GENERAL ARTICLES

Words Are Weapons

Says this writer: "In a war of ideas that is being waged against us, to confuse and divide us, we must use ideas as weapons for our own salvation "

BRUCE HUTCHISON November 15 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

Words Are Weapons

Says this writer: "In a war of ideas that is being waged against us, to confuse and divide us, we must use ideas as weapons for our own salvation "

BRUCE HUTCHISON November 15 1942

Words Are Weapons

Says this writer: "In a war of ideas that is being waged against us, to confuse and divide us, we must use ideas as weapons for our own salvation "

BRUCE HUTCHISON

MR. MACKENZIE KING has always had a deep, dark suspicion of organized publicity. To get him into a press conference is about as easy as getting a small boy into a bathtub. He was brought up in the old school of Laurier, the great days of top-hatted statecraft, and he likes to rely on the formal speech in Parliament, the considered statement, the official memorandum. When he has a parliamentary address to prepare it is alleged that his secretaries and experts paste all the facts and figures together until the resulting strip of paper stretches from the front hall of

Laurier House clear up to the attic, and the finished speech will finally include the kitchen stove. As the record of his life proves, this system has worked well for Mr. King.

Thus when he drafted Charlie Vining to open up the swarming hive of Ottawa and let the public look in on it, Mr. King was ordering something like a revolution in his own life and in the mental habits of the nation. We are now entering for the first time the world-wide war of ideas. It is none too soon.

The man who is expected to build a new’ psychol-

ogy in this nation and safeguard its reputation in the world has large qualities for his task. Whether he has all the necessary qualities we shall know after a while in a capital w’hich is continually breaking good men—also whether he is to have a real chance to use what qualities he has.

Vining is the forty-five-year-old son of a Winnipeg Baptist minister, a reporter of the Toronto Star, a soldier of the last war, a highly skilled craftsman in the use of the English language, an author of excellent prose in this magazine and elsewhere, an executive who has long been president of the Newsprint Association, a slightly built gentleman of soft voice, boyish smile, shy ways, and he is one of the toughest citizens of Canada.

Since Canada entered the war every Canadian who went to the United States came home with the same grim story—the Americans totally misunderstood what we were trying to do here, were being fed on lies about us and had no means of learning the truth. Everybody saw the problem but Vining determined to do something about it. He implored the Government to open an information office in the United States. He offered to serve there without pay. He bombarded Ottawa with his dire warnings of trouble with the American neighbor. But Mr. King thought we were doing all right and refused to get excited.

Report Got Action

FINALLY SO many men joined in the same protest that Mr. King decided to find out \yhat was the trouble. He appointed Vining to make a report on the position of Canada in the mind of the American people. Instead of a cursory survey, Vining turned in a monumental document which is reported to have shaken the Prime Minister and floored the Cabinet Convinced at last, Mr. King dumped the whole problem on Vining’s lap. In effect he said: “You’ve diagnosed the disease and prescribed the remedy. Go ahead and effect the cure.’’

The great experiment which Mr. King tardily authorized starts in the United States. It is there that our most immediate information problem lies. To many it may appear that once the Americans entered the war and became our allies, there was no further need of enlightening them about Canada. Vining vigorously denounced this view. To him a true picture of Canada in the American mind is more necessary now than ever.

During the war, he holds it is necessary, if we are

to have the fullest co-operation between the two countries, that the Americans shall understand that we are carrying our share of the joint load. If they are not convinced of that during the war, if they do not come to regard us as a partner to trust and lean on, if they decide we are a weak ally and a failure as a nation under fire, the results in our relationship after the war are likely to be disastrous.

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Anyone who looks at the integration of Canadian and American business, at American bases flanking our two coasts, at American air lines over Canada, at the Alaska highway through Canada, at American uniforms swarming in Canadian ports—any Canadian who is realistic about his country’s future knows that it is inseparably bound up with the future of the United States; knows also that if we are to prosper and survive as a nation we must have the esteem, the good will, the co-operation of our American friends, and a realization among -, them of our independent role in the I postwar world. Vining’s argument is Í that we are doing little to achieve I these things and may lose them.

The examples of our failure, in ' terms of information, are many and glaring. The American people were not told, when the great air raids started over Cologne, that Canadian pilots formed a large part of the air crew, and graduates of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan a large part of the ground crew.

I When Alaska was endangered last summer the American people were not told that Canadian soldiers and Canadian aircraft were rushed to its defense, that the two nations were standing together in common defense, as agreed at Ogdensburg. Finally I when the Canadians carried the brunt of the attack on Dieppe and were hardly mentioned in the American press, even Mr. King must have seen the need to do something about it. Vining, it is said, was fit to be tied.

No miracle is needed to remedy this condition and Vining will attempt none. He will work to his own formula—‘‘a minimum of commotion.” You will hear little about him or his organization which will co-ordinate and lead but will not replace the existing information staffs of government departments, and will appear themselves as little as possible i in the news. They will seek merely to clear the channels of information, to make sure that the Americans receive the uncolored news about Canada when it is fresh. They will work through Ottawa and London to get the news released, to break the bottleneck which has long been corked with a brass hat. They will establish offices in Washington and New York to open the channels of American enquiry.

