Peace, Power and Education


By RAYMOND GRAM SWING, Radio Commentator

Delivered at the 74th Commencement of Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, June 2, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 524-527

FIRST I shall speak about sequence. It is a simple word, conveying a simple meaning. Events follow one after the other, and they follow, not haphazardly, but in an orderly procession. There is no mystery about this procession. Cause produces effect, and the effect reveals cause. Sequence is the foundation of individual and social

thought. By studying sequence, we come upon the principles which shape our circumstances. And the understanding of these principles gives us the control over our personal and social affairs which we call freedom. We know that we can do today the deeds which will prepare for our having our desires to morrow. And if it were not for this knowledge, we should be automatons, hapless victims of chance without the need of morals and spirit. We should have no use for dignity, for faith, for a social order, for individual integrity, and for that greatly misunderstood concept called idealism.

I shall speak next about idealism. This is what grows from an understanding of the laws of sequence. It is the knowledge that doing the wise deed in time will avert disaster and produce benefit. By an intellectual error, the world idealism has come to be used as the opposite of realism. But there is not a real world in which idealism has no part. Too often there is a real world which has re-fused to heed the advice of idealism, and so has refused to act wisely. But every part of individual and social life which is beneficial is the fruit of idealism. Every disaster is the consequence of insufficient idealism. Idealism is not of the ivory tower. It is simply good realism which either has been given a chance and is accepted as a matter of course; or it is potential realism which has been kept from becoming real.

Now with these two words, sequence and idealism, let us approach the miserably scene of the modern world. Let us see that it has become what it is by a procession of events which might have been directed otherwise, and that it was not so directed because of the indifference of men to an accessible idealism. It is a world for which every individual bears punishment, and has become what it is by the exercise of will or the refusal to exercise will. The individuals of the world chose the sequence which produced it.

The past may have seen more painful patches of misery than exist today, greater outbursts of cruelty, vaster massacres, more hunger, disease and pillage. But I doubt if history has recorded any scene so hideous as the world of today. Two years ago, many people hoped and prayed that sequence was not going to produce this scene, and may have felt in their hearts that they and their fellow men did not deserve it. But now they can have no more doubt of sequence, and they must now face up to the sorry business of formulating and acknowledging their contribution to it. For that is the only hope the future has, that men learn in adversity the idealism they reject in easy times.

Let me say, in using the word "punishment" and in speaking of mankind "deserving" what it is now experiencing, I am not obsessed with a sense of man's sin or even of his guilt, since it is my own conclusion after studying sequence, both in personal and social affairs, that we are not punished for the folly we commit so much as for the wisdom which we fail to enact. It is the inadequacy of our best, rather than the lingering of our worst, which produces tragedy. And I am not now surveying the sequence of the last years, seeking for evil to excoriate, evil men to upbraid, or wickedness on which to vent such wrath as I am able to muster. I want to search, instead, for the wise things left undone, which had they been done, might have averted the doom which now has befallen us. And I want to point a particular question at education, at teachers, whose profession it is to be wise, as to their services while the procession of sequence was leading up to the hideous present.

In pointing a question at modern education it will be not to find fault with what has been taught but to seek what it is that has not been taught, and without which we have arrived at our present failure. It is not to criticize the absorbing intellectual exploration which has marked not only science, but all educational activity. This has been a time of re-valuation, of finding new names and more accurate concepts for things and ideas, and for working over the garden of history, biography, psychology, and sociology. This has been the great era of weed-pulling. Not a fewconcepts of virtue, heroism, singleness of mind, motive and patriotism with which the flower beds of human experience was choked, were untrue and untrustworthy. The educational gardener has had a busy time, passing his tools through the foliage of the past, striking down what he found to be invalid and misnamed. Such tools as the theory of economic determinism, and the analytic approach to psychology, have slashed at and uprooted many preconceived ideas. There has been an intoxicating decimation of untruths and half-truths. This has been the era of excited skepticism, the era of the discovery of the inner complexity of the physical and mental world, the era in which the thinker has been saying: "That is not so." And to say that, is indeed part of the function of education. But obviously it can be only part of its function. For if the stress in education is laid upon the uprooting of weeds, with no further heed for the produce of the garden, the garden will not bring forth its full fruit. Men live by affirmation, and the service of skepticism is not only that men shall doubt half-valid affirmations, but that they go on to complete affirmations that shall be sound and true. A sense of the bewildering uncertainty about the structure of the physical universe and the obscurity of the functioning of the mind, cannot be made into a dogma. And if it is used in place of a dogma, as many persons in this generation have used it, the individual loses his self-reliance, society loses its stamina, and civilization loses its security. For the individual who tries to make a dogma of non-affirmation becomes a disciple not of truth but of leaders.

