ANY Englishman who sets out to interpret to readers in the United States the aims and objects of British policy under present circumstances must approach his task with a sense of deep responsibility. All must recognize how different is the situation of the two countries; yet close sympathy and clear understanding between them have never been more necessary than they are today.

The British people have just entered on what may prove the gravest struggle of their history. They have decided that victory in this war is so important that no sacrifice can be too great to ensure it. They are fighting, and sending their sons to fight. They are accepting compulsion in every sphere of life. They are enduring taxation on a scale hitherto undreamt of. They know that the Britain of the past is gone. They look into a future dark and obscure. Yet they are united and resolute as perhaps never before. Why is this? Toward what goal are they painfully struggling? And how do they hope to achieve it?

An interested inquirer who went out into the streets of any English town and asked the people he met what was the main aim of British policy would get in the great majority of cases the answer "Peace." And of course that is, so far as it goes, true. At the same time, it clearly is not a complete answer. For if peace were her only object, Britain's policy would be simple if not heroic. She would be willing to sacrifice everything for it -- her possessions, her traditions, her liberties. She would do away with her army, her navy, her air force. In order to avoid war, she would cheerfully submit to any humiliation. That is the extreme pacifist attitude and it is sincerely held by a number of excellent people. But it is not the view of the British people as a whole. Everyone knows that there are in fact things for which the people of Great Britain would always, in the ultimate event, fight with the grimmest determination. They may be pacific, but they are not pacifist.

It may indeed be suggested that the fundamental aim of British policy has always been, will always be, the preservation of the liberty and security both of our country and of the individuals who compose it. Whenever that has been threatened, whether in the days of the Armada or the days of Napoleon, the British people have always fought. A main reason why they love peace is because it is only under peaceful conditions that liberty and security can flourish or indeed exist.

In times past, Britain tried to safeguard peace by systems of alliances. She threw in her weight in opposition to the strongest nation in Europe. She tried to create a balance of power so evenly poised that no nation would think it worth-while to attempt domination of the continent. But the events of 1914 made her and other peace-loving nations realize finally how uncertain and insecure this balance was. It did not eliminate the risk of some nation calculating that it had achieved temporarily an adequate superiority to justify an attempt to extend its territories by war; and even if this calculation was in fact unsound, under modern conditions the ruin and misery resulting were bound to be incalculable.

It was the realization of this fact which impelled the peace-loving nations of the world, after the Great War, to attempt to inaugurate a new system. They joined in a society of nations which was pledged to settle any disputes that might arise between them by methods of conciliation and which was armed with penalties to be imposed on any member which took action inconsistent with its obligations. The conception of the League of Nations was one calculated to appeal in particular to the British people, as it applied in the international sphere principles which had long obtained in their own country.

Some today incline to regard the League of Nations as a tragic failure which, so far from furthering the cause of peace, has proved to contain within it the seeds of war. But this is a superficial view which will not bear the test of careful examination. We should make a great mistake to underestimate what the League achieved in the twenty years of its existence. Apart altogether from its great work of a non-political character in the social, economic and humanitarian spheres, it found a peaceful solution for many issues which without its intervention might easily have flared into war.

At the same time, admirable though the League may have been in conception, even its most enthusiastic supporters would be idle to argue that it achieved all the hopes of its founders. The reasons for its relative failure were manifold. The provisions of the Covenant were probably too rigid, and the scope of the League was probably too wide. In the event of a situation arising which involved danger of war, all the members might be required to take, automatically, very drastic action. This they only too often were unwilling to do. Some of them, thousands of miles from the danger zone, did not feel that their national interests were directly affected. They tended to hesitate, to hang back; and the moral effect which united and resolute action would have produced was largely lost. The moral effect was in any case greatly weakened by the fact that the League was not universal. It did not officially represent the public opinion even of that predominant portion of the world which was in harmony with the principles which inspired the Covenant. To that extent it was hamstrung from the start.

