South Yorkshire Times – Saturday 14 February 1942
Who would have supposed, when Stalin gave Hitler a free hand against Poland, Britain, and France, that we should live to hear ourselves urged with reproaches to back up more vigorously the Russian war on Germany.
It is difficult to accustom ourselves to that whirligig, and perhaps it is not Important that we should. For our own sakes we must strain every nerve, as the Russians are doing for theirs, to smash the Axis and destroy Hitler. Let us have no cant about that. The Russians are not in this war at our invitation; quite the contrary. They are in the war on the same terms as all the other European victims of aggression, with the important difference that they were too big to be conquered and assimilated.
When Hitler turned eastward and in a moment of madness or panic destroyed the cunning labour of years, his eyes as the homely Yorkshire saying is, were “bigger than his belly”: he bit off more than he could chew. Though he has mangled, maimed, and dismembered Russia he has brought the Reich near to ruin in the process, and has exposed the German people to the menace of ultimate invasion from a race, now roused to fierce resentment, which did not threaten them Hitler has blundered fundamentally. He believed that Russia was afraid to fight, and he might be forgiven for thinking so. He believed also that Russia was unable to resist a stuka-panzer invasion on the full scale, and so did we. He under-estimated the spirit, resilience and stamina of the Red Army: he under-rated its material and its skill. If he acted by advice he was for once badly advised.
Nevertheless Russia was sent sprawling and reeling under a terrific ram of blows, and in a smaller ring (such as France) it would have gone hard with the Muscovite, who had unlimited space with which to buy time to train and bring up his reserves. We know that the sufferings endured and inflicted by the Russians, the enormous wastage of this vast battlefield, the wholesale destruction of the best and bravest of both armies, has been of tremendous value to the Allied cause, not the less because it was gratuitous, a present from Hitler himself. No thoughtful patriot in this country can reflect upon the magnitude of the German onslaught upon Russia without gratitude for the stubborn Russian resistance and for the providential postponement if not abandonment of a comparable assault upon this country. We have no right to expect to be spared that ordeal—our experiences in Crete and Malaya have disillusioned us about the invulnerability of this island—but if it comes, and when it comes, we shall meet an enemy greatly weakened by his Russian adventure. The Russian resistance has gained for us precious time. Let us hope that it has been well used, though the debacles of Pearl Harbour and Malaya ought to give us a superstitious dread of proclaiming any confidence in our preparedness anywhere.
At any rate, because of the Russians, we are infinitely better situated than we could have hoped to be. For that we feel deep thankfulness mingled with admiration for the brave soldiers and staunch peasants of Russia. They have passed through their finest hour as have we, and our comradeship in suffering and struggle will surely lead us to closer understanding after the war. If we are able to exchange the friendship of false, fleeting, perjured France for that of Russia we shall have achieved an alliance of great post-war significance.
Therefore Sir Stafford Cripps’s broadcast appeal for an ever greater effort in this country ought not to be resented by those who need no adjuration, but should be welcomed as a new and penetrating voice likely to be heard and understood and perhaps answered and obeyed in those quarters least amenable to such appeals so far. It is true that more, much more, can be done to strengthen our war economy and increase our war production.
There was a time, when our peril was almost as deadly and imminent as Russia’s was of late, that Britain “went to it” with a will that would have rejoiced Sir Stafford Cripps greatly if he had been among us at that time instead of disconsolately cooling his heels, unregarded, in Moscow. We could not maintain that pitch of intensity for long, but no doubt relaxation, encouraged by the ebbing of enemy activity, has proceeded too far. If the threat comes again we shall all give freely and eagerly of our toil and sweat, as well as our blood and tears —offering, perhaps vainly and impotently, far more of energy and sacrifice than would now suffice to prevent the threat ever returning.
Alas, “When the Devil was sick, the Devil a saint would be; when the Devil was well, the Devil a saint was he.” We do not recognise the curse until it falls on our tribe. And thereput has old One-by-One sucked no small advantage.