Weekend Reading: Harold Nicolson (1936): The Via Media Between War and Dishonour...
Harold Nicolson (1936): Germany and the Rhineland: "What are we to do? We are between two incompatible rights...
...I think I can indicate how far in my own conscience, and within the orbit of my own knowledge and experience, a middle way, a way between war and dishonour, can be found.
I think in the first place we must convince the French that we are not dealing with a reasonable person [in Hitler], that we are dealing with somebody who is a pathological neurotic. I think we should say to the French:
We quite agree with you about all this, but we have got to treat these people carefully, or they will do something mad.
I think that is the first thing to say. I think the second thing to say to the French is this:
It is all nonsense to talk about treason and treachery, we are not going to break our word. We are not going to let you down.
As Mr. Eden said with great courage (I do not think that during the whole of this crisis up to this moment Anthony Eden has made a single mistake), knowing the feeling in the House of Commons, in his very first statement:
If France is attacked, we will come to her aid with all our forces.
We can say that to the French again and again, and it has done a great deal of good. But we must do more. We must then say to the French:
We will stand by the Locarno Treaty. Locarno is shattered by the German action, but we British, although it is shattered, will keep it, as a triple alliance of Belgium, France and ourselves, for whatever period is necessary before a new system is conceived. We do not say that that system must be conceived in the next few weeks. But as regards keeping Locarno we are adamant, and we will send you our troops, and our guns, and our aeroplanes, and our ships if you are attacked during this transition period before we can transform Locarno, the tripartite Locarno, into something more like a world organisation.
I think most people must agree with that.
Then the third thing that is necessary, is to say to the French:
So far we are with you, with all our forces and with all our honour. But beyond that we cannot go. You must make quite clear in your own heads that the British public will defend you if you are wantonly attacked, but they will not defend you if you are drawn into conflict over Poland or Czechoslovakia, or the Eastern States.
Then they will say to us:
Yes, but you do not realise that Germany is driving towards the East; that she will achieve a hegemony in Europe, and that this will be a world danger.
I agree. They are right. It is a great danger. But we have got to deal with realities, and the whole tragedy of post-War Europe is that we have dealt so much in terms of theories and unrealities, and so little in terms of what we are prepared to do. We must say to France:
We, the British Government, agree that you are quite right; it is a terrible danger; but the British public will not understand it, and we are determined never again to promise something that our public will not allow us to execute. We are never going to get into that position again."
Then comes the question of the violation of the Locarno Treaty. I think we have got to go through a process, or stage, in which Germany is made, at any cost, to apologise for her action. I think it may be difficult for her to take the initiative in such an apology. She will not withdraw her troops. But, we shall be able to add, I hope, to those troops an international force which will render their presence less provocative. She will not apologise openly, but then I think we shall be able to do two things, only two, which are not exactly sanctions, but gestures.
I think we could withdraw our ambassadors, and if possible all the League ambassadors from Berlin. There is a second thing we could do; it sounds a trivial thing, but to the German mind which is hysterical at the moment it would be a vitally important rebuke. I think we could refuse, all of us, to take part in the Olympic games. That would hurt them more than any economic action which would merely enable them to say:
It is not us, it is not our mismanagement, it is not the Nazi regime which is bringing starvation upon our children, it is the brutal entente and the encirclement.
That is what they want to be able to say, but if we are quite calm, an no action which will lead them to give excuses for their incompetence, if we just say we are very sorry, but we will not come to the Olympic games, if you knew the German government you would know that would be far more valuable than blockading Kiel.
I think I have indicated, and completed the circle of, what I wanted to say in the way of provoking discussion. I desired to come to no definite conclusion, and I shall not do so...