As I Please

in Tribune

17 January 1947

George Orwell

THE 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.

.     .     .     .     .

I 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.

Half of Victor Gollancz’s book consists of photographs, and he has taken the wise precaution of including himself in a good many of them. This at least proves that the photographs are genuine and cuts out the routine charge that they have been obtained from an agency and are ‘all propaganda’. But I think the best device in the book, after innumerable descriptions of people living on ‘biscuit soup’, potatoes and cabbage, skim milk and ersatz coffee, was to include some menus of dinners in the messes provided for the Control Commission. Mr Gollancz says that he slipped a menu card into his pocket whenever he could do so unobserved, and he prints half a dozen of them. Here is the first on the list:

Consommé in cups
Fried Soles in Butter
Fresh Potatoes
Dutch Steak
Mashed Potatoes
Raspberry Cream

.     .     .     .     .

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:

Your 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.

No permanent harm may be done, but if the dog seems dull, the tongue loses colour and the breath becomes offensive, a dose of castor oil is indicated.

Twelve hours rest from food, followed by a light diet for a few days, usually effects a speedy cure—and from eight to twelve grains of carbonate of bismuth may be given three times a day. The dog should be encouraged to drink barley water rather than plain water.

Signed by a Fellow of the Zoological Society.

.     .     .     .     .

LOOKING 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.

But there are other word and phrases which obviously deserve to go on the scrap-heap, but which continues to be used because there seems to be no convenient substitute. An example is the word ‘certain’. We say, for instance, ‘After a certain age one’s hair turns grey’, or ‘There will probably be a certain amount of snow in February’. In all such sentences ‘certain’ means uncertain. Why do we have to use this word in two opposite meanings? And yet, unless one pedantically says ‘after an uncertain age’, etc., there appears to be no other word which will exactly cover the required meaning.

As I Please - Index

Back    |    Words Home    |    Orwell Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback