As I Please
Tribune, 17 January 1947
Daily Herald for 1 January 1947 has a headline MEN WHO SPOKE FOR
HITLER HERE, and underneath this a photograph of two Indians who are
declared to be Brijlal Mukerjee and Anjit Singh, and are described as having
come ‘from Berlin’. The news column below the photograph goes on to say
that ‘four Indians who might have been shot as traitors’ are staying at
a London hotel, and further describes the group of Indians who broadcast
over the German radio during the war as ‘collaborators’. It is worth
looking a bit more closely at these various statements.
To begin with, there are at least two errors of fact, one of them a very serious one. Anjit Singh did not broadcast on the Nazi radio, but only from Italian stations, while the man described as ‘Brijlal Mukerjee’ is an Indian who has been in England throughout the war and is well known to myself and many other people in London. But these inaccuracies are really the symptom of an attitude of mind which comes out more clearly in the phraseology of the report.
What right have we to describe the Indians who broadcast on the German radio as ‘collaborators’? They were citizens of an occupied country, hitting back at the occupying power in the way that seemed to them best. I am not suggesting that the way they chose was the right one. Even from the narrow point of view which would assume that Indian independence is the only cause that matters, I think they were gravely wrong, because if the Axis had won the war – and their efforts must have aided the Axis to some extent – India would merely have had a new and worse master. But the line they took was one that could perfectly well be taken in good faith and cannot with fairness or even with accuracy be termed ‘collaboration’. The word ‘collaboration’ is associated with people like Quisling and Laval. It implies, first of all, treachery to one’s own country, secondly, full co-operation with the conqueror, and thirdly, ideological agreement, or at least partial agreement. But how does this apply to the Indians who sided with the Axis? They were not being traitors to their own country – on the contrary, they were working for its independence, as they believed – and they recognized no obligation to Britain. Nor did they co-operate in the same manner as Quisling, etc. The Germans allowed them a separate broadcasting unit on which they said what they liked and followed, in many cases, a political line quite different from the Axis one. In my opinion they were mistaken and mischievous, but in moral attitude, and probably in the effects of what they did, they were quite different from ordinary renegades.
Meanwhile one has to consider the effect of this kind of thing in India. Rightly or wrongly, these men will be welcomed as heroes when they get home, and the fact that British newspapers insult them will not go unnoticed. Nor will the slovenly handling of the photographs. The caption ‘Brijlal Mukerjee’ appears under the face of a totally different person. No doubt the photograph was taken at the reception which the repatriated Indians were given by their fellow countrymen in London, and the photographer snapped the wrong man by mistake. But suppose the person in question had been William Joyce. In that case, don’t you think the Daily Herald would have taken good care that it was photographing William Joyce and not somebody else? But since it’s only an Indian, a mistake of this kind doesn’t matter – so runs the unspoken thought. And this happens not in the Daily Graphic, but in Britain’s sole Labour newspaper.
hope everyone who can get access to a copy will take at least a glance at
Victor Gollancz’s recently published book, In Darkest Germany. It
is not a literary book, but a piece of brilliant journalism intended to
shock the public of this country into some kind of consciousness of the
hunger, disease, chaos and lunatic mismanagement prevailing in the British
Zone. This business of making people conscious of what is happening
outside their own small circle is one of the major problems of our time, and
a new literary technique will have to be evolved to meet it. Considering
that the people of this country are not having a very comfortable time, you
can’t, perhaps, blame them for being somewhat callous about suffering
elsewhere, but the remarkable thing is the extent to which they manage to
remain unaware of it. Tales of starvation, ruined cities, concentration
camps, mass deportations, homeless refugees, persecuted Jews – all this is
received with a sort of incurious surprise, as though such things had never
been heard of before but at the same time were not particularly interesting.
The now-familiar photographs of skeleton-like children make very little
impression. As time goes on and the horrors pile up, the mind seems to
secrete a sort of self-protecting ignorance which needs a harder and harder
shock to pierce it, just as the body will become immunized to a drug and
require bigger and bigger doses.
Consommé in cups
These accounts of starvation in Europe seem to link up with a paragraph, headed ‘This Week’s Hint for Dog-Lovers’, which I cut out of the Evening Standard just before Christmas:
dog may also have that ‘after Christmas hangover’ feeling if you have
been indulging him with too many titbits. Many owners like to give their
pets ‘a taste of everything’, regardless of the fact that many of the
items of Christmas fare are unsuitable for dogs.
Signed by a Fellow of the Zoological Society.
through what I have written above, I notice that I have used the phrase ‘a
totally different person’. For the first time it occurs to me what a
stupid expression this is. As though there could be such a thing as a
partially different person! I shall try to cut this phrase (and also ‘a
very different person’ and ‘a different person altogether’) out of my
vocabulary from now onwards.
The Estate of Eric Blair
Reproduced here under educational Fair Use law