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Foreign News: Yalu Hullabaloo

6 minute read

Rotundly encased in a black coat, striped pants, and glowing good humor, Winston Churchill beckoned toward the Laborite side of the House of Commons. “We have all,” he boomed, “watched with attention, mitigated by occasional fatigue, the twirls, twitchings and convulsions which are taking place on the Front Bench opposite.”

The Laborites had just come from a private meeting of their own, one of the stormiest in years. Rebel Aneurin Bevan, who is louder about his anti-Americanism than his antiCommunism, was now making no secret of his campaign to wrest the party from Moderate Clement Attlee. The Bevan wing demanded a tough vote of censure against Churchill, against the U.S. bombing raids on the Yalu River power plants (TIME, July 7) and against the U.S. conduct of the Korean war. Attlee, concerned for Anglo-American solidarity, adamantly refused to join the movement. He favored only a mild motion censuring Churchill for having failed to get advance notice of the raids. In the angry party showdown, Attlee won, 101 to 52—but some 60 non-Bevanite Laborites abstained rather than support Attlee’s leadership.

A Big Snayfooo. When it came time to press Labor’s gentle censure, Socialist Philip Noel-Baker was so meek & mild that Churchill rumbled: “I can hardly see a point of difference between us except that he has to do his best to move a vote of censure.” The Laborite move was really an attempt to censure the U.S., said Churchill. He read from Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s closed-door explanation to members of the House: “It is only as the result of what in the U.S. is known as a ‘snafu'”—Churchill rolled the unfamiliar word around for a while and it came out snayfooo* —”that you were not consulted about it.”

The P.M. had recovered from the bad-case of personal pique over Washington’s failure to warn him of the Yalu bombings. “I do not remember any occasion when a more candid and manly course has been taken by a prominent public man,” he said of Acheson’s explanation.

You Don’t Have to Like Him. “Due consideration should be given … to the monumental patience, breaking all previous human records, which has been displayed by the American Government and people in discharging their duty to the U.N.,” Churchill said. “I defy anyone to show any other historical example which can equal it … But do not let us blind ourselves to the terrible cost that is being paid for their patience by the people of the U.S. I think we ought to admire them for the restraint which they have practiced instead of trying to find fault with them on every occasion . . .”

There was, he conceded, a difference between Americans and Britons on the matter of Communist China. “There are many Americans who think that China is more important than Europe. It certainly would be a great misfortune if that line of thought were to prevail … At all costs, avoid being sprawled about in China. That is and has always been our basic policy.” He had been among the first to suggest diplomatic recognition of Communist China, Churchill recalled. But “. . . if you recognize anyone, it does not mean that you like them. We all, for instance, recognize the right honorable gentleman, the member for Ebbw Vale.”

The House crumpled with laughter, save for the member for Ebbw Vale (Aneurin Bevan) and his Bevanites. A succession of them stood up to get in their licks, among them vitriolic, red-haired Barbara Castle. “Is this the moment,” she demanded, “when we should threaten the peace of the world by sending 500 planes to bomb plants which had not been bombed before? . . . We used to think of [Churchill] as a bulldog sitting on the Union Jack. He has become a lapdog sitting on the Stars and Stripes of America.” Tory Ian Harvey snapped back: “We know upon what flag the honorable lady is sitting, and she is no dog.”

For six hours the debate went on—but none of it changed any votes. In the end, by a vote of 300 to 270, the House upheld Winston Churchill and, in passing, the U.S. raid.

London’s Last Tram

Londoners, ever distrustful of American innovations, never really took to the clanking contraption introduced to their city in 1861 by an American appropriately named George Francis Train. The raised tracks along which Train’s first horsecars rode cluttered their streets abominably, and made coach-driving virtually impossible in Bayswater Road, Victoria Street and Kennington Road. Even when Train learned to set his tracks flush with the streets and to drive the cars with steam, the prejudice lingered. Tram whistles were constantly frightening horses, and their drivers were frequently in court for creating smoke at unauthorized places. Trams were never permitted in the wide streets of the West End or the narrowly winding alleys of the City.

Nevertheless, Train’s trams (electrified in the early years of the 20th century) became an integral part of the growth of Greater London, their tracks sprawling in time through the cobweb of streets to carry some four billion passengers a year. Like it or not, the Londoner of pre-World War I grew to feel that the tramcar was in his city to stay and, with characteristic British adaptability, he even grew a bit fond of the noisy thing. Then, in the ’20s, like a black cloud of doom on the horizon came the motorbus.

One day last week, as a fierce hot wind swept the city, London’s last regularly scheduled tram made its way along the Old Kent Road to New Cross Depot. Old passengers, some in nostalgic fancy dress, lined the route to bid the old red double-decker farewell with chalked signs, “We Want Trams.” Pennies were placed in the tracks to be flattened as souvenirs. Others crowded aboard for a last ride. “They are all mad,” screamed the conductress at Motorman William Fitzpatrick. “They have taken the light bulbs; they are ripping up the seats. Why don’t you stop when I ring the bell?” But the bell had been stolen as a keepsake. On ran the tram, heady and glorious. It was clanking along at 40 m.p.h. when a motorcycle cop threatened a summons. “We were driving 50 easy,” boasted the driver.

When at last the tram reached New Cross, every one of its windows was shattered, every loose object was gone. It didn’t matter. The whole thing was soon to be burned, its metal sold for scrap. A transport inspector pocketed the driver’s rear-view mirror. Motorman Fitzpatrick sighed. “I’ll have to be getting home,” he said. “Tomorrow at 9 I’m driving a bus.”

-Many M.P.s, hearing the word for the first time on Acheson’s lips, thought it sounded obscene. They were easily reassured by a bowdlerized translation: situation normal, all fouled up.

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