Frustration Equals Aggression


By CHARLES P. TAFT, Assistant Director, Office of Defense Health and Welfare Services

Delivered at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa., February 7, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 407-409.

WHY is a commencement speaker? Some institutions, like my own alma mater, have none. Or at least they inflict them only on the alumni at lunch, not on the graduating class. Some limit strictly the length of the address. Not a bad idea. Either of them. Your president, in taking neither course, must still be struggling hopelessly to provide to a graduating class a walking example of the value of a liberal education.

To the speaker himself it is a tough job, especially in wartime. What can I tell you that you will believe or remember? I can send a shiver through you by reminding you that you will never all be together again. Some of you will not come back from this war. Fourteen of my wartime class at Yale are on the honor roll in Woolsey Hall.

But that shiver would be produced only to get your attention and it is not in very good taste anyway. What would you want me to say to you? That is the problem I've been chewing on for some weeks.

You are facing a gorgeous forty-five years, the average of you, years of struggle, of hardship, of achievement, of service, of joyous living. What generation has ever had such a challenge? Here are the toughest technical problems of warfare, of business, of peace, of economic organization, of government, of people. And the greatest problems of these are people. Oliver wrote of the Endless Adventure of governing men.

Begin with a love of people and of the soil of your country. That must mean an appreciation of nearly all people and all countries, for we have them all here. Listen to PaulRobeson sing Ballad for Americans. Hear Steve Benet on some of our characteristics as a nation: the success story: "Hunt came into Globe in 1881 driving a burro. He worked as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant and shoveled muck in the Old Dominion's Yuma stope, which he said was so hot and ill ventilated that candles would scarcely burn there. In the next thirty years he became Globe's leading merchant and banker and was active in the territorial Legislature. While he was Governor he fought for good labor legislation and the abolition of capital punishment—and every man in Arizona was either very much for him or emphatically opposed."

The tall tale: "Bunyan hitched the wolf to a buckboard and established the first mail line into Oklahoma, making daily trips between this State and Pennsylvania. He finally gave up the mail line to take the agency for a remarkable salve. Paul commonly began its demonstration by cutting off an arm or leg and sticking it back on again. Paul and the wolf became rich, but the railroads had always been jealous of the pair. . . The wolf finally died of iron poisoning after eating 182 miles of Santa Fe track."

Where do we come from: "Where do you come from, brother? My forebears came over on the Mayflower; my daddy was kidnapped and sold; my folks just followed a wagon out of town. I'm a Hoosier and a Jayhawker and a Tarheel; I'm a Native Son of the Golden West and a Daughter of the Confederacy. I'm a Hard-Shell, Foot-Washing Baptist, but my uncle was a Kerry man, and be brought his fiddle with him. Where I come from, brother, they eat folks like you for breakfast. Where I come from weraise potatoes the size of pumpkins and pumpkins the size of washboilers. No, my folks didn't come on the Mayflower, but when the Mayflower landed they were waiting on the dock." So Steve Benet, that lover of his country and its people.

That kind of affection for people, all kinds of people, is of the essence of democracy and its origin is definitely in the Jewish Christian religious teachings. It is not so long since the smarties were telling us religion and the church were dead. I heard Leslie Glenn tell last Sunday of a conversation with a distinguished foreign correspondent who said, No one is a Christian any more. But stories keep coming back as they did in the last war like the one of the man, not particularly interested at home, who gets himself baptized in a Solomon Islands river. Those men are looking for a personal faith to help them face death. Our conscientious objectors have the same kind of faith. That is quite a different thing from much of the vociferous kind of sentimental pacifism of the last decade, which grew out of a fear of death, and was no credit to the Christian religion. Many of you will face death and all of us face it for our loved ones and ultimately for ourselves. For that we need terribly an intelligent personal faith, something simple and strong—a belief in God and his goodness, a loving God who works through the poorest and weakest of us, suffering with us and rejoicing with us in the struggle toward perfection.

You need that faith even more because it is the only sound basis for understanding people. The trouble with the philosophy of hate which is urged upon the infantryman with the gun who has to lick the Japanese, and is urged upon the politician who has to settle with them afterwards, is that it is extremely bad psychology. It is a little foolish, like the German family in Punch in the last war indulging in its morning hate. It grows from a fear psychosis. It does not provide such endurance as Christians have shown in Germany, where they are the only organized group standing up against the Gestapo.

Here are two peoples who have permitted themselves to be overcome by perfectly extraordinary infantile inferiority complexes in the strictest sense. They are led by paranoiacs, to whom have gravitated in varying degrees a choice collection of gangsters and sadists in positions of lofty or petty authority. Do not confuse the German or Japanese people with their leadership, but don't forget either that those two peoples are suffering from the inferiority complex. They are more than innocent victims. How is one to meet them, theoretically or on the battle field?

The first reaction, I believe, is one of cold rage that any two peoples should have allowed themselves to be used to put the world into this mess. It was no question of have or have not that got us into this. It was two peoples who allowed themselves like children to be fooled by two similar philosophies of a master race dominating the world.

What can you do with a child in a tantrum? Or a gang of boys setting fire to a shack? Or a mob bent on lynching a prisoner? It may well be that something you have done yourself, or failed to do, has contributed to the tantrum, or the gang, or the lynching. That does not relieve you of responsibility for acting. What do you do?

Ask the intelligent mother or teacher or boys worker. They will do something pretty vigorous, and then study a long-time plan to meet the frustration and redirect the energy. What about the courageous sheriff? He may have to shoot. If he does, he will pick the leader and shoot to kill with that same kind of cold rage that the crowd was so dumb as to get pulled into this.

