Kenneth MacFarland, "The Unfinished Work" (1946)
One who traveled about over the country a year ago this month, talking with taxi drivers, bell hops, policemen, business employees, and others who reflect the thinking of the man-on-the-street, found the conversation all to be along the same lines. The war was over, the boys would be coming home now, rationing would end. Truman was doing better than expected, we must resolutely work together to build one world in which war would be outlawed and the principles of the Atlantic Charter would hold sway. The keynote a year ago was one of joyous relief that the bloodiest conflict in all history had ended in complete victory over the enemy, and a feeling of faith that we had at last learned our lesson sufficiently well to outlaw war. There was confidence that an effective United Nations organization would be developed.
But today, one year after, that buoyant faith has turned to cynicism. Hope in the United Nations is largely gone. The average American has already resigned himself to a future in which there will be at least two worlds instead of one. Having given up his hope for a better world, the average man has ceased to realize how terribly important it is that we keep striving, and he has settled down to bickering over a myriad of minor issues here on the domestic scene. . . .
There is a strange fear and insecurity in America today. The people fear that in winning the war we introduced a new power into the world which may in turn engulf us. As James Reston says in a recent article,
"Among the reflective people of the country, among the leaders of the communities and those who aspire to political office, fear for the security of America and doubt about the ability of America to solve its own problems seem stronger today than ever in memory.
"It is an astonishing fact, but after an unprecedented war in which the enemies on the field of battle were entirely defeated, the people seem to feel less secure than they did before they were attacked, or even when the tide of war was running strongest against them."
In this year that has passed since the ending of the war we have found we cannot immediately shut off the hates that were generated during the struggle. Racial tensions have burst into open flame. Minority groups are being terrorized by hoodlums who seek only personal gain from such persecution. There is unprecedented confusion in our political life. Special interest groups raise slush funds to purge congressmen who failed to support their particular legislative programs. Many politicians totally forget the sacred obligation of public office holding and appeal to the basest motives to win re-election. Yes, America has retrogressed to a dangerous degree in the 387 days since General MacArthur proclaimed to the world that Japan had surrendered unconditionally. We have lost the faith that won the fight just when we needed it most to win the peace. We have demobilized our patriotism far too soon. . . .
Today there is a powerfully organized force that is working unceasingly to prolong the confusion. This is the first post-war period in which we have had to contend with a highly organized effort to prevent recovery. We are fools unless we awaken to the fact that a great campaign is being carried on in America today to perpetuate chaos, and that campaign is being directed from abroad by a force that wants democracy to fail. This highly organized and well financed power reaches into key positions in numerous organizations and publications, institutions of learning, and into the government itself. There is the new, the unprecedented, and by far the most dangerous element in the clashing cross currents which torment our times.
The identical force which is spreading the gospel of despair and dissension in America today is almost solely responsible for the black cloud that obscures the sunshine of peace on the international horizon. Out in Salt Lake City on the twelfth day of last month, America's only living Ex-President, Herbert Clark Hoover, said,
"The dominant note in the world today is not one of hope and confidence, but rather one of fear and frustration. . . . Far from freedom having been expanded in this war, it has been shrunk to far fewer nations than a quarter of a century ago . . . and it is Russia that blocks the almost universal desire for peace."
It is Russia, Hoover said, that is deliberately stalling the peace conference while it communizes Eastern Europe and exploits its economic resources. Whether we agree with Mr. Hoover or not, it can scarcely be gainsaid that behind the iron curtain which Russia has drawn across Europe lie eleven nations that were formerly independent--and that represents more countries than Hitler ever conquered. Yes, we cannot deny that the beautiful blue Danube, which turned brown when Hitler's legions marched in, has now turned to red.
No doubt the vast population of Russia yearns for peace as ardently as we do. Yet between that great people and ourselves stands the Russian government. That government consists of a group of revolutionaries who are determined that no other Russian government shall come to power the same way they did. Skilled in the school of sabotage and intrigue, that government stands today as an absolute dictatorship, wielding the power of Russia in world councils, and withholding the knowledge of the world from its own people.
So ominous is the threat of this new and unpredictable world power that the average man has all but abandoned his high hopes for permanent peace. . . .
It is in such a world and such a time that September comes again, and the miracle of the great American school system once more unfolds before eyes that have grown tired of searching for light. As millions of bright eyed youngsters put their books under their arms and trudge to school each September the world never fails to take on renewed hope. There is a dawn of a better day in the faces of the children and it simply will not be denied. Let us use this occasion and this inspiration to arouse ourselves from aimless lethargy and "to rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work." These children must have a future. We cannot deny them. We must build a better world. We cannot fail.
To what specific ends shall these high resolves be directed? Briefly, the goals are these:
First, let us make democracy work. As John Fischer so well states in his "Scared Men in the Kremlin," it is not the Red army but the communistic idea that we must overcome. This can be done only by demonstrating conclusively to the world that it is democracy, and not the regimented society of Russia, that can best eliminate unemployment, avoid depressions, and develop a world in which war cannot survive. We must unite behind this goal and demonstrate by actual practice the limitless power and possibilities of the democratic way of life.
Secondly, our leadership must constantly call forth our best instead of so frequently appealing to our worst. Our political leaders must have faith in an aroused and properly led America. Not once in our history have our people betrayed or forsaken a great leader who held out a great ideal and based his plea upon moral grounds. Our leaders must return to that great premise and be done with appeals to greed, selfishness, group interest, and class hatred.
Third, we must rededicate ourselves to the determination that we shall not be pushed around by any dictatorship, that we shall not compromise with the immortal democratic principle of the dignity and freedom of the individual citizen everywhere.
And finally, we must not grow faint in our efforts to outlaw war. The alternative is death. As the Baruch Report declares, "The choice is between the quick and the dead." Harold Fey put it well when he said that after every war the nations have put their trust in weapons which have but compounded their jeopardy. Now God has grown weary of the age old cycle. Lifting the lid on the atom, God has at last said to the world, "Choose life, or choose death, but choose!"
We, the living, must rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work.