Anthony Eden, the son of Sir William Eden, the High Sheriff of Durham, was born at Windlestone Hall, near Bishop Auckland, on 12th June, 1897. Eden, like his father and grandfather, was educated at Eton. He hoped to go to Sandhurst before joining the British Army, but was rejected because of his poor eyesight.
With the outbreak of the First World War the British Army reduced its entry standards, and Eden was able to obtain a commission in the King's Royal Rifle Corps. Soon after Lieutenant Eden arrived in France in June 1916, he heard that his sixteen year old brother, Nicholas Eden, had been killed when the Indefatigable had been sunk at the Battle of Jutland.
Eden served on the Western Front and won the Military Cross at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. After one attack at at Delville Wood, Eden's he battalion suffered 394 casualties, of whom 127 were killed. Nearly all the junior officers were either dead or badly wounded and as a result Eden was promoted to adjutant. By the time the war ended, Eden had reached the rank of major.
After the war Eden was undecided about whether to stay in the army. He eventually selected a career in politics and in the 1923 General Election won Warwick & Leamington for the Conservative Party. Three years later he was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Austin Chamberlain at the Foreign Office. A post he held until the government lost power at the 1929 General Election.
In the National Government formed by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931, Eden became Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1931-34). When Stanley Baldwin became prime minister in 1935 he appointed Eden as his Foreign Secretary. Henry (Chips) Channon commented: "He has had a meteoric rise, young Anthony. I knew him well at Oxford, where he was mild, aesthetic, handsome, cultivated and interested in the East - now at thirty-eight he is Foreign Secretary. There is hardly a parallel in our history. I wish him luck; I like him; but I have never had an exaggerated opinion of his brilliance, though his appearance is magnificent."
Eden disagreed with Neville Chamberlain about the way to deal with fascism. Duff Cooper reported in his autobiography, Old Men Forget (1953): "I had been glad when Eden had become Foreign Secretary and I had always given him my support in Cabinet when he needed it. I believed that he was fundamentally right on all the main problems of foreign policy, that he fully understood how serious was the German menace and how hopeless the policy of appeasement. Not being, however, a member of the Foreign Policy Committee, I was ignorant of how deep the cleavage of opinion between him and the Prime Minister had become. It is much to his credit that he abstained from all lobbying of opinion and sought to gain no adherents either in the Cabinet or the House of Commons."
Eden eventually resigned from the government on the issue of appeasement. In a speech given in the House of Commons on 21st February, 1938, he argued: "I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure. I am certain in my own mind that progress depends above all on the temper of the nation, and that tmper must find expression in a firm spirit. This spirit I am confident is there. Not to give voice it is I believe fair neither to this country nor to the world."
Winston Churchill, the leader of the Conservative Party opposition to appeasement in parliament, argued: "The resignation of the late Foreign Secretary may well be a milestone in history. Great quarrels, it has been well said, arise from small occasions but seldom from small causes. The late Foreign Secretary adhered to the old policy which we have all forgotten for so long. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have entered upon another and a new policy. The old policy was an effort to establish the rule of law in Europe, and build up through the League of Nations effective deterrents against the aggressor. Is it the new policy to come to terms with the totalitarian Powers in the hope that by great and far-reaching acts of submission, not merely in sentiment and pride, but in material factors, peace may be preserved."
Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, supported Eden in his action against the government. He accused Neville Chamberlain of "an abject surrender to the dictators" and that "the Government, instead of trying to deal with the causes of war, had always been trying in a feeble way to play off one dictator against another. That is a policy which sooner or later leads to war."
Eden later admitted: "My action had gained support in the Liberal and Labour Parties as well as in my own, and I had some encouragement to form a new party in opposition to Mr. Chamberlain's foreign policy. I considered this once or twice during the next few months, only to reject it as not being practical politics. Within the Conservative Party, I, and those who shared my views, were a minority of about thirty Members of Parliament out of nearly four hundred. Our number might be expected to grow if events proved us right, but the more complete the break, the more reluctant would the newly converted be to join us."
On the outbreak of the Second World War Eden was seen to have been right about his criticisms of Neville Chamberlain and his government. In December 1939 he declared that Adolf Hitler was the symptom of what faced Britain: "Hitler himself is not a phenomenon; he is a symptom; he is the Prussian spirit of military domination come up again. National Socialism was originally conceived in militarism, and it believes only in force. From the beginning, it has organized its people for war. It is the most barren creed that was ever put before mankind. Therefore, if it is allowed to triumph there will be no future for civilization."
Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and on 4th April 1940 became chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. Later that month the German Army invaded and occupied Norway. The loss of Norway was a considerable setback for Chamberlain and his policies for dealing with Nazi Germany. On 8th May the Labour Party demanded a debate on the Norwegian campaign and this turned into a vote of censure. At the end of the debate 30 Conservatives voted against Chamberlain and a further 60 abstained. Chamberlain now decided to resign and on 10th May, 1940, George VI appointed Winston Churchill as prime minister. Later that day the German Army began its Western Offensive and invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Two days later German forces entered France.
Churchill now appointed as Foreign Secretary. One of his first actions was to create the Home Guard. On 14th May, 1940, he announced: "We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain, who are British subjects, between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance doubly sure." Eden later reported: "I had expected the response to this appeal to be prompt. In fact it was overwhelming, the first recruit arriving within four minutes of the end of the broadcast. It was quite impossible to deal with the number of volunteers who flocked to join, still less to provide them with weapons. But this was only a beginning and the answer which mattered had already been given."
The following month Eden had the responsibility of telling that nation about the retreat from Dunkirk: Our duty in this country is plain. We must make good our losses and we must win this war. To do that we must profit by the lessons of this battle. Brave hearts alone cannot stand up against steel. We need more planes, more tanks, more guns. The people of this country must work as never before. We must show the same qualities, the same discipline, and the same self-sacrifice at home as the British Expeditionary Force have shown in the field. The nation honours with proud reverence those who fell that their comrades might win through. The innumerable actions, the countless deeds of valour of the last week, cannot all be recorded now. Each will have its place in history. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, who gave their lives to help theirs is an immortal memory. Their spirit must be our banner, their sacrifice our spur."
