London, January.—In these stirring days when (to crib from one of my contemporaries) we may expect that the strains of I Love Lucy will soon be beaming out over the craters of Earth's satellite, an air of anticlimax inevitably attaches itself to our sublunary affairs. While a moon-struck television audience of global proportions impatiently awaits the latest news from outer space, governments and other earth-bound authorities continue with their daily routine. Notes are exchanged, treaties ratified or kept in suspense, new presidents are sworn in, and old hatreds stirred up by rulers who have nothing more substantial to offer their people than memories of tribal massacres, and the promise of more to come.
An invasion from Mars or Venus would put an end to all this nonsense in twenty-four hours, with a World General Staff hastily improvised to meet the threat. But nothing so spectacular seems in the offing—just more pictures of Australia as seen from the space capsule, pious rhetoric from American astronauts, patriotic drivel from Soviet cosmonauts, and free-floating aspirin to ease everyone's headache on the return trip. “The astronauts see God and Walt Disney through the cabin window, the cosmonauts Lenin and the Central Committee,” to quote that admirable columnist, Mr. Dennis Potter, in the London Times. A hint of sour grapes about that, perhaps: the British, and the other Europeans, would not mind taking part in the interstellar race, and they plainly envy the Big Two their current monopoly of the new game. And the Chinese? Notwithstanding Chairman Mao's well-publicized contempt for technology and his faith in the spirit that moveth mountains (or the Confucian analogue thereof), I suspect they are already weighing their chances of muscling in on the lunar preserve of their rivals.
If there is any feedback from this new kind of star-gazing onto our earthly affairs, it is unlikely in the short run to make for international harmony. The late Norbert Wiener, who is generally credited with the invention of cybernetics, thought that “modern communication, which forces us to adjudicate the international claims of different broadcasting systems and different airplane nets, has made the World State inevitable.” What a hope! Physicists appear to be peculiarly susceptible to this sort of determinism, a spiritual legacy of Auguste Comte. Just because the establishment of a single all-powerful controlling agency has become technically possible, Wellsian dreams run up against the determination of the great powers to carve out terrestrial and lunar spheres of influence, to employ an old-fashioned but still viable concept. Anyone who believes that moon travel will promote peace and goodwill on earth is fit to have his head examined, and not by a cyberneticist either. In the very long run something like Kipling's Aerial Board of Control may come into being (and woe to those who infringe its regulations), but world government by public-spirited technocrats is not for tomorrow. Science fiction is an escape from the reality of conflicting global aims. These quarrels may look parochial when viewed from the stellar orbit, but they are real enough to the participants. The magnitudinal shift affects in the first place the relationship between larger and smaller political units: those able to take part in the space race, and the remainder who are left behind. The great nautical discoveries around 1500 turned the Mediterranean into a backwater and the Italian city-state into an anachronism, but they likewise sharpened the rivalry between the new Atlantic claimants who were also the great European nation-states. Similarly, the Big Two (or Big Three) are certain to export their present antagonism into the new dimension of planetary travel and exploration, however senseless it may be to quarrel over the disposal of space.
An apparently serious author cited in the London Times of December 28, 1968, affirms with what seems to be an undertone of regret that “there is no chance of our turning the moon into a second earth.” His griefstricken resignation is premature: the rival powers are quite capable of re-enacting their follies on that well-cratered satellite, so far as gravitational conditions will permit. But the immediate shock effect is experienced by all those secondary political systems that have dropped out of the race, or never had any hope of joining. They must discover new reasons for keeping up their self-respect and their claim to being taken seriously. For a start, they—or the more civilized among them—might decide to get out of the arms race and devote their energies to bettering the quality of life for their citizens.
Lest it be supposed that in saying this one reports or reflects an attitude peculiar to Western Europe, let us hear Canada's new Prime Minister on a related topic. Speaking to an interviewer on the occasion of the recent Commonwealth Conference in London (see the Listener of January 9, 1969), Mr. Trudeau did not rule out the possibility of Canada “going neutralist” at some stage in the not so distant future. Needless to say he qualified his remarks in proper statesmanlike fashion. “As long as we are bound by NATO, we will stand by our engagement in NATO and the agreements to which we subscribe. But if after twenty years we decide, as the agreement permits, that we will give notice of withdrawal, we will give notice of withdrawal.”
