2017 03 – Parliament And World War One

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry


The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law) I beg to move, “That this House desires to express to the Government and people of the United States of America its profound appreciation of the action of that Government in joining the Allied Powers, and thus defending the high cause of freedom and the rights of humanity against the gravest menace by which they have ever been imperilled.”

I deeply regret that, for the reason I announced yesterday, the Prime Minister is not able himself to move the Resolution which stands in his name on the Paper—a Resolution expressing the deep appreciation of the House of Commons of the greatest event which has happened during the War, the entry of the United States of America into this struggle. Not only the Members of this House, but the whole of the people of the British Empire and of all Allied countries, welcome the adhesion of our new Ally with heartfelt sympathy, not only as the greatest event, but, as I think and believe, the turning point in this War. The New World has been brought in, or has stepped in, to redress the balance of the Old. The United States possesses resources of all kinds—resources which in the long run are decisive in war—to a greater extent probably than any other nation. The quality of her people was shown nearly sixty years ago—their courage, their steadfastness, their devotion to a high purpose was then shown in a struggle which in its essence was not dissimilar from that into which they have now entered. Since then the American people have shown their qualities of resourcefulness, of energy, of readiness to adapt new methods to new situations, which have been conspicuously successful in the arts of peace, and these same qualities will now be directed, in no halfhearted way, and with equal success in the art of war. The United States has been “beware of entrance to a quarrel”; but, being in it, she already shows that her enemy must beware of her, and, in spite of the fact that the path which we are now travelling, which lies immediately in front of us, has never been more difficult, I venture to express the hope and the belief that a change is coming, and that the long night of sorrow and anguish which has desolated the world is drawing to a close.

But we welcome the adhesion of our new Ally for another reason, not less strong—for the moral justification which it gives us for our own cause. America, like the British Empire, is engaged in war from no desire and through no fault of her own, but because she “could do no other.” I have said many times since the War began—and I profoundly believe it—that the greatest of all the issues which will be decided in this struggle is whether or not free institutions on which the progress of civilisation and the welfare of mankind depend can survive against the centralised power of a military despotism. In this connection the entrance of the great Republic is a fitting pendant to the revolution which has brought the Russian people—whose courage and endurance we have so much admired, and whose sufferings have been so terrible—into the circle of the free nations of mankind. I have read, as I am sure every Member of this House has read, with deep admiration and profound agreement, the speech—a speech worthy of Abraham Lincoln—in which the President of the United States announced the entrance of his country into this struggle. I read the other day an extract from a German newspaper—a characteristic extract—in which it was said that “America was going to war for nothing.” From their point of view the statement is true. America, like the British nation—I may make that claim—is animated by no lust for conquest, by no greed of territory, by no selfish end. The aims and the ideals to which President Wilson has given in that speech such noble expression are our aims and our ideals too; and, as we found earlier, so the American people have found now, that there is no method by which these aims can be secured except by fighting for them.

Mr. ASQUITH It is natural and fitting that this House, the chief representative body of the British Empire, should at the earliest possible opportunity give definite and emphatic expression to the feelings which throughout the length and breadth of the Empire have grown day by day in volume and in fervour since the memorable decision of the President and Congress of the United States. I doubt whether even now the world realises the full significance of the step which America has taken. I do not use the language of flattery or of exaggeration when I say that it is one of the most disinterested acts in history. An inveterate tradition of more than 100 years has made it a cardinal principle of American policy to keep clear of European entanglements. A war on such a scale as this must of necessity dislocate international commerce and finance, but on balance it was, I think, doing little appreciable harm to the material fortunes and prosperity of the American people. Nor were distinctively American interests at home or abroad, and least of all what is the greatest of all interests in a democratic community—the maintenance of domestic independence and liberty—directly imperilled by the ambitions and designs of the Central Powers. What then is it that has enabled the President, after waiting with the patience which Pitt once described as “the first virtue of statesmanship,” for the right moment, to carry with him a united nation into the hazards and the horrors of the greatest war in history? It is not, as my right hon. Friend has well said, a calculation of material gain. It is not the hope of territorial aggrandisement. It is not even the pricking of one of those so-called points of honour which in days gone by have driven nations, as they used to drive individuals, into the duelling ground. No, it is none of these things; it is the constraining force of conscience and of humanity, growing in strength and in compulsive authority month by month with the gradual unfolding before the eyes of the world of the real character of German aims and German methods. It is that force and that force alone which has brought home to the judgment of the great democracy over the seas the momentous truth that they were standing at the parting of the ways, and that they had to make one of those decisions which in the lives both of men and of communities determine for good or for evil their whole future.