Eden met Franklin D. Roosevelt at Yalta. He later recalled: "Roosevelt was, above all else, a consummate politician. Few men could see more clearly their immediate objective, or show greater artistry in obtaining it. As a price of these gifts, his long-range vision was not quite so sure. The President shared a widespread American suspicion of the British Empire as it had once been and, despite his knowledge of world affairs, he was always anxious to make it plain to Stalin that the United States was not 'ganging up' with Britain against Russia. The outcome of this was some confusion in Anglo-American relations which profited the Soviets."
The Conservative Party was fully expected to win the 1945 General Election. Although Winston Churchill had officially accepted plans for social reform drawn up by William Beveridge in 1944, he was unable to convince the electorate that he was as committed to these measures as much as Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. In the 1945 General Election Churchill's attempts to compare a future Labour government with Nazi Germany backfired and Attlee won a landslide victory. Eden's reputation in the party remained high and he was appointed as deputy leader of the opposition.
The 1951 General Election saw the return of a Conservative government and once more Eden became Foreign Secretary. Later that year, Mohammed Mossadeq, took power in Iran and nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Britain's largest overseas asset and the world's biggest oil-producer. Eden approved a SIS plot to overthrow Mussadeq. The following year MI6 agent George Young helped to organize protests demonstrations against the government in Iran. In August 1953 over 300 people died during a riot in Teheran. Mussadeq resigned and was replaced by the SIS candidate, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi.
Eden replaced Winston Churchill as prime minister in April, 1955. D. R. Thorne, the author of Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden, First Earl of Avon (2003) has argued: "The crown prince had at last ascended the throne. Eden's long years as deputy leader had contributed to his irascibility, his inability at times to delegate, and his touchiness in the face of criticism, characteristics that were to become more apparent in Downing Street. His appearances at the dispatch box were marked more by formality than spontaneity. Nevertheless, Eden's premiership began in an atmosphere of goodwill and optimism."
Eden believed that he should take an early opportunity of seeking a fresh mandate from the electorate, and nine days after becoming prime minister he announced a general election for 26th May. At the time the Conservative Party was only 4% ahead of the Labour Party. During the 1955 General Election Eden emphasized the theme of the "property-owning democracy", and won by sixty seats. It was the first-time since 1900 that an incumbent administration had increased its majority in the House of Commons. The Labour leader, Clement Attlee, retired and was replaced by the much younger, Hugh Gaitskell.
It has been argued that when Hugh Gaitskell became leader in December, 1955, "British politics moved into a new era. Press criticisms became less inhibited. To some extent, Churchill and Attlee had been above criticism, but both Eden and, eventually, Gaitskell were fair game for a new breed of journalist." Eden found criticism difficult to take and William Clark, his press secretary, was kept very busy issuing statements defending his policies.
President Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about the close relationship developing between Egypt and the Soviet Union. In July 1956 Eisenhower cancelled a promised grant of 56 million dollars towards the building of the Aswan Dam. Gamal Abdel Nasser was furious and on 26th July he announced he intended to nationalize the Suez Canal. The shareowners, the majority of whom were from Britain and France, were promised compensation. Nasser argued that the revenues from the Suez Canal would help to finance the Aswan Dam.
Eden feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would cut off oil supplies to Europe. Secret negotiations took place between Britain, France and Israel and it was agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt. On 29th October 1956, the Israeli Army invaded Egypt. Two days later British and French bombed Egyptian airfields. British and French troops landed at Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 5th November. By this time the Israelis had captured the Sinai peninsula.
The historian, Daniel Williamson has argued: "Without economic sanctions or the threat of invasion, Nasser could hold onto the canal until Egyptian control became an accepted fact by the international community. Other forces that pushed Eden toward a military solution include political pressure from the French and from the right-wing of the Conservative party, as well as his own deteriorating health. French Premier Guy Mollet's Government was much more keen on a military solution to the crisis as this, more likely, would lead to the end of Nasser's regime and, presumably, his support for the Algerian rebellion. The French had secretly begun to negotiate for Israeli participation in an invasion of Egypt, an idea the Eden had rejected at the beginning of the crisis as potentially too damaging to Anglo-Arab relations. Israel refused to aid the French unless Paris could guarantee that Britain would also be a party to any attack on Egypt."
Walter Monckton, the Minister of Defence, diagreed with Eden's policy: I was in favour of the tough line which the Prime Minister took in July when Nasser announced the nationalisation of the canal and I must say that I was not fundamentally troubled by moral considerations throughout the period for which the crisis lasted. My anxieties began when I discovered the way in which it was proposed to carry out the enterprise. I did not like the idea of allying ourselves with the French and the Jews in an attack upon Egypt because I thought from such experience and knowledge as I had of the Middle East that such alliances with these two, and particularly with the Jews, were bound to bring us into conflict with Arab and Muslim feeling Secondly, and to an even greater extent. I disliked taking positive and warlike action against Egypt behind the back of the Americans and knowing that they would disapprove of our course of action I felt that the future of the free world depended principally upon the United States and that we should be dealing a mortal blow to confidence in our alliance with them if we deceived them in this matter."
Eden wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower for support: "In the light of our long friendship, I will not conceal from you that the present situation causes me the deepest concern. I was grateful to you for sending Foster over and for his help. It has enabled us to reach firm and rapid conclusions and to display to Nasser and to the world the spectacle of a united front between our two countries and the French. We have however gone to the very limits of the concessions which we can make.... I have never thought Nasser a Hitler, he has no warlike people behind him. But the parallel with Mussolini is close. Neither of us can forget the lives and treasure he cost before he was finally dealt with. The removal of Nasser and the installation in Egypt of a regime less hostile to the West, must therefore also rank high among our objectives. You know us better than anyone, and so I need not tell you that our people here are neither excited nor eager to use force. They are, however, grimly determined that Nasser shall not get away with it this time because they are convinced that if he does their existence will be at his mercy. So am I."
