Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database. Guests are not required to login during this beta-testing phase

Part Three: THE MIDDLE YEARS - XII. Policies and Personalities at the League of Nations

Policies and Personalities at the League of Nations

WITH the Joint Memorandum, and with the termination of the work of the Joint Select Committee in 1934, my own connection with Indian politics ended. However, I found myself striking out along a new line in public affairs and taking up new activities which were to be my main concern and interest in life from the early 1930's until the outbreak of the Second World War.

These developed from my close association at the India Office with Sir Samuel Hoare. He and I, in the intervals between our official discussions on the Indian problem, found ourselves more and more frequently exploring world affairs -- in the 1930's an absorbing if formidable theme.

The curiously facile yet plausible optimism which had buoyed up the hopes of so many in the 1920's broke down rapidly; it gave place to an increasing and deepening anxiety. It is pitiable now to recall some of the illusions which were fostered in the years immediately after the First World War. I heard supposedly intelligent people, who habitually moved in circles which were considered to be well informed, remark, for example, that the war "had not impoverished but enriched the world and that its apparent cost had been more than met by a superior system of price control and economic adjustment." Only when the slump came was it realized that a war has to be paid for. As that realization dawned, it became harshly apparent that the world was lurching toward a new catastrophe.

Then as now there was no getting away from the question of Ger many and the Germans. Today as we are all aware, the crux of Europe's difficulties and problems is to be found in Germany. There is indeed no hope of a real and abiding world peace without a final solution of the problem of Germany, to be achieved either by a frank and sincere understanding between Russia on the one hand and the Western Powers under American leadership on the other, or by the consolidation of a Germany allied with and integrated with Western Europe. Just as grimly the problem of Germany was with us in the 1930's; questions about where the Western world was moving, and of how it would work out its destiny, and the great issue of peace or war were quite inseparable from the question of what was going to happen to Germany.

Eighty million highly intelligent, industrious, efficient and welleducated people, cooped up in a comparatively small area between the Rhine and the Vistula, the North Sea and the Alps, with "colonies" of their kinsfolk settled outside the Reich's borders, in the Sudetenland, in Austria, and as far away as Rumania and parts of Russia, seeking unity yet conscious of a long history of religious and dynastic strife, constituted a permanent and enormous question mark in the very heart and center of Europe. Nor was it the only one of its kind. Fascist Italy loomed very large -- Mussolini's imperial ambitions, his attitude toward Ethiopia and Albania, his talk of the Mediterranean as "mare nostrum."

Mussolini, for all his crimes and follies for which he paid in his ignominious fall and death, was in many ways a man of brilliant and powerful individuality. He achieved in the Italy of the period between the wars a political revival analogous in some respects to the Wesleys' religious revival in England in the eighteenth century. His revival did not touch every section of the populace -- nor did Methodism. But many of its emotions suffused Italian society as a whole -- far outside the ranks of the Fascist party itself. There was, for example, the longing for a place in the sun, the feeling that while nations like England, Spain and Portugal had built up vast daughter-nations overseas, Italy -- Rome's successor and inheritor -banned from expansion in Europe outside the confines of her own peninsula, now had the sacred right and duty of renewing Rome's imperial mission overseas. Therefore there was a passionate concentration on Ethiopia -- first to wipe out Aduwa's shame and, second and far more important, to build up in those high Equatorial lands (climatically so similar to many of the countries of South America) a vast European colony whose people might one day mingle their blood with that of the native Amharic aristocracy -- as the Spaniards had mingled theirs with the Incas -- reducing those whom they considered racially inferior to permanent helot or peon status.

Away in the Far East Japan was engaged in what came to be known as "the China incident"; the need of a policy of colonial expansion seemed imperative to her leaders; she was already deeply committed in Manchuria. To topics such as these, real, insistent and ugly as they were, Hoare and I found ourselves reverting again and again whenever we turned aside from the constitutional niceties of India's political development.

Hoare gradually became aware that from the moment India began to play a part -- however limited -- in international politics, I (so far as making any use of me was concerned) had been deliberately neglected and cold-shouldered by the Government of India. The reasons for this policy in New Delhi and Simla were not difficult to analyze; Hoare took their measure quickly enough. The exalted mandarins of the Indian Civil Service, that all-powerful and closely knit bureaucracy which governed India, had neither the desire nor the capacity to appreciate a man of independent position and views like myself, who had first-hand knowledge of a great many of these problems. They were painfully aware too that were I to be given any official diplomatic status and be therefore in a position to receive the Viceroy's instructions, I would not hesitate to make known to the Viceroy my own views and if necessary to criticize official policy, and that if I were overruled unreasonably, I should similarly have no hesitation in resigning and in giving my reasons for resignation fully and with conviction to both the Viceroy and the Secretary of State. If I represented India at any international conference, there would be no chance of my being a ventriloquist's dummy for officialdom. Officialdom therefore considered that I would be far more of a liability than an asset -- after all, I might prove the officials to be wrong.

Not unnaturally the bureaucrats rationalized their distaste for me and their fear of me. They pointed out that I was a race horse owner, that I was an amateur of literature and the arts, that I had founded Aligarh University as a sectional, if cultural, institution, that since I was Imam of the Ismailis, my first loyalty would always be to my followers and therefore Government could not take the risk of employing me. The files in the Secretariat were, I daresay, heavy with minutes and memoranda about me; and they all added up to the one word "no." Sir Samuel Hoare saw through the whole elaborate façade and recognized it for what it was -- arrant prejudice.

When arrangements were in train for the Disarmament Conference and the Indian delegation to the League of Nations was in process of being appointed, Sir Samuel Hoare took the whole matter up with characteristic energy and thoroughness, drew the Viceroy's attention to the fact that I had deserved more useful employment, and insisted that I be given a chance to serve India in the international field. Someone has used about me the phrase "Ambassador without Portfolio." The Secretary of State urged that it was high time for me to be given official status.

I think I may claim that I brought to my new task a mind fairly well versed in its main issues. My grounding in European as well as Eastern political and social history had been thorough. Ever since adolescence I had read widely and steadily. I was -- and still am -- a diligent student of the newspapers, and of those political magazines and quarterlies which, in Britain and France especially, give an authoritative and often scholarly commentary on all the main events and trends of our time. I had also for many years lived an active life in both national and international affairs.

Let me recall the international atmosphere of the spring of 1932, and some of the main international trends and factors. The U.S.S.R. was seeking to establish at least a superficial appearance of respectability. We know now that the internal situation in Russia, after the appalling disruptive efforts of the first Five Year Plan, was parlous. Stalin, by now sole master of his country's destiny, desired a period of relaxed external tension. In Litvinov he had a Foreign Minister who knew England well, who had an English wife, who had personal cognizance of the shrewdness and practical wisdom of British statesmanship and of the possibilities it afforded, if properly handled, of securing Russia her fit place in the comity of nations.

Litvinov was himself unaffectedly eager in his desire to promote the idea of his country's respectability, and to present her to the world as a thoroughly honest woman; the matron herself stood somewhat hesitant on the threshold -- for reasons which became apparent later. However, social relations with Litvinov and with other members of his mission were at least possible. On my own initiative I broke the ice (somewhat, I suspect, to the surprise and secret amusement of my British colleagues, accustomed to the hesitations of previous Indian members of the delegation), and I gave a special dinner party in Litvinov's honor. His gratification was obvious. That dinner laid the foundation of a friendship which lasted as long as Litvinov was in Geneva; and it extended to embrace other Russian diplomats, who never failed in return to invite me to their social functions. Litvinov indeed began to appear in the role of a dinnertable diplomat and achieved his own quite real social success. My old friend, Baron Maurice de Rothschild, who had a beautiful chateau not far from Geneva, took to giving small informal luncheon parties, bringing together Litvinov and his colleagues with leading British and French delegates and with representatives of other countries.

