Orwell & Churchill

George Orwell’s “As One Non-Combatant to Another” was published in the London Tribune on this day in 1943. Orwell’s poem was subtitled “A Letter to ‘Obadiah Hornbooke,'” the name a pseudonym of Alex Comfort (then unknown but later famous for The Joy of Sex). Comfort’s letter-to-the-editor two weeks earlier had advocated pacifism; Orwell was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, a sergeant in the Local Defense League, and in favor of issuing guns to all citizens:

I’m not a fan for “fighting on the beaches,”

And still less for the “breezy uplands” stuff,

I seldom listen-in to Churchill’s speeches,

But I’d far sooner hear that kind of guff

Than your remark, a year or so ago,

That if the Nazis came you’d knuckle under

And peaceably “accept the status quo.”

Maybe you would! But I’ve a right to wonder

Which will sound better in the days to come,

“Blood, toil and sweat” or “Kiss the Nazi’s bum.”

Orwell’s Churchill quotation is from his famous “finest hour” speech, delivered to Parliament and the nation on this day in 1940 — the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and just days after Nazi troops had marched into Paris:

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.