The Moving Finger Writes, But What Does It Write
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 Apr 1942, p. 396-407
Sanderson, Charles R., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A review of the past year. How our live are affected by the war. The sanction and enforcement of action resting on public opinion, on the people. An evaluation of Canada's war effort. The kind of world we want after the war. What we mean by a "different world." Conditions the troops might find when they come home. What the troops found when they came home after the first World War. Views on the Pan-America question. The Quebec problem. Thinking in stereotypes. Getting caught up in domestic problems. Asking ourselves what we mean when we talk about Canada being a great country. The speaker concludes by offering words of appreciation for the encouragement he has received during his year as President.
Date of Original
30 Apr 1942
Language of Item
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Full Text
Thursday, April 16, 1942

Mr. C. R. SANDERSON: Gentlemen, your Executive Committee felt that this Annual Meeting had to be, rounded out, and, instead of inviting an outside speaker with the possibility that his time for speaking would be curtailed, they invited your outgoing President to address this final meeting of the season, with the proviso that, despite the fact that it was an Annual Meeting with a certain amount of business to do, the meeting should definitely end at its normal period. That shall be done.

I cannot live up to the flattering remarks of the announcement card because, Gentlemen, I am no oracle. Actually, what I, propose to do is to be deliberately provocative, and to ask a few questions rather than to try to answer them.

Suppose we begin this way: No one can have come to our meetings Thursday after Thursday and have listened to the speakers that your Executive Committee have produced, without a very vivid consciousness that we are living here in security--and I don't mean even relative security--that we are living here in security and watching the rest of the world tumble in ruins.

Masaryk came and talked to us about Czechoslovakia. Podoski came and talked to us about Poland. Mr. Fung came and talked to us about what is happening in Holland.

As we listened to those talks weren't we conscious that, apart from ourselves, the whole world is on fire? Weren't we conscious of the fact that we are watching both on the European side and on the Oriental side of the world a repetition of history, a re-enactment of the incursions of the barbaric hordes which, centuries ago, swept over whole continents, just as if someone brushed a blackened hand over a map of a large portion of the globe?

After we had listened to those talks, just what did they do to us?

We doubtless said that it was a good address. We honestly felt that. we were glad to have heard it. We welcomed the information which the speaker brought to us. But my first question, Gentlemen, is: Haven't those addresses still left us with something of that same complacency for which we have been criticizing governments and criticizing individuals--a complacency for which, even at this very moment, we are criticizing governments and individuals? Aren't we ourselves guilty of the very sin for which we are stoning others?

If we really felt what we ought to feel, shouldn't we now be filled with an overwhelming and vitalising faith in the sacredness of our cause? Have we that faith, or are we merely doing a little lip service? The only other while they were doubtless working hard for 'war production, nevertheless must inevitably have an eye to the future productive and profitable use of their expanded plants in an industrial way in peacetime.

Let me turn for a moment to submit another thought. We talk about a different world after the war. What kind of a different world do we mean? Sir Clutha Mac-kenzie, one of our guest speakers, told us about the poor impoverished individual in New Zealand whose gross unearned income of £80,000 a year was now so reduced by taxation that New Zealand had to pass a special law in order to guarantee him a reasonably comfortable subsistence level: We were interested. We were amused at the thought of the poor benighted individual being reduced to the common economic level. We probably thought it was a move in the right direction that the ultra wealthy should be reduced to monetary speaking terms with other people. It perhaps gave us comfort in thinking of our own personal income tax.

But that involves only money. Is it, merely money we are going to think about in this thing? Conscientious objectors in the last war went to prison rather than fight, but I never heard, in Britain at any rate, of a conscientious objector who went to prison because he refused to pay his income tax, which, in turn, was paying for the war. The conscientious objector was willing to pay. Are we satisfied, Gentlemen, by our own willingness to pay? Mere willingness to pay will neither produce an all-out war effort now, nor produce that different world of which we talk as being the outcome of the post-war period and peace.

When we speak of a different world, we might do well to remember what the Scandinavian countries achieved in the pre-war period. Those little nations had felt themselves to be free--free even from fear. Instead of spending their money on armaments, they thought they could safely turn it into social channels, and they had come to accept what we have been slower to recognize,--that Democracy was not achieved because we had freedom of thought, freedom of worship, freedom of speech; and freedom of suffrage. One more of the questions I want to ask today is: Have we not tended to think that Democracy was achieved because we had these four basic freedoms, whilst, until they were over-run, these countries were showing us, in their own small way, that these freedoms were merelv a condition of Democracy, not the achievement of it? They had realized and had, demonstrated that, for their peoples as a whole, life had to be something more than a roulette wheel which stopped for this person at affluence, for that person at sufficiency, for that person at poverty.

