Faith in Ourselves
WE ARE NOW NEARING THE FATEFUL HOUR
By JAMES M. COX, Former Governor of Ohio
Delivered at Commencement Exercises, Georgia School of Technology, Atlanta, June 9, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 592-595
AT no time in all our history has the graduation season meant so much as now. This is particularly true of our scientific schools. Science must be the major implement in the saving of our civilization. Our first requirement is a highly developed industrial efficiency. Every day makes this clear. But we cannot have this without scientific resourcefulness and skill. So in this hour of disquieting conditions we cannot fail to sense the importance of thousands of scientifically trained men and women marching forward in support of our social and economic forces. That is their contribution to the civilization we seek to save. There can be no higher compliment to the Georgia School of Technology than this: that every member of your graduating class, with the exception of those who are to be in the service of
the army and navy, has been offered employment in industry at commanding salaries. Evidently the United States naval authorities were more prescient than they knew when Georgia Tech was named along with Yale, Harvard, Northwestern, Washington and California universities, as one of the six institutions to give naval reserve training. We need these moments of happy reassurance to strengthen us now.
Since the beginning of these happy occasions it has been the custom, possibly without variance, for speakers to give advice to members of the graduating classes. My sense of the proprieties vetoes this. Whether this be due to changed conditions bringing changing practices, I do not know. It may be that the seniors of your time are so humble in the face of perplexing conditions that they feel the need of receiving counsel, rather than giving it. It may well be that the courage and faith and boldness of youth are needed, along with the seasoned calmness of maturity, to create a common balance for our guidance now.
So instead of counsels of caution in the world which you now enter, let us have a look at this world in which all of us are, and see whether, by diagnosing obvious ills, theircauses and effects, we can gain something which will steady our minds and strengthen our fibers and our purposes.
Civilization, which is a composite of social, governmental, economic and spiritual forces, is as much out of control as a runaway horse. Genius, through science, has developed titanic forces which mankind has lacked the moral vision to control. For our great science, potent for higher human welfare as it is, is not, alone, enough. Above the skills of science must stand the enlightened souls of men, the master of these powers, not their slave. The want of this mastery is the present peril of the world.
The voice of Satan may tell us that our protection is geographical; that while things have gone badly elsewhere, they have always come out right here. Nothing is more dangerous than to be beguiled by precedent. Distance seems no longer a factor in the conquests of war. Battles are no longer fought on land and water alone. An evil genius has seized upon the implements of the air, and barriers of the past, behind which America was safe, reassure only those who will not face the facts.
Never did the sun and moon look down on such a desolate Earth; nations born of centuries attacked without cause and rushed; national traditions, created by patriots and treasured as the achievements of rugged races of peoples, swept into the wreckage of brute force; millions, not in the bondage of slavery, but reduced to the level and obedience of driven cattle; defiance to international law and order; defiance to the richest precepts spiritual man has given to the world; and, yet more, defiance to God and all his laws. Reverence for an all-controlling divinity is scorned as an insult to nazi superiority. The Holy Land, blessed by the footprints of the Prince of Peace, hears the thunder and sees the frightfulness of modern mechanized war. The River Jordan may soon run red with the blood of man.
This is the picture of our world, where man has beenlong building the institutions of a civilized society. Is it any wonder that in my mail comes this reflection from a former justice of the United States supreme court, at the sunset of his career enriched by the finest qualities of mind and soul: "I begin gravely to doubt the existence of a moral government of this seemingly abandoned planet."
Admittedly, this is a gloomy outlook. I dwell upon it only that we may know that civilization has never faced such a challenge. The implications of the situation take such hold upon all clear-thinking people that we cannot withhold resistance to this plague of international outlawry. It is rooted in a fanatical purpose to encompass every nation, and indifference to our dangers would mark our present America as an unworthy child of the America our fathers made.
How came this wretched state of things? How did it start, what was its cause? Its cause is undeniably clear. If we go back to the genesis of our unhappy times, we can find parallels that have meaning; we can understand certain sinister cross currents running in this country now. This war had its start at the end of the World war. In the treaty of Versailles were some arbitrary features dictated by a hate unquenched by victory.
To gain agreement, as a beginning to reconstruction and readjustment, temperate-minded men at the peace table accepted these provisions, confident that brief time with supplementary arrangements would temper severities and promote a better accord between nations. A new order had come from a wiser concept of international relationships. It was a new Magna Charta, if you please, and it was not a mere thing of words, to be forgotten like so many solemnly pledged agreements of the past. A League of Nations was created and organic laws devised for its service and control. Of immediate concern was the interminable chaos in Europe. For generations it had been a powder magazine, to be ignited by the spark of disputes, aggression and greed. For years the sword of Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs had cowed small countries into vassal states. Boundary lines were not determined by racial groupings. Languages, religions, racial customs and aspirations were never elements to be considered by the makers of the old order.
