Background: This is a translation of the three chapters of a book on England by Heinz Medefind (b. 1903), a journalist who had been in England for five years, leaving just before the war began. His book gives an approved Nazi view of England at the very start of the war. The middle chapter is particularly interesting as an attempt to prove that the British press is even less free than the German.
Medfind also served as editor of Signal for part of 1941, a propaganda magazine published in numerous languages. He survived the war, and later wrote books on international affairs. The latest I can find was published in 1980.
The source: Heinz Medefind, England ganz von innen gesehen (Berlin: Im Deutschen Verlag, 1939).
Chapter 1: A sudden departure after five years
I had not planned to leave England in such a way.
Not that I had not realized for some years that my time in the British Isles would come to an end. England is not a country in which a German can feel at home for long. Still, I had expected that my departure from England would take place calmly — with the calmness the English claim to possess and that other nations think one of their national character traits.
The English journalists who represented the powerful London press in Berlin lost their composure during the early days of the first half of August and left the Reich capital to flee to England. They did the same the year before — during the period when the Sudetenland returned to the Reich and their own papers wrote so much about war and England’s power that they finally believed it themselves.
Once again in August 1939, the English men of the press were the first to pack their bags and went back to England. Could a German journalist stay in London under these circumstances? England’s decision to break press relations had to be answered with the same measure.
It was not only the journalists. England gave its other citizens in Germany and elsewhere on the Continent the advice to return home. The result of the daily press coverage was that even people who were taking a vacation in England over the bank holiday of 7 August returned home. The return trips began earlier than usual.
The English government had been doing all in its power for months through the press, film, radio, and speeches to unsettle its citizens. It increased its efforts considerably in August. Following the advice of the ministries, the press tried to persuade the people that the hour had come to again begin reducing the strength of a Germany grown too strong, using the struggle for Poland’s independence as an excuse. The same phrases were repeated daily, even hourly.
The hoped-for success failed to appear, however.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted once more in his last speech in August to convince his fellow citizens of his government’s policies. “We are faced with the danger of war.” — so Mr. Chamberlain said — “We would fight not for the political future of a distant city (he meant Danzig), but rather for principles whose destruction would ruin the possibility of peace and security for the peoples of the earth.”
So spoke Mr. Chamberlain on Thursday, the 24th of August. The newspapers emphasized the sentence the next day and hammered it into their readers. “A war over principles” — that’s what Chamberlain demanded, and he received the backing of Parliament.
English citizens, however, were reminded rather too much of the way another English government began war against Germany in 1914. Then it was “the war to end all war.” This time, the slogan was a bit more confused: “a war for principles whose destruction would ruin the possibility of peace and security for the peoples of the earth...”
Chamberlain’s English audience knew only too well that the “war to end all war” had not done so. How could they believe in the necessity of a war waged for such an abstract matter as “principles”?
No, Chamberlain’s fury had no more success than the months-long campaign to make the masses eager for war.
I spoke with dozens of Englishmen and women after Chamberlain’s speech. With a single exception, they could not understand why war was necessary. The one exception said:
“Imagine, a war only because of a single man...”
When I asked him:
“Do you really believe that Chamberlain is solely responsible, and that the English government and industry had no part?”, his mouth dropped.
The others, however, saw no reason for war.
“What would the English say if someone gave an English city like Birmingham or an English county like Somerset to a third or fourth-rate nation, as happened to Germany’s Danzig or Pomerania?...” This question was always effective.
It was not asked by Mr. Chamberlain’s English government, however. It spoke only of principles. Without any success.
Their failure was clear from comments by my neighbors and shopkeepers, who urged me not to leave. They did not believe war would come — nor did they want it. It must be a challenging task for the English government to produce enthusiasm for its “war for principles...” Lies like the one about the sinking of the Athenia are useful only for upsetting the Americans and other neutrals. Chamberlain and Churchill know that they desperately need to produce the proper mood at home.
There were no signs of enthusiasm for war in England on Sunday, 27 August. The English promise to make war if Germany asserted its right to Danzig and the Corridor had only negative impact on the English people. Their reluctance was only increased as they came in contact with Germans packing the essentials to leave the country as a result of the military attitude of the English government. “Why?” was their question. But Chamberlain, Churchill, Eden, and the others could have given a better answer than the departing Germans.
