November 16, 1934: Winston Churchill Warns of Nazi Germany

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the Churchill mavens of Almost Chosen People might find it interesting.)

The things that you find on Youtube!  Churchill warning in a radio broadcast during the second year of Nazi rule of the threat posed by them to the peace of Europe.  Churchill tells a very old truth:  one side of a dispute embracing functional pacifism, short of abject surrender, will not make war less likely, but rather ensure the coming of war.

Bonus:  The actor Robert Hardy in 1986 gave a ninety minute presentation on Churchill.  In the below excerpt he talks about socialism and the impossibility of isolationism as a foreign policy for the United States:

Here is the text of Churchill’s radio broadcast of November 16, 1934:

I have but a short time to deal with this enormous subject and I beg you therefore to weigh my words with the attention and thought which I have given to them.

As we go to and fro in this peaceful country with its decent, orderly people going about their business under free institutions and with so much tolerance and fair play in their laws and customs, it is startling and fearful to realize that we are no longer safe in our island home.

For nearly a thousand years England has not seen the campfires of an invader. The stormy sea and our royal navy have been our sure defense. Not only have we preserved our life and freedom through the centuries, but gradually we have come to be the heart and center of an empire which surrounds the globe.

It is indeed with a pang of stabbing pain that we see all this in mortal danger. A thousand years has served to form a state; an hour may lay it in dust.

What shall we do? Many people think that the best way to escape war is to dwell upon its horrors and to imprint them vividly upon the minds of the younger generation. They flaunt the grisly photograph before their eyes. They fill their ears with tales of carnage. They dilate upon the ineptitude of generals and admirals. They denounce the crime as insensate folly of human strife. Now, all this teaching ought to be very useful in preventing us from attacking or invading any other country, if anyone outside a madhouse wished to do so, but how would it help us if we were attacked or invaded ourselves that is the question we have to ask.

Would the invaders consent to hear Lord Beaverbrook’s exposition, or listen to the impassioned appeals of Mr. Lloyd George? Would they agree to meet that famous South African, General Smuts, and have their inferiority complex removed in friendly, reasonable debate? I doubt it. I have borne responsibility for the safety of this country in grievous times. I gravely doubt it.

But even if they did, I am not so sure we should convince them, and persuade them to go back quietly home. They might say, it seems to me, “you are rich; we are poor. You seem well fed; we are hungry. You have been victorious; we have been defeated. You have valuable colonies; we have none. You have your navy; where is ours? You have had the past; let us have the future.” Above all, I fear they would say, “you are weak and we are strong.”

After all, my friends, only a few hours away by air there dwell a nation of nearly seventy millions of the most educated, industrious, scientific, disciplined people in the world, who are being taught from childhood to think of war as a glorious exercise and death in battle as the noblest fate for man.

There is a nation which has abandoned all its liberties in order to augment its collective strength. There is a nation which, with all its strength and virtue, is in the grip of a group of ruthless men, preaching a gospel of intolerance and racial pride, unrestrained by law, by parliament, or by public opinion. In that country all pacifist speeches, all morbid war books are forbidden or suppressed, and their authors rigorously imprisoned. From their new table of commandments they have omitted “thou shall not kill.”

It is but twenty years since these neighbors of ours fought almost the whole world, and almost defeated them. Now they are rearming with the utmost speed, and ready to their hands is the new lamentable weapon of the air, against which our navy is -no defense, and before which women and children, the weak and frail, the pacifist and the jingo, the warrior and the civilian, the front line trenches and the cottage home, all lie in equal and impartial peril.

Nay, worse still, for with the new weapon has come a new method, or rather has come back the most British method of ancient barbarism, namely, the possibility of compelling the submission of nations by terrorizing their civil population; and, worst of all, the more civilized the country is, the larger and more splendid its cities, the more intricate the structure of its civil and economic life, the more is it vulnerable and at the mercy of those who may make it their prey.

Now, these are facts, hard, grim, indisputable facts, and in the face of these facts, I ask again, what are we to do?

