by H. M. TOMLINSON
AFTER scanning the headlines of my London paper, I try to read between the lines; as likely a way as there is for an approach to the truth in news of continuous war. Thus I often catch a note of anxiety in a simple message from its Washington correspondent. His duty is to report the latest, but he seems worried lest, meanwhile, I develop a dubious notion of America; or else should trust her too much — it is sometimes hard to tell which. He fears that while he informs me of progress towards victory, my sense of fellowship may have cause to wilt.
This anxiety is noticeable in correspondents resident on the west side of the Atlantic. They doubt our will and capacity to understand a scene easily mistakable for one like the British, yet not so. They keep hinting at the existence, where they are, of an historic prejudice, at times wildly generous in its suspicions, and of tastes and opinions to puzzle Pall Mall, and of literary proclivities undreamed of in a Paternoster Row that was; of a foreign scene, in fact, deceptive through its superficial likeness, and further confused by the requirements of the usual political intrigue, and of worse motives, better not described. Therefore make allowances. For aren’t we all in peril? And in battle, how suspicion of the friend at one’s back would boggle the sword!
It would. And suddenly I remember that a peril much worse would arise with victory, should mistrust end in frustrating good-will. Victory would not be Nike, but Medusa.
It was with such a thought that I heard, quite appropriately, the wailing note. The enemy was coming. I went out, to see what was. It was night; and this blackout of ours has to be groped into, to be believed. No moon and a low sky make a London suburb Plutonian. I seemed to have gone blind, and the silence was of the ultimate deep, which life has never reached, where day has never been. Then a searchlight shot up a bright beam to splash on a cloud. Others joined it. I was still alive, and could now see there was still a sky, for destroyers were suspected to be roving in it.
Indoors again, to await what might come, I did not select but picked up — modernists may laugh if they feel like it — a volume of Emerson’s Journals, and retired into the 1850’s. Strangely, I felt at ease in New England of those years. Nothing was there to upset my prejudices. It was home. No suspicion arose. Emerson could have been present talking easily across the hearth. He had a joke or two. He mentioned Carlyle as if he had just left that fellow round the corner. Is there a faculty in a man which indisputably marks his superiority? I think it is prescience. He made me jump once, when he suggested dirigible balloons, and a great war to come that, for a change, would be for ideas. He was as much a contemporary as this week’s Washington correspondent. He did not, however, entertain a suspicion of the man to whom he was assessing affairs across the hearth and the years. I felt no isolation. He appeared to know me quite well. Where the two of us met, we had not to reckon time and space, so had no reason to fear this and that.
If understanding can be as easy and pleasant as laughter, unrestrained by geography and the gap of a century, at the same time — we had better confess it — suspicion and prejudice, the outcome of ignorance, have the same advantage. They are as perennial as green fly. We have to bear in mind that hate and bigotry are coeval with the pyramids. I suppose there is little we can do about it.
Nor are they local. They ought not to surprise us anywhere, not in the American Boston or the English Cambridge more than in Sokoto. Men everywhere are affected by the peculiar advantages of birth and customary association. None of us is greatly helped by a bias of education which ignores or undervalues things and forces that are beyond the village. Another difficulty is that though false values are worse than black ignorance, yet they can assume dogmatic authority, as Galileo discovered.
STILL, is not a process of renewed education, surprising in the gladness of initiates, beginning to spread light throughout the world? One reads of coolies in Chungking who drop their loads to spell out, on a hoarding, news of New York and London. Danger overcomes prejudice quite easily, and will increase a desire for better knowledge into a state of anxiety. I have found myself on a long railway journey this winter exchanging news with an American soldier from the Middle West — he had never been overseas before, and New York was strange to him — as though our tokens for values had similar imprints. What he did dislike was the English climate, if we had one. I could see he was no foreigner to a woman opposite, whose husband was missing at Dunkirk, for when she explained to us why she believed her man was alive, after over two years’ silence, the American gently encouraged her hope, which was more than I could do.
And a friend of mine, navigating officer in a ship of the convoy which took American troops to North Africa, was delighted to find young foreign soldiers come crowding to the forecastle at night to get lessons on the stars, and how to use them for bearings. He remarked that he began on his guard with them, and they with him. Starlight united them. He told me he laughed when the landings began. The Americans seemed eager to be away to a party; but they were off an African beach.
