AN ADDRESS BY HON. ARTHUR MEIGHEN, K.C., B.A.,M.P., SOLICITOR-GENERAL OF CANADA
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, December 17, 1914
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--I think it is only about twelve days since this club was addressed on the subject of the war and Canada's part in it by the Prime Minister of Canada. Mindful of that fact, and knowing also how careful w has to be in addressing an audience in the city of Toronto,--I have great doubts as to the wisdom of my venturing to speak to you on the same subject this afternoon. I deny to no other the same tribute when I say of the Prime Minister that he has good title at this time, in this the first real crisis of our nationhood, to speak to his countrymen. He derives that title not only from his exalted post, but from his high character long tried in the furnace of Canadian politics, but derives it perhaps more from his fidelity to the central purpose and unity of the Empire, both of which are now under the challenge of war. I speak of course with lesser authority, but I have no alternative; I could choose no other theme. The people of Canada now think of nothing else. I hope that remains true; I hope it is true in the fullest sense. We have other things to do, other tasks to perform, but all things must be done-and all tasks performed with an eye to success in this struggle. I hope that the wax absorbs the Canadian people till the war is over. Not that it may unsettle or terrorise any mind, but rather that it may arouse and consentrate all the people in this country. On that depends the safety of our cause and the deepest safety of the land we love.
I desire to speak, with some diffidence indeed before the Empire Club, of the meaning of the struggle, of the stake that is going to pass one way or the other with the event. No one but a fool believes we are fighting for territory, the ordinary prize of war. We have all the territory we can take care of. It may be, and it may not be, that when all is over more territory may be added; if so it will be in order to make better our security; but the world knows we are not fighting for territory. The stake is a thousand times bigger than that. The stake is as big as the conflict, and the conflict is a world convulsion. The stake is the destiny of mankind.
Thinking is the distinctive attribute of humans. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he; and if we can get at the philosophy of a country we have the key to its policy. If any people organise and centre themselves loyally around any system of thought, then we know where to find that people on any question. " Keep thy heart with all diligence," saith the wisdom of Solomon, " for out of it are the issues of life." Now picture to yourself 65,000,000 of the human race of advanced intelligence, who make the state their ideal, who make the power of the state the object of their worship, and who consequently believe that there can be no right either of their own subjects or of other powers or other interests antagonistic to the Fatherland. Picture that people and their satellites and slaves on one side, and then on the other an array of nations who still cling to the belief that the ordinary standards of rectitude apply or should apply to nations as to men, who still believe in public law, and who as a consequence believe that small nations, as small men, have a right to live and to be free; and you have a vision of the two camps that face each other in Europe. At bottom it is a conflict of two schools of thought. There is the German school of Frederick the Great, of Nietzsche, of Bismarck, of Treitschke, and of Jagow, fed on the doctrines of Nietzsche for the most part, who worshipped force, who hated the ordinary virtues, which applied, as he said, only to the herd and had no meaning when applied to the masters; in other words, when applied to the nations. Fed on that doctrine is that school. On the other side the British school of Bacon and Burke and of Pitt and Canning, of Asquith and Lincoln and Wilson, the school that pins its faith to public law and that directs the course of its policy with regard to public law; the school that believes that man is first after all, and that the state was made for man, and not man for the state, which believes that small nations have rights as well as large nations, not the same rights because they have not the same responsibilities, but in as far as the right to life, to freedom and the pursuit of happiness is concerned, the very same rights as the large. We proclaim now as we always have proclaimed our allegiance to that faith. We expose the course of our policy. It is a course marked with error, as every human enterprise is marked, at the same time with indelible proofs of our allegiance to international equity and good faith. We can afford to smile at taunts from Berlin. Our past is before the world. It is true, but it is a matter of regret and not of boast, that we have erred on the side of aggression; but that has not been the course of our policy. It is true that the ambitions of our leaders, perhaps the momentary passion of our people, has hurried us into errors of aggression, but we know this, that public opinion when informed of the facts in any British country, will stand for no wrong against another power. We say that wrong is not justified by success, that the triumph of might does not justify the issue. The other side say differently. They proclaim that international obligations have no meaning as applied to nations. Now I do not wish to be understood as making that statement and applying it only to what we call the German governing body, the