Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

The Last Year of War?

January 1 1944
Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

The Last Year of War?

January 1 1944

WHEN these words are read this war will have lasted longer than the one of 1914-1918. We are into the Fifth Year.

What lessons are to be gathered from this frightful prolongation of a conflict which by all laws of sanity should have consumed the world in flames two years ago?

Wars last a long time. That is a lesson which conquerors, dictators and ordinary people never seem to learn. With a tragic monotony history tells the same story over and over again, yet there are always men who stubbornly believe in the lightning war and quick profits.

There is no use applying logic to wars. Their course is influenced toe much by the imponderables—by human courage, human error, human grandeur and human frailty. Character and destiny play their part. Weight of metal can crush the body but not the spirit. Tradition will make a people fight on when common sense knows that all is over.

Yes, wars last a long time. Nor does the scientific advancement in the art of killing shorten conflicts. In little over a quarter of a century we have seen the four years and three months of the 1914-1918 war, the three years of the Spanish Civil War, the eight years of the Japo-Chinese “Incident,” and now the coming of the Fifth Year in this most terrible of all struggles.

Science is a great jester. It creates the poison and the antidote, the sword and the breastplate. It stalemates itself and moves on to new horrors and new answers. In the end the military decision is much the same as it would be if the armed forces of the belligerents were equipped with bows and arrows and sailed the seas in frigates.

This Fifth Year begins in a stranger mood than any of its predecessors. For months the people of Britain, and presumably of North America, have felt that the war was virtually over. Incessant victories have numbed the spirit instead of inflaming it. It is like a football game where one side is leading by 15 points with only five minutes to go. The interest is gone and the minds of the spectators are on other things.

In vain do political leaders warn the nation that the severest trials lie ahead of us. The people just do not believe it. A German airplane breaks through the outer defenses of Lindon and a number of people are killed in a High Street. A British garrison surrenders Lemnos. Our armies in Italy crawl painfully toward the entrenched Germans. The German Army strikes back at the Russians.

The mood of the people does not change. The losing team in the football game may rally, win ground and even score—but the game is over just the same. Or, at any rate, the result is certain.

As a man in public life I feel that it is shocking and stupid of the public to act and talk as if Germany is beaten. But what can one do about it? I, too (like you, Sir, and you, Madam), also believe that Germany is beaten. The maddening thing is that she is still fighting.

Could we have knocked her out of the war before this? The Russians answer “Yes.” They say we could have done it in the winter of 1942-1943 and also this summer. They may be right.

The Russians mean that we should have invaded western Europe at the moment when the Russian victories and Allied air bombing had Germany reeling helplessly about the ring. I wonder if that was the only way to do it.

What puzzled many of us in the past was why Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill did not issue a joint proclamation to the German people promising them security and an ordered future if they would lay down their arms. (Such a declaration may, indeed, be forthcoming before this letter is read.) Instead of that the insistence is on “Unconditional Surrender”—an insistence which must encourage the Germans to fight on in the knowledge that their fate cannot be worsened since, in any case, they face extermination.

Mollycoddling Germany?

I CAN feel the hot flush of righteous resentment from many of my readers already. What! Is Germany to be mollycoddled again? Are the Germans going to make war on everyone else and then ask us for protection when they lose? Who are we to try and stop the Russians, Poles, Dutch and Czechs going into Germany and teaching the Hun a lesson he will never forget?

Nice old ladies, sipping their cups of tea by the fireside, will tell you that nothing else will make the Germans understand war but to be invaded by men who are bent on mass slaughter. “The more that are killed, the better,” they say.

I can summon no pity for Germany or the Germans. Whatever horrors descend upon that evil-starred nation will be less than they deserve. I merely wonder if we should prolong the killing of our own boys and the starving of Europe’s children in order to have a vast St. Bartholomew’s massacre in Berlin. Supposing the Poles and Czechs and Russians kill a million German civilians. Is that enough? Shall we say two millions, three millions, five millions. At what point is honor or revenge satisfied? If we could exterminate the entire German race, that could be considered as a logical and useful political measure but since the human conscience would not permit such a thing I contend that mass slaughter on any lesser scale is merely trifling with the matter.

Providing Germany lays down her arms and admits complete defeat I am quite willing that a million German lives should be spared if, thereby, a quarter of a million sons of the Empire should be saved to play their part in the future. Justice, the punishment of criminals and purging of German militarism forever do not require lynching, burning and murdering in the streets.

It is not too late for the Allies to make the pronouncement to Germany: “Lay down your arms; refuse to go to your factories; open the gates to the Allies who will preserve order!” I cannot feel that we are using the right psychological approach. The war should not be prolonged by one hour more than is essential for victory.

The people are making another mistake. They are thinking too much of Germany as the supreme enemy and Japan as a mere side show. We have to learn that it is all one war and that in the Japanese we have a rougher though not so skilled an enemy as Germany.

When Germany is beaten the Japanese, unless they are fools, will throw in their hands and squeal for mercy. But is that what will happen? Did Britain surrender in 1940? Did Russia ask for quarter in 1941? If we study the mind of the Japanese it is difficult to believe that they will bow to the nations against whom they drew the sword.

It is this determination, this religion, never to surrender which creates a paradox of its own with the Japanese. Because of it they will have to be invaded and hammered to their knees. Also, because of it, they will be beaten sooner than they need be.

In every engagement the Japanese lose the absolute maximum. Their fliers, for example, never turn back. There is no armoring to their planes, no safety measures for their crews. They do not live to fight another day unless by the chances of war they destroy their enemy and complete the purpose of the raid.

Their Zero plane is not as fast as the Spitfire but because of its lightness it is the most manoeuvrable machine in the world. That was a costly lesson which the Allied fliers had to learn. Dog fights with Zeros just do not pay.

Radio Location Unknown

With their Navy the Japanese are at a great disadvantage. Possibly it is used on a very few of their capital ships but radio location is practically unknown to the Japanese Navy, generally. In a fog the Americans and British could destroy a Japanese fleet without the enemy ever knowing where the shells were coming from.

That is one reason why the Italian fleet was afraid to fight. We gave radio location to the French. Vichy France gave it to Germany, but  Germany would not give it to Italy. It would seem that Germany has also kept it from Japan.

The British brought it to a remarkable degree of perfection and handed the secret at once to the Americans. The result is that the American Navy has now the best radio location in the world.

But nothing will defeat Japan except air bombing and invasion. Her territorial conquests have made her like an octopus. We cannot kill her by attacking each crawling tentacle. We must, go to her heart and squeeze the life from her. Tokyo is the heart of Japan.

Pursuit of this subject must inevitably bring us to the attitude of Russia. There were voices in 1941, and they are still audible, which contended that Russia was playing a cunning game and j not being a good ally by refusing to declare war on Japan.

She may have been playing a cunning game. She may still be doing it. But if ever a man did not want war for Russia on two fronts it was Stalin. He felt that in absorbing practically the whole of the German Army he was doing his share.

But what will happen when Germany gives in? Will Stalin refuse us Russian air bases for the bombing of Japan? He would be within his rights but if he exercised them in such a way it would be a lamentable and even tragic prelude to the new era of cooperation among the United Nations.

No one knows Stalin’s mind. But at least we know some of his memories. One of those goes back to the early years of this century when a Japanese fleet, without any declaration of war, attacked the Russian fleet at anchor and laid the basis of ultimate victory. It was a Pearl Harbor with ships instead of planes.

Has Stalin forgotten that? Has Russia forgotten? The evil that nations do lives after them. In that they are no different from men.

My guess, and it can be no more, is that Russia will not enter the war against Japan but will become a cobelligerent and allow the use of her ports and air bases. When that happens then it is only a matter of time when the Land of the Rising Sun and scented mists will become a raging inferno. The doom of Japan is written in the skies.

Psychologically the year 1944 is going to be the most difficult we have had to meet. When a country faces the possibility of defeat its people will make any sacrifice and endure any hardship. But when the danger of defeat recedes, when victory is a certainty, then you have the problem of men serving in the armed forces but with their minds turning constantly to the problems of the postwar world. We would not have the scandal of strikes if it were not for the belief that the war is over. Inexcusable as they are, and bad citizenship as they are, they are caused by the manoeuvring for position in the lineup of peace conditions.

We are apt to wonder how the German leaders keep their people united in the face of overwhelming disaster. There is nothing so unifying as disaster, whether it comes to a ship at sea or to the prairies by fire or to a nation at war. Adversity binds men together. It is victories without final victory which lessens the purpose of a people.

We have a right to believe that 1944 will be the last year of the war but we have no right to believe it unless we are prepared to treat 1944 as the year of supreme military effort. It will not end this year if we try to fight it with our minds on postwar conditions and our energies being used for personal security.

Wars last a long time.

As we go into the Fifth Year let us resolve to remember that grim but simple truth—that wars last a long time. When we have paid the final price in blood and treasure for the defeat of Germany and Japan let us ask ourselves if there can ever be too high a premium to pay to ensure that such a war cannot happen again.

If the people in their strength would vow that not only is this to be the last year of the war but the last year of war then we need not feel too terrible a shame at the thought of new war memorials that will take their place beside those of the last war.

1944! The sun is blood red in the East but the skies over Europe are softening. May God in His pity and His sorrow make of this year an end of darkness and the beginning of light.