GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

September 15 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

September 15 1942

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

"Frustration Summer"

MOST OF US at some time or other have had a dream of being pursued by some villain and being unable to move our feet. Fortunately the villain never seems to arrive but it is a humiliating and disturbing sensation when the feet refuse to perform their normal function.

In England we arc going through some such experience now except that we are wide awake. If ever a summer deserved a name of its own it is this one of 1942, and its name would be “Frustration Summer.” Never in the twenty-five years that I have lived on this side of the Atlantic have I seen Britain so anxious for action, so ready for action and, seemingly, so unable to act.

It. is true that the bombers roar by night on their perilous raids over Germany and their hazardous return in the dark. By day the fighter squadrons sweep the French coast but encounter little action save by hovering Huns who watch for stragglers. In the ports the ships come and go and the Navy is never at rest; in all the factories and in the fields the work goes on by day and by night—for we are even going to plow by moonlight now and the vast bureaucracy of Whitehall carries on with its infinite issuing of forms while urging everyone to save paper.

But we are not striking at Germany with our full strength. That is the inescapable fact which is never out of our thoughts. It presses on our minds, it saddens our hearts and it frays our tempers.

Bill Sikes could more easily have escaped the haunting eyes of his murdered Nancy than we the consciousness of our ineffectuality in this summer of 1942.

A young airman came to see me recently. “These fighter sweeps are all very well,” he said, “but why can’t we be given a real job of protecting an invasion army on the Continent?”

The Canadians swarm the countryside and the streets of London. “What about visiting Baris for a change?” they ask.

Ten thousand people cram Trafalgar Square and demand an invasion of the Continent to assist Russia. Deputations crowd the Lobbies in the House of Commons to urge their members to action. Eager-eyed Americans, fresh and ardent from their ocean isolation, ask: “When do we start going

places?”

Comrade Maisky comes to the House of Commons and so many members go upstairs to hear him that the debating chamber is almost denuded. With his clipped English he assures us that the decision of invading Europe must rest with the British and American Governments. Then having paid that tribute to diplomatic convention, he proceeds to offer arguments and advice.

What is the truth about Russia’s position this August? The broad facts are known to the enemy and therefore it is no disservice to put them on record here.

We like to 1 hink of Russia as a conglomerate nation of limitless territory and inexhaustible human reserves. It is easy to say that they are like the Chinese who invariably end their wars by absorbing the invaders, and that Russia is therefore unconquerable.

Her spirit is certainly unconquerable but t hese facts had better be faced:

Germany has conquered territory in Russia which exceeds the combined areas of Britain, France and Germany.

Germany has seized the Ukraine which is Russia’s principal granary and has cut off populations totalling 45,000,000 people.

Large sections of Russia’s industrial areas have passed to German hands and even though the factories have been demolished they are lost to the .Soviet as well as to the Germans.

Russian casualties in killed, wounded and prisoners are approximately 5,000,000 men.

Owing to the fact that Trondheim has been made into a virtual Gibraltar by the Germans the northern sea route to Russia has now become one of extreme difficulty and danger to the British convoys.

Those are the ugly facts.

They point with the utmost clarity to the conclusions that the human and territorial size of Russia has been greatly reduced, that her industrial output which was never huge is much restricted, that she will be faced with food and transport problems and that allied supplies are increasingly difficult to deliver.

A sombre picture indeed. It would need a pair of roseate glasses to see it in any form except as one of heavy shadows.

Yet there are certain balancing factors and it would be unwise to leave them out.

Timoshenko’s armies, though badly mauled, are intact. Whatever the outcome Timoshenko will go down to history as one of the greatest generals of all time. Had such a man been in command of the Russian Armies in 1914 the Germans might have been beaten in one year.

The strain on the German Army and Air Force is tremendous. Hitler spoke the truth when he said that every home in Germany would have to give a human sacrifice to victory.

Unless Timoshenko’s armies can be destroyed then Germany’s dream of merely leaving an occupation army in Russia this winter will be at an end.

“Save Russia”

CO FAR I have dealt only with the plain ►Tv material facts of the situation. But modern wars have profound psychological reactions and, indeed, it is this aspect which needs just as clear thinking as the other.

One does not need Litvinoff in Washington or Maisky in London to tell us what the Russians are thinking and saying. They are

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asking every hour of the day and night: “Where are our allies? Why are they not attacking?” From that to the suspicion that the Russians are being thrown to the wolves— a suspicion which is as natural as it is unfounded is only a logical process.

It has its repercussions here as well, both with the public and with Parliament. Among an ever-growing number of workers this has become a war “to save Russia.” This section of the community has reduced the brotherhood of man to a brotherhood with the Russians.

In August I began a series of political speeches which will take me to every corner of the British Isles and one recognizes that this new development is as clear as daylight. The thoughts of these particular people do not go out to the Empire troops fighting on the second front in Libya, or to little Malta holding an amazing number of German airplanes at bay, or even to the matchless men of the British Navy and Mercantile Marine. They are so obsessed witli the Russian battle that they regard the resistance of the Soviet as a sort of holy sacrifice in which Stalin’s people are going to their deaths for the rights of the workers throughout the world.

No one doubts that the rights of the workers throughout the world are at stake in this war, just as are the rights of the scientists, the mothers, the children and the much condemned rentier class who by thrift have saved enough to live on their investments instead of on the State. Such a statement will stick in the throat of the extremist hut it would be healthier for him to swallow it.

