interview with the Emperor Alexander, who told him in very concise and emphatic terms, that he could not do anything for him. What did the allies do? Napoleon had to abdicate; he had nothing to say about the terms that were given him. He was not heard nor listened to-and that was the proper way to treat him. He was sent to Elba, not as a question of terms, but he was just told to go; he had to go where he was told. Within ten months he escaped from there, and got back to France, and made a triumphal progress to Paris, regained power there for a time, reigned for 100 days, and that reign was finished by the disastrous fight as far as he was concerned, but the decisive victory for us, at Waterloo. He then retreated to Paris, and from there he escaped to Rochefort, where he gave himself up to an English war vessel in order to save his life. It was said that if Blucher could have got hold of him, he would have promptly tried him by court martial, and would have shot him. Napoleon was afterwards sent to St. Helena, and suffered the most lonely confinement there on that Island for six years till he died. That was the fate of the great man who tried to get world-power. Two of his principal accomplices, Murat, King of Naples, and Marshal Ney, "the bravest of the brave," were both tried by court martial, and both summarily shot; so was Labedoyere, one of his great generals, and that pretty well finished -that war, and the attempt by Napoleon to win world-power.
Now I would like to say a word or two about our neighbour to the South, who has been "butting in" with an insolent, stupid letter telling us what we ought to do, and asking us to tell him what terms we would ask. What business is it of his? I think, taking it in itself, it is a piece of impudence; but when we come to think of their own history--which he ought to be old enough to know something about, it is very suggestive. You will remember that Lincoln was trying to uphold the union, and. in order to prevent it from being destroyed, Lincoln persistently refused to listen to any suggestions of peace, or to agree to open negotiations; he just fought on and on and kept it up until the southern armies were defeated, and all the southern states were under the control of his men. They captured Jefferson Davis, the southern leader, and what did they do with him? Did they give him a vote of thanks? No, they imprisoned him in a casement in Fortress Munroe; they put iron shackles upon his ankles; they kept him there under General Miles, who treated him with the utmost cruelty, and in the most unkind and rude manner. Poor Jefferson Davis nearly died there. They kept him there for two years. Captain Wirtz, an officer who had committed no crimes, was executed, hanged by those people because they had got the upper hand. They took the vote away from all the men who had fought, and that meant that every fine man in the south was disfranchised. They gave the vote to the negroes, and in 1870 I was in Richmond, Va., where I saw a large number of the members of the State Legislature, who were negroes, many of whom I believe could neither read nor write. That was the awful penalty put upon the poor people who fought for their freedom in that war. Wilson ought to know that; he is a Virginian, and he ought to know that Lincoln would not listen to any kind of terms, but that he was determined to make them know that he had got the mastery, in order to keep control for the future. The south were kept down that way for some years, until the northern armies were all disbanded, until the Government had but very few troops, and then by the exercise of their influence through the Ku Klux Klan, they cleaned out the negro power, and the nation has been in a proper state of agreement since.
Now, there are three cases we have had, two of them in modern times, which show the way in which the conquerors are apt to treat those who have done anything wrong. Jefferson Davis suffered terribly in the prison; they had to let him out because they were afraid he would die. I saw him a very short time after he was discharged, and I did not think he could ever get over it; yet he was a kindly, humane man, who never committed any crime, such as those horrible, detestable crimes that are being committed by the German people every day in this war.
The Germans made up their minds 40 years ago, without any grievance or wrongs or reasons, to make a great push for world-power. They established one of the most extraordinary systems of espionage in all civilized countries; there was never anything equal to it that I ever heard of in history. They prepared immense stores of arms; they drilled all their manhood; they trained all their officers to the very highest point; they had immense manceuvres for practising war every year; they tried to build an enormous fleet; and all the time they were intending to make war. The university professors in most countries very innocently were hypnotized, and were inclined to speak favourably about German Culture and so deceive the public. In many such ways the Germans acted in a most treacherous manner, and though they were apparently friendly with us, they were determined all the time to conquer all nations and grasp the command as a world-power.
