IT was surely a serious psychological mistake on the part of the Prime Minister to declare on a recent occasion that the war was likely to last until 1944, at which date we should be in a position to overcome the enemy by taking the offensive. Even if this view is soundly based it is surely the very last thing of which men and women living through the horrors and discomforts of air bombing wish to be
reminded. The advice of the ascetic was better. He enabled his disciple to endure a prolonged fast by telling him not to think of the future but only to consider that he could surely stick out the fast for at least five minutes longer, and he advised him to repeat this truth to himself again and again until in the end the fast was accomplished. And, apart from this aspect of the matter, are any of us convinced that the Prime Minister's view was soundly based? Certainly, whoever is in the field in 1944 will gain an easy victory, but can either side last out another four years?
PROLONGED WAR CALAMITOUS THOUGH Hitler occasionally states that Gertnany can hold out as long as may be necessary, even for three years, the German thesis has always really been based on the necessity of a short war, and it has long been the Nazi view that a prolonged war could only mean a calamitous wasting away of both sides. It was for this reason that the German plans were brilliantly directed to achieving a knockout blow last summer. France was indeed knocked-out and Germany confidently expected that Britain would then be ready to negotiate on terms which left the British Empire intact but which recognised Germany's claims to do what she pleased with the European Continent. But Britain, relying on her Navy and her Air Force, would not play the game. according to the German rules, and Hitler has never since shown any signs of knowing exactly how to cope with the unexpected situation. He was undoubtedly unprepared to launch a full-blooded attack on these islands, and his various attempts to finish us off have shown all the signs of hasty improvisation. He has also been almost desperately attempting to carry through by German diplomatic methods that Germanising of the Continent which would have been child's play, had Britain negotiated instead of fighting on. In this also he has failed, since the continued British resistance has enabled the various European countries to maintain some sort of diplomatic resistance against a Power whose supremacy is still challenged. And in the last few weeks Hitler has also had to cope with a new and even more serious check : the inability of Italy to play her allotted part in the coercing of the Balkans and in striking at the strategical centre of the British overseas power.
THE STRAIN OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE ALL this is eminently satisfactory. In fact, taken in relation to
Germany's anxiety that the war should be short, it is tantamount to a grave German defeat and it probably ensures that, whatever the
outcome of the war, Nazism will never be in a position to dominate Europe. It must be remembered that the psychological and physical strain of the war on the German people is terrific. in a sense they
have been at war, not for a year but ever since Hitler began to put his
plans for the war into operation. Ever since then this enormous nation of eighty millions has been disciplined and bled and sacrificed for the purpose of regaining international power and economic prosperity. To this end almost everything fine and human in the German people has been trampled upon, its religion, its art. its home life. We make a silly mistake in supposing that the German people are by nature militaristic and barbarous and in persuading ourselves— as those who advocate reprisals argue—that they have never !earned the lesson of what war really means. On the contrary no people were more against war than the Germans of the Republic, whence in fact originated the spate of anti-war literature with Reniarque and Zweig. It was with difficulty rather than with ease that the people as a whole were persuaded to react with vigour against the deep grievances caused by Versailles. And once Hitler had gained his point it was the natural submissiveness and almost weariness of the Germans as a whole that made them an easy prey to the virus of Nazism. Even so it was Hitler's apparently uncanny skill in avoiding war that confirmed his hold on the people, and the Germans went through shocks no less grievous than ours every time war was risked by their dictator. Hitler's failure to avoid the threatened war in 1939 even after the humiliation of the Soviet Pact was a mistake so serious that only a quick and overwhelming victory could possibly repair it.
GOING DOWN THE HILL WE are all only too well aware of the strangle-hold over a people that tyranny with modern methods gives. It is not merely a physical strangle-hold, but a moral one. The very minds and characters of people can be conditioned by propaganda. For this reaso.n it is foolish to assume that the Germans are groaning and ready for revolt. that they are consciously and openly dissatisfied, especially after so superficially successful a war, still more that they see any possible way out of Hitlerism. None the less, human nature being what it is and the German people being what they are, we can have no doubt of the tremendous strain which they are undergoing. We ourselves are only beginning to realise what strain really means, and we have the advantage of realising the inevitability of our resistance as well as the great help of being able to let off steam in dozens of different ways. Not so the Germans. And for this reason we can well believe two things : the first, that the German breaking-point is likely to be sudden and probably unheralded; the second, that even if they should stick it out long enough to gain formal victory they will be in no condition to tackle the immense social and economic problems involved in the maintenance of Hitlerian domination over Europe. Germany is even now quite certainly going down the hill, even though there may be little outward sign of it. She probably missed the last bus when she failed to adapt herself like lightning this summer and catch us almost wholly unprepared against mass attacks by air and by invasion. Her difficulties have since steadily increased, and she has shown no sign of that concentration and that force whin characterise her at her best.
