A Teacher Speaks on Patriotism


By HECTOR L. BELISLE, Superintendent of Schools, Fall River, Massachusetts

Given the opening week of school to the teachers whom he has been leading for twenty-seven years

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 341-343.

THIS afternoon I want to call your attention to the fact that I received last week, from the Federal Department of Education, a letter which is sent broadcast throughout the United States to superintendents of schools. That letter pointed out that at this time the school system of our country is facing the greatest challenge it has faced probably at any time since this country became a nation. You know that in speaking to you on various occasions in past years I have pointed out the seriousness of the times in which we are living. Since I discussed this matter a year ago it has been borne in upon us more and more clearly that everything that has been said on that subject is true.

Today I want to speak to you as an American teacher who, for the time being, stands in the position of leader. No organization can get along without leadership. The leadership may be good, bad or indifferent but there must be leadership. It is the business of a leader to try to get those who are supposed to be his followers to follow. We live in a democracy. The leader who speaks to his fellow workers in a democracy doesn't speak like a totalitarian dictator. He speaks like a leader, certainly should speak like a leader, in the spirit of one who sincerely believes what he says and hopes he may be able to convince others to that belief if they do not already hold it.

I want it understood that in what I say today there is nothing tending to orders or directions or commands. I speak to you more in a reasoning sense, as a teacher who feels deeply the responsibility that we have as teachers for the future of our country.

You remember that a year ago I spoke about the process of our becoming a nation, how in the past eighty years our population had just about quadrupled mostly by immigration and by the birth of descendants of immigrants. I spoke of the tendency to clannishness and keeping apart, how we within the lapse of a couple of generations were attempting to make an amalgamation of the American people which would be equivalent to what occurred in the European countries over many centuries. That is an extremely difficult process as you all know.

The people who came here came because they wanted to get away from conditions in other lands which they foundunbearable, which made them feel hopeless. Whether those conditions were persecution, religious, racial or political or whether they were economic conditions, poverty, distress and inability to earn a living, the people left those lands because they felt that in this land they would be better off. Having left those lands and having come here they and we their children certainly have a responsibility to them and to their hopes and aspirations for us and for those who will follow us.

We find a spirit of hatred today more or less all over the country. Efforts are being made to diminish it, to wipe it out, but those efforts must go on and go on unceasingly.

Hatred is a thing which is very persistent. A poet rather honored here in New England, Denis McCarthy, wrote a poem with which many of you are acquainted, a poem which I think it would be well for every child in our public schools to learn. Denis McCarthy wrote "The Land Where Hate Should Die."

It was amazing to me recently that in Boston a group of Americans whose ancestors came here from Ireland spoke out bitterly against any attempt on our part to use our resources in certain ways which might contribute to our safety for the future and they called upon the shades of John Boyle O'Reilly as one who would agree to what they said. I can't believe that John Boyle O'Reilly would agree to that. He was an escaped convict, imprisoned in a penal colony in Australia because of objections to the British control of Ireland and he came to the United States and because he was an escaped convict he never was able to go back to visit his native land. But never was a man warmer or more generous of heart than John Boyle O'Reilly. If you remember he was the man who wrote the poem for the dedication of thePilgrim Monument at Plymouth. O'Reilly, an Irish immigrant, escaped political prisoner of the English people in Australia, was an American and because he was patriotic I can't imagine that in this hour of danger to our land a man of his independence of thought would make his hatred of another country conquer his love of this country. Think that over. When people allow hatred for another land to conquer their judgment to the point of forgetting and overlooking what they owe to this country that is idiotic, simply idiotic, and I have as much reason to say that as any one.

When I was a little boy entering primary school I heard my father tell of what his father did as a captain of militia in Canada in fighting in the rebellion against the English Government. That happened just a little over one hundred years ago. As a young boy I was taught to read French before I ever went to school and I read French story books of wars and naval engagements between the French and English and even in boyhood I knew quite a little of the history of the two countries and their conflicts. But what is past is past. We can't change the past. We can make the future and that is our job and if we are going to let grievances of the past influence us to the point where we are not willing to make the future then there is no hope for our country.

We don't have to hate other peoples. The Catholic ex-Chancellor of Germany, Heinrich Breuning, who is a professor at Harvard at the present time does not hate his native Germany and the German people. Gaetano Salvemini who is a professor at Yale and has lectured publicly in various parts of this country does not hate his native land of Italy or the Italian people. But those men are exiles and perhaps would have forfeited their lives if they had not fled as hundreds of unfortunates failed to do or would be like thousands of others who hold their opinions and are suffering for those opinions in concentration camps. There isno need of hating other people. There is great need of loving your own land and loving what your land stands for and standing for that without dwelling upon past grievances and teaching to those under you that bygones arc bygones and that we came to this land to live for the future.

There is one other thing that I want to discuss. We all have privileges as citizens. Our privileges are not unlimited. They can't be. As we live together we must accommodate our rights and privileges to the rights, privileges and conveniences of others. But we enjoy privileges such as no other people in any other great nation in the world enjoy. We don't very often talk of our duties and our obligations.

I don't know how many of you are aware of the fact that there is a law which has long been in the statute boob of the Massachusetts General Laws. I know that as a boy I heard of it and this morning I checked up and found it, Chapter 268, section 24, of the General Laws of Massachusetts. Do you know that if a police officer is attempting to make an arrest and has some difficulty in carrying on that work of arresting a criminal he can call on you as a private citizen, a civilian, to assist him? If you refuse, under the laws of the state, to assist that officer in the performance of his duty to prevent crime and to arrest a criminal you are subject to a fine. Further, you are subject to imprisonment In these days, on any day of your most peaceful civil life you are subject under the law to call for duty in assisting to see that the law is preserved.

