America's Future


By LEWIS H. BROWN, President, Johns-Manville Corporation

Before Founder's Day Convocation, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa., February 16, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 308-311

FIGURATIVELY speaking, the foundations of Temple University rest upon Acres of Diamonds1 upon a philosophy of common sense; upon the thesis that sailing off into the clouds is not as productive as keeping your

feet on solid ground, especially if that ground be near at home, perhaps even in our own backyard right here in the United States of America.

So here in this Temple of Learning, founded on that uncommon virtue—common sense, I want to talk to you, the representatives of Tomorrow, about America's Future.

Patrick Henry once said, "I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past."2 Following his precept, I would like to formulate a few historical generalizations to serve as a background for what I think may be America's future.

Four hundred and fifty years ago, when ChristopherColumbus discovered America, a whole new era of history began. A new world was opened up to mankind. A new volume of history was started.

Between 1492 and 1942 occurred the most extensive exploration and development of new lands, the greatest increase in population and the most rapid advancement of scientific discovery and invention, in the entire history of mankind. No other historical era compares with it.

The unifying theme, the common thread that runs throughout all of these 450 years, it seems to me, can be expressed in one word—change—constantly accelerated change.

Compare in your imagination, if you will, the known world in 1492 with the world of 1942 in known area, population, speed of travel, means of communication, standard of living, scientific knowledge, or mechanical development, and you will see for yourselves what I mean by change.

But to understand what accelerated change really means, compare 1892 with 1942. In these last fifty years have come electric light and power, telephones, automobiles, radios, moving pictures, airplanes, television, and medical discoveries such as blood transfusion, insulin, psychoanalysis, vitamins, and sulfonamides; political experiments such as Communism, Fascism, Nazism and National Economic Planning; large scale sociological and economic dislocations such as depression, unemployment, deficits, reflation, deflation, inflation and devaluation, and now war with its priorities, allocations, rationing, price controls, taxes, conversion and confusion.

Not Evolution But Revolution

Life today is so complex and change takes place at such a rapid rate that we must characterize it not as evolution but revolution. For 25 years—since 1917—we have been experiencing a world revolution, and in the United States of America, we have had in the past ten years, a social revolution.

But a constantly accelerated rate of change has not only brought about a revolution in the social, economic, and governmental patterns of the world—it has also tended to destroy or reduce the influence of family life, religion, ethics, idealism, patriotism, and even the faith of man in himself, his faith in the destiny of the human race and its faith in the laws "by which the unseen Author of nature actuates the universe."3

Change, plunging headlong like a runaway engine to its own destruction, has brought what we called civilization to the Great Crisis of our age. Mankind has almost reached the end of another volume in the history of the world. This era of almost five centuries will have come to an end within the next ten years. For, within that time, the victor in the greatest world conflict of all time will have been determined.

An Adventurous Era for Youth

For those who are old or those who cannot adapt themselves to changed conditions, this final convulsion of a dying age will be difficult. But to those who are adaptable, to the generation of tomorrow, to youth, always more adaptable, this era will be an adventure, as life has always been to each new generation.

My generation must, in the next few years, write on the final pages in the history of this era—Victory with Honor. We failed to finish the job in 1918, we turned away from our manifest responsibilities after the armistice. May we have strength, intelligence, character and the faith to see itthrough this time until the job is really finished.

But you—the representatives of tomorrow—will be accorded the privilege and honor of helping to write the opening pages in a new volume of World History. You will have an opportunity to organize the world for peace— to correct the errors we made—to start a new pattern of civilization. What will you write? Will the volume cover only a few years or will its pattern reach down through centuries? No one can tell, but of this I am sure—we are at the crossroads. Shall we turn back? Or shall we go forward? For my generation I say, "We shall not turn back!" For your generation and those you bring after you—what is your answer? We are confident that you will go forward. But which way? To the left or to the right? By what will you be guided?

