THIS is not the first time Lord Halifax has been in a ‘tough spot.’ He, more than any other member of the present British Cabinet, has had to struggle with integral nationalism as a challenge to the British Empire. Halifax faced what appeared to many a hopeless task when in 1926 he went to India, then seething with the agitation for Swaraj.1 How could he guide India towards a constitutional government under which the clashing outlook and interests of maharajahs and peasants, Brahmins and untouchables, Hindus and Mohammedans, might live in peace? For only under a free constitution would India be able to achieve the full Dominion status held out to her as the goal of her political evolution during the dark days of the first World War.
So far, Britain had been defeated. Mahatma (the Great Soul) Gandhi had galvanized the Hindu masses with his doctrine of passive resistance and noncoöperation. His teaching was inspired by a deep religious enthusiasm which the British had found it nearly impossible to cope with. Irish violence had been bad enough; but then, one could feel superior to it. Gandhi’s moral challenge touched the British in their most vulnerable spot, for the British people are rather sensitive to moral appeals. It was clear to many thoughtful Englishmen that the gauntlet thrown down by the Indian mystic could not be allowed to lie on the ground if the ideal of the Christian polity was to remain intact. Here was a task demanding a real statesman.
What did Halifax, then Lord Irwin, do upon his arrival in India? Within a few days he sent for Gandhi. Gandhi was not very enthusiastic: what use could there be in his talking to one of the British ruling class? One long afternoon they spent together. Nobody but Gandhi and Halifax knows what was said. But at the end of that talk Gandhi felt confidence. ‘Whatever the differences between Lord Irwin and myself,’ he is reported to have said, ‘ the new GovernorGeneral is a man I can trust to tell me what he thinks.’ And although the constitution which was eventually agreed upon was far from meeting the highest expectations, it is generally admitted that the bold humanity of Lord Irwin’s approach to the situation had made the settlement possible.
‘Halifax was one of the better Conservative M. P.’s,’ a political wiseacre told me; ‘you know, one of those decent fellows whom everybody trusted, because he was first and foremost a gentleman.’ This gentility had not, however, prevented him from signing the famous demand of the 200 Conservative M. P.’s for a sharper peace in 1919. Perhaps he merely followed the crowd. Whatever the facts, his political judgment does not appear in too favorable a light. I do not believe in digging skeletons out of closets. But the Versailles policy has contributed so much to our present troubles that every public figure must, to some extent, be tested by his attitude toward its wisdom. Halifax, for better or worse, joined in demanding harsher terms. Some critics of his public career suggest lack of firmness. I believe that these critics are mistaken.
Halifax is, of course, to the manner born. He belongs to a distinguished family who have been in the inner circle of Britain’s governing class throughout the nineteenth century. Married to the daughter of the fourth Earl of Onslow, he has four children. His home ground is Hickleton Hall, Doncaster, which was acquired by his grandfather in 1829. The viscounts are not descendants of the marquess who played such a notable rôle in the Glorious Revolution. There seems to me a curious resemblance between the present lord and the celebrated seventeenth-century leader who combined strength of conviction with the ability to compromise: he ‘managed’ the Glorious Revolution. For, though both have firm principles, they both dislike the fanaticism of fundamentalists. The present Lord Halifax is probably as strongly attached to the code of the real gentleman as anybody, but, like all gentlemen, hates to insist upon it. If you have it, you need not be told, and if you don’t, talking about it won’t do any good.
It goes almost without saying that Halifax went to Eton and Oxford, where in due course he received his degree with highest honors in modern history at Christ Church. As an undergraduate he did highest honor work which earned him a scholarship at All Souls College, where he took his M.A. and where he is now a Fellow. Ever since, Halifax has shown an abiding interest in education. His second ministerial post was the presidency of the Board of Education; after his return from India he resumed that office and became also Chancellor of Oxford University. Though a great honor, this office does not, like an American university presidency, carry with it the task of running the institution, but merely requires representing the university before the government and presiding at the numerous ceremonial occasions. The Chancellorship of Oxford is, however, indicative of Halifax’s eminently acceptable quality.