The United States had disowned President Wilson and refused to join the League of Nations, and had proclaimed in sternly isolationist terms America's faith in her own destiny. But by 1932 the effects of the depression were being acutely felt all over the North American continent; the epoch of Harding-Coolidge isolationism was drawing to a close. The State Department had become increasingly aware that America could not afford to wash its hands of the rest of the world; it was decided that the Disarmament Conference offered a convenient method of exploring the long-unfamiliar international atmosphere of Geneva. Weimar Germany -- unlike the U.S.S.R. -- was now a respectable member of the international fraternity, on terms of at least superficial equality with Britain and France. Had not Stresemann, Briand and Austen Chamberlain met in heart-stirring amity at Locarno, and had not Briand signalized the event with the tremendous oration which began "À bas les cannons..."?

In 1932 the key word was "disarmament." Disarmament was the concept to which so many high and noble hopes were pinned. Optimism still ran high: get the representatives of the nations around a table, agreeing in principle on disarmament, and let them work out the practical details of disarming -- the melting down of the guns and the rifles, the scrapping of the battle cruisers, the limitations on the use and the armament of aircraft -- and surely world peace could be made sure and stable.

Yet beneath this optimism there ran an undercurrent of doubt and fear. Were prospects as bright as many tried to believe? Was Weimar Germany all that she seemed to be? Ebert and Stresemann were gone; Brüning battled against a strange swirl of increasingly hostile forces, some of which were economic but many blatantly and violently political. Had all the effort that had gone into trying to woo Germany for democracy been in vain? Had the mountain labored and brought forth merely a negligible mouse?

A new word had come into current political phraseology: Nazism, which we were told meant National Socialism; it seemed a confused and extremely German version of Italy's Fascism, was already capturing the loyalty and the imaginative and romantic idealism of thousands of Germany's youth, and was associated with a man called Adolf Hitler.

Now the military adviser to the German mission in Geneva at this time was none other than General -- later Field Marshal -- von Blomberg, the man who later became chief of Hitler's Reichswehr, was Hitler's representative at King George VI's Coronation, and finally fell into disgrace in somewhat mysterious circumstances -allegedly because of his unsuitable marriage. This Prussian soldier and I established quite friendly relations. From him I heard a good deal about the men who were then trying to rule Germany -- tiny midgets, he called them contemptuously, who had stepped into Stresemann's man-sized shoes. He was impatient with what he thought their combination of doctrinaire liberalism and practical incompetence in statecraft.

Such then was the troublous sea onto which I now was launched. The Secretary of State's wishes prevailed in the Secretariat in New Delhi. I was appointed a member of the Indian delegation to the Disarmament Conference, nominally as second-in-command to Sir Samuel Hoare, but to take charge as soon as he left. I was also appointed chief Indian representative at the 1932 Assembly of the League. Thus began a phase in my public life which was protracted, with little or no intermission, until Hitler's armies marched into Poland and the fabric of world peace which the League strove so hard to maintain was violently shattered.

The optimism that was prevalent in Geneva in 1932 was a mood which I could not fully share. A more strenuous and a more realistic effort was needed, I felt sure, to bring about the fruition of our hopes. As best I could, I sought to expound my own ideas and beliefs in this new arena to which I had been summoned. I made a speech of some length, and with all the earnestness that I could muster, at the fourteenth plenary session of the League:

We have found that armaments still hold sway and that the feeling of insecurity still persists. It is by no means certain that the war to end war has been fought and won. On the moral side we must set ourselves to remove the paralyzing effects of fear, ill-will and suspicion. On the material side it is absolutely essential that the nonproductive effort devoted to warlike preparations should be reduced to the bare minimum. In distant India, no less than in Europe, the world war created a host of mourners and left a legacy of bitter tragedy. Over a million of my fellow countrymen were called to arms, of whom more than fifty thousand laid down their lives. India's own scale of armaments allows no margin for aggressive uses. The size of her forces has to be measured with reference to the vastness of her area and the diversity of her conditions. The fact is so often forgotten that the area of India is more than half that of the whole of Europe, and her population nearly one-fifth of that of the entire globe. There is a cry going up from the heart of all the peaceloving citizens of every country for the lessening of their military burdens, for a decrease of the financial load which those burdens impose, for the security of civil populations against indiscriminate methods of warfare, and above all, for security against the very idea of war.

The words of many of us who, in those years, spoke out in the effort to prevent a Second World War have gone down the wind. But that is not to say that the effort was not worth making or that we were not right to make it. The vast palace in Geneva that housed the League of Nations is no longer put to the purpose for which it was built, but the United Nations Organization, which has arisen out of the ruin and the tragedy which we strove to avert, shows -- by continuing our work in a new era and with new techniques -- that we did not labor entirely in vain.

For the rest of the thirties the work of the League, and of its offshoot the Disarmament Conference, absorbed most of my time and my interest. I found myself in Geneva for months at a time, through many harassing and disillusioning happenings -- Japan's aloof snubbing of the League, Germany's dramatic exit from it, and then the direct challenge of Mussolini's aggression in Ethiopia. Early in this period I cemented a close friendship with Mr. Arthur Henderson, the President of the Disarmament Conference. Henderson was perhaps one of the most remarkable statesmen who have come out of the British Labor Movement. He had been a conspicuously successful and much-liked Foreign Secretary in Mr. Ramsay MacDonald's second Labor administration, but he had not found himself able to support his leader in the rapid and dramatic change-over which resulted in the formation of the National Government. Therefore he retained the passionate and proud loyalty of Labor in Britain, but the immediate effect of his decision was to deprive him of power and of office. It was universally felt that it would be disastrous, for the world as for Britain, to lose his sagacity, his experience and his flair in the spheres of international affairs in which he had made so notable a mark. He was therefore appointed permanent President of the Disarmament Conference and until his untimely death he discharged his duties in this post -- in face of much disappointment and a heartbreakingly uphill struggle -- with courage and distinction. Our acquaintance ripened rapidly into a sincere and mutually affectionate friendship of great warmth. His mind and his achievements were as remarkable as his character was lovable. Like most of the Labor leaders of his generation, he was a genuine son of the people who from humble beginnings had made his way upward in the world to the high, onerous and lonely position which he occupied. He was modest and forthright, shrewd, imperturbable, quiet of speech, and of rocklike integrity. A labor leader of a younger generation, Mr. Morgan Phillips, has said that the origins of the British Labor movement are to be found in Methodism rather than Marxism; this was certainly true of Arthur Henderson, for he remained all his life a serenely devoted Methodist. His wife had been his faithful companion on his long and strenuous road; she was a woman of great sweetness and generosity of character, staunch and true and, in her own fashion, very wise.

Henderson was often my guest at my villa at Antibes; Bernhard Baron, the millionaire and philanthropist, would sometimes drive to Monte Carlo to spend an hour or two in the Casino, and Henderson would happily go along for the ride. When they reached the Casino, however, Henderson sat contentedly in the car, waiting till Baron came out again. Henderson was as steadfast as he was good, as selfless as he was courageous. We came to rely on each other for advice and support in the difficult and trying times through which we steered our way in Geneva.

The year 1935 was a memorable one. It was the year of Mussolini's attack on Ethiopia. It was the year in which the Government of India Act came into being -- the last major piece of Indian legislation enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom until the brief, dramatic statute of twelve years later which ended the British Raj in India. It was the year of my great and good friend King George V's Silver Jubilee; and I fully shared the sentiments of gratitude, affection and loyalty with which his people so signally greeted the King and Queen Mary. For me it was Bahram's year, for during that summer that magnificent horse won the Two Thousand Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger -- the Triple Crown of the Turf, as the sporting journalists called this feat -- the first horse to achieve it since Rock Sand, thirty-two years before.

I was able to be present at Epsom when he won his Derby -Freddie Fox was the jockey -- and of course I led him in after his victory. I was immensely honored by being the guest (in company with other members of the Jockey Club) of Their Majesties, the King and Queen, at a celebration dinner at Buckingham Palace. Queen Mary herself had ordered that the table decorations should be in my racing colors, green and chocolate.

I was not in quite such happy surroundings when Bahram won the St. Leger. By then I was back at my duties in Geneva. I can at least however claim a record: I am sure I must have been the only member of the Assembly of the League ever to be called away to hear that his horse had won the St. Leger.

