"For Action This Day"

Beverley Baxter's October 1 1940

"For Action This Day"

Beverley Baxter's October 1 1940

"For Action This Day"


Beverley Baxter's

ONE DAY recently Mr. Churchill approached the end of an important and heartening speech in the House of Commons. He had scored a great success, and he knew it. He had told a splendid story in noble language.

How would he end the speech? I wondered if he would bring the full voluptuousness of language to paint a glowing sunset.

It was a temptation, and Mr. Churchill is enough of an artist to be tempted. Like Wagner, he loves a thunderous climax such as the last scene of “Götterdämmerung,” when Valhalla goes up in flames.

But as usual Mr. Churchill did not do the obvious. That is also an attribute of the artist.

He was speaking of the closer union of the United States and Britain. “For my own part,” he said, “I do not view the process with any misgivings. I do not want to stop it. Like the Mississippi, it ‘just keeps rolling along.’ ”

A few of us smiled. It was a quaint trick to call in the popular “Old Man River” song of Paul Robeson’s to accent liis jK>litieal argument.

Then suddenly the Premier squared his shoulders.

"Let it roll,” he cried. “Let it roll on full flood, inexorable. irresistible, benignant, to broader lands and better days.”

Then he sat down and the House gave him a prolonged cheer.

It was a typical Churchillian tour de force, and planned as relentlessly as any military attack.

He never numbs the minds of his hearers. He never lets their ears or their understanding relate into indifference. He changes the pace of his words and the tones of his voice so as to keep the air alert with vitality.

Nor does this in any way lessen the stature of the man. It has been said many times that most successful men are good actors. Mr. Churchill has always regarded public speaking as an art, to be studied as relentlessly as music or painting or sculpture.

Thus, in achieving his climax last week, he first took a homely phrase like “It just keeps rolling along,” a refrain known to every cinema-goer, and then he suddenly lifts it up until it becomes a challenging rallying cry to the English-speaking nations.

“Let it roll. I,et it roll on full flood ...”

There is no question but that in the Prime Minister we have a man marvellously fitted to the hour.

In the opinion of many of us over here, we are seeing a second Elizabethan Age, and with an Elizabeth once more on the throne.

Winston Churchill has much in common with the glorious buccaneers of the sixteenth century. He and Drake would have been enormous friends, and nothing would have prevented Churchill from sailing in the Golden Hind.

But there would have been another man who would have attracted Churchill even more, and that was William Shakespeare. You may be certain that Churchill would have sought him out. argued with him, suggested improvements in "Hamlet” or “Richard II,” and generally have been thrilled and inspired by the greatest mind of all time.

Actually, Mr. Churchill owes more to Shakespeare even than his illustrious ancestor, the first Duke of Marlborough. It is true that he never acknowledges his debt to the Bard, and is always praising his ancestor, but the debt remains.

Take the word “grievous.” That is pure Shakespeare, a word that belongs in sound and meaning to the past. Mr. Churchill has used it so often that now even ordinary M.P.’s utter it without any sense of strangeness.

And, like Shakespeare, Mr. Churchill prefers to create his own quotations.

Disraeli said: “If I want to read a book I write one,” and, as a modest author myself, I can assure you that there is much pleasure to be had in reading your own books.

Lord Simon (the former Sir John) is the complete opposite to the Prime Minister. To Ix>rd Simon, the rich fruit of the intellect is quotation. I verily believe that even if he had a flashing, original idea he would attribute it to a dead and ancient Greek.

Churchill seldom quotes. The age that interests him is the one in which he is living. He does not care what Pericles thundered in the square at Athens. The big thing to him is what Churchill said in the House of Commons.

It is not conceit, or lack of reverence. He knows that he has something to give. The creative instinct surges within him as irresistibly as with Dickens or Beethoven, or any of the giants of self-expression.

Oratory for oratory’s sake does not interest him deeply. As I have said, he regards it as a technique that must be studied and rehearsed, but, in the end, it is the substance that really concerns him. Unlike Hamlet’s father, he does not say:

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;

“Words without thought never to Heaven go.”

