Acts of "Aggression" by Germany
In order to get a true perspective towards what has taken place in Central Europe during the last five years, it is necessary to grasp the fact that what we have been witnessing is a rebellion of the German peoples in Central Europe against the peace treaties.
Hitler has been the leader, and the Nazi movement the spear head, but the rebellion was not confined to Germany, but included the German population of Austria and the Sudeten German area.
The allies had made an "Independent" state of Austria in spite of the unanimous vote of the first Austrian parliament for union with the Reich, and had handed over the Sudeten Germans to the Czechs in spite of their protests, for purely strategic reasons.
Dollfuss in order to maintain Austria as an independent state had to abolish the Austrian parliament, and rule as an absolute dictator, and Schuschnigg had to continue this policy. The Nazi movement progressed at first more rapidly in Austria than in Germany.
Once we have grasped the central fact that we have been witnessing a rebellion of the German peoples, all that has happened in the last five years falls into place and becomes intelligible.
Having risen in rebellion against the articles in the peace treaties which applied to them, they have re-armed, have occupied with troops their own frontiers, and have taken over the administration of their own rivers, railways and canals. In addition the German people of Austria have joined with the German people of the Reich under one government.
All these acts have taken place within territory inhabited by and belonging to the German people, and have in no way interfered with the rights of any other nation. In addition, with the consent of the three powers and of the government of Czecho-Slovakia, the Sudeten German area has been joined to the Reich. This addition to German territory was advised by our commissioner Lord Runciman, and has been described by Sir John Simon as an act of justice.
We are told by the enemies of Germany in this country that these acts of the German people were aggressive, violent and illegal acts, and we must proceed to examine these three accusations.
An act of aggression involves interference with other nations. It is not regarded by us as an aggressive act on our part to spend vast sums on munitions, or if we chose to do so to introduce conscription. If the Union between England and Scotland was taking place to-day, it could not be described by other nations as an act of aggression on our part. As all these re-adjustments made by German peoples took place in territory which contained an almost totally German population, we must give a verdict of not guilty when they are accused of acts of aggression.
The second accusation is that the German people have acted in a violent manner. As all these changes have been accomplished in a perfectly orderly way amid the rejoicing consent of the populations concerned, and without the loss of a single life, the charge of violence falls to the ground. There are people in this country who talk of the "invasion" of Austria. An "invasion" in which the people of the "invaded" country decorate the guns of the "invader" is something new in history.
The third accusation of having acted in an illegal manner is made under two heads. They are accused of breaking international law by tearing up the Treaty of Versailles, and also of acting against the protests of the League of Nations.
Let us begin by examining the first accusation. It has long been the custom among civilized nations who have been at war, after an armistice has been declared, for the delegates of both nations to meet in conference and draw up a treaty together. Such a treaty is regarded as binding on both parties until owing to changing circumstances one party or the other denounces the treaty and a new treaty is drawn up. It has also always been understood that no act of war takes place after the armistice has been signed.
The allies when engaged in drawing up the Treaty of Versailles, departed from both these customs which have been recognised by all civilized nations. The Treaty of Versailles was drawn up by the allies without the German delegates being admitted. They were then called in and graciously allowed to suggest certain modifications which were promptly rejected, and told to sign. They signed under protest, and said that the German people would never regard the treaty as binding. The second departure from civilized practice was the continuance after the armistice had been signed of the blockade which was starving the German people. The signature of the German delegates was made the condition for raising the blockade.
A treaty between two nations is of the nature of a contract between two men, and both parties are expected to carry it out. But if one of the parties after signing the contract can convince the judge that he signed it by compulsion with a pistol held to his head, no court would uphold the contract.
In the case of the entry into the neutral zone of the German troops, there is a plausible case against Germany. Her defence is that France, by making a treaty with the Soviet directed against Germany, had already torn up the Treaty of Locarno, and was fully warned of the view that would be taken of this act in Germany. Even if the verdict goes against Germany, and she did commit an illegal act, the crime of occupying your own territory with your own troops cannot be regarded as a very serious one.