Well, twenty years is a long time and a lot can happen, but still it is an interesting hint. In the same interview Mr. Trudeau aligned himself with European sentiment on another issue by remarking casually that he was thinking of recognizing China. “We haven't yet indicated what conditions we would accept as part of that recognition: the question of Taiwan, in other words, has not been solved between Peking and Ottawa.” It is one of Mr. Trudeau's engaging qualities that he is rarely more than one year behind enlightened opinion, whereas most of the politicians in Washington, irrespective of party, sound to us in Europe as though they were having trouble getting into the 20th century. In fairness it has to be added that in this they resemble their Russian opposite numbers.
This is just what makes these moon flights so pathetic. They are being sponsored by countries which combine a high degree of technical proficiency with an antiquated outlook on mundane matters of more immediate import to ordinary people. To hear Soviet spokesmen driveling about the specter of “revisionism” in Czechoslovakia, or American candidates for public office twaddling about the menace of “creeping socialism,” is enough to make one wish to escape to some desert island.
Since I have mentioned the Commonwealth I might as well say more about this curious organization. Although frequently dismissed as the ghost of the British Empire sitting crowned upon the grave thereof, it is in fact more of a round-table affair, with several dozen participants (28 this year) assembling under nominal British chairmanship to ventilate their grievances. This time the topics were mostly racial and had to do with emigration from, or immigration into, diverse territories morally committed to some form of mutual aid. Thus, the governments of Kenya and Uganda are intent upon “Africanizing” their economy. In practice this means forcing out some 300,000 resident Asians, mostly from India and Pakistan, many of them in possession of British passports issued to them in 1963, when the Macmillan government did not foresee that they might have to leave Africa and would try to settle in England. Since this is now happening on quite a large scale, Britain's immigration laws have hastily been amended, to the end of making it more difficult (although not impossible) for what are technically known as “Commonwealth immigrants” to enter the United Kingdom. In principle this applies to everyone, including Australians and New Zealanders. In practice it is meant to hold down the number of colored immigrants from Africa, the West Indies, and India itself, to what is regarded as a tolerable figure (about 50,000 per year at the moment, mostly dependents of earlier immigrants already settled in Britain and in possession of labor permits). Americans long familiar with this particular problem will not be surprised to hear that the matter is causing a lot of friction, both nationally and internationally. But the United States is not the center of a worldwide Commonwealth of recently emancipated states and nations, all armed with immigration laws of their own, while determined to unload unwanted minorities upon the Mother Country.
Much of the rhetoric expanded upon this topic is of truly breathtaking silliness. For example, one can hear it said by otherwise sane people that Britain owes its former colonies a moral obligation which can only be discharged by adopting the principle of completely free entry. When it is considered that the joint population of India and Pakistan is in excess of 500 million, one can easily see the potential consequences of this sort of logic. It would only need a famine to make millions of them stampede for the nearest exit, if one were available.
But at least the inhabitants of India and Pakistan are not British passport-holders; hence they have no legal claim. The Indian and Pakistani settlers in Africa are another story. On paper their problem looks quite manageable (on paper everything looks manageable). There are only a few hundred thousand of them, and no more than 120,000 took out British papers in the 1960's when they were given the choice of opting between British nationality and citizenship of the new African states. About half of these luckless passport-holders are in Kenya, the remainder in Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Malawi: all independent now and extremely vocal about their sovereignty. Both on legal and on moral grounds the British government clearly has an obligation toward these people.
The trouble (as Messrs. Harold Wilson and James Callaghan told the assembled Asian and African statesmen) is that Britain has absorbed 750,000 colored immigrants over the past ten years, and the white working class is beginning to kick. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? So far there have been no riots, and the river Thames has been running with blood only in the overheated imagination of Mr. Enoch Powell. But although he has been sacked from the Opposition leadership and taken his seat among the Tory backbenchers, that does not make Mr. Powell less influential. In private, Labour Ministers acknowledge that on immigration he has the bulk of the country behind him. His main argument is simple: no one ever asked the British people whether they wanted a multi-racial society. The problem crept up on them unawares. The joke (if that is the word) is that Mr. Powell was himself a prominent member of the Conservative government which ran the country until 1964. It was only thereafter that he amended his laissez-faire principles. (He is still a doctrinaire market-economy man where the free movement of goods is concerned. People are another matter.)