This is not the first crisis this country has faced. But it is our greatest. In the Revolutionary War of 1776, our nation was born to establish a new pattern of Freedom and in 1861, in its second great crisis, it was reborn to assure Liberty for all.

A Common Thread of Conflict

All down through our history—through more than 165 years—has run a common thread of conflict. It has been the basic cause of all our internal crises.

The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, insisted on the equality of men; their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and their duty to abolish the tyranny of the King (the Dictator) who denied these inalienable rights.

While on the other hand, the Constitution of the United States, dominated in the drafting by Alexander Hamilton, defines the other American ideal—of individual enterprise, independence of business, and the protection of the rights of individuals to hold and increase property without interference by a tyrannical and dictatorial government.

On the one side of the coin of Liberty—individual rights. On the other side—collective rights. But on both sides a wreath representing Freedom from Dictatorship and a sword representing a willingness to fight to break the chains of a tyrannical government. There, in a few words, are the Two American Ways.

The social revolution in the nineteen thirties was essentially a conflict between these Two Ways; between those who believe in mass benefits and those who believe in individual enterprise; between the "general welfare" clause in the constitution and the "due process" clause that guarantees private property—a conflict between socialistic and capitalistic theories of Government—conflicts however, which were settled in accordance with the principles of Democracy and representative government.

We Now Face a Third Great Crisis

But now we face a third great crisis in the life of our nation. This time it is no mere political struggle or internal civil war. This time we are at war in spite of the desire of our people for peace. We have been attacked by two nations that for years have used peace merely as a preparation for war.

These Axis powers are now dominated by military cliques which are determined, if they can, to conquer, subjugate and enslave all other nations. They intend to be the Dictators, not of countries, but of continents. Therefore, we must fight through to complete victory or suffer the fate of Poland. There is no other choice. It is a basic conflict between two philosophies of life, between two systems of economics, between two forms of government.

Europe has in recent years tried three innovations: (1) Communism, which attempts to make all the People responsible, (2) Fascism, which makes the State responsible, and (3) Nazism, making one individual, the Dictator, responsible.

But irrespective of the name all three make the individual the slave of the State. Under none of these systems are the individual's liberties or property rights preserved— which is the American Way. In the totalitarian, the individual is the slave of the State. In our representative Republic, the state is the servant of the People—not their master. There in a nutshell is the difference between the two philosophies, the two systems of economics, the two forms of government.

The totalitarian system is more efficient than any Democratic system, but efficiency is gained through loss of liberty. The citizen gains security but he pays for it with his freedom.

Dictatorship is always more effective in war because it prepares for war long in advance, while Democracy, through lack of preparation, usually loses most of its battles except the last one. And so it will be now. We will probably lose many battles before we win this war. It may take us four years or more, but in the end we shall surely win.

Problems of the Post-War Era

But when the war is won there may be left behind a Federal debt of 250 billion dollars—equivalent to more than the value of our entire productive machinery. We, therefore, face an economic as well as a social revolution as we come to the end of this era. Our accumulated savings will be devoured by war; our boasted standard of living reduced; half our peacetime industries converted to war. And when peace comes there is the possibility of another depression.

How can there be hope amid such destruction? Where is America's future? Where are we to find happiness, order and contentment when peace once more returns?

Must we eternally search for acres of diamonds in far distant lands?

Shall we try to impose by force the four freedoms on the world? Must foreign trade be the carburetor of our economic engine? Forced by all-out war to adopt the methods of Dictatorship—shall we keep them when peace returns? Shall we destroy our monetary system and the market place in favor of national economic planning? Can we provide "social security" for everyone when the funds contributed have already been spent? If taxes take the greatest part of profits, why should anyone save money to invest? And if there is no capital to invest what becomes of our private enterprise system? Where then are jobs to be had? Are we inevitably to become mere wards of an all-powerful state?

The Opportunities Before Us

These are just a few of the problems you and I will face as we finish the job of winning this war. But as with most problems there are also two sides to this one, and on the more hopeful side we find that:

We still have climate, natural resources, raw materials, power, machines, scientific knowledge, and an educated and dynamic people such as exists nowhere else in the world.

