Tonight I speak to the Italian people and I speak to you from London, the heart of the British islands and of the British Commonwealth and Empire. I speak to you in what the diplomatists call "words of great truth and respect."
We are at war. That is a very strange, and terrible thought. Whoever imagined until the last few melancholy years that the British and Italian nations would be trying to destroy one another? We have always been such friends.
We were the champions of the Italian Risorgimento. We were the partisans of Garibaldi. We were the admirers of Mazzini and Cavour - all that great movement toward the unity of the Italian nation which lighted the nineteenth century was aided and was hailed by the British Parliament and British public.
Our fathers, and our grandfathers longed to see Italy freed from the Austrian yoke and to see all minor barriers in Italy swept away so that the Italian people and their fair land might take an honoured place as one of the leading powers upon the Continent and as a brilliant and gifted member of the family of Europe and of Christendom.
We have never been your foes till now. In the last war against the barbarous Huns we were your comrades. For fifteen years after that war, we were your friends. Although the institutions which you adopted after that war were not akin to ours and diverged, as we think, from the sovereign impulses which had commanded the unity of Italy, we could still walk together in peace and good-will. Many thousands of your people dwelt with ours in England; many of our people dwelt with you in Italy.
We liked each other. We got on well together. There were reciprocal services, there was amity, there was esteem. And now we are at war - now we are condemned to work each other's ruin.
Your aviators have tried to cast their bombs upon London. Our armies are tearing - and will tear - your African empire to shreds and tatters. We are now only at the beginning of this sombre tale. Who can say where it will end? Presently, we shall be forced to come to much closer grips. How has all this come about, and what is it all for?
Italians, I will tell you the truth.
It is all because of one man - one man and one man alone has ranged the Italian people in deadly struggle against the British Empire and has deprived Italy of the sympathy and intimacy of the United States of America.
That he is a great man I do not deny. But that after eighteen years of unbridled power he has led your country to the horrid verge of ruin - that can be denied by none.
It is all one man - one man, who, against the crown and royal family of Italy, against the Pope and all the authority of the Vatican and of the Roman Catholic Church, against the wishes of the Italian people who had no lust for this war; one man has arrayed the trustees and inheritors of ancient Rome upon the side of the ferocious pagan barbarians.
There lies the tragedy of Italian history and there stands the criminal who has wrought the deed of folly and of shame.
What is the defence that is put forward for his action? It is, of course, the quarrel about sanctions and Abyssinia. Let us look at that.
Together after the last war Italy and Britain both signed the covenant of the League of Nations, which forbade all parties to that covenant to make war upon each other or upon fellow-members of the League, and bound all signatories to come to the aid of any member attacked by another.
Presently Abyssinia came knocking at the door, asking to be a member. We British advised against it. We doubted whether they had reached a stage in their development which warranted their inclusion in so solemn a pact. But it was Signor Mussolini who insisted that Abyssinia should become a member of the League and who, therefore, bound himself and bound you and us to respect their covenanted rights.
Thus the quarrel arose; it was out of this that it sprang. And thus, although no blood was shed between us, old friendships were forgotten.
But what is the proportion of this Abyssinian dispute arising out of the covenant of the League of Nations, to which we had both pledged our word; what is it in proportion compared to the death grapple in which Italy and Britain have now been engaged?
I declare - and my words will go far - that nothing that has happened in that Abyssinian quarrel can account for or justify the deadly strife which has now broken out between us.
Time passed. Then the great war between the British and French democracies and Prussian militarism or Nazi overlordship began again.
Where was the need for Italy to intervene? Where was the need to strike at prostrate France? Where was the need to declare war on Britain? Where was the need to invade Egypt, which is under British protection?
We were content with Italian neutrality. During the first eight months of the war we paid great deference to Italian interests. But all this was put down to fear. We were told we were effete, worn out, an old chatterbox people mouthing outworn shibboleths of nineteenth-century liberalism.
