What Price Neutrality?

Beverley Baxter June 15 1940

What Price Neutrality?

Beverley Baxter June 15 1940

What Price Neutrality?


Beverley Baxter

LONDON, May 20. (By cable)—A month or so ago I journeyed to Oxford to take part in a debate at the Oxford Union. My old friend Colonel Baptist Johnston, of Toronto, was staying with me, and

scrounging a little extra petrol, we drove to the ancient town through a countryside made unbelievably lovely by the kindliest spring the Old Country has enjoyed for years.

There is a softness in the English earth, a depth of color, a gentleness of contour and a charm which is made more poignant by the thought that at any hour she may be ravaged by a horror that will come from the skies. We stopped at a wayside pub, had tea in the garden, and eventually reached Oxford with the afternoon sun glinting from its noble spires.

The occasion was a debate on neutrality. Harold Nicolson, M.P., and I were the guest speakers in favor of the resolution that in view of Germany’s actions, neutrality is no longer defensible.

Our principal opponent was to have been Monsieur Tilea, Roumanian Minister, but on the morning of the debate he had developed a cold.

There is no harm in revealing now that it was a diplomatic cold, for reasons that I will explain when a little more

time has elapsed. Mr. Vas Dias, famous Dutch foreign correspondent and vicechairman of the Foreign Journalists Association in London, took Tilea’s place—an amusing, clever little fellow, possessing both a pointed mind and pointed beard.

It was a great scene when we arrived for the debate. The famous old spot which has suckled such men as Asquith, Simon,

Birkenhead, Belisha, Grey, and a hundred others, was packed to the doors. By custom, all speakers in the debate must wear tails and white tie. The President, similarly dressed, presides like Mr. Speaker of the Commons, and the Clerk of the House, in this case a Hindu, sits at his desk and watches the procedure.

Two undergraduates spoke first, for and against. Then I did what I could. I likened neutrals, especially Holland and Belgium, to the citizens of Chicago, who would not combine against the gangsters even wrhen G-Men, now represented by Britain and France, offered their assistance. It was not a brilliant speech, but it seemed to me to have substance.

For two hours the debate swayed, to the accompaniment of alternate encouragement and discouragement from the assembled house. Then little Vas Dias rose to wind up for the neutrals. With airy sarcasm he took the points made by Nicolson and myself and scored heavily. The undergraduates hugely enjoyed the spectacle of two M.P.’s being

pilloried by a little nonpolitician with a beard.

In the end he declared that the neutrality of Holland was not only her right but her duty to maintain. There in the midst of carnage she would remain a fortress of civilization and sanity, ready to heal the wounds of Europe when it was all over. In short, he made Holland look like something fine and idealistic, as compared to the brawling combatants at war.

Three weeks later Holland went down like an animal poleaxed in a slaughter house. The ancient Dutch nation, with its long empire history, was hammered to its knees in five days. In vain had the British and French pleaded over many months for a common front with Holland and Belgium. Not only would those countries not agree to the Allies occupying their countries for defensive purposes, bnf they would not take part in staff talks with the Allies to

decide on a combined plan in case they were attacked. Like the citizens of Chicago, they preferred to believe. “It may not happen to me.”

It was a triumph for Vas Dias, but a short-lived one. Today he has no newspaper to write, for, and no country to live for. Holland is under the Prussian heel. But the question of neutrality does not end with the Low Countries. There are the three great non-belligerents left— Italy, Russia and the United States.

Poor little Vas Dias. His speech was so brilliant that when a vote was taken we only had a majority of sixteen out of a vote of over 500. With its usual ebullience of spirit the Oxford Union nearly went on record as justifying neutrality. Not that it would have mattered greatly, but it would not have helped.

While I am writing these words the terrible Battle of the Bulge is being fought with incredible bravery. The airmen of Britain and the Dominions are riding the clouds over Flanders with reckless disregard for numbers. Fighting by day and by night, sleeping an hour or two, then mounting their steeds to meet the enemy once more in the battle of the skies.

And all the time the monster—the mechanized might of

Germany created by the sadistic megalomania of one man —hurls itself against the French and British lines. It is horrible warfare, a warfare of scorching metal, roaring engines, of flame throwers and explosives that rend earth. The very nature of the German attack is a portent of the world of scientific horror in which we would live Hitler wins.

That is where the three great non-belligerents come Italy, Russia and the U.S. are watching the death struggle on the Western Front with eyes hardly less fascinated than our own. Not one of them believes now that it can escape from the destiny that will follow the conclusion of war.

For three weeks we have been expecting Mussolini take the plunge. Like a sleep walker he stands on the edge of the abyss, swaying backward and forward, but somehow

keeping his feet from slipping.

lie is desperately afraid of Hitler, who has bluntly told him: “Now or never.” But he is also afraid of the British fleet. Italy is like a long limb thrust into the Mediterranean. Mussolini is afraid, too, of the grinning Stalin who has a supreme contempt for the

Italians and strong objections to their exerting any direct influence in the Balkans. And finally, Mussolini has more than a passing fear of Turkey, which continues to sit calmly on the powder barrel of the Near East, smoking Turkish cigarettes with absolute nonchalance and saying: “If Italy moves, we do too.”

In addition there is Roosevelt, who keeps on sending messages to Mussolini telling him not to be foolish. The turmoil in Mussolini’s mind must be driving him nearly to madness. No wonder he withdraws himself from all normal contacts and seeks solace with one of that sex which has been described by Napoleon as the relaxation of the warrior.

