It is not my task today to present a biography of our guest and friend Mr. Arthur Henderson. In this respect I shall be very brief.
As a member of the House of Commons since 1903 – with very few interruptions – he has for more than thirty years belonged to the political life of Great Britain. In the first place, his political activity has been connected with the British Labor Party, the progress of which he has not only followed, but to which he has contributed significantly. He was parliamentary leader of the Labor group from 1908 to 1910 and from 1914 to 1917. And for many years, until recently when at his own desire he was replaced, he was secretary-general of his party. It may safely be said that politically he is deeply rooted in the labor movement, and he has always represented the broad principal views of his party, whose confidence he has possessed in a remarkable degree.
Our interest in the man of the day takes us, however, from the part played by domestic politics in his life and work to that taken by foreign politics.
Like those in his own party – and even many other British politicians – he looked with skepticism upon the line followed in foreign politics which led to the division of Europe into two armed camps and which at last drove docile nations into the world catastrophe of 1914 – the war of Pontius Pilate, as Theodor Wolff calls it in his recent work1, because all the statesmen of Europe have tried to wash their hands of the black stain of responsibility. What a tremendous impression the outbreak of war at that time made even on the leaders is shown by Sir Edward Grey2, who, when his praiseworthy efforts to bring about negotiations at the eleventh hour failed, in desperation smote his writing desk with both fists and exclaimed: «I hate the war.»
Since the urgency of the war compelled all British groups to unite for the protection of the home country and the empire, we find Arthur Henderson a member first in Mr. Asquith’s coalition government in 1915 and later in Mr. Lloyd George’s war cabinet, which, however, he left in 19173. And this withdrawal from Mr. Lloyd George’s cabinet was symptomatic. It was the will of peace, the desire for peace in him which now found expression. He parted company because the government would not allow the British Labor Party to send representatives to the big Socialist Conference in Stockholm to which Mr. Branting4 had invited friends and enemies.
Undoubtedly, his thought and his view at that time coincided with what a man, whom I know he rates very highly, the well-known editor of the Manchester Guardian, Mr. C. P. Scott5, wrote as early as 1916: «I hate the very thought of the permanent division and hostility in Europe and if that is all we have to look forward to, I feel as if the future has little interest for me and I had rather get out of it. It isn’t the material loss or even the prospect necessarily involved of future wars and bloodshed; it is the enthronement in Europe – that is, practically in the civilized world – of the spirit of hatred and revenge.»
The war bled to an end after four years of untold suffering, losses, and destruction. At last we got peace, a peace which was supposed to «end the last war», but which unfortunately bore more the impress of the spirit which the same Mr. Scott described in 19186: «Let there be no mistake. Chauvinism is not dead, imperialism is not dead in any of the great European countries.»
Since those days when the peace was signed and until today, the world has felt the heavy weight of the consequences of that peace. In financial and commercial policy sound development has stopped, and natural connections between countries are obstructed by countless restrictions, prohibitions, and exchange difficulties. And politically the new era has taken the shape of increasing mutual distrust, uncertainty, and fear.
As an institutional counterbalance to this dark side of the peace and as a means of achieving better times stands the League of Nations. It is our only consolation, our best hope. Its organization and its influence, the possibilities for understanding which it can and does bring to all, make the League of Nations the bulwark from which the attack for happier times of reconciliation and peace may be launched.
And among the bravest and most faithful on this bulwark we find Arthur Henderson.
In Mr. MacDonald’s7 first cabinet, from 1924 to 1925, Arthur Henderson sat as home secretary. But it was also in 1924 that he became a delegate to the Assembly of the League of Nations, sat on the Committee of Security and Disarmament, and was elected a member of the Committee of Twelve which drafted the protocol on these questions. And here he took a firm stand, declaring that disarmament must be effected before decisions on security and sanctions could be carried out.
Arthur Henderson became foreign secretary in MacDonald’s second cabinet in 1929, and his authority, his influence, his opportunities for effective action were naturally increased. During these years he invariably appeared personally as first delegate of Great Britain at both the Assembly and the Council meetings of the League where his desire and determination to do something positive was very marked.
So when in May, 1931, he was appointed president of the great Disarmament Conference, all those who hoped for and believed in positive results from this conference considered it a strong guarantee that above all others he, the foreign secretary of powerful Britain, had been chosen for this important post.
In the autumn of 1931, however, MacDonald’s government fell, and Arthur Henderson was for several years out of British politics. But his personal reputation was so high, and faith and confidence in him so great that a strong and universal demand kept him in his post as president of the Disarmament Conference.
The world has watched him work in this capacity throughout these difficult years, witnessing his untiring struggle and his courageous efforts.
His political position, of course, had been weakened by the fall of the government. He was president of the Disarmament Conference, but not even a member of the delegation which his own country sent to the conference.
There he stands, in the struggle and in the work itself, a lonely man. The words of Bjørnson to Émile Zola during his fight for justice in the Dreyfus case8 come to mind: «A single man against millions – the proudest sight to be seen.»
As president of the Disarmament Conference, Arthur Henderson exhibits his best qualities: tact and unfailing courtesy, prudent reserve, and at the same time the faculty of taking decisive action when necessary. He has indestructible endurance and a never ending patience. Despite indifferent health, despite adversity and disappointments, he never tires. Not only during the sessions but even between sessions, he keeps in contact with the various governments and with world opinion.
