Editorial: Auld Lang Syne (1-1-44)

The New York Times (January 1, 1944)

Editorial: Auld Lang Syne

Wherever the English tongue is known, the words of the Ayrshire plowman were sung last night. They were heard in the wardrooms of ships in dangerous waters, in quarters within sound of the frontline, and probably in prison camps. Like Burns himself, the old song had a humble origin. The music was a tavern ditty, the first line, at least, Allan Ramsay’s. But it is out of humble things, out of the earth, out of taverns, out of the hearts of rough men deeply moved, that greatness often comes.

This is a song of going-away, of the anguish of empire, a song for soldiers, sailors and pioneers. It is a song of the brae and the burn whose sons know them no more, of playmates long since scattered, of hands that were soft as children’s once and now are red and gnarled with toil.

It is a song of friendship, too, and one that will never die. Last night, amid all the uproar – the uproar of merriment in safe cities and of guns and pounding waters and high winds elsewhere – it seemed to have a special meaning.

For the most important fact about the new year is the friendship of the two great nations whose people sing this song and of the nations with which they are united in the battle for justice and of peace. In more than one sense in past times, the “seas between us braid hae roar’d.” We have known suspicions and estrangements. The old friends were scattered when the enemy took up his march. Almost too late they joined against him. The old cry went down the glens, the old call was heard beyond the mountains and the seas. By bitter lessons we have all learned that only by “auld acquaintance” standing firm together can freedom be kept safe.

In the midst of war, we can still drink “a cup o’ kindness:” to the infantry of the line, to whom this day brings no rest, no comfort and no surcease from peril; to the seamen who sent the Scharnhorst down, who covered the South Sea landings and who take the cargoes into port; to the men in the air, steadying the plane for the target run, with maybe an engine shot out and maybe a gunner dead. We can lift our cup to all who speak the English tongue, from Adelaide to Charing Cross, from Sioux City to Land’s End.

We can lift it, the goodwill and sober hope, to others who may yet learn this song and whose songs we may yet learn: to the Russians, who have broken the German armies; to the Chinese, ragged, underfed, under-armed, who have not learned the word surrender in any language; to Frenchmen of the breed that stood so stoutly at Bir Hakeim; to all the unconquered peoples of the conquered nations. For all of them and all of us these days, too, will sometime be Auld Lang Syne.

If we go forward in that spirit, victory is ours – and the year is ours, and all the years.

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