Vision Beyond Victory
RETOOLING OUR MODES OF THINKING
By EDWARD G. OLSEN, Director, School of Education, Russell Sage College, Troy, N. Y.
Delivered before the Tenth Annual Purdue University Guidance Conference, Lafayette, Indiana, November 10, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 111-115.
TWENTY-SIX years ago tomorrow the whistles shrieked, the bells pealed, and the crowds surged into city streets to celebrate the V-Day of World War I. Most of us here tonight can recall that wild jubilation, those fervent prayers of gratitude, the tremendous popular sense of satisfaction that now at last the bloody holocaust was ended. To be sure, there had been 37 million casualties; the good earth was still red with blood, wet with tears, and hollow with graves; but the war to end all war was finished. Now, at last, we had made the world safe for democracy!
After the roar of those guns had stopped, a baby boy was born in France, another in Germany, others in England, Russia, China, the United States—millions upon millions of baby boys in every country around this globe. Those millions of youngsters spent their infancy and childhood in an aura of international goodwill. This was the period when the League of Nations—despite our failure to enter it—seemed about to become the powerful agency through which international conflicts could be peaceably settled. This was the time of the Locarno Pact, and of serious hopes for the establishment of a United States of Europe. This was the era also of the Kellogg-Briand Pact through which 62 nations (including Italy, Germany and Japan) solemnly renounced war as an instrument of national policy. Yes, those baby boys who were born during the first few years after War I seemed likely to live out their lives in security and peace.
But by the time those youngsters—milions of them in every land—had entered into adolescence, a great black shadow was darkening much of the civilized world. Under its chilling breath, factory wheels slowed down and stopped; farms were unturned and neglected; bread lines formed and lengthened in nearly every city. Widespread social discontent emerged, welled up like an angry spirit, and took characteristic form in hunger marches upon Washington and in beer hall plots in Munich. In our own United States, richest nation in the world, there were 16 million jobless by 1933, and one-sixth of the entire American people were on relief. Nearly a decade of mass unemployment with its consequent heritage of malnutrition, frustration, and cynicism lay behind those youths as they emerged from adolescence into manhood.
Meanwhile, another and even more terrifying social menace appeared to threaten and perhaps destroy the lives of those same young men. Let us never forget that World War II began not in 1939 but rather on September 18, 1931, when an "incident" at a little bridge in far-off Manchuria touched off that series of international aggressions which characterized the 1930's.
Shortly thereafter China appealed to the League of Nations for help against the Japanese aggression. You remember how the League sent Lord Lytton and a Commission to China to investigate the situation. That Commission finally issued a lengthy report couched in diplomatic language, the import of which was that a return to the status quo was not feasible, that the new puppet state of Manchuko ought not to be recognized, that Japan's interests were paramount, and that the whole affair was most regrettable. "Too bad," said the report in spirit, "So sorry for China!"
Let us not condemn the British and the French too severely for their blindness at that time. Four years ago, I spent a summer in Seattle. One evening a group of us went down to explore the waterfront. It was about eleven o'clock
at night. We found a huge Japanese freighter being loaded under floodlights. The men were working fast, piling scrap iron high above those glistening decks. We inquired the reason for all the rush, and were told that the President's embargo on the sale of scrap iron would go into effect at midnight that night. This steamer was the last that would carry such scrap to feed the war machine of Japan, and it had to be loaded before midnight. Some of us wondered then whether that metal might some day be returned to us in another form! During the 1930's our country permitted the export of millions of tons of scrap to Japan, as well as rivers of aviation gasoline. Of course we knew that this war materiel was destined to blow out the heart of China, but after all, that wasn't our affair—was it?
Now Mussolini took heart. Seeing what the war lords of Japan were able to do with impunity, he marched into Ethiopia and gloried in his conquest of that land. Then occurred one of the great dramatic moments of history. Haile Selassie stood before the Assembly of the League of Nations and made one final plea for aid against this new aggression. Knowing he was foredoomed to failure, Selassie called upon the League to honor its pledged obligation, and warned that if this aggression was not stopped at its outset it would one day overwhelm the League itself. "God and history will remember your judgment," prophesied that pathetic figure. "Too bad," we said, "most unfortunate. But who ever heard of Ethiopia before? Besides, the people there are just a bunch of barbaric blackskins! It's hardly our concern—is it?"
Events now took a swifter turn. Seeing what Japan and Italy had successfully stolen, Hitler took heart, and the Nazi millions with him. Came the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Munich. Once again sounded the familiar refrain from most of us Americans: "Too bad, but why does Europe have to keep on quarreling? It's not our problem—we're sure!"
