Wartime Relations with Britain


By PAUL H. APPLEBY, Under-Secretary of Agriculture

Delivered before the Institute of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, at Charlottesville, Va., July 10, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 647-651.

DURING the last year I have had an extraordinary privilege of seeing various areas of the war-world, seeing them both extensively and intensively under conditions of the most favorable sort. Most of all, I have seen Britain. Tonight, from the background, I wish to do two things: First, to report about what the war has done to Britain, physically and psychologically; second to discuss—and not by any means as a total view of the total problem —

the factors favorable to, and the need for, the closest, continuing collaboration with Britain.

Here in America there are large areas where one may travel long distances without being particularly aware of physical aspects of the fact of war.

In Britain, war atmosphere and war activity surround one—every minute of every day, everywhere. Barrage balloons dot the sky; men and women in uniform are coming andgoing; the windows—where there still are windows—are crisscrossed with paper, cloth or cellophane; buildings are camouflaged; air planes throb overhead; long queues of people await buses, many stores are vacant; others display signs announcing limited hours or days of service; emergency supplies of water are here and there—often in basements of buildings which used to be and are not any more; blocks of cement, bars of steel and quantities of barbed wire are at street and road side to be made barriers against invaders; poles are erected in fields or at wide places in highways to make enemy landing difficult; anti-aircraft guns and pillboxes are scattered over the landscape; smoke tanks are ready here and there to lay down smoke screens; airdromes are everywhere and airplanes all through the fields roundabout; millions of women, old men and youths who otherwise would not be employed are working long hours; people by the millions have been moved about.

For almost three years war has been in the front yard, on the roof, across the channel; British men and women in great numbers have been sent to scores of places the world around, for the grim and deathly business of war. At home, after work, there are fire-watching and home guard duties.

For a visitor, even after some months the black-out remains a terribly impressive thing. A trivial incident may illustrate it. An American friend, over there for the Board of Economic Warfare, in leaving the hotel just ahead of me did what I then realized I had almost done a score of times. He went around in the revolving door twice, because he couldn't tell when he was out! The blackout has a tremendous impact on living, reducing to a minimum opportunity for diversion, and handicapping productive effort. All of Britain has been blacked out every night for almost three years.

Bomb damage is great, and widely experienced. The war never, will be won just by bombing, yet the sense of actual physical damage in Britain steadily grows. Single buildings have been demolished here and there in practically every city. These gaping holes become more numerous in one's sight and feeling from week to week. And with great frequency one sees that walls on either side, perhaps for an entire block, are empty and ruined shells. There are areas of block upon block where there is not even a semblance of the structures that had been there—only debris. For months after the blitz in such a devastated area there is a smell of brick dust, charred paper, sewer gas, scorched flesh and rubbish. The threat has been over and has struck into every part of the cities; whimsically, shell-holes have been left in an indiscriminate dotting even of the farm lands. Blast and fire have encroached on everyone's premises, have had to be organized against, checked and cleared up. Some of the cities in their ordinary structure and performance have been devastated. In London alone a million structures have been in need of repair at one time, thousands have been beyond repairing ever, and tens of thousands have been beyond present capacity to repair. In Bootle, a suburb of Liverpool, only about 3,000 homes out of 11,000 have been undamaged. In Clydebank, a Glasgow suburb, about 9,000 have escaped out of some 35,000.

It is a country where the whole business of living has been revolutionized, under a compelling necessity to divert the absolute maximum of productive effort from ordinary things to war things. Goods other than food are taxed and controlled to limit consumption to strict necessity. Food is subsidized to make it readily available to everyone, and controlled to insure its equitable distribution. It is equitably distributed—much more evenly distributed than here, and probably more evenly distributed than it is in any other large nation. Yet the total available is barely enough, and monotonous. Eating is a disciplined business. Food is a subject of really hungry interest on the part of everyone.

Clothing illustrates the situation with respect to other commodities. Clothing is taxed, and sales are limited by a requirement that purchasers turn in ration coupons. Last fall the one suitcase I had been permitted to take over was lost from a train. I was given half a year's supply of clothing coupons, and with them was able to buy two suits of underwear, two shirts, two pairs of sox, a tie, a suit of pajamas and four handkerchiefs. (Luckily, I got my bag back after five days).

It is a country where their war effort represents in goods and services more than 87 per cent of their total pre-war production.

It is a country where no one wastes time arguing about a proposed 94 per cent excess profits tax. There they have a 100 per cent excess profits tax—and it is not felt that business men won't function because of it.

