Great Speeches of the War/Wood

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RT. HON. T. McKINNON WOOD

[Speech at a great meeting held in St. Andrew's Hall, Glasgow,
on September 10, 1914.

My Lord Provost, My Lords, and Gentlemen:— We are met together in a national crisis in which we are all of one mind. One heart beats in us all. One stem resolution animates every one of us. No differences of opinion or interests are strong enough to divide us now. As in a flash the whole nation has recognized the supreme duty of unity. [Applause.] The German Emperor, with whom lay the issues of peace and war—for no one believes that Austria could have forced his hand, and Italy was ignored—has blown the war trumpet, and Englishmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen, Canadians, Australasians, South Africans, the princes and peoples of India—[applause] have leapt to arms to meet him. Not one portion of the Empire has failed, or held back, or hesitated. One voice has been heard from north and south, and east and west. [Applause.] "We stand together for British liberty. We will stand together to the end. We will stand together till the victory is won." No talk of this not being "their" war. Britain has been attacked; her children flock to her defence. It is "our" war to every one of them. [Applause.] And our Dominions are proceeding in a very businesslike fashion to deal effectively with the German colonies, besides freely sending their generous gifts and their gallant sons to help us in Europe. We have not entered lightly into this struggle, nor hastily, nor foolishly undervaluing our enemy, but gravely, with deliberation, with reluctance, as men who have counted the cost. We knew the cost would be heavy; we knew our great enemy was strong, perfectly prepared, utterly ruthless, but we had none the less the fixed assurance of ultimate victory—an assurance not lessened but confirmed by the honour which both our Army and our Navy have already won by their gallant services. For we believe that neither the new siege guns of Herr Krupp, nor Zeppelins dealing wanton and useless destruction, nor millions of armed men, nor long-matured organization, nor the brutality which seeks to strike terror into the defenceless, can overcome the unconquerable spirit of freedom. [Applause.] The militarism of Germany, at once cynical and ruthless, has roused a spirit in the world which will, I firmly believe, in the end destroy it. [Applause.]

This war, like that of 1870, came upon us with startling suddenness, like lightning from a blue sky. There was no war party in this country: no jingo spirit. The week before the war I spoke to men of all parties in Parliament: not one of them desired war. All hoped that the wonderful patience and the diplomatic genius of Sir Edward Grey—[applause]—would find a way to peace, as they had before in the three exceedingly grave European crises which occurred during the past eight years. We had been cultivating, and as it seemed to be successfully, more friendly relations with Germany. There was no point of quarrel between us, or between Germany and France, or Germany and Russia. Russia had given Servia pacific advice which had been followed. Surely means would be found to avert the hideous catastrophe to civilization of a conflict between the five greatest Powers of Europe. That was the temper of the British Parliament. The Government sought peace, and pursued it to the very end. They felt to the bottom of their hearts the awful responsibility that weighed upon them. They appreciated the ghastly cost of war to the nations. Even the threat of war had disorganized the finance of the world and shaken the basis of commerce. No means were left untried by us to avert the catastrophe. Had there been the least desire for peace on the part of Germany the war would have been averted without difficulty. In that fact lies one source of our strength now. With a clean conscience we appealed to the Empire, and nobly has the appeal been answered. With a clean conscience we appeared before the world. [Applause.]

The world now knows—despite deliberate and very unconvincing attempts to falsify the issue—that the war plot was deliberately hatched in Berlin and Vienna, and that the third member of the Triple Alliance was not even consulted. No Power was seeking anything from Germany or desiring to interfere with her interests. Who doubts what the sinister conspiracy really was? To reduce France to impotence and deprive her of her colonies—to make Belgium and Holland provinces of the German Empire, and then to use their ports on the North Sea for the subjugation of Great Britain and the destruction of the free British Empire.

