Chief of European Service, J.T.A.
Some time ago I had occasion to write on British public sentiment and pointed out that, at the time, it had just veered away from a point close to acceptance and toleration of Nazi Germany.
In the month that has elapsed since that writing, the tide has swung and swung again. Hitler’s speech to his puppet Reichstag was responsible for a complete shift in official, newspaper and public sentiment. British leaders, almost without exception, hailed the speech as witness of Hitler’s desire for peace. Lord Snowden, ex-Socialist, insisted in a newspaper article that the speech be accepted at its face value. Bertrand Russell analyzed Hitler’s new program for world peace and concluded it should be given a trial.
Government spokesmen declared that the British government accepted the speechâ€”indeed, discussions regarding naval limitations are now proceeding in London between England and the Reich as one fruit of the Hitler oration.
The press, almost unanimously, praised Hitler’s pacific stand and even the Laborite Daily Herald was loud in its protestations that the Nazi leader be given an opportunity to prove his sincerity.
Butâ€”Hitler’s Goering continued to build airplanes. Even Lord Rothermere, whose newspapers have been pugnaciously defending the Hitler regime, realized that and parallelling peans of praise for Hitler in the Rothermere papers, were almost frantic appeals for more British planes to protect Britain from attackâ€”though even the Rothermere papers concede that Germany is the only possible attacker.
Observers were therefore treated to the spectacle of, on the one side, long protestations that Hitler means peace and on the other a full-blown recruiting campaign for the Royal Air Force. Some 60,000 young Britons heard the call for volunteers for the R.A.F. and besieged the recruiting offices for England’s new front-line defense force.
England, in general watched this new recruiting activity with interestâ€”and something of relief. And took all the protestations about peaceful intentions of her neighbors calmly. England is well on the road to economic recovery and wants to stay on the road. Wars and European adventures are not at all to her liking. The Englishman today wants peace and quiet, to be out of the European mess and to be let alone. But he does not want to be bombed out of his homeâ€”an ever-present possibility when a close neighbor is militaristically inclined and has the most powerful air-force in the Old World.
So, the old mistrust of Germany has been creeping back. Reports of General Goering’s “honeymoon” tour among the old German Empire’s war companionsâ€”Bulgaria, Hungary and Yugoslavia â€” have added to the suspicions that Germany is up to something or other that may bode no good.
It was in this atmosphere of half-awakened suspicion that the Prince of Wales, a war veteran, proposed proffering the hand of friendship to German war veterans. The idea of former foes meeting in friendship, their former enmity forgotten, struck the English as a particularly chivalrous gesture. For a day or twoâ€”but no longerâ€”England breathed the spirit of friendship with an old foe. Then the reaction set in.
Viscount Castlerosse, writing in the Daily Express, described some American gangsters he had encountered. “Al Bannion,” he informed his readers, “was shot when shaking hands with a rival.
“The Germans likewise view life through spectacles different from ours. They have the same morals as other gangsters.
“They glorify war. They wish to dominate the world; they wish to treat the English and the French as they have treated the Jews and hope to treat the Catholics.
“Shake hands with the German by all means, but keep your eyes on his other handâ€”
“It holds a gun.”
But the feeling toward Germany is in the hands of the Nazis themselves. Every pacifistic statement of Hitler is given the benefit of the doubt but every statement, so far as it affects British opinion, is militated against by some new outburst of Nazi cruelty and stupidity. The persecution of the dissenting pastors is having its effect in clerical circles which have previously furnished the Nazis some of their most vocal apologists. The persecution of the Catholics is stirring a large group of Englishmen.
Nazi Germany is creating the most effective propaganda against herself, at least so far as England is concerned. General sentiment may apparently turn in favor of the Reich but such manifestations may only be temporary. England wants to be let alone and the Englishman realizes today that Germany is the only danger to his peace and quiet.