A Warning To Amateurs
At the Editor's request, Mr. Douglas Jerrold is expressing in these Week by Week articles his own independent views, which are not necessarily those of the CATHOLIC HERALD.
AMATEURISM is democracy's cardinal sin. When we began this war, the only men in politics who knew anything of war were not in the Cabinet. Now they are included, although two at least of them—Lord Lloyd and Mr. L. S. Amery—occupy positions in which their energy. experience and will to victory are not directly harnessed, as they should be, to its planning and organization. But the war has entered, as a result of disasters beyond precedent in British military history, on an acutely political phase. As our contemporary, the Evening Standard, pointed out with great force on Monday, economic pressure, though it will become increasingly powerful, as port after port occupied by the enemy passes from life to death and becomes closed to the ships of the world, will not be enough. " We need, too, a Ministry of Political Warfare." We need not take this demand too literally. The underlying thought is sound. But, alas, our contemporary does not point the moral. The use of politics as a war instrument requires much more than the will to victory : it requires tact, finesse, and, above all. real knowledge. It is here that our brave new world is at a grave disadvantage compared with the world of the nineteenth century, which lingered on into our own day and perished actually at our hands. There was, until 1918, an international society. The ruling sovereigns and their families, the European aristocracy, and the professional diplomats constituted three powerful forces which, by the facility of their mutual intercourse and their ability to make and preserve intimate contacts across national boundaries, provided an effective bulwark against ignorance. It is not without significance to recall that the Austrian peace initiative of 1917, warmly supported as it was by Mr. Lloyd George, was defeated, when an honourable and just peace seemed a probable outcome, by the ignorant obscurantism of M. Ribot, a professional mediocrity whose principal concern appeared throughout to be the domestic politics of his own country. It would be ridiculous to suggest that this kind of ignorant and selfish obscurantism is inevitable in democratic statesmen. We have already mentioned that in 1917 Mr. Lloyd George warmly supported the peace initiative. It is none the less true that democratic politics tend to bring to the top people who are adept at manipulating the public opinion of their own country and who are thus, since no two nations think in the same way even when they think the same thing, not well qualified to understand the subtleties of public opinion abroad. But that drawback is small compared with the ignorance of the British public itself about foreign countries. In the last century. public opinion reflected the views of a relatively small class which, in its turn, was habitually influenced by an aristocracy which was still cosmopolitan and which was traditionally and wisely associated very closely with the conduct of foreign policy. I make no plea whatever for a return to this oligarchic system. It is important, however. to realise that it did have the qualities of its defects. The history of Europe from 1814 to 1914 contrasted with the grim and tragic story of the years from 1919 to 1940 is sufficient proof. The problems of the nineteenth century were in every way as grave as those of our day. The ambitions of rulers and the greed of tradesmen was certainly not less. But the foreign policy of all nations was conducted by men who were above everything else good Europeans, who set themselves as to a game of skill to the preservation of peace, and when they failed, to the localization of disputes, and who limited themselves always and above all to what was possible. It is astonishing, looking back, to sce how few mistakes they made. In their efforts they were supported and assisted by the close relationship of the ruling continental sovereigns, to one of the last of whom the peace initiative of 1917 was personally due, and by whose relationship to prominent personalities on the allied side it was rendered possible.
TODAY A DIFFERENT SITUATION TODAY we have a very different situation. Public opinion on foreign affairs is largely made by the press, who usually know but cannot speak out, while foreign policy has ceased to be, paradoxically enough, the one thing not controlled by the House of Commons and not kept in the limelight. of popular discussion, and has become the one thing which is still, even in war time, democratically conducted and controlled. It would therefore be of importance in any case that the public should know far more than it does about the political situation in foreign countries. Today it is vital, because a correct use of the political instrument is necessary to our own victory.
Germany we know: Germany seeks domination by force and her effort will only be broken by force. The rubbish talked for so long about a divided Germany, or even about a Germany bitterly opposed to Nazi rule, need not detain us any longer than is necessary to remind ourselves of the disastrous consequences of cherishing foolish delusions. On the other hand, English opinion has gone much too far in its judgment of the Italian situation. That Italy preferred a bloodless conquest to a more glorious and costly one is obvious, but that is far too simple an analysis of the situation. Italy's cynical and undignified intervention was determined at least in part and probably almost wholly by the fear of seeing Germany on the Mediterranean seaboard. There is no party in Italy which desires to restore parliamentary government, and the Italian peasant is not gravely concerned about political liberties. The Achilles heel of Italy is not the unpopularity of Signor Mussolini but of Herr Hitler. The more our propaganda and our policy is directed to encouraging such dissident liberal elements as are opposed to the present regime in Italy, the more we assist Herr Hitler in his extremely difficult task of keeping Italy loyal to the Axis. Only if the Axis is the necessary price which she has to pay to save her regime will Italy be loyal to the Axis.