OUR STRAIN RUT to assume because of this, as so many do, that we have only to lie low, increase our war effort, and take the offensive one fine day is just childish. Our problems are as serious as Germany's, and in this war of attrition the real question is who can hang out longest before something totally unexpected happens. Psychologically we are in a stronger position than Germany. Our strain has been much shorter, and our sense that " we could do no other " has far more life to it than the German subservience to an overwhelming propaganda based on a grievance. At the same time we must not forget that we also went through a prolonged period of revulsion against war, and that in a certain sense it is true that in this war militarist propaganda has never really come off. With us, as, we believe, with the Germans, the war effort only goes skin deep. It needs a constant and tremendous effort to remind ourselves again and again that indeed we could have done no other. It may be that when history comes to be written it will be admitted that the anti-war feeling of the thirties did turn out in the end to have been the dominant conviction of the European peoples and that this war, for all its accidental inevitability—if one may use such a phrase—did really go over the heads of the people. It is evident that if this is correct every month of war, every new terror, every fresh phase greatly increases the strain.
Despite our two great props, the checking and possibly the defeat of Italy in the Mediterranean and the Near East and the fact that official America has practically committed herself to our cause, the ordinary Britisher is still only on the eve of the real war sacrifices. The bombing, faced by our citizens with a courage that will live as long as history is told, has unfortunately a largely cumulative effect. Shipping losses are also partly cumulative, and they, together with the need to concentrate on exports, will bring about a real shortage of food and commodities, and this shortage will mean that the high wages and apparent war prosperity in industrial areas will turn out to have been a mirage. Because of this our physical strain is likely to be actually greater than that of the Germans.
THE PEOPLE WILL DECIDE IN THE END WHAT, then, is likely to be the outcome? One thing at least seems fairly certain. Whatever the outcome it cannot be so very long deferred. We doubt whether the war can last far into 1942 without a physical and moral break down. But which side will break down first? Or will they break down simultaneously? The answer surely depends upon which Government realises quickest the true state of affairs and plans accordingly.
We are pledged not to make peace until the threat of Germany is mastered and the different peoples of Europe are enabled to control their own destinies again in peace and decent economic order. In that pledge lies by far our greatest strength, for the pledge is not only based on justice : given a solution to the economic problem, it does undoubtedly correspond to the real wishes and convictions of the peoples of Europe. At the same time we appear, or rather our Government appears, to cherish the belief that we shall never be able to redeem that pledge until the Reich is defeated in the grand old style of a military march into Berlin, an event very shrewdly dated for 1944 or after. The whole of this way of reading things seems to be based on the illusion that modern countries are like old-fashioned armies. unchanging entities of a stable nature that can be indefinitely strengthened and improved and manoeuvred until the opportunity occurs for one to inflict a crushing defeat on the other. But in so far as there is any truth in this way of looking at this war, the advantage rests with Germany and not with us. If we are relying on this, then we do gravely risk a defeat, and it will come long before 1944.
Happily for us, there is far more truth in the view that, despite appearances, the strength and weakness of modern nations lies in the morale, the feelings. the deep convictions of that unstable and enigmatic force which we call the people. It is possible, indeed it is likely, that long before 1944 it will be the peoples of Europe who will
decide the war. And we do not think that the peoples of Europe will decide it in favour of Germany unless indeed we make the most unholy mess of our opportunities. Realising, as we should, that the strain among the German people must always be on the breaking point
and that at bottom an intense resentment against the Dictators exists in the rest of Europe, our task is to convince the peoples of Europe that this war is a criminal conspiracy against them and that its true cause lies deep in the economic and social injustices tolerated by all the great States in the past and used by the irresponsible financial forces for their own power, prestige and profit. This is the teaching of
Christianity; it is equally the conviction of the millions who have been duped by socialism and the totalitarianisms. As a courageous member said in the House last week : " Hitler and his satellites are talking of victory. So are we, as if there is nothing at all to result out of any war except victory or defeat!"
Had we concentrated on the wisdom of this reflection from the beginning the war might now be over. Things being what they are we have only a short time in which to do the convincing before both sides come toppling down to release anarchic forces which will blot out the face of Europe for a generation,