But the international scene by now was gloomy and its skies were darkly overcast. The little, glimmering lights of peace and hope which had been set burning since the end of the First World War were going out, one by one. Exactly a fortnight before Mussolini launched his attack on Ethiopia, I spoke in the Assembly of the League of Nations. The time had passed, I was convinced, for smooth glib words. On my own and my country's behalf I spoke as frankly and as gravely as I could:

India is troubled by the League's lack of universality and by the great preponderance of energy which the League devotes to Europe and European interests. India is troubled by these dramatic failures, by the long-drawn-out and fruitless Disarmament Conference and by the fact that the rearmament of States members is in full swing. India's criticism of the League is directed to its shortcomings and not its ideals. The world is at the parting of the ways. Let wisdom guard her choice.

As 1935 drew to its close I went to Bombay to celebrate my Golden Jubilee as hereditary Imam of the Ismailis. Half a century had passed since I, a small, shortsighted, solemn boy, surrounded by my bearded elders, had ascended the gadi. The climax of the celebration was the ancient ritual of weighing me against gold. Earlier we had a special ladies' party at the Jamat Khana, at which my beloved mother sat on my right and my wife on my left. The actual weighing ceremony was both stately and heart stirring, evok ing as it did strong currents of reciprocal affection between my followers and myself.

Our rejoicings, however, were cut short by the grievous news of the passing of my old, staunch and good friend, the King-Emperor, George V, who died at Sandringham in January, 1936. I thought of all the years of our friendship, of the many tests and trials it had undergone in war and in peace, of his constant kindness and consideration to me in all matters great and small. The last word which I had had from him, indeed, had been a warm message of congratulation on my Jubilee. We immediately abandoned all further festivities out of respect to his memory, and I read out this brief statement to my assembled followers:

I am deeply touched to hear the terrible news of the death of the KingEmperor. I have decided to stop all activities in connection with my Golden Jubilee celebrations, except the purely religious rites. We are in deep mourning. I myself will wear black clothes, and my people will wear their national mourning dress. The King-Emperor was not only a great ruler, but he was in the true sense a great man. His Majesty was always most kind to me personally. I am sure that the new King-Emperor will, with his knowledge of the world and of the whole Empire, be a worthy successor to Queen Victoria, to King Edward and to King George.

Although within a few brief months events had turned out sadly different, I do not for an instant regret or withdraw that last sentence of my statement. I had long known the attractive, brilliant and lovable man who acceded to his father's throne, that January day in 1936, surrounded by an Empire's loyalty and affectionate high hopes of a long and illustrious reign.

I first met him at York House, St. James's Palace in 1898, when he was a child of four. His mother, then Duchess of York, brought two little sailor-suited boys into the drawing room to shake hands with me -- David and Bertie, as they were known within their family. The elder boy's vivid personality stamped itself instantly on my imagination; he had a look of both intelligence and kindness, and a limpid clarity of expression, which were most impressive. I still possess a photograph of the two boys as they were then, with their names written across it by their mother.

In the years that followed I encountered him often, in successive phases of that long and devoted career of patriotic public service of which the culmination was his accession to the Throne and to the duties for which he had so arduously prepared himself. I recall the shy, slim lad staying in Paris to learn French in his late teens, wondering (he who later in life was to become a devoted Parisian) "what my grandfather saw in Paris." I remember his early years as Prince of Wales. I remember the gallant young soldier, who strove in every way to evade Lord Kitchener's stern order that the heir to the Throne not be allowed near the front line. I knew the man whose spirit was stamped forever by the sense of slaughter and waste of those years of trench warfare, the man who has said so poignantly and so truly, in his own memoirs, "I learned about war on a bicycle" -- endlessly trundling his heavy Army bicycle along the muddy roads of Flanders, to places like Poperinghe and Montauban and the villages around Ypres, the man who in after years in that annual ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall recited Laurence Binyon's "For the Fallen" with so rapt a sense of dedication and of loss.

I remember in the years after the First World War the "Ambassador of Empire" who ceaselessly traveled the Commonwealth and Empire and the whole world in the service of his country and his people. In the early twenties I met him more than once, strained and tired out as he was, during his extremely testing visit to India. At a big state banquet at St. James's Palace, given in honor of the then Crown Prince of Japan -- the present Emperor -- I sat next to the Prince of Wales. I remember his saying to me then that if Japan's request for the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance were refused -- for this was the real reason of the Crown Prince's visit -the Japanese would never forgive us. His voice had not the robust, far-hailing quality that was in his father's and his grandfather's; his tone was in comparison with theirs always quiet and restrained, but he spoke with their earnestness, conviction and faith in the importance of what he said.

It was a commonplace of the 1920's to say that the Prince of Wales made friends wherever he went. That was no formal tribute but a simple statement of the truth. Why was it? What was the source of his immense and irresistible attraction, which won the sympathy and admiration of the masses no less than the respect of the powerful few? The Times correspondent who accompanied him on one of his many journeys found, I am convinced, the true explanation. The Prince of Wales, he said, was an artist. There lies the real secret of his temperament, of his tragedy as much as of his achievements; he was a born artist. He won the affection and the understanding of millions as only the greatest of artists can do, not by dramatic or thaumaturgic technique, but as a receiving and an "offering up" anew to and for others of that which he received from them and evoked in them. That is why all his state visits, with their numerous mass encounters, drained so much out of him. When he came back after a long drive through thousands of cheering people, the exhaustion which he felt had causes far deeper than the merely physical. He always was in profound nervous, mental and spiritual accord with those who so eagerly surrounded his slowly moving car.

In the early spring of 1936 I had my first audience with him after his accession. He was fully aware of my recent and current activities. He knew that for the past few years I had been India's chief delegate at the Disarmament Conference and at successive sessions of the Assembly of the League. He knew that I was gravely perturbed by the increasingly menacing state of world affairs; burdened -- like so many of us who to any extent were behind the scenes in those years -- by a deepening sense of the doom which we sought to avert; aware of the cancer at the heart of international, especially European, politics; alarmed too at what looked like American indifference and at the existence of what in those days we called Russia's Gunpowder Plot, her supposed plan to blow up capitalist civilization by a war in which the Soviet Union would take no sides but at the end of which she would appear as beneficiary and all-powerful arbitrator.

The Lords-in-waiting and the India Office officials who had come with me expected, I daresay, that I would have the ordinary perfunctory and brief audience. However, they cooled their heels for an hour and a half or more in the anteroom, while I underwent at the King's hands one of the most searching, serious and well-informed cross-examinations that I have ever experienced. I walked out at last filled with admiration not only for his knowledge, gleaned by his wide and deep reading of all the official and Cabinet papers which came to him, but even more for the seriousness of his outlook and the penetration of his insight.

During 1936 I met the King several times, at private cocktail parties and at luncheon in the houses of one or two close friends. At the bigger gatherings, even in the midst of flippant people, I was greatly struck with the King's utter lack of flippancy, his seriousness and his concentration on his duties. After my first audience and whenever I met him on these private and unofficial occasions during those months, he was accompanied by Mrs. Wallis Simpson, now the Duchess of Windsor. I found her as intelligent as she was charming, admirably well informed, devoid too of flippancy, and seriously and conscientiously striving to adjust her outlook to the King's. At two different houses I met them at luncheon, and on each occasion the only other person present, beside our host and hostess was my old friend -- himself an ardent and persevering seeker after spiritual enlightenment -- Philip Kerr, Marquis of Lothian. * Our conversation could not have been in its general tone more serious and more anxious.

* Subsequently H. M. Ambassador to Washington; died 1940.

Naturally neither the King nor Mrs. Simpson ever mentioned their personal affairs to me or in my hearing, but of course wherever one went in London that year, the whispers and the rumors abounded. I have already mentioned a poignant conversation which I had had with Queen Mary on my return to London from Geneva. Later in the year, in July I think, a great friend of Queen Mary's told me that every day she wept bitterly when she thought of this hidden, unspoken catastrophe which loomed for her dearly loved son.

It was during this same critical period that Lord Wigram, when the two of us were lunching alone, said something which struck me greatly. "King Edward VIII," he said, "has it in him to be the greatest King in the history of our country. With his charm and his personal prestige he can carry with him the whole population -- regardless of class."

