LONDON LETTER

When the War Ends

Beverley Baxter May 1 1942
LONDON LETTER

When the War Ends

Beverley Baxter May 1 1942

When the War Ends

LONDON LETTER

Beverley Baxter

LONDON, April 3 (By Cable). There is an uneasy stillness in the air. It is Good Friday and the road in front of my house is as silent as the garden at the back, where not a breath of wind stirs the tree branches which are breaking into buds of hopeful green. Now and then a lorry rumbles by the house as if it has lost its way and is trying to catch up to its companions. A cat has just come over the garden wall and is stealthily prowling about like a detective in search of a clue.

This is the lull before battle. It can be only a matter of days now when Hitler will launch his final thunderbolt, and before the summer is out we should be able to see the shape of things to come. There is no living creature in the whole vast world whose destiny will not be affected by the result. Truly, Hitler can look out upon the human scene and boast that, whatever his end, he caused an almighty stir while he was alive. If publicity is the food of vanity, then Hitler has gorged himself to the bursting point.

It would be interesting to review the possibilities of the next few weeks, speculate on the chances of Turkey and Spain being overrun as a corollary to the attack on Russia. But, perhaps because it is Good Friday and one’s thoughts are influenced by the significance of the day, I want to take you beyond the immediate urgency of the war and deal with a subject which is at once intangible yet of vital practical importance.

This war will end some day. That, at least, is a prophecy which one can venture upon with confidence. It may end suddenly as in 1918 when the German armies, which had almost reached Paris and nearly had the Channel ports in their hands, cracked like an eggshell. But whenever peace comes there will be problems just as momentous and even more complex than those of waging the war. That fact need not dismay governments or nations. Within the scope of those problems and complexities there is room for the greatest advance civilization has seen, just as there is also room for collapse, retrogression and bitter disillusionment.

In every country there are committees of experts planning postwar development. Germany and Japan are planning to divide the spoils and exploit the world which they have pillaged and outraged. The United States and the British Empire are planning an economic and social revolution so that the human family can live in concord under strong, enlightened leadership instead of tyranny. Each nation to its dream, for it is not only the righteous who have visions.

Each nation’s dream is based on the assumption of victory. Certainly, if Germany wins, our lot for many years wijl be an endless struggle to break the chains that the conqueror will have fastened upon us. A thousand years can go to making an Empire but it can be lost in a single day. Yet we must

assume victory, and it is on that basis that I want to put before Canadian readers a thought which not only concerns the future but has an almost equal bearing on the situation today.

To explain what I mean, let us recall for one moment what happened when the war of 1914-18 ended. Russians, Frenchmen, Britons, Italians and Americans had died in battle to save the world from slavery. The whole of Europe was a cemetery in which young men of the Allied Nations slept side by side. But hardly had the last gun been silenced on the Western Front when distrust, fear and greed began to divide the nations which had been comrades in arms. France, twice invaded by Germany, sought the hegemony of Europe and forged an iron ring around republican Germany. British foreign policy, sometimes more adroit than wise, began to fear the proximity of a too powerful France. Russia had dropped out of the war and was in the midst of the Bolshevik revolution which cut her off from the rest of the world. Few even remembered how bravely her soldiers had fought in the ill-equipped, badly led armies of the Czar. The United States abandoned Europe in disgust and went into the business of debt collecting. Many sincere attempts were made in the years that followed to create a decent world, but its chances had been destroyed before the victorious nations had left the Peace Conference at Versailles.

What was really the trouble? What was the missing human element which permitted well-meaning politicians to sabotage the sacrifice of a generation in arms?

Good Will Missing

THE ANSWER is not hard to find. It can be put into two short words—the missing human element was “good will.” I do not propose to elaborate on that idea or sentimentalize upon that theme, because these are times when hard thinking is safer than idealism. Rather would I have you look upon “good will” as one sees it on the balance sheet, a definite, tangible asset whose value is clearly understood in business circles.

The world is very sick. This war has come too soon upon the heels of its predecessor. None of the nations have either spiritual or material resources comparable to a quarter century ago. The truth is that the civilized portion of the world has outgrown war. It is bestial, blasphemous and wasteful. Only a nation like Germany, a giant with adolescent mind, can plan war and rejoice in its evil consequences. The result of all this is that civilized nations have been forced to fight against their will and their instincts. It has taken a heavy toll of their spiritual reserves, their nervous resources.

I have seen the consequences of these

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things in normal life over here. Men who have been loyal partners for years will quarrel violently and each go his own way. Friends, instead of drawing closer to each other, will often drift apart—and not merely because their normal lives have been upset. I do not want to pretend that the kindly England of Dickens has disappeared, but I merely wish to record symptoms which should not be ignored. After Singapore the violence of the critics was almost out of hand. Everything and everybody was attacked. Even the rubber planters of Malaya were held up to derision while local and government officials were denounced as imbeciles and faint hearts. Whatever the true story of Singapore may be, and it can only prove humiliating and tragic, who believes there were not many officials who worked night and day and even gave their lives to try to prevent disaster?

In politics here there is a truce, but there is a growing asperity in the air. In addition, workers and managements in too many factories regard themselves as representing opposing interests rather than being servants of one glorious cause. In many centres of the nation there is a tendency to point to one group of men and charge them with responsibility for the war instead of realizing that the whole nation and democracy itself were to blame. I do not mean to infer for a moment that there is the slightest defeatism anywhere in Britain. Every man and woman in the country is for fighting the war to the finish, but they are creating disturbing internal differences for the days that will follow the first exuberance of victory. Yet such divergences as may exist among ourselves are simple of solution compared to the international aspect.

