Where Now Is Britain?
THE ATI ANTIC MONTHLY
BY GRAHAM HUTTON
BRITISH foreign policy has been most consistent since the autumn of 1931, when the Conservative Party secured that control of public affairs in England which it has never since even seen threatened. Its accession to power coincided with the first wanton act of aggression by a Great Power since the war: the attack on Manchuria by Japan. Since then, a small group of Conservative politicians in England has been consistently of the same mind in foreign policy. That small group contains Sir John Simon, Mr. (now Earl) Baldwin, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, Sir Samuel Hoare, and — either outside Parliament or outside the Cabinet — Lord and Lady Astor, Mr. Geoffrey Dawson (the editor of The Times), Lord and Lady Londonderry, Lord Lothian, and various smaller fry. They have often been called the Cliveden set; but they might with equal accuracy be called the All Souls set, since most of the men concerned meet as frequently at that Oxford college as they do at Lady Astor’s country house. The significance of this group lies largely in the consistency of its outlook upon the European dictatorships. Russia is anathema to it; Germany and Italy have to be understood, placated, and treated with sympathy and a willingness to collaborate for German or Italian aims.
The official Conservative reason is that Russia is no immediate military threat to Britain or the British Empire, whereas Italy’s and Germany’s expansionist policies touch imperial possessions at many points; and Britain, this group says, was left deplorably undefended by the irresponsible disarmament tactics of the Labor and Liberal Opposition when they were in power in 1924 or 1929-1931. Reenforcing these Conservative arguments is a more irrational, more impalpable factor: the feeling which dominates the Conservative caucus about the ultimate preferability of Right to Left in politics. It is not that this extraCabinet (and to a large extent extraparliamentary) group are consciously pro-Fascist, as many members of the British Left aver. It is rather that they have great possessions. They represent in British politics nobody and nothing save their own mentality; and this mentality, ‘finished’ in education some forty years ago or more, has, ever since the ‘ activist ’ years of British Left politics after the war, been stampeded into a kind of anxiety-neurosis at the mention of Socialism or Russia.
Copyright 1938, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.
This pre-war mentality, from which Britain’s Conservative rulers have without exception been drawn since the last war,1 is not particularly enamored of the German or Italian régime; but it finds the Russian régime, and every Left régime in any other European country, a potential threat to the traditional hold on Britain’s destinies of such a wellschooled, long-trained, and group-conscious plutocratic oligarchy. (The absence from that oligarchy of such ancient and honorable aristocratic names as those of Cecil, Cranborne, Eden, Churchill, and Russell should be noted; as also the preponderating influence of Midland business men, headed by two Birmingham iron and steel representatives, Baldwin and Chamberlain, in the parvenu group that now runs most of Britain’s government, directs its economy, and controls most of the media of public opinion.) This Tory oligarchy reached the peak of its power during the recent crisis, when neither Parliament nor the Cabinet was called together until the very last minute, and when every effective decision was taken by four men: Chamberlain, Simon, Hoare, and Halifax.
This intra-Cabinet quadrumvirate, representing the extra-Cabinet group described above, committed the British people to decisions of immense, perhaps calamitous, import. In so doing they were actuated by two hopes, peculiar to the kind of mentality they naturally possessed: first, that the right-wing leaders of Germany and Italy would prove amenable to those principles of international fair-dealing by which the British Conservative leaders up to 1914 used to abide; secondly that, if not, then the German right-wing régime could be elbowed into a headlong collision with the Russian left-wing régime, each battering the other into weakness to the benefit of every onlooker; and that meantime Italy could be induced — for another of those considerations with which Europe is familiar in Italy’s history — to rupture the Rome-Berlin Axis.
Throughout Britain’s recent decline from power and prestige, the British Conservative Government enjoyed crushing majorities in the Commons, with a lack of any effective opposition. That Government announced one accelerated rearmament programme after another; it announced a projected rearmament programme of £1,500,000,000 for five years, out of which £400,000,000 would be borrowed in peacetime. The traditionally orthodox British Budget was in effect unbalanced for current expenditure on arms; yet for four years, from November of 1934, when Mr. Baldwin first gave his rearmament pledge, until to-day, the British Government’s performance fell consistently short of each Prime Minister’s assurances. Dissident Tories, of whom Mr. Winston Churchill was brilliantly chief, as well as the Liberal leader, Sir Archibald Sinclair, and various Labor speakers, joined in debate after debate to point out that British diplomacy would inevitably be defeated in peacetime unless the organization and production of war material were made much more efficient and extensive, much more rapid in output; unless defense measures and services were organized by the government for and with the civil population; and unless extraordinary economic and financial arrangements were officially made to meet those immediate dangers which might beset Great Britain and her people in the early days and weeks of a modern war — purchases of wheat, other foods, and metals, distribution and communications, evacuation of large cities, and so forth.
