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Nellie McClung: Hitler told us his plans for war, if only we had listened

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on May 27, 1939.

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on May 27, 1939.

One night, I listened to a radio program where four nationally known speakers discussed the problem of “What is the world’s greatest need?”

The speakers were a poet, a writer, a minister and a scientist, and they spoke out of a large experience, and the whole hour was filled with good talk that surely elevated public thinking. I hope it was heard by many.

But when all was over and the sound waves were stilled and the radio had signed off for the night, and the glow that good oratory kindles in our hearts had cooled — what have we?

I remember their conclusion. The world needs a kindling of love, honour, justice, a revival of what one speaker called “common decency.” That is the world’s greatest need. I could wish we had some surer way of making our people conscious of these great truths.

Democracy suffers from our easygoing ways. We expose our people to truth; we lay it before them; we offer it as attractively as we can, but only a remnant hears and a still smaller remnant heeds.

It is not so with the German people. They read what they are told to read, and listen obediently, taking what they are given.

German parents have had to see their children taken from them; have had to be silent while their children learn false doctrine. Erica Mann, the daughter of Thomas Mann, tells of it in her book called School for Barbarians, the slow but sure degeneration of the German children to whom hate, cruelty and ruthlessness are carefully taught, while the parents are denied any right of interference.

The Germans have followed their leader; they read the bible he wrote for them, and have thrown away the respect of the world for a false god. But it is hard to believe that the German people like this rigid discipline, this straitjacket education.

Much evidence comes from Germany that they do not like it. Nor do they enjoy the horrible treatment that is given to some of their countrymen. The presence in concentration camps of non-Jewish people proves that the spirit of the old Germany is not dead, and that there are still people there who believe in justice and fair play, though, unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling. Martin Niemöller and others like him are our proof that the soul of Germany will not die without a struggle.

Thinking of Germany and what has happened there brings to us a sense of guilt. We have been so indifferent, unconcerned and superior. Fifteen years ago, Adolf Hitler wrote a book telling what he was going to do in Europe and the world. We did not hear much about it in 1924 when it was published. Perhaps we did not know about it at all until 1931. Even then we were not interested.

Even the leaders of our Empire were not interested. Some crackedbrain blighter in Germany had written a book. And what of it? Why should an English statesman bother reading it?

Chamberlain might have known more of the man he had to deal with at Munich if he had read Mein Kampf. Even the tears in Hitler’s eyes, which misled Chamberlain, are explained in the book.

“The political leader must learn the fine art of deception. … Promises made today do not bind one tomorrow.” No one can say that Hitler has not been frank; he put his plans all on paper for anyone to read. He counted on the sublime complacency of other countries.

Even the method of grabbing parts of Europe is set down in this book.

“Taking a small part first is the way to proceed. … The nations involved will give in, saying this is not worth fighting for … when a nation yields to a threat of force once, it yields again more easily!”

Oh no, we had not read that. We are not much disposed to read books written in other languages.

Unfortunately, we are not much disposed to read books written in our own, if they tell us plain truths, unpalatable truths.

We had a book written before the war which, if we had studied faithfully, might have done something for us. It is called The Great Illusion and has stood the test of 30 years. It is as true today as it was the day it was written, but its doctrine was rejected then by the governments of Europe.

“The Great Illusion,” according to Norman Angell, is the belief that military power can make a nation prosperous.

“Wealth,” he says, “is not a limited stock of goods, any part of which, if taken by one, is lost to others. Wealth is the product of a flow of trade. The danger of the world is not absolute shortage, but a dislocation of the process of exchange.”

Lack of resources is not the problem of nations today. Every nation is trying to keep out the products of other nations and get rid of their own. Produce is only wealth when you can get rid of it.

If territory is the greatest good, the country with the greatest land surface should be the wealthiest country, the most peaceful and happy. But is it?

What about the smaller countries — Denmark, Norway and Sweden? If nations could be made to see that war will not give them what they want, they will turn to co-operation.

The Great Illusion has a successor entitled The Great Illusion — Now. The study of these two books should be made obligatory, if it were possible for us to make any reading obligatory in this land of the free.

If I were to set down, in one word, the greatest need of the world, I would say a change of heart, but I would then proceed to give subsections of which the first would be “knowledge.”

If people could only see that nations need not be rivals, that one man’s prosperity does not need to stand on another man’s poverty, that there is enough for everyone, I believe peace would soon come. Nations are made up of individuals, and no individual would want war.