- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 Dec 1948, p. 117-129
- Ney, Major Frederick, Speaker
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- The speaker basing his observations today on his experiences over the past four or five years when he has visited many parts of the world. The very clear picture of the world-wide organization of Communism which those experiences have given him. Everywhere he has found people waiting for England and the Empire to lead. Why that lead was withheld after the First World War, and why it is still being withheld or given hesitantly and unconvincingly now. Searching for at least some part of the answer to that question. A discussion of events and factors involved in answering this question. The heavy tolls taken in the two World Wars. The future of civilization resting with three great powers: the United States, Russia, and the Empire. The unstable, tense, and dangerous international situation because of the fact that the Empire is weaker than the other two in this tripod. Reasons for that weakness. The issue of name for the Empire, or the Commonwealth, or whatever it is to be. The danger of breaking from the continuity of history that is England and Empire. Standing on trial for our failure to maintain our ancient prestige. The position of the Royal Navy in this prestige. Some illustrations. "The defeatism implicit in the retreat from our own world-wide Imperial designation and our persistent disparagement, actual or implied, has constituted our greatest disservice to the Peace, as it has to the cause of Imperial unity." Learning the lessons of history. The qualities which constitute the very keystone of the Imperial Arch to be summarized by one word, Faith. Ways in which we are on trial. Bringing peace to the world through a marriage between the power of the United States to the world experience and the broad humanity of England and the Empire. Conditions of that marriage. Time for charting the clearest of courses in the same spirit of unity and purpose and with that confidence and faith in our destiny such as characterised those magnificent days of 1940-41.
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- 9 Dec 1948
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- THE COMMONWEALTH ON TRIAL
AN ADDRESS BY MAJOR FREDERICK J. NEY, M.C., LL.D., F.R.G.S.
Chairman: The First Vice-President, Mr. T. A. Pugsley
Thursday, December 9th, 1948
HONOURED GUESTS AND GENTLEMEN
No one need apologize here for having a feeling of affection for things British. This feeling, the speaker I am about to introduce, has shown in 1946 when he addressed us concerning "The Empire in Africa and the Middle East".
Major Ney is a man of energy and enthusiasm. Things ideal appeal to him. His life has been lived in touch with scholarship and with the enterprise associated with the British name.
Of three Royal Societies he is a Fellow, by the University of St. Andrews, he has been honoured with a Doctorate of Laws. In Western Canada he achieved distinction in education in the Province of Manitoba. Three times mentioned in despatches and decorated for valour by British, French and Belgian Governments, he has demonstrated fully his devotion to the cause of liberty.
During the last war, the Ministry of Information o€ the United Kingdom found his services of use and he was employed in Africa, in the Middle East and, after the war, in Germany.
Recently he has travelled thousands of miles and has visited places removed from us.
From this experience, and with the appreciation of one who is an educator, and possessed of the meaning of history. Major Ney is now to address us concerningTHE COMMONWEALTH ON TRIAL.
Many in the audience will recall the story told of a visitor to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London. His visit was more by accident than of choice and he had little interest in art.
Going forward he noticed a number of people standing before a work of one of the Great Masters. He glanced at it: was unimpressed and passed on.
Hurriedly making the rounds of the Gallery, he cameback to the same picture. Before it was gathered an even larger crowd. Going up to someone who appeared to know something about the pictures he said, "You know, I just can't understand what those people see in that picture". "Sir'", said the Curator, "That picture is io be seen. It is not on trial, it is you who are on trial".-
I suppose the story could be told quite as appropriately of the crowds which visit such ancient ruins as Glastonbury Abbey or Fountains Abbey. What is it that one sees-or fails to see? The degree of failure to see in these monuments the pageant of our past surely is the measure of the extent to which we are on trial or are being tested. In this spirit let us then look at England.
I say England deliberately,' for here today I propose to indulge my right to speak as an Englishman, rather than as a citizen of Canada, if only because my own countrymen are too often to be found among the Empire's worst enemies. England, say her critics, is finished: Her story• has been told. If that were true and in spite of all temptation I'd still rather be an Englishman than belong to any race on Earth-or elsewhere! But her story is not finished. She will once more save herself by her exertions and do much to save Western civilization by her example.