I experienced what hundreds of Germans also went through. It was a cordial, if somewhat uneasy departure.
For the Germans who had lived and worked in England for years, it meant leaving everything that they had done over the years. There was no time to pack their furniture, or even most of their personal belongings. Looking back, it was a hurried escape from an English government that wanted war. When we later heard that over-eager officials of Scotland Yard rounded up German men and even some German women who had married Englishmen immediately after the declaration of war against Germany on 3 September, it is clear that 27 August was really one of the last days in which a German could leave England.
Official England was already nervous and impatient. As I left my small house in a western suburb of London late that afternoon, my neighbor came by to shake my hand. At the Liverpool Street station, English people came by, as they had the day before, to say farewell to their German friends.
But in Harwich, where the Canal steamer docked, things were different.
After the usual formalities we were allowed on board an English ship that was to sail for Holland. There were about 150 Germans, some of them vacationers or business travelers who had only been in London for a few days. As the time of departure came, we realized that the doors and hatches were closed—but the ship did not sail.
The ship’s officers and stewards shrugged their shoulders when we asked why. They did assure us that a Dutch steamer would take us to Vlissingen the next day.
We were allowed to spend the night on board. The crew was friendly, and after persistent questioning we learned why the steamer had not sailed. The English government had ordered that no English ship could leave port. That was a full week before Chamberlain declared war.
The next morning the police led us through customs once again, then to a Dutch steamer.
We left around noon. The sea was as smooth as glass. The sun’s bright beams could not conceal the dirty warehouses and wharves of Harwich. They looked as unwelcoming as they had on that November day in 1934 which I first set foot on English soil. I had come as a journalist to learn about England and the English people.
Nearly five years had passed. My last impression was as grim as my first. The character of English harbors had not changed. But is England today still the England it once was? Have the English people remained the same? Is everything people have said about the British Islands and their inhabitants still true?
It is worth the attempt to answer these questions.
Chapter 2: First Impression of “the priceless isle”
Chapter 3: Revelation in a taxi
Chapter 4: Scotch, Welsh, Irish —and Englishmen
Chapter 5: Only seven hours a year for 55 colonies
Chapter 6: Feeding the individual — nourishing the whole
Chapter 7: Old slums and new trash
Chapter 8: The myth of individualism and the brutal reality of uniformity
Chapter 9: The catechism of arrogance and the false doctrine of freedom
Ever since improvements in modern transportation like the steamship and the railroad and particularly since the first great world fair in London in 1851 made it possible for foreigners to visit England in large numbers, the English have understood how to present the advantages and splendors of their land, their character, and their accomplishments. With remarkable success, they have persuaded foreigners to have the same opinion of England that they have. Even today, when they meet foreigners, they speak with astonishing naivete about themselves and make comparisons between their people and institutions with those of other nations — even if their wisdom about the others comes only from school and newspaper articles, not their own knowledge or experience. These comparisons are always to the advantage of England and the English. One cannot exceed British arrogance.
Even today the phrase “bloody foreigner” is used daily in England. “Bloody” is the worst word in the English language — it may never be used in polite company nor in the presence of women, and it is never printed. For the English of 1939, the foreigner is still a creature who is fundamentally different from those who are “British born” — or English.
Their sense of superiority includes the physical, character and moral. It goes back to the time when the Englishman Wellington, with the critical help of the Prussian Blucher, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, after his hundred days of freedom following his escape from Elba. Wellington became a national hero — the English do not remember Blücher and his soldiers. The victory was the seed of English arrogance, for even today they believe that their victory proved once and for all where the true heroes and the real rulers of Europe and the world are to be found. In politics, they developed the principle of the balance of forces in Europe, which to them meant that England was chosen by God to keep or disturb the balance by eternal meddling.
In other areas as well their belief in their superiority led them to claim possess every conceivable virtue. They are the freest, most humane, most truthful, most pure people, They are a nation of gentlemen, the inventors and sole exemplars of “fair play.” They alone have a sense of humor. They are sporting, respect the view of their opponents, are the best colonial masters of “lesser” peoples due to their God-given gentleness, patience, calmness, goodness, and strength. They have the best government, the happiest poor, and the richest rich.
