May 24, 2013



“WE ARE BOUND to further every honest and practical step which the nations of Europe may make to reduce the barriers which divide them and to nourish their common interests and their common welfare. We rejoice at every diminution of the internal tariffs and the martial armaments of Europe. We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonalty.”


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The reflections of European nations upon the need of unity must be stimulated by the financial relations of Europe to the United States. Under the arrangements which have now been agreed to by all parties, practically the whole of the reparations paid by Germany to the countries she has injured will flow by one channel or another to the least harmed and most prosperous member of the victor combination against her.

For sixty years to come* an immense flow of wealth must roll outward from Europe across the Atlantic. It cannot go in the form of merchandise, for the United States tariffs, rising ever higher, bar the payment of a debit in such a form. It is the declared economic policy of the United States to aim at an excess of exports. Therefore, on the one hand, the United States is entitled to these immense prolonged payments and, on the other, will not receive them in any form which can be conveyed across the ocean. From this there has followed and, whatever temporary checks may intervene, there must continue to follow, a process of reinvestment of American capital in Europe. This process is cumulative from year to year; consciously through the excess of American exports, almost unconsciously, perhaps, by the subtle and surprising manifestations of profits and compound interest.

Sir Josiah Stamp—perhaps the most eminent of practical economists—made calculations which show that before the reparations and debt payments to the United States are completed, Washington and American investors together own perhaps two-thirds of the entire present income of Germany.

Such conclusions transcend the limits of imagination. Inch by inch, with mathematical certainty, they approach a conclusion of monstrous absurdity. The most hopeful comment—and there is solid reassurance in it— is the German saying: “The trees do not grow up to the sky.”

To write thus is not to blame the policy of the United States; still less to impugn their lawful and contractual rights. American statesmen may with blunt justice and unanswerable logic point out that Europe has no grievance against the United States. The ancestors of the men and women who inhabit the American continent took little with them when they quitted Europe. They left behind and surrendered an immense accumulated inheritance. All that they have, they and their descendants have made for themselves by toil and science, and the resolute exploitation of those natural resources they had the courage to go out and find. If the New World has grown rich, it is not at the expense of the Old.

The Government and people of the United States were in no way responsible for Armageddon. They did not create or foment the hatreds and quarrels which led to that supreme catastrophe. They were drawn into the war against their will, against their tradition, because they were jostled and knocked about by the combatants and forced to take a side and take a part. The movement of soldiers, of warships, supplies, and of treasure, was solely eastward. The traffic was “one way only”—from the United States to Europe. And this ought never to be forgotten by Europe, and will never be forgotten by the rest of the English-speaking

Nevertheless, American statesmen and leaders of public opinion in every part of the United States should ponder carefully, and as realists, upon the chains of causation which have now been forged. For sure and certain it is that Europe will not continue for a generation to be an almost hopeless debtor, sinking deeper and deeper into the morass of foreign mortgage, without intense internal stresses and the birth of new doctrines.

Even if she had no such gray and dreary economic prospect, she will be driven sooner or later to question the monstrous absurdity of her own organization. The peace of the Roman world was maintained in the age of Augustus by 800,000 armed men. After 2000 years of Christianity and of the accumulation and diffusion of knowledge, after the immense advance of science and the undoubted improvement in culture and moraIs, on the morrow of “the war to end war,” more than twenty million soldiers or trained reserves, armed with instruments of inconceivable destructiveness, are required to guard the jigsaw frontiers of twenty-six jealous, impoverished and disunited states. No one can suppose that this is to last.

From all these causes and others that together fill volumes, the conclusion may be drawn with much confidence that the movement towards European solidarity which has now begun will not stop until it has effected tremendous and possibly decisive changes in the whole life, thought and structure of Europe. It does not follow even that this progress will be gradual. It may leap forward in a huge bound of spontaneous conviction. It may even prove to be the surest means of lifting the mind of European nations out of the ruck of old feuds and ghastly revenges. It may afford a rallying ground where socialists and capitalists, where nationalists and pacifists, where idealists and businessmen may stand together. It may be the surest of all the guarantees against the renewal of great wars.

The League of Nations, from which the United States have so imprudently—considering their vast and increasing interests—absented themselves, has perforce become in fact, if not in form, primarily a European institution. Count Koudenhove-Calergi proposes to concentrate European forces, interests and sentiments in a single branch which, if it grew, would become the trunk itself, and thus acquire obvious predominance. For think how mighty Europe is, but for its divisions!

Let Russia slide back, as Count Calergi proposes, and as is already so largely a fact, into Asia. Let the British Empire, excluded in his plan, realize its own world-spread ideal; even so, the mass of Europe, once united, once federalized or partially federalized, once continentally self-conscious—Europe, with its African and Asiatic possessions and plantations— would constitute an organism beyond compare.

