On 21st February 1947, David Maxwell Fyfe addressed a Foyle’s Literary Lunch event. It was just 6 months since he had returned from the Nuremberg Trials, where he had spent the best part of a year leading the British prosecution team, and like many others he was thinking about the future of Europe after the bloodshed of the Second World War. Here are excerpts from that speech.
At the present moment and in the present conditions I do not think that you will have difficulty in accepting my first proposition.
Life is a perpetual January.
Every episode in which we are involved looks forward as well as back. This is particularly true of the Nuremberg Trial, now that we can get it in reasonable retrospect, and it is my intention today to try and see what assistance the lessons of that Trial give towards the establishment of a sounder and saner Europe. This does not mean forgetting or misrepresenting what we have learnt…
Honesty of outlook and clear vision compel us to assess the qualities of the crimes that were disclosed at Nuremberg. We must not underestimate their extent, the publicity that must have attended them, both to the rulers and the ruled in Germany, or the fact that they are distinctive from previous examples by the cold, calculated, and reasoned plan which was behind their commission. Further, one of the most important statements made at Nuremberg was that of the defendant Speer, that
‘humanity simply cannot afford tyranny being harnessed to the modern scientific state.’Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments and Production 1942-45
It inevitably brings cruelty and crimes and if it is manifested again may mean an end to our civilization…
Further, we must face that crimes of that magnitude and extent could not have been carried out without the spreading hand of the Nazi Organisations whose members included so many of the German people. That tyranny was based on speed of government, widespread informing, absence of free thought and speech, internal stimulation combined with control by a fanatical party leadership, continued physical and mental preparation for war, and early planning for external aggression…
It is said of George Washington, that when his members of his cabinet reproached him with remaining at peace in the 1790s, he turned to them and said,
‘Gentlemen, is there anything in my past which makes you think I am averse to fighting Great Britain.’George Washington, first president of United States 1789-1797
Magno componere par-vum, I might say that I have not shown much reluctance in attacking the Nazi system, but I hope I am able to put the preservation of Europe as even more important. Despite all that has happened I am sure that we should try to make Germany survive as a country and endeavour to bring her back into the European stream of thought and development. It is beyond argument that Germany must have control and a comprehensive control. That does not mean that she should be denied the right to assume her own government. We must always remember that the power for aggression of countries with powerful neighbours on both flanks has invariably and inevitably declined….
Like everyone else I am most worried about education… I feel that there is no aspect which demands more urgent attention and I hope that the Government will redouble its’ efforts in this sphere. It is an undoubted fact that the youth of Germany are at the moment looking inward, with moral standards almost gone, and not outward towards democratic nations as an example… I still believe most strongly in the power of example. It is by decent treatment and the exhibition of good qualities on the part of those who actually come in contact with them, the most influence can be exerted. It is in no spirit of self-satisfaction but in a sober realisation of the responsibility cast upon us that we can use Pitt’s words
‘England has saved herself by her exertions and may yet save Europe by her example’William Pitt the Younger
…Let us now take the steps to heal Europe. The world without European civilization is like a year without its Spring. That great stream will not complete its’ course if it is blocked by the present ugly German morass.
This speech is available to read in full at the Churchill Archives in Cambridge, where the papers of David Maxwell Fyfe now have a permanent home.
The first Foyle’s literary lunch was in October 1930 and became an institution which ran for 75 years. Originally the brainchild of Christina Foyle, designed to fulfil customers’ desire to meet authors, amongst the guests to speak over more than 700 lunches were General de Gaulle, Margaret Thatcher, Lauren Bacall, TS Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, J M Barrie and John Lennon.