Beverley Baxter's

Churchill vs. The Critics

February 15 1942

Beverley Baxter's

Churchill vs. The Critics

February 15 1942

Beverley Baxter's

Churchill vs. The Critics

LONDON, Jan. 26 (By Cable). At this moment there is great soul searching going on in England, I use the word England, deliberately, for when things go wrong the English come into their own. No one ever asks what is at fault with Scotland and Wales, while there is tacit understanding that the Dominions are above re-

Oratorical and newspaper batteries in Australia are turned full blast on this tight little island, with special reference to that part which lies south of the Tweed. Mr. Curtin is very angry indeed with what is happening in the Far East, or what is not happening, and tells the English what he thinks of them. The usual niceties of Imperial intercourse are swept aside in the fury of the Prime Minister who feels that the existence of his Dominion is regarded as a secondary matter by the pundits of Whitehall.

Perhaps I understand Curtin’s point of view better than some others here because of my acquaintance with a remarkably gifted Australian journalist in London named Eric Baume. Mr. Baume is head of the London bureau of the powerful Truth group of newspapers in Australia, a group which allows him unlimited freedom of expression. For the last eighteen months Baume has sent cables criticizing the British Government from every angle, while his attitude in London is to growl at the British Lion and tell it to be careful or something might happen. To Mr. Baume there’ll always be an Australia and like a fervid patriot he believes that his country is what really matters.

I admire him for that and do him no injustice when I also tell you that Mr. Baume feels very strongly that England must change a lot if the Empire is to continue in partnership with Australia as its brightest gem. Baume does not like dukes, hereditary titles, tea parties, younger sons, Tory M.P.s, strawberries on the terrace at Ascot, colonial governors or the public school system. He loves England in some queer way but deplores her. All this has been long and clearly indicated in his dispatches which are passed with promptness and courtesy by the English


Now it will have been noticed by any town dweller that if at night a dog barks loud enough and often enough it will start every dog in the neighborhood doing the same thing, and the more the other dogs don’t know what it is about the louder they bark, as if to reassure themselves by their very vehemence. In a recent Londo’n Letter I indicated that Churchill would have to face a lot of criticism when he returned from America, but I had no idea that the critics would be so full throated as they have proved.

Even before Churchill arrived home Lord Addison exploded a bomb in the sacred precincts

proach. But baiting the English is always fair game and just now the sport is particularly lively. of the House of Lords by declaring that Air Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, former Commander in Chief of Singapore, was a nincompoop. Not at once, but subsequently, two noble lords castigated Addison who is the Labor leader in the Upper House, for his bad taste and vulgarity. “Singapore has no monopoly on nincompoops,” said Lord Cork darkly. That was too easy, and this morning the noisy leftish Daily Mirror has a cartoon showing six chinless peers in their robes and coronets, with the caption “You’re telling us.”

“Lord Trenchard, who played so great a part in the Air Force in the last war, got up and said there was a lot of nonsense being talked about defending airdromes. “The only defense is to have plenty of fighters,” he said. “There is nothing new to be learned from Crete, Greece and Malaya.” This pronouncement, which seemed to my untutored mind to be eminently sensible, drew on his lordship’s head the wrath of Frank Owen, youngish Welsh editor of Lord Beaverbrook’s Evening Standard.

Frank Owen is one of three authors of that literary masterpiece “Guilty Men,” which was a supreme example of how to condemn public men by extracting quotations from their context. He even honored me with a place of minor ridicule in the book by quoting my statement that the word “blitzkrieg” would prove a great ironic Hitler joke, which reference many Canadian newspapers have since published. Reproof with zeal and satisfaction: the meaning of “blitzkrieg” is literally, “lightning war,” and with the Germans retreating from the Russians in the third year of the war I venture to repeat that the word “blitzkrieg” has already become a great ironic Hitler joke. Frank Owen and his colleagues were in too great a hurry to anticipate history’s verdict on events.

