Young Man’s Challenge

BEVERLEY BAXTER November 15 1948

Young Man’s Challenge

BEVERLEY BAXTER November 15 1948

Young Man’s Challenge



THE DAILY postbag of an M.P. is always a strange mixture. There are people clamoring for houses, cranks who want to prove that the British are the original Israelites and that we should all go back to Palestine; people who cannot collect war damage for injuries to their property because they failed to notify the authorities in time, protagonists who want longer prison terms for violent criminals and others who would do away with prisons altogether; friendly letters of encouragement, angry letters of disparagement, a young war wife wanting us to trace her G.I. husband, a limbless ex-serviceman asking for the right to open a small shop; and a naturalized subject pleading for assistance to bring his aged parents from central Europe.

There are enough plots in one postbag for a dozen short stories and sometimes the theme for a graat novel. Every morning the letters come and every morning they must be dealt with, for an M.P. is the servant of those whom he has the honor to «»present.

Admittedly t he communications usually fall into delinite groups such as housing, pensions, demobilization and National Health contributions, but occasionally there comes one, not always from a constituent, which pricks the ¡conscience and sets a problem that is both difficult and delicate. Such a let ter arrived the other day, bearing the postmark of the ancient town of Chester. Hera it is:

Dear Mr. Beverley Baxter:

I hope that you will forgive me writing to you but I am a young man of 20 and 1 don’t know anyone else that I can write to. You are a Conservative M.P. and are not a supporter of the Government, but it seems to me that the world situation is so desperate that it is above ordinary party lines.

What I want to know is whether you politicians are going to stand up to Russia or whether you are going to appease Stalin like you did Hitler. You Continued on page 54

Continued on page 54

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often say that you hate war, but do you think that young men of my age like it? We want to live our lives, marry and establish a home and have children. Only we don’t want to live in a world where there is no freedom.

Will you answer me one question? Are you going to stand up to .Stalin even if it means war? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that young fellows like me and my friends have any funny notions about what the next war will be like, but do try to understand that we are just as ready as your generation was to give our lives for freedom.

We are only frightened that you politicians at Westminster may lose your courage. I hope, sir, t hat you will not mind my writing to you.

Yours sincerely,

It is not easy to go on with other correspondence after reading such a letter. This boy has issued a challenge, almost an ultimatum, and not for the first time one realizes how different are the relations of older and younger men today compared with the past. This change was impressed upon me last August when my 17-year-old son came back from his O.T.C. camp wearing battle dress. Next year he must leave school and join the army for what may be two years. He does not question the justice nor the necessity of it. For most of his short life he has lived either in war or talk of war.

Like all fathers 1 feel that I should inculcate in him the seeds of ambition, outline the qualities that bring reward, tell him that there is no substitute for hard work (a doubtful truth at best) and generally behave like a Victorian parent laying down the laws of worldly success. My son would listen patiently and then say: "Do you mind if I go aerobating next Saturday with a territorial squadron near Hendon?”

When I was his age and living in Toronto the world was a vast place with mighty oceans to traverse, and mountain ranges and deserts that took weeks to cross. There were emperors and kings and grand dukes all over Europe; there was also a fog-bound island called Britain where our beloved King sat on the throne and wore a golden crown. New York was the Mecca of our dreams and t he nearest thing to war in our thoughts was when Toronto Varsity played Hamilton Tigers or the Ottawa Rough Riders at rugby football.

Jet Minds?

Today a boy of 17 knows the type and speed of every airplane, discusses the chance of De Gaulle’s return to power in France, follows the moves in the Greek civil war, reads the news of Berlin each day and weighs the chance of a complete breakdown among the four powers, talks with his friends about the probable Russian strategy in case of war, and calmly gets ready to go direct from school into one of the fighting services as part of his civic responsibility for having reached 18 years of age.

1 want my son Clive to read Dickens. He looks up from his copy of "Flight” or “The Aeroplane” and smiles at me as if 1 were Joshua or something from the immemorial past. Yet. if you leave De Maupassant, Dickens and Thackeray out of a boy’s intellectual development are you not robbing him of part of his birthright? Can jet propulsion replace the internal combustion of the mind?

And now comes this letter from a

young man who lives in Chester. The! is a Roman wall about that anciei city and you can walk on its led]} until you come to a small museum and 3 tower where Charles I watched the1 Roundheads defeat his army. There is also a small circular race course where the horses get dizzy going round, but that is another story. But at least niv young correspondent writes from no mean city. Perhaps one of his ancestors belonged to the resistance movement that finally drove the Romans not only from Chester but the whole island.

