Pattern for Victory
With Russia in, the pattern is a crazy quilt but the outlook is overwhelmingly changed for the better, says
SINCE I wrote my June article for Maclean’s the picture of the war has been transformed as if at the touch of the pantomime-fairy’s wand. Russia is in-and-on our side!
That event, of June 1941, has given the answer to the great question mark which has been hanging over this war since it began, a question mark which made all certain calculation of its outcome impossible. The question was: what would Russia do, and what value would the Red Army prove to have when she did it. We now know what Russia is doing: Hitler answered that question for us by attacking Russia. We do not know, as I write, the full answer to the second part of the question—but we soon shall.
Until a few weeks ago, the misty future contained three possibilities. The first was that Soviet Russia would join the anti-Comintern Pact (in other words, become Hitler’s full ally) and such a development, which would have seemed absurd beyond imagination to most people a few years ago, was by no means impossible then. This, indeed, was the one major disaster which had not befallen Britain since the war began, and British diplomacy, which had failed, and obviously from lack of eager-
ness, to draw Soviet Russia into our camp before the war broke out, seemed from all outer appearance to be doing as little as it could to avert this new calamity. The British Ambassador in Moscow, Sir Stafford Cripps, was like a shipwrecked mariner marooned on a desert island and seen through a telescope.
Nothing better calculated to make the Soviet rulers suspicious could have been invented than the choice of title by General Ironside on his elevation to the peerage. It was Gênerai Ironside who commanded the expedition to Archangel to fight against the Bolsheviks after the last war. When he became a peer during the present war, the General promptly chose Archangel for his title.
The second possibility, until the events of June, was that Soviet Russia would succeed, as it clearly wished, in keeping out of the war. The third, which was little more absurd than the first in these absurd times, was that Hitler would turn upon the new-found Russian friend, war with whom he had proclaimed in 1939 to have been abolished “for all time,” and smite him, and this has happened. He has decided, as Napleon decided, that the invasion of Britain is too desperate a hazard, and has
gone in search of quicker and cheaper glories on the road to Moscow.
The transformation in the picture of the war which these stupendous events have caused is as gratifying as it possibly could be, from our point of view, but brings with it, it is true, some fantastic paradoxes. According to the British Foreign Office at the beginning of the new attack, Soviet Russia was not our “ally” but a “co-belligerent.” According to the same source, our only “fighting ally” in this war at present was Poland, which had been at war with our new “co-belligerent” since it was fallen on from behind by the Russians in September 1939. The Soviet “co-belligerent,” for that matter, still held a quarter of a million Polish prisoners-of-war. (The Poles and the Russians have now straightened out this tangle in London talks.) Mr. Churchill has since made it clear that the Russians are our full allies. The Finns, whose gallant fight against the Russians a short time ago was being applauded to the skies, are now felt to be showing a lack of the spirit that is said to prevail over the game of cricket in attacking the Russians at the side of the Germans. From Moscow, which the British public for twenty years has been taught to think of as a Godless and churchless city, suddenly come long descriptions of a population “praying for victory.”
The discerning Canadian reader will thus perceive that ideas about “the things we are fighting for” have to be adjusted very speedily nowadays, but fortunately the masses of people in the countries concerned seem fully equal to the quick changes that are expected of them.
The chief thing, from the point of view of this staunch and beleaguered Island, is that the outlook has been vastly improved by these events. Why Hitler attacked Russia is a question as difficult to answer as the question, why did he not attack this Island when it lay almost at his mercy after the collapse of France? The only possible answer, to the first question, seems to be that he did not dare to attempt the invasion of Britain while the Red Army and Air Force lay intact on his Eastern frontier, and that he possibly thought he could demolish them quickly and cheaply, and then turn on and rend Britain.
It is too early to say that he has found this calculation to be hopelessly wrong, if it was his calculation, but every day that passes makes this seem more likely. For my part, I cannot see how Hitler can hope now to invade this Island. If ever a moment was lost, that moment has been lost. However great his success in Russia may yet prove, he will be much weakened by it, and we are growing daily stronger. Once more, as in 1917, Germany is slowly losing “the battle of the Atlantic,” despite the heavy losses that are being inflicted on our shipping. Once more, as in 1917, American intervention looms nearer, and the stream of American supplies is swelling. The lifeline across the Atlantic has not been broken.
