Editorial – Heartening Words (video)

15 February 1941

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 15 February 1941

Heartening Words

As we listened to Mr. Churchill on Sunday night we envied him the luxury of his feelings. Although he has reviewed the war situation in Parliament from time to time, and has broadcast directly to the French and the Italian peoples, he had not broadcast to Britain and the Empire for five months.

Until Sunday last his radio discourses had been shadowed by ” heavy tidings,” and their main purpose to communicate to his countrymen something of his own superb courage and sombre resolution. At long last he has been able to fortify his manner with heartening matter and to admit a note of exultation. With incredible swiftness his grim warning to Mussolini that his African empire should be “torn to pieces’ is approaching fulfilment. On land, sea, and in the air, British Imperial forces dominate the war situation in the Mediterranean. Malta and the British Fleet have given an answer to the German dive-bombers whose squadrons have been shattered and scattered by our guns, ‘planes, and forts.

The Navy’s unchallenged bombardment of the Italian naval base of Genoa provided “more matter for a May morning.” The gallantry and skill of the Greeks and the staunchness of our own civilian population furnished rare themes for Churchillian prose. “Cheerfulness would keep freaking in” cheerfulness, but not rashness, bravado, or vainglory.

Immensely useful as are General Wavell’s victories more useful perhaps in their imponderable influence than in their observed military effect Mr. Churchill has no illusions, and does not intend that we shall have any, concerning the tasks ahead. He knows that the Empire still has to meet, withstand, and endure a tremendous blow aimed at its heart. Of the issue of that apocalyptic conflict he has no doubt, but he does not under-rate the severity of the trials through which we have yet to go. Fortunately we are armed and well-prepared and our strength will grow mightily even in the short time that remains to us before the blow falls.

We are a united people, with no doubts and hesitations either as to the justice of our cause or as to the fatal and uncompromising nature of our quarrel. We know that we have no choice between victory and extinction, for a proud, free people like the British could not breathe in a universe “new-ordered” by Hitler. The struggle may be short and sharp or it may be long and exhausting, but it is a combat “a outrance.” There is no room in a tolerable civilisation for Britons and Nazis.

It is fortunate for us that as the war proceeds, thanks to the favourable turn it has taken, Hitler’s strategy is becoming involved, congested, and complicated. Considerable flexibility and variety still remain to him, but he is now having to deal with situations created for him — the collapse of Italy, the increasing aid of America, the superb confidence, skill, strength, variety, and übiquity of British air-power as well as the astonishing flexibility, mobility, and enterprise of British sea-power. Britain has taken the offensive on every front and is attacking everywhere.

The moral effect of that alone is immensely important, especially in dealing with armies fed on easy conquest prepared by terror and treachery. German soldiers, particularly of the present breed, are trained in the principle of attack. With them, not to go forward is to go back, and to go back is to court despair and defeat. On the Continent there are millions of German soldiers standing guard over cowed and subjugated peoples, but so far as the real issues of the war are concerned, they are deteriorating from disuse.

That is perhaps the most compelling of all the reasons which must lead Hitler, without loss of time, to attempt, against all military principles, the defeat of this country by direct and most perilous assault. He would shirk the issue if he could; he would insulate and checkmate us if he could, for it is inherent in his nature to seek his ends by fraud rather than force, by cunning rather than courage, and by subtlety, rather than boldness. Not that force, courage, and boldness do not enter into his method, but with Hitler, subtlety and treachery have virtue and value of their own and add a relish to success because they proceed from his evil brain rather than from the simple heroism of his armies.

The man who can plot the ruin of a civilisation can plan also the destruction of his own race; in his last tirade he plainly told the German people that he had committed them, as penalty for defeat, to perdition. He said this no doubt to key them to desperation, but it was an accidental lapse into truth. The German nation may survive defeat, but will emerge into a liberated world which will scorn and execrate the German race and will never rest until with a bitterness and contempt, a loathing and detestation, manifested in a thousand precautions against the re-emergence from this poisoned people of evil humours and desires that are “wolfish, bloody, starved, and ravenous.”

Meanwhile Hitler crouches and waits. He is himself at bay, forced from his guard of lying and intrigue into the field of naked conflict where issues must be decided by other and better men. This “deceitful and bloodthirsty man” would prefer at all times what Bernard Shaw called a “good scoundrelly reason” for doing a thing, but the possibilities of that technique are becoming exhausted as the front against him closes and solidifies.