As I Please
by George Orwell
Tribune, 1944
November 17 / November 24 / December 1 / December 8 / December 29


November 3:


PENGUIN BOOKS have now started publishing books in French, very nicely got up, at half-a-crown each. Among those to appear shortly is the latest instalment of André Gide’s Journal, which covers a year of the German occupation. As I glanced through an old favourite, Anatole France’s Les Dieux Ont Soif (it is a novel about the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution), the thought occurred to me: what a remarkable anthology one could make of pieces of writing describing executions! There must be hundreds of them scattered through literature, and—for a reason I think I can guess—they must be far better written on average than battle pieces.

Among the examples I remember at the moment are Thackeray’s description of the hanging of Courvoisier, the crucifixion of the gladiators in Salammbô, the final scene of A Tale of Two Cities, a piece from a letter or diary of Byron’s, describing a guillotining, and the beheading of two Scottish noblemen after the 1745 rebellion, described by, I think, Horace Walpole. There is a very fine chapter describing a guillotining in Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale, and a horrible one in one of Zola’s novels (the one about the Sacré Coeur). Then there is Jack London’s short story, ‘The Chinago’, Plato’s account of the death of Socrates—but one could extend the list indefinitely. There must also be a great number of specimens in verse, for instance the old hanging ballads, to which Kipling’s ‘Danny Beever’ probably owes something.

The thing that I think very striking is that no one, or no one I can remember, ever writes of an execution with approval. The dominant note is always horror. Society, apparently, cannot get along without capital punishment—for there are some people whom it is simply not safe to leave alive—and yet there is no one, when the pinch comes, who feels it right to kill another human being in cold blood. I watched a man hanged once. There was no question that everybody concerned knew this to be a dreadful, unnatural action. I believe it is always the same—the whole jail, warders and prisoners alike, is upset when there is an execution. It is probably the fact that capital punishment is accepted as necessary, and yet instinctively felt to be wrong, that gives so many descriptions of executions their tragic atmosphere. They are mostly written by people who have actually watched an execution and feel it to be a terrible and only partly comprehensible experience which they want to record; whereas battle literature is largely written by people who have never heard a gun go off and think of a battle as a sort of football match in which nobody gets hurt.

Perhaps it was a bit previous to say that no one writes of an execution with approval, when one thinks of the way our news-papers have been smacking their chops over the bumping-off of wretched quislings in France and elsewhere. I recall, in one paper, a whole series of photos showing the execution of Caruso, the ex-chief of the Rome police. You saw the huge, fat body being straddled across a chair with his back to the firing squad, then the cloud of smoke issuing from the rifle barrels and the body slumping sideways. The editor who saw fit to publish this thought it a pleasant titbit, I suppose, but then he had not had to watch the actual deed. I think I can imagine the feelings of the man who took the photographs, and of the firing squad.

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TO the lovers of useless knowledge (and I know there are a lot of them, from the number of letters I always get when I raise any question of this kind) I present a curious little problem arising out of the recent Pelican, Shakespeare’s England. A writer named Fynes Morrison, touring England in 1607, describes melons as growing freely. Andrew Marvell, in a very well-known poem written about fifty years later, also refers to melons. Both references make it appear that the melons grew in the open, and indeed they must have done so if they grew at all. The hot-bed was a recent invention in 1600, and glass-houses, if they existed, must have been a very great rarity. I imagine it would be quite impossible to grow a melon in the open in England nowadays. They are hard enough to grow under glass, whence their price. Fynes Morrison also speaks of grapes growing in large enough quantities to make wine. Is it possible that our climate has changed radically in the last three hundred years? Or was the so-called melon actually a pumpkin?




November 17:


SOME weeks ago, in the course of some remarks on schools of journalism, I carelessly described the magazine the Writer as being ‘defunct’. As a result I have received a severe letter from its proprietors, who enclose a copy of the November issue of the Writer and call on me to withdraw my statement.

I withdraw it readily. The Writer is still alive and seems to be much the same as ever, though it has changed its format since I knew it. And I think this specimen copy is worth examining for the light it throws on schools of journalism and the whole business of extracting fees from struggling freelance journalists.

