Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Join the Army and See the World

(January 1960)

From The Newsletter, 16 January 1960.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Bob Pennington’s article on Moral Rearmament has probably reminded other readers besides me of the efforts made in the Army during the latter part of the last world war to ‘push’ this stuff among the troops. Certain generals who had, one supposes, been saved spiritually by Buchman made it their concern (and exploited their power) to try to win converts. I had an experience of this sort of thing while in Burma in 1945.

Sent to attend a conference in Calcutta, I was ordered to bring back with me some crates of books which would be waiting at a depot there. Innocently I imagined these to be textbooks of various useful arts and sciences as might help soldiers who were then thinking of preparing themselves for civil life. However, after escorting those awkward great crates many miles by rail, air and road, I was furious to find when they were opened that they contained – copies of Ideas Have Legs, by Peter Howard, a popular exposition of Buchmanism. It was directed first and foremost against ‘materialists’ who exploit grievances ‘for party ends’: ‘within the ranks of Labour, two sections struggle for mastery. Shall extremists there, who love an alien ideology more than their own country, control the men who wish to maintain and recreate the best traditions of Trade Unionism? Sound Labour needs an ideology and faith to answer the faith and ideology of the extremists.’ This was what Moral Rearmament was in business to offer.

The least I could do to atone for my bringing this muck into Burma was to write a letter to SEAC, the Forces newspaper then edited by Frank Owen, exposing the Moral Rearmament racket to the best of my ability. Shortly afterwards I was posted to Ceylon. There I learnt, through an indiscretion, that this letter of mine – coming on top of unauthorized contacts with the Burma National Army, saying the wrong thing in ‘current affairs’ discussions, etc. – had given grave offence in high quarters. Apparently at least one general was working, together with the Bishop of Rangoon, to use ‘MRA’ propaganda not only to offset left-wing tendencies among British troops but also to influence certain Burmese politicians who were in search of an ideology; and I had rocked the boat a little.

In a way, that was where, or rather how, I had come in, so to speak. For my original posting to the East, in 1943, happened like this. One day the general commanding a district of England where I was then stationed gave a confidential address to officers of all units in the district on the importance of a new so-called educational programme The British Way and Purpose. The military successes of Soviet Russia were causing far too many soldiers to deduce that the Bolshevik revolution must have been a good thing, and it was necessary to counter these dangerous thoughts by selling them, hard but with subtlety, ‘our own’ traditions of parliamentary democracy, His Majesty’s Opposition, and all that. When a verbatim report of the general’s remarks appeared in the next day’s Daily Worker some embarrassment ensued.

Shortly afterwards I was posted to India. From an inside source I learnt that the security boys had decided that, though they had no positive proof, Pearce must be the guilty man who had carried the general’s great thought to a wider audience than had been intended; and a long sea voyage would do me good.

The purposeful general was also posted east at the same time, and travelled out in the same convoy with me; though not, which was just as well, in the same ship or to the same destination. Though he had been responsible for introducing ‘the padre’s hour’ into Army routine, he might, who knows, have reacted to me in an un-Christian way had we been obliged to meet socially.

Last updated on 15.10.2011