S. N. Behrman
The New Yorker
 January 27, 1945: 27-37

To arrive in London in a Saturday twilight late in 1944, after having been away since before the war began, was to experience a sinking of the heart for which even the destruction in the suburbs, visible from the windows of the train, had not prepared me. The suburban wash, hung amply across the gaps made by the bombs in the rows of workers' houses, stirred a quick, sympathetic awareness of human adaptability, and so did the window curtains and flower pots in the truncated dwellings that remained—the persistent, vivid, still-life ameliorations. But these things I somewhat expected, though even here there was a shocking discrepancy between what one has written off as history and what was actually still contemporary. I accepted the neat erasures in the long rows of houses, and even the vestiges of normality in the partially demolished ones. And I wondered about the displaced inhabitants of the houses that were gone. Where, on that darkening afternoon, were they warming their feet and how were they going to kill the unpromising evening?

London was something else again. Nothing in the outworks had quite suggested the lowered atmosphere in the citadel itself. It was not merely the almost deserted railway station. I had arrived late in the day, and the British government official who met me remarked casually that the first V-2s had fallen earlier. They had made deep craters, my host said, but had been far less destructive than had been anticipated. There were no instructions about how to behave if you were out walking when the V-2s came, he said, because there were no alerts. You just strolled along, daydreaming, till you were hit. The instructions about what to do when you heard the sirens for the V-1s were very simple: fall flat on your face. My host, who was going to give me a lift to Claridge's, where I was to stay, asked me if I'd mind detouring to the Savoy to drop two other visitors who had arrived on the same train. In the curved areaway of the Savoy, off the Strand, I got out for a few minutes while the others went in to register and I walked into the Strand. It was very still. For reassurance, I sought the entrance to the Savoy Grill. Sandbags were piled up against it. I peeped inside. There were a few people sitting around having tea. If, in the old days, there was a vivacious room in Europe, it was the Savoy Grill. It was the nerve center of bohemian and artistic London. I remembered an evening there: Paderewski, Yvonne Printemps, Sacha Guitry; Chaliapin blowing kisses at large. (On the plane coming over, I had heard an anecdote about Guitry. When, recently, he arrived in a French prison for collaborationists, he was told, to cheer him up, that his first wife was there. The effect was the opposite. Guitry threw up his hands. "Everything I can endure," he groaned, "but this!") That evening was millennially far away. What had made me feel that the Savoy Grill would keep up its tempo forever I did not know, but I must have felt that, because I was so struck by the change. My Englishman came back and we resumed our drive to Claridge's. He asked about America. He had been an Oxford debater and had travelled through forty-seven of our states. He was wistful about that forty- eighth state, one of the Dakotas. He wanted me to tell him about it. As I had never been in it either, I couldn't help him much. With a careful detachment, he asked about "the election." In the ensuing eight weeks of my stay, I was to observe that no matter where a conversation started, it always ended up with speculation about the forthcoming election. I may add that I never heard a word against Dewey from any Englishman. That all came from the Americans.

Down the Strand, past the Admiralty Arch, and across Piccadilly Circus, with its boxed-up Eros, I kept my eyes—while I consoled my companion for having missed North or South Dakota—at the windows, watching the familiar streets and the people on the sidewalks. The streets, with distressing elisions, were still there, but they were subdued and very shabby, and so were the pedestrians. There was an air about the buildings and the people of being on the defensive. London, it was apparent at once, had endured unbelievably and was still enduring unbelievably. Thirty-six hours before, I had left an America simmering with the exhilaration of a boom; England was tense in the paroxysm of a death struggle. When I left New York, the end of the war was imminent—"in the bag," as people said—but here it was being fought out.