Steadily and stonily these warnings and criticisms were alike ignored. For example, the ‘Senior Service,’ the Navy, took £1,500,000,000 between 1920 and 1938 for its maintenance and modernization; yet the unpreparedness of the British Government to defend Britain from aerial attack a few weeks ago robbed the British Navy of any use it might have had to blockade Germany in future. The enforced delivery of Czechoslovakia to Germany gave the German economy free access to the raw materials, foodstuffs, and labor man-power of Eastern, Central, and Southeastern Europe. Such a Germany in future could not be blockaded from the sea in less than two or three years. Therewith went the usefulness of half of the British Navy, at a cost to the British people of, let us say, £750,000,000 since 1920. For one sixth of what has been spent on the Navy in these eighteen years, Britain could have had an Air Force, renewing its out-of-date machines every year from as enormous an aircraft industry as that which she possessed in 1919 (then the largest in the world), and could never have been caught short of aircraft and defenses as she was a few weeks ago.
Take, again, the British Army. If British Governments assumed that the French conscript army could always hold the Maginot Line, they could have specialized in the production of artillery for anti-aircraft use. Conservative spokesmen charged the Liberal and Labor Parties in 1924 and again between 1929 and 1931 with responsibility for ‘unilaterally disarming Britain.’ But they forgot, perhaps conveniently, that in no year since 1920 has Britain spent less than £104,000,000 on her defenses; the years of lowest defense expenditure were 1931—1932 and 1932-1933, when the Conservatives were already in power; and Conservative Governments have been in power with crushing majorities since 1922 for thirteen out of the sixteen years. Of these years, two periods were full Parliamentary terms of five years each, and the latest period has already exceeded seven years without interruption.
What a seven years! It would have been possible for Mr. Baldwin’s or Mr. Chamberlain’s Government at any time, without fear of danger from the Opposition, to carry out an enormous rearmament programme with full powers, under a Ministry of Supply such as that continuously demanded for the last four years by Mr. Churchill and others in the Commons. But it was not the Opposition which the Government feared; it was, as now appears, the loss of financial and industrial power over a peacetime economy which could still deliver those fruits which are enjoyable only in peace. The vast system of protectionism, subsidy, and economic favoritism which the Conservative Government had clamped upon Great Britain since the fateful September of 1931 had created so many personal interests in the profits of peace that a really efficient and extensive war programme would have meant controlling industry, in varying degrees, as had finally to be done by Mr. Lloyd George during the last war. Thus, whether subconsciously or consciously, whether perceived by individuals themselves or unperceived, the mentality of those responsible for British policy during the last seven years and more has been largely conditioned by divided loyalties; by continuous conflict between personal and publicinterest; by the emotional reactions of aged men to ideologies, régimes, and methods which lay beyond the bounds of their comprehension. When we note, therefore, that the policy of the various Conservative Governments since 1931 has been consistent, we should bear in mind that it was the consistency of a moth that flies into the candle flame, of a gambler who consistently believes in the infallibility of his system.
What is to happen after Munich, therefore, must be viewed in the light of precedents already established in the Far East, Abyssinia, Spain, and Central Europe. Before we consider what policies are possible for any British Government during the coming months we must pay particular attention to the reason which British Conservative Governments have always given during the last seven years for their refusal to consider a firm foreign policy: Britain’s lack of armaments and general unpreparedness for war.