The articles are of the usual type, ‘Plotting Technique’ (fifteenth instalment) by William A. Bagley, etc., but I am more interested in the advertisements, which take up more than a quarter of the space. The majority of them are from people who profess to be able to teach you how to make money out of writing. A surprising number undertake to supply you with ready-made plots. Here are a few specimens:

Plotting without tears. Learn my way. The simplest method ever. Money returned if dissatisfied. 5s. post free.

Inexhaustible plotting method for women’s press, 5s. 3d. Gives real mastery. Ten days’ approval.

PLOTS. Our plots are set out in sequence all ready for write-up, with lengths for each sequence. No remoulding necessary—just the requisite clothing of words. All types supplied.

PLOTS: in vivid scenes. With striking opening lines for actual use in story. Specimen conversation, including authentic dialect . . . Short-short, 5s. Short story, 6s. 6d. Long-complete (with tense, breathless ‘curtains’) 5s. 6d.: Radio plays, 10s. 6d. Serial, novel, novelette (chapter by chapter, appropriate prefix, prose or poetical quotations if desired) 15s. 6d.–1 gn.


There are many others. Somebody called Mr Martin Walter claims to have reduced story-construction to an exact science and eventually evolved the Plot Formula according to which his own stories and those of his students throughout the world are constructed . . . . Whether you aspire to write the “literary” story or the popular story, or to produce stories for any existing market, remember that Mr Walter’s Formula alone tells you just what a “plot” is and how to produce one. The Formula only cost you a guinea, it appears. Then there are the ‘Fleet Street journalists’ who are prepared to revise your manuscripts for you at 2s. 6d. per thousand words. Nor are the poets forgotten:

GREETINGS

Are you poets neglecting the great post-war demand for sentiments?

Do you specialize and do you know what is needed?

Aida Reuben’s famous Greeting Card Course is available to approved students willing to work hard. Her book Sentiment and Greeting Card Publishers, published at 3s. 6d., may be obtained from, etc., etc.


I do not wish to say anything offensive, but to anyone who is inclined to respond to the sort of advertisement quoted above, I offer this consideration. If these people really know how to make money out of writing, why aren’t they just doing it instead of peddling their secret at 5s. a time? Apart from any other consideration, they would be raising up hordes of competitors for themselves. This number of the Writer contains about thirty advertisements of this stamp, and the Writer itself, besides giving advice in its articles, also runs its own Literary Bureau in which manuscripts are ‘criticized by acknowledged experts’ at so much a thousand words. If each of these various teachers had even ten successful pupils a week, they would between them be letting loose on to the market some fifteen thousand successful writers per annum! Also, isn’t it rather curious that the ‘Fleet Street journalists’, ‘established authors’ and ‘well-known novelists’ who either run these courses or write the testimonials for them are not named—or, when named, are seldom or never people whose published work you have seen anywhere. If Bernard Shaw or J. B. Priestley offered to teach you how to make money out of writing, you might feel that there was something in it. But who would buy a bottle of hair restorer from a bald man?

If the Writer wants some more free publicity it shall have it, but I dare say this will do to go on with.

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ONE favourite way of falsifying history nowadays is to alter dates. Maurice Thorez, the French Communist, has been amnestied by the French Government (he was under sentence for deserting from the army). Apropos of this, one London newspaper remarks that Thorez ‘will now be able to return from Moscow, where he has been living in exile for the last six years’.

On the contrary, he has been in Moscow for at most five years, as the editor of this newspaper is well aware. Thorez, who for several years past has been proclaiming his anxiety to defend France against the Germans, was called up at the outbreak of war in 1939, and failed to make an appearance. Some time later he turned up in Moscow.

But why the alteration of date? In order to make it appear that Thorez deserted, if he did desert, a year before the war and not after the fighting had started. This is merely one act in the general effort to whitewash the behaviour of the French and other Communists during the period of the Russo-German Pact. I could name other similar falsifications in recent years. Sometimes you can give an event a quite different colour by switching its date only a few weeks. But it doesn’t matter so long as we all keep our eyes open and see to it that the lies do not creep out of the newspapers and into the history books.

