CIVILIANS IN THE WAR
THE adjective " total " or " totalitarian " as applied to war has become familiar to everyone, but the task of ascertaining exactly what it implies is a con- tinuous one which will end only with the war itself. We can recognise at once the part that is being taken in the war by the fighting men, the munition workers, women engaged in special war service, and the civil defence forces. It is easy enough also to understand the war service that is being rendered by all engaged in the export trade, since they are making the goods which help to pay for imported supplies. It is obvious that farmers and farm labourers who are growing food and contriving to increase the quantity produced at home are making their contribution to the war by relieving the strain on shipping and on our capacity for buying abroad. But when we have taken all of these and some others into account there remain many millions of people who may be puzzled to know in what way, if at all, their life and work differs from their life and work in peace-time, or may be said to be playing a part in the national war effort.
Many persons, precisely because they are uneasy on this score, hasten to offer their voluntary over-time ser- vices to special kinds of war-work—work which ministers to the comfort of the troops or helps the evacuees or the invaluable youth welfare movement. Such services are an obviously useful contribution to the organisation for war. But when all of these extra- ordinary services, direct or indirect, are taken together they do not exhaust the nation's war activities, which depend on the smooth running of the whole organic life of the nation, on its healthy and vigorous function- ing without redundancy, on the general expenditure of energy for the getting of the right results—though just what are the right results it is not always easy to know.
Cabinet Ministers and economists have been trying to tell us—so far as they understand so complicated a matter themselves. They have at least been able to enunciate certain general propositions which are beyond dispute and are of the greatest importance. Some of these Sir Samuel Hoare in a lucid speech unfolded at Nottingham last Saturday. He put first, as every Minister stressing the importance of the Home front is perhaps bound to do, the apparently negative duty of every civilian to economise in his consumption of imported goods or goods whose production absorbs labour required in the export industries. He had here a strong but rather difficult case to state, one that is complicated by the fact that though in many essential industries there is a shortage of skilled labour, there is still in industry as a whole a large surplus of labour remaining unemployed. Soon that surplus will be fully absorbed, but that time has not come yet, and till it comes nothing but harm could result from severely restricted expenditure on goods which unemployed labour might be making. What therefore is most required at the moment is not so much economy in general as discriminating economy—we ought not, for example, to be buying more food than we need, or more petrol, or more woollen goods, or more products of the engineering trades. A responsibility is placed upon every citizen to decide where he should cut down first, and where cutting down might simply increase unemployment. Soon there will be no such problem —economy in almost every direction will be called for —but in the meantime it would be helpful to the public if more exact information were given concerning the classes of goods or services on which they should first cut their expenditure.
Again, there is the question of waste, the prevention of which is not a purely negative duty. Waste food, waste rags and paper, waste iron, these and other waste substances represent in value millions of pounds every year thrown away. But little can be done by individuals unless there are organised plans for the collection and distribution of the material saved. Some local authori- ties have taken energetic measures, and some have done nothing. Schemes for the collection and utilisation of waste material ought to be worked out centrally and applied in every district by the appropriate local authority ; though pending such arrangements there is nothing to prevent individuals from getting together and improvising schemes among themselves, or, better still, bringing pressure to bear on their local authorities.
Sir Samuel Hoare did not omit to mention profiteer- ing. It would be difficult to exaggerate the psycho- logical ill-effects which result either from the prevalence of profiteering or the belief that it is prevalent. Even if the workers know that general wage-increases must make the cost of living greater, there is nothing more certain to make them demand higher wages than the belief that undue profits are being made out of the industry for which they work. But the profiteering which is less easily checked is that which takes place in the distributive trades ; and indeed among some of the retailers. It is perfectly clear that a retailer has a war duty incumbent on him in the sphere of his trade just as a soldier has in soldiering; he is failing in that duty if he takes advantage of a temporary scarcity of articles he sells to raise their price to the public; and on the other hand it is a duty on the part of individual members of the public to refuse to let themselves be exploited when charges are clearly excessive.
It is natural in these days when the State has taken charge of so many of the nation's services to complain of the Government when anything goes wrong. Not that it is in the least improper to be seriously critical of the departments when they are lack- ing in enterprise or foresight. But there is plenty of room for initiative on the part of private citizens in a small sphere of action or a large one according to their abilities and powers of leadership. Some will find public duties crying out to be performed. Others will be fully and best occupied in their ordinary jobs. The first task of every citizen in time of war is to be getting on with whatever work he is best fitted for or may find himself, at second-best, allotted to, and perform that to the best of his ability. A smoothly working mechanism of civilian life is the basis upon which all the war activities rest, and in proportion as any indi- vidual is strenuously contributing to that end he i, playing his part in the totalitarian effort of the nation. It has again and again been emphasised by critics of wa, that the morale of an army depends on the morale of the civilian population at home. The obligation, therefore, is imposed on every citizen to ascertain and accept the form of activity by which he can best pull his weight and add to the nation's total accomplishment.