The Role of Youth in National Defense


By GEORGE BARTON CUTTEN, President of Colgate University, Hamilton, N.Y.

Presented on "America's Town Meeting of the Air," from Miami, Florida, Dec. 26, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 205-206.

I SHALL take it for granted that defense, like charity, begins at home. Little use it would be to defend democracy abroad and lose it in America. What this defense should be depends upon our definition of democracy. Democracy is not a gratuity, it is a conquest; it cannot be given, it must be captured. Like the manna, which the Israelites found in the wilderness, it cannot be obtained once for all, but must be gathered anew every morning. Our fathers, who first achieved it, were not panhandlers who begged it from others, they went out and worked for it and fought for it.

The charge has been made, time and again, that our young people are no longer devoted worshippers of our democratic principles, but are wandering after false gods in the form of certain none-too-popular isms. Whether or not that is so, I do not presume to say, but I am sure it need not beso. We can attract them to the same kind of loyalty to our governmental pattern as we ourselves have had. But how can we engender loyalty? The law of loyalty is simpler than the law of gravitation. It is this: we love not those who do most for us, but those for whom we do most. Not gratitude but sacrifice begets loyalty.

If we want disloyal youth in this country all we have to do is to continue what we have started lately. Shower them with everything and demand of them nothing, impress upon them that the country owes them a living and crowd upon them so-called social security so that they will be encouraged to become irresponsible and indifferent; there is no better medium for the culture of every kind of disruptive ism. If we want loyal youth, let us demand of them a sacrificial heroism, for then we are appealing to the divine in them, and they'll respond with their last ounce of strength and their last drop of blood. When we treat our young people as craven and spineless and irresponsible, they will respond in kind, but when we demand and expect of them lives of free, energetic, and independent citizenship, they'll not fail us but go beyond our fondest wishes.

Let me call to your remembrance two incidents. In addressing his Roman soldiers, Garibaldi said, "Soldiers, what I have to offer you is fatigue, danger, struggle and death; the chill of the cold night in the free air, and heat under the burning sun; no lodgings, no munitions, no provisions, but forced marches, dangerous watch posts, and continual struggle with bayonets against batteries—those who love freedom and their country may follow me." Did they slink away when they heard these words? Not they! They rushed to his standard.

Listen while Jesus talks to his disciples. "They shall lay hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake . . . and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake." What happened? They left all and followed Him.

God never did a better thing for the children of men than when he threw Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden and told them to hustle for themselves. He thus gave the race its first upward boost and postponed economic security for a million years. "Thou shalt earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow," was not a curse, as the lazy and the shiftless have tried to make us believe, but the first formulation of the law of progress. There is such a thing as economic and social security, but no government can hand it to us on a golden platter. It is only found in the industry, the initiative, and the courage of the people—that is real social and economic security, and there is no other.

Few know that there were two bands of Pilgrims which came to America, both, so far as we can ascertain, of equal character and ability. One landed on a West India island where everything was easy and comfortable, and was never heard of afterward so far as influencing its time or environment. The other landed on an inhospitable shore, was met by savage Indians and was forced to obtain sustenance from a none too fertile land. The latter became the spiritual and economic foundation of our nation and of our democracy.

The very success of previous civilizations has always proved to be the cause of their downfall. Is there another civilization tottering for the same reason? The problem today is this: How can we impel the youth to their greatest endeavor for themselves and for their country when civilization is bathing them in ease and leisure? Initiative varies as the square of the pressure. If the success of our civilization prevents our driving them from behind, we must entice them to reach forward toward attractive situations. There is only one way to spur them to initiative and industry in a leisurely world, and that is by insuring and increasing the rewards to the successful.

Some persons, disguised as intelligent beings, have been talking about removing the profit motive from industry. Of course, it does not take a wizard to tell you that it cannot be done. Russia has proved that. But, anyway, could you imagine any method supposedly used to restore prosperity more ridiculous than to crucify the successful men upon a cross of misrepresentation with a crown of invectives upon their brow, and, at the same time, to glorify and to reward the failures?

We have been hearing a lot of moronic utterances lately about social justice and it is time somebody protested. If social justice means taking away the earnings of the industrious and the efficient, and giving them to the lazy and the incompetent, then the English language has a bad twist to starboard, and somebody has his wires crossed. Such a procedure would be the most impudent piece of injustice.

Not less rewards but more to the successful; let them name their own salaries—they are worth it. They are the only hope we have. Let us publish abroad to the youth of the land that success will not longer be a signal for misrepresentation, abuse, and persecution, but that on the successful our richest gifts will be bestowed. Nature always let the burden of failure rest, and rest heavily, upon the unsuccessful and showered unstinted rewards upon the successful. That was her method of bringing us up to our present position, and that has not been improved yet. If given the assurance of unhampered opportunity for initiative and industry, our youth would respond by unbounded loyalty.

It is democracy which has made America great. Democracy is not a form of government, it is an exaltation of character which finds its final expression in a form of government. It was because we had the independence, initiative, industry and sacrificial spirit to subdue a continent and to make it bring forth and blossom, that we were able to govern ourselves. It is this spirit of adventure, so characteristic of youth, which found its culmination in democratic government. Democratic government is not the root but the fruit.

I suppose my generation is at fault for many of the things with which modern youth is charged; at fault, because we have called them to a parasitic pauperism instead of to a sacrificial heroism. We misjudge them; I am sure they would have responded to a call to sacrifice. The character necessary for democracy at its best is not made in a vacuum. It is what happens to us when we rebound from a difficult situation.

I wish I could unfold a standard before you and invite you to sacrificial service—I should expect a ready response. I should see you stand row by row, and section by section. I should see you march down the aisle shoulder to shoulder, and forgetting ease and luxury and self indulgence, enlist as did your great grandfathers in 76, your grandfathers in '61, and your fathers in '17. I hope no such call to arms may again be necessary but if in the processes of time such a call should come, I know I'd find you ready. But there is a cause in which I trust we all may be able to unite, the cause of our nation and our principles, and with democracy spread on the banner, I'd hurl a virile challenge to hardship, endurance, initiative, and independence, and even to death, and I'd have no fear of the result,—I know you'd respond. Democracy is our most valued trust and I could safely place it in your care,—I know you'd defend it.