Everyone wonders what is happening about the war. For several months past the Nazis have been uttering ferocious threats of what they are going to do to the Western Democracies-to the British and French Empires-when once they set about them. But so far it is the small neutral States that are bearing the brunt of German malice and cruelty. Neutral ships are sunk without law or mercy-not only by the blind and wanton mine, but by the coldly considered, deliberately aimed, torpedo. The Dutch, the Belgians, the Danes, the Swedes, and, above all, the Norwegians, have their ships destroyed whenever they can be caught upon the high seas. It is only in the British and French convoys that safety is to be found. There, in those convoys, it is five-hundred-to-one against being sunk. There, controlling forces are at work which are steadily keeping the seas open, steadily keeping the traffic going, and establishing order and freedom of movement amid the waves of anarchy and sea-murder.
We, the aggrieved and belligerent Powers who are waging war against Germany, have no need to ask for respite. Every week our commerce grows; every month our organization is improved and reinforced. We feel ourselves more confident day by day of our ability to police the seas and oceans and to keep open and active the salt-water highways by which we have; and along which we shall draw the means of victory. It seems pretty certain that half the U-boats with which Germany began the war have been sunk, and that their new building has fallen far behind what we expected. Our faithful Asdic detector smells them out in the depths of the sea and, with the potent aid of the Royal Air Force, I do not doubt that we shall break their strength and break their purpose.
The magnetic mine, and all the other mines with which the narrow waters, the approaches to this Island, are strewn, do not present us with any problem which we deem insoluble. It must be remembered that in the last war we suffered very grievous losses from mines, and that at the climax more than six hundred British vessels were engaged solely upon the task of mine-sweeping. We must remember that. We must always be expecting some bad thing from Germany, but I will venture to say that it is with growing confidence that we await the further developments or variants of their attack.
Here we are, after nearly five months of all they can do against us on the sea, with the first U-boat campaign for the first time being utterly broken, with the mining menace in good control, with our shipping virtually undiminished, and with all the oceans of the world free from surface raiders. It is true that the Deutschland escaped the clutches of our cruisers by the skin of her teeth, but the Spee still sticks up in the harbor of Montevideo as a grisly monument and as a measure of the fate in store for any Nazi warship which dabbles in piracy on the broad waters. As you know, I have always-after some long and hard experience-spoken with the utmost restraint and caution about the war at sea, and I am quite sure that there are many losses and misfortunes which lie ahead of us there; but in all humility and self-questioning I feel able to declare that at the Admiralty, as, I have no doubt, at the French Ministry of Marine, things are not going so badly after all. Indeed, they have never gone so well in any naval war. We look forward as the months go by to establishing such a degree of safe sailings as will enable the commerce of all the nations whose ships accept our guidance, not only to live but to thrive. This part-this sea affair-at least, of the Nazi attack upon freedom is not going to bar the path of justice or of retribution.
Very different is the lot of the unfortunate neutrals. Whether on sea or on land, they are the victims upon whom Hitler's hate and spite descend. Look at the group of small but ancient and historic States which lie in the North; or look again at that other group of anxious peoples in the Balkans or in the Danube basin behind whom stands the resolute Turk. Every one of them is wondering which will be the next victim on whom the criminal adventurers of Berlin will cast their rending stroke. A German major makes a forced landing in Belgium with plans for the invasion of that country whose neutrality Germany has so recently promised to respect. In Rumania there is deep fear lest by some deal between Moscow and Berlin they may become the next object of aggression. German intrigues are seeking to undermine the newly strengthened solidarity of the southern Slavs. The hardy Swiss arm and man their mountain passes. The Dutch-whose services to European freedom will be remembered long after the smear of Hitler has been wiped from the human path-stand along their dykes, as they did against the tyrants of bygone days. All Scandinavia dwells brooding under Nazi and Bolshevik threats.
Only Finland-superb, nay, sublime-in the jaws of peril-Finland shows what free men can do. The service rendered by Finland to mankind is magnificent. They have exposed, for all the world to see, the military incapacity of the Red Army and of the Red Air Force. Many illusions about Soviet Russia have been dispelled in these few fierce weeks of fighting in the Arctic Circle. Everyone can see how Communism rots the soul of a nation; how it makes it abject and hungry in peace, and proves it base and abominable in war. We cannot tell what the fate of Finland may be, but no more mournful spectacle could be presented to what is left to civilized mankind than that this splendid Northern race should be at last worn down and reduced to servitude worse than death by the dull brutish force of overwhelming numbers. If the light of freedom which still burns so brightly in the frozen North should be finally quenched, it might well herald a return to the Dark Ages, when every vestige of human progress during two thousand years would be engulfed.
But what would happen if all these neutral nations I have mentioned-and some others I have not mentioned-were with one spontaneous impulse to do their duty in accordance with the Covenant of the League, and were to stand together with the British and French Empires against aggression and wrong? At present their plight is lamentable; and it will become much worse. They bow humbly and in fear to German threats of violence, comforting themselves meanwhile with the thought that the Allies will win, that Britain and France will strictly observe all the laws and conventions, and that breaches of these laws are only to be expected from the German side. Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear-I fear greatly-the storm will not pass. It will rage and it will roar, ever more loudly, ever more widely. It will spread to the South; it will spread to the North. There is no chance of a speedy end except through united action; and if at any time Britain and France, wearying of the struggle, were to make a shameful peace, nothing would remain for the smaller States of Europe, with their shipping and their possessions, but to be divided between the opposite, though similar, barbarisms of Nazidom and Bolshevism.
The one thing that will be most helpful in determining the action of neutrals is their increasing sense of the power and resolution of the Western Allies. These small States are alarmed by the fact that the German armies are more numerous, and that their Air Force is still more numerous, and also that both are nearer to them than the forces of Great Britain and France. Certainly it is true that we are facing numerical odds; but that is no new thing in our history. Very few wars have been won by mere numbers alone. Quality, will power, geographical advantages, natural and financial resources, the command of the sea, and, above all, a cause which rouses the spontaneous surgings of the human spirit in millions of hearts-these have proved to be the decisive factors in the human story. If it were otherwise, how would the race of men have risen above the apes; how otherwise would they have conquered and extirpated dragons and monsters; how would they have ever evolved the moral theme; how would they have marched forward across the centuries to broad conceptions of compassion, of freedom, and of right? How would they ever have discerned those beacon lights which summon and guide us across the rough dark waters, and presently will guide us across the flaming lines of battle towards better days which lie beyond?
Numbers do not daunt us. But judged even by the test of numbers we have no reason to doubt that once the latent, and now rapidly growing, power of the British nation and Empire are brought, as they must be, and as they will be, fully into line with the magnificent efforts of the French Republic, then, even in mass and in weight, we shall not be found wanting. When we look behind the brazen fronts of Nazidom-as we have various means of doing-we see many remarkable signs of psychological and physical disintegration. We see the shortages of raw materials which already begin to hamper both the quality and the volume of their war industry. We feel the hesitancy of divided counsels, and the pursuing doubts which assail and undermine those who count on force and force alone.
In the bitter and increasingly exacting conflict which lies before us we are resolved to keep nothing back, and not to be outstripped by any in service to the common cause. Let the great cities of Warsaw, of Prague, of Vienna banish despair even in the midst of their agony. Their liberation is sure. The day will come when the joybells will ring again throughout Europe, and when victorious nations, masters not only of their foes but of themselves, will plan and build in justice, in tradition, and in freedom a house of many mansions where there will be room for all.
January 20, 1940 - Broadcast, London