THAT the public events of September 1938 have been momentous is already a commonplace. They may mark a turning point not only in British history but in world history too. By the same token, our recent experiences have been so overwhelming that it is still very difficult to see them steadily and whole. One who looks at the new international situation from a British standpoint must first ask whether the line taken by Great Britain in 1938 marks a serious departure from the traditional line of British foreign policy.
The policy of Great Britain in the past towards Europe has been, like that of the United States, to confine her intervention in Continental affairs to the minimum compatible with her own national interests as she sees them. The practical application of this fundamentally identical policy is, of course, governed by each country's particular geographical situation. The minimum to which the United States can safely reduce her intervention in Europe cannot be even approximated by an island that is separated from the Continent by the mere breadth of the Channel rather than by the Atlantic. This difference has always compelled British isolationism to stop far short of American isolationism in practice. If British isolation from the Continent has been relatively incomplete in the past, this difference between Great Britain's and America's respective situations is accentuated at the present time, when the Channel is no longer, while the Atlantic still is, an effective barrier against air attack.
In the past, what was the typical Continental situation in which the British Government and people felt themselves constrained to play a part in Continental affairs? The policy of Great Britain towards Louis XIV, Napoleon and William II seems to show that she has generally taken active steps, sooner or later, to join in resisting the domination of Europe by a single Power when there has seemed to be a serious probability that this Power would use its Continental predominance in order to threaten the independence of the
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