What is Labour's position on the issue? What one might expect from a government and a party who are doing none too well in the opinion polls anyhow. The late Hugh Gaitskell, an estimable man and a doctrinaire liberal of a type now seldom encountered among the living, fought tooth and nail against the 1962 immigration law introduced by the Conservative government of the day which initiated the current practice of limiting the entry of Commonwealth immigrants. What he would have said of the far more drastic legislation rushed through both Houses of Parliament in 1968 by the Wilson government to stop the threatened avalanche from Africa and Asia, one can only try to imagine.
Gaitskell, born in India in 1906, the son of a British civil servant, was perhaps the last prominent representative in public life of the great liberal-imperialist tradition whose American counterpart one can now see emerging from among all those stern unbending critics of the Vietnam war who have taken an oath to atone for the sins of their country by being decent to the lesser breeds at home and abroad. It is always gratifying to watch earnest moralists flogging themselves into a penitential frame of mind which satisfies both their consciences and the long-term interests of their country. The Tories could never have held the British Empire together for as long as they did if they had not been helped out from time to time by the Gladstonian rhetoric of their Liberal rivals.
The great thing about liberalism is that it makes people feel noble and disinterested. It also causes them to adopt lofty standards of behavior when saddled with the unpleasant task of governing an unwanted empire. The British bureaucracy in imperial India was probably the most dedicated, virtuous, high-principled, and morally committed body of classically educated snobs who ever misgoverned a sub-continent. That is what kept the show going for so long. If they had been the ruthless bullies and scoundrels their Indian nationalist opponents affected to see in them, the whole thing would have come to an end much sooner. There is no substitute for virtue, honor, and high-souled dedication to the stern task of ruling an ungrateful people, if you want your empire to leave a lasting trace. It is not for nothing that Pontius Pilate has virtually become a saint of the Roman Church. He was treated with respect even by the earliest Christian authors, and one can see why. He was a conscientious ruler and a gentleman—unlike those dreadful Jews who even then were causing so much bother to their imperial benefactors by their inconsiderate behavior: some of them Zealots (nationalists, that is), others affected by the new Messianic heresy and thus failing in their duty to the poor harassed imperial authorities who were only doing their best in a very sticky situation. British India was governed by Pilate's spiritual descendants (all solemnly professing evangelical Christianity), and if the American empire lasts long enough, it will unfailingly produce the same sort of upright, conscientious, slightly bewildered but thoroughly dedicated type of proconsul.
But I am digressing. Let us return to the problems of the British Commonwealth. The press talks mostly about Rhodesia, but the real bother comes from the impact of Kenya Asians and other colored immigrants upon British public opinion, notably working-class and lower-middle-class opinion. To say that the electorate is sick and tired of the Commonwealth, and would like nothing better than to see it sink beneath the waves, is a feeble understatement. Outside Whitehall and Fleet Street hardly a soul cares about Rhodesia, Nigeria, the rights of Indian traders in Uganda, or the wrongs endured by disenfranchised blacks in South Africa.
There is nothing surprising about this. The electorate never cared two straws about the old Empire either. It was the public school (read: private school) elite who felt vaguely flattered at the notion of all those distant territories painted red on the map. Now that they have all become independent and are mostly republics which no longer even recognize the Queen as their nominal sovereign, the whole thing has become a bore so far as Mr. and Mrs. Average Briton are concerned.
This is not a serious argument, you say? The electorate is stupid and narrowminded? If the voters had the power they would abolish every scrap of progressive legislation, reintroduce child labor, torture, and witch-burning, expel all foreigners, forbid intermarriage, and in general take the country back to the 17th century? Yes, undoubtedly, but Britain is supposed to be a democracy. What do you do if 70 or 80 per cent of the voters are unenlightened, couldn't care less, and don't understand why their betters waste all that money and attention on a lot of ungrateful ex-colonials? Educate them? But most of them do read the papers or look at television, and what they see and hear confirms them in their reactionary prejudices.