As Woodrow Wilson well said: "There could be no peace until the whole order of Central Europe was set right." But this was only a part of the task which the best thought in a war-weary world assigned to the League of Nations. It was above all to avoid war by the process of peaceful settlement. It established a code of international law and order to be administered from a seemingly new-formed sense of justice. It was the first concerted international effort to cure the ills of the world. Menacing military establishments were outlawed. Secret treaties and alliances from which European wars had come for centuries were barred. There were no hidden relations between nations. All compacts were to be filed at Geneva, the seat of the League. Readjustments in minority populations were arranged for. Traffic in opium was to be controlled. Standards of labor were to be raised in order to remove harmful competitive conditions in industry. And any aggressor violating the tenets of the covenant was to be voted an outlaw and treated and restrained as such.
The emotions of the mothers of the earth were expressed in these words of Woodrow Wilson:
"A cry had gone out from every home in every stricken land from which sons and brothers and fathers had gone forth to the great sacrifice that such a sacrifice should never again be exacted. It was manifest why it had been exacted. It had been exacted because one nation desired dominion and other nations had known no means of defense except armaments and alliances."
In his report to the American people on what he had accomplished, we recall these words as a benediction to a sacred episode in history—words that must now shine the heavens of our consciousness:
"The stage is set, the destiny disclosed. It has come about by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God who led us into this way. We can not turn back. We can only go forward, with lifted eyes and freshened spirit, to follow the vision. It was of this that we dreamed at our birth. America shall in truth show the way. The light streams upon the path ahead, and nowhere else."
But ere long racial conspiracy and political intrigue obtruded their hideous forms. There came opposition, sporadic at first, then spreading, organized, over the country. We had never before been so impressed with the fact that while a democracy has its normal vicissitudes under the most favorable conditions, with our heterogeneous population a democracy can live only by eternal vigilance and maintenance of a composite public opinion which must assert itself under the principles of majority rule. But the racial activity alone would not have been enough.
Well I remember a conversation with Senator Borah at about that time. He was passing through our state. The opposition to Wilson was beginning to take shape. The first important meeting was to be held within a day or two in Chicago and to be addressed by Senator Johnson of California. Johnson, by the way, was one of the very few sincere isolationists. Speaking of the matter, Borah said:
"Johnson is making a mistake in thinking he can arouse a successful movement against the president. I am opposed to certain things in the covenant, but the people unmistakably are for it and the present effort against it will not succeed."
The meeting at Chicago was large and enthusiastic. From that great center came an outpouring of Germans, Italians and radical Irish. The Germans were embittered because of the war, the Italians by the Fiume incident and the Irish because Mr. Wilson had not felt that the disturbance in the Emerald Isle was a part of the issues of the war.
The Chicago incident was an interesting commentary on human nature. I hope one is not cynical in observing that in politics grievance is more articulate than gratitude. We were approaching a presidential election. The opposition party as an organization, seeing in the racial groups here acting from alien and not American sympathies, the probably balance of political power, moved in behind them. Thus was embroiled in politics a question that deserved no place there.
We need not be reminded that practically every statesman of that party had actively supported the principles of the league, only under party pressure to turn away under the pretext that the ambiguous committal of its candidate was sufficiently reassuring. While President Wilson was in mid-ocean, returning to conclude the work of peace, a senatorial cabal was formed, a sufficient number of senators pledging their opposition to thwart our great crusader for peace. As a culminating disgrace this same senate abandoned our allies and made a separate treaty with Germany.
We can hardly find words to condemn what is now going on in France; but remember, France acts under duress, while the conspirators in the American senate were motivated entirely by political intrigue. Fifty-eight nations joined in the movement for peace. We were conspicuous by our absence along with Turkey, in the final assembly of the League.
The prestige of Wilson was to be destroyed; but when he was crucified the world was crucified with him. Pursued with a vengeance that even entered his sickroom in the White House, he died a broken-hearted man, trying to save through the only plan which human intelligence could devise, a now broken-hearted world.
Then came the hard-fisted, senseless insistence upon full payment of all debts. Our only concern with the affairs of the world was that of a pound-of-flesh creditor. I know whereof I speak in asserting that in 1922, with America assuming the leadership, reparations could have been readjusted. The republic of Germany would have lived. International debts would now be in the process of liquidation, and there would have been no Hitler. In the calm judgment of time, recorded history will tell the truth, and the truth is that America, through combined racial and political intrigue, gave to the world the mad sign-painter of Bavaria.
Hitler's task was easy. The German people had suffered, and suffered grievously, attempting to lift the load of reparations. Hitler said: "We will pay nothing." His compatriots, recognizing that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain, followed him. Out of a young manhood in Germany had come a fanaticism born of bitterness, and it was not difficult to assemble the youth and enthusiasm of that country into an intensive 10 years of preparation for war.
An organized civilization, contemplated by the League of Nations, would have tempered severities, repatriated minority populations and written a different chapter in the annals of the time. A parallel comes to one's mind. For all the alien spearhead in America and the tremendous organization of the opposition party, it was yet necessary to confuse our public mind through misrepresentation. Our mothers were told that we had had quite enough of Europe; we should enter into no arrangements of any kind with Europe, because Europe always meant war and we would inevitably be involved. Too many of our people were blinded to the fact that we were seeking to save civilization, and to save it we must combine every element of its strength, everywhere.