He is devoted to the public service in keeping with the idea of noblesse oblige. Indeed, quite a few friends assert that Halifax has no political ambitions. He certainly is no man burning with the passion to succeed and dominate the world. On the contrary, he loves farm and country. When, in talking with him, I mentioned our life on a farm in Vermont, he said quietly, convincingly: ‘You are lucky.’ But how can Halifax be entirely indifferent to politics, seeing that he has been active in it ever since his return from the war?
Is there not a cult of indifference to office in all popularly governed countries? Sir Edward Grey, Baldwin, and many others have had this reputation, and we find the same atmosphere in New England and in Switzerland, even in France. After all, a man in the position of Halifax, socially and economically, can do what he wants, and the opportunities for public service outside politics are numerous. Does not this ‘indifference’ to office mean that a man has the ability to sublimate his immediate drive for power up to the point where it appears in the rational garb of doing what ought to be done? Such people want power without knowing it; they do not see clearly that wanting to do ‘right’ means wanting to do what you think is right, which is a highly effective form of the will to power, for it enables its possessor to achieve a measure of detachment which is impossible for the man who strives merely for the crude insignia of power: office. Harold Laski wrote, when he discussed Winston Churchill’s entry into the Chamberlain Cabinet in August, ‘I doubt whether Lord Halifax would make this an issue. For he is the kind of man who would not push forward a policy of which, from the angle of power, he might well himself be the beneficiary; that, for him, is part of the necessary code of a gentleman in politics.’ Laski, whatever you think of his political views, is acknowledged to be one of the shrewdest judges of men in British politics.
But, as with John Halifax, Gentleman, the roots of Halifax’s code of behavior reach farther down than conventionality. He is a sincerely religious man, having grown up in surroundings of great piety. Of his father, outstanding leader of High Church Anglicanism in his day, it was said by his biographer, J. G. Lockhart, ‘There was another Lord Halifax of whom it is almost impossible to write. This was neither the ecclesiastical statesman, who had more statecraft than most modern ministers and more theology than most bishops, nor yet the perfect host at Hickleton. It was a man who knelt morning after morning at the altar, on the threshold of another world more real to him than the world seen by the mortal eye.’
The younger Lord Halifax is also an Anglican by profound conviction. Like his father before him, and like Archbishop Lang, he dreams of the unification of Christendom under one single and indivisible church. In his student days he wrote a biography of John Keble. Later, after the war, he contributed to a volume edited by Lord Lloyd, entitled The Great Opportunity and devoted to these problems of church unity. But, whereas many Englishmen speak of Archbishop Lang with a bit of a sneer, they stress Halifax’s complete integrity. It is, of course, notorious how close are the ties between the Church and the Conservative Party. There was a story told me at Oxford of Lang protesting to one of the brusque Oxford dons about a painting made of him, exclaiming that it made him look like a proud and scheming prelate. ‘Which of the two adjectives,’ the don retorted, ‘does your Grace object to?’ The distrust of Lang has to some extent injured Halifax’s standing with independent observers; for the Archbishop was an important figure in the group of dyed-in-the-wool imperialists who have, quite misleadingly, been called the ‘Cliveden set.’
Cliveden, the country seat of the Astors, was much less important, architecturally speaking, than All Souls College at Oxford. All Souls, it will be remembered, is the unique ‘college’ in which there are no students, but just ‘fellows’: prominent men of affairs with a penchant for sitting around after dinner over a glass of port and hatching ‘broader lines of policy.’ Halifax was not exactly a member of the Cliveden set, but he is a Fellow of All Souls and has been closely associated with the Archbishop. The Cliveden group — which also included Dawson, the editor of the London Times; Lord Lothian, the new ambassador to the United States; the Marquess of Londonderry; and, of course, the Astors — were in 1934-1935, partly as the result of the skillful diplomacy of Herr von Ribbentrop, won over to the idea of supporting the Nazis: Hitler would smash Bolshevism and rescue European civilization. One member of the group played a vital part in ‘ tipping off ‘ Hitler on the British Government’s willingness to acquiesce in the occupation of the Rhineland (the crucial error in the recent diplomacy of France and England), another reassured Mussolini in the matter of oil sanctions, and the London Times accompanied the recurrent lungings and plungings of Herr Hitler last year with the reedy tunes of appeasement under the editorial guidance of Dawson.