What is there to write in answer to his letter? A mere perfunctory assurance that we are stouthearted fellows at Westminster and that he can rely on us not letting the side down w'ould be trite and valueless. His sincerity demands equal sincerity in return; so I shall send this letter to him:

Dear Gerald:

It is customary for politicians, especially the older ones, to say that the voice of youth must be heard. Certainly there was never a period in history when young men had a stronger right to demand assurances from those in control of their destinies. Twice in 25 years boys of your age had to pay with their blood for the failure of the world's rulers to establish an enduring peace. And now you state that youth is ready for a third time to sacrifice its immortality in defense of human liberty.

That is something to make an older man humble. More than that it is a challenge to those of us who, to a greater or lesser degree, are in authority. Therefore, I want to answer you in clear, simple terms such as you used in your own letter.

You speak rather bitterly of the appeasement of Hitler’s Germany and hope that there will be no repetition of that tragedy. Appeasement in itself need not be cowardly or unworthy. When Chamberlain took the humiliation of Munich upon himself he gave the world a year of grace, a year in which to go straight. He failed. Perhaps we should remember that the Christian religion was founded on the failure of a mission.

So in 1939 there came the war and the Fascist tyranny of the Axis was destroyed. But in that victory we left the field open to the other tyranny— Communism. That is what Chamberlain foresaw and what he hoped to prevent.

The situation today, however, is very different from that of 1938. Then the Allies were weak and disunited. Now they are strong and of one purpose. Appeasement in 1938 was to some extent idealistic, to a greater extent expedient and (some people think) inevitable. I mention these things not in a spirit of controversy but to mark the contrast with the present.

If we were dealing with an informed, nationalistic Russia, determined to expand her territories by aggression, the Western Powers would undoubtedly have sent them an ultimatum by this time declaring the intention of supplying our sections of Berlin bv road transport protected by armed escort. Faced with such an ultimatum the Kremlin would have to give way or open fire. Thus the third World War would begin.

Instead of that we are confronted with a problem that is unique in history. Hitler’s Germany was certainly a police state and under every possible control of press and radio, but right up to the declaration of war wre could travel to Germany, talk with people and maintain normal diplomatic contact.

Russia, on the other hand, is sealed off from the outside world like Tutan-

Biamen's Tomb. Presumably we have tir intelligence service, but so honeytombed is Russia with its own internal tpionage that it is extremely difficult p acquire information that is not merely obvious and superficial.

! Rightly or wrongly many of us ¡believe in London that there is a secret ¡battle being fought within the Kremlin. ¡It is said that Stalin is no longer the master and that he has become the aged puppet who has to dance to the dictates of the Politburo. Stalin and three of his colleagues are reported as tóng against war. The other six members of the Politburo are said to be fanatics who want war because Communism must be the victor in a world reduced to final chaos. Faced with the danger of rebellion within his own ranks, Stalin has to defy the Allies, treat our delegates with studied effrontery and give no excuse to the fanatics for poisoning him and giving him a funeral like Lenin.

I have talked with Beaverbrook, ¡Eden and others who conferred with •Stalin during the war and they were impressed with his broad development. You may say that Stalin was a man of violence and implacable cruelty in his earlier years. That is true, but responsibility cools the blood even of revolutionaries.

At any rate this is one of the theories held in London and we cannot rule out the danger that it is a theory shrewdly propagated from Moscow for our deception. But supposing it is true. We are told that even the extremists in ¡he Politburo do not want to start the var but wish us to make the first step. Thus they think that they would be

able to inflame their people and safeguard their place in history.

Against that is the “Strike-nowwhile-we-are-strong” line of thought, to which you, my dear Gerald, seem to lean. But the Western Powers are growing stronger all the time and will widen the gap between themselves and Russia with each passing month. Time is not necessarily on Russia’s side.

The English-speaking nations, and the brave survivors of civilization in Europe, are committed to a glorious policy of restoring human liberty to the whole world—and that includes the Russian people. We are seeing in fact the emergence of Christendom as the mightiest moral force of all time and in this case the just are armed. We cannot win the souls of men by blasting cities out of existence. It may be that we shall have to come to that in sheer self-defense, but it should be the last resort.

Therefore, we must be strong and we must be patient, refusing to give way but always seeking agreement with the other side. By our discipline as free peoples, by our faith in freedom, by outtolerance and even forgiveness we must try to win to our side men of good will in every land.

It is not cowardice that makes me write these words but a conviction that we are strong enough to hold the forces of totalitarianism at bay and that our cause is so righteous that it must prevail.

Come and spend a day sometime at the House of Commons. We’re a queer lot but the old place still allows wisdom to have its say.

With all good wishes,

A. Beverley Baxter