An English editor I met on the plane had told me that the day after I arrived would provide one of the biggest news stories of the war: London, for the first time in five years, was to have light. That night, however, the blackout was still to be on, and I deposited my fifty-five pounds of luggage in Claridge's and went for a walk while there was still some daylight. I made for Berkeley Square. Soldiers and sailors, English and American, were walking with their girls in a faint, intermittent drizzle. Most of the women wore no stockings. I had been seeing this all summer in New York. But the American legs were tanned and agreeable, whereas these English ones were muddy and streaked bluish and red with the cold. (A young woman later told me that she was embarrassed at having to go without stockings. "I hate the unusual," she said. As she had been going barelegged for five years, I wondered how long it took for the unusual to become the usual.) The façades of the houses leading into the square have a strangely quiet look; at a casual glance, you might think the houses were shut up for the weekend, but a closer inspection shows you that they have been shut up for longer than that. I peered in through a grimy, narrow, leaded window at the side of a fine oaken street door. Behind it was a great, obscene shambles of shattered brick and mortar and twisted iron. A huge sheet of what had been a fluted ceiling lay against a section of stairway, as if propped up on one elbow. I looked down the row. Several places in the long vista of wreckage had been cleared for the pools—for emergency use against incendiaries—which are now a common feature of the London scene. These dark, liquid oblongs, fine-meshed in the rain, reflected jagged back walls and gargoyles of contorted pipes. I remembered going out to the set in Hollywood where Leslie Howard was making the motion picture of "Berkeley Square." Those reproductions of eighteenth-century façades had not much less behind them than this one had.

I looked up. On the third story of a house on the corner, following accurately the theatrical convention of the missing fourth wall, was an exquisite, suspended drawing room: delicately tinted blue walls, molded cornices, the curved, rifted ceiling, with a beautifully shaped oval where the center chandelier had been. All but the framework of the rest of the house was gone, but there it hung, this upstairs drawing room, elegant and aloof. I thought of Henry James. Here was his Mayfair, crisply anatomized. What would he have done with that room? With what malevolent ghosts would he have peopled it? What seedlings of social casuistry would have sprouted beneath that non-existent chandelier, simmered along those pastel walls? An acute English critic speaks of James as the harbinger of decay and says that he described the final throes of a society he knew was done with. But James did not, I am sure, anticipate quite this finale. He must have visualized a long, slow inanition—the inhabitants of these drawing rooms giving up eventually because of their inability to sustain their own attitudes, to save face before their own pretensions. Certainly he could not have anticipated such rude visitations as there have been, cutting short the tortuous inhibitions, freezing the slow molds of refinement. Inescapably the Cassandra wails of our prophets, who are fond of reminding us that our civilization, like earlier ones, may disappear, somehow became very plausible. Ordinarily, when we become aware of moral rifts, we believe we can surmount them. Here disintegration was a physical actuality.

Later, I was to have this same feeling in drawing rooms still intact. I visited an august Englishman who has had a career of the highest distinction in English public life. He took me upstairs to show me his books—some of which he had written—and then into his shrouded drawing room. The long salon was musty and denuded. He lifted a linen hood from the head of a lovely statuette of a young girl. The girl smiled ravishingly, as if in sudden relief at her unveiling. He had bought her in Spain years ago. "We cannot, of course," he said, "keep these rooms open any longer." He walked about, uncovering other precious objects, "England," he said in the standard summary, "will never be the same again." He then made a rueful acknowledgment that there would be another England, but he felt that his had vanished. Fashionable London, upper-class London, is a vast, urban Cherry Orchard.

While I was still staring up at the Jamesian drawing room, I was gradually swallowed up by darkness. Before I knew it, the suspended drawing room had disappeared, together with the framework which suspended it. Suddenly there were no buildings, no streets, no squares. There was darkness. I started back to the hotel in something of a panic, knowing that a sense of direction was not my strong point. A few taxis went by and I hailed them, because I had not yet learned that it was no use whatever to hail a taxi in a London street. I was told afterward that in a poll taken to discover what people considered the greatest hardship of the war, the blackout won hands clown. I didn't wonder. This blackout was inhuman; it was too literal, it couldn't take a joke. We had had a blackout in New York that gave you a break. I remembered it, on that perilous walk back to Claridge's, as a flaming incandescence, a pillar of fire by night, a civic bonfire. Cars passed by—little points of blue light dragging darkness after them but leaving blackness behind. I made it finally, but I had aged. When I did get to Claridge's, I didn't know it for a minute—not till the doorman flashed his torch to light a guest across the sidewalk. When I got through the swinging door into the lighted lobby, I gasped with relief.

