Address of the British Prime Minister ( Lloyd George) before the Trade Union Conference at London, January 5, 1918 2
When the Government invite organized labor in this country to assist them to maintain the might of their armies in the field, its representatives are entitled to ask that any misgivings and doubts which any of them may have about the purpose to which this precious strength is to be applied should be definitely cleared. And what is true of organized labor is equally true of all citizens in this country, without regard to grade or avocation.
When men by the million are being called upon to suffer and die, and vast populations are being subjected to sufferings and privations of war on a scale unprecedented in the history of the world, they are entitled to know for what cause or causes they are making the sacrifice.[Page 5]
It is only the clearest, greatest, and justest of causes that can justify the continuance, even for one day, of this unspeakable agony of the nation, and we ought to be able to state clearly and definitely not only the principles for which we are fighting, but also their definite and concrete application to the war map of the world.
We have arrived at the most critical hour in this terrible conflict, and before any government takes a fateful decision as to the conditions under which it ought either to terminate or to continue the struggle, it ought to be satisfied that the conscience of the nation is behind these conditions, for nothing else can sustain the effort which is necessary to achieve a righteous end to this war.
I have, therefore, during the last few days taken special pains to ascertain the view and attitude of representative men of all sections of thought and opinion in the country.
Last week I had the privilege not merely of perusing the declared war aims of the Labor Party, but also of discussing in detail with labor leaders the meaning and intention of that declaration.
I have also had opportunity of discussing this same momentous question with Mr. Asquith and Viscount Grey. Had it not been that the Nationalist leaders are in Ireland engaged in endeavoring to solve the tangled problem of Irish self-government, I should have been happy to exchange views with them, but Mr. Redmond, speaking on their behalf, has, with his usual lucidity and force, in many of his speeches made clear what his ideas are as to the object and purpose of the war. I have also had an opportunity of consulting certain representatives of the great dominions overseas.
I am glad to be able to say, as a result of all these discussions, that, although the Government are alone responsible for the actual language I purpose using, there is a national agreement as to the character and purpose of our war aims and peace conditions, and in what I say to you today, and through you to the world, I can venture to claim that I am speaking not merely the mind of the Government, but of the Nation and of the Empire as a whole.
We may begin by clearing away some misunderstandings and stating what we are not fighting for.
We are not fighting a war of aggression against the German people. Their leaders have persuaded them that they are fighting a war of self-defense against a league of rival nations, bent on the destruction of Germany. That is not so. The destruction or disruption of Germany or the German people has never been a war aim with us from the first day of this war to this day.
Most reluctantly, and indeed quite unprepared for the dreadful ordeal, we were forced to join in this war, in self-defense of the violated public law of Europe and in vindication of the most solemn treaty obligations on which the public system of Europe rested and [Page 6]on which Germany had ruthlessly trampled in her invasion of Belgium. We had to join in the struggle or stand aside and see Europe go under and brute force triumph over public right and international justice.
It was only the realization of that dreadful alternative that forced the British people into the war, and from that original attitude they have never swerved. They have never aimed at a breakup of the German people or the disintegration of their state or country. Germany has occupied a great position in the world. It is not our wish or intention to question or destroy that position for the future, but rather to turn her aside from hopes and schemes of military domination.
Nor did we enter this war merely to alter or destroy the Imperial Constitution of Germany, much as we consider that military and autocratic Constitution a dangerous anachronism in the twentieth century. Our point of view is that the adoption of a really democratic Constitution by Germany would be the most convincing evidence that her old spirit of military domination has, indeed, died in this war and would make it much easier for us to conclude a broad, democratic peace with her. But, after all, that is a question for the German people to decide.
We are not fighting to destroy Austria-Hungary or to deprive Turkey of its capital or the rich lands of Asia Minor and Thrace which are predominantly Turkish.
It is now more than a year since the President of the United States, then neutral, addressed to the belligerents a suggestion that each side should state clearly the aims for which they were fighting.1
We and our allies responded by the note of January 10, 1917.2 To the President’s appeal the Central Empires made no reply, and in spite of many abjurations, both from their opponents and from neutrals, they have maintained complete silence as to the objects for which they are fighting. Even on so crucial a matter as their intention with regard to Belgium they have uniformly declined to give any trustworthy indication.
On December 25 last, however, Count Czernin, speaking on behalf of Austria-Hungary and her allies, did make a pronouncement of a kind. It is, indeed, deplorably vague.
We are told that it is not the intention of the Central Powers to appropriate forcibly any occupied territory or to rob of its independence any nation which has lost its political independence during the war.
It is obvious that almost any scheme of conquest and annexation could be perpetrated within the literal interpretation of such a [Page 7]pledge. Does it mean that Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro, and Rumania will be as independent and as free to direct their own destinies as Germany or any other nation? Or does it mean that all manner of interferences and restrictions, political and economical, incompatible with the status and dignity of free and self-respecting people, are to be imposed? If this is the intention, then there will be one kind of independence for the great nation and an inferior kind of independence for the small nation.