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A CORRESPONDENT who lacks the competing instinct has sent a copy of Principles or Prejudices, a sixpenny pamphlet by Kenneth Pickthorn, the Conservative M.P., with the advice (underlined in red ink): ‘Burn when read.’

I wouldn’t think of burning it. It has gone straight into my archives. But I agree that it is a disgusting piece of work, and that this whole series of pamphlets (the Signpost Booklets, by such authors as G. M. Young, Douglas Woodruff and Captain L. D. Gammans) is a bad symptom. Mr Pickthorn is one of the more intelligent of the younger Tory M.P.s (‘younger’ in political circles means under sixty), and in this pamphlet he is trying to present Toryism in a homely and democratic light while casting misleading little smacks at the Left. Look at this, for instance, for a misrepresentation of the theory of Marxism:

Not one of the persons who say that economic factors govern the world believes it about himself. If Karl Marx had been more economically than politically interested he could have done better for himself than by accepting the kindnesses of the capitalist Engels and occasionally selling articles to American newspapers.

Aimed at ignorant people, this is meant to imply that Marxism regards individual acquisitiveness as the motive force in history. Marx not only did not say this, he said almost the opposite of it. Much of the pamphlet is an attack on the notion of internationalism, and is backed up by such remarks as: ‘No British statesman should feel himself authorized to spend British blood for the promotion of something superior to British interests.’ Fortunately, Mr Pickthorn writes too badly to have a very wide appeal, but some of the other pamphleteers in this series are leveller. The Tory Party used always to be known as ‘the stupid party’. But the publicists of this group have a fair selection of brains among them, and when Tories grow intelligent it is time to feel for your watch and count your small change.




November 24:


THERE have been innumerable complaints lately about the rudeness of shopkeepers. People say, I think with truth, that shopkeepers appear to take a sadistic pleasure in telling you that they don’t stock the thing you ask for. To go in search of some really rare object, such as a comb or a tin of boot polish, is a miserable experience. It means trailing from shop to shop and getting a series of curt or actually hostile negatives. But even the routine business of buying the rations and the bread is made as difficult as possible for busy people. How is a woman to do her household shopping if she is working till six every day while most of the shops shut at five? She can only do it by fighting round crowded counters during her lunch hour. But it is the snubs that they get when they ask for some article which is in short supply that people dread most. Many shopkeepers seem to regard the customer as a kind of mendicant and to feel that they are conferring a favour on him by selling him anything. And there are other justified grievances—for instance, the shameless overcharging on uncontrolled goods such as second-hand furniture, and the irritating trick, now very common, of displaying in the window goods which are not on sale.

But before blaming the shopkeeper for all this, there are several things one ought to remember. To begin with, irritability and bad manners are on the increase everywhere. You have only to observe the behaviour of normally long-suffering people like bus conductors to realize this. It is a neurosis produced by the war. But, in addition, many small independent shopkeepers (in my experience you are treated far more politely in big shops) are people with a well-founded grievance against society. Some of them are in effect the ill-paid employees of wholesale firms, others are being slowly crushed by the competition of the chain stores, and they are often treated with the greatest inconsiderateness by the local authorities. Sometimes a rehousing scheme will rob a shopkeeper of half his customers at one swoop. In war-time this may happen even more drastically owing to bombing and the call-up. And war has other special irritations for the shopkeeper. Rationing puts a great deal of extra work on to grocers, butchers, etc. and it is very exasperating to be asked all day long for articles which you have not got.

But after all, the main fact is that at normal times both the shop assistant and the independent shopkeepers are downtrodden. They live to the tune of ‘the customer is always right’. In peace time, in capitalist society, everyone is trying to sell goods which there is never enough money to buy, whereas in war-time money is plentiful and goods scarce. Matches, razor blades, torch batteries, alarm clocks and teats for babies’ feeding bottles are precious rarities, and the man who possesses them is a powerful being, to be approached cap in hand. I don’t think one can blame the shopkeeper for getting a bit of his own back, when the situation is temporarily reversed. But I do agree that the behaviour of some of them is disgusting, and that when one is treated with more than normal haughtiness it is a duty to the rest of the public not to go to that shop again.

