Great Speeches of the War/Macnamara

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RT. HON. T. J. MACNAMARA


[Speech by the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, at the Browning Hall Settlement, Walworth, London, on Sunday, January 3, 1915, the Warden, the Rev. F. Herbert Stead, M.A., in the chair.]


Year by year, you and I, Mr. Stead, have come here on this day to consider together the prospects of the New Year. We have compared notes as to progress in the Old Year; we have built our hopes of progress in the New.

We have considered the position of Education, Housing, the Poor Law, Old Age Pensions, National Insurance. We have taken stock of advances made. We have formed resolutions as to aims to be achieved in the year before us.

We had no thought save for peace—peace and a quiet time in which we could more and more stamp the golden rule upon our civilization, cure our social shortcomings, and broaden and deepen the foundations of free government dug out and laid for us by the faith, courage, and endurance of our forefathers. We envied no peoples. We rejoiced in the prosperity of all. Peace was our greatest interest.

War! We shrank in horror from the very thought of it. We knew it to be the devilish negation of civilization and Christianity. We foresaw, that, calling in its aid, as it would do, the developments of modern science applied to the fiendish work of destruction, it would spread devastation, ruin, and human suffering to a degree beyond the limit of the mind to realize and measure. We pleaded for the settlement of international disagreements by peaceful arbitrament. You, Mr. Stead, have always been honourably associated with that endeavour. We hated, loathed, and detested the very thought of war.

We knew that even victorious armies come home to broken hearts, widowed mothers, orphaned children, maimed lives. We knew that even while the paper boys cry along the streets the glorious tidings of British victory there comes to many a tender straining spirit the dread news that strikes desolation to the heart. And with these aims, aspirations, and beliefs, here we are, Mr. Stead, plunged into the most horrible war the world has ever known.

All the old causes you and I cherished so dearly set aside! Never in our lives, now, shall we see them advanced to the stage we had fondly hoped. The millions, so hard to get for education, housing, sounder health, greater comfort, they slip away! They slip away for stores, projectiles, transport, and sorrow, misery, and suffering are their deadly harvest.

Dear lads! Dear lads! They went from amongst us with a cheer and a song on their lips. Many lie in a foreign grave; many beneath the wave. For tens of thousands of homes 1915 comes in, deep-edged with grief and mourning. And yet, horrible as it all is, we had no alternative. Today closes the fifth month of this dreadful business. I was deeply convinced on August 4 that we were right to draw the sword against Germany. Every day of the 152 that has since passed has deepened that conviction. It was none of our seeking, none of our making. So far back as 1912 we made this declaration to Germany:

"Britain declares she will neither make nor join in any unprovoked attack upon Germany. Aggression upon Germany is not the subject, and forms no part of any treaty, understanding, or combination to which Britain is now a party, nor will she become a party to anything that has such an object.

Through every hour of the weeks preceding this dreadful war, Sir Edward Grey strove for peace as no man had striven before. Germany alone would not say the word which might have spared Europe this awful scourge. Why? To find the answer you have to go back to 1870. In that year Germany conquered and humiliated France, and out of the smoke and welter of Woerth and Saarbruck, and Sedan, and Strasburg and Metz, there emerged a new figure, startling, menacing, full of grave portent. It had crushed France under its iron heel; it proceeded to conquer Germany. It was the figure of arrogant, intolerant, bullying Prussian militarism. Its watchword!—Might is Right. Its Court of Arbitration!—the parade ground. Its argument!—shrapnel and the siege gun. Its decalogue!—the drill book.

Just as it had put its heel upon France, so it crushed out the genial old philosophic German spirit.

Flooded with the new wine of its swift and sweeping victory, it swaggered up and down the parade grounds until it came to believe that the will of God was enshrined on its scabbard; that it was not good for the world to be outside its splendid jurisdiction; that to Germanize was to evangelize; and that if those whom it took in hand didn't like its method of regeneration—why, the only thing to do was to redouble the dose!

It had clanked and swaggered up and down so long that it had come to believe that it had only to rattle its sword and every one would at once fall down and in tones of abject fear acclaim its accession to the throne of world destiny and power. Deutschland uber alles!

This belief so obsessed it, that everything was subordinated to it.

