I remember as a kid my dad and stepmom showed me a film, Give ’em Hell Harry. It was not very age appropriate, and I suspect as history it is not totally accurate, either. However, one thing is probably true, since I have read books about Truman since. Truman is asked in the play what he thinks the future holds for mankind. And he gets out a section of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall,” which he says he reads over and over again periodically and has rewritten several times when it gets illegible. I think that this segment of the poem is particularly important to be reread because it shows how the current generation of politicians and pundits and spiritual leaders are letting down America’s best past leaders.
For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
I had a history teacher who said part of Truman’s vision was based on the Bible and this belief in the future of humankind was also involved in the United States under him being the first country to recognize Israel.
We as a country need to quit fighting in wars like Iraq and Afghanistan (our modern Vietnam) which were besides being unjustified (Iraq didn’t have the nuclear weapons and we long outstayed bin Laden’s death) tore up our relations with our European allies and were not even in our best interests strategically. That said, what our leaders have lacked goes beyond the pointless wars–it was a lack of vision. America has lost faith in the nobler instincts that went into fight World Wars I and II and their aftermath. And though it was Tennyson who wrote “Locksley Hall,” the dream of a universal law embodied in the United Nations needs to be revived in Americans.
In the Hebrew Bible there are segments which Truman–who claimed to hold both Testaments close to his heart–may have read many times in Isaiah:
[The time] has come to gather all the nations and tongues; they shall come and behold My glory. I will set a sign among them, and send from them survivors to the nations: to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud–that draw the bow–to Tubal, Javan, and the distant coasts, that have never heard My fame nor beheld My glory. They shall declare My glory among these nations. And out of all the nations, said the LORD, they shall bring all your brothers on horses, in chariots and drays, on mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem My holy mountain as an offering to the LORD–just as the Israelites bring an offering in a pure vessel to the House of the LORD. And from them likewise I will take some to be Levitical priests, said the LORD.
For as the new heaven and earth
Which I will make
Shall endure by My will
So shall your seed and your name endure.
And new moon after new moon,
And sabbath after sabbath
All flesh will come to worship Me
–Says the Lord.
The United States needs to understand that the world IS worth saving. Yet it cannot be saved if we are bad people ourselves. I discovered working with mental patients that only by being a good person could I help my patients. If a patient is not given a healthy environment, he cannot get well. A person who is sick at heart cannot help another. That is why though we must not neglect the world stage, we must look inward and ask if we are really living up to our better angels at home. We must remember that in the early 1800’s before the Civil War, the twin causes of freeing slaves and a woman’s right to vote were not the only way in which reformers wanted to better society. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded then, and so were dozens of societies devoted to bettering the lot of the working class. And all of this was under the blessing of the religiosity founded in the Great Awakening. God was not in politics, but God was alive. People who had been afraid that the “secularism” of the American Revolution, had to bring God to the people.
What Americans need to do is look back at the ideals of both the Declaration of Independence and even their own Christian or Jewish Bibles (or the Quran or other scriptures, for some of them) and find the impulse to create a “good” society. Donald Trump promised to make America “great again.” Perhaps it is more important that we are “good again.” We could start by taking our COVID-19 shots and dispensing them and other medicines (like birth control) all over the world. We need to quit being Uncle Scrooge to the world, just as we need to quit blaming poor people at home. The poor are not the worst sinners in our society. And, yes, society can be saved. I still believe it.