For there we come to the root of everything—the unpreparedness of England—and what it meant. It meant simply that as a nation we never wished for war with Germany, and, as a nation, we never expected it. Our Governments, of course, contained men who saw more or less plainly the dangers ahead, and had spent years of effort in trying to avoid them. On several occasions, during the last twenty years, as we all remember, a wave of sudden anxiety as to German aims and intentions had spread through the thinking portion of the nation—in connection with South Africa, with Morocco, with the Balkans. But it had always died away again. We know now that Germany was not yet ready! Meanwhile fruitless efforts were made by successive English Governments to limit armaments, to promote arbitration, and extend the scope of the Hague Tribunal. In vain. Germany would have none of them. Year by year, in a world of peace her battle-navy grew. “For what can it be intended but to attack England?” said the alarmist. But how few of us believed them! Our Tariff Reformers protested against the encroachments of German trade; but, outside a handful of persons who seemed to most of us fanatics, the emphasis lay always on care for our own people, and not on hostility to Germany. Those who warned us passionately that Germany meant to provoke a struggle, that the struggle must come, were very little heeded. Nobody slept the worse at night for their harangues. Lord Roberts’s agitation for National Service, based on the portentous growth of the German Army and Navy, made comparatively little way. I speak from personal experience of a large Parliamentary division. “Did you foresee it?” I said to one of the ablest and most rising men in the Navy a fortnight ago. He thought a little. “I always felt there might be a clash over some colonial question—a quarrel about black men. But a war between the white nations over a European question—that Germany would force such a war—no, that I never believed!” Nor did any of us—except those few—those very few persons, who Cassandra-like, saw the coming horror plainly, and spoke to a deaf country.
“There was no hatred of Germany in this country”—I quote a Cabinet Minister. “Even in those parts of the country which had most reason to feel the trade rivalry of Germany, there was no thought of war, no wish for war!” It came upon England like one of those sudden spates through mountain clefts in spring, that fall with havoc on the plains beneath. After such days of wrestling for European peace as have left their indelible mark upon every member of the English Cabinet which declared war on August 4th, 1914, we fought because we must, because, in Luther’s words, we “could no other.”
What is the proof of this—the proof which history will accept as final—against the vain and lying pleas of Germany?