Well, they all know today that their approach was completely, utterly wrong; for I suspect that those who still had some doubts, when I was in England this summer, speedily dropped them when they learned of the Communazi Pact, (It should be said in passing, since so many reports talked of the great surprise this pact occasioned, that the substance of the negotiations between Hitler and Stalin was well known in London and Paris, and that the Franco-British efforts in Soviet quarters were by no means unrelated to what was being discussed between Berlin and Moscow.) And since they all know and are now paying the frightful price of mortal combat, it behooves us to set it down as part of the tragedy of human folly which is always with us. Are not our Borahs and Beards trying to do us a similar service? They too will bring us into the war by their smart manœuvres to ‘keep us out.’
What is important today is that at least some of the members of this group were animated by religious as well as political feelings. In our day of psychoanalysis and economic determinism such motives are highly suspect with the sophisticated, and justly so in many instances. But when one comes to assess an individual personality, such ‘higher’ motives (the id of the Freudian lingo) indicate a capacity of genuine devotion and sacrifice. They also can become the foundation for relentless and firm pursuit of a goal which is believed in as sanctified by its divine nature. A stubborn strength is the result, even in otherwise conciliatory personalities, and an uncompromising rejection of the forces which appear to be evil in an absolute sense. Borgese has superbly castigated the colorless ' liberal ‘ who is tolerant of everything; he has, I think, failed to take account of the grim and bulldoggy fierceness of a Gladstone when aroused.
The attachment of Halifax to the Christian way of life cannot, in my opinion, be overemphasized at this time. He knows, as does everyone who has looked Hitlerism in the face, that the Nazis mean to exterminate Christianity and its ways from the face of the earth. With ruthless determination they have combated it in all its manifestations in German and international life within their reach. Whether it is the Jews, the Czechs, the Poles, or even Hitler’s own countrymen, if they happen to block his path, they are persecuted with a ferocity unequaled in the history of Western civilization. It may seem a puzzle that Christian conservatives should have been tempted to use such a movement as a tool; but we must remember that Hitler accompanies every act of violence with hysterical shrieks about the victim’s unprovoked attacks upon him, as well as suave assurances to all bystanders that this victim is positively the last prey he means to feast upon. For a time these tactics somehow convinced conservative Christian gentlemen. The main reason, as hinted before, was their abhorrence of Bolshevism, which they credited with conduct similar to that of Hitler. It is impossible to appreciate the British conservative’s position without reminding oneself continually of this horror of Bolshevism, the cauchemar de Moscou, as Paris calls it. This is no place to enter upon the merits of that issue. As a fear, it worked. Whatever one may think of the industrialization of Russia, the Communists’ ‘war against God’ was unquestionably a spectre to pious Anglicans.
It is, in my opinion, highly significant that Lord Halifax, who as Lord Irwin made such strong efforts to conciliate the Indian nationalists, particularly Gandhi, showed no mercy towards Communists. Where the noble Lord was leaning over backward in the fierce contest with Swaraj, he proceeded with high-handed determination against the Soviet-Communist activities in India. His arrival coincided with the Communist International’s decision to enter upon agitation in India in earnest. Its plans for work were described in some detail at the third meeting of the International (1924) in Moscow by one Solomon Lozowski. Just as in China, revolutionary Communism did not get under way until European agitators took it in hand. Almost simultaneously with Halifax there arrived several young British Communist organizers, who, with support from Moscow, commenced to build up an effective organization. The information on their activity is rather scanty. American students of India’s political problems are inclined to say that it is difficult to distinguish clearly between Communists and Nationalists. They are both united in their hostility toward British rule. Still, Lord Halifax’s policy was evidently directed toward splitting them apart. His repeated assurances to India that full Dominion status was being envisaged as the end of her political evolution were accompanied by uncompromising suppression of Communism. In such efforts the British authorities would, of course, have the hearty support of the well-to-do in India, especially of the rulers of the native states, many of them typical Oriental despots in their respective realms.
