- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 Feb 1939, p. 214-229
- Cavell, Captain R.G., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- This address is a description and discussion of the speaker's experiences as he worked and travelled through the British Empire, speaking on the subject "Canada and the British Empire." The year 1938 as the most difficult year in recent history; 1939 continuing the trend. The very precarious peace. Scientists and engineers engaged in the creation of weapons of destruction rather than for the betterment of mankind. What has brought about this appalling situation. An examination of Germany and Britain, going back about 100 years. German Prussianism a menace to the peace of the world prior to 1914 and still a menace today. The comparatively recent rise of Italy and Japan, breeding in them a fierce nationalism, responsible for the present situation and the destruction of the League of Nations. The creed of Fascism raising its ugly head on the Continent of Europe, preaching the doctrine of force. Such creed well suited to these new nationalistic nations. The world today slowing dividing into two great armed camps: dictatorships and democracies. The creed of force being introduced into international politics. How this introduction of force into world affairs has been a very great blow to the democratic nations. The importance of a solid and united Empire in these difficult times. A consideration of this Empire in some detail and an examination of some of the difficulties with which it is beset. A tour of the Empire with a view to understanding it better. The part that Canada is destined to play in the British Commonwealth of Nations, particularly if war breaks out in Europe. Canada living up to its Constitution. The importance of Canadians understanding the real meaning of democracy. Suggestions for Canada.
- Date of Original
- 2 Feb 1939
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- Full Text
- CANADA AND THE BRITISH EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY CAPTAIN R. G. CAVELL
Chairman--The President, J. P. Pratt, Esq., K.C.
Thursday, February 2, 1939.
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of The Empire Club, I feel that the Club is fortunate in having secured as its speaker today, Captain Cavell, who will speak to us on a subject which is of interest not only today but every day during the weeks and months, so long as we remain a part of the British Empire which, please God, will be forever. The subject is "Canada and the British Empire."
Captain Cavell was born in England and later on in his life he went to India. He was trained in the military schools for an Army career which he had chosen as his future. He served in India for fourteen years as a cavalry officer in the Indian Army. In the Great War he served with the Indian troops in Mesopotamia. He was wounded and upon his return to India he joined the Government Service there and performed valuable service in many parts of the Indian Kingdom. Later, he travelled to Japan and to China and the nature of his work took him through all parts of Europe. About three years ago he moved to Canada which he has made his permanent home ever since, that is if a man who has travelled as much as the Captain has can have a permanent home. 1n 1938 he visited Europe and from his observations in Europe, in the British Dominions, in the East and in India, and now in Canada, he is going to give us his views upon the subject, "Canada and the British Empire." I have great pleasure in introducing Captain R. G. Cavell. (Applause)
CAPTAIN R. G. CAVELL: Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests and Gentlemen: You have done me a great honour in inviting me to speak to you today, and that honour I very much appreciate.
It has been my good fortune, as your Chairman has just told you, to see most, if not all, of the British Empire, and to work in many parts of it, and I am going today to try to give you some of the experiences I have gained in my travels through that Empire. I speak to you today, not so much as the Englishman I once was, but as the Canadian I am fast becoming.
I came here a few years ago, straight from the miseries and hardships caused in China by Japan's dastardly attack upon a defenceless people, and Canada seemed to me then to be a great haven of peace and refuge. Since then I have travelled from coast to coast many times and I can assure you no Canadian-born citizen loves this great country today any better than I do. Therefore, Gentlemen, I hope you will not think me presumptuous in choosing as my subject today, "Canada and the British Empire."
The year 1938 was undoubtedly the most difficult year in recent history. If 1939 continues as it has begun it promises to be an equally difficult one. So far, war has been averted, and thereby the lives of millions of men, women and children have been saved, but no one can look at Europe today without realizing that the peace which has so far been achieved is a very precarious one. This was brought very forcibly home to me when I was in Europe last year. There we find the brains of engineers and men of science engaged, not as they should be, in furthering the betterment of mankind, but in devising ever more terrible weapons for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children, and the cities in which they live, and this unproductive use of brains, labour and raw material everywhere is pulling down the living conditions of the people and lowering standards of civilization.