They have persuaded both themselves and the rest of the world of this for a hundred years. It is their small, unprinted catechism that they recite to themselves and others every day. They miss no opportunity or situation. Whenever an Englishman finds himself in an argument, he pulls out a sentence from the catechism.
For example, Englishmen regularly used phrases like this during the last year when speaking to Germans: “This is a free country” — in contrast, naturally, to Germany. Its politicians of 1939 held so firmly to the English catechism that they were ready to plunge mankind into a war over principles. They hope that Englishmen along with the rest of the world will believe in the selflessness and nobility of English statesmen that they have proclaimed these past hundred years.
But the catechism is used not only by politicians. It is rooted in the mind of each Englishman. He uses it whenever possible.
There was a night watchman in my neighborhood with a mangy hound. He let the dog run as it wanted, despite an infectious disease, and did not stop it from chasing other dogs. Since I wanted to keep my own dog healthy, I politely asked him one evening to keep better watch on his dog.
The answer was rather vehement. But what was most remarkable was that one of the three young Englishmen in the area shouted to me: “It’s a free country.”
He had pulled a sentence from the English catechism, and since I gave up he must have been left with the feeling that what he said was true, since it had clearly had an effect on a foreigner.
Every Englishman who talks about freedom with a foreigner — and particularly with a German — says something like this:
“If you want to understand what the English mean by freedom, go to Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner and listen to the speakers. They say whatever they want to. They are the escape valve of the English soul. Because England has the speakers at Hyde Park, it has been spared revolution and turmoil.”
One hears about the Speakers’ Corner so often that a foreigner comes to believe that it, too, is part of the catechism.
The Speakers’ Corner is at Marble Arch, earlier a gate to the park but now a traffic island.
In the immediate vicinity is the showcase of English freedom, the speaker, the escape valve for the opinions and frustrations of the people. There are a dozen or two of them. Each has a small circle of listeners — it would be interesting to know how many are English.
What do these speakers on soapboxes or ladders have to say? Do they criticize the royal family or the institution of the monarchy? Do they criticize the English government and its statesmen?
After one has listened a few times, one concludes that they are a small group of more or less serious fools and a few religious fanatics, gathered here to amuse the public. It is cheap entertainment.
Most Englishmen who send foreigners here to receive a lesson in English freedom do not realize that, before the speakers stand up on their soapboxes, they must promise to say nothing against the royal family or the government. There are always enough police around to see to it that they obey.
And what to these models of English freedom really have to say?
They speak about the beginning and the end of the world. They speak of heaven and earth. Depending on their creed, they speak of a dozen of more different heavens. They speak about the evidence for the exodus of the Children of Israel out of Egypt. They talk about Germany and Italy, and sometimes about the troubles they have with their landlords. Some of them sing religious songs and urge their hearers to join in. If one listens carefully, one may even find one with a solution to the rat problem or a way to improve the state of agriculture.
Even the Englishmen who send foreigners to Hyde Park for instruction in English freedom do not believe that the Prime Minister has any interest in what speakers in Hyde Park say. None of these speakers ever rose to a ministerial position, or even to that of doorkeeper. The speakers showcased at Hyde Park are an act for foreigners, just like the tours Cook arranges to Chinatown, where once there were supposedly fights between sailors, opium dens, and oriental dens of criminality.
Those who know England better soon learn that film censors do their work assiduously and do not hesitate to use their power. It soon becomes clear that books are censored and that theatrical scripts must be given to the Lord Chamberlain at least seven days in advance of public performance. Afterwards, neither the title nor a single line can be altered without his permission.
Free England is further the land of the license. Innkeepers, auctioneers, pawnbrokers, dining cars, moneylenders, apple cider sellers, sugar manufacturers, makers of patent medicines, silver and gold dealers, mineral water merchants, vinegar makers — none can carry out their businesses without an annual license. That is only the beginning. A horse carriage needs a license. Putting a coat of arms on a car requires a license. No one can sell cigarettes or mobile homes without one. One needs an annual license to hunt, to drive, and to own a car, for his dog and his radio, to be a market crier or to get married.