German autocracy. If it applied there and there alone, we would not see the phenomenon we see today in Europe. I believe that what I ascribe now to German autocracy and German policy is a doctrine that has sunk deep and burned far among the German people. Austin Harrison, in a work just published after ten years' sojourn in that country as a journalist, states that beyond a doubt that people to the extent of over go per cent. sprang joyfully to this war, that they are behind the doctrines that are at the root of the war, openly, and as he says-and as doubtless is true-honestly behind them. I would be wasting time to go further into the conflicting ideals that are now for adjustment. There are those who say we are fighting the cause of right against might. I put it in no such form. If might and right are to be referred to the arbitrament of the sword, we know which one would triumph; might always triumphs when it comes to war. The point is this: we are deciding now in the year of grace 194 whether might is going to spring to the side of right or not, whether the world's muscle is going to be found on the side of justice and democracy or on the side of wrong and crime. Sovereignty they proclaim their ideal, their hope, and more than that it is the passion of their people. The state is power and power is everything, and the power of the state is represented in the army and the gunboat, and for the army and the gunboat they order their lives. Sovereignty, in as far as it relates to their own subjects, we cannot object to; that is their own domestic affair, but Deutschland fiber Alles means a lot more than that. It means release, at the demand of self-interest, from every international obligation. It means more still; it means that the power and the dominion of the State of Germany must be decided freely and for themselves and by themselves alone, and that power and that dominion means nothing fixed and nothing determinate, but simply a'.l that the sword can carry. That power and that dominion, Prussian aggression and Prussian conquest, is justified, they say, by Prussian culture. That is Treitschke faithfully translated. Prussian culture is the justification, and no other justification is needed, even for organised brutality. Prussian culture is its own justification, and that is all you need to know about it; that is the beginning and the end of the argument. Clear the road for Prussia; we have our culture on board and that is all you need to know. When Frederick the Great said 150 years ago that the nation which had a chance to humble its rival and did not do it was a fool, he was only the forerunner of Nietzsche and Treitschke of last century; he was the voice crying in the wilderness. And when Bismarck, following in his footsteps, proclaimed the doctrine of blood and iron he was the same. When Bernhardi preached in cold ink, or rather advanced the blasphemous doctrine, " Ye have heard it said in olden time that a good cause will justify even a war, but I say that war will sanctify any cause," he was only the echo of Nietzsche and Treitschke; he was only the exponent of the school, and he spoke in the main for the German people. And Jagow was no more and no less than a faithful disciple of the same school when he gasped at Britain's attitude on the neutrality of Belgium, and called the treaty of x839 a scrap of paper. But the tragedy of it all is that the multitudes of that country and of other countries where their race has gone, saw the doctrine applied and worshipped it. They saw the doctrine applied by Frederick the Great and Bismarck in Silesia and Schleswig-Holstein, in Alsace and Lorraine-the trophies of the sword wielded by might. They saw and in great measure they believed. And with what result? Here the organising power of the German people is seen in the Pan-Germanic League and its dominating influence on German policy, and a campaign of education headed by university professors. It is a recorded fact of the historian that so has the army been exalted in that country that every school-girl hopes to marry a lieutenant, that every lawyer, every postman, every railway foreman, every judge, every university lecturer, feels himself a numbered part in the great regimental state machine. Then the Navy League and its propaganda, building a body -of opinion behind their fast-constructing fleet, the most remarkable propaganda, the most spirited and effective propaganda in the history of nations. The result is the -embodiment of modern Prussia,-an Empire which throws to the world the winged phrase, " Our future lies upon the water.". Without the consent of Germany's ruler, nothing must happen in any part of the world. Another of their writers puts it in even bolder form than that when he says, "Last century saw a German Europe; the next shall see a German world." So if we are asked why cannot two schools of opinion live side by side, is not the world big enough for the British ideal and the German ideal to get along, we answer no. The German ideal is such that if it is to be allowed to live and spread there is no room on earth for another. The advancing of the one, means the destruction of the other, and the world is making its choice now. The biological idea in Bernhardi's work; science or Kultur as they call it, has developed a cancer in world politics. Success in this war means its extermination. Defeat-forgive me for mentioning that word-means the desecration of every principle around which our race has rallied in the storms of two thousand years. It means the surrender of what to us is the Ark of Civilisation, it means the progressive delivering over of humanity to a new-angled patriotism.