Since the arrival of the European leaders had been followed by a wave of strikes and union agitation, Lord Irwin soon proceeded to counteract their efforts by arrests and imprisonment. But unlike China, where the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership decided to fight Communism, India saw its Nationalist leaders continue collaboration with Russia. Mahatma Gandhi, while not himself a Communist, always retained a measure of sympathy for those of his collaborators who were, because he felt in them the great urge to help the masses of the abject poor. This tendency, undoubtedly rooted in the fact that India remained subject to British Imperial rule, could only be deflected, so the Governor-General thought, if selfgovernment would force the Indian leaders to face their own internal problems squarely. Lord Irwin made it his task to stress, again and again, the British determination to see India one of the great Dominions. At home, Lord Birkenhead threw out, at the same time, his provocative challenge to the Indian Nationalists to make a constitution which would secure popular approval. Indian efforts to meet this challenge failed, primarily because of the bitter antagonism between Hindus and Moslems.
Lord Irwin knew, it seems, that such a hide-and-seek game was no solution to the Indian problem, that a real effort would have to be made to help the Indians toward a sound constitutionalism. Hence the idea of the Round Table Conference. For after the Indian AllParties Congress had struggled in vain to draft a constitution for all India in 1928, while the Conservative Party had sent a Parliamentary Commission headed by Sir John Simon to report on self-government in India, — a procedure which strongly antagonized Indian national sentiment because no Indian was put on the Commission, — Lord Irwin proposed a Conference in London where, around a table, an agreement on the vital issues might be reached. But he encountered serious difficulties in the execution of this well-intentioned proposal. For while die-hard Conservatives at home, led by Winston Churchill, continuously assailed the conciliatory policy for which he labored, the more radical Indian Nationalists demanded an explicit commitment on the part of Britain for immediate Dominion status. That was in 1928, and it seems that Gandhi had to conciliate even more extreme elements who ridiculed the British Government’s declarations and demanded complete independence. It goes without saying that Lord Irwin, try as he might, could not secure such a concession from Britain, more particularly since the Moslems, as well as the native princes, refused to collaborate in any project that did not adequately protect their rights.
It would be useless pretense to attempt to unravel the infinite complexities of the Indian constitutional issue here; enough has been said to show that Halifax sought with stubborn persistency to find a compromise solution and give the Indians their rightful place within the Commonwealth of Nations. A British scholar and administrator, a cautious Scotchman who has known Halifax well for many years, told me that the Indian experience nearly broke Halifax’s spirit and health. If we now detect at times a touch of weary resignation in his speeches and in his voice, I think we are justified in recalling his desperate efforts to find a ‘right’ way out of the jungle of Indian national and religious passions. We may not agree with him in all that he said or did, but doubt his sincerity we cannot. This realization probably led Gandhi to make his memorable reply to one who had questioned the sense of trying to coöperate with the British at all: ‘I noncoöperate with evil, I do not noncooperate with good. ... If the Viceroy ask me today to go to him to discuss things of importance for the country on a footing of equality, I will go barefooted, and still defend my noncoöperation.’ A most eloquent testimony to Halifax’s statesmanship.
Still, Halifax did not succeed. The Round Table Conference met, and the second meeting was attended by the Nationalist leaders, after Halifax had concluded a statesmanlike truce with Gandhi in the spring of 1931, Nationalist agitation having reached a climax of violence in 1930. Gandhi had addressed an ultimatum to Halifax on March 12 of that year demanding immediate Dominion status, and when the Viceroy remained silent Gandhi proceeded to civil disobedience by marching to the sea to boil salt water and thus defy the government’s salt monopoly. British authorities observed the utmost restraint, but when open violence occurred all of Gandhi’s associates were arrested on May 5. Still, on May 12, Halifax reiterated the British Government’s determination to work toward Dominion status for India. Censuring Gandhi and his friends for the civil disobedience campaign, whereby they ‘rejected a unique chance to play a constructive part in the evolution of India’s future,’ he warned them that disobedience would postpone progress. By November, 47,000 Nationalists were serving prison terms under martial law.