There are two kinds of armaments which any nation can use: its own and its allies’. From 1931 onwards Britain and France have been slowly increasing their own armaments but rapidly losing the armaments, and the even more important apacity to ‘divert’ the enemy’s forces, which their allies possessed. Ever since the spring of 1933, when the Poland of Marshal Pilsudski encountered the opposition of the French Government to the Polish proposal for a preventive war against the Hitler régime, France has gradually been stripped of those French allies on the other side of Germany who would have been worth, in a European war, half of Germany’s entire military and air strength. In the spring of 1933 it was again M. Daladier who, as Prime Minister of France, — and a France so strong as to be able to crush the young Nazi Germany overnight, even without Poland or Czechoslovakia, — refused either to take bold military measures against Germany or to begin a firm diplomacy based upon the self-assurance that comes from military predominance. Within nine months Pilsudski had concluded his ten years’ pact of Amity and Nonaggression with Herr Hitler’s Germany; Poland was of doubtful use to France; but behind Poland lay Russia, linked to France since 1931 and soon to become a supporter against aggression as a fellow member of the League in 1934 and 1935. And there was still the Little Entente.
But every single European crisis since 1933 has seen France — and therefore, at one remove, Great Britain — lose a potential ally on the farther side of Germany: Poland, Austria, Italy, and now, within the last few weeks, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and — perhaps also — Rumania and Russia herself. What could it possibly avail Great Britain if, as fast as Britain’s rearmament was going ahead (and it never went ahead fast), France’s economic structure became weaker, her capacity to rearm declined, her existing armaments became steadily more obsolete, and — worse still — all the potential Anglo-French allies defected from the wobbling and indefinite AngloFrench front one after the other, as crisis supervened upon crisis? No one should now be under any delusion concerning what it was that the Baldwin and Chamberlain Governments in England were really trying to achieve.
It was not just parity in armaments with Germany; for only five years ago Britain and France together enjoyed a crushing military predominance over Germany and Italy together, whether on sea, on land, or in the air. In the financial year 1933-1934, £38,000,000 was spent on the British Army, £54,000,000 on the Navy, and £17,000,000 on the Air Force. These sums, without reference to the French or the French allies, represented more than Germany herself spent in the first year of the National Socialist régime, though of course British defenses were earmarked for use in many theatres of diplomacy outside Europe. Even so, they were not used in any of these theatres between 1933 and 1938 — if we except the case of Palestine. The same Conservative Government which came to power in 1931, when British and French arms were supreme in the Old World and might even have been used in the Far East to intimidate Japan into a more accommodating policy without fear of German or Italian diversions in the European rear, was unwilling four years later to run the naval risks of imposing really crippling sanctions against Italy.
From that moment, when the British and French Governments alike were attempting actively to maintain Signor Mussolini in power in Italy without losing their ‘face’ in the sight of their peoples at home, their doom both as Great Powers and as democracies in the old sense was sealed. Herr Hitler’s Rhineland remilitarization followed within four months, in March of 1936; and both Signor Mussolini and the German moderates began to see which side to back in the European game. The extent to which, and the rapidity with which, German and Italian rearmament went ahead after the British Government’s fiasco over Abyssinia were such that neither England nor France could have drawn level with them, let alone outpaced them, without one of two things: such a profound upset of the British and French economic and social systems as to imperil alike their democratic nature and their high standards of living, or a thoroughgoing eleventh-hour rally of all those nations allied to or friendly with France, Britain, and the ideal (so proudly blazoned forth by Sir Samuel Hoare in the League Assembly in September of 1935, before Italy invaded Ethiopia) of ‘steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression.’
Men of all political parties in England saw this clearly, but they were in a minority. Opposing them were either the majority of ignorant people who make up the mass in any country or — much more dangerous in England — those Conservative leaders, described above, whose control of British foreign policy was actuated by a queer mixture of wishful thinking, hatred of any leftwing movement anywhere, fear of a European war that might necessitate collaboration with left wings at home and abroad (they remembered how near England came to a real Socialism in the immediate post-war years), private affection for their material interest in preserving the state of things as it was in England, jealousy of losing that control, and an honest hatred of war. In this queer compound of private aims and public anxieties which formed, and still forms, the mentality of Britain’s Conservative leaders, the only common factor shared by the Opposition leaders — and some Conservatives as well — was the hatred of war. In a democracy, something which many of the people dislike becomes effective in policy; in a totalitarian state (as we saw in the cases of Germany and Italy before Munich) the fact that nine tenths of the people actively dislike war does not prevent their government from utilizing it as an instrument of aggressive conquest (as in the case of Austria) or diplomacy (as over Czechoslovakia).
