The Charlotte News

Tuesday, August 29, 1939



Site Ed Note: We include the following editorial by Dorothy Thompson, a syndicated columnist who regularly appeared on the editorial page of The News. Her regular beat was the European situation, she having so incurred the wrath of Hitler in reporting on the Reich in the early days of its existence that he personally ordered her to leave Germany in 1934. But this day she turns attention to another topic, one which we find poignant, and not just for 1939.

So here it is:

To Sidney Howard

By Dorothy Thompson

I do not believe that you are dead, Sidney. In my own mind, I go on talking with you. Our friendship--yours and mine--was only a few dozen hours of talk--a few dozen hours in a lifetime. Not personal talk... except as all talk is personal... about what drama is: how old themes recur over and over, and how all plays can be reduced to a few eternal stories: about politics--the drama and philosophy of man, expressed through politics. About farming. The things people talk about.

Only, it is not so easy to talk as it once was. There are veils between the talk of people nowadays. Veils of distrust. Veils of ideologies--you know what I mean.

You never used words that way, as labels; words as labels meant nothing to you, whose clear, kind eyes saw only human beings, and accepted or rejected them not for what they thought or said but for what they were. Refusing to catalog people as though they were treatises of some sort, orthodox or unorthodox, to be accepted or banned.


You saw in humans folly rather than sin--the folly which was sometimes comic and sometimes tragic, and always, to you, touching. You were able to have no great opinion of the human race, and still to love it. With every word you wrote you declared your solidarity with it; with every word you wrote you tried to keep it together, to keep open communication between people, to remind them of their common fate; that they were born, would love, would work, would have some happiness, suffer much frustration and would certainly die. This was the fate of every human soul, you seemed continually aware, and therefore you had pity. Pity was in all your plays.

You could admire heroism and detest heroics. You hated war. I remember things you said about the last war, in which you were young, and an aviator. It wasn't the blood so much... it was not even the dying that you remembered with horror; it was the folly, the bureaucracy, the petty egoisms, the orders that became separated from all reality, the red tape that strangled men to death without a fair fight first.


"They sent up that boy in a tomato crate," I remember you said. The mechanics told the officers the plane was unfit to leave the ground. But the officer wanted to assert his prestige. He had given the order in the first place. He barked at the boy, "I suppose you are yellow!" So the kid turned white and got in and took it up. My God! He wasn't in the air ten minutes when down it crashed, and the kid was dead. Just because a damned fool was afraid to lose face. "It's that that I hated most," you said. You remember? "To die for something that matters--that's all right. Everybody dies anyhow. That's one thing that's certain. But to die because some fool has made a mistake and won't admit it--I couldn't bear it."


You hated the machine--the way the war was a machine, the war itself, the organization itself; the way society becomes a machine.

"Man invented the machine," you once said, "and now they try to make themselves into its image, worshipping their own creation. The machine takes on a life of its own."

That is the phrase my memory has been groping for! That is what you said, Sidney, in one of those conversations that we had in the middle of a big party. "The machine takes on a life of its own!"

Oh, Sidney, it does! All over the world now it is taking on a horrible life of its own. It is eating up words, Sidney. They go into it good, clean, reasonable words, words meant for communications, and they come out in awful cries, like the groans of grinding machine parts, like the inhuman shrieks of locomotive sirens: Eja! Eja! Heil! Sieg Heil! Rot Front! Eja! Sieg Heil!

Shrieks of a runaway engine-state, running--where? Into what wall?


Further Note: Sidney Howard won a Pulitzer for his 1924 play, "They Knew What They Wanted", about the people who settled the wine country in California, and posthumously won an Academy Award for his screenplay for "Gone With the Wind", which premiered at the Loew's Grand in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.

And here's a little thing--When we wrote our little note of June 23, 1939 across the sixty-six surfside years to J. B. O' Meara, letter-writer to The News, we hadn't read the above, though you might think so. And when we mentioned that bit about the theater, it was from our own memories of attending a few movies at the Loew's Grand in Atlanta once upon a time--precisely why that theater came to mind and not others of the same vintage, we couldn't exactly say, but there it is. "The machine takes on a life of its own." Sometimes, though, the words come out more interesting than not, still and all.


Union Of Gov't Employees New Thing To Think About

If anybody asked us, as nobody has, for what reason City and County employees shouldn't have a union, we'd be unable to think of one. We hold this truth to be self-evident--that all men have the right to join any organization of their choice, so long as its objectives are within the law and not inconsistent with their obligations otherwise. But...

If anybody asked us for what reason City and County employees should have a union, we'd be equally at a loss in supplying an answer. The primary purpose of unions is to exert bargaining power which individuals lack; potent factor in employer-employee relations it is, too. But the ultimate recourse for employees lies in the strike, and you can't strike against government. Or can you?

We hadn't thought so, and in view of the fact that nobody is striking or threatening to strike against either of our local governments, we should just put off thinking about it any more at present.


No Land's Man

Neither Russia, Cuba Nor America Will Have Him

The trouble with immigration laws as they are enacted by our Congress and by other American governments is that they never allow for any exceptions.