Then came September, 1939, the "phony" war of 1940, and by 1941 German legions had conquered most of Europe and were near to overwhelming England also. "That's terrible," exclaimed many of us Americans still, "but it's really not our war—we hope!" A vain hope that proved to be, for Japan, appraising the vast success which aggressors in other parts of the globe were achieving, confidently attacked us in what she expected would be a permanently crushing naval blow. Pearl Harbor, which shattered our isolation, did not destroy our fundamental spirit of isolationism. Nearly two years after Pearl Harbor it took Senator Connally's Foreign Relations subcommittee 29 weeks to produce a generalized 176-word resolution affirming our American responsibility for participation in cooperative world action to preserve peace. This was at the remarkable rate of one word for every 65 hours of deliberation! Even now, three years after Pearl Harbor, far too many of our elder statesmen in both major parties are basically isolationist at heart. Among our major political leaders, Wendell Willkie stood almost alone in his deep awareness that this is indeed "one world," and must speedily be organized as such.
Where, now, are those millions of baby boys, born at the end of one world madness and presently engulfed within another? Emerging from almost a decade of depression and warfare, those baby boys, young men now, are tonight being hurled at others' throats on a hundred fronts around this ravaged globe. Those men, like us at home, are praying for a speedy end to this great conflict, even as they give their all to make that ending possible.
Are we at home keeping the faith for which they die? Have we the longtime vision which, this time, will not confuse military V-Day with the coming of Peace? Or are we so tired and disillusioned that victory is once more becoming an end in itself rather than an instrument for measured social advance? Jack Belden, one of our ablest war correspondents, recently reported from Europe that not one in a hundred American soldiers knows what he is fighting about—beyond the obvious need for personal self-preservation and for general conquest of the enemy. Belden says they might almost as well fight on either side for all they seem to know about the major purposes behind their struggles on foreign soil. Perhaps we should not expect anything more than that from these brave men. There is little likelihood that their own vision beyond victory is superior to our own. War is so hellish that it is very easy for our goal to become the cessation of fighting, rather than that of winning another chance to make a decent civilization possible.
A few months ago, the publisher of the New York Times was asked when we would win the war. He replied solemnly that none of us will ever know; that at least two generations must pass before it can be known whether this time we have won the war or merely another extended armistice. Of one fact we had better be clear: that we shall surely lose this peace as we did the last unless we are ready to build that peace in continuous cooperation with every other nation, small as well as large. Peace is not the mere absence of military warfare. There was no real peace, even in Europe, in the two decades between 1918 and 1939. economic, political, and cultural conflict was marked throughout most of that period. When war began in 1939, it was, as always, merely the final expedient in an ongoing conflict between nations.
We are talking much, these days, about retooling our machinery for postwar production. Important as that is, there is another, and far more necessary, retooling job to be done. That is the job of retooling our modes of thinking about how to achieve postwar security and prosperity. We have got to realize that this world of ours is undergoing a fundamental social revolution during this twentieth century. Earlier conceptions of freedom, for example, involved the idea of freedom from political menaces of various kinds, together with the general assumption that the individual could be largely self-sufficient if only he were left alone by government. Today our conception of individual freedom has expanded commensurate with our growing awareness that we live, and must live, in a highly mechanized and interdependent world order. Thus we are beginning to think now in terms of economic as well as political freedom. We are coming to realize that the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" must include rights to adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and recreation, as well as rights to freedom of religion, speech, press, and peaceable assembly. The common people of this world are yearning for freedom that is economic as well as political in nature; this is a rising tide of popular demand that will not be denied. Nor will it do for us, as John Stuart Mill once warned, "to nibble at the consequences of unjust power instead of redressing the injustice itself." The simple social truth which we had better recognize is this: that in all likelihood we can avoid neither war nor fascism in the future until we have developed a world-wide social order based on fundamental justice—political justice which will end the domination of colored peoples under the aegis of race superiority or of historic imperialism; economic justice which will eliminate the exploitation of workers of whatever race or nationality or class; and social justice which will terminated discrimination against individuals solely because of their accidental membership in minority racial or cultural groups.
Peace can never endure unless it is a positive thing, a larger brotherhood of peoples of the world; a sympathetic association which finds its best expression in ever-widening cultural, social, economic, and political unity among diverse peoples. Peace in our time must be built, and the building of it will require of us far more social intelligence, more forgetfulness of self and sovereignty, more personal and national ethics than does the waging of war itself. It will demand the imaginative planning of great industrialists, labor leaders, and statesmen, the deeper insights of poets and philosophers, the best techniques of scientists, politicians, and educators. The foundations of this peace must be both deep-set and world-wide. Their building enjoins upon us all a long view ahead, a long struggle ahead, and a genuine perspective upon present and future events. To stimulate your thinking about the basic foundations of peace, and without any sense or suggestion of finality, let me suggest some of the long-view concepts which I believe we must all develop if we are to cope successfully with the tremendous needs of our era. I will mention five such concepts for your thoughtful consideration.
