Speech of Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the House of Commons, December 21, 1916

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WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > Speech of Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the House of Commons, December 21, 1916


Speech of Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the House of Commons, December 21, 19161

     The House will readily understand that I am divided between two
desires. It is the general desire of the House, I think, that we should
rise to-morrow, and if that is to be done it is quite impossible that a
subject so vast as that which we have just been discussing can be
properly debated to-night. I am going to try to set an example by
saying very little indeed on the burning questions which have been
raised in the course of the debate. In regard to the speech of the hon.
member who has just sat down, I at least who have only run vicarious
risks have no right to throw taunts at a man who has had his place in
the fighting line. At the same time, I am compelled to say that if the
spirit of the speech to which we have just listened were to permeate this
country, then, in my belief, all the blood and treasure which have been
spent in this war will have been spent in vain. I do not think that he
or anyone needs to impress upon us what are the horrors of this war.
If there were ever any who love war for itself — I have always hated
it — if there were any whose imaginations were moved by the pomp and
panoply of war, we know better now what it is. It is not glorious
victories, or the hope of them, that is moving the hearts of the people
of this country. What we think of is the men — our own nearest rela-
tions — who are suffering the hardships which have been pointed out
to us. What we are thinking of are the desolate homes to which life
will never return again in this world. What we are thinking of are
the maimed and wounded whom we see going about our streets. We
do not love war, and if I saw any prospect of securing the objects for
which we have been fighting by a peace to-morrow, there is no man in
this House who would welcome it more gladly than I would.
But what is the position? The hon. gentleman says — I hope no
one will think that in quoting his words I have any party view in
mind — "Let us trust to the old Liberal traditions; let us trust to the
good hearts of those we are dealing with." Why are we in this war
to-day? Why are we suffering the terrible agonies which this nation
is enduring? It is because we did trust Germany; because we
did believe that the crimes which have been committed by them would
never be committed by any human being. It is all very well to say,
"Let us get terms of peace." Can you get any terms of peace more
binding than the treaty to protect the neutrality of Belgium? Can
you come to any conclusion upon paper or by promise which will give
us greater security than we had before this war broke out? Where
are we to find them? I hope that not this country alone, but all the
neutral nations of the world, will understand the position that has now
arisen. Germany has made a proposal of peace. On what basis? On
the basis of her victorious army.
     The hon. member who spoke last tells us that if we win the victory
there will be conscription for ever in this country. But what will be
the position if peace is settled on the basis of a victorious German
army? Is there any man in this House who has honestly con-
sidered not merely the conditions in which this war was forced on
the world, but the way in which the war has been carried on — is there
any man in this House who honestly believes that the dangers and
miseries from which we have suffered can be cured in any other way
than by making the Germans realize that frightfulness does not pay,
and that their militarism is not going to rule the world?
     I ask the House to realize what it is we are fighting for. We are not
fighting for territory; we are not fighting for the greater strength of
the nations who are fighting. We are fighting for two things, to put
it in a nutshell: We are fighting for peace now, but we are also
fighting for security for peace in the time to come. When this
German peace proposal comes before us, not only based on Ger-
man victories, but when they claim that they are acting on humanitarian
grounds, when they treat it, to put it at the best, from their point of
view, as if they and the Allies were at least equal — let the House con-
sider what has happened in this war. Let them consider the outrages
in Belgium, the outrages on sea and land, the massacres in Armenia,
which Germany could have stopped at a word, if she had wished to
do so.
     Let them realize that this war will have been fought in vain, utterly
in vain, unless we can make sure that it shall never again be in the
power of a single man or of a group of men to plunge the world into
miseries such as I have described.
     When the hon. gentleman talks about peace on these terms, I ask
anyone in this House or in the country this question: Is there to be no
reparation for the wrong? Is the peace to come on this basis, that the
greatest crime in the world's history is to go absolutely unpunished?
It is not vindictiveness to say that. It is my firm belief that unless
all the nations of the world can be made to realize that these moral
horses of which the hon. gentleman spoke have to be shown in action —
unless we realize that, there never can be an enduring peace in this
world. I am not afraid of my countrymen. We have been told
that the troops at the front will fight to the end, to secure what
they think is necessary as a result of this war. I am sure that they will.
I am sure also that our fellow countrymen at home who up till now
have made few sacrifices, except the sacrifice of those dear to them,
are determined in this matter, and that if they can be made to believe,
as I am sure they can, that the objects for which we are fighting can
be secured, then there is no sacrifice which they will not be prepared
to make. I am afraid I have said more than I intended when I rose,
but I could not refrain from expressing what I felt on this subject.


1The Times, London, December 22, 1916