And if he follows leaders without faith in truth, he turns his back on truth, and leadership becomes a vast conspiracy for the imposition of tyranny on individuals who have ceased to have the defense of positive individual faith.

I shall confine myself to two particulars in suggesting what education has under-stressed and under-affirmed in the immediate past. It is in teaching the future citizens of the United States the nature of society, and the fundamentals of security. I put first the neglect in teaching the nature of society, for many in the present generation of Americans, it seems to me, have grown up in innocent ignorance of the simple fact that lawful society is based on force. It is a society of ultimate coercion. I know there is a plausible philosophy of anarchy which want to be rid of the state because of the force of coercion it can and must impose. But the kindly Americans who shrink from force and coercion are not anarchists. They have not become enemies of the state. Their mistake has been to assume that civilization, which for one thing is the subordination of force and coercion to the lowest possible minimum, has brought about the abolition of force and coercion. The men and women who sincerely detest the killing of war do not detest the protection of the police, which can also entail killing. That is not to say that killing in war has the same social meaning as killing by the police. But the killing is the same, and criminals are killed for the protection of all members of the community, without a protesting resolution being adopted by any pacifist organization. Killing in war, as a social act, is the opposite of killing by the police, it is the breakdown of law and order. And what pacifists and everybody else with any civilized standards should do is to study sequence. The breakdown of law and order ends in killing. Hence the breakdown in law and order must be prevented at all costs, since any civilized person detests killing. But if law breaks down, force and coercion burst their bounds and then there is murderous havoc until law and order again prevail. These are the simple facts of social life. They are the facts, not only of domestic life but of all social life.

We have an ingenious generation of Americans who havemanaged to accept these facts as a matter of course in their domestic life, but have been blind to their being the facts of international life. And that brings me to my second point, that education has not sufficiently taught the fundamentals of security. In the days when the Atlantic Ocean was several weeks wide and human beings could not travel over land at more than ten or fifteen miles an hour, and communications were as slow as sailing ships and stage coaches, the men who were responsible for the United States were more aware of the problems of security than we have been during the past generation. Vast spaces did not make them feel secure, and they resolutely resorted to political and military measures when they saw them to be necessary. They knew that peace was a product of a balance of international forces. They knew that if the balance was disturbed it would affect the security of the United States. Granted, the problems of security were simpler for them. International society was not so integrated, wars were cheaper, and safety was not a vast social problem as it has become. But they knew that security was the first duty of government and they provided it, or we should not be here today as Americans. On the other hand, the present generation of Americans, faced with a far more complex problem of security, has, it seems to me, performed the most astonishing feat of escaping altogether from the consideration of security. Let me expand this sweeping statement. Having emerged from the last war, what lesson did we learn from it, as to national security? At first the lesson was the obvious one, we detested the end product of war. But there we stopped. We did not begin the study of sequence. If we loathed the end-product, we did not educate ourselves in understanding the processes which had produced the end-product.

After the last war we faced three choices in making ourselves secure. We could help construct a system, never before tried, of collective security. We could cut ourselves off from all informal obligations to the remainder of the world, and build up a stupendous force of our own. We could revert to the historic task of maintaining a balance of international forces.

