IBy Michael de la Bcdoyere
What We Owe To Mr. Chamberlain
LESSONS OF THE CRISIS Difficulties For Catholics Answered
THE PRIME MINISTER'S HISTORIC WORDS THAT we who intended and still intend to stand by the country, helping her in whatever capacity within our power and according to her need of our services, have been able to do so with a perfectly clear conscience, is a blessing which we owe to the Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain. No statesman in the whole of history, we believe, has shown himself in the hour of supreme crisis a finer leader in the fullest, deepest and most human sense of the word.
" I must say," he stated in his broadcast on Tuesday night, "that I find this attitude unreasonable."
These words will prove historic, not merely because they mark the very razoredge which divides two worlds, the world of reason from the world of madness and force, but also because never before has a momentous statement of the kind been couched in language of such moderation, such simple humanity and commonsense, such eloquent understatement. But they are in keeping with every step he has taken during the last two weeks. In his efforts to maintain peace, he has not hesitated to cut through the time-honoured formalities of diplomacy in the very way in which the plain man would wish, he has not refused to make every personal contact that could usefully and possibly be made, he has not flinched, on understanding perhaps for the first time the full nature of the realGerman grievances in the matter in dispute, from staking his position, his very manhood, on the promise that those grievances should be fully redressed. At the last moment he has made clear to the world that the British guarantee of reasonable German claims holds good, Even when all hope seemed gone, he has publicly uttered the thought in the mind of every man in his senses that this is madness, fantastic, a nightmare, and in this belief, one shared happily by the Duce and . even perhaps in his heart by Hitler, he has been able to take last steps, utterly unexpected ones, to ward off impending disaster. Mr. Chamberlain's imagination, understanding, humanity, courage and patience have raised him, in our view, not merely high above his contemporary statesmen, puny pigmies by comparison, but above any of his predecessors, even the greatest. He will prove a very bold and a very cocksure man who, at this juncture, will find it possible in conscience either to march ahead of Mr. Chamberlain or to lie behind him.
It is some very small but very real con
solation at this moment to think that ever since the Prime Minister took to all intents and purposes on his own shoulders the foreign policy of this country, those who have been responsible for the policy of this paper and the expression of that policy, have steadfastly supported him, sometimes even anticipating the steps which naturally are far easier to suggest than to carry through. This is not the hour to indulge in recriminations against those who tomorrow may, even yet, be engaged with us in a purpose so grim that self-preservation alone will ensure unity of mind and will. It is enough to knew that all that could reasonably have been done to break down the artificially and recklessly fostered enmity between two camps in Europe, an enmity resulting from an unjust settlement
of what may prove to have been a lesser war, has been and is being done. Towards the end the pace of that effort at reparation has been as unexpected as it was unparalleled in time of peace. If it, after all, results in failure—and we do not believe it will—it is a thousand times certain that any different policy must have resulted in greater failure, a failure in that case not only on the material plane but on the spiritual and moral as well, a failure which at worst would have left us fighting a war with bad consciences, at best finding ourselves fighting for self-preservation with our people divided amongst themselves because some of them would not participate in an unjust war.
MATERIAL CALCULATIONS OUT OF PLACE It would be foolish to suggest that there have been no difficulties, no worries in our Catholic minds.
The most obvious has already been expressed by the Prime Minister: what good could have come out of this or any other war, and therefore how could we have entered into it with a good conscience? There is not the slightest question but that in any attempt to balance probable material good and evil we must admit that to enter upon this war is to take the choice which will lead to the greater amount of material (taken in its widest sense of non-moral and non-spiritual) evil. The possible triumph of Hitlerism in Central Europe or even a joint Italo-German hegemony over Europe itself could not be compared in this respect with the probable devastations of a modern war. It is arguable that the triumph of Totalitarianism would he no worse, and probably better, than the internal anarchy in many great Powers likely to result from war, an anarchy that would lead either to a new and more terrible Fascism or a Sovietisation of Europe, But this balancing of probable results was at the moment, we contend, not to the point. We admit, the Prime Minister admits, and certainly the sober opinion of all countries, Germany and Italy included, admit that this was the road to disaster and nightmare. The point, the only point, is: could we, as moral beings. legitimately refuse to take our chances in embarking on this road? To answer this we must seek the moral, not the material, alternatives, The moral issue: as it has stood, is quite simply whether in a crystal-clear issue, we can allow without protesting to the fullest extent of our human powers, a country to get away in the face of the world, with sheer, naked, and utterly unnecesary force? To see this, we must rid our minds and imaginations for the moment of their present encumbrances in the shape of visions of possible material disasters, even possible morally unfortunate consequences (for the latter are not willed, but in God's hands so long as we decide justly on the
issue of immediate action); we must even rid them of their realisation that the issue has been reduced to a comparatively small divergence of material views between Hitler and those who stand opposed to him.
Instead we must look at the plain moral issue and that alone. Thanks to the efforts and sincerity of Mr. Chamberlain that moral issue has been isolated from its irre levant material circumstances. We have granted and guaranteed fully all that justice and reason can demand. " I must say that I find this attitude unreasonable." And
here " unreasonable " has its fullest sense. Herr Hitler at least, until he agreed to the Munich Conference, by insisting on the taking by sheer force, not only what is due to him in justice and reason, and has already been granted to him in the fullest way of reason, but also more, that extra in quantity, method and time which amounts in fact to the perpetrating before the world of a grave injustice against others (however comparatively materially small), literally defied and challenged the moral sense of history and the world. The smallness of the material issue makes not the slightest difference to the magnitude of this moral issue. The consideration even of whether Hitler wishes ultimately to destroy Czech independence is not to the point. What matters is the clear setting of the moral issue, the publicity accorded to it. and the consequent vital challenge which is implied in it.