Now, Gentlemen, what has brought about this appalling situation? If we go back one hundred years we find the British Empire well founded, Britain's trade established and being built up, and during the hundred years we find both Empire and trade growing stronger and stronger. If we look at Germany during the same period we find a collection of disunited states. It was not until 1870 that Bismarck finally welded those states into a united Germany. This unification of German states seems to have given rise to intense nationalism, a sense of power, and a desire for conquest in German rulers. It reached its peak in 191.4, when Germany set out on a war of European conquest. She was defeated, humiliated, and, as you all know, pulled down from a position of great world power and her people suffered terrible hardships. Her government changed many times and now, only twenty years after those events, the world again faces a Germany with a ruler bent on conquest, a slightly different kind of ruler, but on-, still imbued with the old Prussian idea that Germany must rule the world. German Prussianism was a menace to the peace of the world prior to 1914 and it is a menace today.
Similarly with Italy: a comparatively few years ago Italy was a collection of warring states, only unified about 1860 and as you all know, the rise of Japan from feudalism to a world power has happened in only the last fifty years. The comparatively recent rise of these nations, Gentlemen, it seems to me, has bred in them a fierce nationalism, responsible for the present situation and the destruction of the League of Nations.
Now, the League of Nations was not by any means a perfect organization but it was a great step along the road of mankind's progress. After the terrible slaughter and suffering of the Great War the nations of the world came together and decided that in future all their international disputes should be settled by the rule of law and not by the rule of force. The League was set up and for some years it looked as though a great era of peace and prosperity had arrived for mankind.
Then the creed of Fascism began to raise its ugly head on the Continent of Europe, preaching the doctrine of force, maintaining that man was made for the state, that man must be subordinated to the state, and his individual freedom sacrificed to a rigid control by state officials. This was a creed, Gentlemen, which was well suited to these new nationalistic nations gradually coming into being and seeking the height of their power. We find Japan with a military dictatorship waging war in China. We find Mussolini raising a black-skirted political army, under his personal control, not under the control of the then government of Italy. We find that army bludgeoning its leader into power, beating, killing and imprisoning political opponents. Then a little later we find Hitler raising a brown-skirted and Storm Troop Army, under his personal control, and the brutalities practised by that army in bludgeoning Hitler into power are among the greatest blots on the history of human conduct.
Before this creed of force, the liberties of the people of those countries have disappeared completely and the hope for peace that the League of Nations offered mankind at one time has likewise gone, until today the world is slowly but very surely dividing into two great armed camps: on the one hand, the dictatorships, on the other, the democracies; the dictatorships with their tyrannies, concentration camps, torture chambers, and their aim the glorification of the state at the expense of the freedom and well-being of the people: the democracies, with their freedom of speech and action for all within their borders and their aim, the greatest good to the greatest number within a framework of law and liberty.
Now we find this creed of force, which put the dictators into power, being introduced into international politics. First, the Japanese army, then Mussolini, then Hitler, putting their pistols to the heads of the great democracies and making demand after demand under the threat of force, and this continual series of threats is giving rise to the greatest piling up of armaments which has ever been known in history.
This introduction of force into world affairs has been a very great blow to the democratic nations. As I said just now, they were prepared for an era of peace and law. No longer can the democracies look forward to that era. No longer can the democracies afford to be unarmed, and just as democratic freedom was established by men dying or being prepared to die to bring it into being, so today must the people of the democracies be prepared to make great sacrifices in its defense. There is much, Gentlemen, that we can and that we must do to defend this democracy which we all enjoy today. One of the most important things which we must do is to co-operate, and in this country we are in a most excellent position for co-operation because we are already a member state in the greatest Commonwealth of Democratic States; the British Empire. There has never been a time in the history of the Empire when lack of unity among its member states would have been so disastrous as it would today. A united British Commonwealth of Nations, fully armed and co-operating to the full with the other great democracies of the world is the best safeguard for peace that we can have, so long as the dictators continue, as they are continuing, to put their pistols to our heads.