A substantial percent of our people will continue to be employed in military activities, since, to maintain peace, we will have to police the world. But economically this will provide a stimulus comparable to the automobile industry forty years ago.

We do not need foreign trade for we are more nearly self-sufficient than any other nation. But, to the extent

we can barter our surplus for what we need, it is an important plus factor on the hopeful side.

Our population growth trend is leveling off, so our land can take care of us and our children for centuries. With only 6 percent of the world's population we have 30 to 60 percent of the world's basic supplies.

We have, besides skilled workmen, the experienced management who "know how" through mass production to make the economic machine produce everything for which we as people are willing to work.

The financial center of the world after this war will be the United States of America. And in spite of all the problems then facing us, I know of no other country in the world where opportunity will be so great, if we but have courage and use common sense.

What Then Must We Do?

What then must we do to get in our hands the benefits of these Acres of Diamonds right here in our own backyard?

We must find a way to reconcile the conflict between individual rights and collective rights.

Out of the lesson of unity learned in war we must find some cooperative compromises making the "general welfare" the joint responsibility of the people, the government, business, labor and agriculture.

Out of war experience we must find a way to distribute equitably the produce of our economic machine without destroying the machine.

We must demonstrate here at home that our representative Republic is a workable form of government; that it can be as efficient as the totalitarian state and that in addition it preserves Freedom.

But above all we must re-educate every man, woman and child in a belief in our Destiny. The American Way must be something citizens are willing to fight for—die for if necessary. We must realize that work, unselfishness and sacrifice in the common cause are as necessary in peace as in war.

We must rebuild America. We must not destroy the system that has made America great. Instead we must use incentives to stimulate private enterprise into channels beneficial to the good of all. Honor and pride, properly appealed to, will put service in the common cause first and the desire for profit second. From this new spirit and cooperation can come a New America that will be the Eldorado of the New World.

Our Diamonds then are to be found right here in our own backyard. Let us demonstrate here at home that the American way is workable and can provide more than any other system, before we start a crusade to force on Asia, Africa and the rest of the world our ideals of the four freedoms. Let us not attempt the impossible. Instead let us guide our demonstration with common sense and confine it to our own country. From this demonstration, an era of wider horizons, of greater hope, of greater self-respect, of more cooperation and collective responsibility, will be developed.

You, the representatives of Tomorrow, as you begin to write the first pages in the new volume of history, can dream high dreams, daring to hope for things that you may have thought lost forever. If we win the war and face courageously the future, the rebirth of freedom in the world of tomorrow will be for individuals as well as for nations. The new era will be like that great time in our history in which men, daring to be their highest selves, gave forth the Declaration that has since stood as all men's charter of freedom.

The Declaration of Independence, to which they pledged themselves, asserted, "that all men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Thus was our country born in the First American Revolution.

We Must Keep the Faith

Four score and seven years later the faith was reaffirmed the field at Gettysburg, in the midst of the struggle of that nation "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. . . . It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining beforeus . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Thus Lincoln restated the faith we live by.

Today as we face the third great crisis in our nation's history we must again "mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor"4 that we, the living, will preserve, out of this terrible war, the master pattern which our forefathers "have thus far so nobly advanced."5

1 Dr. Russell Herman Conwell, American Baptist clergyman, educator and lecturer, founded Temple University in 1884 and was its president until his death in 1925. Dr. Conwell gave his celebrated lecture, Acres of Diamonds, over 5,000 times. Acres of Diamonds relates a parable of a well-to-do farmer who left the security of his farm to search for diamonds in distant lands. He found only poverty and he lost his life, while the man who bought his farm found diamonds right there in his own backyard.

2 Patrick Henry. Speech in Virginia Convention. March 23, 1775.

3 George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, in Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists. First published in 1713.

4 Declaration of Independence.

5 Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.