A Personal Creed for War Time


By J. HILLIS MILLER, Associate Commissioner, State Education Department, Albany, N. Y.

Delivered at the Town Meeting of the Air, Schenectady, N. Y., November 1, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 348-349.

FORTY-TWO thousand six hundred war production workers have been killed in industrial accidents since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Absenteeism caused by accidents and sickness will cost industry this year 120,000,000 man hours. Those man hours would produce 5,000 Flying Fortresses, or 21,000,000 Garand rifles, or 161,000,000 demolition shells of 500 pound weight. Those are great losses, and everything should be done to prevent them; but as serious as they are they represent only the leakage in our manpower. They illustrate, better than anything I know, the magnitude of the war effort and remind us of the gigantic task which all Americans are called upon to perform.

To perform this task we must be "United for Victory." To be united we must have not only organization and an informed public opinion, but every man and woman must work out fundamental assumptions by which he or she will habitually act. As a layman I have certain assumptions by which I live and work during these days of strain and stress. I wish to share a few of them with you.

First, I acknowledge the fact that we are in a veritable storm of transition and change which is worldwide in scope.

The swiftness of this change has no parallel in all history. Let me see if I can dramatize it for you!

At the last World's Fair, George Washington looked down from his position of honor at Flushing Meadows upon the mummified remains of a man who lived two thousand years before Christ. And yet, Washington would have had more in common with that 37 century-old mummy than he, for example, would now have with Mr. Wendell Willkie who is living a little more than one hundred fifty years after Washington's death. Mr. Willkie has just travelled 31,000 miles in 160 hours. One day he was in Chengtu and four days later he was in the United States, having travelled 1,000 miles in China, crossed the vast expanse of the Gobi Desert and the Mongolian Republic, crossed thousands of miles in Siberia, the Bering Sea, the full length of Alaska and the full width of Canada. At the end he says by radio to millions and millions of people simultaneously; "There are no distant points in the world any longer. The myriad millions of human beings of the Far East are as close to us as Los Angeles is to New York by the fast railroad train."

Washington and King Tut had slaves in common; theyboth had barriers of space and time; they both depended for travel on beasts of burden; and all their messages to other human beings were carried by man. Today, for every man, woman and child in the United States there is the equivalent in mechanical horsepower of one hundred eighty Roman slaves; and time and space are no longer barriers.

These changes have come in cataclysmic fashion. More of them have taken place during the days between George Washington and Wendell Willkie than between George Washington and King Tut. To put it another way, we have lived longer during the last 150 years than we lived during the preceding thirty-eight centuries. The last 25 years have been marked by an acceleration undreamed of during the 125 years that immediately preceded them.

Whole groups of the human family have broken camp as the result of these changes. They are on the march, both literally and figuratively. They are looking for new camping grounds. We simply have not been able to assimilate the changes of which I speak by means of the forms of social organization which we have devised. And so we are fighting it out on the battlefields of the world, determining under God whether this nation and those similarly organized will survive.

My second assumption is that we are not fighting for democracy as it has been. We are fighting for the chance to give it another serious trial in our country, and to extend its freedoms throughout the world.

As some one has said, the deepest price which victory will require is a painful sincerity in our talk about freedom. I should like to say specifically that one does not inherit democracy. One merely inherits the opportunity to live democracy. Our democratic form of government is, therefore, but a reflection of our way of life. Democracy is bought with a price which must be paid by every citizen. It is a high price, a price we have been careless about paying. We, like other nations of the world, have tried to buy democracy and all its fruits over the bargain counter. We have made cheap commerce of it, traded for it, altered and deflated the currency by which it is bought.

I am joining the fight for victory with full knowledge that civilization has developed more rapidly than we have been able to assimilate it; and that democracy itself has failed to challenge the highest loyalty and participation of those who have professed it.

These two assumptions make us realistic; they do not give us faith and hope and courage. We must possess fundamental personal convictions less we too lose precious man hours in this struggle for survival. I find my own personal hope and courage in the following:

I believe that I shall never again have the moral right to enjoy the fruits of democracy if I fail to give my best effortin the world struggle to save democracy which is now in progress;

I believe that my services, however small, are needed to restore freedom to the human race;

I believe that while this total war must be won in tears and sweat and with force of arms, that total victory must be won in wisdom and patience and courage at the peace table, and by high purpose and skill and endurance during the days of reconstruction;

I believe that in righting this war we have rediscovered the meaning of work and service to our country and that such a discovery is an unmitigated good;

I believe that efficiency in the United Nations will never again be separated from the protection of their freedom and from the sharing of the good things of life with all the peoples of all the world;

I believe that as our young people go forth to do battle on land and sea and in the air we shall have the grace and good sense even now to plan for their economic and educational needs when they return;

I believe that I shall continue to receive expressions of and to be allowed to give expression to the principles for which we fight;

I believe that my government will see to it that I get accurate, factual answers to reasonable questions concerning successes and failures on the fighting and industrial fronts;

I believe that I shall be allowed to have a critical outlook on the struggle thus helping myself achieve a balanced perspective;

I believe that our leaders will not forsake democracy while they lead us in a fight to preserve democracy:

"Not to be spattered by his blood —
this, while I kill him,
Must be my mind's precise concern."

Sustained by these assurances I, too, can go forth to do battle.

Unity for victory is not based upon organization alone. It is based upon intelligent understanding of the conditions of the conflict, and upon sound information concerning the goals for which we fight. It is based upon fundamental assumptions of faith and hope—assumptions which are personal and which furnish the motive for action. Finally, it is based upon a fundamental faith in the essential rightness of the cause. We should never forget in this war that we are not fighting Germans and Japanese and Italians as such. We are fighting a triple faith. As Robert Kazmayer has said: "A man cannot fight a faith, even an evil faith, without some faith of his own." Against the "superior race" drive of the Germans, and the "manifold destiny" of the Japanese, and the false "belief in grandeur" that is Rome's, we lay our faith in human freedom on the altar of our country. Through it we are inevitably "United for Victory."