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Nellie McClung: Railing against the wartime darkness in Europe and beyond

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on March 23, 1940. Somewhere, Over the Rainbow received the award for the best song of the year, and there will not be many who differ from the decision.
Nellie McClung.jpg
Nellie McClung

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on March 23, 1940.

Somewhere, Over the Rainbow received the award for the best song of the year, and there will not be many who differ from the decision. For this wistful longing for a land “where dreams come true” is not far from any one of us.

Everyone expects to find a place where life will be easier. Prairie people always believe the years ahead will bring June rains and abundant harvest, and beyond that, an acre of land with raspberry bushes, white hens and climbing roses at the coast.

Farmers’ wives hope to go to the city and attend lectures and concerts; city dwellers dream of a cottage in the woods, where no bells ring and no street cars clang.

The form does not matter, but we all have our own Paradise Valley, and those of us who saw the Wizard of Oz were in agreement with the little girl of Kansas who, after the cyclone had destroyed her home, looked up into the penitent sky and poured out her golden hopes of some day reaching the land “above the chimney tops, where troubles melt like lemon drops.”

But looking into the skies no longer brings peace. One time it did. We looked to the hills, from whence came our aid. “Today,” writes a Calgary poet, “men cowering … hear the vicious heavens spitting death … and ask the whereabouts of God.”

There is no peace, even over the rainbow. The upper air has become the fourth battle front. Great Britain has nine radio stations sending out propaganda in 17 languages. Berlin has six, which darken men’s minds in 10 languages. Moscow may be heard, too, doing its best against heavy odds to justify Russia’s broken promises.

The blue aisles of the air are heavily charged with poison and hatred. And yet the common man’s wants and desires have not changed. The common man wants security and peace and the right to live his own life.

Then why have we gone so far astray? Where did we miss the turn that would have brought us to these things?

The earth has not failed. Seed time and harvest, the changing seasons, rain on the thirsty ground, the radiant morning, the dewy evening, the silent, starlit night, still come to cheer and comfort us. Crops, some tell us, are too abundant; of manufactured goods there are too many, and yet mankind was never so burdened and distressed — so homeless, hungry and utterly undone.

The fault lies in the heart of man — not in his head. If anything, we are too clever. Humanity is like a clever locksmith who has made such a good lock no one can open it, and he is therefore shut out of his own house.

Rosita Forbes tells of an interview she had with Hitler in 1934, when he discussed his hopes for Germany. She had asked him what he wanted for Germany. His reply was “a little trade, a little friendship and a little happiness.” Which sounds so modest and mild that it is hard to believe, but that was six years ago and since then great power has come to Germany’s chancellor. Power corrodes people. Not many people can be trusted with it.

Hitler could never have become the ruthless giant he is today but for the inventions of this time. Cut off electricity, gasoline, airplanes, U-boats, tanks, radio and all modern inventions, and some of our security would be restored to us.

Ten years ago, a scientist whose name is not even remembered said we were going too fast and would certainly land in the ditch. He wanted all scientific discoveries halted for at least 10 years. People laughed at him — but no one laughs today.

We know we cannot go back to the pony express and sailing boats. There is only one way now to restore our balance and that is to try to catch up spiritually with our material advances.

We could do that in one generation if we had peace in the world, and still more important, had all the people seized the need of such education. It will come some day. It must, if the world is going on.

There are flares going up here and there in the darkness of this blacked-out world.

In Germany, even there are evidences that spiritual power may not be dead. But only in the concentration camps. Death and pain have not been able to obliterate it there. Men and women are in these places suffering every form of indignity and cruelty rather than forswear their God. When the true story of these things is recorded it will be worthy of inclusion in the 11th chapter of Hebrews.

Finland puts to shame the cry that men’s hearts are failing because of fear. In the midst of what may be their utter defeat, in the material sense, they have sent out passages that may kindle a flame that will sweep the world. I quote from a radio address of the Finnish minister in London:

“We know that our cause is the cause of all people who love freedom, and who refuse to surrender their right to live as free men in the land of their fathers. And we believe in the word of the Holy Bible that you must give your life to have it.”

If we all knew that, knew it not in our minds alone, but in our hearts, we would in one generation bring peace, plenty and happiness to mankind.

Here in Canada, far removed from the actual turmoil, we cannot blame the war for interrupting our social work. We are as free to work as we ever were. It has stimulated those who look ahead. Postwar conditions will be worse than anything we have ever seen — unless we now prepare to help each other.

We had better stop dreaming of a “beautiful isle of somewhere,” and see what we can do here — and now.