- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Apr 1930, p. 153-164
- Wrong, Professor George M., Speaker
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- Item Type
- The British Fleet and how it helped to establish Canada. British naval power. Scientific developments which have caused the world to tend towards drawing into a unity, with examples. The question as to whether war involves gain to even the victorious side. The question of naval parity with the United States. A response to the question "Does the United States need a great fleet?" Canada's resources more or less open to the United States. A consideration of the grounds for the U.S. policy of having naval parity with other nations. U.S. commerce by sea. A discussion as to whether or not rival trade between the U.S. and the British Empire ultimately involves war. The question of topic: "what does naval parity with the United States mean for Canada?"—that in Canadian and American waters the fleet of the United States will inevitably be more powerful than the fleet of Great Britain, because Great Britain has to go to remote regions with her naval power; the certainty of the invasion of British territory by the armies of the United States should war come. A discussion of these consequences as seen by the speaker. The question, "Will naval parity with the United States make for peace?" and the speaker's response to it. The kind of perennial suspicion of the designs of Great Britain that exist in the United States. The thought that naval parity, even if it has objectionable features, will solve itself within a few years, and how that will happen.
- Date of Original
- 10 Apr 1930
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- Full Text
- "WHAT WOULD UNITED STATES NAVAL PARITY WITH GREAT BRITAIN MEAN FOR CANADA?"
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR GEORGE M. WRONG
10th April, 1930.
VICE-PRESIDENT H. G. STAPELLS occupied the Chair and introduced the speaker, who said: I am in a humour for asking questions, as you will find in a few minutes, and the first question I am going to put to you is, How does it happen that this audience of British people is here today? And the answer of course is that we are here today because of the British Fleet. It was the British Fleet that made possible the British conquest of Canada; it was the British Fleet that later, when the American revolutionaries invaded Canada, made it necessary for their forces to withdraw; and later still, in the war of 1812-14, although there were single victories of American ships as against British ships, in the end the British Fleet secured command of the sea and made it certain that Canada should remain a British state. And so, out of the action of the British Fleet, this is today a British country. Now while I am saying that, I think one ought to be on guard against exaggerating the predominance of the British naval power. As a matter of fact, British naval power did not become predominant in the world, with no uncertainty, until the victory of Nelson at Trafalgar, and British naval supremacy has endured from that time to the present day, although we are now confronting a situation in which British naval supremacy will have come to an end.
Now one of the first questions I want to put relates to the situation of the world at the present time. Are we in a new era of international relations? Quite recently Jan Smuts, speaking at Oxford, said that the treaty negotiated in 1919 and 1920 marked the passing.over of a watershed in human affairs. We have passed the watershed and we are coming down into the country beyond. Now it did not happen--that that watershed was passed--it did not happen in any casual meaning. Human civilization had been preparing for what the crisis of war made effective. The world had been drawing into a unity which today is very real. That is largely due to scientific development. The radio makes it possible for the lonely man in the Arctic regions to be in hourly contact with our world. The radio-telephone is newer, but I suspect that we shall hear more of it in the future. One interesting thing about the radio-telephone is that it means the same language at both ends. I cannot picture Mr. Lloyd George speaking in Chinese to the President of China, but I can quite picture the President of China speaking to Mr. Lloyd George in English. It is one of the effects of the radio-telephone that the world will tend more and more to a single language, and I have no doubt myself that that language will be our own English tongue. At the present time, I believe, half the newspapers of the world are published in English. Then the newspaper itself is an indication of the unity of mankind. It tries to collect in its columns all the things that are of interest in the world. I think the world is tending to a certain unity even in clothes, and I would like to ask you gentlemen, when you go home, to discuss the question with your wives, whether a common fashion in clothes has any tendency to unity of thought by those wearing them. It is a question that may have some meaning. At any rate, the people in the world are tending more and more to think and act like each other. Then we have, as the expressions of these unifying forces, the League of Nations and the great Peace Pact. Now these things show that we have crossed the watershed and are coming into a new region. It is quite unique in the history of mankind-not that some nations can talk together about peace, but that practically all the nations should be united in desiring relations that should invalidate the resort to war. And not only have we a League of Nations, but we have the representatives of those nations meeting every year to keep alive their problems, to discuss their difficulties, and to try to go ever farther towards the maintenance of peace and justice in the world.
Now, another question that I propose to ask is, Does war involve gain to even the victorious side? I am not going to dwell upon that subject, but I hope that you will all agree with me that even victory-we ought to know it by this time-even victory does bring dire results to the victor. And I suppose that we are all agreed that if war can be avoided, it is not merely to find success in saving human lives, but it is to promote the economic welfare of mankind.