I mention this fact because it shows that Halifax clearly displayed a capacity to meet force with force when the occasion seemed to him to warrant it. It is, of course, true that the British authorities could maintain themselves, because the divergent elements of India’s farflung masses distrusted each other more than they did the British. The experience was grueling. At. one point Nationalists almost murdered the GovernorGeneral by dynamiting a train in which he was going to Delhi to meet Gandhi and his associates. But though Halifax was stern in dealing with violence, yet he retained his equanimity and readiness to come to a peaceful settlement. After having got the situation well in hand, he offered a truce to Gandhi in order to enable him to participate in the Round Table Conference and thus to collaborate in the evolution of the future of India. A happy omen, perhaps, for things to come. It is of vital importance for the British Government to retain a measure of detachment so that it will be ready to deal fairly and generously with representatives of the German people, provided they are willing to renounce Hitlerism — that is, the use of threats and force for the settlement of international disputes.
Halifax appears to possess the making of a true statesman in this respect. Joseph Kennedy, our ambassador to the Court of St. James’s during the crucial period preceding Munich, spoke of Halifax in terms of highest admiration. ‘He is the most noble figure in public life I have encountered, almost a saint.’ Curiously enough, this was already said of his father; whether or not the son quite equals his father in this regard, I am unable to say. But it is easy to believe that his collaborators and subordinates revere him as a man inspiring unique loyalty and devotion. One very keen man of affairs with whom I talked at great length about Halifax, trying to discover his weak points, exclaimed: ‘You know, one trouble with the fellow is that everyone who comes at all into close contact with Halifax becomes enamored of him.’ It is indeed curious how he combines a friendly informality with great dignity of presence, much of which flows, so it seemed to me, from his quiet, well-modulated voice. There is a disarming modesty about him. When I mentioned to him in passing that I was thinking of doing a portrait of him, he smilingly remarked: ‘I should think that would be a waste of time.’
Much might be said of his able conduct of the Board of Education. But his real test of stature came with his entry upon foreign affairs. His participation increased quite gradually, during the three years he was Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council, while serving at the same time as Leader of the House of Lords. Every indication points to the conclusion that Halifax hoped at first to be able to establish a foundation of mutual respect and confidence with Hitler as he had done with Gandhi.
The outward occasion of his visit to Germany in January 1938 was an invitation to hunt on one of the huge estates of General Göring. Halifax is a passionate hunter, and, so far as hobbies are indicative of a man’s nature, Halifax’s predilection for the gun differentiates him clearly from Lord Grey, with whom he is so often compared. For Grey, it will be remembered, was a devotee of the rod. Halifax’s delight in hunting suggests an aggressive determination which was lacking in Grey’s angling and contemplative mind. We do not know how Halifax found the German hunting, but we do know that he had another mission, in the outcome of which he and his friends were greatly disappointed. He came to Berlin in the expectation of finding another religious fanatic, radical in his views, but fundamentally good; he returned, so we are assured, convinced that Hitler, if fanatic, was certainly not religious, but a man of boundless egotism and an unscrupulous will to dominate the world.
This visit of Halifax, so pregnant with the disasters to come, had curious antecedents. Around Christmas, 1937, the Nazi régime was extremely weak. Gloom prevailed in the brown-shirted councils. It seemed as if the end had come. After Halifax’s visit, all that was changed. Nazi morale had become exuberant overnight, almost, and manifested itself in a frontal attack upon the conservative elements in the high army command. What is the background for this strange episode? Not all the gory details of the Gestapo’s devious manœuvres can be told here; but it is clear that opposition elements of real weight had come to the conclusion that the Hitler régime must be done away with.
One irrefutable bit of evidence was the secret mission of three prominent Germans (whose names, of course, cannot be disclosed) who appeared in London about that time, and a bit later in New York, with the purpose of finding out what the British and Americans were prepared to do for Germany in case Hitler was overthrown. Evidently the groups they represented felt that the German economy was so anæmic that it required an immediate blood transfusion in the shape of foreign loans, and a substantial success in foreign policy such as the union of Austria with Germany to boot, to bolster up morale. This extraordinary mission, the story of which has never been told before, received a very cold reception in London. One man of great importance in the governing set is said to have told the German emissary (also a man of undoubted eminence and worth): ‘The British do not deal with traitors.’ While there was, perhaps, not quite such shocking incomprehension of the realities of the situation in other quarters, still no hope was held out for these men. And in America? They had a sympathetic reception, of course, but the chances of providing a loan were considered in terms of pure business possibilities and declared to be nil.