I lis words are winged with thought—always,

Churchill Above Defeat

T_TE HAS something to say, and has been saying it for a long time. As a young fellow from school he made his first public speech in the lounge of the Empire Music Hall in Leicester Square. There was some row about an injustice

to someone, and the future Premier insisted upon making his voice heard.

He has mellowed with the years, yet has remained youthful in spirit. As a young man he visualized life as an adventure to be enjoyed to the full. He still sees life as an adventure, but one that is shadowed by

tragedy and heavy with fate.

Almost everything that has gone before has been a vital training for this, the climax of his life. No man in public life has met with greater discouragements. He has been defeated at the polls, sacked from the Admiralty in the last w'ar, dropped from office after being Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 to 1929, derided for his championing of Edward VIII during the Abdication, condemned and defeated in his campaign to keep India firmly under British rule, and jeered at as an opportunist for his attacks on Baldwin and Chamberlain.

No figure in British public life has known such climax and anticlimax. Not once but a dozen times his fingers have reached for the golden crown only to have it snatched away. Not once but a dozen times he has said: “There is no future for me, no place for me in the national life.”

And when the golden crown did come to him, how tragic was the setting. The skies were aflame with menace, and the hot fumes of disaster spread across the Channel toward the Island Kingdom. It was as if, with supreme irony, Churchill had been given the premiership when victory was no longer possible.

But he had met discouragements many times before. He had been depressed, savagely depressed, but never in his whole career has he admitted defeat. So he came to the House with France on her knees, with Belgium and Holland gone, with Italy on Germany’s side, and he said to us: “I can only offer you blood and sweat.”

But not only in his power to rise above adversity was his life a training for this hour. His heart turned naturally toward men of ability who were ignored or disliked by the party managers. He understood Beaverbrook’s abilities. So did Chamberlain, Baldwin and MacDonald, but they would never use him.

Beaverbrook was known to be difficult, autocratic, independent, impatient, disrespectful, irreverent of tradition, a Conservative in name but really a Liberal Progressive, a lone wolf who hated being teamed, a restless disturbing element in a country which likes to keep its pillars deep rooted.

“That is my man,” said Churchill. In the last thirty years he and Beaverbrook had fought each other over and over again. Churchill’s failure to get office in 1931 was largely due to Beaverbrook’s hammering of him as the Chancellor of the Exchequer who returned to the gold standard overnight.

I have seen Churchill black with fury after a row with Max, but he did not allow’ his resentment to blind himself to the qualities and abilities of the other man. So he sent for Beaverbrook and gave him a harder job even than cleaning out the Augean stables.

In a recent speech Churchill paid a tribute to the Canadian peer which has had no parallel in my Parliamentary existence. The Premier who had known what it is to be a political outsider, had gambled on a man who had also walked alone in the political wilderness. Once more Churchill’s previous experiences had strengthened him in his judgment

of men.

Also in the school of life he had learned that action must follow decision as swiftly as thunder follows lightning. Admittedly such speed can bring swift failure as well as success, and Churchill has known many failures. That does not deter him from his firm belief that action must not be sucked of impetus and inspiration by too much talk

or delay.

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Continued from page 12

So a few weeks ago. very privately, the Prime Minister had some labels printed with the words: “For Action This Day.” At seven-thirty in the morning when his first batch of documents are brought up to his bedside for decision, he has the labels ready on his reading table.

He goes through the documents one after another, pauses, frowns and then stamps the label on one. “For Action This Day.” When that goes out. there can be no explanation, no excuse. The thing must be settled before midnight or . . .

It is bound to go wrong sometimes. But we can almost hear the rending sound of red tape being torn away as his labelled documents descend upon the departments like screaming bombs.

And finally, there is one last lesson he learned in the brilliant but bitter life he has led during his tempestuous years. He has learned to be alone, and there is no loneliness greater than in the holding of supreme office. He has devoted followers who never lost faith in him in the past, but followers cannot attain that spiritual equality which is the essential basis of friendship.

It might be said that Churchill has known everyone, but that his one real friend is his wife. Perhaps that is fortunate. When a man lives a year in a day, the soothing momentsof companionship should come from a woman.

Deep down in his heart—it is almost a religious conviction—he refuses to accept existence as commonplace.