In the accomplishment of that task, however, she will need the close company of those who honestly believe in those things for which, through a thousand years and more, she has so valiantly stood.
There is so much more in England than mere economics, politics, or those superficial things which characterise a modern nation. Things which so many of her own sons and daughters and visitors of good-will regret and detest. Behind this facade there is to be seen by those with the will to see, an England of centuries of service and sacrifice, with a heart that still beats soundly, despite all suggestions to the contrary, an England that will find her way back to "dignity and greatness and peace again".
Her back to the wall again, as at Dunkirk, her aspirations have not changed; they are still for the ultimate good of all men. Despite the petty partisanship of political strife and the prejudiced minds of political theorists, England remains, as Emerson said just over 100 years ago. still ready "to execute the policy which the mind and heart of mankind requires in the present hour". That was said in Manchester in 1847.
What is it that mankind requires in this hour-in 1948, and how is our goal to be achieved?
What I have said by way of introduction to what must be, I am afraid, a very inadequate analysis of my subject, is, of course, altogether un-English, and I should be blushing furiously. But I make no apologies, neither for the views already expressed, nor for those to follow. I hope to prove provocative and should I appear dogmatic, I know you will forgive me, for you, too, as members of the Empire Club, feel these matters deeply, and we share a common anxiety.
As your President has reminded you, I have, during the past four or five years, visited many parts of the world. It is upon the experience of these years that I base today's observations. Those experiences, which have given me a very clear picture of the world-wide organization of Communism, can be summed up in one sentence: Everywhere I have found the people waiting-waiting for England and the Empire to lead. In not a few of the countries I have visited, they waited in vain for such a lead after the First World War. The Second World War was the direct result. Why was that lead withheld then, and why is it still being withheld, or given hesitantly and unconvincingly? Let us try to find at least some part of the answer to that question.
Following the first War, one devastating reaction to the immense sacrifices we made was large clue to the suggestion that others would take up the torch, and at least for a space, we, the Empire, could relax and leave the burden of leadership to the United States. A million had died, and over two million men, mutilitated in mind and body, or both, came home to be nursed and cared for, in a large percentage of cases, for life. The services of these men were lost to England. Indeed, they constituted a considerable burden upon the National Exchequer.
But that is not all, not by any means. The processes of Voluntary enlistment had not only swallowed tip an immense part of the cream of the nation's youth; it had robbed its population of at least three million of its potential sons and daughters; those who might have been. No other nation, friend or foe, suffered so irreparable a loss, and if today it can be said that the English nation falters and follows blindly the strange goods of political theorists and pseudo-intellectuals, remember please, those missing millions. It will be long before their places are filled. Here, then, is some part of the answer, if any doubt or question the England of today. But it is only a part the Second World War has taken further heavy toll.
It will not be denied that the future of civilization--no less than that--rests very largely with three great powers; the United States; Russia and the Empire. As has been said before, this world is precariously poised as upon the apex of a triangle, the legs of which are comprised of these three powerful groups. Obviously, if even that precarious position is to be maintained, there must be an equal division of the strain involved.
And here then, we face a situation which should make us pause; for obviously that third leg of the tripod--the Empire--is weaker than the other two, unwarrantably so. Because of this fact the international situation daily becomes more tense and dangerous. The equipoise between East and West is unstable because the Empire is unable to exert that influence which, by virtue of history, experience, and its international composition, is its essential role in world affairs. At the most critical juncture in history, it is failing because it speaks with many voices, hesitates to stand fast upon tried and proved principles, and doubts its power in the one sphere that really matters--the spiritual front. It is here where we are most certainly upon trial--and that means you and me--all of us. Were I the prosecuting Counsel I should address you, something like this
"Why is it, gentlemen of the Empire Club, that in these past four years or so, by your apathy or your doubts, you have allowed the name of the Empire to be traduced, not merely by our obvious enemies, but in our midst? Why have you made no concerted stand against this damnable conspiracy to rob mankind of its most powerful friend, and the persistent advocate of its freedom? Is it possible that you were so blind that you did not see that by this failure so to stand you were endangering the very foundations of man's hope and robbing him of that confidence which is the mainspring of all progress? You became ashamed of the very word Empire, for which so much blood and service had been rendered. Did you think it would be forgotten in a new name and that 'Commonwealth' would obscure a past which is the greatest envy of our enemies?
