Extracts from the Speech of Lord Curzon in the House of Lords, December 19, 1916

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WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > Extracts from the Speech of Lord Curzon in the House of Lords, December 19, 1916


Extracts from the Speech of Lord Curzon in the House of Lords, December 19, 19161

     I hope I shall not be wrong if I state my belief that the friendly wel-
come which has been accorded to the present Government, not least
by your Lordships, has been due to the conviction that a greater and
more concentrated effort, more effective and universal organisation, a
more and adequate and rapid use of the resources not only of ourselves
alone, but of our Allies, are required if we are to carry the war to the
successful termination we all desire. This country is not merely will-
ing to be led, but is almost calling to be driven. They desire the
vigorous prosecution of the war, a sufficient and ample return
for all the sacrifices they have made, reparation by the enemy for his
countless and inconceivable crimes, security that those crimes shall not
be repeated, and that those sacrifices shall not have been made in vain.
They desire that the peace of Europe shall be re-established on the
basis of a free and independent existence of nations great and small.
They desire as regards ourselves that our own country shall be free
from the menace which the triumph of German arms, and still more
the triumph of the German spirit, would entail. It is to carry out
these intentions that the present Government has come into existence,
and by its success or failure in doing so will it be judged.
     At the very moment when she is talking of peace Germany is making
the most stupendous efforts for the prosecution of the war, and to find
new men. She is squeezing possibly the last drop out of the manhood
of her nation. She is compelling every man, woman, and boy, between
sixteen and sixty, to enter the service of the State. At the same time,
with a callous ferocity and disregard of international law, she is driving
the population of the territory she has occupied into compulsory service.
She is even trying to get an army out of Poland by offering it the illu-
sory boon of "independence." That is the nature of the challenge we
have to meet. It has been our object to establish such a system of re-
cruiting as will ensure that no man is taken for the Army who is capa-
ble of rendering more useful service in industry. We ought to have
power to see that every man who is not taken into the Army is em-
ployed on national work. At present it is only on men fit for military
service the nation has the right to call. Unfit men, exempted men, are
surely under the same moral obligation. We need to make a swift and
effective answer to Germany's latest move, and in my opinion it is not
too much to ask the people of this country to take upon themselves in a
few months and as free men the obligations which Germany is im-
posing on herself. As our Army grows our need of munitions grows. A
large part of our labour for munition purposes is at present immobile,
and we have no power to transfer men from where they are wasting
their strength to places where they can be of great service. We have
not the organisation for transferring them as volunteers. These are
the powers we must take, and this is the organisation we must complete.
The matter is not new. It was considered by the War Committee of
the late Government and others, and it was decided that the time had
come for the adoption of universal national service. It was one of the
first matters taken up by the present Government.
                         *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *
     Having dealt so far with the domestic programme of the Government
I will now refer to the military and political situations. While I do not
believe in painting too rosy a picture of affairs, I think we ought not to
take a gloomy view. It is true that Germany has captured the capital
of Roumania, but your Lordships must not imagine that she has gained
all the success even in Roumania that the words of the Imperial Chan-
cellor would appear to suggest. It may be a consolation to your Lord-
ships to know that the oil refineries and stocks in that part of Roumania
which is now in the occupation of the Germans were destroyed before
the arrival of the Germans. It would be invidious if I were to dis-
cuss the cause of Roumania's failure. It is one of the tragic incidents
of the war. The only military Power which could come to the assist-
ance of Roumania was Russia. Russia has done all in her power. The
utmost we could do was to send supplies, as we did, and to engage the
common enemy by an active offensive from our military base at Salo-
nica. What changes have taken place in the external aspect of the war
during the present year?
                         *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *
     I distrust statistics, at any rate, in casualties in war, nor do I attach
too much importance to the fact that since July 1 the combined armies
of France and England have taken 105,000 German prisoners, 150
heavy guns, 200 field guns, and 15,000 machine guns. There have
been much more important consequences than this. The Allies have
established an incontestable superiority not merely in the fighting
strength and stamina of their men, but in artillery and the air. It is
clear that the morale of the Germans is greatly shaken and that their
horses are sick of it. Evidence is accumulating of the bad interior con-
dition of Germany, in some cases the admitted hunger and in some
cases almost starvation, and the progressive physical deterioration of
her people. The outlook is not quite so good for the Central Powers
as they would have us believe, and our attitude need not be one of
despondency or alarm. It is at this moment that Germany has come
forward with offers of peace, or rather I can not fairly use the word
offer, but rather let me say vague adumbrations and indications of
peace. What has been the course of events? First there has been
the speech of the Imperial Chancellor in the Reichstag. Next there is
the note to the Powers. The note proclaims the indestructible strength
of the Central Powers and proclaims that Germany is not only unde-
feated, but undefeatable. It advances the plea that Germany was con-
strained to take up arms for the defence of her existence. It avows
German respect for the rights of other nations — and expresses a
desire to stem the flood of blood, and finally, after this remarkable
preamble, it declares that they propose to enter even now, in the
hour of their triumph, they propose, as an act of condescension.
to enter into peace negotiations. As regards peace, is there a single
one of the Allied Powers who would not welcome peace if it is to be a
genuine peace, a lasting peace, a peace that could be secured on
honorable terms, a peace that would give guarantees for the future?
Is there a single Government, statesman, or individual who does not
wish to put an end to this conflict, which is turning half the world into
a hell and wrecking the brightest prospects of mankind? In what
spirit is it proposed and from whom does it come?
                         *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *
     Is this the spirit in which your Lordships think that peace proposals
should be made? Does it hold out a reasonable prospect of inducing
the Allies to lay down their arms? Is there any indication of German
desire to make reparation and to give guarantees for the future? So
far as we can judge from that speech, and it is all we have to judge by,
the spirit which breathes in every word is the spirit of German militar-
ism. While that speech is being made Belgian deportation is going on.
It is said that the "peace of God passeth understanding." Surely the
same thing can be said in a different sense of the peace which Germany
proposes. We know nothing of that. We have only the menacing tone
of the note and the speech which accompanied it. Let me put one more
reflection before you. Let no one think for a moment that it is merely by
territorial restitution or by reversion to the status quo ante that the
objects for which the Allies are fighting will be obtained. We are
fighting, it is true, to recover for Belgium, France, Russia, Serbia, and
Roumania the territories which they have lost, and to secure reparation
for the cruel wrongs they have experienced. But you may restore to
them all, and more than all, they have lost, you may pile on indemnities
which no treasury in Europe could produce, and yet the war would
have been in vain if we had no guarantees and no securities against a
repetition of Germany's offense. We are not fighting to destroy Ger-
many. Such an idea has never entered into the mind of any thinking
human being in this country. But we are fighting to secure that the Ger-
man spirit shall not crush the free progress of nations and that the
armed strength of Germany, augmented and fortified, shall not dominate
the future. We are fighting that our grandchildren and our great-
grandchildren shall not have, in days when we have passed away, to go
again through the experience of the years 1914 to 1917. This genera-
tion has suffered in order that the next may live. We are ready enough
for peace when these guarantees have been secured and these objects
attained. Till then we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of our
fellow-countrymen and our Allies, who have shed their blood for us, to
be true to the trust of their splendid and uncomplaining sacrifice and
to endure to the end.


1 The Morning Post, London, December 20, 1916