Suppose the British and we had each put up half a billion dollars. Would it have been much compared to what we have to spend now? Look at the armament budget of the United States, not to speak of Britain. Such is the fruit of cowardice. These great governments in all their wisdom, it seems, had not heard of the old adage that a stitch in time saves nine.
Unlike ourselves, however, the British did do something. Instead of dealing with the ‘traitors’ (some of whom feel that they were in turn betrayed by the British to the Gestapo), they decided that the time had come for general appeasement. If the Nazis were weak to the point where influential quarters in Germany were getting ready to overthrow them, it must be possible to make a general deal with them, so business man Chamberlain argued. It must also be a good time to reach a settlement with Mussolini, and manœuvre him as well as the Nazis out of Spain. There was violent disagreement in the Cabinet over this policy, to be sure, disagreement which culminated in the resignation of Sir Anthony Eden. Why? Because Eden had made up his mind, on the basis of bitter experience as well as Foreign Office pressure, particularly as represented by the views of Sir Robert Vansittart, that you could not make a deal with Hitler and Mussolini. So Eden went and Halifax came, fresh from his first encounter with the Nazi chief.
We have no authentic information on what Hitler said to Halifax when the latter approached him for a general settlement on the basis of Britain’s conceding him the union of Austria with Germany, provided a free plebiscite of the Austrian people demanded it. But I was told on good authority from several sources that Hitler greeted these proposals with a two-hour torrent of abusive oratory. In the course of his outburst he is supposed to have told Halifax that if the British thought a few reactionaries plotting his overthrow would make him worry they were mistaken; that, as far as conceding a plebiscite in Austria was concerned, he considered such a suggestion an insult and was fully resolved to take Austria as soon as possible; that any attempt to interfere with his resolve by force would be met by force in turn; that he was going forward on the road he had chosen for himself with iron determination, and that the British should welcome his making ready to exterminate Bolshevism rather than interfere with his selfappointed task. Some of this may be apocryphal, but it has an authentic ring. At any rate Halifax, without a word, withdrew. Did he think of the gentle and civilized sage who, as the leader of three times Hitler’s following, had discoursed in quiet if determined fashion on peace and the freedom and right of his people to live their lives according to their own light without British policemen?
We must stop here to speak for a moment of Hitler’s reference to his rôle as the vanquisher of Bolshevism. In the first place, this was the tune with which von Ribbentrop had sirenized the reactionary Tories in years gone by. But it also holds out a clue to the reason why the British Government clung to Hitler, in January 1938, instead of attempting collaboration with opposition groups in Germany. Well-informed insiders have suggested to me that Russia was a major factor in this decision. The German conservative army leaders were known to favor collaboration with Russia, as against Italy and Japan, and, as recent history has revealed, they gained their point over Hitler’s innate prejudices. This proclivity of the German army to work with the Bolsheviks was the nightmare of British conservatives, particularly those who knew the vulnerability of the Empire in India. It stands to reason that Halifax was not unimpressed by this aspect of the situation.
At any rate, Halifax returned convinced that the attempt to stop Hitler from annexing Austria meant war. Perhaps he even had an inkling of the next step, and realized that the surrender of Austria meant an assault upon the German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. That point is rather crucial. Considerable uncertainty surrounds the question whether Halifax was prominently associated with Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement after the seizure of Austria. I found even well-informed people in complete disagreement on that subject. Those who would consider Halifax one of the authors of the fateful ‘pact’ of Munich urge that a man of his integrity would certainly have resigned if he had not been of the same mind as the Prime Minister. After all, Halifax had replaced Eden on the issue of the appeasement policy. Unquestionably Halifax was closely bound up with Chamberlain’s policy. At the same time, it is easier to see in retrospect today that Chamberlain’s Cabinet were backing away one by one from a policy of collaborating with Hitlerism, and the question of time sequence is one of secondary importance. It seems reasonable to conclude that by September 1938 Halifax had already become skeptical of the possibility of treating with Hitler; else he would probably have accompanied Chamberlain. There is also the question of that curious Foreign Office announcement of September 26, which asserted that England would fight if Germany should march into Czechoslovakia.
