HL Deb 19 May 1942 vol 122 cc1066-76

LORD VANSITTART rose to call attention to the post-war policy towards Germany outlined in the recent speech made by the Home Secretary at Blackpool; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move this Motion in no unfriendliness to the Home Secretary. On the contrary, I feel that we all owe him a debt of gratitude for having provided, in his speech at Blackpool, a long overdue occasion to rectify a distorted perspective. I rise, therefore, not as a critic but as a debtor. The Home Secretary began by insisting on justice for the German people. So far, well and good. We all agree. But what sort of justice? President Wilson, to whom I think history may be kinder than his contemporaries, faced precisely that question without demur when, on April 6, 1919, he said: Justice, therefore, is the only possible basis for the settlement of the accounts of this terrible war. Justice is what Germany shall have. But it must be justice for all. There must be justice for the dead and wounded, and for those who have been orphaned and bereaved that Europe might be freed from Prussian despotism. There must be justice for those millions whose homes and land, ships and property German savagery has spoliated and destroyed. … Somebody must suffer for the consequences of the war. Is it to be Germany or only the people she has wronged? Not to give justice to all concerned, would only leave the world open to fresh calamities. The Allied and Associated Powers therefore believe that the peace they have proposed is fundamentally a peace of right fulfilling the terms agreed upon at the time of the Armistice. … The Treaty is frankly not based upon a general condonation of the events of 1914–1918. It would not be a peace of justice if it were.

It is, I think, precisely that term of this pronouncement of President Wilson that the Home Secretary seems, though I am sure unintentionally, to be criticizing when he proceeds to say: I am against that foolish and purposeless vindictiveness which was sought to be imposed on the German people after the last war. I cannot allow German propaganda to make of this a misuse which was little intended by the Home Secretary. Germany was treated with no "foolish and purposeless vindictiveness." That is a German legend which it is high time to explode before it does further damage.

The last war, my Lords, cost mankind, directly and indirectly, 25,000,000 lives. I am taking Professor Gilbert Murray's estimate. Germany, as being responsible, was required to disarm. Germany's sympathizers denied her guilt, but the Germans themselves continually boasted of that guilt so long as they thought they were winning. There is a whole library of those boasts. They never dreamed of denying it save as an afterthought in defeat, and then only because to their agreeable surprise they found that there were Englishmen who would sooner believe them than the overwhelming evidence contained in the simple and straightforward books of the late Lord Grey and Prince Lichnowsky among many others which settled the question "beyond a peradventure," to quote President Wilson again.

I could produce lists of authoritative Germans who, even after defeat, never attempted to deny that guilt privately, and there were other honest and more courageous Germans, men like Eisner and Haase, who admitted it publicly. For that they were murdered. They were murdered because they were right. These men had seen that in confession and repentance alone lay the hope of a change of German heart. When that recognition was refused there was never any hope of peace. I have only time here for one comment on that period of duplicity. When Eisner was murdered the assassin Count Arco Vally was injured, and Eisner's Republican colleague, Auer, Minister of the Interior and Vice-President, sent a bouquet to the assassin. That episode alone speaks volumes. Germany, then, was required to disarm but did not disarm. On the contrary, she hastened to rearm with the full connivance of the Republican Government. The school text books in use under that Republic without Republicans were as "vindictive" as under the Kaiser. This is not the place for the long story of German rearmament, culminating as it did in the reintroduction of conscription, which enjoyed wild and nation-wide popularity because the great majority of German mothers had raised their sons to be soldiers.

Indeed, the Home Secretary is certainly not protesting against the disarming of Germany. He does not think it was vindictive to require Germany to disarm, for if that had ever been his view he would have protested against the Atlantic Charter, which again promises that Germany shall be unilaterally disarmed. So little "vindictive" were the Allies 22 years ago that they did not even enforce that legitimate condition. This time the Governments concerned will live up to their undertaking, and it is clear from the rest of the Home Secretary's speech that they will have his support. It is therefore not the fictitious disarmament of Germany which has troubled the Home Secretary. Nor can it possibly be the restoration of Alsace Lorraine to France. How could it be foolish, purposeless or vindictive to restore to France what was taken from her by force in 1871? In any case, the Prime Minister has undertaken to do that again, and very rightly. Nor can the Home Secretary be troubled by the case of Poland and -the Polish Corridor. How could it be foolish, purposeless, or vindictive to restore to life a Poland thrice criminally torn asunder in the eighteenth century? How can it be vindictive to give to that Poland access to the sea through territory which has been overwhelmingly Polish since the dawn of the Christian era? In any case we have undertaken to restore Poland again, and no country has ever better deserved that "justice for all" of which President Wilson spoke. Well, then, the trouble is not Poland.