For example, they are told that over a million people have died of starvation in Biafra because the Nigerian Federal government and the rebels can't come to terms. Or that India and Pakistan may once more go to war over Kashmir. Or that the African governments are kicking Indian immigrants out of their territories, and that India is reluctant to take them back. What are they to think? One hears it said that racial prejudice against colored immigrants is all the fault of Enoch Powell. Anyone who has ever spent ten minutes listening to the proverbial man in the pub knows that, by comparison with him, Mr. Powell—after all a former professor of Greek and a self-confessed lover of Indian culture—is a raging liberal. He wants to limit colored immigration still further and to “encourage” immigrants to go back to Jamaica or wherever they came from. The electorate would like nothing better than to expel the whole lot. The intellectuals denounce Powell as a fascist. The voters think he means well but is too sissified to do anything about it. The New Left says it is all a filthy capitalist maneuver to split the working class. The working class thinks the New Left ought to take a long jump off the ocean pier into the water.
Lest it be supposed that the New Left is unpopular with the more backward strata of the populace solely on account of its proverbial nobility of character and the impossibly high moral standards it sets itself, let me hasten to correct this misconception. The sad truth is that they are no better than the rest of us. The acid test once more is race relations. The New Left of course is against Powell: he is a Tory. But when President Obote of Uganda—one of the 28 participants at the 1969 Commonwealth conference—tells the press that the 40,000 Asians in his country will have to pack up because “we are not going to have a large body of foreigners controlling a vital aspect of our economy,” the New Left is strangely silent. Racial discrimination, it seems, is tolerable provided it is enforced by Africans against Asian traders (after all, they belong to the petty bourgeoisie, and we know what Mao Tsetung thinks of such people).
Or take the bloodbath in Nigeria which has probably cost more lives than the war in Vietnam. Until it was rumored that China (as well as France) was for Biafra, not a squeak of protest against the British government's policy of arming the Lagos regime was to be heard from the Far Left. This can hardly have been due to the Moslem predominance on the Federal side, which presumably accounts for Egypt's active intervention (along with Russia and Britain) in bombing and starving the Biafrans. Everyone knows that the Federals' Soviet jets are flown by Egyptians. It was a fair guess that the Communist party would say nothing: its leaders are still sufficiently loyal to Moscow not to make needless trouble. It is also true that the Trotskyists (all six of them) have impartially damned both sides. But where was the New Left as such? Nowhere to be seen and heard. No protest marches. No demonstrations. Not even a flaming editorial in one of its countless news sheets. Now China's intervention seems to have made all the difference. Since Peking is for Biafra (because Moscow is backing Lagos), our Maoists and the rest of that loquacious crew are free to wax indignant about the sins of British-cum-Soviet imperialism. But not a minute earlier. This may be sound tactics, but where is the morality?
Let us now descend from the high moral plateau and take a look at the tableland where statesmen meet to exchange politely veiled insults and do a bit of horse-trading on the side. (If India will take most of those Kenya Asians, how much will the British government contribute to the cost of settling them in their land of birth?) Such bread-and-butter questions are neither moral nor immoral. They belong to the daily grind of politics, and one must be uncommonly remote from reality to feel superior to them. The impending exodus of practically all Asians from Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, and other African states, is a matter involving hundreds of thousands of people, and the question of accommodating them (the majority will in the end probably be admitted by India and Pakistan, even though they have British passports and might try to get on the British waiting list) is serious enough in all conscience. But it is not what a Commonwealth conference is primarily about, nor is it a matter of importance for Australia (which bars colored entrants), or Singapore (mainly Chinese and on strained terms with neighboring Malaysia).