The business men are functioning, not for the sake of individual or company profit, but for national profit. Thousands of establishments have been closed. Thousands have shifted their businesses entirely to a servicing of government. No business concern and no individual businessman is nearly so well off as before the war. No one is concerned about business in the ordinary way. Everyone's business is the war.

I spent a night last fall on a bomber command, talking to the boys— 18, 19 and 20 years old—who were taking off for Germany, watching them take off, and waiting for their return. In the dusk I saw the bombers come roaring by one a minute, each one manned by five of these boys, rise into the darkening sky and head over the channel—five boys going to war, terrible war, terribly alone. It was all very different from marching in great formations, each person supported and surrounded by many others.

I saw something of their return, in the black dark and rain. A German followed back the first of them, and dropped bombs all around us, but that was a trivial exposure compared to what those boys had experienced. The news can never make plain the damage that comes short of full destruction, the wounds and death of individuals in those crews. The expectation of those boys was hardly better than ten such trips. And yet 85 per cent of each new class of drafted men ask for R. A. F. service.

I was profoundly thrilled and moved by the fine, willing courage of those boys. I mentioned my experience and my feeling to a great London banker as we sat at dinner a few nights later. His comment was said in a low tone down his shirt front as if he were afraid of being overheard saying a sentimental thing, "Yes," he said, "I know. Whenever I think of what the cost is, and the chaos of my affairs, I think of them, and I know they're worth more than I can everpay."

It is a country where the people who are bombed out go to work that very day as usual.

When one visits a war plant—say an ordnance factory—and sees there thousands of women making cordite and shells and bombs, one wonders how there can be left in the homes roundabout any women at all. On top of harder living at home and long hours on the daily job, there are for scores of thousands extra hours of home-guard and fire-watch duty. The farm hands, for example, put in harder work and longer hours than ever before, and 48 hours a month and occasional whole weeks on home guard duty.

I visited in the homes of working people, talked with women mothering small children, their husbands away in war service. At the time we were exploring the question of bread rationing, and I asked each one of these women if theycould manage with two ounces less bread per day per person. Bread is the one thing they can eat when otherwise they would be hungry. But the answer was always the same, "If we have to, we can, you know."

I visited also in the homes of the rich and noble. The rich are getting poor—and rapidly. I saw some of the great families living in five rooms—all the rest of their huge castles occupied by soldiers. These people don't expect to live in those castles at all when the war is over. "Wonder what the government will do with these places," they comment. "We don't need so many museums."

The physical impact of war is no less than the psychological impact. There has been an enormous, an astounding, change in the thinking and feeling of the British people.

It is a country in which there is new and deep realization of the importance of everybody. It is a reversal of a sentiment known in this country at the depths of the depression when some felt that we had "surplus people," that we had too many people. I was riding on the train when a family entered—a man and his wife, their daughter, and a small daughter of the younger woman. The young woman, it was revealed, had a husband in the R. A. F. She had taken his job. "We have to do that," she said, "we only have forty-five millions to Hitler's ninety, and all the millions on the Continent he is using."

Last fall there were many war posters. This spring the posters have almost disappeared. They can't be replaced because of paper and labor shortage. But I shall always remember one pair of posters. They were identical except that in one the central figure was a man, in the other it was a women. Below each figure ran a chain, link upon link, across the posters. Below the chain in each case was one line of type reading, "It all depends on you!" And that is a truth everyone recognizes.

When I was tramping through the streets of ruined Plymouth, Lady Astor told me a true story. It was about the bombing there. A bomb by a direct hit had completely wiped out a small shop run by an old man of eighty and his wife, seventy-eight. In the early morning light as they surveyed the ruins the old man broke down a moment, wept, and said, "There's a gas oven down the street; let's go put our heads in that and end it all." His wife drew herself up and answered, "What? And let Hitler win?" She knew that they were important. Everyone knows it.

It is a country in which there is a new and deep realization of the importance of fairness. If the little that is to be had is not fairly divided, ability to contribute to the war effort will be diminished.

It is of supreme importance that the American people understand how completely, how sublimely, the British people are giving of themselves to this war. For without the British Commonwealth this war could not be won. Those who for lack of philosophy, for lack of insight and understanding, say and do things which reduce the unity of the British and American peoples reduce the effectiveness of all our efforts.

It is of equal importance that there be in this country deep understanding of the absolute necessity for the closest collaboration with Britain in post-war years. For unless we can build a larger international unity then, this war will have been fought in vain. And unless we can build in conjunction with Britain, we can not build at all. The need is for the largest possible unity. Collaboration with Britain in this effort is simply a minimum beginning, the most feasible and essential beginning.

