1910s >> 1918 >> no-169-september-1918

By The Way

The question of the war worker and the fabulous wealth which he gets in return for his labour is a theme which is ever dear to the heart of some writers in the Press, and waxes not old. That there are other people inside capitalist society who also receive fabulous sums and yet never have to function inside office, field, factory, mine, or workshop—the absentee shareholder, and so on—never calls for any comment: it is all part of the “natural order” of things. Then there is another type of person who has come into the light during the war and whose “honorary services appear to be very lucrative. (Concerning these interesting persons a question was asked regarding payments made thereto, and I read that—

Mr. Kellaway yesterday, in answer to a question by Mr. Gilbert in the House of Commons, stated that subsistence allowances were paid to persons on the Headquarters Staff of the Ministry of Munitions for honorary services amounting to £14,460 per annum. These allowances were on the scale of £1 per working or calendar day, and were paid to 41 persons. —“Daily News,” 16th, 1918.

One therefore concludes that this measure of gratefulness is to fulfill the prophecy, or saying, of old: “The devil is good to his own.”

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In spite of “League of Nations” twaddle and the story that this is the “war to end war,” one remains unconvinced. One cause of the present scribe’s scepticism is to be found in the Press, which states that the Japanese are reported to have come to the decision to increase their army. The announcement goes on to say that—“The program, when completed, implies an increase of 50 per cent. in the present standing army.  .  . . The standing army of Japan would then consist of 126 regiments as compared with 84 regiments.” (“Daily News,” July 9th, 1918.) To remove all doubt and dispel disputation concerning this item of news, the para-graph opens thus: “From an authoritative Japanese source Reuter’s Agency learns with regard to the reported decision to increase the Japanese army that the step in question has no connection with the situation arising out of the war.”

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A short while ago there appeared in the papers a brief reference to the case of two ex-soldiers who, after having fought for “King and Country,” were now finding their habitation in disused pig-sties. The facts were referred to in the Commons, but I will content myself by giving the newspaper announcement on the subject. Here it is—

Two cases of discharged soldiers and their families living in disused wooden pig-sties on vacant land were reported by an inspector to the Sheffield Corporation. The Committee of the Corporation declares: “That this state of things proves the urgent necessity of providing further housing accommodation, and suggests that the Corporation should promise such accommodation, permanent or temporary, as early as possible.” —“Daily News,” July 9th, 1918.

When such things happen before the war is terminated one is forced to the conclusion that such untoward events do not auger well for the future. The Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Federation might more profitably employ their time and energy in studying this and similar questions, and the Socialist way out, which is of paramount importance to them and their class, rather than chasing capitalist will-o’-the-wisps.

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The following observation is extremely candid and well worthy of notice. We have said the same ourselves— but then we are Socialists. Hark! while the canon roars.

  Canon Rawnsley, speaking at the annual meeting of the Secondary Schools Association yesterday, said that if there was to be a League of Nations we must begin to prepare for it in the schools. The text-books of history at present in use in all countries were prejudiced against other countries. They gave mere globules of information, and did not tell the consecutive story for which the child mind longed.

Daily News” July 18th, 1918.

Now the canon will have to mind his p’s and q’s or he will find himself outranged by DORA. For
small mercies we thank him.

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Pressure of space forbids any lengthy reference to the Education discussion which recently took place at Westminster. But one interesting point must notice. An amendment was accepted providing that a young person up to 16 years of age may secure withdrawal from instruction which is objected to as being contrary or offensive to his religious belief. A hon. member ironically contrasted the attitude of the Government towards conscientious objectors in the schools at 14 and in the Army at 18.

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One of the most general complaints among the workers in the semi-rural districts at the present time is that the German prisoners of war have too much freedom. The way in which they are permitted to walk two or three miles from their quarters to the fields in which they are employed, it seems without any supervision, or to drive farm carts and waggons through country lanes, all on their lonesome, is regarded as a mark of criminal folly on the part of those in authority, as a danger to the peaceable inhabitants of the locality, and as a most unfitting contrast to the treatment of “our boys” who are prisoners in German hands.

This feeling, of course, is deliberately fostered by every Government which is engaged in the war, no matter on which side they may be. Tales of brutality are seized on with avidity, published broadcast, and made the most of, by each and every belligerent Government, with the two-fold object of inflaming popular passion and making soldiers avoid capture. But occasionally a straw is permitted to flutter across the landscape and below the direction of the wind. One such is the following, taken from the “Daily Chronicle” of Sept. 20th last.

The Rev. Oliver Ayres, Baptist minister, Newport, Isle of Wight, has recently received a letter from hit cousin, Pte. Short, a Kettering man, in which he states that he is a prisoner of war in Germany.
He is staying, he says, with an elderly couple on a small dairy farm in view of the Swiss mountains. He writes, “I am very well treated, and have a comfortable bed to lie on. I like my work, and when I get my new suit I shall be the happiest war prisoner in Germany.”

This indicates that British prisoners of war in Germany may possibly be the recipients of treatment as humane, as positively kind, as German war prisoners in England.

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Moving among one’s fellow workers in the war munitions factory one finds the hope quite freely expressed that the war will not come to an end before “we” have carried the fighting into Germany and “blown German towns to bits and let Fritz have a taste of his own medicine.” To such might almost have been addressed portions of the article of the Austrian statesman, Count Czernin, which appeared in the “Neue Freie Presse,” and received prominent notice in British newspapers. For instance, the following gets home as well in England as in Austria.

  If a soldier who had returned from the front, having experienced the horror of war, were to reject a compromise and demand a fight to a finish, then I should take my hat off to such a man. If, however, a man from the hinterland, a hinterland hero who has never heard the whistle of a bullet, who has hardly felt anything of the war, who lives in comfort while the war goes on—if such a man writes bloodthirsty articles against an understanding, while continually demanding sacrifices from the others, for such an individual I do not feel any sympathy.

While the present scribe, in common with other Socialists, does not feel any particular horror at the idea of the destruction of German—or other—property (such destruction at least has the merit of finding work for workers’ hands to do in the matter of replacement), the fact remains that vengeance can only be bought by the expenditure of precious working-class lives, and I ask those “hinterland heroes” who are hungering to administer to Fritz a “dose of his own medicine”—if it is going to cost a hundred thousand British soldiers’ lives to “blow German towns to bits” (and it will cost far more than that), is it worth it ? Speak up! the answer to that little question is well worth listening to.

The Scout.