Speech of Arthur Henderson, unofficial Member of the British Cabinet, London, December 16, 1916

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WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > Speech of Arthur Henderson, unofficial Member of the British Cabinet, London, December 16, 1916

Speech of Arthur Henderson, unofficial Member of the British Cabinet, London, December 16, 19161

     The British people, with their national love of peace, were anxious
that the real meaning of the German proposals should be appreciated.
But the Government knew nothing concerning the text of the proposals,
and Germany's motives must for the present remain a matter of specu-
lation. But, judging from past and from recent events, we might an-
ticipate, without over-assumption, that any proposals Germany might
put forward would not err on the side of magnanimity.
     Any proposals put forward must be examined with the greatest pos-
sible care. We of all people must not forget that Germany was pre-
pared for peace with this country as late as August, 1914. But on
what conditions? That we were prepared to betray France and ac-
quiesce in the violation of the neutrality of Belgium, which Germany,
like ourselves, had on oath sworn to maintain. The lesson to be learned
from her present desire for peace was that any proposal received must
be scrutinized in the light of our obligations to our Allies, to whom
we were pledged to make no separate peace. However convenient it
might be for Germany to ignore her responsibility in this great war,
however far she might ignore her responsibilities to small nationalities,
it was loyalty on our part to our brave and loyal comrades that must
bind us to the end.
     Subject to these considerations, the people of this country were pre-
pared to-day, as in August, 1914, to accept peace, provided that that
peace was both just and permanent. But there was one supreme con-
dition — namely, that the principles governing any decision must be
those on which we entered, and on which we were continuing, the war.
We entered the war in defence of small nationalities, to defend France
from wanton aggression, and to preserve our own security. Indemnity
for the past was not enough unless we had guarantees for the future;
and guarantees for the future were not enough without ample repara-
tion for all that Belgium, France, Serbia and Poland had suffered. The
peace into which we entered must contain guarantees for its own dura-
tion. Germany might have such a peace if she furnished us with proof
of her good intentions.
     But, he concluded, if her present overtures are merely a pretence;
if it is shown that she is merely arranging an armistice, to enable her
to obtain a breathing-spaaaaaace that will furnish her with the opportunity
to lay fresh plans of aggression, then I say, whatever may be the temp-
tation to the people of these islands, we must set our faces like the steel
you work upon against her proposals.

1The Times, London, December 16, 1916