NO MAN CAN BE SILENT
by Howard FastIn a box in a cupboard my father kept three somewhat old, somewhat ragged American flags. We were poor people with few possessions, but wherever we went the flags went too. One of them, the best of the three, came out for holidays. It didn't matter what the importance of the holiday was; whether it was Decoration Day or Columbus Day out came the best of the three flags to be draped over a window sill or tied onto a pole.
I asked him once why he kept the old flags and he said that they were entitled to it, he thought; you didn't throw a flag away; it was more than old clothes, more than a shirt whose destiny was to become a dustrag.
My brother still has the flags. My father, many years since, was laid away in the good earth of this country which he loved so well, so deeply, so unreservedly, so simply and so lastingly. His love for America was not the cheap thing that Rotarians call patriotism; it was the attachment of the child to the mother; it had some of what the farmer feels when he picks up the black earth and crumbles it in his fingers; it was respect born out of understanding, and though I value many things he gave me, I think I value that most.
People have asked, me, too often perhaps, why I write the kind of books I do; they ask me where my ideas come from, and if I were to say that my writing and all in it comes from the land that bore me and nurtured me, it would be pat and evident, but the truth nevertheless. It is a hard thing to say; even as, in this day and this situation, we are being robbed of our ideals and our principles, so are we being robbed of the ability to say a basic thing simply and straightforwardly and unashamedly.
Whatever I am, America made me; I say that proudly and will, I trust, continue to say it until I die. For a decade and a half I have tried, in every way I know, to understand my country and to serve her. I have never put pen to paper except with that purpose in mind, and sometimes I have succeeded poorly and sometimes well. I think I can say that. This is no time for modesty, but a time for courage and greatness. Many men will speak out, and it is fitting that they should speak out with all their hearts and all their strength.
I have lived through the history of this land, roamed through it, and had the good fortune to understand some very great men who are dead these many years. Also I came to know some of the living, so that I can tell my children some day how I took the hand of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and talked with him and ate with him--and the hands of others too.
And this I know: that never in all its time and history was our land in such peril, such terrible, mortal peril! What a craven, miserable creature a man must be to remain silent at a time like this! What a poor thing it is to sell one's birthright for a mess of pottage and less!
Liberty, democracy, human rights--these are words we wrote across the sky in starry letters. It was our tiny revolutionary army that taught the world an eternal lesson in freedom. It was in our land that the dignity of the individual was exalted. It was our Bill of Rights that sanctified the security of the citizen, and it was our Civil War that taught the world a lesson in the price that freedom requires.
And what do we see now? A congressman whose very name has become a shameful and international badge of iniquity and hatred proposes in Congress a bill which at one stroke would wipe out all our rights, all our hard-won freedom. And there are men who stay silent.
A member of the Cabinet calls for the suppression of a political party which has worked tirelessly and unceasingly for civil rights and for the cause of labor and the people. And some men say: after all it is not my party, and I will stay silent; perhaps they will forget me and leave me alone.
A President of this land calls for a world empire, for forcible intervention in any land which strikes our fancy, and implicit in his words is the threat of a war which could wipe out a hundred million or five hundred million human souls, a war against a former ally of ours--and the Congress listens to him and applauds him.
What have we come to? Did Germany teach us no lessons? Do we still believe the insane illusion that by silence men can make their peace with fascism? Are we to become so like insects, so like beetles and. roaches that we believe in the security of the crevices into which frightened men crawl?
This is no time for complicated preachments. The simple fact is this: that all we believe in and all we value is at stake.