May 22, 2013

Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010

Page 30

Coalitions in a Dangerous World, 1934 / Churchill’s “Whither Britain?” / A Broadcast on the State of the International Order

By Fred Glueckstein

National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City

2022 International Churchill Conference

Join us at the National WWI Museum for the 39th International Churchill Conference. Kansas City, October 6-8, 2022

Mr. Glueckstein is a Maryland-based writer whose most recent articles were “‘This is London….’ Ed Murrow’s Churchill Experience” (FH 144) and “‘Cats Look Up to You’: Churchill’s Feline Menagerie” (FH 139).


Note: The Churchill broadcast partially reprinted here differs from that in the Robert Rhodes James’s Complete Speeches. The author’s source is the transcript, attached to the press release by the Columbia Broadcasting System (Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts). The authenticity of the Columbia text is suggested by Churchill’s notes for the broadcast, which include passages not in the Complete Speeches. See Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume V, Part 2: Documents, The Wilderness Years 1929-1935. (London: Heinemann, 1981), 706. The complete CBS transcript is available from the editor by email.

In 1934, the British Broadcasting Corporation introduced a weekly series of international broadcasts titled “Whither Britain?,” by prominent Britons on the important issues facing the country. In the United States, the BBC broadcasts were picked up over WABC and the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Churchill appeared on Tuesday, 16 January, following author and novelist H.G. Wells on the 9th. He focused on international bodies and alliances. Citing the danger of war, he stressed the need for national defense, defended the parliamentary system, reviewed Britain’s economic progress and emphasized the need for an effective League of Nations.

Columbia’s radio announcer in New York got the cue in Studio 3 to open the program at 3:29 pm. Introducing him as “distinguished soldier, statesman, and author,” the announcer took note of his military service in three continents, and his thirty-year Parliamentary career.

Winston S. Churchill:

I am very glad to have the chance of speaking to you all about the affairs and future of our country. We have to ask ourselves tonight two questions: Where do we stand? What ought we to do? My time is so short; I can only deal with a few big things and can only tell what I think about them without arguing them out as I should like to do. What I say, will not, perhaps, be pleasing to Prime Minister MacDonald nor the opposition party. I really ought to count how many of those there were—at any rate, I am sure no one will send me a bouquet tomorrow morning. Still, as you sit around your fireside, wondering how it is all going to turn out and what you can do to help old England, I hope you will listen to my advice and if you do not agree with me I say, I trust you will think it over.

First of all, it seems to me that we have much to be thankful for. We have been brought safely through the fires of Armageddon, and now in this great world depression, we are not only holding our place but we are doing better than almost any other country. Our finances have been put back into much better order and though we are not paying off our debts, at any rate we are paying our way, which is much more than the Americans or the Germans or the French have done.

What a comfort it is to think that there are over 700,000 more men at work now than there were last year. I rejoiced at that at Christmas time. I ask you to give a cheer for the health and the giant strength of our wonderful Nation amid all the economic trials and problems of this modern world. Surely recognition is also due to the Government which has presided over this great improvement and aided it in some respects by important actions.

But more than that, more than this economic aspect, more than this material side, we have preserved so far the rights and freedom of our men and women and the existence of our Parliament during the time when in every other country such things have been trampled down by tyranny and dictatorship. We have preserved the decencies and the tolerances, the stability and the dignity of our Island life which our forefathers gained for us by their wisdom and hardy courage. We have preserved them while almost every-where beyond our shores there is a different scene.

Look where you will over this confused tumultuous world and you will find no land where thought and actions is so free, where property is so respected, where the courts of law and the Government are so free from corruption, where there is less class-hatred or where more money is spent or more pains taken to deal with suffering and misfortune. Britain has so far proved herself able to come through the storms of war and peace and tonight, now, here, we still have the power to choose our destiny and to clear a broad, sure high road for our children to tread.

What then are we to do? The world around us has changed greatly and is changing fast. Much has happened which does not help our country. Gone, far gone, are the palmy days of Queen Victoria, when we manufactured the goods and our ships carried them for nearly all the world, in days before the airplane and submarine had been invented, in days when Britannia ruled the waves and we were safe in our Island home. There is no doubt now that we are faced with many dangers.

First, there is the danger of war. You see what is happening between Russia, China and Japan and the tremendous strides accomplished by trade and by the sword that the Japanese people are making and are going to continue to make. We have our interests there, large interests. Some of you will say, “Well, that’s all along way off.” But what is happening in Europe is not a long way off. This is quite close. It is only a few hours away. Anyone can see what is going on there. I say surely we ought to put our defenses in such a state that we can, if we choose, live our own life in our own way and develop our own country and its great possessions. We have never been so defenseless as we are now.

When the Great War broke out in August 1914, I was at the Admiralty. In those days you could send a whole army out of the country if you wished. Our great Admiral said, “The fleet is ready and we can guarantee the Island against invasion or starvation.” That was a considerable undertaking but it was made good by the Royal Navy. No one can say that now. The hideous curse of war from the air has fallen upon this world and I say to you, don’t you think we ought to make ourselves as strong against attack from the air as our own Navy used to make us from invasion
across the sea?

