I Dare Say – It comes like lightning (7-28-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (July 28, 1943)


It comes like lightning

By Florence Fisher Parry

One day he was there, strutting, filling the Palace with his noise and bombast. The next, he was gone, the Palace overrun by the people who were yesterday slaves, and now felt themselves to be free.

It comes like lightning. The page of history does not turn with a slow rustle. One comes to the bottom of one page, and lo, in an instant, it has turned as though a sword had turned it and what is written on the next page is anybody’s guess.

One day the Czar was safe – scared but safe. The next day he was dead, and his wife and children. So, it is with all those in high places that have become too high. Gentle or terrible, raised by fate or by their own maneuverings, when they sit too high, they fall.

One day Hitler will walk down the bristling aisle of raised hands in stiff salute. No one will look to be as safe, as guarded, as powerful as he. The next day, his carcass will crave, uneasily, a grave.

But always leaders will be raised and carried through the streets and set upon the seats of the mighty, and be invested with attributes no mortal man can have. Leaders and followers, leaders and followers. It is the course of mankind.

Toppled idols

I was at Baden-Baden, and the Kaiser was borne down the avenue on his way to the castle. There was something terrible in the slavish cheers. The people seemed to turn to worms groveling. In a few frightful years he was a craven fugitive, a man without a country.

I was in New York when President Harding spoke reverently before the caskets of returned dead soldiers. Americans, loyal and trusting, remarked upon the man’s noble mien. In a few years, he was disgraced and dead.

I was in Washington when Charles A. Lindbergh returned. Up from a window in the New Willard Hotel, we saw a demonstration the like of which had never been accorded any American. The boy was a god, millions went delirious with love and pride in him. I lived to see angry, disgusted citizens turn away from him as he walked, lonely, through Grand Central Station, a hated man.

I remember the first year of the first administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Has there ever been such a united support behind a President, I wonder? Washington did not have it, nor Jefferson nor Lincoln nor Wilson. A strange humility and united intention possessed the hearts of Americans. “There is nothing to fear but fear,” he had said, and we believed him, and so cast out fear and were born again.

I cannot remember how long it lasted, can you? The change was gradual, more gradual than most changes. But it did not start until long after our own attitude had been communicated to distant lands, and the population of the whole world had taken on, in imitation, our own trustfulness and love for this new President.

Now strangers, visiting our country, are struck with bitter amazement over our frank and growing coolness toward the administration now in power. To them, who for 10 years have sustained, unaltered, the image we first gave them of our President, our change of heart is near to sacrilege. What? Dare we criticize our President, upon whose benignity rests the salvation of the world?

Leader on the make

Yet here at home, deep forces are beginning to move against the bland bonanzas of the New Deal… Three years ago, they started, and we were witness again to that strange manifestation of revolt which unseats and topples the most illustrious idol…

For do you remember the visit of Wendell Willkie to Pittsburgh, and the crowds, the crowds, their faces marked with a strange new exaltation, as though some inner baptism had occurred?

I do. I remember this bronzed and shaggy man, being borne down Fifth Avenue, hatless, his face lifted to the sun. “What a man!” was muttered under the breath of thousands who, before sight of him, were unconvinced and sullen… For he was marked for leadership – but marked before his time.

No one quite knows what happened… He seemed to be lifted up into the sun on a bright, piercing spear of acclaim, millions of hopes a capsule in his palm.

And then – he was a man among men again, merely… Was it that his clock had struck too soon?