There are those who say, “Let us ignore the continent of Europe. Let us leave it with its hatreds and its armaments, to stew in its own juice, to fight out its own quarrels, and decree its own doom. Let us turn our backs to this melancholy and alarmist view. Let us fix our gaze across the ocean and see our own life in our own dominions and empires.”

There would be very much to this plan if only we could unfasten the British islands from their rock foundations, and could tow them three thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean, and anchor them safely upon the smiling coasts of Canada; but I have not yet heard of any way in which this could be done.

At present we lie within a few minutes’ striking distance of the French, Dutch, and Belgian coasts, and within a few hours of the great aerodromes of Central Europe. We are even within cannon shot of the continent-so close as that. Is it prudent, is it possible, however we might desire it, to turn our backs upon Europe and ignore whatever may happen there? Everyone can judge this question for himself, and everyone ought to make up his mind or her mind, let me say, about it without delay. It lies at the heart of our problems.

For my part, I have come to the conclusion, reluctantly I admit, that we cannot get away. Here we are and we must make the best of it, but do not, I beg you, underrate the risks, the grievous risks we have to run. I hope, I pray, and, on the whole, grasping the larger hope, I believe, that no war will fall upon us; but if in the near future the great war of 1914 is resumed again in Europe, no one can tell where and how it would end or whether sooner or later we should not be dragged into it, dragged into it as the United States was dragged in against their will in 1917. Whatever happens, and whatever we did, it would be a time of frightful danger for us, and, when the war was over, or perhaps while it still raged, we should be brought face to face with the victors, whoever they might be. Indeed, with our wealth and vast possessions, we should be the only prize sufficient to reward their exert-ion and compensate them for their losses.

Then certainly those who had tried to forget Europe would have to turn round very quickly indeed and then it would-be too late. Therefore, it seems to me that we cannot detach ourselves from Europe and that for our own safety and self-preservation we are bound to make exertions and run risks for the sake of keeping peace.

There are some who say, indeed it has been the shrill cry of the hour, that we should run the risk of disarming ourselves in order to set an example to others. We have done that already. We have done it for the last five years, but our example has not been followed. On the contrary, it has produced, as I ventured to predict, the opposite results. All the other countries have armed only the more heavily, and the quarrels and intrigues about disarmament have only bred more ill will between the nations.

Everyone would be glad to see the burden of armaments reduced in every country, but history shows on many a page that armaments are not necessarily a cause of war and that the want of them has been no guarantee of peace. If, for instance, all the explosives all over the world could, by a wave of a magic wand be robbed of their power and made harmless, so that not a cannon nor a rifle could fire and not a shell or a bomb detonate, that would be a measure of world disarmament far beyond the brightest dreams of Geneva, but would it insure peace? That is the question. On the contrary, in my belief, war would begin almost the next day when enormous masses of fierce men armed with picks, spades, or with clubs and spears, would pour over the frontiers into the lands they covet.

This truth may be unfashionable, unpalatable, no doubt unpopular, but, if it is the truth, the story of mankind shows that war was universal and unceasing for millions of years before armaments were invented or armies organized. Indeed, the lucid intervals of peace and order only occurred in human history after armaments in the hands of strong governments have come into being, and civilization in every age has been nursed only in cradles guarded by superior weapons and superior discipline.

To remove the causes of war, we must go deeper than armaments. We must remove grievances and injustice. We must raise human thought to a higher plane. We must give a new inspiration to the world. Let moral disarmament come and physical disarmament will soon follow.

That is but one side of this. Is there another? When we look out upon the state of Europe and of the world and of the position of our own country as they are tonight, it seems to me that the next year or two years may contain a faithful turning point in our history. I am afraid that if you look intently at what is moving towards Great Britain, you will see that the only choice open is the old grim choice our forebears had to face, namely, whether we shall submit or whether we shall prepare, whether we shall submit to the will of the stronger nation or whether we shall prepare to defend our rights, our liberties, and indeed, our lives.

If we submit, our submission should be timely. If we prepare, our preparation should not be too late. Submission will entail at the very least, the passing and distribution of the British Empire, and the acceptance by our people within and under a Teutonic domination of Europe of whatever future may be in store for small countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland.

