THERE are days when the House of Commons is in a bad mood and the particular Tuesday which I am about to describe was one of them. For one thing it was hot and the place was jammed to the ceiling for we were having a vote of confidence debate on the Schuman Plan to unify British coal and steel production with that of Western Europe. Another cause of irritation was that we had recently had two allnight sittings on the Finance Bill.
If you have never seen dawn break over the Thames and never heard the first omnibus rumble in the early hours across Westminster Bridge then it is worth while to sit on the terrace and take them in. But after 15 years of parliament the novelty for me has worn off. I prefer to leave the dawn to poets and to take it for granted.
There is, of course, one advantage in driving home at 6 a.m. You do not have to crawl in a traffic jam. But on the whole it is a foolish business and we were very angry with the whips, and particularly with Herbert Morrison who is the Leader of the House. Finance should not be discussed in the grisly hours of the morning when even graveyards yawn.
And now we were plunged into the Schuman Plan debate when few of us had made up our minds whether the Socialists were right or wrong in turning a cold shoulder to the overtures of France. Winston Churchill, however, had no doubts and sent us into action with strict orders to blast the Socialists into eternity or beyond.
With only two hours to go before the vital vote was taken (the Liberals and Tories had formed a temporary coalition) Churchill rose to wind up the case for our side. Opposite him sat Sir Stafford Cripps with his nose tilted disdainfully in the air, as if to say that Churchill’s punches could not hurt him. Next to Cripps sat Clement Attlee looking unusually excited for him. In fact, as Churchill’s oratorical artillery gathered force the less attention did the Prime Minister pay to it. Instead, the Minister of State, Kenneth Younger, kept coming to and fro like a ferry, delivering scraps of paper which the Prime Minister studied with obvious intensity.
Finally Churchill sat down to the loud cheers of nearly all his followers and Attlee rose to a full-throated roar from his supporters. But to t lie astonishment of the crowded benches he said: “I ask leave of the House to interrupt the debate in order that I can make a statement of great importance.”
The House sat up with a jerk. The Korean business had broken out only two days before and we sensed that such a remarkable break with normal procedure could only be on a matter of extreme urgency.
Item by item the Prime Minister read the announcement of President Truman. At long last the Security Council of the United Nations had worked as its authors intended. The Republic of Korea had been attacked by forces from North Korea and the republic had asked for armed assistance. The issue which the League of Nations would never face in the Hitler era had been put squarely before the United Nations in the Stalin era.
Truman had not shirked the issue. We were told by Attlee that United States air and sea forces had been ordered to give the Korean Republican forces cover and support. Further than that Truman had informed the world that an American fleet had been ordered to Formosa to prevent any attack upon that island by the Chinese Communist Army.
Nor did the decisions end there. The American forces in the Philippines were to be strengthened and a military mission sent to the French and the associated states of IndoChina. We listened in tense silence but gradually the enthusiasm of the British M.Ps took form.
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There were cheers from both sides of the House, cheers that marked a tremendous moment in history. At last the forces of liberty were proving that it is not only dictators whose patience can be exhausted. No wonder when Attlee resumed his speech on the .Schuman plan the debate seemed suddenly unimportant and outmoded.
Of necessity 1 am writing this article with no knowledge of events beyond the Truman declaration, but whatever the immediate or even the ultimate result this is something that raises the dignity of man.
Many of us at Westminster recalled that day in the spring of 19J6 when Hitler, against his generals’ advice, took the desperate gamble of marching into the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. With his cunning legalistic mind the Führer knew that the German Army had done nothing more than invade German territory, and that he had thus avoided any direct affront to another nation. Would the democratic governments of France and Britain send soldiers to their deaths to drive Germans out of German territory?
Anthony Eden, the youngest Foreign Secretary in many years, informed the House that the League of Nations would meet at once to consider this flagrant defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. The French General Staff advocated immediate mobilization providing Britain would march with them. But the league of Nations, that dream born of Woodrow Wilson's idealism, that toothless exponent of collective insecurity, had become the great alibi for the political conscience.
The league met at the Court of St. James and I went along to see history in the making. Litvinoff, the Russian Ambassador to London, looked like a bespectacled Mr. Pickwick and seemed to be watching the antics of the Westerners with an amused tolerance and perhaps contempt. Eden put the case against Germany without bitterness but with firmness. The Prime Minister of Belgium spoke passionately for the small nations condemned by history and geography to live on Germany’s borders.
The league decided to protest against Hitler’s action and resolved to meet again at an early date. The flash point had been paaaed. The simple issue that Hitler had used force to rewrite the treaty was lost in a clamor of tongues and long-winded argument.