To their credit, Mr. Winston Churchill, Sir Archibald Sinclair, one or two Labor leaders, and then Mr. Eden and Mr. Duff Cooper, all foresaw the need for thoroughgoing rearmament in Britain if British diplomacy in Europe, or outside it, was ever to speak with that voice which compels, because behind the voice is a strong man armed who keepeth his house. But the majority of the Conservative Party in the Commons was utilized by the whips to drive through a ‘personal’ policy, the policy of the small group already mentioned, which year by year was steadily and consistently making the worst of old situations and new predicaments.
It achieved neither efficient rearmament nor that rally of friendly-disposed nations which might have added to British and French armaments an imposing and dominating array of European force against a diplomatic aggressor. Whereas Germany and Italy preferred guns to butter, the British and French Governments preferred butter to guns. (‘It was the best butter,’ the March Hare meekly replied.) As each new crisis lost France an ally, so did the British and French Governments draw closer together. They remain, after Munich, a couple of shivering, down-at-heel democracies, drawing their skirts close about them, intent only on being left alone in the western tip of the Continent, and on persuading the virile arms of Germany and Italy to embrace less well-born objects of desire.
This will explain Britain’s position to-day. Her only ally on the Continent of Europe is France, a demoralized democracy, so far gone already along the road to rule by decree that she can only be called an epidemocracy. And in England everyone now realizes that Mr. Chamberlain was forced to fly to Berchtesgaden, Godesberg, and Munich because Mr. Baldwin’s and Mr. Chamberlain’s own Cabinets had consistently refused to build up British armaments on a scale and at a rate which would have been necessary if those Cabinets had ever intended to oppose the Napoleonic coming-on of the two Fascist Dictators athwart the European continent.
Mr. Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax, after their settlement with Herr Hitler at Munich, announced they would go to Paris on November 23 to concert a Franco-British policy for ‘European appeasement.’ Within a few days of the announcement of this visit to Paris, Herr Hitler spoke at Weimar on November 6 in such a way as to reenforce the disappointing effect of the speech which he made at Saarbrücken on October 9, only nine days after the pacific declaration which he signed with Mr. Chamberlain at Munich. In this Weimar speech Herr Hitler went out of his way to attack democratic government, procedure, and liberty of expression; and he hinted that no friendship was possible between the totalitarian states and the democracies — as long as they remained democracies. Referring to Germany’s great gains in 1938, he said:
If certain foreign papers write that we could have gained all this by negotiation, my reply is that the former Germany did nothing but negotiate for fifteen years, and lost everything. I, too, am ready to negotiate, but — let there be no doubt about this — I shall not permit Germany’s rights to be impaired by negotiations, or in any other way.
Not a very good augury for Mr. Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement in Europe by negotiation!
What exactly is that policy to comprehend?
It is already clear from the Commons debates in the last days of the old session, and the debates on the King’s Speech opening the new session, that the policy can be divided into five elements.
First, — and this element was categorically laid dowm by Mr. Chamberlain in the Commons on November 1, — ‘Germany must have a dominant position in Central Europe.’ This primary item of British policy was obviously one of the most decisive factors in bringing about the Munich settlement.
Secondly, by means of the AngloItalian agreement of last spring which Mr. Chamberlain rapidly brought into force against much Conservative criticism, Britain and France in concert are to come to an understanding with Italy; and thus, by developing further that collaboration with Signor Mussolini which was initiated by Mr. Chamberlain to secure the meeting at Munich, the once abortive Four-Power Pact is to be made a living reality for the control of Europe’s destinies.
Thirdly, on the basis of this kind of Four-Power division of influence in Europe, an Anglo-French understanding is to be reached with Germany — perhaps too with Italy, if Signor Mussolini decides to stick to the Rome-Berlin Axis for his future aims — on the thorny question of the Four Powers’ colonial interests.
Fourthly, pourparlers are to be opened, at least between Britain and Germany at first, on limitation of armament programmes, aerial bombardment of civil populations, and so forth — a proposal which Herr Hitler is said to have made to Mr. Chamberlain at Munich.
Fifth and lastly, Britain and France are to rearm steadily for the present, but neither too rapidly nor too extensively. In that way Mr. Chamberlain hopes that either Germany will not notice or, if she notices, will not be so alarmed by AngloFrench rearmament as to adopt intransigent attitudes or extravagant demands during the immediate period of ‘negotiations.’