What was it that our kinsmen in America realised was at issue in this unexampled conflict? The very things which they and we—if we are to be worthy of what is noblest in our common history—are bound to vindicate as the essential conditions of a free and honourable development of the nations of the world—justice, humanity, respect for law, consideration for the weak and the unprotected, chivalry towards their enemies, the observance of good faith. These, which we all used to regard as the commonplaces of international decency, have one after another been flouted, menaced, trodden under foot as though they were the effete superstitions of bygone days. America sees that there is here at issue something of wider import than the vicissitudes of battlefields, or even than the rearrangement of the map of Europe on the basis of nationality. The whole future of civilised government and intercourse—in particular the fortunes and the fate of democracy—are brought into peril. In such a situation aloofness is seen to be not only a blunder, but a crime. To stand aside with stopped ears, with folded arms, with an averted gaze when you have the power to intervene is to become not a mere spectator, but an accomplice. There was never in the minds of any of us any fear, from the moment the issue became apparent and unmistakable, that the voice of America would utter an uncertain note. She has now dedicated herself, without hesitation or reserve, with heart and soul and strength, to the greatest of all causes. To that cause, stimulated and fortified by her comradeship, we here renew our own fealty and devotion.

Mr. DILLON It would be rather strange if on this occasion the voice of Ireland were not heard. I have, therefore, been requested by the Irish Nationalist party to join most heartily in this welcome to the United States upon their entry into this great struggle. I regret that the Resolution, which expresses the sentiments of this House and of this nation, has not been drafted with a little more skill and a little more cordiality. It slightly reminds me—and I regret it—of an essay of Mr. Lowell in which he speaks of a certain condescension amongst foreigners. But the speech to which we have just listened redeems the Resolution and expresses, in the language which this great occasion deserves, what are the real sentiments of the nations which form the British Empire. The full meaning of the entry of America into this struggle it is difficult to describe. It is not like the entry of other Allies. It has a mighty significance to the whole civilised world. It is a breach with the unbroken tradition, as has just been said by the late Prime Minister, extending over more than 100 years since America first became a nation, during which time she has adhered, with almost vehemence and passion, to the principles laid down by Washington, that she should keep herself free from all entangling alliances and all interference in European quarrels. With the history of Europe behind her, is it any wonder that that principle should have been laid down? If we really desire to appreciate fully the significance of America’s entry into this struggle, we should read and read again the addresses of President Wilson. His speech to the Senate on the occasion of the breach of relations with Germany and his first address to the Congress of America, when he asked them to authorise him to declare a state of war, are documents which, in my opinion, will go down to history as some of the noblest utterances ever spoken by a statesman. They are speeches which carry encouragement and hope to the heart and breast of every oppressed nationality and oppressed race in the world, and I trust that the people of this country will take some occasion of giving cordial expression to their acceptance of the great principles laid down in those immortal addresses.

There is one thing I miss from the speeches made here to-day and from the Resolution, that is, a recognition of the difficulties with which President Wilson has had to contend during the last two and a half years. I must confess I have often thought that in some of the criticism which was levelled against America and President Wilson during the last two years there was much want of generosity and want of understanding. The task of President Wilson was one of unparalleled difficulty, based on two great facts; first, that his nation—a nation which it was vital, not only to America but to the whole civilised world, that he should keep united—is a composite nation. He had to deal with a people who numbered in its composition close upon 20,000,000 citizens of German blood and 15,000,000 citizens of Irish blood. The difficulties he had to deal with in keeping that nation united and in bringing them into the War were never fairly appreciated in this country. It is difficult for anyone who has not resided in America to thoroughly understand it. The second great difficulty with which President Wilson had to deal was this: He had to deal with a nation who have a deep-seated tradition and an ineradicable hatred of war, far beyond anything that is known among European nations. That nation of America was founded by men who fled from war and oppression in Europe, and it has been so regarded from generation to generation and from year to year by exiles and persecuted men from Europe, who had burned into their very souls and into their blood hatred of the wars of Europe and the oppressions which, unhappily, have so long characterised the annals of Europe. Therefore, to bring the United States of America into the War was to ask them to go against one of the deepest instincts of the soul of that race.

