Evacuation – A Social Landmark. The Christian News-Letter (15 Nov 1939)
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[ 775 Evacuation – A Social Landmark1 The Christian News-Letter, No. 3 (15 Nov 1939) Supplement [5-8] Evacuation is a challenge to our society. It is a challenge to our inveterate social complacency. Even those who were not unaware of slum conditions have recoiled at the full realisation that there are thousands of families which live like sub-human cave dwellers (and are forced so to live) in the midst of our great cities; even those who are not good at arithmetic are worried how it is that a child costs 8s. 6d. a week in the country, and 3s. in the town when its father is unemployed. It is a challenge to our capacity to put forth new social tissue: for evacuation has been as a great jagged wound tearing through family life and our national system of education. It has been a challenge to our capacity for social discipline: for it was obviously desirable that all the children should be evacuated from the dangerous areas, yet it was necessary that compulsion should not be applied. But we must realise that the real impact of evacuation has been upon the poorer classes – the victims of industrialism. It is the proletarian who has had to take the first strain of totalitarian warfare. One cannot help wondering how any other class would have reacted to an equivalent strain. People are strangely unimaginative; and the majority of the good people of these islands are persuaded that the strain of war is falling on all alike. It is not so. And perhaps the first duty of the Christian mind, approaching the illimitable question of evacuation, is to grasp that simple fact. TWO LEVELS OF APPROACH Yet another caveat is necessary. Evacuation is emphaticaly a problem to which a Christian approach has to be made on at least two different levels: first,theChristiancitizenmustseektoinfluenceGovernmentaction,which is in the main decisive, and thus change the general situation; and, second, he has to accept the situation as it exists, and to do his utmost to turn it to good. But it is, we think, a mistake in proportion to argue that evacuation is primarily a great social “opportunity.” That may be the best way for many individuals to regard it. It is a unique opportunity for those in the receiving areas to do their Christian duty in making the children feel really at home; and for the children to be initiated into a more natural mode of life. But it Signed Letters and Documents with Multiple Authorship 776 ] -1— 0— +1— is not a welcome opportunity for those who have the duty of caring for the children – at least half the evacuables – who run wild in the cities. Evacuation (it must be insisted) is essentially an emergency measure, with the potentiality of more evil than good. To make the good outweigh the evil is a difficult task which cannot be accomplished on the level of personal relations alone. The Christian mind must clearly conceive its duty on the impersonal level – by doing its utmost to influence for good the largescale decisions of the Government. Finally, the situation is fluid. Since this paper was originally written the Government has announced its intention of reopening as many schools as possible in the evacuated areas.2 But attendance is not to be compulsory. This may be the only practical way to meet the present intolerable situation ; but it is essentially a makeshift. WAS EVACUATION NECESSARY? Evacuation is more than two months old, but the air-raids have not yet really begun. The pressure of fear has slackened, and the impact of a warmeasure has been upon a peace-psychology. On both sides, evacuees and receivers, there has been the opportunity to resent inconveniences and hardships which a condition of intense aerial warfare would have obliterated from consciousness. When bare life is all one hopes to save for one’s children or oneself, one ceases to be sensitive to the maladjustments that have been the occasion of much suffering and much criticism. The authorities are hardly to be blamed for not having foreseen that there would be a period of war without war, or for having regarded their problem as the limited one of getting the children out of the urban centres as expeditiously as possible. Are they to be blamed for not having taken steps to avoid the two great evils now manifest: the catastrophic interruption of the education of the town-children and the break-up of family life...