I Dare Say – The American Temper (1-25-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (January 25, 1941)

The American Temper
By Florence Fisher Parry

By far, the most interesting reading of the week can be found (1) in the testimony of Charles Lindbergh before the House Foreign Affairs Committee; (2) an article in the SatEvePost called “Post-Mortem: Who Elected Roosevelt?” and (3) a sketch of Philip Murray, now head of the CIO, in the current Time.

These three articles of news bear a singular relationship each to the other. They offer the most provocative commentary on the Shifting Scene of world drama to be found anywhere.

The testimony of Lindbergh invites a deep look into the heart of Europe; the exhaustive “report” of the Post’s emissary, Samuel Lubell, who understood a new kind of poll for his editors, shows us as perhaps no report yet furnishished has been able to reveal the changing heart of America, while the “appreciation” of Philip Murray, Pittsburgher in whose hands now lies the whole program of Labor, reminds us that no less than Europe, America is standing in the Instant of Destiny.

Oh, what a world of prophecy and prayer lies in the news!

Must happen to us

There have been times when we have hung upon the news more tensely. Before the fall of Paris, we lived in an ironclad Dream during the Presidential campaign we moved transfixed, as converts do, their eyes glazed and ecstatic. But it seems to me that this last week held news items of more intense and isolated drama. The horror stories of rescued crews… what words could conjure a more terrible picture than these:

….they scooped up salt water and drank it, and afterwards sang spirituals in weird voices, and prayed, went mad and died. Then the two buddies rose, each from his end of the boat, and met trying to support each other, then they went down, their arms around each other and died there in the middle of the boat.

We read these things they are wedged between a divorce and an item out of Tobruk. We get an instant of shuddering picture, then veer our minds away as from a thought too gruesome to endure.

And the page turns and we fasten avidly upon an ad or columnist or cartoon.

The human mind really can stand very little, until the actual experience catches up to it, then it can stand a crucifixion smiling! The people of Norway, Holland, France and England were like that a year ago; reading of horror yet not in the least encompassing it. Nothing sinks in until it touches our very pores, demanding absorption.

Can’t stay mad

The most American thing about us Americans is our amazing capacity to Let Bygones Be Bygones. We simply can;t stay mad. We can GET madder than any other breed of men. Being the extrovert type that we are, we explode easily, we have enormous safety-valves. But we can’t hold spite.

Is it that we really are more easily swayed? Changed? HOW can we give up a bitter stance with such apparent ease? Is it open-mindedness? Or is it intrinsic instability? What IS this thing called “The American Temper”?

Wendell Willkie and Harry Hopkins are both in London. Their errands are curiously alike. They both gorecommend by the President. They both endorse his “foreign policy.”

And the President and Mr. Wilkie part friends. Here are the two American individuals who represented Public Sentiment who symbolized, epitomized two ways of life, two philosophies of government. Who would dare call either so contemptible a name as hypocrite? Yet they have shaken hands and smiled warmly into each other’s eyes.

It is the American Temper. It is the American character. It is the American WAY. We are a breed apart: we can’t hold spite. We can’t stay mad. We can fight each other only so long as we are not confronted with a common foe. Then we simply DISSOLVE our differences, and are as one, united.

But the people of Europe STAY MAD. They are unimaginable. They cannot emulsify. They may be whipped together, like oil and vinegar, but left unwatched, they separate and curdle.

This has been so for centuries. It will be so for centuries again. For they re-breathe the same stale air, they do not know what it is to thrive upon the ozone of a free and boundless Continent like ours.

Two points of view

Here is the Family Tree of the Espositos, the two brothers who on a frenzied New York street last week, murdered two innocent men and almost fatally wounded another. Time gives their background. It should be a trite lesson to the meddlesome Reformers who would psychoanalyze our criminals into easy parole.

….Washed up from the depths of New York’s criminal world. Anthony had been in and out of New York’s prisons and reformatories for 16 years, had been deported to Italy but had sneaked back in. William had robbed drunks, snatched pocketbooks, done a seven-year sentence in Sing Sing. Their father had served time for forgery. Their brother was in Clinton prison.

Time concludes:

The Nazi press gleefully played up the crime as evidence of democratic depravity.

Democratic depravity? Rather Democratic lunacy, to permit our parole and prison system to be so candy-coated!