I DO NOT know who was the first man to say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions but it was a profound truth, even if it has lost its edge with overmuch repetition. Here in Britain we look at the march of events and listen to pious exhortations from abroad until we feel like shouting, “In the name of sanity give us a little less idealism and a little more realism.” And sometimes we feel like adding a prayer to be saved from our friends.
Nor are we spared the affliction of good intentions at home. When Sir Stafford Cripps said some years ago that he looked forward to the liquidation of the British Empire he spoke the hidden thoughts of many nice people. To the idealist there is something morally repugnant in a great power extending its authority over palm and pine and singing, “God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.”
To be quite frank, the British in their days of world power never believed that the meek would inherit the earth. Perhaps that is why so many people at this time are feeling that the recurring blows to British prestige are in the nature of moral retribution. There is, of course, no law that empires, however strong, should last forever.
When I was in Rome in Jan. 1939, at the time of Chamberlain’s visit, there was a huge map displayed outside Mussolini’s Palazzo Venezia with the ancient Roman Empire colored in red. It covered almost the whole known world and it is only fair to say that those portions of the earth that did not have the blessings of Roman occupation never caught up with those that did. But Rome became decadent. The conquering and civilizing urge gave way to debauchery for the rich and bread and circuses for the poor. I have heard it argued that it was Socialism that brought Rome down, but we have troubles enough without going into that just now. At any rate Rome declined and fell, and fat little Mussolini could not put the pieces together again.
Then there was Spain which straddled the world but grew soft with wealth and went down before the onslaught of the sixteenth-century dynamism of England.
After the 1914 war we saw the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and also the Turkish Empire.
Let us then be blunt. The truth is that many people today, not only those who wish it to be true but those who hope they are wrong, are asking if the days of the Brit ish Empire are numbered. Carrying the idea a step forward they ask if it is not a fact that the United Nations Organization now provides a unity and security which does away with the necessity or meaning of empires.
Before we deal with that let me declare with all emphasis possible that the UN has bestowed on Britain far more blows than blessings. Like its parent, the old League of Nations which played into Hitler’s hands by opposing his armaments with nothing more than good intentions, so the United Nations have weakened Britain with one move after another at a t ime when Britain needed strengthening. When the Hitler war ended it was the UN that insisted on Britain maintaining the Palestine mandate with the result that we incurred the hatred of the Jews and chilled the friendship of the Arabs. Then there was the American conscience which suddenly became deeply troubled about India not being given its freedom.
When I lectured across the United States in 1947 I was asked over and over again why we did not set India free and I was too polite to say anything about the colored peep e in the South. American idealism is genuine and warm but how often we wish it were better informed. The freedom of India could not be safely granted overnight and Britain wanted to reach it by first granting Dominion status. But the UN, stirred by American sentimentalism, was not to be denied,
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and with an indefensible haste there came the partition of India with the end of British rule. I wonder if the UN realizes that more than t wo million people were killed in the fighting and massacres that ensued and that the armies of Pakistan and India now face each other across the impossible frontier that has been carved to placate the idealism of America. I do not deny that India was entitled to a move
toward complete freedom; nor do I deny that many Anglo-Indians lorded it over the natives as if they were the rulers of the universe. But if we make that admission it must also be stated that there is no administrative record in all history to equal that of the British in their long years of suzerainty.
After India came Burma, for it was also on the program for the UN. The British Army had fought backward and forward across the soil of Burma and finally driven the enemy out. But after the war a clique of Burmes
politicians raised the cry of “Give us our freedom” and the UN was deeply impressed by the simple justice of their case. There were warning voices from London that the Burmese were not ready for freedom and that opposing factions in the war would have to have a period for adjustment with Britain maintaining order. But to the idealist, especially dealing with other peoples’ problems, there are never any difficulties. So the British pulled out. Today Burma is ripening like a plum for the lean fingers of Communism.
Certainly freedom is the right of
every country, as it is the right of every human being, but backward nations have to be guided toward full responsibility like children. Great Britain has been the supreme mother of nations and has established the law, the church and the legislature for all time in the nations that sprang from her womb. The UN, with its conglomeration of hig and little nations, should have sustained Britain in her great task, instead of taking decision after decision which could only result in a dangerous weakening of Britain’s position in world affairs.
