No doubt as a whole His Majesty’s Government were very slow in accepting the unwelcome fact of German rearmament. They still clung to the policy of one-sided disarmament. It was one of those experiments, we are told, which had to be … “tried out”, just as the experiments of non-military sanctions against Italy had to be tried out. Both experiments have now been tried out… . They are held to prove conclusively that the policies subjected to the experiments were all wrong, utterly foolish, and should never be used again, and the very same men who were foremost in urging those experiments are now foremost in proclaiming and denouncing the fallacies upon which they were based. They have bought their knowledge, they have bought it dear, they have bought it at our expense, but at any rate let us be duly thankful that they now at last possess it.

—Winston Churchill. Speech to the House of Commons, November 12, 1936.

Woe betide those who disarm and so place themselves at the mercy of others. The Jewish people learned that lesson from the Shoah. For thousands of years they were vulnerable to every pogrom that came along. They counted on the infrequency of the attacks, and ultimately on the civilization of those amongst whom they lived, to keep them safe. Then along came Hitler, and civilization evaporated. They discovered that they lacked the capacity for self-defense and so paid the second-worst price imaginable (the worst being total extinction).

Let no one forget the Shoah and think it could never happen to them. It happened to the Armenians at the hands of the Turks, to the Ukrainians at the hands of the Russians. To a lesser extent during the Second World War, it happened to the Poles, the British, the Chinese, the Russians, the French, the Belgians, the Czechs—and every other people whose civilians were deliberately bombed, massacred, or dragged off to extermination camps. Nor is this a recent phenomenon; the history books are filled with stories of cities and towns being sacked and every man, woman and child being put to the sword.

Those catastrophes arose from the same bestial passions that animate uncivilized cultures today. It is no exaggeration to say that there is probably not a single ethnic, religious or political group on earth which some fundamentalist ethnic, religious, or political group would not like to see exterminated. Therefore, let all sovereign people keep their arms so as to be ready to defend their people. As the Cold War demonstrated, strong defenses are not provocative, rather weakness provokes aggression. Military expenditure is not a waste of resources, rather it is the most valuable investment a country can make—it is an investment in its continued existence.

Nor does this mean humanity is doomed to an ever-escalating arms race. To the contrary. Once a nation joins the club of civilized peoples, it poses an almost negligible threat to its neighbors. Thus today the British no longer maintain a Channel Fleet and the Germans no longer keep watch over the Rhine. The great hope of mankind is that all peoples will one day be civilized and the level of armaments needed to provide effective deterrence can be scaled down to negligible levels.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove