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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

William Lyon Mackenzie King: Canada and the Second World War

William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Canadian Prime Minister, gave this speech before the Associated Canadian Organizations regarding Canada's involvement in the Second World War.

I speak to you tonight as the head of the government of a country which, for almost two years, has been actively and unitedly at war. In accepting your invitation, I have not been unmindful that, though it was extended by Canadian friends, I, nevertheless, would be speaking in a country other than my own, and to citizens or residents of a nation which is at peace -- or at least, officially at peace.

You have asked me to tell you something of the causes and ideals which led us to take up arms; something of what Canada is doing, and has been doing, as a nation at war; something, too, of our hopes for the world which will rise when peace comes again to bless mankind.

The Canadian people entered this war of their own free will. As one people, we made the momentous decision by the free vote of a free Parliament. Our declaration of war was signed by the King upon the recommendation of His Majesty’s Canadian Ministers. The King’s proclamation was in the name of Canada. We, in Canada, were as free to make war or to abstain from making war, as the people of the United States are free to make war or to abstain from making war.

The decision of the Canadian Parliament was given as soon after the outbreak of war as Parliament could be called together. It was a prompt and united decision. There was no hesitation. There was no compulsion.  We knew humanity’s cry was upon us all. We took our stand as a free and independent people who wished to do their utmost to thwart aggression, to maintain freedom, to crush the cursed creed of Nazism, to preclude world domination by any power, and to end forever, if that were possible, the substitution of force for reason as an instrument of national policy.

Our people went to war for the sake of Canada, but not for Canada alone. We went to war as well for the sake of Britain, for North American civilization which we are proud to defend, and for the sake of that humanity which is above all nations. We saw clearly that Canadian freedom, that North American freedom, was one with British freedom.

We went to war at Britain’s side because we believed hers to be the right side. I do not hesitate to say that Britain or no Britain, Canada would never have entered the war if, at the outset, our country had not seen the issue clearly for itself and believed it to be what all free peoples know it to be today.

In our unhesitating decision, and our action which followed, we were true to ourselves. For if any nation was ever inspired by high ideals, unselfish motives and a passion for human freedom and social and national justice, that land was and is Canada. We have a national history without stain of aggression, exploitation, or territorial greed. We have worked always in patience for peace.

In our dealings with other nations, we have been amongst the foremost exponents of conciliation, mediation and arbitration; and the most consistent advocates of international good-will and understanding.

We are nationally minded because, as Canadians, we are free and independent. But we see no escape, no safety, no refuge in national isolation. We are internationally minded because our people know that a threat to freedom anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere. We know that there are no longer any geographical defenses strong enough in themselves to prevent the onset of aggression. We know that tyrannical ambition, once it overleaps itself, will overleap every boundary whether it be mountain or sea.

Knowing these things, and realizing the strength of the enemy, we entered the conflict -- English-speaking Canadians, French-speaking Canadians -- as a united nation.

Don’t let any one dare to tell you that French-speaking Canada is not on the side of freedom in this war. The union of the children of New France and their English-speaking brothers which fashioned the Canadian nation remains unbroken and will always so remain.

The generosity of our citizenship into which men of many races have been freely welcomed, has been repaid by unquestioned loyalty to our institutions and our cause.

As soon as the cloud on the horizon, no larger than Hitler’s hand, resolved itself into the storm of conflict, we determined that we would not wait until the enemy was at our gates. We went to meet him at sea, in the air and on land. Against total war, we have brought and shall continue to bring total effort.

For nearly two years we have been at war. In the war we have had from the beginning two major tasks. We continue to play two major parts. Like Britain, we are a nation at war with all the power of our resources and all the strength of our will. For nearly two years we have gathered our strength as we have taken our allotted place in the conflict. Our soldiers, our sailors and our airmen are with Britain and her other allies in the front line of battle. Our forces on land, at sea and in the air have been and are being equipped and maintained at our own expense. In addition, like the United States, we are helping Britain by sending to her, to the limit of our capacity, the products of our factories, our farms, our forests and our mines.

The task of arming and fighting as a nation is our own free contribution to the cause of freedom. The task of aiding Britain with munitions and money is an additional effort which Canada is also making for the common cause.

With the United States, and like the United States, we are helping to provide the tools. With Britain and like Britain, we are doing our utmost to help finish the job.

I have tried to tell you why. We believe that everything which free men value and cherish, on this side of the grave, is in peril in this war. The right of men, rich and poor, to be treated as men; the right of men to make the laws by which they shall be governed; the right of men to work where they will, at what they will; the right of womankind to the serenity and sanctity of the home; the right of children to play in safety under peaceful heavens; the right of old men and women to the tranquillity of their sunset; the right to speak the truth in our hearts; the right to worship in our own way the God in whom we believe.

We know that if we lose this fight, all fruits will wither and fall from the tree of liberty. But we shall not lose it. We shall not lose it because the people of Britain stand and will stand in undaunted fortitude and magnificent resistance. We shall not lose it because, although some nations may lie crushed today, their souls can never be destroyed. We shall not lose it because we, on this continent of North America, who have been the pioneers of the frontiers of freedom, have already begun to stamp out the prairie fire of tyranny, anarchy and barbarism which every day draws closer to our homes.

For today, whether we will it or not, we are all roof watchers and fire fighters. As Canadians, we are proud to fight the flames with the people of Britain who have maintained for free men their faith. in freedom, and kept inviolate the majesty of the human spirit.

As Canadians, we are proud of our great and good neighbor, and grateful to know, as all the world knows, that she is with us heart and soul; that her genius, her skill and her strength work against time for those who fight for freedom.

Some day peace will crown the sacrifices of all. When that day comes the peoples of the British Commonwealth and the peoples of the United States will be found at each other’s side, united more closely than ever in one great endeavor to undo the wrongs that have been done mankind. For it is, I believe, the unshaken and unshakable purpose of both that there shall be established upon this earth, now so rapidly becoming hideous with the blackened ruins of civilization itself, a freedom wider, and more deeply founded, than ever before in human history.

Surely we have all come to see that the present conflict is something more than a war between Germany and other powers; that it is "a struggle between permanent and irreconcilable claimants for the soul of man." On the one side stands spiritual freedom with its high regard for human values, the dignity of manhood, the worth of honest toil and the sacredness of human personality. On the other side is the spirit of Nazism and Fascism with their "coarse material standards," their "cult of power as an end in itself," their "subordination of personality to mechanism" and their "worship of an elaborate and soul-destroying organization." This false and evil spirit has, in our own day, in our own and other lands, permeated all too deeply many phases of social and industrial life. It must be the purpose of our high endeavor to destroy it for all time.

While that work is being done, it will be ours, as well, to do all that lies within us to make supreme upon the earth that friendship among men and nations which has ever lain hidden in the heart of mankind.

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