VISTA AT DAYBREAK
Far to the south across the Eastern Way and Bunker Ledge, beyond Marsh Head and Little Cranberry, the flames of sunrise were licking at the shores of Raker Island. Sutton and Great Cranberry were still shrouded in mist. Duck Island was not yet visible. I strained to distinguish the Lewis Rock spar before I remembered I was searching for something harder to find than buoys.
In one respect I was more fortunate than many. In my own lifetime I bridged an unusual number of the years of change. Winston Churchill's "old world in its sunset" was the world of my childhood, years of naïveté in judgment, yet impressionable years which had left some enduring recollections. As far as my reading went, Richard Harding Davis, Rudyard Kipling, Robert W. Service and Zane Grey were all part of my life when I was twelve. In those uncrowded days I could appreciate what Service had in mind when he wrote "the freedom, the freshness, the farness . . . ." One need not have gone to Alaska in those years to find it. I had found it in the Florida of 1910.
I had also witnessed, albeit as a small boy watching, such scenes as Davis depicted in his novels and Gibson in his drawings. Whether in Manila after the Insurrection or in the drawing rooms of New York, I had seen in the flesh the Richard Harding Davis hero and the Gibson girl. At home and in travel both in Europe and the Orient I had savored the mood and spirit of those times.
Then came the first World War, the parades, the cheers, the farewells and afterwards the telegrams that told of the death of a soldier, but meant the death of something else besides, followed by the speak-easy era, the era of the "lost generation", of Scott Fitzgerald's characters in contrast to Davis's, of Warren G. Harding and Teapot Dome in lieu of Theodore Roosevelt, of cartoons like Dove's in the New Yorker, "Let's have the Schubert Serenade and get some dirt into it," of disillusionment with the peace treaties and with the League of Nations.
During the second World War there were fewer parades and fewer cheers, but the same telegrams. Never had there been so many of those messages in so short a span, all delivered between 1914 and 1946, scarcely more than one generation. While the death toll was relatively small in the United States, in England and on the Continent, at the heartland of our Western civilization, it was appalling. Some nine million of the best men of the world's best racial stocks were killed in the first World War alone.
These were the young men who, had they lived, would today be in the seats of power and leadership—not just at the top, but throughout all echelons of influence. War in those days attracted young men whose strength of body and mind was above average, young men with a capacity to set standards. These were the ones who were missed when the time came when they would have been middle-aged and old. From the standpoint of England—our own special heartland—I could well understand Housman's lines:
"Oh, no, lad, never touch your cap;
It is not my half-crown;
You have it from a better chap
That long ago lay down.
Turn east and over Thames to Kent
And come to the sea's brim,
And find his everlasting tent
And touch your cap to him."
Yet while such losses must have contributed substantially to the change in values in Europe, they could not be considered the major cause. The United States showed an equal change, and here the losses were not large enough to account for it. The source must lie deeper.
And in searching for it, was not the first step to define just what the differences in those values were? As I turned to my desk, I asked myself the specific question. Having lived through the whole gamut of change and borne witness from my youth to the tone of the era before the first World War, what was the word that best conveyed the nature of that tone?
Undoubtedly it was a compound of many factors. But as I sought in memory to reconstruct the totality of it, my conviction grew that the chief element was a regard for properly constituted authority, for law as a symbol of right and of order, and for earned distinction. It involved the willingness and courage to look up to the superior and to disdain the inferior—in other words, to discriminate. It included the capacity both to obey and to command; a youth learned almost by breathing the air around him that, to be able to command, he must first learn to obey—above all to be master of himself.
Such a tone was not conducive to the appeasement of evil. It involved a capacity for scorn and the nerve to express it. Among those entitled to do so there was no hesitation in taking command, no fear of asserting genuine leadership, no reluctance to give orders or to rebuke insubordination—when the occasion required. This was not something that prevailed only in the armed forces. It prevailed between parent and child, between teacher and pupil, between employer and employee.
Implicit in this tone was the firm and full acknowledgment of human differences, both individual and racial, both genetic and self-made. There was no fawning upon nor bootlicking of inferiority or mediocrity. The necessity of earning the desirable things of life, material and spiritual, and the rights accruing to those who had earned them, were not controverted. The existence of the criminal rich did not alter the ideal, nor was it altered by the right of inheritance. The genes of a man's parents and of his grandparents were as much a part of him, as much his property, as his economic legacy, and on the average contributed to his ability to use the latter wisely.
Yet still I searched the language for one word to cover the qualities which the tone produced or which produced the tone. I could come no closer to it than the noun honor which itself was subject to many definitions and, as I though about it, it seemed to me that honor was as much the product of the tone as vice versa, although when once produced the interaction was complete.