Now, Gentlemen, in view of the importance of a solid and united Empire in these difficult times, it might be helpful today if we considered this Empire in some detail and examined some of the difficulties which beset it. The land surface of the earth is, roughly, 52,500,000 square miles, and the land surface of the British Empire is, roughly, 12,000,000 square miles, so that roughly the British Empire comprises one quarter of the land surface of the world. The total population of the world is, in round figures, 1,900,000,000; the total population of the British Empire is, roughly, 67,000,000 whites and 404,000,000 blacks, and when I say "blacks" I include all coloured people. This gives us a British Empire total of 471,000,000 people. That, Gentlemen, is, very roughly, one quarter of the population of the world.
Now, as you know the constant cry of the dictators is that the British Empire has too much territory, but if any of you know a fairer arrangement than that, whereby one quarter of the world's population occupies one quarter of the land surface of the earth, I should like to know what it is! Now, with a view to a better understanding of the Empire in general and its difficulties in particular, let us start on a quick tour, starting in England. As I said just now, the great democracies, including England, have very recently realized that the peace and security for which they hoped is in great jeopardy and England is in process of turning herself from a League of Nations country, organized for peace, into a country organized for war. Unfortunately, Gentlemen, democracy moves slowly; it must of necessity move slowly if it is to remain democratic. Personally, I have no patience with those people who grumble because democracy does not move as fast as dictatorship. Democracies rest in the last analysis on the will of a free voting people and you can only ascertain the will of a people slowly. Meanwhile, England rearms and again sets herself up on a war basis, anal Mr. Chamberlain does the best he can to keep peace in Europe until such a time as England fully recovers her armament status. His critics say he is too eager in this direction, but can a man in his position be too eager for peace? However that may be, I hope and think we shall soon see a change. In fact, I think the change is already discernible and I feel we can soon look forward to the day when England will say to the dictators, "Wait for England's answer until she is ready to give it."
Meanwhile, in England as in other democratic countries, the dictators are menacing democracy. They menace it in many ways, to give only one example, their continual threats of force are likely to drive England into conscription which, after all, is an undemocratic mode of recruiting an army. Unless this constant threat is checked the whole of democracy throughout the world will be seriously jeopardized, and most of our cherished democratic institutions will be no more, ruthless regimentation will take their place.
It seems to me, Gentlemen, that Mr. Chamberlain thoroughly understands, what I was saying just now, that these nations with whom he is dealing on the Continent of Europe are new nations that have very recently, comparatively speaking, arrived at the positions they occupy today, and like all newly arrived people they are very touchy and very sensitive. You only have to think for a moment of that stupid protest Germany made recently about something the Mayor of New York said. Can you imagine England or Canada making an official protest because a Mayor somewhere in the world said something disagreeable? These nations, Gentlemen, are very new and very touchy. It seems to me Mr. Chamberlain is trying to say, time and again, "Come down off your high horse, come into the comity of nations with us. Come down and see if we can't settle these problems that, after all, are as much ours as yours, but if you refuse, take the consequences."
And now, leaving England and sailing down the coast of Spain, we come to Gibraltar, that fortress which has become of such vital importance to the British Empire in the last few years, owing to war in Spain, and Italy's ambitions in the Mediterranean. The last time I sailed into Gibraltar Harbour about six o'clock one morning a large part of the Mediterranean fleet was lying there at anchor, and I have never before or since realized the might and power of our great Empire as I did at that moment, with that mighty fleet in front of me, and behind me the rock with its powerful fort.
Then, passing into the Mediterranean, along the north coast of Africa, we come to that territory which has caused the British Government such an enormous amount of trouble over the last few years. That trouble has been very largely caused by the huge broadcasting stations which have been erected there by the dictator nations, and constantly vilify the British Empire in Arabic, broadcasting daily anything likely to put a wrong construction on Britain's intentions and doing all they can to lower our prestige in that part of the world, and Britain, with her dear old muddling ways, set out to counteract that propaganda and I actually heard, when once there, the most beautiful broadcast over a British station, given to the Arabs in the most faultless Oxford English! That, I believe, has now been corrected and, like the dictators, we are now broadcasting counter propaganda to the Arabs in Arabic.
