FRONTIERS OF HOPE AND DESPAIR
AN ADDRESS BY PIERRE VAN PAASSEN
March 29, 1934
The speaker was introduced by MAJOR W. JAMES BAXTER, the President.
MAJOR BAXTER: The Empire Club is indebted to the Toronto Daily Star for the presence here today of Mr. Pierre Van Paassen, world famous European correspondent, as Guest Speaker.
I extend on your behalf a welcome to a glamorous speaker in journalism, a writer who seems to have a perpetual monopoly on the front page of one of the world's leading daily newspapers. Wherever there is war, revolution, pestilence or persecution, Mr. Van Paassen seems to be in the thick of it and then he is out of it long enough to send his despatches, translating the horror, drama or tragedy into fascinating news, and usually, I may add, with a few words on behalf of the under-dog. (Applause.)
If you look at Mr. Van Paassen very closely you will notice that he has a well-developed bump of curiosity. This bump, if not discernible to the audience has been observed elsewhere. Mr. Van Paassen, not the bump, has been shot at in Jerusalem; he has been beaten; he has been arrested and jailed in Munich; and he has been run out of an American town by the now almost forgotten Klu Klux Klan. All these things merely prove that our Guest Speaker today "can take it." By some strange chance he has won out of the associations of cuts, abuse and indignities, some of the most entrancing and moving stories in modern journalism. You have all read a lot about Mr. Van Paassen's adventures but I would like to add a tribute to another and higher characteristic-his humanitarian outlook. In article after article he has 'demonstrated his sympathy and compassion for the oppressed.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce Mr. Pierre van Paassen.
MR. PIERRE VAN PAASSEN: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen: It is almost ten years ago since I left Toronto to start on that tour, going through the face of the earth like our friend, Satan, of yore, and in quoting his words, I want to show you the universal interest of newspaper men, and to say that I have an analagous acquaintance with that man of the nether regions if I have no other connection.
The years that have gone by have seen in Europe and the world a tremendous transformation and if I am to make some remarks here on the subject of "Frontiers of Hope and Despair," I would like to make it clear that I do not merely mean physical frontiers, not merely geographical frontiers because geographical frontiers have a tendency of changing almost over night, of changing almost in the twinkling of an eye from a frontier of despair to one of hope.
In this connection I recall that I had an experience after my arrival in Palestine in 1929 when I went on a tour of Abyssinia and the Soudan. There the Abyssinians had been raiding villages across the border in the Soudan and had been carrying off the population and the inhabitants in these raids and had been transferring them across the Red Sea into Arabia, Persia and other lands and selling the people as slaves. A British officer, a very small, tiny little man was all alone, the only white man in command of seventy black Nubian soldiers. He had been sent out to try and check the slave trade in Abyssinia. I had followed him around for about a month and finally caught up with him and carried the news to him that he had been promoted from Captain to Major a year before. The news had been travelling around, following him for a year. There I found him in the midst of the blacks, one white man, not able to understand a single word of Nubian, trying to rid the country of the slave raiders. I followed him along. He was largely occupied in carrying personal baggage and a portabe bath. We caught up with the last part of the slave raiders. Two thousand in number had just captured a village of 500 people, men, women and children, ready to ship across the Red Sea. The British officer instead of challenging them--he hadn't the troops to challenge raiders, two thousand strong--sent over an envoy to the chief of the raiders to tell him to come and call on him under one of the maple trees. He got the best uniform out of his trunk and the man duly came to call on him. He said, "Now, look here, this business of slave raiding, you know, has got to stop around here and you had better hand over the people you captured last month without any delay." To my immense suprise, the slaves were handed over without a shot being fired and the people were restored to their villages and their homes.
I asked the officer by what audacity, by what right, by what authority he managed to impose his will on a hostile tribe, armed to the teeth. He said, "You see, it is quite possible to wipe me out, but they know there will be another British officer along after me. He may not have seventy black men; he may have seventy white men. If they are wiped out in turn, another British officer will come and perhaps will not have seventy men but seven hundred anal then they know that a British fleet may cross the Sahara Desert to settle things." So you see the transformation of a frontier of despair into a frontier of hope within a month's time.
