Thursday, April 28, 2011

Messages from another world

When Hal was about 9 years old, his parents gave him several sets of encyclopedias, rejects from the Christian school to which they had been donated. Too out-dated for the school to use, they provided hours of fascinating reading for a young boy curious about all of life. We recently came across these volumes while sorting through the boxes in the old family home. They make even more fascinating reading today, almost seeming like messages from another world.

The five-volume American Educator Encyclopedia has the ambitious subtitle, “A Thoroughly Modern Work Designed to Meet the Needs of Every Age,” (1936. Wallsworth D. Foster, ed., Chicago: The United Educators, Inc.). The following come from the sections on commerce, religion and war and show a certain idealism that was just beginning to fade in the time of the rise of Hitler.

Commerce:  “In commerce there is an exchange of property, in which each party gains what he desires. But commerce is no longer the mere barter of savages. It is a vast system is which all the world shares. It helps to make prices and wages more equal. It also keeps them more fixed, for, if one group will not pay a fair price, the goods may be sent elsewhere….It brings people all over the world into greater sympathy with each other, and gives them more knowledge of each other” p. 433).

Religion: “All men are religious. No tribe has been found so low in savagery or barbarism that it did not acknowledge some relation to a supreme being and in a crude way try to give expression to that relationship” (p. 3046).

War: “…though an enemy may be starved into surrender, wounding, except in battle, mutilation and all cruel and wanton devastation are contrary to the rules of war, as are also bombarding an unprotected town, the use of poison and the employment of torture to extort information from an enemy. Works of art and the industries of peace are usually considered as exempt from destruction. The World War, however, showed that in actual conflict all these rules may be disregarded by a wanton adversary….The supreme problem before civilization at the present time is not the mitigation, but the abolition of war” (p. 3802).

Would that the results of commerce and globalization were greater sympathy, but it seems that the supreme problem before us is still the abolition of war.

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