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Speech in Senate Chamber: Chanak Crisis— Inquiry—Debate Adjourned

Chanak Crisis

Inquiry—Debate Adjourned

Hon. Anne C. Cools rose pursuant to notice of October 28, 2014:

That she will call the attention of the Senate to November 11, known to all as Remembrance Day, of this, the centennial year of the July 28 start of hostilities in the 1914-1918 Great War, which day is given to the national and collective mourning of Canadians, on which we remember and honour the many who served and who fell in the service of God, King and Country, and, whose incalculable sacrifice of their lives, we honour in our simultaneous yet individual, personal acts of prayer and remembrance, wherein we pause and bow our heads together in sacred unity, at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, for the many who gave themselves, and:

To the unique political events, just four years after the Great War, known as the 1922 Chanak Crisis, or Chanak Affair, in which Canadian and British politics met in Canada's firm stand for its constitutional autonomy in its foreign affairs, war and peace, and, to Canada's Prime Minister, the Liberal, Mackenzie King's nationally supported refusal to yield to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill's persistent demands for Canadian troops to fight a new war at Chanak, now Çanakkale, the tiny Turkish Dardenelles seaport, and, to this new war, wholly unwanted by Canadians and the British, still war-weary, and still mourning their fallen sons, and, to this looming war, the inexorable result of Prime Minister Lloyd George's unjust, inoperative and stillborn Sèvres Treaty, the peace treaty that began with war, and, its humiliating peace terms which would put the Turkish peoples out of their ancient lands in Eastern Thrace and Anatolia, and, to their successful nationalist resistance to this injustice, and, to Canada's role in the lasting peace that avoided this unnecessary and unwanted Chanak war, and, to British politics by which a single vote of the Conservative Caucus prompted the very necessary resignation of Prime Minister Lloyd George and his Liberal Coalition Government, and, to the ascendancy of Canadian-born British Prime Minister, Bonar Law, who himself had lost two sons to the Great War, and who was then the most respected man in Great Britain, and, to his Near East policy of peace.

She said: Honourable senators, again, I honour those who served and fell in the 1914-1918 Great War, and those who stopped the war in 1922 at Chanak. Chanak was Canada's stand for autonomy in its foreign affairs, war and peace, and a leap in Canada's constitutional relationship with the British Government, distinct from that with our King, George V. Canada claimed the power for itself and its parliament to make decisions respecting their sons and war. Chanak was about British Prime Minister Lloyd George's pursuit of ambition even to his own defeat. It was also about the value of soldiers' lives, Canadian soldiers' lives, being spent on ambition.

Honourable senators, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and Canada's firm stand on Chanak led to full control over our foreign affairs. It emboldened and strengthened the other dominions. Mackenzie King's stand surprised Lloyd George and Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, though the question was not new. Norman Hillmer wrote, in the Canadian Encyclopedia, second edition, Vol.1, at page 394:

Chanak Affair, 1922, PM Mackenzie King's first major foreign policy test. Britain and Canada signed the Treaty of Sèvres with defeated Turkey after WWI, but the treaty was soon in shreds; by Sept 1922 nationalist forces controlled most of Turkey. British occupation troops were pinned down at Chanak (now Çanakkale), a small seaport on the Dardanelles. On Sept 15 Britain sent a telegram calling upon the Dominions to contribute soldiers in a demonstration of the Empire's solidarity against the Turks. The next day the request was made public, a breach of imperial etiquette and political good sense. To make matters worse, King heard from a Toronto Star reporter about the developing danger before he received the official British dispatch. King was noncommittal until Sept 18, when Cabinet agreed that only Parliament could decide such matters. The crisis quickly passed. King's detached attitude gave notice of his desire to disengage Canadian external policy from that of the British. Chanak, however, was not a revolution in Canadian affairs: prime ministers since Macdonald had been reluctant to involve Canada in imperial skirmishes which did not threaten Britain itself.

In 1885, Prime Minister John Macdonald would not send Canadian troops to Sudan to help the British. In his 1958 book, William Lyon Mackenzie King, MacGregor Dawson wrote, at page 415:

Macdonald's refusal to be led into what he called "this wretched business" was forthright and even violent. He was not willing, he said, to have Canadian men and money sacrificed "to get Gladstone and Co. out of the hole they have plunged themselves into by their own imbecility."

