H. H. Asquith
Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916
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- Perhaps the House will allow me to add this: that I am afraid we must brace ourselves to confront one of those terrible events in the order of Providence which baffle foresight, which appall the imagination and make us realise the inadequacy of words to do justice to what we feel. We cannot say more at this moment than to give a necessarily imperfect impression of our sense of admiration that the best traditions of the sea seem to have been observed and that willing sacrifices were offered to give the first chance for safety to those who were least able to help themselves, and of the heartfelt sympathy of the whole nation to those who find themselves suddenly bereaved of their nearest and dearest.
- If I am asked what we are fighting for I reply in two sentences: In the first place, to fulfil a solemn international obligation, an obligation which, if it had been entered into between private persons in the ordinary concerns of life, would have been regarded as an obligation not only of law but of honour, which no self-respecting man could possibly have repudiated. I say, secondly, we are fighting to vindicate the principle which, in these days when force, material force, sometimes seems to be the dominant influence and factor in the development of mankind, we are fighting to vindicate the principle that small nationalities are not to be crushed, in defiance of international good faith, by the arbitrary will of a strong and overmastering Power. I do not believe any nation ever entered into a great controversy – and this is one of the greatest history will ever know – with a clearer conscience and a stronger conviction that it is fighting, not for aggression, not for the maintenance even of its own selfish interest, but that it is fighting in defence of principles the maintenance of which is vital to the civilisation of the world.
- Address to the House of Commons on the declaration of war with Germany; see Asquith (6 August 1914). British Prime Minister's Address to Parliament.
- We had better wait and see.
- Phrase used repeatedly in speeches in 1910; see Jenkins, Roy (1964). "A Trial of Statesmanship I". Asquith.