Nothing daunted, however, Mr. Owen leaped last week at Lord Trenchard. In a blistering editorial called “Lord Ostrich,” a somewhat obvious but always effective excursion into metaphor, he opened fire on the famous peer, divebombed him, and sank him without trace. Not to be outdone, Richard Stokes, rich insistent socialist M.P., raked up the optimistic exuberant speeches made by Churchill at the time of the German invasion of Norway. Encouraged by this helpful example, the Labor Daily Herald attacked Churchill for his speeches on India ten years ago.

Vote of Confidence

IN THE MIDST of this hubbub Churchill arrived in England with a cold, and mildly suggested that it might be a good thing to make a recording of his important Parliamentary pronouncements on the war situation so that it could be relayed to the Empire and the outside world at convenient hours, thus avoiding the burden of his having to broadcast the same speech in the evening. At this the House bristled like the hairs upon a dog and the suggestion was rejected. As Hannen Swaffer asked in his daily column the following morning, “Is the House of Commons to become a music hall?”

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London Letter

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Churchill accepted the Parliamentary rebuff with the utmost good humor. The Atlantic crossing had done him good even if it had given him a cold. A little later, with what seemed commendable common sense, he announced there would shortly be three days debate on the war situation and that if criticisms of the Government seemed to warrant it, he would be ready to make it a vote of confidence so that everyone could see just where the Government stood. At this the private members of the Conservative Party met (I was not there so am not divulging secrets improperly) and after indignant discussion sent a message to the Prime Minister that they hoped he would not make the matter oneof confidence as that would have the effect of curbing criticism.

Perhaps I might explain what this means exactly. A supporter of the Government can refrain from voting on a normal measure if he does not approve, or even vote against it without meaning that he wants the Government to resign. On a vote of confidence, however, either to abstain or vote against the Government means you want the Prime Minister to go. Thus when the confidence debate is held with the ultimate vote hanging over the House, attacks on the Government might be construed as an attempt to encourage or encompass its downfall, even if critics who made such speecheseventuallvobeyed the crack of the whip and lined up in the Government lobby. It is a nice point, but how long will the pugnacious Churchill submit to dictation? He is a great House of Commons man and never fails to acknowledge that he is a servant of the House, but he is not its slave. In fact, he is in the strong position of a cook when a dinner party is arranged and no other cook is available. The cook is willing to listen to suggestions, but it is just as well in such a situation not to savage him.

I am well aware that this picture of England which 1 have drawn is not a pleasing or encouraging one, but then England is unlike any other country and you have to understand her complex, puzzling ways. She has a highly-developed nonconformist conscience and in emotional moments is likely to admit her own responsibility for errors and to condemn individuals. This mood of nagging and scolding will pass. It will blow itself out, and the sooner the better, for it is not good that soldiers in the desert, sailors and airmen in the grip of merciless battle at sea and in the air should read that everything is rotten in the State of Denmark. Why give your life to preserve a country of “nincompoops” and “ostriches?” On the whole, the uproar is a healthy sign and, though it has gone too far and developed into undignified taunts and cheap impeachments, it is based on a firm desire to bring the war effort to a proper state of efficiency.

But what the critics forget is this: The collapse of France destroyed the | whole allied plan for victory. British j strategy was based on French coi operation in every part of the world. ¡ Therefore the tragic defection of France left us in the position of a boxer on the ropes who could only I “cover up” or try to avoid a knockj out, while inflicting such limited ' punishment on his adversary as the I opportunity permitted. The miracle ! was that we did hang on and did j avoid a knockout. Future historians will dwell on that period as probably j the greatest in the history of the j British race. Nor was that survival ; accomplished without heavy sacrifice j and grave drastic decisions. Britain sent reinforcements to Egypt when her own defenses were below the safety margin. Wavell’s spectacular victories resulted, but the fruit of those victories was snatched away j when W a veil sent troops to aid Greece while the Germans recaptured the ; desert. Now the Government is j attacked for having sided with j Greece.