It is evident that up to a certain point the developments now in actual progress will be wholly beneficial. In so far as the movement European unity expresses itself by the vast increase of wealth which would follow from it, by the ceaseless diminution of armies which would attend it by ever-increasing guarantees against the renewal of war, it bodes no ill to the rest of the world. On the contrary, it can only bring benefits to every nation whose interests are identical with the general interests of mankind. But clearly there are limits, now assuredly to be reached in our lifetime, beyond which a United States of Europe might revive on a scale more vast, and in a degree immeasurably more terrible, the rivalries from which we have suffered so cruelly in our own age.

A day of fate and doom for men will dawn if ever the old quarrels of countries are superseded by the strife of continents; if Europe, Asia and America, living, coherent and potentially armed entities, come to watch one another through the eyes with which Germany, France, Russia and Italy looked in the twentieth century. Conflicts of countries are, we trust, ended. They must not be succeeded by the antagonisms of continents. But surely, after all they have gone through, men will have the wit and
virtue to take the good and leave the bad; to the high road which leads to wealth and power, without being drawn down the fatal turning to shame and ruin.

The attitude of Great Britain towards European unification or “federal links” would, in the first instance, be determined by her dominant conception of a united British Empire. Every step that tends to make Europe more prosperous and more peaceful is conducive to British interests. We have more to lose by war than any human organization that has ever existed. The peculiar structure and distribution of the British Empire or Commonwealth of Nations is such that our safety has increasingly been found in reconciling and identifying British interests with the larger interests of the world. The prosperity of others makes for our own prosperity; their peace is our tranquillity; their progress smooths our path. 

We are bound to further every honest and practical step which the nations of Europe may make to reduce the barriers which divide them and to nourish their common interests and their common welfare. We rejoice at every diminution of the internal tariffs and the martial armaments of Europe. We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonalty. But we have our own dream and our own task.

We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed. And should European statesmen address us in the words which were used of old, “Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or the captain of host?,” we should reply, with the Shunammite woman: “I dwell among mine own people.”

But even this compulsive conception must be reconciled with other forms of British interest. The policy of Canning has endowed us with holdings and connections in South America, and notably the Argentine, which, although in no way affecting the sovereignty of independent states, are of solid and durable importance to us. The scheme of a British Empire economically self-conscious, a commercial unit, even perhaps a fiscal unit, can never be widely expressed in exclusive terms.

Here then, is an aspect of the British Empire which the people of the United States would do well to study. The King’s dominions circle the globe. We can never lend ourselves to any antagonism, however unlikely or remote, economic or warlike, between continents or hemispheres. We belong to no single continent, but to all. Not to one hemisphere, but to both; as well to the New World as to the Old. The British Empire is a leading European power. It is a great and growing American power. It is the Australasian power. It is one of the greatest Asiatic powers. It is the leading African power. Great Britain herself has for centuries been the proved and accepted champion of European freedom. She is the centre and head of the British Commonwealth of
Nations. She is an equal partner in the English-speaking world.

It is at this point that the significance of Canada appears. Canada, which is linked to the British Empire, first by the growing importance of her own nationhood, and, secondly, by many ancient and sentimental ties precious to young and strong communities, is at the same time intimately associated with the United States. The long, unguarded frontier, the habits and intercourse of daily life, the fruitful and profitable connections of business, the sympathies and even the antipathies of honest neighbourliness, make Canada a binder-together of the English-speaking peoples. She is a magnet, exercising a double attraction, drawing both Great Britain and the United States towards herself, and thus drawing them closer to each other. She is the only surviving bond which stretches from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. Her power, her hopes, her future guarantee the increasing fellowship of the Nordic races of the East and of the West; in fact, no state, no country, no band of men can more truly be described as the linchpin of peace and world progress.

It is possible to set forth the final conclusions of this brief examination of these deep and long-flowing tides. The conception of a United States of Europe is right. Every step taken to that end which appeases the obsolete hatred and vanished oppressions, which make easier the traffic and reciprocal services of Europe, which encourages its nations to lay aside their precautionary panoply, is good in itself, is good for them and good for all.

It is, however, imperative that, as Europe advances towards higher internal unity, there shall be a proportionate growth of solidarity throughout the British Empire, and also a deepening self-knowledge and mutual recognition among the English-speaking people.

Then, without misgiving and without detachment, we can watch and aid the assuagement of the European tragedy, and without envy survey their sure and sound approach to mass wealth; being very conscious that every stride towards European cohesion which is beneficial to the general welfare will make us a partner in their good fortune, and that any sinister tendencies will be restrained or corrected by our united strength.

*Delivering the Fifth Churchill Lecture in Washington on October 18th, Sir Martin Gilbert announced that at midnight on 31 December 2005, all British war debts to the United States will have been paid.


Editor’s note: We publish this long, reflective article not as a prescription for modern times but to shed light on Churchill’s thinking when he wrote it, and on those concepts of his that may be worthy of reflection. His article was published in The Saturday Evening Post and in The News of the World on 9 May 1938, under the heading “Why Not ‘The United States of Europe’?” An abridged version, “A Great Big Idea,” appeared in John Bull on the same day. Reprinted by permission of Winston S. Churchill. 


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