Will the UN Fill the Gap?
Is it any wonder Persia knew that it had only to raise a cry of “Persia for the Persians” to influence the soft hearts and soft heads of the UN? Let John Bull come respectfully hat in hand and give any reason why the Persians should not grab the industry that British wealth and British skill created.
Is it any wonder that Farouk took time off from his tours of gambling casinos to thumb his nose at John Bull and tell him to get out of the Sudan? Why should Farouk have had any fears that the UN would hesitate to place its weight on the side of the little fellow against the British giant? And after all, what were the British doing in the Sudan? Let us admit that Egypt conquered the Sudan in the early nineteenth century, a fact which could be legally regarded as conferring settlers’ right, but her rule of the Sudan was corrupt, cruel and disastrous. Great Britain stepped in and eventually gave the Sudanese an administration which has brought them from a primitive stage to a readiness for complete self government.
I know that what I am writing will be regarded by many people as a diehard proclaiming the glories of a past that is dead and regretting that he has to live in a world that looks ahead. I have lived in the realm of controversy too long to be worried by criticism, no matter how violent, but what I am determined to do in this article is to utter a warning that the persistent weakening of British influence in world affairs is going to create a vacuum that may not be filled by the UN, but by a force more closely knit, more capable of swift decision and less likely to be influenced by moral issues.
Scotland Under the Yoke
Nor does the solicitude of the UN for non-British nations end with questions of evacuation and prestige. The UN is constantly worried about the system of imperial preference whereby nations of the commonwealth make tariff concessionsof mutual benefit to each other. For some reason this shocks the idealist. That the nations of the British Commonwealth combine against the enemy in war is an admirable thing, especially as in the two world wars the British have had to hold the line against the aggressor. But it is quite different when the British nations combine together in peace to maintain trade with each other.
I have no doubt that pretty soon the conscience of the UN will be stirred to action by the dreadful spectacle of Protestant Ulster insisting upon being part of the United Kingdom instead of incorporating itself into the Irish Republic, which refused even America the use of its ports when Hitler was trying to starve Britain into submission.
And what about the Scottish Nationalists? If they sent a deputation to the United Nations and told how Scotland longs to throw off the yoke
of imperialistic England, I have no doubt the matter would be placed high up on the agenda.
U. S. Leads a Shriveling World
We have seen the effect of all this upon the smaller backward nations. Britain, the giver and maintainer of the law, is now depicted as the exploiter of human liberty. Forgotten is the brave imagination of her explorers who added continents to the map, forgotten are the doctors, missionaries and scientists who gave their lives in combating ignorance and disease among helpless natives, forgotten is the work of planters, miners, industrialists, engineers who made a new life in many lands, forgotten are the state servants who created justice and parliamentary government where ignorance and fear had been. The leadership of the world has passed to the United States with her wealth, her vitality, her high purpose and her inexperience.
We should be thankful that the great United States of America, which clung so long to the impossible philosophy of isolation in a world that was shriveling likt? a raisin, has accepted the responsibility of its own strength. But she needs the wisdom of Britain at her side. The English-speaking leadership of the free world must have more than one accent.
1 know that the ideal of the United Nations is a great one and that if it; is true to itself we may yet see some form of world government with armies as components of an international police force. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished, but we cannot attain it overnight, or even in a decade. The march of events must proceed at its own pact; and not break into a mad gallop.
I am writing this as a Canadian living in Britain to Canadians living in Canada. There is no law which makes the British Isles the perpetual centre of the commonwealth. It is not the soil of a country but the s ul of a people that marks it out for leadership. All of us, no matter how scattered, are heirs to the tongue ot Shakespeare, the courage of Elizabeth, the humanitarianism of Wilberforce, the vision of Raleigh, the faith of John Wesley, the spirit of Churchill. Now is the time when those of us who were born in the outer empire and accepted without thought all that the past had given to us can sustain and strengthen the mother country. Heavy forces are arraigned against her and history is watching with its pen poised.
I do not believe the great days of Britain have come to an end, but she will need the affection and confidence of her children across the seas. ★
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