303 Broadcast Message by Mr W. M. Hughes, Attorney-General and Minister for the Navy

Extracts SYDNEY, 16 February 1941 [evening] [1]

The rapid deterioration of affairs in the Far East during the last few days has created a situation which Mr. Fadden and Mr. Curtin have declared in a joint statement to be grave. [2] The meetings of the War Cabinet and War Council lent to the statement a significance which profoundly affected the Australian people. They are seriously disturbed, and they may even be, as the New York Herald-Tribune suggests, a little 'nervy'.

But this, if it exists at all, will pass, for although the situation is grave, I see nothing in it which need alarm or even seriously disturb a resolute people.

Whether the deterioration in the relations between Britain and Japan will lead to war, we don't know, but we welcome the assurance of Admiral Nomura [3] in his address to President Roosevelt that he is resolved to do all possible to bring about a better understanding between Japan and America. We earnestly hope that his mission may be crowned with success; but whether he succeeds or fails, the war will still go on.

That is the position which must be faced. Whatever happens in the Far East, the war will still go on, and Australia will be in it fighting for her life, fighting with the rest of the Empire against Germany. If Germany is defeated nothing else matters, for the other partners to the Axis will either collapse or hasten to make peace. If Germany wins, then the dark cloud in the Far East, little bigger than a man's hand today, will cover the whole heavens.

We must look at the picture in proper perspective. No one realises more clearly than I do all the implications of the situation in the Far East, but there is nothing new in it; it has existed since the outbreak of war, it was there before war broke out, it has been like a smouldering fire, now dying down, now flaring up and threatening to burst into fierce flame. Whether the situation in the Far East leads to war depends largely on what happens in Europe and upon the attitude of America.

[matter omitted]

It is against this background that we must view the situation in the Far East-for Australia not far, but indeed close to her own doors.

I have said that this situation is not new; its menace has been latent. Ever since the outbreak of war the attitude of Japan has given Britain cause for concern. The assurances of peaceful intentions her statesmen gave the world were hardly convincing.

If the smouldering fire has not burst into fierce flame, it is because Britain is still unconquered and has shown that she can strike swift and smashing blows, and because the American fleet is in the Pacific. If Britain had been defeated, America would have had to divide her naval forces in order to protect her Atlantic coast. What will be the outcome of the coming struggle in the Balkans no man can say. What America will do we do not know, but unless Britain suffers a major defeat the situation in the Far East, although grave, need not unduly disturb us.

In any case, my friends, after all, what has happened that should disturb us? The war has raged for sixteen months, nation after nation has been crushed, but nothing has happened to us; life with us still flows smoothly on its normal way. We are at war, but we have done no fighting. The British Navy and our own have kept the enemy from our shores. Our young men have gone across the seas to fight for us and have smitten the enemy hip and thigh. The people of Britain, only 20 miles from the enemy, have endured the most savage attacks without flinching. To them the war has been a fearful and terrifying reality, but to us it has been just something we read about in the papers or hear over the air.

For sixteen months we have been sitting at our ease in perfect safety, spectators, while others have been fighting and dying that we might live safe and free. Now the tide of war threatens to come to us in this sheltered land. It may never come, but if it does, well we must show the world that we too can fight in a fashion not unworthy of the glorious example set by our British kinsmen. [4]

1 Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 17 February 1941, p. 9.

2 See Document 289.

3 Japanese Ambassador to the United States.

4 For the Japanese reaction to this speech see Documents 333 and 411.

[AA:A981, JAPAN 101, iii]