The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 9 (April 1, 1933)
Idol-Breaking—The Temple of Wall Street-Japan at the Great Wall—Germany's Gentle Democracy.
Guns in Asia.
World events in March revolve round three main storm centres-financial crisis in America, political crisis in Europe, and war in Asia. America has its man of the moment, Roosevelt; Europe also has its man, Hitler; but Asia has thrown to the fore no dominant personality, unless he be known to the protagonists alone. While Roosevelt thunders against the money kings, and Hitler against Communism and the Treaty of Versailles, the Japanese let their guns do the thundering, and seize province after province. Nothing has yet occurred to demonstrate that the moral force of the League of Nations is effective against them. The League, of course, has not been fashioned as a physical weapon, and its physical ineffectiveness therefore comes as no sudden shock. Nor will many people be surprised at the collapse of Chinese forces beyond the Great Wall. All the same, the blow that international co-operation has received in Asia may encourage a German blow at international law in Europe—or at any rate at the Versailles Treaty, with incalculable results.
Danger in Europe.
At time of writing it appears that the Treaty may have already been broken by German movements in the demilitarised zone, where the French look on with a degree of silence unusual in the French. But all the elements are present—not merely overt acts but the tense spirit behind them—for open conflict. Asia has taught Europe that it is possible to wage open war, and successful war, without declaring war. A Chinese boycott!—and the guns speak round Shanghai. Chinese banditry!—and the Japanese troops are quickly masters of Manchukuo and Jehol. Are violentists in Germany and Central Europe building up “incidents” which the French may utilise as the Japanese have done in Asia? Are the French “terrified” (the “News ‘Chronicle's” word) or grimly waiting for pretexts for a wax-by-instalments, yielding France at least the Rhine? Is Hitlerism strength, or merely truculence?
Formerly, to make war required a big national decision, culminating in a momentous Declaration. The solemn process tended to make people think, perhaps hesitate. But it is easier to drift into undeclared war, particularly where one Power is militarily weak. A series of actions and retaliations—each side all the time protesting its moral right, before a League of Nations that is physically impotent—provides a treacherous drifting process into deep water. Lack of order in China—whom even Sir John Simon terms “a difficult neighbour”—leads to action by Japan; and while China illustrates one kind of lack of order, Germany seems to be bent on illustrating another and more militant kind. Undeclared warfare that escapes the old restraints, and is unchecked by the new League methods, is an evident danger to civilisation. The temper of Europe, says the British Prime Minister, is “visibly degenerating.” Internationalism is not stronger, but weaker. The British embargo on arms export finds no seconder.
Roosevelt as Iconoclas.
The breaking of idols is not confined to high politics, and to the domain of war. In the economic field idols and systems are both crashing down. Nowhere has this happened more dramatically than in the United States, hitherto almost the last stronghold of the old monetary standards. The last vestige of the Hoover hope that the gold standard, American banking, and the depression could all lie down together, as lions and lambs, was swept away by a public panic that culminated as the new Democratic President came to office, giving Mr. Roosevelt an impetuous start which his own impetuosity has fully matched. When in history has a new ruler scourged banking and bankers as Mr. Roosevelt flayed his when he made his inaugural address to his 130 million subjects? Through stubbornness and impotence he said the controllers of the exchange of humanity's goods have failed. “They have admitted their failure and have abdicated.”
Restoring the Temple.
Some rulers, riding into power on a wave of financial crisis, might have left it to commentators to draw a parallel with the Christ that drove the money-changers out of the temple. Not so Mr. Roosevelt. From his own mouth came the words that link the temples of New York and Old Jerusalem.
The money-changers have fled from their high seats in the temples of our civilisation, and we may now restore the temple to ancient truths.
Surely it is a bold prophet that holds out this promise. An even bolder prophet is he who undertakes to execute it. And what will be the actual result? So far, it seems, additional currency “without currency debasement” and a reopening page 62 page 63 of banks that the officers of the President-Dictator deem sound. Such a programme carries the blessing of even the financial press. But as yet we are only on the fringe of events. They move quickly. Strategy must alter from day to day. Never did economic change begin on a higher dramatic note. Never was the final Act of the play more obscure.
Third Degree for Electors.
Under the shadow of Nazi force (partly police, partly unofficial), and with the Reichstag fire (charged to Communists) fresh in their minds, German electors, voting for the third time in twelve months, gave Hitler a stronger Reichstag position than ever before. This strained use of the Republican constitution may mean the strangling of the Republic. It may mean trouble with Poland at Dantzig, with France on the Rhine. Austria, Hungary and Italian Fascism may be involved, and the anxiety of London is manifest. Though Hitler's chequered evolution presents no parallel with the Democratic elevation of Roosevelt, yet these two are the great men of the moment in the Western world. While one has a mandate to close banks and open breweries, the other may assume a mandate to restore a throne, obliterate the Dantzig “corridor,” or otherwise recast the Versailles map. Yesterday Europe was concerned lest Roosevelt might be tardy in reducing old war debts. To-day the anxiety is that Hitlerism may create new ones.
Men at the Wheel.
Civilisation has intensified commercialism, and commercialism has in some ways blunted human nature. Yet in these latter years many commercial posts have become posts of danger and difficulty and even of death; therefore, places of heroism. Great industrial leaders, who formerly had under their hand a well-oiled machine that always went, have found their craft tossed and halted in the depression storm, and have grown old in a night. They have paid the price of failing to prevent something that was beyond their power. The cablegrams suggest such a vein of tragedy behind the death, at 62, of an Indiana (U.S.A.) boy who became an English Knight for railway services in war time, and who, later, as Sir Henry Thornton, took control of the Canadian National Railways. Along with the C.P.R., the C.N.R. struck the world storm, and Sir Henry Thornton, the brilliant success of one war, fell in this later one. He is not the only railway leader whose life has been claimed by the crisis. If once there were laurels for leaders, there is now cypress.page 64