Stepping Stones of Peace


By THOMAS C. BOUSHALL, President, The Morris Plan Bank of Virginia

Delivered before Rotary Club of Roanoke, Roanoke, Virginia, October 26, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 92-95.

NONE of us likes war, but now and then we have a war. Each seems to be more terrible, ruthless, and destructive than the last. We have a big one now. With it there is sadness, grief, loss of relatives, and the blasting of bright hopes for younger men who might have lived great lives. There are no compensations to offset these personal tragedies. But the world moves on. Time softens the wounds. Scars grow over them. They harden to a point of endurance.

From each valley of despair we experience in days of mortal conflict, we, the people of the world, move on toward newer levels. We climb steep heights and arrive at new plateaus.

This evening I should like to examine with you for a while the stumbling blocks that this war has developed in our paths. Then I should like to view these same blocks in terms of stepping stones that can lead to a new plateau of American life. Our achievement of some new level here in America will tend to pull the whole world upward.

While there can be found a thousand examples to identify as stumbling blocks of war, and in turn to view as stepping stones in times of peace, I shall limit my remarks to a consideration of four major blocks that present themselves today as barriers of progress. Yet tomorrow they may be the very stones on which we can rise to new heights in the expansion of the American way of life.

These four stumbling blocks of today are:

First, the present staggering national debt of 212 billion dollars that promises to rise on toward 300 billion dollars before we are done.

Second, the huge Federal budget of 90 billion dollars we are spending in these war years that even in peace-time can hardly fall below 20 to 25 billion dollars, with a consequent tax burden four times our former peace-time load.

Third, there are monstrous employment demands upon our people, with 11 million men in service, until we today find boys and girls in men's work and old people called from retirement to heavy duty. Women of the home, clad in men's trousers, are doing work of a hard and dangerous type. The war's end will loose a vast horde of them from war and civilian work. They will move in on the economy to compete for jobs with our returning soldiers. The war in its very ending will present us with the potential stumbling block of possible vast unemployment.

The fourth block we face is the enormous destruction of wealth in Europe and in Asia, representing devastation of unprecedented degree. On top of all this is the waste of powder, shell and cannon, plane and tank, food and clothing, war housing and war supplies. Add to this the fact that perhaps fifty million men have been under arms for three to five years. They have been consuming supplies instead of producing goods, foods, and services. Another fifty millionmen and women have for several years been producing war supplies that go only to waste and create human carnage as these great armies use these materials. This loss of production in wealth creation and the waste of war supplies are irrecoverable losses to mankind. It was stated at the beginning of the First World War that it would take a hundred years to overcome the waste and the setback to civilization. How can we measure the time to overcome the setback of World War Two?

These four major stumbling blocks of war are enough to give us pause. But in that pause I want to discuss with you the respective aspects of stepping stone material if these four stumbling blocks are linked together in a sequence of relationship.

One of your present members recently described me as "a congenital optimist." Optimism is a disposition to take the more hopeful view. Again optimism is the opinion that everything in nature is ordered for the best. It is that view I want to present to you in this discussion. But presentation of that view must go well beyond a mere expression of opinion. To be useful and stimulating to a constructive degree, those who hold the optimistic belief that everything is ordered for the best, must set to work and undertake each to do his part to that end.

The stumbling blocks of war that I have listed can not become stepping stones of peace merely by identification and contemplation. Rather we must be stimulated to action by the very awesome aspect each presents. By intelligent perception of their contra-potentialities we ourselves must seek to convert these overwhelming barriers into several intermediate levels from each of which in turn we can at last reach a plateau of far more pleasing prospect.

The Wall Street crash of October, 1929, was a cap pistol pop in comparison to the world explosion of the current war. Yet there were those in Wall Street who expressed the opinion that it might be well to sell Manhattan Island back to the Indians—if they would but take the mess our investment banker friends had then made of it. I doubt that the Neanderthal man would accept our present troubled world as a thing to be expressed in terms of a wanted gift.

But it's our world. We are stuck with it. The question is—what are we going to do with it?

