Page 3, 29th October 1943

29th October 1943
Page 3
Page 3, 29th October 1943 — WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?

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Locations: Manchester, Leeds, London


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I KNOW nothing about the tech

nique Of Gallup polls and Mass Observation, and I have no idea what value can be given to such experience at, mine in trying to get an answer to the question, " What are they thinking 7" But so fat as that experience goes and for what it is worth. I have got some pretty dear lines. No neat tables of percentages or nicely finished picture, of course, but just rough impressions and tendencies — perhaps the more uselta for that very reason.

In putting some of those impressions before the readers of this paper, I claim for them no mom than that they Bre honest reports of one man's experience. The words, "t is my exper ience that . . are te he understood before every generalisation that I make. In some of Ilie matters referred to the experience of some of my colleagues— or their interpretation of it — differs quite a lot from mille.

First, T must emphasise that a very large proportion of the Service People give the impression that they " do not think at all." I do noarnean that they lack general intelligence—quite the con

trary. But they do lack curiosity ; they are incredibly ignorant by :any standard (I am told that the proportion of technical illiterates is high; those who, while conversant with the mechanism of reading, writing and speaking, are for practical purposes almost illiterate, must be very numerous indeed); they have no opinions about curt±eat affairs and problems. ana no realisation that, if they want " a better world," they themselves will have to do Something about it.

Specially Among the Women This is specially noticeable among the lower age-groups of men, and among the women, both without .distinetion of class or social position. The desire of a majority of the girls for an after-the-war England can be summarised as " littler hanged and a woolworth's in every •suburb and village." But girls who are interested and not. entirely uninformed often think more clearly and realistically than the corresponding men; women, however, who arc active in political work or other public affairs are apt to have minds closed to any views but their own—or their party's.

The mass of uninterested men and women (and many more in a letser deglee) have only one idea and hope—tc get the war over, to return to " Civvy Street " with its work and play, to their families, to their homes. I have re

peatedly asked audiences of girls what they want to do after the war; the tesuit is always the same : the overwhelming majority waut to get martial and have a home of their own.

No doubt, us we are often reminded, present conditions and contemporary life generally are nos favourable to home-making and family life. But it seems -to rri.a diluted poppycock ta• say that there is any very great drift from the family idea in rhe hearts of the people.

Nor is this the only much-publicised notion that my experience fails to confirm. 1. hear or read somebody saying something which is claimed to represent the views of thc workers of England, or of the women, or of what is called " Youth," or what not—and bow often I have to say to myself, "1 have not found it so."

Communism, for Example

Communism, for example. Admiration for Russian military and civilian achievements has had its part in promoting tremendous interest in the Soviet regime (the anti-Red propaganda of many in the privileged cl8ses also greatly encouraged that interest). But For any correspondingly widespread attraction towards such a regime I can find no evidence.

What I do find is a remarkable willingness to diticise Marxist theory and praeticce when it is presented fairly and objectively. ,. The little minority of Communist Party members and fellowtravellers work very hard, but without much effect :.' among other reasons, because they never know when to stop or to keep quiet, their systern is too infallible, their Leaders too impeccable— the troops get fed up with them.

Miss Barbara Ward, I think, has defined the general socio-economic-political attitude of the younger people as what may be called "non-party radicalism," while stressing their strong element of conservatism (not in the politi cal sense). T think " radicalism is fetidly exatt.

Beveridge Report Excitement Take the Beveridge Report, for example. It excited much interest and gained much support; but it is not really a radical (much less a revolts.tionary) document. Were these men

and women really latheal, anxious to get at the roots of things, many .1 them--and not simply an occasion voice—would express the view that " this Beveridge Report is a substantial attempt to buttress the capitalist-industrial system, to avoid any radical claange in the existing set-up."

In any case. the interest of the Forces in the Beveridge Report and their desire for its adoption has been exaggerated. There is as much apathy. indifference and ignorance about it as about so many other things: and I have heard searching criticism of it from quite " ordinary " men. To the question, " Which would you rather: the Beveridge Plan, or wages which would enable you to pay for these and other things for yourself, with a Govermnem scheme to meet abnormal conditions and misfortunes ?" I have generally had the reply, " Proper wages." The sense of responsibility is not dead entirely, (Incidentally, it is quite untrue that the troops are forbidden to discuss the Report or to have it expounded to them; though cases of a discouraging and obscurantist attitude on the part of individual commanding .offieers existed.) Christianity Seems Irrelevant

