Let Us Continue the Forward March


By ROBERT G. SPROUL, President, University of California, Berkeley, Cal

Delivered at Commencement Exercises of University of California, June 25, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 606-608.

IN the good old days Commencement came but once a year, and graduates were June graduates, or by the letter of the law hardly graduates at all. But in these days of war's alarums and accelerated programs, Commencements follow one another in rapid and bewildering succession. One who, like myself, presides over seven campuses, is moved to paraphrase a familiar slogan and say with Henry Ford, "Watch the Commencements go by." He is moved, also, to despair about his adequacy to meet the test of speaking several times a year some pregnant last word which all the varied graduates of a complex, modern, State University may carry with them through life. He envies the honesty, directness and clarity of the oft-quoted Commencement address of President McCosh of Princeton University, who on a hot summer's day in New Jersey, merely admonished the graduating class to "shave every morning and pray every night." But such admonition would fit only part of a coeducational graduating class at best. And though to a university president, commencements occur and recur; for each graduate there is but one Commencement, and that his own.

The times are not propitious in which you, of the Class of 1944, come to your Commencement. You assume the responsibilities of university graduates in the most tremendous, the most tragic moment in the history of man, in the midst of world-wide* sky-wide, titanic combat. You go out into one of the most revolutionary periods in world history if we take into account the vastness of the areas and the multitudes of men affected by the conflicting philosophies of this era of confusion. A familiar order of life is on its way out and none can predict accurately the shape of things to come. The tremendous centrifugal force which exists in every graduating class is, of course, accentuated this year by these conditions of chaos. More even than usual, you graduates will be scattered, never to meet again as the same group at any time or place on this earth. You do not then expect pleasantries from me on this fateful Commencement day. "Escape literature" is clearly out of order. You are perforce about to battle a hard, tragic world, and not a few of you will fall by the way. Most of the men now before me will soon be in the military service of our country. The Class of 1944 will meet its first great test in a world where force, not reason, is determining the present and perhaps the future, These are not events of our choosing, either yours or mine; indeed, they are abhorrent to every one of us. But the forces of evil have decreed our doom, and we must conquer or be conquered. Fortunately, in the process, we may regain through discipline the character that makes peoples great. We Americans have never taken easily to discipline, and we will not submit to regimentation, but unless we exercise sell' discipline in the world of tomorrow we shall find ourselves in slavery under the imposed discipline of a superstate—a condition which not even the persuasiveness of Harold Laski can make attractive to me.

All of us today, whether in uniform or not, must meet and discharge in our daily lives the obligation that is correlative to the privilege of being American, citizens. Each one of us in this hour of crisis has his or her responsibility for the continuance of this government of law and liberty which we intend to maintain intact for ourselves and our descendants. Each of us must do a full part to perpetuate and improve the institutions that give America what she has of eternal value as a nation. Mere bigness, size of population and extent of territory, enormous material resources and industrial capacity are not enough. Still, as it has been always, the chief security of a nation is the devotion of its sons and daughters. Therein has lain the strength of our present foes, for they hold the ideal of the State to a degree that has been seldom equalled in the long centuries of political development. Their idealism and devotion have been distorted by mad leaders to horrible ends; but their patriotism, let us not forget, is of the kind that makes nations powerful, though not always great. It is for us, in the service of much broader aims and far higher ideals, to emulate their devotion and exceed their sacrifice.

The immediate task of all of us, of course, is to defeat the enemy, quickly and conclusively, and to destroy the spirit of tyranny wherever it rears its ugly, poisonous head. This is quite enough for the moment, but we must remember, also and always, the deeper issues of the war. We Americans are not fighting for the munition makers, merchants of death, or for trade, with its hallmark, the almighty dollar. We are not fighting for aggrandizement, territorial or otherwise. We have accepted reluctantly but nonetheless determinedly a challenge to the faith by which we live. We seek to destroy enemies who represent a kind of life that we believe to be false, and evil, and abominable. We fight for liberty and against slavery, for man's right to think, and speak, and worship as he will; for a world in which we and our children can live free, fearless, and secure. We are fighting for peace and freedom, not for ourselves alone, but for all men.

We, of the United Nations, were shortsighted, slow and weak, "too little and too late," because we could not believe that in the modern world, 2000 years after Christ was born, there could be national leaders who would have recourse to deepest hell that they might destroy the human body and degrade the human spirit; who would divert the most hopeful discoveries of science to the support of policies and aims as diabolical as they are all embracing. We had almost lost the battle before we knew that we were in it, but we awoke in time, and the situation though still serious is now far from hopeless. The democracies of the world are no longer merely defending themselves in a conflict for which they are unprepared; they are no longer meeting disaster with proud resignation or satisfying themselves with dogged resistance and masterly retreats. Far from it; on the offensive in all parts of the world they are assaulting the strongholds of autocracy. The issue today or tomorrow may still seem uncertain, but the end is not uncertain. No one knows when the end will come, or what dreadful sacrifice and suffering must yet be endured; but all know now that the forces of freedom cannot be turned back or defeated. The millions who have learned under liberty to hope and aspire to better things than man has ever known, are paying the price of victory, and in due time victory will be theirs.

Wars are won by the nations with the largest reserves, and those most wisely utilized: reserves of manpower, machinery, and industrial organization, reserves of raw materials, and, above all, reserves of morale. On the surface morale appears to be no more than fortitude in the face of adversity, courage under fire, and determination to triumph. But these are the virtues of most men most of the time; morale, in the long pull, is threefold in dimension, consisting of deep spiritual and cultural stability, of profound faith and of far reaching vision. The very substance of morale is an awareness—a lightning-like perception—of the ultimate issues of life. The day-to-day events of war, in themselves and in short perspective the very pattern of madness and race suicide, seen in this clear-cut focus, become credible, and to a certain degree, meaningful. This threefold morale, with its spiritual enthusiasm, long-range vision, and trenchant understanding of purpose, which we possess today under the stress of war, we must maintain against the inevitable slackness and indifference of the postwar era.