We did not join the system of collective security, and that was quite conscious, though it can hardly be said that we rejected it by popular or majority action. In fact we were kept out of the league of nations by a minority and we never held anything that can be truthfully called a plebiscite on the league issue. But we did know that we were doing it when we stayed out of the league and the majority did not assert itself with any telling conviction and energy.

We also were quite conscious that we were not building up a stupendous force of our own, for we went in for limitation of armaments by international agreements and we burned up the blue-prints of a two-ocean navy. So, logically, one must say that we consigned our security to the third choice. We would rely on maintaining the balance of international forces. Either we were doing that, or we had no policy whatever.

Suppose we had gone in for collective security. Certainly the educational system of the United States would have taught us the elements of the new experiment, would have instructed us about the various problems in far away places, where the blessings of justice were needed if peace were to be preserved. We should have learned to apply to international affairs the same wisdom about sequence which we have gained in domestic affairs. We should have been familiar with the themes of minority rights, of the evils of customs barriers, with the technique of a world court, we should have been applying our idealism, and the life in theuniversities and colleges would have been imbued with so much constructive activity that there would have been much less emphasis on weed-pulling. It would have become a season of affirmation.

Suppose we had gone in for stupendous self-defense. That, too, would have been a theme for education. It would have been a new experiment for America, since in all our history, we have not committed ourselves to nursing a tremendous power in solitude. I can imagine that education, after that choice, would, to start with, have made every student familiar with the simple geography of national security. Every school boy would have known what adults are just beginning to hear about, the crucial importance of bases, and the meaning to us of Dakar, the Cape Verdi Islands, the Azores, Martinique, Guam and Greenland. We should have been tank-conscious, and might have produced panzer units long before Hitler produced his. We should have developed bombers and fighters, and had anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft guns. We should have known what it takes to defend a hemisphere, not only in armaments, but in trade and cultural relations. This choice might have produced a too muscular civilization, and quite easily have turned into a rip-roaring imperialism. But we did not choose it.

We really did not consciously choose the third, and only other policy of national security. We simply lapsed into it, as though the world were unchanged, as though it had not produced the World War, as though we could rest back without conscious application to the great theme of our security. It should have been plain that our security did not depend only on us. That should have been simple enough to teach every child, adolescent, and adult in the United States. And if it did not depend on us, on whom, then, did it depend? It depended on a balance of forces. For one thing, during the last ten years the control of the Atlantic has been left to Britain, so it depended in part upon Britain—not on a Britain altruistically looking after us, but on something much more trustworthy, on Britain remaining British and looking after itself. But did we know it? Were we told so by our political leaders? Were we so taught in our universities and colleges?

The fabric of peace was torn in Manchuria, and that threatened to upset the balance which makes for peace and so for our security. Did that event produce an educated sense of alarm in the United States? Were the young men of draft age taught that if Japan was allowed to grow too strong, they might find themselves in a war, because the balance of power was being gravely menaced? When Hitler came into power and started re-arming and when the three partners in blackmail, Germany, Italy and Japan, began laying their plans for despoiling the have nations of the world, did the public men of the United States and the universities and colleges point out what was happening to our security? How much of a shudder went through our universities and colleges when Hitler tore up the treaty of Locarno, and when he marched his troops into the demilitarized Rhineland? Not that the balance of international forces was changed then and there by those acts. But a procession of sequence did set in. Nobody with a sense of responsibility for national security, no teacher or political leader, could have watched the immediate event without foreseeing the possibilities of untold woe. You may ask, did the universities of Britain and France quake with apprehension? Did the political leaders of Britain go to their constituents, telling them the unmistakable direction of the sequence Hitler had begun? The answer is that they did not, not enough of them. But it is no apology for the American democracy and education that other democracies and educations were indifferent to their security. We hadnot committed our security to Britain and France to be managed for us. We had committed our security to a system in which British and French strength were essentials. But it was our duty to ourselves to match with our own strength what Britain and France were failing to provide. It does not absolve us from our duty to ourselves, and to our own security, if those on whom we relied are delinquent to themselves. If we were to be secure, peace had to be preserved. If peace were to be preserved, the power of civilized nations had to remain greater than any power pitted against it. The power had to be physical. And let me add that it also had to be spiritual. It had to be power which the threatened nations knew they were ready to use. A good deal is said about the inferiority of the military strength of the democracies. But that inferiority has not, in my opinion, been the basis of today's disaster. They were not ready to use such power as they had and at one time they had enough to assure the continuance of peace. I believe that if all the democracies had known, and had made it known, that they were spiritually prepared to use force to blot out blackmail and aggression, they never would have needed to use the force. The most civilized nations, the best educated, were the most afraid to face the reality of social structure, and to admit the necessity of meeting crime with force. They were the blindest to the simple principle in the law of sequence, that what is put off today may cost double tomorrow and be too late the day after.

