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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.

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Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Stafford 12:00 am, 29th September 1944

I am sure that the speeches of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary compare very favourably with any speech of mine. But let us be realistic, and do not let us think that this war has anything to do with the Beveridge Report, or the Government's Report on full employment. It seems to me that the real war aims are these. The first is self-preservation—and we need not be ashamed of that. It is a very worthy object. Thanks to our own energies we have gone some considerable way towards achieving it. The second is to prevent Germany and Japan from starting another war in our own lifetime, and, if we can manage it, from starting another war in the lifetime of our children. The third object is to set up some world organisation for managing these great problems of peace and war. I know that the idealists put that third object first, but I deliberately put it last. It is not a new experiment. We have had the Holy Alliance, the Concert of Europe, and the League of Nations, and all have failed in their ultimate object of preventing war. The fact that we have failed is no reason for not trying again. Let us use the knowledge we have gained in order to prevent our making mistakes again. But do not let us take all the prizes of war and stake them upon the success of a system of world government. Those who want to gamble that way should remember that they are gambling not only with our lives and with those of our children, but with civilisation itself. We must superimpose upon these grander schemes something very much more simple.

The hub of this problem is Germany. I am not going to enter into a discussion of the various schemes for dealing with Germany. I dismiss at once the wild schemes for massacre and mass sterilisation. They are politically impossible, and morally wrong. I also dismiss the scheme, probably inaccurately ascribed to Mr. Morgenthau, for turning Germany into an agricultural province. Such a scheme would be economically unwise, and probably unworkable. But what we must do is totally to disarm Germany. What a lot of people forget is that we did not totally disarm Germany after the last war. We left them with an army of 100,000, which formed the officer cadres for the next war. If you start with that total disarmament of Germany, some simple things follow. If you are going to create a military vacuum in Europe, you have to fill it, as long as you want to keep Germany disarmed. The only countries which can fill it are ourselves, Russia, and America in the first instance, with other countries cooperating thereafter.

I know that there is nothing original in these ideas, but I think it is necessary that they should be stated, and, if necessary, restated. There are still people who think that the Germans should be allowed to play with arms. I think that that is just as dangerous as putting a tommygun into the hands of a baboon. It is said that in this country we shall lose the necessary energy after about five years: that we shall get tired again, and not be able to keep it up. If we have not the energy to keep that country disarmed, we have not the energy to make the immense effort that will have to be made to ensure peace in our time. Surely it is a small premium to pay to ensure peace. In favour of it let it be said that it would ensure that the country which has started more wars than any other, would not start another in that period. People speak about a hard or a soft peace. I believe that those terms are meaningless. The more ruthless we are in military matters, the more generous we can be in re-establishing Germany at a reasonable date economically. I do not under-estimate the contribution this country must make to a world organisation, nor do I under-estimate the amount of wishful thinking that goes on about it. There is a form of international Socialism, which believes that all the countries of the world are going to hand over their individual sovereignty to some kind of world government. Let us face the facts. Is there any prospect of Russia or the United States or ourselves handing over our individual sovereignty? What about those countries in Europe: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and Holland? They have been fighting for four or five years. Suppose we go to them and say, "Your sole chance of survival is to give up your sovereignty, and hand it over to somebody else." They will say "What have we been fighting for? We are proud of our history and of our nation." Let us be realists. If we try to build some scheme of world authority, and sell it to the people of this country, on the basis that other countries will surrender their sovereignty, we are going into a very dangerous field. In the end, we will find that other countries will not surrender their sovereignty, and the whole edifice we build up will fall to the ground.

I would like to say how much I agree with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas). My hon. Friend tried to draw attention to a great number of problems which countries have in common, particularly in the West of Europe. If we approach the matter on the basis of individual problems, such as the organisation of defence, organisation for selling coal or for transport, in the end, I think, we shall have a very much more workmanlike solution.

I would like to say one word further on the question of armed strength. This is the basis of it all, Everybody agrees that an international authority without armed strength behind it, is as about as much use as a motor car without an engine. I should think everybody would agree that the attitude of mind exhibited before the war and typified by the Peace Ballot, which spoke of disarmament and collective security in the same breath, has got to go. The Prime Minister has said that any international authority has to have teeth in it; the question is—whose teeth?