Before me among the final notes on my desk lay a hand-written quotation I had found among my father's papers after his death in World War I. It was copied from a novel of those days and it ran as follows:
"Perhaps the most remarkable thing, then, in the character of his mother—which, please God, he will have, or, getting all things else, he can never be a gentleman—was honor. It shone from her countenance, it ran like melody in her voice, it made her eyes the most beautiful in expression that I have ever seen, it enveloped her person and demeanor with a spiritual grace.
"Honor in what we call the little things of life, honor not as women commonly understand it, but as the best of men understand it—that his mother had. . . .
"If he be anything of a philosopher, he may reason that this trait must have made his mother too serious and too hard. Let him think again. It was the very core of soundness in her that kept her gay and sweet. . . . She was of a soft-heartedness that ruled her absolutely—but only to the unyielding edge of honor.
"Beyond this single trait of hers—which if it please God that he inherit it, may he keep though he lose everything else—I set nothing further down for his remembrance since naught could come of my writing.
"But by words I could no more give an idea. of what his mother was than I could point him to a few measures of wheat and bid him behold a living harvest."
I did not for one moment propose to suggest that the qualities involved here were prevalent everywhere throughout our Western civilization before the first World War. But I did bear witness to the fact that they were more prevalent theta than they are now.
And I would venture the guess that a connection existed between them and what I called the championship held by the English-speaking stocks in the maintenance of stable, free societies. My suspicion grew that when it came to a choice between principle on the one hand and self-interest on the other the average man among these stocks would choose principle more often than the average man among those stocks who had been less successful in the management of freedom throughout the world—and that he showed it in his face as well as in his actions.
As so often before, one needed to lay stress here on the concept of average, or what the scientists called frequency. It would be ridiculous to imply, for example, that the English-speaking stocks, or even a majority of individuals among them, would always choose principle above self-interest. It would be equally absurd to suggest that many among even the least advanced of the world's populations would never put principle above self-interest. It was simply that, rare as the occasion might be, the frequency with which an observer would find principle being put above self-interest would be greater in the one case than in the other.
Did this have some relation to evolutionary grade? Like intelligence, there was overlap, but intelligence and integrity were far from synonymous. Could one advance the hypothesis that where intelligence and integrity were combined, there one had the highest evolutionary grade? It was an involved and complex business, but could one not at least say that a stable, free society was the product of both, and that in the proportion that either declined, dry rot was diffused throughout the body politic?
Unless men in a community or a nation had confidence in the integrity of their political, literary and religious leaders, of their news media and their judiciary, they were walking in quicksand. Modern society depended on the assurances people gave to one another, in business, in marriage, in contracts of every sort. Confidence in the honor of one's associates led first to courtesy and respect, and then to sympathy. It oiled the machinery of life from beginning to end. It gave meaning to trial by jury, it validated taxation and above all it led to willing acquiescence by the losers in elections. An honest victory of honest and intelligent men held no terrors for an honest and intelligent minority. But once confidence in a reasonable frequency of integrity was destroyed, the whole basis for stability was gone. The playing fields of Eton had been a symbol. In the narrow sense the symbol was fair play—in the larger sense, honor.
And in the largest sense of all, was this not of the very essence of the success of the English-speaking peoples, in the British Isles, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand? Evolutionary grade? One asked the question with caution. A precious heritage certainly, something not to be ashamed of in the face of attacks from those who had failed where we had succeeded—and had come to us to enjoy the fruits of our success.
I picked up the faded page in my father's handwriting and glanced at it once again.
"A soft-heartedness that ruled her absolutely—but . . ."
But only to the unyielding edge of honor—could one find a better formula for kindness, for love in the context of family, community, nation and world? Was it necessary to spell out every facet? Obviously one did not tell the truth to a child who was dying of an incurable disease, but where the truth was vital to the solution of a problem one faced the truth, if one loved wisely.
So through the whole range of human welfare at home, abroad and in race relations. If one lied here, if one corrupted the minds of a nation, it would be the corruption that would win in the end, not love. It would be the corruption that would spread everywhere and destroy the loving and the loved together.
Compassion as the handmaiden of integrity was the crown of a civilization. Compassion put before integrity meant disaster. Yet the sincere liberal, as well as the hard-core leftist, had reversed the order. Under the mask of the ideal of a more genuine humanity, a wider sharing of the products of our industrial technology and the cultural values of our civilization, he had proceeded to undermine the very values themselves. Hypocrisy, deception, equivocation, and cowardice had taken the place of honor.
Surely what the world now needed more than anything else was a reorientation of the humanitarian impulse after its long perversion by these forces. Smoothing the fur of evil was not kindness. Releasing the forces of savagery in Africa was not goodness. Abdicating one's racial responsibility for leadership was not wisdom. Firmness in the right as God gave us to see the right meant force and power and the exercise of authority and discipline against evil. Once his fact was realized, respect and obedience would follow where it was due, order would return to a befuddled world, and genuine justice and mercy might at last prevail.
Provided—and this was the crux of the matter—provided the truth were told, and there was somebody left to listen.