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EXAMINING recently a copy of Old Moore’s Almanac, I was reminded of the fun I used to extract in my boyhood from answering advertisements. Increase your height, earn five pounds a week in your spare time, drink habit conquered in three days, electric belts, bust-developers and cures for obesity, insomnia, bunions, backache, red noses, stammering, blushing, piles, bad legs, flat feet and baldness—all the old favourites were there or nearly all. Some of these advertisements have remained totally unchanged for at least thirty years.

You cannot, I imagine, get much benefit from any of these nostrums, but you can have a lot of fun by answering the advertisements and then, when you have drawn them out and made them waste a lot of stamps in sending successive wads of testimonials, suddenly leaving them cold. Many years ago I answered an advertisement from Winifred Grace Hartland (the advertisement used to carry a photograph of her—a radiant woman with a sylph-like figure), who undertook to cure obesity. In replying to my letter she assumed that I was a woman—this surprised me at the time, though I realize now that the dupes of these advertisements are almost all female. She urged me to come and see her at once. ‘Do come,’ she wrote, ‘before ordering your summer frocks, as after taking my course your figure will have altered out of recognition.’ She was particularly insistent that I should make a personal visit, and gave an address somewhere in the London Docks. This went on for a long time, during which the fee gradually sank from two guineas to half a crown, and then I brought the matter to an end by writing to say that I had been cured of my obesity by a rival agency.

Years later I came across a copy of the cautionary list which Truth used to issue from time to time in order to warn the public against swindlers. It revealed that there was no such person as Winifred Grace Hardand, this swindle being run by two American crooks named Harry Sweet and Dave Little. It is curious that they should have been so anxious for a personal visit, and indeed I have since wondered whether Harry Sweet and Dave Little were actually engaged in shipping consignments of fat women to the harems of Istanbul.

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EVERYONE has a list of books which he is ‘always meaning to read’, and now and again one gets round to reading one of them. One that I recently crossed off my list was George Bourne’s Memoirs of a Surrey Labourer. I was slightly disappointed with it, because, though it is a true story, Bettesworth, the man it is about, was not quite an ordinary labourer. He had been a farm worker, but had become a jobbing gardener, and his relation with George Bourne was that of servant and master. Nevertheless there is some remarkable detail in it, and it gives a true picture of the cruel, sordid end with which a lifetime of heavy work on the land is often rewarded. The book was written more than thirty years ago, but things have not changed fundamentally. Immediately before the war, in my own village in Hertfordshire, two old men were ending their days in much the same bare misery as George Bourne describes.

Another book I recently read, or rather re-read, was The Follies and Frauds of Spiritualism, issued about twenty years ago by the Rationalist Press Association. This is probably not an easy book to get hold of, but I can equally recommend Mr Bechhofer-Roberts’s book on the same subject. An interesting fact that these and similar books bring out is the number of scientists who have been taken in by spiritualism. The list includes Sir William Crookes, Wallace the biologist, Lombroso, Flammarion the astronomer (he afterwards changed his mind, however), Sir Oliver Lodge, and a whole string of German and Italian professors. These people are not, perhaps, the top-notchers of the scientific world, but you do not find, for instance, poets in comparable numbers falling a prey to the mediums. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is supposed to have been taken in by the famous medium Home, but Browning himself saw through him at a glance and wrote a scarifying poem about him (‘Sludge the Medium’). Significantly, the people who are never converted to spiritualism are conjurors.




December 1:


V2 (I am told that you can now mention it in print so long as you just call it V2 and don’t describe it too minutely) supplies another instance of the contrariness of human nature. People are complaining of the sudden unexpected wallop with which these things go off . ‘It wouldn’t be so bad if you got a bit of warning’ is the usual formula. There is even a tendency to talk nostalgically of the days of the V1. The good old doodlebug did at least give you time to get under the table, etc. etc. Whereas, in fact, when the doodlebugs were actually dropping, the usual subject of complaint was the uncomfortable waiting period before they went off. Some people are never satisfied. Personally, I am no lover of the V2, especially at this moment when the house still seems to be rocking from a recent explosion, but what depresses me about these things is the way they set people talking about the next war. Every time one goes off I hear gloomy references to ‘next time’, and the reflection: ‘I suppose they’ll be able to shoot them across the Atlantic by that time.’ But if you ask who will be fighting whom when this universally expected war breaks out, you get no clear answer. It is just war in the abstract—the notion that human beings could ever behave sanely having apparently faded out of many people’s memories.