I. Vision Beyond Victory is Essential, for Without Vision the People Perish.
In the early days of this war, there was widespread recognition that this war, for all its destructiveness, did present opportunity for genuine social advance. Then we eagerly accepted Atlantic Charters and statements about Four Freedoms, and considered them as general directives for the building of a better world upon the ashes of the old. Today that idealism—which alone can guide our effective peace planning—is threatened by a rising spirit of cynicism. Public opinion polls reveal that a majority of the American people do not now believe that this will be the last war. The popular—and governmental—viewpoint appears to be something like this: join a security league but don't trust it very far; establish compulsory military training for all male youth, maintain the biggest fleet and air force on the globe, and hope for the best while expecting the worst. Despite all our present protestations, there is real danger that in her postwar disillusionment our country may once more turn her back upon the world in de facto fashion, even though she does maintain de jure cooperation.
Ladies and gentlemen, the past we have known is not good enough! Since 1914 we have had exactly thirty years of war, communism, depression, fascism, and war again. That world is not good enough for us! That world is not good enough for our children! That world is not worthy of heroes returned! Nor is it sufficient for us to have high motives. Our intentions may be of the best, but, as Raymond Gram Swing has well pointed out, we failed last time, "not because we were not good, but because our concept of the good was inadequate."
As a child, I heard Billy Sunday tell a large congregation of businessmen that none of them would stick a knife in someone's back, or put a bullet through his heart, but that plenty of them would not greatly hesitate to vote in a directors' meeting a business policy of adulterating food, for example, that would take the lives of Chinese babies a year from then. There may indeed be some question as to whether or not any people without a wider ethic than a purely face-to-face or nation-to-nation conception of goodness should long endure in this closely interdependent world of the twentieth century. Without a working vision of individual and national responsibilities for the creation of a truly civilized world, we shall never be able to attain that goal. That is why we had better affirm again and again and yet again that the brotherhood of man is not only our highest religious ideal, it is also our present economic and political and social necessity. Without high vision for the future, we shall surely perish.
II. Human Welfare Requires World Government, for in the Air Age Continued National Anarchy Can Lead Only to Growing International Suspicion, Friction, Strife, and Warfare. The Establishment of Democratic World Union is Thus the Necessary Goal of Rational Politics Today.
Our world is very much like the typical small community on the old western frontier. In the old days, you remember, a few settlers would struggle into the western wilderness. As time went on, others arrived, but each tended largely to his own household and its affairs. Suddenly gold was discovered in the locality, and people poured into the community by hundreds and thousands. Towns sprang up overnight, but there were no adequate laws, and no established police force. Every man had to carry his own gun to protect himself and his family. Righteous men minded their own business. Evil men formed gangs and began to prey upon the others—stealing, killing, and periodically shooting up the town. The innocent righteous were at the mercy of organized evil. For this problem there was an obvious solution: that was for superior numbers of the good men to form vigilante gangs of their own, and to hunt down and string up the desperadoes. This they did from time to time, but only after conditions each time had become unbearable. Soon it became apparent that a more permanent, continuously-functioning regime of organized law and police protection was essential. A sheriff was therefore chosen to represent all the good men, and was given legal authority and enough deputies to overawe or arrest the bad men before they became a genuine menace to law and order. When the sheriff's office was first established, many bad men jeered and openly defied it; many good men doubted whether such limited protection could ever be effective in a land of traditional personal violence. As time went on, however, the bulk of public opinion came to support the sheriff and the system of legislature and courts behind him. Now all bad men could be forbidden to carry guns, which meant that individual good men were able to discard their own weapons and to rely on the sheriff's guns for necessary protection. Law and order triumphed as law, courts, and police moved in.
In our international relations today we are still in the old, wild west. Every nation carries its own guns, distrustful of all other nations. There is no superior legal authority of any kind. Sometimes bad nations begin to rob and kill. Then good nations remonstrate with them, appeal to their moral sense, appease them. When all this fails, good nations finally get together, join forces in vigilante fashion, and round up the bad ones. Then they disarm the desperadoes, hang their leaders, warn the rest, and go back to their peacetime pursuits. After awhile, the same bands of bad men—or other groups turned bad also—gain weapons and courage, run amok, steal and murder, and generally terrorize the town. Then we have to do the whole vigilante business over again, which is more than merely a nuisance because great numbers of our vigilante groups get killed in the process.
