If we strike now we have a good chance to be rid of Hitler before his tenth anniversary in power
THAT SECOND FRONT
If we strike now we have a good chance to be rid of Hitler before his tenth anniversary in power
A SWISS visitor who recently arrived here expressed astonishment, mixed with misgiving, at “the carefree appearance” of the people. He was right.
In view of the things they have suffered and the task still before them, it is perplexing how little bowed down the people of this Island seem. Their hearts seem to be filled with an obstinate confidence in the future that dismisses all setbacks and discounts all paper odds.
The result is that although two of our enemies sprawl all over Europe and the third has made deep inroads into our Eastern possessions, a stroll along Piccadilly nowadays is more invigorating and reassuring than at any time since the war began. In the first winter of the war, such an excursion was depressing because of the irresponsible unawareness of impending ordeal which seemed to prevail, the general indifference to arid ignorance of the war. The year that followed was the one of sudden shock and awakening, of bombs and debris, of fire, death and destruction.
Now the third phase has been reached. The war has entered into everybody’s life and nearly everybody is in uniform; everybody has a job to do, summer is at hand, and a cheerful confidence that nothing seems able to shake fills the manytongued throng that you see in the streets.
London, with the debris gone and the prisonlike railings going, the trees offering a green thanksgiving for the lessening of the petrol vapors in the air and this pageant of navy blue, sky blue and khaki in the streets, to my mind is more fascinating than ever before. The city reminds me irresistibly of the last year of the last war (even to the revival of the “Maid of the Mountains”).
The only hue lacking on the palette is the Italian uniform; in 1918 those neatly shod legs, wasp waists, abundant medal ribbons and topheavy-looking kepis adorned many of the expensive hotel lounges and, if they were not very prominent in the thick of the fray, at least they gained many teatime conquests.
This time they are gone, but everything else is the same. In Piccadilly yesterday I saw Russian soldiers, much stared at by the crowd; Dutch gendarmes, in dark and light blue; Indians, in khaki turbans, going calmly to an investiture; Australian airmen in their most becoming dark blue uniform and Canadian Scots in quantities; an odd Australian and New Zealand soldier; Americans, looking as if they were not yet used to their uniforms; Rhodesians, Poles with their picturesque square-topped caps, Belgians, a group of gigantic Norwegians in British battle dress with “Norge” on their shoulders, a brown-skinned sergeant-pilot with “Jamaica” in the same place; and everywhere, the uniforms of our own Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army, which for nearly three years now have most cheerfully taken on all odds and all comers in many parts of the world.
Old London never saw a more invigorating scene than this pageant of well-trained youth, and the calm confidence of the throng — which so perplexed our Swiss visitor — is a reassuring thing; as reassuring as the continuous stream of British and Allied air fighters and bombers which I, in my countryside home, by day see and at night hear making for Germany or the occupied territories. Little more than a year ago, the planes which men saw or heard from this apot
came the other way, they sought to beat us down and destroy us. Now the tide has turned, the air fighting goes on each day across the Channel, not here; the Germans must defend themselves, not we.
In this firm and united and confident front, however, there is a deep cleavage of opinion. It is between those who would attack, somewhere, now, and those who would wait. That is the only point of difference. It is the controversy which has been oversimplified by talk about “a second front.”
The facts of this matter are that for just a year now, ever since Hitler attacked Russia on June 22, 1941, the bulk of opinion in this country has expected and eagerly awaited some attempt to take advantage of the unforeseeably favorable position in which this “second front” venture of Hitler has put us. It is beyond dispute an opportunity that could never recur if Russia were overcome.
Thus, since June 22, 1941, a fierce, though silent, tug-of-war has been going on between a great mass of public feeling in this country and the government, which says as little as possible about the “second front.” During the winter, when the Japanese scored their first great successes, the frustration of this demand undoubtedly had a depressing effect upon people here, from which they have now recovered. But it is equally unquestionable that the country would rise with the utmost enthusiasm to the news that a weighty blow had been struck at our chief adversary, somewhere, and that it does not like, though it more or less silently swallows, the frustration of its wish. The truth is that this country wants to attack.
The unfortunate thing is that for twenty-five years our relations with Russia have been too much poisoned by irrelevant considerations (which
should now be finally discarded) for the public to be quite convinced that exclusively military or strategic interests govern our policy in this matter, and this is where the acid of distrust and disappointment tends to creep in.
Since Germany attacked Russia a year ago, Stalin and his spokesmen abroad have on three separate occasions called for the “second front.” The masses of people here, though they realize full well that the time is not ripe for an armed procession to start in state from here, land in France, and march to Berlin, still cannot be convinced that no other possibility of a weighty blow offers. After all, we have sent expeditions in a dozen directions that offered less prospect of decisive success than this. Thus, the people wonder whether Norway could not be made the object of an enterprise substantial enough to give the Germans a feeling of being inescapably between two fires; and whether it would not be better, instead of awarding a George Cross to sorely-tried Malta, to deliver a heavy blow at Italy.
It is known that all the responsible representatives here of the countries occupied by Germany are in favor of some such undertaking at the earliest feasible moment. It is known that American influence is equally strongly in favor of offensive action, also at the first possible instant. But above all, masses of people here, who have most at stake, and who wish to press on toward victory, pine for the blow to be struck.