Getting married is not cheap in free England. The license costs between 35 and 52.50 marks. The license is good only for the place where one has lived for at least 15 days, and is valid for three months. When one needs to marry under “special circumstances,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest of England’s priests, is ready to provide a license for a fee of 25 pounds (500 marks) that allows marriage anywhere in England at any time. In a free country one should be able to marry when and where one wishes — and one can, provided that the Honorable Archbishop of Canterbury agrees and one has paid 500 marks.
Freedom of course does not mean freedom from rules. The police have to be sure that narrow streets are not clogged with cars. Still, it is open season on parked cars in England. Anyone who leaves his car parked for 15 minutes on a 60-foot wide avenue at an English seacoast resort will return to find a policeman giving him a ticket. In villages with a few dozen houses, drivers have to park their cars in a messy official parking lot to avoid receiving a ticket. Still, the English maintain they live in a country in which there are no police shenanigans.
Do English closing hours exemplify the concept of freedom? Alcohol is sold in England only between 12 and 2 and evenings from 6 to 10, or 10:30 or 11 or 12 — the times depend on the local authorities. Thus, an Englishman on one side of the street may be able to drink his glass of beer until 10, while those on the other side can sit until 10:30 or 11 before hearing the last call. And he who fails to obey will have his glass removed at the precise minute.
The “late” hours of 11 or 12 apply only to London’s West End, the entertainment district. However, someone who wants to have a drink after 11 must have a “meal” with it. The police determine what a “meal” is, not the guest or the host. The usual rule is: “A meal is a sandwich costing at least a mark.” If an Englishman wants to take his girl out for a drink after a movie, he must first spend two marks for a “meal” that he ordinarily would not eat. Even this freedom under certain circumstances to have a drink after 10 applies only in London’s West End. Otherwise, things close by 10:30 p.m. at the latest. Since the movies finish after that, the free people are kept from enjoying alcohol.
The theaters, dance halls, and sport fields are closed on Sundays. All activities beyond listening to a sermon in church are forbidden. It is a sign of progress that recently movie theaters in London and other large cities are open on Sunday evening. That is the only concession to the famous English love of freedom permitted in 1939 by the church and by the association that fights to keep English Sunday observance in its traditional form. The ability of normal people to enjoy a relaxed Sunday is taken from them.
Every now and then there are major controversies about the matter. A few weeks ago the commander of a recruiting base in the West of England proposed to the responsible body that a movie theater in a neighboring town should be open on Sunday to give the recruits something to do other than wander the streets. The proposal drew protests from church fathers and from those people in England who want to be sure that their fellow citizens behave in ways they think proper. The English want to play policemen in the world. Back at home, those who are largely old maids and religious fanatics play the role. As usual, they won; the soldiers are still wandering around on the streets.
When one points out to the English all these limitations on their personal freedom, they pull out their final weapon — freedom of the press.
“The English press is absolutely free. There is no censorship. Our newspapers publish the facts. They do not cover things up, nor conceal the facts.”
The English think these to be irrefutable facts. English press censorship is much to varied and tangled for the average Englishman to recognize.
First of all, the English press is a branch of the capitalist system. It is the twelfth largest industry, ahead of ship construction and the chemical industry.
The most important newspapers are part of chains. The “national press,” the eight large London morning papers, belong to a small group of men to whom dividends are of much greater importance than idealism. The press in England is a business, and a very good one, as long as one plays by the rules. A subsidiary of the Oldham Company, the Illustrated London News and Sketch Ltd., for example, paid a dividend of 53 1/2% for the year 1937/38.
The captains of industry and finance who control the English press naturally do not tolerate anything in their newspapers that could harm their interests. The English press has its first censors in its owners.
The second level of censorship also comes from the owners, who have close ties to the government and do everything they can to serve the “national interest,” which means the interests of the government. This indirect influence on the part of the government is more effective than direct influence through the directives and advice given at press conferences. It is effective without the public learning anything about it, without any danger of public discussion. It is consistent with the English system, since it is behind the scenes and can always be denied.
Occasional mistakes do occur, as for example with the D-Notice that caused so much excitement on the world in April 1939. Despite all the denials, it provided clear proof that the government directs the press.
