71 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London

Letter MELBOURNE, 22 February 1940

I am most grateful to you for your long letter of 2nd January regarding peace aims. [1]

In consequence of this letter and of your related cables [2], I had some discussion with my Ministers about the whole matter, but found them, with one or two exceptions, quite unresponsive. [3] There is, as one might perhaps have expected, a growing feeling among them in favour of the so-called realistic approach, and an almost pathetic belief that the dismemberment of Germany would alter the German spirit and outlook. This seems to me to be a tragic misconception and I shall continue to work upon their minds but the process will be slow.

My impression from your various communications is that Chamberlain [4] and Halifax [5] are very largely in accord with your own views, while Winston [6] is opposed to them. I cannot tell you adequately how much I am convinced that Winston is a menace. He is a publicity seeker; he stirs up hatreds in a world already seething with them and he is lacking in judgment, as witness his recent speech on the position of the Neutrals.

One cannot help sharing to the full your obvious fear that, unless some reasoned view can shortly be arrived at, it will become impossible, and that unless it has been formulated the heat of battle and the bitterness and privations of war will inevitably lead us to another Versailles. I have for a long time believed (though I admit to being wise after the event, and I have no criticism of the treaty-makers under the circumstances in which they met) that in 1919 the Allies had a choice of two practical courses. They could have said, as I think Foch [7] would have liked, that they were going to keep Germany subdued by sheer force of arms and convert her into a sort of slave state; on the other hand they could have said that the war being over they were going to forget it and that instead of exacting reparations they would be prepared to grant even financial assistance to Germany to restore the world's trade, and with it the world's good-will and happiness. I know that the second course would be regarded by many people as 'sappy sentimentality', and as ignoring the brutality of the German spirit, but after all we have tried to alter the German spirit by force. Is it not possible that it might be more effectively altered by conspicuous generosity following on conspicuous defeat? In effect, of course, the Allies took neither course, they alternated between an intransigent French policy and a 'pussy-footing' Henderson [8] policy, and so they made the worst of both worlds.

It is a great pity that the political waters here are so muddy because there is nothing that I should like better than a direct exchange of views upon these matters with members of the British Government.

At the risk of repeating myself, I must say that the policy of conquering and dividing is hopeless; that it completely underestimates the virility of the German people and ignores the fact that such a policy breeds a fierce desire for revenge and must inevitably produce results like those of 1938 and 1939.

It is true that we must be careful not to cause a division in the united front which exists at present between Great Britain and France. But like yourself, I have a feeling that the problem cannot be postponed forever and that, if it were deferred until the peace negotiations after the war, divisions might then occur which would be even more dangerous in a Europe enfeebled by years of war than they would be at present.

The one aspect of your letter about which I feel real doubt relates to the degree of particularity with which we should state our aims. My own view is that, during the currency of the war at least, our statements should be as general as possible, the objectives of a community of nations freely, honourably and equally negotiating with each other being put in the forefront, but the particular questions relating to such matters as economic adjustments, access to raw materials, etc., being left for future consideration.

Your remarks about Russia seem to me to be most appropriate. I cannot doubt that if the war lasts long enough there will be a rapid spread of Bolshevism in Germany and in the Danubian States.

Under these circumstances a new alignment of nations in which not only Great Britain and France, but Germany and Italy, combined to resist Bolshevism is by no means impossible, and so long as it is a possibility it must affect our view as to the nature of the war objectives which we now state to the German (and incidentally to the Italian) people.

As you say, no nation will indefinitely be prepared to shoulder the burden of giving effect to a repressive military policy. It is perhaps more easily contemplated at present, when the full burden of war expenditure has not been felt, than it will be later on when people will realise vividly that an indefinite continuance of the war burden will mean an indefinite postponement of social amelioration and growing dissatisfaction on the part of ordinary men and women, with results that cannot be foreseen. So far as Australia is concerned, there would be a violent unwillingness to continue the burden of armaments for the mere purpose of keeping some other great power in a state of submission. The fact is that we British people, while we are seldom magnanimous to our friends, are invariably magnanimous to our enemies, and the more experience our people have of war the stronger and not the weaker will that feeling be.

