THE ADVANTAGES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF DEMOCRACY
By Tyrone Power
When I was first asked to come to Tampa to speak to you, ladies and gentlemen, on this auspicious occasion of your graduation, I had no idea that I was to be the recipient of the honor conferred on me by Dr. Nance and the Trustees of the University. When the Doctor asked me if I would come to say a few words, I was a little at a loss to know exactly from what angle to address you. He suggested, however, that my remarks pertain to observations and impressions I received during my recent travels throughout the world (South and Central American in 1946 and South Africa and Europe last year), life in those countries as compared to life in America, and particularly as it affects the young people. while I do not feel that I am in any way an authority on the subject, I nevertheless received very definite impressions along certain lines, and I would like to mention these briefly at this time.
It is difficult for one who has not traveled extensively to appreciate fully the benefits if living in this country and being a citizen of the United States of America. There are too many of us, I know, too prone to take our advantages for granted and to slide along in the happy belief that without any individual effort on our part we will continue to enjoy those benefits as we assume them to be our natural and inherited right. Do we fully realize the things we have here in this country? I'm afraid not. One has to travel and see others in various parts of the world to be able to weigh and view our country in perspective. It all comes back to not being able to see the forest for the trees.
When you're in a foreign land and you hear people speak--young people particularly, as I have about the United States--people of Argentina, South Africa or Italy--you begin to better understand and more fully appreciate the fact that to them the greatest aspiration in life--their idea of the fondest dream come true--is to be able to come and live here and work here. You have only to watch their eyes as they ask you questions about America to know that they are speaking with their hearts, and it is not only about Hollywood that they want to know that they are speaking with their hearts, and it is not only Kansas or Florida or Vermont or Oregon. You slowly begin to realize that, s, strangely enough, they seem to be the ones who fully appreciate all that we have here and, while in a great many instances their facts might be greatly distorted, nevertheless emotionally and mentally they're far more appreciative that we who have them every day.
To give you one example out of the many I encountered on my travels: Last October, when I visited Khartoum, which is in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan at the confluence of the white and blue Niles, I met a young man who worked for our organization. He had been born there and grow up with one desire--to come to America. He had taught himself English in the hope of using it here some day. All this he told me while we were batting away flies and trying to keep cool in the 120 degree heat which is Khartoum in October. I listened patiently and answered as many of his questions as I could, and then we said goodbye and I wished him good luck...Las week I received a letter from Newcastle, Pennsylvania. Johnny had arrived. Just what took him to Newcastle I haven't been able as yet to ascertain. But his dream has come true.
He is at last in the United States. He is finding it tough to get stared and of course, is realizing that the streets are not as completely paved with gold as he had imagined. But I ask you to think of him for a minute--if tonight the fondest wish you cherish were granted, how would you feel.
With those benefits so great responsibilities, and the responsibility of enjoying a democratic form of government rests squarely upon each individual person in a democracy. That form of government is not stronger than its weakest individual. A great man of the troubles and evils that have beset us both nationally and internationally during the past few years could have in a great measure been avoided had the individual realized his responsibilities and carried his share of the burden. Instead there was a general fooling of "let George do it," and the popular misconception that "the government' was some nobulous group of individuals far removed from us and in which we had no part.
There was the same sort of misconception which existed so popularly among many people in this country a few years ago who maintained a stout isolationist viewpoint based on their contention that we were protected from any international chaos by the barriers of two oceans. That barrier, as such, did not and never has existed and as Mr. Walter Lipmann so aptly put it in his magnificent and prophetic article in the June3, 1940 issue of "Life"-- the only real and effective barrier that this country has ever been able to set up is one of superior statesmanship, and the longest period of isolation from European entanglements which this country enjoyed (from 1823 to 1914) was due solely to that very factor growing out of the Monroe Doctrine and the genius of Jefferson.
The sooner that we all realize that each and every one of us is a part of the government and, while enjoying the benefits of it, accept at the same time the responsibilities, the sooner we will have the kind of democratic government we desire and type of country to live in which the whole world imagines us to be. It is through no particular design or plan of our won plan rather an actual pattern of history that America today enjoys a position in the world shared by no other country. We, as individuals, must assume the obligations that go with a position like that and discharge them as someone with a trust. No more can we afford the slipshod "let-the-other-follow-do-it" attitude which was so prevalent in the 1030's. It is on the shoulders of young mom and women such as you that the burden of the future of this country rests.
