The House of Commons adjourned on Thursday after a short but remarkably interesting sitting. I have referred to the complete unanimity with which the latest and most burdensome Budget was accepted. Now and again points of criticism were raised, but there was no sign in the House, and there has been none in the country, of a disposition to quarrel with financial arrangements necessary to the successful prosecution of the war.
I believe that great numbers of people who are themselves debarred by age, sex or some other reason from taking an active part in the war take a positive pleasure in paying war taxes! In doing so they know that they are contributing materially to the success of the war, and they rejoice accordingly.
Meanwhile our soldiers are undergoing hardships unexampled in their severity, and are performing daily deeds of heroism as glorious as any recorded in the annals of our race. As I write there are rumours of yet another German onslaught on Ypres. The Kaiser has set his heart on Calais and, having signally failed in every other theatre of war, hopes it would seem to complete his conquest of Belgium and to annex also the seaports of France that lie immediately over against the white cliffs of "perfidious" England.
To those who are still disposed to indulge anxious views as to the outcome of the war, the steady whittling down of German ambitions ought to afford great consolation. The first objective was Paris, and many a German breast swelled with hopes of yet another triumphant procession through the Arc de Triomphe. More substantial gains were confidently looked for - a thumping indemnity and the pleasing spectacle of historic France reduced to the status of a second-rate Power that Germany now regards with an almost frenzied hatred!
Well, things haven't happened like that. In effect, if not in actual mileage, the Germans are as far away from Paris as they were four long months ago. Let there be no doubt about that. If it had not been for the sublime steadfastness of British and Belgian troops the highest German aspirations might by now have been fulfilled. As it is, the best Germany can hope for is to strengthen her hold of Belgium, to advance as far as she can along the northern seaboard of France and then, as I suspect, clamour for peace.
A few soft-hearted people are beginning to say that if the Kaiser offers to withdraw his broken forces from Belgium and France and to retire behind his own frontiers we ought to be prepared to discuss terms of peace with him. My own impression is that the desperate German efforts to gain Calais and the holding on to Belgium are deigned with a view to having "something in hand" when it comes to the point of suing for peace.
But we shall not be satisfied with an undertaking to retire from territory that was wantonly invaded and that has been ruthlessly despoiled. My own views as to what sort of peace we ought to conclude are clear enough. I have mentioned them before. The handing over of the German fleet, full cash indemnities to Belgium and France for material damage inflicted, and territorial concessions to France and Russia - there are a few among the articles of any treaty of peace that is worth our consideration.
Perhaps after all the German intention is to win Calais at any price and to stay there for good. I see no prospect of this ambition being realised. Let us suppose, however, that the Germans take Calais and hold Calais in force. We are told that the Germans regard Calais as their future Gibraltar. Frankly, Calais in German hands would constitute as alarming menace to England and to England's sea power. Look at the map of the English Channel and you will see what I mean.
I am of the number who have taken a serious but not an alarmist view of German intentions against this country. I freely confess that I had no notion of the depth and bitterness of German hostility to this country. My plain opinion now is that the Kaiser would risk his crown and his empire if by doing so he could inflict a mortal wound on England. I am a reluctant convert to this view, but I am wholly converted and, holding this view, I am unshakably convinced that our duty is to frustrate his aims by every means in our power. I am equally sure we shall baulk him if we make up our minds to it.
Meanwhile, our hearts must go out to our heroes in the trenches and to our sailors who day and night keep their watch on the seas. But for them we should be overrun as Belgium has been overrun. The Germans have been quite willing to drive into exile and poverty a small people famous in Europe for their industry and protected in their independence by the guarantees of greater Powers, among whom Germany was one. Do you suppose that the Kaiser would be more merciful to us if he had us in his grip?
There is still talk of the possibility of a German invasion of England. I am well aware of the difficulties that attach to such an enterprise, and I am not indifferent to the view that from the German standpoint it is almost as useful to talk about a raid as to attempt it. Looked at coolly, such an attempt would seem to be doomed to certain failure. But there is no knowing what the Germans may not attempt in their present state of embittered hostility to us. And, since all military operations are uncertain as to their results, an adventure of this kind might meet with a measure of success. WE are not to suppose that we are the only people in the world who are immune from invasion.
Obviously, we can afford to regards threats of invasion with contempt only if we are absolutely certain that we have done everything possible to protect ourselves against them. Have we yet done everything possible? Not, in my judgement, as long as we have in our midst thousands, nay hundreds of thousands, of young men who have never shouldered a rifle and who remain deaf to the appeals of Lord Kitchener.
House of Commons,
December 1st, 1914