on the World Today
HOLLAND, which has sometimes been accused of being monotonous both in scenery and in way of life, is today a country of startling contrasts. When the traveler returning for the first time since 1939 debarks from the ship in Rotterdam, he is driven through sickening wasteland, past empty shells of office buildings to the railway station. The train to Amsterdam is a modern, streamlined. Dieselpowered beauty, speeding from devastation to the familiar countryside which reassures the memory.
The railroads are kept running strictly on schedule,-over bridges which were shambles less than two years ago, past humming factories and the usual prosperous-appearing homes. But one cannot escape the bitter underlying facts, though it is a slow process to realize them.
On the surface, Holland is a healthy country, recovering from ravages and misery with remarkable speed and thoroughness. But how deep is the surface? What are the problems of the factory manager, of the men in government who must find ways of providing coal and oil for the railroads, machines and raw materials for the factories? What about the housewife who must care for large families? Is life comfortable and cheery behind the brilliantly lighted windows of Dutch homes?
No props for the Dutch
Many answers will be given, of course, to those questions, but they all bring out one major point: the basic structure of the country — political, economic, social, and perhaps moral — is far from sound and stable. Consider the main props of Holland’s strength before the war: investments in the East Indies; imports from those islands and the export as finished goods of some of the raw malerials; the huge merchant marine; a flourishing in dustry of highly varied character, producing both for export and domestic consumption; exports, in great quantities, of the famed dairy products, cheese, milk, butter, eggs. Where are they now?
The Indies are naturally contributing little indeed to the well-being of the “mother country” today, though surprising energy is being shown in rehabilitation in some areas, even in strife-lorn Java. (The Dutch side of the Indonesian mess is a story in itself, deserving a more complete hearing than it has yet received in America.) The merchant marine was ravaged and is being revived very slowly.
Industries are operating at low percentages of pre-war production, if at all. Machines and tools were destroyed or stolen by the Germans and it is said that the Dutch laborer seems to have lost much of his formerly notable will and capacity for work. Dairy products are being feverishly exported and eggs, cheese, milk, and butter are uncommon sights on the dining tables of Dutch homes. The ration is rigid, and black-market prices are beyond the reach of the average purse.
As in many other European countries, but more poignantly in Holland because of the lack of obvious surface contrasts, there are vast differences between the glittering shopwindows, which impress the tourist, and the life of the people. In Amsterdam stores, one can see practically anything one might wish to buy. But prices are high, and the stringent rationing excludes most purchases even if the would-be buyer bad the credit or cash. The strain on the nerves of the ordinary parent is difficult to calculate. Probably the adult can get along on one pair of shoes every eighteen months, but what about the growing boy and girl? The accepted in America is the rare luxury in Holland.
Caviar for the Congressmen
It must be doubted that the traveling Congressmen were allowed to see reality; they were a very special brand of tourist. Even the most sincere, who earnestly wished to see and study for themselves, saw the inside of only those Dutch homes that could provide luxurious food and drinks long unknown to most Hollanders
The influential and widely read weekly Elsevier’s published a stinging editorial after the visit of one committee. While the journal sympathized with the government’s national pride and its desire not to present the country as a “beggar,” the editorial expressed wonder that a wholly superficial view could have been permitted to men who would be so influential for Holland’s future. In discussing the editorial a few days later, a young government, technical expert, though he agreed with its general purpose, almost shouted, “But we are beggars!”
Dutchmen generally appear to blame their Labor Government for the inadequate picture given the Congressional visitors. Americans, reading of the trunkfuls of data brought back by committees, might remember that government reports and statistics cannot provide the whole picture.
Holland needs a productive Germany
One might expect that people who had existed five years under the occupation would look askance at current discussion and plans directed towards a revival of German economy and possible creation of a new state in Western Germany.
Generalizations about “national attitudes” are, of course, rarely safe. But a few points can be noted with certainty. Naturally, there is still hatred in varying degrees. Some people refuse to go to a concert at which Wagner will be played. The exhibitionist loudly proclaims that he will kill any German he ever meets. Others suffer quietly and, while retaining unspoken contempt for Germans, try to live in the present for the sake of the future. Many will tell you that those who detail their work in the “resistance,” and curse out all Germans, ought to be regarded with a healthy skepticism. As in all countries, the real heroes seek no glory.
Hatred or bitterness conflicts with any realistic appreciation of the economic and political scene in Europe. As in the past, a stable Germany would have great economic significance for Holland. Holland needs coal from the Ruhr, German markets for Dutch products, and the possible prodcts of German industry. Of vital importance is the traffic through Dutch canals and rivers to the ports. Much of the pre-war prosperity of Rotterdam, for example, was based on the traffic between Germany and the overseas world. Newspaper comment and private discussion tend more and more to the obvious practical view that, in the interests of the Dutch, a sound German economy is desirable.
Re-educating the Germans
There are encouraging signs that many Hollanders are realizing that, for themselves and for Western civilization as a whole, there is much more to the German problem than economics. The intellectual circles, centered in the universities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, Groningen, and Nijmegen, are taking the lead in offering assistance to the belatedly accelerated plans and projects for the “re-education” of Germans.
Conferences are now being held, without fanfare, between enlightened Dutchmen, German leaders from Bizonia, and military government officials. The Dutch, who surely know the German character and mentality better than the British and Americans, arc giving advice on methods of re-education and already, on a small scale, are providing practical assistance by active participation in the programs. Enlightened self-interest and reason, combined constructively, as they can be in the Western world, are triumphing over emotion. Here is a noteworthy example of how allies can coöperate.
The Dutch and the Marshall Plan
Dutch hopes are pinned on speedy and favorable action by Congress on the Marshall Plan. It is certain that no session of the American legislature has ever been reported as fully or followed as closely in Holland as the current session.
Needs here differ markedly from those of France, Italy, or even Britain. They are concentrated on the basic, long-range material aids essential to the reconstruction of the country’s economic structure, rather than on immediate shipments of, say, food. Fuel and capital equipment are the outstanding necessities. The transportation system, so remarkably rebuilt, must be maintained and new rolling stock constructed or otherwise obtained. Equipment for factories is, beyond doubt, the most basic and urgent demand of a shattered economy.
The Congressional discussions will presumably inquire: “Will these people make good use of what we provide?” In the case of Holland, there need be little, if any, doubt about the people. Many informed Dutchmen, however, are frank to say that it is their hope that we will establish a thorough control system, perhaps similar to the Lend-Lease supervisory mechanism.
On the part of some, this hope is inspired by lack of confidence in Holland’s Labor Government. Few can escape the fear that in some manner United States aid will find its way to black-market channels which flourish here as elsewhere. It is extremely doubtful whether American officials and technicians sent hero to keep an accounting of our aid would encounter resentment or encumbrances on their activities. Holland is a pretty safe bet.