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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1935

Autre Temps, Autre Moeurs — (A Reply to Mr. Justice Ostler)

page 8

Autre Temps, Autre Moeurs

(A Reply to Mr. Justice Ostler)

Last year saw the issue of a Foundation Number of Spike, to which many former students and others associated with the College were kind enough to contribute. Among these was the first Editor of Spike, who contributed Random Thoughts and Memories. This was particularly appropriate and of great interest, since that first Editor is now a member of the College Council and a Judge of the Supreme Court.

The first part of the article deals delightfully with the incidents connected with the founding of Spike—a founding for which we can never be too grateful.

The second part, however, seems to warrant a reply. It begins: "And we who strove so strenuously are now told that we are old (though none of us will admit it); and we also hear that we are old-fashioned and that the faith that we then held and the ideals we then cherished were all wrong, and are now anathema to the young." After this little note of self-pity the article continues:". . . the best evidence of our faith is the long list of old College friends who gaily laid down their lives for their ideals. Now all seems changed. The new fashion is to belittle our Empire and to pour scorn on the system of government by the people, through the people and for the people, which was England's contribution to the happiness of the world."

To consider the lament that the ideals held at the beginning of the century are now old-fashioned, surely there is nothing remarkable in that. It is a truism to state that ideals are dynamic and not static; but it is a fact too often overlooked. And not only ideals, but the whole of humanity is in the same position. That is the essence of progress. The young people of to-day do not say that the faith and ideals were all wrong. Many of them still exist and are still cherished; but what we do see is how that faith and those ideals were subverted, degraded and led aside. How? The next sentence mentioning the laying down of lives, supplies the best answer. Those lives were laid down in vain. Yes, in vain. Not one iota of good has come from that sacrifice. Knowledge of those ideals was well played upon—"the war to end war" broadcast. Oh, what hollow mockery! Are we, the young generation, the cannon fodder of to-day, to cherish the same ideals, and to come to the same end for cherishing them? That seems to be what the older generation desires of us. Are we not to be allowed to learn by the ghastly experience and disillusionment of the idealists?

"And the new fashion is to belittle the Empire." Perhaps that is so, but it is not "the Empire" as an empire that needs belittling; it is all empires—in other words, Imperialism. The clash of German Imperialism against British Imperialism provoked the last war. Further on in the article under review it is mentioned that two nations withdrew from the League of Nations because they wished to follow policies of aggression. For what reason—the one to extend her Imperialism and the other to recover it. A third nation is now trying to recover hers after a lapse of two thousand years. Are we to witness the rise of another Roman Empire, with all its tyranny? Some will say I am confusing Imperialism with Fascism. I am afraid I am not, for, unfortunately, the two are fast becoming synonymous. The official sympathy of British Imperialism with German Nazi-ism is significant.

It would be interesting to obtain the idea of the natives of South Africa on England's contribution to the happiness of the world. Their framing of the democratic system of government would probably be, "the system of government by the ruling class, through the ruling class, for the happiness of the ruling class."

"The British Empire is visualised not as a Commonwealth of Nations governed by the people for themselves, which has managed to confer on its subjects more individual liberty and opportunities for the pursuit of happiness than has been done under any other form of government yet devised." No fortunately, the British Empire is not viewed with such gross sentimentality as that. It is viewed for what it is—an economic unit resulting from Imperialistic expansion and the investment, both initially and at the present time, of large sums of British page 9 capital in overseas countries. That is what the British Empire is, and as long as such sums are forthcoming from British investors and the interest payable in return, so long will "individual liberty and opportunities for the pursuit of happiness" exist. When they are not forth-coming the British Sedition Bill and the N.Z. Wharf Regulations and other Acts passed to preserve the present system will soon restrict the happiness and liberty.

"But as an unscrupulous and predatory power, dealing unjustly with its subjects and still as ready to turn its arms to aggression as all the strong nations were in the 18th century." No, I do not think that the British Empire is seen like that. What is seen is a State dealing with subjects justly so long as Imperialism is secure and unjustly when it is not. It is not in a position to be as aggressive as it was in the 18th century, for it has gorged itself with possessions and now all it asks is peace in which to digest its meal. That partly explains Britain's interest in the Italian-Abyssinian dispute. The rest of the interest lies in the fact that Abyssinia is continguous with the Sudan, and British capital is there in the form of irrigation dams.