How could we have done other1 wise? True, it led to the unhappy and j costly episode of Crete, but it also | inspired the Jugoslavs to throw off j the garments of shame though it ' meant baring their breasts to the thrust of the invader. Crete, Greece ¡ and the short-lived battle of Jugoslavia threw Hitler’s timetable out of gear. It saved an advance on the Suez and postponed the attack on Russia by six vital weeks. Campaigns cannot be judged by the result of isolated incidents. It is a vast tapestry which has to he studied from a distance. Those six weeks may well have saved Russia and cost Hitler the war.

Invasion Cry

THEN as Russia fought her epic battles of Moscow, Rostov and Leningrad, there came an outcry which swelled into formidable volume, “We must invade Europe and relieve the pressure on Russia.” All across Canada and in the U.S.A. I met the same questions: “Why doesn’t

Britain invade the continent?” No one seemed to think of the shipping required, of the impossibility of large units of the fleet operating in narrow waters with enemy guns mounted on the French Coast, of the immense Air Force necessary to secure domination of the skies, of the huge Army necessary to meet the divisions which Germany could have flung at us, and the problem of supplies in a country that has been robbed of everything by the Germans.

Stalin was hard put to it for weapons at that juncture. Many Russian industrial plants had been destroyed and as anxiety deepened in Moscow, Beaverbrook flew to the Russian capital and pledged immediate AngloAmerican aid. Airplanes, tanks, machine guns, explosives and other implements of war were diverted to Russia. It may have meant the turning point of the battle. At any rate Stalin’s gratitude has been expressed over and over again. Was the British Government wrong to aid Russia? That question has to be asked in view of subsequent events. But Britain did not stop there. Military diversion was also necessary and we attacked the Germans in Libya to remove the threat of the German thrust into the Caucasus via Iraq and Iran. Our troops had not a sufficient margin of superiority to ensure victory, but the chance had to be taken. German difficulties increased, the retreat from Moscow began.

“Ah!” shout the critics, “but why were you not concentrating on the Far East? Didn’t you know Japan was going to attack?” The Germans have a word which means “carpet eater.” They use it to describe men of violent tempers. I think one could excuse Churchill if every now and then he chews a corner of the carpet at number ten. Supposing we had massed our strength in the Far East against a threat which had not materialized and might never do so? Supposing we had armed Malaya to the teeth but had denied help to Stalin and allowed the Germans to attack in Libya? “The Anvil Chorus” from “Il Trovatore” would have been like the music of mosquitoes compared to the roar of those critics who liave the gift of second sight after the event. And how could we possibly arrange our Far Eastern defenses on the assumption that the U.S. Navy would he caught off guard at Pearl Harbor and that we should lose two battleships at once? No nation is powerful enough to ensure against outrageous disaster.

Well, that is the situation at the moment. There will be some who will accuse me of complacency and of defending the men in power or of trying to protect the inept and inefficient from punishment. What do they say? Let them say. There has been inefficiency and ineptitude but there have been farseeing heroic decisions which have kept the balance and helped deal grievous blows to the enemy. Churchill has brought some of the storm upon himself by his eagerness and his stubbornness. If he had been wise he would have had an Empire directorate of high strategy and made the Dominions full partners instead of junior colleagues. Canada’s opposition, the internal situation in South Africa and British obtuseness killed that scheme, unfortunately. The present attitude of Australia is the direct result of that weakness of vision in Ottawa and London. Churchill has made of government so personal a matter than when he is out of the country we are like a school class with no teacher. He has made lieutenants out of his ministers instead of marshals, except Beaverbrook, who made himself a marshal.

But when these things are said, Churchill has given us inspired leadership and has shown extraordinary sanity in the face of illinformed clamor and Sunday journalists who know all the secrets and all the answers. Every man in public life must be a critic of the administration in power, but that is different from joining in the mad cacophony of sound that breaks out when all the dogs in the neighborhood start barking because they hear others doing it.

England is all right. She is just suffering from an attack of distemper and Japanese fleas. She will get over it and the old Bull Dog will resume its natural dignity later. Churchill is determined to make it a vote of confidence. His neck does not bend easily and he is not going to bow again to the will of his critics, so do not be surprised if in the debate which is about to begin you hear the first warnings of a general election.