The occasion of our meeting this afternoon is to hear a lecture from my friend Mr. Buchan on the strategy of the war, and he is sure to make it informing and interesting. His friends know him as a man of fine public spirit and patriotism, in whom a crisis such as this in his country’s history arouses the noblest feelings. I am sorry that an engagement makes it necessary for me to return soon to the Foreign Office, and therefore it will be a great disappointment to me not to hear the whole of the lecture. I take the opportunity to make my apology now, and also to make one or two remarks on the origin and issues of the war. While we are engaged in considering the particular methods by which the war may be prosecuted to a successful conclusion do not let us lose sight even for a moment of the character and origin of this war and of the main issues for which we are fighting. Hundreds of millions of money have been spent, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and millions have been maimed and wounded in Europe during the last few months. And all this might have been avoided by the simple method of a conference or a joint discussion between the powers concerned which might have been held in London, at The Hague, or wherever and in whatever form Germany would have consented to have it. It would have been far easier to have settled by conference the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, which Germany made the occasion for this war, than it was to get successfully through the Balkan crisis of two years ago. Germany knew from her experience of the conference in London which settled the Balkan crisis that she could count upon our good will for peace in any conference of the powers. We had sought no diplomatic triumph in the Balkan Conference; we did not give ourselves to any intrigue; we pursued impartially and honorably the end of peace, and we were ready last July to do the same again.
In recent years we have given Germany every assurance that no aggression upon her would receive any support from us. We withheld from her one thing—we would not give an unconditional promise to stand aside, however aggressive Germany herself might be to her neighbors. Last July, before the outbreak of the war, France was ready to accept a conference; Italy was ready to accept a conference; Russia was ready to accept a conference; and we know now that after the British proposal for a conference was made, the Emperor of Russia himself proposed to the German Emperor that the dispute should be referred to The Hague. Germany refused every suggestion made to her for settling the dispute in this way. On her rests now, and must rest for all time, the appalling responsibility for having plunged Europe into this war and for having involved herself and the greater part of the Continent in the consequences of it.