HC Deb 03 July 1919 vol 117 cc1225-7

5.0 P.M.

I come to the last and the greatest guarantee of all—that is, the League of Nations. Let me say, with regard to the League of Nations, that that great and hopeful experiment is only rendered possible by the other conditions. I want the House to realise that thoroughly. Without disarmament, without the indication which this War has given that the nations of the world are determined at all costs to enforce respect for treaties, the League of Nations would be just like other Conventions in the past —something that would be blown away by the first gust of war or of any fierce dispute between the nations. It is this War, it is the Treaty that concludes this War, which will make the League of Nations possible. The world has had a great fright. We all remember what used to be said by the great military writers, and what was believed by everybody, as to the length of the next, great war. It could not last longer than six weeks—three months, perhaps. That was the conviction of everybody at the beginning of this War—it would be very sharp, but it would be short. The nations could not go on beyond a few months. That was the conviction of Germany. She would never have entered upon this War had she known it would last so long. The world knows now that the conditions of modern warfare, with its ponderous armaments, with its trundling heavy machinery, rather conduce to lengthen war. The world is frightened. It also realises the peril of small disputes. A little quarrel about a murder in Bosnia, and the world is aflame. There are many things the world has realised and is prepared to take into account and to provide against. This League of Nations is an attempt to do it by some less barbarous methods than war. Let us try it. I beg this country to try it seriously, and to try it in earnest. It is due to mankind that we should try it. Anything except the horror of the last four and a half years! If you must come to that, well you must, but do let us try this. Take Article 12 of this Covenant: The Members of the League— which means the nations of the earth— agree that if there should arise between them any dispute likely to lead to a rupture, they will submit the matter either to arbitration or to inquiry. Then I think nine months elapse. Supposing that had been in existence in 1914, it would have been difficult for Germany and Austria to have gone to War. They could not have done it, and, if they had, America would have been in on the first day, not three years afterwards, which would have made a great difference, and made all the difference. You could not have had the War in 1914 had the League of Nations been in existence. With. this machinery I am not going to say you will never have war. Man is a savage animal. You have only to go to the field of Verdun—which is a narrow circle where about 3,000,000 of men were engaged in deadly conflict for five months, and where the earth is like congealed human savagery —to see what a terrible being man is when he is roused. If it avert one war, the League of Nations will have justified itself. If you let one generation pass without the blood of millions being spilt, and without the agony which fills so many homes, the League of Nations will have been justified. I beg no one to sneer at the League of Nations. Let us try it. I believe it will succeed in stopping something. It may not stop everything. The world has gone from war to war, until at last we have despaired of stopping it. But society with all its organisations has not stopped every crime. What it does is that it makes crime difficult or unsuccessful, and that is what the League of Nations will do. Therefore I look to it with hope and with confidence.