Now I am coming to the specific question that I am here today to discuss-the question of naval parity with the United States. Let me ask one more question. Does the United States need a great fleet? Well, the United States, in some curious ways, is an island. It is quite true that the United States without a fleet is quite immune from successful invasion. The United States can feed its own people and, failing that within itself, it can descend upon the food supplies of Canada and fill up what is lacking from what we possess, because, mind you, a navy will not affect the relations by land between this nation and the United States. Our resources will always be more or less open to a nation that has 120 million people to our ten million. Now, the United States, first of all, is bound to have a fleet equal to that of any other nation, and I do not think anything will alter that decision. But it is fair for us to consider the grounds of that policy. Let us remember that the United States has a very extensive seagoing commerce. Mr. Roosevelt, who has recently written an admirable book upon England and America, is bold enough to say that the shipping of the United States on the ocean is twice that of Great Britain. Whether that is the case or not, the United States undoubtedly has a great seagoing commerce. And then the United States draws a very considerable part of the things that it needs daily from sources that involve their passing to the United States by sea. The United States has of course within itself resources that are the envy of the world. They have copper, they have oil, they have iron, and a thousand other things, but they have not enough rubber to satisfy their needs. And they are lacking in a commodity that this country happily possesses, the commodity of nickel, in which I believe a few Canadians are financially interested. (Laughter.) The United States has to bring its rubber, and the things that supply in some measure its breakfast table-its coffee, its tea-from overseas, and one half of the imports of the United States consists of imports from tropical countries, that in the main come by sea. So that the United States really has a commerce on the sea that justifies its taking the position that a fleet, a great fleet, is necessary, to defend its commerce. It does not matter for us to say that that is a mistake. The United States is convinced of that justifiability, and it does not depend upon negotiations in London whether the United States is going to built a fleet to equal the fleet of any other nation.
Not let me pass to another question. Does rivalry in trade between the United States and the British Empire ultimately involve war? Before I discuss that point, I want to say just a word upon the use of the word "inevitable". It is a word that we use quite too freely. I do not believe that continued peace with the United States is inevitable, any more than I believe that war with the United States is inevitable. God knows what is inevitable, but to our human wisdom nothing is really inevitable until it happens, and whether it shall happen or not depends upon our human wisdom or unwisdom. So let us dismiss the idea that either war or peace in respect to the United States is inevitable, and let us look at the facts of the situation. Does commercial rivalry in the long run involve war between the British Empire and the United States? There are American writers who say that it does. I do not know whether there are any British writers who say so- or not, and I have just been reading a book which in rather glowing terms describes the future of the United States, and draws the high moral that the United States is too wise to try to govern the world; it will merely content itself with owning the world. (Laughter.) Now, trade rivalry within the bounds of a state does not involve war. We have the keenest rivalry within our own frontiers in respect to trade matters. I have heard it stated, for instance, that certain motor companies are engaged in very keen rivalry. I have not yet heard that they massed their forces and armed them with rifles and prepared to make war upon one another. Rivalry in trade is really dependent upon peace, and I do not myself believe that the keen rivalry in trade between the British Empire and the United States, which is likely to be intensified in the future, in any way involves war. Moreover, it is quite easy to draw too glowing pictures of the position in the world of either of these political units. Take, for instance, the case of the United States. Is its expansion in trade and population as boundless as some writers indicate? Well, I suppose that most of you here would think that a journal edited in Wall Street would not be likely to indulge in excessive idealism. I do not suppose that the financier who is facing concrete conditions likes to do anything else than to weigh the actual possibilities and probabilities of the situation. And recently a Wall Street journal, not The Wall Street Journal, but a Wall Street journalist, discussed the future prospects of the United States. He pointed out two things: first, that the birth rate is declining, and, second, that immigration is also declining. Immigration is now at the rate of about 250,000 a year. The birth rate is declining at the rate of 50,000 a year. I leave it to your mathematical genius, Mr. Chairman, to calculate how long it will take with that decreased birth rate to wipe out the increase by immigration. Even I can see that it would take five years. Further, the annual births in the United States, according to this writer, amount to 2,400,000. The deaths run to 1,100,000, leaving a difference in favour of births of 1,300,000. Now, I am going to put a greater strain upon your mathematical powers, Mr. Chairman, and Gentlemen; how long would it take at the decline of 50,000 a year in birth rate, to wipe out that 1,300,000? Well, the Wall Street journalist does not shrink from drawing his conclusion, and he says that some time between the year 1950 and 1960-he does not assume that the birth rate will always continue to decline exactly at the rate of 50,000-but between those two years the population will have become stationary at something in the neighbourhood of 160 millions, or rather more than one third of the population of the British Empire. One may ask whether the British Empire in trade matters even has as good a prospect in the future as the United States. It is calculated that a single workman in the United States, aided as he is by machinery, produces twice as much as a single workman in Great Britain. That is largely due to the methods in what is called mass production, and there is no doubt (anyone who has travelled far from Canada finds it out) there is no doubt that the trade of the United States has enormously profited in all parts of the world by this mass production. Even in Kenya, which is British territory, some 86% of the motor cars are made in the United States. Other nations, especially our own nation, can learn mass production. Other nations besides the United States can get the great free market such as the United States has within its own frontiers. And I should not be at all pessimistic about the possibility that we within the British Empire can hold our own in the severest competition with the United States, and without any resort to war. (Applause.) I believe the foreign trade of Canada during the past ten years has increased relatively five times as much as the foreign trade of the United States. That does not look as if we were quite going to the wall. (Applause.)
