OCTOBER 4, 1948
PARIS, Sunday—The contrast between the mental attitudes of the younger generation in the United States and in Europe was brought before me by a letter I recently received from a young American. The writer has been and still is a soldier. He did a tour of duty in Europe and on a small island in the Pacific. He had a very strenuous period of service and ended up with a nervous breakdown from which he is now practically recovered.
But he has seen many young people suffering from various kinds of nervous disorders and so has become aware of the fact that the kind of life we live today does not give our young people stability or security or moral values. A great many of them feel another war is just around the corner and therefore they justify whatever they may do by saying, "We might as well enjoy life as much as we can, for tomorrow we may be back in uniform and next our world may come to an end." Why, asks the writer, do young people of this generation react to present-day conditions in this way?
If our young people feel this way in the United States, the young people from this part of the European world should be even more insecure and unsettled. Many of them faced years of foreign occupation in their countries, were part of the resistance movements, and had to forego any kind of formal education. Where they were able to obtain it, it was done not only surreptitiously but often under dangerous circumstances. Their countries have to be rebuilt in many ways. Factories were destroyed, land was destroyed, machinery is scarce both for farming and industry, and raw materials are practically impossible to obtain. People have to get back their vitality and desire to begin again. One could easily understand a greater recklessness here than in the U.S., and yet I am not sure that it is even as great. Perhaps this is because it is so obvious here that, if you are young and hope for any kind of future at all, you must be strong in character, body and mind—and youth naturally reacts better to a challenge.
At the Sorbonne, Ramadier said to the people of France that aid could come to them from the outside, but to make use of that aid they themselves would have to be strong. I begin to feel that what our young people need at home is a little shock treatment when they give the excuse that life may be short and therefore nothing is worthwhile except enjoyment. After all, if you have only five minutes to live, whether you live the five minutes well or ill may be of some importance to others besides yourself. The span of life is not so very important, but its depth and achievement is what counts.
In the United Nations I think we have come to realize that the basic lesson to be learned is that we cannot consider the welfare of one nation and one group without associating them with the welfare of the whole family of nations. One begins to think that nations need discipline, and nations cannot be disciplined unless the people are disciplined. Perhaps in the U. S., because we are lucky enough never to have been bombed or occupied, we need to discipline ourselves a little more. When I was young, I cannot remember ever hearing of young persons having nervous breakdowns. It cannot just be because our world moved more slowly and surely. We must be able to adjust to our physical surroundings. It must be that we do not learn young enough the necessary emotional and mental control. A stout heart and a valiant spirit are much needed today, for we need to go about the business of living in the calm security that that is the job we have to do, and while we are doing it we will do it with zest and to the best of our ability. If our world crumbles around us, we will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that we did all we could to hold it together, and we may leave it with the hope that something better lies before us.