This is not a class war, it is a war of survival. Pray God we may build a better world on the ruins of this war but it is midsummer madness to try and obscure the issue by political ideologies.

The prestige of Britain is low at this hour. Every day that our Armies remain inactive adds to the feeling that as a race we are tired and that the hour has not produced the leaders. Once the critics used to recite “China, Abyssinia, Spain, Austria and Czecho-Slovakia” as the progression of British shame: Now they recite “Malaya, Singapore, Greece, Crete and Tobruk.”

It is hard to keep one’s perspective. It is hard to keep one’s mind clear and one’s judgment keen when frustration presses on the spirit with a weight that is almost insupportable. But when Britain’s enemies and detractors say that it is only Russia or America which is fighting for a principle and that we are not, then it is time to speak in clear, unequivocal language.

Of all the powers who are at present fighting in this war it was the British Empire, unprepared as it was for war, which drew the sword and declared that Hitler’s villainy could go on no longer. Russia came in because she was invaded. America came in because she was attacked. Let us give humide thanks that Russia and America are our Allies but do not deny the supreme honor to the

fighting men of Britain and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and every country which shared the freedom and the decency of the British connection.

Nothing can take away that glory from us, nor the glory of that splendid moment in 1940 when we said: “We shall fight on, and if necessary, alone.”

In my speaking tour across the country I am going to say that over and over again because the prestige of Britain has fallen here as well as in other countries and we need to have these fact s recalled.

But we cannot live on past glories. The urgent issue of the battle is on us and we must decide what we can do to stem the tide of defeat and change it to victory.

In my opinion, Mr. Churchill’s Government will have to make drastic changes. The present body of ministers, capable as many of them are, cannot match in swiftness of decision or sheer inspiration the dynamic leadership of the enemy. If we agree that Hitler is a son of evil, and all history can record no more vile and sinister a figure, he has the wit of the devil and the frenzied endurance of a homicidal maniac. For sheer sustained human effort there can he almost nothing to equal his leadership of the Third Reich over the last three years.

Winston Churchill might have duplicated it but democracy puts chains upon its leaders. There is now a psychological breach between Parliament and Mr. Churchill that could only be bridged by an outstanding victory in the field and one can hardly discover that likelihood upon the horizon just yet.

The critics are full throated. The impatience and frustration of the nation find vent in the debates in Parliament. Last" week, after insults had been hurled across the floor of the House, more than sixty Socialists defied their leaders and voted against the Government on the issue of a further increase in the old-age pensions.

It was democracy at its worst, the mad exaggeration of a domestic issue when the very existence of the nation is at stake. Like everything that happens these days it was born out of the sense of frustration which afflicts all classes and which rushes to vent itself on something which is merely a routine domestic matter.

Air Marshal Harris, who is in charge of our bombers, made a grand broadcast in German telling the enemy people that we intended to knock hell out of them every day and night, come rain, hail or blizzard. It was first-class heroic bombast and in keeping with the tradition of Drake and Grenville and Hawkins. Anri at once a section of the press and a number of M.P.’s demanded to know if this was authorized and why an Air Marshal should broadcast instead of the Air Minister.

Frustration is a fertile parent, but its favorite child is petulance —and at the moment we are a petulant nation. No wonder Churchill keeps silent in Downing Street, appearing

neither in Parliament nor in public nor speaking on the wireless. The British case goes by default and we leave the field to our detractors.

War Directorate?

SUCH A situation cannot go on.

The rebellion of the Socialists in the House the other day will he followed by others. Mr. Churchill cannot maintain a government on such a foundation and although a general election would clear the air a hit I doubt if it would prove a solution.

What might come, and I think it likely, is that a war directorate of three or four men will be formed with almost dictatorial powers. Churchill, presumably, would be the chairman but if public opinion has its way one of the other members will be Minister of Defense. I am sorry to produce a well-worn idea but many of us believe that General McNaughton should be one of the directorate. There has never been any visible support for this idea from Canada but it would arouse immense enthusiasm here.

A growing body of opinion would like to see Beaverbrook included but admittedly this might be a case of over-Canadianization and there is always the fact that Beaverbrook’s enemies are both numerous and vocal. Admiral Cunningham might be used while Anthony Eden, who has a broad grasp of strategy, would temper the experts with political knowledge. Lord Trenchard, a great air figure, would also be in the running. I have heard it suggested that General de Gaulle would be acceptable, but this would mean complications.

In my opinion, the brilliant move would be to include an American for there is no doubt that the Americans have shown surprising skill in such operations as they have so far been able to undertake.

Such a directorate would relegate Parliament to its proper place in a war, leaving it to function as a critic and retaining supreme power, but not directing day to day strategy in the glare of full publicity across the floor of the House. Churchill would be the liaison between Parliament and the directorate while other ministers got on with their jobs and stopped trying to be supreme strategists in their spare time.

In other words, something is stirring in England’s womb. No one but a fool would be a prophet these days but in this London Letter I have tried to outline to you without bias or special pleading a situation as I see it. In Britain’s present mood something has got to happen.

Frustration is a primitive force that can only be held in check so long. There may or not be a second front in Europe this year but there will be a second political front in Britain unless Churchill reads the portents and decides to direct the fates.