BRITAIN'S NEW RESPONSIBILITIES
AN ADDRESS BY MRS. JOHN F. DAVIDSON, M.A.
Thursday, November 14th, 1935
PRESIDENT: Ladies and Gentlemen: Today we are indeed very pleased to have once more a Ladies' Day. It has always been a popular 'day with us and, as I recollect, we have one or two such occasions in each of our seasons. When our guest speaker was advised that there would be ladies present she said the ladies would be able to give her some moral support. My understanding is that our guest speaker needs no support of any nature. She is a student of the first rank and has had a very distinguished career in public speaking. One would not use the phrase that Mrs. Davidson is popular with the ladies. One would say that the ladies are all extremely proud of Mrs. Davidson. There are very few men in this organization or elsewhere in the city who have not had confirmed at their dining room table many of the glowing things the ladies are saying about Mrs. Davidson.
As many of you know, Mr. Davidson is a Master in Upper Canada College and I understand, and I have it on good authority, that Mrs. Davidson is proud of four things. She is proud of her Canadian husband. She is proud of her two Canadian children, and she is proud of her own Canadian citizenship.
Mrs. Davidson will address us today on the subject: "Britain's New Responsibilities." I have very much pleasure in calling on Mrs. Davidson. (Applause.)
MRS. JOHN F. DAVIDSON: Mr. Chairiman, Ladies and Gentlemen: My pride at having achieved the honour of addressing this distinguished men’s club is only pricked by two facts and my awareness of those facts. The first is, that I happen to be a woman and so my remarks, perhaps, will not be as appreciated as they might be otherwise.
To illustrate the point, I want to tell a little story of what happened to me. When I was invited I told my little girl, aged six, that her mother was going to address a very large body of men. She said, "Mummy, I would not like to be you." Then she said, continuing this process of thought, "When I grow up, will I also have to speak to all those men?" I said, "I do not know." Thus our difficulties of understanding one another, of pleasing one another, begin rather early and we are apprehensive about the point of view which we entertain.
We are not quite free in our relationships. Yet it seems to me that in the future the solution of the vast body of problems which we will have to 'deal with are going to be arrived at only in measure as we realize the richness and varieties of opinion which exist in this world, and a large part of these solutions will no doubt be due to women's participation in it.
The second fact is that of actually daring to speak on a subject which is extremely chose to you all, because you have been born into British circumstances. I, on the other hand, belong to the category known vaguely as foreigners and am only a citizen of the British Commonwealth of Nations by adoption.
I am extremely proud that the heritage of my children is cast among these circumstances and I could, perhaps, single out no other land which will give them as many opportunities as this.
On the other hand, I would like to say that perhaps my environment and the early environment which I had qualifies me to be a person to bring in that necessary, as it were, understanding among nations which will bring about that higher level of international relations. My early environment, as you know, was spent in a country most autocratically governed (I mean by that, Russia) though I was fortunate to be in a milieu in which four nations mixed freely and the English were one aspect of that milieu. I grew up to an early admiration, which came to me from my parents, of English people, the freedom manifest in their actions, their ability to rise to a higher moral understanding of other nations; these things charmed me at a very early age.
Later on in my university career which I was fortunate to have also in an Anglo-Saxon country, I was much impressed with the advanced nature of the political institutions, with the essential freedom so necessary in our modern world, and precepts and qualities which could be adopted by wider groups of nations all over the world.
With these remarks and with these two qualifying statements, I assure you I appreciate being here before you today and I am extremely grateful to you for the invitation to speak on the subject which is, "Britain's New Responsibilities."
I like to point out that at the' very centre of Britain's new responsibilities, at the core of it is the aspect which is peace. Stanley Baldwin, Britain's Prime Minster, said this on the occasion of his recent broadcast which was a pre-election speech. (You all know the elections in Britain are taking place today.) He said that what Britain wants and what she longs for is peace, not only peace in England but peace in Europe and not only peace in Europe but peace throughout the world.
With this thought in mind, if we recapitulate the early happenings in the Spring, we notice that there was intensified activity in Britain,, members of the Foreign Staff being despatched to many capitals of Europe, the obvious thing to do when the European nation's were coming to a difficult impasse. And so the British representatives Sir John Simon and Anthony Eden were trying to alleviate the situation.
