They were true prophets who told us that the battle between the Allies and the Germans on the Western front of the war would prove to be not only the greatest of history, but the slowest to result in a decisive victory for either side. It is now more than a month since hostilities began and still the fate of Europe - the fate of France, of Belgium and of our own Empire - is undecided.
Put briefly and crudely, the Western line of the Allies has been forced back from Brussels to Paris. Brussels is for the moment a German capital, and in the whole of Belgium the only strong place still unoccupied by the enemy is Antwerp. A days or two ago it looked as if Paris were about to be closely invested, but for some reason not yet disclosed the enemy has desisted from his enveloping movement round the capital of France and has bent his main line of attack in an easterly and southerly direction, leaving Paris comparatively unmolested on his right hand.
The outstanding feature of the situation is that the army of the Allies, after the most skilful and successfully executed retreat in the annals of war, continues to present an unbroken front to the German legions. Not only this, but the Allies have at last compelled the enemy to meet them on ground not of his but their choosing.
On the eastern frontiers of Germany and Austria our Russian allies have met with great victories and one serious reverse. Austria has proved a broken reed to the Germans. Brave it out as the Germans may, it is not a small thing in any war to lose support on which much reliance has been placed. If, within the next week or so, Russia can succeed in putting out of action such Austrian armies as still remain in the field, then the advance to Berlin through Eastern Prussia will begin in real and formidable earnest.
It would be interesting to know what are the feelings of the German War Party as they contemplate the results of the policy which they have so long and so frankly advocated. Let us look at some of the items in the terrible account. Item one: Belgium in ruins. Item two: tens of thousands of the best and bravest of several European nations killed or wounded. Item three: the good name of Germany lost beyond reparation. Item four: the cause of civilisation set back perhaps for generations.
These are a few of the results of Germany's almost insane greed for "world power". What material advantages, what gains in the direction of world power, could compensate Germany for such losses as these? The astonishing thing is that the "men about the Kaiser" seem genuinely to believe that German "culture" is a thing greatly to be desired in itself and a thing to be forced on Europe by fire and, if necessary, sword. We must go back to the Spanish Inquisition before we can find a parallel in fanatic zeal equal to this.
We are not to be blamed, and the people of France, Belgium and Russia are not to be blamed, if we make it plain that we will put under arms every single able-bodied man we possess rather than submit to German "culture". In these islands we will multiply Kitchener's Armies up to the very limits of our male population before we yield to an aggressor compared with whom Napoleon was an apostle of civilisation. And we shall do this not merely for sentimental reasons or because our hearts go out in warm sympathy to the gallant and sorely-stricken people of Belgium. But for the "silver streak" and for the British Navy our fate would now be that of our heroic Belgian allies. Let no man make any mistake about that. As it is, the Kaiser would rather beat us to the ground than win any number of victories over France and Russia and Belgium.
How long will the war last? No one can say. A decisive triumph of the Allies at this juncture might bring the war to a comparatively sudden end. The probable chances are that it will last for a year at least. We must remember that Germany also is fighting for her life. She will neglect no means, fair or foul, to overwhelm the Allies. She is enormously efficient and her resources in men and material are next to inexhaustible.
Powerful as she is, however, and has proved herself to be in the opening stages of this war, she cannot indefinitely withstand the pressure that we and our Allies are exerting on her - provided always we pursue a policy of cool and steady resistance, and provided our young men rally in ever-increasing numbers to the defence of their country and Europe.
House of Commons,
Tuesday September 8th, 1914.