Great Speeches of the War/Grey (2)
RT. HON. SIR EDWARD GREY
[Speech delivered in the Bechstein Hall, London, on March 22, 1914.]
Ladies and Gentlemen:— The occasion of our meeting this afternoon is to hear a lecture from my friend Mr. Buchan on the strategy of the war, and he is sure to make it informing and interesting. His friends know him as a man of fine public spirit and patriotism, in whom a crisis such as this in his country's history arouses the noblest feelings. I am sorry that an engagement makes it necessary for me to return soon to the Foreign Office, and therefore it will be a great disappointment to me not to hear the whole of the lecture. I should like to take the opportunity to make my apology now, and also to make one or two remarks on the origin and issues of the war. [Hear, hear.] We are engaged in considering the particular methods by which the war may be prosecuted to a successful conclusion, but do not let us lose sight even for a moment of the character and origin of this war and of the main issues for which we are fighting. Hundreds of millions of money have been spent, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and millions have been maimed and wounded in Europe during the last few months. All this might have been avoided by the simple method of a conference or a joint discussion between the Powers concerned, which might have been held in London, at The Hague, or wherever and in whatever form Germany would have consented to have it. It would have been far easier to have settled by conference the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Servia, which Germany made the occasion for this war, than it was to get successfully through the Balkan crisis of two years ago, Germany knew from her experience of the conference in London which settled the Balkan crisis that she could count upon our good will for peace in any conference of the Powers. We had sought no diplomatic triumph in the Balkan Conference; we did not give ourselves to any intrigue; we pursued, impartially 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 due time the terms of peace will be put forward by our Allies in concert with us—in accordance with the alliance that exists between us—and published to the world. One essential condition must be the restoration to Belgium of her independence, national life, and free possession of her territory—[cheers]—and reparation to her as far as reparation is possible for the cruel wrong done to her. [Cheers.] That is part of the great issue for which we, with our Allies, are contending, and the great part of the issue is this: We wish the nations of Europe to be free to live their independent lives, working out their own form of government for themselves, and their own national development, whether they be great nations or small states, in full liberty. This is our ideal. The German ideal—we have had it poured out by German professors and publicists since the war began—is that of the Germans as a superior people, to whom all things are lawful in the securing of their own power, against whom resistance of any sort is unlawful—a people establishing a domination over the nations of the Continent, imposing a peace which is not to be liberty for every nation but subservience to Germany. I would rather perish or leave the Continent altogether than live in it under such conditions. [Cheers.]
After this war we and the other nations of Europe must be free to live, not menaced continually by talk of "supreme war lords," and "shining armour," and the sword continually "rattled in the scabbard," and Heaven continually invoked as the accomplice of Germany, and not having our policy dictated and our national destinies and activities controlled by the military caste of Prussia. [Cheers.] We claim for ourselves and our Allies claim for themselves, and together we will secure for Europe, the right of independent sovereignty for the different nations, the right to pursue a national existence, not in the shadow of Prussian hegemony and supremacy, but in the light of equal liberty. [Cheers.]
All honour for ever be given from us whom age and circumstances have kept at home to those who have voluntarily come forward to risk their lives, and give their lives on the field of battle on land or on sea. They have their reward in enduring fame and honour. And all honour be given from us to the brave armies and navies of our Allies, who have exhibited such splendid courage and noble patriotism. The admiration they have aroused, and their comradeship in arms, will be an ennobling and enduring memory between us, cementing friendships and perpetuating national good will. For all of us who are serving the State at home, or in whatever capacity, whether officials, or employers, or wage-earners, doing our utmost to carry on the national life in this time of stress, there is the knowledge that there can be no nobler opportunity than that of serving one's country when its existence is at stake, and when the cause is just and right; and never was there a time in our national history when the crisis was so great and so imperative, or the cause more just and right. [Loud cheers.]