It is a long-established custom to speak well of the dead, but not even a professional flatterer could drop many compliments on the grave of the recently deceased year of 1956. Certainly as far as the nations of Europe are concerned there can be nothing but relief in welcoming the infant New Year of 1957, mewling and puking in the arms of Father Time.
Certainly Sir Anthony Eden was glad to see the old year dead and buried. No bull was ever so harried and tortured by matadors and toreadors, and never did so many people scream for the kill.
ln my time I have seen Churchill howled down in the Commons until at last he strode from the chamber in a black fury. And I remember the day when Ramsay MacDonald was so bullied that his mind became confused and one of his own party shouted. “For God’s sake, sit down, man!”
Nor need we recall at any length the cruel cry of “Speak for England!” when the Labor leader rose at the end of Chamberlain’s speech on the night before the declaration of war against Hitler.
And just to complete the list we can recall without tears that Mussolini’s corpse was strung up like a carcass in a butcher’s shop and Hitler’s corpse was roasted in the fire.
How much easier it is for the president of a company who never has to face anything more menacing than an audience of shareholders who cannot read a balance sheet. His wife at least is safe. One might imagine that men would think twice and then twice again before they embraced politics as a profession; yet the lure of public life never seems to lose its fascination, especially for those who reach the top. I can recall only one man who gave up the premiership without a single regret—Stanley Baldwin.
He was so sick of the whole thing that he just walked out. Yet there are moments when the crowd at the political hull ring shows an unexpected delicacy. It was so on the day when Eden came hack from Jamaica and entered the House just before the end of question time.
The Conservatives gave him a quiet restrained cheer, and the socialists made no unfriendly noises. It was exactly right. Truly the Old Mother of Parliaments is not without dignity on occasion.
What an enigma this man is! I was told by a cabinet minister that on the morning of Eden’s first reappearance in the House the prime minister presided over a cabinet meeting with a complete knowledge of everything that had gone
on in his absence, and, apparently, with complete authority.
Yet Eden had to face a press that varied from complete hostility to reluctant unenthusiastic support. Worse than that, he had to face a nation that moves on wheels and has only a meager supply of petrol. Perhaps this was the major factor in ending his career.
The British, of course, are accustomed to a siege economy. Those lean years of the Hitler war had their compensation inasmuch as people developed a sense of unity, which did much to reduce the hardships of their beleaguered existence. It is so today. No longer does a businessman drive alone to his office, but shares his car with other motorists. The insularity of normal life is replaced by a community sense that has no parallel in ordinary times.
“There comes a moment, as in Hungary, when the instinct for liberty can strike with strength”
Yet the shortage of petrol is not our only problem. Refugee Hungarians have reached these islands in their thousands. The people in the house next to ours in St. John’s Wood—a house that once belonged to Toronto-born Beatrice Lillie— have taken in a Hungarian family consisting of the parents and three small children. Fortunately for them they have a Hungarian relative who was once a scientist and is now driving a lorry and speaks excellent English.
We called on them the other night when the father described the rebellion in Hungary while his brother translated as it went along.
It was a story of terror and brutality beyond description, but it was also a story of bravery and even humor. He told how a crowd of students pulled down a statue of Stalin and in doing so Stalin’s head fell off. Whereupon the students put up a sign reading “Under Repair" and dragged the beheaded tyrant through the streets to the high approval of the crowds.
The year of fate for Russia
We asked the father if he looked forward some day to returning to Hungary. His reply was the same as we hear on every hand: “We would like to make our home in Canada.”
There was a time when every European emigrant wanted to go to the United States but for some reason Canada has become the mecca of the refugees seeking a new life. Nor is this confined merely to nations that are under the iron heel of the Soviets. In France and Britain and Italy I have seen the same curiosity and desire to go to Canada.
They feel that the struggle in Europe between freedom and slavery must come to a head and that the issue will only be decided by force. No wonder they look across the seas.
It is not wishful thinking that makes one believe that 1957 will be the year of fate for Russia. She has not now a single ally in the true sense—not even Communist China.
In the West she sees the coming trade and military alliance of Britain, France, Italy, West Germany and the Benelux countries. Even closer is the threat of her rebellious satellites — Hungary, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. And far across the world she sees the reluctant giant of America, clinging to the dream of isolation yet knowing that no such thing exists.
Admittedly modern weapons make it possible for the few to control many, unlike the days of the French Revolution when a mob was able to storm the Bastille; but there comes a moment, as in
Hungary, when the instinct for liberty can strike with enormous spiritual strength against the weapons of tyranny.
Many people believe the spark point will come when West Germany demands reunification with East Germany. I have been in touch recently with West German opinion and it has only one theme: Germany must be reunited, the parliament of the Reich must once more be in Berlin, and the Russians must go back to their own country.
Nor will Germany allow Allied forces to be stationed much longer in her territory. For what my opinion is worth, I believe that the Western allies should withdraw their occupation forces now and not wait until they are told to go.
One of the few happy features of the European scene is the renaissance of France. I felt it last summer when, with my wife and daughter, we motored across her lovely land on our way to Italy.
We could feel a new pride, a new sense of independence and, above all, a new confidence in the future. The French are the most individualistic of people, yet today their outlook is no longer chauvinistic, but world-wide. Despite the deplorable consequences of stopping short of our objective in Suez the rebirth of the Anglo-French alliance has added greatly to the strength of the West.
I do not want to go over the plowed area of international discord but in Britain we now dare to hope that even the UN will cease to be simply a quorum for mere discussion and exert the authority that lies in its power.
Therefore as we look upon 1957 we feel that by the time it has run its course the world may be able to feel that it is on the road to better things.
It will not be an easy year for us in Britain because the political battle has yet to be fought to a finish and it is hard to believe that the present parliament will run its full course.
But it is on Russia that the fierce glare of history is centred. Humanity cannot exist indefinitely half slave and half free. That is the lesson of the ages.
I have recounted this before but once more I am reminded of the words spoken to me by Kerensky who led the revolution in 1917 that overthrew the tsars.
“I gave Russia five months of freedom,” said Kerensky to me in London, “and a nation that has known freedom even for only five months will never rest until it achieves it again.”
Now I must put down my pen because I have said what I wanted to say and because my Hungarian neighbor is coming in for a lesson in English.
As he speaks not one word of our language and I speak not one word of his it will not be easy, but somehow we shall make ourselves understood and perhaps for an hour he will forget the flaming hell from which he escaped. ★
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