The next night was no better, or any night thereafter. The promised illumination did not come. The government didn't go through with the moderation of the blackout, nor did it make an explanation. About this there was much grumbling. Why, since the bombs that were coming over were pilotless, was the blackout necessary at all? The common explanation, that it was necessary to save fuel, did not silence the grousing, which went on all the time I was in London, as did the blackout—profound, terrifying, impenetrable. The girl at Paddington police station who made out my ration card told me that she hadn't been out in the evening in five years. She would rather stay in than face the blackout. I must say, however, that one night several weeks later the blackout yielded some compensation: for once a full moon overcame it and London lay bathed in silver. Looking back at the Palace from St. James's Street, one saw its turrets against the clear sky as they must have looked at night in the unlit centuries. A companion pointed up to the turret where King Charles had spent his last night before his execution. "He complained," my friend said, "that his feet were cold." I could understand how he felt; it was still nippy. But the walk that night was breathtaking; never had I seen London so unimaginably beautiful. The skeletons of buildings filtered the sky, the ubiquitous pools shimmered, the grayness of the London masonry took kindly to this soft light. I realized that this was the first time I had ever really seen London by moonlight.

Back in my room the first night, I rang for the floor waiter. There he was, my old friend James, flourishing a greatly abbreviated dinner card. He was in tails, as always (the waiters are the only ones left in London who dress for dinner), but he had thinned out a bit and his clothes, quite shiny and threadbare, almost hung on him. Still, he wore them with an air, and his smile of welcome was the only thing in London so far that had not changed. There wasn't much on the menu: a no-man's land of mousses and pilaffs, with nothing really definable. I ventured several choices. "I wouldn't have that, sir," James cautioned each time. Finally I ordered a chicken cutlet, which turned out to have a mealy neutrality. It inexorably filled you up, and that was all that could be said for it. I diverted my attention from it by talking to James.

"Well, James," I began, "quite a lot you've gone through in these five years!"

"Bit rough 'ere and there, sir."

"I'm sure it must have been."

"Worst was in the blitz of '40-'41, when I used to have to walk 'ome at night to Maida Vale, ducking into areaways every second, dodging shrapnel."

"Why did you have to walk?"

"Well, sir, during the worst of the blitz the buses would just draw up at the curb and stay there all night. Had to walk. Pretty thick it was some nights, coming down so fast. Why, sir, would you believe it, one night it took me an hour and a half to walk one hundred yards from this 'otel!"

I was indignant. "Why," I demanded, "wouldn't they let you sleep here, in the hotel?"

James was shocked. "Oh, sir, I wouldn't sleep in this 'otel."

"Why not, James?"

"Far too 'ot. Don't care for the central 'eating. I'm a countryman—like open air, open windows!"

Feeling terribly effete for having proposed sleeping in Claridge's, I finished my dinner quickly and said good night to James. Then I started to go to bed. While I was undressing, the sirens began—a long ululation rising in piercing crescendo. I sat down with a shoe in one hand. There was a deafening crash. A buzz bomb had fallen, and seemingly dreadfully dose. I hadn't been so acutely aware, till that moment, that I was in the South of England. I looked at the thick, drawn curtains. Flying glass couldn't very well get through those. Or could it? I put out the light and quickly got under the covers.