As to stumbling block number one—whether it is a 212 or 250 or 300 billion dollar debt, we full well know we have got to set to work to keep it under control by paying the interest on it. We must refund it, as parts of it come due. It must be done so promptly and readily that every American and every world citizen will have great and continuing faith in the bonds by which it is expressed and represented. That makes an annual service bill of five to six billion dollars. Taxes must be imposed and collected to meet that charge. But is that debt so huge and its annual interest service so great that we are to be overwhelmed by it? Perhaps a generation back it would have been. Take 1900, for example: Our total national wealth was reported at 80 billion dollars, less than a third of this new war debt figure. Our national income in 1900 was 16 billions, or only 2 1-3 times the interest we must pay each year on our present obligation. That was 44 years ago. Our wealth has vastly increased. Our income has grown. Our national wealth has not been recently estimated, but it must stand at some 600 to 700 billion dollars. Our national income is reported to be running in 1944 at the rate of some 158 billion dollars. Today our annual income is all but twice our total national wealth 44 years ago.

The huge debt begins to look manageable. But how can it be a stepping stone? Well, it's the very need to manage so huge a load that forces us into consideration of ways and means to keep our national wealth rising, to keep our national income expanding. We must see to it that the mortgage will not be greater than our worth; that our annual interest charges will not be too large to bear out of our developed annual income.

A friend of mine asked the oldest and wealthiest director of his bank what had stimulated him to acquire his wealth. "Well," the octogenarian replied, "my wife was spending more money than I was making. I just set out to prove to her I could make more than she could spend." America is in that fix today. We have got to get out and as a total people earn enough money so that the annual interest charges on the debt this war developed will not be too great a part of our total income. That is how our 250 to 300 billion dollar stumbling block of debt becomes our first major stimulus to turn it into a basic stepping stone of peace.

Corollary to number one of debt is the second stumbling block of a huge postwar annual federal budget of 20 to 25 billion dollars. How can we take so large a part of our normal peace-time income to pay so huge an annual charge upon the earnings of our people? Why, in the depression year of 1932 our total national income fell to some 34 billion dollars! Here is a peacetime charge equal to 73% of our total income only 12 years gone! We can't have miracles! We can then only have disaster! Further heavy deficits can only end in repudiation of our obligation, or we must invoke an old German trick of payment through a vast dishonest and ruinous inflation!

But these conclusions are not necessarily so. Here in 1944 we do have miracles. At least in 1932 if anyone had predicted a national income of 158 billions 12 years later, the seer would have been adjudged insane, or locked up for witchcraft if he could give semblance to his claim. How can we achieve even 100 or 120 or the proposed necessitous 140 billion dollar national income in peace days when war production is mainly done?

In the first place we shall not go back to the wage totals or wage scales of 1930 or 1940. We will have some degree of inflation in that we will have a restatement of all values in balanced ratio each to the other. For example, when I was a boy of 10 or 12 years of age, roasting chickens sold for 25 cents each. But farm labor was 50 cents a day, and servants' wages were $2 to $3 a week in the South. Now the same chicken sells for $1.50 to $2.00, or 6 to 8 times as much. Wages, too, are up 6 and 8 times. Henry Ford was not then paying a minimum wage of $5 a day, nor the proposed $7 a day that he has recently announced.

Again, we have upgraded the skills of our workers. We have improved our types of machinery. We have taught better educated people to run more efficient and more complex machines. Those workers contribute more per capita to production than the untrained hand workers did. They participate more in the wealth they help to create. They create more wealth in which to participate. Herein lies the secret of our enlarged and enlarging national income.

So it's not a miracle but an evolution. It's not magic but broader vision. It's not inflation per se but improved use of developed or more polished intelligence; more application of brain to mechanics than brawn to sheer weight of effort.

As to our peace-time postwar national income out of which we can take our necessary annual federal budget of 20 to 25 billions, let me point out two major historical facts. We entered World War I with a national income of only 34 billion dollars. We came out of it earning at the rate of 70 billions. It fell in 1921 back to 60 billions and then moved on up to 80 billions by 1930, or ten billion dollars a year above the previous war peak of 70 billions. Perhaps we, too, will fall back for a while below our war peak of 158 billionsin 1944, But we will in time move well above that figure. Ten years after peace, if we repeat our history in the same proportions as we did after the former war, we will by 1955 or 1956, depending on the final war's end in 1945 or 1946, attain a total national income of 180 billion dollars. By 1965 we can conceivably anticipate an annual national income of 200 billions. To you who smile at such prediction, try to picture yourself harking back to 1900 and predicting an annual national income in 1930 of a sum equal to our then total national wealth. You have seen the record of that fact. Are you more skeptical than your parents or grandparents? For I am suggesting twenty years hence a national income perhaps only 25 to 33 1-3% of today's national wealth?