In the midst of all these difficulties, I have admired beyond my power of expression the skill, the great statesmanship, the courage and the patience of President Wilson, which have put him, in my opinion, in the very forefront of the great statesmen of the last 100 years. Amidst all these difficulties, President Wilson was able to count upon one thing at least, that when the banner of the Stars and Stripes was unfurled in war, when the United States was attacked, every man of Irish blood among the 15,000,000 of Irish in America would be a loyal supporter of the President. Amidst all the humiliations and misfortunes of our people their record in connection with America is a great one. From the foundation of the American nation down to this hour, whenever America was assailed and in all her struggles, the fleets and armies of America were filled with Irishmen far in excess of their proportion to the population—filled with Irish soldiers, and commanded by Irish Generals and Irish Admirals on every occasion In the War of the Revolution, one of the earliest acts of Washington himself, and of the first Congress, was to express their profound gratitude to the Irish of America for their invaluable aid in asserting the liberty of that country. In the Civil War, in the Spanish War, in the War of 1812, and in every other struggle in which America has been concerned, Irishmen were in the forefront of the American Army and the American Navy, and the day when the roll is called for battle the Irish will be there, and they will outnumber amongst the soldiers of the Republic the record of any other race in proportion to the number of its population.

The coming of America has a deep significance, because of its moral effect on the cause of the Allies. It has another value which was referred to the other day by the Prime Minister, when he said he welcomed the coming of America into this War because of the fact that it would bring America to sit at the Peace Conference. That to us in a special manner, and to every race in Europe that is oppressed today, is a blessed thing and a sign of hope and an assurance of liberty, for we feel certain that coming, as she has done, into this struggle unselfishly in the cause of liberty—at a most critical hour and probably with the turning of the tide of battle in favour of democracy and liberty throughout the world—her voice will be a weighty voice when the settlement comes to be made, and we Irish, at least, know that at the Peace Conference we shall have a friend who will not desert us. One sentence from the great speech delivered by President Wilson to the Senate has remained in my memory and will go down for ever as an immortal principle to be accepted and endorsed, I hope, by all statesmen who believe in liberty. He was dealing with the great question of the state of the world after the War and the settlement which was to come, and the hopes which had been held out to the world of some League of Nations to maintain perpetual peace and banish the curse of war for ever from amongst civilised mankind. He said: No world’s peace can be permanent, or ought to be permanent, which is based on the oppression of any face or nation of the world. That is an immortal principle. It is true in principle, it is true in fact. Justice to all small and weak peoples, as well as to great empires, must be the basis of any attempt to bring peace to the world. Let us all pray that America may have that blessed task of basing peace upon such a foundation.

Mr. WARDLE I feel that it is exceedingly difficult to follow the speeches which have been delivered, but I am quite sure the House will feel with me that this occasion ought not to pass without some spokesman for labour welcoming, as one should unreservedly, the entrance of the great democracy of America into this War. One thought that has come to me with regard to this matter is that the entry of America emphasises the fact that the days of isolation are entirely over, and that there is an interdependence of nations in the interests of humanity which is now emphasised in a manner which has never been emphasised before. The world, after all, is one, as well as being divided into nations, and it is the jealousies of nations and attempts on the part of some one or two nations at different periods in the world’s history to dominate the rest which has been the cause of so much war and bloodshed and unhappiness; and if there can be, as I hope there will be, as the final result of this War and of the entrance of America of some such League of Nations, as the hon. Member has just referred to, which will be specially charged with keeping the world’s peace against ambitious Powers, whether they be Principalities or Republics, I hope we may sec it.

The most significant thing about the entry of America to me is that it is a sign that the great American nation has seen the real nature of the present War. They have been slow in making up their mind because of the immense difficulties of their domestic position, but I do not think there can be any doubt that from the very beginning of the War their real conscience and heart and moral has been on the side of the Allies. It is not, with them at any rate, a question of nationality or of patriotism. This War, whatever other wars may have been, is not a question of patriotism in the ordinary sense of the term. This conflict is raised above questions of nationality. It is raised on to the high question of principle as to what is to be the future of the world and of civilisation, and, above all, of democracy. We are fighting, America is now fighting, for a real internationalism, for a real policy of good will and arrangement between the nations which has hitherto been impossible.

