Extracts from the Speech of Premier Lloyd George 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 Premier Lloyd George in the House of Commons, December 19, 1916

Extracts from the Speech of Premier Lloyd George in the House of Commons, December 19, 19161

     I am afraid I shall have to claim the indulgence of the House in
making the observations which I have to make in moving the second
reading of this Bill. I am still suffering a little from my throat. I
appear before the House of Commons to-day with the most terrible
responsibility that can fall upon the shoulders of any living man as
the chief adviser of the Crown in the most gigantic war in which this
country has ever been engaged, a war upon the events of which its
destiny depends. It is the greatest war ever waged. The burdens
are the heaviest that have been cast upon this or any other country,
and the issues which hang on it are the gravest that have been attached
to any conflict in which humanity has ever been involved.
     The responsibilities of the new Government have been suddenly
accentuated by a declaration made by the German Chancellor, and I
propose to deal with that at once. The statement made by him in
the German Reichstag has been followed by a note presented to us
by the United States of America without any note or comment. The
answer that will be given by the Government will be given in full
accord with all our brave Allies. Naturally there has been an inter-
change of views, not upon the note, because it has only recently
arrived, but upon the speech which propelled it, and, inasmuch as the
note itself is practically only a reproduction or certainly a paraphrase
of the speech, the subject-matter of the note itself has been discussed
informally between the Allies, and I am very glad to be able to state
that we have each of us, separately and independently, arrived at identi-
cal conclusions. I am very glad that the first answer that was given
to the statement of the German Chancellor was given by France and
by Russia. They have the unquestioned right to give the first answer
to such an invitation. The enemy is still on their soil. Their sacri-
fices have been greater. The answer they have given has already
appeared in all the papers, and I simply stand here to-day on behalf
of the Government to give a clear and definite support to the state-
ment which they have already made. Let us examine what the state-
ment is and examine it calmly. Any man or set of men who wantonly
or without sufficient cause prolong a terrible conflict like this would
have on his soul a crime that oceans could not cleanse. Upon the other
hand it is equally true that any man or set of men who from a sense
of weariness or despair abandoned the struggle without achieving the
high purpose for which he had entered into it would have been
guilty of the costliest act of poltroonery ever perpetrated by any
statesman. I should like to quote the very well-known words of
Abraham Lincoln under similar conditions: — "We accepted this war
for an object, a worthy object, and the war will end when that object
is attained. Under God I hope it will never end until that time."
Are we likely to achieve that object by accepting the invitation of
the German Chancellor? That is the only question we have to put to
     There has been some talk about proposals of peace. What are the
proposals? There are none. To enter, on the invitation of Germany,
proclaiming herself victorious, without any knowledge of the pro-
posals she proposes to make, into a conference is to put our heads
into a noose with the rope end in the hands of Germany. This coun-
try is not altogether without experience in these matters. This is
not the first time we have fought a great military despotism that was
overshadowing Europe, and it will not be the first time we shall have
helped to overthrow military despotism. We have an uncomfortable
historical memory of these things, and we can recall when one of
the greatest of these despots had a purpose to serve in the working
of his nefarious schemes. His favorite device was to appear in
the garb of the Angel of Peace, and he usually appeared under two
conditions. When he wished for time to assimilate his conquests or
to reorganize his horses for fresh conquests, or, secondly, when his
subjects showed symptoms of fatigue and war weariness the appeal
was always made in the name of humanity. He demanded an end
to bloodshed, at which he professed himself to be horrified, but for
which he himself was mainly responsible. Our ancestors were taken
in once, and bitterly they and Europe rue it. The time was devoted
to reorganizing his horses for a deadlier attack than ever upon the
liberties of Europe, and examples of that kind cause us to regard
this note with a considerable measure of reminiscent disquietude.
     We feel that we ought to know, before we can give favourable con-
sideration to such an invitation, that Germany is prepared to accede
to the only terms on which it is possible for peace to be obtained and
maintained in Europe. What are those terms? They have been re-
peatedly stated by all the leading statesmen of the Allies. My
right hon. friend has stated them repeatedly here and outside, and all
I can do is to quote, as my right hon. friend the leader of the House
did last week, practically the statement of the terms put forward by
my right hon. friend —
     "Restitution, reparation, guarantee against repetition" — so that there
shall be no mistake, and it is important that there should be no
mistake in a matter of life and death to millions.
     Let me repeat again — complete restitution, full reparation, effectual
guarantee. Did the German Chancellor use a single phrase to in-
dicate that he was prepared to accept such a peace? Was there a
hint of restitution, was there any suggestion of reparation, was there
any invitation of any security for the future that this outrage on
civilization would not be again perpetrated at the first profitable
opportunity? The very substance and style of this speech con-
stitutes a denial of peace on the only terms on which peace is pos-
sible. He is not even conscious now that Germany has committed
any offence against the rights of free nations. Listen to this from
the note: — "Not for an instant have they (they being the Central
Powers) swerved from the conviction that respect of the rights of
other nations is not in any degree incompatible with their own rights
and legitimate interests." When did they discover that? Where
was the respect for the rights of other nations in Belgium and Ser-
bia? That was self-defence! Menaced, I suppose, by the over-
whelming armies of Belgium, the Germans had been intimidated
into invading Belgium, and the burning of Belgian cities and vil-
lages, to the massacring of thousands of inhabitants, old and young,
to the carrying of the survivors into bondage. Yea, and they were
carrying them into slavery at the very moment when this note
was being written about the unswerving conviction as to the respect
for the root of the rights of other nations. Are these outrages the
legitimate interest of Germany? We must know. That is not the
moment for peace. If excuses of this kind for palpable crimes can
be put forward two and a half years after the exposure by grim