Take that case of Haim Flukman, the man literally without a country. In 1923 the fellow, a Russian Jew, lost his Russian citizenship by taking up permanent residence in Cuba (with the consent of the Cuban authorities, though it appears that he did not become a Cuban citizen). Ten years later, he decided to move to the United States, found that he was not admissible because of his lack of citizenship in any country, and attempted to remedy that by entering Florida illegally. He was caught and served a sentence in a Federal hoosegow.

After the expiration of his present term the United States deported him to Cuba, but when he arrived there the Cuban authorities turned him down cold on the ground that he wasn't a citizen. Back he came to the United States, only to be refused again. And since he has been shuttling back and forth, until he has completed five round trips.

The man has no legal claim on us, and none on Cuba. And violation of the law to gain entry here is certainly no way of recommending himself to our consideration. Nevertheless, the sort of treatment that he is now being put to plainly violates the law of humanity and common sense, and there ought to be some provision in the laws of the United States and Cuba under which some decent disposition of such cases could be made.


Reluctant Willie

Mr. Pelley Is Oddly Uneager To Be Heard

Mr. Willie Pelley, the versatile Asheville gent who has been everything in his life from Great Liberal to Great Tory and who is now out to save us by converting us to Fascism (with Willie himself as Der Fuehrer), has switched again.

Last year when the so-called Dies Committee was actually under the direction of the hysterical Congressman from Texas, Willie couldn't say enough good things about it. For in those days the committee was wholly taken up with the business of smearing everybody left of Herbert Hoover as a Communist--exactly the business Mr. Pelley is engaged in, to his great prosperity, it appears.

But the last Congress toned down that committee a great deal, and made Martin Dies a mere figure head. Now, instead of winking quietly at the Nazis in this country, it is looking into 'em. It even wants to look into Willie's schemes, and particularly into the Galahad Press, of which Willie was the Galahad and which busted, leaving the stockholders stripped clean. So Willie is hopping mad.

This committee, he has suddenly discovered is the "Un-American Committee," and it is guilty of all the showiness and unfairness which was alleged against it last year. Willie is so mad that he is apt to defy the order of the committee to appear before it and explain his Galahading with that press--as well as other things. And though Judge Webb says he must, he plans to appeal to the very highest courts to avoid it.

That is interesting. Willie is such a little shot that we hadn't bothered to care whether he appeared or not until now. But on the whole, it might be a good thing for that committee to move heaven and earth to see that he does. There is a line in a play which runs:

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.


Slav Rights

How Gently Mr. Hitler Deals With Minorities

One of Mr. A. Hitler's chief yelling points has been the claim that the German minority was being mistreated in Poland. He plays on that at great length in his message to Daladier, claiming that there were 2,000,000 Germans in the Polish land and that their economic, juridical, and physical rights were being violated wholesale--that the conditions, indeed, were "Macedonian."

The truth of that may be fairly judged from his assertions as to the number of these Germans. There are actually about three-quarters of a million Germans in all Poland.

On the other hand, have a look at how Mr. A. Hitler himself deals with helpless minorities. An Associated Press dispatch out of Bratislava reports that his army chieftains in Slovakia have today, through the traitorous priest, Tiso, promulgated these regulations:

1--All disputes between Slovak citizens and German soldiers must be tried in German military courts.

2--The Slovak population must furnish the occupying German Army with food. About 400,000 German soldiers are there now. The Slovak population is about 5,000,000. It is as though the United States had to furnish food for an occupying army of 3,500,000 troops!

3--All Slovak citizens, including the merchants, must accept the German mark as equal to ten Slovak crowns. The mark, at current exchange rates, is actually worth five crowns! It is a 50 per cent devaluation of the Slovak currency. Or more accurately still, it means that the Slovaks must give away as much as they sell.


A Diller, A Dollar

Wage & Hour Law Makes Banks Close Too Soon

It's a funny thing how frequently a law, passed for reasons of benevolence, will turn around and snap at somebody. Take that Wage & Hour Law, which was going to banish unemployment and give the hard-driven laboring man a chance to renew acquaintance with his wife and children and permit them all to run away to the seashore for a couple of days almost any week.

Actually, the first effect of the Wage & Hour Act in this office was to curtail little side trips. The boys in the news department, who get one day off a week in rotation, had been used to swapping with each other, so that this chap could have two consecutive days off one week and make it up by working straight through the next, when a colleague would take a double-header. And go somewhere.

But no longer. Hours beyond the law in any week must be paid for by the office at time and a half. Private deals expressly prohibited.

And that's to say nothing about the enormous amount of bookkeeping necessary to keep track of the hours in every week that everybody has worked.

In many cases, the Wage & Hour Law, instead of producing any notable benefits, has resulted in a curtailment of service to the public. Take the banks, which have just voted to close at 1:00 instead of 2 (12 on Saturdays), because of the Federal Government stipulation that in excess of 44 hours in any one week (42 after Oct. 24) is overtime and must be paid for accordingly. Bank employees may consider this a boon, though we doubt it. It means that five hours' work must be done in four. And the public finds a service curtailed.

That Wage & Hour Law is probably a good thing in the main. But it's these little inconveniences that unnecessarily, and to no great point, shore up disapproval of it.


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