Foreign & General
1. M.G. correspondent reports that German mobilization will be at full strength half way through August & that some attempt to terrorize Poland will be made. War stated to be likeliest issue (as also in yesterday’s “Time & Tide”). The striking thing is the perfunctory air with which these statements are made in all papers, as though with an inner certainty that nothing of the kind can happen. Manchester Guardian Weekly, 11.8.39 [a] [Orwell incorrectly dates this as 12.8.39]
2. Appearances seem to show that fighting on the Manchurian border from Changkufeng incident onwards has been fairly heavy but inconclusive. Manchester Guardian Weekly, 11.8.39 [b] [misdated as 12.8.39]; La Révolution Prolétarienne, undated
1. Refugee problem stated to be becoming serious in London especially East End. Mosley said to have not greatly increased his following however. [Private]
2. It appears that the P[ost].O[ffice]. authorities are now able to read a letter, sufficient to determine nature of its contents, without opening it. [Private]
1. All my books from the Obelisk Press this morning seized by the police, with warning from Public Prosecutor that I am liable to be prosecuted if importing such things again. They had opened my letter addressed to Obelisk Press evidently at Hitchin. Do not know yet whether because of the address or because my own mail is now scrutinized. [No reference]
2. Potato & tomato said to have been successfully crossed in U.S.S.R. Smallholder
 On 29 July 1939 some 3,000 Soviet troops with 100 tanks attacked on a four-mile front centred on Changkufeng, about a hundred miles southwest of Vladivostock. They were forced back, losing approximately 400 men to about 120 lost by the Japanese. On 6 August the German and Italian ambassadors in Tokyo intervened to urge moderation by the Japanese to settle the dispute peacefully so the ‘Anti-Comintern Triangle’ would not become embroiled with Russia (The Times, 9 August 1939)
 Obelisk Press, in Paris, published books in English for sale on the Continent, some of which British authorities regarded as obscene. Their importation into England was liable to legal proceedings. See Jack Kahane’s Memoirs of a Booklegger (1939). See also letter to Victor Gollancz, 8 January 1940, 583. Peter Davison
Potato and tomato cross? What did it look and taste like? Did it have tubers and fruit? Or carbohydratish fruit? Or red and juicy tubers? I need to know!
Interesting the “perfunctory air” comment. Is this grudging acceptance, or did people genuinely think, deep down, that it would all be brought back from the brink?
Yes, the “perfunctory air” comment. The “glossing over” of the real threat. A “flick of the wrist” for bigotry.
The futility of the diplomatic charade. Aimless, random shuffling back and forth of ambassadors and what-not. Anglo-Franco-Rusky (shuffle at will) liaisons in exotic locations around the world where they sit in comfy chairs, looking down at the table, drumming their fingers, checking their watches often, never looking up except to summon another drink and a cigar. It’s all political cover.
I think the people and the papers saw through that and, actually, got the hint. Everyone is marking time; watching the sky.
Eric wants to be a fly on the wall map. He wants to know who is really saying and doing what exactly and when and where and why.
I love how he describes what I would consider an alarming, appalling invasion–mail read, books seized, and a warning from the prosecutor–without emotion, turning immediately to the crossbreeding of a new plant. Talk about perfunctory!
Does anyone reading this remember how they felt in 1939? Did you think that war “couldn’t happen”?
Alas! I am only here by proxy; vicariously experiencing Eric’s mockery of these two papers as examples of taking the word vague to the next level: meaningless gibberish.
And now they’ve confiscated his books; they’ve made it personal.
The logical conclusion is that information is now filtered by an insidious bureaucracy as demonstrated here by the meager gleanings from two different papers:
Excluding the annotations, of course, one might wonder if George didn’t write some of this stuff with tongue-in-cheek, eh?
Yes, Fay Shirley, I was around in 1939 — had just finished my first year at university — and remember how I felt. I was sure a war was coming soon, had read about Spain and about Mussolini’s attack on Ethiopia, was concerned about the Jews in Germany and about the world situation in general. But I did hope that it wouldn’t affect us in the U.S. And I can’t say that I did anything except read the news and think about how many terrible things were happening.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed my college classes, and dances, and all the fun things about being young and in love.
Manchester Guardian correspondent was right on the money.
It’s amazing that in those day there were people at the Post Office who could read! These days I get as many letters intended for other addresses as intended for mine. That certainly was a Golden Age!