It doesn't come so easily in other parts of the world. There are at the present time some frontiers of hope but there are more frontiers of despair. On my last trip across the European Continent, coming from Constantinople to Paris on my way home by merely looking out of the window the impression was that war was going on already. Troops were moving in all directions, artillery right along the roads, tanks, airplanes, search lights, and troop kitchens being put up everywhere as if a front existed already somewhere in Europe and by contrast with the intense militarization of the European Continent, there is the flagrant contribution of massed destitution.
A few minutes out of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, the train came to a halt and the dining car carriage was being assaulted, actually being assaulted by a crowd of about five or six hundred naked and ragged children who all pointed to their mouths to indicate they were hungry. One of the Bulgarian officers on board-they even have to guard the trains for fear they are attacked by hungry hordes of people-noticed that the passengers had begun to throw bread to the hungry children: and he came up and said in French, "Cela ne vaut pas la peine!" It's not worth the trouble. They are going to die anyhow.
You see the wealth of the people is being wasted in this insanity of militarism. It is the same thing everywhere.
Crossing from Bulgaria to Yugoslavia there are on each train four or five Generals and at least ten Colonels, decorated in gold and silver, clanking spurs and sabers on the platforms and in the streets and so on down the long line.
Since 1933 something has happened in Europe which is endangering the peace of the Continent. A new phenomenon has arisen and it is not sufficient to say that the Germans have been disappointed in the past and that they have abandoned seeking their way out of stagnation by abandoning Democracy. It is not sufficient to say that the Germans are the people who require an authoritative regime, who must be ruled by a strong hand, who have a longing for militarism. It is nothing of the sort. The German people are just as pacific and peacefully inclined as we are, but the German people, having been insulted by the Treaty of Versailles are a people who have been humiliated and the liberals, especially in Germany, have been trying from Versailles onward to come to an understanding with the rest of the world. Instead of supporting the liberals in Germany, instead of upholding their hand, the vindictive spirit, the war psychosis which was prolonged after the War in countries like France, especially, were such that the liberals ire Germany could make no headway and finally, were repudiated by their own people and a new orientation in another direction was begun and now culminates in the disaster of the Hitler regime.
I call it a disaster not only for the German people and not only because of the horrible things that have transpired there, the attacks on helpless minorities, for the attacks upon the fine systems of labour and pensions and social insurance, not only for that reason but because now installed in the centre of Europe is a state which is potentially the strongest state in Europe there has been installed a government which has torn away, which has repudiated international collaboration, a government which no longer wants to hear about sitting around the general table and discussing the affairs of humanity in common.
There is a Germany in the center of Europe which is going to place its faith and its destiny in the number of tanks and aeroplanes and supplies of poison gas which the state possesses. There lies the disaster. When you hear men like Von Papen say that the destiny of an average real German is to die on the battle field and that he hates to die in bed, this means that they hold up as an ideal, death on the battle field and the trouble is that in death on the battle field, they can't die alone. They don't go there to commit suicide. They want others there and then their lives are in danger.
Now, because there is really nothing accidental in this world-it can be said that Hitler is a bolt from the blue or that he is an optic illusion, or that we weren't prepared for anything of the sort, but everything has a cause in this world--Hitler came about as the result, in my estimation and I say this not just superficially but after diligent enquiry and sometimes with a great deal of trepidation before making it public altogether, I say that Hitler is there as the result of an international conspiracy, an international conspiracy. We are sometimes reproved for being internationally minded, for looking beyond our frontiers, for considering the whole human race as a human brotherhood. But here is an international conspiracy which has succeeded in turning one country of the world into a martial camp and this conspiracy must be laid to the international munition manufacturers. These men have tried ever since the War stopped in 1918, by all means in their power to restore in Europe in some country or other, nationalist chauvinism. So long as nationalism is making headway, so long as people are thinking in terms of world brotherhood, so long as movements are going on, re-establishing world peace and placing it on a permanent basis, so long as the munition manufacturers had no profits, but when they succeeded by financing the Hitler movement, not only German but international financiers, and when they succeeded in installing one government there which would no longer participate in international collaborations, they had won the day.
