21 September 1914, Queens Hall, London, United Kingdom
This is the story of two little nations. The world owes much to the little nations
The greatest art in the world was the work of little nations; the most enduring literature of the world came from little nations; the greatest literature of England came when she was a nation of the size of Belgium fighting a great Empire. The heroic deeds that thrill humanity through generations were the deeds of little nations fighting for their freedom. Yes and the salvation of mankind came through a little nation.
God has chosen little nations as the vessels by which He carriesHis choicest wines to the lips of humanity, to rejoice their hearts, to exalt their vision, to stimulate and strengthen their faith; and if we had stood by when two little nations were being crushed and broken by the brutal hands of barbarism, our shame would have rung down the everlasting ages.
But Germany insists that this is an attack by a lower civilization upon a higher one. As a matter of fact, the attack was begun by the civilization which calls itself the higher one. I am no apologist for Russia; she has perpetrated deeds of which I have no doubt her best sons are ashamed. What Empire has not? But Germany is the last Empire to point the finger of reproach at Russia.
Russia has made sacrifices for freedom—great sacrifices.
Do you remember the cry of Bulgaria when she was torn by the most insensate tyranny that Europe has ever seen? Who listened to that cry? The only answer of the “higher civilization” was that the liberty of the Bulgarian peasants was not worth the life of a single Pomeranian’soldiers. But the “rude barbarians” of the North sent their sons by the thousand to die for Bulgarian freedom. What about England? Go to Greece, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and France—in all those lands I could point out places where the sons of Britain have died for the freedom of those people. France has made sacrifices for the freedom of other lands than her own. Can you name a single country in the world for the freedom of which modern Prussia has ever sacrificed a single life?
By the test of our faith the highest standard of civilization is the readiness to sacrifice for others.
Have you read the Kaiser’s speeches? They are full of the glitter and bluster of German militarism—“mailed fist” and “shining armor”. Poor old mailed fist! Its knuckles are getting a little bruised. Poor shining armor! The shine is being knocked out of it. There is the same swagger and boastfulness runing through the whole of the speeches. The extract which was given in the British weekly this week is a very remarkable product as an illustration of the spirit we have to fight. It is the Kaiser’s speech to his soldiers on the way to the front:
Remember that the German people are the chosen of God. On me, the German Emperor, the Spirit of God has descended. I am His sword, His weapon and His Vicegerent. Woe to the disobedient, and death to cowards and unbelievers.
Lunacy is always distressing, but sometimes it is dangerous; and when you get it manifested in the head of the State, and it has become the policy of a great Empire, it is about time that it should be ruthlessly put away.
I do not believe he meant all these speeches; it is simply the martial straddle he had acquired. But there were men around him who meant every word of them. This was their religion. Treaties? They tangle the feet of Germany in her advance. Cut them with the sword! Little nations? They hinder the advance of Germany heel. The Russia Slav? He challenges the supremacy of Germany in Europe.
Hurl your legions at him and massacre him! Britain? She is a constant menace to the predominance of Germany in the world.
Wrest the trident out of her hand.
Christianity? Sickly sentimentalism about sacrifice for others! Poor pap for German digestion!
We will have a new diet. We will force it upon the world. It will be made in Germany—the diet of blood and iron. What remains? Treaties have gone. The honor of nations has gone. Libery has gone. What is left? Germany. Germany is left!“
Deutschland über Alles!”
That is what we are fighting —that claim to predominance of a material, hard civilization which, if it once rulers and sways the word, liberty goes, democracy vanishes. And unless Britain and her sons come to the rescue it will be a dark day for humanity.
Have you followed the Prussian Junker ’and his doings? We are not fighting the German people are under the heel of this military caste, and it will be a day of rejoicing for the German peasant, artisan and trader when the military caste is broken. You know its pretensions.
They give themselves the air of demigods. They walk the pavements and civilians and their wives are swept into the gutter; they have no right to stand in the way of a great Prussia soldier. Men, women, nations—they all have to go. He thinks all he has to say is, “We are in a hurry.”
