Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 2. March 16, 1938
Shortly after his departure for Germany at the end of 1937, the suggestion was made that Lord Halifax was going to see Goering, not merely to swap hunting yarns, but perhaps to swap colonial claims for a free hand in central Europe. This aroused a rather comic storm of protest in the press, but the fact remained that on the statesman's return, official pronouncements were made to the effect that, the mission "had not proved fruitless." In view of the hearty acclamation with which the Nazi press greeted the appointment of Halifax to the control of the "peace" mission it is not difficult to guess the tendency of the talks: and judging by subsequent events, such as the recent Nazi coup in Austria. Hitler's threats to Czecho-Slovakia which he now no longer even pretends to conceal, and Britain's apparent unconcern in face of both, it seems far from fantastic to suppose that the Fascist drive to the East and the snaring of game in Central Europe formed the subject of at least one of the yarns.
Then with appalling suddenness Mr. Anthony Eden's resignation comes as a bolt from the red white and blue. The next step after Germany was Italy, but unfortunately for Mr. Chamberlain, the goodwill mission to Italy did not proceed as smoothly or as far as that of Lord Halifax.
There have long been those who claimed that the contradictions involved in the foreign policy of the Conservative Cabinet must ultimately show themselves; but there can have been very few who foresaw how sharply and suddenly that state of affairs would arise.
Lord Halifax and his mission and Mr. Anthony Eden and his resignation show clearly what those contradictions are.
Since 1933 the British Government has been faced with the unwelcome presence of nations who were at once both a threat to the undisturbed possession of the British Empire, and an attempt to prolong the already over-ripe old age of the Capitalist order of society; whose desperate recklessness was a constant embarrassment and whose debts were alpine. Three solutions were possible.
Either H.M. British Government might by judicious negotiation and political prestidigitation sacrifice parts of the British Empire to the land hunger of Fascism and thus ensure its continuance; or it might, from within the League of Nations, shoulder its full joint responsibility with the other democracies in resisting fascist aggression, thus hastening its inevitable collapse; or it might search for a lamb to lead to the slaughter.
The new Diplomacy
The first possibility was unpleasant, but a possibility; the second was definitely unthinkable; for what social order would be more likely to follow the collapse of Fascism than some socialist order? This is, and always will be, anathema for the British Conservative Party.
The third was a more likely possibility and there can be little doubt that this is the task towards which the best efforts of British diplomacy have been directed over the recent months, from the time Lord Halifax left London for Berlin, up to the recent Cabinet split.
After all, British diplomacy has long been concerned to weaken the link between France and the U.S.S.R.. and little though our diplomats like the prospect of German expansion to the East—the prevention of which was one of the main things which brought Britain into the last war—they may well regard it as the least of the evils with which they are faced today. Given that the League idea of settling disputes on the basis of justice is discarded—and it seems it is—diplomacy must necessarily be concerned with tactful arrangements for the sacrifice of the weak to the strong.
It was upon the question of the choice between the first and third alternatives that the Cabinet split.
According to Mr. Anthony Eden's view the time had come to call a halt in the process of bolstering up Fascism. The Spanish war had taught him a lot. The "life line to India" via the Mediterranean was directly threatened by Germany at Gibraltar, and at the Red Sea by Italy's African Empire. There must be no more sops to Cerberus, and the time had come for a showdown with the unruly debtors, regardless of the consequnce. The maintenance of the integrity of the British Empire demanded it. The possible result of such a showdown—nothing less than the collapse of Fascism—was to Mr, Chamberlain, unthinkable. This divergence of opinion had grown more marked as the days went by and the progress of the Spanish War showed the Imperialist ambitions of the Fascist powers in Spain. The question which had to be faced was how far was Britain willling to let them go. Mr. Eden said "No further." Mr. Chamberlain hasn't made up his mind yet.
The issues stand clear. Mr. Eden refuses to sacrifice the British Empire to Fascism. Mr. Chamberlain regards the benefits of the continuance of Fascism, or rather the avoidance of Socialism, as greater than dangers to the British Empire it involves. You can still draw dividends from half a British Empire; but you couldn't draw dividends in a Socialist Britain. Better half a loaf than no bread.
Mr. Chamberlain had his way. The changeover is complete. Lord Halifax has supplanted Mr. Eden. The pro-Fascist elements are temporarily well seated in the saddle, The question which concerns you and me is where will they turn the horse's head? Towards Geneva, or towards Berlin-Rome-Tokio?
The Cabinet re-shuffle contains several possibilities. At first it appeared that the issue of Fascism or the British Empire might be a wedge which would cleave the Conservative Party in two. It appears, however, that the self-styled champions of individualism and freedom of thought have no tears to shed at the loss of one whose opinions differ from theirs, and the possibility of a serious split within the party is disappointingly small.
The effect on the electorate, however, is more problematical and it remains to be seen how far the enormous propaganda resources of our rulers will be successful in overcoming the natural indignation of a hoodwinked electorate which elected the party to power on the assumption that the League of Nations and Collective Security would be the foundation of British foreign policy.
The general opinion, no doubt, will be that instead of telling Halifax to go to Hitler, Hitler should be told to go to to Halifax.