Now once more we hear it said that by taking alarm at the tide of devastation sweeping over the world we ourselves will be embroiled in war. And again the motley old line forms. Groups of alien sympathy are massed, as 20 years ago, to move America to other than American ends. And reckless politicians, as of old, are lining up for purposes of their own behind these un-American voting groups. The American answer is: an inert civilization is a near dead civilization, and if resistance by every vital part of it is war, then war let it be. A civilization that will not fight to destroy besetting parasites, will not live, nor does it deserve to live.
As to what should be done to preserve what we hold so dear on this continent there is a difference of opinion. Some contend that we should merely defend ourselves here against an attack from overseas if and when it comes. Others believe that to insure protection here we should give all our aid to those that are holding back the hordes of conquest. We would be as simple-minded as was Europe at Munich if we did not know what the defeat of Britain and the loss of the English fleet would mean to us. We are dealing with an armed nation whose might in weapons is self-ascribed to such a superiority in race that in the eternal fitness of things it should rule the world. The destiny of Hitler, as he sees it, is written in the stars. His fanatical ambitions have long since been proclaimed, and we are mere Red Riding Hoods not to sense the meaning of it all. Our duty clearly is to give every ounce of strength we can to the British people. They have risen to a new fame, by suffering and sacrificing and fighting, not only to save their homes but their souls as well.
I have never believed, nor do I now, that the need will come of sending our soldiers overseas. It is machines not men that we must supply. We see again in this war, as has been apparent in others, that modern weapons, terrifying as they are for the moment, bring reduced mortality. Germanyhas not in modern times felt the presence of war as she is about to feel it. What Germany has brought to England, England will bring to Germany. That will end this war, either by its sheer futility, which would be a defeat to Hitler, or in a complete victory over him. His way is not easy. One grows impatient as too many of our people believe that barbarity cannot be stopped and that all the troubles of the hour are with the allies. Unarmed as they are, the peoples of conquered Europe require five million German soldiers to hold them in restraint. This cannot go on forever and no one knows it better than Hitler. But, getting back to our tasks, this war must be won by our American factories, supplemented by our American farms. Food, ships, airplanes and tanks are the answer. We have the genius and the facilities, and I am sure that a very resolute will is now developing to make the end of naziism certain and complete.
This brings us to a very serious phase in our industrial life. The great structure of our defense movement rests upon every producer in our land. Our front is pitched in factory, mill, mine, farm and offices. It is an equal responsibility on everyone. What a singularly disgraceful thing it would be if soldiers went into a sitdown strike! Yet it would be no more culpable than the scenes we are witnessing now in too many American factories. War calls for sacrifice and it must be a common sacrifice—not the sacrifice alone of families that are giving up their young manhood or of the young men themselves who are abandoning for the moment their plans for the future. Certainly no one is expected to drive a hard bargain under the stress of emergency. Business generally understands this and accepts it, and in the main so does labor.
The dignity of labor has been assailed. What is going on does violence to the feelings of its great rank and file and to the vast majority of labor leaders. It is a spirit of incorrigibility which strikes a false and what could be a fatal note in the whole tempo of our defense. When the president of the United States says and says resolutely as I am sure he will, "This has gone far enough," and implements words with measures, it will end; and there will come such an articulated power in our public opinion that we will have no recurrences. One who fails to do his common part fails to act the American citizen. No matter in what rank he is, whether in office, in factory or on farm, he should be displaced. And, as in the last World War, he who will not work should be deprived of all rights of exemption under the draft. In industry the man who takes his place should then be given the protection of the government.
We have made great social gains and under them we should have increased industrial efficiency. Government is concerned in all of this in a very practical sense. Our manufacturers must be given every facility to render their utmost in production. Out of it all comes the return to our federal treasury. We are not only incurring a great expense, but a tremendous debt; but we are capable of meeting both. The stupendous possibilities of American production can hardly be appraised. But we cannot do what we are able to do if certain elements in our industry are permitted to defy our public opinion and our government itself.
This whole situation will clarify. America is peculiar in this sense—things never get better here until they get much worse. We sweep from one extreme to the other, but finally we strike a center. We are now nearing the fateful hour.
Faith in ourselves is our great resource. We, as a democracy, may appraise a question slowly, but once the task is plain, we show the strength of a great nation. There is hope for an ultimately better world. We have gone through experiences which tell us what should be done when thiswar ends. International instability may be but a temporary aberration. When we come out of it this old planet of ours should be a better place to live.
There will be much to do besides rearrangements in government and adjustment to a new social and economic order. Vast destruction of material wealth calls for rebuilding. This demands the products of soil and man. It will be an
inspiring task, and the old axiom can be renewed, that the hazard makes the man. Challenge develops character. Sacrifice is healthful to the soul. We must cast our eyes ahead and see beyond the unhappy fields of war. The reconstruction of the world! What a soul-moving task! Fortunate will be those who, like yourselves, are permitted by time to participate in transmuting this age of iron into an age of gold.