- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Oct 1950, p. 10-20
- Philip, Percy James, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Some background to and remarks on the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Reference to the speaker's previous speech "Cross Roads" given in 1949. Events over the last 18 months: choices made or had thrust upon us; which road to follow and of the people with whom we travel. The Canadian choice to defence which we believe to be right, against what is felt to be evil. The uneasy road to travel. Our mutual defence system. The importance of being frank and open about the attitude, actions, and intentions of the Soviet government. The need to be prepared. The danger that a small group of people can lead a nation into a war that could be avoided. Another danger of relying too much on our material and too little on our spiritual strength. Mistakes made by Hitler, and now by the people in Moscow. The Korean incident and how it showed the pattern of Moscow's tactics. How the Communists were allowed to overrun China. What was different in Korea. The common-sense view taken in England. Signs of the pacifist isolationist cult reviving in the U.S. A reversal of this view last June. A look at how the U.S. has become a partner of the Commonwealth. The importance of sea power in the current war. The rumour about a Soviet submarine in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The political situation in Scotland with regard to separation from England. The situation in France. The concern in France that it will again become a battlefield, and about getting mixed up in an ideological war. The speaker's purpose of encouraging us on the road away from illusion.
- Date of Original
- 5 Oct 1950
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- "THE ROAD BEFORE US"
An Address by PERCY JAMES PHILIP Ottawa Correspondent of "The New York Times"
Thursday, October 5th, 1950
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Sydney Hermant.
MR. HERMANT: Members and Guests of The Empire Club of Canada: It is most appropriate that we welcome an old friend to address this opening meeting of our Club for the current Season. This will be the tenth in what we hope is a continuous series of Addresses before this Club by Mr. Percy James Philip, the Ottawa Correspondent of The New York Times. This most unusual record well expresses the warmth of our welcome and the compliment to our Club. The Chairman of our Year Book Committee has asked me to be sure to give a minimum of biographical information for the sake of the record even though our Guest is so well known to us. Mr. Philip was born in Scotland and was educated at the George Watson College, Edinburgh; later attending Oxford University. For 21 years he was Correspondent for The New York Times in France, and for the last 10 years he has represented his great newspaper in Ottawa. In addition to being a keen student of Canadian and International Affairs Mr. Philip is well known for his writing and nature sketches. His poem "This Canada of Ours" was sung by a chorus at the special ceremonies inaugurating the new status of Canadian Citizenship several years ago. The full text of the poem will be found in The Empire Club Year Book of 1947-48. Mr. Philip has just returned from Scotland, and England and France where he spent most of the Summer. He is going to speak to us now on the subject "The Road Before Us".
MR. PHILIP: Mr. President and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be back among you and a great honour to be asked to open this new season.
Such clubs as yours are the strong timbers of a free and continuing society. You preserve the old traditions while you examine the present and face the future with open minds. I have been told that some would like to change the name of the Empire Club. They think it old fashioned. What nonsense! Are we ashamed of the Empire? Envious people have sought to give it a bad name but it was the greatest social political structure ever built by men. Out of it came World law, a wider civilization, new nations and new groups of nations. It has yet to be proved that this new world with its written charters and covenants, its defensive treaties, its commissions and its defined obligations is a better world than the old association of the Empire in which loyalty and honour were the only bond. While we wish well to the new do not let us cease to honour the old.
Among new peoples and new generations there is always a tendency to disparage the past. The young think themselves so much smarter. Yet it could be that from the experience of our flexible Empire which preferred to avoid trouble, they could learn lessons which might prevent them making serious mistakes.
And that brings me to today's subject. When I spoke to you last, March 31st, 1949, I chose for my title "Cross Roads", and for my subject the uncertainty we all felt regarding the future.
The United Nations had, up to then, put up a rather pitiful performance. Its disunity had been more marked than its unity. It was already obvious that it was going to be no assurance of peace and security. Even those who professed to believe in it had found it necessary to invent the North Atlantic Treaty, which had its origins in Canadian thinking, as a kind of executive arm for the ponderous oratorical organization at Lake Success.
Although its beginnings were not auspicious there was a simple sturdiness in the conception of the sea peoples of the North Atlantic uniting for their mutual defence. They might, we hoped, be able to do together the job the British Empire had done for over a century, of showing just enough strength to assure peace and freedom, like a policeman quietly going his rounds. The new treaty had the advantage, too, that it bound the United States to Western Europe in a definite tie-up so that it could never happen again that Europe and the Empire might be at war for years while we waited. for the United States to hold a couple of elections and let events decide their course of action.