Treaties, conventions, pledges! Pooh! They were the mere expedients of simple unenlightened fools, like Mr. Stead and myself, to whom revelation had not been permitted. There was no harm in signing them. Indeed, they might even be kept if military considerations permitted.

For the rest they were useful in this respect—they lulled silly people into a sense of security under cover of which you could prepare secretly and deliver swiftly the blow that was to extend your power, authority, and opportunity for Germanization.

Steeped in ignorance—unaware of the fact that a new dispensation had dawned—the civilized world might rise indignant at your perfidy and treachery. Nonsense! They must be taught that whom the Kaiser loveth he chasteneth.

So, full of this mad obsession, full of this frenzied infatuation, full of lust of power and conquest, Germany struck swiftly, blindingly, perfidiously—struck with the forces secretly organized for instant war, while yet the peaceful peoples were unprepared. Its perfidy and treachery were to be justified by its swift and crushing success.

Mr. Stead, over that act of bloody aggression, failure, ignominious and complete, is written. Might—fierce, relentless, ruthless—had failed to bear down Right.

It reckoned without plucky Belgium's heroic stand, I tell you. A thousand years from to-day they will still be singing in the cottages of the world the story of Belgium's heroism. Plucky Belgium! Its cities ruined! Its people homeless! Its altars destroyed!

Much, very much, these Thugs did, can never be atoned for. You cannot salve the broken heart. You cannot restore the tortured spirit. But so far as material reparation can be made, it shall be made to the uttermost farthing. I pledge every man here to play a man's part to make that good.

On December 2, in the Reichstag, the German Chancellor said, "The world must learn that no one can hurt a hair on the head of a German subject with impunity." In his New Year's message to the Army and Navy, the Kaiser told his forces that behind them stands the entire German nation, prepared to sacrifice its heart's blood for its sacred domestic hearth. There you have the modern German spirit in excelsis. Germany may, in defiance of its pledged word, carry fire and sword through Belgium; it may torture, burn, destroy, murder, outrage. But Germany's domestic hearth is sacred. No hair on the head of a German subject must be touched. What the German has to be taught is this, that the Belgian domestic hearth is just as sacred as his; that the hairs on the Belgian head must be treated with the same respect as he claims for his own. That simple principle of justice the modern German, hypnotized as he is by Prussian militarism, doesn't understand. But he will before we've done with him. He will come out of all this painfully conscious of the fact that his dreams of a German world-empire lie shattered amidst the Belgian ruins. After that, if he is wise, he'll forget Bernhardi and go back to Beethoven. There is no empire for the one; there is an empire for the other—a world-empire.

Germany reckoned without plucky Belgium's heroic stand. It reckoned without France's determination no longer to bend the knee to the bully of Europe. It reckoned without the stone-wall pluck and endurance of a little British Army. Over its first cunningly conceived masterplan failure, ignominious and complete, is written. Be the struggle long or short, that failure sealed Germany's fate.

Carry your minds back five months. What was this swaggering, swollen-headed super-soldier to have accomplished? He was to have been in Paris by the early days of September—in Calais a few days later; whilst by this time an effete and degenerate British mob—masquerading as a democracy—was to have been clasping his legs with piteous appeals for mercy!

That was the boast. What is the fact? What has been accomplished by this sword-clanking bully? He has sacked Louvain; laid the great cathedral of Rheims in ruins; destroyed right and left in Belgium for the mere savage joy of destruction; terrified, tortured, and murdered old men and women; outraged young women and girls; mopped up countless Jeroboams of champagne; maimed and killed women and little children in English seaside resorts.

It is a fine foundation on which to build an empire. It is a glittering record to emblazon on the breast of the shining armour!

And concerning it let me tell you this. Against you and yours he will launch every frantic effort venom and hatred can inspire. Belgium! Belgium merely stood in his way. She had to be brushed aside. For the wrong he has done her he will make reparation. So he told us on August 4.

If you have read the Reports of the Belgian Commission of Enquiry into the conduct of German soldiers during the rest of that month of horrors, and noted how he deals with those who inspire him only with sorrow rather than anger, you may faintly judge how he would handle you and yours if ever you gave him the chance.

