As I Please
by George Orwell
Tribune, 1944
July 14 / July 21 / July 28 / August 4 / August 11 / August 18 / August 25


July 7:


WHEN the Caliph Omar destroyed the libraries of Alexandria he is supposed to have kept the public baths warm for eighteen days with burning manuscripts, and great numbers of tragedies by Euripides and others are said to have perished, quite irrevocably. I remember that when I read about this as a boy it simply filled me with enthusiastic approval. It was so many less words to look up in the dictionary—that was how I saw it. For, though I am only forty-one, I am old enough to have been educated at a time when Latin and Greek were only escapable with great difficulty, while ‘English’ was hardly regarded as a school subject at all. Classical education is going down the drain at last, but even now there must be far more adults who have been flogged through the entire extant works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Vergil, Horace and various other Latin and Greek authors than have read the English masterpieces of the eighteenth century. People pay lip service to Fielding and the rest of them, of course, but they don’t read them, as you can discover by making a few inquiries among your friends. How many people have ever read Tom Jones, for instance? Not so many have even read the later books of Gulliver’s Travels. Robinson Crusoe has a sort of popularity in nursery versions, but the book as a whole is so little known that few people are even aware that the second part (the journey through Tartary) exists. Smollett, I imagine, is the least read of all. The central plot of Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, is lifted out of Peregrine Pickle, and I believe that no one has ever pointed this out in print, which suggests that few people can have read the book. But what is strangest of all is that Smollett, so far as I know, has never been boosted by the Scottish Nationalists, who are so careful to claim Byron for their own. Yet Smollett, besides being one of the best novelists the English-speaking races have produced, was a Scotsman, and proclaimed it openly at a time when being so was anything but helpful to one’s career.


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LIFE in the civilized world.
(The family are at tea.)
Zoom-zoom-zoom!
‘Is there an alert on?’
‘No, it’s all clear.’
‘I thought there was an alert on.’
Zoom-zoom-zoom!
‘There’s another of those things coming!’
‘It’s all right, it’s miles away.’
Zoom-zoom-ZOOM!
‘Look out, here it comes! Under the table, quick!’
Zoom-zoom-zoom!
‘It’s all right, it’s getting fainter.’
Zoom-zoom-ZOOM!
‘It’s coming back!’
‘They seem to kind of circle round and come back again. They’ve got something on their tails that makes them do it. Like a torpedo.’
ZOOM-ZOOM-ZOOM!
‘Christ! It’s bang overhead!’
Dead silence.
‘Now get right underneath. Keep your head well down. What a mercy baby isn’t here!’
‘Look at the cat! He’s frightened too.’
‘Of course animals know. They can feel the vibrations.’
BOOM!
‘It’s all right, I told you it was miles away.’
(Tea continues.)

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I SEE that Lord Winterton, writing in the Evening Standard, speaks of the ‘remarkable reticence (by no means entirely imposed by rule or regulation) which Parliament and press alike have displayed in this war to avoid endangering national security’ and adds that it has ‘earned the admiration of the civilized world’.

It is not only in war-time that the British press observes this voluntary reticence. One of the most extraordinary things about England is that there is almost no official censorship, and yet nothing that is actually offensive to the governing class gets into print, at least in any place where large numbers of people are likely to read it. If it is ‘not done’ to mention something or other, it just doesn’t get mentioned. The position is summed up in the lines by (I think) Hilaire Belloc:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist
Thank God! the British journalist.
But seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there’s no occasion to.


No bribes, no threats, no penalties—just a nod and a wink and the thing is done. A well-known example was the business of the Abdication. Weeks before the scandal officially broke, tens or hundreds of thousands of people had heard all about Mrs Simpson, and yet not a word got into the press, not even into the Daily Worker, although the American and European papers were having the time of their lives with the story. Yet I believe there was no definite official ban: just an official ‘request’ and a general agreement that to break the news prematurely ‘would not do’. And I can think of other instances of good news stories failing to see the light although there would have been no penalty for printing them.

Nowadays this kind of veiled censorship even extends to books. The M.O.I. does not, of course, dictate a party line or issue an index expurgatorius. It merely ‘advises’. Publishers take manuscripts to the M.O.I. and the M.O.I. ‘suggests’ that this or that is undesirable, or premature, or ‘would serve no good purpose’. And though there is no definite prohibition, no clear statement that this or that must not be printed, official policy is never flouted. Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip. And that is the state we have reached in this country thanks to three hundred years of living together without a civil war.

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HERE is a little problem sometimes used as an intelligence test.

A man walked four miles due south from his house and shot a bear. He then walked two miles due west, then walked another four miles due north and was back at his home again. What was the colour of the bear?

The interesting point is that—so far as my own observations go—men usually see the answer to this problem and women do not.




July 14:


I HAVE received a number of letters, some of them quite violent ones, attacking me for my remarks on Miss Vera Brittain’s antibombing pamphlet. There are two points that seem to need further comment.

