Answering the Call – Today and Yesterday (10-29-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 29, 1940)


Today, as the numbers are drawn, we want to quote a very interesting letter from a reader which philosophizes on youth and the problems youth faces in a dangerous world. The letter carries a note of realism which makes the troubles of 1940 seem by comparison somewhat less arduous than we all want to view them. Thereby it carries also a note of hope, and it concludes that youth, now and in the past, will take its problems in its stride. The letter follows:

As people get older, hardships which did not terrify them when they were young are magnified out of all proportion. Consequently, the tendency among oldsters is to view the prospects of the youngsters with a vicarious dread which the youngsters themselves do not feel at all.

Because we are in a world at war, it is forgotten that many other generations of young people faced life with a world at war. Because times have been heard, and jobs scarce, it is forgotten that practically every generation started out with opportunities uncertain.

Just take a look – break down the past 175 years into 25-year periods.

25 years ago, it was the World War. The auto industry was in its infancy and radio was just beginning, Industries and businesses which have grown out of the auto and radio were as yet undreamed of. There were fewer opportunities for the college graduate 25 years ago than today. And the world then looked black, with the World Way only a year old.

Go 25 years farther than that, and you are in the 1890s – the Spanish-American War era. To the young chap just coming out of college the prospect then must indeed have been dark.

Go 25 years beyond that, and you are in the late 1860s at the end of the Civil War and at the beginning of Reconstruction, not a decidedly rosy prospect for the youngster of that generation.

Go 25 years beyond that, and you are in the 1840s, the era of the Mexican War, and of almost unparalleled political and economic disturbance. Pretty bleak outlook.

Go 25 years beyond that, and the War of 1812 with England is just over, Indians on the western frontier are still scalping settlers, and there is no prospect for the youngster except toil of the hardest sort. All opportunity was assumed to have been fully exploited in the territory east of the Appalachians. About the only future was to hit the thorny trail into the West, facing almost incredible hardships.

Go 25 years beyond that, and you are in the 1790s, with the Revolutionary War just over, with the young republic prostrate from fatigue; with the country busted, and in utter political and economic chaos.

Go 25 years beyond that and you are in the 1760s, which was the era of the French-Indian War, and a young man’s chief concern was how to keep his scalp. If there was anything rosy in the prospects of that period, history doesn’t reveal it.

The truth is that as each generation succeeds in raising standards of living, each new generation of youngsters first faces a life a little easier and the prospect ahead just a little easier and the prospect ahead just a little less hazardous, until danger repeats, and then there comes again tough going for a while.

My oldest boy has never milked a cow, never got up in cold dawn to light a fire, never slopped pigs, of hoes a row in the garden, or split wood or harnessed a horse. The only thing in the line of work he has ever had to do was to mow a lawn, and that more or less as a dilettante. My lid is not unique in that. But when his number comes up he will make such sacrifices as are called for to his nation’s existence and well-being, because he knows a nation has got to be tough to endure. And that I think goes for most of the youth of America today.