It will be seen at once from the foregoing that this British policy of appeasement reposes upon a basis compounded of faith, hope, and charity towards Herr Hitler. Let us attempt to justify the British Prime Minister by his faith, to examine the foundations of his hope, and to gauge the probable effects of his charity. It is necessary for this purpose to examine the calculations on which each of the five elements noted above has been drawn up, and the implications which each of them involves for Britain and Europe.
First, then, the domination of Central and Southeastern Europe by Germany: in this, Mr. Chamberlain has done no more than carry to completion the policy which Sir John Simon and Mr. Baldwin consistently followed from 1934 onwards. The calculation of the inner Conservative caucus has been that 80,000,000 Germans could not be prevented from joining their forces and becoming a Great Power in the military and economic senses. Therefore it was better to push them towards Eastern and Southeastern Europe, where they would at first come into conflict with Slavs and Magyars and finally with the semi-Slav, semi-Tatar millions of half-Asiatic despotic Russia. By this means, it was thought, the real European kernel of Western individualistic civilization in France, Britain, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries could be preserved, while the two rampant totalitarian collectivisms — both equally Left in their proletarian demagogy, both equally Right in their despotic oligarchies — would batter each other to impotence, for the better security of Britain and France. By this means the British Conservative group responsible for British policy and defense since 1931 hoped to discredit in the eyes of the masses in Britain (also in France) both the extremist forms of authoritarian collectivism which lay to the east of Europe.
They reckoned, however, without their host. They ignored the essential nature of National Socialism in Germany — a very different thing from, and much more dangerous than, Fascism in Italy, which is really the symbolic expression of a Latin people’s collective feelings. Nazi Germany’s territorial, economic, and military appetite grew with eating. From March of 1936, when the Rhineland was militarily barred in the face of France, the Nazi Party-State began to move like a ponderous steamroller towards the southeast. Now that Austria has been swallowed, the Sudetenland bitten off, the rest of Czechoslovakia subjected to German control, and countries like Poland and Hungary rendered potential vassals of Germany, the increase of Germany’s economic and strategic forces is immense. (This does not mean to say that Germany’s new European dominions will act as milch cows for Germany, without being ‘fed’ by large capital investments which at present Germany does not possess. But in a relatively short time the Nazi process of forcing loans from German industry and small states abroad, as well as of forcing labor from the German workers on an intensive scale, can create capital necessary to exploit those European dominions.) In this connection I have already referred to the British Navy’s loss of the ability to blockade Germany under at least two years; and two years of modern warfare are certainly more than even the most bellicose anti-Nazi can with equanimity contemplate for London.
Another implication of British policy towards Germany’s Central and Southeastern European claims is purely military. The consistency with which British policy has cold-shouldered Russia out of Europe’s councils, to realize the Four-Power system of control over the Continent’s destinies, has resulted during 1938 in liberating the German General Staff from their besetting fear of a simultaneous war on the east and on the west. This in turn has placed Germany in the enviable position of being able, for the purposes of a Blitzkrieg or lightning war, to throw virtually all her army and air force behind her diplomacy in any given direction — whether to the west alone, to the southeast, or, as the British Government hopes, to the east. Taken together, the naval and military implications of Germany’s domination over Central Europe can only have weakened the British and French diplomatic position as against Germany — unless the two remaining epidemocratic Great Powers of Europe concert their energies and resources in such a rearmament drive as to make their political and economic systems almost totalitarian. In neither Britain nor France, however, do the peoples stand solidly behind the Governments which, on their own confessions in Parliament, were unable in September to do more than accept Herr Hitler’s conditions as a result of their own military unreadiness or their political unwillingness to grasp the sword. Finally, in order to preserve the consistency of their joint foreign policy, neither of the two Governments has announced a rearmament drive of anything like the intensity necessary to put teeth and claws, not to mention blood and bone and sinew, into their diplomacy.
