General Articles

Crime, Sex and Democracy

BEVERLEY BAXTER'S FAREWELL TO U.S.

April 15 1948
General Articles

Crime, Sex and Democracy

BEVERLEY BAXTER'S FAREWELL TO U.S.

April 15 1948

Crime, Sex and Democracy

BEVERLEY BAXTER'S FAREWELL TO U.S.

ONCE MORE it is good-by to the New World and back to the problems, the shadows and the hopes of the old. I am writing this in a room of a university situated in Fort Collins, Col. Tomorrow a bus drive to Denver, then overnight to Chicago, overnight again to Toronto, then a third overnight journey to New York, one last speech there and so to the Queen Mary.

I don’t know how many thousands of miles I have traveled on this tour, but my mind is so crowded with impressions of places and peoples that it will take a month in London to sort them out. From the sunshine of California and the shadow world of Hollywood I journeyed to Salt Lake City, where there really is a lake that is one third salt and where the Mormons dominate the life and religion of the city.

Like most people I have always thought of the Mormons as polygamists and little else, but travel is still a great educator and the seeker of truth can find much in the Mormon religion to admire. According to their president, who received me with the greatest courtesy and frankness, polygamy was never practiced by more than three per cent of the sect and it was outlawed in the latter part of the 19th century.

“How did it work?” I asked.

“Oh,” he replied, “just like monogamy. Some marriages were successful and some were not.”

The story of the early Mormons’ pilgrimage to Salt Lake City, suffering outrage, abuse and death on the way, is one that ought to be better known. Certainly the memory of that city with its temple and shimmering tabernacle, set in a valley in the mountains, is something that will linger in my memory.

How vast the U. S. A. is! How crowded in its great cities, how lonely in its deserts, its mountains and its plains ! For six hours after leaving Ogden our train climbed its way through mountains where one never saw a sign of life. No wonder Americans are fascinated by the trek of the covered wagons. America is not rich in tradition like the nations of Europe, but her story is a heroic one.

It has struck me forcibly that the strength of the U. S. A. is not unlike that of the empire of Austria and Hungary which the victors so foolishly broke up at the peace conference following the first World War. To rule that empire was always difficult

because of the feuds of the Serbs and the Croats, of the Czechs and the Slovaks, of Poles and Hungarians. Yet economically it was a work of genius and we should never forget that it held the Turk from overrunning Europe.

The U. S. A. is a difficult country to govern because of the difference in type and territories. The Texan has almost nothing in common with the New Yorker—but then there is a deep feud between New York and almost the whole of the rest of the country. New York sucks talent from everywhere and leaves the life of outlying places impoverished. Often it sucks the talent dry and discards it and buys elsewhere with the power of the dollar and the lure of the magnetic city.

This morning a professor of this university drove me 45 miles from Cheyenne in Wyoming to Fort Collins in Colorado. On the way we saw ranches so vast that one might drive 20 miles without seeing a house. But with pride and gratitude the farmers and ranchers look to the snow-covered mountains which guarantee their lives as a community. In the spring the mountain snow will melt and streams of water will irrigate the land. “We never have a crop failure here,” said the professor.

The mountains are part of their lives, part of their character. They are a vigorous people who believe that Colorado will survive though the earth perish. It is good that Texas, Nebraska, Colorado and the “breadbasket” Middle West with Chicago as its holy city are here to balance the lotus eaters in the Californian paradise and the money merchants of New York.

Over and over again on this tour people have expressed to me their longing for a strong government at Washington and I have answered them by saying that it is only a weak people who need a strong government. The strength of the U. S. A. is in its divergency of temperament and outlook. When, as in war, these divergencies centre into a national spirit of unity her strength is twofold because that unity is inspired and not dragooned.

There are, however, some things about American life that: are puzzling and disturbing. At the present moment on the radio there seems to be a passion for murder. In almost every hotel bedroom there is a radio set and one has only to turn the knob to hear pistol shots and a tough voice saying: “Come on! Let’s get out of here.” Then Continued on page 52

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Crime, Sex and Democracy

Continued from page 14

the sound of racing cars and more shots. It is true that there is a mealy-mouthed moral lesson at the finish but the damage is already done to the juvenile mind and murder is still the greatest front-page newspaper story. After one month of exposure to violence on the American radio, in the newspapers and films I would feel reasonably competent to take up a life of crime and, even if detected and executed, I would know that my immortality had been achieved.

Another feature of American magazine and radio advertising is the incessant propaganda that the attraction of sex is purely physical. If a girl uses the right perfume, if her breast line has the new look, if she wears this or that kind of stocking, if her choice of cosmetics brings out her full skin appeal, then she is ripe for the marriage market. If we are to reduce the thousand and one subtleties of femininity, the gentleness and goodness of womanhood, the charm of mind and outlook and speech to a barnyard level in which girl flesh is valued on an animal basis, then I reserve the right to feel slightly sick about it all.

And it is all the more odd because American life is full of kindliness and mutual consideration, lacking neither in wholesomeness nor religion.

Perhaps the accent on crime and sex are unimportant, although I do not think so. As one American said to me: “We have so much of value here that we have no sense of values.” I don’t take so sardonic a view, but as epigrams go that is pretty good.

