You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 2

The Storm Breaks

UP to the middle of 1939 the incredulous confidence of Morningside Prospect sustained itself throughout all the regions of the earth that were still untouched by destruction. In Spain, in the May of ‘37, Goering boasted that he demonstrated the strength of the German air force — at that time — by the destruction of the ancient Basque city of Guernica. The place was practically destroyed, the population massacred and the world horrified. But it was done with planes and bombs that would have seemed beneath contempt to the airmen of four years later.

So, too, the exploits of the Japanese bombers in China; the blazing houses, the heaped dead, the smashed women and children, and the rapes and murders of the invaders, were accepted by the world as the last word in frightfulness instead of mere earnests of worse ahead. When again the Italians clenched their conquest of Abyssinia by the surprise use of mustard gas, which they had ‘expressly agreed to abandon, it seemed as though treachery and bad faith had made their crowning triumph. All these events which people with untrammelled imaginations would have realised were mere intimations and sketches of things to come, were treated as being the final achievement of destructiveness. Why were people so stupid? The facts are plain enough. There was and there is no visible limit to the size and range of aircraft. They were, they are, certain to go on increasing in power and speed so long as air war remained a possibility. What else can happen? Neither was there any limit apparent to the destructive power of a bomb, which again must increase to world-destroying dimensions. Nor was there any perceptible limit to the amount of misdirection and social disorganisation that could be achieved by sustained lying, by the use of poisons, infections, blockades and terrorism. The human mind was amazingly reluctant to look these glaring inevitabilities in the face.

Tewler Americanus in particular was irritated by a harsh logic that overrode his dearest belief in his practical isolation whenever he chose to withdraw himself, from the affairs of the rest of the world. He had escaped from the old world and he hated to feel that he was being drawn back to share a common destiny with the rest of mankind.

By the summer of 1939 the blowing-up of the old civilisation was proceeding briskly. It was a progressive process. It went from strength to strength. It was a spreading fire in an uncharted wilderness of explosives. There was not one forthright bang of everything. It was much more like a big series of magazines and oil stores of unknown depth and extent blowing up and blazing one after another, each outbreak starting and incorporating still more violent explosions. The fighting of ‘39 was mild in comparison with ‘40, and ‘40 was mild in comparison with ‘41. Nobody had planned this. There is no sign in Mein Kampf of any realisation on the part of Rudolf Hess and Adolf Hitler that they had fired a limitless mine. They felt they were brilliant cynical lads who had taken the world by surprise. As a matter of fact, modern warfare took them by surprise. By 1941 they were as helplessly anxious as everybody else to put out the fire again and crawl away with any loot they could lay their hands on.

Goering promised that no allied air raids should ever distress the German homeland. He probably made that promise in perfect good faith. For a time he had the upper hand and the German public had little to complain of. They made war in the lands of other peoples according to a century-old tradition. War has still to come home to them. Whatever the allies did to Germany, said Goering, he would retaliate tenfold. What he did not realise until it was too late was that he had no monopoly in this war weapon he was using and that the Luftwaffe he had launched would not only kick back but grow to overwhelming dimensions.

In ‘40 the Germans nearly won the war with the great tank and the dive-bomber. Then opportunity passed. In ‘41 tanks were pouring out of factories by the thousand, and both Britain and Russia and America were drawing ahead of the German outfit in quantity and quality alike.

In 1941 the Nazis, feeling the nets closing about their adventure, struck hysterically at Russia, and for the first time encountered a people who had divested themselves of their Morningside encumbrance, who were united in their dislike to the German Herrenvolk and fought with an undivided mind. They had discovered that in warfare you cannot be too careless. “Safety last!” said the Russians. The Russians, falling back slowly upon their main line of defence, “scorching the earth” before this last convulsive thrust of the Nazi, were something very different from the crowded fugitives in the milder, already outmoded warfare of Holland, Belgium and France. War mounted another step in the scale of destruction, and aeroplanes and tanks by the thousand fought gigantic fleet actions upon land.

The old wars of history ebbed as they exhausted the scanty resources of their period, but this new warfare gathered destructive force as it went on.

In the summer of 1941 it was evidently dawning upon the central group of Nazis that the theory of totalitarian war was unsound, because of this unanticipated and uncontrollable crescendo. They began to gabble of a new world order. But they had lied so unscrupulously and professed lying so unblushingly that now even the British Hessians and the American Lindberghs could hardly pretend to believe them. They had destroyed their own ladder of escape and, as a gang at any rate, they were doomed. But that does not mean that the crescendo of destruction would come to an end. Their elimination would be of little more significance by itself than the sinking of a ship or the destruction of a tank. Even the Germans would hardly miss them. There is no dearth of feeble-minded mascots in central Europe. The world would still have a vindictive post-Hitler Germany recovering its strength for a new Fuehrer and a new convulsion; pluto-Christian democracy would still be showing its unclean and irregular teeth at the dreaded Bolshevik. World disaste would at the best, take breath, before deeper and higher and wider detonations scattered the shreds of the Christian peace Billions of lies, millions of foul murders, persecution, organised indignity, none of these things can save a world still dominated by mercenary Christian nationalism from the Avenging Fates,

But none of the people who embody the Tewler mind in governments and authorities seem able to see a yard ahead of anything they do. They are as capable of starting trouble as monkeys with matches, and as little capable of coping with the result.

“Cosmopolis in thought and life, or extinction,” says Destiny, toying idly with the bones of a Brontosaurus and awaiting the decision of Homo Tewler without haste indeed, but also without any touch of hesitation. “Time is almost up, Homo Tewler. Which shall it be?”

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30