The difficulty about submission-I state it calmly-the difficulty is that we have already in this island the population of a first class power, and on our new scale of life as a small state, we could not feed more than perhaps half of those who live here now. Great stresses will arise in deciding which half shall survive.

You have perhaps read the story of the wrath of Medusa. I will not dwell on that repulsive theme. These are the disadvantages of the submission and of Great Britain definitely releasing her position in the world.

Preparation involves statesmanship, expense, and exertion, and neither submission nor preparation are free from suffering and danger.

I should not speak to you, my friends, fellow countrymen, in this way, if I were not prepared to declare to you some of the measures of preparation by which I believe another great war may be averted and our destruction be prevented should war come. First, we must without another day’s delay begin to make ourselves at least the strongest air power in the European world. By this means we shall recover to a very large extent the safety which we formerly enjoyed through our navy, and through our being an island. By this means we shall free ourselves from the dangers of being blackmailed against our will, either to surrender our possessions or even hand over such means of defense as we still possess, or of being forced to join in a continental war against our wish or against our feeling of right and justice.

By this means we shall remove from Europe that additional danger to peace which arises when a very wealthy nation and empire is so obviously undefended that it lies an inviting bait or prey to the ambition or appetite of hungry powers.

But that is not all we should do. I look to the League of Nations as being an instrument which, properly sustained and guided, may preserve the threatened peace of the world. I know it is fashionable in some quarters-in many quarters -to mock at the League of Nations, but where is there any other equal hope?

The many countries, great and small, that are afraid of being absorbed or invaded by Germany, should lay their fears and their facts before the League of Nations. If the League of Nations is satisfied that these fears are justified, it should call upon its members to volunteer as special constables for the preservation of peace against a particular danger. Naturally, those would be most ready to volunteer whose homes lay nearest the regions where the outbreak was most likely to occur. It might well be that not only two or three nations but eight or ten would be found willing in their own interests and in the interests of peace to undertake this special obligation. There would then come into being within the League of Nations and under the formal Authority, a special service band of nations who are in danger, and who want to be let alone. It would be a confederation not merely of the peace-loving powers for everyone will say they are that but of the peace-interested powers, a league of those who have most to lose by war and are nearest to the danger.

I accept the words which General Smuts used only on Monday last. “There should be,” he said, “a smaller group within the league, entering into mutual defensive arrangements under the aegis and subject to the control of the league.”

Those are words of wisdom and it seems to me that Great Britain should not refuse to bear her share and do her part in this.

These volunteer special constables should not only be authorized, but urged by the League of Nations to concert with one another measures of mutual defense against the invasion of any one of them, whether by land, sea, or air; to undertake to maintain forces while the danger lasts.

You have heard the old doctrine of the balance of power. I don’t accept it. Anything like a balance of power in Europe will lead to war. Great wars usually come only when both sides think they have good hopes of victory. Peace must -be founded upon preponderance. There is safety in numbers. If there were five or six on each side, there might well be, a frightful trial of strength, but if there were eight or ten on one side and only one or two upon the other, and if the collective armed forces of one side were three or four times as large as those of the other, then there would be no war.

The practical arrangements which are appropriate to one region of the world may be repeated elsewhere in different combinations for other dangers and in other fields, and it might well be that gradually the whole world would be laced with international insurances against individual aggressors, and confidence and safety would return to mankind.

If the first stage of such a structure could be built up by the League of Nations at the present time-and there may still be time-it would, I believe, enable us to get through the next ten years without a horrible and fatal catastrophe, and in that interval, in that blessed breathing space, we might be able to reconstruct the life of Europe and reunite in justice and good will our sundered and quaking civilization. May God protect us all.




Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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  1. Don,

    I saw Hardy play Churchill onstage in London in ’88. Lots of fun. I’ll never forget it.


    • His portrayal of Churchill in The Wilderness years is for me definitive. I envy you Jon!

  2. PS – Also saw the Cabinet War Rooms and took the bus out to Chartwell, Churchill’s home. Never forget that, either!

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