Great Speeches of the War/Chamberlain

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[Speech at a great public meeting held in the Birmingham Town Hall on December 15, 1914.]

My Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen:—I beg to propose the following resolution:—

That this meeting of the citizens of Birmingham, convinced that we are fighting in a just cause for the existence of the national honour and for the protection of the rights and liberties of Europe, pledges itself to support the Prime Minister's appeal to the nation, and assures the Government of hearty co-operation in all measures that they may consider necessary for bringing the war to a victorious conclusion, and for securing a lasting peace.

These are remarkable times, and this is a remarkable gathering. Nothing would have seemed more unlikely six months ago, when party passion ran as high, or higher, than I have ever known it to be in a somewhat long experience, than that within so short a time there should be gathered within one hall, as there are to-night, men of every class, of every creed, of every shade of political opinion, to urge one common policy on each other, and on the Government, and to pledge to that Government all the support that each one of us can bring. Yet this meeting is but one of hundreds and thousands that have been, or are being, held throughout the country, in like circumstances and similar conditions. What we could never have done for ourselves the Germans have done for us. They have made us a united people, and the Government speaks to-day with the authority and the strength of a National Government, supported by every section of the people. All criticism is silent, all party conflict is hushed, all other questions are set aside to bide their time. For the moment there is but one question: How best to bring this war to a victorious close and most securely to lay the foundation of an enduring peace. And it is well that it should be so.

Things have gone well, but the task before us is no light one. It is true that German plans have been upset and thwarted; it is true that all those calculations based on scientific organization have been proved false. It is true that they have failed to strike that swift and decisive blow against France which was the basis of their whole strategy. It is true that Servia, imperishable Servia, is still uncrushed ; it is true that Belgium, under her brave King, has given an example to the world that will ring throughout the ages wherever men care for home and country. It is true the German plans have failed, and that Germany has been thwarted, but everywhere still the fight is being waged upon the territories of the Allies, and until the German arms have been rolled back by Russia on the east and by the other Allies on the west, not until our forces meet in Germany can victory be won or lasting peace secured.

It calls for great sacrifices. There is not a household throughout the land, to whatever class its inmates belong, that has not many of those that are near and dear to them serving at the front or preparing themselves to serve there as soon as their country calls for them to go. Many a home will be darkened, many a promising life cut short, before this struggle comes to an end; but if it comes to the right end, if the peace is a real peace, then no life that has been lost has been sacrificed in vain, no man who has given his life has given it without the reward he hoped for, the safety of his country, the protection of her honour, and the restoration and confirmation of the liberties of Europe. But the Allies entered on this struggle at a disadvantage, and we were at the greatest disadvantage of all. None of the Allies sought war. None of the Allies dreamed of making aggressive war. The most they hoped or desired was to defend themselves successfully if they were attacked. And we, of all the Great Powers of Europe, were least equipped and least prepared, alike mentally by our ordinary habits of thought and physically by the number of our forces and by the amount of our equipment, to take part in such a colossal struggle as this.

Then look on the other side of the picture. Prussia, which three times broke the peace in the last century, each time as a result of careful calculation, each time after careful and elaborate preparation, each time at her own moment when she was ready and her enemy was not—Prussia, which secured her supremacy in Germany by the war against Austria, by that great policy described by Bismarck in the famous phrase that it was by blood and iron that their unity was to be secured—Germany, so united by the same policy of blood and iron, secured predominance on the Continent when she crushed France in the war of 1870; that Germany, now in this new century, before the actual outbreak of this war, has three times brought Europe to the brink of war and has now thrust Europe over the brink into war.

But then, the aggressor has all the advantages. He makes his plans beforehand, he knows his purpose, he chooses his time. Read the White Paper published by our Government; read the conversation held between the German Ambassador at Vienna and our representative there, when he said to him: "France is not ready for war, Russia is not so unwise as to take part in a war which would raise awkward questions for her in Poland and elsewhere. We know very well what we are doing when we back Austria." Believe me, gentlemen, you do not realize what the task is that lies before you, you do not know the dangers that you have confronted in the past, you are not in a position to see what are the conditions which can alone guarantee you in the future, unless you recognize that, for a generation and more, Germany has been preparing for this struggle, has deliberately set herself to bring this struggle about in Germany's own time, so that, having secured a predominance on the Continent, she might henceforth exercise the hegemony of the world. I sometimes see it stated that we are not fighting against Germany, that we are fighting against a Prussian military caste, and a spirit of militarism. That is partly true, but it is not the whole truth. For Prussia has Prussianized Germany, and you do not begin to understand this question unless you realize that you are fighting Germany, that Germany is as united as we are and will fight as hard and all the harder, when she is pushed back into her own land, and there begins to see and suffer some—necessarily to suffer some part, though I hope not all—of the misery she has inflicted in Belgium, in France, and in Poland. Whichever way you turn, in our own White Book, in the French Yellow Book, in the revelations the other day of Signor Giolitti in the Italian Parliament, you see that this struggle is not an accident. It is not a sudden outburst in a moment when the rulers of Germany lost their heads. It is the deliberate culmination of a policy long prepared which, had it been crowned with the success that Germans expected, would have set the yoke of Germany upon the world, would have imposed her civilization on all the free peoples of Europe, would have made her control firm and secure over their future development, and would have put an end once and for all to all the dreams that we have cherished of an Empire ever waxing in strength and growing in union, throughout all the lands in which the Union Jack flies.

