and honourably, the end of peace, and we were ready last July to do the same again.
In recent years we have given Germany every assurance that no aggression upon her would receive any support from us. We withheld from her one thing only—we would not give an unconditional promise to stand aside, however aggressive Germany herself might be to her neighbours. [Cheers.] Last July, before the outbreak of war, France was ready to accept a conference; Italy was ready to accept a conference; Russia was ready to accept a conference; and we know now that after the British proposal for a conference was made, the Emperor of Russia himself proposed to the German Emperor that the dispute should be referred to The Hague. Germany alone refused every suggestion made to her for settling the dispute in this way. On her rests now, and must rest for all time, the appalling responsibility for having plunged Europe into this war and for having involved herself and the greater part of the Continent in the consequences of it.
We know now that the German Government had prepared for war as only people who plan can prepare. This is the fourth time within living memory that Prussia has made war in Europe. In the Schleswig-Holstein war, in the war against Austria in 1866, in the war against France in 1870, as we now know from all the documents that have been revealed, it was Prussia who planned and prepared these wars. The same thing has occurred again, and we are determined that it shall be the last time that war shall be made in this way. [Cheers.]
We had assured Belgium that never would we violate her neutrality so long as it was respected by others. I had given this pledge to Belgium long before the war. On the eve of the war we asked France and Germany to give the same pledge. France at once did so. Germany declined to give it. When, after that, Germany invaded Belgium, we were bound to oppose Germany with all our strength, and if we had not done so at the first moment is there any one who now believes that when Germany attacked the Belgians, when she shot down combatants and non-combatants in a way that violated all the rules of war of recent times and the laws of humanity of all time—is there any one who thinks it possible now that we could have sat still and looked on without eternal disgrace? [Cheers.]
Now what are the issues for which we are fighting? In