Such is the historic foundation of the conflict, as I conceive it. We have to get it all into our minds, or we shall never see the bigness of the issue, we shall never wholly understand the stake unless we go further back than the immediate causes of the quarrel and understand its historic foundation. But to know that is not enough; to know that is not sufficient to satisfy us. Though we may have been right in our teaching, our professions, and right in our practices as a nation, if we were wrong in the immediate cause then ours is the greater fault. And an excuse will not do; even a good excuse will not satisfy the British people. We must be in this war to prevent national humiliation, to avoid national annihilation, because the first is the prelude to the second. We must be in it to avoid national dishonour and disgrace, for dishonour is the open door to disintegration and decay. No great nation ever has, or ever can, survive the loss of the respect of its people. Veneration for the national honour is what holds empires together, and that is why the British Empire counts her dominions in the seven seas. When national honour has been at stake, Britain has never flinched from war, never in a thousand years in the theatre of world events, and we are not the generation, if we judge by the evidence now before us, to count the value of our name at a lesser price, never, no matter what the cost. Never is what we have said during this hundred years of peace, and never we say now after four months' trial of war; never, in the words of one of our statesmen spoken seventy years ago next April; never, if the country be surrounded with dangers as great as those which threatened her when her American colonies and France and Spain and Holland were leagued against her and when the armed neutrality of Belgium dissipated her maritime rights; never, though another Napoleon should pitch his camp in sight of Dover Castle; never, till the last is staked and lost; never, till the last struggle of the great English people for their place among the nations. Was honour at stake for us in this war? It takes some presumption to ask that question in the hearing of intelligent people. Was honour at stake? We owe it to the wisdom and prescience of Sir Edward Grey and Asquith, we owe it to the historic fact, a truth that posterity will recognise the world over, that wherever Germany may have been successful, or however she may have succeeded in science and the arts and philosophy, in the sphere of diplomacy she has been outplayed at every point. Such has been their skill that her cause stands today exposed in all its deformity and nakedness to the world; and the question, Was honour at stake for Canada? has only to be asked to be answered. There was wrong in the immediate cause somewhere; in the facts that clashed and lit the flame there was wrong somewhere, wrong as monstrous and terrible as the war itself. You cannot have war without wrong. War is wrong; it is the baldest form of wrong, it is the fulfilment of wrong, the result of wrong. There must be wrong on one side or two or there would be no war. That was not Treitschke's belief; he thought war was majestic and divine, the great medicine for the sick world; but even Sir Edward Grey could not preach a doctrine like that before this club or before any British people, and get a hearing. There was wrong; where was it? Belgium is a little country, situated like Servia between the iron camps of three or four great powers; it lay there to parry competing ambitions, a buffer state to prevent their clashes. For that reason its presence was accepted by the powers, and its own integral and independent character were accepted by the powers, and that is why its integrity, its independence and its neutrality were guaranteed by solemn treaty in 1839. Belgium, on her part, undertook with all her strength to maintain that neutrality. " Hands off, no passage to belligerents," is a cardinal element of neutrality, by the Hague Tribunal, by international law, and by common sense. Situate as Belgium was, it was the very essence of neutrality itself. In return for that undertaking on her part, the five powers guaranteed that they themselves individually would respect it. That was a step forward for civilisation. It lasted for seventy-five years, till the fourth day of August last; then it was that Germany played the last act in a twelve days' drama of crime. That day she plunged her millions into the heart of Belgium against a small and guiltless people. Belgium kept the faith; she remembered her undertaking of 1839; she stood upon her bond, and where is Belgium now? Where is Belgium at this hour? A desert of death, drenched in blood and tears. Children will weep and strong men's blood will boil centuries from now over the sufferings of Belgium. But she kept the faith, and because she kept the faith the issue of this war is now already determined, because the pluck of Belgium, if nothing else would have done it, has saved Europe. Her cry passed to Britain: " We have kept the faith," said King Albert, " will you keep yours? " Britain chose, and everybody chose: " It was only when confronted with a choice between keeping our solemn obligations in the discharge of a binding trust and a shameless subservience to naked force that we threw away the scabbard. We do not repent our decision." So said Asquith and so says every man who names the name of Briton. There is not time left to inquire into the merits of the quarrel between Austria and Servia, or into the merits of the quarrel between Germany and Austria, and France. The inquiry is important; it would have been a whole lot more important if Germany had kept her hands off Belgium, but when the pro-German wants to argue with us we say to him, First tell us what Belgium did, tell us what washer offence, tell us why she should be ravaged by a giant, and when you have answered that we will listen to the rest, of your argument. If he looks at bleeding Belgium and tries to answer, he will never get to the rest of his argument, but if he does it will not sound any better.
Here is Austria and Austria's ultimatum; over against it is Servia and Servia's reply. Standing beside Austria is the shining armour of the German Emperor; and when you find strength and insolence on one side, and weakness and humiliation on the other, it is not usually very hard to locate right and wrong. Let the lion and the lamb, says Germany, let the giant and the dwarf fight it out alone; the giant is my partner. Not while I live, is Russia's reply; Servia must do right, she must atone her wrong if wrong there be, but she must not be crushed. Britain took no sides, she promised no support, she exhausted every resource to secure delay, to secure the solution. What, then, is her offence? That she should have stood in shining armour beside Germany and threatened Russia with war if she dared protect her little Slav neighbour, and because she did not, says Germany, we hold you guilty of this bloodshed, even the butchery of Belgium. Imagine the apostles of education and culture solemnly pressing such humbug on the world.
