“We Must Destroy Poverty”

Beverley Baxter July 15 1954

“We Must Destroy Poverty”

Beverley Baxter July 15 1954

“We Must Destroy Poverty”


Beverley Baxter

IT WAS in 1937 that Pandit Nehru, on a visit to England, came to the House of Commons to address a private meeting of Conservative MPs. It was not in any spirit of friendliness that we had invited him but merely to have a look at Gandhi’s junior partner.

There was nothing mystic about Nehru on the surface. He had fine, handsome features. His eyes were sombre to the point of sadness and never once did he smile. He spoke English not only well but with something akin to perfection. He had, of course, been educated as a hoy at Harrow where Winston Churchill had gone many years before.

Calmly he told us that India should be ruled ent irely by the Indians and not by the British. He did not refer to the times he had been imprisoned as a revolutionary nor the personal tragedy that had accompanied it. The British had occupied India and held it down by force. The British had exploited India without developing it. The

British had proclaimed the divine right of governing without the consent of the governed. That was his case.

He spoke coldly and we listened coldly. When he had finished he said that he would subject himself to questions. Up rose one of our chaps and, with a voice that was quiet hut tinged with anger, said, “We have listened with interest to Mr. Nehru’s case. May I ask him if he can think of one thing the British have ever done which might conceivably have been of benefit to his country?”

With the patience of a father answering a child Nehru answered, “Britain has never lacked voices to glorify her. It just happens that my business is to put the case against Britain.”

In my time I have encountered many men of destiny but Nehru was something different. We could see that physically and mentally he was an aristocrat who could have little appeal to the sweating mobs of Bombay. He possessed none of the fire, the showmanship, the humor, the passion or the mysticism of Gandhi. One could not imagine Nehru even looking at a goat—much less making a companion of it.

At that meeting at Westminster, question followed question as the Tories found their tongues. Did Nehru not agree that India, instead of being a nation, was a sub-continent of antagonistic tribes and religions? Had not Britain brought justice to her courts and protection to her minorities? Was it not a fact that Britain had protected India from civil war and invasion?

Nehru listened like a rather tired dormitory master when the boys are being noisy and even foolish. Of course Britain had ruled India well. But India was tired of being ruled. History had passed that point. That was his case.

“When we achieve our freedom,” he said, “and India becomes self-governing we shall certainly make mistakes. May I say that every nation is entitled to make its own mistakes?” Thus the old Harrovian summed up the case for India’s freedom.

While we were talking in that room overlooking the Thames there was an Austrian named Hitler howling like a maniac at the moon. The great upheaval of World War II was not far off.

It was left to Clement Attlee as Prime Minister after Hitler’s war had ended to give India her freedom. That gallant figure of battle, Lord Louis Mounthatten, who had defended India by the Burma campaign, was chosen as the instrument of destiny. Attlee sent him as Viceroy to India with the purpose of finding a way of giving India her freedom while guaranteeing as much as possible the security of Pakistan and the minorities.

It was a thankless task and Mountbatten Continued on page 44

London Letter


was assailed by many voices in Britain for undertaking it. After much travail the plan took shape. India was to be a republic within the Commonwealth and Pakistan was to be a self-governing dominion also within the Commonwealth.

There was trouble, tragedy and terrible bloodshed. In defense, Nehru would probably have quoted Oscar Wilde’s words: “At the birth of a child or a star there is pain.”

But the Americans were happy. They had incessantly urged upon the British the necessity of freeing India if a true Anglo-American band of comradeship was to come into being. On my lecture tours across America in 1946 and 1947 the one question that was fired at me everywhere was, “Why don’t you get out of India?” I might have answered, “Why don’t you give full freedom to the Negroes in the South?” But that would have been tendentious. The duties of a guest are more rigid than those of a host.