"The next war," said a keen-minded Anglicized Hungarian at a dinner party a few nights later, "will start with someone pressing a push button in some underground electric works in Central Europe, which will send robot bombs to Detroit." It is generally agreed that London escaped complete destruction last summer by only a hair's breadth, that had the invasion not taken place when it did, the enemy installations in France would have sent across twenty-five hundred robots a day. This they were equipped to do. Even allowing for the admitted imprecision of aim, this would have meant the total extinction of the capital. "The robot is a very clever weapon," a distinguished physicist in the British Civil Service told me. "It is, of course, in the early stages of its development, but it has great possibilities." From a Mephistophelean point of view, it has done pretty well already. I arrived after the V-1s had, presumably, done their worst. They were now sporadic but always impending. And when they fell, they and the V-2s, they did something more than show their possibilities. As I was going to dinner one night in Kensington Palace Gardens, the great park flared suddenly into brilliant illumination. The trees became alive with light and dredged from my memory the awful scene in Arthur Machen's novel "The Terror." For a moment I thought it was a thunderstorm. The air shuddered, as well as the car in which I sat. With the blackness that followed there came the sound of an immense explosion. Then everything was as before, at least where I was. Nothing daunts the London chauffeur. Mine had stopped the car; now he started it again, chuckling to himself. I didn't ask him what he found funny. I arrived at dinner fifteen minutes late. "I thought," said my hostess as she rose to greet me, "that we should have to revise the dinner table." That was the only reference to the explosion. Next day the same chauffeur drove me somewhere else. The London taxi drivers and chauffeurs know everything. Late at night, in some mysterious rendezvous, they check up on every bomb, every explosion. This man was able to give me precise information about last night's bomb. It had killed many people and destroyed or partially demolished several hundred houses.

The nonchalance about bombs is general throughout England. A lady who drives a lorry to blitzed areas told me that she is never in the least frightened, no matter what happens, while she is driving, nor does she flinch no matter what gruesome charges she has to carry. It is only when she is lying in bed at night that she is frightened, and then more at the sirens than at the explosions, because, she imagines, the former are anticipation, the latter faits accomplis. If you are alive to hear the explosion, you are all right. On the opening night of John Gielgud's revival of "The Circle," there was an alert during the last act. The bedraggled and bedizened Lady Kitty was sitting down front on a sofa, admonishing the young Elizabeth to profit by her example and not run away with a married man. The sirens began. In front of the footlights a square transparency lit up to reveal the word "ALERT" in huge black letters—quite unnecessarily, it seemed to me, as the sirens were distinctly audible. Lady Kitty had been describing the shabbier social aspects of life in Monte Carlo. I half expected Yvonne Arnaud, playing Lady Kitty, to say, "My dear Elizabeth, go to the nearest shelter at once." But Lady Kitty didn't. She went on fervently imploring Elizabeth to avoid scandal. No one in the audience stirred, except to strain forward a bit to hear Yvonne Arnaud better.

William Wyler, the director of the motion picture "Mrs. Miniver," once told me that he wants to do a scene in a film of people having lunch or dinner during an alert, with the conversation proceeding completely undeflected by the bombing. (He says that he'll shoot the scene without telling the actors anything about it and add the sound effects afterward.) In the two months I was in England, I encountered this sort of thing five times. To get a change from the inedible food at Claridge's, I used to go out for the inedible food at several little restaurants I knew. One day I was lunching in one of these with Chaim Weizmann and a number of his friends. Everybody was enchanted with the quietly ironic utterances of this extraordinary man. An alert began, screaming in crescendo over the very roof of the restaurant. Weizmann lifted his voice slightly—the only time I have ever known him to lift it. The conversation went on to its end without a reference to the alert. Not long before, a bomb had fallen on a restaurant in this neighborhood during the lunch hour, killing hundreds of people, but no one said a word about the incident. I never discussed an air raid with anyone in London except taxi drivers and chauffeurs. No one else will talk about them. Three or four lines in the papers will tell you that several bombs fell the day before in Southern England, but that is all. Beyond the casual remark that was made the day I arrived, the V-2s were never spoken of. Presumably it has been different since Churchill's speech about them.

