Winston Churchill's 5th October Speech to the House of Commons

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Winston Churchill's 5th October 1938, Speech to the House of Commons

Introduction[edit]

Titled "Policy of His Majesty's Government", Winston Churchill foreshadows the fate of Europe after the signing of the Munich Agreement on 30 September 1938. Churchill, a Conservative in the House of Commons, was strongly against Prime Minister's Neville Chamberlain's policy of Appeasement. The Munich Agreement ceded the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia to avoid an armed conflict with Hitler's Germany. The speech took place on 5 October 1938 in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Following this speech and the signing of the Munich Agreement, the anti-appeasement movement in the United Kingdom grew in power while supporters of appeasement began to dwindle.

Summary of the arguments of the speech[edit]

The Munich Agreement, a diplomatic act of appeasement to the territorial demands of Hitler's Germany, led Winston Churchill to articulate to the House of Commons how Britain's display of weakness had upset the balance of continental power. In an effort to avoid war with Germany, the allies gave the Sudetenland, a large German part of Czechoslovakia, to Hitler's growing Nazi empire. Churchill described the disastrous chain of events that would soon arise from the Prime Minister's choice to acquiesce to Hitler's demands and gave his recommendation of how to deal with a growingly belligerent German state. Churchill announced that The Munich Agreement had restructured the political landscape and history of Europe, forever altering the continent without a single drop of blood being shed.[1] He went further, saying the fate of Czechoslovakia was the worst possible outcome and that Czech ties to the West and the League of Nations were the main cause of Czechoslovakia's downfall.[2] Churchill suggested, "Between submission and immediate war there was this third alternative, which gave a hope not only of peace but of justice." The orator made the observation that the system of alliance that had allowed France to maintain a balance of power was gone. The consequences of The Munich Agreement meant that the smaller nations of Europe had to answer to Germany, which now had access and influence deep into the east. Already, Churchill saw the lands of Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia as future victims of German conquests.[3] Churchill's speech was a wake-up call to British parliament, a passive group led by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Churchill argued that the Prime Minister's approval of the Munich Agreement came out of a powerful desire to avoid another worldwide conflagration. Using Wilsonian language, Churchill argues "liberal and democratic" nations must defend the principle of self-determination from being perverted by totalitarian governments.[4] Churchill saw The Munich Agreement as a culmination of five years of retreat from global responsibility and believed that Great Britain and France would pay the price. Churchill believed Germany would soon demand more democratic land and the Allies would need to reverse their strategy of appeasement against Germany. With Germany rapidly rearming and Russia out of the European balance of power, Churchill predicted that Hitler would next turn towards Western Europe in search of land and resources.[5] While Prime Minister Chamberlain believed Czechoslovakia would face the consequences of The Munich Agreement, Churchill argued that Britain and France would be the countries to feel the aftermath. Early in his speech, Churchill declared, "I have always held the view that the maintenance of peace depends upon the accumulation of deterrents against the aggressor…".[6] Churchill said it was time to claim air superiority and create a system of alliances against Germany while building up the entire British military, suggestions that had been made in vain until after the Munich Crisis. Churchill's militant-desires are systemic from his disapproval of The Munich Agreement, claiming Britain's act of appeasement would start an unending desire for more land from Germany.

Excerpts[edit]

"I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have."[7]

"We in this country, as in other Liberal and democratic countries, have a perfect right to exalt the principle of self-determination, but it comes ill out of the mouths of those in totalitarian states who deny even the smallest element of toleration to every section and creed within their bounds."[8]

"It is the most grievous consequence of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years - five years of futile good intentions, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance, five years of uninterrupted retreat of British power, five years of neglect of our air defences."[9]

"You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy."[10]

Reactions[edit]

Churchill had been one of the biggest supporters of British rearmament. In this speech, Churchill emphasises the necessity of swift rearmament and a buildup of national defences. Disillusioned after Munich Agreement, support for appeasement dwindled as Churchill's argument became more popular.