We used to say that we would have a Navy stronger than that of any two powers. What we ought to do now is to have an air force. That is my point of view. I do not believe we should be in danger. Till we have that, we are no longer the same kind of independent country that we used to be that any of you were born into. With all our wealth and civilization exposed to the ferocious interests that tear the continent of Europe, we have nothing but our diplomacy and our good intentions. I am all for diplomacy and good intention but, first of all, we ought to make the island safe.

Our finances are sound. We have the best record in the world. No one can make such fine machinery as we. We breed a type of young man nursed in freedom, who will do all required of him. Even if having a one-power standard in the air should make more work for builders, engineers and skilled men unemployed, I think we could put up with that.

But that is not all we ought to do. We ought to have a clear, honest foreign policy which anyone can explain and everyone can understand. Mr. Wells whom you heard last week sneered at the League of Nations. He is one of those visionaries who are always talking about a “world state” and a “planned destiny” and a “new order of society” and then when any practical steps are taken to urge those very remote ideas, he is one of those who is first to come forward to pick them to pieces to point out their shortcomings and to mock at them.

I don’t agree with those who say that the League of Nations is no use and could never prevent another European war. It may be indeed the only chance of preventing one or if cannot prevent it, of making sure that the guilty disturber of the peace got the worst of it. If the League of Nations is not close enough involved in the intrigue about disarmament, it might still remain an august tribunal to which not only great powers but small peoples may look, if not for protection, at any rate for a declaration of where right and justice lie.

It would indeed be a melancholy ending to the hopes of those who strive for peace and for justice, which is higher than peace, if that great instrument of the public opinion of the world and of the public law of Europe were to flounder in increasing disorder of the age. We must take our place there and do our duty with the other countries large and small, not only those countries which fought in the late War but the neutral countries like Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. We must bear our share in building up a confederation of nations so strong and sincere that in Europe, at least, no aggressor will dare to challenge.

No doubt, my friends, there are dangers in every course but it is a wise saying, that there is safety in numbers and I believe that we must not desert the League of Nations but rather make it plain that we intend to play our part and do our duty there, be it what or be it who.

[Note: Churchill then turned to domestic affairs, with a penetrating examination of Britain’s efforts to cope with the worldwide depression. He continued with familiar things that were echoing through his other articles and speeches: reforming Parliament and particularly the House of Lords, as a second chamber designed to bring the continuity of a Senate to balance “these enormous political landslides.” He reiterated his theme of enlarging the franchise by “extra votes to the millions…who are bearing the real burden and responsibility of our fortunes.” (See “How We Can Restore the Lost Glory to Democracy,” last issue.) Then he returned to the main theme of his address……]

Please think this over very carefully. Consider it at your leisure because I am sure after many years of thought and experience that it may make a lot of difference to you and to your children.

All this talk about our beating down the inheritance by which we live and to which we render faithful service into some vague International mixture, some sludgy amalgam, all those crazy appeals to disarm ourselves utterly amid an ambitious world, all those suicidal urges to cast away what our Nation has kept by virtue, all those shameful and blatant declarations that we are unwilling to defend our rights and possessions and that it is wrong even to think of doing so. All these lead only to starvation and misery of the working classes, and to the end of that splendour of Britain which has in every generation been ready to die

We seek no territory, we desire no one’s misfortune. We have no revenge for anyone, no old scores to repay. Our foreign policy should keep us free from war but we must pick on, once again, a strong, resolute community able to protect ourselves and guard our rights not only by moral but if need be, by physical force.

We must shape our institutions so as to preserve the state from unconsidered lapses. We must make sure that our Island civilization and the wage standards of our people are not beaten down by outside pressure and that the policy we have so long observed does not perish through foreign violence or our own decay.

The Reaction

Churchill’s address was well covered. From London, The Times opened its report with the headline, “Stronger Air Defences.” WSC, The Times reported, said “that we had never been—certainly not for hundreds of years—so defenceless as we were now. The hideous curse of war from the air had fallen on the world. We used to say that we would have a Navy stronger than that of any two Powers. Surely the least we ought now to do was to have an air force as strong as that of the nearest Power that could get at us.”

In the United States, The New York Times ran a cable story from London. “Churchill Praises Roosevelt’s Spirit… Asks Bigger Air Force,” telling its readers: “Winston Churchill, former Conservative Cabinet member, who is answerable in Parliament to no leadership but his own, gave an uncensored radio talk….he argued that the least Britain ought to have now was an air force equal to that of the nearest power able to reach her.”

A letter which Churchill must have appreciated was from a Conservative MP with a famous name, the great-grandson of Field Marshal Lord Napier: “Lying helpless from an appendicitis operation, tonight I listened to your broadcast—solemn, clear, logical and impressive, it was the finest wireless address I have ever heard. That it will sway opinion and impress those whom it should is the sincere wish of your colleague, Harold Balfour.”

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