Lord Wigram, after all, spoke out of long and deep experience. He had been King George V's private secretary, in succession to Lord Stamfordham, and a calm, wise, loyal counselor and friend he was; but before he became a courtier he had been a serving officer in the Indian Army and then on Lord Curzon's staff when he was Viceroy. His equable and unimpassioned judgment seemed to me of considerable importance; yet I could see that, even as he spoke, he was mastering strong and extremely painful and anxious emotions.

By the autumn I was back in Geneva. The King spoke to me once on the telephone; our conversation necessarily was guarded; yet I was aware once more of the profound sadness and the complexity of the drama in his own life and in the life of the country, whose bleak climax was then so near. The swiftness and the completeness of the final irrevocable decision were utterly tragic. Years have passed, and they have brought inevitably a new perspective to our view of those somber happenings of the first weeks of December, 1936. After King Edward VIII's abdication, his younger brother acceded as George VI. We are all now gratefully and gladly conscious of the magnitude of his selfless and steadfast service to his country and to the cause of human freedom in his sixteen years' reign, and of the immense, quiet goodness of his character, so like his father's.

George VI was blessed -- as his elder brother was impelled to remark in the most poignant public utterance of his life -- in a supremely happy marriage. His gracious Consort, now Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was as persevering and as selfless in public service as he was, always at his side to sustain and support him through many testing years, which covered the dangers and the ardors of the Second World War and the postwar period of farreaching social and economic change.

Now a beloved, charming young Queen reigns as Head of the Commonwealth. She brings to her task mental and spiritual qual ities of the highest order, and it is already obvious that she has earned the deep loyalty and devotion of her peoples all over the world. She is sustained by the steadfast love of her husband; and her home, like that of her father before her, is a model of tranquil and affectionate family life. The omens are auspiciously set for a splendid new Elizabethan era in Britain's long, eventful history. The institution of the Crown in Britain and the Commonwealth has quickly and triumphantly survived its severest test; on this score therefore there is no reason for regret.

Yet considered as a human happening in its own right, apart altogether from its constitutional and political consequences, surely the story of Edward, Duke of Windsor and his Duchess is one of the very great love stories of all time. Set it alongside the imperishable, tragic and beautiful stories of Persian or Arabian legend, alongside the stories of Anthony and Cleopatra and of Romeo and Juliet, and does it not stand forth as perhaps the most moving of them all?

When I was discussing my religious views, I quoted the saying of the poet Hafiz to the effect that those who are not granted the grace and aid of the Holy Spirit to achieve direct communion with that Divine Presence in which we live, move and have our being, may yet attain blessed and pure felicity if they achieve the heights of human love and companionship -- something not won lightly or easily, but the crown of a lifelong attachment, in which one human being devotes all that he has, knows and feels to the love and service of another.

Surely his former Majesty, King Edward VIII, who lost and sacrificed so much, has been granted, if not the supreme, at any rate the lesser and by no means unworthy, blessing and illumination of a durable and all-enfolding love.

I have one personal postscript to add to this sad yet stirring story. In the autumn of 1937 I was staying in Berlin at the same time as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. I called on them and we had a long, extremely intimate and extremely revealing conversation. I was deeply affected by the obvious and transparently sincere loyalty and devotion with which the Duke talked of his brother, speaking of him always as the King; the whole tenor of his remarks was that of fidelity from a devoted subject to his sovereign. Later that year when I was in London I had an audience with King George VI; the ostensible reason for my being summoned to the palace was that I should give His Majesty an account of the interview which I had had with Hitler. Before I left, the King asked me, "You saw my brother?" I then told him the substance of the Duke of Windsor's conversation with me, and I stressed the warmth and the obvious sincerity of the Duke's loyalty. The King was clearly most deeply moved by his elder brother's willing and complete acceptance of the new situation -- so moved in fact that I myself was equally stirred.

Can we sustain the peace, or must there in the end be war? This was the question with which we were faced at Geneva, year after year. To understand its intensity, and to understand the way in which each of us, as individuals or as representatives of our countries, strove to find our own answer, it is necessary to explore a good deal of the historical and political background. Munich has constantly been hotly attacked as a single, unparalleled and causeless act of appeasement, and Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, whose name is forever associated with Munich, who thought it his greatest triumph and found it to be his greatest tragedy, has been criticized in the most unmeasured and ferocious terms. Yet who are, in fact, the "guilty men," whom partisan propaganda so vituperatively pursued? What are the real reasons, not the superficial "blame," for Munich?

We must first probe far back into the story of Germany's relations with the rest of Europe. We must look afresh at that unfortunate, false, and unjust assertion, made at the end of the First World War and given explicit formulation in the Versailles Treaty, that Germany's and Germany's alone, was the war guilt. Whatever strict apportionment of guilt there should be, it is by no means all Germany's. Nearly half the responsibility was Russia's. What about the folly, the incompetence, the insane ambition and the revengeful self-satisfaction of a man like Isvolsky who, as Czarist Ambassador in Paris, said to me -- not to me alone, for he said it to everyone he could -- "C'est ma guerre"? What about the same idiot boast on the lips of Sazunov, that weak and foolish man who, despite all the warnings given him by abler men like Witte and Rosen, did not shrink in anticipation from a war that was to ruin his country, his Emperor and his own class?

However at the end of the war, to millions in the victorious nations, blinded by their own propaganda, Imperial Germany seemed a convenient scapegoat. Germany was branded as the only criminal. And then, almost before the ink had dried on the signatures to the Versailles Treaty, a significant development occurred in political thought. The intellectuals of the Left in Britain, profoundly affected by the limpidly persuasive writings of John Maynard Keynes, discovered that their consciences were troubled over Versailles' injustice, and over the admission written into it, above the enforced signature of Germany's representatives, that Germany alone was to blame for all the horrors and miseries of the First World War; and until Hitler came to power, they were very vocal in their criticisms of the 1919 settlement.

Doubts about not merely the wisdom but the morality of the Versailles Treaty were by no means limited to the highbrows of the Left. Many a conscientious political thinker on the Right -- though perhaps more pragmatic, more inclined to see the issue in terms of power politics -- had severe misgivings about the justification, at the price even perhaps of a war, of maintaining a status quo founded upon a falsehood. The constitution of the League of Nations, which formed part of the Versailles Treaty, was similarly questioned. Under this Constitution the League was endowed in theory with absolute authority to right all wrongs -- "to break down this sorry scheme of things and replace it by something nearer heart's desire" -- but, as familiarity with the actual processes of the League quickly made clear, its constitution was in fact so pliable that it was impossible for the League to right any wrong, however glaring.

The status quo had everything on its side. There was as much chance of achieving any real rectification of frontiers, any adjustment of conflicting national claims, through the League, as there would have been of successfully steering a bill providing for uni versal suffrage through the House of Lords of 1820. The ideologues of the immediate postwar era worshipped the constitution of the League, but like most idols it had feet of clay. It was, in fact though not in name, a repetition of Alexander I's Holy Alliance of 1815. It was Metternich's system, dressed up anew as democracy, freedom and -- sacred word -- self-determination. But it had been so adjusted that the "haves" among the nations had things all their own way, and the only hope for the "have-nots" of changing their inferior status lay either in sowing disunity among the "haves" or in building up their military power, sedulously and secretly, until they were able to launch direct and open aggression. This failing in the League was as durable as it was palpable. As I said later to Lord Halifax when he was Foreign Secretary, "You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Defects of this character could not long be hidden. The bloodstained Gran Chaco dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay was in a remote -- and at the time strategically insignificant -- region, but the difficulties it presented were real and grave, and those of us who had any share in reaching a fairly just solution of this problem were acutely conscious of them.

Then there arose the protracted Sino-Japanese trouble. Here the slate was, from the outset, the reverse of clean. At the conclusion of their successful campaign against Czarist Russia early in this century, the Japanese had built up a special and powerful position for themselves in Manchuria, from Port Arthur almost to the walls of Peking itself, under which China's sovereignty was still recognized but the country was administered and exploited by Japan as if it were a Japanese protectorate. The warlords of northern China had, in Bismarck's phrase, "a telegraph wire" with Tokyo -- indeed a full and constant connection by telephone and radio as well. Though China was for years torn by internal strife, this relationship became more and more bitterly hostile as the extent and the determination of Japan's ambitions were disclosed. For a long time it was customary to talk politely about "the differences" between China and Japan; but they were in fact a war, to which we in Geneva strove to put an end.