But if, in spite of all efforts made by the British Prime Minister, a German attack is made upon Czechoslovakia, the immediate result must be that France will be found to come to her assistance and Great Britain and Russia will stand by France.
It is still not too late to stop this great tragedy and for the peoples of all nations to insist on settlement by free negotiation.
It is commonly assumed that Lord Halifax was behind the announcement, which Prime Minister Chamberlain had admittedly known nothing about.
It is reliably reported that in March 1939 Halifax threatened to resign when the seizure of Czechoslovakia was imminent, unless the government would act. If only he could have prevailed! For Hitler was then far from prepared, diplomatically; the troublesome Polish issues had not arisen to becloud the relations with the Soviet Union, and Hitler’s action was most unpopular among his own people (whereas the present issue unfortunately has great appeal to the German masses). But evidently British military advice prevailed upon Halifax to accept another surrender on the promise that it would be the last, and that a policy of guarantees against aggression would be adopted and firmly adhered to.
By this time Halifax had in a sense become the embodiment of the aroused Christian conscience of the British nation. For the seizure of Czechoslovakia was the decisive blow. Whereas to most of us in America, distrustful as we had become of any Hitler promises, the fatal step was Munich, since we attached little or no importance to the guarantees of Czechoslovak integrity once the country’s defenses had been crippled, the mass of Englishmen, following Chamberlain, had been expecting Hitler to live up to his word, given solemnly to real gentlemen, and they were ‘shocked’ beyond words by his cynical disregard of such commitments. Not only Chamberlain himself, but all the John Bulls throughout the land, who had supported his policy of appeasement (and it amazed me to find supporters for that policy numerous among the adherents of the Labor Party), all these ordinary common decent conservative British men and women exclaimed with one voice, ‘This can’t go on.’ But somehow Halifax, not Chamberlain, became their real voice. For he possesses that grandezza del animo to which men respond when their true self is stirred.
The experience of the two men was in many ways, of course, very similar, and representative of a large body of Englishmen. Slowly, hesitatingly, Halifax had been forced to the conclusion that Hitler meant to exterminate civilization in the deeper, religious sense. What had proved a bridge across the wide gulf separating a British lord from an Indian popular leader — namely, the unshakable faith of both men in a higher law to which all men are obliged to bow — this precious heritage of all the great cultures had meant nothing to the Nazi antagonist. It should have been so much easier with Hitler, leading, as he pretends to, a nation closely akin to the British in traditions and background. In fact, there was no common ground.
Still, Halifax hesitated to close the door. All through this past summer of 1939 he spoke in a calm if resolute manner, addressing himself to ‘patriotic’ Germans. But he left no doubt regarding the shock which Britain had experienced as a result of the seizure of Czechoslovakia. ‘Herr Hitler repeatedly gave to the world the assurance that Germany did not want to incorporate non-Germans within the Reich. That seemed to be a limitation on German aims in foreign policy. But on those events followed first the attack on the Jews, which shocked world opinion, and the destruction of the independence of Czechoslovakia by lightning military action. To many people, certainly to our own, it seemed no unreal fear that made them wonder whether they might not be faced with a first step in an attempt to dominate Europe by force, and which made them feel themselves standing on the threshold of conditions in which no country could feel that its security and independence might not at any time be threatened. Therefore it was almost overnight that there was an immediate and instinctive drawing together on the part of many countries to meet what appeared to be a great potential danger.’
These carefully, quietly enunciated phrases reflect in a superb manner the feeling of Halifax as of most English people; they also mirror his nature perfectly. For here is the utmost self-restraint coupled with an indomitable resolution not to yield to violence and injustice. ‘If these problems (of Danzig and the Corridor) are to be resolved, by negotiations, there must be good will on both sides. There must be readiness on each side to make allowances for the point of view of the other, and there must be give as well as take.’ And what shall be the position, in case the conflicting claims are so utterly incompatible as the Polish and German ones at present? ‘In such cases it is the duty of statesmanship to work for such a détente in feeling as might make a real change in the atmosphere.’ It sounds like an echo of Halifax’s continuous admonitions to Hindus and Moslems in India to work out harmonious relations.