But it was not due to fear. It was not due to weakness. The French Republic for the moment is stunned. France will rise again. But the British nation and Commonwealth of Nations across the globe, and indeed I may say the English-speaking world, are now aroused. They are on the march or on the move. All the forces of modern progress and of ancient culture are ranged behind them.
Why have you placed yourselves, you who were our friends and might have been our brothers, why have you placed yourselves in the path of this avalanche, now only just started from its base to roll forward on its pre-destined track? Why, after all this, were you made to attack and invade Greece? I ask why, but you may ask why, too, because you were never consulted. The people of Italy were never consulted. The Army of Italy was never consulted. No one was consulted.
One man, and one man alone, ordered Italian soldiers to ravage their neighbour's vineyard.
Surely the time has come when the Italian monarchy and people, who guard the sacred center of Christendom, should have a word to say upon these awe-inspiring issues. Surely the Italian Army, which has fought so bravely on many occasions in the past but now evidently has no heart for the job, should take some care of the life and future of Italy.
I can only tell you that I, Churchill, have done my best to prevent this war between Italy and the British Empire, and to prove my words I will read you the message which I sent to Signor Mussolini in the fateful days before it began. Cast your minds back to the 16th of May of this year, 1940. The French front had been broken; the French Army was not yet defeated; the great battle in France was still raging. Here is the message which I sent to Signor Mussolini:
"Now that I have taken up my office as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, I look back to our meetings in Rome and feel a desire to speak words of good-will to you, as chief of the Italian nation, across what seems to be a swiftly widening gulf. Is it too late to stop a river of blood from flowing between the British and Italian peoples?
"We can, no doubt, inflict grievous injuries upon one another and maul each other cruelly and darken the Mediterranean with our strife. If you so decree, it must be so. But I declare that I have never been the enemy of Italian greatness, nor ever at heart the foe of the Italian lawgiver. It is idle to predict the course of the great battles now raging in Europe. But I am sure that whatever may happen on the continent, England will go on to the end, even quite alone, as we have done before; and I believe, with some assurance, that we shall be aided in increasing measure by the United States and, indeed, by all the Americas.
"I beg of you to believe that it is in no spirit of weakness or of fear that I make this solemn appeal, which will remain on record. Down the ages, above all other calls, comes the cry that the joint heirs of Latin and Christian civilization must not be ranged against one another in mortal strife. Hearken to it, I beseech you in all honor and respect, before the dread signal is given. It will never be given by us."
That is what I wrote upon the 16th day of May. And this is the reply which I received from Signor Mussolini upon the 18th:
"I reply to the message which you have sent me in order to tell you that you are certainly aware of grave reasons of a historical and contingent character which ranged our two countries in opposite camps.
"Without going back very far in time, I remind you of the initiative taken in 1935 by your government to organize at Geneva sanctions against Italy, engaged in securing for herself a small space in the African sun without causing the slightest injury to your interests and territories or those of others. I remind you also of the real and actual state of servitude in which Italy finds herself in her own sea. If it was to honour your signature that your government declared war on Germany, you will understand that the same sense of honour and of respect for engagements assumed in the Italian - German treaty guides Italian policy today and tomorrow in the face of any event whatsoever."
That was the answer; I make no comment upon it. It was a dusty answer; it speaks for itself. Any one can see who it was that wanted peace and who it was that meant to have war.
One man and one man only was resolved to plunge Italy, after all these years of strain and effort, into the whirlpool of war.
Calling in "Attila"
And what is the position of Italy today? Where is it that the Duce has led his trusting people after eighteen years of dictatorial power? What hard choice is open to them now?
It is to stand up to the battery of the whole British Empire on sea, in the air and in Africa, and to the vigorous counter-attack of the Greek nation. Or, on the other hand, to call in Attila over the Brenner Pass with his hordes of ravenous soldiery and his gangs of Gestapo policemen to occupy, to hold down and to protect the Italian people, for whom he and his Nazi followers cherish the most bitter and outspoken contempt that is on record between races.
There is where one man, and one man only, has led you. And there I leave this unfolding story until the day comes - as come it will - when the Italian nation will once more take a hand in shaping its own fortunes.