Maurice Baring, in his book on Russian literature, which was published in 1907 and must have been the means of introducing many people in this country to the great Russian novelists, remarks that English books were always popular in Russia. Among other favourites he mentions The Diary of a Nobody (which, by the way, is reprinted by the Everyman Library, if you can run across a copy).

I have always wondered what on earth The Diary of a Nobody could be like in a Russian translation, and indeed I have faintly suspected that the Russians may have enjoyed it because when translated it was just like Chekhov. But in a way it would be a very good book to read if you wanted to get a picture of English life, even though it was written in the eighties and has an intensely strong smell of that period. Charles Pooter is a true Englishman both in native gentleness and his impenetrable stupidity. The interesting thing, however, is to follow this book up to its origins. What does it ultimately derive from? Almost certainly, I think, from Don Quixote, of which, indeed, it is a sort of modern anglicized version. Pooter is a high-minded, even adventurous man, constantly suffering disasters brought upon him by his own folly, and surrounded by a whole tribe of Sancho Panzas. But apart from the comparative mildness of the things that befall him, one can see in the endings of the two books the enormous difference between the age of Cervantes and our own.

In the end the Grossmiths have to take pity on poor Pooter. Everything, or nearly everything, comes right, and at the last there is a tinge of sentimentality which does not quite fit in with the rest of the book. The fact is that, in spite of the way we actually behave, we cannot any longer feel that the infliction of pain is merely funny. Nietzsche remarks somewhere that the pathos of Don Quixote may well be a modern discovery. Quite likely Cervantes didn’t mean Don Quixote to seem pathetic—perhaps he just meant him to be funny and intended it as a screaming joke when the poor old man has half his teeth knocked out by a sling-stone. However this may be with Don Quixote, I am fairly certain that it is true of Falstaff. Except possibly for the final scene in Henry V, there is nothing to show that Shakespeare sees Falstaff as a pathetic as well as a comic figure. He is just a punching-bag for fortune, a sort of Billy Bunter with a gift for language. The thing that seems saddest to us is Falstaff’s helpless dependence on his odious patron, Prince Harry, whom John Masefield aptly described as a ‘disgusting beefy brute’. There is no sign, or at any rate, no clear sign, that Shakespeare sees anything pathetic or degrading in such a relationship.

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SAY what you like, things do change. A few years ago I was walking across Hungerford Bridge with a lady aged about sixty or perhaps less. The tide was out, and as we looked down at the beds of filthy, almost liquid mud, she remarked:

‘When I was a little girl we used to throw pennies to the mudlarks down there.’

I was intrigued and asked what mudlarks were. She explained that in those days professional beggars, known as mudlarks, used to sit under the bridge waiting for people to throw them pennies. The pennies would bury themselves deep in the mud, and the mudlarks would plunge in head first and recover them. It was considered a most amusing spectacle.

Is there anyone who would degrade himself in that way nowadays? And how many people are there who would get a kick out of watching it?

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SHORTLY before his assassination, Trotsky had completed a Life of Stalin. One may assume that it was not an altogether unbiased book, but obviously a biography of Stalin by Trotsky—or, for that matter, a biography of Trotsky by Stalin—would be a winner from a selling point of view. A very well-known American firm of publishers were to issue it. The book had been printed and—this is the point that I have been waiting to verify before mentioning this matter in my notes—the review copies had been sent out when the U.S.A. entered the war. The book was immediately withdrawn, and the reviewers were asked to cooperate in ‘avoiding any comment whatever regarding the biography and its postponement’.

They have cooperated remarkably well. The affair has gone almost unmentioned in the American press and, as far as I know, entirely unmentioned in the British press, although the facts were well known and obviously worth a paragraph or two.