What happened? — Lord Stanhope, the First Lord of the Admiralty, gave a speech on 4 April 1939 to the crew of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal in which he said:
“Unfortunately there are those not among us today, since shortly before I left the ministry it was necessary to order men to man the anti-aircraft guns in order to be prepared for whatever might happen. Long before the guests arrived, the sixteen guns were ready to give a hearty welcome to any airplanes that might chance to fly by.”
The First Lord of the Admiralty believed that war would begin on 4 April. The radio broadcast the news of the speech to the empire, and caused a sensation. The papers began to print their morning editions, which reported Lord Stanhope’s speech. The presses were running when the editors received a telegram from the government telling them to treat Lord Stanhope’s speech as a D-Notice. It was not to be published. The printing presses stopped and the news vanished. Unhappily, however, copies of several newspapers had already been distributed. The result was a minor scandal.
The surprised English newspaper readers learned during the following days that there was a long-standing agreement between the government and English newspapers about such D-Notices, which were suppressed in the “national interest.” The Evening Standard went so far as to maintain that newspapers and editors who disobeyed the government in this regard could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.
One heard more about D-Notices in the following weeks. Then there was again absolute silence with regards to government influence of the press. Editors complained for a few days about the loss of freedom. Several articles with hard words and sharp protests appeared.
But this was only to shore up the illusion. It was unfortunate that the existence of D-Notices came to the light of day. It had functioned so well before — even if the threatening “D” had not been used.
The world saw the best example of the “freedom” of English press “freedom” during the weeks and months leading up to King Edward VIII’s abdication, however. While American newspapers ran pages every day about the events, the English press from right to left kept silent, pretending that nothing at all was going on.
Why? — Because the “national interest” required it — and in reality the then Prime Minister Baldwin and the Archbishop of Canterbury saw dangers in public discussion of this sensitive question. It might have turned out that the public had more sympathy for the King than for the ladies and gentlemen who carried the “Burdens of Empire.”
Why were the English newspapers silent on this matter, as on so many others? Was the “national interest” the chief concern of its owners and editors? Did the government have the ability — in this or other cases — to interfere and call to account those newspapers that failed to obey?
They did in fact have the possibility, and in a way found no where else in the world. The English press, including each publisher and each editor, is subject to a great mystery that always keeps them nervous — the “Law of Libel,” which has so many clauses that no one knows whether or not he has fallen afoul of them.
Like most English laws, the law of libel is a mysterious collection of judicial decisions. They conflict with one another such that a layman has no chance of understanding them. A legal specialist is necessary to use or escape it.
Each English newspaper includes a large sum in its annual budget for “libel expenses.” Naturally English journalists and writers do not try to write or publish libel. But that is not the problem.
The libel law allows anyone in England to consider himself libeled by a newspaper. According to the law, libel is “a statement or assertion, whether written, drawn or filmed, that renders a person likely to hatred, ridicule or contempt, or that harms his reputation.”
That does not sound bad. The catch is that the person who feels himself libeled can remain anonymous. Someone who feels that a caricature or joke applies to him can go to a judge and begin a lawsuit. He will receive “justice” in the form of a large indemnity.
Another example. A journalist writes about a clown in a story and gives him the improbable name Klurnikas. It so happens that there really is such a man, but he is a pastor, not a clown. According to English law, it is absolutely irrelevant if the journalist can prove that he simply invented the name. He will be convicted of libeling the pastor.
The law of libel only seems to be aimed at persons. Its real reach was recently explained by an English jurist in this way:
“All recent experiences show that freedom of expression is so limited that critical journalism has become a dangerous profession. Any attempt to publish critical reports on, shall we say, trusts, armaments, founding corporations, on food problems or the conditions of workers in slum districts or in large industries, on the private school system or colonial administration, presents the author who wishes to see his remarks published with difficulties at every step.”
“The author believes, perhaps, that although he may not attack the good reputation of an individual person or corporation, he can still criticize a class, a system, a branch of industry. He will soon learn that if some person or corporation is prominent enough within that class, system, or industry to serve as the target for criticism, he can expect a libel suit from that person or corporation.”