We must know what is meant, for equality of right among the nations, small as well as great, is one of the fundamental issues this country and her allies are fighting to establish in this war.
Reparation for the wanton damage inflicted on Belgian towns and villages and their inhabitants is emphatically repudiated. The rest of the so-called offer of the Central Powers is almost entirely a refusal of all concessions. All suggestions about the autonomy of subject nationalities are ruled out of the peace terms altogether. The question whether any form of self-government is to be given to the Arabs, Armenians, or Syrians is declared to be entirely a matter for the Sublime Porte. A pious wish for the protection of minorities, “in so far as it is practically realizable,” is the nearest approach to liberty which the Central statesmen venture to make.
On one point only are they perfectly clear and definite. Under no circumstances will the German demand for the restoration of the whole of Germany’s colonies be departed from. All principles of self-determination, or, as our earlier phrase goes, government by the consent of the governed, here vanish into thin air.
It is impossible to believe that any edifice of permanent peace could be erected on such a foundation as this. Mere lip-service to the formula of no annexations and no indemnities or the right of self-determination is useless. Before any negotiations can even be begun the Central Powers must realize the essential facts of the situation.
The days of the treaty of Vienna are long past. We can no longer submit the future of European civilization to the arbitrary decisions of a few negotiators trying to secure by chicanery or persuasion the interests of this or that dynasty or nation.
The settlement of the new Europe must be based on such grounds of reason and justice as will give some promise of stability. Therefore, it is that we feel that government with the consent of the governed must be the basis of any territorial settlement in this war. For that reason, also, unless treaties be upheld, unless every nation is prepared, at whatever sacrifices, to honor the national signature, it is obvious that no treaty of peace can be worth the paper on which it is written.
The first requirement, therefore, always put forward by the British Government and their allies, has been the complete restoration, political, [Page 8]territorial, and economic, of independence of Belgium and such reparation as can be made for the devastation of its towns and provinces.
This is no demand for a war indemnity, such as that imposed on France by Germany in 1871. It is not an attempt to shift the cost of warlike operations from one belligerent to another, which may or may not be defensible. It is no more and no less than an insistence that before there can be any hope for stable peace, this great breach of the public law of Europe must be repudiated and so far as possible repaired.
Separation means recognition. Unless international right is recognized by insistence on payment for injury, done in defiance of its canons, it can never be a reality.
Next comes the restoration of Serbia, Montenegro, and the occupied parts of France, Italy, and Rumania. The complete withdrawal of the allied (Teutonic) armies, and the reparation for injustice done is a fundamental condition of permanent peace.
We mean to stand by the French democracy to the death in the demand it makes for a reconsideration of the great wrong of 1871, when, without any regard to the wishes of the population, two French provinces were torn from the side of France and incorporated in the German Empire.
This sore has poisoned the peace of Europe for half a century, and, until it is cured, healthful conditions will not have been restored. There can be no better illustration of the folly and wickedness of using a transient military success to violate national right.
I will not attempt to deal with the question of the Russian territories now in German occupation. The Russian policy since the revolution has passed so rapidly through so many phases that it is difficult to speak without some suspension of judgment as to what the situation will be when the final terms of European peace come to be discussed.
Russia accepted war with all its horrors because, true to her traditional guardianship of the weaker communities of her race, she stepped in to protect Serbia from a plot against her independence. It is this honorable sacrifice which not merely brought Russia into the war, but France as well.
France, true to the conditions of her treaty with Russia, stood by her ally in a quarrel which was not her own. Her chivalrous respect for her treaty led to the wanton invasion of Belgium, and the treaty obligations of Great Britain to that little land brought us into the war.
The present rulers of Russia are now engaged, without any reference to the countries whom Russia brought into the war, in separate negotiations with their common enemy. I am indulging in no reproaches. [Page 9]I am merely stating the facts with a view to making it clear why Great Britain cannot be held accountable for decisions taken in her absence and concerning which she has not been consulted or her aid invoked.
No one who knows Prussia and her designs upon Russia can for a moment doubt her ultimate intention. Whatever phrases she may use to delude Russia, she does not mean to surrender one of the fair provinces or cities of Russia now occupied by her forces. Under one name or another (and the name hardly matters) those Russian provinces will henceforth be in reality a part of the dominions of Prussia. They will be ruled by the Prussian sword in the interests of the Prussian autocracy, and the rest of the people of Russia will be partly enticed by specious phrases and partly bullied by the threat of continued war against an important army into a condition of complete economic and ultimate political enslavement to Germany.
We all deplore the prospect. The democracy of this country means to stand to the last by the democracies of France and Italy and all our other allies. We shall be proud to stand side by side by the new democracy of Russia. So will America and so will France and Italy. But if the present rulers of Russia take action which is independent of their allies, we have no means of intervening to arrest the catastrophe which is assuredly befalling their country. Russia can only be saved by her own people.
We believe, however, that an independent Poland, comprising all those genuinely Polish elements who desire to form a part of it, is an urgent necessity for the stability of western Europe.