After World War I the vigilante winners forgave the bandits, but decided to meet regularly to talk over problems of keeping the peace. One of the winners wouldn't join in this talking; the others kept their own guns well-oiled and ready. They told the bandits not to worry about getting more guns for themselves, since the winners were about ready to throw their own weapons into the river, too. But they never did dispose of their armament that way, for they were still afraid of desperadoes in the future as well as fearful of each other. So they had several meetings to see if they could persuade each other to throw away one of their dozen guns, or perhaps to limit the number of cartridges each man might carry in his belt. No agreement could be reached, however, so after awhile everybody gave up trying and began to gather more weapons for himself—an additional gun in a shoulder holster; a knife up the sleeve; brass knuckles in the pocket. Meanwhile, the erstwhile bandits were arming themselves again and talking big, but the former vigilantes were now too preoccupied and peace-loving to stop them. Besides, they didn't think the bandits meant it anyway—at first.
After World War II—what then? This time, four big vigilantes say they will work together after the war. This includes the one who wouldn't cooperate last time. But when the bad men are disarmed and their hideouts occupied, how long do you think it may be before the highly-armed good men, each suspicious of the others, will surreptitiously or openly begin collecting more guns and knives—just in case? Four suspicious policemen, but no chief of police!
As long as the nations of today remain sovereign duelists, each compelling full support and blind obedience from its members regardless of international ethics, just so long will war and the dread of war exist. The modern world, like the frontier town of the old West, has become increasingly unified culturally and economically, but it has not achieved comparable political unity. Yet without that political unity as an ultimate goal and purpose, nations will continue armed to the teeth and will stand ever ready to destroy human life and property on a suicidal scale. The imperative is obvious: if we want an abiding peace, we must first build an international community. Overshadowing all lesser problems is the inevitable ultimate choice between continued international anarchy and a cooperative commonwealth of the world.
Is all of this starry-eyed idealism, desirable in theory but quite impractical in a brutal world? Idealistic it surely is, and rightly so; but the height of practicality also. As the Educational Policies Commission has recently asserted "the really impractical people are those who resign themselves to wars on an inevitable, recurrent, and ever more destructive basis. People who called themselves realists have proved on former occasions that the thirteen colonies could never be united, that modern industry could not function without child labor, that education of all the children of all the people was an impious and scandalous notion, that chattel slavery could not be destroyed because it was divinely approved, that no gentleman could ever adjudicate a personal quarrel except with a pistol at forty paces, and that the flying machine was a physical impossibility, the steamboat a dreamer's folly, and the telephone a passing fad."* In our kind of a highly mechanized and therefore growingly interdependent world, human welfare requires world government and not permanent perpetuation of outmoded nationalistic anarchy.
III. An Abundance Economy is Now Technically Possible: for the First Time in Human History, Full Production Could Banish Poverty by Producing Adequate Food, Shelter, Health, and Education for all the People.
We are very conscious these days that full employment is our No. 1 postwar economic problem. It will not be easy to switch more than 30 million service people and war plant workers back into peace production. But if there is one thing upon which capital, labor, and government are now agreed, it is that after the war we must do more than keep our economic machine running on a minimum subsistence basis; we must instead maintain actual production on a level somewhat commensurate with our potential productive capacity. To do this will require a minimum postwar national income of at least a hundred billion dollars annually, with a minimum income per family of four of not less than $2,500. We want no more "poverty in the midst of potential plenty" in this or any other land. Scientific studies made by the Brookings Institution and other research organizations during the past decade have shown that we American people, even with the technical facilities of 1929, could have produced an annual income of well over $4,000 for each family. Since 1929, our technological improvements have been so great that today there can be no doubt of our technical ability to provide all our people with a relative abundance of economic goods and services. We are indeed physically equipped as a people to move our material civilization far forward. The question is, are we psychologically prepared to accept that opportunity? Are we aware, deeply aware, that is is no longer necessary to have large numbers of people living in poverty because of inadequate technical productivity? Whatever poverty remains after this war, in America at least, will be rooted in failure to make financial arrangements which are capable of utilizing our technical productive capacity. Our technical engineers can produce abundance. We must now see to it that our social engineers become able to distribute that abundance widely and wisely, and thereby make possible its production. We shall do well to remember during the reconversion years ahead that the maintenance of peace in the postwar world will depend more on the development of widespread prosperity for the masses of people the world around, than upon the particular kind of political security system we may see fit to establish.