Now, the question is, what ought to be done with them? That is the reason I have shown you the teachings of history. In the first place I would like to say that we must not listen to any terms whatever from those men. We must never have any of our representatives sit down at the same table with them; we must never discuss it in any way; such a thing would be a cruel wrong to all those young men of ours who have fought and died for this country and for freedom, that have died for our empire. It would be an awful thing. Then again, suppose we-did make a peace, the war would be on again very soon--just as soon as ever they could be ready; and would that be fair to our posterity? Should we now, either loosely or selfishly or stupidly, give them a truce, and enable them to get ready, and throw the burden and the responsibility upon our children? Would it be Wise? Would it be right? Would it be common sense? Therefore, I say we must take exactly the same course as those other great countries did, when they found that they were in a position that they had to fight the thing out to the end. We must have no negotiations whatever with those men; that is the most dangerous thing that could happen. That is why I am here today-to warn and urge and beg of you, to do everything you can to create the idea that we must never negotiate with the Huns. We are not doing that for vengeance, though it would be a just punishment to some of those people, and we ought to punish them in such a way as to secure peace for hundreds of years, if possible, and that can only be done by the utter destruction of the German power. We have got to face that, and to look back and see what was done in ancient history and even at the time of Napoleon, and we must see that that is the only way that we can pass on safety to our descendants.
Now the question comes, think of the awful crimes the Germans have committed-the sinking of the Lusitania, the cruelty to the Belgians, the deportation of Belgians, the cruelty to the peasantry of France, the murder of Miss Edith Cavell, the murder of Capt. Fryatt, and all those other things for which you cannot find parallels in the history of other countries. Those people ought to be punished. Maximilian never committed any crimes that I know of; he was Emperor of Mexico, and had never done any wrong to anybody, but he was condemned and shot; and why should the Emperor William get more tender treatment than other criminals who have lived in the past? The man is a criminal. He is a criminal at heart, and he ought to be punished as such:
Now, the way to save us from future trouble, to my mind, is to destroy and break up the whole German Empire. The Hohenzollerns ought to be taken and be kept as prisoners. The different peoples that make up the German Empire-the kingdoms of Bavaria, Wurtemberg, Baden, Hanover, Saxony, and others should all be asked to take up their freedom again, as separate and independent kingdoms, and not be allowed to send their representatives to Berlin, to sit in the Reichstag, to be overshadowed and dominated by the Huns of Prussia, and forced into wars against their will with other countries. The Prussians are a very different people from the much more civilized nations of southern Germany, and I have no doubt that all those nations, those different kingdoms, would be very much pleased indeed to obtain their freedom from the Huns. I think that it would be accepted by them with alacrity and with delight, and at the same time it would break up that German Empire, and prevent it from having the power to do such reckless misery to the world in the future. Another thing we ought to do: Schleswig-Holstein should be handed back to Denmark. The Kiel Canal should, be neutralized, and opened to all nations; every fortification within 50 miles of it should be levelled to the ground; Krupp's factory and all other munition factories should be absolutely obliterated; their fleet should be taken from them, and divided up among those nations which have lost ships in this war; and their mercantile marine, every ship that can be got hold of, whether in their own harbours or anywhere else, should be used to replace those vessels which have been blown up by the submarines in the most cruel manner. If their fleet was wiped out and their country broken up in that way, the Kiel Canal should be taken from them-because that canal doubled the value of their fleet-Heligoland should be handed over to Britain. All those things should be done, and if they had to spend the money to repair the ruins they have made, they would not have the means to prepare for another war against our children.
The fact is that this man has been trying for world-power, the fact is that he is now beginning to feel that the war is going against him, and that he must sow dissension among the Allies. He is trying to get some excuse to stop the fighting just at the moment when he thinks it advisable for him to do so; but I think from all I see in the papers, that the Allies are not going to be such fools; I think they are going to stand firm, but I think there should be a public feeling, a public sentiment, that should spread all over the country so that our politicians, no matter how much they might be inclined to make fools of themselves, would be afraid to do it. You will understand that when I speak in that way I am not speaking as a politician. I am very much obliged to you for this opportunity of speaking to you. I am exceedingly pleased and complimented at the splendid number you have had here today, and I thank you very much for listening to me so attentively. I can only hope that every one of you will stand by me in my views, and I have no doubt you will, and help in any way to press them forward.
Rev. C. W. Gordon (Ralph Connor) moved a hearty vote of thanks, and Sir John Willison seconded.