3 MAY 1940, Page 15


[In view of the paper shortage it is essential that letters on these pages should be brief. We are anxious not to reduce the number of letters, but unless they are shorter they must be fewer. Writers are urged to study the art of compression.—Ed., "The Spectator."'


StR,—Having been in Holland, Belgium and France during the first three weeks of April, I met soon after my return a friend who was in the Balkans during the second half of April—this letter, therefore, is a summary of our joint impressions.

The peculiar conditions of the war tend, by curtailing informa- tion and isolating people from external contacts, to develop pre- conceived ideas and wishful thinking. It is, therefore, increasingly important as the war goes on to try and avoid interpreting events and trends from one's own point of view only, and, in particular, becoming influenced by one's own propaganda and losing independent judgement.

We tend, for instance, in this country to consider that because opinion in this or that neutral country is anti-German it must be pro-Ally, and we therefore conclude that if the Germans con- tinue their gangster methods the world will soon be actively on our side. This is a mistake. Germany's neutral neighbours may be passionately anti-German, but they hate and fear the war, and tend to regard the Allies as partly responsible. This attitude may seem to us unreasonable, but it springs from two sources. First, a deep-rooted mistrust among the smaller States of the genuineness of our motives, after the succession of Manchuria, Abyssinia, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Albania, and the determined attempts in each case to justify our attitude on moral grounds: they therefore regard our appeals for common action, ofi a basis which we ourselves did much to undermine in the past, as attempts to get someone else to fight our battles for us. Second, however, is a subconscious feeling that our case is right and that they ought to be on our side, but this is ewershadowed by a real—and increasing—fear that we are either unwilling or unable to protect them: the example of Poland is a very living memory, and the fate of Norway is, therefore, now an absolutely vital issue.

It is particularly important for us to realise that educated opinion in the neutral countries, being especially vigilant at present, is, on the whole, better informed than we are of the general situation, and has—through the sense of danger— developed a strong critical faculty. It tends to argue on the basis of what appear to be facts and to reject pious hopes. Most important, it argues from the Continental standpoint of power politics and it is therefore no use attempting to explain our ideas and hopes in terms of a different conception: this is clearly observable when discussing matters even with the French.

An excellent illustration is the conception of sea-power. The British view is that sea-power is a long-term factor of impreg-

nable defence and gradually increasing slow pressure ; the Conti-

nental, an additional flank protection or weapon for gaining a military or political objective. The assessment of losses, therefore, depends on these two conceptions. Thus, in the Continental con- ception, Hitler's sacrifice of half his fleet is amply justified if he succeeds in effectively occupying most of Norway—because his political victory will have been great, and all neutrals agree that this is primarily a political and strategical war. It will be little use trying to explain to the neutrals that, in the British conception of sea-power, the situation may have improved in our favour—the firm impression would be left that in a large area of the North Sea German sea and air power have been decisive. In such

circumstances, it would be hardly possible to persuade Balkan countries with sea coasts that they can count on our assistance because we can reach them. An illustration of this Continental conception is the remark of a French naval officer, when discuss- frig the dangerous strategical position of the Germans in Norway:

"Now that half the German fleet is out of action your Navy's (i.e., the British) relative superiority is so overwhelming that you can risk losses in a bold attack to prevent the Germans bringing reinforcements of heavy equipment to their advance troops in Norway."

The moral seems to be that we must not think that an explana- tion satisfactory to us is necessarily understood by or reassuring to the neutrals. In this connexion we tend to underestimate the intelligence and resources of our audiences: in most small coun- tries the more enlightened elements have contacts in many coun- tries, study foreign publications—particularly specialist ones— and have a much greater determination to find out facts and reasons. The official communities are also smaller, so that access to " expert " information is easier. This, of course, favours gossip and false rumours—but, on the other hand, makes informed opinion much more difficult to fob off with vague or inadequate data.

There is a tendency to dub incredulous or critical individual neutrals—especially those in important positions—as "pro- German." This is not necessarily correct : it may well be that such individuals, owing to their frequent contact with Germans or German publications—especially technical ones—have adopted the German method of studying a situation or approaching a problem, but would, if properly handled, willingly consider another point of view.

In this connexion, the attitude to German propaganda is interesting : German statements, on the whole, are not believed, nevertheless German propaganda is effective in that it builds up certain themes—e.g., German air and military strength, Allied slowness, British naval ineffectiveness, &c.—which if they appear to be justified by events—as seen from the Continental point of view—may raise doubts as to whether the extravagant statements are so false after all. We must, therefore, be careful to relate our propaganda to reality and make our audiences think