You can see what is going on now because Germany has succeeded in turning the whole European Continent into a vast armed camp and not only that, there is a vague sense of dread all over the Continent. The peoples are living again in a suspense and as I said before, in contrast with the suspense of war, there is all this deepening economic depression, as a result of the preparations for war.
I passed through provinces in Poland where not a lamp has burned in any home for the last two years. In Budapest, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, people are living in holes in the ground. In Roumania, all orphanages, all schools, all institutions have been closed up. All the money is going into war preparations. And you see now the prospect that is being held out to France and to Poland that peace and prosperity and well being may be brought back by war.
As Germany, of course, built a stupendous industrial apparatus after the war, largely through the loans from America for the payment of reparations. This economic apparatus has extended rapidly and the task of Hitler and his associates is to put the machinery in motion again, for unless they can produce something else than the torture of their opponents, attacks on the Jews and torchlight parades, the people are not going to be satisfied with that. They must find work. That is the great task of the Nazi regime over there. This task is impossible because no markets are left for German industry. In spite of what is being said, in spite of the figures that are being published, showing that in Germany unemployment is going down, it is going up. Destitution in Germany is mounting day by day and last month, for the first time in history, the imports exceeded the exports by thirty billion marks. Taxes are ruinously high.
There is a dissatisfaction all over the line, not only in the political circles or what remains of them but even in the churches there is a great anxiety, a great fear, for they see that in order to install this brand of xenophobia, this nationalist chauvinism in Germany, Hitler is knocking down and destroying every movement and every idealogy which has for its basis an international or universal outlook.
At first he attacked the Jews because the Jews have been the bearer of an international ideal, an ideal of peace for the last two thousand years. They are a people without arms. If any one knows the futility and the insanity of fratricide, it is the Jews because they have on all frontiers and in all lines. They, more than any others, have known the meaning of the brotherhood of man. And they attacked all political organizations which had an international basis. And, now, the Catholic Church is next in turn, and the Protestant Church is going to come, because, after all, these religious organizations, also, are based upon an international outlook. It is not for nothing, as I said the other night, that the Catholic Bishop of Paris has included a prayer for the Jews in the liturgy of the Church, because the Catholic Church knows that the attack on the Jews is a prelude of an attack upon the catholicity, upon the universality of the Church.
And so you see, they are installing this thing in Germany to the detriment of the whole world. The danger of war is creeping nearer all the time. While the Hitlerites have a definite plan in their minds and are trying to win the other powers to an agreement and allow Germany to re-arm there are many other eventualities in Europe that may materialize within the interval before the plan materializes.
Look at Austria. A little land, a head without a body, really; a small land now assuming the significance of a major power. In Austria, not only Mussolini is interested but Hitler is interested and, also, France. Mussolini would like to see Austria allied to Hungary and the monarch restored there because Mussolini is looking for allies just as much as France is. Mussolini wants a system of alliances anal France has a system of its own. He has strengthened Italy by penetrating the Balkans, now having Bulgaria and Roumania on his side. He wants to restore the monarchy and unite Austria and Hungary under the Hapsburgs. Germany wants to annex Austria and join it to the Reich.
In France there is, in peace time, a General, a Marshal in the Cabinet, an event of greatest significance because they do not do that unless they look with apprehension at the future. In France there is a group, especially representing the general staff who favour a principle of war against Germany, a war to destroy Germany, to break her in two before she can get strong enough to impose her will on the Continent and these men propose, and the chief exponent of the ideal is General Weygand, to drive a French army across France into Germany and link with it the army of Czechoslovakia, and divide Germany and link Austria with Bavaria linking the Catholic part of Germany together and have an independent government in the north, to bring back the situation which existed prior to 1871 before Bismarck welded the German Empire together. Of course, to the Czechoslovakians and the Jugoslavians, the restoration of the monarch in Austria is immediately an agreement to go to war, because Austria, if the monarch is restored there, would inevitably begin to seek to regain her old provinces which were taken away after the War and these old provinces are now republics or largely incorporated in the republics of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. If anyone goes into Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia are ready to ,march in immediately.
