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Editorial – Alas, Poor Ghost!

16 December 1939

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 16 December 1939

Alas, Poor Ghost!

The intervention of the League of Nations in the Russo-Finnish dispute came as a surprise to many people who had assumed that the League was dead and must therefore lie down. The League refuses to do this though its vitality can hardly be more than reflex action, almost reminiscent in its impulse.

The League was brought into legal motion by a demand from Argentina for the expulsion of Russia, and this action set in train a series of solemn futilities beginning with a summons to Russia—and to Finland! — to cease hostilities within twenty-four hours. This Russia would not, and Finland could not, do. Russia blandly denies the existence of “war,” showing herself in this tactic as apt a pupil of Japan as she is of Germany in the technique of being ” provoked ” into – defensive ” aggression. Russia did not go to Geneva, being far too preoccupied with the desperate ruffians in Finland who, like the French schoolboy’s tiger, when attacked defend themselves.

The League has condemned Russia’s aggression which had in any case been condemned by every civilised nation except Germany—if Germany is an exception and can be still called civilised. Russia can at least plead the vile example of Japan and Germany, whose aggression the League has not condemned.

As we write, the Geneva debate “continues”—why and to what end we do not know. Doubtless Russia will be expelled, and “sanctions” for what they are worth, may be proclaimed. Here again we have a work of supererogation. The League’s writ runs nowhere now, and the civilised world, in refraining from aiding Russia, or in going to the help of Finland, will be moved by deep detestation of Russia’s villainy and not by respect for the League s authority which has ceased to exist and is brought into derision and contempt by the mere pretence of exercise.

We have to-day to face the grim fact that the ideals of the League have no practical meaning outside the power of the British and French democracies to vindicate them. The world will not be saved by Geneva but by those nations who will resist in arms the monstrous evil which Hitler and Stalin have let loose. At present only the British, the French, the Poles, and the Finns are in the field. They have the sympathy and goodwill, in varying measure, of every nation and race outside Germany and Russia—even to some extent, of Italy and Japan, whose political dread or jealousy of Britain and France is counterpoised by hatred of Bolshevism now become predatory and imperialist.

In particular, they have the sympathy of the United States, whose resources and political power and influence are so enormous that they could probably bring the present war swiftly to a close and establish a wider and more durable League which might really guarantee the peace of the world. It may be that in exasperation and disgust—especially if Scandinavia is over-run and partitioned, but more probably in alarm and belated self-defence, the United States will come into the war to “finish it” as they did twenty-two years ago. But at the moment, fear of war is the dominant passion in the United States, over-riding all generous emotions and impulses.

The British, the French, the Poles, and the Finns alone are grappling with this evil thing. For them, salvation cometh neither from Geneva nor from Washington, nor from anything but their own strength and endurance. Neither the League of Nations, the House of Lords, nor any other form of futility has a meaning in this life-and-death struggle.

Deeds alone have any significance now.