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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 12 (March 1, 1940)

The War—and After? — The Challenge To Personal Liberty

page 11

The War—and After?
The Challenge To Personal Liberty

That liberty which the few remaining democracies of the world enjoy is not a natural inheritance of mankind. On the contrary, it was hard won, and it is hard to keep. History is punctuated with records of conflicts and migrations arising out of lust for power and posssessions, or attempts to escape from intolerable oppression and domination. To-day the whole theory of personal liberty is challenged by the advent of great dictatorships, powerful enough to attempt to control all human affairs. That the strength of a dictatorship lies in brute force, cruelty, deceit, and the breaking of pledges takes nothing from its efficiency, but it does increase its menace to those who try to frame their policies on tolerance and honesty.

Campaigns of tyranny and conquest are due, in the first place, as everyone knows, to the existence of men who are willing to be tyrants and conquistadores; but they are also due in part to the moral weakness and stupidity of other people who fail to avert them; indeed, the natural and cultivated stupidity of mankind is to blame for most of the troubles of the world. Germany is a brilliant example of cultivated stupidity.

The German people have surrendered their liberty to a tyranny which is unique in history; not only their liberty of action, but their liberty of thought. From a sea of troubles they were snatched by the magic words of a human saviour, and that perverse genius has led them, half-hypnotised and bleating “Heil Hitler,” from one tragedy to another, showing each tragedy as a triumph. And so it was—a triumph for stupidity.

Germany's troubles had brought the people to a condition in which, having tried everything they could think of, they were willing to try anything else; and Hitler brought them an idea. One would suppose that from that moment they gave up using their heads; and recognising the danger of an authoritative brain of any kind, Hitler has purged Germany of a host of her best minds; and such as are left dare not speak. Germany has no mind but the Fuhrer's; and he has shown that while, as the song had it, forty million Frenchmen can't be wrong, yet as long as he leads them, seventy million Germans can be. Still, the man with one idea usually gets what he is after, and the only way to stop seventy million wrong-minded Germans is to stop them.

This picture of Germany as an unthinking mass is used to emphasise the importance of using our minds, as effectively as we can, on the biggest job in sight.

Germany, with its single, stupid idea of follow-my-leader, has tipped us all into the mess we are in; but the mess was there anyway. If it had not been; if the trouble had been simply a display of gunmanship by the Hitler gang, we could shoot our way out of it and hang the desperadoes afterwards. But we have not only to deal with the gang, but get rid of the mess. That must be done, not with guns, but with brains.

It may cost ten millions a day to beat Germany this time—it cost nearly that much in 1918. It will not cost nearly so much to make the peace afterwards; but it will certainly take a lot of thought; and the sooner it begins the better.

The war has not even begun to show what form it will take; all that we know is that it will be different. It will be “modern” war—deadlier than before, noisier, costlier, crueller; from the wargod's point of view, bigger and better. But already it is out of date. It was out of date years ago. It will go on its appointed course of consuming firstclass men, first-class machines, magnificent ships, vast quantities of chemicals; and producing multitudes of dead, vast piles of debris, millions of broken hearts, and destitution in every land. But it will not settle anything. There was a time when a war really gave a verdict; but not any more. The settlement will come, not out of guns, but out of the minds of men. And there is no man so humble that his thoughts may not, in some degree, influence that settlement.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) A view of Clive Square, Napier, showing the War memorial.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A view of Clive Square, Napier, showing the War memorial.

The important thing about this concern of everyman's mind with the sequel of the war is that the settlement must be something entirely new; and that entirely new things are reluctantly welcomed. Always 'eave 'arf a brick at a stranger. Humanity owes its material comfort, so enormously increased in the last century—and also its terrifically efficient machinery of warfare—to a small minority of men who used their heads efficiently and often got into page 12
The railway station and yard at Palmerston North.

The railway station and yard at Palmerston North.

trouble. It is only recently that science has been relieved of the hostility of the unscientific. That is mainly due to its unceasing successes. The same thoughtlessness that made men sceptical has now made them too credulous, so that having got over spending large amounts of money on fraudulent electric belts, they now pay happily for concentrated vitamins that they previously bought in proper doses from the greengrocer. In the earlier phase of scepticism, science had to fight valiantly against entrenched prejudice. One thinks of Galileo, of Darwin, even of Einstein. Not all the hardy pioneers were men who hewed homes out of the forests.

In the new statesmanship, in which every man may play his part, the fight against conservatism and prejudice must be far fiercer, if it is to succeed, than the battle of the scientists. These had, as powerful allies, the results they could show—the incontrovertible fact, the visible microbe, the thing that worked. The statesman who draws up a settlement after a war can call no witnesses and produce no exhibits in support of his plan, unless he seeks a classic peace treaty based upon making the vanquished pay for the damage. He has plenty of witnesses and exhibits for that.

The world has had enough treaties of that kind. If Hitler had done no other good thing, he deserves some credit for having shown that they are things to avoid—or be voided. Like war, they are out of date, and for the same reason: they settle nothing. The new peace must be different. We must think about it, contribute what we can to it, and above all, prepare our minds so that we shall welcome, and not reject, a plan that will be a plan.

But before peace can be made, the war must be ended; and a war can only be ended in one way. It must be fought out. Of all absurd ideas about war–and this war in particular—the worst is that it should be called off. It takes only one side, and sometimes only one fool, to start a war; but it takes two sides to stop it; and the side that tries to “withdraw” in the hope of a comfortable fireside chat as a sequel is looking for a tragic disappointment. A war might be “called off” when both antagonists are thoroughly sick of it; but that stage is a long way off. The way to get out of this war is through the far end of it. What is just as important as getting there is what we are going to do afterwards; and that is what we should be thinking about.

It has often been said that the world will be very different after the war. Those who deride this idea fail to recognise what far-reaching changes were caused by the last war and have occurred in the subsequent years. Even now, if peace should miraculously come, we could not return to the conditions of 1938. When this war is over, it will undoubtedly have brought about new conditions which at this moment we cannot even imagine. And we will not dare to go back then to the ideas of 1918. We can say that now, because it is easy to see how terrible those ideas were in their results. The danger is that, in spite of not daring to do it, we shall do it. War not only changes our material surroundings; it changes, for the time being, our natures. We cannot love our enemy when we are fighting him; or, to put a sharper point on it, we cannot fight him while we love him. And hate does not vanish in a day, with the evil harvest of war about us, reaped but not gathered. We are faced with this terrible dilemma–that we might hate and fight, and make a peace that will breed more hate; or we must in some way forget our hate, and try to make a peace that will last.

Belligerents in arms cannot easily forgive the tremendous evils they have seen; and the weapons of this war were forged in the fires of hate at Versailles. Something must be done to avert a repetition of that. And more: there must be no fear during the war, of its possibility. A world which fears another classic peace, with its inevitable sequels of jealousy, hatred, and war, may decline to face the prospect, and fall into such a cataclysm that no rational end will appear at all.

A peace settlement that will leave no recognisable seeds of future war, that will derive some real power from the finer qualities of mankind, that will extend and equalise liberty and opportunity for the nations and their people, and that will relieve the world of its irrational system of entrusting the care of order to those nations which happen to be the most powerful, will tax the minds of men to the utmost. To leave this prodigious task till the war is over will be too late. It is time to think about it now.

(Courtesy Railway “Gazette,” London.) A recent poster Issued by the Railway Committee caricaturing the black-out difficulties at railway stations in England.

(Courtesy Railway “Gazette,” London.)
A recent poster Issued by the Railway Committee caricaturing the black-out difficulties at railway stations in England.