The second element of British policy, the Anglo-Italian agreement, was motivated partly by a desire to wean Italy from the Rome-Berlin Axis, partly by the desire of the inner Conservative group in England to prevent by all means the Spanish Republican Government from being victorious over General Franco, a victory which would inflict a domestic defeat on Signor Mussolini and powerfully strengthen the forces of the Left in domestic French politics. It will be remembered that Mr. Eden resigned from Mr. Chamberlain’s Cabinet in protest against the Anglo-Italian Agreement last spring. For two and a half years Mr. Baldwin’s and Mr. Chamberlain’s Cabinets have connived at Italian and German intervention in Spain under the cloak of nonintervention; they have averted their eyes from the murder of British sailors and the destruction of British property by bombings known to be German and Italian; the crews of British warships, in obedience to orders from London, have had to ‘stand by’ without lifting a finger and watch their compatriots dodging death from the air; British pressure upon the French Cabinet, coupled with British indifference to attacks on British shipping, have resulted in so effective a blockade of the Barcelona Government that the granting of belligerent rights to Franco has become unnecessary; and the British plan for the withdrawal of foreign volunteers from both sides in Spain has been fulfilled by the Republican Government without even being accepted by General Franco.
None of this, however, has prevented Mr. Chamberlain from assisting both Signor Mussolini and General Franco to achieve their aims in Spain, even if the price were the enforced resignation, by means that would put a blackmailer to shame, of the most popular Foreign Secretary in England for seven years. Could anything be clearer than the words of his successor, Viscount Halifax, the present Foreign Secretary, when he moved in the Lords on November 3 to welcome Mr. Chamberlain’s ratification of the Anglo-Italian pact?
It has never been true, and it is not true to say, that the Anglo-Italian agreement had a lever value to make Mussolini desist from supporting General Franco and his forces. Signor Mussolini has always made it plain from the time of the first conversations with the British Government that, for reasons known to us all, whether we approve of them or not, he was not prepared to see General Franco defeated. He has always made it plain, on the other hand, that he would assist, as he has been assisting, in the work of the Nonintervention Committee, and it is not his fault that greater progress has not been made by that committee.
Who would n’t ‘ assist ’ a committee that assisted one’s self?
The implications of this Anglo-Italian element in British policy are scarcely reassuring. Since Signor Mussolini abandoned Herr von Schuschnigg and Austria last March, the relentless onward march of the Nazi Juggernaut through Yugoslavia and Hungary and Czechoslovakia has narrowed the field within which Italy has any kind of manœuvrability. There can be no guarantee that General Franco will be freed from German and Italian influence. Italy is likely always to remain in the favorable fourth position among the Big Four, able to offer her allegiance to the higher bidders. (It is not generally known that the British Admiralty, last September, was unable to guarantee to carry the Imperial Mails through the Mediterranean on a single destroyer, so precarious is the line — once called our ‘vital artery’ by Mr. Eden — through that sea to the Suez Canal!) Italian entry into war on the side of Germany would not be as dangerous as Italian so-called ‘neutrality’; for if such neutrality on Italy’s part turned out to be comparable with the nonintervention she has effected in Spain neither France nor Britain would be legally entitled to make war upon her or take warlike measures, while her aircraft and industries could actively assist Germany, with whom she has now a common frontier.
Finally, Signor Mussolini is determined to build up his Mediterranean Empire; hence the further settlement and garrisoning of Libya. He will assuredly push his claims very soon into the French sphere — Tunisia or Algeria; and then a British Cabinet will be faced with threats from Germany at one end of the axis, importunate demands from France for the implementation of the new Anglo-French alliance, and offers of blackmail from the Rome end of the axis. After Munich, would anyone dare prophesy that Mr. Chamberlain’s Cabinet — or his inner council of state — would stand firm?
The third element in British policy is the most ticklish for the present: the colonial problem. It is reported that Mr. Chamberlain wants to effect a new repartition of Africa which will accord Germany those colonial possessions, equivalent to the ones she lost at Versailles, without which Herr Hitler feels she is not a Great Power. On the other hand, the German press loudly demands the return of the original colonies, which two British Dominions now enjoying mandates over ex-German colonies — South Africa and Australia — have refused to consider. The South African Defense Minister, Air. Pirow, flew to London via Lisbon at the beginning of November, and decided to go on to Brussels; but Portuguese and Belgian official communiques published at the time made it clear that neither country would consider an African repartition involving its territories to please Britain.