Along the small end of Austria, four or five of the greater powers are looking on, watching every move being made, fearful and suspicious of each other. That is the 'result of the implanting of this xenophobia nationalism in Germany. It is a situation that has come about in a year's time, after the liberals in every land and for years since the War have been trying to bring about a larger spirit of international co-operation and we have been trying to break down the war psychosis and to tell people that to go to war to settle disputes by war and to settle economic differences by war is nothing but insanity. All the work is undone in one blow; in a few week's time; the whole thing is destroyed.
You see the way they did in Germany showed a most Clever manipulation of human psychology, because instead of starting out by pointing to the powers which were keeping Germany enslaved, the emphasis was placed on the fact that they were looking for an enemy in the interior of Germany. You see they had to have a wedge. The attack on the Jews was the thin edge of the wedge for larger and bigger hatreds to come. There was some one on whom to unload all this sense of humiliation and sorrow of the past. Men, always, are looking for a victim. Men seldom want to face the realities and accept the consequences of their own evil deeds. But, especially in days of upheaval and of economic depression" then man begins to look for a tangible, a living victim on which to unload all this sense of sorrow and shame. And, upon more than one occasion in the course of history the victim has been the people of Israel. Are they bad people? We have investigated in all ways-are they a bad people? Are they against the course of civilization? There are no bad peoples. The brotherhood of man is not a mere sentimental expression; it is a biological fact. But they were selected for the attack because they represented to the German people the only people that was still alien. Ever it is upon the alien, the stranger, that these attacks first are launched. But, as T say, it was for the simple purpose of mobilizing the spirit of the German people for the larger hatreds to come, for immediately after they crushed the Jews out of existence over there, in spite of the fact that the Jews have been collaborators ire the upbuilding of Germany culture, in spite of the fact that as loyal citizens, they have given the lives of 25,000 of their own for Germany, in spite of the fact that they have endowed colleges, that they have built universities, and in spite of the fact that they have given more individual scientists to Germany than any other group, in spite of all these, when the time came they were swept away as so much dirt -in a moment of economic depression. Accentuation of the economic depression for a purpose, and the purpose is now becoming clear to us.
We have been accused on many occasions of exaggerating on the subject of German preparedness, of German militarisation. Day by day, the papers are carrying the news of monies being set aside by the German government for new armaments, for new equipment for the air forces, something they lacked hitherto, and the danger is coming closer all the time. I don't see how, in the present course of events, if it keeps on as it is going. I don't see how war can be prevented when people are being whipped up to a frenzy of hatred, when citizens are being told, instead of that the man across the border is just as fine a human being as he is, that they are enemies, plotting against their territory and so forth. How can war be prevented unless forces of humanity have the courage and vision to stand up and say that this thing shall not go further. (Applause.)
You see the danger is that we, ourselves, in other lands become contaminated with that war spirit. The wedge is there again, the same wedge. Referring to America now, fortunately there is an upswing in the economic situation there, but if there were by some fatality to be a failure of the New Deal there, there are many organizations ready to unload the evil consequences of the failure upon racial minorities, instead of facing the thing squarely and. saying, "Our system at the present moment is not functioning as it should or it is a failure"; instead of doing that they try to unload, these organizations which are growing up there now, try to steer people off on a side tangent, upon a false trail, and in this way this hatred of the foreigner, the alien comes in. The test of the civilization of any people is the way they treat a foreigner, as a foreigner myself, coming as a young man to Canada, I have nothing but praise for the way I was received in Canada. But you see, others are mot so fortunate; they do not see this ideal.