From the League's point of view China's legal case was utterly unanswerable. Japan had no right in China except in the various concessions -- the ports, railway lines, commercial depots, and bases -- which she had received from China, or won from Russia to whom China had voluntarily given them. Her territorial pretensions, open or veiled, were without a shred of legal justification.

But when the League rebuked Japan and sought to intervene, it seemed to Japan's rulers that the pot was loudly calling the kettle black. Were they not, the Japanese argued, doing in the twentieth century precisely what countries like Britain and France had done in building up their empires a century or two earlier? They would not and could not accept the claim that, under the constitution of the League, a new world had come into being and with it a new international morality binding on all nations, under which the only way to effect any political change was through the League's elaborate, complicated and devious machinery. It was, in the Scriptural phrase, far easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for Japan to procure de jure recognition by the League of her de facto position on the northern Asiatic mainland. The "haves" said No; it was only open to the "have-nots" to break through or to circumvent this wall of negatives.

When the Sino-Japanese dispute was brought before the League, I approached Sir John Simon, then British Foreign Secretary, on my own initiative and told him that I felt it was my duty as India's representative -- as an Asiatic -- to do all I could to bring about a direct understanding by conversations between China and Japan. Lord Simon has been bitterly assailed in many quarters, but he possessed -- he still possesses -- the mind of a statesman, not a bureaucrat. He saw immediately that although such a departure by an Indian representative, at a time when India was still without selfgovernment, might seem unusual if unaccompanied by overt British support, the value of an Asiatic intermediary in a solely Asiatic dispute might be considerable. I was authorized to see what I could effect. I had several conversations with both Chinese and Japanese representatives. On one final occasion I got together the heads of the Chinese and Japanese delegations in a supreme effort to bring about an understanding; the three of us were actually photographed together.

However, a good deal more than the flash of a press photographer's bulb was required. The negotiations broke down. Subsequently hostilities in Asia were renewed on a large scale. The "China incident" became all-out war in Shanghai and in central China. Ultimately Japan left the League. Manchuria was separated from China, and the Japanese set up a puppet Emperor in Manchuria in the person of a scion of the old Manchu imperial dynasty, the man who, according to legitimist views, ought to have been Emperor of China. In central China conflict continued without cessation thereafter between the Japanese and the forces of General Chiang Kai-shek until, with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 -- the extension of the Second World War to the Far East.

Personalities as well as policies were of significance in those difficult years. I came to know many remarkable men in Geneva, as we battled with successive problems and crises. The first Secretary General of the League was Sir Eric Drummond * -- an ideal man in a difficult, a well-nigh impossible, position. He was not only aware that there were two sides to any argument, he saw every question fully in the round. In my many conversations with him I began to appreciate the complexity and the far-reaching effects of every apparently small move or decision made by the League. It seemed that we were forever watching the widening ripples on the pool caused by the throwing of seemingly small pebbles. Yet I must not give the impression that Eric Drummond was in favor of immobility in international affairs, or of stubbornly preserving the status quo. No one, I daresay, had better appreciated the lessons of history than he; no one realized more clearly, for example, that -- in spite of all that Alexander I and Metternich strove to establish -- the European system established in 1815 had collapsed in something near chaos by 1830. Drummond had a flexible mind and highly developed powers of persuasion; I know that many a dispute that might have grown serious was settled in his office simply by his exercise of tact and sagacious foresight. However, his influence and authority were limited, for the tradition had transferred itself from the national to the international plane that permanent officials had no views of their own, and therefore as Secretary General he had no right to initiate policy on his own.

* Later the Earl of Perth.

Brüning, the German Chancellor, was a forlorn, pathetic figure. A sincere Christian, a devout Roman Catholic, he was obviously beset, in the midst of our troubles, by a genuine Christian conscience, by his patriotism as a German, by the growing difficulties of keeping democracy afloat in Germany, by the mounting challenge of the Nazis, and by the increasing feebleness of the aged Hindenburg's attachment to the republic which had elected him as its President.

Beneš of Czechoslovakia was in his different way a no less tragic figure. He fully realized the dangers to which his country was exposed. More than once over a coffee or at luncheon he talked to me of his troubles and his difficulties. He knew that the German minority in Czechoslovakia had to be won over, persuaded to give up their Pan-German dreams and become loyal and sincere citizens alongside the other racial groups in the country; but he realized that a heavy price had to be paid for such an achievement. He continued, however, to pin high hopes to it. Yet whenever he went into the Sudetenland, to places like Carlsbad or Marienbad, he was faced with the limitations and the potential breakdown of his policy because the Czechs in those areas, although in a minority, strove to assert their superiority -- politically and economically, and by the use of educational and linguistic barriers -- to the German-speaking majority. His was a classic example of the way in which a wellmeaning political leader cannot persuade his followers to carry out his express and sincere intentions.

Someone who was then embarking on his great career I encountered first in Geneva in those years -- Mr. Anthony Eden. An immediate point of sympathy and understanding between us was that the subject in which he had taken honors at Oxford, immediately after the First World War, was Oriental languages; he had studied Persian and had known my very old friend Dr. E. G. Browne, the Orientalist and authority on Persian, who was Professor of Arabic. This shared friendship and our shared knowledge and understanding of, and fellow feeling for, Islamic literature, thought and philosophy, were special ties, uniting us more closely than the normal affiliations and social propinquity natural between a representative of the British Government and a representative of India at a meeting of the Assembly of the League. It has not been difficult for someone who has watched, as I have, the careers of so many eminent statesmen, past and present, to foresee Mr. Eden's ultimate and splendid destiny. Today I join my prayers with those of so many others that, when at length the great call comes and he takes up the highest position of all, he will have regained in full the health and the strength which, over past years, he has expended so generously in the service of his country and of humanity in general.

The next great crisis which faced the League was Italy's assault on Ethiopia in 1935. It presented an even more serious challenge than the Sino-Japanese dispute, for however aggressive Japan's actions were, there were explanatory, if hardly ameliorative, factors involved, which, as I have indicated, made it impossible for any of the Great Powers at least to regard that as a clean-cut case. All the various concessions, with all their legal equivocations about status, and (since the Japanese occupation of Korea) a common frontier along the Yalu River, were in themselves occasions for quarrels in which lack of diplomatic satisfaction could -- and usually was -made the excuse for military action. The whole situation was morally indefensible, of course, but it had centuries of usage to sustain it and give it at least the superficial appearance of respectability.

Italy, however, possessed none of these opportunities or facilities for whitewashing her aggressive, imperialistic designs on Ethiopia. Italy's only case was one of naked need for living space for her ever-increasing population, if they were to remain Italian. Libya's possibilities of intensive and large-scale exploitation and colonization were few; fertile areas in this long stretch of the Mediterranean littoral were limited, and the desert was vast. Italy's surplus population seemed therefore faced with one of two possibilities. Either they could emigrate across the Atlantic to North or South America or to neighboring Mediterranean lands like Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, and be lost to Italy as citizens; or they could remain in Italy, millions too many for her limited soil to bear, with a standard of living far below that of any of their western European neighbors and thoroughly unworthy of the nation that had succeeded Imperial Rome.

Mussolini made no secret of his intentions. He made stirring speeches in towns and cities all over Italy, and his eloquence roused thousands to passionate enthusiasm and sympathy. At the diplomatic level he gave more than one warning, couched in terms, however, which were ambiguous enough for him to be able to interpret the silence with which France and Britain greeted them as consent, if not as direct encouragement to him. Whatever the shadowy background of the Duce's mental processes, there could be no ignoring the blatant openness of his preparations, throughout the summer of 1935, for the military conquest and annexation of the free, independent and sovereign state of Ethiopia, on pretexts which were flimsy in the extreme. The Ethiopians were faced with a tragic choice: either to accept an ultimatum from Mussolini or, rejecting it, to wage a hopeless war which could only end in total military defeat and subjection.