First of all there is the charge, which is becoming quite a common one, that ‘we started it’, i.e. that Britain was the first country to practise systematic bombing of civilians. How anyone can make this claim, with the history of the past dozen years in mind, is almost beyond me. The first act in the present war—some hours, if I remember rightly, before any declaration of war passed—was the German bombing of Warsaw. The Germans bombed and shelled the city so intensively that, according to the Poles, at one time 700 fires were raging simultaneously. They made a film of the destruction of Warsaw, which they entitled Baptism of Fire and sent all round the world with the object of terrorizing neutrals.

Several years earlier than this the Condor Legion, sent to Spain by Hitler, had bombed one Spanish city after another. The ‘silent raids’ on Barcelona in 1938 killed several thousand people in a couple of days. Earlier than this the Italians had bombed entirely defenceless Abyssinians and boasted of their exploits as something screamingly funny. Bruno Mussolini wrote newspaper articles in which he described bombed Abyssinians ‘bursting open like a rose’, which, he said, was ‘most amusing’. And the Japanese ever since 1931, and intensively since 1937, have been bombing crowded Chinese cities where there are not even any A.R.P. arrangements, let alone any A.A. guns or fighter aircraft.

I am not arguing that two blacks make a white, nor that Britain’s record is a particularly good one. In a number of ‘little wars’ from about 1920 onwards the R.A.F. has dropped its bombs on Afghans, Indians and Arabs who had little or no power of hitting back. But it is simply untruthful to say that large-scale bombing of crowded town areas, with the object of causing panic, is a British invention. It was the Fascist states who started this practice, and so long as the air war went in their favour they awoved their aims quite clearly.

The other thing that needs dealing with is the parrot cry ‘killing women and children’. I pointed out before, but evidently it needs repeating, that it is probably somewhat better to kill a cross-section of the population than to kill only the young men. If the figures published by the Germans are true, and we have really killed 1,200,000 civilians in our raids, that loss of life has probably harmed the German race somewhat less than a corresponding loss on the Russian front or in Africa and Italy.

Any nation at war will do its best to protect its children. and the number of children killed in raids probably does not correspond to their percentage of the general population. Women cannot be protected to the same extent, but the outcry against killing women, if you accept killing at all, is sheer sentimentality. Why is it worse to kill a woman than a man? The argument usually advanced is that in killing women you are killing the breeders, whereas men can be more easily spared. But this is a fallacy based on the notion that human beings can be bred like animals. The idea behind it is that since one man is capable of fertilizing a very large number of women, just as a prize ram fertilizes thousands of ewes, the loss of male lives is comparatively unimportant. Human beings, however, are not cattle. When the slaughter caused by a war leaves a surplus of women, the enormous majority of those women bear no children. Male lives are very nearly as important, biologically, as female ones.

In the last war the British Empire lost nearly a million men killed, of whom about three quarters came from these islands. Most of them will have been under thirty. If all those young men had had only one child each we should now have an extra 750,000 people round about the age of twenty. France, which lost much more heavily, never recovered from the slaughter of the last war, and it is doubtful whether Britain has fully recovered, either. We can’t yet calculate the casualties of the present war, but the last one killed between ten and twenty million young men. Had it been conducted, as the next one will perhaps be, with flying bombs, rockets and other long-range weapons which kill old and young, healthy and unhealthy, male and female impartially, it would probably have damaged European civilization somewhat less than it did.

Contrary to what some of my correspondents seem to think, I have no enthusiasm for air raids, either ours or the enemy’s. Like a lot of other people in this country, I am growing definitely tired of bombs. But I do object to the hypocrisy of accepting force as an instrument while squealing against this or that individual weapon, or of denouncing war while wanting to preserve the kind of society that makes war inevitable.

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I NOTE in my diary for 1940 an expectation that commercial advertisements will have disappeared from the walls within a year. This seemed likely enough at the time, and a year or even two years later the disappearance seemed to be actually happening, though more slowly than I had expected. Advertisments were shrinking both in numbers and size, and the announcements of the various Ministries were more and more taking their place both on the walls and in the newspapers. Judging from this symptom alone, one would have said that commercialism was definitely on the downgrade. In the last two years, however, the commercial ad, in all its silliness and snobbishness, has made a steady come-back. In recent years I consider that the most offensive of all British advertisements are the ones for Rose’s Lime Juice, with their ‘young squire’ motif and their P. G. Wodehouse dialogue.

‘I fear you do not see me at my best this morning, Jenkins. There were jollifications last night. Your young master looked upon the wine when it was red and also upon the whisky when it was yellow. To use the vulgar phrase, I have a thick head. What do you think the doctor would prescribe, Jenkins?’

‘If I might make so bold, sir, a glass of soda water with a dash of Rose’s Lime Juice would probably have the desired effect.’

‘Go to it, Jenkins! You were always my guide, philosopher and friend,’ etc., etc., etc.