When a rock is loosened on a mountainside it may mean little or it may mean an avalanche. Burma followed India. The British 14th Army had fought with tremendous heroism to save it from the Japanese but Attlee gave it away in a single speech. I do not criticize him. Events of such magnitude cannot be judged at the moment. Only the unforgiving years can tell in retrospect whether such immense events have been wisely or badly handled.

Certainly Britain was too weakened by war to hold her Empire by the sword. It may well be that the dismissal of Churchill by the British electorate in 1945 was a signal that imperial Britain had lost faith in British imperialism. Also we had plenty of troubles brewing in Africa.

Yet one did not need to be a necromancer to see that a new and enormous world force was taking form. Asia was in the throes of becoming a political as well as a geographical entity.

Russia, like a two-faced giant facing both east and west, saw the vast possibilities of this uprising. So did China which had endured the conquering imperialism of Japan and had embraced the philosophy and the cruelty of Communism. “Free China,” her leaders called their country as they did away with such poorly nourished flowers of freedom as had already flourished there.

That very big little American, President Truman, saw the red light of danger. Some of my Maclean’s readers may remember that when I saw Truman at the White House not very long after the Hitler war was ended, he pointed to the globe on a swivel which Gen. Eisenhower had given him and said, “There—in Asia—is where our trouble is coming from.” His instant decision to fight in Korea was not a hasty decision. He had been pondering the Far Eastern situation for weeks and months.

Asiatics—what are they?

Facts are normally dull things but sometimes they can be very dramatic. Roughly speaking, every second person in the world today is an Asiatic. James Cameron, a British journalist who has made a deep study of the subject, reminds us that the Asiatic population is approximately fifteen hundred millions and that it is increasing by 50,000 a day. With a nice touch of the pictur-

i*s«jue lie adds, “Two thousand new mouths to feed and ambitions to lie fulfilled for every hour on the clock.”

Yes, facts can be not only exciting but ominous. The influence of Asia stretches out to the frontier of Europe, t»i the Arctic, and points at Australia and New Zealand. Here is a yellow giant with many eyes and long, lean Angel'S.

The student of history may intervene at this point and ask why we should assume that the mere texture of the skin should bind various tribes and nations into a menacing unity. What about the white races? Caul and ’Teuton have fought through the ages and even America only achieved not ion hood at the point of the sword from imperialist Britain.

But there isa difference. ’The white nations of the world had tin* composite continent of Europe, rich in tin* arts of government and culture as well as being undisputed leaders of the human community. 'Their wars were for the glittering prizes of power, liven the French Revolutum, founded on tin* sublime cry of *7. ¡herir. Knut in’. Fratrrnitc," speedily resolved itself into an imperialist war against the other imperialist powers of Europe.

In Asia there is a community of backwardness, of poverty, of blunted opportunity, «if ignora ne«* and. in sonn* territories, of despair. But also in Asia then* is a fi«*rce pride su«-h as was shown by Japan until slu* was compelled to bow her head humbly to tlu* Americans.

Strangely enough and human tiny works in wondrous ways Japan is now an outpost for tlu* forces of tlu* West. Not «*v«*n tlu* dropping of that terrible bomb at Hiroshima has altered Japan’s basic sens«* of unity with Britain and now with America. If we admit that it is a policy «if self-advantage let us also repeat that Japan was a loyal ally to Britain until tlu* U. S. A. persuaded us t«i cast her «iff.

Therefore, we must realize that Asia d«ies mit lack exp«*rien« ed leaders. We have the sad-faced Nehru trying to bring tlu* arts of self-government to India and making his voice heard far beyond tlu* boundaries of that subcontinent. In Moscow then* is a «illectum of able men. ruthless in action and limitless in ambition. Is Russia angry with Europe? 'Then she becomes slanteyed and Asian. Is slu* annoyed with Asia? 'Then she b«*conu*s a blue-eyed European.

Russia has powerful underground allies in Asia: stub as p«iv«*rty. disease, ignoran«* and despair. 'They make fruitful stiil f«ir the germs of Communism. 'The Russian prides himself on being a European but at heart lu* is an Asiatic. That is a truth that tlu* Western world should never forget.