Hugh Gaitskell, the leader of the Labour Party, immediately attacked the military intervention by Britain, France, and Israel, calling it "an act of disastrous folly". Brian Brivati, the author of Hugh Gaitskell (1996) has pointed out that he argued that the government's policy had "compromised the three principles of bipartisan foreign policy: solidarity with the Commonwealth, the Anglo-American alliance, and adherence to the charter of the United Nations." When it became clear that Anthony Eden, had been lying to him in private, he reacted with characteristic passion and emotion, broadcasting a powerful attack on Eden on 4th November 1956.
President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, grew increasingly concerned about these developments and at the United Nations the representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union demanded a cease-fire. When it was clear the rest of the world were opposed to the attack on Egypt, and on the 7th November the governments of Britain, France and Israel agreed to withdraw. They were then replaced by UN troops who policed the Egyptian frontier.
On 20th December 1959 Eden made a statement in the House of Commons when he denied foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt. Robert Blake, the author British Prime Ministers in the Twentieth Century (1978) controversially argued: "No one of sense will regard such falsehoods in a particularly serious light. The motive was the honourable one of averting further trouble in the Middle East, and this was a serious consideration for many years after the event."
Gamal Abdel Nasser now blocked the Suez Canal. He also used his new status to urge Arab nations to reduce oil exports to Western Europe. As a result petrol rationing had to be introduced in several countries in Europe. Eden, who had gone to stay in the home of Ian Fleming and Ann Fleming in Jamaica, came under increasing attack in the media. When Eden returned on 14th December it was to a dispirited party. On 9th January, 1957, Eden announced his resignation.
Cass Canfield, went to school with Eden. He wrote in his autobiography, Up and Down and Around (1971): "Anthony eventually became Prime Minister; he still appears rather languid in manner but, obviously, has great hidden reserves of energy and ambition. Eden's Waterloo came with Suez in 1956. He was very ill at the time and left England for Panama, where he wrote me in reply to a letter I'd sent him after the debacle. lie mentioned certain mistakes he'd made over the years but said he was sure he'd been right in this instance Suez! Maybe he was, in the long run."
Anthony Eden died on 14th January 1977.
Anthony Eden has been appointed Foreign Secretary by Mr Baldwin. His appointment is a victory for 'The Left', for the pro-Leaguers. He has had a meteoric rise, young Anthony. I knew him well at Oxford, where he was mild, aesthetic, handsome, cultivated and interested in the East - now at thirty-eight he is Foreign Secretary. There is hardly a parallel in our history. I wish him luck; I like him; but I have never had an exaggerated opinion of his brilliance, though his appearance is magnificent.
I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure. I am certain in my own mind that progress depends above all on the temper of the nation, and that tmper must find expression in a firm spirit. This spirit I am confident is there. Not to give voice it is I believe fair neither to this country nor to the world.
I had been glad when Eden had become Foreign Secretary and I had always given him my support in Cabinet when he needed it. I believed that he was fundamentally right on all the main problems of foreign policy, that he fully understood how serious was the German menace and how hopeless the policy of appeasement. Not being, however, a member of the Foreign Policy Committee, I was ignorant of how deep the cleavage of opinion between him and the Prime Minister had become. It is much to his credit that he abstained from all lobbying of opinion and sought to gain no adherents either in the Cabinet or the House of Commons.
Had he made an effort to win my support at the time he would probably have succeeded, but with regard to Italy I held strong opinions of my own. I felt, as I have written earlier, that the Abyssinian business had been badly bungled, that we should never have driven Mussolini into the arms of Hitler, and that it might not be too late to regain him. The Italo-German alliance was an anomaly. The Germans and Austrians were the traditional enemies of the Italians; the English and the French, who had contributed so much to their liberation, were their historic friends, and Garibaldi had laid a curse upon any Italian Government that fought against them. The size and strength of the Third Reich made her too formidable a friend for the smallest of the Great Powers, who would soon find that from an ally she had sunk to a satellite. These were the thoughts that were in my mind during the long Cabinet meeting that took place that Saturday afternoon.
The resignation of the late Foreign Secretary may well be a milestone in history. Great quarrels, it has been well said, arise from small occasions but seldom from small causes. The late Foreign Secretary adhered to the old policy which we have all forgotten for so long. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have entered upon another and a new policy. The old policy was an effort to establish the rule of law in Europe, and build up through the League of Nations effective deterrents against the aggressor. Is it the new policy to come to terms with the totalitarian Powers in the hope that by great and far-reaching acts of submission, not merely in sentiment and pride, but in material factors, peace may be preserved.
A firm stand by France and Britain, under the authority of the League of Nations, would have been followed by the immediate evacuation of the Rhineland without the shedding of a drop of blood; and the effects of that might have enabled the more prudent elements of the German Army to gain their proper position, and would not have given to the political head of Germany the enormous ascendancy which has enabled him to move forward. Austria has now been laid in thrall, and we do not know whether Czechoslovakia will not suffer a similar attack.
When Anthony Eden and Lord Cranborne resigned from the Chamberlain Government early in 1938, as a protest against the Prime Minister's decision to open conversations with Mussolini whilst Italy was carrying on intervention in Spain and anti-British propaganda, I told the House that the policy of the Government was "an abject surrender to the dictators" and that "the Government, instead of trying to deal with the causes of war, had always been trying in a feeble way to play off one dictator against another. That is a policy which sooner or later leads to war."
