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World War II: British Secretary of State Anthony Eden on British War Aims

(May 29, 1941)

Excerpts from a talk at The Mansion House, London, May 29, 1941.

It would be foolish to belittle Hitler's conquest of the greater part of the continent of Europe; it is a remarkable and ruthless military achievement. From Northern Norway to the Southern Mainland of Greece, from the Western shore of Brittany to the Eastern marshes of Poland, this one man rules over scores of millions of conquered peoples, either directly or through his creatures, be they Nazis or Quislings.

It is this man and his satellites, all except the Deputy Führer, now otherwise engaged, who control the lives and liberties of all who dwell in these vast territories. In all these lands once free, no man or woman can by any legal means read in a newspaper, hear on the wireless, or harbour a thought of which the Führer does not approve.

There has never been anything so brutally thorough in all history. Hitlerism imposes servitude not only on the body but on the mind and even on the spirit. It is serfdom made absolute. It is tyranny imposed by a military machine of immense power; it is tyranny by an utterly ruthless despotism.

Yet this vast and sinister fabric will not endure. For this many reasons could no doubt be given. I will be content with two. First, because as this Nazi despotism is utterly ruthless, so is it boundless in its ambition. It threatens every land in Europe that it has not overrun; it has crossed into Africa and into Asia where Hitler seeks to dupe Arabs into slavery on the Euphrates by exactly the same methods that he employs on the Tiber or the waters of Vichy. The Nazi menace must continue its march to every country and to every continent. None will be safe anywhere until this system is smashed. It is the universal realization of this truth that will first set a term to Hitler's power.

Here I come to the second reason why Nazi tyranny cannot endure, because no system that is built upon hate can survive, and the Nazi is hated in every land he rules. He is the alien and the oppressor. Wherever Germany's vast armies of occupation are stationed the men of those armies know that the peoples whom they hold in subjection by their presence pray for their defeat and flight. The Nazi uniform is the emblem of servitude in all these lands. So it is that the Nazi is building up against himself a flood unparalleled in force and volume. When the dam bursts it will sweep Hitler and his gang away, the Gestapo, the Quislings, and the satellites, and much else besides. Every German in his heart must know and fear this. He has good reason to do so. The reckoning will indeed be wide and fierce.

So it is that Nazism seems to pretend to itself that there might be some permanence in the thralldom it imposes. And so it is that Hitler has found it necessary to give some decent covering to the naked policy of terror and robbery on which he has embarked in Europe. He has for this purpose invented what he calls "The New Order." Hitler pretends that this New Order is to bring prosperity and happiness to those countries which have been robbed by him of their liberty and their normal means of livelihood.

But what is the reality behind Hitler's high-sounding announcement? It is not easy to find much which is definite in Germany's New Economic Order, except the plan by which the more important industries are to be mainly concentrated within Germany herself.

Meanwhile the satellite and tributary nations are to be compelled to confine themselves to agriculture and to other kinds of production which suit German convenience. Currency devices will fix the terms of exchange between Germany's industrial products and the output of the other States, so as to maintain a standard of life in Germany much above that of her neighbours. Meanwhile all foreign commerce would become a German monopoly. As part of the New Order citizens of tributary states will doubtless be forbidden to learn engineering or any other modern industrial arts. The permanent destruction of all local universities and technical schools will inevitably follow. In this way intellectual darkness must aggravate low physical standards, and the national revivals, which Hitler fears so much, will be indefinitely postponed.

All this could only be the prelude to an extension of the war which would carry to other continents the imperialist exploitation which has already devoured Europe. Such is the "New Order." It would surely be impossible even for Dr. Goebbels to make attractive to its victims a system of imperialist exploitation verging upon slavery.

Inspired by their theory of the master race the Germans plan to be the new aristocracy in the territories under their domination, while the unfortunate inhabitants of non-German origin are to become the mere slaves of their German overlords. This vision of the conqueror's rights and of the treatment to be meted out to the conquered has long been in Hitler's mind. It was clearly laid down in Mein Kampf.

The process of national destruction of conquered peoples is in operation wherever the German armies march. Mein Kampf shows clearly that it is not merely for the Germans a phase of military operations to be abandoned with the cessation of hostilities. It is much more than this. It is a fixed and deliberate policy of subjection. The next step in the "New Order" for Europe is the creation of slaves.

Hitler has destroyed the bases of political and social co-operation throughout Europe and he is destroying her economic structure. The future of Europe will depend on how moral and material reconstruction is brought about throughout the world.

While all our efforts are concentrated on winning the war, H. M. Government has naturally been giving careful thought to this all-important matter which has been equally in the mind of the President of the United States of America.

We have found in President Roosevelt's message to Congress in 1941 the keynote of our own purposes. On that occasion the President said: "In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

"The first is freedom of speech and expression-everywhere in the world.

"The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-everywhere in the world.

"The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

"The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour-anywhere in the world.

"That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called 'New Order' of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb. To that new order we oppose the great conception-the 'moral order.'"

Today I wish to put before you certain practical ways in which "freedom from want" may be applied to Europe.