I wonder how many Americans knew of Guadalcanal, Macassar, and Akyab when the alarm came! Perhaps as many as there were English who had no need to consult an atlas. It is probable — despite the suspicion of their leaven of imperialism — that most members of the British Parliament would succeed not really brilliantly in a test of their knowledge of the history, geography, and communications of British Dominions and Colonies. When Malaya came into the news, Penang and Pahang would have sounded rather alike to a proportion of the Empire’s legislators. Some of these heartily dislike the word “empire” for its ancient and forbidding smell. Other members, to the eyes of youthful and ribald critics, seem to be but Victorian monuments dedicated to the memory of Clive, “the boy who won India for England. ”
Obsolete monuments wc may disregard except as warnings of what critics in a time not come may think of us; but, since Clive is named, a little of the history of eighteenth-century India, to discover the kind of difficulty with which Clive had to deal, would be helpful. So would be the admission that Robert Clive, whatever we may think of imperialism, personified the very qualities which have made America great. While considering what we had better do after the war is won, it would be useful to have the past in just perspective; otherwise it will be difficult to discover where we start from.
I fear it is not generally remembered, even at Westminster, when Penang and Singapore are mentioned, what kind of men were Francis Light and Stamford Raffles, officers of the forgotten East India Company. Raffles, who founded Singapore on a few fishers’ huts, went to Java to protect and govern it when Napoleon occupied the Netherlands, and he established a tolerable rule which the Hollanders have developed. Imperialism may have what import a critic chooses for it — and should he desire it, I think I could supply him with arguments to arraign it; but that would still leave Raffles a beneficent and enlightened figure in an anarchic world, a man who gained nothing by his selfless energy and foresight — nothing whatever, except the usual neglect and grief. In truth, the company of explorers, navigators, missionaries, and administrators, who have gone from my homeland, under various impulses, to discover, settle, establish law, and rule, have had among them not a few of the finest minds in Christendom. The Pilgrim Fathers were of that host of pioneers.
While dismissing ideas repugnant to us, we should not dismiss facts, though they seem opposed to an idea we prefer to entertain. A certain amount of tolerance is essential. Mistrust can end in bigotry. Consider the regard for truth of a Nazi judge trying a Jew! The trouble is, though we would search out the truth in a matter, persuasion comes only through knowledge gained by an expenditure of patient candor, whereas to damn offhand saves time and requires no thought.
The spirit of man, our special care in this war for ideas, is, as Wordsworth regretted, a pure flame but early in life. Things so soon happen to the tender child. There is his home, the mythology of his neighborhood, and the good or ill luck attending his labors, all going to his education. He is too intricate a creature for us to compel into wisdom, though we had it to offer, as though he were a horse simply obstinate over our pail of pure and kindly refreshment.
WE could begin on the rights, prejudices, and privileges each of our two great countries possesses by declining to examine too strictly their respective frontiers. Where, after all, does America end? Where England? Suppose I wish to claim Roosevelt to be also my President in some important part iculars? If in London we should certainly look twice at gifts some foreigners may offer, at the same time Wendell Willkie is nearer the heart of many of us than not a few of our own earnest exponents of what is and what should be. He and Roosevelt are representative Americans, but they also represent values that are acceptable anywhere on earth. Does equity vary? To whom do religion, poetry, and music belong? If they possess us, they are ours. What is a foreigner? It depends on what the man is. I could name a Chinese or two more like home to me than patches of the local directory. I suspect I should be as well understood in Chungking as in some circles in London.
There is nothing esoteric in this. It is not peculiar, like those passwords, or catchwords, which sadly exclude us from certain precious centers of intellectual interest. This sense of fellowship is usually in the cinemas, where war workers go for entertainment. Russian pictures bring instant applause, sincere and formidable. The records of the Chinese confirm kinship. The cause which has brought the United States, China, Russia, and Great Britain together, to most ordinary men and women has the urge of religion, and is limitless in its scope. Neither the person nor the state is exempt. Its inherency is indefinable; generous aspiration always leaves the question of personal safety to the last. This quickening of charity for one’s neighbors has been enlarged into human life, which discovers itself to be one body; and no narrow interests can stem its power, though they will try. Some of our leaders know this; others do not, though they will learn.
Nor is it new in history, though the signs of it have received less sympathetic attention from historians than other human wonders; but all the founders of the world’s religions were aware of this attribute latent in the spirit of man. It abides in stillness till it hears the word it knows. Once, in Paris — how many Americans are unaware of this? — Woodrow Wilson could have invoked this power, at least in Europe.