The other accusation is that Germany acted in an illegal manner in defying the protests of the League of Nations. The victorious powers decided to set up a perpetual committee which they invited other nations to join, and which they called the League of Nations. Germany was excluded at the beginning and the USA. washed their hands of the whole affair. The main object of the League was to keep the peace treaties inviolate, but it also took on other international duties. Those joining it signed a covenant promising not to make war on each other, but to refer matters of dispute to the League, and in certain articles the League took power to use force through its members against any nation which it had named as an aggressor.
The League arrogated to itself a legal status which would not be recognised in international law. It had no more authority over other nations than any other alliance of the powers. The members of the League were of course bound by the terms of their contract while they remained members but if they chose to leave the League, the League had no jurisdiction over them and protests passed by the League had no more legal status than if they had been passed by a Mothers Meeting.
International law has grown up slowly through certain customs being finally accepted by all nations, and it is possible that if a League of Nations had been formed at some time before the war when the whole world was at peace, and had in the first instance been a voluntary body with no compulsory powers, it might in time have been recognised by all nations that its decisions were binding; but a League set up by the victors after a war to enforce the maintenance of a status quo which was intolerable to the conquered nations, was doomed to failure. We must therefore return a verdict of not guilty under the second accusation of illegal action.
The German peoples have only claimed and taken such rights as are granted to all nations, and have carried out their programme among themselves and within their own territory with the exception of the union of the Sudeten German area to the Reich which was done with the consent of the other three powers. Such action is neither aggressive, violent nor illegal, and in no way injures the interests of external powers.
Another accusation made against Germany that she uses the threat of force while the League and the Democracies confine themselves to sweet reasonableness and would never use a potential force to get their own way. They blame Hitler for having re-armed Germany. Surely that is an absurd accusation when France at the time he re-armed had an army of five hundred thousand men on a peace footing, and the Soviet an army of one million three hundred thousand men.
Hitler has only once threatened to use force, when he stated that after a certain date he would if necessary force his way into the territory already assigned to him.
The fact is that in the present crude and barbaric conditions of the relations between nations, every nation has to be "well heeled" before going into a conference.
The allies used potential force to compel the Germans to sign the Treaty of Versailles and to prevent the union of Austria with Germany, and the League refused all concessions to Germany, and ignored the appeals of minorities in Czecho-Slovakia, because behind the League was the army of France.
It is now generally agreed that the Versailles Treaty was most unjust to Germany, but if Germany had not defied the League and begun to re-arm, she would to-day be in the position she was in 1932. Concessions are not made by one nation to another nation because they are just, but because it is dangerous to refuse.
It is true that Chamberlain agreed to the cession of the Sudeten German area because he thought it was just and right, and there are instances in our history when we have acted even to our own detriment on the merits of a case; but I know of no instance of such an action by any other nation except ourselves.
The whole conception of the League as a super state was built on a foundation of force, and the complaint of the parties of the Left in this country is not that the League was built on a foundation of force, but that when the time for action came the whole machine broke down, the various members of the League refusing to fight. In reply to a statement that we had forty nations behind us over the Abyssinian question, Chamberlain said, "Yes, they are behind us but not by our side".
It is only fair to say that the Opposition claim that the mere threat by the League would be sufficient if it was properly organised for military action; but there always is the danger that the other side will call your bluff. A revolver charged with blank cartridges is a dangerous weapon when going into a quarrel.
We are re-arming to-day not because Great Britain or the Empire is in the slightest danger from attack, but because we want to go into any discussion with any other power as "well heeled" as they are.
When Hitler says "the army is Germany", has not that lesson been taught him by all that has happened since the Armistice was signed? If after the signing of the Armistice the army of Germany though in retreat had still been in being, the Treaty of Versailles would have been a very different document. Would France have entered the Ruhr if there had been the German army to oppose her? An unarmed nation will get no justice from the other nations.
Hitler says "the army is Germany". Is it not equally true that our navy is the British Empire? We have built the Empire by force, we hold it by force, and we will defend it by force, and we possess it intact to-day because our navy is far stronger than the navy of any other Power.
"Ah", my critic will reply, "the League, the Allies, France and Great Britain only use force in a just and righteous cause. All other nations and more especially Germany and Italy use it in an unrighteous cause", which reminds me of a story told me by my father. When he was a boy Scotland was under the tyranny of a rigid Sabbatarianism. One day he was scolded for having laughed on the Sabbath day. He retorted that he had heard the minister laugh on the Sabbath. "Ah", was the reply, "but that was a Holy smile".