The same and with even greater certainty can be said of Spain. Spain's dread is not the return of liberal parliamentarianism, which was never as corrupt as it was in Italy or France, but the dread of revolution. That fear is common today to almost all Spaniards, including many who fought on the side of the Madrid and Barcelona governments. If there were the slightest suspicion in Spain that the victory of Great Britain over Germany would mean an attempt to impose, with foreign assistance, an atheist revolutionary government on her Catholic people, the effect would be disastrous to British interests. Nothing more unfortunate could have happened in the circumstances than the despatch of Sir Samuel Hoare to Madrid. We are sure that he will serve his country to the best of his abilities, but what makes Spain uneasy is not any doubt about the attitude of the discredited ex-ministers (who are hardly even a negative asset to any cause) but her doubt as to the views of British liberalism and British labour which today, for the first time since 1915, are the dominant forces in our government. Sir Stafford Cripps. not Sir Samuel Hoare, should have gone to Madrid to assure General Franco of the sympathy not of the setting but of the rising sun.
FRANCE, NEED FOR UNDERSTANDING FINALLY, France. Here above all is the need for deep understanding and the utmost finesse. We had not merely the right but the duty to seize the French fleet once the honourable alternatives had been refused. Indeed, without wishing to criticize the Government's policy, it is permissible to say 'that, if anything, they went beyond the limits of sympathy and consideration which prudence might have dictated. To ask us to accept Herr Hitler's word that the French navy would not be used against us was a fantastic request which amounted almost to an impertinence. Nevertheless we must ourselves beware of being, in a different way, equally lacking in an understanding of the French situation and attitude. The present French Government is not a Fascist Government, although it may become one. It contains, on the contrary, many familiar and discredited names from the long and dreary catalogue of RadicalSocialist ex-ministers. No Frenchman of any political standing in any party has declared against this Government, which has already apparently succeeded in reducing the severity of the Italian armistice terms. In other words, the thing we have to watch is not the obvious risk that the Government may become the passive instrument of German tyranny, in which case the uprising of the French people against it is merely a matter of time, but the much more serious if more distant risk that the present Government, despite its public character, may win the support of the French people. This it will certainly do if the present situation is roughly handled by the British Foreign Office. The urgent need in this country today is that we should learn the need for realism in politics. The French regime collapsed as a result of a military disaster due to a lack of realism on the part of successive French and British Governments. For this reason the French overthrew their regime. which nine Frenchmen out of ten had despised and distrusted for more than a generation. Thanks to the British navy and to our geographical situation we have so far escaped the grievous penalties which the French people have had to pay. But it is not yet clear that we have learnt the lesson. We are distrusted in Europe even by our friends, not because they doubt our intentions, not even because they may have disliked our pre-war policies, but because of our incurable refusal either to modify our policy to the circumstances in which we find ourselves, or to bring these circumstances into line with our policy before embarking on it. The material means necessary to our policies and responsibilities arc at last in course of manufacture. We have still to create the diplomatic and political atmosphere which is also necessary to victory. Above all, we have to realise that Europe has no desire to be and no intention of being reformed by us. Europe wants peace and all nations will find out, even if some of them have not yet found out, that the military defeat of Germany is a necessary pre-requisite of peace. But they will not throw off one yoke to assume another. If they are going to have new regimes imposed on them any way, they will take the easier path of acquiescence rather than the more heroic path of revolt. There is only one thing in the whole world that Europe wants less than the dominion of Germany and that is a prolonged period of civil wars. Finally, we must remember that this is a war and not a byeelection. Speeches and passive defence will achieve less than nothing. We have, thanks to our navy, the means of taking the initiative. We must seize it as soon as we can, and until we can, the less grandiloquent our speeches the better the effect on world opinion. The less we talk and the more we act, the quicker will European opinion change and the nearer we shall be to the time of victory.