When you reflect that this advertisement appears, for instance, in every theatre programme, so that every theatre-goer is at any rate assumed to have a secret fantasy life in which he thinks of himself as a young man of fashion with faithful old retainers, the prospect of any drastic social change recedes perceptibly.

There are also the hair-tonic adverts which tell you how Daphne got promotion in the W.A.A.F.S. thanks to the neatness and glossiness of her hair. But these are misleading as well as whorish, for I seldom or never pass a group of officers in the W.A.A.F.S., A.T.S. or W.R.E.N.S. without having cause to reflect that at any rate, promotion in the women’s service has nothing to do with looks.




July 21:


I HAVE just found my copy of Samuel Butler’s Note-Books, the full edition of the first series, published by Jonathan Cape in 1921. It is twenty years old and none the better for having gone through several rainy seasons in Burma, but at any rate it exists, which is all to the good, for this is another of those well-known books which have now ceased to be procurable. Cape’s later produced an abridged version in the Traveller’s Library, but it is an unsatisfactory abridgement, and the second series which was published about 1934 does not contain much that is of value. It is in the first series that you will find the story of Butler’s interview with a Turkish official at the Dardanelles, the description of his method of buying new-laid eggs and his endeavours to photograph a seasick bishop, and other similar trifles which in a way are worth more than his major works.

Butler’s main ideas now seem either to be unimportant, or to suffer from wrong emphasis. Biologists apart, who now cares whether the Darwinian theory of evolution, or the Lamarckian version which Butler supported, is the correct one? The whole question of evolution seems less momentous than it did, because, unlike the Victorians, we do not feel that to be descended from animals is degrading to human dignity. On the other hand, Butler often makes a mere joke out of something that now seems to us vitally important. For example:

The principal varieties and sub-varieties of the human race are not now to be looked for among the Negroes, the Circassians, the Malays or the American aborigines, but among the rich and the poor. The difference in physical organization between these two species of man is far greater than that between the so-called types of humanity. The rich man can go from (New Zealand) to England whenever he feels inclined. The legs of the other are by an invisible fatality prevented from carrying him beyond certain narrow limits. Neither rich nor poor can yet see the philosophy of the thing, or admit that he who can tack a portion of one of the P & O boats on to his identity is a much more highly organized being than he who cannot.


There are innumerable similar passages in Butler’s work. You could easily interpret them in a Marxist sense, but the point is that Butler himself does not do so. Finally his outlook is that of a Conservative, in spite of his successful assaults on Christian belief and the institution of the family. Poverty is degrading: therefore, take care not to be poor—that is his reaction. Hence the improbable and unsatisfying ending of The Way of All Flesh, which contrasts so strangely with the realism of the earlier parts.

Yet Butler’s books have worn well, far better than those of more earnest contemporaries like Meredith and Carlyle, partly because he never lost the power to use his eyes and to be pleased by small things, partly because in the narrow technical sense he wrote so well. When one compares Butler’s prose with the contortions of Meredith or the affectations of Stevenson, one sees what a tremendous advantage is gained simply by not trying to be clever. Butler’s own ideas on the subject are worth quoting:

I never knew a writer yet who took the smallest pains with his style and was at the same time readable. Plato’s having had seventy shies at one sentence is quite enough to explain to me why I dislike him. A man may, and ought to, take a great deal of pains to write clearly, tersely and euphoniously: he will write many a sentence three or four times over—to do much more than this is worse than not rewriting at all: he will be at great pains to see that he does not repeat himself, to arrange his matter in the way that shall best enable the reader to master it, to cut out superfluous words and, even more, to eschew irrelevant matter: but in each case he will be thinking not of his own style but of his reader’s convenience . . . . I should like to put it on record that I never took the smallest pains with my style, have never thought about it, and do not know or want to know whether it is a style at all or whether it is not, as I believe and hope, just common, simple straightforwardness. I cannot conceive how any man can take thought for his style without loss to himself and his readers.

Butler adds characteristically, however, that he has made considerable efforts to improve his handwriting.

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AN argument that Socialists ought to be prepared to meet, since it is brought up constantly both by Christian apologists and by neo-pessimists such as James Burnham, is the alleged immutability of ‘human nature’. Socialists are accused—I think without justification—of assuming that Man is perfectible, and it is then pointed out that human history is in fact one long tale of greed, robbery and oppression. Man, it is said, will always try to get the better of his neighbour, he will always hog as much property as possible for himself and his family. Man is of his nature sinful, and cannot be made virtuous by Act of Parliament. Therefore, though economic exploitation can be controlled to some extent, the classless society is for ever impossible.