facts of the guarantee, is there, I ask in all solemnity, any guarantee
that similar subterfuges will not be used in the future to overthrow
any treaty of peace you may enter into with Prussian militarism.
     This note and that speech prove that not yet have they learned
the very alphabet of respect for the rights of others. Without rep-
aration, peace is impossible. Are all these outrages against humanity
on land and on sea to be liquidated by a few pious phrases
about humanity? Is there to be no reckoning for them? Are we
to grasp the hand that perpetrated these atrocities in friendship with-
out any reparation being tendered or given ? I am told that we are to
begin, Germany helping us, to exact reparation for all future vio-
lence committed after the war. We have begun already. It has al-
ready cost us so much, and we must exact it now so as not to leave
such a grim inheritance to our children. As much as we all long
for peace, deeply as we are horrified with war, this note and the
speech which heralded it do not afford us much encouragement and
hope for an honourable and lasting peace. What hope is given
in that speech that the whole root and cause of this great bitterness,
the arrogant spirit of the Prussian military caste, will not be as
dominant as ever if we patch up peace now? Why, the very speech
in which these peace suggestions are made resound to the boast of
Prussian military triumph. It is a long pæan over the victories of
von Hindenburg and his legions. The very appeal for peace was
delivered ostentatiously from the triumphal chariot of Prussian mili-
     We must keep a stedfast eye upon the purpose for which we
entered the war, otherwise the great sacrifices we have been mak-
ing will be in vain. The German note states that it was for the
defence of their existence and the freedom of national development
that the Central Powers were constrained to take up arms. Such
phrases even deceive those who pen them. They are intended to
delude the German nation into supporting the designs of the Prus-
sian military caste. Who ever wished to put an end to their national
existence or the freedom of their national development? We wel-
comed their development as long as it was on the paths of peace —
the greater their development upon that road, the greater would all
humanity be enriched by their efforts. That was not our desire, and
it is not our purpose now.
     The Allies entered this war to defend Europe against the aggres-
sion of Prussian military domination, and, having begun it, they must
insist that the only end is the most complete and effective guarantee
against the possibility of that caste ever again disturbing the peace of
Europe. Prussia, since she got into the hands of that caste, has been
a bad neighbour, arrogant, threatening, bullying, shifting boundaries
at her will, taking one fair field after another from weaker neigh-
bours, and adding them to her own domain. With her belt ostenta-
tiously full of weapons of offence, and ready at a moment's notice
to use them, she has always been an unpleasant, disturbing neigh-
bour in Europe. She got thoroughly on the nerves of Europe. There
was no peace near where she dwelt. It is difficult for those who are
fortunate enough to live thousands of miles away to understand what
it has meant to those who live near. Even here, with the protection
of the broad seas between us, we know what a disturbing factor the
Prussians were with their constant naval menace.
     But even we can hardly realize what it has meant to France and to
Russia. Several times there were threats directed to them even
within the lifetime of this generation which presented the alternative
of war or humiliation. There were many of us who hoped that
internal influences in Germany would have been strong enough to
check and ultimately to eliminate these feelings. All our hopes
proved illusory, and now that this great war has been forced by
the Prussian military leaders upon France, Russia, Italy, and our-
selves, it would be folly, it would be a cruel folly, not to see to
it that this swashbuckling through the streets of Europe to the dis-
turbance of all harmless and peaceful citizens shall be dealt with
now as an offence against the law of nations. The mere word that
led Belgium to her own destruction will not satisfy Europe any
more. We all believed it. We all trusted it. It gave way at the
first pressure of temptation, and Europe has been plunged into the
vortex of blood.
     We will therefore wait until we hear what terms and guarantees
the German Government offer other than those, better than those,
surer than those, which she so lightly broke. Meantime, we shall
put our trust in an unbroken Army rather than in a broken faith.
For the moment I do not think it would be advisable for me to
add anything upon this particular invitation. A formal reply will
be delivered by the Allies in the course of the next few days. I shall
therefore proceed with the other part of the task which I have in
front of me. What is the urgent task in front of the Government?
To complete, and make even more effective, the mobilization of all
our national resources — a mobilization which has been going on since
the commencement of the war — so as to enable the nation to bear
the strain, however prolonged, and to march through to victory,
however lengthy, and however exhausted may be the task. It is a
gigantic task.
     Let me give this word of warning, if there be any who have
given their confidence to the new Administration in expectation of
a speedy victory, they will be doomed to disappointment. I am not
going to paint a gloomy picture of the military situation. If I did
it would not be a true picture. But I must paint a stern picture, be-
cause that accurately represents the facts.
                         *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *
                              There is a time in every prolonged and fierce war
when in the passion and rage of conflict men forget the high purpose
with which they entered it. This is a struggle for international right, in-
ternational honour, international good faith — the channel along which
peace, honour, and good will must flow amongst men. The em-
bankment laboriously built up by generations of men against bar-
barism has been broken, and had not the might of Britain passed
into the breach, Europe would have been inundated with a flood
of savagery and unbridled lust of power. The plain sense of fair-
play amongst nations, the growth of an international conscience, the
protection of the weak against the strong by the stronger, the con-
sciousness that justice has a more powerful backing in this world
than greed, the knowledge that any outrage upon fair dealing be-
tween nations, great or small, will meet with prompt and meritable
chastisement — these constitute the causeway along which humanity
was progressing slowly to higher things. The triumph of pressure
would sweep it all away and leave mankind to struggle helpless in the
morass. That is why since this war began I have known but one
political aim; and for it I have fought with a single eye — that is the
rescue of mankind from the most overwhelming catastrophe that has
ever yet menaced its well-being.

The Times, London, December 20, 1916