Child of the Cold War

The essay below is the only piece of writing, apart from a poem published in Critical Quarterly, that has survived from my schooldays. Today, I wince when I see myself spouting such Cold War rhetoric. Never again would I express such conventional, "acceptable" views. Only a year later, when I was applying for admission to Birmingham University, I submitted an essay that was positively "bolshie" — and saw my application rejected in short order.

Note the self-deprecation toward the end of the article: A result, to a large extent, of the constant criticism I received from Kenneth Barnes and others at Wennington School, which had undermined my self-confidence. Although I still had a year and a half ahead of me at Wennington, I knew that the game was up — that my six years there were going to end in anger, disappointment and bitter recrimination. Indeed, my wrestle with that realization is the sub-text of the piece.

The "Mail" is the Birmingham Mail. The essay was written during the Christmas holidays of 1957-58, and published in early 1958. I received some "fan mail" afterwards, including a mystifying invitation to a Jehovah's Witness meeting.

Glancing at the first paragraph, I feel like giving myself and English lesson. There is no such thing as "our
very first thought". It's either our first thought, or it's not our first thought. "Very" is redundant.

    When questioned about the future of mankind, our very first thought is of war. Will there be a third world war? How will all this trouble with Russia turn out?

    This thought is prompted by the threat of the hydrogen bomb, the destructive power of which we hear of so often in the newspapers.

    I believe that another world war is unlikely, and sincerely hope and pray, as do we all, that it will not take place. With the knowledge of the power of modern weapons, we cannot imagine anybody with a sane mind even contemplating war.

    One blunder

    But power does strange things to men, and after one blunder it might be too late.

    Communism appeals greatly to the people of the highly populated, under-developed countries; and to the suitable ones among these, Russia gives her military and financial aid. She also attempts to show them that the Communist system of government is the answer to their problems, and is the most efficient.

    When these countries are brought under their power the Russians then hope to turn on a divided, demoralised and decadent West.

    Will fail —

    I hope that the Russian designs fail, and they certainly will if we unite ourselves throughout the "free world," and oppose Communism through determination, and by raising the standards of living and prosperity of the under-developed countries.

    The countries of Europe, once all-powerful, are now overshadowed by the might of the Soviet Union and the United States.

    I hope the European frontiers will be dissolved, and the governments will unite to form a "United States of Europe" which will exceed these other nations in both industrial and economic resources.

    We can even dream of world unification, but that can only be a dream, for none of us will ever see it.

    In this age of science, the prospect of complete automation faces us with the possibility of mass unemployment in the future.

    When machines can do the work efficiently, it will be difficult to persuade the employers to use manpower. If only they could use the machines and employ the same number of people at shorter hours, then everybody would be happy; but of course that is not practical.


    After the launching of the sputniks the dreams of space travel now seem to come within the grasp of reality. I hope that we will be alive to see it, for who knows what possible openings it may give to man, and what possible benefits it may bring to him in the future?

    Living in this scientific age we do not feel the need for religion so strongly, and many of us give it no place in our lives. That does not mean to say that religion is now unnecessary.

    I think that it is a definite, fundamental human necessity, and could not be done away with.

    We can see that the attempts to curtail the practice of religion in Russia failed, and I hope that these attempts always will fail, for when religion is "abolished" mankind degenerates into a paganism made worse by perverted science.

    It is from religion that we get our conception of right and wrong, and from this that we make our laws; and they are the laws of the religious society which have respect for the individual.

    If there were no religion the ordinary life would cease to have value, and we should all be numbered and state controlled as in "Nineteen Eighty Four."

    There has been little thought until recently of the rise in population, but ever since the time of the industrial revolutions, and the improvement in medical service and child welfare, the population has soared. Soon the population of the world will have doubled; what then?


    Unless something is done about it there will be starvation and nature will take her own way; what is sometimes called natural selection.

    We can therefore either try to limit the number of babies born, through education and birth control, or try to produce more food.

    It is difficult to foresee changes in the nature of people themselves, but everything depends on education.

    Some people have suggested that we are losing our individuality. This may be true, for there is much in our modern world which discourages individuality.


    If, however, we want people to have their own ideas and think for themselves, we must teach them to do so by giving them better education.

    Everything in the world would have to change before we saw much difference in people, for they are very adaptable, and will always be here with their general and individual characteristics, their strength and weakness, their wisdom and stupidity.

    Trying to decide where I fit in with humanity, and what I most desire for my future is very difficult. I am not really ambitious and only desire that my life should not be a complete waste of time.

    The end

    When I think of the future I look to the end, and see myself spending the last few years of my life in the country, looking after my garden, watching birds, listening to music, and reading books.

    These dreams may never be fulfilled, but between then and now there is a long gap in which I may do many things.

    At the moment I feel uncertain and unsure. I know what is good and right, try to follow it and fail miserably. I know what I have to do to be successful, try to do it, and often accomplish the opposite.

    I sometimes wonder whether it is I who governs my body, and whether I can really understand myself.

    But perhaps this is natural for people of my age, and perhaps I can look to the future with hope.

    NOTE: I borrowed "perverted science" from Churchill's speech to the House of Commons of June 18, 1940.


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