Belgium was the touchstone. A small nation, prosperous in the arts of peace, making no military pretensions, offering no shadow of offence, capable of no injury to Germany, whom Germany had plighted her word by treaty to protect—was her neutrality to be respected? We applied the touchstone to France and Germany very much as Mr. Gladstone did in 1870. France gave us an immediate and honourable answer. Germany refused. "Do not ask us for that pledge. Belgium is a necessary pawn in our great war game. You will not surely go to war with us," said the German Chancellor in a phrase which will Hve to the lasting humiliation of his country, "for a 'scrap of paper.'" What! were treaties, solemn obligations, rights of small nations to withstand the onward march of the military ambition of Germany? Their war plans were made—made long ago. Belgium was their easiest path, and Belgium must of course be sacrificed. They knew we loved peace and hated war—that our minds were set upon the higher work of social amelioration. They thought we were divided. They thought we would sacrifice everything—our glorious past and our great future—to avoid the contest, and they made the fatal blunder of misunderstanding the temper of the British people, which to-day is proving itself as ready, as determined as in any age of our history, to fight for that freedom and independence without which to us life itself were a debased and worthless thing. [Applause.] We are all determined to do our part, and we all have a part to play. New and sterner duties confront us. We are in a new world. It seems to me long years since the protracted and anxious deliberations of the Cabinet on Sunday, August 2, not six weeks ago.

The fact that five of the greatest Powers in Europe had declared war at once dislocated the machinery of civilization. The Government was faced by problems novel and unprecedented and of infinite complexity and difficulty. As they acknowledge with pride, they have been helped by the patriotic support and the personal assistance of leaders of all parties, and this meeting to-night and the men who stand on this platform together are an expression of the national unity. [Applause.] What are these problems? To re-establish the tottering system of finance, paralysed in every quarter of the globe. To assist and encourage commerce, deprived of its usual support and choked in some of its most important channels. To provide for the insurance of our mercantile marine against the risks of war, magnified by the first shock of surprise. To secure our food supply, which has proved to be the least difficult of our tasks. To be ready to deal with unemployment and distress. To provide for the conduct of the war. To raise and equip new armies. In response to the united appeal of all its leaders the nation is doing its part nobly. [Applause.] Half a million of our young men have come forward with eager alacrity to serve abroad. Well over 1,000,000 men are already under the flag. There are many more to follow: we need have no fear of that. [Applause.] There are vast reserves of manhood and patriotism yet to be drawn upon.

They thought us decadent. They have met Sir John French's Army; what do they think of us now? [Applause.] I am very proud of the part taken by this great city of Glasgow. It is contributing to the relief of distress with its accustomed generosity. It has raised 25,000 volunteers for the new Army. The Corporation is showing its renowned public spirit in a new form, by providing and equipping two battalions at least at its own expense. Do not be afraid of doing too much. This is a time to "mak' siccar." We must take long views. This is a war of Titans. While hopeful and confident of the final result, we must recognize the strength and tenacity of our enemy, we must be prepared for a long fight, if necessary, and the stronger we are—the sooner our new forces are ready for the field while our young men continue by volunteering to provide fresh reinforcements, so that we can always maintain not only an unweakened but an augmented Army at the front and an adequate defence at home—the sooner will be the end and the more satisfactory the settlement. In this struggle we must put forth all our strength, and that without wasting time.

Others have different tasks and duties. Age and physical defect and sometimes duty to others will keep many at home. I speak in a great commercial community. Our men of business have important work to do—work vitally necessary to our success. Our business life has its side of honour and duty as well as any other profession. I think there has been a disposition in some quarters to lecture one another, and we have seen some hard criticisms which sprang from pure ignorance. It would be wrong to ignore the fact that to many men of business war has brought already unmerited and heavy loss, and risks of loss which they cannot yet calculate—that many have during the past five weeks been looking ruin in the face, and that, if they failed to help, it was not for want of goodwill, but for want of power. But many are well able to give invaluable help to the State. The business of the country must be carried on—the people must be fed and clothed, work must be found for the workers. To be strong in the field we must be strong at home. Business men will have to work less for themselves and more for the State. I believe most of them will do their part in the right spirit. Many of them are making their sacrifices, and considering the interests of their employees dependent upon them, rather than their own profits, and especially are safeguarding the interests of those who are serving the country in the Army and the Navy. A manufacturer said to me the other day: "I have made a fortune in my works: I will now spend it, if necessary, to keep them going and my men in employment." That is a fine spirit. [Applause.] One of our greatest sources of strength, our power of endurance tested in past wars, depends upon our financial resources, our commerce, safeguarded and secured by our insular position and our supreme Navy. These are the sources of endurance which will tell in the long run. I am sure we can stand the strain a great deal longer than Germany. Many of those present—bankers, shipowners, manufacturers, merchants—can do much to maintain the commerce of the country by carrying on their businesses in a large, liberal, unselfish spirit, looking at the general interest and helping others for the common good. They have been greatly helped by the State during these past weeks, and must reciprocate by helping the State. It will not be quite "business as usual." We look for something more than that. There is a healthy and strong public opinion, which will utterly condemn and punish greed and attempts at monopoly or exaction; but I believe that goodwill and the sense of honour and a consciousness of the gravity of the issue will afford the higher and more effectual motive. While others are giving their lives we must not shrink from lesser sacrifices. Competition must give place to co-operation. [Applause.]