Since the American entry into the war made the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. allies, I think that to withdraw the book was an understandable if not particularly admirable deed. What is disgusting is the general willingness to suppress all mention of it. A little while back I attended a meeting of the PEN Club, which was held to celebrate the tercentenary of Areopagitica, Milton’s famous tract on the freedom of the press. There were countless speeches emphasizing the importance of preserving intellectual liberty, even in war-time. If I remember rightly, Milton’s phrase about the special sin of ‘murdering’ a book was printed on the PEN leaflet for the occasion. But I heard no reference to this particular murder, the facts of which were no doubt known to plenty of people there.

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HERE is another little brain-tickler. The following often-quoted passage comes from Act V of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Timon of Athens:

Come not to me again, but say to Athens,
Timon hath made his everlasting mansion
Upon the beachèd verge of the salt flood
Who once a day with his embossed froth
The turbulent surge shall cover.

This passage contains three errors. What are they?




December 8:


FOR years past I have been an industrious collector of pamphlets, and a fairly steady reader of political literature of all kinds. The thing that strikes me more and more—and it strikes a lot of other people, too—is the extraordinary viciousness and dishonesty of political controversy in our time. I don’t mean merely that controversies are acrimonious. They ought to be that when they are on serious subjects. I mean that almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point. When I look through my collection of pamphlets—Conservative, Communist, Catholic, Trotskyist, Pacifist, Anarchist or what-have-you—it seems to me that almost all of them have the same mental atmosphere, though the points of emphasis vary. Nobody is searching for the truth, everybody is putting forward a ‘case’ with complete disregard for fairness or accuracy, and the most plainly obvious facts can be ignored by those who don’t want to see them. The same propaganda tricks are to be found almost everywhere. It would take many pages of this paper merely to classify them, but here I draw attention to one very widespread controversial habit—disregard of an opponent’s motives. The key-word here is ‘objectively’.

We are told that it is only people’s objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are ‘objectively’ aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true, the ‘objectively’ line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore ‘Trotskyism is Fascism’. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.

This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people’s motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions. For there are occasions when even the most misguided person can see the results of what he is doing. Here is a crude but quite possible illustration. A pacifist is working in some job which gives him access to important military information, and is approached by a German secret agent. In those circumstances his subjective feelings do make a difference. If he is subjectively pro-Nazi he will sell his country, and if he isn’t, he won’t. And situations essentially similar though less dramatic are constantly arising.

In my opinion a few pacifists are inwardly pro-Nazi, and extremist left-wing parties will inevitably contain Fascist spies. The important thing is to discover which individuals are honest and which are not, and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of hatred in which controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like. It is this habit of mind, among other things, that has made political prediction in our time so remarkably unsuccessful.

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THE following leaflet (printed) was passed to an acquaintance of mine in a pub:

LONG LIVE THE IRISH!

The first American soldier to kill a Jap was Mike Murphy.
The first American pilot to sink a Jap battleship was Colin Kelly.
The first American family to lose five sons in one action and have a naval vessel named after them were the Sullivans.
The first American to shoot a Jap plane was Dutch O’Hara.
The first coastguardsman to spot a German spy was John Conlan.
The first American soldier to be decorated by the President was Pat Powers.
The first American admiral to be killed leading his ship into battle was Dan Callahan.
The first American son-of-a-bitch to get four new tyres from the Ration Board was Abie Goldstein.

The origin of this thing might just possibly be Irish, but it is much likelier to be American. There is nothing to indicate where it was printed, but it probably comes from the printing-shop of some American organization in this country. If any further manifestos of the same kind turn up, I shall be interested to hear of them.

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THIS number of Tribune includes a long letter from Mr Martin Walter, Controller of the British Institute of Fiction-Writing Science Ltd, in which he complains that I have traduced him. He says (a) that he did not claim to have reduced fiction-writing to an exact science, (b) that numbers of successful writers have been produced by his teaching methods, and (c) he asks whether Tribune accepts advertisements that it believes to be fraudulent.