It became clear to the innumerable unimportant, as they caught rumors of what the peacemakers at the council table were doing, that the war was lost to them; that they were to be left in the past. Dismay was universal in the mean streets and byways of a continent. The nobodies waited expectant for a word of hope, which did not come. It was their trusted politicians they heard speaking, and hope was not in the official agenda. For a brief hour, as it were, — not for much longer did the opportunity last, — if Woodrow Wilson had made the magnanimous gesture at that conference, had he addressed himself beyond the restrictive chamber to the unseen multitude, with the call for which it waited, Europe would have risen; but he was unaware. Then apathy and the shadow fell over all. We are involved in the consequences.
THAT cannot happen again? It can, and it will, unless makers of mischief find their business unsafe and unprofitable. They may find it so. It happens that this time the nobodies are not only expectant, but reliable bodies of them everywhere are resolved. For this time the word has been spoken, and there is a common will to let the dead past bury its errors. Attempts to re-establish those ways of national life which led to this catastrophe may, we hope, find ignorance not so gainful as formerly.
As there is no return, except to the ruins and the bones, had we not better go forward together? It is the only rational act. It is therefore a grave matter that misgiving over the honesty of friends, unlike that doubt felt by a naval officer for the American lads in a transport, has not yet been cleared in the light of the everlasting stars. Then is the Christian faith worthless in foreign relations? It has never been tried, of course, but some way must be found to overcome those fears which always exist between men when they find themselves joined by chance in an adventurous quest — a quest desperate with perils, and to an end unknown. It is open country ahead of us now; and if comrades fail each other there, then they may abandon hope. I do not wish to contemplate an earth on which reason and good-will have perished.
We know there has been a common nervousness over recent radio atmospherics caused, among other things, by a suspicion of imperialism and its subtle aims. That is all to the good. Let the air over the Atlantic crackle! I feel free to touch this matter because, in the long ago, I was called, with many others, pro-Boer. I am still that. It can be fairly claimed that England is the world’s traditional anvil on which political theory is hammered out; and the sparks fly. Ask Jan Smuts, of South Africa. He is a philosopher, and one of the most enlightened of living statesmen, and he knows, for there was a year when he was an implacable enemy of my country. Yet we had a liberal and courageous Prime Minister a few years after the Boer War, CampbellBannerman — let his memory be honored — and Smuts was brought over to us. When I am challenged about my imperial bent I waste no time. I point to Smuts, and leave it to him. Whom he cannot convince there is no convincing.
And another thing. Could an American Colonist have pleaded with more fervor for his freedom to choose than did Lord Chatham on his behalf at Westminster? That historic fact is in the English tradition; the same tradition which put my people with their backs to the wall, resolved to have it out there or perish, when Hitler was dominant over Europe. A new political dispensation, monstrous to the British, was threatened, and they preferred to be dead rather than accept it.
For though British legislators may know far less than one would have expected of the geography, communications, and history of their dependent Colonies and independent Dominions, about political theory the British in general have always been as various, lively, and exploring as those original Athenians who were very curious about the how and why of things. The historic sense, without much particular knowledge, was always exciting in these little islands. At any time, when form is being given to government, trouble here may be expected. Anachronisms, however attractive, are invariably seen through and vehemently challenged. Even our kings have had sad cause to know that. The culture in which my folk work and brood has been in secure, continuous life for so long that its inheritors trust to its general trend, and do not concern themselves with particulars till time and chance present fruition.
YET I admit we ought not to expect other people, among them the people of India, to be aware of this. Nor can it be denied that to many of us India is a fairy tale told by Kipling. But who knows enough of India to be confident? India, unlike China, has not a fairly homogeneous culture. It is richer in its variety than any other area of earth that could be named. The stage in its evolution reached since Clive’s victory at Plassey is not to be discovered in a speech or a leading article, however eloquent. That subcontinent of many languages and religions, with its incoherent story going back near to Genesis, is a problem of government not to be solved emotionally, and in a grand rush. Are not four hundred millions of people concerned? And besides princes, politicians, mahatmas and gurus, wealthy merchants and manufacturers, landowners, and moneylenders, there are peasants, factory workers, and a class in its hierarchy called “untouchables.”
India must be free! Very surely. And the Sudras? Will they be free too, as free as the upper castes? When India is enabled to make its own political decisions, and that will soon come about, — there is no other meaning to all the fuss, — will the peasant get enough to eat? Some of the native states are still round about the fifteenth century; and even so, an Indian may think what he likes though hungry, and worship what suits him. It seems to me that while poor men anywhere are unsure of sufficient millet, rice, or bread, there is a deal of cant in this talk of political freedom. I should guess for the Indian ryot it will not mean a damned thing. I should say for the Bombay factory hand it will do nothing to reduce overcrowding and its incidental diseases and death rate.