Most responsible people have come to see fundamental error in that old laissez-faire notion that if each individual acted on a basis of individual self-interest the total resultwould be fullest possible service to the group interest. And surely everyone has come to realize that for nations individually and competitively to strive for their interests does not add up to a total service of world interest. There must be in peace as in war a giving up of individual and national self-interests if individual and national self-interests really are to be served. We may if we are fond of being "realistic," or "practical," or "hard-boiled," insist that this is only enlightened self-interest and not altruism at all. But the fact I would emphasize is that a more socially-responsible and cooperative attitude on the part of individuals and nations is fundamental to the longer maintenance and further development of the complex civilization we have by now been able to build.

Many people, too, stimulated by recent years of depression, trying to capitalize on economic tragedy by learning from it, have come to see that our economic system was able to develop and function as it did for a century or so only because we were operating in an expanding world—territorially expanding from the impulse given by Columbus, and industrially expanding coincidentally from the impulses of science and invention. And from that realization we come to another fact to be emphasized. If we are to avoid completely radical change and the chaos that would go with sudden and complete change, we must find in the potentialities of unsatisfied mass needs substitutes for the old factors of expansion. In other words, only by doing something about poverty, only by raising the standard of living of the masses of the world, can we be effectively conservative. We have come to that stage in history where we can see merged that which is economically necessary and that which is sociologically desirable.

In Britain is fullest realization of these facts, these necessities. Britain knows with a clarity born of suffering that she can not survive alone, that the type of order she symbolizes and the ideals that activate her can not survive except; as she works with the United States and the United States works with Britain. Britain knows with the same clarity that our type of order now can survive only by following its own logic through drastic reforms in a deepened concern for the well-being of the masses the world around.

In Britain there is an associate of size and power, of great and varied resources, resources on the whole complementary rather than duplicatory. There is an associate with strategic physical bases, a nation which can be for us a special bridge to and an influence on the Europe where boil up many of the elements with which we must treat. There is an associate of similar culture, ideals, and language.

It is in Britain that we have our own political roots. Britain and the United States constitute the two orders—or the one general order—of longest survival, of greatest proved adjustability, greatest proved responsiveness in consideration of and participation by those governed. Our law is rooted in British law. Where other than in these nations is there any comparable political achievement? With what other nations is there any comparable cultural and political kinship? If we cannot work with Britain, with what other equal political entity can we deal?

The pride the British people have in their developed genius to adjust without revolution, without violence, without the degree of radicalism which entails disorder and chaos, gives us assurance that in common effort with them we too may find the way of orderly and evolutionary adjustment.

A characteristically orderly revolution had been going on in Britain before this war. In part it was a product of the logic of democracy, the logic of living under a Magna Carta established 727 years ago, under a Parliament which had its

beginning almost seven hundred years ago. In part it was a product of the larger logic of events.

Under that revolution there was a great equalization of income. One of the most intelligent men in America said to me not long ago that incomes are less equitably distributed in Britain than anywhere else in the really modern world. I had some of our economists make a study of that, and they reported to me that before the present war, income had come to be at least as equitably distributed there as anywhere in the world except Russia—fully as equitably distributed as in the United States. (During the present war, of course, Britain has come to surpass us far in this respect.) Along with the pre-war improvement in income distribution there went along a great spread of social services and social security policies.

Before this war there had been in Britain a great breakdown of an earlier social stratification. In our own country while we were unconsciously building more definite and rigid strata, Britain was making hers vaguer and looser.

A similar process had gone far on the broadest political level. The British Empire was begun long ago and carried on, as such things were, under profit-seeking and power-seeking purposes. But in recent decades the Empire had been loosened, enlightened, and largely sublimated into the British Commonwealth. As a result, that Commonwealth today stands as the most far flung diversified political unity ever developed as a unity held together chiefly by the social glue of sentiment. It represents the kind of unity which we must, must build to a higher level. Yet there are people in the United States, devoid of broad perception, who get a sort of gleeful satisfaction out of thought of breaking apart the British Commonwealth. To meet our imperative need for a larger world unity by first tearing down the largest, most complex of existing entities would be ruinously absurd.

Our thinking about the British Empire is at best no more up-to-date than Rudyard Kipling, who wrote the things we remember fifty and sixty years ago. How contemptuous we should be of any foreigner who might attempt to discuss the United States in terms of Harrison and Cleveland—or even of the Spanish-American War!

Britain has been imperialistic in the past, as Kipling revealed. So has the United States. But the significant fact is that wherever the British flag flies, or wherever British political principles take root, there the spirit of freedom grows.

