[The following is the substance of a statement of Britain's case given by the Lord Chancellor in an interview with a prominent American Press Representative.]
We ask you in America—all, whether for or against us, heirs of the early struggles of our race—to realize that when we say we are fighting for life we use no figure of speech. Hyperbole there is in plenty, of course; but this is not hyperbole. We are fighting for life, and we ask the forbearance of America while we prosecute the struggle. If we appear in a wholly new situation to go beyond some of the rules of the books we shall not violate the dictates of humanity, and shall not turn back the clock of civilization. We take it that our interest in ending the war quickly—ending it in the only way in which the Allies can afford to see it ended at all—is also the interest of the United States. Germany's submarine warfare on belligerents and neutrals alike is a thing with no analogue. We are compelled to meet it. In devising a plan, we have given anxious study to the interests of neutrals. We have settled upon certain general principles that seem to us more favourable to neutrals than are the hitherto sufficient principles of international law.
Some American newspaper, I believe, has said that we, in our turn, are destroying a "scrap of paper." We think we are creating a "scrap of paper," and one with which neutrals, possessing full knowledge, will find no reason to quarrel. If we had recourse to the full rigours of the conventional blockade, we could claim to confiscate ships and cargoes seeking to evade it. What we want to do is to spare neutrals all possible inconvenience and injury—spare their crews, ships, and cargoes—and still throw the last ounce of our naval strength into the effort to break the system that despotism has set in operation against the happiness and prosperity of the world.About America let me say two or three things with all emphasis. We do not assert any right to ask America to come
The whole of the past decade in Europe has been critical. There were moments when peace trembled in the balance. The Agadir incident, particularly, compelled us to face the possibility of war; subsequently things improved. Anglo-German relations appeared to be getting started on the right road. It was with the object of maintaining and accelerating the improvement that I went to Berlin on behalf of the Government in February, 1912.
With Bethmann-Hollweg I had close and interesting conferences. The Kaiser, already well known to me, I saw again, and it was my privilege to talk with many important men. Gratifying as were these interchanges, I came away feeling uneasy. Germany was piling up armaments. She showed no disposition to restrict her naval development.
In my speech at the American Bar Association at Montreal in 1913, I observed that "the world is probably a long way off from the abolition of armaments and the peril of war," I was asked by an interviewer, "Do you think that the Kaiser favoured war?" Well, in past years I think the Kaiser undoubtedly opposed war, but I am afraid his opposition to it gradually weakened. He appears to have settled into the war mood about two years ago. You will remember a remarkable communication (published in the French Yellow Book) from M. Jules Cambon, French Ambassador at Berlin, to M. Pichon, French Minister for Foreign Affairs, in November, 1913, reporting a conversation between the Kaiser and the King of the Belgians, in the presence of the Chief of the German General Staff, General von Moltke, a fortnight before the despatch was written. "Hostility against us is becoming more marked, and the Emperor has ceased to be a partisan of peace." Thus wrote Cambon, and he went on to say that the Emperor appeared to be "completely changed"; that he had been "brought to think that war with France must come"; and that he believed in the "crushing superiority of the German Army." I think in the end the Kaiser was borne off his feet completely by the military party.
I am unable to see how there should have been real fear in Germany that England and her Allies were planning an attack upon the Fatherland. Certainly we had done everything in our power to obviate it. When I was in Berlin in 1912, I left no doubt in the minds of the foremost men there of England's pacific purposes and sentiments with reference to Germany. We were prepared, and we definitely told them we were prepared, to enter into the most binding agreement that in no circumstances would we be a party to any sort of aggression against Germany.
Moreover, I did my utmost to make the Berlin statesmen understand England's position. I disabused their minds, if unmistakable language could do it, of all doubt as to what would be England's attitude to a violation of Belgian neutrality. If the Germans ever misunderstood me on this point, they have only themselves to thank. From what I said to Bethmann-Hollweg in so many words there ought to have been no doubt in his mind that we should regard an invasion of Belgium as something over which he could not reckon on our neutrality. I also told him that as long as Germany chose to continue her policy of formidable naval development we should lay down two keels to her one. There was absolutely no ambiguity in my conversation with the German Chancellor, and he understood that all I said on these matters represented the view of the British Government. It was of the very essence of my friendly purpose in going to Berlin to be perfectly candid and explicit. This was so because I felt that in no other way could Anglo-German relations be got upon the right footing.
Pacific Germany utterly failed to assert itself, and the Prussian spirit, temporarily gaining the ascendancy, once it had got control, was in a position to speak with the voice of authority; the rest followed naturally, for no other country so rushes after the flag as does Germany. The moment the Government, won over to the militarist point of view, decided to put forward the claim that the Fatherland was in danger, and that a war was necessary, all Germany responded as one man. If the war could have been averted for twenty years I have little doubt peace-loving Germany, the Germany that prizes Right above Might, would have gained final control in Berlin, and the war would not have happened.
Assuming that the Allies win, it does not seem to me they will find it easy to democratize German politics, unless the German people respond. It is impossible to impose government from without. Government must come from within. If the Army and the Navy and the men who made the war lose their prestige, Germany will probably recover herself. How can she better do it than by effectualizing her democracy? In other words, I feel that the real Germany, which has made so profound an impression upon the world by reason of great qualities, will take over the government of Germany when the present regime has been discredited and destroyed.
I cannot help thinking that the present war should bring to a permanent end the system whereby political personages use peoples as pawns on a chessboard. I think secret diplomacy will disappear. Certainly, in the light of Austrian methods leading up to this war—methods that went right back to the days of Metternich—political manipulation beyond the reach of the influence of the people it affects ought to disappear.
And I look for a great democratic advance as the result of the war. For a great democratic advance, and for a great moral advance. Might has sought to establish itself as the supreme law. Right is on the defensive. It is giving us some very fine examples of the best there is in human nature.
