Extract from the Speech of Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Bristol, England, January 24, 1917

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WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > Extract from the Speech of Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Bristol, England, January 24, 1917

Extract from the Speech of Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Bristol, England, January 24, 19171

     We are working for, looking forward to peace. The Germans the
other day made us what they call an offer of peace. It received from
the Allied Governments the only reply which was possible. You have
read the speech made by President Wilson. It was a frank speech,
and it is right that any member of an Allied Government who refers
to it should speak frankly too. It is impossible that he and we can
look on this question from the same point of view. Whatever his
private feeling may be, the head of a great neutral State must take
a neutral attitude. America is very far removed from the horrors of
this war; we are in the midst of it. America is neutral; we are not
neutral. We believe that the essence. of this conflict is the question,
which is as old as time, of the difference between right and wrong.
We know that this is a war of naked aggression. We know that
the crimes which have accompanied the conduct of the war — crimes
almost incredible after 2,000 years of Christianity — are small in com-
parison with the initial crime by which the men responsible for the
policy of Germany with cold-blooded calculation, because they thought
it would pay, plunged the world into the horrors we are enduring.
President Wilson's aim is to have peace now and security for peace
in the future. That is our aim also, and it is our only aim. He hopes
to secure it by means of a league of peace among the nations, and he
is trying to get the American Senate to do something to make this
possible. It would not be right, in my opinion, for us to look upon that
suggestion as altogether Utopian. You know that until quite recently
duelling was common. Now the idea that private quarrels should be
settled by the sword is unthinkable. But, after all, it is for us not an
abstract question for the future. It is a question of life or death now;
and whether we consider that the aim which he and we have in com-
mon can be secured by his methods, we can not forget the past. For
generations humane men, men of good-will among all nations have
striven, by Hague Conventions, by peace conferences, by every means,
to make war impossible. I said humane men. They have striven, if not
to make it impossible, to mitigate its horrors and to see how the bar-
riers against barbarism could be maintained.
     At the outbreak of war Germany swept aside every one of those
barriers and tore up the scraps of paper which she had solemnly signed.
She spread mines in the open sea; on sea and land she committed
atrocities, incredible atrocities, contrary to conventions which she had
herself signed. At this moment she is driving the populations of
enemy territory into slavery, and, worse than that, in some cases she
is making the subjects of the Allies take up arms against their own
country. All that has happened and no neutral country has been able
to stop it, and, more than that, no neutral country has made any pro-
test, at least no effective protest. It is for us a question of life or
death. We must have stronger guarantees for the future peace of the
     We have rejected the proposal to enter into peace negotiations not
from any lust of conquest, not from any longing for shining victories;
we have rejected it not from any feeling of vindictiveness or even a de-
sire for revenge; we have rejected it because peace now would mean
peace based upon a German victory. It would mean a military ma-
chine which is still unbroken, it would mean also that that machine
would be in the hands of a nation prepared for war, who would set
about preparing for it again, and, at their own time, plunge us again
into the miseries which we are enduring to-day. What President
Wilson is longing for we are fighting for. . . .
     Our sons and brothers are dying for it, and we mean to secure it.
The heart of the people of our country is longing for peace. We are
praying for peace, a peace that will bring back in safety those who are
dear to us, but a peace which will mean this — that those who will
never come back shall not have laid down their lives in vain.

1The Times, London, January 25, 1917.