There is a bigger plan for mankind than any little group of politicians, or even statesmen, can blueprint. Fundamental differences of principle are involved which all the dossiers of diplomacy cannot obscure, and all man's wit has not availed as yet to bring about their resolution. Whoever is to unravel the tangled skein after victory has been won, will need all that knowledge and good will can contribute to the thinking power of men. The great need for the building of the postwar world is qualified leaders with singleness of purpose, and intelligent followers with reserves of spiritual strength; leaders and followers who have cast out the false gods of national selfishness, and who assert with confidence, even boldly, these things we know: that the safety, the liberties, and the souls of all men, whatever their origin, are inseparably bound together; that the dignity and worth and honor that democracy has established as the norm for the human individual, must also be accepted as the norm for human society, and as the norm, in profound truth, for a world social order.

Universities must anticipate this responsibility by adjusting their programs, in readiness to meet it. Much is proclaimed these days, for example, about Pan-American solidarity and cooperation—the Good Neighbor policy, if you I will. Much more will have to be said and done in the years to come. Yet little real understanding has yet been absorbed by American young people concerning the geography the history, or the culture of Latin-American peoples. Te go still farther afield, we are now at war with one Oriental country and an ally-of another. There will be much closer cooperation with China before the war in the Pacific has been won, and no one supposes that it can cease when that time comes, or wishes it to. With the Japanese, we shall have to learn to live, whether we like it or not, and on a sounder, more intelligent basis, let us hope, than in the past. Viewed quite objectively, then, it is strange that so little attention has been paid in our universities to the history and culture of the Oriental world; particularly strange since some three-fourths of the people of the earth live in Asia. To maintain peace in the Pacific, once it has been established, will require much closer collaboration with Far Eastern powers in economic, political, and even military spheres, than existed before Pearl Harbor. Such cooperation will survive the frictions of tedious, difficult adjustments only as there is intelligent interplay of understanding between the peoples of the East and the West; and the sincerest sympathy and good will of each group toward the other.

Three facts seem well established today. First, four great powers, the United States, Russia, China, and the British commonwealth, will dominate the postwar world. Second, of these four, two—Russia and China—are essentially Asiatic powers. The United States with her long Pacific seaboard, and her large war-developed industrial and maritime installations, as well as her Pacific possessions and interests in Hawaii, Alaska, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands is, or should be, primarily concerned in the postwar world with Pacific affairs. Of the British Commonwealth, three components, India, Australia, and New Zealand are wholly Pacific, while the Dominion of Canada, like ourselves, must increasingly look westward. From these first two facts follows a third. In the middle of the 20th Century, the Pacific Ocean and its littoral will become the stage of world affairs, supplanting the Atlantic as the Atlantic previously superseded the Mediterranean.

In planning for this postwar world, we Americans must strive to maintain intact friendships which have proved helpful in the past and will be essential in the future if world peace is to be lasting. Of all such friendships, that existing between the United States and the British Commonwealth Stands out, but the traditional Sino-American mutual goodwill is also notable. Such fundamental international friend-ships do not spring from the mere establishment of diplomatic relations or governmental policies. Wartime harmony too often changes into postwar recriminations. Solid inter, national goodwill rests upon the feelings of individual citizens in sufficient number to leaven whole populations. When such individual goodwill exists, the actions of government are dictated by the people to it, not propagandized and forced upon the people from above. For example, China and the United States are friends today because two generations of Chinese leaders have received education at American schools and colleges—notably Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

A similar basis of sound accord should be worked out by us and other great Pacific nations such as, for example, Australia. Difficulties of distance and expense of travel have prevented any such educational program in the past. Practical steps should be taken as soon as possible to bring Australian students to the United States for courses of study which will not only fit them to cope with the many problems of their great continent, but also give them the wish and the will to be sincere advocates of better relations, and more of them, between Americans and Australians in all fields of endeavor. Such steps should be taken now, not delayed until after the war. There are undoubtedly enough honorably discharged soldiers to furnish the initial complement of Australian students. Such men could do much to lay a stable foundation for the postwar world in which Australia and the United States must stand shoulder to shoulder if an enduring peace is to be maintained. In proportion as our universities are alert to such needs as these and make plans to meet them, they will serve not only the practical purposes of America but also the highest hopes of humanity, In your capacity to meet these challenges of which I have been speaking, I have full confidence, members of the Class of 1944. You have pursued with industry and singleness of purpose, I am sure, the business that brought you to this campus of the University of California. You must have acquitted yourselves well or you would not now be receiving your degrees. We are in truth passing through times that try men's souls, but you make me sure of the outcome. No country with young men and women like America's stand at the bleak end of a broken trail. The loose talk we used to hear so much in the thirties, that there are no frontiers left for youth any more, is daily being disproved both in action and in prospect. When the present world conflagration has been quenched, there will be an unparalleled chance to build a more harmonious and productive America, on a basis sounder and more permanent than men have yet known. It can be done if your generation, after it has brought us victory, will exercise faith, and tolerance, and wisdom in the days of reconstruction to match its present courage and devotion. Undoubtedly, those days will bring changes in our society; indeed, we are in the midst of them now. But the dynamic moments of history always open up new frontiers of opportunity. Such moments belong to youth, to resourceful and creative youth. For you, therefore, for the long pull, and in the America beyond the horizon, I am an unwavering optimist. The forward march has been sounded and you advance to the drumbeats of war, hut the light of the future shines in your eyes. Godspeed you to your great work!