The situation and outlook are further complicated by the ability of the smaller colonial Powers — Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Spain — to make their own separate agreements with Germany, without needing to do anything to please Britain or France. For instance, if Belgium liked to be nasty, she could go beyond her present, and only recently adopted, attitude of ‘neutrality’ towards Germany; she could make close collaboration with Germany, even in exploiting her empire, without regarding Britain. That would upset one of the strategic postulates on which British defenses are reared. Portugal and Holland could, despite British asseverations that Britain would fight for the Low Countries and Portugal, do likewise with Germany. If the Third Reich settled down economically, they might even do well out of such agreements.
The implications of the colonial question are extremely uncomfortable for Mr. Chamberlain and his Cabinet. If Herr Hitler knew from Berchtesgaden, Godesberg, and Munich that Britain was not prepared to fight because of the superiority of Germany’s air force, — and Dr. Goebbels and Herr Hitler have since openly declared so, — then any importunate or extravagant demands from Germany for colonics in the next six months or so will find Britain even more outclassed in the air. So much is clear from the facts set out above, and from Mr. Chamberlain’s decision not to set up a Ministry of Supply, not to go all-out in totalitarian fashion for rearmament.
Thus, on the colonial question, all depends on Herr Hitler’s willingness to keep a private promise to Mr. Chamberlain at Godesberg — namely, that ‘there will be no mobilization about colonies.’ Yet, if there were, Britain and France would be in the worst conceivable strategic and military position. That may account for the rumors that the British inner Cabinet group are proposing to offer a compromise arrangement: the return of Togoland and Cameroons (with French compliance), plus ‘compensation’ territory in Africa not previously owned by Germany. Nigeria, Gold Coast, and Portuguese or Belgian territory to be purchased first by Britain, are all mentioned. The possibility that Britain and France may together have to face a solid Italo-German demand for compensation in Africa cannot be scouted. It is highly probable that (a) if Mr. Chamberlain acceded to such a demand he would be disowned by the Conservatives and the people; (b) if he refused it he would have to resign; and (c) his successor would be faced with the conduct of a terrible war, left in the lurch by a Chamberlain Cabinet which had created the lurch.
The fourth element in British policy, negotiations with Germany on limitation of armaments, needs little comment ; for the Cabinet itself to-day would not dare to accept the German tentative proposals of a 3:1 ratio for German and British air forces respectively, to compensate the 100:35 ratio of the British and German navies under the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement. British needs in the air are certainly as great as Germany’s, if not greater; and if Germany’s colonial demands are met even to the extent of one overseas harbor, then the next item on the agenda will assuredly be the unilateral German denunciation of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement itself. It might be possible to conclude an Anglo-French-ItaloGerman agreement to abstain from certain kinds of bombing; it would be impossible for British and French Governments to repose any trust on it when concluded.
There are, it is true, reasons to believe that Germany’s needs of capital and civil manufactures for her new European empire will necessitate a reduction in armaments construction — but a reduction only from their current phenomenal output, which can now be afforded owing to the release of German arms from the East and Southeast for the future. This would not absolve Britain and France from the duty of making up the leeway, now longer than ever before, between the level of German armaments and their own. Finally, the only thing on which the peoples and parties in Britain are all agreed is the urgent necessity to double and treble the output of armaments. That being so, there is little ground for hope in the limitation of armaments.
Lastly we have the element of rearmament itself, which Mr. Chamberlain and his colleagues no doubt thought might be kept secret from Germany, while Britain went ahead rearming.
It is this one feature of the British political scene that lias most upset Herr Hitler and Mr. Chamberlain alike: Herr Hitler because he thought he had ‘nobbled’ Mr. Chamberlain at Munich with the little paper promise about renunciation of war; Mr. Chamberlain because he thought, with that little piece of paper, he had ‘nobbled’ both Herr Hitler and the acquiescent British people. Neither, in fact, had nobbled the other, or anything. The British Cabinet and people unanimously demanded rearmament on an intensified and accelerated scale; and Air. Chamberlain’s inefficient and ineffective lieutenants, coördinators, and so forth, could only stand in white sheets, miserably penitent, crying ‘Peccavi, peccavi!’ to an indignant Commons in the last days of the old session, while the public demanded a state inquiry into their sins of omission.