The article continues: "Some even proclaim that it is wicked for the Empire to maintain any armed force even for defence. The building of armaments is a cause of war, ir is said, as though you could not wage war just as destructively though at its commencement there was not a battleship or cannon left in the world. If all nations disarmed, then would not the nation with the greatest engineering facilities be better armed than the rest?"

For the Empire to maintain any armed force for defence is considered not as wickedness, but as a classic example of the usual hypocrisy and cant that surrounds all statements regarding defence. Every nation arms to defend, and only to defend. Reference to the New York Times History of the War will show that in all the capitals of Europe in July and August of 1914 the only word mentioned was defence, defence, defence. Britain has always armed herself for defence, always, and, extraordinarily enough, all Britain's defensive battles have been fought outside Great Britain. And it is not considered that armaments in themselves are a cause of war; the causes of war lie far deeper than that. As has been mentioned, they are in the main economic, but the existence of armaments is the greatest incentive to war. Members of a military and naval class, trained in but one direction—that of war—will obtain their opportunities for individual advancement in time of war, so their influence is directed towards war. The machinations of armament firms have been recently subjected to much publicity and should be well known. All their forces are directed towards war. That is the effect of the existence of armaments. It is certainly true that if all the nations were disarmed the one with the greatest engineering facilities would be better armed than the rest. But that does not invalidate the argument for disarmament. If such a condition were reached that all nations were disarmed, there would of necessity be a different international outlook. Nations would be rid of the war psychosis, their dealings would not be coloured by the existence of hostile and defensive navies, armies and bombers. They would not have the warp towards sabre-rattling. Every possible and conceivable avenue would be exploited towards the settling of disputes amicably before any hostilities arose. At the present time that aim is never whole-hearted. Tentative attempts arc made through "diplomatic" channels to come to an understanding, but diplomats being in effect trained prevaricators, such attempts arc doomed from the very outset.

"If that nation were cramped for room or for markets, would the lack of armaments deter it from aggression when all nations were disarmed? To argue that it is immoral for our Empire to arm for its defence seems to me to argue that it is immoral to lock one's door against a burglar, for there are predatory nations as well as men. Have not two of them already scornfully withdrawn from the League of Nations and shown conclusively by their actions that they are ready to pursue their aims by force? While powerful nations display such a spirit, would it not be folly to 10b ourselves of the means of defence?"

The survival of Imperialistic capitalism is dependent on perpetual market expansion, but this is impossible, sooner or later, as individual markets become saturated. To obtain the markets force is resorted to; and so to say that nations will resort to force to obtain markets is not so much an argument for armaments as the most damning indictment of the capitalist system. On the other hand, by reciprocal exchange of products many nations would mutually benefit, but again the present social system prevents this, and we have such distressing paradoxes as the burning of coffee and the ploughing in of wheat and cotton page 10 because sufficient monetary return cannot be obtained for them, though in other countries thousands of people are in need. So international trade is stagnated, and the stagnation is accelerated by the raising of tariff barriers and other suicidal devices necessary for the perpetuation of the capitalist system. And, among other things, these devices help to keep alive the spa of nationalism.

As to the pressure of population, the Malthusian bogey has been exposed many years ago. It has invariably been found that as the standard of living rises the birth rate falls. There are predatory nations as well as men, but an international police force, under the aegis of the League of Nations, is inconceivable, I suppose. We must still spend millions on armaments, and other civilised countries are going to spend millions on armaments, and all for defence. Let us all arm, and so the aggressor will be thwarted!

Over the doors of the Austrian War Office, prior to 1914, were in letters of gold, "If you wish for peace, prepare for war." The lesson of 1914-18 has not been learnt, apparently. At times one almost hopes with savage delight that there will be another war that will so exhaust the world and destroy existing forms of government as to finally convince the world of armaments' ineffective answer.

"These are hard times for the young. The world has grown smaller and poorer. Opportunity does not knock at the door as of yore, and it embitters a man, after he has spent strenuous years in qualifying, to find that there is no place for him to fill. But that will pass and better times will come."