This nonchalance has affected Americans, too. There is the story the Lunts tell. Alfred Lunt was standing in the wings one night ready to make his entrance in the second act of "There Shall Be No Night." The sirens sounded, and a bomb exploded, quite dose. Lynn Fontanne, who was onstage, turned to address the young man playing her son and found him not there. He had obeyed a conditioned reflex and run off the stage to the doubtful shelter of his dressing room. Disregarding this, Lunt made his entrance. His first line was to Miss Fontanne: "Darling, are you all right?" The audience applauded when she said she was all right. "Do you know," Lunt told me, "what Lynn's first remark to me was when we left the stage after the curtain was down? She turned on me accusingly and said, `That's the first time, Alfred—that's the first time in the years we've been doing this play—that's the very first time you ever read it properly!'" I remarked that I had always suspected that the only really effective director for Lunt was Himmler. This consoled Miss Fontanne.

The country's absorption in the war is complete, but the peculiar anomalies of English life and English character, political and otherwise, persist. The taxi driver who took me to see Harold Laski knew about him. "Oh, yes, Professor Laski," he said possessively. "1 am Labour and I think we'll get in at the next election. Clever man, Professor Laski. Churchill likes him." Laski was amused by this when I told him, as well as by another remark I quoted to him, made by an American when the New York Times carried a story that the Laski home had been blitzed during the night. Laski, the Times related, had been knocked out of bed, had fallen down several flights of stairs, and waked up. "He must be a light sleeper," said the American.

Then, on a four-hour trip to Cardiff, on a train on which there was no food, no heat, no seats, I stood in a corridor talking to a young instructor in the Home Defense. He was full of gruesome details of the work performed in London by his Home Defense volunteers, one of them a man well over seventy. "Unsparing," he said. "They work sometimes for days with no sleep at all." The most unbearable part of his work, he said, was finding the bodies of children. Only the week before, he had pulled out of the wreckage of a bombed building the body of a little girl about the same age as his own, who was, he thanked God, evacuated to Gloucester and whom he was now on his way to visit. "It isn't all unrelieved gloom, though," he said. "Sometimes funny things happen." I encouraged him to tell me a funny thing. "Well," he said, "one day we were clearing out a badly blitzed house. We found a decapitated man. We looked and looked for his head but couldn't find it. Finally we gave up. As we were carrying the torso through what used to be the garden into the van, we heard a chicken clucking. Hello, I thought, what's that chicken clucking about? There's certainly nothing left for him in the garden. We went back and followed the clucking till we found the chicken. It wasn't in the garden at all but in part of the rubble and it was clucking at the missing head." I was happy to find that there was a lighter side to this man's work.

At the station in Cardiff I was met by Jack Jones, the novelist and playwright and the biographer of Lloyd George. Cardiff, I had been told in London, was hell even in peacetime. Jones took me to a sing in a local tabernacle. A banker in the town had organized a series of Sunday-night sings for service men. The place was packed, the mood warm and informal, and the singing, in Welsh and English, magnificent. The phenomenon of a great crowd spending the evening just singing struck me as extraordinary; in America it wouldn't occur to people to sing en masse without being paid for it. Jones walked me back to my hotel afterward. It was obvious, once we were on the street, that only a few of the American service men in the vicinity had gone to the tabernacle. The rest appeared to be walking the streets with girls, many of them almost children. The atmosphere was high-pitched, like an American college town on a football night. In the few blocks between the tabernacle and the hotel I must have seen twenty pickups. "The girls like the American approach," said Jones. "Your boys dispense with preliminaries. Result: high illegitimacy." It was obvious that the blackout was a help. Long after I went to bed, I could hear the boys and girls tramping the streets, laughing and singing. I heard a boy teaching a Welsh girl "I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby." She seemed apt. I was eavesdropping on the active permutation of cultures; I could almost feel the graph of illegitimacy soaring. The process sounded gay.