The Government has had a triumph: at the end of a long day a majority of 161 against the Censure Vote is a victory indeed. The atmosphere during Questions was excited and no-one listened, as they never do, when a crisis is coming. Greenwood in an almost comic speech attacked the Government. Chamberlain replied. More speeches. At length Winston Churchill rose, and defended Eden, and attacked the Government. It was yet another bid on his part to lead an Independent, perhaps Centre, party. He was followed by Bob Boothby, who was clear, sensible and brief, and sat down amid applause. Then Lloyd George, looking mischievous and hearty, rose, and we knew we were in for fireworks. And we were. At first he was interesting about the Treaty of Versailles, and told the House how there had been arguments at the time for uniting Austria to Germany. He then began a eulogy of Eden, who, to everyone's surprise, was seated with Cranborne and Jim Thomas in the third row behind the Government: people said that it would have been better taste had he followed Sam Hoare's example, and stayed away. Lloyd George ranted on, cheered by the Socialists. Now and then Anthony nodded. Then Lloyd George deliberately accused the Prime Minister of withholding important information, and for a terrible moment the House stormed: the PM went scarlet with anger, but coolly denied the charges. Lloyd George passionately repeated them. . The House shouted 'Withdraw', and a duel followed between the old ex-Prime Minister and the present one and Chamberlain's position was not made easier by an interruption from Eden. The battle hung on a telegram from Italy on Sunday which, however, was only delivered by Count Grandi to the Prime Minister on Monday. Suddenly it was clear, even to the prejudiced, that Chamberlain had done nothing wrong and the atmosphere lightened. My heart went out to the PM and I determined to support him always. I feel loyal about him as I never did about old Farmer Baldwin.
I had resigned because I could not agree with the foreign policy which Mr. Neville Chamberlain and his colleagues wished to pursue. The opinions, especially of the senior among them, had become increasingly at odds with my own, and these were the colleagues with whom I had to deal. Every detail became a negotiation in the Cabinet before it could be a factor in our foreign policy. This was an impossible situation.
My action had gained support in the Liberal and Labour Parries as well as in my own, and I had some encouragement to form a new party in opposition to Mr. Chamberlain's foreign policy. I considered this once or twice during the next few months, only to reject it as not being practical politics. Within the Conservative Party, I, and those who shared my views, were a minority of about thirty Members of Parliament out of nearly four hundred. Our number might be expected to grow if events proved us right, but the more complete the break, the more reluctant would the newly converted be to join us.
The Labour Party, though anti-Chamberlain and ready to speak against the dictators, was not yet prepared to face the consequences, especially in rearmament, which it continued to oppose until the outbreak of war. Many Liberals were also tangled in the same contradiction. Such disparate elements as these could not form a party. On the other hand, the call for national unity and for a corresponding effort in armaments to meet the growing dangers was more likely to be heeded if voiced by men who believed in it with conviction, whatever their party. Their numbers, as well as their authority, might then influence events.
Nobody will quarrel with the Government's wish to bring about appeasement in Europe. But if appeasement is to mean what it says, it must not be at the expense either of our vital interests, or of our national reputation, or of our sense of fair dealing.
For our own people the issue becomes clarified. They see freedom of thought, of race, of worship grow every week more restricted in Europe. The conviction is growing that continued retreat can only lead to ever-widening confusion. They know that a stand must be made. They pray that it be not made too late.
Hitler himself is not a phenomenon; he is a symptom; he is the Prussian spirit of military domination come up again. National Socialism was originally conceived in militarism, and it believes only in force. From the beginning, it has organized its people for war. It is the most barren creed that was ever put before mankind. Therefore, if it is allowed to triumph there will be no future for civilization.
Since the war began, the Government have received countless inquiries from all over the Kingdom from men of all ages who are for one reason or another not at present engaged in military service, and who wish to do something for the defence of their country. Well, now is your opportunity.
We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain, who are British subjects, between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance doubly sure. The name of the new Force which is now to be raised will be ' The Local Defence Volunteers'. This name describes its duties in three words. It must be understood that this is, so to speak, a spare-time job, so there will be no need for any volunteer to abandon his present occupation.
When on duty you will form part of the armed forces, and your period of service will be for the duration of the war. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniform and will be armed. You will be entrusted with certain vital duties for which reasonable fitness and a knowledge of firearms is necessary. These duties will not require you to live away from your homes.
In order to volunteer, what you have to do is to give in your name at your local police station; and then, as and when we want you, we will let you know. This appeal is directed chiefly to those who live in country parishes, in small towns, in villages and in less densely inhabited suburban areas. I must warn you that for certain military reasons there will be some localities where the numbers required will be small, and others where your services will not be required at all.
Here, then, is the opportunity for which so many of you have been waiting. Your loyal help, added to the arrangements which already exist, will make and keep our country safe.
I had expected the response to this appeal to be prompt. In fact it was overwhelming, the first recruit arriving within four minutes of the end of the broadcast. It was quite impossible to deal with the number of volunteers who flocked to join, still less to provide them with weapons. But this was only a beginning and the answer which mattered had already been given. The Local Defence Volunteers acted as a catalyst, giving point to the nation's will to resist. As the years passed, the volunteers recorded long periods of service which were often dreary, but always devoted, with only one reward, the knowledge that 'The Home Guard', as it was re-christened, closed a gap in our defences which must have been dangerous and could have been fatal.
Our duty in this country is plain. We must make good our losses and we must win this war. To do that we must profit by the lessons of this battle. Brave hearts alone cannot stand up against steel. We need more planes, more tanks, more guns. The people of this country must work as never before. We must show the same qualities, the same discipline, and the same self-sacrifice at home as the British Expeditionary Force have shown in the field.
The nation honours with proud reverence those who fell that their comrades might win through. The innumerable actions, the countless deeds of valour of the last week, cannot all be recorded now. Each will have its place in history. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, who gave their lives to help theirs is an immortal memory. Their spirit must be our banner, their sacrifice our spur.
Paul Reynaud received us, firm and courteous despite the strain. We soon got down to discussion across the dining-room table; Petain, Reynaud, Weygand facing Churchill, Dill and me, with interpreters. General Georges joined us later. We talked for almost three hours, the discussion hardly advancing matters. The speakers were polite and correct, but although at that time the Maginot Line had not been attacked, it was soon evident that our French hosts had no hope.