This jurist describes the situation precisely. What alternative do writers and publishers have than to treat England, Englishmen, and English institutions in the best possible way?
Yet there is still another form of press censorship, no less secretive. It comes from the circles who place advertisements.
English newspapers have circulations far higher those in Germany. The Times has the lowest circulation of about 200,000, due to its academic style that only a limited part of the population can understand. The Daily Telegraph, sometimes livelier than the Times, sometimes just as dense, has increased its circulation in the last year to about 750,000 and is aiming for a million.
These are the only two “serious” newspapers. They do not have the circulation of the mass newspapers, which are inconceivable by German standards. The Daily Express sells 2 1/2 million copies, followed by the Daily Herald with 2 million, the Daily Mail with a million and a half, and the News Chronicle with 1.3 million.
Then there are the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch, read primarily by women. They made early use of photographs, and are known as “illustrateds.” They each have circulations of about a million.
The evening newspapers are far behind. The Evening Standard, the Star, and the Evening News have circulations between 400,000 and 800,000. The Sunday papers have the highest circulation. The News of the World has the lowest intellectual level, but its circulation of 3 3/4 million is the highest.
The Sunday papers and the Times sell for two pence a copy. The other papers all cost a penny, about eight pfennig. The publishers get two-thirds of that. However, even the enormous circulations fail to cover the costs, about 1.1 to 1.5 pfennig per copy. The rest, including substantial profits, has to come from advertising. The big advertisers who spend 85 million pounds annually have the leading role. They know how important they are to the newspapers, and use their influence. They watch carefully to be sure than nothing appears that harms their interests. No newspaper would dare to oppose them. Here too is another method of censorship that — just as with the law of libel — can destroy a newspaper. That it does not happen is proof that the advertisers are happy with the behavior of the newspapers.
The result is that criticism is lacking in every area in English newspapers. There is only praise for everything English. Such praise, repeated day after day and year after year nourishes English arrogance. There is nothing in England or the empire that needs to be criticized. The evidence is clear every day in the newspapers.
How do newspapers published under these limitations and interference look? What does the reader get for his penny?
From the outside, he gets a paper of imposing size, about double the size of a German paper, with 16, 20, or even 32 pages daily. But the German reader would be unhappy with what he would get.
His criticism would be directed first at the level of the popular press, then against the uniformity and dullness that necessarily result when each news report takes the same form and has the same content. He would also be bothered by the constant emphasis on the superiority of the English and English institutions, which are praised and defended, while everything non-English is treated with contempt and arrogance.
The German reader would miss in the English press everything that makes clear to him the significance of a news item. He might believe that a new editor puts out each edition of an English paper, one who has no idea what his colleagues on the previous day published. Things are never put in context, or their history explained. The “news” stands by itself. It is a great way to persuade the reader that he is getting the facts. He can hardly believe that they are twisted, since no one criticizes them or comments on them. What is printed must be true.
This is fine as long as it applies only to England. Why should not the good people believe that their land is the most beautiful, their government the best, their people the chosen ones? It becomes problematic and dangerous even for the English themselves when it applies to foreign nations, however. No English newspaper reader learns what is really happening abroad, and how the facts that he reads in the news reports hang together.
English newspapers lack a Feuilleton section. There is nothing that provokes thought — beside the crossword puzzle. There are no articles by foreign correspondents about other lands and peoples, customs and behaviors, curiosities and practices. The English reader learns nothing about these matters — neither about the Empire nor other foreign countries.
The result is that the English learn nothing about the tumults and transformations occurring throughout the world — except through random articles. They read about substitute materials, but read at the same time that England still uses natural materials. England is rich — other countries are poor. They have to put up with substitutes. They read nothing in their newspapers about the fact that substitutes are giving serious competition to English products throughout the world, that for example rayon is causing difficulties for the English cotton industry. They may read occasionally that America has imitated Germany’s substitute materials, that American scientists are working feverishly to develop them. But he reads nothing of the importance of these new industries, nothing about the connections. He “knows,” however, that when the time is ripe, the English will take them over and produce wares of much better quality than those of the inventors and developers.
The German reader will find the English press extremely superficial. But the Englishman is used to it. He does not think because he finds nothing to think about.