Recently I saw a suggestion by an able American citizen that we should set up a program for an annual 3 billion dollar curtail of our prospective 300 billion dollar debt, so that it would be liquidated in 100 years.

Let's take but 20% in taxes out of our national income to meet an annual federal budget of 25 billion dollars. Then apply the rest of the 20% take of 200 billion dollars of income as a curtail on our national debt. That would be 15 billion dollars a year to apply on a 300 billion dollar debt. What with reducing interest costs through retirement of bonds, we could wipe out 300 billion dollars in 15 years, after we reach such a level, instead of 100!

Believe me, I do not say this will be done. I do not know. I only say that if what America has done is an earnest of what it can do, I speak not in terms of miracles or magic. I speak merely in terms of a projection along the line that has marked the record of our history here in this country where in the fulfillment of our American way we have exercised intelligence, vision, courage, initiative, and energy. These things can not be achieved through a socialist, communist, fascist, or nationalist regime. They can come about only through the full, free exercise of the capacity and ability of American leadership in private endeavor.

The second stumbling block of a huge federal annual budget, following upon the necessity to manage a great national debt, has indeed become a potential stepping stone to a very happy plateau.

The third stumbling block this war has placed across our path is the potential load of 10 to 15 million unemployed people. Many of them will have worked and tasted the fruits of high earnings. Many will have fought in a war of unbelievable cruelty and unsurpassed peril. Each will want to work and earn and progress. Each will want to enjoy the rewards they merit. How can this fancy problem become a stepping stone to plenty? Why will this unhappy group not turn upon the governors of our destiny and wreck the state, the economy and society, and turn our beautiful America into a seething cauldron of revolution and bloodshed?

Perhaps it may turn out this way. I doubt it. Here we are in America with two great antidotes to that parlous prospect. First of all, we have denied would-be home-owners, automobile drivers, and gadget-minded cooks and housewives all the things they each would long to have over a period of some full four years and more. There is a vast backlog of unfilled wants that will take years to satisfy fully. Then there will be a long era in which we will keep refinishing worn-out goods. The demand of rising youth, turning to manhood and seeking in turn to establish a family and to house it in some decent home will come to term as well. We shall not for ten years more than dent the market for new homes. For five years we shall run full blast to replace America's 34 million cars and trucks of 1941. We will add to that number some 6 million more to reach 40 million units by the time these additional cars can be made. To equip all our old homes and modernize them, to build and equip all our new homes and fulfill all our various wants, will call forth much of the total capacity of all America in its full working force for years to come.

There may be hesitations, slumps, and periods of uncertainty, but by and large over-all America sees her opportunity, senses her wants, and is determined to fulfill them as best she may. That best will surpass the dreams of those who conjured seeming miracles no longer than a decade ago. For out of this war's technical stimulus to win over our clever enemies, we have developed a whole new series of unheard-of comforts, luxuries, and items that will soon grow to become necessities. If history repeats, these new goods alone will employ 25% of our people in producing items not manufactured in quantity or at all prior to this World War Two.

Optimistic? Well, after World War I we really began to manufacture automobiles, radios, mechanical refrigerators, air conditioning, and some airplanes. What will we produce after this war? Automobiles, airplanes, entirely new railroad equipment, television, air conditioning, radar cooking, and plastics we did not know about two years ago. New homes of an interior few have conceived.

As to the first phase of our labor problem, we can manage to put our millions wanting work into jobs they will like. There is a second phase of the vast labor market that seems to hang over us in prospect today. It will fade in part when the very young are in school again and the very old are at rest once more. The women who donned pants and went to factories, to streetcars and buses as drivers, and a thousand jobs men alone were wont to do, will start raising babies again, tending to home chores, and enjoying the elevated incomes their men folk will be receiving above the prewar level of the fading Roosevelt depression. The potential threat of great unemployment that might be a war-developed stumbling block will in all probability be dissipated in the effort to overcome the vast unfilled wants the war itself has of necessity created. Here is a stepping stone to full employment of the basic labor supply in America. Distinguish it please from total employment of every last available worker—young and old, male and female. Such total employment is a snare and a delusion. But "full employment" means the normal American supply of workers on the job producing goods at a rate made possible by modern machinery with the producers earning sufficient wages to consume the goods produced—America at its best from a purely economic point of view.