Are we then to look ahead t«i a frightful and perhaps Anal war of Asia and the West? N«i man can be certain of human destiny but I d«i n«it think we need l«ise sleep «iver such a prospect.

'Tlu* mercilessness of science has probably achieved a considerable period «if uneasy peace for the world. Even if it is only a truce we should do everything possible t«i make the most «if a period where the guns are silent or an* confined, as in Indo-China, to a limited area.

'There are two Asias the Asia of wealth and the Asia of pov«*rty, the Asia «if culture and tlu* Asia of great ignorance, tlu* Asia of enlightenedO pression and tlu* Asia of dumb despair. We can no more ignore* it than we can ign«ire the sun, the moon and the stars.

As I write, the* dreadful battle of France against the Communist Airees of Indo-China seems t«i be past its last hours. Ladies and gentlemen, lend me your ears. Do y«iu remember when you called for t he crucifixion of Cham-

berlain because England, without the support «if (’añada or France or the U.S.. should have declared war when Hitler said that he would invade Czechoslovakia? Have you anti-Chamherlainites lost your tongues? Is your conscience con taint'd within the boundaries of a geography atlas?

1 never thought that Chamberlain should have* gone to war over Czechoslovakia for the good reason that neither France, America nor Canada wen* willing t«i take a stand. Therefore, I think we wert? jierhaps right in not sending troops t«i Indo-China.

We must look beyond the present battle into tlu* years ahead. First we must study Asia and realize that she has produced some «if the greatest and poets in all history.

We must also realize and this is my Anal point that tlu* poverty and misery cannot b«* confined to an area but must spread their deadly germs across «*v«*n tlu* most closely guarded front ¡«‘I’s.

Pov«*rty . . . without it Communism woul«l 'l\iv«*rty . . . without it ther«* would In* n«i wars. P«iv«*rty . . . without it then* would be no ath«*ism h«*cnusc man is a «•r«*ature that mauls (î«i«l.

Poverty Breeds Despair

I know that in the minds of some die-hards there remains a conviction that l«iw wages t«i tin* w«irk«*r make big profits t«i the management. 'That philosophy is mit nearly as strong as in the days of Victorianism but it still «•xists.

Powrt v brings profit no one. On tin* contrary it hr«*e«ls «lespair, n*volution and war the tlm*e costliest things ever cr«*at«*d bv man. Therefore the first concern of the Western world, as it looks out upon the backward territories «if Asia and Africa, should be: “We must destroy poverty in order to save ourselves.”

'There is a wist* «ild boy in the House of Commons named Sir Walter FletchHe spent many years in Malaya and sometimes when parliament is sitting late we talk at great length.

“Underpaid workers.” he said, “are no go«wl the capitalist system. The workers are our customers—whether they are black, yelhiw or white. Unless we pay them enough to buy our manufactured gtmds we are sunk. What is the basic trouble in Kenya «ir Uganda or even Jamaica? We have never fought the blacks the joy of a refrigerator or a^motiir car. (live them something to work Air and they will w«irk. High wages are the cheapest in the long run.”

I think there is much wisdom in what he says. Communism can only survive and gr«iw in countries where the standard of living is pitifully low.

Man was not created by Cod to have an easy and slothful life. We were not given «jualities of courage, patience and endurance merely t«i lop the fruit from the trees. We were not given imaginatam merely t«i dream but to chart the seas and build temples and factories and homes where once wild animals roamed. We were rait given the power to make and administer the law merely t«i decide a «piarrel over the ownership of a mule.

N«i longer can we live lives in isolation. are part of the human comedy and the human tragedy. There is no such thing today as distance. Asia is «in our doorsteps just as Europe and Africa are.

Somehow w«* must control destiny or destiny will destroy us and the ultimate historian will write: “In those

far-off days th«*re were civilized nations which fail«;«! to realize that frontiers had ceased to exist save Air customs purposes.” if