Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Orders of the Day — War and International Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th September 1944.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 29th September 1944

As the first speaker to-day from this side of the House perhaps I may be permitted to say how deeply moved we have been in the last few weeks by the achievements of our troops in France. Especially have we been moved by the achievements of the airborne divisions, and it is very sad that the full fruits of victory have been denied them after the effort they made. We knew in the bad days of 1940 and 1941 that all our troops lacked was equipment and proper training and that when they had it they would acquit themselves honourably and bravely; and throughout Great Britain we are proud, if at the same time a little sad, at what has been happening recently. I would say in this connection that I think the House of Commons has been doing less than its duty in regard to considering the position of our troops in India and Burma—I say advisedly, less than its duty. Before the Recess some of my hon. Friends and myself raised the question of the welfare of our troops in India and Burma. There was a very small House and our action had very little effect, and it is a sad thing and a bad thing that the whole of the Recess had gone by before the India Office thought fit to send anyone out there to find out what has been happening in India. Judging by the letters which I am receiving—such as come, I am sure, to hon. Member in all parts of the House —I would warn the Government that a serious state of affairs may arise out there if the men get it into their heads that they are a forgotten Army.

I am not one of those who like to send Members of Parliament all over the world, but I suggest to the Secretary of State for India that it would be a good thing to send a deputation of back-bench Members to India to visit our troops and to assure themselves that proper provision is being made for their welfare. After all, we have been sending people on joy-rides all over the world. For reasons that I cannot understand Members of Parliament have gone to all parts of the world and to all parts of our Empire, and we could have sent a deputation to India. I do not suggest that we should send recalcitrant Members of the House; there are plenty of docile and worthy Members from whom the Government could select an appropriate deputation. I have here a letter from one of our troops. I will not say that he has put his ideas into the form of poetry, because I do not think he has achieved that level, but there is no doubt about his sentiments. He says: These are the men who shed their blood, Amongst the filthy Burma mud, On the Arakan Front and Imphal Plain, In blistering heat and bloody rain. Later on, in years to come, When you speak of battles fought and won, Remember these men who fought so well, And lived and died in that green hell. It is not great poetry, but he makes his meaning absolutely clear. I hope the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will take it not only from me—for I think that here I can speak on behalf of the whole House—that we are anxious to do something to convince our men in India and Burma that they are present in our thoughts all the time.

The Debate yesterday reached, I thought, a very high level. It was one of the best Debates on foreign affairs for a very long time, because Members are beginning to feel that they can speak more frankly than before, and I am going to be frank to-day. I believe that the outstanding fact at the present time is the tenacity with which the German nation is resisting invasion. It is an astonishing thing that that nation, bombarded as it has been from the air for nearly two years, assailed by such mighty combinations of forces, yet manages to resist in the way it does. It is a sombre, gloomy fact, and is, at present, the outstanding fact. And why is it? Some hon. Members and some people outside the House suggest that it is because the German people are an unique nation, that they are set apart from the rest by their attitude towards war and by their political and social philosophies, and that we shall have to deal with them in that sense when the war is over. That is one conclusion to be reached from the fact of this tenacious resistance. The second fact is that good though our military dispositions have been our political and psychological warfare is woefully bad.

What we do after the war must depend very largely upon which of those conclusions we take. If we take the view that the German nation is uniquely different from any other nation and must be so treated, a very grim and forbidding conclusion follows, because it means that the treatment to be accorded to Germany must accord with that conclusion, and if so I am afraid it will be many years, indeed some generations, before a European settlement can be achieved. I do not take that view. I think that if we take it we shall have lost the war in every sense except the military one. If we take the view that there are first- and second-class nations we take the Nazi point of view; we shall have succumbed to the main Nazi propaganda that there are nations that are radically inferior to others. I take the view that the reason why the war is still on is that the Government have not applied themselves intelligently to waging psychological warfare. I took that view about Italy. An hon. Member smiles, but it was only a year ago that the Prime Minister spoke about the Italian nation "stewing in its own juice," and yet we now have General Alexander paying tribute in almost every communiqué to the assistance that our troops are having from the workers in Northern Italy. The same thing happened in Yugoslavia, and in France and in Greece. We have not fought the war on the psychological front with any intelligence at all, and we are still not doing so.