But neither the fact that the Covenant was not perfect nor the fact that the League was not universal provides the main explanation of its gradual decadence. There is a reason far more fundamental. The League was a democratic institution. It was devised by democrats for use in a democratic world. The conception which underlay it was that all nations are members of a community, and the essential condition for its success was that each member should be willing to subordinate its individual interests, to some extent, to the interests of the community as a whole. But as democracy was discarded in one great nation after another and was succeeded by dictatorship, the conception of a community of nations ceased to obtain general acceptance. A democratic world might hope to make the machinery of the League accepted as the normal method of procedure. Faced with a dispute between his country and another, a democratic statesman feels a national instinct to compromise, to try and find some middle line between the two points of view, to narrow the gulf until it becomes bridgeable. He knows that the result will probably not be entirely satisfactory to either party. But a conflict will have been avoided, and that fact, to his mind, will far outweigh the advantages which might conceivably have been obtained by a more rigid attitude.

But to a dictator such ideas are alien. His aim is not to avoid a conflict. It is to win a conflict. Compromise is abhorrent to him -- a sign of feebleness and decadence. The idea of conditioning his actions by the approval of his fellow men is intolerable. He will not submit himself to laws made by others. He is a law to himself. If he wants to keep a treaty, he keeps it. If it becomes inconvenient, he breaks it without hesitation. If anyone stands in his way, he crushes him ruthlessly. No normal considerations restrain him. Anything he wishes to do is justified by the fact that he does it.

This amoral point of view, though it seems to be common to all totalitarian régimes, undoubtedly finds its greatest exponent in Herr Hitler. For whereas other dictators have not very much cared whether what they do is right or wrong, he has elevated contempt for ordinary standards of conduct into a new moral code. In his view, there is for all Germans a sacred cause, the material greatness of National Socialist Germany. To that cause every German must dedicate himself. In that cause any action which he may take receives, immediately and automatically, moral justification. In the eyes of those who subscribe to such a creed the murder of a political opponent or the repudiation of an obligation may become, in certain circumstances, not merely expedient but right. For them Peace can have no charms. Their aim of life is not peaceful coöperation between interdependent nations but victory over inferior rivals. As Herr Hitler wrote in "Mein Kampf:" "The ideas of pacifism may be quite good after the supreme race has conquered and subdued the world in such a measure as makes it its exclusive master. . . . Therefore, first fight, and then, perhaps, pacifism."

Inspired by this conception, Hitler set out, from the moment of his entry into power, to dominate Europe. The plan which he adopted was from his point of view quite sound. He recognized the immense potential power of the forces that could be arrayed against him. Should they be immediately united, he would have no chance of success. He must deal with them one by one, and in the meantime lull the others into a false sense of security. This he did by giving solemn guarantees of Germany's good intentions to those nations which he was not ready to attack. While he was rebuilding his military forces, and before he was ready to remilitarize the Rhineland, he stated that he was ready to accept not only the letter but the spirit of the Locarno Pact. Then one fine morning he marched in and faced the other signatories with a fait accompli. He gave explicit assurances to the Austrian Government that he was determined to respect the integrity and independence of their country. Then, quite suddenly, he annexed it. He did the same thing in the case of Czecho-Slovakia.

It may be asked why the British Government and the British people did not see through these manœuvres, which, as we look back, seem almost transparent. The reason, surely, is that when the totalitarian states left the League and formed an independent combination, Great Britain and France were faced with a new situation which involved very difficult decisions. They might of course have said at once: "This new alliance means sooner or later a European war. Let us have it now, while they are comparatively weak." But such a decision, dreadful in any case, was for democratic states almost impossible. No democratic country will willingly embark on a preventive war. The idea of war is repellent to it. Its whole system is based on conciliation. If its existence is directly threatened, it will fight, and fight heroically; but not till then. Moreover, Great Britain, at any rate, was in no position to embark on a European war in the early stages of the Hitler régime. In her zeal for general disarmament, she had disarmed, as Sir John Simon once said, "to the very edge of risk" -- and perhaps beyond. She was neither spiritually nor materially prepared for a conflict. Rightly or wrongly, the British Government and a very large body of British opinion preferred to say: "Perhaps these people are not so bad as they appear. Perhaps their objectives are limited and attainable without risks to general peace. At any rate, let us give them a chance. Let us show that we are not unalterably hostile to them. Let us see whether the two systems, totalitarian and democratic, cannot yet live peacefully side by side." That was the underlying motive of the policy of appeasement.

