February 4, 1955
Post # 58
What do I think of the China situation and the President’s War Powers bill? I wish that I could venture a simple opinion on the terrifyingly complex problem. If only the principle of the Good Guys and the Bad Guys prevailed, how simple it all would be, yet there are intelligent people today who remember Chiang as a despot and a keen and ruthless enemy of the spirit of what [your history teacher] might call The American Way of Life. These people might also remember that for ten years the same people who now compose RED CHINA were those who, with primitive weapons, formed FASCIST JAPAN.
I think I hate chicanery of words and ideas more than any other thing, for it traps man’s mind and reduces him to a fool and an idiot. If it is to the best interest of the United States and/or United Nations to defend Formosa then we must do so. But let us understand several things in so doing. If we attempt to put this on the Moral Good for Mankind basis we must be prepared to explain why communism is despicable to us in China and acceptable to us in Yugoslavia, why we choke over Malenkov and swallow Franco and other minor league dictators. The truth of the matter seems to be that we love those who hate our enemies regardless of their political beliefs or practices.
I can think of nothing greater or nobler for America than to stand as a paragon of the defender of the down-trodden, as the courageous detective who spot-lights injustice and abrogation of civil-liberties wherever they occur … in our own household, in those of our enemies or those who hate our enemies.
Let us understand something else, lest we become smug in our rather loose use of the term “American Way of Life”. The roots of democracy extend into history much farther than Plato. The father of our sacred documents was the Magna Carta, signed in England over three hundred years before Columbus blundered into the West Indies. Thousands of brave and zealous men died for what they believed to be the ethical rights of man. The history of man is indeed a great quest for free soil where the intellect could prosper and the spirit could stand unfearing and upright.
The greatness of America stems from the fact that Democracy was planted on the richest landmass in the world. It is almost certain that this land would have become a world power under any form of government but the wonder is that by and large it has grown ethically as it grew agriculturally and industrially. America grew and became the hope, the epitome, the beacon for the hopeless and the downtrodden, the dreamer and the thinker. We were proud and brave people and we had ample reason to be so.
Are we that today?
If we are not, if we are looked at with suspicion, fear and sometimes hate is it because others are envious of our wealth, our intelligence, or our general well-being or is it because we have failed to keep our banner unsullied, because the “American Way of Life” may mean government of opportunism rather than idealism, power politics rather than power for universal freedom, encouragement of individualism giving way to subordination of individualism?
The answer to all this may perhaps be found in the following: There is no clear answer on the Formosa question, even when the most rabid of Senator Knowland’s followers seem unable to explain why they do follow him or where he wants to lead us. There is obviously no clear moral issue here. The second thing that becomes increasingly clear is that most people are afraid to venture an opinion on a controversial subject without screening it to see if it coincides with popular opinion. This is the most dangerous aspect of our society today, I believe.
All right. I say this. I do not believe in “The American Way of Life” because it is a catch-all phrase bandied by McCarthy, Coughlin, McCormick, Hearst and every other two-bit chauvinist in this country, it is a panacea and a foolish one at that, for it means anything anyone wants it to. It can mean segregation, capital punishment, the right to starve without government interference.
My faith, my love and my desire to defend democracy as it was etched in America’s beginnings I will yield to no man, but the democratic ideal is universal in concept and must be defended so, democracy cannot function long on an island. I believe in justice for mankind, believing this the surest way to protect his rights, moral and otherwise.
I believe that the rights of the individual must be always the true guide in social behaviour, for if the individual is always assured of justice no ultimate harm can accrue to mankind.
I love you very much and I loved your letter too.