That explains his love of the sensational. Murder and mayhem, ship sinkings, fires, divorces, scandals — these are the things he prefers. The newspapers do all in their power to give him what he wants. Since there is not a new sensation every day, in recent years they have given over pages to gossip. Here they print everything that would have formerly interested a German coffee Klatsch.
Those who write such material have become the “stars” of the English press in recent years, writing daily columns. They gather what they can, and fill the rest of their overly large columns with exact accounts of the doings of the upper crust, of noble lords and fine ladies. They tell whom they met and what they had for lunch. The English apparently find this important. Every newspaper does it. What is most astonishing is that the writer’s picture appears every day alongside the column. They are apparently as important as the members of the royal family, the government, film stars and those who have done something unusual.
The English press carries no criticism, even in the areas of the arts, theater and film. Reviews limit themselves to the contents. And the English press does not criticize itself. From a German standpoint it has no backbone, since its positions can and often do change from one day to the next. It does so not only in the “national interest,” but according to the many sources that control it. It can do no differently, if it wants to keep alive. It meets the needs of English arrogance, and is a model of what began a hundred years ago: It persuades its readers anew every day both at home and abroad of the superiority and excellence of the English nation. Do character and level have any significance at all?
Chapter 10: Factories for film, theater and books
Chapter 11: On classes, ties and Parliament
Chapter 12: God save the King
Chapter 13: England trumpets war
The English have no fairy tales for their children. Instead, boys and girls even today read stories about robbers that come from a time when Germans were telling fairy tales that had been passed down for generations. English children’s stories are about the thief Dirk Turpin and Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor. These are the stories English people tell their children.
England’s leaders have told the same kinds of stories to the world. They do not present themselves as robbers, of course, but the moral of their stories they tell about their policies are the same as found in the stories they tell children in place of fairy tales. They present the policies of the British Empire in a way that suggests that the English conquered the wealth of the world in order to give it to the poor.
Those who have experienced England from the inside soon learn that these stories are only a substitute for fairy tales. England has never once distributed the wealth at home. Those in the small upper circle still control the wealth to this day. It is striking that today, when forward-thinking nations have replaced the idea of democracy with that of a people’s community, the working and unemployed classes of “democratic” England live their short lives under the same miserable conditions in the same terrible slums as in past centuries. It is further striking that the conditions in 1939 in the British colonies are the same as those that long existed, and still exist, in the motherland.
British politicians have used another image as well to build England’s image. They speak of the “British lion” that guards the whole world, that helps the oppressed and frees the slaves. They are so taken by their own propaganda that they do not even realize that the lion is a beast of prey that does not protect the weak, but rather attacks and devours them.
The Americans especially have joked in recent years about the British lion. They show it as a toothless animal that has lost its strength. This British lion wanders around the world looking for help. It looks for a tiger to assist it. It looks to America that mocks it. It no longer has the pride of the “king of beasts,” able to rely on itself. It looks for help to defeat a former victim, a victim that has not aged after the last battle, but rather has become more youthful, a victim that despite the grave wounds inflicted upon it by the British lion — some of which were inflicted long after the war itself was over — did not die, but became stronger.
But why speak in images? Today’s English politicians and their allies established Poland after the World War and promised it support against the German people, should they refuse to accept Polish atrocities against Germans in Poland. English politicians knew, however, that they were in no position to send even a single man or airplane, much less a ship, to aid Poland. They sent emissaries to Moscow — though only after they had given guarantees to Poland — to negotiate the same policy of encirclement that their predecessors had used during the World War with such success. They made a critical mistake in their calculations. Their attempt failed miserably.
That they tried it in the first places shows clearly that in this, as in so many other areas, England has remained rooted in the past. It seems to believe in the great power of tradition. The diplomats sent to Moscow came from the same stately houses, the same illustrious schools, and wore the same elegant clothing as the men who invented and carried out the policy of encirclement. According to tradition, the methods should have worked this time, too. But they failed.