That is the answer he gave to Belgium -“Rapidity of action is Germany’s greatest asset,” which means, “I am in a hurry; clear out of my way”
You know the type of motorist, the terror of the roads, with a sixty-horse-power car, who thinks the roads are made for him, and knock down anybody who impedes the actin of his car by a single mile an hour. The Prussian Junker is the road-hog of Europe. Small nationalities in his way are hurled to the roadside, bleeding and broken. Women and children are crushed under the wheels of his cruel car, and Britain is ordered out of his road. All I can say is this: if the old Britain spirit is alive in British hearts, that bully will be torn from his seat. Were he to win, it, would be the greatest catastrophe that has befallen democracy since the day of the Holy Alliance and its ascendancy.
They think we cannot beat them. It will not be easy. It will be a long job; it will be a terrible war; but in the end we shall march through terror to triumph.
We shall need all our qualities—every quality that Britain and its people possess—prudence in counsel, daring in action, tenacity in purpose, courage in defeat, moderation in victory; in all things faith.
It has pleased them to believe and to preach the belief that we are a decadent and degenerate people. They proclaim to the world through their professors that we are a nonheroic nation skulking behind our mahogany counters, whilst we egg on more gallant races to their destruction. This is a description given of us in Germany- “a timorous, craven nation, trusting to its Fleet”
I think they are beginning to find their mistake out already - and there are half a million young men of Britain who have already registered a vow to their King that they will cross the seas and hurl that insult to Britain courage against its perpetrators on the battlefields of France and Germany. We want half a million more; and we shall get them.
I envy you young people your opportunity. They have put up the age limit for the Army, but I am sorry to say I have marched a good many years even beyond that. It is a great opportunity, and opportunity that only comes once in many centuries to the children of men.
For most generations sacrifice comes in drab and weariness of spirit. It comes to you today, and it comes today to us all, in the form of the glow and trill of a great movement for liberty, that impels millions throughout Europe to the same noble end.
It is a great war for the emancipation of Europe from the thralldom of a military caste which has thrown its shadows upon two generations of men, and is now plunging the world into a welter of bloodshed and death.
Some have already given their lives.
There are some who have given more than their own lives; they have their courage, and may God be their comfort and their strength.
But their reward is at hand; those who have fallen have died consecrated deaths.
They have taken their part in the making of a new Europe—a new world. I can see signs of its coming in the glare of the battle-field.
The people will gain more by this struggle in all lands than they comprehend at the present moment. It is true they will be free of the greatest menace to their freedom. That is not all. There is something infinitely greater and more enduring which is emerging and more exalted than the old. I see among all classes, high and low, shedding them of selfishness, a new recognition that the honor of the country does not depend merely on the maintenance of its glory in the stricken field, but also in protecting its homes from distress. It is bringing a new outlook for all classes. The great flood of luxury and sloth which had submerged the land is receding, and a New Britain is appearing.
We can see for the first time the fundamental things that matter in life and that have been obscured from our vision by the tropical growth of prosperity.
May I tell you in a simple parable what I think this war is doing for us? I know a valley in North Wales, between the mountains and the sea. It is a beautiful valley, sung, comfortable, and sheltered by the mountains from all the bitter blasts.
But it is very enervating, and I remember how the boys were in the habit of mountains in the distance, and to be stimulated and freshened by the breezes which came from the hilltops, and by the great spectacle of their grandeur. We have been living in the sheltered valley for generations. We have been too comfortable and too indulgent—many, perhaps, too selfish—and the tern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting thngs that matter for a nation the great peaks we had forgotten, of Honor, Duty, Patriotism, and, clad in glittering white, the great pinnacle of Sacrifice pointing like arugged finger as to Heaven.
We shall descend into the valleys again; but as long as the men and women of this generation last, they will carry in their hearts the image of those great mountain peaks whose foundations are not shaken, though Europe rock and sway in the convulsions of a great war.