Isn't that beautiful? We can actually visualize Sir John A. saying this. This was no surprise. Honourable senators, Canada's small population of about 7 million contributed and lost countless men to the Great War. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres was the Allies' Paris Peace Conference peace treaty with the defeated Ottoman Empire. Having partitioned and divided the Ottoman Empire's vast lands, the Allies set out to divide the Turkish-speaking peoples' lands among some of the Allies. These Turkish peoples, in their nationalist resistance, defeated these attempts to occupy their lands. In September 1922, after defeating the invading Greek forces in Western Anatolia, Mustafa Kemal's Turkish national troops and British troops under General Harington were battle ready at Chanak. The Chanak Affair showed that both Canada and Britain were not at risk from the Turkish peoples, who simply wanted their Turkish lands to remain one whole country. In this, Canada challenged Lloyd George's will to spend ours and British lives, when neither country was at risk from the Kemalists. Mackenzie King was firm that the decision to send our sons to this new unwanted war, so soon after our Great War losses, was our parliament's decision. As it was, at Chanak, no violence was done to a British soldier, and not a single shot was fired by a Turkish soldier. In his 1969 book, The Chanak Affair, David Walder notes, at page 284:

The British had not one wounded man to show to prove Turkish `aggression'.

The real crisis was the Dominions, mainly the senior Dominion Canada's political response to Lloyd George's September 15 cable, with its thoughtless press statement. Macgregor Dawson quotes it, at page 409:

. . . that a communication had been sent to the Dominions "inviting them to be represented by contingents in the defence of interests for which they have already made enormous sacrifices, and of the soil which is hallowed by immortal memories of the Anzacs."

Honourable senators, when asked about this press statement, Prime Minister King had not yet even seen the cable. In Britain, many disturbed by the Chanak Crisis, supported Mackenzie King, whose prestige grew at home. In Lloyd George's Cabinet, it seems that only he and Winston Churchill had seen this press statement, prior to publication. MacGregor Dawson tells, at page 415:

Lord Curzon . . . read the manifesto "with consternation." Mr. Bonar Law . . . was amazed at the recklessness of the appeal made without any previous consultation. Mr. Asquith described it as sounding "the double note of provocation and of panic."

It also alarmed France and Italy. Fretful that the British seemed to be speaking for him, French Premier Poincare withdrew his troops, as did the Italians. British forces alone faced Kemal's troops at Chanak. Canada's refusal to send troops was followed by the other dominions, South Africa, and also Australia, who had first agreed. Mackenzie King and Governor General Byng's stand not to send Canadians was news in the British press. David Walder wrote, at page 229:

On September 18th, the Daily Mail, virulently against any possibility of war in the Middle East, carried the broad headline: "STOP THIS NEW WAR! Cabinet Plan for Great Conflict With the Turks. France and Italy against it. Extraordinary Appeal to the Dominions." The latter was more true than the leader writer knew, for since the initial rebuff Lloyd George and Churchill had tried again to persuade the Canadian government to make some show of solidarity with Britain. In his first reply Mackenzie King as well as pointing out the necessity of summoning the Canadian Parliament, had complained about the prior lack of consultation or even information. On the 19th September Lloyd George, seeming not to appreciate these points, again asked for an assurance of support. The reply, signed by Lord Byng, the Governor-General, was chilling in the extreme. "We have not thought it necessary to re-assert the loyalty of Canada to the British Empire."

Honourable senators, Mackenzie King met his Cabinet three times on September 18. MacGregor Dawson quotes King's diary entry of that day, at page 410:

I found all present, strongly against participation by Canada in sending of a contingent . . . We all agreed that to send a contingent parliament would have first to be summoned, . . . Cabinet agreed in this . . . all were inclined to feel whole business "an election scheme" of Lloyd George & Co.

David Walder noted, at page 230:

Churchill's final appeal virtually went unanswered. . . . On the same day The Times was more diplomatic, . . . There was, however, no sympathy wasted on the British government, about which subject two days before, a leader writer had said, 'British Ministers have made mistake after mistake.'