Another paradox is that in the midst of such a real democracy you encounter Bourbons and Hapsburgs who would make some of our ancient aristocratic families in England look like neoCommunists. At a dinner in Los Angeles I sat next to a lady who spoke of the late President Roosevelt with such bitterness that at last I said: “When Roosevelt died, Britain wept.” With a snort she replied: “It is the habit of beneficiaries to feel sorry when their benefactor dies.”

By a terrific effort I kept my temper and merely said to her: “You think Roosevelt ruined your particular world. You are old enough to realize that he saved a great part of it for you.” At which our tactful host contrived to part us.

This living hatred of the dead Roosevelt is a phenomenon that one notes but cannot explain. Perhaps there is some source of strength in it too. A philosopher once said that religion lost its power over the souls of men when it ceased to persecute. It may be that these Roosevelt-haters will be more successful than King Canute in holding back the tide, but I doubt it. I prefer the approach of President Truman who desires free enterprise under a sense of responsibility to the community.

They Ignore Canada

Now I wish in this letter to touch on a somewhat personal angle. It was only possible for me to visit Toronto, Windsor and Tillsonburg on this tour, and Toronto should be grateful that for once I did not inflict a speech upon it. But I shall not tour the U. S. A. again until I have first made a nation-wide journey across Canada. When that will be is not easy to state, but I w*ould like to cross from the Maritimes to the Pacific and find what is going on.

Everywhere I w'ent in the States I found Canadians resident there and a surprising number are readers of Maclean’s Magazine. They look to Maclean’s as a link with their old

homes and also for news of Britain. But it seemed to me that Americans take Canada for granted and have only a casual interest in her development.

Many of them told me of pleasant holidays in Canada, but otherwise they seem to look on your country as something static and unchanging. By comparison their interest in Britain is so intense that any of us who came from London can command large audiences no matter what the weather or our ability to speak.

Perhaps it is because almost every American, except the Red Indian and the Negro, has a racial background in Europe. Perhaps it is because Europe obsesses them with its problems and its dangers. Perhaps the Socialist experiment in Britain is something from which they hope to learn what to adopt or avoid.

1 wonder if part of the reason is that the Briton is a better propagandist than the Canadian. “Scratch an American and you will discover a businessman, scratch an Englishman and you will find an ambassador.” Thus goes an old saying. Certainly we come in large numbers from Britain to put our point of view to the Americans, to lecture their clubs and meet their newspapermen. I notice that the Christian Science Monitor and Time both give considerable space to Canadian affairs, but broadly speaking Canada has a poor press in the U. S. A.

They Want to Return

That is not so in Britain. The visit of Prime Minister King or Prime Minister George Drew or Mr. Howe is always of great interest to the London national press. It may be that Lord Beaverbrook’s tenacious loyalty to the country of his birth and the presence of R. B. Bennett, while he was alive, also prepared the way. Whatever the cause, Canada is news to the British even though their papers are poor starved four-page productions.

I don’t know whether George Drew’s immigration scheme is a good thing or not, but the value in Canadian propaganda alone is immense. The British, during this last war, became conscious of Canada as never before. Our young airmen who trained among you came back with a burning desire to return to you after the war and since the war the generous policy of Mr. King’s Government toward Britain, backed by the kindness and loyalty of the Canadian people, has won for you a special place in Britain’s troubled heart.

In every place that I visited in the States I pointed out how preposterous it was that Canadian-American trade and freedom of movement should dry up because of a shortage of American dollars. “Canada,” I said “is the guarantor of your industrial future. Her nickel, her iron ore, her whole vast reservoir of minerals, her pulp and all the unexplored richness of Labrador —these ensure America’s life as a nation. Today Canada is your only partner which has complete free enterprise! In war she will be your first line of defense. And yet she cannot trade with you now except under the greatest restraint.”

I had to be careful not to exceed my status as a private individual. Let me assure my critics that I did not speak for Canada as a Canadian or as a British member of Parliament but merely as a commentator who believes that Canada’s political, economic and strategical importance is not understood by her neighbor to the south.

Sometimes I wonder if Canadians themselves, engrossed with the human problems of living on 24 hours a day, realize their own significance in the

world pattern. The proudest boast of those who lived in Imperial Rome was “Civis Romanus Sum!” Without rendering it in Latin your proudest boast should be: “I am a Canadian citizen.” Nor should you whisper down a well when proclaiming it.

* * *

This letter started in Fort Collins and is ending in New York. Yesterday the Queen Mary sailed up the main street of this great city and sent out a peremptory blast, like a duchess blowing her nose at a garden party. I like the way the two Queens blew their trumpets as if they are ships arriving as conquerors.

It will be good to hear modulated

English voices again and observe the untroubled faces of men whose country is burdened with problems and hardship. But I know that in the months ahead in the tight little island with its toy meadows and nursery hills I shall think nostalgically of the lonely vastness of the Arizona desert, of the sturdy Rockies (emigrated from Canada) that disdain foothills and just grow straight up from the soil of luscious, lazy, langorous California, of Chicago with its endless stations and its bad-tempered winds, of New York with its arrogance and elegance . . . and of Canada just a few hours away.

Not even the joys of Socialism will completely wipe away the teeming memories of America revisited. ★