Reed Douglas - All our To-Morrows

Author : Reed Douglas
Title : All our To-Morrows
Year : 1942

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AUTHOR'S NOTE This book was first called The Critic on the Hearth, but I am told this title has been used before. So I call it All our To-morrows. After the last war, a famous book was written, by H. M. Tomlinson, called All our Yesterdays. He took the words from Macbeth, who, communing upon life and death, says: And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. An apt reflection, in 1919! The accumulated experience of centuries, all our yesteryears, only served to light millions of men the way to dusty death. And to-day, after another quarter-century of nightmare-ridden peace, it happens again. This book still pursues the hope that the people of this country, at least, may yet use the light that comes to them from all our yesterdays to show them the way to something better than dusty death. That is why I call it All our To-morrows. It is an attempt, my fourth, to force upon the minds of such as may read it the implacable relationship between yesterday and to-morrow, between cause and effect, between squandering and bankruptcy, between blunder and penalty, between apathy and awful awakening, between Munich and Dunkirk, between parent acorn and offspring acorn. This doctrine is detested in England to-day, where many people seemingly would, if they could, have those who preach it burned at the stake; thus did the Pope of Rome order that Galileo be put to the torture for teaching that the earth moved round the sun, because this was 'contrary to Holy Scripture'. The world might have been made yesterday, and they themselves might yesterday have been born, for all the use that all our yesterdays are to such people. They hate to be asked to contemplate the errors of the past, which are so much worse than crimes, in order that they may have a future. They love the idiot's doctrine, that if they do not think at all or exert themselves to preserve to-morrow from the fate of yesterday, some benevolent chance will nevertheless save them and 'there'll be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover, to-morrow - just you wait and see!' The truth is that the people have been too much lied to and lullabied to, and to-day alternate between a leprous listlessness and a bitter cynicism. This extract, from a published letter written by a woman whose feelings burst their bounds, gives a glimpse of the tormented mind of England in 1942: For some years before the war I became increasingly ashamed to belong to the nation. I have read much history and was ashamed of much of that too, but I became more and more discouraged at the complete lack of interest people displayed about things such as government, dishonesty, the awful products of education and many other things. Gradually I saw that man (I only know that of this country) just was not noble or great or hard-working or clever. Mostly he seemed to be a brainless idiot who had no desire to learn and who expected government to do everything for him; who complained bitterly about taxes and conditions but stirred no finger to try and make things better ... Of course this is the attitude of a woman who sees what she was created for reduced to dust and ashes. After four years of marriage, not only do I see our future ruined, but I know now that I will never be responsible for bringing another life into this world to be killed or widowed in another twenty years' time.... Though we may in the end win the war satisfactorily, someone must soon start the first volume of the Decline and Fall of the British Empire. This statement prompts me, by showing how wrong I was, to divest myself of the unwelcome title of prophet which was being thrust upon me. For in two books before this war I wrote that the British Empire was, most unnecessarily, moving to its decline and fall; but the third, written in exultation after Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, I gleefully called The Decline To Fall of the British Empire; and now, large portions of that Empire have been lost. It was simple to foretell what Germany would do: namely, strike with all its strength for the things it wanted. But to assume that this country, after awful awakening and miraculous reprieve, would shake off the shackles of inefficiency was going much too far. 1941 and 1942 have brought new prodigies of unalertness and shortsight. Long before the Japanese attacked, our leaders stated that, if they struck at America, our declaration of war would follow 'within the hour'; yet when they struck their great successes were attributed to the surprise-value of 'treachery'! The new enemy was perfectly prepared. We were not. When we sent battleships against him, he promptly produced the suitable torpedo-firing aircraft to sink them; when we sent cruisers and an aircraft-carrier, his dive-bombers forthwith found and destroyed them. (Yet when the two German battleships, which we had been 'straddling' or 'scoring near misses on' - to quote the jargon of hoodwinking used by our broadcasting monopolises - for a year, calmly steamed home past our front door, we had no aircraft able to get near them.) The cause of our troubles was the old one, of immune inefficiency in high places. Dunkirk was the offspring of Munich, and when this hideous infant was delivered even a cautious man felt justified in assuming that methods of birth-control would be used to suppress other such progeny, that Mr. Churchill was but biding his time before ridding himself of the men and the system he inherited from Mr. Chamberlain, who had them from Messrs. MacDonald and Baldwin. But that hope died in 1941. Thus the ugly duckling, Dunkirk, was joined by ill-favoured others bearing the same unmistakable family features - Hongkong, Penang, Malaya, Singapore ... India and Australia are imminently threatened. The Empire has had large lumps backed from it. They can be regained; but not by the methods which have brought us so many disasters. The British Empire is either in