One can only say that if Hitler is unable to see this,—and we believe that he will see before it is too late—then this dictatorial leader of millions of our fellow beings proclaims himself to be blind to a truth which tests the difference between man and brute. Man cannot refuse to accept that challenge whatever the material consequences. It is still to be hoped and prayed for that, if not his own moral sense, then at least the evidence of the world judgment against him, supported as it is by overwhelming force, will convince him. In that conviction, if it comes and for whatever reason, will lie his salvation and the safety of his people as well as our own.
RUSSIA, GERMAN CATHOLICS, ITALY
There were further difficulties of particular concern to us Catholics. One was that we were likely to find ourselves fighting on the side of Russia and against not only the Catholics of Germany but also, as it seemed possible at first, against those of Italy, the land of our Holy Father in the midst of which the Vatican is set.
If we can keep our minds and souls clear about the moral issue in the struggle, we shall be able to keep the accident of fighting side by side with Godless Russia in its proper place. At the moment it is by no means certain that Russia would honour her obligations. She might, but we should not be surprised if she first found excuse for neutrality and later sought to make terms with the side which appeared to be winning. Nor have we the least doubt that her sole consideration in deciding what steps to take will be her own material advantage and the promotion of the wrecking philosophy for which she stands. She indeed is likely to do that which some of us imagine we are allowed to do, weigh one material advantage against another. Conscientious Catholics, let us be assured of this, will not be spiritually and morally idle, if war after all should come. Their duty above all will always be—at whatever cost to themselves—to see to it that a moral issue in the light of which they enter into war remains the only issue for which they will fight it and the only moral issue for which they stand when war ends. One of their chief tasks, in the event of war today, would be to see to it that the help of Russia remains also subject to this issue and that under no circumstances could they allow the war to defend the moral status of man to degenerate into a war to uphold the brutish philosophy of the Soviet and its
friends. Rather than allow this to happen, they would gladly sacrifice their lives.
That we might be forced to fight against our persecuted German brethren, fellowCatholics of ours, who have been deprived by force of the right to state their views as Christians and citizens and who have been unable to learn of the true facts, is perhaps the bitterest possibility of alt, But it is one deriving ultimately from that very position against which we might have to take up arms because there is no other means of effective protest left to us. For the recent attitude of the German rulers is the logical outcome of that totalitarianism, that putting of man's untamed will and force above God, of the brute above the human being, which has led to the persecution of our brethren. In a very real sense we can say that we have been forced to tahs steps which arc also a protest against the persecution they have suffered. Once more that would not have teen the case had our cause been vitiated by any refusal to admit all Germany's just and reasonable demands.
The position of Italy, at the time of writing, is uncertain. There is at the time, thank God, every evidence that the Italian leader feels very differently indeed from the German rulers. He has indeed placed himself among the peacemakers. We cannot for our part believe that Italy would ever have found herself in active alliance with Germany over this issue, If for reasons of power-politics and for fear of the possible material consequences to her regime, she had after all answered Hitler's wish that " the two peoples shall be one bloc," we should have known that the Catholic people of Italy, in so far as they understood the true facts of the situation, would have been the victims of that same force whose supreme expression we have now had no alternative but to challenge.
A final difficulty—and one of special acuteness to those of us who have fully understood the Christian endeavours of Nationalist Spain against Marxism and Anarchy—is created by the repercussions of any general war upon the struggle be yond the Pyrenees. Happily General Franco has already expressed his intention of neutrality and we have received information that, of late, the Nationalists have become more and more unwilling to receive German help. Not least of the reasons for this has been the growing realisation that the Germany for which Hitler is spokesman, was not only trying to get justice after the humiliations of Versailles, but, after all, seeking also to establish a domination and a state inconsistent with the elemental ideas of human equity. We can have no doubt that the recent events which seemed to bear no other interpretation than that, when every German claim is met, she was still not satisfied, will have made an equal impression upon Catholic Spain. Moreover we have reason to believe that there are strong forces on the side opposed to Germany which will see to it that no advantage to themselves will be sought in Spain's own hour of triad. In the words of the Duke of Alba " the fortunes of Catholics in Spain are safe in the hands of Franco."
Thus we must see that the cause for which we were ready to face the madness of war, if every effort to avoid it failed, was just and must have been defended, whatever the consequences. For other considerations of vital importance to Catholics, arising from those consequences, we would refer the reader to the warnings given by Mr. Douglas Jerrold on another page.
In these tense hours of crisis, we have all of us learned a great deal, a great deal
about the horror of war and yet also about the inevitability of the truth that there can be a just cause for conflict, a great deal about when men are and are not sincere, a great deal about what we must work towards in the future, a great deal, too, about the heights to which human nature can rise as exemplified by the conduct of the Prime Minister whom all the world
recognises to have proved a leader indeed, Whatever happens we may thank God for having entrusted our destinies into his hands during these days