Foreign Service Needs Young People


By JAMES WILLIAM FULLBRIGHT, Congressman from Arkansas

Delivered before the New York Herald-Tribune Forum, New York City, October 17, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 41-43.

I DEEM it an honor and a privilege to be invited to address this distinguished gathering of the leading citizens of New York. I cannot deny that it was with considerable trepidation that I accepted the invitation to come here today, realizing, as I do, that I may be exposing to you how very limited is the knowledge and wisdom of a young politician.

The question of improving the quality of the representation of this country in our relations with other nations is a delicate one for public discussion, especially during a national campaign. Nevertheless, I want to submit to you this afternoon a serious problem confronting your government with the hope that you may be able to find the solution.

As the overwhelming power of the United Nations grinds slowly and painfully toward the defeat of our Fascist enemies it becomes daily more urgent that we give our attention to the problems that will confront us, both at home and abroad, in the world ahead. Surely we know by this time that after this war we are going to face a world quite different from that of five years ago. No matter how much we may have loved the old world before this war the very fact that we have had to fight this war is sufficient proof that something was basically wrong with that world. Call it what you will, Fascism, capitalism, democratic decadence or just plain ignorance, the fact remains that something was wrong or we would not now be killing our finest boys and destroying those natural resources which should be devoted to the welfare of mankind. It seems to me plain that something different must be added to our society if we are to avoid self-destruction.

The Principal Wrong

The principal thing wrong with our world has been the misunderstanding and suspicion among the nations of the world which has made it possible for the Germans andJapanese to get started. The peace-loving nations could have prevented this war if they had understood their own best interests and been willing to co-operate with one another, but ignorance and suspicion kept them apart. The pressing question for all of us is how may we allay the distrust and suspicion that has existed and unite our forces to prevent another war.

The conferees at Dumbarton Oaks have reported. It is an excellent beginning and I sincerely hope that the proposed organization may become one of the keys to the creation of a better world. Without disparaging in the least the fundamental importance of the proposed organization, we must recognize that even when adopted with strengthening amendments it still will be only the bare skeleton of an organization for the maintenance of peace. The most difficult job of all will be to add flesh and brains to that skeleton in order to make it a living, functioning organization.

In the various programs, but especially in that of collective security, the human element, the most important of all elements, will challenge our greatest wisdom. No system, no organization, can be any better than the men who make it work. The most urgent job ahead of us is the supplying of men of intelligence, of energy and imagination, to operate the economic, and especially the political, machinery of collective security. To make this new and complex system work will require men of the utmost wisdom, men who are free from the historical prejudices of nationalism and who understand the nature of human society. Without such men, the most perfect organization imaginable remains but a skeleton, of interest only to those who write the history of human frailty.

Public service, for reasons which go back to the early days of this Republic, has, since those early days, rarely offered to ambitious and intelligent young men careers of real security and honor. Because of our former policy of political isolation from the rest of the world, our people have had little interest in, and even less understanding of, international relations. Consequently, the governmental departments dealing with these matters have long been understaffed and relatively neglected. As a result, there has become prevalent in some circles the idea that as a nation we are not competent to hold our own in dealing with other nations; that they are too smart for us. At the same time, as individuals, especially business and professional men, we admit we are the smartest people in the world.

Public Service Avoided

The trouble seems to be that, although we have plenty of men quite as capable as those of other countries, these men devote their talents to private industry and are not in, the service of the nation, except perhaps in war time. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we find the means to induce into the service of our government, especially in those departments concerned with foreign relations, the most capable young men in America. I think we may well ask ourselves, why is it that we do not attract the best talent we produce into the service of our country in peace, as well as in war.

The root of our trouble lies in the attitude of the citizens of this country toward politics in general, and politicians in particular. During a hundred years prior to the first world war, the people of our country were so intent upon developing our natural resources that they practically ignored their government. In the days of the frontier, men were largely a law unto themselves and generally there was little respect for governmental authority. Government was accepted as an irritating, but minor, evil and was seriously considered only when it interfered with economic and personal freedom. Throughout this period of development the material things of this life went to the successful speculators and businessmen, who amassed great wealth and power and who were accorded respect and honor by the community. There were few rewards for the honest and capable politician. The cynic, of course, will say that there were few capable politicians, but if that was true it reflected, as it still reflects, the attitude of the electors toward politics.