The thing became crystal clear; Britain was not going to be lulled into impotence for the future. Therewith Herr Hitler, Dr. Goebbels, Herr von Ribbentrop, all began to denounce personally and by name the British Opposition and the dissident British Tories, — Churchill, Eden, Duff Cooper, — calling them warmongers, lauding the totalitarian states’ control over the press as ‘responsibility,’ indicting the democracies for their liberties in the name of ‘irresponsibility,’ declaring that only the Fascist states wanted peace. That was the tenor of Herr Hitler’s Saarbrücken and Weimar speeches. The effect in Britain was to make Mr. Chamberlain look like an honest, sincere, trusting, but ludicrous old man. Herr Hitler and his lieutenants played not Mr. Chamberlain’s game but Mr. Churchill’s, Mr. Duff Cooper’s, Mr. Eden’s, the Opposition’s; for the British and French peoples said to themselves: ‘It’s a pretty pass Chamberlain and Daladier have led us to, when we’re told how our next Cabinet is to be composed, who’s to be in it and who out; when only those who are reckoned unsuitable for existing Cabinets here can get up and tell Hitler where he gets off!’
It will by now be clear that British foreign policy, and therefore French, may strive as hard as its begetters may like for real ‘appeasement’ in Europe, but that the conditions of success lie not in the control of British and French hands. You can ‘appease’ one burglar by refusing to call out the police; but it is folly to appease all burglars by entirely abolishing the police force. There is no doubt that the British Government’s policy of appeasement up to date has been one of refusing to call out the police. Can it now convert the burglar, having confirmed him in the practice and profitability of burglary? This is the dilemma before which Mr. Chamberlain, Viscount Halifax, Sir John Simon, and Sir Samuel Hoare now stand.
The map of Europe has been drastically recast, not by pacific means and amicable agreement, but by British and French acquiescence before facts accomplished under threats of force. The process has taken just over three years. In that short time Anglo-French strength, once predominant, which could have been the engine of peaceful reform, has been turned by Anglo-French indifference and Italo-German activism into weakness. That weakness is only relative, and need only be temporary. But further ‘appeasement’ in the European or colonial sphere demands British and French strength; else it will only prove perilous to those material and spiritual values by which the British and French peoples continue to set great store. Indeed, it will take a long and risk-ridden time before any kind of negotiations between the four arbiters of Europe’s fate can safely be relied on to produce real peace. ‘For peace,’ as Spinoza said, ‘is not mere absence of war, but a virtue that arises from strength of spirit.’ And strength of spirit is not strength of one’s right arm alone, nor, indeed, fearful acquiescence.
The British Empire, still centred on the United Kingdom, faces totalitarian threats at its Far-Eastern extremity, in its Near-Eastern arteries, and at its very heart. Economically, it has to face the loss of past investments and current trade in regions now controlled by Germany, Italy, and Japan. Maybe, if Britain and France can convince Germany and Italy of the suicidal outcome of Italo-German intransigence, trading relations can be devised between the European Big Four, though this will be very difficult and complicated. Britain and France will enjoy control of the Atlantic trade routes for a year or two more, perhaps many years. They have alternative routes to their colonies and associated dominions; they have much capital at home and abroad, not least in the United States; and in time their air forces will be strong enough to prevent aggressive air forces from being able to defeat them in a lightning war. So Time remains on the side of the two European democratic Great Powers. Moreover, both Germany and Italy have secured so much that, even if their appetites have grown with eating, they must trim their policies in future by reference to the risk of losing what they already hold. Finally, the British and French peoples have been stiffened up; the German and Italian peoples, kept in ignorance while the recent crisis prevailed, now realize the risks which their leaders willfully evoked and incurred. All these factors make for an uneasy but manageable peace.
What cannot be gauged or guaranteed are the psychological and mental processes of political chieftains, as much in Britain or France as in Germany or Italy. It is a new Europe, a new and more dangerous world than at any time in the last one hundred and twenty-five years, on which British politicians look out. The cup of revolutions, of accomplishable facts, of policy by duress, was filled to the brim a few weeks ago. Any more stirring will cause it to overflow in Europe. In these circumstances, not even the British Prime Minister and his fellow oligarchs can abide by the policy they have so consistently followed hitherto; for the eyes of the masses are opened, are on them; and the hands of another generation that knew not the mentality of 1890 to 1910 are nearing the controls of state. It is all a question of time. Nothing and nobody in England or France can now assure these peoples that they will be accorded the time that is necessary. That question is not on the knees of gods. It is on the knees of Herr Hitler.
- See Mr. Hutton’s article in the February 1938 Atlantic: ‘The Conflict between the Generations.’↩