Freedom Is Not Enough


By KENNETH IRVING BROWN, President, Denison University

Delivered at the Elks Memorial Service, Newark, Ohio, December 5, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 311-313.

ON October 11, 1941, Flight Sergeant James L. S. Dunlop, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, crashed to his death. After a time there was delivered to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Dunlop of Niagara Falls, New York, a letter which their twenty-three-year-old aviator son had written in England—had written, in fact, five months before with the instructions that the letter was never to be mailed unless he failed to come back from one of his flights.

It is not a long letter. It didn't need to be long to say the things he wanted to say. It is not a letter filled with inconsequential trivialities; it is a letter that goes very deeply and immediately to the point. In that letter there is this paragraph:

"If there is any message which the coming generation should have from mine, let it be a message from us who have fought and died to make future generations of human beings possible. Let the message be this: We have cleared the site and laid the foundations. You build."

This is a war for freedom—so we are told—and none of us are inclined to doubt seriously that statement. We are fighting to make the world free, free from the domination and the tyranny of greedy and lustful men. The Four Freedoms have become one of the slogans that have stirred the minds of fighting men—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.

If by some prestidigitator's sleight of hand it were possible to make this a free world and the men of the earth a free humanity; if it were possible to secure for all the countries of the earth the four freedoms to their fullest extent, no one of us would doubt that a tremendous achievement had been accomplished.

But would we be sufficiently keen to observe the fact that after all what had been accomplished was simply the clearing of the ground for the opportunity of building a braver and a better world? For freedom is not enough, and we delude ourselves when we speak and think and live as if it were.

A country freed is like a piece of land that is cleared of its timber and scrub growth. Opportunity for that land has been multiplied by the clearance. Now the farmer can plow and sow and reap his harvest. Now the dairyman can raise his cattle. Now the industrialist can bring his factories and lay his railroad switches. Now the workers can plan and toil and achieve. But land cleared of its virgin timber is only the beginning for the pioneer. Ahead lie all the efforts and all the needs and all the triumphs of the two things still necessary: intelligence and goodness.

For freedom is only a tool and a weapon,—a tool for the fashioning of something better than freedom, and a weapon to protect that something better, when as a plant it starts to grow.

Freedom is an atmosphere, an atmosphere absolutely necessary for the growth of men's spirits. But the growth of men's spirits itself is what is important, not just the atmosphere without which they will be stunted and dwarfed and un-symmetrical.

Freedom of speech—but how important that a man shall have something to say when that freedom comes to him, that he shall speak with thoughtfulness and insight and wisdom and courage.

Freedom of religion—but how important that when to man there is given the opportunity of seeking, unhampered, goodness and the Father of goodness, according to the dictates of his own conscience, how important that that conscience shall be sensitive and active.

Freedom horn fear—but how important that when a man has achieved freedom from fear, the house of the spirit shall not be simply an empty house with a "to let" sign hanging above the door, but a house filled with the presence of worthy aspirations and honest-to-goodness effort and the spirit of loyal and faithful service both to one's fellow men and to one's God.

Freedom from want—but how important that on the assurance of ample food, and ample clothing, and ample housing, there shall be built purposeful living.

Freedom—yes, all four of the freedoms, and as many more as men can devise, for men must be free. But freedom alone is not enough.

I am not a follower of that school of literature which Robert Hutch ins has disdainfully described as the chiropractic school, and I would not agree with that late popular professor of Yale who proclaimed that greatness in letters was to be recognized by the shiver that went up your spine upon first acquaintance, and the greater the spine shiver, the greater the greatness of the piece of prose or poetry. But I confess to a recent thrill that went through me as I was reading the familiar words of "America"—familiar words, yet strangely unfamiliar, for it was as if I were seeing for the first time words which I had taken on my lips to sing since childhood:

"My native country, thee;
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love!"

Some day in the future that you and I hold there will come that moment of exultant and jubilant joy when the word is flashed around the world that the arms of battle have been laid down and that men are ready to gather to build according to their intelligence and their goodness on the ashes and the ruins of war.

To build according to their intelligence and their character—Is that the explanation of that world "noble" in the line, "Land of the noble free"? Land of the free men who are intelligent and good!

There should be no great quarrel on what we shall need, desperately need, if in that day we are to take full advantage of our newly assured and newly achieved freedom. The answer is simple in words, but tremendously difficult in achievement. It is intelligence and goodness. That is what our churches in America are striving for—intelligence and goodness. That is what our schools and colleges exist to achieve and without which their existence is failure—intelligence and goodness.

Intelligence and goodness can use freedom for the building of a braver and a better world. And if intelligence and goodness do not make use of freedom, ignorance and wickedness will. Are our memories so dull that we cannot recall the situation in which we found ourselves on November 12th in 1918 when the weariness of celebration had fallen away, and we knew, sanely and irrefutably knew, that no longer was our business to be the business of war but the business of peace. There descended on us in those days a spirit of exhaustion, physical exhaustion for we were tired, mental exhaustion for we had worked hard with our minds, and our minds were weary, spiritual exhaustion for for a long time we had striven for high ideals and dreamed great dreams and the elastic of our spirit was stretched. In that moment of armistice it seemed as if we had done our part and might well rest. We thought we had achieved freedom, but we failed to see that freedom was not enough, for freedom was essentially only opportunity, and both ignorant men as well as wise men use opportunity, and greedy men as well as good men use opportunity. Be assured, if in that new day of armistice, in that day when freedom is again ours, if intelligence and goodness do not rule, ignorance and greed will.