The League was thus thrust into a hopelessly difficult situation; and there developed that deep and catastrophic division of opinion in Britain and in France and indeed throughout much of the world, which was to persist with such unfortunate results until the outbreak of the Second World War four years later. In two countries, however, there was no chance for any division of opinion to show itself: the U.S.S.R. and Nazi Germany. Russian policy was simple and monolithic; Litvinov had proclaimed Russia's doctrine, "Peace is indivisible." Whatever weaknesses and drawbacks communist policy may possess, there has nearly always been about it a façade of logical unity between dogma and practice. The Nazis, of course, saw a superb opportunity to break up what remained of unity among the Powers that had been victorious over Germany in the First World War and had sought to make their victory permanent by the guarantees written into the Versailles Treaty. They had the shrewdness not to proclaim their satisfaction too loudly; public opinion in Britain and France was therefore not alert to the hidden dangers in the German attitude, any more than it recognized the hidden dangers in Russia's expressions of shocked virtue.

In Britain confusion and irresolution were woefully apparent. There was the "realism " -- grossly mistaken, as the naval history of the Second World War was to demonstrate -- of old-fashioned imperialists like the late Lord Lloyd, then president of the Navy League, who argued that the Royal Navy had been so weakened by the years of disarmament and economic stringency that it could not risk being brought into the open conflict which severe and legitimate action against Italy's aggression would be bound to entail. Therefore the imperialists were opposed to any resolute policy.

Another school of thought argued that to annoy Italy would be -as the phrase went -- "to drive her into the arms of Germany," and saw in this plea reason enough to submit to Mussolini's highhandedness. There were others who saw a practical political escapeladder in what came to be known as the Hoare-Laval arrangements.

In Geneva there was a deep and widespread resentment and sense of humiliation at the easy success which apparently attended this shameless policy of aggression, on condottieri lines, with a twentieth-century technique in international relations and propaganda.

I saw my friend Mr. Eden and said to him: "If you want international politics to have a foundation of justice, if you want the League really to be what it is supposed to be, if you want to give it a chance to grow into a real society of nations, deciding matters of right and wrong among themselves, then here is an outstanding case which must be tackled. Here there is no valid excuse of any kind. There is no large Italian minority in Ethiopia deprived of their independence or their civic and economic rights. Here is a case of open and inexcusable aggression. And the remedy is in our hands. All we need do is shut the Suez Canal. Or if we must have sanctions, let them be applied to oil as well, and thus make them a reality and put some teeth into them. But I still think the best solution is a simple, unanimous resolution by the League to close the Canal."

Instead we found ourselves passing resolutions in favor of sanctions, which I found silly and futile. Yet ineffective as we knew them to be, we had to vote in support of them, for if we did not, we would seem to be condoning Italy's aggression; but the only sanction which would have achieved anything -- the sanction of withholding petrol -- was barred. I could foresee that it was inevitable from that moment on that there would come a bitter day when those of us who had once held such high hopes for the League would have to go to the Assembly and, with misery in our hearts, ask for the removal of sanctions. I saw too -- and I have no hesitation in admitting it -- that once the moment came for us to submit to the Italian conquest of Ethiopia, it would be much better for us to swallow our pride and our anger and do it with a good grace.

Here then was an important phase in the development of the policy and practice of appeasement. Here was an instance in which appeasement and conciliation of the aggressor were morally wrong; but once the Great Powers had appeased on this issue -- a thoroughly bad and unjustified issue -- there would follow the inevitable consequence that sooner or later we should have to stomach a new dose of appeasement, either in the matter of Japan in China, where there were loopholes both historical and juridical, or in the matter of some sort of German aggression, where there would be the pleas of oppressed minorities, of plebiscites demanding reunion, and a whole specious façade of legality and morality.

Was it, however, entirely specious? This was the grave and conscientious doubt which complicated relations with Germany both for individual nations and for the collective Assembly of the League -- almost as soon as the Versailles Treaty was signed. Earlier in this chapter I have referred to the inevitable changes in mood and outlook toward Germany which occurred in opinion forming and influential circles among the victorious Powers, most notably in Britain and to a lesser extent in the United States and Italy.

Now in general I greatly admire Britain and the British people, but my deepest admiration and respect I reserve for one abiding characteristic which they possess -- the existence in a substantial and usually influential part of the population of an acutely sensitive conscience, which prevents their accepting as a national responsibility any unjust or violent act or policy however advantageous it may seem to the country's material welfare. No doubt in British history there have been phases of ruthlessness, violence and conquest; but has any healthy and virile race not passed through such phases in its long national life? It is fundamental to the British character and the British way of life that this voice of conscience is always heard; it may at the outset be still and small and belong only to a few, but in the end the majority has been persuaded by it. The naked code of the harsh struggle for existence, with its assertion that life is only maintained by the survival of the fittest, must in the British view be ameliorated by a still higher and nobler instinct -- as the great Victorian scientist, Professor T. H. Huxley, said in a famous speech toward the end of his life. This quality of conscience has been far more persistently manifested among the British people and their cousins in the United States than among any other great nation that I know.

Among most of the human race this scrupulous conscience about external events is a personal and individual matter. In England it has long been a national possession; and this is true also of the United States. The cause of this phenomenon lies, I believe, in the influence of the Quakers; always numerically a fairly small minority, they have from the nineteenth century exerted a moral and spiritual influence out of all relation to their numbers. Through their connections with other nonconformist groups, this influence, even in the era of Britain's greatest industrial and commercial expansion at home and overseas, was diffused throughout the whole population, and the persistence and strength of its effect on British policy and actions have been remarkable.

During the 1920's the man who voiced these conscientious scruples about Germany most frequently and forcefully was Lloyd George. In the Press the campaign gathered strength and influence over the years, and it focused especially on the way in which Germany had been deprived of her colonies. J. L. Garvin and others made eloquent pleas for the return to Germany of one or more of the lost colonies. The British mind was never closed to the practical possibilities, as well as the abstract virtue, of such a step.

Now if in Britain there were these conscientious doubts about the wisdom of maintaining the status quo which had been imposed by the Peace Treaty, Germany's view of Versailles from the beginning was that it was a Diktat, which must be circumvented, challenged and finally overthrown by every means available to the German people. Germans in general believed neither that they alone had made the war nor that they were in fact defeated. Therefore as soon as Germany returned to the comity of civilized nations -- long before the rise of Hitler -- her attitude on all major questions should have been warning enough. Even the terms of the Locarno Treaty, for all the fervor and optimism with which they were acclaimed, were explicit only about the renunciation of war as a means of settling disputes in the west; German claims vis-à-vis Poland were left expressly undefined.

Not long after Locarno, Lord D'Abernon, the great British Ambassador in Berlin, who with his beautiful wife had long been among my dearest and closest friends, was staying in Monte Carlo when Stresemann came there. Lord D'Abernon asked me to meet Stresemann at a luncheon at the Hotel Metropole, at which, besides the three of us, the only other person present was Stresemann's secretary. Stresemann did not beat about the bush. He held that the postwar period had witnessed the establishment of certain general principles: the freedom of all European peoples to unite if they so desired and the right to self-determination of "colonies," racial minorities separated from their mother countries. He said that these principles had been applied to Jugoslavia, Italy and Czechoslovakia; and now, he argued, the implication of Lo carno was that they must be extended to Germany by peaceful means. Locarno had fully and finally rectified the injustice of Germany's annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871; henceforth Germany had no further claims in the west of Europe. Stresemann made no threats, and his arguments were based on grounds of justice and fair play.

"Rectification" was indeed the idea which for years obsessed Germany's statesmen and diplomats. At Geneva they canvassed it in and out of season. I recall from my own experience at least one instance of its being pushed forward regardless of the appropriateness of either time or place: a big official reception, with everyone in full evening dress, a stiffly formal occasion, when M. Tardieu, then leader of the French delegation to the Assembly, was, in full public view, relentlessly tackled by his opposite number on the German side.

The failure of the Disarmament Conference was an opportunity which the Germans exploited. In the thesis that the Versailles Treaty had been intended to be a step toward general and progressive disarmament among the nations, and that the Allies had broken the undertakings which they had then given, they found an excuse to rearm.