It is also interesting to remember that after the jubilee celebrations came to a close in the British Government, for the first time in British History, the League of Nations was given a prominent place and a new cabinet post was organized, that of the Minister for League of Nations Affairs which was entrusted, as you know, to Captain Anthony Eden, the Right Honourable Robert Anthony Eden.
It was quite true that the British Government had obtained the expression of 12,000,000 Britishers of voting age, on five important aspects of foreign policy which, as you know, was brought forward by Lord Cecil, that tireless worker for world peace, and the first item of this peace ballot contained the question of Britain's membership in the League of Nations.
With this in mind I feel that work performed in the sphere of foreign relations by the visits of Britain's representatives to foreign capitals, by the fact that there have been Britishers, a vast constituency of twelve millions, who expressed their opinion on foreign policy, and also, by sounding a distinct note in the British Government by creating a new post of the Minister of League of Nations Affairs, that all these combined give us a sense of a new statesmanship perhaps not as well known in the past years as it is today, a statesmanship which recognizes that there is a vast power in the British Empire which has a definite responsibility in leading the world at this crucial period of world history. That she has undertaken this position of leadership there is no doubt and the expressions of her men of import„ whether it be the Prime Minister or the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Minister of the League of Nations Affairs, or even the group which formerly was not a great believer in the League of Nations, headed by Winston Churchill, all of these groups combined show that Britain is trying to make out of the League with its collective principle, a real world reality.
There are concepts which would make incomplete a historical resume which would not include the opposite side. By this I mean the resume which does not include many exceedingly conclusive views and which are omni-present in the foreign press, for example in the French press, in the Italian press and in the Austrian press, so much so that the British representatives have actually had to make objections.
These concepts include the following: The concept that Great Britain's action toward the League and toward, as it were, imposing herself upon the world in the sphere of leadership is actuated by motives which are neither sincere nor honourable.
For instance, such an analysis would include the summary of such points as that Britain is interested in making the League effective at present because there is a definite imperial aspect, that her artery to the East, particularly to India, is being interfered with; then there is the aspect which is challenging Britain's hegemony in the Mediterranean; and another aspect that Britain cannot relinquish her vast possessions and holdings in. the African colonies. There is another point of view that British labour is pushing the government to action against Italy because they abhor Fascism. This ,fact also, that the world is getting back into a position where rearmament is right and that Britain is acting at present because she is fearing the Germany of tomorrow, that she is acting the way she is today because she is fearing for her world wide Empire. Another thing frankly mentioned is that she fears European complications.
Now, in an analysis of Britain's responsibilities a historical account would be incorrect if you did not mention these aspects. But even if we consider these aspects and to them might be added many more, nevertheless it remains true and it is indubitable that Britain's primary concern today is peace. (Applause). It is true and one could reiterate the thought because it was so extremely well expressed in the speech on Foreign, Affairs by Sir Samuel Hoare on the occasion of the opening of the British Parliament on October 22nd, who said: "The natural concern of a world wide Empire is the concern for peace of a world wide nature."
If you think of this central aspect to British foreign policy and the new responsibility that she has taken up in connection with this you no doubt can see that from this particular point of view have always emanated actions; for instance, the interesting relationship of Great Britain with France, the almost pushing nature which these relationships have had, the requirement on the part of Britain from France of a clear statement of just exactly where she stands with regard to the League, the fact that they have an understanding now after many difficulties. The Prime Minister of France, Pierre Laval, has after all had to say that when he analyzes the well being of France, that it is to France's great advantage to follow the lead of Great Britain which is that of supporting the collective principle against a nation which has transgressed and that nation is Italy.
If you consider such interesting aspects as for instance Britain's interests and her continued reiteration of her need of Empire assistance, there are many people who are not quite sure whether Britain's point of view expresses the point of view of her Dominions or of the members of that vast and far-flung Empire, known to the more modern students of history as the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is true, as Sir Samuel Hoare said, that in Britain's leadership at the League, the one thing that helped them to maintain that almost undaunted and courageous support of the collective principle has been the fact that the Dominions„ without exception, have expressed themselves for the policy that Great Britain has adopted at the League. This particular policy has been fortified by the expressions of our government representative at the League, in the sphere of sanctions, (that important, untried method of bringing the nation that has sinned to the understanding that she cannot plunge any more a world that is ours into such a thing as a war.)