IV. True Democracy is Indivisible, for Democracy is Not Only a Form and a Process of Political Organization; It is Also a Way of Life Which, if Accepted as Such, Must Permeate the economic, Social, Religious, Educational, and Family Relationships of all Men Everywhere.
Several weeks ago two soldiers were sitting in a subway train. Their campaign ribbons showed that they had seen a lot of hostile action. One boy was a typical American lad, tall and freckle-faced. The other was small and slight, obviously of Japanese parentage. A man standing before them glared at the Japanese-American boy, and then burst out a stream of profanity, denouncing that boy because he had dared to have Japanese blood and to wear an American uniform. Neither of the soldiers said a word. At the next station, they quietly prepared to leave the train. As they moved toward the door, it was apparent to every person in the car that the Japanese boy had been blinded in military action, and needed the other American to guide him.
Last summer, a trainload of Negro soldiers stopped in a midwestern railroad station. Those American soldiers were ready to fight and perhaps to die for American democracy. But in that railroad station they were not allowed to descend from the train and buy food at the station restaurant. From the windows of their train, those colored Americans could see on the restaurant stools they were forbidden to occupy, a long line of men with great letters "P-W" sewn upon their backs. Nazi prisoners of war had been permitted where Negro Americans were not allowed to go.
Let us make no mistake about it. Our land in peace as in war is riven by dangerous racial, national, and religious prejudices. These suspicions and hatreds have been intensified by the war, but they may become even more bitter during the postwar transition period. As citizens and as teachers we had better make every possible effort to fight this utterly undemocratic threat in our midst. Democracy resides not in legislative practices nor in any organized agencies as such, but rather in the feelings, thoughts, and everyday behavior of people. It avails nothing for a man to say he is democratic when his behavior shows that he is not. By their deeds ye shall know them, and not by their words.
Robert Brownipg once exclaimed, "How very hard it is to be a Christian!" Thoughtful men today may paraphrase that poet's words and say, "How very hard it is to be truly democratic, even for an Anglo-Saxon!" It is hard for us to maintain, even in our own lives, the essential democratic principle that people shall be judged as individuals and never as members of social groups. Most of us are willing to give up everything to preserve democracy—except our prejudices.
In the New York Subway cars there currently appear placards placed there by the city government. These cards picture a row of white crosses, each with an American helmet hung upon it. Behind each cross is a name: Adams, Kelly, Mueller, Cohen, Svaboda, Santelli. Underneath is the single caption: "They died together so that we may live together." Surely that is the true meaning of democracy: an indivisible way of life open to all men.
V. Teachers Can Work Dynamically in this Transition Period Provided They Regain Perspective, Reshape Their Thinking, Reorient Their Values, Re-educate Their Motives, and Rededicate Their Lives.
In a recent Town Meeting of the Air concerning postwar education, one of the speakers raised the point: Have we teachers the quality of imagination necessary to teach the next generation in the air-age? We are the last earth-bound generation; they are the first air-borne generation. Have we elders—so bound to the soil as we are, so devoted to our traditional thought-patterns and our academic compartments—have we the quality of imagination to be counsellors of air-age youth? If we have not, then these youngsters, lacking in both vision and ethics, will be like infants playing daily with deadly dynamite. In Harold Rugg's homely phrase, can we teachers "think big" enough to brief our youth for the world they have to face?It is a sober yet challenging thought that while immediate military victory can be won with the material weapons of war, enduring social stability can be achieved only through intangible ideas, organized and expressed in group action. Thus it is clear that while our military forces are winning the immediate victory, our educational forces must be increasingly concerned to help win the ultimate victory. While the adults of today are winning the war, the adults of tomorrow must learn to win the peace.
Alfred Tennyson looked ahead in his day, caught a glimpse of years to come, and immortalized that Vision of the World:
"I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rained a ghastly dew
From the nations' airy navies, grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper of the southwind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples pluging thro' the thunder-storm;
Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world."
In this country, our own James Russell Lowell caught that vision also. In his unforgettable lines from The Present Crisis, he voiced the authentic American tradition when he demanded:
"Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, steered by men behind their
Turn those tracks toward past or future that make Plymouth Rock sublime?
"They were men of present valor, stalwart old iconoclasts,
Unconvinced by axe or gibbet that all virtue was the past's;
But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free,
Hoarding it in mouldy parchments while our tender spirits flee
The rude grasp of that great impulse which drove them across the sea.
"New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of truth;
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the future's portal with the past's blood-rusted key."
Ladies and gentlemen, counsellors and teachers of American youth, there is our eternal challenge! Our heroic forefathers created the United States of America. It is now for us to create the United Nations of the World. Let that be our inspired purpose, our enduring vision beyond victory.
* Education and the People's Peace.