The proper answer, it seems to me, is that this argument belongs to the Stone Age. It presupposes that material goods will always be desperately scarce. The power hunger of human beings does indeed present a serious problem, but there is no reason for thinking that the greed for mere wealth is a permanent human characteristic. We are selfish in economic matters because we all live in terror of poverty. But when a commodity is not scarce, no one tries to grab more than his fair share of it. No one tries to make a corner in air, for instance. The millionaire as well as the beggar is content with just so much air as he can breathe. Or, again, water. In this country we are not troubled by lack of water. If anything we have too much of it, especially on Bank Holidays. As a result water hardly enters into our consciousness. Yet in dried-up countries like North Africa, what jealousies, what hatreds, what appalling crimes the lack of water can cause! So also with any other kind of goods. If they were made plentiful, as they so easily might be, there is no reason to think that the supposed acquisitive instincts of the human being could not be bred out in a couple of generations. And after all, if human nature never changes, why is it that we not only don’t practise cannibalism any longer, but don’t even want to?

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ANOTHER brain-tickler.

A businessman was in the habit of going home by a suburban train which left London at seven-thirty. One evening the night-watchman, who had just come on duty, stopped him and said: ‘Excuse me, sir, but I’d advise you not to go by your usual train tonight. I dreamed last night that the train was smashed up and half the people in it were killed. Maybe you’ll think I’m superstitious, but it was all so vivid that I can’t help thinking it was meant as a warning.’

The businessman was sufficiently impressed to wait and take a later train. When he opened the newspaper the next morning he saw that, sure enough, the train had been wrecked and many people killed. That evening he sent for the night-watchman and said to him:

‘I want to thank you for your warning yesterday. I consider that you saved my life, and in return I should like to make you a present of thirty pounds. In addition, I have to inform you that you are sacked. Take a week’s notice from today.’

This was an ungrateful act, but the businessman was strictly within his rights. Why?




July 28:


SOME years ago, in the course of an article about boys' weekly papers, I made some passing remarks about women’s papers—I mean the twopenny ones of the type of Peg’s Paper, often called ‘love books’. This brought me, among much other correspondence, a long letter from a woman who had contributed to and worked for the Lucky Star, the Golden Star, Peg’s Paper, Secrets, the Oracle, and a number of kindred papers. Her main point was that I had been wrong in saying that these papers aim at creating wealth fantasy. Their stories are ‘in no sense Cinderella stories’ and do not exploit the ‘she married her boss’ motif. My correspondent adds:

Unemployment is mentioned—quite frequently . . . . The dole and the trade union are certainly never mentioned. The latter may be influneced by the fact that the largest publishers of these women’s magazines are a non-union house. One is never allowed to criticize the system, or to show up the class struggle for what it really is, and the word Socialist is never mentioned—all this is perfectly true. But it might be interesting to add that class feeling is not altogether absent. The rich are often shown as mean, and as cruel and crooked money-makers. The rich and idle beau is nearly always planning marriage without a ring, and the lass is rescued by her strong, hard-working garage hand. Men with cars are generally ‘bad’ and men in well-cut expensive suits are nearly always crooks. The ideal of most of these stories is not an income worthy of a bank manager’s wife, but a life that is ‘good’. A life with an upright, kind husband, however poor, with babies and a ‘little cottage’. The stories are conditioned to show that the meagre life is not so bad really, as you are at least honest and happy, and that riches bring trouble and false friends. The poor are given moral values to aspire to as something within their reach.


There are many comments I could make here, but I choose to take up the point of the moral superiority of the poor being combined with the non-mention of trade unions and Socialism. There is no doubt that this is deliberate policy. In one woman’s paper I actually read a story dealing with a strike in a coal mine, and even in that connexion trade unionism was not mentioned. When the U.S.S.R. entered the war one of these papers promptly cashed in with a serial entitled ‘Her Soviet Lover’, but we may be sure that Marxism did not enter into it very largely.

The fact is that this business about the moral superiority of the poor is one of the deadliest forms of escapism the ruling class have evolved. You may be downtrodden and swindled, but in the eyes of God you are superior to your oppressors, and by means of films and magazines you can enjoy a fantasy existence in which you constantly triumph over the people who defeat you in real life. In any form of art designed to appeal to large numbers of people, it is an almost unheard-of thing for a rich man to get the better of a poor man. The rich man is usually ‘bad’, and his machinations are invariably frustrated. ‘Good poor man defeats bad rich man’ is an accepted formula, whereas if it were the other way about we should feel that there was something very wrong somewhere. This is as noticeable in films as in the cheap magazines, and it was perhaps most noticeable of all in the old silent films, which travelled from country to country and had to appeal to a very varied audience. The vast majority of the people who will see a film are poor, and so it is politic to make a poor man the hero. Film magnates, press lords and the like amass quite a lot of their wealth by pointing out that wealth is wicked.