Similarly, though we agree with President Wilson that a break-up of Austria-Hungary is no part of our war aims, we feel that unless genuine self-government on true democratic principles is granted to those Austro-Hungarian nationalities who have long desired it, it is impossible to hope for a removal of those causes of unrest in that part of Europe which have so long threatened the general peace.
On the same grounds we regard as vital the satisfaction of the legitimate claims of the Italians for union with those of their own race and tongue. We also mean to press that justice be done to the men of Rumanian blood and speech in their legitimate aspirations. If these conditions are fulfilled, Austria-Hungary would become a power whose strength would conduce to the permanent peace and freedom of Europe instead of being merely an instrument to the pernicious military autocracy of Prussia that uses the resources of its allies for the furtherance of its own sinister purposes.
Outside of Europe we believe that the same principles should be applied. While we do not challenge the maintenance of the Turkish Empire in the homelands of the Turkish race with its capital at [Page 10]Constantinople, the passage between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea being internationalized and neutralized, Arabia, Armenia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine are, in our judgment, entitled to a recognition of their separate national conditions.
What the exact form of that recognition in each particular case should be need not here be discussed beyond stating that it would be impossible to restore to their former sovereignty the territories to which I have already referred.
Much has been said about the arrangements we have entered into with our allies on this and on other subjects. I can only say that as the new circumstances, like the Russian collapse and the separate negotiations, have changed the conditions under which those arrangements were made, we are, and always have been, perfectly ready to discuss them with our allies.
With regard to the German colonies, I have repeatedly declared that they are held at the disposal of a conference whose decision must have primary regard to the wishes and interests of the native inhabitants of such colonies. None of those territories are inhabited by Europeans. The governing consideration, therefore, must be that the inhabitants should be placed under the control of an administration acceptable to themselves, one of whose main purposes will be to prevent their exploitation for the benefit of European capitalists or Governments.
The natives live in their various tribal organizations under chiefs and councils who are competent to consult and speak for their tribes and members and thus to represent their wishes and interests in regard to their disposal. The general principle of national self-determination is, therefore, as applicable in their cases as in those of the occupied European territories.
The German declaration that the natives of the German colonies have through their military fidelity in war shown their attachment and resolve under all circumstances to remain with Germany is applicable, not to the German colonies generally, but only to one of them, and in that case, German East Africa, the German authorities secured the attachment, not of the native population as a whole, which is and remains profoundly anti-German, but only of a small warlike class, from whom their askaris, or soldiers, were selected. These they attached to themselves by conferring on them a highly privileged position, as against the bulk of the native population, which enabled these askaris to assume a lordly and oppressive superiority over the rest of the natives.
By this and other means they secured the attachment of a very small and insignificant minority, whose interests were directly opposed to those of the rest of the population and for whom they [Page 11]have no right to speak. The German treatment of the native populations in their colonies has been such as amply to justify their fear of submitting the future of those colonies to the wishes of the natives themselves.
Finally, there must be reparation for the injuries done in violation of international law. The peace conference must not forget our seamen and the services they have rendered to and the outrages they have suffered for the common cause of freedom.
One omission we notice in the proposal of the Central Powers which seems to us especially regrettable. It is desirable and essential that the settlement after this war shall be one which does not in itself bear the seed of future war. But that is not enough. However wisely and well we may make territorial and other arrangements, there will still be many subjects of international controversy. Some, indeed, are inevitable.
Economic conditions at the end of the war will be in the highest degree difficult owing to the diversion of human effort to warlike pursuits. There must follow a world shortage of raw materials, which will increase the longer the war lasts, and it is inevitable that those countries which have control of raw materials will desire to help themselves and their friends first. Apart from this, whatever settlement is made will be suitable only to the circumstances under which it is made, and as those circumstances change, changes in the settlement will be called for.
So long as the possibility of a dispute between nations continues—that is to say, so long as men and women are dominated by impassioned ambition and war is the only means of settling a dispute—all nations must live under a burden, not only of having from time to time to engage in it, but of being compelled to prepare for its possible outbreak.
The crushing weight of modern armaments, the increasing evil of compulsory military service, the vast waste of wealth and effort involved in warlike preparation—these are blots on our civilization of which every thinking individual must be ashamed. For these and other similar reasons we are confident that a great attempt must be made to establish, by some international organization, an alternative to war as a means of settling international disputes.
After all, war is a relic of barbarism, and, just as law has succeeded violence as a means of settling disputes between individuals, so we believe that it is destined ultimately to take the place of war in the settlement of controversies between nations.
If, then, we are asked what we are fighting for, we reply, as we have often replied, We are fighting for a just and a lasting peace, and we believe that before permanent peace can be hoped for three [Page 12]conditions must be fulfilled: First, the sanctity of treaties must be re-established; secondly, a territorial settlement must be secured, based on the right of self-determination or the consent of the governed, and, lastly, we must seek, by the creation of some international organization, to limit the burden of armaments and diminish the probability of war. On these conditions its peoples are prepared to make even greater sacrifices than those they have yet endured.