Opinion: A Christmas reflection on a troubled time

This column appeared in The Atlanta Journal of Dec. 25, 1942:

WASHINGTON — There isn’t much that can be said appropriate to the Christmas season this year. It doesn’t seem to fit this time.

You almost wonder if it isn’t an insult to Santa Claus to have him wandering around. You would want to tell the old fellow to stay away except for the very small children who haven’t yet discovered what kind of butchering civilization their parents and ancestors have created.

The usual holiday greetings sound forced and hollow this year. We mean them as usual, but we know they do not fit into this Christmas. How can there be a merry Christmas or a happy New Year in the midst of organized murder, cruelty, want and anxiety in the majority of homes in most of the so-called civilized world?

The best you can wish for your friends over this Christmas is that the season’s grog will put them into a cozy twilight sleep where they can forget for a while.

I note some sage words by one of the wise men of the East, a great scholar of China, Dr. Hu Shih, the former Chinese ambassador here. He says that science and technology have made the world a physical unity. But man’s backwardness in political thinking and planning, he says, has failed miserably to consolidate this physically unified world into a political and moral world community.

That’s an old theme, but it never pointed at us with such accusing truth as it does today.

We make ourselves out to be just a lot of dopes — like the genius who wasn’t strong enough to put his gifts to any use.

In organized world murder, men show magnificent courage, invention, and ability to work together. But not when you try to leave the murder out of it and try to organize civilization for living instead of killing. If your purpose is to live instead of kill, then everything is different. Men and governments become cowards. They are afraid to experiment, afraid to take any risk — and of course they thereby only increase the danger of which they are afraid. They lose the inventive touch in statecraft and public affairs. They have the greatest difficulty of working together at anything long enough to make progress. Nations and peoples can work together to kill much better than they can to live.

Last spring, about Easter-time, I flew in a huge airplane over the land of Bethlehem. From 5,000 feet in the air we looked down on the roofs of Jerusalem. We could see men plowing with oxen and wooden plows much as they did 2,000 years ago. I saw one of them, plowing a hillside, as we flew close to it through a valley, and he hook his fist at us and hurled a stone after our plane. He could not understand the intrusion of this modern monster that roared over his field and frightened his animals and himself as well.

We are very much like that man ourselves, even though we fly over his fields in an airplane. We invented the plane and we operate it with great skill, but we still don’t know what it means. We don’t know yet that with only a few of these planes the whole world could be policed and kept from perhaps making a third attempt at global suicide.

We use the airplane with daring in war. We are afraid to think how we might use the airplane to prevent war and save life.

The child who was born on that Christmas night lived to cry in despair, “Oh, ye of little faith!”

That’s still the way it is — or is it?

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