As in 1918, we shall be faced with psychological influences that should be admitted now and studied with the greatest care. We would be foolish not to realize that Russia at the moment feels bitterly that she is doing more than her share. Stalin said as much in his last speech. Not only is Russia fighting Germany but her satellites as well.

When Germany is beaten Russia might feel that victory was hers and that she was not called upon to consult her allies on an equality which had no relation to the sacrifices involved. In such a situation Britain might reply it was Russia’s pact with Germany that precipitated the war. Further, Britain could claim she held the ring alone for one whole year and gave Russia a vital twelve months to prepare. One need not elaborate the debate. Material is abundant for distrust and recrimination unless we are both great enough to substitute something in their place.

Then there is France. I am told by men escaping from there that the light has gone out of people’s eyes. Their shame, their self-reproach and bitterness toward Germany and Britain alike make beautiful France a sullen and pitiful shadow of a once

great nation. Over and over again one hears from people of many nationalities that France is finished, that France will never matter again. Men said that even louder at the time of the French Revolution. Yet a few years later France almost conquered the whole world. We cannot afford to despise France or write her off. She has great things to give to civilization and, if only for our own comfort, we should do everything to make her a great nation once more. !

A Few Fools

BUT IT is in the realm of AngloAmerican relations that this need of sympathy, understanding and good will is going to be greatest. It will not be easy of accomplishment, but if the English-speaking nations draw apart once more then they will deserve the curse of history upon them. Let us admit it—there were a few fools in Britain who smiled when the American Navy was battered at Pearl Harbor, just as there were some fools in the United States who regarded the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse as a salutary check to Britain’s boast of maritime superiority.

How mad such distortions can be! Pearl Harbor was a British disaster and the sinking of the Prince of Wales a staggering blow to the U.S.

These little minds are always with us. They are saboteurs of the soul, but we cannot afford ever again to hand the world over to them.

Perhaps the people of the U.S. as a whole do not quite understand what Britain is going through just now. Thisproudisland race which in thepast broke the power of Spain and France and did so much to defeat Germany the last time is enduring the spectacle of her Empire being ravaged, her nationals exposed to torture, outrage and death. Let the enemy destroy Coventry, Birmingham, even London if he likes, Britain will not wince. But when she has to stand helpless while her overseas lands are despoiled —that rouses her fury and shame. These are hard days for Britain.

On the other hand, we in Britain should realize that if the United States gathers her strength slowly it will nevertheless be a decisive factor in the war, and that without her sympathy and help we never could have held the enemy at bay when no nation fought beside us save the young countries of the Empire. There is so much material for dissension in Anglo-American relations, but there is so much more on which to build an enduring structure of mutual trust and enlightened understanding.

The relations of the British Commonwealth of Nations are themselves not free of the dangers of dissension i that will follow the war. Before 1914 there were abundant prophecies and complete assurance in Germany that the Empire would break up under the stress of a world war. That did not happen. Instead the bonds were strengthened as the Dominions attained maturity and became full partners. But now the Empire sees j the mother country held at bay by 1

the enemy in Europe while her power and prestige in the Pacific have gone down like the setting sun. What more natural than to say Britain’s day is over and that, like France, she must be content to live in the memory of her once great past? And what more easy than to say every empire has its day and that the British Empire cannot alone be immune from the erosion of time? The loyalty of Australia to the mother country has always been more personal than that of Canada, since Canadians have been a partner in a continent as well as an empire. Yet the impatience of Australia with Britain has found expression and it is at such moments that seeds of future trouble are sown, although their existence in the ground may not be realized.

But those who think that the days of the British Empire are numbered might ponder what would take its place. For generation after gen-

eration the structure which was created by the genius of the British race has given a life of security and liberty to people who have accepted

those gifts as unquestioningly as they accept good health or a good crop. Are the disasters and humiliations of a single period in a war enough to make us believe that this edifice which has lasted through centuries should be pulled down?

Canada has an enormous part to play in the years that will follow the war. Of all peoples, Canadians can speak with a voice that will be listened to, not only on both sides of the Atlantic but in Europe and in the Pacific. Her great territories, her resources and the character of her people may well result in Canada becoming the dominating centre of the British race, even if these old islands in the North Sea still house a genius and a tradition that cannot be taken from them.

No Other Way

TWO THOUSAND years ago a man came to this poor earth with both a gospel and a political policy. I have often thought that the Sermon on the Mount, quite apart from its spiritual sublimity, supplies a

complete workable philosophy for the government of nations. Today we mourn Christ’s death upon the Cross for the people who stoned and crucified Him. Surely the extent to which mankind has departed from His message marks an era of suffering that has overwhelmed the world. The message of Christ’s mission to the world was, “Peace, good will toward men.” His death on the Cross has not robbed that message of its beauty or its sanity. There is no other gospel to save humanity, there is no other policy. The world is starved of good will and there is danger that even the nations fighting humanity’s battle against the forces of might may falter and perhaps fail because of that. There is need for good will everywhere now, in families, among friends, between employers and workers, with political parties and religious creeds and with nations fighting side by side to save the world. There is no other way. Two thousand years of men’s wisdom have produced no substitute for the message of Bethlehem.