It is eaay enough now to blame the statesmen who were there, but it would have been far better never for the league to have been born than for it to exist without the power to carry out its decrees by force. By its very character the league paralyzed initiative and salved the conscience of the timid.
I think the biggest event of the last 100 years was America’s coming of sge. Now we have seen America raise her hand and say that aggression must come no farther. We cannot bring the dead years back to life but think what this would Ijave meant 15 years ago when the demon of Berchtesgaden was cold-bloodedly planning the destruction of civilization.
It is impossible to believe that the Russianized state of North Korea acted without the direct prompting of the Kremlin. A week before the attack the British General Staff was expecting the Russians to make a provocative move somewhere within their vast sphere of influence. 1 do not say that the British expected war on a big scale but the Russian timetable was lagging behind events and it was known that Stalin was in constant conference with his military advisers. It must also be remembered that the Russian is a semiOriental and that in Asia it is a bad thing to lose face.
Russia has not forgotten how the Allies won the battle of the air lift in Berlin. Russia has not forgotten how at Whitsun the Allies manned their zone with armed police in case the youth marchers of the Soviet Zone tried to invade the other sections of Berlin. Russia has not forgotten that Tito, who defied the Kremlin, is still alive and that the Communist Government of Czechoslovakia is living on its nerves as the resentment of the people rises with each successive attack upon their few remaining liberties.
Hitler knew that he could never afford a failure on his rise to power. That is why he chose the Jews, who had no army or navy, as the first victims of his hate, and marked down helpless Austria. But the revolutionary can never let things stand still. That is what drove Napoleon from conquest to conquest until his diseased vanity led him into the vast blunder of invading Russia. It was the same with Hitler who could never rest upon his successes but had to follow his star even though it led to the flames of the inferno.
Stalin is wiser than Hitler. He is cruel as a matter of policy, not because it satisfies his blood lust. From talks I have had with men who have met Stalin in conference I could believe that he is tired of the excesses of revolution but dare not turn his back upon the monster he helped to create. Anthony Eden is one of the men who still believes that the Western world could do a deal with “Uncle Joe.” I hope he is right. . .
And now, for the first time since the war, Stalin finds himself on the defensive. The initiative has passed from the Kremlin to the United Nations and its supreme exponent the United States of America. Unless Stalin was prepared for the dynamic reaction of the West against the Korean outrage then he was a fool to risk it.
Never has the Oriental cunning of the Muscovite been more clearly demonstrated than in dealing with partitioned Germany. Stalin knows, as does every Western politician, that the cry of “Unite the Fatherland” is deep in the heart of every German. Every minister serving in the governments of either of the two zones knows that some day that cry will ring across the skies. And just as Abraham Lincoln sent hundreds of thousands of men to their death to preserve the union, so the Germans will not flinch at a civil war to restore their
The Communist is now like an old dog that cannot learn new tricks and, therefore, we have a certain advantage in forecasting his next moves. He works to a plan which deviates perhaps in detail but never seriously in design. Therefore, in the Soviet Zone of Berlin, the Red Army has been training the Peoples’ Police Corps, equipped with tanks and aircraft and trained on modern military lines. Estimates differ on the strength of the corps but it is probably more than 500,000. In addition there is the imitation Hitler Youth Movement which is being taught to march like the doomed battalions of the Nazi adolescents and to be ready as auxiliaries for the so-called police. Then, at a given moment, Russia would call for the occupying forces of the Allies to withdraw from the two zones and allow a free Germany to decide its own future.
Democracy Is on Trial
What could the helpless police of Western Berlin do with their truncheons against a “liberation march” of the Peoples’ Police and the screaming youth battalions? Berlin could be occupied in a night—and Berlin is still the heart of the Fatherland.
But this is where Stalin has blundered with his gunpowder plot in Korea. The Allies will not move out of Germany now, not until the threat of Russian communized imperialism is contained firmly within the borders of the Soviet.
Yet the Western world will not retain the initiative if the U. S. is left to police the world almost alone. This is the chance to give teeth to the United Nations. Now is the hour to create an international police force which will be able to act with world authority. I know the difficulties but it can be done and should be done.
A long struggle lies ahead, a struggle which will require vast patience and fixed purpose. Asia is in eruption and Russia intends that it shall remain so. The Western world must recognize the just aspirations of the Asiatics while ensuring that Communism does not ride to power on them. Truly our governments are facing a testing period in which democracy itself will be on
Oscar Wilde wrote: “Out of sorrow have the worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain.” Perhaps in the painful years ahead we shall see the United Nations give birth to a form of world government. Something akin to that must emerge unless this planet, the earth, is to be changed into a fiery burning star consuming all things and beings that live upon it.
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