Now I come to the real question that we have to ask ourselves. What does naval parity with the United States mean for Canada? Now remember that the British command of the sea in the past has enabled the British to choose, if I may say so, the places where they are going to fight. It is not without profound interest to us that no part of the British Empire--I hope I am correct in saying it as strongly as that--no part of the British Empire was invaded by the enemy during that long and dreadful war. Naval power is mobile, and British command of the sea has in the past enabled them to choose the area in which they shall do their fighting. It has enabled them to fight with the enemy rather within his frontiers than within our own frontiers. Great Britain herself has not been invaded by a foreign enemy for a very, very long time. Now, naval parity with the United States means, and I say it regretfully, the end of that condition, and especially as it is applied to Canada. Naval parity with the United States means that in Canadian and American waters the fleet of the United States will inevitably be more powerful than the fleet of Great Britain, because Great Britain has to go to remote regions with her naval power. Naval parity with the United States thus means that there will be the probability, the certainty I think one may say, of the invasion of British territory by the armies of the United States should war come. I was speaking quite recently in the United States in the presence of a former Secretary of War, and I turned to him and said, "What would you do in respect of Canada in case war should break out between the British Empire and the United States? His answer was rather naive but quite pleasant, because it showed that he had nothing but friendly thoughts of us. He said, "I never thought of that." "Well," I said, "I have thought of that and, if I were President of the United States, what I should do in case of war between the British Empire and the United States would be to give Canada, say, one week in which to make up her mind to be neutral or to take the consequences." And the consequences would be what? With naval parity, that the fleet of the United States would block our seaports, Halifax, St. John, Quebec, Vancouver and Victoria, and destroy our seagoing commerce, injure it for the time being, at any rate. Not only that. With our long line stretching across the continent, with neighbours twelve times as populous as we, another consequence would be that communications between the east and the west would be cut, and our commerce to that extent destroyed. One other thing that would help the United States, in case of such a war, is that the United States would be able to get control of our supply of nickel, of which I believe we have something like a monopoly, and which is of vast importance in war, and, having it, would put Great Britain at a great disadvantage. Now I have reason to believe that that very policy has been talked of as a possibility in case of a war, and it would put us in the position of an invaded country, without much possibility of getting help. Great Britain could not send troops across the sea with the American fleet blockading Canadian seaports, and we should have to face the alternative of fighting in the war or declaring neutrality. Now, I have no doubt that to everyone here the thought that we should be neutral in such a war is most unwelcome. First of all we have no power, no constitutional power, to declare neutrality. War and peace, within the British Empire, are made not by any one government within the Empire, but are made by the King who is the head of the whole Empire; and when the King declares war, as he does within his prerogative, the whole British Empire, at the present time at any rate, is at war, and it is the King who says whether there shall be war or peace, and we have no constitutional right to declare our neutrality. I am not going to suggest any course of action in such an event, but let me say this: that probably our neutrality would be welcome to Great Britain because it would save her from the need, in case of war, of straining her resources; it would save her from our defence, and neutrality might just possibly be more in the interests of the British Empire than our sharing in the war. But I think that most Canadians--certainly in the number I should include myself--would have great sorrow of heart if, in a struggle such as that, this British Country should be under the necessity of declaring its neutrality. (Applause.)
Now I am going to ask you another question. Will naval parity with the United States make for peace? To that question my decisive answer is, yes. If we have to have naval parity with some country, with what country would we prefer to have it? With Japan? I do not think we would have any great need to fear Japan, because not only Great Britain and ourselves, but also the United States would resent any interference on our coasts from Japan. France? France today has an air base so near the British capital, London, that within half an hour of the declaration of war she could drop bombs on London; France with her seaports defended by a fleet of submarines that practically save them from attack. In connection with war in the air we are at a great disadvantage as compared with France, because the capital, London, is near the coast, while Paris is a long distance from the coast, and Great Britain could not injure France to the same extent. I apologize for talking about war in this way, but we have got to face the possibility. Great Britain could not injure France nearly as quickly, or, probably as effectively, as France could injure Great Britain in case of war. No, if we must have naval parity, the United States--a people largely of our own blood, a people at any rate with a considerable portion of our own traditions, people who speak our language, people whom we understand fully in the daily commerce of life-those are the people with whom we should prefer equality. And since it must come, I think we may be happy in realizing that it is with the United States rather than with any other country.
