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Nellie McClung: Fighting selfishness is the best way to win a war

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on March 18, 1939. I wrote last week about the one fine day when I turned my back on all troublesome things and indulged in a fiesta of spring sunshine and budding trees.

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on March 18, 1939.

I wrote last week about the one fine day when I turned my back on all troublesome things and indulged in a fiesta of spring sunshine and budding trees. The second part of the day I sat in a window, letting the warmth of spring sun fall on the back of my neck as I read a book of poetry.

But I knew that this brief bright day was but the lull that comes before the storm.

Even the poem at which my book opened gave me a warning. It was Julian Grenfell’s Into Battle. The first lines are innocent enough. They expressed exactly what I was feeling. No wonder I revelled in them.

“The naked earth is warm with spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s gaze gloryingly
And quivers in the sunny breeze,
And life is colour, warmth and light,
And striving evermore for these.”

Then comes the steel hand inside the velvet glove:
“And he is dead who will not fight,
And who dies fighting hath increase.”
It is of these two lines that I will write this week:
“He is dead who will not fight.”

Surely this is Herr Hitler speaking. What have quiet, decent people to do with fighting? Isn’t the world sick unto death because of fighting?

Let us begin by glancing at some different kinds of governments in the world. Germany has government by imprisonment. The concentration camp with its unprintable barbarities is waiting for those who dare to differ with the rulers. They tolerate no argument, no discussion.

Greece governs by banishment. Greece has many island off her shore, and on the islands are bare little dreary cabins, supplied with stove, bed and table, and to these places are sent those who are suspected of having ideas. Their friends can bring them food. If no one brings them food, they die.

We see in Europe government by purges, by exile, by assassination — all forms of force and fear horrible to contemplate. The chief virtue for citizens of these is blind obedience.

In Canada, we have government by discussion, and if at times we are disposed to criticize it, let us remember it is the best form of government that has yet been evolved and will work perfectly when you and I are honest and unselfish.

We need a new quality of thinking in Canada, and it won’t come by wishing. If it would come by wishing we would have it. We have many good wishers.

If it would come by criticism we might have it. Read the letters in the newspapers. Read Hansard. Political success is gauged on the ability to show that “we” are right and “they” are wrong.

But in spite of having what we think is the best form of government, which allows liberty of speech, a good school system, a free press, all sorts of good service clubs and organizations, an active church, old-age pensions, mothers’ allowance, laws protecting children, even a Humane Society to look after the dumb animals — I say in spite of all these excellent things, we have poverty and want and disillusionment, and no one seems to know just what to do about it.

May I respectfully submit an opinion? I believe we are in the condition we are in today because we have gone soft. We want our own way, like spoiled children. We have had too much done for us. In other words, we won’t fight.

I do not mean that our boys would not go to war if the summons came. They would. That kind of fighting is not what the world needs. It has had its day. I am not minimizing the heroism and sacrifice of the soldier. I only wish we could transfer it to our modern problems. If we could, or rather let me say if we can, we would soon clean up some of the sore spots in the world.

There is the demon of unemployment. I have just read a letter in a Toronto paper, from a boy who is out of work. It is not often these poor disinherited ones are vocal. He says: “Another dawn in Queen’s Park. I slept under a tall tree in case it rained. The sun will dry my clothes. It does things for me without begging for them … So I’ll have to be on my way and beg a dime for something to eat.

“The youth of Canada is calling for a man among men who will devise a plan whereby the sons of Canada can be put to work … So we can empty our jails and set aside some of the riches of our country for our benefit … We are calling from our damp beds in the parks. Who will be that man?”

No one man can do this. Not with our form of government; but we can do it, all of us. We, the people, on one condition — that we will have the courage and self-sacrificing spirit of the soldier; and one thing more, a new spirit of love that will drive us into doing things for conscience sake.
Unemployment is not a problem only. It’s a sin. A sign of selfishness. It will never yield to outside expedients only. It demands a whole new level of thinking, a new heart. It is a good place to begin the fight against selfishness.

If it were your boy who was calling from his damp bed under the tree in the park, what would you do about it? The love that makes us sacrifice for our own, multiplied over and over, will find a remedy. It will make people ready to share; ready to do without luxuries that others may have necessities, and it will do more; it will devise ways whereby all the people may share in the abundance of life. There is enough for everyone.

This is not new. We’ve all heard of it. Sometimes it is called the Good Neighbour Policy, or the Golden Rule, sometimes the Grace of God, sometimes Moral Rearmament. The name does not matter.

Let us say it over and over: “He is dead who will not fight” and look around us. If we are honest, we will soon find our place in the line.