Why We Are At War

The War Illustrated, Volume 1, No. 1, Page 2-4, September 16, 1939.

Confronted by the record in other pages if the things Hitler has said and the things he has done, the reader will be in small doubt as to the immediate reasons which have compelled Britain to go to war. Now in this chapter we are given a revelation of the principle that we are fighting—the principle that Might is Right.

When Britain went to war in 1914 many reasons were advanced for the tremendous step. The primary cause of the War, of course, was the invasion of Belgium, whose integrity and independence we had been pledged to defend since the Belgian kingdom had come into existence. Of the tens of thousands, the hundreds if thousands, who stormed the doors of the recruiting stations in those early days of war twenty-five years ago, the great majority had left their homes and jobs because of their resolve to avenge the violation of an innocent little people by the Prussian bully.

Another reason was Anglo-German rivalry in the field of commerce and in the sphere of the world politics. this rivalry was something more than a clash of interest; rather it was a conflict of principle. Even at the beginning of the War it was realised that that Britain was fighting for Democracy against Autocracy in general and Prussian imperialistic militarism in particular. “We are fighting Germany,” wrote H.G. Wells in the first number of The War Illustrated published on August 22, 1914. “But we are fighting without any hatred of the German people. We do not intend to destroy either their freedom or their unity. But we have to destroy an evil system of government and the mental and material corruption that has got hold of the German imagination and taken possession of German life. ... And also we have to learn from failure of that victory to avoid a vindictive triumph.”

“Prussian Militarism,” continued Mr Wells, “is an intolerable nuisance in the earth. Ever since the crushing of the French in1871 the evil thing has grown and cast its spreading shadow over Europe ... But now at last we shake ourselves free and turn upon this boasting wickedness to rid the world of it. The whole world is tired of it. And 'Gott,' Gott so perpetually invoked—Gott indeed must be very tired of it.

If the world was tired of it in 1914, it was still more tired of it in 1918, after a struggle in which all the resources of the greatest nations had been exhausted in an orgy of destruction and, more appalling still, the blood of millions of the best and bravest has been poured out on the battlefield. When the “Cease fire” sounded on that Armistice Day in 1918 there was little carefree jubilation, practically nothing of the nature of triumphing over a vanquished foe. In every nation there was one thought uppermost in the minds of the people—the thought that they were at last awaking from a nightmare of unrelieved horror. In all countries, too, it was said, and said with hard determination, that this evil thing which has come upon the world must and should be exorcised now and for evermore.

Was Prussianism Smashed?

And on the face of it, it seemed indeed that Prussian militarism had not only been defeated but had been completely smashed. Kaiserism and all that it stood for was kicked into the gutter by the German troops and populace as they realized the bitterness of defeat and endured the humiliation of the Peace.

They had entered the war with the most confident hopes of glory and easy conquest; when it was ended heirs was a country through which stalked relentlessly the spectres of famine and revolution. Even the victorious powers were in little better plight. They had won—but at what a price!

So it was that in 1919 men of good will everywhere strove to build a new world from which the spirit of militarism and all those vilenesses which are best expressed by the word “Prussianism” had been completely banished—and for ever. Gradually Europe and the world settled down from the strain and loss of the great war. The material losses were largely repaired, though, alas, the gaps in the generations could never be filled. In Germany there were signs of the firm foundations of a new order—an order of true liberalism; of toleration, and enlightened, peace-loving and peace-ensuing democracy.

With what apprehension, then, and later with what horror, did the outside world discern the phoenix-like growth in Germany of something which was all too plainly akin to the Prussianism which it was believed the war had finally killed!

Some would blame this rebirth of a thing essentially ugly and evil upon the great slump which deprived Germany of her economic and financial supports. Others have it that there is something essentially militaristic in the German spirit. Yet others adopt the kinder—and, let us hope, truer—view that the average German is one who is constitutionally better fitted to be led rather than to play an active part in a political system which can only function properly if all, or at least the majority, of the citizens are prepared to make their contribution to its proper working.

The German, in a word, has a passion for regimentation; he loves order, and is not at all averse to being ordered about. In the cold air of the Weimar republic he felt it difficult to breathe; it demanded of him a knowledge, a spirit of toleration, a willingness to take part in dull and uninteresting work, which he found it difficult to afford in an age of scarcity and insecurity.

Nazism removed from him the necessity of taking thought. He willingly gave up those rights and liberties which are regarded as the very life-blood of British citizenship. He gladly agreed to sink his individuality in that of the mass; he concurred in that final stage of self-stultification, the subordination of the individual to the totalitarian god—the all-powerful, allegedly all-knowing, supposedly all-wise State.

Hypnotized and deluded by the messianic promises of the Leader, his conscience stifled by the assertions of the new ideology, his reason deafened by the clamour of the drums—the German abandoned his interest in politics to the men of the Nazi machine—men who, to the world at large, came to resemble ever more closely the gangsters of the American underworld. All that spoke of the liberal Germany of Stresemann—let alone of the Germany of Goethe and Schiller, Kant and Mendelssohn—was spurned with contumely. Christianity was assailed, and the crude paganism of the old Teutons was officially resurrected.

At first the world outside refused to believe that the Germany which had travailed so hardly in 1919 was so soon lying on its deathbed. but it was not long before the last illusions were crushed beneath the hammer-blows of Nazi might. In the reoccupation of the Rhineland, the reintroduction of conscription, the creation of an air force; in the cruel bullying and eventual seizure of Austria; in the successful dismemberment and final engorging of the democratic republic of Checho-Slovakia; finally in the onslaught upon a Poland which had committed the greatest crime in the Nazi calendar—refusal to submit to the most outrageous demands presented at the point of the pistol—in all these the one argument used was FORCE.

As Mr. Chanberlain declared in his noble pronouncement over the wireless Hitler's “action shows convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.”

When historians come to write the record of these momentous days and weeks, they will no doubt have to say that there were many other reasons why Britain took up a sword for the second time against Germany. For us, living in this critical moment, the situation is plain. The things we are fighting against, are, to quote Mr. Chamberlain again, “the evil things—brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution.”

In 1939, as in 1914, the enemy is the same. Then we called it by the name of Prussian Militarism: today we know it as Nazism. Under whatever name it is a foul growth, something to be cut out of the body of the nations.

And that we shall most surely do, if, in the words of the King, we “stand calm, firm and united”—if we “do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God.”