|[Reprinted from The
Freeman, March, 1941]
We present herewith the epilogue
to The Tragedy of Europe: A Diary of the Second World War
by Francis Neilson, C. C. Nelson Publishing Co., Appleton, Wis.
($10.00). In times like these, charges and recriminations pass
with the time of day. We heard them in 1918, and in 1920 wondered
what they had meant. Mr. Neilson's epilogue is a challenge; how
many of us dare to meet it?
Fourteen months of war, and England stands alone -- the last democratic
trench in Europe! What was this Europe which is now passing away? What
gave it birth? From what wells of wisdom did it spring?
After the fall of Rome, benighted Europe lay for centuries in the hands
of what were called barbarians. But our historians forget, in writing
their accounts of what are known as the "Dark Ages" that a
spirit lived -- in England and in Ireland -- which kept aglow the light
of Nazareth. That spirit reflected the light of what we call the
Christian message. Out of the gloom and despair came men who turned
their thoughts to learning. These missionaries of the gospel passed the
tradition and legend on to their followers who, again, spread the light
wherever they journeyed.
The great revival which came to England in the days of Alfred and to
France in the days of Charlemagne, though suffering many vicissitudes
and heart-breaking setbacks, struggled on until the glory of Gothic
culture was founded. This was no movement initiated by any government;
it was the work of Individual souls. Men, not officials, made Europe the
cultural center of the world.
That Europe has been destroyed In fourteen months. It took many
centuries to .build. This is what war can do and does do. No one can
read the histories of the great empires of the past and fail to be
impressed with the utter recklessness of politicians who commit their
peoples to war.
No matter whether we are pro-this or pro-that, we must now look with
clear eyes upon the ruin and desolation. Empires pass, but the deeds of
their makers live on. Persepolis, Luxor, Babylon are remains of glories
which their builders imagined would never end.
What now for Europe? We must think of the days to come because men go
on, though politicians fail. Will the new Europe be without spirit? Is
the new order to be based upon a crass materialism enslaving the
producers of wealth? Only the future can tell -- but the man who cannot
use his spirit might as well be dead, for the slave cannot find a
channel through which he may exercise the impulses of his soul. The
shackled man never did anything for himself or his fellows. What brought
Europe, in the days gone by, out of the night of barbarian gloom was the
freedom of the spirit. This light in the darkness gave man courage to
meet great adventure, to suffer hardship, to front the horned hand of
authority with valiant calm.
Where must we look for this opportunity that made Europe a glory? With
all her sins of politics and war, of social upheavals, of disease and
famine, during at least fifteen centuries, Europe gave to the world the
master builders of religion, science and the arts. Her contribution to
culture permeates every quarter of the globe.
It may be that new order which is spoken of by the totalitarian Powers
is a phase through which we have to pass, so that our souls may be tried
by the iron of adversity. Such periods have been endured many times
before our day, and man has emerged from them stronger because of the
test. It is the way with those who miss the path to wander into marshes
or jungles. Undoubtedly, we of this period have taken the wrong road,
but there is no going back directly to the right one. We are obliged to
take the punishment for our carelessness and endure the pains of our
Every prophet has been wrong, and this should remind us that it is time
for us to think things out for ourselves. Even Hitler, himself, cannot
plan a war. This war was not planned by him any more than it was planned
by Chamberlain or Daladier or Mussolini. Everything has gone wrong. We
are reminded by the partisans that not one of these men wanted war. Yet
they blame one another for having started it. The English say Hitler
must take full responsibility; the Germans say Chamberlain is to blame,
and Churchill must bear the responsibility for prolonging the conflict.
Many Frenchmen blame Daladier; and, here in America, Mussolini is not
spared by millions who believe that his attack on Abyssinia was the
Initial step. No partisan realizes for a moment his own responsibility.
The pragmatists of the political schools of democracy have come to the
end of their tether. Their shallow slogans are demolished. Even their
feeble attempts to camouflage their defeats by the use of concepts alien
to their actions no longer deceive anyone who thinks.
Recently I read a tract published in the "Times" by a
religious society at Oxford: "Why Does Not God Intervene?" I
wish it could be circulated widely In this country, for we have nothing
like it here. This tract, read by the thousands, brings the matter of
war-guilt straight to the individual. It is solely his affair. This
expresses the attitude I have taken and opinion I have cultivated for
over forty years, In connection with national affairs.
The Individual is to blame. At every turn he has shirked his manly
obligations, ignored his duties, and permitted the politicians to use
him for their purposes. In no other way can it be explained how people
are committed to war. I firmly believe that this tragedy of Europe could
have been averted if men had kept the light burning and had realized
their duties to the full.