We are, therefore, ranged against a nation whose first business for three generations, and perhaps more, has been preparation for war, into whose army the best brains of the country are drawn, against a nation which has chosen this, her own, moment to bring on the great Armageddon of nations, and fight once for all for domination throughout the world. And we enter on the struggle with a great Fleet, it is true, but with a very small army.

Thanks to our Fleet, thanks to the watch and ward kept amidst disturbances that might rack the nerves of any but the strongest man, sailing seas beset with hidden dangers, thanks to the silent watch and ward of the Grand Fleet, thanks to the heroic action of that small but ever memorable army that left our shores when war was declared, thanks to the valour of our Allies, our shores are untouched, our homes have not been desolated, our countryside is not scored and seamed with the marks of war.

I have talked with some in our hospitals, and whatever else they say, they all say one thing to me, as it was said by a Coldstreamer, a reservist from our Post Office here, who had rejoined the colours when war broke out. I was talking to him of Belgium and what he had seen there, and he said, "I say what all our fellows are saying in the trenches, 'Thank God, it is not our country and they are not our wives and children who are subjected to these horrors and miseries of war.'" Yes, but we are saved by the men of the Fleet and the men of the Army; we owe them something. Those of us who can must hasten to their help; those of us who stay at home must do our best to keep from anxiety and want their wives and children, to provide for them, and see that the home, if they return to it, is there as they left it, to see that if they return no more their wives and their children are not forgotten when we enjoy once again the peace that their sacrifice will have won.

Yes, but the smaller that Army was, the more heroic it has been, the greater the obligation on those who can help to help, the higher the obligation of duty and of honour on those of military age not to wait for a week or a month or six months, but to go now to fit themselves to take a hand in this great struggle, and to stand shoulder to shoulder by their countrymen who have done so well, and who are now fighting to bring this war to the only termination that we in this country can endure.

Remember that, alone among the great nations, we take no compulsory toll of service from any man in the long years of peace. Many joined in the old days the Volunteers, and to-day join the Territorials. All honour to them. It is a voluntary act. They are free to do it or not, but there is not a man who has done it who regrets it to-day. There is many a man who did not do it who wishes to-day he had had the training which those forces would have given him. Let him hesitate no longer if he has not gone already. It takes time to make a soldier, whatever your good will is. It is time to go now without waiting, so that you may be ready when the critical moments come. The less you have had to do in peace, the higher is your obligation when the need of war comes.

From across the seas, from the great British Dominions, come organized forces to our assistance. From India come her princes and her peoples to do battle with us for the honour of the King whom they call Emperor, and for the liberty and the justice that they have known under his reign and that of his great predecessors. From every little British community scattered up and down the world come volunteers in ones and twos and sixes and tens to take their places in the ranks, if no organized body is formed where they are, and the only complaint that I have seen from Britishers overseas has been the bitter complaint of those who have been told that duty held them to civil posts and that they could not be spared to fight at this great moment.

We are proud of them—British, Indians, men of every race and creed. We are proud of them. We shall not forget what they have done. But the more they have done, the more they do, the more we must do, for we should be shamed indeed if we, the Motherland of this vast Empire, we who guide and control its policy, we, the richest and by far the most populous portion of it as far as white men go, if we did not do—I will not say our share, but more than our share, as is the right of the eldest born, in the crisis where the fate of all the race is concerned. I am quite certain that all will be done that is needed, that the men that are wanted will come forward.

I have little patience—and I am glad that Mr. Bonar Law made his protest yesterday—I have little patience with those who fill our ears with cries that our people are backward. Considering how little their statesmen prepared them beforehand for this struggle, which some of us have seen approaching for twenty years and more, I think it is wonderful with what unanimity they have acted, and with what splendid enthusiasm they have come forward. I am certain—and I hope Mr. Samuel will take this message from Birmingham to London—that the Government can have whatever number of men they think necessary, if they will take us into their confidence, tell us bad news as well as good news, tell us what they need, ask for what they want. And I go further, and say that, without prejudging what is to be the future policy of this country—which cannot be settled until this struggle is fought out, and until we know what sort of a Europe confronts us at the end—there is no man of us who will not give the Government any powers that are needed to ensure the victory of our arms. Whatever be the effect of those powers on our liberties, we will not hesitate, if men are not forthcoming otherwise, to give them powers to take men as they need them.

I was born in this city. It is endeared to me by all the most sacred memories of my life. I watch its acts and its fortunes, with the sympathy that comes of a heart full of grateful memories, and with a pride that comes of the lesson I learned from the man to whom I owe everything of the part that it has played, and the spirit it has shown, in great national crises. And in this great struggle, the greatest not in numbers only, but in the issues which are hanging in the balance, in this great struggle, the greatest that the world has ever seen, I am jealous of the honour of my native city, I want it to be, my Lord Mayor, as you have been able to say it is, always in the forefront of our national life, not content unless it can set a shining example wherever the English language is spoken and the British name is held dear.