University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Commencement Address, June 9, 1957

Volume XIII · Autumn 1957 · Number 1
Commencement Address: June 9, 1957

Dr. de Kiewiet, Members of the Faculty, Fellow Members of the Class of 1957, Parents and Friends:

I should say in response to those gracious and generous remarks of Dr. de Kiewiet that the giving of my papers to Rochester has caused me some small embarrassment. After it was announced I was assailed immediately by friends of various other universities including my own two Alma Maters. They said to me, "Why did you give your papers to Rochester and not to us?" I replied: "The answer is very simple: they asked for them." And they said, "Why didn't you tell us about it?" I said that Rochester took up the subject more than six years ago, that apparently they really wanted them and if they wanted them that much, they probably would take better care of them than anybody else. That has settled the arguments.

I am especially proud and happy to be with you today and to have a chance to spend a weekend with the custodians of my future reputation. As a matter of fact I understand that this gift which Dr. Van Deusen so skillfully sought has presented him with some problems because the papers are something over a million already and I am about to send him another eighty thousand. I trust the burden doesn't exceed the value.

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today at one of the greatest of all American universities and I am deeply grateful to the University of Rochester for making me a graduate of the Class of 1957. It is a gratifying experience to receive an honorary degree at any time, but I have a special reason to be happy to receive one this year. You see, my son, John, is being graduated from Princeton next week—and at my age, I shall enjoy telling my friends that my younger son and I received our degrees in the same year.

Commencement ceremonies throughout  the United States have become traditional occasions for great happiness and inspiration not only for the graduates but also for their families. This is one week in your lives, perhaps above all others, when you have the right to enjoy yourselves. The future is brave and bright in this, the most fruitful and happy of all the lands of the earth.

I am sure that each one of you has his own plans and dreams for the years to come. Some of you will be thinking of more education, the professions, a business enterprise, or a government career. Probably all of you are thinking of a home of your own, of marriage, and a family.

The major threat to all those plans comes from abroad. Because that threat is so real, it requires continuous examination and the best efforts of all of us to repel it. If we fail, all our dreams will fail, too. The free world and the slave world are locked in a death struggle. The Communist world now numbers nine hundred million people. Their armed masses outnumber us five to one. If we are going to prevent a Soviet conquest we must understand the nature of the animal, its strength and its weakness. This is everybody's business today.

The cold war began the day World War II ended. It has waxed and waned, grown hotter and colder, and is being fought every hour of every day, on every continent, between the forces of slavery and the forces of freedom. The end is not in sight. In fact, an early end to the cold war could come about only through the unthinkable but always possible explosion of a hot war. Thanks to the calm and effective leadership of our government, the imminence of a hot war has been reduced.

That means, of course, that we are confronted with the prospect of a long cold war that will probably last throughout our lives. It is a less dramatic prospect than a hot war but it is just as decisive in determining our way of life and our continued existence. Obviously victory in a longer cold war is preferable to victory in the planetary shambles of a nuclear war. It is possible, during the cold war, with some inconvenience, for you to go from here and begin the pursuit of what you want in life-more education, careers in business or the professions, marriage and a family.

So the question we are going to live with for many years is: Are we winning the cold war?—Well, so far the greatest strategic victory in the cold war has been ours. That has been the circumstance by which the free world forced the Soviets to change—at least temporarily—from military aggression to economic warfare. The Communists took Central Europe and China by military conquest. Korea was the turning point, tragic, perhaps unnecessary, but it was there they learned that the free world would fight. It was there they learned they could no longer conquer the world piecemeal. They were stopped again in Indochina, far short of their objectives in Southeast Asia. Then the pattern of the transition became clearer. They withdrew from Austria peaceably; gave up the strategic naval base they had seized in Finland, and began a general campaign of waving the olive branch instead of the sword. Of course the olive branch could be a weapon of conquest, too, through subversion, economic infiltration, and treason, but it is in a field of battle where we should prevail, if we work hard enough at the job.

Are we winning the cold war? At this intermediate stage, I think the answer is that we are ahead, because the free world is larger than it was four years ago. In addition the Soviet satellite empire has been shaken in Hungary and Poland, if not elsewhere. But this merely intensifies the struggle.

The men in the Kremlin are never to be underestimated. They have switched their attack to what they consider our greatest weakness—a burning desire for peace. They are now dealing in the currency of peace, rather than the coin of war. They hope to persuade us to disarm, stop foreign aid, abandon free Asia, dismantle N. A. T. O., and leave the world to go its own way. In all this, they have some unintentional allies: war-weariness, neo-isolationism, a legitimate desire for lower taxes, a natural desire to reduce armed forces and get on with the happy business of life.

So the weapons of the moment have been chosen, as always with peaceful people, by our enemies; the struggle has been joined. One phase of it is going on here at home, in the battle over the foreign aid program. Once again we are hearing that fatuous perennial, that weary old cliché, that money doesn't buy friends. Of course it doesn't; nobody with any sense ever thought it did. The point is that there is an enormous difference, perhaps the difference between life and death so far as we are concerned, between nations which are hostile Soviet satellites and nations which are neutrals. A neutral nation may not be our friend; it may actively dislike us; its leaders may irritate us to the point of exasperation. That's their privilege in a free world. I submit that being irritated is not very important compared with the mortal danger involved in the possibility that such a nation might become a Red satellite and an agent of Communist conquest.

Think of these people, if you will, as individual human beings instead of nations. From the Mediterranean on east through Asia to Indonesia and Japan there are at this moment eight hundred million people who still belong to the free world. A large majority of these people have won independence and self-government within the last ten years.