What the rulers of these Far Eastern lands want to know is whether Britain can still be relied upon to make a contribution to what is euphemistically known as defense. If not, they will have to turn elsewhere: to the United States of course, but also to Japan. This issue is now out in the open, thanks to that hard-headed politician, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore, Socialist (Fabian variety), and long-standing admirer of all things British. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is rumored to have been briefly a Communist in his young days, but you would not notice it now. Anyway he has the Chinese virtues of realism and forthrightness when it comes to important matters: like, for instance, money. Addressing the Royal Commonwealth Society in London on the eve of the conference (see the Times of January 10), he gave a warning that unless Britain established a stronger economy, Singapore and other Commonwealth countries might have to look elsewhere. “If the soundness of her economy is not achieved, then Commonwealth members now linked with Britain, and through Britain to each other, will forge new links.” This is what is known as plain speaking. “A more sober reassessment of the value of these ties is. being made,” he went on. “The danger is that by the time the realization sinks in, it may be too late, because Britain might have either dropped out of the ‘top technological league’ or, disgusted with the postures of Commonwealth members, allowed her special knowledge and expertise of empire to be lost.” Don't say I didn't warn you.
It may be pertinent at this point to interpose a remark about the unpopularity of the Chinese in those Southeast Asian countries (Indonesia is a case in point) where historically they have played a role analogous to that of the Indians in Africa. This has nothing to do with politics. It goes back a long way before China turned Red, and anyway most of these Chinese emigrants are politically White. The simple fact is that the inhabitants of these Asian regions have long resented them on account of their superior efficiency. Professor P. T. Bauer, reviewing Gunnar Myrdal's recent mammoth study Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations in the London Spectator of January 10, asks plaintively. “Why should it be inequitable that the Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia, or the Indians in Burma, or the Europeans in South Asia, should earn higher incomes than the indigenous populations when they work much harder, often face great hardships, and incur risks far from their countries of origin?” Professor Bauer is an old-fashioned liberal economist. As he sorrowfully points out, Myrdal in his book “himself notes the great poverty of Malay peasants in a country where there is abundant unused cultivable land.” And so he does. The difference is that Myrdal has rather more political sense than Bauer.
Lee Kuan Yew, being a professional politician, is the possessor of a mind even more closely attuned to the intangibles of life. He knows perfectly well, for example, that no amount of economic reasoning is ever going to make the Singaporean Chinese popular with the peasants of Malaysia, which is why he has taken Singapore out of the Malaysian Federation and turned it into an independent political unit. Unlike the unfortunate Ibos in Biafra, he got away with it, Malaysia having no army to speak of and the British government preferring not to have Singapore bombed and its inhabitants starved or massacred. The Malaysian Federal government, after a verbal show of indignation, accepted the new state of affairs. Its present view of the matter, it appears, is that control over the great naval base of Singapore should be a mixed affair, including Britain and Australia, “to ensure that Singapore could never let the base fall into the wrong hands” (the Times, January 10). Now whose hands can they be thinking of? Lee Kuan Yew is on record as having said that he won't let the Americans into Singapore at any price, although of course he may change his mind about that in the end. Japan is not in the running (as yet). This leaves Russia—and China, but Mao's prestige among the Chinese population of Singapore has recently taken a bad knock. Still, one can see that the Malaysian government has cause for worry.
This sort of thing, believe it or not, is what Commonwealth conferences are mainly about. Of course it all ties up with the immigration problems mentioned earlier. For example, it is estimated that as many as one million Malaysians—that is, inhabitants of the Malaysian peninsula, which used to be a British colony but is now an independent member of the Commonwealth—have dual citizenship. As an extra complication, this citizenship provision is valid under British law, but not, it seems, under the legal system of the Malaysian Federation. From which it would appear to follow that these people could, in principle, claim entry into Britain if their own government allowed them to leave. Multiply this kind of problem 27 times and you can see why increasing numbers of British citizens are fed up with the Commonwealth. Or, if it helps to make things clearer, try to imagine what the American voter would think if the U.S. had 27 Puerto Ricos to look after (including Indonesia, Formosa, and South Vietnam) with some or all of their inhabitants by law entitled to emigrate to the U.S. whenever they felt like it.