The opposition, until now, has come almos, exclusively from the British Government, and it is possible that the loss of one or two seats at recent by-elections may be partly due to this, for the public longing for “action” is undoubtedly very strong. The government has been most cautious in all its statements on the subject, but its representatives have invariably reproved the clamor for offensive action. They usually I say that “the decision must be left to those who are in possession of j all the facts and figures,” or something of the sort.
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But the public has suffered and ! achieved enough in this war to feel j that this is not quite good enough. Moreover, the popular instinct has too often been right in the crises of recent years, and the governmental policy wrong. The British public wanted and would have supported any measures to nip aggression in the Abyssinian bud in 1935, and would have been spared this war if their wish had been granted; and at subsequent crises the sound feeling of the country was more often right than official policy.
Because of this strong public demand for some offensive enterprise to relieve Russia and profit by the present situation, the latent clash ¡ j between popular will and official action persists. The open clamor ! became loudest last autumn and I winter, when the Russians were in ! dire straits, and it was then that several governmental spokesmen, including Lord Halifax, declared that “no offensive action against Germany would be possible before 1943,” a statement which had a depressing effect upon people here, who itch to fight and definitely want the war to end sooner rather than later.
At that time, too, Lord Gort’s dispatches about Dunkirk were published (they were to have appeared in June of 1941, but after Hess’ landing here a postponement was announced and they ultimately appeared when the Germans were driving for Moscow). It was claimed that these proved the folly of sending illequipped and ill-prepared armies to I the European mainland. They did not, however, convince the public mind, which felt that, so long after Dunkirk, armies should not be illequipped or ill-prepared.
There was also much talk about the impossibility of finding shipping; but here again popular doubts existed whether the far greater quantity of shipping needed to transport armies to Hong Kong and Singapore was in the event better used than would have been the ships that might have carried men on some venture aimed against Germany or Italy.
But the real core of public anxiety : was the suspicion that official cauI tion in the matter of any enterprise designed both to relieve Russia and help ourselves was not exclusively dictated by military considerations. In view of the uneasy and fluctuating relations which existed between this country and Russia after 1917, and of the fears of “Bolshevism” fostered ; in the British people by many of their leaders, it was inevitable that ¡ this suspicion should arise. But it was fed by such things as the silence about Hess and a statement imputed to Colonel Moore-Brabazon, then but now no longer Minister for Aircraft Production, in the sense that Nazi dog and Bolshie dog might very ! well be allowed to devour each other I without too much interference. That
was months ago, in the autumn of 1941. But quite recently Lord Beaverbrook, in a speech at New York, referred to “shortsighted people who complain that we did wrong to put weapons in the hands of Communists.”
Beat Germany Now
SO THERE the matter stands, as I write this article. The bulk of public feeling here, I believe, is that the only way to win this war now is to defeat Germany as soon as possible, thus leaving Japan in the air, a position in which that country could be made to disgorge ill-gotten gains. But they think the only way to defeat Germany quickly is to strike soon, with all our strength, somewhere in Europe, either at one of the German-occupied countries or at Italy. Stalin and his lieutenants have proclaimed this view. The heads of the occupied countries share it. Public instinct here undoubtedly adopts it. It is my view, too, for that matter.
But the government (I should explain that both the great political parties here, Tory and Socialist, lag behind public opinion in their attitude toward Russia) as yet refuses to be moved at all in this matter. Recent spokesmen (for instance, Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. Ernest Bevin) have sought to assuage this quiet but most powerful and insistent demand for strong offensive action this year by saying that “the hour to strike is approaching” — but that would have been as true in September, 1939, as it is in May, 1942, and it does not satisfy the existent feeling here.
That feeling, that longing, is for attack, soon. The only gratification it has had, in nearly three bitter years, is given by the heavy air raids now being delivered against Germany, and the people hope
against hope not to be disappointed once more by the current promises that these will be maintained and increased. The infrequency and the small scale of the Commando raids up to date has been disappointing.
For my part, since I last wrote for Canadian readers I have heard Hitler speak again for the first time for some months, and heard him say, quite distinctly, “I am beaten; I am frightened of my own people if the British air raids continue and the Russians cannot be beaten; by next winter I shall probably be finished.”
That was the meaning of Hitler’s speech in April, and that is the prize we can gain this year if we strike. I was present when he made his speech of self-vindication in July, 1934, after the mass-murder of June 30, and was deeply impressed by the resemblance in tone and content between these two speeches. This last one meant that the traditional power-wielding groups in Germany are getting ready to make a tactical repudiation of Hitler, and that he is looking frenziedly round for means to thwart them. He has a great and well-equipped private army, his S.S. troops; he may use them against the Reichswehr. He may suffer himself to be elbowed aside without overmuch violence. He may, if we allow it, gain himself a further lease of political life by some device.
It all depends on the use we make of our chances in 1942. But Hitler’s speech meant that we have a good opportunity, if we take it, to be rid of him before his tenth anniversary in power arrives, on January 30, 1943. Not that that would be the end of our troubles. Germany, ostensibly anxious for peace and ruled by the Old Gang, is more dangerous for us even than Germany openly arrayed against us and ruled by Hitler.
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