Can it be the restoration to Denmark of territory forcibly taken from her in 1864? Clearly not. That also is justice and we shall do justice again. The Home Secretary is not troubled by the restoration of Czecho-Slovakia because I know him to sympathize with that brave democracy. Moreover, the case of Czechoslovakia was not one that affected Germany at all; it affected Austria. Germany had nothing to complain of, although Germany did complain until she had devoured Czecho-Slovakia, as she has always sought to devour her neighbours. Once again we are pledged to restore Czecho-Slovakia. Debts of honour must be paid in full. Was it vindictive to forbid Germany to eat Austria without permission? Surely no one now would deny that that prohibition was not only extremely wise but an absolutely indispensable condition of peace, indispensable also to the very existence of others as events have proved. In any case the Prime Minister has repeatedly undertaken to liberate and restore Austria.

We cannot indict the Treaty of Versailles without indicting the greater part of the proclaimed policy of the present Government. I am sure that it is not the intention of the Home Secretary to indict himself. No, I think we may be very sure that the Home Secretary is not complaining that the post-war settlement took care of the little man and the under-dog, because to his great credit he has been a lifelong champion of the little man and the under-dog. Before the Versailles settlement nearly 50,000,000 human beings lived under alien rule in Europe. The post-war settlement brought that figure to below 20,000,000. That achievement, no mean one in an imperfect and entangled world, moved the late Mr. H. A. L. Fisher to write this: Judged by the test of self-determination, no previous European frontiers have been so satisfactory. Self-determination may have its faults, but it is certainly not purposeless or vindictive. There is something of the same sort in the Atlantic Charter.

Where, then, is the grievance? Was it in the punishment of war criminals? But war criminals were not punished. There were plenty of German criminals steeped in all the atrocities that they have perpetrated in this war, but the Allies renounced their right to try them. They allowed the German Republic to do so, and in consequence the very few who were brought to trial were acquitted or lionized. There were more bouquets for murderers. Was that foolish or vindictive? Yes, it was foolish because the Germans then learnt quite early that they could flout any clause of the Treaty, and for that extreme leniency—leniency, not vindictiveness—multitudes of poor people have had to pay with their lives which might have been saved by making a timely and deterrent example of bestiality. Once again not only our Government but many others have pledged themselves to exact the punishment of German butchers as a condition of peace. This time the world will not allow any Government to weaken. Here, then, we are already pledged to humanity to be more, and not less, severe than at Versailles.

Let me try again. Perhaps the Home Secretary was troubled by recollections of Reparations—possibly because he does not know the full story, or else has forgotten part of it. Here is its essence. The last war cost the Allies a minimum expenditure of £24,000,000,000, or according to the late President Wilson's estimate £30,000,000,000. They asked for an indemnification as to one-fourth or one-fifth of that sum. The demand was not purposeless or vindictive, but it was impracticable, and, for that reason alone, perhaps, foolish. The whole trouble was that the harm done by Germany was irreparable—and it is even more irreparable this time. But even that demand was not enforced, because, from the outset, Germany was determined to bilk in order to rearm. What actually happened was that, leaving aside Reparations in kind, Germany paid on balance, in cash, £153,000,000, and borrowed from the Allies and the neutrals £1,500,000,000, and then fraudulently defaulted on the lot. If that is oppression, I should be very glad to be oppressed myself at the price. I will most willingly and repeatedly pay £153 to anybody who will lend me £1,500 and allow me to keep them. If the Home Secretary would so oblige me, I feel sure that he would be legitimately surprised if I had the subsequent temerity to rise up and call myself oppressed.

With the oppressive and vindictive Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest on their consciences, the Germans had expected harder terms than they got at Versailles. Their subsequent outcry was largely a "try-on," and again, to their surprise, it very largely succeeded. Their real rage was against their loss of a war of conquest which they had thought themselves, almost to the end, to be winning. It is perhaps the most astonishing feat in history that the Germans have been able to persuade the minds of an educated and half-witted world to believe that they were vindictively treated by a Treaty the reparation and disarmament clauses of which were never enforced, and which took from them nothing in Europe which they had not acquired by robbery and murder. In the very moment when you examine "the cloud-capp' d towers" of German self-pity—the only architecture in which Hitler is an artist—they "dissolve and … leave not a rack behind."