Halifax has always known that ‘no one with knowledge would pretend that the rôle of the peacemaker was an easy one.’ He said so in a beautiful address this past winter, and added: ‘That rôle is one that demands great patience and fairness — and at the same time firmness and strength.’ Though he did not put it into words, one can feel the religious, the Christian impulse behind his efforts along such lines. ‘ Motives arc frequently misunderstood; restraint is mistaken for weakness.’ But Halifax also knows that there is a time when such efforts are at an end. Just as he jailed 47,000 Indian Nationalists when they sought to force unreasonable demands not only upon Britain but upon a majority of their countrymen, by engaging in violent attacks, so he felt prepared to go to war against Hitler, and stand the ordeal imposed by the aggressive force of one of the parties. ‘There must be no misunderstanding. If the issue were ever to be joined I have no doubt at all about the ultimate outcome, whatever might be the varying fortunes of war or the duration of the struggle.’ That was said on June 9. We know now that Lord Halifax did not boast.
Clearly, Halifax is the most remarkable figure in the present Cabinet, from a human, a moral point of view. We may not agree with his conservative, capitalist, imperialist position, but here is a man who possesses the human qualities of greatness. Hence all with whom I discussed the matter this past summer — Conservatives, Liberals, Laborites — were convinced that Lord Halifax was the logical next Prime Minister, particularly if a National Union Cabinet was to be formed. Sir Arthur Salter among others has put himself on record in his recent study on Security. ‘That he is in the Lords is no insuperable obstacle. The needs of the country must override every technical consideration, and if necessary, an Act of Parliament could give him a place in the Commons.’ This opinion was backed by many others, and it is striking in view of the British attachment to tradition. It is an obstacle like our third term. A lord cannot speak in the House of Commons, and the House has, for some time past, refused to accept a Prime Minister who cannot defend his policy before them. But so strong is the sentiment in favor of Lord Halifax that the consensus favors setting this precedent aside.
Judging from Halifax’s record in India, I am inclined to think that he would be the most promising man to conclude a just peace after the defeat of Hitlerism. And I think it is clear that he could do so only if he were the Prime Minister. His whole being predisposes him toward fair play, and, as long as another man is Prime Minister, he will be ready to subordinate his views to the point where he would have to resign. He would bring to the office of Premier a greater capacity for broad and sympathetic treatment of what will be extremely irksome problems than could any other of England’s statesmen. Should the war become a losing one, I can imagine no individual who would be more capable to fortify the British people to face that ordeal. In the course of the struggle, a more dynamic personality, like Winston Churchill, might come to the fore. But I do not see Winston Churchill in the rôle of signing the peace of a defeated Britain. It seems as yet inconceivable that the constitutional governments of Britain and France will go down in defeat, — though I think our isolationists are unduly optimistic on that score, — but in a war such as the one which has just begun it is well to keep defeat as well as victory in view as a possibility, lest one make fatal errors in one’s own policy.
Unlike many English friends who compare Halifax to Grey, I cannot say that the two men seem to me very similar. Nor can I agree that Grey appears the stronger or greater man. There are definite points of comparison: their nobility, their love for country life, their moral integrity. They are both imperialists, and yet tolerant of the aspirations of subject peoples. But where Grey was aloof, Halifax is friendly and direct; where Grey was oratorical, Halifax is simple to the point of being a bit professorial in his public utterances; and where Grey was a rationalist, Halifax is a mystic and a traditionalist. To me, Halifax seems more human, more nearly a man. In his short talk with me he concluded by saying, ‘Never have the British people been so united since I have known them. We want peace, and we shall do everything in our power to preserve it. But we are resolved that we are not going to be pushed around by Hitler any longer.’ When I heard Halifax say that, I knew that war was inevitable.
- Before going to India as Viceroy, GovernorGeneral, and Lord Irwin, Halifax had, as plain Mr. Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, been Parliamentary Undersecretary for the Colonies from 1921 to 1922, President of the Board of Education from 1922 to 1924, and Minister of Agriculture in the Baldwin Conservative Cabinet from October 1924 to November 1925, while serving as Member of Parliament for the Ripon Division of West Riding, Yorkshire, since 1910. He was born in 1881, — AUTHOR↩