There will be two questions in that day of opportunity as we face the foundations so newly laid by hands, many of which will no longer be with us. Do we know how to build? If we do not, it is intelligence we lack. Do we want to build? If we do not, it is character that we lack.

The needs of warfare have tremendously whetted out intellectual activity in the limited fields of technical and scientific achievement. We have taken the enemy's captured material, and we have studied it to be sure that our own was superior, gun for gun, mortar for mortar, tank for tank, ship for ship, and plane for plane. The progress of fifty years has been crowded into the last five as we have tried to foresee and anticipate those situations of war that could be conquered, not alone by brute strength, but by the disciplined and concentrated intelligence of man. When the war has brought us into intolerable situations which seem to attack our very existence, we have strained our minds to the limits, and who is there who can avoid pride at what we have achieved?—our colossal production, a definitely successful answer to the U-boat menace, a solution to the problem of inadequate shipping, unbelievable progress in the field of aviation—it seems almost miraculous. Intelligence has won its victories.

In this period of war there has not been lacking either the will or the spirit. Like sleeping giants, they awoke slowly, but when they were awakened, there was a determination in the country that was iron and a spirit for victory which was its own might.

"We have cleared the site and laid the foundation. You build." And in that building we need intelligence and goodness. And if they be lacking, and if the opportunity of freedom be granted to ignorance and to maliciousness, it will not be because mere is not sufficient intelligence in America or because the goodness of America is not equal to the occasion. It will be because those who are wise and those who are good have rested smug and self-satisfied with the achieving of freedom that they thought final, not recognizing that freedom was not enough.

In that new period of living we face there will be three tremendous areas of need. The first is the economic life, not only for the peoples of this country but for the peoples of the world, and in that area there are thousands of burning questions that will arise: How can we feed hungry mouths and clothe naked bodies with equity for all? How can the goods of the world be justly distributed? Must we accept as inevitable principles for the working world which are at terrific odds with the principles of Christianity? And the questions in the fields of men's economic well-being will be answered only if the intelligence and the goodness of the country can be matched against them.

The second area is the area of human relations: Can man learn to live with man harmoniously? That harmony will not come primarily through addresses or sermons or talks or big words thrown at groups by the world's great orators. It will come through the intelligence of the world and the goodness of the world working simply and quietly and unostentatiously, working away at the specific and inescapable problems of human friction that meet us day by day.

That hour when President Roosevelt signed the act of Congress by which the Exclusion Act barring the Chinese from this land as trespassers was wiped out saw both a victory of intelligence and goodness in this area of human relationships. But the problems still to be solved very quickly push aside joy at this achievement. How can we learn to live with our Japanese-American citizens of proved loyalty whom we have buried with our suspicions and detained in our barbed wire camps ? Land of the noble free? Not for them, not even land of the free. How shall we keep our country unstained by the menace of anti-Semitism which ignorant and selfish men are for their own profit today building here in our midst in the very spirit of fascism? Would you want to be a Jew in America today? If birth had allied you with that race irrevocably, and life had given you the heritage of the Jewish people, would you, an American Jew, count America the land of the noble free? Would you even count it the land of the free? Or what if your skin were black instead of white, and you knew that no matter how far you went in your profession or how great the praise and the plaudits of the world for that which you might achieve, you knew that nevertheless, because of the act of birth for which you were in no way responsible, thousands of doors in America would be closed to you? Land of the noble free? Even land of the free?

In that day of opportunity there will be a multitude of questions to answer on the economic well-being of the world. There will be a multitude of questions to answer on all the problems of human relationship. And these great colossal question-marks will stalk our lands, community by community, and these great colossal question-marks will sit with the makers of peace when that day of peace may come- And if those question-marks are kept simply as question-marks, questions unanswered, problems unsolved, in a generation's time your sons will gather to hold in sacred memory their sons now in infancy or still unborn, called to die on the field of battle.

There is a third area of problems in that post-war world; that is the area of education—education both formal and informal ; education both for young people and for older people as well; elementary schools and our junior high schools and our high schools and our colleges and our universities and all the community adult programs that have been set up; and all the hunger for learning, for understanding, and all the thristing for wisdom there may be in all the minds and the spirits of men and women throughout the world. And out of that area of education must come the intelligence and the goodwill to be applied to the problems of our economic welfare and the problems of our human relationships. There can be no absolute assurance that education can solve those problems, but if education cannot, or if education can and does not, then indeed is the future of mankind dark. This can mean no easy content with education as we have it today. It can mean no easy, smugness that our children may go to well provided schools, but that children of your country neighbors or the children of your southern neighbors shall gather with educational opportunities so meagre that handicap is theirs. It cannot mean either any slavish attachment to traditions of the past just for the sake of tradition; neither can it mean at any time learning for learning's sake. It is a moot question whether more of the evil of the world comes from good men who were ignorant or educated men who were evil. Unless education can, with its imparting of understanding, bring a discipline of spirit and a cherishing of social passions and a sympathy for world needs, we may perhaps wisely choose ignorance in place of understanding.

Economic welfare, human relations, education—these are  three of the silent question-marks that will sit with us in those days of the second armistice, and unless the intelligence and the good will of the world will be brought to answer their persistent queries, Flight Sergeant James L. S. Dunlop will have written to his parents in vain, and the message be passed on to us: "We have cleared the site and laid the foundations. You build."—that message will indeed be mockery. Freedom in its rich fullness must be re-achieved; but freedom alone is not enough.