Can Fe Destroy Hitlerisni?
Danger Of Living In Terms Of Phrases
THIS politicians' war is a highly abstract affair, and it is doubtful if public opinion, both in belligerent and neutral countries, was ever so wide of the mark in trying to assess its meaning and its progress. There is danger lest after living for some months on illusions we react suddenly to make hasty and ill-tempered decisions which are likely to prove fatal, whether they turn out to be in the direction of peace or intensification of the war.
Let us, then, try to see things as they really are. abandoning for the moment the catchword phraseology and unreal ideas inherited from previous wars.
THE CALCULATION OF INTERESTS
WiY did we start the war? The real answer is plain : to destroy llitler and the gang of Nazi leaders. Poland was patently made into a test case. After trying hard and failing to put a term to Hitler's aggression by negotiation, we argued as follows. If Hitler does not dare to challenge our guarantee to Poland, the forces and ideas represented by the Western democracies have won. They are safe, however bad a fright they may have had. If, on the other hand, Hitler attacks Poland, in the face of our threats, then Hitlerism is proved an immediate and serious danger to civilisation as we understand the term. It is then a case of " Hitler goes " or " We go."
.A genuine sense of moral indignation at Poland's fate was also an important factor in the decision, but it is hard to maintain that it was primary. Had it been we should have adopted exactly the same attitude to Bolshevist aggression in Finland and elsewhere. Even more, moral considerations would force us to view the purpose of the war as a rendering of justice to Europe and the world, a justice that might involve our own country, as well as that of the enemy, in depriving itself of resources and possessions for the common good.
The war was fundamentally due to a reasonable calculation of interests, a calculation which, of course, does not exclude or destroy the moral motives. We held and hold that Hitler's policy was abominable, whereas ours, in the words of the Prime Minister, safeguarded the decencies of international life. In trying to destroy Hitlerism we are fighting for these decencies, but we are primarily fighting for our lives and what makes our lives worth the living. By now we loathe Stalinism almost as much as Hitlerism, but we do not fight it because we do not fear it in the samc way, or, alternatively, we fear to cement the alliance between Hitlerism and Stalinism.
WAR CLOUDS THE JUDGMENT
IT is important to be perfectly clear about this, because our future policy can only make sense if we make up our minds once and for all as to whether we are out to fight for moral ideals at any cost and prepared to make the necessary sacrifice and take the necessary risks, or whether we intend to abide by the policy of getting the best we can out of the war. Danger lies in the confusion between the two alternatives, speaking in terms of the first yet really acting in terms of the second. Frankly, we doubt whether great modern commercial and semi-paganised nations are capable of acting freely, honestly and sincerely in terms of the primacy of the moral order.
If, then, we are really fighting to destroy the Hitlerism we fear and abominate, it is our duty to calculate with great precision throughout the war whether or not we can hope to destroy Hitlerism without destroying ourselves in the process, and, if so, what precise sacrifices are demanded to do so. Should we at any time see the hope to be an unreasonable one in terms of what we are prepared te do, it would be better to see what settlement we can make and how beet to make it.
This has to be said, because, while in times of peace modern nations do calculate in terms of their real interests, in times of war they are apt through sheer uncritical emotionalism, whether they whistle to keep up their courage or curse to relieve their disappointments, to pursue thoroughly unrealist ends without the courage and faith required for idealism. Nations justify their entry into war by grandiose moral and national pledges sincerely but emotionally meant, and then feel obliged for decency's sake to stick to the phrases when perhaps they no longer have the courage to redeem them. A government works up the bellicose feelings of the people, and then is neither prepared for the effort needed nor prepared to tell the people the real truth.
TRUSTING THE GOVERNMENT THE facts as demonstrated by the conduct of the war so far, are that not merely the future of Great Britain, but the future of what we mean by our civilisation, depend on any given day in the war upon a realist calculation of our best interests, rather than upon the state of inflamed public opinion, the will to see it through, or even the determination to restore Poland and Czechoslovakia, and the like. It sounds very magnificent to say that we prefer defeat to failure to redeem our pledges, but can we honestly say that it is true? If we do come near defeat, shall we not in fact forget all about Poland and, with the fullest support of terrified public opinion, scramble with the greatest lack of dignity and prestige to save what we can from the wreck? If such be the case, it would surely be preferable to make what terms we can while our power is unimpaired, terms rhich, apart from saving ourselves, may well save something for Poland.
Let it be said at once that we are not here arguing for coming to terms at present. We demand rather a new spirit towards the war, a spirit really in keeping with our pronouncements. But, if we cannot rise to such a spirit, then we should maintain a state of mind which will enable us to come to the best terms if and when such terms should be in our best interests. We are arguing against deceiving ourselves with a mere sentimentality and war hysteria that may well endanger our own country, civilisation and the very things for which we are fighting.
Under conditions of modern warfare, it is practically impossible for the man in the street to make a useful judgment about where exactly our best interests at any given time may lie. There are too many factors unknown to him. He cannot possibly gauge the military situation accurately; he cannot really tell the true financial and economic position of the country, how long it can continue to fight and under what conditions; and he knows practically nothing of the conditions of the enemy.
Because of this ignorance, we have to trust to the judgment of the Government. Can we trust the Government? The answer probably lies in the answer to the question whether the Government can trust the people, trust the people to know the full and real truth. And every time the Government deceives the people, however necessary this may be in the interests of successful prosecution of the war, it makes it harder for itself to trust the people when it becomes imperative for the good of the country that the people shall trust it to deal wisely with an awkward situation.
DARKER HOURS WE are going through some darker hours. The military stalemate seems to the outsider complete, so that all depends upon economic and diplomatic warfare. Whether we consulted our best interests in virtually abandoning Finland until it was too late is highly problematic, but of the final German diplomatic victory there can be no question. Scandinavia and North-East Europe are virtually lost unless we are prepared to risk everything for their recovery. The effectiveness of the blockade is uncertain, but there is at least the chance that Germany is economically in a much weaker state than she ...ppears to be. (In this matter, so good is German propaganda and organisation that we take it that Germany will still appear prosperous on the very eve of collapse.) It may be that Germany cannot endure another winter. On the other hand, if she can we have to reckon on a strengthening rather than a weakening of the economic position of the enemy through improved contact with Russia. On the credit side there is our retained and increasing mastery of the sea, a factor that has proved decisive in every previous war.
Meanwhile we are being told of a great diplomatic struggle for control over South-East Europe and of a German attempt to create some sort of Russian-German-Italian bloc. This might result in a virtual guarantee that the map of Eastern and North-Eastern Europe will not be changed except over Russia's dead body, while the map of South-Eastern and Southern Europe will not he changed except over Italy's dead body.
Developments such as these are big developments. They are continually altering the situation, not, as our Press would have us believe, leaving it essentially unchanged. In the light of each one of them and in the light of our ability • to reply, we have to continue to ask whether we are going all out for sacred ideals and sacred ends, or, if not, whether we can still hope to destroy Hitlerism without destroying ourselves in the process.
A real change in our spiritual outlook ; revolutionary diplomatic initiatives on the basis of Europe's good, rather than the mere ascendancy of the British code; economic and financial sacrifices beyond our present imaginings; such are some of the tests of our pledges and the " sacred " war. If we are not prepared for them, we shall do better to be realists and make our bargains while we may.