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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 Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam , Newcastle upon Tyne North 12:00 am, 29th September 1944

The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Loverseed) seemed to be uncertain about when exactly this war began. He attributed the beginning of it to the Spanish Civil War and thought we were largely to blame because we did not interfere on what he considers to have been the right side. He went even further back than that, to Japanese aggression in Manchuria. I go still further back. This war began in 1914. The Germans will tell you that. I have heard German views on the subject, and they have always said quite frankly that this was their second Thirty Years' War, and that it began in 1914. That being so, it is due to end this year. Let us hope that that may be the case.

This has been an interesting Debate, and those of us who were privileged to hear the Prime Minister's statement yesterday must have appreciated the fact that he is the man in whom we should have supreme confidence at the present time. He may make his mistakes like the rest of us—and some have been pointed out, as usual, to-day by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)—but the Prime Minister is only human after all. He assumed office at a moment of great crisis, he has had the wear and tear of this war from the beginning and he may well be proud of the results which have so far been obtained. I, for one, am quite prepared to allow him to continue to conduct our war policy and to run the show, so to speak, until the end. There are two questions to which I wish to refer briefly to-day. One is the treatment of Germany and the policy that is being adopted at the present time with regard to letting the Germans know what is in store for them when we win, for we have not won yet, and I think it is just as well for Members of the House to realise that the war is not yet over. The Germans are likely to make a vigorous defence. They may not be fighting for what hon. Members on the other side of the House describe as democracy, but they are fighting for the one cause alone which is the real motive force of every nation—they are fighting for their country. Even if the Government of that country does not suit all Germans, none the less, they will fight for their country. One hon. Member—I cannot remember who it was—talked about good and bad Germans. I do not recognise that phrase at all. I look upon all Germans as Germans, just as I look upon all Englishmen as Englishmen. They may differ among themselves, but primarily they stand for what their country demands, or what they think their country demands.

I have been considering carefully lately whether it would he a good thing to publish now what the Allied peace terms for Germany are to be, and I have come to the conclusion that, on the whole, the policy that has been adopted, of stating that we are going to insist on unconditional surrender, is the best policy. I say that because there is no doubt that the great majority of Germans did not believe that they had been beaten in the last war, from a military point of view. They thought that they had been stabbed in the back by political manoeuvres and propaganda, and also that their people had been starved into surrender by the blockade. The majority of Germans did not admit that they had been beaten in the field; certainly we made a great mistake by not marching into Berlin and not occupying Germany for a far longer time. Therefore, I believe that in the long run it is best that we should make it absolutely clear to the whole German population that in this war their armed forces have been beaten in the field. Thus I think there is more chance of them realising that war is not a pastime that pays. In this war, too, there is a great difference from the last, which also influences my view, in that we have already done an infinite amount of damage in Germany, regrettable, but perfectly justifiable. It has made the Germans realise what they have made other countries suffer, and they are now about to experience something which they have not experienced since the days of Napoleon—the invasion of their homeland. Henceforth, it will be very difficult for any German to say that his country has not suffered a crushing defeat.

I do not anticipate that Germany, or any other great country in the world which has had experience of this war, will be in a hurry to embark upon a new one. I am not, therefore, one of those who think that it is urgently necessary, here and now, to settle what the future of the world is to be. I think we ought to take time and care to think about these matters when the war is over so that we can then gradually build up an international organisation, with power behind it, which will in future play a more important part in maintaining peace than any other international organisation has done in the past. I am anxious that the Allies should not be in a hurry about these matters, and I am certain that we should be making a very grave mistake if we tried to force the pace and tried to direct foreign countries in the manner in which they shall resume their normal life. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale spoke about the kind of policy we should adopt and said that in his opinion, if I understood him aright, we should insist upon democratic government in all these various countries—indeed, impose it upon them. It is quite likely that the countries which have been under the German heel may not be anxious to adopt the particular form of democratic government that we think desirable. Does the hon. Member, or any other exponent of that policy, suggest that we should interfere in what other countries may want in the way of government? It has always been a great mistake of ours to take up an attitude about the internal policies of foreign countries and judge them entirely by our own conceptions of politics in this country. This has been a habit of ours in the past which I hope may be less evident in the future.