You pioneered in the sky and Imperial Airway became an honoured name and the symbol of that safety which the Navy had, in days past, secured upon the Seas. That name! what have you done with it?
You sent messages the world round via Imperial. That, too, has gone, or largely so. Was it so very offensive?"
One link after another has gone, until we come to what surely must be the final assault upon our unity and our self-respect, when, in one breath, as it were, the word British is abolished in its Commonwealth connotation, and the suggestion is made that new Republics can be both in and out of the Empire at the same time!
If such monstrous proposals are accepted, then indeed is our tale told. A good club does not beg its members to remain; neither is its standing appraised by its size. Nor does it readily change an honoured name in the hope of retaining old members or of gaining new. The circumstances of such a club would be all too obvious and it would soon close its doors. It is now possible that further hurried evolution is envisaged, and yet another name is contemplated? For example, "The Union of non-British or other Republics"? This is nonsense, of course, but let us not be too complaisant about this matter, for the name by which this mighty organization of free people is known to the world concerns so much more than the Empire itself.
It is bad enough that we wrangle among ourselves over our nomenclature, and so disparage our past and discount our future. But the suggested and implied retreat from ourselves is deplorable in its effect and wraught with much more peril than retreat from an easily discerned enemy. This defeatism on our part has been disastrous, and few things have affected our prestige in the world so much as this one single factor. It has made us suspect as any change of name is apt to be! If time permitted, I could. I think, prove this contention from my experience ill many countries, but we must hurry on.
If we must change our name, then why not merely "The Empire" or "The Britannic League"? The word "Britannic" antedates the occupation of India and the Declaration of Independence. Here is a name which derives from a history of service to the world and indicates at least our historical origin, whereas merely the word Commonwealth does not. It applies, of course, to Australia or it can suggest a political party now in liquidation. Or if "Commonwealth" it is to be, and not "British", then why not "The Greater Commonwealth", thus leaving the door open for others to enter?
But the strength of England and the Empire derives from its continuity of history and to break with that is merely political folly, but to depreciate still further that prestige which was the United Nations greatest asset in War as it might have been in peace.
It was here that we failed. It is for this we stand on trial. It was not that the numerous problems which confronted us were beyond our capacity or powers. It was in our failure, battered and bruised though we were, to maintain our ancient prestige. True it was the Royal Navy upon which this largely rested, and which produced the Pax Britannica, the return of which would bring a sigh of relief to hundreds of millions of poor, harrassed, fearful people throughout the world.
Let me give you two or three illustrations. You will recall that about 18 months ago there were riots in Canton. The British Consul was wounded and the Consulate burnt to the ground. An eye witness, himself a Chinese, said to me sometime afterwards, "If there had been a British battleship in the Bay, that would not have happened and many lives would have been saved. Not a shot would have been fired. It would have been enough that the big ship should be there".
As you well know, there has been not a little agitation in China over the retention of Hong Kong. We should go, said even Chang Kai Shek. I asked a Chinese doctor, who was breakfasting with me some two or three months ago, what he thought about this thorny question. He replied "We should all be sorry to see England leave. The pity is Hong Kong is so small and that it is becoming so overcrowded. It is the one haven of peace and centre of stability in China. No-no one now really wants England to go". I should add here that when Hong Kong was occupied after hostilities had ended the population was 600,000. Today it is over 2,000,000 and refugees are still pouring in.
My third illustration is of a different character and some of you may find it difficult to believe.
During the World War I had the privilege of getting to know some of the Nationals of those countries overrun by the Germans and who found asylum in England. A popular subject of discussion was the possibility of this or that country joining the Empire as a sovereign nation. "Why not?" they would ask. "This is what we ought to have done after the First World War. If we had done that there would not have been another".