One man who has no illusions on this topic (or has recently lost them) is Mr. Harold Wilson. From all accounts (see the Times and the Guardian of January 11) he told the assembled Prime Ministers that the use of military force against what is technically known as “the rebel Smith regime in Rhodesia” is out of the question. Most of us knew that three years ago, but some African statesmen have only just woken up to it. President Kaunda of Zambia is understood to have entered an eloquent plea for NIBMAR (NO Independence Before Majority African Rule) and the dispatch of a British military force to unseat Mr. Smith. He ran into a stone wall, as anyone could have told him he would. NIBMAR is dead—it was one of those silly pledges that Mr. Wilson used to hand out to all comers before he awoke to the stark realities of life on this planet. As for using force against Smith, the thought was never entertained by anyone in authority. It is true that Rhodesia has only 200,000 white inhabitants, but South Africa has four million, armed to the teeth and ready to fight. South Africa also happens to be one of Britain's biggest customers, and the possessor of important naval and air bases which may come in handy whenever China gets really troublesome.
All this was forcefully pointed out by the Prime Minister of Australia and not contradicted in public by Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who spent some of her time arguing in private with the Pakistani delegation. Pakistan is a Moslem country and has a military dictatorship of a singularly unprogressive type, but nonetheless has been getting arms from China, for the simple reason that India gets arms from Russia, and there is nothing Mao won't do to embarrass the Russians and the Indians a bit. This is the shape of the real world. The New Left is lost in it, if only because its mental level is only very slightly above that of the Little Red Book. I refer of course to the British New Left, not to its American counterpart which from all accounts is extremely well-informed and sophisticated, almost up to the Parisian level.
One topic the Commonwealth conference was careful not to discuss was the civil war in Nigeria. Behind the scenes some Biafran delegates privately met British sympathizers, but officially the subject was taboo. The reason is simple: the Nigerians had made it clear that they would not allow any discussion of what they claimed was an internal problem, and they had the reluctant backing of most African delegates. They could also count on the not-so-reluctant backing of Whitehall, where officialdom has from the start favored the Federal side: partly from ingrained traditional sentiment (in practice the British Empire has largely been an Anglo-Moslem affair, which is why senior British officials generally prefer Pakistanis to Indians); in part from fear of antagonizing the Lagos regime and driving it into the Soviet camp, which already includes Nasser's Egypt, for reasons that have little to do with Arab “progressivism.”
When the civil war started, the old Nigeria hands in London and Lagos promised their political superiors that it would be over soon. There would be a “quick kill,” as one Labour Minister phrased it privately in an unguarded moment (he must have been re-reading Ernest Bevin's office memoranda of 1948 on Palestine). When the affair threatened to drag out and public opinion on the Continent—though not in Britain—awoke to the fact that mass murder was being perpetrated, the Wilson government was on the spot. De Gaulle in his eccentric fashion had started sending arms to Biafra at the very moment when he was turning his back (to put it mildly) on Israel. Arming Biafra hardly fitted his pro-Soviet orientation, but it was popular (most Biafrans are Christians) and it gave him a chance to annoy the British. There are more Catholics than Jews in France, so the General for once was not risking trouble at home. The British government, on the other hand, could not well proclaim that it cared nothing for the mass slaughter of an African population. It therefore decided to keep quiet and pretend that nothing was happening. Unfortunately for poor Mr. Wilson, the Biafrans went on fighting longer than anyone had expected, and by early 1969 they were even beginning to get the edge militarily. The resulting dilemma was eloquently described by a special correspondent in the Economist of January 11:
While the scale of French assistance has been overestimated in London, on the other side the Biafrans believe that the chips are down with Britain once and for all. Colonel Ojukwu's slashing attack on Mr. Wilson in his New Year speech was based on information he had received of a meeting addressed by Major-General Harold Alexander [one of the British observers invited by the Federal side]. He had in any case thought for a long time that Mr. Wilson was personally interesting himself in preparing Nigeria for another massive attack, and that talk of Downing Street's interest in peace was window-dressing, though he was at pains to tell the Biafrans that the British parliament and people were not behind British Government policy.