We forget that never anywhere has there existed a right democracy. It is a form of government still in the experimental stages, and of interest mainly in the Anglo-Saxon communities. We forget this, though the shocking spectacle of democratic and republican France ought to be warning enough to scare the most noble patriot from pursuing his ambition till it end gloriously in what he wants, or in the dismay of his people.
Gandhi knows more of India than it is possible for us to learn, and, I think, of other important matters; but, concerning this question of foreign aggression and conquest, when he divined that all he had to do was to persuade the Japanese to drop the war, and leave China, how did that flash from his insight strike you? And why should he wait for the Japanese to invade India, before dissuading them from continuing destruction, loot, rape, and murder in China? Couldn’t he have saved China before this, if aware of the right method? It seems such a pity to wait. While reflecting on these mysteries of constructive thought, let us recall that most of India’s many millions are poor men, peasants and workers, who do not know much, not even why it is advantageous for other men, white or brown, to control their lowly way of life.
There it is; and yet the very magnitude and complexity of a problem will drive us to dismiss it in impatience. To get better knowledge means time and patience. We prefer pious incantations. Nevertheless, the British citizen is aware that India is ripe for change. The British Empire was never static. We have indeed grown shy of the word “empire” of late years, and the obstinate use of it today by a politician arouses alert concern. We prefer not only to say “commonwealth,” but to realize, as well as we can, its implications. We are on the way, but have some distance to go.
India is mentioned, not in apology for white rule in Asia, nothing like it, but so that a notable exhibit may be seen of what will be there to do, when a chance comes to compose the complaints of peace. The Russians also are in Asia; and beyond India are Burma, Malaya, Indo-China, and Indonesia. It would take the bulk of the Atlantic to accommodate the East Indian Archipelago, where the Dutch used to rule. Several of those islands, Borneo, Sumatra, and New Guinea, are immense. Java has the area of Eire, with Javanese, Arabs, and Chinese among its peoples, and Celebes is somewhat larger than Java; and the smaller isles are like the stars in multitude. Malaya itself is not a simple piece. It contains negroid nomadic dwarfs in its mountain jungle, Malays, various Indians, and a great number of Chinese.
Are we to leave that continental region to govern itself? We dare not, if peace and plenty are desired. We might as well leave the Japanese in possession. Chaos would be a mild name for the outcome of an experiment there in self-government. Self-government needs aptitude, and education, and a long patience with disappointments. As the Americans and the British themselves are but in the early process of giving form and life to the principles of democracy, it would be wrong to leave the many peoples of that spacious region, resigned to fate when under the agelong tyrannies of native chiefs, to the designs of the kind of energetic men who would certainly shape our own destinies, if we were ignorant and indolent enough to allow them that freedom.
We hardly know yet to what this war commits us; we are only beginning to surmise it. There is — or there was — the trifling item of the British occupation of Hong Kong. We had been there a century when the Japanese took it over. Doubtless we brought order, good works, and profit to the place, but our original lien, to my mind, won’t bear looking at. It is possible to suppose, however, that the Republic of China, when guns cease to have an immediate function, may desire that Hong Kong should be, for a spell at least, a haven for British and American ships. The Chinese may not wish their allies — we will call ourselves now the friends of the Chinese — to leave their coasts on the day that guns may be neglected. There will be much to do.
THE work before us when destruction ends and creation begins will daunt anyone who would find ease and comfort in a return to his accustomed occasions. Anyhow, he will get no comfort from those occasions; they will have suffered a change. The morning when the storm is past will not seem so gloriously bright. Its prospect will bring out of their usual lurking holes every imaginable fear: the dread of change felt by the timid; the fear of the men of great possessions, of the place and fortune hunters, of those to whom profit is above service, of those with minds devoutly set, of all to whom ideas are never right when new. We must expect, in fact, an attempt to stampede us in dread back to what we knew, for safety; but what we knew will have gone, quite gone.
There will be no safety but in the acceptance of danger. It is useless to bargain with life; one must take it as it is, to do the best with it. But I believe that, dark as the morning after the storm will be, yet the youthful in mind will be aware that “only that day dawns to which we are awake.” They will be awake, knowing it is day, and will be ready to share with strangers the fullness of life in a new age. Their thoughts will expand to the occasion, and be out of bounds. National frontiers to them will have lost the old meanings. They will strive to release human relations from constricting bonds, to free the bounty of earth for the use of all. The world will be ready again for adventurers. Its seas and lands are all discovered and explored, but the best use to make of them is still unknown. Pioneers have to learn how far the spirit of man can travel towards making a garden of his place. I do not see why Christians should fear an attempt to establish the Kingdom of God.