Not many would have been able to hold out so long; not many would even have been strong enough, and still fewer would have possessed the necessary authority. If the Conference is still alive and if there is still a thin thread of hope, it is primarily because of Mr. Arthur Henderson.
But is the Conference alive, is there still hope?
The fair words and promises of the Treaty of Peace and of the Covenant of the League of Nations seem to be of scarcely greater importance than those of that «scrap of paper» of which we once heard so much9, and meanwhile the Naval Convention10 and other conventions fall to pieces.
The feeling of unease and desolation increases while rumors that even Germany is arming are broadcast to millions of anxious listeners.
The words «Let it be the last war» and «Lest we forget» belong to the era of twenty years ago, and the men who today hold the fate of the world in their hands may perhaps one day find themselves also in the position of Pontius Pilate.
«Germany is arming» – Well! In the divine comedy by our immortal Ludvig Holberg about the unhappy Jeppe11, we find this sentence: «Everybody says that Jeppe drinks, but nobody asks why Jeppe drinks.»
Let us all who now complain that Germany also is arming look into our own consciences and ask why Germany is arming. In the debate in the British House of Commons a few days ago Mr. Baldwin12 said on this subject: «I hope and believe that this debate, inaugurated not perhaps with those ideas but with a genuine and rightful desire to get to know the truth in Europe, may have greater consequences and better consequences than any of us could have thought. It may be that an opportunity has been made for a first step once more to bring together the nations of Europe, and it may be that, having learned some wisdom by the deterioration and the degeneration of the conditions of Europe in the last few years, the voice of wisdom and the voice of peace may prevail.»
All who spoke in the House of Commons agreed that the only means of creating peace in Europe and security for every single nation is the limitation of armaments and that Germany must share in that work.
General Smuts said in his great speech the other day on «British Policy Today» that to achieve this «there is only one way, and that is to recognize Germany’s complete equality of status with her fellows and to do so frankly, freely, and unreservedly.»13
Yes, that is just where the road lies which may bring new life and fresh hope to the Disarmament Conference, the road which leads out of the deadlock, which leads forward, the road of understanding and of peace – Arthur Henderson’s road.
There is no better, there is no other.
On Briand‘s coffin, as a tribute from the heart and as a token of gratitude to him who died in the struggle for international peace and understanding, a woman laid a small bunch of spring violets, with a slip of paper on which were written these touching words: «From a mother who has lost much, but who still has a son aged eighteen».
Lest our world, our community, our civilization, our future, our children perish in a new Armageddon, every one of us must today remember the violets of this mother.
Maternal love and manhood
unite to secure peace:
Throw down the weapons-step aside,
you angryfools: Bring us bread,
help us end our common dread,
help us love each other.
It is in these hard times when the freedom of peoples is threatened, when free speech and free thought are gagged, when force violates justice, that, in the holy name of freedom, peace, and understanding between peoples, we bring our thanks and our homage to the man who stands firm and faithful, believing in the truth of the words of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: «The thought of peace is the greatest thought in the world. By it human progress shall be tested and around it all efforts for freedom shall rally for the last great struggle.»
After receiving his diploma and medal, Mr. Henderson responded to the presentation, saying in part14: «You were good enough to make special mention, Mr. Prime Minister, of the Disarmament Conference. You asked: ‹Is the Conference alive? is there still hope?› It would be a sad day, not only for us here but for the great masses of humble citizens in all lands, if that question had to be answered in the negative. As you have stated, Mr. Prime Minister, I have devoted nearly three years to the work of the Disarmament Conference. It has been a period of anxious and exacting labors for all – a period of difficulty and delay and disappointments – of hopes deferred. But if success has yet to be achieved, at least that decisive and heart-breaking word ‹failure› has not been written. And I cannot conceive that it will be allowed to be written.»
* Mr. Mowinckel, also at this time prime minister, delivered this speech at the award ceremony in the Nobel Institute on December 10, 1934, following Mr. Lange‘s presentation speech in honor of the laureate for 1933, Sir Norman Angell. After this address and the actual presentation of the prize, Mr. Henderson responded in a brief acceptance speech, a part of which is given here. The English translation of Mr. Mowinckel’s speech used is basically that appearing in Les Prix Nobel en 1934, with certain editorial changes, as well as some minor emendations made after comparison with the Nonvegian text in Les Prix Nobel.
3. Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928), British prime minister (1908-1916). David Lloyd George (1863-1945), British prime minister (1916-1922).
4. Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925), co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1921. The Allied governments vetoed participation by their nationals in the proposed Stockholm Conference scheduled for August, 1917.
8. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910), Norwegian poet, novelist, dramatist. Émile Zola ( 1840- 1902), French novelist, dramatist. For the Dreyfus case, see 1927 presentation speech.
9. Quoted in a dispatch from British Ambassador Goschen to the Foreign Office, August 4, 1914, reporting German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg’s reference to the Belgian neutrality treaty: «… just for a scrap of paper – Great Britain is going to make war».
10. The Naval commission, set up in February, 1932, by the Disarmament Commission, prepared a draft convention based on the Washington and London Naval Treaties for consideration by the Naval Conference scheduled for 1935.
12. Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947), British prime minister (1923-1924; 1924-1929; 1935-1937). The text of this quotation is taken from Parliamentary Debates 295 H.C. Deb. 5s., p. 885 (Nov. 28, 1934); it contains some phrases not in the Les Prix Nobel text.
Their work and discoveries range from the formation of black holes and genetic scissors to efforts to combat hunger and develop new auction formats.
See them all presented here.