Goering A Danger
WHEN I began to write these articles for Maclean’s, in October 1940, I said, with rueful resignation, that I was finding it as difficult to make people believe in our good chances as I had found it difficult, earlier, to make them believe in the danger of war. Indeed, I found myself coming, this time, to be scouted as an irresponsible optimist and jusqu’auboutist where I had, before the war, been dismissed as an irresponsible pessimist, alarmist and the like.
Yet the truth of the matter was, even then, that as Hitler had failed to invade us in 1940, and as long as Russia did not actually come in against us, we were in a winning position, and this led me to say, at the beginning of these articles, that by the end of them, in October 1941, I expected to be able to say that the last chance of our losing the war had vanished and that victory was well in sight.
This was not in any way a tribute to the skill with which we had conducted the war, for I thought we had made almost every possible mistake. It was simply the lesson of the cards as they lay on the table, and it is working out as I expected. Our
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blunders and laggardliness were often appalling—but Hitler took neither of his two chances of winning the war outright. The first was to gain either Italy or Russia as a full ally at the outbreak of the war and attack Britain with everything he could muster. The second was to hurl everything he had against Britain immediately after the collapse of France.
It amuses me, personally, to think how alone 1 was, in October 1940, in the view that by October 1941 we should be in a clear winning position —and how many people have come round to that way of thinking in recent weeks.
Now, the transformation in the picture of the war is indeed overwhelming. We cannot yet see the full meaning or consequences of the events of June 1941, and it may be that months or years will pass before we are able to see, clearly or dimly, the forces that have been at work behind the scenes.
One thing, at any rate, has been clearly proved by the amazing changes and right-about-turns which ruling groups in nearly all countries have performed since Hitler came to power eight years ago—that things are seldom what they seem. Therefore, Canadian readers who wish to be well informed, who wish to gain a glimpse at least of real motives and real manipulators behind the backcloth, should store away a few things in their memories.
First, the fantastic flight to Britain of Rudolf Hess. To the present day the British public has not been told a word about this event, and this remains a regrettable, and potentially ominous thing. If there is something to hide, that something cannot be good.
From what has leaked out, however, it is beyond doubt, as I believe, that Hess knew of the impending attack on Russia, and that he came to this country, with the connivance probably of Hitler himself, to try and persuade influential people that a cessation of the Anglo-German war, and British condonation, explicit or implicit, of the German attack on Russia would be advisable in the interests of both parties.
This would mean that the German rulers have decided the invasion of Britain to be hopeless, and now would like to gain something like peace on terms which would leave the German military machine, if not intact, at least not much damaged, and capable of quick repair after another mock peace. From the moment, in 1939, when it became clear that Hitler was not going to try for victory outright, and must therefore ultimately find himself in a losing position, 1 have greatly feared this attempt to gain another breathing space by switching the war into an “anti-Communist crusade,” and have regarded it as the one way in which, if the German bait were swallowed, we could still eventually lose the war.
This, as I think, was certainly the mission on which Hess was sent to this country, and in conjunction with it Canadian readers should consider the discreet retirement from the
forefront of the German scene, in recent months, of Goering. Now, Goering is the one man in Germany more dangerous to us than Hitler, and he is the man about whose ‘‘fundamental decency”—to quote a phrase used, inevitably, in our House of Commons about Hess— more illusions have been cherished by influential people in this country than about any other. The time is certainly approaching when, if they thought Germany’s adversaries could thus be deluded, powerful groups in Germany would be prepared to overthrow Hitler and install Goering in his place. They would be willing to accept the semblance of defeat, if in reality they could preserve the Reich and its military machine in fairly good condition and could gain time to prepare the third German war.
Now, the only thing that still could give reason to think that they might have some success with such plans is the obstinate and sinister silence which has been preserved about Hess. It is impossible to imagine any good explanation for this.