Then consider their economic and personal background. Most of these people live in poverty so extreme it has to be seen to be believed. Many of them starve to death every year; millions of them live and die in mud huts. In many parts of Asia illiteracy runs as high as 90 percent. There is no firm conviction regarding the virtues of free enterprise as against state socialism; in fact, among most of the people there is no understanding of the difference.

There is a grave shortage of educated political leaders. All too often there are not even enough people who can read and write to staff a modern civil service if one could be established and supported.

These people are hungry and they don't like it. They know that in other parts of the world people eat regularly and well, that people have decent clothes and decent homes. These people have learned the meaning of the twentieth century in living standards and they intend to move into the twentieth century by one means or another.

I believe they are entitled to live in this century and the burning question is whether they can move fast enough in the pattern of human and economic freedom or whether they will despair and accept the route of Communist dictatorship under the illusion that it is a short cut. I can tell you that many of the brightest people in Russia and China are busy trying to convince the free people of Asia and Africa that the only route to quick modernization is the Communist route.

Against that continuous pressure, the principal opposition is the constructive help being given by Americans. In most of the nations we are helping, the present leaders are absolutely determined to keep their country free, strong, and progressive. But if their people decide Communism has more to offer, new leaders will arise to give it to them. So, as always, the ultimate power rests in the people of free nations who will make their decisions on the speed of their economic progress. How do we help? I would like to make a few specific suggestions.

Whatever the standards in other countries, we Americans must maintain and insist upon a steadfast devotion to high moral standards in our own government. If either corruption or disloyalty appear in high places they shake our own confidence in free government and the shattering influence of that weakness goes around the world.

If we try to help others to develop freedom and equality, we have to watch the beam in our own eye. One day in Singapore I was shocked to see in the morning newspaper a six-column, front-page picture of the riots in Cicero, Illinois-—all over one Negro family moving into a suburb. Few events could have done more damage to our cause and that of the free world than that picture. The population of Singapore is about 90 percent Chinese and about 9 percent people of varying shades of color. It is less than 1 percent white. I was thoroughly disgusted at the exaggerated play given that picture by the Singapore newspaper but it was big news everywhere. The only thing we Americans can do is to try to see that by our own acts we do not feed the fires of hate spread by our enemies. More than half the people of the world are yellow, brown, or black. They are acutely conscious of discrimination by reason of color, wherever it occurs. We have to work steadily at the business of removing the beam from our own eye.

Our foreign aid program should be put on a permanent basis. The cost is modest enough and only about 2 percent of our military budget. Some of the most significant parts of our program are providing the simplest means of communication and transport. But an appropriation which helps build a highway in Burma is not very helpful if it only goes halfway through the jungle. Aid in building a jute mill in Pakistan doesn't raise any living standards if no money is available for machinery when the mill is finished. All experience shows that a three-or five-year commitment for a modest amount is more valuable than a larger commitment made on a year-to-year basis, with no assurance the program can be completed.

No program is any better than the people who administer it whether it is military aid or economic aid. Nor is it any better than the politicians who direct it. Every day the world becomes more complicated and it takes a higher degree of special information and personal dedication to administer the affairs of government.

When we think in terms of operating these programs it is well to remember that no one resents advice more than the man who needs it most. Sometimes we have sent abroad people who were so unsuccessful at home that they had to assume an unearned importance in other lands. By and large, however, the amazing thing is the high quality of the personnel in our foreign-service and foreign-aid programs. These labors need to be carried out by our best, our brightest, and our most sensitive people.

Foreign service is never serene and it is often uncomfortable. Outside one embassy residence only ten feet over the wall, I stood and watched a little colony of five hundred refugees as they lived, cooked, and eked out a miserable existence in their mud huts. The odor rolled over the walls into the embassy residence.

The foreign service is underpaid and overworked and still its members have to be ready at all hours of the day and night to receive visiting firemen from the United States and to entertain them graciously, calmly, and warmly. The foreign service is, indeed, tough and sometimes dangerous but it is fascinating, challenging, and enormously rewarding in a sense of real achievement. The striped-trousered, tea-sipping caricatures are wide of the mark these days. Our representatives overseas are in the front line of the new struggle for peace and freedom. I recommend the foreign service to you as one of the areas where the ablest of our youth can render the greatest service to their country.

I would also like to recommend a political career to the graduates here present who are willing to make sacrifices to do something of major usefulness with their lives. Today the ultimate power in the free world is in the hands of those who are elected to office. Government intervenes ever more deeply into the lives of people, into trade, commerce, and the professions, as well as into foreign affairs. Our principal task is to see that we have leaders who are courageous enough and diligent enough to be right.

Politics is not just the excitement of campaigns or the dreary labor into the small hours of the morning in writing speeches. It is the hard, day-to-day mastery of complex subjects, the art of advocacy of what is right, and skill in compromising between conflicting views and needs. Politics is, perhaps, the most difficult science in the world as is proved by the fact that no one has yet devised the perfect government. I hope many of you will enter politics as a career.

Now, the personal advice I have offered may be acceptable to some and will certainly be unacceptable to others. The views I have expressed may meet agreement with some and not with others. If they serve to stimulate interest and discussion, I will be content. The most important thing of all is that we stay acutely aware of the problems of our time and debate them out to the best possible conclusions.

Most importantly, I want you to know how much I appreciate the privilege of being with you today. It is an especial pleasure to me to be here under the benign leadership of Rochester's distinguished and brilliant President, Dr. de Kiewiet. I warmly congratulate each of you who is being graduated today and wish you the great happiness which comes from fruitful labor and an active part in the life of the local and world community.