When the War was over, I visited those countries to find out if these friends I had made during their "occupation of London" had been indulging in mere courtesies under the emotional strains and stresses of war. That, strange as it may seem, gentlemen, was not the case. They were sincere in their desire for partnership in this much maligned Empire of ours, as was Austria after the First War. Here, surely, was something much better than Western Union largely dominated as it may well be, by a divided and warring France.
But, sad to tell, it was obvious confidence had been shaken. They had met with but little encouragement in London because, so it was said, as in 1920, in the case of Austria, the difficulties were likely to be insuperable, and that this or that 'great power' would not approve! There was another factor, however, for already there were signs of disintegration within the Empire itself, and one must think twice of alliance with a power that is obviously beginning to lose faith in itself.
As in business, so it is between nations, and the point I want to make here is this: The defeatism implicit in the retreat from our own world-wide Imperial designation and our persistent disparagement, actual or implied, has constituted our greatest disservice to the Peace, as it has to the cause of Imperial unity.
This is a serious criticism, gentlemen. It implies a personal responsibility for much of what is happening today, from which we cannot escape. We are indeed on trial, and it is not our first offence. But because of our past contribution to the well-being of the world, the Great Architect may yet give us one more opportunity to carry forward the building of His Temple, and if this should be, what are we going to do about it? To answer this adequately would need much more time than I have at my disposal, but I shall nevertheless attempt an answer.
You will recall, I am sure, a warning which Ruskin gave England and the Empire nearly a century ago. Let me repeat it
"Since first the dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands; the thrones of Tyre, Venice and England. Of the first . . . only the memory remains; of the second, the ruin . . . the third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction".
"If we forget this example!" I would rather use the word "story" than example, and I'm sure that is what Ruskin really meant, for words have greatly changed in usage during the past century. If then, we forget their story, the story of Tyre and Venice, we may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction".
What is their story? Surely the story of nations risen to greatness and then forgetting those things upon which that greatness was founded. What are those qualities by means of which we, as an Empire, have grown great, and are so obviously in danger of forgetting?
Surely the qualities which constitute the very keystone of the Imperial Arch can be summarized in one word--Faith. Faith in God and faith in ourselves and in the mission with which He has entrusted us. The Faith in which we stood alone in 1940; the Faith which Walter Lippman then said we "had given back to the world". The Faith of Alfred the Great who saw, nearly 11 centuries ago "a greater England rising from strength to strength, a bulwark against tyranny and a sure refuge for all distressed folk".
Here, surely, is the lesson to be learned from the history of Tyre and Venice, distant in time and in achievement as they are; that we lose not this Faith, enriched as it is by two thousand years of rich experience and incomparable achievement.
There is but one solution to the world's apparently insoluble problems. No political device or ideology, or new economic orders or grandiose planning can bring peace to the haunted men and women in their hundreds of millions the world round. Nothing but a real Renaissance can now save man from his own inventions, for the Atomic Bomb will be as destructive to his spirit in peace as it would be to his body in war. He is fitted for its use in neither field.
Said the Frenchman Rabelais, many years ago, "Science is Wisdom: Conscience is a greater wisdom. If there should come a time when these two should be divorced from each other then Hell would be let loose upon the earth".
Can one doubt that that time, that divorce, is fast moving upon us? On all sides principles have been jettisoned in the interest of expediency. Man's freedom and welfare are matters of raucous and bitter debate, and subject to the market prices of conscienceless politicians. Hunger and misery beyond understanding stalk the earth, and rampant murder goes unchecked and unpunished.
Yes, surely we are on trial. In the days of the Empire's strength no injustice was too unimportant to go unchallenged, or life too humble to be taken without the law. Men then took courage wherever they saw the flag, and in simple thought and unspoken word blessed that ministering power which, in some completely incomprehensible manner, encircled the earth and found its way to the most inaccessible places.
It was, of course, the Pax Britannica. You may say "Its days are past". I do not agree. Material power may and has passed into other hands. That power, the power of the United States, must be married to the world experience and the broad humanity of England and the Empire. Together, they may bring peace to the world.