On the other hand, it has now been announced that Hess’ status is no longer that of a prisoner of war, but that of “a prisoner of state.” If that means, as it suggests, that he is being held for trial, it is good news, and shows that our rulers are not going to be duped as their predecessors so often were.
And the reaction of the British Government, as displayed in Mr. Churchill’s quick-off-the-mark speech a few hours after the invasion of Russia, was beyond criticism. The attack on Russia was taken for what it was— a heaven-sent gift to us in our hard task of winning the war, and no doubt was left that, for us, Hitler’s Germany remained the enemy to be destroyed. As long as we keep to that line we cannot go wrong.
By the time this article appears Canadian readers will be able to see how Hitler’s Russian campaign is faring. If the Russians can hold out for three months, Hitler could be beaten this coming winter, for defeatist presentiment in his own country would, in those circumstances, become his most formidable foe.
The V Campaign
IN THAT connection, the general staff of our political war operations—in other words, propaganda, which properly used can be made into a war-winning weapon—has for the first time scored a major success. Since I began to write these articles I have consistently lamented the lagging gait of our propaganda. Never, said somebody recently, has so little been known by so many about so much as in these two years of the existence of our Ministry of Information the staff of which has swollen from 999 quickly-recruited members about whom there was such an outcry at the beginning of the war, to over 2,000, with a stratospheric salary list.
But now somebody—not in the Ministry of Information, I believe, but in some other department—has
produced an excelllent idea. By radio, day and night, the peoples of the German-occupied countries are being told to use the letter “V” as the common symbol of their resistance to the hated invader. It is the first letter of the word Victory in many languages and, scribbled, on walls and doors, strewn about the streets in thousands of little paper “V’s,” introduced, in this Morse-code guise of three dots and a dash, into laughter and whistling and door knocking and music, it is likely to become the constant nightmare of the German troops in the conquered countries. They will hear it down every side street, see it on every pavement and wall the little emblem of the Victory which not they, the jackbooted conquerors, but the unarmed people they domineer are surely awaiting. The joke is that this was a favorite device of the Nazis themselves. When they were fighting for power, in Germany, they used to terrorize their opponents by painting and pasting the Swastika on every wall, door, hoarding and pavement. The prominent anti-Nazi would find it menacing him on his own doorstep when he went out in the morning. Then during the first of their foreign conquests the Nazis used the same nerve-racking trick in the countries they assailed. In Austria, for instance, young Nazis used to go out of nights and mow a large swastika into a field of growing corn; it could be seen cut into the bark of trees, even clipped into the coats of dogs known to belong to anti-Nazis, and little paper or metal swastikas used to lie about the pavements in thousands.
Now, the Nazis are to have a taste of their own medicine, and it will
make them feel that, although the people they live among are quiet and well-behaved and superficially polite, they are living within a hedge of hatred that grows daily thicker and pricklier. Coming at this time, when the presentiment of defeat is beginning to foster in the German soul, this is a ! very astute blow at the German’s weakest point—his uneasy conscience and nerves.
Meanwhile, the picture of the war in other places has improved more than one dared to hope. The deadly ¡ pincers which were apparently closing on the Suez Canal seem to be faltering. Syria is ours, so that the claw of the Eastern pincer has been clipped. The Western pincer remains halted at Tobruk, and seems unable to fasten itself upon Egypt.
And at this very time, for the first time in this war, Germany is getting a taste of air bombing. It is little enough as yet, compared with i what Warsaw and Rotterdam and Belgrade, or even some British cities, had to suffer, but it will increase and increase, whereas the raids in this country have fallen away to almost nothing—at any rate, for so long as Hitler is preoccupied with Russia.
The outlook is good, if we use our chances. There is no denying that any longer, even when all allowances are made for the apparently incurable national habit of going-tosleep-again which has cost us so dearly in the past.
And the news has sent a perceptible thrill of hope and optimism through the people of this country, who did not get downhearted during the worst times, and now simply could not be convinced by any power known to man that they are not going to beat Germany, and fairly soon, i