He does not regard you and me and the other fellow as shopkeepers, tailors, or factory workers. On the contrary, he sees us as heirs to the glorious heritage of the past.

We perform our daily tasks, humble as they may be, but Churchill knows that in

doing so we keep alive the heart of Britain, that heart which pumps the blood stream to civilization itself.

His Faith Our Hope

TN HIS political life he has changed

policy and sides more than once. He has overstated his case in controversy, allowed personal loyalty to sway his judgment, and been abominably rude for no other reason than that he felt like it.

But he has never been commonplace.

In an age of mediocrities he refused to adopt the language of compromise, or to believe that understatement was a refinement of the soul. He saw the tragedy of Europe approaching, and his eyes were filled with angry tears because the democracies would not rise to meet it.

He is not ashamed of honest emotion. The heroism in his own veins responds to the courage of the boys who are denying the Germans their place in the skies. He can feel pity to the bottom of his heart.

He can hate, too—listen to the iron in his voice as he speaks of Hitler.

Above all, he has faith. In his philosophy mankind moves forward to a glorious destiny.

His magnanimous heart embraces all who help the world on its way, and his soul rebels with fury against the evilminded men who would hurl it back into the dark abyss of the past.

Look upon Winston Churchill with gratitude and with pride. Like Shakespeare, he loves these islands with an enduring passion, and. like Shakespeare, he hates the enemies of Britain for the simple reason that they are her enemies.

He may blunder, but he will not falter.

His courage is the very stuff of victory. His faith is our hope in the future.

Can Japan Dominate Asia?

JUST WHAT are the intentions of the Japanese in regard to East Asia? In Illustrated, Stanley Jackson speculates as follows:

The new Fascist Government in Tokyo has not startled civilized world opinion by its aggressive and provocative policy. Japan’s cynical opportunism is not a new phenomenon in international relations. She has always enjoyed fishing in troubled waters. Her sense of timing is rarely at fault.

The recent “incidents” and acts of provocation are in the nature of kite flying. Tokyo is testing both London and Washington. Meanwhile, the Jap palate is tickled by some of the world’s most luscious titbits, tossed within her reach by events in Europe.

Japan sees several outlets for her teeming millions and a population which steadily increases by a million a year. She sees the Dutch East Indies, with 750,000 square miles of rich territory defended by a few divisions, a couple of cruisers and some submarines.

She sees the Philippines with 114,000 square miles and a population of only 14,000,000 without a navy or a real air force—practically independent of the United States. She looks at rich IndoChina, and finally she casts a covetous eye at the vast unprotected coastline of Australia which separates her from 3.000,000 square miles of territory with a population of only two people to the square mile.

Her navy is weaker than ours and that of the United States. If the money can be found to execute the five-year naval program, begun last year, the new fleet will include five 40,000-ton battleships

with sixteen-inch guns, eight 10.000-ton cruisers, two aircraft carriers to supplement her three seaplane carriers, and more submarines.

Aircraft are being rapidly turned out. They are mostly designed for long-range flying. The factories are working night and day to turn out enough A.A. guns. But, judging from China, the Jap Air Force is not formidable either in personnel or the quality of its machines. They will ‘meet stronger opposition than anything offered by China.

As I see it, aircraft and submarines would prove decisive factors if war broke out in the Pacific. Japan could inflict great damage, but she would expose her shipping to serious risks and her towns to deadly operations from hostile aircraft carriers,

Today, Japan sees her designs menaced by strong powers, Great Britain and the United States. To the south lies the British Fleet. To the southeast America’s powerful battle fleet cruises watchfully between Hawaiian and Philippine waters. Also, despite the recent protestations of friendship made by M. Molotov. Japan is by no means certain of Russia in the northwest.

With Singapore intact, our own fleet and air arm must be seriously reckoned with in Tokyo. But even if Japan were prepared to stake all on a lightning victory over our China Squadron she must still reckon with the possibility of having to deal with America’s mighty battle fleet and the vast resources that would back it.

For Japan—if she continues her present policy—there can be no compromise. She must make good her boast of founding a new order in East Asia or commit hari kari as a great power.