On that day as we sat at the cross roads I was, I find, mildly optimistic but when you asked me to come and speak to you again during the following season I felt compelled to excuse myself. The United Nations had remained an inconclusive debating society, exuding international irritation, and the North Atlantic Treaty had remained little more than another signed document. Frankly I felt discouraged and in no mood to add to the number of empty speeches.
But eighteen months have gone by since then and things have been happening. We have made the choice, or had the choice thrust on us, of which road to follow and of the people with whom we travel. It is of these that I wish to speak to you.
I think we might fairly call this new road on which we are setting out "the road from illusions". I would prefer to call it "the road to reality" but I am afraid that that might be going too far.
However we do seem to have turned our backs on most of that wishful thinking and those pious hopeings that were urged on us at the end of World War I, and during the concluding phases of the last war, by those who believed or said they believed that men and governments would become overnight sweet and reasonable members of the League of Nations, that disarmament was the right road to peace and, that we really ought to trust the gallant Russians, and dear Mr. Stalin.
If one looks at the case of Canada alone what a difference there is between the thinking and action of your government and people in these past few months and the simpleton beliefs that marked the years after 1918, the years before 1939, and seemed to be creeping over us again. Some may think your government has not gone far enough even now. That is none of my business. What I find amazing and comforting is that you Canadians have shouldered your knapsacks and started out in good spirit along the road away from illusion and make believe. You have decided to defend what you believe to be right against what you feel to be evil.
I do not think it is going to be an easy road to travel. There are right at the outset some disquieting signs.
For instance we are being told that the great purpose of all that has been done and is being done in strengthening our mutual defence system is for the purpose of preventing war--"an effective deterrent to aggression" is the official big word phrase. Let us hope it will be so. But for goodness' sake do not create another illusion in the minds of the people. I think it is much better to be frank and say openly that in view of the attitude, actions, and known intentions of the Soviet government in Moscow it is necessary that we should be prepared to have to fight--and let us stop there. Pussyfooting does no good. It only weakens peoples' resolution.
And there is another grave danger. It can happen, it has happened often enough in the past, that a small group of men, professional soldiers or politicians or newspapermen of the rabble rousing variety, can lead a nation and now, with our system of mutual defence, a group of nations, into war which might, could, or should be avoided. I need not be specific. Instances have occurred within our memories in every Continent and involving every nation. The Germans have not been the only war mongers. Let us beware of those among us who are nervous and shout loudly.
There is a third danger along this road. It is that we may come to rely too much on our material and too little on our spiritual strength. It could happen that the atom bomb might become another illusion, as Hitler's many secret weapons did, because they misled the Germans into over confidence, and failed to beat down the unconquerable spirit of the British and Russian peoples.
It is just as well that we should take count of these obvious dangers as we set out along this road of peace by preparedness. If we are to succeed in doing what all of us who have known war sincerely, desperately want to do and prevent another tremendous killing, we will need to be cautious as well as courageous, wise rather than just clever, and prayerful rather than arrogant.
In his memoirs Mr. Churchill mentions repeatedly how Hitler helped us win by doing the wrong thing. We made mistakes but our enemies seemed to make a habit of it.
And the Moscow boys in North Korea, it is clear, have done us all the same kind of service. They tipped Moscow's hand and in doing so warned and scared everybody. If it had not been for their attack on South Korea, which was a member of the United Nations, we would probably have gone on talking for years about what we were going to do to implement the Atlantic Treaty and doing nothing much. But the Korean incident showed the pattern of Moscow's tactics. It called the dangerous situation in artificially divided Germany to everyone's attention. And perhaps most important of all it touched the United States in a vital spot.
We have heard a lot in these past months about the sacredness of the U. N. Charter, international honour, and governmental morality. That's all very pretty but I should like you to look at the contrast between this incident and those that preceded it.
The United States, the United Nations and all the rest of us allowed the Communists to overrun China, to threaten Burma and to carry on a guerilla war in Malaya without doing a thing about it. Let us be frank. In spite of all our mouthings we did not really care about preventing the spread of Communism until it threatened us where we live.
What was different in Korea was that Korea is as essential to any nation which wishes to control Asia and the Pacific Ocean as is control of the Straits of Dover and the Dardanelles to anyone who wishes to control Europe and the Mediterranean.
In England we take a common-sense view of these things. We may give other official reasons why we fight--the protection of Belgian neutrality in 1914, the preservation of Polish and Rumanian independence in 1939--one must always have a high sounding moral excuse for public consumption, but if you look closely you will find the Straits of Dover and the Dardanelles just round the corner every time.