The object-lessons should be beneficial. Nobility should be quickened. Our standard should be lifted up. We all were too luxurious. Life on the Continent of America is too luxurious We in London are too luxurious. Berlin was too luxurious. In Paris also people had become luxurious. We shall all be made simpler by this war. We shall be made more frugal, more serious, less cynical, greater. Long years will pass before any one of us ceases to feel the effects of the struggle.
As for democracy, it is democracy's fight—nothing else. The militarist has hurled his system against Europe. It must be broken. When it is broken, a settlement should be possible conserving the political welfare of all the peoples concerned. Freedom for all nationalities is the ideal, and I see no reason why it should not be substantially realized.
When I was in Berlin I was permitted to see a great deal of the way in which they work their military machine. The Kaiser let me see something of the working of the German War Office. Our own Army at this moment is organized upon certain of the great principles of Moltke. The distinctive thing about the German Army I found to be that the administrative work is kept separate from the general staff work, and from command and training. Administrative duties are not laid upon men whose business it ought to be to think out strategical problems and to train soldiers. The general staff officers are free to exercise their professional skill in developing fighting men. This separation of functions I immediately developed in the British Army.
The higher command in the Army I found admirable; the highest command I found dubious. In the higher command reign order, efficiency, science; in the highest command there seems to reign something resembling chaos. The personages of the highest command, of course, are the Kaiser, the heads of the Navy and Army, the Chancellor, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Now all these forces are self-assertive, and they are imperfectly co-ordinated. The heads of the Navy and Army have great influence. The Chancellor presumably has great influence. The Minister for Foreign Affairs cannot do without influence. Yet among all these there does not appear to be any intimacy of understanding. They do not co-operate with one another.
In this respect we in England have much the advantage of them. Thanks to Mr. Balfour, who introduced the system, we have a body in which all points of view are represented, including those of the Colonies. The heads of all departments contribute their ideas to the common stock. Every one sees his own work, not only from his own standpoint, but from the standpoints of all the other chief officials of the Government. The result is that no one does anything in ignorance of what other members of the Government are doing. There is no working at cross-purposes. Germany has, I think, nothing quite so good as this.
It is said that Bethmann-Hollweg and Jagow did not see the Austrian ultimatum before it was delivered. The Kaiser probably saw it. Quite possibly the heads of the Navy and Army saw it. But I doubt whether the Chancellor and the Minister for Foreign Affairs did see it. Nothing of that sort could happen under our Government as at present organized.
I do not think the ruling men in Germany feared Great Britain as a fighting power, or regarded us as very formidable. They thought our Army was insignificant, our Navy old-fashioned, and our nation decadent. I do not think they thought we could be aroused to a tremendous national effort, I have no doubt that they counted on the centrifugal forces of our Empire working to our grave embarrassment. They now must know that they misinterpreted these supposed centrifugal forces.
For years Germany has been heaping up armaments. She has built up the most formidable army that ever has existed, and a navy by no means negligible. Her arsenals are filled with munitions. She has selected her own time for a stupendous war of aggression. We were much less prepared. Parenthetically, Germany had constructed a great system of strategical railways parallel to the Russian frontier; Russia had done no corresponding thing. Now, fully prepared for war, with colossal accumulations of war material, Germany decides upon the moment for war, and declares war. Is there any fairness, any chivalry, in her trying to prevent us, in full accord with international usage, from going into neutral markets to buy the implements that Germany's action causes us so direly to need?
I am glad to know that American thought rejects the German proposal. I am glad to know that the American press is standing for the principle of the right of nations to buy munitions when they are attacked. Germany supplied large quantities of munitions of war to Russia during the war with Japan, and thought it no breach of neutrality then. Why should it be such now?
If the Allies win—if Germany, who has carried her military preparations to a pitch heretofore unknown, finds herself beaten—I do not imagine any nation in the future will be likely to pin its faith to armaments. If Germany, armed as she was armed, could not win, how could any nation hope to win by means of arms? I am hopeful that the world as a result of this war will get rid of at least a part of the burden of armaments. I am hopeful that civilization is going to do something to defend itself against war.
We now know that the effects of war cannot be localized. We know that two considerable Powers cannot fight without inflicting considerable disturbance and loss on the whole world. Definite knowledge is necessary to definite action. I believe that the world is going so to organize itself that no nation, out of ambition or fear, or because of any other influence or motive, will be permitted to go to war. This means that differences somehow must be settled by arbitration. If the world had been so organized last July, Germany could not have refused to accept our proposal for a peaceful settlement of the issue at stake.
As regards the fate of Constantinople and the Dardenelles, I feel certain it can be settled satisfactorily. In any case I imagine the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus will be open to the merchant ships of all nations. What a glorious thing it would be for Germany and for every one else if, following the American example at Panama, she dealt with the Kiel Canal as America has dealt with the Panama Canal, and then settled down to fifty years of peace, industry, and reform! If she did this—abandoned all her ideals of war as a means of getting on—I do not think the future would suggest to her any reason to return to the discarded system.
I am far from sure that, even if Germany had respected the neutrality of Belgium, England would have remained out of the war. Belgium touched our honour; France touched our feelings and our interests. Having regard to the theories of world conquest behind the successful German movement in favour of a war of aggression, it seems to me it would have been madness on our part to have sat with hands folded while Germany removed the Continental obstacles in the way of her laying siege to the British Empire.
In the best of circumstances we are very near the striking power of Germany. I do not think we possibly could have permitted that striking power to come still nearer and absorb the States nearest to us without a desperate attempt to prevent it; but the attack upon Belgium gave us no time for thought or choice; we had to resist the violation of the treaty and the wrong done to a weaker State, or we should have been disgraced.