During a trip to the Valleys, as the mining areas in Wales are called, Jones and I stopped at Merthyr Tydfil, his birthplace and the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. Jones showed me the hut in which he was born. It was one of a whole block of identical huts. He pointed out, at the corner, the privy which served the entire block. Fifty yards from these dwellings is a bronze plaque commemorating the fact that from here the world's first steam locomotive made a run of twenty-seven miles. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Jones told me, Merthyr Tydfil was one of the busiest industrial cities in the world; the products of the surrounding valleys went to every part of the globe. All one can say is that the Industrial Revolution hasn't done well by its birthplace—the eroded hills, the rows of boarded-up buildings, the squalid artifacts left by succeeding generations make one wonder who got the benefits of all this. A few London mansions occupied by absentee mine owners could scarcely compensate for the scars, topographical and human, on the landscape. These hovels are the shelters of the Industrial Revolution and they are not much better than those of the current one; they're aboveground, and that's about all you can say for them. We went through village after village with shops boarded up, their districts all mined out. The inhabitants go by bus to work in war plants some distance away. What they will do after the war Jones didn't know. It was through one of these villages that the Duke of Windsor made a tour when he was King. As the vistas of misery opened up before him, he muttered, "Something has to be done about this." For this mutter the people are grateful to this day. The Duke is popular in the district. "'E was done in by the 'igher-ups," a taxi driver in Cardiff said to me. There is a decided impression, even in other parts of England, that it was not so much Mrs. Simpson as a program of social improvement, forming slowly in the Duke's conscience, that cost him his crown.

Having been in London's shelters, I can see readily why most people—at least those who have some alternative—will take their chance on being hit rather than go into them. There are three main types: surface shelters, which look like enlarged Nissen huts; shallow shelters, which vary in size and depth and are only fairly safe; and the deep shelters, of which there are five in London. Each of the last can accommodate eight thousand people. Then, of course, there are the subways, which are still favored by many. On the concrete platforms of the stations are built tiers of steel shelves somewhat like the ones used in American railway stations for checking baggage. On them you see men, women, and small children asleep with their clothes on. As a concession to light sleepers, the trains do not run after eleven-thirty at night, but no alarm clock is needed in the early morning. One morning, while I was waiting in a station for a train, I saw a little boy rather younger than my own, who is seven, lying asleep, his arm curved up over his eyes as if to shield them from the light. The train roared in. Just as I was caught in the crowd that sucked me aboard, quite in the New York fashion, I looked back at this child. The noise of the milling crowd must have penetrated the planes of sleep; he turned abruptly, huddling himself and his blanket against the glazed brick wall behind his bunk.

When I asked why people used the subways when they could use the regular shelters, which at least didn't have trains rushing through them, I was told that the subways appeal to many simply because of their safety; several of the regular shelters—that is, the surface and shallow ones—have been hit and their occupants killed. What I found most trying in all the shelters, though for the habitués it is probably a solace, was the constant blaring, through loudspeakers, of ancient records of American popular tunes: "Whispering," "Avalon," "Blue Skies." These nostalgic idyls, dinned out in incessant fortissimo, impart an atmosphere of phantasmagoria to scenes that might otherwise be merely abysmally depressing. This public music is a wartime phenomenon; the railway stations, too, have acquired the habit of playing American, or mainly American, jazz records to speed the departing trains. The raucous evocation of the melodies of the seven fat years makes the prevailing dreariness macabre; the orchestrations of "This Side of Paradise" somehow fail in their efforts to diminish the electrified gloom of the urban foxholes.

There are children who have never known any homes but shelters. A pretty young woman sat in one of them beside her baby, which was in a pram. I asked her whether she couldn't be evacuated. She said she had been but hadn't liked the place where they had sent her. "It was the noise," she said. "The place was near a bomber command and I couldn't stand the racket of the bombers making off for France." An apple-cheeked old lady smiled cheerfully at the young woman and me. Someone asked her whether she had had dinner. "Yes," she said, "I went home and cooked it in my own kitchen." "But weren't you bombed out?" "Oh, yes," she said. "The rest of the house is gone, but Jerry didn't get the kitchen." Obviously she was proud of having put one over on Jerry.

