FEBRUARY 27, 1961
NEW YORK—Along with a group of young people, I was invited the other evening to a screening of the film, "The Bridge," which has won several awards in Europe. It is the story of a group of young German recruits late in World War II, when Hitler became desperate and began calling up boys only 16 years old. The film depicts their exploits in a heroic light, and one can understand that it would give the German youth a sense of love of country and pride in the idealism and courage of its young soldiers. But the story's exaggerations make the film hardly believable, and apart from propaganda purposes I can see little real value in it.
The film, however, does show the horrors of war, and apparently the young people with me had been invited on the theory that the young should know what war is like. Now, it may be granted that the young should know. But isn't a film like this just a little deceiving? We are never again going to fight as we did in World War II. A nuclear war will be one in which people will be destroyed in a matter of seconds.
Yet there was a reaction from the young people with me which I thought would perhaps be well for us older people to ponder. Some of the boys in the group said that emotionally it had a great impact and they had identified with the young boys in the film. I said we older people knew what this war had been and we could well imagine what a nuclear war would be like, and therefore I saw very little use in showing the horrors of the past. What we really needed today, I continued, was to try and encourage people all over the world to learn to live together and not to die together, as undoubtedly would be the case if a nuclear war came to pass.
One of the boys looked at me for a moment and then asked the inevitable question: "If you know that war has been like what we have just watched, and you are still talking about the possibility of any kind of war, we find it hard to understand. It seems to me that war would be unthinkable to those who knew that the results were such as those we have just seen."
This is a difficult statement to answer, for it involves our distrust of each other in different parts of the world, as well as the difficulties in general of developing understanding. In the last analysis, it does force you to think whether the older generations—which have seen as many as three wars—have really put enough emphasis on the need for enhancing the value of human life, and on the need for a clearer understanding both of the harm that has come through past wars and the futility of now contemplating suicide in so many areas of the world.
The first step, I think, toward a greater understanding of the world's problems is to broaden all of our thinking. These are problems which no longer affect only one nation but the world as a whole. Certainly, we are the one nation that ought to be able to think in comprehensive world terms. We have no need to seek more territory, nor have we any reason to be jealous of any other nation in the world. We are powerful, resourceful and inventive.
We are now, for example, talking of a "peace force," but are we not thinking on too small a scale? Why is the peace corps not part of a whole new defense plan which touches the lives of every American citizen, making it essential that in youth each of us learns to give some service to our country at home or abroad? After we go on to our own work in the world, we Americans should still hold to that sense of obligation to serve. We should live up to our own beliefs, giving others in many lands the opportunity of choosing between the products we produce, both cultural and material, and that which is produced by others who hold different views. Above everything, we must insist that we learn to live together in the future and that the primary aim of a nation is no longer to learn to die for one's country. It is more difficult, but far more necessary, to learn to live for one's country.