Now, that being the case, it does seem to me that it is entirely logical for the Government to say we must train men for war. You remember that a long time ago someone said with relation to fighting "Trust in God and keep your powder dry." In the days when Indians could be seen two or three hundred yards away you could delay loading your musket until they were in sight. The day for that kind of warfare is gone. If you are going to have war today you must have men trained for war. Now we are not seeking war. I think I have told this before—that way back in my early years here I was very active in the Fall River Branch of the Massachusetts Peace Society. Poland didn't seek war, Czecho Slovakia didn't seek war; The Netherlands, Holland, Belgium, didn't seek war. The peace loving and quiet living Danes didn't want to have their land overrun by a ruthless invader. The Norwegians didn't seek war, to say nothing of the other countries which are still at war and have not been totally controlled yet. We are not seeking war but we know those who are seeking war, we know those who have lied and lied and lied again about what they would not do and then very rapidly moved to doing the very things they had denied they would do. Any denial about their feelings towards our land counts for nothing in the face of what they have said and done in the past.

There is a fanatical emotion and a fanatical frenzy which seizes upon people and once that that frenzy is developed and aroused no one can say how far it will go. No one can predict that it will stop at any given point. No one can say that anything but a major force opposed to it can bring to an end any attempt that might be made to bring into our land the ideas, the controlling ideas, that are sweeping over Europe today and that major force is a preparedness which will involve large numbers of people. I pointed out that under the laws of Massachusetts every person here might be called upon by an officer in peace times to help to maintain order and to apprehend a criminal. How much more important is it that we should call upon people in peace times to meet with a threat which we have no assurance will stay away.

It seems to me that the teachers might very well consider bringing home to their pupils the obligation under which the American citizen rests in that respect. The children themselves are not yet subject to any service of a material kind but many of them are old enough to be of service of a moral kind in preaching right doctrine if they understand it and understand it in all its implications. I think that you could do nothing better than to give a few minutes every day beginning now to some discussion of the major problem of the world which is broader than our country, the preservation of democracy. Please remember that propaganda is going on all about us. Within two weeks I read of a German exiled newspaper editor, Franz Hollering, who is in this country. That exiled German editor was telling the American people that they should prepare—that he firmly believed Hitler was so anxious to have his dictatorship imposed everywhere that after he was able to control the European countries he wouldn't hesitate to come to this country. That came from a German refugee.

Within the past five days a newspaper reported a despatch from Rome from the recognized government newspaper organ telling about the treaty which has taken a part of Roumania away and given it to Hungary and the despatch from the Italian newspaper stated that the Roumanians were contented. The despatch said the Roumanians were accepting it, had decided to accept the change in the right spirit because they understood the change in conditions. If you read it with any intelligence you could see that while it was soberly written from the standpoint of the writer, in perfect seriousness, it was full of sarcasm from the standpoint of the American citizen who was seeing the dismemberment of that unhappy country. Within forty-eight hours after that despatch from Rome we were having despatches tell about the insurrection and the rebellious spirit of the Roumanian people and their determination to fight.

Every day you will be able to find in the press or organs in our own country something which you can use as a lesson in American patriotism, American democracy, American love of liberty and fair play. So I suggest that whether you are teaching Latin or mathematics or social studies or whatever else, you can do even more for your country by devoting a few minutes every day, or at least two or three days a week on some special item that has a bearing on that major problem.

I don't want to keep you too long. I have spoken of the things that are deep in my own heart as a teacher and as an American, one who loves this land, who has children and grandchildren for whom he wants this land to be what his fathers hoped it would be. That is our mission as teachers.

We sometimes think of the effect of prayer. Most of us believe in prayer. Whatever variations of religious doctrine may be among us, whether we are of the ancient Jewishorthodox faith or Christians of any particular denomination most of us have faith in religion and in prayer. But let me point out that prayer alone avails nothing. All European people have been praying. The great leader of the Roman Catholic church has been calling upon the faithful for a year to pray for peace and yet in his own land a leader who is supposed to be a Christian denies the fellowship of his great religious leader because materialism is conquering, materialism is the ruling thing in the minds of these men. If, therefore, the prayers of all these Europeans, with the prayers which we have contributed, seem to have failed what is the logical conclusion? The answer takes me back to the days when as a young teacher I frequently quoted the old axiom "the Lord helps those who help themselves." "Trust in God and keep your powder dry" carries the same meaning.

We must first of all help ourselves in the ways I have indicated and when we are exerting our utmost efforts in any struggle then we can justly pray for the superhuman strength that a Divine Providence may bring to us in order that those efforts of ours may be successful. I don't believe in just calling on God to protect and defend and preserve and bless our land. That is all right in its way but we can't expect God to do it. We have no right to expect Him to do it. It is our business to do our part to the utmost and hope that a Divine Providence that believes in justice will stand by us.

Twenty-two years ago, during the great World War, I was moved to write a few verses which set forth some of my ideas about this, my native land. In those verses I showed how this nation was born or under what conditions this nation was born and what Flag. I also showed in those verses what I felt our country ought to stand for, what all the leaders who believe in democracy say our country should stand for if democracy is to survive. I want to close this talk by repeating those verses.

America, to thee we raise our voices
In earnest song of fervent praise.
In thy glory each of us rejoices
As our fathers rejoiced in bygone days.

Thy starry banner first was flying Over patriots nobly dying To save freedom for their sons on land and sea. Now freedom by us preserved shall be, Sons of the land of liberty.

America, be thou to all the nations A guide to liberty and right. Firm for justice to men of all stations Seeking peace, into darkness take thy light. Thy starry banner ever waving Is the hope of all men craving To be free from tyrant power on land and sea. This freedom by us preserved shall be, Sons of the land of liberty.