The policy was not by any means universally approved. There were those who felt that it was impossible any longer to believe in the good word or good will of nations which so often had shown that they were not to be trusted. We must, these people said, recognize that Europe is heading for war, and that the only chance of averting it is to build up against the totalitarian states so formidable an array of strength that they will not risk a conflict. In the meantime, let us show a firm front wherever it seems practicable. This was the conclusion to which men such as Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill were gradually driven.

For the moment, however, the other view prevailed. Among large sections of the British public, it even survived the Munich Conference. When the Prime Minister returned from Germany, bringing a settlement of the immediate issue and an Anglo-German Agreement which gave hope of preserving, to use his own words, "Peace in our time," there was widespread evidence of relief. Herr Hitler had given a personal assurance to Mr. Chamberlain that he had no more demands to make. Might Germany not now be regarded as a satisfied nation? Those who continued to cast doubts on the good faith of the German Government were severely criticized. But events soon occurred which showed how premature were these hopes. Instead of Herr Hitler showing a more friendly attitude to Britain, his speeches became yet more hostile. Though certain members of the British Government remained hopeful, the conviction grew that Germany was not yet satisfied, that a further crisis must be expected. It came in the middle of March, when the German Army invaded Bohemia and Moravia and occupied Prague.

Presumably the reasons for this step were strategic. The existence of an independent Czecho-Slovakia, truncated though it was by the Munich Agreement, was yet a hindrance to further German expansion in Eastern Europe and must be eliminated. But though it secured Germany strategic advantages, the invasion of Bohemia and Moravia was, from the political point of view, a cardinal error. It let the cat out of the bag. Not only was it a flagrant violation of the Munich Agreement and of Herr Hitler's personal assurances to Mr. Chamberlain in September 1938, but it gave the lie once and for all to the oft reiterated thesis that his ambitions were limited and that he only sought to include peoples of Germanic origin within the Reich. His aims were now demonstrated to be both more extensive and more formidable. He intended nothing less than the domination of Europe. The only question was where and when he would strike next.

The effect in Great Britain was electric. The issue was now one from which, in any view, she could no longer dissociate herself. Divisions ceased, and preparations were intensified for the struggle that must now be regarded as probable. The first essential step was to prevent Europe from again being faced with a fait accompli. An assurance was given to Poland that England and France would be with her if she felt that her vital interests were threatened, and this assurance was later amplified into a Treaty of Mutual Assistance. Negotiations for a treaty of similar character were begun with Turkey, and unilateral guarantees of assistance were given to Rumania and Greece. A "Peace Front" began to take form. It was intended that it should be strengthened by the adhesion of Soviet Russia. For whatever might be felt about the Soviet system of government, it was thought that Russia had an equal interest with the Western Powers in the maintenance of peace. The whole history of the long drawn out and ill-fated negotiations in Moscow will probably never be known. But by now, at any rate, we can see that the Russian devotion to peace was far different from what had been supposed. Instead of ranging herself against German aggression, Russia moved suddenly into the other camp. From that moment, all hope of preserving peace was gone. The basis on which it had been precariously balanced was swept away.

Presumably war was both unexpected and unwelcome to the German Government. No more than the British and French Governments did Germany want a general war. On the contrary, her object in concluding an agreement with Russia was clearly to make war unlikely. She calculated that, faced with so strong a combination, Britain and France would withdraw, as they had done last year; Poland, deserted, would make what terms she could; another bloodless victory would have been achieved. What the Nazis did not appreciate was that, at any rate so far as Great Britain was concerned, there was an essential difference between the two crises. In September 1938 Great Britain was under no direct obligation to assist Czecho-Slovakia. She had, it is true, a conditional obligation as a member of the League of Nations. But it came into play only if the League decided to take joint action under the Covenant; and the League clearly was not prepared to do this. Indeed, several states neighboring on Germany, notably Switzerland and Sweden, had already, in the previous spring, made declarations at Geneva which indicated that they were not prepared, under existing circumstances, to support the coercive provisions of the Covenant. Britain may be criticized for intervening at all in the Czech problem. It would perhaps have been wiser had she not done so. But she was certainly under no obligation to fight.

