British Note to Germany.

Part of German Attack on Poland. – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st September 1939.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield 12:00 am, 1st September 1939

I was not a Member of this House as some hon. and right hon. Members were 25 years ago, when we were confronted with a similar struggle. That was a grave time, but this is an even graver time. This is the turning point in human history, and we are now facing a situation which, in the history of mankind, has never been faced before in this country. The die is cast. It has been my privilege and my very heavy responsibility to act, on the last two occasions this House has met, as spokesman for my party and the movement which I represent. On both occasions I endeavoured to put clearly and briefly the attitude which we, as a party, have taken. I epitomised the very solemn declarations made by British Labour in recent years. What I then said still holds. I withdraw nothing as to our criticisms of Government policy in the past, and our views as to the heavy responsibility which lies upon them as factors in creating the present situation; but to-day that is past history. We are facing a new situation, and on the two occasions on which I have addressed the House I put our constructive attitude. I now reaffirm, and say, for the third time in this House during the present crisis, that British Labour stands by its pledged word. We shall, at whatever cost, in the interests of the liberty of the world in the future, use all our resources to defend ourselves and others against aggression.

The right hon. Gentleman appears to have left another loophole. His communication gives the German Government an opportunity of withdrawal. There can now be no withdrawal, and in any event this nation is in honour bound. I would read Article I of the Anglo-Polish Treaty, an Article which bears only one meaning. It reads: Should one of the contracting Powers become engaged in hostilities with a European Power in consequence of aggression by the latter against that contracting party, the other contracting party will, at once— at once— give the contracting party engaged in hostilities all the support and assistance in its power. The Prime Minister's words have been firm. He has uttered words from which he cannot, and I am sure he would not wish to, escape, but we are building our hopes upon sand, if we think that the German Government are going to give any kind of favourable response to the appeal which has been made. The act of aggression has already taken place. Herr Hitler has put himself grievously in the wrong. He has become the arch-enemy of mankind. He has been guilty not merely of the gravest, basest treachery to this Government and this people; he has been guilty of the basest treachery to all peoples to whom in the past he has given promises. The right hon. Gentleman quoted almost the exact words which I used in the House on Tuesday. I said that the issue of peace and war rested in the hands of one man. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has to-night put it equally emphatically.

I never thought that I should quote with approval from a document of which Herr Hitler was the author, but in the proclamation to the Army which he issued at 6 o'clock this morning he said: In order to put an end to this lunacy I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. That is a sentiment echoed by practically every Member of this House. Then he goes on to say: I should like to assure the whole world that November, 1918, will never repeat itself. With that I entirely agree. And that brings me to what we are to fight about.

The party to which I belong, which may have faults but which can never be accused of cowardice, will issue its statement to-night to this country and to the world on the view it takes. That view, I think, is the view which I have expressed on previous occasions. I quote just one sentence: The British Labour Movement therefore calls upon all its members to stand solidly behind it in resistance to aggression. From that attitude we shall never depart. We shall enter the struggle without passion against people. I was glad when the Prime Minister used words which we had used in our official declaration. We have no quarrel with the German people; but while we have no passion against people we shall enter this struggle with a grim determination to overthrow and destroy that system of government which has trampled on freedom and crucified men and women—many of them friends of my own—and which has brought the world back to the jackboot of the old Prussianism. In the process of this struggle there will be far-reaching social and economic changes which at the moment no man can foresee, but out of the smoking ruins of the struggle will arise a new order of society. Once the gunfire ceases and the roll of the war drums dies away, after the greatest price mankind in all its history has ever paid to learn its lesson, dictatorship will have been destroyed for ever and organised labour here, and elsewhere in other lands besides ourselves, will play its part in building a new world from which war will be banished and in which a new order will be established.

There is a view among those who are now our enemies that might is right. I believe that right is might. I believe that at long last right must win, whether it be internationally or whether it be nationally. There is in the human spirit something which may be tortured and which may be temporarily suppressed but which can never be destroyed, and that is its determination to keep alive and keep fully aflame the lamp of liberty. My last words are these: I look forward, as we all do, with a very sad heart and with a sorrow that none of us can express, regarding the sufferings which must fall upon hundreds of millions of people, but, however great the suffering, however poignant the agony and whatever the sacrifice may be, I know in my heart that freedom and mankind's hope for the future cannot be quenched. I know that liberty will prevail;