At the eastern end of the Mediterranean we come to Palestine, another very troublesome spot in the Empire today. The position in Palestine is one of the most serious which faces the Empire today anywhere in the world. Very briefly, I will try to tell you what the trouble is all about. Many years ago the Arabs, as you know, were a very great nation. Much of the culture we have today came from the old Empire of Arabia, but like most great Empires it fell into decay and is no longer the great force it once was in the world. About twenty years ago the Arabs started a movement for the reconstruction of their Empire, and just as that movement was beginning to gain momentum, the Balfour Declaration was made and Palestine, which the Arabs hoped would be one of the principal states in the new Arab Empire, was thrown open for Jewish colonization, and the Arabs began to agitate and to do what they could to stop the influx of Jews into what they considered one of their most important states. Now, the Arabs have no objection to the Jews as such. There are at the present moment about a million Jews living in various parts of Arabia and living very happily. What the Arabs object to is the Zionist movement which claims Palestine as a Jewish country to be controlled by the Jewish people which conflicts with the Arab idea of another Arab Empire. The Jews, on the other hand, have done marvellous work in Palestine. I was over much of it a few years ago. They have planted orange groves and put in a lot of work on various other agricultural projects. They have started small factories and they have done a very fine colonizing job in Palestine. We can only hope that the conference now going on in London will find some way whereby the Arabs and Jews can live peaceably in Palestine and both prosper.
Then, passing on down through Africa, we come to Kenya Colony, a colony which is undoubtedly going to be heard of in the near future, a colony which, unlike Canada, has too little transportation, a colony which can grow the finest cattle that can be grown anywhere in the Empire on grass alone. They need no grain, but they cost so much to get to the coast that it is almost impossible to market them, and that is one of the great problems with all the products of Kenya Colony at the moment. Tanganyika and Rhodesia are being developed by British capital and some of our finest reserves of raw material are there.
So we come at last to South Africa. Very naturally, South Africa, today, Gentlemen, is very concerned with the question of the German colonies. Some of the territory which was formerly German, as you will see if you look on your maps, is very unpleasantly close to South Africa. Coupling this fact with the fact that South Africa today has a small German minority, you will see they have just cause for their apprehension.
South Africa has also two internal major problems. One, the problem of the poor white; the other, that of the native black man in South Africa. The poor white problem arises in this way: the original settlers had a very peculiar inheritance law which said that when a man died his farm and possessions must be divided equally among his descendants. They had many sons, some ten or twelve, and the first time a big farm was divided into twelve, of course it lowered its potential earning power. The second time those twelve parts were again divided into ten or twelve they became small holdings, and now much of the land that formerly belonged to the old Boers in that way has disappeared and many have become poor whites and the problem of the South African Government is how to maintain the prestige of a poor white in Africa when he can only do labour that is much better done by the black man. That is a problem which I am afraid will occupy the South African Government for a long time to come, meanwhile the poor white gets poorer and poorer.
Then, there is also the problem of the native black. As you know, it is progressively the policy of the British Empire to educate its native sons and as they become prepared for it to give them self-government, gradually and safely, but in this case we have in South Africa an element, the Boers, which is imbued with the idea that the black man was born to be the white man's slave and it opposes any education of the natives and any betterment of his lot. So there you have another problem, and a constant conflict in South Africa between the British element and the Boer element in the Government, the one wanting to better the lot of the black man and the other wanting to keep him down, which is not in accordance with British policy. I predict, unless something is done to settle this problem within the next tenor twenty years, that there will be a native problem in South Africa, as acute as the native problem has been in India for many years past.
Now, Gentlemen, we come to that country in the Empire which I perhaps know better than any of them, and that is India. India certainly still constitutes one of the greatest problems which faces the Empire anywhere in the world. Today, I want you to consider a country roughly half the size of Canada, with 350,000,000 people, divided into Hindoos, Mohammedans, Sikhs, Jains, Animists, Parsees, and many, many other castes and sub castes, not welded together into an autonomous whole but divided, bitterly divided, by religious strife and intolerance into factions which continually fight each other as our daily papers so frequently report. Particularly the Mohammedans and the Hindoos have unique and age-old ways of annoying one another. It goes something like this: Let us say the Hindoos are having a festival. They drag out their gods and go along the streets in procession. The cow, as you know, is a sacred animal to Hinduism. So the Mohammedans slaughter a cow and as the procession is getting under way they throw a piece of beef into the procession. That defiles the priests, defiles the gods, and raises general havoc. The Hindoos get very angry, go home and get their big sticks and beat up every Mohammedan they can find.
