28 JUNE 1940, Page 10

The End of the Tunnel



NEARLY a fortnight has gone by since the British Govern- ment offered to the French a Pact of Union with ourselves. Paris had fallen. In the hour of supreme crisis, the French Government became divided ; Reynaud, Mandel and others, who were regarded as fighting Ministers, resigned or were driven out ; Petain, seemingly with Weygand's support, or, even, at his instance, asked for terms ; and the life of France fell into so great a confusion that apart from a casual reference by an official spokesman, no French answer to our offer has been made known. Nor has it been widely discussed here. Many people in England appear to have believed that it amounted to little more than an emotional confirmation of the existing alliance or to have argued that, as soon as it was made, it became irrelevant. Others, recognising the gigantic commit- ments implied in it, may be glad to believe that it is dead. I neither believe nor wish to believe this, and, though my point of view may now be open to new attack, I ask leave to present it.

I have no desire to fall into personal reminiscence, but it will be honest to confess prejudice and to say at once that for many years I have been an advocate, first of complete affiance with France, then of precisely this Union which has been proposed. Lecturing at the Sorbonne in 1936, I put forward in principle, and used words which brought ruin on my books in Germany: " Si tWUS nous divisons, le monde est perdu." Before and since that date I have continually troubled my friends in both countries with a plan for the establishment of " Les Puissances Unies." In November, 1939, being in Paris, I laid before certain Frenchmen a full scheme, by then long matured in my own mind, for union between the two nations in peace and war, which should preserve their separate identities in civil matters of justice, education and local government, but should be nevertheless a permanent union for all purposes of foreign policy, defence, finance and economics ; and I suggested that the imagination of our two peoples and of the world should be turned upon the project by the use, in a diplomatic docu- ment, of the phrase: " Les Puissances Unies de la Grande Bretagne et de la France," or, returning the compliment of precedence, " The United Powers of France and Great Britain."

The French to whom I submitted this plan welcomed it, but in England my work was at the Admiralty and I was debarred from political persuasion. With few exceptions, those with whom I discussed the plan considered it impracticable. Never- theless, after a conversation with me, the representative of the National Broadcasting Company of America put it on the trans-Atlantic air ; in May, at the invitation of Radio-Paris, I made at the B.B.C. records of a speech in French on the subject ; finally, in the first days of June, I outlined the whole project to the Editor of The Spectator, and one of the purposes of this group of articles was that I might hive opportunity to discuss it. All these records exist. I speak of them only in order to admit that I am old in the crime of desiring Anglo- French union. A month ago, when these articles were planned, I was prepared to be told, as I had so long been told, that the idea of union was a dream and could never be more. On Sunday, June 16th, the day after the anniversary of Waterloo, the British Government proposed it as a solemn pact with France.

Is it still a dream? Is it desirable or practicable now or in the future? Consider first what would have been the im- mediate results of acceptance of it by France. The fate of the armies and the civil population would, at least, nor have been changed for the worse, nor would the position of the Near Eastern force or of the French Empire have been changed except for the better. An undefeated navy and a still valuable air force would have been preserved to their country's service, and, even if no corner of France could have been saved, a French Government, independent of German domination, would have continued to exist elsewhere. The French, in that dark hour, desiring the men and the material which we might have provided in the years of peace and being offered what must then have seemed a far-distant promise, let it slide. It is not for us to blame them without more knowledge than is now available. Men tormehted by the agony of their country want immediate succour so passionately and are so mentally exhausted that their long view may be obscured. Those who spoke for France appear, in any case, to have failed in political realism. There was much to be gained, much tc be saved, by acceptance, and little that refusal could conceivably have persuaded the enemy to spare.

This balance-sheet of immediate advantage and disadvan- tage, which might have led-the French to accept, was, at the time, an overwhelming justification of the British offer. To avoid a separate peace, to preserve French naval power in the Mediterranean, to save from invasion even a single province of France that might be the base of an ultimate offensive, was worth any offer and any pledge; but it may now be argued in England that the opportunity is past and that union with France ought no longer to be contemplated. France, it may be said, is lost; we stand our siege; we can make no commitments beyond it. This, I suggest, is false realism because sell-betrayal is implied in it.

We believe that for America there is no light at the end of this tunnel except with us. If we fall, though for a few years America may preserve a part of her possessions, there will vanish from the earth what America is and what makes Ameri- can life honourable and worth living. This belief, upon which rests the whole case for American intervention, implies in us, commands in us, a corresponding adherence to France. Her cause is ours—as ours is America's—not by sentiment only or by choice only, not even by the compulsion of self-defence, but indissolubly ours whether we like it or not. By no divorce or change of circumstances can a man's sister cease to be his sister. They are children of the same mother, and death itself does not annihilate the common inheritance of their blood; nor can the most profound ruin of France affect the truth that she, with us, is a child of the humanities and an inheritor of the spirit of man.

This spirit has survived in her through disasters and tyrannies such as we have never known; even under the Napoleonic dic- tatorship, which fools have likened to the Nazi blight, indi- vidualism was cherished, and even under the Prussian heel a weary and battered France arose to scatter the Commune. To her, for generations, civilised men, English, Americans, Irish— even Germans on a holiday from their trade of destruction— have gone that they might become more civilised. She is a country open to many criticisms of which, from our point of view, the first is the instability of her Governments; but this itself arises from the fact that a Prime Minister, defeated in the Chamber, cannot demand a dissolution, and springs from the French reluctance—more democratic than our own consent— to allow real power to move from Parliament to the Executive. Union with us would require greater stability, particularly at the Qiini d'Orsay, and to attain it the French would have to sacrifice a part of their prejudice against constitutional reform. But this and other difficulties in the administration of a Pact of Union can be met if the necessity for Union be once recognised. The arguments of expediency can be summarised in a sentence: that if such a Union had existed, Germany would not have been able to profit from the divisions of our foreign policies to make this war; that, if we are now victorious, the absence of Union will again be our enemies' opportunity; that those who look for a wider European federation must find in the union of England and France the only practical nucleus of their dream; and, finally, that a pooling of Anglo-French resources offers the only possibility of saving post-war Europe from economic chaos. But it is as yet too early, politically and economically, to haggle for consequences and weigh the pound with the franc. We must stand with France, because not to do is to be untrue to ourselves. As neither America nor England can claim to be in the same sense, France is an idea necessary to the civilisation of the world. Though a Government at Bor- deaux has betrayed her, that idea lives while Frenchmen live, on their own soil or overseas.