In countries like Greece and Italy, for example the people loot to America for the help and assistance they so sorely need, which help and assistance enables them to have the courage to combat those other forces which are driving for control in those countries. In Italy they have a saying--whereas here the young man sitting out in the world "goes to seek his fame and fortune," in Italy they say he is "going to seek his America." America is synonymous with everything that the young person desires in the way of attaining those things in life which we all seek.
It has been my extreme good fortune during my life to have met and talked to man of the great people of the world. As individuals you may not admire them and you may disagree with their political points of view, but there is no gainsaying the fact that they are forces in the world--and very potent ones. I speak, for example, of President Juan Peron of Argentina whom I met on two occasions during my visit there in 1946--Premier Jan Smuts of South Africa whom we visited in Pretoria last October--and Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, in whose palace in Addis Ababa we had dinner in November. And the greatest of all--our own beloved F.D.R. All these men--different as they were respect to politics, race or color--had one quality in common. Simplicity. While you were talking to them you had their undivided attention and they gave you the very gratifying and highly flattering feeling that you were the only person in the world who existed at that moment.
I would like to tell you of an incident that occurred while I was visiting Smuts. After we concluded our talk in his office, he led me out on the balcony which overlooked the whole valley and the city of Praetoria. He told me how, as a young man during the Boer War, he had encamped down there. ON Sundays he and his friends would walk up to this hill and site and look out over the scenic beauty and dream about what South Africa would be some day. He had no idea that he would play as important a part in its formation as he has. But you could see how he felt about the country and why he represents what he does today. He then asked me if I were going into the country at all. I said yes, we had planned to spend some days in seeing Kreuger National Park, and he said something I'll always remember. He described the countryside and what I would find there--the trees, the valleys, the animals--and the peace of being alone. He ended up by saying how he envied me the opportunity of being able to get away. He said when you get out like that--away from people and away from cities--you realize the divine contempt that nature has for men.
If anything I have said here this evening has in any way made you the slightest bit more conscious of your obligations and duties as an American and given you a bit more incentive to discharge those obligations, then I am more than grateful for this opportunity. Unlike you, ladies and gentlemen, I never enjoyed the benefits of a college education. Whatever I have learned-and the longer I live the less I feel I know--I have had to pick up along the road. I dislike intensely giving advice, and certainly I have no preachments to make, but there are a few things that I think are important as they affect you on this memorable day in your lives. Above all else, honest--particularly with yourself. Personal integrity and a pride in what you are doing. A truism it may be but a truth nevertheless--it is the man who dignifies the job, not the job that dignifies the man.
Your exit today from this seat of learning only entitles you to start studying. I can only compare it to flying. I have done my share both as a civilian and in the Marine Corps during the war. And I look back on the morning I first soloed and received my private license as the day when I was allowed to begin to learn to fly. And the wonderfully fascinating thing about it all is--that you never stop learning. There is no such thing as a static person, nor a static flyer. You are either progressing or retrogressing.
As regards each and every one of you personally, the dreams and hopes that you have for the future, I believe that anything is possible. However, you must work for it. there is an old Spanish proverb: "God says, take what you want and pay for it." Do you want to be famous? Well, then spend every waking hour in the pursuit of fame. It will show on the other side of the balance sheet in time spent. If it is riches you want, you must work for it. Give your life to it and your life will be weighted with gold, but at the cost of other things. Or do you want to be wise? That will include a good life, the pursuit of knowledge and an uncompromising life of truth. There will be high payment for that, too. The law is simple and just. We may have what we want, but we must pay. Nothing is free.
As I said earlier, the privilege of living in this great country of ours is not to be taken for granted. I must be paid for on the part of each individual to make it live, to make it work, and to make it bring us the things we want out of life.
---Delivered at Commencement Exercises, University of Tampa, Tampa, Florida, May 31, 1948