unnecessary and avoidable decline, before our eyes, or it suffers temporary dents which can be made good. The British people, from weariness with mistakes they feel to be needless, seem almost indifferent. Mr. Harold Nicolson declares that 'the attitude of Australia, the position in India, are not taken tragically by the general public, who have for long been convinced that change is necessary'! But the struggle with Germany remains paramount, for us. It should have been possible now to say confidently that before 1942 ends Hitler would be on his way out, that political moves behind-thescenes in Germany would denote the intention to call off the war before that country is too much damaged. This still is possible, if our leaders are ready to make war on Germany, to abandon the strange, punch-pulling policy which has often shown through our belligerent declarations. The first two-and-half years of this war contain inexplicable things: the passivity of this country, sworn to aid Poland, when Poland was attacked; the ban on the bombing of Germany when the Royal Air Force lay in France, close to German targets; the 'astonishing seven months' (Mr. Churchill's own words!) of 'the phoney war'; the silence about Hess; the sudden publication of Lord Gores Dunkirk dispatches when the country demanded help for Russia and the argument that these showed how criminally foolhardy such a venture would be in view of our lack of shipping (though shipping was ready to take an army half-round the world to Singapore, where it would surrender after an ingloriously brief resistance); the sudden batch of Ministerial statements, just when Russia was hardest-pressed, that no British offensive would be possible 'before 1943'; the failure, at that supremely critical moment, to fulfil the many Ministerial promises about the heavy bombing of Germany; the wasteful divergence of what bombing there was to French targets; the ostentatious refusal to bomb Rome after Malta had had two thousand alerts; and so on. If such things continue, it is vain to hope for Hitler to be on his way out in 1942, or 1943, or at any particular time. The Russian leaders have now repeatedly called on us to attack; American influence favours aggressive action; and the British people yearn for it. The instinct of the people has always been right. They want attack now, as they wanted aggression nipped in the Abyssinian bud. If their leaders again thwart this sound impulse, for ulterior political reasons, the victory which should soon he ours, will be put in jeopardy. Invasion should by now be utterly out of the question, but when this book appears Hitler's armies may well have struck at the Russians, aiming to smash through to the Caspian, to split the Russians from the Allied forces, and to drive through to the Persian Gulf, there to make contact with the Japanese. If we allow them to succeed, as we may if we do not at last launch some weighty diversion, the prospect before us will be either that of defeat or of many years of war. And at Westminster still smoulder, in somnolent lifelessness, the 615 Embers of Parliament elected in 1935, by a passionately enthusiastic people, to check aggression at its first appearance, in Abyssinia! If we hit hard, then, in 1942, as the people wish, save those who wish the war would never end, the next winter should bring us the better half of victory, and Japan could be made to disgorge at relative leisure. Otherwise the outlook is one of interminable war abroad and of soul-destroying afflictions at home. The worst of these is the growth of officialdom, which twines itself, like poison ivy, around every branch and tendril of the nation's life, sucking out all health and nourishment. All Our Yesterdays gives an oddly prophetic glimpse of this bureaucratic perdition to which we are being delivered in the name of 'a crusade for freedom'. A character in it, the Dockland Vicar, speaking during the last war, says: 'My church is down, my God has been deposed again. They've got another god now, the State, the State almighty. I tell you that god will be worse than Moloch ... It will allow no freedom, only uniformity ... You will have to face the brute. It is nothing but our worst, nothing, but the worst of us, lifted up. The children are being fed to it.' They are, indeed - youngsters, girls, young married women, all. Our leaders may frequently fail to thwart the enemy's plans, but nothing is ever forgotten that can tighten the bonds of the British people. Every day sees fresh hordes of officials enlisted, who devise new paper forms, which call for more officials, who draw up new forms ... The Paper Chase is on. We may not light a fire or turn on the light (if the current proposals are maintained) without filling in forms, surrendering 'coupons', paying the salaries of jacks-in-office. Every Artful Dodger in the country strives for a job in, or on the fringe of officialdom; it means exemption, immunity, privilege, authority. All the good things of life are reserved for the new privileged class, because its members wear a label, 'I am doing vital national work'. To work hard, serve, live modestly, and rear a family, does not count as 'vital national work'. Everything else does, if you have the right friend in the right place. Politicians and officials are avid and insatiable as vampires, once they are allowed to begin imposing 'temporary' prohibitions upon their fellow-countrymen, and awarding themselves exemptions from these bans. The regime that results is the worst that can befall a country, with the sole exception of a permanent foreign occupation. Thus, between foreign undertakings still burdened down by the political system of preference-forthe- few of which Mr. Churchill, lamentably, has accepted the legacy from Mr. Chamberlain, and a man-eating officialdom in this island, our tomorrows look grim. The future, instead of beginning anew, takes up the gloomy story of the past where Mr. Chamberlain left it. That is why I call this book, All Our To-morrows. ...

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