Perhaps the Home Secretary is troubled by Germany's loss of her former Colonies, but I am pretty sure that that is not the case. I am sure that nobody now would describe the application of that purposeful precaution to an unregenerate Germany as "foolish and purposeless vindictiveness." On the contrary, wisdom has been justified of her children. If—with our madly reduced Navy—we had had this Germany firm-based across our ocean life lines we should certainly have been strangled when France fell. South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand would have been conquered and enslaved. I do not think that any one now would propound that German whine to any Dominion, and I am perfectly sure that the Home Secretary would be the last person to do so.

Let me make a final attempt to find out exactly what the Home Secretary has in mind. Perhaps he is haunted by shadowy memories of the maintenance of the blockade. Here also I think that I may be able partially to relieve his mind. In Article 16 of the Armistice Convention of November 11, the Allies stipulated, and Germany conceded, free access and unimpeded supply to the evacuated territories on Germany's Eastern frontier. In Article 26, the Allies expressed their intention of similarly supplying Germany. On December 12, 1918, Herr Erzberger complained that this promise was not being fulfilled, although Germany, on her side, was not fulfilling the Armistice conditions. On the next day, December 13, Marshal Foch referred to a letter from Mr. Hoover to the effect that there were over 2,500,000 tons of idle German shipping, and asked whether these ships could not be used to help in the importing of food. One would have thought that, possibly, they might have been made available sooner. Yet more than another month elapsed before, on January 16, 1919, the Germans did undertake to make the ships available against a suitable indemnity.

Moreover, in the course of their bargaining, the Germans had flatly refused on January 15 to pay for their food, on the ground that they had no money. But that was not true, because Germany finished the war with £114,000,000 in specie in the Reichsbank. In spite of that, however, the Allies agreed to provide Germany with certain specific quantities of food. Mr. Hurley, in the Shipping Committee, had decared, on January 15, that there was enough to go round, but that the Allies and neutrals must come first. France, indeed, was justly challenging comparison between conditions in Germany and in the devastated regions. The great difficulty throughout was one of transport and supply. For that Germany was very largely responsible, and we shall be faced with the same difficulty again. In the last war the Germans sank over 10,000,000 tons of merchant shipping. If, said the Shipping Committee, problems of payment and supply could be solved Germany could count on considerable imports.

Unfortunately, on February 14, 1919, the Allies had again to complain that the Germans were breaking Article 16 of the Armistice Convention with which was bound up Article 26. A German friend of mine said to Herr Erzberger at the time: "We cannot possibly expect the Allies to give us priority, especially when we are breaking our side of the bargain." Herr Erzberger replied: "I know, but we must make a fuss." In that one sentence, Herr Erzberger has presented to your Lordships the key of much German propaganda. There are two sides to most questions, including this question. The Germans have always hoped that if they make enough fuss, the world will be persuaded to see only one side—their side. And in this they have rarely been disappointed. But I think those concerned, particularly those Americans of the highest standing and integrity, would indignantly and rightly undertake to repudiate the charge that they had been animated by" foolish and purposeless vindictiveness." There were, indeed, considerable practical difficulties, and the Germans were frequently far from helpful. Here also I think it is necessary to get the past into focus, lest we confuse the future.

The legend wilts, and I have exposed it not from any motive of vindictiveness but because I think it is time that we got out of our system a falsehood that has long traded on good nature. How came such a perversion to obtain such currency? The answer is contained in one of Dr. Rauschning's books, where he writes of those deceived by German propaganda: The personalities who are treading the path of destruction remain completely blind to the way they are being led, the way they are passing on ideas and phrases which have been put into their minds and mouths by a subtle master of revolutionary technique. In their weakness they imagine that the ideas are their own. That is roughly true of all those who have played the German game by pretending or representing that the Treaty of Versailles was an intolerable hardship, and the cause of this war.

But Brutus says we were vindictive, and Brutus is an honourable—nay, right honourable—man, and must therefore have had something in his mind; but, I ask, what? I wonder. Is he quite sure? For this, indeed, is the state of mind of all the birds who for four and twenty years have been singing the German song of sixpence, and that is why I have welcomed this occasion, not in any partisan spirit, for I belong to no Party, but merely as an advocate of the truth. I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, But here I am to speak what I do know. The Treaty of Versailles has little to do with this war; it has long gone the way of every treaty ever signed by Germany, and not one German in a thousand could ever have given a coherent idea of its contents. As to those contents, the plain truth is this. You might have reduced its terms somewhat, but not very greatly without utterly betraying President Wilson's axiom of justice for all; and a small reduction would have been quite incapable of deterring from war a people set, and still set, on world domination.

