Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 12, No. 7, July 13th, 1949.
World Congress for Peace — Lest We Forget
World Congress for Peace
Lest We Forget
We of today—together with our Allies—are passing through a period of supreme test. It is a test of our courage—of our resolve—of our wisdom—and of our essential democracy.
If we meet that test—successfully and honourably—we shall perform a service of historic importance, which men and women and children will honour throughout all time.
In the days and the years that are to come we shall work for a just and honourable peace, a durable peace, as today we work and fight for a total victory in war.
We can and we will achieve such a peace.
We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately—but we shall still strive. We may make mistakes—but they must never be mistakes which result from faintness of heart or abandonment of moral principles ...
And so today in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons—at a fearful cost—and we shall profit by them.
We have learned that we cannot live alone at peace; that our own well-being is dependent upon the wellbeing of other nations, far away. We have learned that we must live as men and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.
We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.
We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that "the only way to have a friend is to be one."
We can gain no lasting peace if we approach it with suspicion and mistrust—or with fear. We can gain it only if we proceed with the understanding and the confidence and the courage flowing from conviction.
From President Roosevelt's last inaugural address before Congress, 1945; printed in "Salient" April, 1945.
It is approaching four years since VJ-Day. What better time than now, for a stock-taking of where we have been going since then? Four years is not such a long time in the memory of most of us.
Ten years back: 1939, One remembers a grey morning in September, after listening half the night to Daventry. The country at war. Would it be for six weeks, or longer? Could we hope for victory? One remembers the long years that followed. The news of air-raids on British cities, with thousands of civilian casualties; the endless processions in column-of-threes down Customhouse Quay to the railway station. For some, the roughness of new uniforms; the assault courses—In! Out! On Guard! The crowded transports; sand in your bullybeef, or the clammy heat of jungles; the nightmare of battles. For others, the endless casualty lists, the patriotic fund drives; the blackout; the long hours worked in vacations . . .
Gradually a dim hope growing into brightness, and with it the formulation of war aims. The Atlantic Charter; the Teheran agreement; the Moscow conferences; the plans for peace; world friendship; brotherhood; tolerance; peace for ever! Why not? We were paying for it! If only the war would end.
And finally, in a shell-torn Italian town, or in the mouldy damp of a jungle camp, or in the anxious austerity of civilian New Zealand, the sudden news of peace. Pinch yourself, it's true! Rejoice! Home's the caper! Waiting at the wharf gates, or straining the eyes for the first glimpse of a New Zealand headland.
Sentimentality? Certainly. There was sentimentality during the war too. There is a need for it at times.
Where have we gone since (hen? Raise your eyes for a moment from the belligerent headlines and look around. We have travelled a long way since 1945 In those days it was almost criminal to be cynical. Today it lakes courage not to be cynical. It was our intention to build a peace in which all people would live in freedom. The Soviet Union was to be an honoured partner in peace, as it had been an honoured partner in war—regardless of a Communist Government. We caught a vision then of a world in which all States and peoples, even Socialist ones, would have our respect.
The vision is being taken from us. We are being told that the ideas born and tried in battle were groundless; empty fantasies. Roosevelt is forgotten; no longer the practical architect of peace, but the unrealistic dreamer. Shades of Wilson! We have to remind ourselves that peace is essential, and that it is still our aim.
By whom and for whom must such a peace be won? Not by the statesmen, not by the generals not by the newspaper editors, not by the Foreign Office officials nor by professional politicians—but by the people, by the ordinary people of the world themselves. It rests with the factory workers, with the farmers, with the professional people, with housewives and students, to determine whether and in what way the peace will be won. Is not the very test of democracy the ability of the governed people to assert their desire for peace and tolerance, irrespective of what is said or done by the statesmen and the newspapers?
The odds are weighted. Today the whole power of press and propaganda is being used against the idea of peace and tolerance, to shake the confidence of the people in the ideals for which the war was frought. Today even the memory of the Atlantic Charter and the Teheran Agreement is being destroyed.
There is one way of defending peace against those who do not desire it or who have forgotten we want it. That is for the people of the world to raise their voice and demand it; for them to take up the task of cementing friendship, tolerance and understanding between the people of different race and politics. Unrealistic? Impossible for such a thing to be done independently of governments and treaties?
Just such a task has been achieved by the World Congress for Peace held in Paris last April. Delegates from seventy-two countries, representing six hundred million people—one-third of humanity—attended the Congress, and discussed their problems, their differences, their sympathies, and their common desire for peace. The Victoria College Association was the only New Zealand organisation represented there, through our delegates. Messrs. K. J. Holly-man and S. T, Scoones, graduates of this College. Victoria College students can be proud of the lead they have thus given to the rest of the country.
The comprehensive and informative report that we have received from our delegates shows that this was no idle talking-shop. The Congress did not seek to hide the differences between the countries of the world. There was criticism alike of the Atlantic Powers and of the Soviet Union. There were speeches by Calvinists and by Catholics, by Liberals and by Communists. The Congress brought forward the important problems in the world today: the unemployment brought to the European peoples by Marshall aid; the bitterness of coloured peoples fighting for their independence against Colonialism in Algeria, Viet Nam and Indonesia; the menace to peace of military alliances, of armaments races and of atomic bomb stock-piles; the rearmament of Western Germany and of Japan, and the return to prominence of public life in Germany, France. Italy and other countries, of war-time collaborators and Nazis.
It would be a mistake to suppose that the Congress was all plain sailing. There was plenty of opposition to it. In some countries this took the form of limitation or refusal of visas for delegates, as in France and the United States. In other countries, such as our own, it took the form of a press blackout, except for the accusation usually levelled at those who seek an understanding with socialist countries—that of Communist domination. But in spite of this, we now have a first-hand account of the Congress. Our delegates' report is the subject of a special report from the VUCSA Executive, for distribution to all students. Within three weeks a Special General Meeting of the Association is to be called to discuss our attitude to this report. It will then be our turn to face these issues, as they were faced at the Congress, and to demonstrate that we are capable of that breadth of outlook which will allow political, racial, and economic difference to exist without making them a reason for war.
Roosevelt is dead; but the ideal he spoke for must not be allowed to die. We of today also are "passing through a period of supreme test." The test for us is whether we can maintain in our day the will for peace which four vears ago was paid for in lives. Shall we heed the Manifesto of the World Congress for Peace, the unanimous voice of the representatives of six hundred millions:
"Let the women, let the mothers who carry the hope of the world, know that we consider it a sacred duly to defend the lives of their children and the security of their homes. May the youth of the world, no matter what their political opinions or religious beliefs, hear us and unite to lift the shadow of war from the paths of their young lives.
"Courage, and again courage!
"We have met.
"We have understood each other.
"We are ready and resolved to win the battle for peace, which means to win the battle for life."