It is important to understand this form of direct approach to the Americans. We are not going to conduct propaganda among them. We ! are not going to exaggerate the story of our war program which is good j enough to stand by itself. We are not going to high-pressure the Americans i or insinuate our views, our news or our hopes among them. In Washington and New York the offices of the Wartime Information Board will answer questions only, but they will be ready to answer them all day and all night, quickly, accurately and authoritatively, so that any newsi paper correspondent or radio commentator may find out on the i telephone in two minutes the facts

of any Canadian situation, and be sure that the facts are uncolored.

Real Test in Canada

THE AMERICAN problem is relatively simple. It is in Canada that Vining faces his real test. -The Canadian information problem is so many-sided, so mixed up with our history, our racial division, our economic evolution, with the personalities of our leaders and with the whole teeming, mysterious stuff of our changing Canadian life that Vining may be said to have the worst job in Ottawa.

He is asked to build a new psychology in Canada. He knows it must be built or he might as well not take on the American job. So long as the psychology, the morale, the common mind of Canada feels frustrated, feels dissatisfied, feels that the nation is not doing its best, then it will be impossible either to get a maximum war effort out of the Canadian people or to create a satisfactory image of Canadian life in the American mind. Our own state of mind will reflect itself inevitably in the United States.

Mr. King evidently has come to realize this. He says ideas are weapons in this war as surely as tanks and planes. This fact was discovered by Hitler long ago and used with remarkable results, but in Canada we are a simple sort of people. It has taken us until now to find these things out and we still are suspicious of them, and rightly, since they have so often been used for evil purposes. In a war of ideas that is being waged against us to soften, confuse and divide us, we have to use ideas as weapons for good purposes, for our own salvation.

The Wartime Information Board comes into the picture at a grave time in our history. This nation lacks something. Not competence, not achievement in the war, not courage. It lacks an adequate idea.

The ordinary man calls it leadership. He demands leadership, but he doesn’t quite know what he wants. Leadership whither? No use to talk of leadership unless we are going somewhere. The common man is not sure that we are going somewhere. He knows that the war must be wón before we shall even have the opportunity to choose our way, but he asks something more than the negative issue of survival. He asks the positive promise of a better Canada. Mr. King has not yet given it to him.

That miracle of discovery apparently is expected of Vining and his men. They are expected somehow to galvanize all the latent power in the Canadian character, to build a new conception of Canada, a Canadian dream which will make this nation strong enough to bear the sacrifices and strains of the war, to carry a heavier load than we have ever known —and a dream which will unite the two races of Canada in a common effort, without reservation.

If that is what they expect of the Information Board, and evidently

they do, it is too much; too much for any group outside the Government itself; too much for anything less than the whole genius of the nation, from the Government down to the smallest man.

The lead obviously must come from the Government, wherever the original idea comes from. The Information Board cannot picture something which does not exist, cannot sell a policy which has not been framed, cannot breathe life into a vacuum.

More specifically, the Canadian people must have a greater confidence in their war effort which has been magnificent. They must have a new sense of individual participation in it so that they can feel it in their lives and give more of themselves to it. They must feel that the worst abuses of our society, if they cannot be remedied now in the pressure of war, will be remedied later. They must feel that we are fighting for a better kind of life for everyone in this land even if they do not agree in advance on the exact methods of attaining it. They must believe in the future of Canada.

Many Obstacles

THESE ARE vague phrases. When you come to work them out in government policy you run into all the baffling disputes of economic theory, into the struggle of class against class, into the infinite complexities of our politics. These are the things that Vining and Co. are running into now, whether they know it or not, and also into the infinite complexity of Mr. King’s character.

Herb. Lash, one of the finest and bravest men who ever came into Ottawa to serve his country, was never given a chance to make public information work against such obstacles and finally quit. Will Vining be given any better chance? Will a

Government which has been ter] rifled of publicity allow him a free j hand? Will it give him the substance ¡ of policy on which he can build an j idea, without which he is merely j writing in smoke to be blown away i by the first wind from Parliament or ! from Quebec?

How subtle is the task here ! How I nice the balance! For in the wrong | hands public information can become ¡ simply propaganda for an existing j Government, paid for by the public. I Into that swamp have fallen many | good men in many countries. That j is the theory of synthetic public j opinion which Dr. Goebbels has i developed to final perfection. That is j the negation of our whole theory of ¡ democratic government, which is j government by discussion, by arj gument, by criticism, by compromise, by the free interchange of ideas among free men. Vining and his men know all that and have no intention of falling into the swamp. The Government’s enemies will watch their steps closely.

All this explains why their job is perhaps the most difficult single job of the war in Canada. Whether they realize it or not, this is nothing less than to articulate the Canadian spirit so that all Canadians may see it and know it in their lives, so that every Canadian may feel he is part of a great joint enterprise, the citizen of a great free country, the shareholder in a great future.

For years a dead hand of political paralysis in Ottawa has held that spirit down as it was long held down in England and the United States. The spirit can be released only if the hand is withdrawn. To accomplish that, to give Canada a new and urgent sense of itself, is the biggest task of the war in our country. Not only the Wartime Information Board but the Government, Parliament and every man of good will is needed to do it.