Throwback: Whither 1939?


The year 1939 was of course a crucial year in world history, and this of course affected the lives of students at the University College Southampton (now known as the University of Southampton). This piece, written in a January 1939 issue of Wessex News, looks ahead to this notable year.

Wessex News, 24/01/1939

The appearance in college this week of a large number of O.T.C. uniforms is very significant of the times in which we are living. To-day, the student, with every other member of the community, is beginning to wake up and realise that international affairs can have a great effect on his life. To-day we are beginning to realise the effect that war on a modern basis will have on us. Not only would it completely disorganise our life, not only would the finest members of our generation be sacrificed, but the things which to us are most important would be vitally affected. The effect of war on culture and learning, the misuse of the scientist’s discoveries – in the face of these facts no student can stand aside in his traditional academic isolation, for these are problems which go to the very heart of academia.

Surely, we who are supposed to be the most intelligent members of the generation, who will have to bear the brunt of such a catastrophe, should give a lead in the attack on this problem. But can we sat that students do approach these problems in a more rational manner than the man in the street? Does he use his training in rational thinking to any effect? Is he not just as much a prey to appeals, to emotion, prejudice and self interest which ruin clear thought and impartial judgement. But because we must judge affairs in an impartial manner this does not mean that we must develop a sterile type of philosophy which simply studies the world and makes no attempt to change it for the better. We must first understand our environment and then, and only then, can we control and change it.

If we have decided, as many student who have joined the O.T.C. seem to have done, that we may have to fight, is it not worthwhile pondering over such an important step? What things are worth fighting for and how can we reduce the possibility of war to a minimum? To-day we seem farther than ever from the ideal of a system whereby international problems are solved by reason rather than a resort to force, but this is the only basis on which we can build a sane and just system of international relations. Man has solved the problems of organising his life on a family basis, he has overcome the difficulties involved in living in national communities and to-day we are faced with the final task of organising our activities on a world basis. We are faced by a choice between order and anarchy, between an idealism which implies the rule of reason, and a realist policy involving the rule of the bully and the dominance of the most strongly armed.

Are we to support a system of settling international disputes whereby peace (to use Hitler’s words) is maintained “not by the tearful pacifist lamentations of palm-waving females, but founded upon the victorious sword of a ruling race”? Is a “peace” of this type worthwhile? Peace without liberty is no real peace. Such a state of affairs invariably means the suppression of culture. In those countries where liberty has been curtailed it is a remarkable fact that the finest men in the realms of the arts and the sciences have not conformed to the uniform type of mind that is required in the service of the state. Because men like Galileo and Copernicus fared to think differently from the accepted ideas of their time, science and learning have benefited. When we lose the spirit of toleration, then culture cannot go forward and our civilisation must decline. By obeying authority we get “peace” for a time, but hardly peace worth having. We must be prepared to fight to defend this precious gift of freedom, for unless we are prepared to go to these lengths in its defence, the work of the men and women who fought for it in the past will have been wasted.

The year 1939 will be a vital one in the history of the world in general and for the democracies in particular. If we wish democracy to survive, we must, in the first place, ensure that our own democracy is worth defending. If democracy gives a man justice and freedom then he will be much more ready to defend it. We must also ensure that the democratic principle is recognised in international relations. The machinery for the maintenance of peace on these lines is available in the League of Nations, if only the nations of the world would use it. There must be no repetition of the events of last year when a country was made to submit to force, and judgement of her case given without her even being allowed to state her case.

1939 – what will it bring? Peace, justice and freedom, or a degeneration of the law of the jungle?


Deputy Editor of the Wessex Scene for 2015/16. I often write News, Politics and Opinion pieces. As well as writing for the Scene I can be found in the Surge Radio studio, where I am the Head of News. Also, as I'm new to twitter and desperate, follow me!! @95moliver

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