The Daily Mail described Churchill's press statement as bordering upon insanity and of his and Lloyd George's beating their war drums. About Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, key to the Turkish peace but disliked by Lloyd George, David Walder said, at page 231:

There was general agreement in other newspapers that Lord Curzon, . . . , was the man. The Times backed him . . .

Honourable senators, Mackenzie King's response to Lloyd George's cable for troops had large consequences in British politics. It led to the October 19 Conservative members' vote to end their support for the coalition government that had sustained Lloyd George in office. In her book, Paris 1919, Margaret MacMillan wrote at page 452:

The Greek adventure in Asia Minor had already brought down Venizelos; now it destroyed his great patron, Lloyd George. The Chanak crisis was too much for a shaky coalition government. . . . When a new Conservative government under Bonar Law took office in November 1922, Curzon was reappointed foreign secretary. He left almost immediately for Lausanne, where the Turkish peace was now at last to be concluded.

The new British Prime Minister, Conservative Andrew Bonar Law, was a Canadian born in New Brunswick. Some years before, he had stood down for Lloyd George to be prime minister. Another Canadian, Conservative Max Aitken, the great Lord Beaverbrook, was active then. A former cabinet minister, he was close to Bonar Law. Beaverbrook's 1963 book The Decline and Fall of Lloyd George, tells of British opposition to Lloyd George's Greek and Turkish follies, at page 162:

There was much opposition in the country and no enthusiasm for any ventures abroad in the House of Commons, Press or Army. Though the populous Dominions had failed to respond to the call for contingents, yet the Ministers appeared to be fixed and settled in their purpose to discipline the Turks and if necessary to go to war.

Honourable senators, now to our Governor General's reply to Prime Minister Lloyd George. Lord Byng, recorded in Documents on Canadian External Relations, volume 3, page 79:

Canadian public opinion confirms belief expressed in our previous message that such action as Canada should take with respect to situation which has arisen in Near East must be determined by Parliament. We have not thought it necessary to reassert the loyalty of Canada to the British Empire. You may rest assured that, should it become necessary to summon Parliament, Canada, by decision of its Parliament, will so act as to carry out full duty of the Canadian people.

Only Canada and South Africa upheld parliament's role. David Walder wrote, at page 215:

Mackenzie King replied in very clear terms . . . that his countrymen had no wish to be embroiled in a new war and that even if any military action were contemplated the Canadian Parliament would have to be consulted first. This broad hint was apparently lost on the British Cabinet, which had shown no indication so far of wishing to recall the British Parliament so that its views might be ascertained.

Honourable senators, I cannot develop all of this, but there was great unanimity in the parties, such as the Progressive Party, and other parties in the house behind Mackenzie King. Canadian opinion was united. Six months later, February 1, 1923, Mackenzie King spoke in the House of Commons. He cited his Monday, September 18, 1922, press statement, at page 32 of Commons Debates:

It is the view of the government that public opinion in Canada would demand authorization on the part of Parliament as a necessary preliminary to the dispatch of any contingent to participate in the conflict in the Near East. The government is in communication with members of the cabinet at present in Europe as Canada's representatives at the League of Nations, and with the British government, with a view to ascertaining whether the situation that exists in the Near East is one which would justify the summoning of a special session of Parliament.

I informed the British government that our cabinet would hold daily sittings, if necessary, that we would be pleased to receive the fullest information; in particular that we wished to be informed whether in their opinion it was desirable that the Canadian parliament should be called to consider this important matter. The reply which was received to this communication was to the effect that the British government saw no necessity for the summoning of parliament.

Mackenzie King noted his ministers in Geneva, including Ernest Lapointe, who kept him well informed of events in Britain and Europe. In addition, Canada's High Commissioner in London had early on told Prime Minister Mackenzie King of British press resistance to all war measures. In Geneva, Arthur James Balfour reported daily to his British cabinet on Dominion concerns.

Honourable senators, on May 16, 1923, Joseph-Éloi Fontaine, M.P., told of the unity in public support of Canada's stand. He said at page 2815 of Commons Debates:

I also want to thank the right hon. the Prime Minister for having had the courage to refuse the invitation of Mr. Lloyd George, then Prime Minister of England, to take part in the war which seemed impending with Turkey. It was more than time that someone put an end to this excess of imperialism. The whole Canadian nation, the entire press of Canada approved the Prime Minister's conduct in this matter; there was but one critic, one dissenting voice, that of the right hon. Leader of the Opposition.

