On October 12th the Prime Minister made his eagerly awaited statement in the House of Commons in reply to the “peace proposals” put forward by Hitler on October 6th. The most important passage of Mr Chamberlain’s speech – in which he declared that “Acts, not words alone” must be forthcoming – are reproduced below.
The Prime Minister began by saying that consultations had taken place with the French and the Dominion Governments regarding the terms of Herr Hitler’s speech. After summing up the vain efforts of the British Government to preserve peace, Mr Chamberlain continued:
“On September 1st Herr Hitler violated the Polish frontier and invaded Poland, bearing down by force of arms and machinery the resistance of the Polish nation and army. As attested by neutral observers, Polish town and villages were bombed and shelled into ruins; and civilians were slaughtered wholesale, in contravention, at any rate in the later stages, of all the undertakings of which Herr Hitler now speaks with pride as though he has fulfilled them.
“It is after this wanton act of aggression, which has cost so many Polish and German lives, sacrificed to satisfy his own insistence on the use of force, that the German Chancellor now puts forward proposals. If there existed any expectations that in these proposals would be included some attempt to make amends for the grievous crime against humanity, following so soon upon the violation of the rights of the Czechoslovakian nation, it has been doomed to disappointment. The Polish State and its leaders are covered with abuse. What the fate of that part of Poland which Herr hitler describes as the German Sphere of interest it to be does not clearly emerge from his speech, but it is evident that he regards it as a matter for the consideration of Germany along, to be settled solely in accordance with German interests.
“We must take it, then, that the proposals which the German Chancellor puts forward for the establishment of what he calls ‘the certainty of European security’ are to be based on recognition of his conquests and his right to do what he pleases with the conquered. It would be impossible for Great Britain to accept any such basis without forfeiting her honour and abandoning her claim that international disputes should be settled by discussion and not by force.
“The passages in the speech designed to give fresh assurances to Herr Hitler’s neighbours I pass over, since they will know what value should be attached to them by reference to the similar assurances he has given in the past. It would be easy to quote sentences from his speeches in 1935, 1936 and 1938 stating in the most definite terms his determination not to annex Australia or conclude an Anschluss with her, not to fall upon Czechoslovakia, and not to make any further territorial claims in Europe after the Sudetenland question had been settled after in September’s 1938. Nor can we pass over Herr Hitler’s radical departure from the long professed principles of his policy and creed, as instanced by the inclusion in the German Reich of many millions of Poles and Czechs, despite his repeated professions to the contrary, and by the pact with the Soviet Union concluded after his repeated and violent denunciations of Bolshevism.
“This repeated disregard for his word and these sudden reversals of policy bring me to the fundamental difficulty in dealing with the wider proposals in the German Chancellor#s speech. The plain truth is that, after our past experience it is no longer possible to rely upon the unsupported word of the present German Government. It is no part of our policy to exclude from her rightful place in Europe, a Germany which will live in amity and confidence with other nations. On the contrary, we believe that no effective remedy can be found for the world’s ills that does not take account of the just claims and needs of all countries, and whenever the time may come to draw the lines of a new peace settlement, his Majesty’s Government would feel that the future would hold little hope unless such a settlement could be reached through negotiation and agreement.
“It was not, therefore, with any vindictive purpose that we embarked on war, but simply in defence of freedom. It is not alone the freedom of the small nations that is at stake; there is also in jeopardy the peaceful existence of Great Britain, the Dominions, India, the rest of the British Empire, France and indeed of all freedom-loving countries. His Majesty’s Government know all to well that in modern war between great Powers victor and vanquished must alike suffer cruel loss. But surrender to wrongdoing would spell the extinction of all hope, and the annihilation of all those value of life which have through centuries been at once the mark and inspiration of human progress. We seek no material advantage for ourselves; we desire nothing from the German people, which would affect their self-respect. We are not aiming only at victory, but rather looking beyond it to the laying of a foundation of a better international system which would mean that war is not to be the inevitable lot of every succeeding generation.
“I am certain that all the Peoples of Europe, including the people of Germany, long for peace – a peace which will enable them to live their lives without fear, and to devote their energies and their gifts to the development of their culture, the pursuit of their ideals, and the improvement of their material prosperity. The peace which we are determined to secure, however, must be a real and settled peace – not an uneasy truce interrupted by constant alarms and repeated threats.
“What stands in the way of such a peace? It is the German Government, and the German Government alone, for it is they who by repeated acts of aggression have robbed all Europe of tranquility and implanted in the ears of all their neighbours an ever-present sense of insecurity and fear. I would sum up the attitude of his Majesty’s government as follows:
Herr Hitler rejected all suggestions for peace until he has overwhelmed Poland, as he had previously overthrown Czechoslovakia. Peace conditions cannot be acceptable which begin by condoning aggression. The Proposals in the German Chancellor’s speech are vague and uncertain, and contain no suggestion for righting the wrongs done to Czechoslovakia and to Poland. Even if Herr Hitler’s proposals were more closely defined and contained suggestions to right these wrongs, it would still ne necessary to ask by what practical means the German Government intend to convince the world that aggression will cease and that pledges will be kept. Past experience has shown that no reliance can be placed upon the promises of the present German Government. According , acts – not words alone – must be forthcoming before we, the British Peoples, and France, our gallant and trusted Ally, would be justified in ceasing to wage war to the utmost of our strength.
“Only when world confidence is restored will it be possible to find – as we would wish to do with the aid of all who show good will solutions of those questions which disturb the world, which stand in the way of disarmament, retard the restoration of trade, and prevent the improvement of the well-being of the Peoples.
“The issue is therefore plain. Either the German Government must give convincing proof of all sincerity of their desire for peace by definite acts and by the provision of effective guarantees of their intention to fulfill their undertakings, or we must preserver in our duty to the end. It is for Germany to make her choice.”