The formula ‘good poor man defeats bad rich man’ is simply a subtler version of ‘pie in the sky’. It is a sublimation of the class struggle. So long as you can dream of yourself as a ‘strong, hard-working garage hand’ giving some moneyed crook a sock on the jaw, the real facts can be forgotten. That is a cleverer dodge than wealth fantasy. But, curiously enough, reality does enter into these women’s magazines, not through the stories but through the correspondence columns, especially in those papers that give free medical advice. Here you can read harrowing tales of ‘bad legs’ and hemorrhoids, written by middle-aged women who give themselves such pseudonyms as ‘A Sufferer’, ‘Mother of Nine’ and ‘Always Constipated’. To compare these letters with the love stories that lie cheek by jowl with them is to see how vast a part mere day-dreaming plays in modern life.

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I HAVE just been reading Arthur Koestler’s novel The Gladiators, which describes the slave rebellion under Spartacus, about 70 B.C. It is not one of his best books, and, in any case, any novel describing a slave rebellion in antiquity suffers by having to stand comparison with Salammbô, Flaubert’s great novel about the revolt of the Carthaginian mercenaries. But it reminded me of how tiny is the number of slaves of whom anything whatever is known. I myself know the names of just three slaves—Spartacus himself, the fabulous Aesop, who is supposed to have been a slave, and the philosopher Epictetus, who was one of those learned slaves whom the Roman plutocrats liked to have among their retinue. All the others are not even names. We don’t, for instance—or at least I don’t—know the name of a single one of the myriads of human beings who built the pyramids. Spartacus, I suppose, is much the most widely known slave there ever was. For five thousand years or more civilization rested upon slavery. Yet when even so much as the name of a slave survives, it is because he did not obey the injunction ‘resist not evil’, but raised violent rebellion. I think there is a moral in this for pacifists.

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WE published last week part of a very truculent letter about the anti-war poem entitled ‘The Little Apocalypse of Obadiah Hornbrook’, with the comment, ‘I am surprised that you publish it.’ Other letters and private comments took the same line. I do not, any more than our correspondent, agree with ‘Obadiah Hornbrook’, but that is not a sufficient reason for not publishing what he writes. Every paper has a policy, and in its political sections it will press that policy, more or less to the exclusion of all others. To do anything else would be stupid. But the literary end of a paper is another matter. Even there, of course, no paper will give space to direct attacks on the things it stands for. We wouldn’t print an article in praise of antisemitism, for instance. But granted the necessary minimum of agreement, literary merit is the only thing that matters.

Besides, if this war is about anything at all, it is a war in favour of freedom of thought. I should be the last to claim that we are morally superior to our enemies, and there is quite a strong case for saying that British imperialism is actually worse than Nazism. But there does remain the difference, not to be explained away, that in Britain you are relatively free to say and print what you like. Even in the blackest patches of the British Empire, in India, say, there is very much more freedom of expression than in a totalitarian country. I want that to remain true, and by sometimes giving a hearing to unpopular opinions, I think we help it to do so.




August 4:


APROPOS of saturation bombing, a correspondent who disagreed with me very strongly added that he was by no means a pacifist. He recognized, he said, that ‘the Hun had got to be beaten’. He merely objected to the barbarous methods that we are now using.

Now, it seems to me that you do less harm by dropping bombs on people than by calling them ‘Huns’. Obviously one does not want to inflict death and wounds if it can he avoided, but I cannot feel that mere killing is all-important. We shall all be dead in less than a hundred years, and most of us by the sordid horror known as ‘natural death’. The truly evil thing is to act in such a way that peaceful life becomes impossible. War damages the fabric of civilization not by the destruction it causes (the net effect of a war may even be to increase the productive capacity of the world as a whole), nor even by the slaughter of human beings, but by stimulating hatred and dishonesty. By shooting at your enemy you are not in the deepest sense wronging him. But by hating him, by inventing lies about him and bringing children up to believe them, by clamouring for unjust peace terms which make further wars inevitable, you are striking not at one perishable generation, but at humanity itself.

It is a matter of observation that the people least infected by war hysteria are the fighting soldiers. Of all people they are the least inclined to hate the enemy, to swallow lying propaganda or to demand a vindictive peace. Nearly all soldiers—and this applies even to professional soldiers in peace time—have a sane attitude towards war. They realize that it is disgusting, and that it may often be necessary. This is harder for a civilian, because the soldier’s detached attitude is partly due to sheer exhaustion, to the sobering effects of danger, and to continuous friction with his own military machine. The safe and well-fed civilian has more surplus emotion, and he is apt to use it up in hating somebody or other—the enemy if he is a patriot, his own side if he is a pacifist. But the war mentality is something that can be struggled against and overcome, just as the fear of bullets can be overcome. The trouble is that neither the Peace Pledge Union nor the Never Again Society know the war mentality when they see it. Meanwhile, the fact that in this war offensive nicknames like ‘Hun’ have not caught on with the big public seems to me a good omen.