Korea is in the same position. Japan found it essential to her perfectly legitimate policy of expansion into the Asiatic mainland. The Americans in Japan, possibly advised by the Japanese, found its possession or at least its control absolutely necessary to their continued presence there and to the future of Japan.
It was a piece of good fortune that South Korea had been recognized by the United Nations as a self governing country and even although its government was a minority government--for the last election gave some strange results--it could appeal to the United Nations for protection.
When one considers how American presidents have hesitated and fiddled around when even graver situations have arisen in the past the amazing decision and quickness with which President Truman acted in these last days of June stands out as something almost beyond understanding. Some day, I hope, he, or someone close to him, will tell the full story without too much idealization of how he came to do what he did and of how he got away with it.
Some of you may remember that in my last talk to you eighteen months ago I cited the facts that Mr. Bevin had been received in New York with a shower of eggs and Mr. Churchill had been booed. These incidents seemed to me signs that the pacifist isolationist cult had not quite died and might soon revive. It was one of the causes of my depression. But suddenly, over night, last June, the whole country, and in a measure the whole world, swung into action for a cause which superficially at least, seemed far more remote from U. S. interests and much less a moral issue than the invasion of Belgium in 1914 or of Poland in 1939.
This is a phenomenon which in itself deserves close and separate study. In the United Nations and in the North Atlantic Treaty the great ebullient country of the United States has become our partner, a supposedly equal partner. In the past, before that partnership was formed, the problem for the rest of us has always been how to get her into war. But it looks now as if we were going to be made to look the laggards--and our friends and neighbours will, I fear, be much less delicate in reproaching us with being slow than we were on other occasions. Let us hope they do not try to hurry us too quickly along the road we are travelling together.
It was not an Imperialist or a Communist European but an American who invented the phrase "My Country, may she be always right, but, right or wrong, my country". It expresses a wonderful spirit, but in days when people become so emotional under radio treatment and atom bombs go off so easily in trigger happy hands it makes an old-fashioned person like myself tremble just a little at the knees.
I shall not comment on how the war has developed during these last three months except to say this, that once more it has been demonstrated that sea power is the ultimate essential to success. Even air power with its indiscriminate destructiveness does not count beside the capacity to land large numbers of fighting men either on a bridge head or behind the enemy positions. It was sea power and the manipulation of little ships that beat Napoleon and beat the Kaiser and beat Hitler and the landing at Inchon with all that followed so quickly is just another proof that the people who hold the sea have an immense advantage.
Having no doubt about how the war would eventually develop I sailed for Europe on vacation a few days after it began to find out what our friends on the other side of the Atlantic thought of it all.
In England, I found the people and the newspapers much less jittery than over here. Perhaps they think that nothing can be worse than last time and in that they may be right. Scare headlines look silly to people who have lived with danger. Making conversation they will ask a stranger, "I say, do you think there is going to be a war?" just in the same tone as they might ask if it was going to rain. But those quiet nice fellows with their bowler hats and their carefully rolled umbrellas, that one sees paddling down Piccadilly to business are not unaware of what might happen and they will cheerfully go out to meet it if it does happen just as they did last time. Meanwhile old chap--what's the good of worrying.
The other day rumour ran round Ottawa like a forest fire that a Soviet submarine had been in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I haven't the least idea where the rumour came from or whether it was true. It was the kind of thing that flies around whenever the heat is on to get more men into the forces and more money for armaments. But do you realize that the St. Lawrence Gulf is as far from Toronto as Russia is from London and still the Londoners don't get hot and bothered. I think their calm might well be emulated on this continent.
I found my fellow Scots in a much more acute political fermentation than the English, but it was neither the Korean nor the Russian situation that they were excited about. It was the Covenant. It puzzled me somewhat that after all these years of union Scotland should even consider breaking away from England and trying to form a federal system--which even here is not without reproach or difficulty as I learned last week in Quebec. As I like to know things I started asking questions. There was a girl who wanted to keep the young Scotsmen from going to England to seek their fortunes. I believe her motives were purely patriotic and not in the least personal.
Then there was a laddie with political ambitions who said it used to be all right when Scotsmen got their fair share of political jobs--but there was only one Scot--Hector McNeil--a Minister in the present Labour government. I gathered that that was why the Labour government was not doing very well.
The provost of my native village gave a third substan tial reason. He is a butcher by trade and the only butcher in the glen. "Of course I signed the Covenant" he told me. "We've got to be able to manage our own affairs. In the old days I used to buy, slaughter, and serve our ain Galloway beef and Cheviot lambs here in the glen. But now the government buys everything and carts it off to England and doles me out beef and mutton that I don't know a thing about. It may come from New Zealand and the Argentine for all I ken."
