Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London

Letter (extract) CANBERRA, 11 September 1939


The object of this letter is to put before you in a rambling and personal way something of what I have been thinking in the last few days about the War and its future.

It seems almost a certainty-in fact it will no doubt have happened before this letter reaches you-that Poland is going down the drain quite completely, and that the effect of this upon Russia, Rumania and Hungary, to say nothing of the other Balkan and Middle Eastern countries, may be disastrous. Given a landslide among these people, both Italy and Japan may very well decide that the time has come to carve up Great and Greater Britain.

I feel quite confident that Hitler [1] has no desire for a first class war, and that until the Polish debacle is complete he will not be disposed to assume the offensive against either France or Great Britain. It seems to me that when he has finished with Poland he will say to Great Britain and France-‘Well, it is all over now; I have beaten the Poles and you haven’t been able to do anything about it and you cannot do anything about it now; but I am a magnanimous fellow. I don’t propose to annex Poland. I will simply re-take the Corridor and Danzig and, for the rest, I will be prepared to be a guarantor with yourselves of the integrity of Poland proper’. At that stage we will have a choice: We can either say ‘Yes’ or we can say ‘No’. If we say ‘No’ we must settle down to a war in which Germany’s defensive position is incredibly strong, in which, in the long run, millions of British and French lives will be lost, and in which the economic force which will be our ultimate weapon will tend to affect us almost as severely as it does Germany. How is this war to be sustained?-Not by the cry of ‘Protect Poland’ because, ex hypothesi, Poland will have been defeated; not by the cry of ‘Revenge Poland’, for nobody really cares a damn about Poland as such; not by the cry of ‘Down with the Nazi Government’ for it is really quite indefensible for us to be dictating to the German people what sort of government they shall have. The cry then must be, in effect, ‘law and order and an end of terrorism in Europe’. I don’t underestimate this cry, because I believe it is a true and a good one. But I have a horrible feeling that by the time we have sustained three years of carnage and ruin, law and order will tend to be at a discount in every combatant country, and our last state may be worse than our first.

These are gloomy observations, and no doubt they all need qualification, but the point that is really clear in my mind is that some very quick thinking will have to be done when the German offer arrives, and I think that considerable diplomatic activity will need to be shown on the Italian and Balkan fronts if we are not to be completely outmanoeuvred. Frankly, I have not been impressed with British diplomacy of late. We looked just like a lot of fools over the Russian Pact with Germany. For British military experts to be conferring solemnly with the Russians in one room, while Papa Stalin [2] and Von Papen [3] double-crossed them in another, is enough to make everybody laugh at us. Again, I feel that if France had been spoken to in language they could understand, at the right time, Franco/Italian relations might have been better and the truculence of Hitler might have been diminished.

As to Japan-I have had a growing feeling for some time that though the Far East is a major problem to us, it is a relatively minor one to Whitehall, and that the British Government is more engaged in hanging on in China, hoping for something to turn up, than in any clear process of thinking about the future. Even now I would not hesitate, if I were responsible for British foreign policy, to offer a joint mediation with America in the Sino/Japanese dispute, and to accompany it by a statement that it is recognised that extra territorial rights on the part of foreigners in China are admitted to be anomalous, and that these rights would be progressively abandoned over a period of, say, 1o years.

So far as Italy is concerned-I would buy her allegiance by giving her a couple of places on the Suez Canal Board and doing something rational about Djibouti and Tunis. What on earth is the use of France being intransigent on these matters when 3 or 4 strokes of the pen might put both France and Great Britain on an almost intolerable defensive? What positive action could be taken in relation to Poland I admit I do not know. All I know is that I feel profoundly disturbed because Germany has always seemed to me to have an almost unanswerable case in relation to the Corridor. Woodrow Wilson invented this wretched Corridor and put it among his 14 points.

Seeing that America in this way pushed this thorn into Europe’s side, what about suggesting to Roosevelt that he should now make reparation by calling a conference to extract it? If Germany conquers Poland and then puts up the proposition I have anticipated above, what is the possibility of having that proposition broadened out to provide for a re-settlement of the whole map of Europe with joint and several guarantees all round? I know that you know more about these matters than I do, but I know that you feel much the same as I do, and I know that there is probably no answer to it all-except just to go on fighting until the other country goes down into a state of starvation and riot in which the seeds of another war, in which my grandchildren will fight, are sown. But at the same time I see no sanity in it.

Meanwhile, there is amazing unity of political opinion, both in Great Britain and here. In Australia, nobody doubts the justice of our action, though I am sure that the chief passion in anybody’s heart is one of bitterness at Hitler and his satellites for having so wantonly induced a war, but at the same time nobody has any illusions about it. Those who think about it all, feel sick about it-and those who don’t want to feel sick, don’t think about it.



1 Adolf Hitler, German Chancellor.

2 Joseph Stalin, Secretary-General of Communist Party of U.S.S.R.

3 Menzies was presumably referring to Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, who negotiated the Russo-German pact with V.M. Molotov, Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs.


[AA:M103, 1938-39]