With his shaver! head, his growing paunch, his face almost purple from violet rays, his bluish beard marking the line of his formidable jaw, his hatred of Britain for applying sanctions and his terror of Hitler—what a figure

to control the destiny of forty million people!

Stalin, for all his inscrutability, is far easier to understand. His philosophy is reduced to the traditional curse of Mercutio, “A plague on both your houses.” If he had his way the democracies and Germany would fight until utter exhaustion overcame them both, when the carrions of Communism would darken the skies and pick their bones.


The Three Great Neutrals

OW, however, he sees a possibility of the war ending comparatively quickly because of the violence with which it is being fought, and that worries him exceedingly.

Supposing Germany wins. It is true Russia and Germany went through a marriage ceremony a few months ago. But even the most romantically bemused observer knew' it was no love match. Each intended to trick the other, and each spoke with grim irony when it came to the words. “Till death do us part.”

So today Russia is casting amorous eyes toward Turkey, because that brave little count ry is a friend of Britain's.

“Why should we quarrel?” asks Stalin. “You Turks hate the Italians and so do we. You don’t want them in the Balkans and neither do we. As for Italy’s German friend, w'e don’t particularly want him to go any farther either.”

The truth is, Stalin fears 'Germany like a

rabbit petrified by a stoat. With that in mind. I suggested in print last Sunday that Mr. Lloyd George should be sent to Moscow as the head of the British Trade Mission. Stalin and the little Welsh wizard would have much in common, and, after all, Lloyd George has a great name despite his innumerable attempts to debase it. In short, we have hopes of Russia.

And then there is the United States. Rightly or wrongly, we feel over here that the U.S.A. is moving swiftly now to the virtual position of being one of the Allies. The long period of sophistry, intellectual bewilderment and moral evasion which has been such an unworthy episode in the story of U.S. life seems to be ending, and giving way to the honest, honorable thinking which has characterized her so often in the past.

Continued on page 49

Continued from page 11

In spite of this being a Presidential year, which normally means that the United States goes into a completely moonstruck paralysis for twelve months, there are signs that she is facing reality with clear eyes. Roosevelt’s words and actions are source of great encouragement to us at this hour. Whether she fights or not, I believe it is only a matter of weeks, or perhaps days, when the U.S.A. will bring all her economic resources into the effort of defeating Germany.

Price of Victory

ALL OF which gives us supreme confidence that if we can hold Hitler during the summer, he will crack, and the whole ersatz structure of Nazism will collapse like the wretched thing that really is.

But we have no illusions about the price we shall have to pay over here for holding Germany at bay. Organized labor will have to renounce its hard-won privileges of the eight-hour day, of overtime pay, and trade union control over labor. People with large incomes will see them taxed until they almost disappear from view. Companies engaged in normal manufacture will be ruthlessly taken over by the Government in order to increase the output of munitions. Newspapers will be cut down to a mere miniature of their normal size.

When air raids start, there will be death and destruction with no means of insuring property. Regardless of hardship or special circumstances, men up to forty and over will be conscripted for military service and sent into the inferno just across the Channel. Even the identification of the countryside will disappear, as road signs and village signs will be removed so as not to aid German parachutists.

In the meantime the older men of Britain will be mobilized like a Ku Klux Klan, ready to hunt down our unwanted guests. Many an old boy who would otherwise get no shooting this year on the moors, is fondling his shotgun, chewing his walrus mustache, and complaining bitterly at the non-arrival of the blackguards from Germany.

As always in a supreme crisis Britain is absolutely magnificent and a little bit ridiculous. Nothing can damp the

incorrigible humor of the people, despite news which grows graver every hour. Yesterday, coming from the country, I gave a lift to a Cockney soldier who was on his last leave before crossing to France. Naturally we discussed the war and the fury of battle. When he got out I wished him luck and hoped he would soon see the victory of our arms. He nodded his head with great sagacity. “That will be all right,’’ he said. “You'll see that Jim won’t have it all his own way.”

I looked the bewilderment that I felt. “Jim?” I queried vaguely.

“That’s right,” he said. “Hitler. We always call him Jim in the regiment.”

For a moment I felt almost a passing sympathy for the preposterous, goosestepping idiots of Germany. How can you conquer a nation which in one word can reduce your war lord and Fuehrer to such a genial level of absurdity? It made me laugh, and then it rather got me under the fifth rib. These British always jest when facing death. It is a part of their glory and their humanity.

And now I must leave for a port where I speak tomorrow while trawlers come in and out from their grim work of sweeping the seas clear of mines. I shall go aboard these trawlers and say what I can to the men who risk their lives.

But I must be careful. I must not transgress the unwritten code. This is a land of heroism without heroics. It is England.

• • «

Powerful Testing Device

INDUSTRIAL research workers recently A displayed a new hydraulic monster powerful enough to flatten a locomotive boiler, yet so gentle it can crack a watch crystal without harming the works.

This behemoth of science is called the Templin precision metal-working machine and is hailed by research workers of the Aluminum Company of America as the world’s most powerful testing device.

Built by the Baldwin-Southwark Corporation of Philadelphia, the machine is capable of exerting a force of 3,000,000 pounds in compression (pushing) and 1,000,000 pounds in tension (pulling), yet it is so delicately balanced it will record the pressure required to crack an egg. —New York Tirnes.