Great Speeches of the War/Law
RT. HON. A. BONAR LAW
[Speech at a great patriotic meeting of the Citizens of London held in the Guildhall on September 4, 1914. The Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Balfour, and Mr. Bonar Law, the leader of the Opposition, were the principal speakers.]
My Lord Mayor:— It would indeed be impossible for me to add anything to the force of the appeal which has just been addressed by the Prime Minister to our people, but I am glad to be here as representing one of our great political parties in order to show clearly that in this supreme struggle, in everything connected with it until it is brought to a triumphant close [cheers], the head of our Government must speak, not as the leader of a party, but as the mouthpiece of the nation. [Cheers.] We are a peace-loving people [cheers], but never, I believe, in our history has the whole nation been so convinced as it is to-day that the cause for which we are fighting is righteous and just. We strove for peace by all means to the last moment, but when, in spite of our efforts, war came we could not stand aside. The honour and the interest of Great Britain—and, believe me, they go together—alike forbade it. It was inevitable that we must be drawn into this world-struggle, and the only question was whether we should enter it honourably or be dragged into it with dishonour. [Cheers.]
This war is a great crime, one of the greatest in history, but it is a crime in which, as a nation, we have no share. Now, as always for nearly a generation, the key of peace or war was in Berlin. The head of the German Government had but to whisper the word "peace" and there would have been no war. He did not speak that word; he has drawn the sword, and may the accursed system for which he stands perish by the sword. [Loud cheers.] War has come. We are fighting as truly as Belgium or France, where the tide of battle with all its horrors is rolling on, for our life. As Cromwell said to his Ironsides, we can say to-day with equal truth, "We know what we are fighting for, and we love what we know." [Cheers.] We are fighting for our national existence, for everything which nations have always held most dear.
But we are fighting for something more. We are fighting for the moral forces of humanity. We are fighting for the respect for public law and for the right of public justice, which are the foundations of civilization. We are fighting, as the Prime Minister said, for right against might. [Cheers.] I do not attempt what Burke has declared to be impossible—to draw an indictment against a whole people; but this I say, that the German nation has allowed itself to be organized as a military machine which recognizes no law except the law of force, which knows no right except the right of the strongest. It is against that we are fighting to-day.
The spirit in which this war was entered into was shown clearly in the words which were addressed to our Ambassador at Berlin by the German Chancellor. "You are going to war," he said, "for a scrap of paper." A scrap of paper, yes, but a scrap of paper with which was bound up a solemn obligation, and with that obligation the honour of a great nation. [Cheers.] A scrap of paper in which was involved also the right to independence and liberty, the right even to existence, of all the small nations of the world. It is for that scrap of paper that Belgian soldiers have fought and died, that the Belgian people, by what they have done and what they have endured, have won for themselves immortal fame. [Cheers.] It is for that scrap of paper and all that it means that we too have already watered with the blood of our sons the fair fields of France, and for it we shall conquer or perish. [Cheers.]
The words which I have quoted show not merely the spirit in which the war was entered into, but the spirit in which it is being conducted to-day. When reports first reached us of German atrocities in Belgium I hoped, for the sake of our common humanity, that they were untrue or at least exaggerated. We can entertain that hope no longer. The destruction of Louvain, to which the Prime Minister has referred, has proclaimed to the world in trumpet tones what German methods are. It has fixed upon German honour an indelible stain, and the explanations which it has been attempted to give of it have only made that stain the deeper. War at the best is terrible. It is not from the ordinary soldier, it is not from below that restraint can be expected. It must come, if it comes at all, from above. But here outrages come not from below, but from above. They are not the result of accident, but of design. They are part of a principle—the principle by any means, at any expense to the lives of defenceless men or of helpless women and children, to spread terror in a country and facilitate German arms. [Cheers.] This is, as the Prime Minister said, a moral and spiritual conflict, and believe me, in the long run, the moral and spiritual are stronger than the material forces.
The object of this meeting and of the speech to which we have just listened is to appeal to the manhood of our country to rally once again around the old flag. That appeal will not be made, is not being made, in vain. [Cheers.] Our people had only to realize, as at first they did not quite realize, what issues were at stake, to come forward with all the spirit of their fathers. That lesson is being driven home now by influences stronger far than any speeches. It has been taught by the heroic stedfastness of the Belgian people. It is being taught now by the knowledge that but for the sure shield of our Navy, a shield which, if we fail to conquer, cannot save us, our fate to-day would be the fate of Belgium. It is being taught above all by the accounts, meagre though they are, of what has been done by our soldiers on the fields of battle. [Cheers.]
With that mistaken estimate of themselves and of others, which is one of the explanations of this war, the Germans before and after this outbreak have spoken of us as a decadent nation. Do they say that to-day? [Cries of "No."] Let the long-drawn-out fight which began at Mons give the answer. [Cheers.] There our troops, pitted against the choicest troops of the German Army, and outnumbered by nearly three to one, as I believe, were undefeated and unbroken. [Cheers.] And when the story of that fight comes to be written, it is my belief that it will form as glorious a page as is to be found in the whole annals of our history. [Cheers.] The men will come. [Cheers.] There is no doubt about that. Everywhere I find the same spirit; every one asking, "What can I do to help my country?" Many of those whom I am addressing are, like the Prime Minister and myself, unable to take their places in the fighting line. It is not right, it is not fair, that we should make an appeal for sacrifice to the patriotism of those only who are able and willing to fight our battles. An equal sacrifice is demanded of those who remain behind, and let us not as a Government merely, but as a nation, realize our obligation and let us make a vow and keep it that no dependent of any man who is fighting our battles shall go hungry while we have bread to eat. [Cheers.] Let us realize, also, as we have not always realized in the past, that our soldiers are children of the State, and that they have the first claim upon the resources of our nation. [Cheers.]