Your summarised reasons why a policy of repression is impracticable are entirely in line with my own ideas. Two years ago, I would have said that the idea of an international force to keep the world's peace was hopelessly academic. But when this war is over, I think the nations will find themselves immeasurably more disposed to accept it than they ever have been before. When I say this I am referring not only to the air force, but to an international army and navy. None of the three is, I think, practicable if the war comes to an inconclusive end, but an unequivocal defeat of Germany, accompanied by great financial and commercial and nervous exhaustion in all the relevant countries, might, in my opinion, provide the right atmosphere for its establishment.

One cannot, of course, shut one's eyes to the fact that the latent fear in our minds in Australia is that when this war has been finished we will need to prepare for another and defensive war against Japan. Personally, I do not rate this possibility very high, but I would feel more satisfied about it if I really believed that the British Foreign Office had a practical and realistic view of the Far Eastern position. One's instinctive judgment is that the Japanese have a marked inferiority complex and that a real gesture of friendship with some real assistance in the settlement of the Chinese question, accompanied by a proper recognition of Japanese trading ambitions, might very easily produce peace in the Far East, particularly if Japan was, by that time, feeling the impact of Russian Bolshevism.

Speaking without much knowledge I have had a feeling that America's approach to these matters has been over-sentimental and that much good work is to be done in persuading America that she has her real interests in common with the British Empire in the Pacific and that a generous understanding would be more effective than prejudice and a series of somewhat pontifical moral reproofs.

Your remarks about the relative merits of a future international organisation upon a world or a regional basis appeal to me very much. Right through the Abyssinian trouble, I felt that the failure of the League was not due to its attempting to do too little, but to its attempting to do too much. The view of the League that I had, therefore, would indicate that it should be remodelled in such a fashion as to make it workable. Nations will much more readily undertake obligations in relation to an area in which they have an immediate interest than in relation to an area some of the countries in which are remote. As you say, regions might in some instances overlap. For example, Australia has an immediate and vital concern in the Pacific, it also has a mediate but none the less vital interest in any region of which Great Britain is a member.

These remarks, of course, apply with special force to any organisation in which direct obligations affecting peace and war are to be assumed. You are no doubt right in saying that the solution of economic and social problems requires a collaboration of all the principal nations on a world basis. I have read your practical proposals for such economic and social adjustments with great interest, but I feel that any attempt to be precise in relation to them would be doomed to failure because it would prejudice acceptance of the general scheme by diverting the discussion to particular issues.

I am a good deal concerned to know just how I should move in this matter. As you point out, the Dominion Prime Ministers might easily exercise a desirable influence in the direction of rationalising our war effort and not letting it degenerate into a mere 'hymn of hate'. But misunderstanding both in our own countries and in the enemy country might easily arise. Several newspapers in Australia are already quite disposed to criticise me violently for having what they believe to be a philosophic approach to a matter in which they think my proper function is a mixture of swashbuckling and rhetoric. The Germans, in their turn, would be quick to seize upon anything which they could construe as a weakening of the Allied war effort or as a desire to obtain peace without victory.

If only a kindly Providence would remove from the active political scene a few minds which are heavily indoctrinated by the 'old soldiers' and by the 'Versailles' point of view, my task here would be easier.

I cannot tell you how much I have appreciated your letters and how relieved I am to find that my own point of view is not dissimilar to that of one with your own immense experience and balanced judgment.


1 Document 16.

2 The only relevant cablegram found in the previous three months is Document 37. For earlier cablegrams on the subject see Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. II, under index entry War aims (Allied).

3 See Document 39.

4 U.K. Prime Minister.

5 U.K. Foreign Secretary.

6 U.K. First Lord of the Admiralty.

7 Supreme Generalissimo of the Allied Armies on the Western Front in 1918 and prominent at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919.

8 Arthur Henderson was U.K. Foreign Secretary 1920-31 and President of the 1932 and 1933 Disarmament Conferences.

[AA: M103, JANUARY-JUNE 1940]