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Editorial – “I Would” and “I Dare Not”

4 November 1939

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 04 November 1939

“I Would” and “I Dare Not”

Still, like the cat i’ the adage would” waits upon “I dare not” and the weird new diplomacy holds the stage. This week it is the turn of the Russian Premier and Foreign Minister, Molotov.

His address to the Supreme Soviet can have brought small comfort to those Nazis who are simple enough to expect a promise of military aid, and they would be foolish to interpret his “practical co-operation” in that sense.

The one thing that can be relied upon in Russian foreign policy is its unreliability. M. Molotov’s nearest approach to honesty was his declaration that Russia seeks a “free hand in international affairs.” Without returning railing for railing, Russia is to-day luxuriating in a sense of the power which Hitler’s folly has placed in her hands. Her cynical exploitation of the situation is a return with interest for the loathing with which she has been regarded by almost every civilised nation. She is now strong enough—in the present transitory state of Europe —to be feared and even wooed. Russia has been placed for a time in a powerful political strategical position, but no one supposes, Stalin least of all, that this will last.

Hitler is under no illusions as to the disaster, disgrace, and disillusionment implied in his desperate trafficking with a Power which he hates and fears and has taught the German race to loathe and distrust. Only dire necessity drove him to seek help and present security in that quarter. His pact with Russia has no more validity than any other pact he has made. He will break it and will turn on Russia if ever he is free and strong enough to do so.

Meanwhile Soviet policy remains circumspect. There is certainly no suggestion, beyond that saturnine reference to a “free hand,” of active participation with Germany against the Western Powers. On the contrary, there is re-affirmation of neutrality, coupled with mild if hypocritical reproach to the United States concerning the “unneutral” repeal of the arms embargo. The references to Finland are quietly menacing, and those to Turkey more distantly so. Rumania is not mentioned, and that, from the Rumanian point of view, is almost worse than being mentioned.

The speech threw little light on Soviet intentions and was certainly , not intended to do so. The safe rule for us is to have regard to what Stalin may do and not what he may say. Soviet policy will be dictated at all times purely by Soviet interests, and Soviet action can be calculated only by a study of where, on a long view, those interests lie. We may be quite sure that it is no part of Soviet policy to bring about the complete triumph of German arms in this war. Neither can Russia afford at this stage to play the game of the Democracies. Let us be quite fair and frank—Russia has no interest in enthroning either Fascism or Democracy. She has a strong interest in overthrowing both.

Great Britain and France are preparing for a three-years war. That will suit Russia very well and what she can do to keep the war alive for three years (or as long as may be necessary to destroy the healthy fibre of the warring nations) will doubtless be done. She may therefore act alternately as fireman and incendiary checking any premature decision of the war aiding and comforting and thwarting and menacing in turn. She may keep Germany out of Rumania—almost certainly she will—but it may suit her to seize and pass to Germany, Rumanian supplies, if she can hold Turkey off.

At present we do not expect direct Russian military aid for Germany it is doubtful whether a Russian gun, man, or plane will be spent in that cause if there is any other way of preventing an early Allied victory. What we have to remember is that for all Stalin’s astuteness he has committed Russia to a reckoning after ‘ this war—if there is a victor and If the victor emerges strong enough to call him to account. A swift German victory over the Western Powers is for Russia the immediate danger—if it becomes a real possibility we shall see Russian strength exerted to avert it, for there will be no peace or security for Russia if Hitler is released to turn the German arms eastward. If he can win in the West he certainly can and will win in the East; if he makes terms in the West, Russia is equally undone, for the Polish settlement will vanish as it came and Hitler will resume his former character as the Hammer of the Bolsheviks. Behind the massive calm of the Kremlin there is agitated calculation of the stresses and strains of the mighty masses now embattled in the West. They must destroy each other or Russia is lost. So long as this process goes on evenly, Russia will remain passive, pleading for a cessation of war but taking its own measures for continuance.