“Friendship with Germany” by Winston Churchill (Sep 17, 1937)

The following is one of many articles written by Winston Churchill for the Evening Standard. This is an often quoted article used by critics of Churchill to give the impression that at one point he held uncharacteristic admiration for Hitler. These critics will quote portions from the second-to-last paragraph with no other context in order to give a shock to readers.

The full text of the article is offered below to give readers a more complete understanding of the article's purpose and tone.1 Following the article is a brief summary and analysis of Churchill's words, and an example of a misuse of these words by one of his modern critics.

Friendship with Germany

by Winston S. Churchill
September 17, 1937

I find myself pilloried2 by Dr. Goebbels's Press as an enemy of Germany. That description is quite untrue. Before the war3 I proposed to Von Tirpitz a naval holiday. If this had been accepted, it would enormously have eased the European tension, and possibly have averted the catastrophe. At the moment of the Armistice, as is well known, I proposed filling a dozen great liners with food, and rushing them into hamburg as a gesture of humanity. As Secretary of State for War in 1919, I pressed upon the Supreme Council the need of lifting the blockade, and laid before them the reports from our generals of the Rhine which eventually procured that step. I took a great deal of personal responsibility in sending home, months before they would otherwise have been liberated, about one hundred thousand German prisoners, who were caged up in the Pas de Calais. I was vehemently opposed to the French invasion of the Ruhr. In order to prevent a repetition of it, I exerted myself in Mr. Baldwin's Cabinet to have the Treaty of Locarno made to cut both ways, so that Germany as well as France had British protection against aggression. Therefore no one has a right to describe me as the enemy of Germany except in Wartime.

But my duty lies to my own country. As an independent Conservative member I felt bound to give the alarm when, five years ago, the vast secret process of German re-armament, contrary to the Treaty, began to be apparent. I also felt bound to point out to the Government in 1934 that Germany had already created a powerful military air force which would soon be stronger than the British Air Force. My only regret is that I was not believed. I can quite understand that this action of mine would not be popular in Germany. Indeed, it was not popular anywhere. I was told I was making ill will between the two countries. I am sure that if Herr Hitler had been in my position, and had believed what I believed, he would have acted in the same way. In times like these the safety of one's own country must count for more than saying smooth things about other countries. At any rate, I did not feel at all penitent when, six months later, I heard Mr. Baldwin admit that the Government had been wrong in their figures and information. And ever since ministers have been bewailing "the years that the locusts have eaten."

Similarly, for the last few months, in Parliament and in these letters, I drew attention to a serious danger to Anglo-German relations which arises out of the organization of German residents in Britain into a closely knit, strictly disciplined body. I wonder what Dr. Goebbels would think if we had fifteen or twenty thousand Englishmen in Berlin, all strong anti-Nazis, who, while they kept within the law, were none the less all bound together, attending meetings at frequent intervals, and putting pressure on any British refugees, if such there were, to toe the line of some British party or other. Moreover, this process of Nazi organization abroad is undoubtedly becoming an obstacle in the way of British and German cordiality. Sir Walter Citrine, at the Trade Union Congress, has protested in the name of British Labor against he persecution of German refugees in England by other German visitors to our shores.

We have always been an asylum for refugees. It was only the other day that I was reading how in 1709 we gave refuge and shelter to a very large number of Germans from the Palatinate, which had been overrun by Marshal Villars with fire and sword. We could never allow foreign visitors to pursue their national feuds in the bosom of our country, still less to be organized in such a way as to affect our military security. The Germans would not tolerate it for a moment in their country, nor should they take it amiss that we do not like it in ours. I see Herr Bohle has expressed a wish to talk this over with me. I should be delighted to do so in the most friendly manner, and do anything in the power of a private member to remove this new embarrassment to Anglo-German goodwill.

I have had from time to time conversations with eminent German supporters of the present regime. When they say, as they so often do, "Will not England grasp the extended friendly hand of Germany?" nearly everyone in England will reply, "Certainly, yes. We cannot pretend to like your new institutions, and we have long freed ourselves from racial and religious intolerance. We cannot say that we admire your treatment of the Jew or of the Protestants and Catholics of Germany. We even think our methods of dealing with Communism are better than yours. But after all, these matters, so long as they are confined inside Germany, are not our business. It is our duty and our sincere desire to live in a good and neighborly fashion with so great a nation united to us by many ties of history and of race. Indeed, we will grasp the outstretched German hand."