What has always seemed to me one of the most shocking deeds of the last war was one that did not aim at killing anyone—on the contrary, it probably saved a great many lives. Before launching their big attack at Caporetto, the Germans flooded the Italian army with faked Socialist propaganda leaflets in which it was alleged that the German soldiers were ready to shoot their officers and fraternize with their Italian comrades etc., etc. Numbers of Italians were taken in, came over to fraternize with the Germans, and were made prisoner—and, I believe, jeered at for their simple-mindedness. I have heard this defended as a highly intelligent and humane way of making war—which it is, if your sole aim is to save as many skins as possible. And yet a trick like that damages the very roots of human solidarity in a way that no mere act of violence could do.

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I SEE that the railings are returning—only wooden ones, it is true, but still railings—in one London square after another. So the lawful denizens of the squares can make use of their treasured keys again, and the children of the poor can be kept out.

When the railings round the parks and squares were removed, the object was partly to accumulate scrap-iron, but the removal was also felt to be a democratic gesture. Many more green spaces were now open to the public, and you could stay in the parks till all hours instead of being hounded out at closing times by grim-faced keepers. It was also discovered that these railings were not only unnecessary but hideously ugly. The parks were improved out of recognition by being laid open, acquiring a friendly, almost rural look that they had never had before. And had the railings vanished permanently, another improvement would probably have followed. The dreary shrubberies of laurel and privet—plants not suited to England and always dusty, at any rate in London—would probably have been grubbed up and replaced by flower beds. Like the railings, they were merely put there to keep the populace out. However, the higher-ups managed to avert this reform, like so many others, and everywhere the wooden palisades are going up, regardless of the wastage of labour and timber.

When I was in the Home Guard we used to say that the bad sign would be when flogging was introduced. That has not happened yet, I believe, but all minor social symptoms point in the same direction. The worst sign of all—and I should expect this to happen almost immediately if the Tories win the General Election—will be the reappearance in the London streets of top-hats not worn by either undertakers or bank messengers.

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WE hope to review before long—and meanwhile I take the opportunity of drawing attention to it—an unusual book called Branch Street, by Marie Paneth. The author is or was a voluntary worker at a children’s club, and her book reveals the almost savage conditions in which some London children still grow up. It is not quite clear, however, whether these conditions are to any extent worse as a result of the war. I should like to read—I suppose some such thing must exist somewhere, but I don’t know of it—an authoritative account of the effect of the war on children. Hundreds of thousands of town children have been evacuated to country districts, many have had their schooling interrupted for months at a time, others have had terrifying experiences with bombs (earlier in the war a little girl of eight, evacuated to a Hertfordshire village, assured me that she had been bombed out seven times), others have been sleeping in Tube shelters, sometimes for a year or so at a stretch. I would like to know to what extent the town children have adapted themselves to country life—whether they have grown interested in birds and animals, or whether they simply pine to be back among the picture houses—and whether there has been any significant increase in juvenile crime. The children described by Mrs Paneth sound almost like the gangs of ‘wild children’ who were a by-product of the Russian Revolution.

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BACK in the eighteenth century, when the India muslins were one of the wonders of the world, an Indian king sent envoys to the court of Louis XV to negotiate a trade agreement. He was aware that in Europe women wield great political influence, and the envoys brought with them a bale of costly muslins, which they had been instructed to present to Louis’s mistress. Unfortunately their information was not up to date: Louis’s not very stable affections had veered, and the muslins were presented to a mistress who had already been discarded. The mission was a failure, and the envoys were decapitated when they got home.

I don’t know whether this story has a moral, but when I see the kind of people that our Foreign Office likes to get together with, I am often reminded of it.




August 11:


A FEW days ago a West African wrote to inform us that a certain London dance hall had recently erected a ‘colour bar’, presumably in order to please the American soldiers who formed an important part of its clientele. Telephone conversations with the management of the dance hall brought us the answers: (a) that the ‘colour bar’ had been cancelled, and (b) that it had never been imposed in the first place; but I think one can take it that our informant’s charge had some kind of basis. There have been other similar incidents recently. For instance, during last week a case in a magistrate’s court brought out the fact that a West Indian Negro working in this country had been refused admission to a place of entertainment when he was wearing Home Guard uniform. And there have been many instances of Indians, Negroes and others being turned away from hotels on the ground that ‘we don’t take coloured people’.

It is immensely important to be vigilant against this kind of thing, and to make as much public fuss as possible whenever it happens. For this is one of those matters in which making a fuss can achieve something. There is no kind of legal disability against coloured people in this country, and, what is more, there is very little popular colour feeling. (This is not due to any inherent virtue in the British people, as our behaviour in India shows. It is due to the fact that in Britain itself there is no colour problem.)

The trouble always arises in the same way. A hotel, restaurant or what-not is frequented by people who have money to spend who object to mixing with Indians or Negroes. They tell the proprietor that unless he imposes a colour bar they will go elsewhere. They may be a very small minority, and the proprietor may not be in agreement with them, but it is difficult for him to lose good customers; so he imposes the colour bar. This kind of thing cannot happen when public opinion is on the alert and disagreeable publicity is given to any establishment where coloured people are insulted. Anyone who knows of a provable instance of colour discrimination ought always to expose it. Otherwise the tiny percentage of colour-snobs who exist among us can make endless mischief, and the British people are given a bad name which, as a whole, they do not deserve.