From 1933 on Hitler merely shouted what his democratic and nonrevolutionary predecessors had often said before, not in shy whispers, but in ordinary conversational tones. There was nothing particularly new in the substance of his demands; what was novel was the arrogant, aggressive and violent way in which he made them. His claims were as vague and as menacingly undefined as theirs had been, but he also made certain quite specific pronouncements. The last thing he wanted, he said, was another war. He would shed no more German blood. The German people had not recovered from the appalling bloodshed from the First World War. Such claims as he made, he said, were humble and reasonable. As I have said, in the autumn of 1937 I myself went to Berlin and saw him, not at the suggestion of the British Foreign Office, but with their full knowledge of what I was doing. By this time he had a fairly detailed list of demands: that an Austro German Anschluss should be permitted, if a plebiscite of the Austrian people showed a majority to be in favor of such a union; that the relations between the Czechs and the German-speaking community in the Sudetenland should be similar to those between Great Britain and the Irish Free State; and that Germany should have the right to a colonial empire, if not in the same territories as before, then in their equivalent elsewhere. He held that Germany had a moral claim to Tanganyika because African soldiers had fought valiantly on the German side, and therefore German rule must have been popular with them. He made no threat of going to war on this issue.

Six months later the whole picture had changed sharply. The Nazis had marched into Austria, and Hitler had been rapturously acclaimed in his native town of Linz and in Vienna. The Sudeten problem was no longer remote or academic. In the early summer of 1938 a major crisis occurred; Europe buzzed with rumors of a large-scale German mobilization along the Czechoslovak frontier; over a tense week end statesmen and officials were anxiously at work in embassies and foreign ministries. The crisis passed without a decisive flare-up, but it had indicated the depth and the malignancy of the disease from which Europe was suffering. Mr. Eden had resigned from the Foreign Office and had been succeeded by Lord Halifax, the former Viceroy. However, the Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, exercised a vigilant eye over foreign affairs; he, who -- quite justly -- had described the League's policy of sanctions against Italy as "midsummer madness," strove now with energy and sincerity to effect a practical easement of the difficulties and the dangers which beset Europe. He sought by finding specific solutions to specific problems to build anew, if necessarily brick by brick, a new structure of peace. The grievances of the Sudeten Germans were one such specific problem. Konrad Henlein, the Nazi leader and spokesman in the Sudetenland, visited England that summer and put his case to leading British statesmen. At Mr. Chamberlain's request and with the agreement of the Prague Government, Lord Runciman, a leading member of the Liberal party, an ex-Cabinet Minister of unblemished reputation and a long record of success as a negotiator on both the political and economic front, headed a small mission to Czechoslovakia in order to investigate the whole problem of the Sudeten Germans' future, and if possible to recommend a solution. Apart altogether from any military threat, Lord Runciman's mission was in no doubt as to what the result of a plebiscite in the Sudetenland would be.

A strong and influential current of opinion was running in England in favor of a radical but peaceful, just and permanent settlement of Germany's demands. Among those most closely concerned in the effort to achieve such a settlement was an old and intimate friend. By a coincidence two of Britain's outstanding Ambassadors in Berlin have been my dear and valued friends. I have already referred to Lord D'Abernon, whom I had known well since the early 1900's. Now the British Ambassador was Sir Nevile Henderson. He and I had first met, and had struck up a warm and lasting friendship, when he was a comparatively junior official in the British Embassy in Saint Petersburg in 1912. In Paris a few years later he and I were both members of the small, well-to-do, predominantly American set of agreeable, literary, artistic, sporting and cultured folk, whom I have mentioned earlier; and later again we had been in touch in Egypt. A quarter of a century after our first encounter he had reached the peak of his career as a diplomat, charged -- as his own frank autobiographical record * has disclosed -with what could have been a uniquely important responsibility. He and I met several times after he had gone to Berlin. He assured me that sentiment in Carlsbad and Marienbad was overwhelmingly pro-German, having seen for himself on a visit there; he was convinced that a fair plebiscite would reveal a large majority in favor of unity with Germany.

* Failure of a Mission, by Sir Nevile Henderson.

Almost all the advice to which the British Cabinet hearkened was on similar lines. The bulk of the Conservative party supported the Cabinet. So did the City. In the Press the most powerful and influential support for a just and equitable settlement of Germany's demands -- and of the demands of the people in the Sudeten land themselves -- came from The Times. This great newspaper, in its recently published history of itself, has revealed with remarkable candor and forthrightness the part which it played in the whole Munich crisis. Contrary to a belief which has been widely held in Britain and abroad, there was no prompting by the Government of the attitude which The Times adopted. Geoffrey Dawson, then editor, and Robin Barrington-Ward, his assistant and eventual successor -- both of whom are now dead -- had themselves, by utterly independent processes of reasoning and judgment, come to the conclusion that it was not only politic but just and fair to seek to secure, if necessary by far-reaching concessions, a settlement with Germany, and they hoped that such a settlement would prevent the outbreak of a war.

There has of late been a curious shift of emphasis among those who defend Munich. It is fashionable to argue (as a correspondence in The Daily Telegraph in the summer of 1953 demonstrated) that Munich was justified, not on moral grounds, but on military grounds, as a strategic and logistic necessity imposed by Britain's weakness on land and sea and most of all in the air. This, I think, can be summed up as the "Munich-bought-much-needed-time" school of thought. This is a post-hoc thesis shaped to fit the pattern of subsequent events. It was not the argument which was deployed at the time. Then the case for Munich, as I heard it stated by members of the Government and by other champions of the settlement, and with all sincerity by myself, was proposed as a moral question and ran as follows: would Great Britain be justified in going to war to prevent the Germans of Czechoslovakia from declaring their choice by plebiscite, and in consequence to compel them to remain under Czech rule?

Looking back on it all now, I suppose that I was subconsciously influenced in favor of the idea of separating the Germans from the Czechs in the regions in which they were in a majority by my close personal connection with and understanding of the Muslim-Hindu issue in India, which afforded, on a much larger scale, an almost incredibly exact analogy. Here in miniature was what was to happen nearly a decade later in India. Konrad Hen lein played at the time (though history was later to submerge him entirely) the decisive role which, in the Pakistan-Bharat issue, was Jinnah's.

Whatever the subconscious background to my conscious thought then, I had no doubt where I stood. At Geoffrey Dawson's invitation I wrote a Times leader-page article in unstinted praise of the agreement with which Mr. Chamberlain returned -- in triumph and to a rapturous welcome, let it be rememberedfrom his last visit to Germany. I stand before history therefore as a strong, avowed supporter of Munich. And now, all these years later, after all the violent and troublous happenings since then, I say without hesitation that I thank God that we did not go to war in 1938. Apart altogether from any highly debatable question of military preparedness or the lack of it, if Great Britain had gone to war in 1938, the doubt about the moral justification of the decision would have remained forever, and doubt would have bred moral uncertainty about the conduct and the conclusion of the war. In the perspective of history Britain would be seen to have gone to war, not on a clear-cut, honorable and utterly unavoidable issue, but in order to maintain the status quo and to prevent a plebiscite by which a regional racial majority might seek to be united with their brothers by blood, language and culture.

An easy haze of forgetfulness enfolds many of the details of that period. An important, but frequently ignored, part of the Munich settlement as it was negotiated by Mr. Chamberlain was that there should be a plebiscite in doubtful areas in Czechoslovakia where the two races were mixed. In the subsequent turmoil of events this important provision was forgotten, and the plebiscite never happened; perhaps it can be argued that its result would anyway have been a foregone conclusion.

Perhaps, but I merely know now that I, like many others in that autumn of 1938, had the illusion that we were indeed going to have "peace in our time." Neville Chamberlain, who had brought this about, was our hero, and for a short time he was adulated as few statesmen have ever been before or since. It was a tragically brief period. Hitherto Hitler had -- whatever methods he had used to attain his ends -- based his claims on the principle of self-determination as laid down in the peace treaties and in the constitution of the League of Nations. In the spring of 1939, however, he ripped off the veil of respectability. His forces entered what remained of Czechoslovakia, and the country was termed a "protectorate" of the Reich. Baron von Neuradt -- a survivor from the pre-Nazi era -- was sent to Prague as Protector to rule a country which had indeed been annexed and totally subjugated.