"But," we must ask, "what happens next? Are we expected to do anything special to prove our friendship, and if so, what?" We cannot be expected to help Germany financially while she is spending nearly a thousand millions sterling a year upon her tremendous rearmament. That would be unfair to our own people. We cannot hand over colonies irrespective of the wishes of their inhabitants and of a great many other considerations. We should be very wrong if we were to give Germany a guarantee that so long as she left Britain and France alone in the West, she could do what she likes to the peoples of the center and southeast of Europe. To give such an assurance at other people's expense would not only be callous and cynical, but it might actually lead to a war the end of which no man can foresee.

To hold these opinions is not to be hostile to the German Government, and still less to the Germans as a nation. To feel deep concern about the armed power of Germany is in no way derogatory to Germany. On the contrary, it is a tribute to the wonderful and terrible strength which Germany exerted in the Great War, when almost single-handed she fought nearly all the world and nearly beat them. Naturally, when a people who have shown such magnificent military qualities are arming night and day, its neighbors, who bear the scars of previous conflicts, must be anxious and ought to be vigilant. One may dislike Hitler's system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.

I have on more than one occasion made my appeal in public that the Fuhrer of Germany should now become the Hitler of peace. When a man is fighting in a desperate conflict he may have to grind his teeth and flash his eyes. Anger and hatred nerve the arm of strife. But success should bring a mellow, genial air and, by altering the mood to suit the new circumstances, preserve and consolidate in tolerance and goodwill what has been gained by conflict.

Analysis

  • Churchill defends himself against accusations by German Press which labels him "an enemy of Germany."
  • However, Churchill says his duty is to his country. He defends his actions of the past years pushing for the need of Great Britain to rearm as Germany also rearmed.
  • Churchill also defends his concerns over 15,000 - 20,000 Germans organizing in Great Britain. He points out how Great Britain has "always been an asylum for refugees" over the years including Germans. Also, Germany would never tolerate that many British doing the same thing in Germany.
  • Churchill points out that the average British citizen would support a friendship with Germany while not admiring Germany's treatment of Jews, Protestants, or Catholics. This is conditional to the mistreatment remaining within the borders of Germany.

  • However, this friendship cannot include financial support while Germany is still rearming.
  • Churchill defends these opinions by stating these concerns are out of respect for Germany's might and strength demonstrated over the years. This includes a respect for Hitler's ability to unite the country.
  • Finally, Churchill appeals to Hitler to become the Hitler of Peace. Now that Hitler had solidified his power, even if it was by force, the country can now move towards tolerance and goodwill.

Ultimately, Churchill is defending his concerns and the concerns of other British citizens against attacks by German newspapers.

Misuse by Critics

Critics of Churchill often quote portions from this article to shock readers. In Churchill, Hitler, and the "Unnecessary War", Patrick J. Buchanan quotes portions while criticizing Churchill over his apparent inaction concerning the Rhineland crisis of 1936.

In September of 1937, Churchill wrote of Hitler "in a clearly placatory tone that . . . sites extremely ill with his image as the mortal foe of Nazism":

One may dislike Hitler's system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.

Thus did even the Great Man believe about Hitler, a year after he reentered the Rhineland, and years after Dachau was established, Versailles overthrown, Roehm and the SA leaders murdered on Hitler's orders and with his personal complicity, and the anti-Semitic laws enacted.4

Buchanan gives no context for the quote other than a list of atrocities and treaty violations committed by Hitler up to this point. Buchanan leaves out Churchill's own words concerning Hitler's violence and Churchill's appeal for Hitler to become a man of peace.

On their own, these few sentences can appear shocking to the reader. But when you consider the words in the context of the article, it is clear that Churchill's concerns over Hitler were not suddenly taken away; Churchill was merely hoping for a peaceful future.

Notes

  1. This was republished with other articles in Winston S. Churchill, Step By Step: 1936-1939 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1939), 141-144. []
  2. Another word for "exposed." []
  3. World War I. []
  4. Patrick J. Buchanan, Churchill, Hitler, and the "Unnecessary War" (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2008), 174. []

4 thoughts on ““Friendship with Germany” by Winston Churchill (Sep 17, 1937)

  • April 18, 2018 at 2:07 AM
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    Dear Scott Manning,
    Given recent virulent attacks on Churchill in the Maltese press (I come from Malta though I have lived in Australia for many years), I would be most grateful if you would allow me to present your text and the article by Churchill himself to the Editor of the Sunday Times of Malta for publication. Your text and Churchill’s will of course be acknowledged as they appear in your posting here.
    Best wishes
    Roger Vella Bonavita

    Reply
  • April 19, 2018 at 12:43 AM
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    Thanks Scott!
    Roger

    Reply
  • Pingback:Мы есть, пока помним… — Комментарии

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