Our Navy is doing its work with its accustomed thoroughness, though the supreme moment for which it looks and longs has not come, and may possibly be long delayed. Our one naval victory has proved that our officers and men have lost none of the old sea skill and dash. Unfortunately, it has not whetted the appetite of the German Fleet, in their safe seclusion, to try conclusions with us on the sea. [Laughter.] The German mercantile marine is either captured or lying useless in neutral ports. Our food supply continues uninterrupted. Our merchant ships and those of our allies are passing to and fro on the great trade routes with a minimum of risk. Only by sowing mines in the North Sea and by warring on fishing-boats has the enemy been able to do us damage. Our Army has proved its splendid quality against heavy odds, and carried out operations requiring the highest skill, courage, and endurance; and it is an Army that will not diminish but increase as the war goes on. New forces from Great Britain, our Dominions, and India steadily continue to pour in with fresh power and vigour. Time is on our side, and I see every ground for courage and for hope. The country has read the dispatch from Sir John French this morning, and the later news from France of the driving back of the Germans, and the grateful message of the French Commander-in-Chief to the British Army with just feelings of deep pride. [Applause.] We appreciate the awful strain of the battle, which lasted almost without interruption for eighteen days, often against odds of two and even three to one and the exhibition of valour, military skill, and stern endurance not surpassed in the annals of British arms. [Applause.] Our recruits are called to join an Army whose regiments—English, Irish, and Scottish—have added lustre even to the glorious records of their past, and our young men in hundreds of thousands are now showing how they appreciate the honour. [Applause.] One service to the State we who remain at home can all perform, nor is it an unimportant service. We can resist and discourage panic, keep cool heads, neither over-elated by success, nor over-depressed by reverse. We can exhibit the phlegm and doggedness which are regarded as our national characteristics by our friends across the Channel. When reverses come we must just set our teeth harder and fight on with grimmer determination; when successes come we shall still fight on to ultimate triumph. [Applause.]

I saw several French papers at the time of our fateful decision, and I was deeply stirred by the chief reason which they gave for welcoming our alliance. It was not even chiefly because our paramount Navy would be, as it has proved to be, a tremendously powerful safeguard protecting the French coasts and commerce as well as our own, though of course they recognized that. It was not chiefly because we could assist them with a highly efficient Army. It was most of all because they said that Great Britain having once begun the contest, would never discontinue it till its object was achieved, would never look back till victory was won. That was why above all they valued our assistance. It was a supreme compliment. They will not be disappointed. We have counted every item of the cost. Not lightly have we engaged in this world battle, which not only involves forces which surpass in magnitude those of any warfare in the history of the world, but also places in jeopardy the interests and the very existence of mighty empires. And we shall not sheathe our sword until we have laid the grim and remorseless monster of German militarism, which has dominated Europe and threatened the world for over forty years, till the cause of freedom and an enduring peace is established. We have combined against the bully of Europe, against the Power which has made military force its god, and in its name has scoffed at solemn national obligations, violated the practice of civilized war, and sought to overawe her victims by methods of outrage which spare neither women nor children, nor defenceless men, nor priceless libraries and treasures of art, which are the common heritage of mankind, and once destroyed can never be replaced. Gallant Belgium, violated in no quarrel of her own—whose unsparing sacrifices and undaunted endurance recall the ancient heroism of the Low Countries in the sixteenth century—must be revenged and recompensed in the name of freedom and civilization. [Applause.] This is, as the Prime Minister said on Friday in the noble speech which is now echoing through the world, "not merely a material but a spiritual conflict." We are fighting for the highest national ideal, for all that makes life worthy to freemen—for our honour, our future peace, for the liberty which no power on earth will ever force us to surrender. [Applause.]