Early in our talks, Weygand described the military situation, explaining how he had attempted to block a number of gaps in the line. He believed he had succeeded and, for the moment, the line held, but he had no more reserves. Somebody asked what would happen if another breach were made. 'No further military action will then be possible,' Weygand replied. Reynaud at once intervened sharply: 'That would be a political decision, Monsieur Ie General.' Weygand bowed and said: 'Certainly.' Georges told us that the French had altogether only some one hundred and ninety-five fighter aircraft left on the northern front.
Despite all the difficulties, our dinner, though simple, was admirably cooked and served. Reynaud presided, with Churchill on his right, Weygand sat opposite and I on his right. As we were taking our places, a tall and somewhat angular figure in uniform walked by on my side of the table. This was General Charles de Gaulle, Under-Secretary for Defence, whom I had met only once before. Weygand invited him pleasantly to take a place on his left. De Gaulle replied, curtly as I thought, that he had instructions to sit next to the British Prime Minister. Weygand flushed up, but made no comment, and so the meal began.
I had Marshal Petain on my other side. Conversation was not easy. His refrain was the destruction of France and the daily devastation of her cities, of which he mentioned several by name. I was sympathetic, but added that there were even worse fates than the destruction of cities. Petain rejoined that it was all very well for Britain to say that, we did not have the war in our country. When I said that we might have, I received an incredulous grunt in reply.
With General Weygand my talk was perfectly friendly and consisted mainly of a discussion about our available forces in Britain and what we were doing to speed their training. I had little cheer to give him. Weygand was something of an enigma. He had a famous reputation, crowned by his victory with Pilsudski over the Bolshevik forces in 1920. I had met him on several occasions, most recently early that year in the Middle East, and always found him friendly, quick and receptive, a modest man carrying his fame without affectation or conceit. He worked well with General Wavell, for the two men understood each other. I was glad when I heard that he had been called back to France to take over the supreme command. He achieved little, but probably no man could. At this stage, though always correct and courteous, he gave the impression of resigned fatalism. He was certainly not a man to fight the last desperate comer.
7th June: Winston rang up twice in morning. First about Libya battle, as to which we agreed that reports were disappointing. We were both depressed by extent to which Rommel appears able to retain offensive. "I fear that we have not very good generals," said Winston.
14th June: Libyan battle is raging fiercely. Rommel still seems to have the initiative and either his resources are much greater than our people judged, or his losses have been considerably less than they estimated. On their calculation he should have few tanks left, yet he always comes up strong.
On July 14th, 1942, Mr. Mask told me that reports from the Russian front were very grave and he wanted to know if there was any news of the latest convoy carrying military supplies to Archangel. I said that I regretted to have to tell him that the news was bad. Only five ships had got through out of the forty which had sailed; it was possible that two more might yet do so. The losses in shipping and material must have been very heavy; so far as we knew, about a hundred tanks out of six hundred had arrived and forty aircraft.
The first point raised by the President was the structure of the United Nations organization after the war. The general idea is that there should be three organizations. The first would be a general assembly at which all the United Nations would be represented. This assembly would only meet about once a year and its purpose would be to enable representatives of all the smaller powers to blow off steam. At the other end of the scale would be an executive committee composed of representatives of the Four Powers. This body would take all the more important decisions and wield police powers of the United Nations. In between these two bodies would be an advisory council composed of representatives of the Four Powers and of, say, six or eight other representatives elected on a regional basis, roughly on the basis of population. There might thus be one representative from Scandinavia and Finland and one or two from groups of Latin American states. This council would meet from time to time as might be required to settle any international questions that might be brought before it.
The President said it was essential to include China among the Four Powers and to organize all these United Nations organs on a worldwide and not on a regional basis. He made it clear that the only appeal which would be likely to carry weight with the United States public, if they were to undertake international responsibilities, would be one based upon a worldwide conception. They would be very suspicious of any organization that was only regional. We have strong impression that it is through their feeling for China that the President is seeking to lead his people to accept international responsibilities.
Our main problem after the war will be to contain Germany. Our treaty with the Soviet Union, which is designed to secure the collaboration of the Soviet Union for this purpose on Germany's eastern flank, needs to be balanced by an understanding with a powerful France in the west. These arrangements will be indispensable for our security whether or not the United States collaborate in the maintenance of peace on this side of the Atlantic.
Our whole policy towards France and Frenchmen should therefore be governed by this consideration. In dealing with European problems of the future we are likely to have to work more closely with France even than with the United States, and while we should naturally concert our French policy so far as we can with Washington, there are limits beyond which we ought not to allow our policy to be governed by theirs.
Europe expects us to have a European policy of our own, and to state it. That policy must aim at die restoration of the independence of the smaller European Allies and of the greatness of France.
We have intimate dealings with the French in Syria and Madagascar, and we have French forces stationed in this country. We have to live and work with France in the future. From both the political and the legal point of view it is inconvenient not to have formal relations with the authority whom we in fact recognize as responsible for all the French territories and armed forces which are collaborating with us in the war.
Roosevelt was, above all else, a consummate politician. Few men could see more clearly their immediate objective, or show greater artistry in obtaining it. As a price of these gifts, his long-range vision was not quite so sure. The President shared a widespread American suspicion of the British Empire as it had once been and, despite his knowledge of world affairs, he was always anxious to make it plain to Stalin that the United States was not 'ganging up' with Britain against Russia. The outcome of this was some confusion in Anglo-American relations which profited the Soviets.
Roosevelt did not confine his dislike of colonialism to the British Empire alone, for it was a principle with him, not the less cherished for its possible advantages. He hoped that former colonial territories, once free of their masters, would become politically and economically dependent upon the United States, and had no fear that other powers might fill that role.
Winston Churchill's strength lay in his vigorous sense of purpose and his courage, which carried him undismayed over obstacles daunting to lesser men. He was also generous and impulsive, but this could be a handicap at the conference table. Churchill liked to talk, he did not like to listen, and he found it difficult to wait for, and seldom let pass, his turn to speak. The spoils in the diplomatic game do not necessarily go to the man most eager to debate.