This destroyed in a single stroke the whole moral basis of Germany's case before history, and it united in a common resolution many who, in 1937-1938, had held very different views. There was now no doubt; there were no questionings. It was perfectly obvious to everyone -- even to those who a year before had been the stoutest supporters of Munich -- that Hitler's war in 1939 was a deliberate act of aggression. However, it was not only Hitler's war. The terrible fact is that it was the German people's war. This time the allocation of blame is correct. In the vast majority the German people were with Hitler in his attempt either to impose his "New Order," which was to last for a thousand years or to bring all European civilization crashing down in ruin with him in a final Wagnerian climax.

It is true that there were attempts to assassinate Hitler. But the only one that got beyond vague talk was the coup of July 20, 1944, which was the work of a group of senior Army officers and which very nearly succeeded. Even this effort -- despite the sincere patriotism, the dignity and the courage under torture of the men involved -- was not made until the Nazis' defeat was a certainty. Not one of the generals raised a finger in 1939, or in 1940 and 1941 when the Axis straddled the world. It needed the imminence of total defeat to convert them. If a genuine and consistent sense of responsibility had animated them, they would have plotted, not to avert the consequences of the war in 1944-1945, but to have prevented the war breaking out in 1939. Someone may say: "A coup by a handful of soldiers would not have helped in 1939; the German people would have gone to war all the same."

If that is so -- if offered all they demanded, the German people deliberately chose war instead of peace, aggressive conquest instead of shared prosperity -- it is the most complete condemnation of Germany, the most complete justification of every act of retribution inflicted on her -- the cutting off from the East, the loss of territory, the destruction of her cities.

The argument may be continued a stage further: "What about Danzig? That was a German city -- why wasn't the principle of the plebiscite applied there?"

The answer is that Germany never wanted, never asked for an honest plebiscite in raising the Danzig issue or in any of her other claims on Poland. When Ribbentrop, Hitler's Foreign Minister, made his formal statement of those claims, how did he do it? Instead of taking any of the normal steps by which negotiations are ordinarily initiated, he summoned my friend Sir Nevile Henderson to witness a scene as tragic as it was futile. Rapidly and harshly, in German, he read his ultimatum to the Ambassador in the neurotic yet reckless way in which a criminal tries to arrange an alibi. He turned away abruptly without even handing Henderson the document to read. It was therefore as a criminal's alibi that Henderson interpreted it. The German mood in 1939 was a mood of criminal folly and a gambler's pride. To allege now that this was Hitler's war, the Nazis' war, the generals' war, the war of a handful, is an evasion of the truth. This was a war of the German people, for which the overwhelming majority must be held responsible, particularly the governing classes.

Is there a moral? Is there an explanation? I have come to believe this about the Germans: that in spite of all their great qualities, their ability, their capacity for hard work, their discipline, their intelligence and their passion for education, they are afflicted with a romantic, self-immolatory streak in their character which is never satisfied with mere success. Perhaps the Second World War was fought because other nations forgot about Wagner.

After 1870 Bismarck said again and again, "We are satisfied." Surely after 1938 that is what, in realistic terms, the German leaders and people should have said. Thinking in those terms, Neville Chamberlain believed that he had bought peace in our time. Instead, less than a year later he was saying in a sad, grave voice: "It is the evil things we fight against." Why? Was it not that Wagnerian, death-desiring streak which drove an allegedly civilized race into the most blatantly aggressive war ever launched? At least now no one on the Allied side can have a single twinge of conscience, a single doubt that we were justified in fighting. This was a righteous war.

My years of work at Geneva did not, I am glad to think, go unrecognized. In 1937 I was unanimously elected President of the League of Nations. When that year's session concluded I was asked to continue to hold the Presidency for another year, until just before the opening of the 1938 session. This was a rare honor and a responsibility, for mine would have been the duty of summoning a special session and presiding over it, had one been found necessary.

My work in this international field, and its crown and climax in my year as President of the League, had especially delighted my beloved mother. When I first went to Geneva she was over eighty, and she followed my work there with unflagging interest. Each year that I went to India we talked together as fully and as frankly about this as we had, throughout my life, shared our interests, our joys and our sorrows. For a very long time she retained her health, all her faculties, her keen zest for life and all its concerns, whether public and political or family and domestic. When the 1937 session of the Assembly ended, I went to my home in the south of France, with no reason to believe that my mother's health-she was by then in her eighty-eighth year -- was causing any serious anxiety. Nor indeed was it, for she was maintaining her accustomed tranquil and happy way of life.

She had seen both my sons, Aly and Sadruddin, the latter of whom, as a little boy, was a special joy and comfort to her, both when she came to Europe and during a summer which he and his mother spent with her in the Lebanon. He bore, too, the name of my elder brother who had died in infancy, and this particularly rejoiced my mother's heart. She did not see her great-grandchildren, Aly's two boys, Karim and Amyn, but she knew all about them and she chose both their names, the younger bearing that of her brother who died as a young man in the 1880's. She had, as I have recorded, been present at my first Jubilee, and had been made especially happy by the congratulatory telegram sent by Lord Wigram, on behalf of King George V, just before the news of the King's death cut short our celebrations. Eager, affectionate, pious, alert to every new happening and new interest, my mother in her last years was someone who radiated a sense of joy and goodness among all who knew her.

It was at the end of 1937 that I had a cable from India saying that she had been taken seriously ill and bidding me hasten to come to see her. I flew to India at once, in the fastest aircraft of those times, which took three and a half days to reach Bombay.

All her life my mother had retained the habit of a Turkish bath. In each of our houses in India we had a regularly equipped Turkish bath, with dry, properly heated alcoves, the correct water system, and, as its climax, a hot pool and a small and very cold pool. My mother had a regular bath once a week, with all its traditional accompaniments of Turkish and Persian massage; she had a manicure and a pedicure, and in the Eastern fashion she had her hair dyed with henna. Coming from her bath one day in November she had a stroke; she recovered consciousness but thereafter her mental faculties were impaired and her memory was gone, except for brief periods of clarity and vision.

She was at our house at Malabar Hill. Her doctor -- incidentally a descendant of one of my grandfather's original followers from Iran who had become a member of the Indian Medical Service -warned me that I must expect to find a great change in her. I was surprised to find that her physical health seemed excellent, but the mental breakdown -- except for the moments of lucidity which I have just mentioned -- was almost complete. I spent most of my time with her; and it was a great joy when occasionally she fully recognized me and talked to me.

All her long life my mother had been animated by one simple, sincere desire: that when the time came, she should die and be buried on Muslim soil, by which she meant a land ruled by a free, independent and sovereign Muslim government. To this was knit one more longing: that in death she should lie beside my father, whom she had dearly and deeply loved, and for whom her mourning from the moment of his death more than fifty years before had been as profound, as durable and as touching as Queen Victoria's for her beloved Prince Albert.

As soon as I could, therefore, I made preparations to have my mother taken to Iraq, where an independent Muslim government ruled, and where my father's body rested at Nejef near Kerbela. There were obviously considerable difficulties and problems about her journey thither. Medical advice ruled out air travel, though I have always believed that my mother, in spite of the various stops that the two-day journey to Baghdad would have involved, would have stood it better than the sea trip. However, it was by boat that she went to Basra and thence by train to Baghdad. I had been to Cairo in the meantime, and I flew back to Baghdad to find her at the house of a cousin of mine, Aga Mustafa Khan, close by the holy shrine of Kadhamin.

A few minutes after I reached her bedside, her eyes opened, and she recognized me. Then in the way that all true Muslims would ask, who seek to follow the Prophet's example and attain a safe and quiet journey from the midst of the living, she achieved peace and happiness and that final "Companionship on High" for which all yearn. In accordance with Ismaili tradition I did not accompany her body to its last resting place, but certain nephews and cousins laid her lovingly beside my father, and they were -- as she had long and ardently desired -- finally reunited.

Back to top