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242 Mr P. Liesching, U.K. Acting High Commissioner to Australia, to Lord Stanley, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 165 (paraphrase) 31 August 1938,


Your secret telegram of 29th August, Circular B.203 [1] addressed
to the Commonwealth Government. The Prime Minister [2] has
decided, in view of the gravity of the situation as described in
your telegram, to summon an urgent meeting of the Cabinet for to-
morrow (1st September). He wishes to obtain its concurrence in the
despatch of a telegram conveying the views of the Commonwealth
Government on the situation generally, and particularly on the
support which, in the event of Germany seeking a forcible solution
of the Czechoslovakian problem and the United Kingdom becoming
involved in war, could be expected from Australia. He is actuated
by the desire that his Government should not be attacked
politically on the charge of silent acquiescence in the United
Kingdom policy irrespective of Australia's interests, as well as
by the desire that the Commonwealth Government should, to the best
of their ability, present their considered views on this
contingency. He is conscious that a war involving Great Britain
will, in fact, see the Commonwealth committed to active
participation, but is more anxious that the views of this
Government should be made clear and that His Majesty's Government
in the United Kingdom should not overestimate the ultimate moral
support obtainable here in a conflict over the Czechoslovakian

The Prime Minister acceded to my request in an interview this
afternoon that he should tell me his own views informally. Subject
to his being able to overrule Mr Hughes' [3] much more bellicose
outlook he expects them to prevail and they may be summarized
rather baldly as follows:-

Begins.-The Czechoslovakian problem is not a question on which war
for the British Empire can justifiably be contemplated. The
question may well be asked, it is true, where one is to call a
halt in the policy of preserving peace by concession, but that
might have been asked even better in previous cases where
aggression has been permitted to succeed. The present threat, if
it should materialize, is better justified by a history of Czech
repression, is not one obviously directed against British
interests, and is likely to put the United Kingdom in a position
where she strikes the first blow. It will be said of the United
Kingdom that while other aggressors have gone unpunished, she,
from motives of self-interest, only brings her force to bear in
the name of international justice when Germany is the offender.

The oppression of the Roman Catholics (as a Catholic himself he
holds the strongest views) and the barbarities of Germany to the
Jews are horrifying, but they do not outweigh the fact that it
would be a mistaken policy to treat the Sudeten issue as a casus
belli heralding havoc for the British peoples. Mr Lyons is aware
of the clear language used towards France (your telegram Circular
B. No. 137 of 22nd May [4]), but still feels that he has reason to
fear that the United Kingdom and with her the Commonwealth may
awaken to find themselves involved in a war arising out of what
might be viewed as a second-hand commitment via France's treaty
obligations. The Labour Party here, in spite of all their open
antagonism to dictator States, would, he considers, wholly share
these views. -Ends.

After to-morrow's Cabinet, I shall be seeing Mr Lyons and shall
telegraph again if the supplementary interpretation of any direct
message sent by the Commonwealth Government seems necessary. You
will realize that Mr Menzies [5] and Sir Earle Page [6] are still
at sea.

1 Not printed.

2 J. A. Lyons.

3 Minister for External Affairs.

4 Not printed.

5 Attorney-General.

6 Minister for Commerce.

[PRO : DO 114/94]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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