In the nineteen-twenties, when American tourists were as much a part of the scenery of Paris as tobacco kiosks and tin urinals, the beginnings of a colour bar began to appear even in France. The Americans spend money like water, and restaurant proprietors and the like could not afford to disregard them. One evening, at a dance in a very well-known café some Americans objected to the presence of a Negro who was there with an Egyptian woman. After making some feeble protests, the proprietor gave in, and the Negro was turned out.

Next morning there was a terrible hullabaloo and the café proprietor was hauled up before a Minister of the Government and threatened with prosecution. It had turned out that the offended Negro was the Ambassador of Haiti. People of that kind can usually get satisfaction, but most of us do not have the good fortune to be ambassadors, and the ordinary Indian, Negro or Chinese can only be protected against petty insult if other ordinary people are willing to exert themselves on his behalf.




August 18:


APROPOS of my remarks on the railings round London squares, a correspondent writes: ‘Are the squares to which you refer public or private properties? If private, I suggest that your comments in plain language advocate nothing less than theft, and should be classed as such.’

If giving the land of England back to the people of England is theft, I am quite happy to call it theft. In his zeal to defend private property, my correspondent does not stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the landgrabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.

Except for the few surviving commons, the high roads, the lands of the National Trust, a certain number of parks, and the sea shore below high-tide mark, every square inch of England is ‘owned’ by a few thousand families. These people are just about as useful as so many tapeworms. It is desirable that people should own their own dwelling houses, and it is probably desirable that a farmer should own as much land as he can actually farm. But the ground-landlord in a town area has no function and no excuse for existence. He is merely a person who has found out a way of milking the public while giving nothing in return. He causes rents to be higher, he makes town planning more difficult, and he excludes children from green spaces: that is literally all that he does, except to draw his income. The removal of the railings in the squares was a first step against him. It was a very small step, and yet an appreciable one, as the present move to restore the railings shows. For three years or so the squares lay open, and their sacred turf was trodden by the feet of working-class children, a sight to make dividend-drawers gnash their false teeth. It that is theft, all I can say is, so much the better for theft.

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I NOTE that once again there is serious talk of trying to attract tourists to this country after the war. This, it is said, will bring in a welcome trickle of foreign currency. But it is quite safe to prophesy that the attempt will be a failure. Apart from the many other difficulties, our licensing laws and the artificial price of drink are quite enough to keep foreigners away. Why should people who are used to paying sixpence for a bottle of wine visit a country were a pint of beer costs a shilling? But even these prices are less dismaying to foreigners than the lunatic laws which permit you to buy a glass of beer at half past ten while forbidding you to buy it at twenty-five past, and which have done their best to turn the pubs into mere boozing shops by excluding children from them.

How downtrodden we are in comparison with most other peoples is shown by the fact that even people who are far from being ‘temperance’ don’t seriously imagine that our licensing laws could be altered. Whenever I suggest that pubs might be allowed to open in the afternoon, or to stay open till midnight, I always get the same answer: ‘The first people to object would be the publicans. They don’t want to have to stay open twelve hours a day.’ People assume, you see, that opening hours, whether long or short, must be regulated by the law, even for one-man businesses. In France, and in various other countries, a café proprietor opens or shuts just as it suits him. He can keep open the whole twenty-four hours if he wants to; and, on the other hand, if he feels like shutting his café and going away for a week, he can do that too. In England we have had no such liberty for about a hundred years, and people are hardly able to imagine it.

England is a country that ought to be able to attract tourists. It has much beautiful scenery, an equable climate, innumerable attractive villages and medieval churches, good beer, and foodstuffs of excellent natural taste. If you could walk where you chose instead of being fenced in by barbed wire and ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted’ boards, if speculative builders had not been allowed to ruin every pleasant view within ten miles of a big town, if you could get a drink when you wanted it at a normal price, if an eatable meal in a country inn were a normal experience, and if Sunday were not artificially made into a day of misery, then foreign visitors might be expected to come here. But if those things were true England would no longer be England, and I fancy that we shall have to find some way of acquiring foreign currency that is more in accord with our national character.

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IN spite of my campaign against the jackboot—in which I am not operating single-handed—I notice that jackboots are as common as ever in the columns of the newspapers. Even in the leading articles in the Evening Standard, I have come upon several of them lately. But I am still without any clear information as to what a jackboot is. It is a kind of boot that you put on when you want to behave tyrannically: that is as much as anyone seems to know.

