MP Harmsworth: Peace only on our terms

The Session of 1914 is at and end. Parliament has been prorogned after what has been generally described as the most memorable sitting of half a century. I much regret that I missed the final scene, when [Labour MP] "Will"Crooks called upon the House to sing "God Save the King". I was in bed at the time with a bad cold, and I was not lucky enough to witness the historic reconciliation of the British and Irish races. The war had brought one good result anyway. From henceforth it will not be possible for our German and other critics to point to our failure in Ireland as a proof that we are unfit to control a great empire.

As I write, the titanic struggle on the lines of the River Aisne is still in progress. It has been going on for ten day, and latterly under the worst possible weather conditions. It is at such times especially that out hearts go out in sympathy and gratitude to our noble fellows at the front. There is the feeling, too, of futility and exasperation among those of us who are still able-bodied that we can do so little to help them.

Why aren't we out there taking our share of the knocks? I believe that Lord Kitchener could have hundreds of thousands of men of my own age [45 years old] and thereabouts if we could only persuade him that we should be as useful in the field as younger men. Very likely the future of France, of Belgium, of Germany, and even of England, is being settled in the trenches of the Aisne.

The Germans, we are told, are astonished at the fighting qualities of "these English". The Kaiser ought to have known. He has been a frequent visitor amongst us, and has no doubt dipped into British history. I begin to think that a good deal of the spite he is now venting on us comes from a realisation on his part that he has fatally under-estimated both our strength and our endurance. He is not the first world conqueror who has had to submit in the long run to the patient, unshakeable tenacity of British troops.

There are other patent signs that the Germans are losing their nerve. The sacking of Louvain, Malines, Termonde, Senlis, the wanton ruin of the cathedral at Rheims, and the scattering of contact mines in the high seas - these are not the actions of brave men who know their cause to be just. The English language has good, strong old-fashioned words in which to describe the men who do these things. Huns, vandals, assassins, pirates - the modern Attila has only himself and his policy to thank if less cultured people described him and his agents in such words as these.

However, we have sterner business before us just now even than the bringing of the Kaiser to the bar of civilised opinion. That can come later. Our immediate purpose is to drive him and his savage armies out of France and Belgium. It will take a long time a-doing, I dare say, but we shall succeed if only we are true to ourselves. And we must sign no peace that does not mean the smashing of German Imperialism once and for all.

There was talk of peace, you will have observed, in America the other day. German emissaries were put up to assure the American people that nothing but British jealousy of Germany etc stood in the way of immediate peace. Our jealousy of Germany! Why? We have in the past frankly admired and even envied Germany's greater efficiency in many things - in education, for instance,. We have been willing to learn many things of Germany. Does anybody envy German now?

Almost as revolting as the barbarianism of Germany's methods in war is the Press campaign by which she seeks to poison opinion against the Allies in the neutral countries. The employment of gangs of salaried ruffians to tell lies in America and elsewhere about us and our Allies is surely incompatible even with German "culture". It is a foolish expedient at best.

The causes of the present war are well known in all countries - except, perhaps, among the deluded German people - and the aims of German ambition have long since been given quite frankly to the world by Germans themselves. German philosophers, professors and generals have been preaching for years the destruction first of France and then of the British Empire. I don't say they quite expected things to happen as they are now happening. German chances would have been more rosy if (1) their Navy has been built up to their full programme, and if (2) we had been engaged in a small was in India or elsewhere in our Empire. But so overweening is German vanity and so greedy the German lust for "world power" that the present opportunity was seized with enthusiasm.

Germany can have peace at any time she likes - on our terms. Let her evacuate France and Belgium, hand over every one of her ships of war, give back Alsace and Lorraine to France, make territorial concessions to Russia on her eastern border, and pay full indemnities to ourselves and out Allies, and we shall be prepared to discuss terms of peace. We do not aim at the downfall of the German people. Our only desire is that Prussian militarism shall be utterly destroyed, and we shall not cry a halt until this object is achieved.


House of Commons

September 22nd, 1914.

[The Harmsworth Parliamentary Letters in The Luton News were submitted only while the House of Commons was in session. The House was not due to sit again during 1914].