Many students of government—American students of government—feel and assert that the British government is more truly democratic than our own. It is difficult to be so dogmatic in comparisons where the elements are so complex. But no informed person would deny that Britain is a democracy fully comparable to our own. A visitor there now can not fail to be impressed by the reality and vitality of the essentials of democracy even under these extraordinary war conditions. Newspaper dispatches from there continually speculating about changes in their leadership should make the fact clear even at this distance.

The revolution that had been carried forward in Britain before this war has been accelerated by the war. There is today on the part of responsible people generally a great determination to maintain after the war the kind of equity in distribution which the war has forced. There is widespread realization that politically they will have to! There is a business-sense realization that Britain can not export sufficiently to buy the things needed for her own standard of living unless the standard of living of much of the rest of the world is raised. The physical and psychological impacts of the war now clearly project further wide and deep adjustments in British thinking and in British institutions. These changes are of the order and in the direction of the adjustments which thoughtful people generally see as generally necessary for the world of the future. The alternative is not something less drastic, but something more drastic.

Britain as a part of Europe has been much exposed to the phenomena of social ferment on the continent. She has been much impressed by the necessity for certain drastic political and economic adjustments. Within herself she has had similar stirrings, and much actual change. All the progressive tendencies have been enormously stimulated by the terrific shocks and stresses of war. As a result of the two successive revolutions in Britain, there is no place in the world today where there is more general, widespread and deep progressive thinking, or more conscious social responsibility than in Britain. The changes have been logical changes—developments of old institutions and old ideals, institutions and ideals long and deeply related to our own.

It is for us a profound and reassuring fact that Britain today represents geographically and culturally a sort of political center of gravity for the world in the period ahead, for the elemental forces at work in the world. This is a compelling reason for our close relationship with her in years to come; in that relationship lies hope of an orderly solution, an orderly adjustment of our institutions.

In view of the basic problem of the world now and in the years ahead, the fact of our close cultural kinship with Britain can hardly be exaggerated. We are given much too much to stressing differences between us, much too little to seeing the basic similarities, the basic mutualities. We see as problems, and yet readily accept the duty of reconciling, differences in economic interests of the cotton belt and the corn belt, or the functional differences between our legislative branch and our executive branch, or between our federal government and our state governments. We should so accept and deal with similar factors involved in relationships between us and the British.

It is as easy to identify and stress differences between the Californian and the New Englander, the South Carolinian and the Minnesotan, as to identify and stress differences between the British and us of the United States. Our duty and our need in both instances are to stress and build upon those factors which are similar or complementary.

As Lionel Robbins, British economist, remarked to me recently, it is a sport of the intelligentsia to find elements of difference, whereas the rank and file dismiss all that with a simple and profound, "They speak our language." Surely the point for us now is to find where are the most and best elements to support greatest and most effective collaboration through long years to come. It is well enough to note that in England they say "shedule" while here we say "skedjule," but the significant fact is that such differences are merely individual items of interest, minor deviations in a common speech. Whatever our individual blood-lines, the cultural kinship of Americans and British peoples is very close, and the differences between us are not unlike those of Uncle Joe in Boston and his nephew Carl's wife's brother in Seattle.

American independence itself has its roots in British institutions. It traces back to Magna Carta and the first English parliament in the thirteenth century. The process has gone on in varying forms throughout the reach of British influence.

From Britain the United States has inherited its legal system. Britain's common law is still America's where no statute exists. That law has been developing ever since the thirteenth century. Too, she has given America the jury system and the right of habeas corpus, those great fundamental safeguards of individual liberty and justice. From Britain came parliaments, with all that they imply.

This country has inherited the developed ideals of Britain with respect to religion. In a long process Britain learned how to give place to both Catholicism and Protestantism, and in her Empire to many other religions. Within her bounds developed Puritanism, Congregationalism, Quakerism, Methodism, Presbyterianism. All of these creeds and the social and political attitude toward religion resulting from this history, have been enormously important to us here. Traveling in Britain, one sees churches and religious attitudes basically similar to our churches and attitudes. In Glasgow I visited with Sir Patrick Dollan, one of the fine men of this world, an Irishman, and a Catholic. By popular vote of that Scottish, Presbyterian city he is mayor. How familiar, and how right, that seems to us!

Britain long has felt her nearness to us, and often has expressed it in ways we have not well enough remembered.

