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BRITAIN'S WAR, AIMS NEWLY DEFINED
[ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE TRADE UNION CONFERENCE ON MAN POWER, JANUARY 5, 1918.] s
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 aty 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. It is only the clearest, greatest, and justest of causes that can justify the continuance, even for one day, of this unspeakable agony af 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 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. We and our allies responded by the note of Jan. 10, 1917. 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 Dec. 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 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 means 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 selfgovernment 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 £acts 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, 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. Reparation 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