Honourable senators, there is something in a moral and principled stand that uplifts the public discourse, bringing clarity and courage to those who need it. Canada's stand did this. It had a large impact in the war theatre and on the minds of the soldiers at Chanak, on the British political set and on the public. It prevented war and countless deaths. It quickened those who wanted a better British foreign policy on the new Turkish country and its leader Mustafa Kemal, who for years with the Grand National Assembly at Ankara and their National Pact had been the de facto government, having never agreed to the Sèvres Treaty. Margaret MacMillan notes, at page 451:

The collapse of the Greek army left the small Allied occupation forces in Constantinople and guarding the straits suddenly exposed. As Ataturk's forces advanced north toward the Sea of Marmara and Constantinople, the British government decided that it must stand firm at Chanak and Ismid on the Asiatic side. It called on the British Empire and its allies, but little beyond excuses and reproaches came back. Of the dominions, only New Zealand rallied to the flag. The Italians hastily assured Ataturk of their neutrality. The French ordered their troops out of Chanak. . . .

Lloyd George was for war, but cooler heads, including Curzon's and those of the military on the spot, finally prevailed. Ataturk was at last ready for negotiations. The armistice of Mudanya, of October 11, provided for the Turks to take over eastern Thrace from the Greeks. In return, Ataturk promised not to move troops into Constantinople, Gallipoli or Ismid until a peace conference could decide their fate.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is the Honourable Senator Cools asking for more time?

Senator Cools: May I have five minutes?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Cools: Thank you, honourable senators.

This was such a stunning victory, in those days, for Canada.

Honourable senators, in Lloyd George's resignation, Britain's new Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, set Britain on a peaceful course. With Charles Harrington and Mustafa Kemal's armistice done, Lord Curzon left to negotiate the peace with Mustafa Kemal's new Turkey. Their lasting Treaty of Lausanne, signed on July 24, 1923, was modern Turkey's greatest victory. This founding document of the new Turkey is the only surviving Great War peace treaty. With the great fanfare and 400 delegates from Britain and the empire in Paris, this is the only treaty that survived and is still in force.

Canadians at home and abroad in Britain were forces for peace with the new Turkey and its President, Mustafa Kemal. Canada gained international respect for fairness in these years. Many think it was later, but it was in those early years.

The British Empire's non-white peoples looked to Canada. As a child in Barbados, I heard of Lloyd George's damage to Liberals and his poor attitude to British coloured peoples. This was talked about a lot when I was a little girl. Margaret MacMillan related at page 44:

. . .in the offhand way of his times, he considered Indians, along with other brown-skinned peoples, to be inferior.

Honourable senators, this was significant. India had sent 1,250,000 soldiers to the Great War. Prime Minister Mackenzie King's stand was well-known in Britain, which thought that the Turkish people's lands should be their own. Canada was very isolationist at the time, just like the U.S. Canada, then isolationist, and still mourning its lost sons, wished no part in Chanak's war. This war was avoided by politics in one swift vote. Our Parliament was never asked for troops to rout the ancient occupants, the Turkish people, from their own lands. Politics worked. War was avoided by the success of politics.

In peace, we will remember them. I want to thank honourable senators. I recognize that I have a great love of these questions. I also believe that we have a duty to Canada and to history to remember the great contributions that those who went before us have made. Prime Minister Robert Borden shone like a star at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Those were the years when Canada began to acquire its international reputation for justice and fairness. It was not in 1956. It was sooner. I grew up hearing a lot about British Liberalism and the damage that Lloyd George had done to the British Liberal Party, as he literally destroyed it, and displaced Herbert Asquith.

In any event, there is more to come. I shall call these my Turkish quartet for Remembrance Day. I thank you. It is a beautiful story to stop a war.

(On motion of Senator Meredith, debate adjourned.)

(The Senate adjourned until Wednesday, November 5, 2014, at 1:30 p.m.)

The remainder of this day's Senate Debates are available here.