When I et religious reactions from 'members of my audiences (which is not ofteo) they are generally vague and insufficient, though with a clear enough Christian basis. Of any appreciable revival of the influence of Christianity I can see no sign ; and all the Christian communions have succeeded in earning the general reputation that their teaching is completely irrelevant to life as aeople experience it. But I find it a not uncommon view in tae Forces that when one is engaged in war (and such 3 war) Christianity is in its nature hrelevant; the two things can't go together. I often heard exactly the same said by my fellow-soldiers twentyseven years ago. I hear a pond many comments on chaplains and their work; but all say about that is that I am satisfied that the officer status and uniform of chaplains is a bad mistake. Thera again I repeat an experience of the Mat war. • So far as.C-atholics are concerned my experience is no less discouraging. I have to talk about many things about which, one would think, Catholics as such would like further information, or to make a specifically Christian contribution. But the questions and observations addressed to me never suggest that the speaker might be a Catholic. A man did once get up and tell us that divorce is contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ—but he turned out to be a Methodist.

see no evidence that Catholics as a whole are a factor doing its proper part of quietly, generally unconsciously by example. encouraging, developing and deepening the religion of .their fellows; nor being an influence cm behalf of general intellec(ual awareness and enlightenment.

Two outstanding problems I May give a brief reference to are the Germans and the Jews.

Vansittartism " Vansittartism " has become a convenient (though, I believe, inaccurate) term for a theory of some special corruption of human nature inherent in the foerman peopie and a policy of revenge (note " revenge " does mai in English mean the same as " retribution " or " punishment ") and forcible suppression of that people after the war. Certainly I do not find. " Vansittartism " ill that sense common amongst the troops. I have occasionally heard the sentiment. '' There's . no good German except a dead one," but it is half-hearted—a quotation rather than a cam iction.

The distinction between Nazis and other Germans has far from disappeared ; it is realised that (even in democracies) people at large cannot justly he held responsible for aLl that their Governments do; and there seems a feeling that, though in softie respects it may be necessary to be unpleasantly tough with Germany, she has got to be given a real chance to live as a " decent nation," without being presented with real grievances from the start. But over and above all this I believe that sheer good-heartedness is mainly at the bottom of a humane that i5. Christian) attitude towards our foes.

Anti-Jewishuess (this term seems preferable to " anti-Semitism : after all anti-Semites are not usually distinguished by an implacable dislike for the Semitic Arabs), anti-Jewishness is pretty common among the men. But it is largely localised (e.g., London, Leeds,

1 Manchester) and is generally grounded in some definite experience, e.g., of 1 business competition, money-lenders or ill-behaved refugees. In discussion much of this feeling seems to yield fairly easily to argument and historical explanation; but I have an uneasy feeling that there is a real danger of antiJewishness spreading and that unseenpulnus or thoughtless people could work it up with disastrous effect. The more vicious anti-Jewish attitude seems commoner among the " officer class."

Not by Bread Alone

It has been said by a distinguished priest that in tur times " The economic problem fills the sky." This is true in the Forces, and God knows there are cogent reasons why it should be so. But it is depressing to find how little advertence is given to the fact that " Man does not live by bread alone." (The military authorities responsible for thb British Way and Purpose instructional schenie deserve much credit for an attempt to do something about this in the twelfth pamphlet of their series.)

When I was a young mem

especially while serving as a ranker

in the last war, I was continually hearing 111€11 say, " Iwishf was a better scholar ": by which they meant better geueral. education, a practical mastery of speaking, reading and writing, to know about things, all sorts of things. I have never once heard that said in the past I WO years.

Plenty of talk about " better educetiOn " ; oh yes. But conceived almost solely in terms of preparation for earning a living. Plenty of talk about the right to work: but work conceived as no more than a means to physical security and comfort. Plenty of talk about "'political instruction ": hut polities seen as the task of continually raising the standard of living.

" The economic problem fills the sky." Let no one criticise these men and women : it is not their fault. But it means that liberal education, education for fullness of life, is far and away the least successful and satisfactory tart or the extensive educational scheme in operation in the Forces.

Suspicion of " Them"

And the widespread interest in practical socio-econornic-political problems is itself seriously vitiated, not only by ignorance of elementary facts, but by distrust and cynicism in both young and old. The amount of diffused resentment, the vague but tierce suspicion of " them," the distrust of the good 'faith of all those " up-top " for of all who do not share one's own party line or " faith "1—the amount of these, the other side of the picture of apathy. is indeed very serious. Again, it is easy enough to understand ; who, indeed, would have the hardihood to declare that it is wholly unjustified ? But it augurs badly for the future—or does it ?

Let me repeat tbat in what I have written I do not claim more than to report sonic results of one man's limited experience. Much of it may be mistaken. Much of it sounds pessimistic—it is not meant to be: my aim here is simply to report. But I cannot end better than with a quotation from Michael tie la Bedoyere's Christianity in the Market-Place: " This popular drive for security and pleasure will be utilised by economic and industrial forces to complete the creation of the planned Machine State, whose end tends to be its own productive efficiency quite irrespective of the spiritual, moral and cultural good of those who are obliged to work it. and teho receive in compensation mass-comfort, mass-culture and mrass-dope. And we must remember that, given the innuense mind conditioning powers of modern mechanised propaganda, this solution will he sincerely welcomed by very nrany people."

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