But that, Gentlemen, that is only the beginning of the story. In a very few weeks the Mohammedans have a festival, and, as you know, the pig is unclean to Mohammedans. So the Hindoos slaughter a pig and as the Mohammedans are offering prayers in the mosque, the Hindoos hurl over the wall a piece of pork. That again upsets everything and defiles the mosque and priests. The Mohammedans get very angry, they rush home and they get their big sticks and beat up every Hindoo they can lay hands on.
That is only one of the causes of those religious riots so often mentioned in our newspapers and all too often reporting serious loss of life. In addition to these religious difficulties, the people of India speak some 220 different languages, and I am sure you will all agree with me that it is a very difficult job for the British Government to work out a Home Rule Bill which will be fair to all these factions. To my mind, the road to self-government for India is going to be a very long one, but it is now definitely on the way.
In the meantime, I say, without fear of contradiction, that the British have done more for India in the last hundred years than had been done previously in thousands. Take only two factors, the great irrigation schemes and railways. Those two together have eliminated one of the greatest scourges throughout the ages, the scourge of famine, and no one today dies in India from famine, whereas, in times past, millions have died during famines.
Leaving India and its great problem, we pass on to Singapore. There again, Gentlemen, we have one of the links in the British chain of fortifications which has become of the utmost importance in the last few years, owing to the aggression and warlike actions of Japan. When I was last in Singapore it was very obvious that we were strengthening our fortifications there to an enormous extent, but the Japanese meanwhile have not been asleep and, as you have seen from the newspapers, there has been over the last few years considerable unrest in Siam, just about 700 miles north, and that unrest is very largely caused by an influence Japan is trying to obtain in the internal affairs of Siam. If she can ever attain real control over the affairs of Siam, there is very little doubt that she will drive a canal through the Isthmus of Kra, which is only about fifty miles wide in some places. If Japan ever succeeds in doing that her fleet and merchant vessels can pass 700 miles north of Singapore into the Bay of Bengal to the north and the Indian. Ocean to the south, and the Japanese fleet can go west without passing Singapore at all
Leaving Singapore and continuing our journey east, we come to Hong Kong. That great fortress in the chain of British fortifications is one which was handed over to us by the Chinese with their tongues in their cheeks, saying to themselves, "There is a great rock sticking out of the sea and there is nothing very much the British can do with that." Today not only is it one of the strongest fortresses in the world, but it is one of the most beautiful residential places in the British Empire. It has a most marvellous bay for shipping and some of the finest bathing to be found anywhere in the Empire and, of course, its real object in the chain of British fortifications is the protection of our trade with China. Today, with the Japanese controlling Canton, with the Japanese navy in the sea outside Hong Kong, the problem which faces us there is indeed a very real one, because until something can be done to make some arrangement with Japan, whereby we can trade again in Canton, the trade of Hong Kong is practically shut down. So, there again, we have a great problem facing the Empire in that southern part of China.
Then, passing on to Australia and New Zealand, we face yet another problem of Empire. By their very geographical location, Australia and New Zealand are irrevocably a part of the Pacific problem. Japan has said, time and time again, that she intends to control the Pacific, and that statement cannot but cause the greatest apprehension in New Zealand and Australia. Yet it is very difficult to see what either of these countries can do about it. New Zealand has a population of 1,500,000; Australia, a population of 6,000,000. Neither of those countries can increase that population to any very great extent. Australia cannot increase it because the centre of Australia is a great desert and they can only farm a belt around the coast of the country. Therefore, she cannot carry a very much greater population than she carries today, unless she can develop a manufacturing industry and, as you all know, Gentlemen, it is very difficult to do that with the state of the world as it is today. With the increasing unrest in the Far East, therefore, with Japan on the warpath as she is, Australia and New Zealand are a part of the Empire which must be very carefully watched and provided for in any scheme of general Empire defence.
And now, Gentlemen, last but not least, I come to this great country of Canada. This country which, it seems to me, has such a great future, this country which has the highest standard of general living conditions of any country in the world today; this country which has such wonderful natural resources, which has such a free and happy people and so much which is so well worth while preserving; this country which has nothing more worth while preserving than the freedom of its people, which many a Canadian came here to found when Canada belonged to the Indians, and which many of your ancestors gave their lives to develop to the state which it has now reached.