With regard to (a): ‘It is claimed by this Institute that these problems (of fiction-writing) have been solved by Martin Walter, who, convinced of the truth of the hypothesis that every art is a science at heart, analyzed over 5,000 stories and eventually evolved the Plot Formula according to which all his own stories and those of his students throughout the world are constructed.’ ‘I had established that the nature of the “plot” is strictly scientific.’ Statements of this type are scattered throughout Mr Walter’s booklets and advertisements. If this is not a claim to have reduced fiction-writing to an exact science, what the devil is it?

With regard to (b): Who are these successful writers whom Mr Walter has launched upon the world? Let us hear their names, and the names of their published works, and then we shall know where we are.

With regard to (c): A periodical ought not to accept advertisements which have the appearance of being fraudulent, but it cannot sift everything beforehand. What is to be done, for instance, about publishers’ advertisements, in which it is invariably claimed that every single book named is of the highest possible value? What is most important in this connexion is that a periodical should not let its editorial columns be influenced by its advertisements. Tribune has been very careful not to do that—it has not done it in the case of Mr Walter himself, for instance.

It may interest Mr Walter to know that I should never have referred to him if he had not accompanied the advertisement he inserted some time ago with some free copies of his booklets (including the Plot Formula), and the suggestion that I might like to mention them in my column. It was this that drew my attention to him. Now I have given him his mention, and he does not seem to like it.

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ANSWER to last week’s problem. The three errors are:
  1. The ‘who’ should be ‘whom’.
  2. Timon was buried below the high-tide mark. The sea would cover him twice a day, not once, as there are always two high tides within the twenty-four hours.
  3. It wouldn’t cover him at all, as there is no perceptible tide in the Mediterranean.





December 29:


I AM indebted to an article by Mr Dwight Macdonald in the September number of Politics, the New York monthly, for some extracts from a book entitled Kill – or Get Killed, a Manual of Hand-to-Hand Fighting by Major Rex Applegate.

This book, a semi-official American publication, not only gives extensive information about knifing, strangling, and the various horrors that come under the heading of ‘unarmed combat’, but describes the battle-schools in which soldiers are trained for house-to-house fighting. Here are some sample directions:

. . . Before entering the tunnel, the coach exposes dummy A and the student uses the knife on it while the student is proceeding from target No. 1 to target No. 4, the ‘Gestapo Torture Scene’ or the ‘Italian Cursing’ sequence is played over the loudspeaker . . . . Target No. 9 is in darkness, and as the student enters this compartment the ‘Jap Rape’ sequence is used . . . . While the coach is reloading the student’s pistol, the ‘Get that American son-of-a-bitch’ sequence is used. As the coach and student pass through the curtain into the next compartment, they are confronted by a dummy which has a knife stuck in its back, and represents a dead body. This dummy is illuminated by a green light and is not to be fired at by the student, although practically all of them do.


Mr Macdonald comments: ‘There is one rather interesting problem in operating the course. Although the writer never states so directly, it would seem there is danger that the student’s inhibitions will be broken down so thoroughly that he will shoot or stab the coach who accompanies him . . . . The coach is advised to keep himself in a position to grab the student’s gun arm “at any instant”; after the three dummies along the course have been stabbed, “the knife is taken away from the student to prevent accidents”; and finally: “There is no place on the course where total darkness prevails while instructor is near student.”’

I believe the similar battle-courses in the British army have now been discontinued or toned down, but it is worth remembering that something like this is inevitable if one wants military efficiency. No ideology, no consciousness of having ‘something to fight for’, is fully a substitute for it. This deliberate brutalizing of millions of human beings is part of the price of society in its present form. The Japanese, incidentally, have been experts at this kind of thing for hundreds of years. In the old days the sons of aristocrats used to be taken at a very early age to witness executions, and if any boy showed the slightest sign of nausea he was promptly made to swallow large quantities of rice stained the colour of blood.

The English common people are not great lovers of military glory, and I have pointed out elsewhere that when a battle poem wins really wide popularity, it usually deals with a disaster and not a victory. But the other day, when I repeated this in some connexion, there came into my head the once popular song—it might be popular again if one of the gramophone companies would bother to record it—‘Admiral Benbow’. This rather jingoistic ballad seems to contradict my theory, but I believe it may have owed some of its popularity to the fact that it had a class-war angle which was understood at the time.