Others besides myself have noted that war, when it gets into the leading articles, is apt to be waged with remarkably old-fashioned weapons. Planes and tanks do make occasional appearances, but as soon as an heroic attitude has to be struck, the only armaments mentioned are the sword (‘We shall not sheathe the sword until’, etc., etc.), the spear, the shield, the buckler, the trident, the chariot and the clarion. All of these are hopelessly out of date (the chariot, for instance, has not been in effective use since about A.D. 50), and even the purpose of some of them has been forgotten. What is a buckler, for instance? One school of thought holds that it is a small round shield, but another school believes it to be a kind of belt. A clarion, I believe, is a trumpet, but most people imagine that a ‘clarion call’ merely means a loud noise.

One of the early Mass Observation reports, dealing with the coronation of George VI, pointed out that what are called ‘national occasions’, always seem to cause a lapse into archaic language. The ‘ship of state’, for instance, when it makes one of its official appearances, has a prow and a helm instead of having a bow and a wheel, like modern ships. So far as it is applied to war, the motive for using this kind of language is probably a desire for euphemism. ‘We will not sheathe the sword’ sounds a lot more gentlemanly than ‘We will keep on dropping block-busters’, though in effect it means the same.

One argument for Basic English is that by existing side by side with Standard English it can act as a sort of corrective to the oratory of statesmen and publicists. High-sounding phrases, when translated into Basic, are often deflated in a surprising way. For example, I presented to a Basic expert the sentence, ‘He little knew the fate that lay in store for him’—to be told that in Basic this would become ‘He was far from certain what was going to happen’. It sounds decidedly less impressive, but it means the same. In Basic, I am told, you cannot make a meaningless statement without its being apparent that it is meaningless—which is quite enough to explain why so many schoolmasters, editors, politicians and literary critics object to it.




August 25:


A CERTAIN amount of material dealing with Burma and the Burma campaign has been passed on to me by the India-Burma Association, which is an unofficial body representing the European communities in those countries, and standing for a ‘moderate’ policy based on the Cripps proposals.

The India-Burma Association complains with justice that Burma has been extraordinarily ill-served in the way of publicity. Not only has the general public no interest in Burma, in spite of its obvious importance from many points of view, but the authorities have not even succeeded in producing an attractive booklet which would tell people what the problems of Burma are and how they are related to our own. Newspaper reports of the fighting in Burma, from 1942 onwards, have been consistently uninformative, especially from a political point of view. As soon as the Japanese attack began the newspapers and the B.B.C. adopted the practice of referring to all the inhabitants of Burma as ‘Burmans’, even applying this name to the quite distinct and semi-savage peoples of the far north. This is not only about as accurate as calling a Swede an Italian, but masks the fact that the Japanese find their support mostly among the Burmese proper, the minorities being largely pro-British. In the present campaign, when prisoners are taken, the newspaper reports never state whether they are Japanese or whether they are Burmese and Indian partisans—a point of very great importance.

Almost all the books that have been published about the campaign of 1942 are misleading. I know what I am talking about, because I have had most of them to review. They have either been written by American journalists with no background knowledge and a considerable anti-British bias, or by British officials who are on the defensive and anxious to cover up everything discreditable. Actually, the British officials and military men have been blamed for much that was not their fault, and the view of the Burma campaign held by left-wingers in this country was almost as distorted as that held by the Blimps. But this trouble arises because there is no official effort to publicize the truth. For to my knowledge manuscripts do exist which give valuable information, but which, for commercial reasons, cannot find publishers.

I can give three examples. In 1942 a young Burman who had been a member of the Thakin (extreme Nationalist) party and had intrigued with the Japanese fled to India, having changed his mind about the Japanese when he saw what their rule was like. He wrote a short book which was published in India under the title of What Happened in Burma and which was obviously authentic in the main. The Indian Government in its negligent way sent exactly two copies to England. I tried to induce various publishers to reissue it, but failed every time: they all gave the same reason—it was not worth wasting paper on a subject which the big public was not interested in. Later a Major Enriquez, who had published various travel books dealing with Burma, brought to England a diary covering the Burma campaign and the retreat into India. It was an extremely revealing—in places a disgracefully revealing—document, but it suffered the same fate as the other book. At the moment I am reading another manuscript which gives valuable background material about Burma’s history, its economic conditions, its systems of land tenure, and so forth. But I would bet a small sum that it won’t be published either, at any rate until the paper shortage lets up.

If paper and money are not forthcoming for books of this kind—books which may spill a lot of beans but do help to counteract the lies put about by Axis sympathizers—then the Government must not be surprised if the public knows nothing about Burma and cares less. And what applies to Burma applies to scores of other important but neglected subjects.

Meanwhile here is a suggestion. Whenever a document appears which is not commercially saleable but which is likely to be useful to future historians, it should be submitted to a committee set up by, for instance, the British Museum. If they consider it historically valuable they should have the power to print a few copies and store them for the use of scholars. At present a manuscript rejected by the commercial publishers almost always ends up in the dustbin. How many possible correctives to accepted lies must have perished in this way!






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