In September 1939 Britain's position was entirely different. She had definitely pledged that if Poland became engaged in a war with Germany involving vital Polish interests Britain would herself declare war. There could be, and was, no question of her repudiating this obligation. The fact that after it had been incurred Germany made a pact with Russia, made absolutely no difference. Britain was definitely engaged; and she was prepared to honor her engagement.

Probably the British and French decision came as a surprise to Herr Hitler. But he had gone too far to retire. Moreover, no doubt he calculated that the Western Powers could give no immediately effective assistance to Poland, and that, once that country had been overrun and had disappeared from the map, they would once again accept the fait accompli. This was yet another miscalculation. Britain and France were and are fully prepared to fight till victory is won, till the liberties of the peoples of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia are restored, and till Europe is freed from ever-recurring threats of aggression.

Some criticism has been heard about the conduct of the war by the Western Powers during the first weeks of hostilities. It has been said that Poland was deserted, and even betrayed, by her allies. This is a superficial view. None of us can have watched without horror the martyrdom of Poland. But to nations entering on a great struggle, what must be the paramount aim? To win it. That is the real interest of Poland as well as of Britain and France. To send direct aid to the Polish Government on a scale calculated to repel the original German attack was impossible. All strategy is conditioned by geography. To have flung our armies against the formidable battlements of the Siegfried Line would have been a useless waste of forces which might play a decisive part at a later stage of the war. What, after all, is the most conclusive lesson of modern war? Defense is stronger than attack. Moreover, the Allies can afford to play a waiting game. They have one weapon more powerful than any at the disposal of Germany, that of economic warfare. While it is of course true that the central position occupied by Germany gives her an immense military advantage in that she can move her troops at will from east to west, the opposite is true in the economic sphere. Being in the middle, she can be blockaded. A noose can be put around her neck, and, slowly but surely, she can be strangled. Already German merchant ships have been swept from the sea. Already she is deprived of further supplies of certain essential materials of war. She is well aware of her danger. That is the reason for her desperate efforts to obtain supplies from Russia. But there are essential products, such as rubber and tin, that even Russia with all her vast resources cannot provide; and even the materials of war available in Russia have to be transported for many hundreds of miles over railways which were hardly able to stand the strain of peacetime traffic. Slowly, inexorably, the noose is being tightened. Unless Germany can, at terrific cost, secure a victory in the field, she must ultimately capitulate. To be too confident would be unwise. War is full of surprises. But the lines of Allied strategy are clearly indicated, and they will surely not be departed from. Sooner or later the time will come when Germany will seek peace.

If and when that day arrives, what terms are to be offered to her? What are our war aims? First, the liberties of the peoples of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia must be restored. That is the immediate issue of the war. But, beyond that, what? Do we seek to trample the German people under foot, to inflict upon them the fate which the present German Government has meted out to the Polish nation? No. The answer was well given by Mr. Chamberlain in the House of Commons on October 12 in reply to Herr Hitler's so-called Peace Offer. He said:

It is no part of our policy to exclude from her rightful place in Europe a Germany which will live in amity and confidence with other nations. On the contrary, we believe that no effective remedy can be found for the world's ills that does not take account of the just claims and needs of all countries, and whenever the time may come to draw the lines of a new peace settlement, His Majesty's Government would feel that the future would hold little hope unless such a settlement could be reached through the method of negotiation and agreement. . . .

We seek no material advantage for ourselves; we desire nothing from the German people which should offend their self-respect. We are not aiming only at victory, but rather looking beyond it to the laying of a foundation of a better international system which will mean that war is not to be the inevitable lot of every succeeding generation.

These words interpret the views of the overwhelming mass of the British people.

Whether or not this is a war for democracy is of course a point on which different views may well be held. But one thing is certain. To the British people, it is a war for the preservation of certain fundamental principles on which, they believe, parliamentary democracy is based -- freedom of speech, of thought, of conscience, and the sanctity of contract. Can anyone maintain that if Dr. Goebbels were in control in London and Herr Himmler in Paris those principles would remain unimpaired? Of course they would not. In one European country after another we have seen them find their grave in concentration camps and execution yards. The outer bastions of liberty have been driven in. Now the citadel is under attack. So far as lies in our power, we shall see that it does not fall.

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