DECEMBER 16, 1960
NEW YORK—Sometimes a small thing that seems unimportant may touch off more important things, and so today I am going to write about a play I saw on Wednesday evening of this week. The play is "Advise and Consent," written by Loring Mandel and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Allen Drury.
Perhaps a play focuses one's attention more dramatically and vividly on characters and situations than does a book. In any case, as I sat through the performance I felt a sense of complete depression and disgust.
The play is beautifully acted and holds one's interest from beginning to end. But in this drama for ourselves and for all the world to see we are depicting all the worst things that can be found in political situations that are brought about by the weakness of human nature, the way in which scheming people can play upon human nature, and the man who is willing to lie because he thinks the ultimate goodwill be a justification.
We saw all these things depicted with extraordinary skill. Even the man cast as the President of the United States made arguments and excuses that must have caused uneasiness among those in the audience who noticed the evident effort to have the stage character resemble President Eisenhower.
It was a shock to see the office of the President included in the general downgrading of human beings who go into politics with legitimate ambitions but who are still weak, small, vindictive, determined to gain their own ends whether good or bad, and ruthless where anyone except themselves is concerned.
I have watched this game of politics for many, many years, in fact since I was a girl, and I know how ruthless and how utterly discouraging it can be. I think I know how to remember one's friends and how to fight against one's enemies. But I have seen this done without stealing, without doublecrossing, without threats. And I have seen good men who were invulnerable. I have seen men triumph over all the pettiness and meanness and incredible temptations that faced them, and I still believe that on the whole the majority of human beings are decent and good and strong and straight.
I cannot bear to see depicted on the stage nothing but the worst side of our public life.
If this were wartime I think one would cry treason at this play. And since we are really engaged in a war, it is time we woke up to it. Perhaps it is good for us to see ourselves at our worst, but it is certainly not good to see only our worst. We must also be inspired by the best that is in us.
Since New York City is the home of the United Nations we have many delegates who live here permanently and some temporarily. And, of course, they go to the theatre. So, are we giving them a fair picture in this play of what Americans are? Are they going to take away something that will make them want to join in the fight for democracy? If democracy produces in politics only what we get from this play, perhaps it is no longer able to inspire its adherents.
As the play proceeded I grew angrier and more depressed. I came out of the theatre with the feeling that if there is someone who could write a true picture for the American theatre of the real values in our life and in our government, this should be done and done quickly in order to counteract the harm that this play will do us at home and abroad.
Young people seeing this play will be discouraged from entering into politics. Why should they look up to any of the characters who walk across the stage during the three hours it takes to act out the drama? I think perhaps the fact that the play is so well done is something to be deplored.
People just seem to like to look at the worst, and the only explanation of this that I can give is that at least here in our country we know that there is a best as well. But even that is hard to believe as one walks away from the three hours of watching the degraded side of human beings.
Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold gave a very solemn warning to the United Nations this past week, and since the Security Council came to a deadlock over what should be done in the Congo a plenary session of the General Assembly has now been convened. The Secretary General fears that if civil war develops in the Congo it might spread throughout the African continent and lead to a world conflict.
The picture of the world today is a somber one.