The King’s Speech: George VI and Cicero’s theory of the just war

Now that Colin Firth has won an award for his role as King George VI in the “King’s Speech”, it is perhaps worth printing the magnificent speech that King’ George VI broadcast after Britain declared War against Nazi Germany on September 3, 1939 in full.

In his speech, King George shows that the criteria for a just war as laid out by Cicero have been met.  Cicero says a war is just or right when all other avenues to end a conflict, such as discussion and negotiations, have been exhausted and failed; when a nation is dealing with brute force; when peace without war would involve an unacceptable injustice or harm to that nation or to allies; and when the aim of war is peace with minium violence, death and destruction, also to the enemy.

In such a case, when facing brute force, the doctrine of “might is right”, a „brave and resolute spirit“ should „not to be disconcerted in times of difficulty or ruffled and thrown off one’s feet“ and „not to swerve from the path of reason,” says Cicero.(de officiis, Book 1, section 11, 34 and 35 and 1, 23, 80) 

King George VI proved to be just such a brave and resolute spirit, caring for his people and for the principles of justice and freedom, and so earning the respect of all people around the world.

His speech shows him to be a leader firmly within the tradition of classical western civilisation, which is the basis of our political system, democracy, and which puts honour and the law above brute force and the will to power.

Though Rome was a significant military empire, there was a great deal of debate about wars etc: Cicero was the first person to formulate a just war theory.

The Roman army also had a tough but realistic training programme aiming to build up resilence and skills progressively, as well as a consistent, fair and gradual scale of punishment.

For training, recruits had to learn to run 20 Roman miles in 5 hours; when they reached this goal, they trained to run 40 Roman miles in 12 hours; only when they reached this goal did they have to learn run 20 Roman miles in 5 hours but carrying their equipment this time ; then, they moved onto weapons training, using first wooden swords against posts and so until they mastered all the skills needed for a soldier under pressure in war.

The German army could do worse then get a copy of De Officiis and also a Roman army training manual to fgure out how what is going so radically wrong with its military.

The notion that “might is right”, that tough training means mobbing, harrassment and sadism by higher ranks and terror and death for lower ranks or that the idea that this is the way to prepare for “the reality of war” is immoral nonsense and an incitement to anarchy, lack of discipline, failure on the battle field and war crimes.

This is King Geoge VI’s speech:

“In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself.

For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war.

Over and over again, we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies; but it has bee in vain.

We have been forced into a conflict, for which we are called, with our allies to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world.

It is a principle which permits a state in the selfish pursuit of power to disregard its treaties and its solemn pledges, which sanctions the use of force or threat of force against the sovereignty and independence of other states.

Such a principle, stripped of all disguise, is surely the mere primitive doctrine that might is right, and if this principle were established through the world, the freedom of our own country and of the whole British Commonwealth of nations would be in danger.

But far more than this, the peoples of the world would be kept in bondage of fear, and all hopes of settled peace and of security, of justice and liberty, among nations, would be ended.

This is the ultimate issue which confronts us.  For the sake of all that we ourselves hold dear, and of the world order and peace, it is unthinkable that we should refuse to meet the challenge.

It is to this high purpose that I now call my people at home and my peoples across the seas, who will make our cause their own.

I ask them to stand calm and firm and united in this time of trial.

The task will be hard.  There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God.  If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail.

May He bless and keep us all. 

5 Responses to The King’s Speech: George VI and Cicero’s theory of the just war

  1. Carlitos Amsel vom Holunderstrauch says:

    He should have explained all this to Churchill, who, according to modern historic research, was the real war mongerer of World War II.

  2. greenberry says:

    The tanks rolling in. Arent them? The unvoidable only solution?

  3. Emanuel van den Bemd says:

    There is no such thing as a just war especially in the context inwhich it is fought. It is not the masses that generate wars, it is the Elite that use the masses to do their dirty work while they remain behind the scenes reaping the profits that are generated by the war machines. It is as well to recognise that the next war or wars will again be generated by the Wealthy Elite, this time we must stop them from doing so by becoming free man and not kowtowing to their every clarion call.

  4. Doen’t it sound increasingly like a prayer mill, repeating things we all know over and over again in the hope, by doing so they might change or come true? Could it be a just war, if a tribe gets attacked by another tribe and sees itself forced into a battle of survival?

  5. King George VIs speech was magnificent and united his people. Cicero’s doctrine is as good as any.

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