It is fashionable in many circles these days to discuss ways to improve the government service, but usually these discussions concern only the training of civil servants for the executive departments. This approach concerns only the superficial effects of a much deeper cause. The ultimate and decisive power in our system, of government is in the hands of our elected officials, particularly the legislators of the local, state and national governments. These lawmakers have the ultimate power to determine the quality of the administrative servants. They determine the pay, the qualifications and working conditions which make such service attractive or not attractive to men of ability. In performing this function, it is only natural that an average legislator is reluctant to make other government service more attractive than his own. Hence, it follows that the character of the entire government service is primarily influenced by and dependent upon the character of the lawmaking officials who are elected directly by the people.

Defect in Democracy

The most serious defect in our democracy is, I believe, the failure of the people to exercise care and discrimination in the election of their officials. A remarkable characteristic of the voters is the significance they apparently attach to the statements of newly found faith, made by candidates in the heat of a political campaign. Disillusionment is bound to follow such gullibility. The fault is not primarily the candidates', whose sense of values may well be upset by the excitement of the campaign; it is in the voters' lack of discrimination. Citizens should know that a candidate's character and convictions, like any other man's, are indicated by his conduct through the years prior to the election. They are wholly naive to attach any particular importance to campaign oratory, designed on the spur of the moment for an obvious purpose.

"Feeling of Irresponsibility"

This failure to think and to discriminate in their judgment arises from the fact that they do not recognize the relation between their vote and the broad policies of government which cause their ruin or salvation, as the case may be. Their feeling of irresponsibility is evident in the curious, detached manner in which so many people discuss the Congress or the Legislature as if they were composed of men of another world. It doesn't seem to occur to these people that in criticizing their representatives they are in a very real sense talking about themselves.

One often hears at election time the complaint that the candidates for an office are not worthy. If this is true, is it not perhaps because the conditions of political life are such that better men don't care to participate? This appears to be especially true in the case of the minor political officials, but it is from the minor officials that the powerful ones are often drawn. In order to do an effective job of improving our government service it must be regarded as a whole. Public service on every level must be given the recognition which it justly deserves and which our welfare requires. The pay of public officials is meager, as compared to comparable positions in industry. One has only to compare, for example, the salary of the governor of any state withthat of the leading industrialists in that state, to see that in spite of the greater responsibility of the governor his salary is ordinarily as little as one-fifth or less that of the industrialist.

In many circles the very term "politician" has come to be one of derision and contempt, on a par, I believe, with "bureaucrat." The result of this attitude, of this low esteem of the people for politics, has been that the ambitious and capable young men of our country rarely aspire to a political career. They prefer to become bankers, doctors, merchants or manufacturers, so they can acquire economic security and the respect of their fellow men, which few of them could hope for in public life. The remarkable thing to me is, how many good men have entered politics and governmental departments in spite of these discouraging circumstances.

If this country is to continue as a great nation of free men, in a free world, our people must take their civic duties more seriously. They must recognize that government is the fundamental institution of our civilization; that business of every description, literature, art, religion and the professions can flourish only if a wise and just government exists to protect those activities. In a word, our people must come to understand the significance of their government, and to respect those to whom they delegate the duty of its operation.

The strongest urge of nearly every normal human being is to obtain the approval of his fellow men. If this approval is accorded the businessman, then our best young men will seek to be businessmen. If this approval is accorded politicians, then they will enter politics. Our youth should be taught in school and out of school that the most honorable of all professions is that of service in the government, not only in war time but at all times. And last but by no means least, public service must be rewarded in a manner comparable to that of private industry. It must become possible for a young man, with brains and character, to look forward to a life of relative security and honor in the service of his country. In short, the life of a public official must become desirable to the young man of ability, if we are to secure the flesh and brains essential for the animation of the skeletons which we are so carefully creating in the conference rooms.

If the United Nations organization is to be successful in preserving peace, it is absolutely indispensable that we be represented by men with bold and original minds. The problems to be solved are new. The prejudices and suspicions of a bygone day must not prevail. A way must be found to get young men of vision and understanding to represent us.

Because of the loss of so many of our finest young men upon the battlefield, it is going to be doubly difficult for this nation, indeed for all nations, to find wise leaders in the years ahead. Twenty-five years ago we gave alms generously to a suffering world, to little avail. This time it is not only our duty, it is our own salvation, to give political leadership to a world struggling for peace and a decent life.