All through the nineteenth century, it was the support of Britain and her fleet which made the Monroe Doctrine effective. America's Navy was not strong enough to enforce it until after 1890. Even though British trade interests may have supported this policy, they had become more enlightened trade interests in seeing advantage in a cooperative policy. No one today is anticipating either for us or for the British utter elimination of selfishness. The course ahead is to a more enlightened selfishness, and our confidence is strengthened by every past achievement.

By the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, Britain had gained the right, which could not be unilaterally revoked, to share in the building of a Panama Canal. When it became evident, however, in the '90's that America had set her heart on building the canal alone, England yielded to the American desire, despite the fact that there was no legal way to compel her. Furthermore, when the canal was finally completed, England withdrew her fleet largely from Caribbean waters and allowed her fortifications to fall into disrepair, thus voluntarily recognizing America's paramount position in those regions.

After the Great War, Great Britain conceded to the United States parity in battleships at the Washington Conference and was wholly cooperative in carrying out American aims at the conference, even abandoning her Anglo-Japanese Alliance in favor of a Four-Power Treaty of the United States, Japan, Britain, and France. In yielding this she was abandoning a century-old tradition, a tradition dear to English hearts. At a later Conference, she granted parity in all naval categories and thus shared with America the supremacy of the seas.

I have had many interesting and understanding conversations about American history with British people. I have been glad that they did not attempt to get me into similar conversations about their own history! All British children in the common schools today are studying American life and history from a text-book written by an eminent American historian. Over here we have people even in places of responsibility whose actual knowledge of British history could be pretty well summed up by the humorous little volume called "1066 and All That." And yet an understanding of Britain making for effective collaboration with her is an immensely serious necessity for us.

The British people look to us. They do not wear their emotions on their sleeves. They do not explain themselves too well. They are given to understatement. And they have a certain diffidence about making overtures. Some of that diffidence rests in pride, no doubt, but most of it is a reflection of sensibility and taste. They have enormous confidence inus—and affectionate good will. Everywhere there is a great, if restrained, eagerness to open up the subject of sustained collaboration between the two nations. There is the greatest willingness to think freshly and freely. The war has torn them bodily away from ordinary selfish preoccupations. I hope the war may stimulate us equally to a great deal of new thinking about social patterns and social techniques.

This I believe to be the most important time in all history. We; stand at the threshold of a new epoch after long centuries of trial, error and development. We are fighting a war of cultures. We are defending the right to go on building a civilization of freedom, of tolerance, of sympathy. We are defending it against a low culture of force, of brutal force, of intolerance, of pitilessness.

This culture of ours is essentially a liberal culture. The curse of liberals is the difficulty they have in finding common denominators for organizing their affairs. Yet civilization, complexity, and organization are synonymous. The logic of thoughtless liberalism is anarchy. The compelling need ahead is to learn how better to organize for a liberal world, how better to protect diversity among peoples and persons, how better to capitalize on the added values of variety, and yet to find common denominators, common causes, a common unity for our diversity.

And in this one relationship is the most important beginning. The United Kingdom symbolizes, as it has nurtured, the kind of unity on which we must build. On that main British isle have come together a good many blood lines. There out of more far-flung and diverse origins than are commonly remembered stand several special groups, the Welsh, the Scottish, many Irish, and the English, working together, living together, building together, each enriching the other. Of all this is the British Commonwealth an extension, a development. Our longest frontier associates us with Canada in a relationship that is a special bridge. There is between us and Australia and New Zealand and South Africa a special friendship.

The British Commonwealth is a large and real unity of diversity.

People of the United States, more vividly—more quickly and recently—drawn from many origins, too have achieved for themselves a real and great basic unity.

Between these two peoples exists and grows a broader unity. Similar principles of law, similar ethics, similar aspirations, expressed in a common literature and a common language, give to us essentially a common culture. Neither of us is without shortcomings. Our ideals of freedom, of democracy, of tolerance, and of fair dealing far outrun our performances, but our performances are steadily better. This persistent progress and the persistent growth of our ideals are the profoundest facts we know.

These two peoples, then, constitute the most immediate and most feasible unity within that broadest unity which is humanity itself.

It is toward that broadest unity that we aspire. Our culture, a product of diversity, appreciates the greater richness that inheres in diversity. This is why our unity offers not a threat but hope to the rest of the world. The world order we support will offer to all men place, opportunity. This really is the issue in this war. It is not merely because we would be on the slave end of the master-and-slave order Hitler would impose that we shall resist Hitler with our every resource. It is because that order is the complete antithesis to our most compelling aspirations. This war, with its deprivation, destruction and death, is a giving of ourselves in a desperate and determined defense of and out-reaching for that which we know to be fine and worthy.