A Canadian audience does not need to be told that there exists in the United States a kind of perennial suspicion of the designs of Great Britain. That has become, if one may so say, almost chronic. It comes from the American Revolution, in which, so far as I can make out in studying history, each side was about as much to blame as the other. At any rate, that condition of mind has existed in the United States now for a century and a half, and that has helped to determine the attitude of the United States towards proposals by Great Britain, even this relating to naval parity. This remarkable thing has happened. I have said that we are in a new era. This has happened within the last year: the tone of the press in the United States, the tone of Washington, is today not what it was a year ago. A frank discussion of these problems, the conferences that have proved beyond doubt that Great Britain is entirely sincere and honest in the willingness to accept parity, have disarmed suspicions, and there is a far better atmosphere today, I think one may say throughout the whole United States, towards Great Britain than there was even a year ago. And as for Canada, the people of the United States, I think one may say it with all modesty, have a certain admiration for this country, and a very cordial feeling towards us. I think they have the belief that we somehow or other manage to enforce our laws with greater rigidity than they are able to enforce theirs. I think a considerable proportion of them may have admired the manner in which we have tackled the problem of prohibition, and in many ways people of the United States have learned to respect this country and to have towards us the most cordial feelings of friendship.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I have said a good deal about naval warfare; I want to say one thing more. It may be that ten years from now this whole problem of naval parity will have passed into oblivion. I am no expert in matters of the fleet or of the aeroplane, but I know this that naval men, and in a larger degree men connected with the air service, are convinced that the day of these big fleets is over, and that a few years will see the end of naval rivalry--there may be some other rivalry--but will see the end of naval rivalry because that will not mean very much to the nation. I am not saying that I endorse that view, but I am saying that many keen minds are convinced that that is the outlook for the future, and that naval parity, even if it has objectionable features, will solve itself in that way within a few years.
Now I come to the end. I said at the outset that the world had passed over a great watershed and that we are now in a new country. I should like that we go back to our counters thinking that idea. Now, Mr. Chairman, we do not like ideas. There is nothing that the average citizen of the British Empire is more afraid of than an idea. John Morley once said that, and he ought to know. An idea is such a troublesome thing. I remember a Master in Balliol College saying to me that one of his predecessors, also a Master, had not had an idea in forty years. And I said to myself, "What a happy man!" (Laughter.) How soundly he must have slept at night! He can play golf every morning and every afternoon, and go to bed at night with the calm serenity of a man who has not had to think about anything. Some of us, to our worry and loss, are hectored with ideas. I do not know any more uncomfortable bedfellow than an idea. (Laughter.) The blank thing will wake you up in the middle of the night and it will say to you, "What are you going to do about it?" and if you don't settle it that night, it will wake you up the next night, and you have to go on, and on, and on, fighting that idea, until at last you give in and do what it tells you to do. An idea has been launched in the world. You may fight it, you may dislike it; we may protest against it because we want things to go on as they were, but the idea has come, and it will wake you up at night if you do not pay some heed to it. And that idea is that there is a unity in the human race, that it is folly and stupidity for the different members of the human race to try to solve their problems by war, and that they must have confidence in machinery that aims at ending that folly and that stupidity. And now for the first time in history we have created a machinery. We have the League of Nations; we have a peace pact; we have an annual meeting of the Assembly at Geneva; we have the International Labour Bureau, trying to solve the difficult problems of labour throughout the world; we have an International Court of justice, and a dozen other agencies that have been seized by that idea, and are trying to make it effective in human affairs. Let me say again, you have got to take that idea for what it is worth; it won't leave you alone, and we, like other peoples, have to work out its implications. As I sit down let me add this word. Avoid the cynic. I have spent a good part of my life among young men. There are no cynics like the young cynic; there is no cynic like the young man who has just been disappointed in love; the whole world is black desolation for him. We are all young still, but I hope we are old enough and wise enough to discard cynicism. Let us confront not merely this problem of naval parity with the United States, but all problems, in the light of a great idea, and let me say the word of exhortation, "be not faithless but believing." (Applause.)
The thanks of the Club were tendered to the speaker by Rev. Canon Cody.