We have declared that social security must be the first object of our domestic policy after the war. And social security will be our policy abroad not less than at home. It will be our wish to work with others to prevent the starvation of the post-armistice period, the currency disorders throughout Europe, and the wide fluctuations of employment, markets and prices which were the cause of so much misery in the twenty years between the two wars. We shall seek to achieve this in many ways which will interfere as little as possible with the proper liberty of each country over its own economic fortunes.

The countries of the British Empire and their Allies, with the United States and South America, alone are in a position to carry out such a policy. For irrespective of the nature of the political settlement, continental Europe will end this war starved and bankrupt of all the foods and raw materials which she was accustomed to obtain from the rest of the world. She will have no means, unaided, of breaking the vicious circle. She can export few goods until she has, first of all, received the necessary raw materials. Wasteful wartime cultivations in many lands will leave agriculture almost as weak as industry. Thus Europe will face the vast problem of general demobilization with a general lack of the necessary means to put men back to work.

Let no one suppose, however, that we for our part intend to return to the chaos of the old world. To do so would bankrupt us no less than others. When peace comes we shall make such relaxations of our war-time financial arrangements as will permit the revival of international trade on the widest possible basis. We shall hope to see the development of a system of international exchange in which the trading of goods and services will be the central feature. I echo Mr. Hull's admirable summing up in his recent declaration when he said:

"Institutions and arrangements of international finance must be so set up that they lend aid to the essential enterprises and continuous development of all countries and permit payment through processes of trade consonant with the welfare of all countries."

However, to meet the problems of the immediate post-war action in other directions will also be required. The liberated countries, and maybe others too, will require an initial pool of resources to carry them through the transitional period.

To organize the transition to peaceful activities will need the collaboration of the United States, of ourselves and of all free countries which have not themselves suffered the ravages of war. The Dominions and ourselves can make our contribution to this because the British Empire will actually possess overseas enormous stocks of food and materials, which we are accumulating so as to ease the problems of the overseas producers during the war, and of reconstructed Europe after the war. The Prime Minister has already made clear the importance he attaches to this.

What has Germany to offer on her side? Absolutely nothing. An official of the Reich Economics Ministry, in a moment of hard realism, published last Autumn, a statement that the present German rationing system must continue for at least one year after the restoration of peace, and perhaps for several. The huge latent demand for food, clothing and other articles of prime necessity which cannot be satisfied under war conditions will, he went on to say, again become active after the signature of the peace treaty, but the production of such commodities will not for a long while exceed war-time output.

All this is not only true but obvious. But if peace brings disappointment and such conditions continue beyond the disciplined period of war, social security can hardly survive.

No one can suppose that the economic reorganization of Europe after the Allied victory will be an easy task. But we shall not shirk our opportunity and our responsibility to bear our share of the burdens. The peaceful brotherhood of nations, with due liberty to each to develop its own balanced economic life and its characteristic culture, will be the common object. But it is the transition to this end which presents the problem. It is the establishment of an international economic system, capable of translating the technical possibilities of production into actual plenty, and maintaining the whole population in a continuous fruitful activity, which is difficult. The world cannot expect to solve the economic riddle easily or completely. But the free nations of America, the Dominions and ourselves alone possess a command of the material means.

And, what is perhaps more important, these nations clearly have the will and the intention to evolve a post-war order which seeks no selfish national advantage; an order where each member of the family shall realise its own character and perfect its own gifts in liberty of conscience and person. We have learnt the lesson of the interregnum between the two wars. We know that no escape can be found from the curse which has been lying on Europe except by creating and preserving economic health in every country.

Under a system of free economic co-operation Germany must play a part. But here I draw a distinction. We must never forget that Germany is the worst master Europe has yet known. Five times in the last century she has violated the peace. She must never be in a position to play that role again. Our political and military terms of peace will be designed to prevent a repetition of Germany's misdeeds.

We cannot now foresee when the end will come. But it is in the nature of a machine so rigid as the German to break suddenly and with little warning. When it comes, the need of succour to the European peoples will be urgent.

Shipping will be short and local organization in Europe in a state of collapse. It is, therefore, important to begin in good time the discussion of priorities and allocations. Our friends and allies now represented in London will tell us what their liberated countries will need most urgently, in order that we may all co-operate and be ready for prompt action.

In speaking of the reconstruction of Europe I do not overlook the fact that its settlement may affect and may be affected by developments elsewhere, such as, for example, in the Far East. After the unhappy struggle now in progress between Japan and China, there will obviously be problems of similar magnitude to be faced in that part of the world, in the solution of which all countries concerned will, we hope, play their part.

The right economic outcome after the war requires on our part no exceptional unselfishness but will require constructive imagination. It is obvious that we have no motive of self-interest prompting us to the economic exploitation either of Germany or of the rest of Europe. This is not what we want nor what we could perform. The lasting settlement and internal peace of the Continent as a whole is our only aim. The fact that at the bottom of his heart every combatant knows this is the ultimate source of our strength. To every neutral, satellite or conquered country, it is obvious that our victory is, for the most fundamental and unalterable reasons, to their plain advantage. But that victory stands also for something greater still. Only our victory can restore, both to Europe and to the world, that freedom which is our heritage from centuries of Christian civilization, and that security which alone can make possible the betterment of man's lot upon the earth.

In the tasks that lie ahead may there be given to our statesmen the vision to see, the faith to act, and the courage to persevere.

[Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Great Britain, British Library of Information]

Sources: ibiblio