To Britain's population, the idea of war and rearmament was too dangerous, claiming it caused arms races, secret diplomacy, and military imperialism. To many, these were the actions of a country with nothing to gain and much to lose by being involved in war; peace was the greatest of national interests.[11]

After Churchill's speech, the tide of British public opinion shifted towards a buildup national defences – specifically the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

Duff Cooper, another Conservative Member of Parliament, resigned in the wake of the signing of the Munich Agreement. Speaking before Chamberlain's first parliamentary appearance after Munich was signed, Cooper believed that Britain had "lost the courage to see things as they are." He says in another portion of his resignation speech that Britain had been "drifting, day by day, nearer into war with Germany, and we have never said, until the last moment, and then in most uncertain terms, that we were prepared to fight."[12]

Written by the Manchester Guardian, the Labour newspaper of Britain gives a similar argument to Cooper, saying ""to forget, so utterly, the Reichstag fire, and the occupation of the Rhineland, and 30 June 1934, and the fall of Austria! We have lost the courage to see things as they are."[13]

Churchill, who had been the main opposition to British acquiescence to Hitler's demands, saw his arguments come life on 15th March, 1939 when German troops annexed the remained of Czech portion of Czechoslovakia and turning Slovakia into its vassal state.

Historian Bruce Kauffman describes Churchill's Munich Speech as a, "little-known speech" that shows his "under-appreciated gift of foresight."He continues, saying Churchill's speeches, "leading up to (and during) World War II were great not only because of the matchless rhetoric he seemed to call forth effortlessly, but also because – as history would show – he was dead right in his assessment of the issue at hand, even though that assessment was invariably unpopular with, and unheeded by, his countrymen."[14]

Interruptions to Churchill's speech[edit]

The speech is periodically interrupted by Viscountess Astor, a conservative member of parliament with strong ties to Nazism. She interjects, saying "Nonsense". after Churchill says, "I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have" While Churchill is mid-sentence, saying " We are talking about countries which are a long way off and of which, as the Prime Minister might say, we know nothing. [Interruption.] The noble Lady says that that very harmless allusion is—" and is cut off after Viscountess Astor screams "Rude". Churchill retorts, saying, "She must very recently have been receiving her finishing course in manners.[15]

Cultural allusions[edit]

King Ethelred the Unready – by Shakespeare Uses the metaphor of the old English King who was the successor to the prolific King Alfred; his inability to live up to his predecessor represents how the Allies did not succeed the victors of the Great War well and made terrible decisions.[16] The passage: "In my holiday I thought it was a chance to study the reign of King Ethelred the Unready. The House will remember that that was a period of great misfortune, in which, from the strong position which we had gained under the descendants of King Alfred, we fell very swiftly into chaos. It was the period of Danegeld and of foreign pressure. I must say that the rugged words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written a thousand years ago, seem to me apposite, at least as apposite as those quotations from Shakespeare with which we have been regaled by the last speaker from the Opposition Bench. Here is what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle said, and I think the words apply very much to our treatment of Germany and our relations with her. "All these calamities fell upon us because of evil counsel, because tribute was not offered to them at the right time nor yet were they resisted; but when they had done the most evil, then was peace made with them." That is the wisdom of the past, for all wisdom is not new wisdom.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (361) https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1938/oct/05/policy-of-his-majestys-government#column_360
  2. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (362)
  3. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (369)
  4. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (367)
  5. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (366)
  6. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (362)
  7. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (362)
  8. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (365)
  9. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (365)
  10. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371 (369)
  11. ^ Kennedy, Paul M. Strategy and Diplomacy, 1870–1945: Eight Studies. London: Allen & Unwin in association with Fontana Paperbacks, 1983 p. 89
  12. ^ Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series Vol. 339 3rd October 1938 c 29-44 (33)
  13. ^ Lucas, F.L. "The Funeral of British Honour." Manchester Guardian 4 Oct. 1938: n. pag.
  14. ^ Winston Churchill | Mediander | Connects." Mediander. N.p., n.d. Web.
  15. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series Vol. 5th October 1938 c 360-371
  16. ^ "King Aethelred II The Unready." King Aethelred II The Unready. N.p., n.d. Web.