This was the greatest misfortune that could befall English policy. Did England’s politicians learn anything from the experience? Despite the misfortune, they continued to follow the “tested methods.” What was the first thing Neville Chamberlain did after declaring war on Germany? He brought the men into his cabinet that he knew had a sick hatred for Germany and the Germans. He further knew that Churchill had had his finger in the last war. Churchill was a man who over his entire career had made one serious mistake after another — but at least he knew the “tested methods.” Churchill immediately declared a blockade. He began to incite the world against Germany by using the most outrageous lies. It was the same method that seemed to work the last time.
Chamberlain further brought Anthony Eden into his cabinet. No one can accuse him of putting only old men in responsible positions. Eden is in his early forties. He was formerly, and is now once more the youngest British minister. Is Eden a young man, however? — Chamberlain would have erred in his duties if Eden were not of the same intellectual age as the other rulers of contemporary England. Eden was England’s representative to the League of Nations. He was appointed to the war cabinet because he knew how things worked in Geneva. What however does Eden know of the strength of young nations, what does he know about the real strength of today’s Germany? — He knows as little about it as his earlier schoolmates from Eton, who believe that they should rule the world because they wear the right school tie.
That is England’s danger today. England is mired in the past in countless areas. It would like things to stay as they once were. How gladly it would turn back the clock. It believes it can choose its statesmen and scientists in the same old and tested way. And it believes that the people from this tradition are superior men able because of their personality, their gifts, or their genius to build a new world. But England will pay the price for the sins of its ruling class over the centuries.
It is hardly a bad thing that the old soldiers at the Tower of London wear the Tudor uniforms of the 15th Century. Nor is it bad that the students at Christ Hospital still wear the long blue robes, yellow stockings, and leather belts of the 16th century. It is unfortunate that England has remained a capitalist class state, that it cannot respond to modern developments because in its arrogance it cannot understand them. It is unfortunate that it believes that the theories that brought it so much success a hundred or two hundred years ago are still as valid as ever. It is unfortunate that it does not learn from what is happening today. It learned nothing from the damage done to the cotton industry by the rayon industry. It learned nothing from the catastrophe in Wales, caused by a complete dependence on coal. It learned nothing from Ireland, that finally won partial independence after a long struggle, and will win the rest. It learned nothing from the unrest in India and Palestine. It continues along the familiar path — because it is led by the same class which has for so long determined its fate and that of many foreign peoples, but has never had the good of the masses and the good of the creative classes as its goal.
England today has nothing in common with a nation that has put its fate in the hands of one man, and which is ready to better its condition by its own strength. Will England be able to find a man to save it from its own difficulties?
The war that Churchill, Eden, and Duff Cooper sought for so long, and that was also wanted by England’s other leading statesmen, is being fought against the will of the English people. But this nation is for the time being still convinced that it is the chosen people. It must surrender its arrogance and recognize its strengths and weaknesses. It must find new youth, and break which much that has become dear to it over the decades and centuries.
Perhaps that will happen only through a catastrophe, which is what a war would mean for the English people. But that is certainly not the goal of the war being waged by England, which is throwing England and the world into an inferno for their own profit and personal prestige.
Those who have lived for years among the English know that this people has not deserved such leadership. It has been educated to national arrogance and superiority — though not to nationhood and contemplation. They believe in ideals that do not exist in their own land. Yet they are being told to fight for these ideals.
Fighting for fictitious ideas is something English statesmen also demand of other peoples. They knew how to involve France in their web. They are using every method to bring the United States of America into the war — although every Englishman deeply dislikes the Americans, who have caused such unrest in economics, commerce and labor. They talk to the Americans about the business they will do in the war. But have the Americans forgotten that England still has not paid its bills from the last war?
Anyone, from any country, who has lived for several years in England knows that the economic, industrial, financial, and political leaders of today’s England would not lift a finger for the ideals about which they speak. They have had more then enough opportunity to practice these ideals in their own land and in their empire. They never did it; they never even tried.
“We would fight not for the political future of a distant city, but rather for principles whose destruction would ruin the possibility of peace and security for the peoples of the earth.”
Who in England, who in the world, and who above all who have seen England from the inside can understand Neville Chamberlain’s statement? Has the England of today, have its leading men, ever done anything anywhere that would bring peace and security, or even the prosperity of their own people and the peoples of the earth?
[Page copyright © 1998 by Randall L. Bytwerk. No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.]
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