HC Deb 03 July 1919 vol 117 cc1218-22

Then I am told, "Oh,, yes, take them individually and they may be quite fair, but the cumulative effect is so crushing that you ought to have taken that into account." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I will deal with that. That is a criticism, and I am prepared to meet it. They say it may be just, but is it wise? I agree that justice ought not to be merely tempered by mercy, but it ought to be guided by wisdom. If these conditions do not meet that test, I agree they fail, although we could defend each individual decision upon its merit's. Let us examine them. There were three alternative methods of dealing with Germany, bearing in mind her crime. What was that crime? Germany not merely provoked, but planned the most devastating war the earth has ever seen. She planned it and prepared for it for years. She deliberately embarked upon it, not to defend Herself against assailants, but to aggrandise herself at the expense of her neighbours. I cannot think of a worse crime, certainly in the conditions of Europe as they were. They knew there were millions of armed men in other lands, and they deliberately hurled 4,000,000 of their own youth against millions in France, millions in Russia, and possibly millions in the United Kingdom. They knew not how far it would extend. They lit a fire: they knew not what it would devour, what it would scorch, what it would burn, what sufferings would be caused, or what would be the desolation. They recked it not.

There were three methods of dealing with that crime. It cost millions of lives. It cost actually in the expense of the War for all lands £30,000,000,000, with all that that represents In possible happiness for the human race. But that is not all. The sufferings of that war will not pass away until this generation vanishes. We know what it is in hundreds of thousands of households. It is not merely the gallantry of the young fellows who gave their lives in a grave hour, but it is the households that will suffer tortures as long as they draw breath. All that planned, plotted, deliberately embarked upon! That is what happened when they failed. What would have happened had they succeeded? The world is rocking and reeling under the blow, a blow that failed. I do not know when it will recover. I have seen something of Europe, and I have heard more, and I do not know when that blow will come to an end. That is the blow that failed. Had it succeeded, liberty in Europe would have vanished, and that is more precious than even precious lives. It would have altered the whole character of Europe, and you would have had a military tyranny throughout the world. That is what would have happened had the blow succeeded. That is the cumulative effect of the crime.

There are three ways of dealing with that crime. One was to say, "You tried, you failed; go, and sin no more." [An HON. MEMBER: "Here, hear."] Hon. Members may think that that is a good way of doing it, but let us see what it means. I am not afraid of examining that. Do not let us imagine, because it looks ridiculous, that there are not people who believe in it—I mean outside this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "And inside it too."] You have got to answer it. Had that happened, you must remember that Germany suffered less than her victims. Louvain is not in Prussia. France is not in Pomerania, the devastated territories are not in Brandenburg. Look at that land of desolation and wilderness. I have traversed it pretty well from one end to the other. I felt it my duty to do so, in order to know with what I was dealing. That is not across the Rhine. Go across the Rhine. There are no devastated cities and no scorched plains there. The country is whole; the factories are there, the machinery is there—their own and other peoples—and if you had done that Germany would have been better off than the people she had victimised. The cost of the War would have been less, because she would have had a perfect military machine. She would have said, "Look at the triumph of militarism! We have kept all this devastation from you. France is paying more now than we are" Why to have done that would have been to put a premium on militarism. The point I do not think is worth arguing.

Let us take the second. The second is to go to the other extreme—to treat Germany as Rome treated Carthage, or, may I say, Prussia treated Poland—destroy her national existence, tear her to pieces, fling one piece to one conqueror, another to another, and a third to another. Fling the bits to the winds of heaven, and have done with them. That is how Prussia treated Poland. It was not merely a crime, it was a blunder, and after a century and a half Poland reappears a formidable and bitter foe. She had 20,000,000 population; Germany had 60,000,000. It is not merely that it would have been a wrong and an injustice, but it would have been a folly, and I am glad that we have not soiled our hands with Prussian methods in dealing with Prussia.

What is the third method? To compel Germany, in so far as it is in her power to restore, to repair, and to redress. Yes, and to take every possible precaution of every kind that is in our power against the recurrence of another such crime—to make such an example as will discourage ambitious rulers—yea, and ambitious peoples—from ever attempting to repeat this infamy. That is not vengeance. It is discouragement. The crime must be marked. The world cannot take these risks again. I said that Germany failed. I shudder to think how near she got to success. When you are thinking of the terms of peace you must think of making it impossible for any country to repeat an experiment of this kind without running the most terrible risks to her destiny. Every delegate entering the Council felt in his heart the supreme need for imposing terms that would make not merely rulers, but nations, shrink from attempting a crime of this kind again. That was the principle upon which we proceeded.

But it is said, "Are you not punishing Germany for the crime of her rulers? Well, I am sorry to have to answer this, but I must. If Germany had been committed to this War against the will of her people, I say at once we ought to have taken that into account in the terms of peace. But was that so? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] The nation approved, the nation applauded; the nation had been taught to approve and to applaud. From the Baltic to the Boden See the nation was united and enthusiastic behind this enterprise. It was not like the unity and enthusiasm of France to repel an invader on French soil. It was an enthusiasm which was at its highest when German troops were marching through Belgium. Supposing that the German Chancellor had returned from the Peace Conference with a Germanic Peace—Belgium added to the Fatherland, the mines of Briey added to the mineral wealth of the Rhineland, the British Fleet surrendered. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never!"] Well, I agree it requires some imagination, but I ask my hon. Friends to accept it for the moment. Supposing there had been a Peace of that kind—the British Mercantile Marine taken away, the British Dependencies added to the German Colonies, huge indemnities imposed upon France and Great Britain for a war they never provoked, and into which they entered against their will—


They would have had to 'kill us all first!


My hon. Friends now will see what we averted. That was what Germany was after. But suppose these things had happened. The mere fact that Belgium was a helpless country, and was not capable of invading Germany or any other land, that France was more pacific than ever, and that Great Britain had not the slightest desire to enter into war with any land, would not have prevented the German people as a, whole receiving these terms with delirious joy for the triumph of German firms. I should have been glad had it been possible to say that this was a war which had been entered into against the will of the German people. But it was not, and therefore it is essential that nations must know, if they enter into unprovoked wars of aggression against their neighbours, what may lie in store for them when defeat falls upon their arms. I therefore have no hesitation in challenging anyone, either inside ox outside this House, to point to a single Clause in this Treaty that is not in accordance with the stern and highest demands of justice and fair play.