Marshal Stalin as a negotiator was the toughest proposition of all. Indeed, after something like thirty years' experience of international conferences of one kind and another, if I had to pick a team for going into a conference room, Stalin would be my first choice. Of course the man was ruthless and of course he knew his purpose. He never wasted a word. He never stormed, he was seldom even irritated. Hooded, calm, never raising his voice, he avoided the repeated negatives of Molotov which were so exasperating to listen to. By more subtle methods he got what he wanted without having seemed so obdurate.
There was a confidence, even an intimacy, between Stalin and Molotov such as I have never seen between any other two Soviet leaders, as if Stalin knew that he had a valuable henchman and Molotov was confident because he was so regarded. Stalin might tease Molotov occasionally, but he was careful to uphold his authority. Only once did I hear Stalin speak disparagingly of his judgment and that was not before witnesses.
He (Eden) thought perhaps they ought to take it to the Security Council.... I said 'Supposing Nasser doesn't take any notice?' whereupon Selwyn Lloyd said 'Well, I suppose in that case the old-fashioned ultimatum will be necessary.' I said that I thought they ought to act quickly, whatever they did, and that as far as Great Britain was concerned, public opinion would almost certainly be behind them. But I also added that they must get America into line.
The Cabinet agreed that we should be on weak ground in basing our resistance on the narrow argument that Colonel Nasser had acted illegally. The Suez Canal Company was registered as an Egyptian company under Egyptian law; and Colonel Nasser had indicated that he intended to compensate the shareholders at ruling market prices. From a narrow legal point of view, his action amounted to no more than a decision to buy out the shareholders. Our case must be presented on wider international grounds. Our argument must be that the Canal was an important international asset and facility, and that Egypt could not be allowed to exploit it for a purely internal purpose. The Egyptians had not the technical ability to manage it effectively; and their recent behaviour gave no confidence that they would recognize their international obligations in respect of it. It was a piece of Egyptian property but an international asset of the highest importance and should be managed as an international trust.
The Cabinet agreed that for these reasons every effort must be made to restore effective international control over the Canal. It was evident that the Egyptians would not yield to economic pressures alone. They must be subjected to the maximum political pressure which could only be applied by the maritime and trading nations whose interests were most directly affected. And, in the last resort, this political pressure must be backed by the threat - and, if need be, the use of force.
(1) We are all agreed that we cannot afford to allow Nasser to seize control of the Canal in this way, in defiance of international agreements. If we take a firm stand over this now, we shall have the support of all the maritime Powers. If we do not, our influence and yours throughout the Middle East will, we are convinced, be finally destroyed.
(2) The immediate threat is to the oil supplies to Western Europe, a great part of which flows through the Canal. We have reserves in the United Kingdom which would last us for six weeks; and the countries of Western Europe have stocks, rather smaller as we believe, on which they could draw for a time. We are, however, at once considering means of limiting current consumption so as to conserve our supplies. If the Canal were closed we should have to ask you to help us by reducing the amount which you draw from the pipeline terminals in the Eastern Mediterranean and possibly by sending us supplementary supplies for a time from your side of the world.
(3) It is, however, the outlook for the longer term which is more threatening. The Canal is an international asset and facility, which is vital to the free world. The maritime Powers cannot afford to allow Egypt to expropriate it and to exploit it by using the revenues for her own internal purposes irrespective of the interests of the Canal and of the Canal users. Apart from the Egyptians' complete lack of technical qualifications, their past behaviour gives no confidence that they can be trusted to manage it with any sense of international obligation. Nor are they capable of providing the capital which will soon be needed to widen and deepen it so that it may be capable of handling the increased volume of traffic which it must carry in the years to come. We should, I am convinced, take this opportunity to put its management on a firm and lasting basis as an international trust.
(4) We should not allow ourselves to become involved in legal quibbles about the rights of the Egyptian Government to nationalize what is technically an Egyptian company, or in financial arguments about their capacity to pay the compensation which they have offered. I feel sure that we should take issue with Nasser on the broader international grounds summarized in the preceding paragraph.
(5) As we see it we are unlikely to attain our objective by economic pressures alone. I gather that Egypt is not due to receive any further aid from you. No large payments from her sterling balances here are due before January. We ought in the first instance to bring the maximum political pressure to bear on Egypt. For this apart from our own action, we should invoke the support of all the interested Powers. My colleagues and I are convinced that we must be ready, in the last resort to use force to bring Nasser to his senses. For our part we are prepared to do so. I have this morning instructed our Chiefs of Staff to prepare a military plan accordingly.
(6) However, the first step must be for you and us and France to exchange views, align our policies and concert together how we can best bring the maximum pressure to bear on the Egyptian Government.
From the moment that Nasser announced nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, my thoughts have been constantly with you. Grave problems are placed before both our governments, although for each of us they naturally differ in type and character. Until this morning, I was happy to feel that we were approaching decisions as to applicable procedures somewhat along parallel lines, even though there were, as would be expected, important differences as to detail. But early this morning I received the message, communicated to me through Murphy from you and Harold Macmillan, telling me on a most secret basis of your decision to employ force without delay or attempting any intermediate and less drastic steps.
We recognize the transcendent worth of the Canal to the free world and the possibility that eventually the use of force might become necessary in order to protect international rights. But we have been hopeful that through a Conference in which would be represented the signatories to the Convention of 1888, as well as other maritime nations, there would be brought about such pressures on the Egyptian Government that the efficient operation of the Canal could be assured for the future.
For my part, I cannot over-emphasize the strength of my conviction that some such method must be attempted before action such as you contemplate should be undertaken. If unfortunately the situation can finally be resolved only by drastic means, there should be no grounds for belief anywhere that corrective measures were undertaken merely to protect national or individual investors, or the legal rights of a sovereign nation were ruthlessly flouted. A conference, at the very least, should have a great education effort throughout the world. Public opinion here, and I am convinced, in most of the world, would be outraged should there be a failure to make such efforts. Moreover, initial military successes might be easy, but the eventual price might become far too heavy.