As this danger is approaching, this danger of war, we are looking around to see how it possibly can be avoided because you know, the next war is not going to be just a contest between two armies. It is going to be an attempt to destroy the civilian population. The armies at the front may even remain intact. Aeroplanes are going to fly across the borders and are going to destroy the capitals of Europe. In the house where I live in Paris, we are having gas drill twice a week; women and children must be taken to drill at a certain moment and when the whistle is blown, we must go down. And gas masks are for sale on bargain days at the department stores.
We want to try to avoid the thing. We are not fighting Hitlerism because of the ideals he seeks to spread but because he is endangering the whole of humanity, because if a war comes at the present moment, it may well be that European civilization is wiped out.
How are we going to prevent it? You see, the fact that civilians are going to be involved in the next war brings about an entirely new state of affairs. It is no longer the business of diplomats and soldiers, alone. The next war is the business of civilians. That is why we, as civilians, have to take an active part in trying to prevent it. We have in each country forward-looking men and women. They will have to stand together and support the organizations of peace, stand together and try to bar the road to this mounting tide of ferocity and barbarism.
I believe that we are at one of the cross currents of history. I believe that the destiny of mankind at the present moment is hanging in the balance and hanging helplessly in the balance, unless the forces of humanity get together and forget, for the moment, their small and insignificant differences; stand together to bar the way to great disaster.
You see Hitler--of course, I understand he is being pictured at the moment as a bar to Oriental barbarism, meaning to aesthetic savagery--and you are told that he is stemming the tide of Socialism and Communism in Germany. I assure you that the very opposite is true. Hitler is showing the working classes at the present moment that nothing is to be hoped for from him. I do not believe that Communism was possible in Germany before the Hitlerite power came into being but I know that the next revolution in Germany will come from that side. Instead of barring the way, he is opening the road to it because the oppression in Germany is so intense that man will not ultimately abide by it.
But our main consideration on the North American Continent is this: Instead of Democracy giving in everywhere and being defeated everywhere and being overwhelmed by the rising tide of militant chauvinism, Democracy must take a stand, instead of believing to the last moment in legalities and waking up some morning with the soldiers of the Nazis or some other organization under our noses, liberals should take a stand and say, "We also will impose our authority. We are not going to have the human race plunged in a blood bath and we are not going to permit our people to be split up and divided into groups and have races divided by racial hatreds and passions of that sort. (Applause.)
You see, if you look at the general course of world history, you can see from H. G. Wells' "Outline of History" and Mr. Van Loon's "Story of Mankind", the purpose of man on earth. You see the slow evolution, the slow upward climb of man out of darkness toward the light. The science of civilization is that man is to get rid of the hurry instinct and gradually move from family to nation and out of this hurry era into a noble state of some sort. In books of that sort, you can feel the impulse like the theme in a symphony. Sometimes there is a chaotic medley of sound and sometimes harsh sounds, but ultimately in the medley there is a blending of forces and then we hear the real music. So, in humanity, there is gradually an upward climb. Man, at first, just a member of the herd, perhaps, just a drop of water in the ocean but he has been growing upward, trying to express himself, do his own deeds and trying to exalt his soul and thereby prove his kinship with the Divine.
Now, there is a movement on this earth that seeks to reverse the process of history and plunge back into the Middle Ages, and to this process we want to say, "Halt". (Applause.) I want to make an appeal to you. When we Canadians are travelling abroad, we are sometimes told that Canada plays no role in international affairs I would like to say that the day is coming when Canada will play a role in international affairs. T would like to say the day is coming when Canada will take a lead in advocating world peace. (Applause.) Then, if you are internationally minded you can be a great force. I want to see my country great in the things of the spirit. One of the first things we can do if we are still a Democracy, if our Members of Parliament still represent the people, we should demand if ever the calamity comes so close to us, if we are called to go and fight, we should demand from this moment onward that there shall be a consultation of the Canadian people before we are plunged into a blood bath. (Applause, Prolonged.)