I am not talking Socialism, Gentlemen. I am not talking any particular doctrinaire political philosophy. But I do ask: Haven't we a lesson that we could learn?

Whilst we are talking about a different world, may I ask another question? Supposing this war peters out, as it may do in the coming winter, and our lads begin to come back to Canada, in what way will it be a different Toronto, in what way will it be a different Ontario, in what way will it be a different Canada, from the place they left?

You remember, as I do, after the last war, when the fellows came back from the army, they found that others had climbed ahead in their absence; they found that they themselves had returned to meet unemployment and a mounting cost of living. They were dispirited. They were skeptical about the vaunted "land fit for heroes to live in..", This war already makes the last war seem comparatively small. But it is not merely the scale of the war; it is also the character of the conflict that counts. And our fighting forces will face a strain and stress, physical and mental, that appals even an imagination based on any personal experience of the last war. If our troops come back to conditions similar to those which we faced when we returned after the last war, they will come back not merely dispirited and skeptical, they will come back with a deep seated bitterness.

In looking for some method of preventing this, perhaps we ask: Why don't they do something? Who are they? Whom do we mean? The Dominion Government? The Provincial Government? The City Government? But, Gentlemen, may I repeat once more: If we have faith in the things that we profess, doesn't all action in the last analysis come down to ourselves? Isn't it we ourselves who ought to be doing something? The people are the final and deciding voice in a Democracy. As I asked before: Why did Churchill readjust his Cabinet? The answer is: Popular demand; the public will.

So far from urging now that secure foundations shall be laid for a post-war world, we seem to be complacent enough to believe that, when we come to the Peace-table, we shall be able to solve the enormously complex problems that are going to include both big nations and little nations. When some of those little nations do stand up again after their disruption and physical impoverishment, to say nothing of the way in which every drop of financial blood will have dripped from their wounds, they will be so feeble that they will be able only to totter with bent knees. To whom are these little nations going to look for help, for protection, for guidance, whilst their flags learn once more to fly? To whom can thev look except to the English-speaking peoples of the world? Yet we seem complacently to think that we can deal with that problem when it arises, without any thought beforehand.

We look back a little over a hundred years to the Congress of Vienna, manoeuvred by Metternich, the most skilful statesman of his time. It fell to pieces. Why? Because Metternich insisted (arid he was powerful enough to get his end) that Europe should be reframed in a status quo. We already recognize that as an impossible basis of the peace following this war.

Or we look back at Versailles. We see the mistakes of Versailles and its basis of rampant nationalism. We now recognize the impossibility of a permanent peace on such a foundation. We think that, with these examples in front of us, we, have learned our lesson and that the next world-peace will be a permanent one. We appear to be giving little thought even as to the foundations on which it must be built. Is it not possible that we may be caught as unprepared for the outbreak of peace as we were for the outbreak of war?

We speak' so constantly of this new world, a world of amity with all the Allied nations living in one family. Yet, Gentlemen, we 'haven't in the meantime even solved our own difficulties. How much today am I, how much today are 'you, trying to do in connection with any domestic problem that concerns Canada? Some of our national problems involve Canada as a whole. We are a continent of Allies, but what are our views on the PanAmerica question? Some other problems are purely internal and domestic questions. Every democratic country has them. Canada is not in any way peculiar in this respect. The United States has its colour problem. It also has its migrant problem. Henry Hill Collins, an American, recently, wrote a book which he called "America's Own Refugees." According to his findings, four million homeless, drifting Americans are continually on the march in search of jobs, clue to soil erosion, mechanization, a growing population facing declining opportunities, and other similar causes.

We, on our side, have the Quebec problem.

When we look at these domestic problems, we tend to think they are so big and so complicated that it is almost hopeless to look for solutions. Yet, Gentlemen, shouldn't we remind ourselves of the internal problems which stood in the way of the establishment of the United States of America? Before Union was established, New York State, to protect its own fuel market, was keeping out Connecticut wood: the New York farmers were keening out New Jersey butter; Boston was boycotting Rhode Island grain; Philadelphia was refusing to accept New Jersey money; New York troops were aligned on the Vermont frontier.

Might anyone not have thought, at that time, that these were unsolvable problems? Yet, with good-will, with a willingness to reject former conceptions (or perhaps misconceptions), and with a determination to achieve a compromise that was personal, state, and national, the people of the United States made themselves into one of the greatest nations in the world.

Is it not possible, therefore, that, in looking at our own internal problems, we may be over-emphasising our difficulties, partly perhaps because we tend to think in stereotypes?