The deep shelters are amazing. They are cities hundreds of feet underground. A companion and I timed the descent to one in the lift; it took several minutes. It is planned, after the war, to use them for stations in a projected express subway system. The interminable, brightly lit corridors curving beside the endless shelves of bunks have the antiseptic horror of the German film "Metropolis." These shelters are really safe. The one we visited has a long bar-canteen which serves cocoa, milk and sandwiches at nominal prices. There is a fully equipped hospital with nurses and doctors in attendance. We walked miles on concrete platforms while the loudspeakers blared "Dardanella" and "Tea for Two." We went to a lower level and visited the power room, which might serve as a sizzling, violet-lit shrine to the God Dynamo. The girl in charge manipulated switches; the immense electric bulb in the heart of an intestinal coil of lighted glass tubing changed its complexion from violet to magenta to lemon. We went to the telephone control. The operator there told us that she could instantly get in communication with the four other deep shelters.

We went up again and walked around the corridors. A good-looking, very neatly dressed man of forty was sitting on a bunk beside a boy who must have been his son, about twelve and also nicely dressed. The boy's hair was brushed smooth and he looked as if he had got himself up to visit a rich aunt. I talked to the man. He said he had lost every possession he had in the world except the clothes he and his son were wearing. They had been living in this shelter for eight months. In the morning he went to his work and the boy went to school. The problem in the shelter was to get up early enough, before six-thirty, because after that hour lift service, except for the aged and crippled, stopped and there were seven hundred stairs.

We finally left the deep shelter. My companion wanted me to see still another type of shelter. I begged off, I simply couldn't stand one more. I was aware that the people in them had been standing them for over five years.

"Perhaps," an Englishwoman in A the Civil Service said to me of the shelter residents, "you would have been less shocked by what you have seen if you were familiar with the peacetime homes of these people." This, of course, is a devastating comment on the civilization which the war is implacably destroying. The transfer of great populations underground has been accomplished, but its accomplishment divides your feelings when you walk the surface of the city. At the end of their day's work, the miners in Wales, emerging with blackened faces, have their cottages to look forward to for the evening, far though they may be from the idyllic interiors of the film version of "How Green Was My Valley." The Londoners submerge.

The Londoners submerge and sit and listen to the loudspeakers and huddle around the stoves and are patient. Their patience is rather appalling. Nor are they vindictive. They are humorous about "the Jerries." I had been told that the robot raids had changed all that, but I saw nothing to prove it. They have got used to the robots, too. The people I saw do not seem to comprehend that human beings have done this to them. They take it as they might a flood or an earthquake. The bitterness against the Germans is almost entirely confined to the articulate classes, and even among them many think that Vansittart is a crank with a "fixed idea." Compared to the English, we Americans are a very violent people indeed.

It is somehow a misstatement to say that the British are indomitable. It is rather that capitulation is a concept with which they are not equipped. Perhaps it is precisely because they depersonalize the enemy that the idea of a negotiated peace is also foreign to them. After all, you can't negotiate with a flood or an earthquake. The conditions of their life are stringent to an extent which we cannot imagine. For more than five years they have been underfed, underclothed, moving in a darkness lit only by bomb flashes and the venomous streaks of robot bombs. An American congressman from a western state made a hasty trip to England. He stayed four days. He clamored to go to France, where he stayed four more. He went back to New York, bearing the nimbus of one who has stood his ground within the sound of the guns. Upon his return, he gave a statement to the press in which he said that the English were well off, that the shop windows were full of things. One wonders what would have satisfied this congressman, exactly what deprivations he would have liked to see. For myself, I can only say that a case might be made for sending over to England our civilians instead of our soldiers. The war would last longer, but so might the peace.

Copyright © 2009 SNBehrman.com