I have given you my own personal conviction, as well as that of my associates, as to the unwisdom even of contemplating the use of military force at this moment. Assuming, however, that the whole situation continued to deteriorate to the point where such action would seem the only recourse, there are certain political facts to remember. As you realize, employment of United States forces is possible only through positive action on the part of the Congress, which is now adjourned but can be reconvened on my call for special reasons. If those reasons should involve the issue of employing United States military strength abroad, there would have to be a showing that every peaceful means of resolving the difficulty had previously been exhausted. Without such a showing, there would be a reaction that could very seriously affect our peoples' feeling toward our Western Allies. I do not want to exaggerate, but I assure you that this could grow to such an intensity as to have the most far-reaching consequences.
I realize that the messages from both you and Harold stressed that the decision taken was already approved by the government and was firm and irrevocable. But I personally feel sure that the American reaction would be severe and that great areas of the world would share that reaction. On the other hand, I believe we can marshall that opinion in support of a reasonable and conciliatory, but absolutely firm, position. So I hope that you will consent to reviewing this matter once more in its broadest aspects. It is for this reason that I have asked Foster to leave this afternoon to meet with your people tomorrow in London.
I have given you here only a few highlights in the chain of reasoning that compels us to conclude that the step you contemplate should not be undertaken until every peaceful means of protecting the rights and the livelihood of great portions of the world had been thoroughly explored and exhausted. Should these means fail, and I think it is erroneous to assume in advance that they needs must fail, then world opinion would understand how earnestly all of us had attempted to be just, fair and considerate, but that we simply could not accept a situation that would in the long run prove disastrous to the prosperity and living standards of every nation whose economy depends directly or indirectly upon East-West shipping.
With warm personal regard - and with earnest assurance of my continuing respect and friendship.
In the light of our long friendship, I will not conceal from you that the present situation causes me the deepest concern. I was grateful to you for sending Foster over and for his help. It has enabled us to reach firm and rapid conclusions and to display to Nasser and to the world the spectacle of a united front between our two countries and the French. We have however gone to the very limits of the concessions which we can make.
I do not think that we disagree about our primary objective. As it seems to me, this is to undo what Nasser has done and to set up an international regime for the Canal. The purpose of this regime will be to ensure the freedom and security of transit through the Canal, without discrimination, and the efficiency and economy of its operation.
But this is not all. Nasser has embarked on a course which is unpleasantly familiar. His seizure of the Canal was undoubtedly designed to impress opinion not only in Egypt but in the Arab world and in all Africa too. By this assertion of his power he seeks to further his ambitions from Morocco to the Persian Gulf....
I have never thought Nasser a Hitler, he has no warlike people behind him. But the parallel with Mussolini is close. Neither of us can forget the lives and treasure he cost before he was finally dealt with.
The removal of Nasser and the installation in Egypt of a regime less hostile to the West, must therefore also rank high among our objectives.
You know us better than anyone, and so I need not tell you that our people here are neither excited nor eager to use force. They are, however, grimly determined that Nasser shall not get away with it this time because they are convinced that if he does their existence will be at his mercy. So am I.
It now appeared, however, that the Israelis were, after all, advancing their military preparations with a view to making an attack upon Egypt. They evidently felt that the ambitions of Colonel Nasser's Government threatened their continued existence as an independent State and that they could not afford to wait for others to curb his expansionist policies. The Cabinet must therefore consider the situation which was likely to arise if hostilities broke out between Israel and Egypt and must judge whether it would necessitate Anglo-French intervention in this area.
The French Government were strongly of the view that intervention would be justified in order to limit the hostilities and that for this purpose it would be right to launch the military operation against Egypt which had already been mounted. Indeed, it was possible that if we declined to join them they would take military action alone or in conjunction with Israel. In these circumstances the Prime Minister suggested that, if Israel launched a full-scale military operation against Egypt, the Governments of the United Kingdom and France should at once call on both parties to stop hostilities and to withdraw their forces to a distance often miles from the Canal; and that it should at the same time be made clear that, if one or both Governments failed to undertake within twelve hours to comply with these requirements, British and French forces would intervene in order to enforce compliance. Israel might well undertake to comply with such a demand. If Egypt also complied, Colonel Nasser's prestige would be fatally undermined. If she failed to comply, there would be ample justification for Anglo-French military action against Egypt in order to safeguard the Canal.
We must face the risk that we should be accused of collusion with Israel. But this charge was liable to be brought against us in any event; for it could now be assumed that, if an Anglo-French operation were undertaken against Egypt, we should be unable to prevent the Israelis from launching a parallel attack themselves; and it was preferable that we should be seen to be holding the balance between Israel and Egypt rather than appear to be accepting Israeli co-operation in an attack on Egypt alone.
I was in favour of the tough line which the Prime Minister took in July when Nasser announced the nationalisation of the canal and I must say that I was not fundamentally troubled by moral considerations throughout the period for which the crisis lasted. My anxieties began when I discovered the way in which it was proposed to carry out the enterprise. I did not like the idea of allying ourselves with the French and the Jews in an attack upon Egypt because I thought from such experience and knowledge as I had of the Middle East that such alliances with these two, and particularly with the Jews, were bound to bring us into conflict with Arab and Muslim feeling
Secondly, and to an even greater extent. I disliked taking positive and warlike action against Egypt behind the back of the Americans and knowing that they would disapprove of our course of action I felt that the future of the free world depended principally upon the United States and that we should be dealing a mortal blow to confidence in our alliance with them if we deceived them in this matter.
One of the curious features of the whole affair as far as the Cabinet was concerned was that partly owing to a not unnatural habit on the Prime Minister's part of preferring to take into complete confidence, when things were moving fast, only those with whom he agreed, many of us in the Cabinet knew little of the decisive talks with the French until after they happened and sometimes not even then. A great deal of the public criticism of the conduct of the Suez affair was directed at its abandonment in mid-stream rather than at its beginning. There were some discussions, many of them at night, with Washington, and I have always thought that the decisive point was reached when Mr Macmillan was of opinion that the United States would make our financial position impossible unless we called a halt.