There were complaints about the enormous increase in inspectors of this and that controls and permits. A man was fined for using cement to mend a wall without a permit. The idea I found is growing that the excise duty on whisky for consumption in Scotland should be appreciably less than that charged in England and elsewhere. There appeared to me to be many solid, practical reasons behind this home rule movement and not just the usual phoney principles that politicians advance. I soon developed some sympathy for it, especially on the last issue I have mentioned. The Scottish product has been doing far more than its share both in raising revenue for the English government and in keeping the dollar unbalance from getting too high, and without any benefit to the Scots.
Of course when it comes to fighting the Russians or anyone else that's another matter. We are a loyal people. I noticed that the men sent to Korea were from the Argylls and Middlesex, a couple of scrappy although very different regiments.
You can count on the Scots doing their share towards fulfilling their North Atlantic Treaty obligations. The only comment that I heard on the Korean war was that it seemed an odd and unusual situation that the Americans should have been the first to get into it and be hollering for everybody else to come help! The Scots, as you know, have a queer sardonic sense of humour.
Both they and the English have long memories and one reason why they are not worrying very much is that they remember how just a hundred years ago there was a lot of talk about the Russian danger. It led to a scrap in the Crimea, to better nursing for the troops and a poem about the Charge of the Light Brigade. Of course wars are more apt to get out of hand nowadays but what was done by the British and French a hundred years ago can, they are confident, be done again.
The French--of course I went to France. It was my home for twenty-four years and I still love its smells of coffee roasting, of bread baking, and of wine and cooking, of ripe cheese, of the sea and the soil, of its perfumes and its people--more acutely than I love any others.
I should like to be able to tell you that this other major partner in the Atlantic Treaty was fully recovered and just raring to fight any and every aggressor. But I am afraid it is not so. You see, the French have had a lot of experience of war and they think that almost anything is preferable. They invented the formulae by which we live--patriotism and nationalism in place of the personal feudal system, republicanism with its slogan Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and their republican government was the first to conscript the citizenry for the defence of the regime although of course it said it was for the defence of la patrie.
Now your Frenchman wonders what it was all worth. Patriotism--he has seen its evils as well as its virtues--the only hope is for the world to become less nationalistic. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity--what crimes have been committed in their name. Republicanism--there seems to be no other choice, but in what disdain he holds the parliamentary regime. Conscription, what a delusion. The country with the largest population has always the largest army and on that basis world power lies between the United States and Russia backed by Asia. France, which was always first, hates being a lesser nation.
These views are not cynical. They are just the lees of experience and they are bitter. I had the impression that French thinking has gone beyond the old formulae of national and international life and they feel that they are alone in a world that does not understand. Towards Russia they have no hate--certainly none such as many still feel towards Germany. Towards Canada there is a warm affection everywhere but towards the United States, despite Marshall aid and all the rest of it, sentiment is qualified. As we stood in the ruins of a once lovely and historic Norman City which had been terribly bombed an old Frenchman said quietly: "I am sorry for the South Koreans".
What they fear most over there is that they will again become the battlefield. They are concerned also about the folly of getting mixed up once more in an ideological war. You can never tell how your own people will react. The Normandy farmer has out of bitter experience reached the conclusion that there is no form of government that is worth a barrel of good cider and none so much worse than his own that he should leave his land to fight it.
He has also found out he can deal with his own Communists at home and that perhaps they have a certain usefulness in keeping the other parties in line. The tendency of politicians in France and in most countries is always to go left in their wooing of votes--but now they are afraid to go too far.
Perhaps the Frenchman's thinking is a good deal confused by his dislike of the Germans. To him they are still the enemy and Russia is still an ally. For that reason I felt and feel it would be a mistake for the other partners in the Atlantic Treaty to hustle the French too far and too fast, putting arms in their hands and telling them to go fight. They feel that they and the British are quite mature enough to manage things in Europe without a lot of nervous advice from outside and they are certainly not going to fight unless from the first day their partners are all there in force to fight beside them and help prevent their country from being invaded a third time. Win, lose or draw, they fear another war will entirely destroy the old civilization of Europe and must be prevented.
I feel perhaps that I should have spoken more pointedly and given you some purple passages but as a reporter of other men's sayings and doings I have found that the stupidest men are always the most categoric. All I have sought to do is to encourage you on the road away from illusion on which you have bravely set out and tell you about those with whom you are travelling. Where that road will lead to and how your fellow travellers will behave is beyond any man's ken.
VOTE OF THANKS, moved by Past President C. R. Sanderson.