And from where will they come? From a worn-out system of society that served a useful purpose for the material development of the world but is now effete and ineffective? But a man must not protest, he must merely keep smiling and believe his elders, who gained security on the last wave of the old system, that when they say "better times will come" they will come as in some Arabian Nights story. No attempt is to be made to alter the system; but, on the other hand, we must believe "that with all its faults, faults which it is the duty of every graduate and undergraduate to do his best to remedy, our system of government is one which gives the greatest measure of liberty and is best suited to the genius of the British race." As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be. What a remarkable race are the British! Empires have risen and empires have fallen, but the British have evolved a system of government which will outlast all the changing economic conditions of the world and will need only a few minor adjustments to straighten out the anomalies. In truth they are a race of geniuses.

"And I believe that our youth who are striving for higher education are still sound at heart and would rally as of yore to the defence of their country, though I pray that the need will never arise." What a superb example of lush sentimentality. Though I pray that the need may never arise. It has always been "prayed" never acted. No action is taken to prevent war, just prayer. No statement to the effect that it is hoped that students will not rally as of yore to the defence (defence again) of their country. No hope expressed that students and all youth will see the insensate folly of their predecessors and absolutely refuse to fight, so that wars would be impossible.

"Some, I know, have persuaded themselves that it is their duty to die in any other way than by fighting for King and Country, whatever the cause of war. If they feel that way, I see no harm in their expressing their opinion. They will gain a following, mostly among the physical weaklings who are unfit for fighting. It would be the greatest mistake to make martyrs of such men. In war much peace work must go on, and there will always be plenty of work for such conscientious objectors. But most men love adventure and believe in the gospel of living dangerously."

Some have "persuaded themselves" that it is wrong to fight. A clear case of self-deception, apparently. They have not studied the question from every angle and formed the reasoned conviction that war is retrogressive, unnecessary, degrading, archaic and ghastly.

"It is not only the right but the duty of every thinking human being to dig his own well and find truth for himself." H. H. Ostler in Spike, 1924. On the contrary, the conscientious objector will find a following among the physical weaklings. I am astounded at such lack of knowledge. The treatment of conscientious objectors in the last war is a fine example of the "in-dividual liberty and opportunities for the pursuit of happiness that the British Empire confers on its subjects." To read what miseries such men suffered is to make one's blood run cold. It would be foolish to respect men who, in war-time page 11 conditions, took their stand against a war-fevered and propaganda-drugged populace. To stand up for their principles, because they had "dug their own wells," and when they had negligible moral support, was apparently the work of cowards. Because they could obtain no courage from contact with the mob, but had to depend on their own, because they were forcibly deported, forcibly stripped and forcibly dressed in khaki, because they were beaten, handcuffed, lashed to posts in snow all day, had their hair pulled out in handfuls, because they were dragged prostrate by ropes over duckboards and through shell-holes and had the flesh torn off their backs for a length of a foot and a width of nine inches, these men are in no way to be admired for their indomitability. To honour them would be to reveal the diabolical measures needed to maintain a war "But most men love adventure and believe in the gospel of living dangerously." Who would not enjoy "living dangerously" after having been on relief works for five years! Who would not enjoy receiving regular and adequate sustenance after five years of degrading, soul-crushing existence? Who would not enjoy commanding a little respect after having been a humiliated object of pity for years? Better to enlist as a soldier and risk suffering and mutilation than die of malnutrition under the present hopeless system.

"With centuries of history of our race to guide me, I find it impossible to think that it will change its characteristics in one generation. The enemies of the Empire are vocal and have made many people think that our University Colleges are hot-beds of sedition. But let them take courage. At heart the student of to-day, in spite of changed times, is much the same as he was thirty years ago. But I trust that in so thinking I have not proved against myself the charge of being old-fashioned."

With centuries of history for guidance, it seems too much to expect that the folly of war will ever be realised, with centuries of history for guidance it seems too much to think that our attitude of smug self-complacency will ever be shaken or that our national greed will ever prove fatal. As to the Universities being hot-beds of sedition, it depends on the definition. If sedition is active criticism of the decadence of the present system, it is right that they should be so considered—that is what Universities are for.

But let us take courage, the student of to-day is not the same as he was thirty years ago. Fortunately, he recognises that economic conditions do not remain static for thirty years. Fortunately, he realises that thirty years ago capitalism and Imperialism had served their purpose and that the intervening years have accelerated their decline. Fortunately, he is aware that the world has changed and so does not favour the sentimental retention of theories long outworn and totally inapplicable in the world to-day. And, fortunately, he sees that to change radically the present system is a long process and beset with difficulties; but, most fortunate of all, he does not believe with his elders, that the system cannot be changed or that the difficulties are insuperable.