To describe America at its best in all respects calls for a totally different approach that far transcends the time allotted here tonight.

As to the fourth and final stumbling block of this war's making, there is the uttermost destruction of vast areas in Russia, England, Germany, and France, and other partial jobs of undoing in Italy, the Balkans and Baltic states, Greece, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Denmark. Too, there will be much to replace in the Orient.

Sisyphus of Greek mythological fame was condemned to roll to the top of a hill a huge stone which each time rolled back again. And so with mankind. We are forever building great cities and large towns, villages, and houses. They are destroyed by fire, earthquake, and war, or wear out by the passing of time and the beat of the elements even on stone. We are forever building and finding it necessary to rebuild. From time to time the job comes in large measure.

Such is the stumbling block of war in Europe and in Asia. Man must rebuild most of that which he has destroyed. Nodoubt it will be built better and finer and more beautiful in some respects. While wealth has been destroyed in terms of billions and labor lost in equal terms of waste and wanton, as well as necessary destruction, there nevertheless develops the need to employ the workers of Europe at tasks from which they can earn on better terms, and at lesser expenditure of sweat, blood and tears, than was experienced when these very structures they now seek to restore were built.

Factories, stores, plants, public buildings, parks, gardens, homes, roads, dams, dykes, and canals—all must be replaced; also railroad lines, railroad equipment, automobiles, and airplanes.

This vast stumbling block of destruction is the very stepping stone by which the society and economy, the order and the peace, of Europe will be restored. The demand for goods and parts, machines and supplies, will overflow to this and other nations. We will sell them goods and in turn buy products from them. World trade will be on a broader, grander scale than ever before.

The world will, by overcoming these several awesome stumbling blocks, arrive at a new plateau of peaceful well-being. The airplane and radio have shrunk the circumference of the earth to a fraction of its old dimensions. The poles that once were goals to find and reach, to mark and claim, are now mere pin points on the surface. Men fly over them at will and spurn even casually to note them as they pass.

It overcoming these war-grown stumbling blocks, we will have stepped to a plateau of closer world association; closer inter-change of goods and ideas; a closer approach to a single standard of freedom and well-being; a single concept of man's dignity as an individual and his personal importance in the whole scheme of things.

Perhaps many of you may feel that I have carried my congenital optimism to a far higher level than anyone should in seeming to make capital of the miseries and tragedies of a war in which millions have died, have been maimed and crazed and disillusioned. My purpose is far from that point. My whole effort here has been to view with deep sadness the depth of man's depravity and error in going to war to kill and torture human beings, destroy and blot out the laboriously achieved works and art of man. For our progress toward ever-ascending plateaus of material well-being could be attained through the united efforts of all mankind. We could work in constructive harmony for the well being of our several peoples. What we lack in the whole story is any appreciable advance in our concept of mankind as a sentient being, dignified in every instance with a bit of divine essence called a soul.

Perhaps these vast stumbling blocks that we find this global war has strewn in our path may become, in their mastery, useful stepping stones to man. Perhaps over them we may ascend to a new plateau wherein we may find developed opportunity for leisure and broader education. We may have sufficient opportunity there to contemplate the cosmos. We may in time find the secret that man long has sought—how to live with his own kind in constructive peace.

Should these stumbling blocks of war that we have described stimulate us to convert them into the stepping stones outlined, the effort to do so may lead to a peace that will in part, perhaps in large measure, adequately memorialize those who gave their lives to this great end.

There are some lines by Edward Sill that express the thought I have presented to you tonight—

"This I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:—
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince's banner
Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.
A craven hung along the battle's edge,
And thought, 'Had I a sword of keener steel—
That blue blade that the king's son bears—but this
Blunt thing!'—he snapt and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.
Then came the king's son, wounded, sore bestead,
And weaponless, saw the broken sword,
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle-shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down,
And saved a great cause that heroic day."