The task that confronts us is a big one; it is the biggest task that ever confronted a nation or a combination of nations; but it is a task that we have to perform or go down. We have no alternative. It is for us the survival v of Britain and what Britain stands for, or it is annihilation, either slow or swift. There can be no compromise. A compromise would be a sin against ourselves, against our children, and against civilisation. If we keep the facts that I have recited in our minds, and they are not hard to remember, keep them alive and lighted there, then Canadians will do their duty. Surely if we are men we need no other incentive. Let us remember what is written in the White Books, and let us remember what is written in the German White Books, and that is all we will ever need. Germany says, "All the time we were exercising our mediatory offices with Austria." Were they? If so, why do they not print their messages in the White Book? Not a line that passed from Berlin to Vienna appears in the White Book.
I shall not undertake to preach duty to the citizens of Toronto. Thousands of the best-minded in this city have already pledged their lives to their country, and thousands more axe ready to do the same. Those at home are doing well their part; that is all that can be asked. It is too soon and there is no object or advantage to be gained in trying to measure the results of a conflict like this. There are some who weigh the legacy of hatred and recrimination that is sure to come out of it and last for decades, and the load of debt and death, and who will find even in victory a balance of ill. There are others who see a humanity purified by suffering, with the demon of militarism cast out, softened by misfortune, and they find a satisfying preponderance of good. But what is the use of trying to value an unpurchased future? The future is going to be just what we make it, and we are in the process of the making now. We may be in it for months and we may be in it for years. It is a time for toil and bloody sweat, for courage and good cheer. It is a time to take inspiration from the memory of our fathers and from the example of our million brothers who line the battle front. It is a time for each man to judge not his fellow but to very sternly judge himself. We may have to go down into the valley of the shadow, but if we do well our part, if we see that might, that every form of might, springs to the side of right, that the world is now on the side of justice in a war of selfish aggression, then we will finish well our part, and we can count our inheritance in terms commensurate with our work. The test of the people in this country is coming. It is a test not for one but for all, not for governments alone but for the individual. Every municipality, every county, every city, every board of trade, every patriotic club, every government, every province, has its work to furnish men; that is the chief call, and that call is in the ear and let it stay in the ear of every heir of a British birthright. To furnish men is first; to relieve the distress, to find work, to keep up the spirit of the nation. The Canadian government is under a load of responsibility, and we do not seek to evade or to minimise by one lot or tittle a responsibility that we must discharge in a manner worthy of our place in the Empire, in a manner that will stand the retrospection of generations to come. What a time this is to live for! It seems the focus of both eternities, and for the balance of our lives the best measure of our worth will be how we behaved in the war. The Canadian government seek to evade no part of their responsibility. Eight million of our people call upon us, they place in our hands in large measure the lives of their sons and the resources of the nation, and they place it in our hands unreservedly for the purposes of this conflict. It is our object not to expend but to conserve. We seek to conserve and not to expend, but we seek first success in this war. Every call of duty and of interest sounds the same note to us, every call that means anything to the sane sons of Britain. We purpose to do our part, but woe to the government, woe to every unit, woe to every governing body that has under our constitution any measure of governing power, that stays its hand before all is fulfilled. Now what is to be fulfilled? I cannot speak with authority, nor can our government; that time in the progress of Empire has not yet arrived when we have a distinct and authoritative say in what the work of Empire is. But I repeat the words of one who spoke for a thousand million of the human race, and I name our task as follows: " We shall not sheathe the sword, which we have not lightly drawn, until Belgium recovers in full measure more than all she has sacrificed; until France is adequately secure against the menace of aggression; until the rights of the smaller nationalities of Europe are placed upon an unassailable foundation; until the military domination of Prussia is fully and finally destroyed." When the great Asquith, his two sons at the front, himself a type built for stormy times, uniting in his own person the strength and the gentleness, the majesty and the grace, the changeless wisdom that denies to no man's country what he demands for his own, when Asquith stood at the front of the British nation and uttered those words, he made the most momentous pronouncement given to the sons of men in this generation. Our part is to do and die until that work is done.
A vote of thanks to the speaker was moved by Premier Hearst, seconded by Mr. N. W. Rowell, and enthusiastically carried.