Here let me suggest that one reason why we were not interested in safeguarding our security by the method we chose may have been that it was not an inspiring method. It did not stimulate us, did not invigorate us. It was not a system based on justice, liberty and the application of law and legal sanctions to international affairs. We had foresworn having any responsibility for justice beyond our borders, and we devoutly prayed that by escaping from responsibility we were escaping from the sequence of escape.

But inspiring or not, the system we chose now lies in ruins. A great war is on whose outcome will determine our privilege to maintain our freedom. Not only is there murderous havoc in the four corners of the world, our own security is gone unless we make a colossal effort to restore it. And though our thoughts are focused on this effort, it is wise, too, to see that we are in dire danger, not because of the betrayal of our friends, or the wickedness of our enemies, but because of the inadequacy of our own insight into reality. We are where we are because we were not wise. And unless we accept wisdom in this hour, we cannot look out on any prospect of peace and the enjoymentof liberty, and we shall not know how to build more strongly the peace which has collapsed. We had two other choices, as I pointed out. We might have nursed a tremendous muscular power in solitude. Or we might have assumed our full responsibility along with other civilized nations for peace and justice throughout the world. Toward which future do we look now? I am sure that we cannot choose to create a might to sustain us, and keep us free, single-handed, against the power that is potentially arraigned against us. It is too late to make ourselves a solitary giant. For if the war is lost for European civilization, the factories and the manpower, the shipyards, and the resources of the tyrannies will be far greater than our full national strength. We might prepare for battle, but it is hard to believe that we should have the soul for the defense of our freedom in that dread test, if we do not have it today, when we can still defend ourselves with allies, and at lesser sacrifice. This future of gigantic solitude can only be tempting to individuals and groups who crave for their own power within the nation, more than they crave for the liberty of the nation as a whole. But the nation itself cannot choose to wait for such an uncertain fate.

We have only one true choice for the future. It is to apply to international affairs the scruples, the forbearance, the humanity, the dignity, the ethics, and finally, if need be, the coercion, which are the basis of domestic peace and civilization. It is to accept responsibility for a world from which we know we cannot hope to escape. I am not going to offer a blueprint of a future system of peace. But it is plain enough what it must be in essence. It must be a world of common responsibilities. If so, it must be one of concerted action in the defense of peace. And if it calls for the application of concerted coercion in dire extremity, it must have a common foreign policy as well, since common dangers must not be incurred except by decisions made in common. We cannot give a blank check of our man power to be filled in by some foreign office. It will of necessity be a world of force. But it will become a civilized world. In due time the force will be subordinated to the almost invisible service of justice. It will be a world first of all, of affirmation, a world of fellowmen in which each shares some responsibility, and knowingly owes and pays his humane cooperation.

This is idealism. It also is potential realism. And it is the living truth which may be implanted amid the rubble of destruction of today, on which to build with whole heart and whole mind, where half-heart and half-knowledge have piled up their ruins.