Now! Be under no misapprehension. You are out against the most ruthless, the most cunning, the most desperate, the least chivalrous foe that has ever threatened national existence. Each man and woman must face the alternative all the time. Either we must crush him or be crushed by him. There is no other alternative or possible peace open to you. Many, very many of you, do not realize that I am confident. Every one of us, no matter who or what he is, must individually say to himself: "If I fail to-day, my country fails!" Hundreds of thousands of gallant lads, unaccustomed to war, trained to peaceful pursuits, have already said that. They have laid aside the pitman's lamp, the builder's level, the carpenter's rule, the ploughman's reins, the navvy's spade, the clerk's ledger, the student's text-book.

But—and there is no good mincing the matter—there still remain many thousands of young fellows without dependents who have not answered the call. The sooner they make up their minds to answer it, the better. If they think they are going to enjoy the freedom and immunity of life under the British flag at some other fellow's expense—if that's to be their line—they won't enjoy it long. The British ideal of Government is that its flag shall float in the skies, a latter-day covenant, assuring all who come under its freedom justice and fair play.

That has not been arrived at by a happy accident. It is the fruit of centuries of faith, endurance, sacrifice. We who enjoy it do so because of the labours of those who went before. The man who is prepared to enjoy life under the British flag without being grimly determined that he will hand it on as free as he found it, is unworthy of British citizenship.

You have read with pride how the great Oversea Dominions and India have rallied to the flag. There is no limit to their eager readiness to help save the limit of their resources. But now let me read just one testimony only, from amongst hundreds, from the far-off Little Brothers of the Flag.


"To His Excellency The High Commissioner for South Africa.

"Greetings Your Excellency!

Paramount Chief's Office, Matsieng,
26th August, 1914.

"Your Excellency,

"I have the honour to inform Your Excellency of my intention with regard to this war which I hear exists between His Majesty King George V. and the Germans.

"I have the honour to ask Your Excellency whether, as my King is engaged in fighting his enemies, I, his servant, would be doing well to keep aloof watching him being attacked by enemies.

"Your Excellency, as I am unable to be with my King in person, I beg to know whether I may show my loyalty and the loyalty of the Basuto to His Majesty the King, by giving monetary assistance, to be raised by calling upon each Mosuto to pay a sum of (1/-) one shilling; which, when collected, I shall send to Your Excellency to be forwarded to His Majesty the King as a contribution to the funds now being raised for relief of sufferers by the war.

"I shall be glad. Your Excellency, if you will kindly reply to this application of mine, as the Basuto and myself are grieved at seeing our King being attacked by enemies when we his servants cannot assist him.

"I shall be glad to receive an early reply from Your Excellency. Greetings.

"Your Excellency's humble servant,
"N. Griffith Lerothodi,
"Chief of the Basuto.


The vast majority of our people at home, men and women, have done wonders. But for simple, unaffected devotion and loyalty they won't beat N. Griffith Lerothodi, Chief of the Basuto!

Of course, with all our great industries still going strong—thanks to the silent, splendid sentinel-ship of the great sea-ways, so magnificently maintained by the great service, to be associated with is, and has been, the greatest honour of my life—there are many men who can't be spared. They are wanted at bench and lathe and furnace. They serve their King and Country just as truly in overalls as in khaki and blue. Let each man of them put the consciousness of a righteous cause behind every swinging blow he delivers.

Many are over the age for effective military service. Whether they be employers or employed their country must come first in every action they perform in 1915.

As for the women! I am deeply touched every time I think of the splendid devotion with which our sisters of all ranks and ages have bent themselves to the task of ministering to the needs of their brothers in the hour of trial. Mr. Stead, I am not one of those who have very much time to spend upon the endeavours to see the good that will come out of all this; but many things have emerged so conspicuously that they have written themselves deeply in my feelings.

Amongst other things that have emerged is the picture of the fine, uncomplaining, good-tempered, high-minded courage and determination of our defenders by land and sea—gallant gentlemen all! They make me feel a better man every time I think of them.

There is the patriotism of political opponents; the standing together shoulder to shoulder of men of all creeds and parties.

And there is the patient, tireless, abiding determination of our women folk to play their part bravely, cheerfully, helpfully. These things are priceless. All the dross of our petty envies and jealousies has been consumed in the fire of adversity. That which has emerged is pure gold—the pure gold of courage, of faith, of respect and admiration one for another. May our national life remain gilded and touched with these attributes long after the day of peril which called them forth has passed.

So we enter the year of destiny 1915! And ere long when we cry, "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?" the reply shall come back to us, "The night is far spent; the day is at hand."