we are living in a paradoxical situation. This is refugee year when the essence of such a cause should be peace and tolerance, and yet we are also living in the age of violence. It is all around us. We have it thrust at us from the screens of our television sets, we read about it in the paper-back novels and children’s comics abound with it, we are raised on a philosophy of respect for the man of action and a thinly-veiled contempt for the man of peace (or the coward, depending on how you look at it).
The heroes of our comic stories are the six foot six mountains of muscle and bone, with limited vocabularies and handy left hooks. We hold on to an unwritten admiration for the man who will hit out in the face of opposition; indeed the bigger the opponent tackled, the greater is the hidden virtue of the action, and it is a way of life which we are daily handing on to our children.
Guns, knuckle dusters, knives, coshes—these are the every day items of life for the youngster reared on a diet of present day “culture”, and when we turn round and find to our horror that old ladies are being coshed in the street and that we have an unprecedented outbreak of crime, we howl and protest, in between impassioned shouts for the return of the birch, that things were not like this in our young days. Somewhere, something has gone wrong with our ideals. We have been forging steadily ahead in the production of the material things of life, and yet the sight of all those television aerials or cars has brought with it neither contentment nor security.
The fact is that in this rush for the “good” things of life we have forgotten what it is we are supposed to do with them after we’ve attained them, so that the accumulation of them has become an end in itself for most of us. We have produced a disillusioned, discontented crowd of young people in search of something to believe in and if violence presents itself as a likely looking outlet for energy, then violence it will be.
What had become of the common enemy? What had happened to this new world which was supposed to emerge from the labours of our parents? Who was it we were supposed to be helping? We soon saw the answer to that one was “Help yourself, Jack!” So the younger generation helped itself. The material things are here for the asking or the taking, but the ideals have been pushed further and further into the obscurity of “might have been.” The units of success are Pounds Sterling. No one says we have a common enemy now so a few of the livelier elements are finding the enemy for themselves. Painting swastikas was a good one—it seems to arouse some sort of reaction and perhaps a brawl or two. Not so long ago the raising of riot among the coloured populations of Notting Hill or Nottingham was always good for a laugh. In France the hooting of car horns and the chanting of slogans had a similar sort of effect. If you can’t find an enemy you can always divide yourselves into two groups and beat the daylights out of each other.
There is a common enemy all right. There is an aim and object for which we can yet strive side by side. There is an alternative to this cult of violence. The enemy is not easy to define nor to recognise. He is a subtle mixture of intolerance, prejudice, poverty, ignorance, irrationality, hate, greed, and violence. He is to be found in the world’s detention centres and prison camps, he finds outlet in the hearts of the swastika daubers and the “nigger” baiters, he lurked in the voice of McCarthy and the icy soul of Stalin, his guiding hand can be recognised behind the fate of the refugees in Algeria or the faces of starving children in Korea, he performs his evil work beneath the concealing sheets of the Klu Klux Klan, he was abroad when innocent women and children were being shot in the streets of Cairo and Budapest—he is there all right and in a thousand and one places: intolerance and neglect for human life take the place of understanding and compassion.
What we should be striving for with all the capabilities of our beings is the emergence of a world where the principles of equality of races or creeds are accepted as inviolate, where war as a method of settling dispute is condemned to the dust heap of history and where the good of the whole of humanity is held above national or personal glory. A world where the cry of the homeless child in Pakistan is given more attention than the ravings of a power mad demagogue, and where the saving of life in Africa is given priority over the manufacture of weapons of mass annihilation in America, and where the rights of the humblest of our people are protected against the powers of bureaucracy. These and a host of others all stem from that conviction in the oneness of humanity in the common struggle against the poverty and ignorance which threatens to destroy the world eventually.