Unfortunately, another war in Europe is a possibility with which we must all reckon. Such a war will have very terrible consequences to the civilization of Europe. Even now, without it, the civilization of Europe seems to me to be going backward and not forward. You only have to think of the terrible pogroms against the Jews going on all over Europe to realize that fact. It seemed to me while I was in Europe last year, and more so since I have come back and thought the matter over, that the future of civilization lies on this Continent, rather than in Europe, for some years to come, at least. As you all know, there are those who visualize Canada as the future headquarters of the British Empire but however that might be, Gentlemen, there is no doubt that Canada is destined to play a very great part in the British Commonwealth of Nations, particularly if war breaks out in Europe. Actually, it seems to me that Canada has not much to fear from armed invasion, but she must be continually on guard against the insidious invasion of propaganda which is now coming in over her borders and which is constituting a very definite threat to her democracy and freedom. Such movements, Gentlemen, are undoubtedly being formed all over the American Continent and here I want to remind you, once again, that Bolshevism in Russia, Fascism in Italy, Naziism in Germany, all started as small minority movements. They climbed up the ladder of free speech and democratic privilege and then destroyed the ladder. In a democracy such as this we cannot suppress free speech, even if we do not like what is being said. Once free speech and the expression of all shades of opinion are suppressed, democracy ceases to exist, but we can and must educate our people and, particularly, our young people, against creeds which will make them slaves instead of free men.
It seems to me, Gentlemen, that you Canadians have no need to fear if you will only live up to your Constitution. The more I read the British North America Act, the more do I marvel at the wisdom of your Fathers of Confederation, they were wise and far-seeing men, particularly in the way in which they dealt with that very terrible thing, Power. They gave some to the Dominion Government, some to the Provincial Governments, some to the cities, some to the villages, some to the school boards and so on down, and in the last analysis, this wise distribution of power rests on the free Canadian, with his free vote. Where difficulties have arisen in Canada it seems to me, Gentlemen, that they have arisen more by the abuse of your magnificent Constitution than by the use of it. (Applause.) At all costs this Constitution must be preserved. The rights of the people must be maintained. Lest you think this warning unnecessary, remember the fate today of those people in Europe who in the last few years, have had their freedom destroyed by what started in their country, as I said just now, as small minority movements. It is the concern of every Canadian, it seems to me, to see that his friends and children understand the real meaning of democracy. We must make those Canadians now growing up alive to democracy as a creed, we must make them understand what it means, we must make them realize that it is the best way of life mankind has yet devised through the ages. We must make them realize that the future of their country and of their own freedom lies in their own hands. They have the power through their vote, if they will only maintain this magnificent Constitution.
Now, Gentlemen, in conclusion I want to say this. You are undoubtedly citizens of the freest country on earth. If you would retain that freedom see that all governments you set up remain always your servants and never become your masters. (Applause) See that no politician, no matter what his creed, ever sets up a private political army, no matter what coloured shirt he wants to put on it. Canada needs only one army, that controlled by the Dominion Government. See that Canada remains a member state in the great Commonwealth of British Nations, and that by her adherence to the principles of freedom and democracy she helps to make those creeds such great forces in the world, and of such strength, that they can resist those who are trying to destroy freedom in the world today.
And, lastly, Gentlemen, I say to you, that only by eternal and constant vigilance will you Canadians retain this immortal freedom which is yours today. Only if you watch now will your children enjoy the great tomorrow which stretches out before this wonderful country. Let every Canadian really mean it when he stands up and sings, "O, Canada, we stand on guard for thee." (Loud applause)
THE PRESIDENT: Captain Cavell, only by means of the radio is it possible to make a tour of the British Empire in such a short space of time as you have made that tour today. In doing so you have made many remarks which have been not only interesting and instructive, but also enlightening. As for your audience; composed of members of The Empire Club, each member subscribes to the motto of the Club, "Canada and a United Empire," and the great British Empire and the Dominion of Canada will ever enjoy the loyal support of our members. On behalf of the Club, I extend to you a very warm "Thank you." (Applause)
The meeting is adjourned.