Admiral Benbow, when going into action against the French, was suddenly deserted by his subordinate captains and left to fight against heavy odds. As the ballad puts it:

Said Kirby unto Wade, ‘We will run, we will run,’
Said Kirby unto Wade, ‘We will run;
For I value no disgrace
Nor the losing of my place,
But the enemy I won’t face,
Nor his guns, nor his guns.’


So Benbow was left to fight single-handed and, though victorious, he himself was killed. There is a gory but possibly authentic description of his death:

Brave Benbow lost his legs, by chain shot, by chain shot,
Brave Benbow lost his legs, by chain shot;
Brave Benbow lost his legs
And all on his stumps he begs,
‘Fight on, my English lads,
’Tis our lot, ’tis our lot.’

The surgeon dressed his wounds, Benbow cries, Benbow cries,
The surgeon dressed his wounds, Benbow cries;
‘Let a cradle now in haste
On the quarter-deck be placed,
That the enemy I may face
Till I die, till I die.’


The point is that Benbow was an ordinary seaman who had risen from the ranks. He had started off as a cabin boy. And his captains are supposed to have fled from the action because they did not want to see so plebeian a commander win a victory. I wonder whether it was this tradition that made Benbow into a popular hero and caused his name to be commemorated not only in the ballad but on the signs of innumerable public houses?

I believe no recording of this song exists, but—as I discovered when I was broadcasting and wanted to use similar pieces as five-minute fill-ups—it is only one of a long list of old popular songs and folk songs which have not been recorded. Until recently, at any rate, I believe there was not even a record of ‘Tom Bowling’ or of ‘Greensleeves’, i.e. the words as well as the music. Others that I failed to get hold of were ‘A cottage well thatched with straw’, ‘Green grow the rushes, O’, ‘Blow away the morning dew’, and ‘Come lasses and lads’. Other well-known songs are recorded in mutilated versions, and usually sung by professional singers with such a stale perfunctoriness that you seem to smell the whisky and cigarette smoke coming off the record. The collection of recorded carols is also very poor. You can’t, I believe, get hold of ‘Minstrels and maid’, or ‘Like silver lamps in a distant shrine’, or ‘Dives and Lazarus’, or other old favourites. On the other hand, if you want a record of ‘Roll out the barrel’, ‘Boomps-a-daisy’, etc., you would find quite a number of different renderings to choose from.

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A CORRESPONDENT in Tribune of 15 December expresses his ‘horror and disgust’ at hearing that Indian troops had been used against the Greeks, and compared this to the action of Franco in using Moorish troops against the Spanish Republic.

It seems to me important that this ancient red herring should not be dragged across the trail. To begin with, the Indian troops are not strictly comparable to Franco’s Moors. The reactionary Moorish chieftains, bearing rather the same relationship to Franco as the Indian Princes do to the British Conservative Party, sent their men to Spain with the conscious aim of crushing democracy. The Indian troops are mercenaries, serving the British from family tradition or for the sake of a job, though latterly a proportion of them have probably begun to think of themselves as an Indian army, nucleus of the armed forces of a future independent India. It is not likely that their presence in Athens had any political significance. Probably it was merely that they happened to be the nearest troops available.

But in addition, it is of the highest importance that Socialists should have no truck with colour prejudice. On a number of occasions—the Ruhr occupation of 1923 and the Spanish Civil War, for instance—the cry ‘using coloured troops’ has been raised as though it were somehow worse to be shot up by Indians or Negroes than by Europeans. Our crime in Greece is to have interfered in Greek internal affairs at all: the colour of the troops who carry out the orders is irrelevant. In the case of the Ruhr occupation, it was perhaps justifiable to protest against the use of Senegalese troops, because the Germans probably felt this an added humiliation, and the French may have used black troops for that very reason. But such feelings are not universal in Europe, and I doubt whether there is anywhere any prejudice against Indian troops, who are conspicuously well-behaved.

Our correspondent might have made the point that in an affair of this kind it is particularly mean to make use of politically ignorant colonial troops who don’t understand in what a dirty job they’re being mixed up. But at least don’t let us insult the Indians by suggesting that their presence in Athens is somehow more offensive than that of the British.






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