When I closed my letter last week we were awaiting Germany's reply to our ultimatum. Much history has been written since then, and the whole British race in these islands and outside of them has ranged itself in opposition to the most powerful and unscrupulous military tyranny that has existed since Waterloo.
Until a short time ago those of us who have any sense of responsibility spoke of German aggression in terms chosen carefully and with a view to adding nothing to the difficulty of a situation growing month by month more difficult. To point to Germany as the disturber of the peace of the world seemed to us a dangerous thing, and even when the most peaceful of us voted for naval estimates of stupendous dimensions, we strove nevertheless to justify our action without indicating in a provocative way the power against which our naval preparations were made. It is now possible to speak more plainly. Everybody now sees that if we had failed to build up a naval force of unparalleled strength out position in Europe, our existence perhaps as an independent State, must have been forfeited.
Let us now see how this dreadful thing started. Austria goes to war with Servia [Serbia]. Germany, Austria's ally, goes to war with France without the slightest excuse. Russia, France's ally, goes to war with Germany. Germany thus finds arrayed against her and threatening her eastern and western frontiers two immensely powerful military States. More recently France has declared war against Austria.
Germany has been preparing for this event for a generation and more. She has matured her plan of campaign and every detail of it has been worked out with the characteristic thoroughness of the German race. A rapid uninterrupted march through Belgian territory, a few glorious victories over the despised soldiers of France, and then a second triumphant entry into Paris. After that the destruction of the British Empire. Such were Germany's expectations. The thing had been planned out down to the last button on the last German soldier's uniform.
What about England? What part did Germany expect us to play in this great drama? Germany knew that we had in power a peace-loving Liberal Government. Germany reckoned too, I think, on civil war in Ireland. Here came in the second fatal miscalculation. The first was that the Belgians would stand quietly by while the tyrant strode over the territory that he had sworn to treat as inviolable, and that we should barely connive at this outrage.
I cannot blame the Germans for not understanding Irish politics and the Irish people. Do we understand them ourselves? After many years' study one can only say with confidence that the Irish people may always be depended on to do the thing that is least expected of them. The instant that mortal danger threatened Great Britain, Irishmen of all creeds fell into line, shoulder to shoulder, and declared themselves willing to go anywhere and do anything, not merely for their respective provinces of Ireland but for the British Empire! Such an astonishing phenomenon has not been seen in the history of our race, and one cannot wonder, I say, that it took the Germans by surprise.
In the House of Commons astounding events have been happening every day. On one day we voted a credit of £100,000,000, an additional force of 500,000 men for the Army, and another force of 67,000 men for the Navy. And all in fewer minutes than I occupy in telling the story! Was any word of protest heard? Not a word. Liberals, Irishmen, Labour men, all met the demands of the Government without so much as a syllable of protest.It has been so with the Emergency Bills that the situation has required. First Reading, Second Reading, Committee Report - all stages taken in as many minutes.
One day a member rose in his place and asked that a clause of the Bill then under discussion should be read to the House. He was greeted with impatient snorts from all corners of the House. Yet no one except Ministers had ever seen the Bill before. It was a necessary Bill and it was swept on to the Statute Book without further ceremony.
I should like in this connection to pay ungrudging tribute to the splendidly patriotic conduct of the Opposition throughout this crisis. As if by magic all party differences have disappeared for the time being. On every Government emergency committee are members of the Opposition whose energies are devoted with ours to the one supreme national purpose. We have simply set aside all party differences and have been doing the work of the nation..
Look about you. There is not a man or woman in the United Kingdom who is not hard at work in the national cause. If we are not a "nation in arms" we are none the less a nation resolved as one man and woman too, to labour for the safety and independence of our country and for the liberation of Europe.
What can we do to help? For the young men among us there is active service with the colours. Lord Kitchener asks for more men. Each county and each borough must provide its quota of men. For the rest of us there are duties not less important. Great wars are won as much by the high spirit of the people as by the arms of the soldiers in the field.
First, it is essential that we should go about our respective businesses as calmly as though we were still at peace. Employers must continue to provide all the employment that is reasonably possible. Again, there must be no selfish hoarding of gold or foodstuffs. It cannot be too clearly recognised that the hoarder of gold or of food is a more formidable enemy of the commonwealth than any Prussian dragoon.
We must be ready to help our poorer neighbours. A rise in the price of food is a serious matter for small wage-earners, a more serious matter still for those out of employment. Fortunately we have food enough and to spare for the months to come and every day vessels carrying food are coming to our ports. There is not the slightest occasion for nervousness. Food prices are actually lower now than they were a few days ago.
Women can render immense service by making underclothes for our soldiers and for the poor. For men there is work in a hundred different directions.Let me indicate one of them. In many parts of the country there will be a shortage of labour on the farms. Any man who can and will lend a hand in bringing in the harvest is rendering a national service.
At this moment there is a lull in serious hostilities. The heroic conduct of the Belgians at Liege has excited the admiration of the world. It has done more. It has checked the German advance. We must not attach too much importance, however, to minor incidents when we are considering warlike operations in which millions of men are engaged over a vast area.. There will be successes and reverses on both sides. We can scarcely hope that we shall avoid minor mishaps ourselves.
Whatever comes we must face it with perfect equanimity. Our Navy has already won for us a great victory in the war though but few shots appear to have been fired. It has exerted and is now exerting enormous pressure in all our home waters and is protecting commerce in every sea where the British merchantman flies his flag. This is a relatively bloodless victory, but it is as important as many victorious engagements on land.
House of Commons,
Tuesday, August 11th, 1914.