This last, if true, testifies to an amiable illusion on Colonel Ojukwu's part. It is fair to say that most British people have come to regard the Nigerian slaughter and mass starvation as just another of those awful happenings one can't do anything about. In this instance they are mistaken, since their own government is largely responsible; but that is another story. What is certainly true is that Bevin's successors have miscalculated (an old habit with them) and that General Alexander seems to be no wiser than Sir John Glubb of Arab Legion fame. The Anglo-Moslem tie-up has misled Whitehall before and seems to be doing it again. The Economist, by the way, for all its humanitarian pathos, clearly favored the “quick kill” policy, and its editorialists have recently begun to extend the same treatment to Israel (such a nuisance to the oil companies, not to mention the closure of the Suez Canal). However, it looks as though Biafra will carry on with French help, and Israel without it. All very tiresome, but in this wretched world you can't always get the quick kills you want.
Still, one must be fair. Britain has been turning inward for some time, and this has had both positive and negative aspects. For example, people have been getting more concerned over questions such as housing, health, education, and the care of the aged and disabled: problems which in imperial days were systematically neglected because the ruling class had more important matters to attend to, and no one bothered to ask ordinary people what they wanted. Now change has come with a vengeance. The Empire is gone, the country has become a democracy (more or less), Labour is in power, or anyway in office, the Tories put out lengthy statements about the vast amount of money spent under their rule on the social services, and promise to do even better next time. The media break their hearts over the plight of the homeless, and every sort of religious body fills the air with professions of deep concern over conditions in prisons, hospitals, and homes for the aged. “Alienation” has become a popular catchword. There is even talk, here and there among ultra-progressives, about the possibility of doing away with corporal punishment in schools, thereby bringing the country up to the level of the despised Continental Europeans. Not to mention the recent legalization of sexual license for consenting adults in private (official in France since Napoleon); the abolition of pre-censorship in the theater (thereby enabling German playwrights to make money out of rehashing old Goebbels tales about Churchill murdering Sikorski); and Anglican Bishops testifying to the ennobling nature of Lady Chatterley's Lover.
The trouble is that all these indisputable advances in civilization have been obtained at the cost of making the whole country talk about nothing else for years. The schoolboy who shocked Lord Caradon (British delegate to the United Nations, in case you had forgotten) by asking whether U Thant was a pop singer or a submarine got headlines in the papers. As a result, nine citizens out of ten felt obliged for a brief moment to try to remember who or what U Thant really was. By now, most of them have returned to more pressing matters. If there is a topic guaranteed to send the average inhabitant of the British Isles to sleep even faster than talk about the multi-racial Commonwealth, it is the peace-keeping role of the United Nations. I do not say this is a healthy attitude. I merely report its existence.
The United States, of course, is another matter. We are all curious to see what Mr. Nixon and his rather dull-sounding team are going to do about the mounting internal and external problems of their country (not counting planetary exploration, which is exciting, but really seems a bit of a distraction from the real world). The unofficial betting is that they will sit firmly on the lid for as long as possible, and that one day the lid will blow off, leaving a lot of people looking very sorry for themselves. Those of us (the great majority, of whatever political coloration) who never took all that advertising copy about the Great Society seriously, feel pleasant relief at the thought that at least there will be less hot air coming out of Washington.
For it is my sad duty to report that the noble rhetoric of the Kennedy-Johnson era fell on deaf and uncomprehending ears in the land of my adoption. The British are temperamentally disposed to believe that glowing promises of a better future are never likely to materialize. This skepticism has deep roots, going back perhaps as far as the failure of the Puritan experiment. But in its modern form the phenomenon seems to date from the “Land Fit for Heroes” which Lloyd George promised the returning soldiers in 1918, on the morrow of the First World War. It is true that the post-1945 Labour government did better: at least it tried to meet its modest prospectus. Unfortunately by then the country was in hock to the rest of the world, and ever since it has been too busy working off its debts to give thought to promises of Utopia. When you have to watch your trade balance and try to keep up with the Germans and the Japanese, you don't have much time left for anything else. This is what makes us all envy the Americans so much—they seem to have a surplus of energy at their disposal. It will be interesting to see how they spend it.