I hope that none of us may be in that position of the sheriff or the infantryman with the bayonet. But when you thinkof what the Gestapo and the Japanese secret police impose on conquered countries in wartime and in peacetime, I think you will, without any manufactured hate, do the job assigned to you with all there is in you.

When that tough, dirty job is done—as it will be, pray God, in less than two years more—we face the really difficult problem, difficult because it is trickier. How do you cure German and Japanese inferiority complexes? Unless we cure them, we face the inevitable formula, inferiority complex equals frustration, and frustration equals aggression. We had something like that after the Civil War and we did not handle it very well. It left us the bloody shirt and reconstruction and the professional Southerner and the Solid South, still solid nearly eighty years later. Will we have a solid Axis eighty years from now?

Most of the post-war discussions have laid the principal emphasis upon the elimination of economic injustice. It is interesting that a young group of British Socialists who analyzed Democracy and War in a symposium in 1937, came to the conclusion that not economic injustice, but frustrations and transferals of resentment to aliens and inferiors, comparable to experiences of children, had caused most wars in the last 150 years, and that economic rivalry or injustice could not be traced as a major cause in more than one. They concluded that a properly marshalled show of force had prevented most incipient fracases which were prevented, and recommended just that, force to compel peace until the psychological factors in nations and individuals could be worked out.

I believe in that. We need an application of force by those who believe in peace, our United Nations, to stop any threat of war. That means control of the great air depots, of arms manufacture, of every important military or naval base, and exclusion of paranoiacs from that control. It means the kind of checks and balances on that control by our own side that our fathers on both sides of the water knew were needed to protect us from our own abuse of power.

But at the same time we need a prescription for a national inferiority complex in Japan and Germany. We never thought of it that way in 1919, either for a victorious ally we looked down upon, nor a defeated enemy we had been taught to hate. That is why we are fighting this war. The same mistake can produce a third holocaust.

We can't have the luxury of hate or the stupidity of contempt. We are dealing with fellow humans, millions of them and they cry out for decent intelligent treatment designed to cure them of a deadly sickness, deadly for them and deadly for us.

They will be defeated peoples, but they are entitled to our respect for a tremendous battle, and entitled to their own self respect. We must tell them so. That comes first.

Next, they need something to go to work on that will challenge their capacities, and it should be something that is a common task with us. The first thing, I suggest, is food, food for their children, food for their old and sick people, food for all who have had to give up everything for the fighting man and the war worker, food for the despised minorities, Jews and aliens. And it must be a joint task of the United Nations and Japan, the United Nations and the Germans. It must be the first practical demonstration of what we believe as Christians about the dignity of human personality, a sample of what we have fought for, an utter denial of all that they have been taught. It must be carried out for the United Nations by people who understand exactly what they are doing and what is the significance of the job, in the exorcism of these devils of blood and soil and destiny. The restoration of government and order, of schools andinstitutional life, and provision for public health all will keep them busy.

After that come plans for a longer future. Japan and Germany must be made partners in an intelligent plan, a business plan, executed by businessmen and by peoples through their governments for the economic reconstruction of the world. The ideals of work for all, constructive work, aiming toward world trade and peaceful communications must be laid down by the victors, and the defeated nations given their part of the job. If we can put before the eyes and minds of the people of this world a scheme for the gradual raising of standards of living of the backward areas over the next two generations, probably by promoting their industrialization according to their own pattern of civilization, we have a charter of activity that can gradually destroy inferiority and build world partnership.

That does not call for indiscriminate admission to areas of higher standards either low standard labor or low standard goods. On the contrary it gives every area an objective which should challenge and retain its own people on the improvement of their own condition.

It does not assume that we know all the answers at home. We have a productive capacity of $130,000,000,000 a year, and clearly we have a power to consume that capacity when converted from war production to peace-time needs. Our problem is the problem of exchange—how to match that power to consume against our power to produce. Surely that cannot be insoluble by intelligence and hard work and team-play. We shall need to forget some deep-seated prejudices and some vested interests in political machinery. The problem is as tough as they come, but it can be licked.

Let me give one warning. The idea that you can run community affairs, which is just another name for government, without politics is ridiculous. The thesis that we are in an era of management by experts, is a very deadly kind

of anaesthetic. We need more politics, not less, and more participation in the process, not a closed corporation of electoral machinery that looks with jealous eyes on any incursion of amateur activity. What we do, we have to sell to the people.

Politicians are going to run this government during the war, in making the peace, in administering relief and reconstruction, and in solving our domestic economy. The only question is what land of politicians.

They will be subject to the largest, best informed electorate in history. They will love their country with a burning fire, we may hope, but they must win elections from that electorate or they can do nothing. Will they see a vision of a world community and a prosperous nation, and paint that picture so that their constituents can see it, too? They can do that. Politicians have done it before. Will they hold on to that vision while they practise the technique of their profession to get the day-by-day steps approved and carried out? It is a slow and difficult process requiring patience and a long view.

That is all a long way off for a graduating class that faces the draft or war jobs. It is easy to say, somebody else can worry; I'll never be up there. Don't you believe it. You can't tell about that. Cromwell is quoted as saying—"You never go so far as when you don't know where you are going." He didn't mean to advocate aimless wandering; he was driven by an internal fire of purpose like few others before or since. But he did mean that when you do your job and cling to your purpose, you land often higher and farther than you ever expected.

You will find the same thought in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, and it is worth taking with you through life; "By faith Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went. . . for he looked for a city with foundations whose builder and maker is God."