Extracts from the Speech of Former Premier Asquith in the House of Commons, 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 Former Premier Asquith in the House of Commons, December 19, 1916

Extracts from the Speech of Former Premier Asquith in the House of Commons, December 19, 19161

     I think what I have said is sufficient to show that the use we have
made of the methods open to us — naval, military, and economic —
has not been ineffectual, and if further proof were required it is to
be found in the so-called peace proposals which have been somewhat
clumsily projected into spaaaaaace from Berlin. It is true that these pro-
posals are wrapped up in the familiar dialect of Prussian arrogance,
but how comes it that a nation which, after two years of war, pro-
fesses itself conscious of military superiority and confident of ultimate
victory should begin to whisper, nay, not to whisper, but to shout
so that all the world can hear it, the word "peace"? Is it a sudden
access of chivalry? Why and when has the German Chancellor become
so acutely sensitive to what he calls the dictates of humanity? No;
without being uncharitable we may well look elsewhere for the origin
of this pronouncement. It is born of military and economic necessity.
When I moved the last Vote of Credit I said there was no one among
us who did not yearn for peace, but that it must be an honourable and
not a shamefaced peace; it must be a peace that promised to be durable
and not a patched-up and precarious compromise; it must be a peace
which achieved the purpose for which we entered on the war. Such a
peace we would gladly accept. Anything short of it we were bound to
repudiate by every obligation of honour, and above all by the debt we
owe to those, and especially to the young, who have given their lives
for what they and we believed to be a worthy cause. Since I
spoke two months ago their ranks have been sadly and steadily rein-
forced. I should like to refer in passing for a moment to one of them,
a friend and colleague of mine, Lord Lucas. Apart from the ad-
vantages of birth and fortune he was a man of singularly win-
ning personality, fine intelligence, and with the strongest sense of
public duty. He worked inconspicuously but hard in the early days
of the Territorial Army. He served for some years at the War Office
and afterwards became a member of the Cabinet. At the time of the
Coalition he stood aside without a murmur and volunteered straight
away for the Royal Flying Corps. Now he has met his death in a
gallant reconnoitering raid over the German lines. He was not, I
think, more than forty. He had a full and fruitful life. Nor can we
or ought we forget the countless victims, both among our own people
and among the Allies, of the ruthless and organised violation of the
humane restrictions by which both on land and sea the necessary hor-
rors of war have been hitherto mitigated. For my own part I say
plainly and emphatically that I see nothing in the note of the German
Government which gives me the least reason to believe that they are
in a mood to give to the Allies what the last time I spoke I declared
to be essential — reparation and security.
     If they are in the right mood — if they are prepared to give us repa-
ration for the past and security for the future, let them say so.
While I was at the head of the Government, on several occasions
I indicated, I believe, in quite unambiguous language, the minimum
of the Allies" demands, before they put up their swords, as well
as the general character of the ultimate international status upon
which our hopes and desires are set. I have no longer authority to
speak for the Government or the nation, but I do not suppose the
House or the country are going back from what I said in their name
and on their behalf. It is not we that stand in the way of peace
when we decline, as I hope we shall, to enter blindfold into the
parleys which start from nothing, and therefore can lead to nothing.
Peace we all desire, but peace can only come — peace, I mean, that is
worthy the name and that satisfies the definition of the word — peace
will only come on the terms that atonement is made for past wrongs,
that the weak and the downtrodden are restored, and that the faith
of treaties and the sovereignty of public law are securely enthroned
over the nations of the world.

1The Morning Post, London, December 20, 1916