Let me recall to your Lordships and to the Home Secretary the Prayer to Mars in Sheridan's satire, The Critic: Behold thy votaries submissive beg That thou wilt deign to grant them all they ask; Assist them to accomplish all their ends, And sanctify whatever means they use To gain them! That is the simple German faith, that replaced Jehovah by the Kaiser, the Kaiser by Wotan, and Wotan by Schicklgruber. And if the deity falls down on the job, he in turn is dethroned, and you, my Lords, are "foolish, purposeless and vindictive." That anyone should have believed this stuff is, I think, a proof that nothing gives so clear an idea of the infinite as human credulity.

The great Democracies have been and are being riddled with German ideas, which in their weakness "they imagine to be their own." I think that we are all indebted to the Home Secretary for showing up that weakness; for, under cover of highfalutin and "justice to Germany," the new appeasers are at work on the old creed of sucking up instead of standing up to Germany. I think it likely that the Home Secretary himself may have his eye upon them. Paradoxically enough, they include some of the people who were most bitter against Mr. Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement; and, as I was a notorious opponent of that policy, I am entitled to be just in saying that the new appeasers have for the truth the regard of a snob for a distant and unsuccessful relative. The Home Secretary, in my judgment, has deserved well of the Home Front in providing the occasion for some home truths.

I personally am indebted to him for something more, and sincerely indebted. When I first spoke in your Lordships' House, I observed that in certain quarters there was more interest in justice for Germany than in justice for all our Allies put together, and that our Allies resented this injustice. When I said that, one of the quarters which I had in mind—I may as well be frank—was the New Statesman, and, as the New Statesman has always assailed me, perhaps I may for once retaliate by saying that I consider them neither new nor statesmanlike. The Home Secretary will have added to his services and reputation if he has made it impossible for any statesman, new or otherwise, hereafter to refer to justice for Germany without making it clear that justice for her victims comes first. In what does this justice consist? Its purpose is—and here I use words which have been used both by Mr. Chamberlain and by Mr. Churchill at the outset of this war—"to redeem Europe from the perpetual and recurring fear of German aggression." We are not fighting this war to give Germany yet another chance.

Six hundred years ago our first great poet rejoiced That I have had my world as in my time. It is a tragic commentary on progress that Germany has deprived the whole twentieth century of the possibility of sharing that joy. But the old Democracy also had its faults. When I arrive at the frontier of another world, and am asked whether I have anything to declare, I shall confess that I have carried away a conviction that part at least of our earthly troubles has been due to our own loquacity. In the unlikely event of my getting past the Celestial Customs, I should hope to see from "another place" a new Democracy, of which it will no longer be possible for Stevenson to say that "Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no previous preparation is thought necessary." I shall also hope to see an England having once again a mind of her own and not one" made in Germany" by the mechanical iteration of the same untruth. I believe that the Black-pool speech may prove to be a milestone on that happy road.

There I would willingly have closed, but I must add an unwilling post- cript. In this morning's Daily Herald, in a leading article, I have been personally assailed with a vindictive, malevolent misrepresentation which is truly Teutonic. The Daily Herald has undertaken to write my speech in advance, and I think it may well be disappointed at my moderation. In any case I had believed that in this country it was usual to allow an Englishman to open his mouth in Parliament without abusing him like a pickpocket before he starts. I pass over much of the distortion. They have not even quoted Mr. Morrison correctly. They have also stated that the German armament factories that we are bombing are all factories that have been built by the Nazis. That is quite untrue; many of them were built under Weimar. I have been hit below the belt, and with a knuckle duster, and I shall forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

There has been German influence at work, and if I am challenged I am prepared to give it a specific name. I cannot speak for the Daily Herald, but whatever may be the intentions of the Daily Herald or the Home Secretary I have this to observe. The Home Secretary talked of disarming the "Fascists." There are such people as the Nazis also. I can answer for the intentions of some of these alien influences here: they mean that only the Fascists should be disarmed, and that therefore we shall be left with a nice portion of the German Army on our hands. I have no doubt that the Government will emphatically disclaim on behalf of themselves and of the Home Secretary any approbation of any such tendency as that. I apologize for adding that postscript, but I must frankly say that I do not think I have ever read anything like that in English journalism before. I beg to move for Papers.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the post-war policy towards Germany outlined in the recent speech made by the Home Secretary at Black-pool.—(Lord Vansittart.)


My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Nathan.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; debate adjourned accordingly.