I ought to add for the guidance of those who may read this, that I was the only member of the Cabinet who openly advised against invasion though it was plain that Mr Butler had doubts and I know that Mr Heathcoat Amory was troubled about it. Outside the Cabinet I was aware of a number of Ministers, apart from Mr Nutting and Sir Edward Boyle who resigned, who were opposed to the operation.
Naturally I anxiously considered whether I ought not to resign. Resignation at such a moment was not a thing lightly to be undertaken. I felt that I was virtually alone in my opinion in the Cabinet and that I had not the experience or the knowledge to make me confident in my own view when it was so strongly opposed by Eden, Salisbury, Macmillan, Head, Sandys, Thorneycroft, and Kilmuir; for all of whom I had respect and admiration.
I knew that if I did resign it was likely that the Government would fall, and I still believed that it was better for the country to have that Government than the alternative. What the Labour people had in mind was a kind of rump of the Tory Government led by Butler, which they would support. This could not last. Moreover, far more than I knew at the time, the ordinary man in the country was behind Eden.
In any case in the result I wrote to Eden telling him that, as the fact was, I was very far from fit and did not feel I could continue in my office as Minister of Defence. At the same time I told him in the letter that had it not been for my fundamental differences with my colleagues over the size of the forces, and over Suez, I should not have been tendering my resignation at that moment. He behaved very generously, accepted the position that I would not go on as Minister of Defence, but kept me in the Cabinet as Paymaster General, thus preserving the unity of the front.
If the United States Government had approached this issue in the spirit of an ally, they would have done everything in their power, short of the use of force, to support the nations whose economic security depended upon the freedom of passage through the Suez Canal. They would have closely planned their policies with their allies and held stoutly to the decisions arrived at. They would have insisted on restoring international authority in order to insulate the canal from the politics of any one country. It is now clear that this was never the attitude of the United States Government. Rather did they try to gain time, coast along over difficulties as they arose and improvise policies, each following on the failure of its immediate predecessor. None of these was geared to the long-term purpose of serving a joint cause.
I admired his courage, his gallantry, his wartime record and his Foreign Office achievements. He seemed thoroughly in character in standing up for British rights in the Middle East and I supported him.... These were deep-seated emotions affecting liberal-minded people, but they coalesced only too easily with less generous sentiments: the residues of illiberal resentment at the loss of Empire, the rise of coloured nationalism, the transfer of world leadership to the United States. It was these sentiments that made the Suez venture so popular, not least among the supporters of the embarrassed Labour party.
After the fiasco of Suez it was clear that Anthony Eden could not remain as Prime Minister. He fell ill during the crisis and resigned in January 1957. There was much speculation in the circles in which I moved as to who would succeed - in those days, of course, Conservative Leaders 'emerged' rather than being elected. My Conservative friends in Chambers were convinced that Rab Butler would never be summoned by the Queen because he was too left wing. By contrast, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of Suez, Harold Macmillan, was considered to be the right-wing candidate. All of which shows how little we knew of the past and present convictions of both men - particularly the brilliant, elusive figure who was shortly to become Prime Minister.
Harold Macmillan had the strengths and weaknesses of the consummate politician. He cultivated a languorous and almost antediluvian style which was not - and was not intended to be - sufficiently convincing to conceal the shrewdness behind it. He was a man of masks. It was impossible to tell, for instance, that behind the cynical Edwardian facade was one of the most deeply religious souls in politics.
Harold Macmillan's great and lasting achievement was to repair the relationship with the United States. This was the essential condition for Britain to restore her reputation and standing. Unfortunately, he was unable to repair the damage inflicted by Suez on the morale of the British political class - a veritable 'Suez syndrome'. They went from believing that Britain could do anything to an almost neurotic belief that Britain could do nothing. This was always a grotesque exaggeration. At that time we were a middle-ranking diplomatic power after America and the Soviet Union, a nuclear power, a leading member of NATO, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the centre of a great Commonwealth.
About Churchill I shall not try to say anything. He was a towering figure from the past, and I saw him closely only in the enfeeblement of age. Eden, I had a lot of regard for. But, as Montgomery is alleged to have said about somebody else, "his tragedy was that he was promoted above his ceiling". He was not cut out to be the No. 1; he should have remained No. 2. He was right about Hitler, about Mussolini and about Chamberlain, but he always managed to be late in being right, and even when he was right he always seemed to remain in two minds. Yet I think he is a genuinely good man.
Mr William Clark, who resigned as Sir Anthony Eden's press secretary at the time of Suez, said yesterday that the "Manchester Guardian's" anti-Suez leading articles were one of the main reasons why the Prime Minister asked for the drawing up of an instrument to bring the BBC under direct Government control. The plan was never put into operation.
Mr Clark said that the "Manchester Guardian's" leaders critical of the Suez policy were being constantly quoted on the BBC and could be heard by troops overseas. The "Manchester Guardian's" diplomatic correspondent at the time, Mr Richard Scott, was frequently critical of Sir Anthony's policies when a guest on BBC discussion programmes.
According to Mr Clark, the resentment of the inner Cabinet was not discussed solely on the BBC, but the BBC happened to be the news service which most easily lent itself to direct Government action. "The fact was that there was a real attempt to pervert the course of news, of ordinary understanding of events. The BBC happened to be one place where Government action could most easily take place," said Mr Clark.
Anthony Eden often spoke at the many undergraduate debating societies which have traditionally been a training ground for future Prime Ministers; in preparing their papers for these debates, students took far more trouble than for their classroom assignments. Anthony eventually became Prime Minister; he still appears rather languid in manner but, obviously, has great hidden reserves of energy and ambition. Eden's Waterloo came with Suez in 1956. He was very ill at the time and left England for Panama, where he wrote me in reply to a letter I'd sent him after the debacle. lie mentioned certain mistakes he'd made over the years but said he was sure he'd been right in this instance Suez! Maybe he was, in the long run.