We ought to bear in mind that the first principle of our political beliefs is that every nation should be able to run its own internal government in the way which it believes to be right. It is true that in some cases, as in Germany recently, that government may not be according to our ideals, but, it it is supported by the people of that country, we must recognise it and try to get on with it for the time being. We must do our best in the new Europe to help other countries in the re-establishment of their civil life, and to leave them to manage their own affairs. Has it ever occurred to our people that had the Germans, under Hitler, adopted a different policy with the countries which they conquered and over-ran, had they not employed the policy of the jack-boot but had allowed those countries to maintain their own systems of government, granting them home rule, under the military protection of Germany, the situation in Europe might be very different to-day? I believe that the smaller nations of Europe desire one thing above all others. They desired it before the war and they desire it probably still more now. They desire security. If they can be guaranteed security, they will be content. We have to see that in future those countries can look to us for that protection and help which is essential if they are to maintain their freedom and be able to live their own lives.

After this war we must change our usual policy. After other wars in which we have taken a prominent part we have disarmed and retired within our shell, and adopted a policy of splendid isolation. We must get rid of that habit; we cannot, even if we would, isolate ourselves from Europe and the opportunity is now before us to adopt the position to which we are entitled, and which most of the smaller nations in Europe desire we should adopt, namely, to give a lead and to be in a position to support our point of view, should the occasion arise, within some international framework constituted on a firmer basis than the League of Nations. Such is the policy, I feel, that lies before us, and I believe that that will be approved by the majority of our people when they come to think of things quietly and do not get hold of "high falutin'" notions about what our duties are in regard to political ideologies.

I would like to say a word or two about the present position in Poland with regard to Soviet Russia. I am in the peculiar position of agreeing with the admirable speeches made yesterday both by my Noble Friend the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) who presented the Polish point of view and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) who pointed out our position vis-à-vis Russia. My noble Friend took the line that the claims of the Poles were of deep concern to us, and that we were more or less pledged to them to see that their independence was maintained, while my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford took the line that the less the Polish situation was discussed in public at present the better. There was much wisdom in the hon. Member's advice. But we cannot forget that we went to war to help the Poles to maintain their independence. It may well be, as the Prime Minister said, that the Soviet Union must be certain that their frontiers are protected amply to their satisfaction against any form of aggression. But I think in this connection the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale rather hit the nail on the head when he pointed out, I think rightly, that the frontiers of the old type no longer count so much as they used to count in the past, and in wars to come are still less likely to be of much avail against new forms of mechanical warfare.

But, putting aside altogether this aspect of the case and agreeing with the Prime Minister's point of view that Russia must be certain of its frontiers, and admitting, too, that certain parts of Eastern Poland are largely inhabited by Russians, it is difficult for some of us to see why Poland should be deprived of territory. Still less is it easy for us to see why a new Government should be brought into existence in Poland by the help of a foreign Power which is opposed to the Polish Government which we recognise here. It is, so it seems to me, an interference by one country in the internal government of another, and I am certain that the Foreign Secretary must be much exercised in his mind by the present situation. All we can do is to point out clearly to our Russian Ally what our point of view is in the matter—Poland is our Ally just as much as Russia—and we should put the views of the Polish Government before the Russian Government as clearly as we possibly can.

When I say the Polish Government, I mean the Polish Government that we recognise here. We cannot, of course, do anything in any way calculated to break down or to make difficult the relationships between us and the Russians; we must do nothing which will in any way weaken the war effort, but I am hopeful that, if we put our case clearly and strongly, and show the Russians that there is a strong public feeling on the matter in this country—and there is strong feeling both here and in the United States of America—that our point of view will have its effect in Moscow. We are always being told that Russia is a democracy and that public opinion counts. Surely we can utilise with Russia the same methods that we adopt with other democracies? One word in conclusion—this is the most crucial moment in the war. It demands unity and energy. We should carry on the fight to the utmost of our vigour, if we are to bring the war to an end as speedily as possible, and then when the fighting is over endeavour to build up a new Europe, in which Germany, no longer in a position to wage another war, will have to play her part in a fellowship of friendly nations.