But the first condition to that marriage is that each bring an acceptable dowry to the Union. Only a United Empire, unashamed of its name, and reinforced by its recaptured faith in God and in itself, can assure the success of such a marriage. Only by the power invoked by such unity will the Empire prove a readily acceptable partner to the United States. We shall be fully acceptable only if successful. Let the Empire ignore this fact, and it will pass into the history it has so largely made, its several parts falling either into the ravishing hands of Russian Communism or into the basket of the new Economic Imperialism of the United States.
We are certainly on trial at this time even more than in 1941.
Humanity with all its fears With all the hopes of future years Is hanging breathless . . . is hanging breathless . . . upon our will to serve it through our unity, our faith in our mission, and in our unrivalled experience in teaching nations how to live.
In 1916, Walter Hines Page, writing from England said: "Europe would be a bloody slave pen but for these people. It is a shambles as it is".
And in 1940-24 years later-another great American,
Dorothy Thompson, wrote:
"This ancient structure (the British Empire Dorothy's British, not mine!) cemented with blood, is an incredibly delicate and exquisite mechanism held together lightly now by imponderable elements of credit and prestige, experience and skill, written and unwritten law, codes and habits. It is the only worldwide organization in existence, the world equaliser, and holder of the equilibrium, the only world-wide stabilizing force for law and order on this planet; and if you bring it down, the planet will rock with an earthquake such as it has never known. We, in the United States, will shake with that earthquake and so will Germany. And the Britons, the Canadians, the New Zealanders, the Australians, the South Africans, are hurling their bodies into the breach to dam the dykes against world chaos".
I need not remind you, gentlemen, that these words were addressed to Hitler in that year of true Imperial Greatness, 1940. The breach was held, Hitler failed.
But the real battle has yet to be won against a more subtle foe whose bridgeheads have been established in every corner of the world. It is not only Communism with which we are faced, but a rapidly growing avalanche of hatred against all decent things and against God Himself. The world itself is in danger of becoming another Belsen, devoid of all sense of shame, order and law. It was John Pym who said in 1641
"If you take away Law, all things will fall into confusion! every man will become a law unto himself which, in the depraved condition of human nature, must needs produce many great enormities".
In my recent travels I have had the opportunity to see something of these "great enormities", and it is because of these experiences that I want to urge upon you all the recognition of the tremendous, almost overwhelming responsibility which rests upon the Empire today. This is no time for anything but the charting of the clearest courses in the same spirit of unity and purpose and with that confidence and faith in our destiny such as characterised those magnificent days of 1940-41. Let us think and act greatly and always with the wellbeing of our children's children in mind, not merely of the present, lest we, coming to the end of the road, hear from afar back the cry of a younger generation
If any question why we died, Tell them our fathers lied."
and one of our greatest lies is the lie which issues not only from our enemies without, but from those within--the lie which traduces the name of Empire and the names of those great souls who laboured and died in its service. Here is implicit an arrongance which is insufferable, for were we, who inherit this great estate, possessed of half the spirit of those who built and passed it on to us, the world today would be an infinitely happier and kindlier place. Mankind would take courage and begin to hope again.
I began this address with a story: let me end with a personal experience.
During the war, I lectured up and down Great Britain for the Ministry of Information.
At a Naval Occasion on the East Coast my Chairman was the Deputy Lord-Lieutenant of the County. In introducing me--as a visitor from Canada--he suggested, with some degree of satisfaction, it would seem, that twice within a quarter of a century Germany had been fooled into believing that at the first shot to be fired the British Empire would fall to pieces.
For the first time, or so I think, I was slightly rude to my Chairman. Here was a statement which, as I see it, goes right to the heart of the matter, and I submitted that it would be much more to our credit if we made it clear to all and sundry, friends and potential enemies alike, that come what may, we stand together. War is too costly a business as a medium for demonstrating our unity. Our responsibility to a world disintegrating at a pace not easily understood demands that we make this unity axiomatic in all our relationships.
And so that there may be no mistake as to our identity, or suggestion of shame for our past, let me urge again, that we halt our retreat from our historic and honourable name. Speaking from experience in many countries, I am confident that this is a vital necessity if our prestige is to be restored and reinforced, and the Empire is again to become that stabilising influence in the world so essential to its peace.
"If", said Winston Churchill, "we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall have lost the future".