Let me give an illustration of the kind of thing I mean, by recalling an incident from Walter Lippman's book, "Public Opinion." He describes a particular experiment that was staged before a group of trained psychologists. They were in convention, and, while they were actually in session, a door opened at the end of the hall. In ran a white man. Behind him ran a negro with a knife. The white man stumbled. The negro jumped on him and stuck the knife into him. They both got up and ran out.

It took just a few seconds to carry out. It had been rehearsed until there was no mistake as to exactly what was happening or did happen.

The moment the thing was over each member of the convention was asked to write an account of what he had just seen. Lippman says that out of forty accounts that were written immediately, only one had less than twenty per cent of, error in main fact, and thirty-four contained ten per cent of detail that never occurred at all. Yet these men were trained psychologists.

It makes one wonder how the human mind works. But it doesn't disturb Lippman. He explains it all by saying that these people were thinking in stereotypes. They had seen such a brawl before, or they had heard such a brawl described before, or they had read of such a brawl before. Therefore, what they were seeing was not what they were actually observing with their eyes at that moment, but was; also, what they were seeing with their minds on which impressions had previously been made. They were thinking in stereotypes.

Have we any stereotypes that colour the picture of things which we think we are observing? Don't we smile at the insularity of the man who lives in England and who, when he crosses the Straits of Dover into another, country, expects the people of that country to speak his own language? On the continent of Europe many countries are not merely bilingual, they are trilingual.

Some twenty years ago a young Austrian Jewish girl came to live in my home in England and stayed some months. She was fifteen or sixteen years of age, and she spoke French, German, and English, fluently. Her father once came over from Vienna to see her. I discovered that he had read all the current English books in the Tauchnitz edition--that is, in English, not in translation. He knew the names of all the Cabinet Ministers in Britain. He brought with him his little son who was five or six years of age. That lad had already been taken to all the classical concerts within reach. He was being trained from his childhood to an appreciation of the beautiful in music, from the ground up. And the whole family spoke English, French, and German.

Doesn't an illustration like this make one wonder whether, when we refuse to allow Ontario to become bilingual, we are not only shutting ourselves out from something of cultural value, but also are not guiltless of adding a few bricks to that wall of isolationism which we point at as being built by others?

We say that, as the result of the present war, the democratic communities and nations must inevitably come closer together. We say that we are now citizens of the world. Do we really mean that? Or are we just using a hackneyed phraseology? I wonder, Gentlemen, in these serious times, with death and destruction creeping closer to us week by week, whether we should not ask ourselves just what does Christianity, or Democracy, or Socialism, or Patriotism, or Good-Will, mean to us. Do they mean what we' think they mean, or are we merely using phrases that are based on stereotypes?

There is an urgent need--how urgent it is, you know as well as I do--that we take out our preconceived ideas' and dust them, that we make an attempt to fit them into this new pattern of personal belief which we say we have in the new world that is coming; that we manage somehow to fill ourselves with an overwhelming faith in the very principles for which our nations are fighting. It may be that we shall have to discard many of our former thoughts which have rested on our shabby personal security. Let us fit ourselves for the job that we say the English-speaking people of the world are going to have to face.

When we talk about ourselves in Canada, and when we talk about Canada being a great country, let us again ask: ourselves just what do we mean. Do we mean that Canada is going to be industrially great, agriculturally great? Are we thinking of what a wonderful luxury train this is in which we are going to be able to ride? Or are we thinking of the spiritual contribution that Canada will be able to make to a new world, a new world built on freedom and security, a new world that is going to be worth living in?

Gentlemen, it is a tradition of this Club that it does its utmost to help to/weld the Empire together. The future of the world depends on the intellectual honesty and the detached judgment of the English-speaking people, of which you and I form a part.

And now, Gentlemen, before I vacate this presidential chair, may I thank you for the unfailing courtesy which I have enjoyed throughout the past season. I thank you for the scores--I don't think I would exaggerate if I said hundreds--of comments of encouragement that you have been kind enough to give me. I have done my best in serving as your president, and I hope now, at this closing meeting--of the season, Gentlemen, you may, in the kindness of your heart, think that, all things considered, it hasn't been too bad a year. (Applause--prolonged, the audience rising to their feet.)

Thank you, Gentlemen. This meeting is now adjourned.

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The Moving Finger Writes, But What Does It Write

A review of the past year. How our live are affected by the war. The sanction and enforcement of action resting on public opinion, on the people. An evaluation of Canada's war effort. The kind of world we want after the war. What we mean by a "different world." Conditions the troops might find when they come home. What the troops found when they came home after the first World War. Views on the Pan-America question. The Quebec problem. Thinking in stereotypes. Getting caught up in domestic problems. Asking ourselves what we mean when we talk about Canada being a great country. The speaker concludes by offering words of appreciation for the encouragement he has received during his year as President.