Therefore, the British support of the League, long awaited, long hoped for, particularly Britain's support mic position of the world leads to political, tensions and, consequently, not until the world tackles these basic causes of the difficulty will we be able to say that war will never again come within the orbit of our experience.
Now, Great Britain has not neglected the lead in that sphere, either. Sir Samuel Hoare's utterances at Geneva at the extraordinary session of the Council, later taken up in his speech I mentioned at the opening of Parliament on October 22nd was this, that Britain recognizes the natural grievances of some nations and to those grievances belong the grievances of Italy, that these have to be attended to, so the League becomes not only an instrument for preventing war but the League becomes also an instrument for comprehensive economic world justice, and Sir Samuel Hoare in no uncertain terms divided the world into two groups: - Nations which have, as he calls it, "the haves" and the nations which have not, "the have-nots." He said, that in any future condition of the world, these causes will have to be attended to. Italy will have to be given greater access to raw materials. It will be necessary to institute a freer flow of raw materials. The question of population will have to be considered. The question of colonial reappropriation will have to be considered.
The question, however, which he saw most clearly was the need of financial stability in the world. In other words, what the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Great Britain has said in no uncertain terms is that the League is not only a group of nations which are trying to prevent the other group of nations from expressing itself but that the League of Nations is this instrument that it is supposed to be, an instrument of international justice, comprehensive international justice and to that end British energies will be devoted to make it a reality.
It seems to me I could do no better than end with paraphrasing other aspects or thoughts of Sir Samuel Hoare, Britain's Foreign Minister who speaks better for that country than any other man because he has his finger tips on the situation. His work at Geneva is so energy-and-courage-demanding that we appreciate all the marvellous things he said there. To begin with I would like to say this, that when he spoke of the League and of Great Britain, he said that Great Britain couldn't help but play an important role in the conditions of today. The same thing was said in almost similar terms by Stanley Baldwin at the Conference on October 25th. This thought has been amplified by his saying, that Great Britain feels and no doubt knows that she is destined to lead Europe, that she cannot help but lead her and at this moment she is a bridge between Europe and the new world and from that point of view I appreciate very much the remarks of Sir Samuel Hoare on isolationists. It is a policy or rather a mode of mind that we sometimes tend to cultivate, to become isolationists, to withdraw from the world's troubles, and not to be within, the orbit of these difficulties. It is almost natural and Sir Samuel Hoare said so. He said, "The temptation of withdrawing from the scene of difficulty has been greater than I can tell you, but I tell you, those people who believe that isolationism is possible in our day with the industrial civilization we have evolved, are people who are living in a sphere of dismal illusion, because they obviously are not understanding the nature of this universe which we are inhabiting. Therefore, though it does seem to us natural to become isolated, to desire to institute„ perhaps, policies and trends of thought which make us isolated, we must remember that with our perfectly marvellous endowments which we have and the magnificent heritage which we have and also the qualifications which we possess through our greatness in playing a role of leadership in the world, it would be hardly fair to that heritage to withdraw at the moment of such danger for the world and that Great Britain from that point of view has undoubtedly played her role in the traditional manner of high honour and valour, and at this crucial moment of the world history she has undertaken the cross of new responsibility.
Stanley Baldwin said in his speech, broadcast on October 25th, that in this role of responsibility there are great risks and dangers. Of this Great Britain is fully aware, but for the sake of a new order in international relations - of which it is almost a question of `now or never' - she is willing to undertake this role and play her part valiantly and in this we could do no better than to stand closely behind Great Britain and see to it that our heritage is not spoiled by our fleeing our responsibilities. (Hearty applause.)
PRESIDENT: I am sure that round the dining room tables of at least two hundred homes there will be no further necessity for the ladies to try to persuade that one of their sex is an outstanding student and an outstanding public speaker.
I trust that Mrs. Davidson will go home to her little daughter and tell her it was not too difficult to speak to an audience such as this, that she probably could have done just as well even though the ladies had not been present.
I know from looking around the room the intense interest with which all of us who have been here have followed the words of Mrs. Davidson. As a Canadian citizen who was not born in Canada, we should be very proud of her, indeed, and we can only hope that we could have thousands of other citizens of her calibre.
Mrs. Davidson, may I on behalf of this group extend to you our very sincere appreciation for this address. (Applause.)