Once before in the history of the world the American nation, which was then not in the same position as it is now, an Anglo-Saxon nation at that time, has joined with this great nation in the fight against slavery. It is owing to the efforts of America and to Britain that slavery has largely, if not entirely, disappeared from the face of the earth. At any rate, it is discredited. If we can stamp out together, along with our Allies, militarism and despotism, and autocracy as well, then, great as the struggle has been, horrible as this War has been, it will fulfil a purpose which, in my opinion, has been worth all the struggle and all the sacrifice. The great democracies, including Russia, are fighting for the right of free peoples to develop in their own way. That is the real issue of the struggle. It is the character of the methods which have been pursued by the Central Powers which is bringing the world to see what the struggle really is. It is said that manners make men, and the methods of nations prove the character of their civilisation. It is the manners of the German people in carrying on this War which have revealed what is really behind the War, and have caused not only America but the moral conscience of the world to take up arms against a Power which is absolutely unscrupulous, which has no sense of justice, honour, or fair play, and against which the only method to adopt is to fight them until we have won a complete victory.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER The hon. Member for North Westmeath (Mr. Ginncll) has handed in two Amendments, which he proposes to ask leave to move. Neither of them can be taken. The first one is only an irrelevant negative, and the second one is irrelevant altogether to the subject-matter of the Motion.

Mr. GINNELL On a point of Order. Surely that is an exceptional ruling? My first proposition is not a direct negative, and I say that with all due respect.

HON. MEMBERS Order, order!

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER I can hear the hon. Member on a point of Order, but I cannot hear him, if he tries to dispute the ruling of the Chair. He is entitled to make a submission on a point of Order, and if he does that I will hear him.

Mr. GINNELL It is a misdescription to describe as irrelevant a Resolution or Motion proposing in recognition of the fact that this is a time-expired, unelected and, therefore, unconstitutional Assembly—

HON. MEMBERS Order, order!

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER The hon. Member is simply persisting in challenging my ruling.

Mr. GINNELL Will you allow me to make my point of Order? I think a Parliament like this—

HON. MEMBERS Order, order!

Mr. GINNELL It is a misdescription—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER J. have given my decision. It is not open to the hon. Member to dispute my ruling in this way.

Mr. GINNELL I want, on a point of Order, to ask you by what authority you rule that an Amendment proposing that this matter be postponed until after a new Parliament has been elected is a direct negative?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER By the inherent right of the Chair I have given my ruling. The hon. Member has submitted to me an Amendment which is irrelevant to the Motion now before the House.

Mr. GINNELL How is postponement irrelevant?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER If the hon. Member persists in challenging my ruling after I have twice warned him, I shall be obliged to take notice of his conduct.

Mr. GINNELL I want on a point of Order to say—

HON. MEMBERS Order, order!

Mr. GINNELL I want to do it for the dignity of the Chair on this great occasion when not only Europe, but America, is looking on at this House—

HON. MEMBERS Order, order!

Mr. GINNELL On a point of Order. I should like to know why you rule that a Motion to postpone is out of order?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER I have ruled on the ground already stated that both the Motions handed in by the hon. Member are out of order.

Mr. GINNELL On a point of Order. I should like to ask you how—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER The hon. Member, on a point of Order, is simply trying to argue with the Chair. The duty of deciding these questions is imposed on me by the House, and I shall not permit the hon. Member or any other hon. Member to go beyond properly submitting a point of Order and to argue with me on my rulings.

Mr. GINNELL You have not answered the simple question whether the ruling that the Motion to postpone this until a new Parliament has been elected is out of order, without reference to the second.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER I have ruled that both Motions handed in by the hon. Member are out of order.

Mr. GINNELL It is a partial ruling.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, “That this House desires to express to the Government and people of the United States of America its profound appreciation of the action of that Government in joining the Allied Powers, and thus defending the high cause of freedom and the rights of humanity against the gravest menace by which they have ever been imperilled.”—Mr. [Bonar Law.]