Man cannot live by bread alone, we know, and his condition remains unimproved by luxuries; but he cannot live without it. And bread has always been chancy for too great a number of people. An uncertainty about tomorrow’s loaf will distract a man’s attention from the truth that he is spirit as well as body. Is there much freedom for the spirit when the body’s only liberty is to get through to tomorrow, if desperation can find a way? We don’t know what dimensions of the soul are still unknown to us, undivulged in unemployment statistics, lost in the slag heaps of our activities.
When respectworthy democrats are proud of their country’s institutions, and wish others to share these benefits, it is only political freedom they are thinking of. The benefit of individual liberty includes the right to starve. Political and religious freedom are not enough. Freedom to fight for the means to eat and to breathe? Why, when harvests are destroyed so that prices may be maintained, because prices are more sacred than homes, the scramble of the lord of creation for his food is enough to make the lower animals laugh. It looks then as if man were more like the fool of creation.
WHEN this war began, about two millions of my countrymen were unemployed. I have been told that America also had a few. I don’t know how political economy explains or excuses this waste of power and wealth, and I don’t want to hear. It. is wrong, that is all. It is wrong. It hurts the mind merely to be aware of such a fact; and to look into the eyes of a child condemned to undernourishment, to go hungry and withheld from joy, is to know that civilization is a mistaken term, whatever the late architecture of its institutions. Let us cease to lie to each other about hunger and the restriction of life in a disguising scientific jargon. That is what we have been doing, and libraries are stacked with the clever evasions of the scholarly. But hunger is hunger, dirt is dirt, ignorance is savagery, and hopelessness is death.
As to the future political administration of those lands at present given to war and anarchy, unless Americans agree to keep their minds clear and their coats off for the demands of peace as they are doing for war, anarchy, more or less, will abide, there and elsewhere. We need be in no doubt about that. You might as well, after great risk and labor, get a drowning man ashore and then leave him unconscious to perish on the beach. And reviving him and setting him on his feet wall not be enough, this time. We are bound, by the look of it, to enlarge the family, though he be an Indian, a Chinese, or an African,
Personally, I like the look of it. I wish I were young again. The Renaissance from the Middle Ages was nothing to this uprising of youth in the Industrial Era — an era which had seemed dead, though full of smoke and noise. It cheered me recently to hear an American officer talking of this as though he had seen light, light new to him, and he were resolved to use it. He had no doubt about the English; he plainly said he hoped we should be with him; as for us, we have kept for years a modest and likable little statue of George Washington overlooking the heart of the capital against which he rebelled. I trust at least we recognize a gentleman when we see one.
Long words and big have been made of the needs of the world after the war, and they will be used to scare the timid innocent, like candles in pumpkins. International Political Control! That is, common sense in so ordering our affairs that such a disaster as this will not again burst open our isolation with bombs. And Economic Coöperation! The wonder is, in an age of machines which made more than we could dispose of, that we had to wait for universal bloodshed before discovering there were myriads of people who were in need. It never occurred to us that bayonets always go with trade barriers; there is no other way to keep those barriers shut.
And who benefited? Not the producers, not the consumers; not, that is to say, most of us. That lesson for us is obvious in Hitler’s own avowed intent, which we mean to thwart. His sole aim was economic control of the world. That was what he was after from the start. His assumption of political control, with secret police and agents to keep it, was but a means to that end; he knew that political power without control of earth’s riches is meaningless. His tanks and war planes issue in logic, and there they are yet.
They will be removed from daylight presently, and the way open again. It will not remain open for long. Let us carefully note the significant instance of Admiral Darlan. Will it help if many of our avowed enemies come over in victory to help us? Hadn’t we better know beforehand where we want to go? We might, while in a state of elation, be hurried off in the wrong direction after all. It is certain the right way will not be open for long, after the guns cease. It was shut to us last time before the soldiers had buried their dead. If this war does not liberate man’s spirit to the greatest adventure in exploration of his existence, then already it. is lost. It is no good talking. If the war does not bring us to fellowship in the cause of all mankind, then it is lost, and we are wasting life and treasure. We have never had that fellowship, though for two thousand years there has been a promise of it. In the light of what we have learned in agony, shall we waste the chance, since destiny, or Providence, offers it for our choice?