I Dare Say – The bright badge (5-2-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 2, 1941)



The bright badge

By Florence Fisher Parry

The voice that came to me over the telephone was young and live, and the lift of desperate inquiry was in it. It wanted to know why Col. Lindbergh and Gen. Johnson had to be made an example and a warning to those in America who dared declare themselves.

He wanted to know:

Why are we suspected and accused of being unpatriotic when we disagree passionately with the President? And why should we be punished for trying to make democracy work by acting and speaking like free men?

He seemed very bitter and because I felt that he needed very much the outlet of expression. I asked him why he did not write in to the Letters from Readers Column in the Press, that our editor regarded this department as one of the most important in the paper, and welcomed frank statements from all readers.

He said:

I cannot afford to affix my name to a protest. I am a teacher, Mrs. Parry, and I have to hold my job. But if I were publicly to express a viewpoint unsympathetic to the popular one, I’d run the risk of losing my job. Moreover, I’d be suspected of being a Nazi sympathizer or at best an appeaser. It scares me how fast public opinion can be shaped. Since last November it has practically reversed itself; yet the issues then were fundamental issues which, if true then, are true now. Must opinion be so fluid that even TRUTH can’t hold its shape?

Cross section

Now I have set down this little conversation because it seems to men to be typical of the point of view of all too many young Americans today, who are becoming confused and mistrustful because of seeing so many evidences of the abuse of privilege and power, and the terrible insecurity of those who are not willing subscribers to the decreed blueprint of opinion.

They are old enough to remember the idolatry the world gave Lindbergh, the power which was Gen. Johnson’s during the administration of the NRA, and see them now divested of military rank, which, to a true patriot, is the greatest loss he ever could sustain. They are old enough to see the terrible waste of trained manpower because of power politics. They remember Gamelin and Weygand and Petain, and see their cravenness today. It is not for any idle reason that I hear – all in one evening – remarks like these, from young folks:

I don’t want ever to be a teacher! Not in any prep school, I don’t! I don’t want to be fired overnight, after a lifetime’s work!

I don’t want an education! I want to learn a trade and join a union and get to be a big shot Labor Leader and make a lot of dough.

What can I learn to be that will keep me independent? Not all my life at the mercy of someone who will have the power to hire and fire me? Medicine? Law? Sure. I’d like that, but the cost has me licked. All the other things seem to be tied up with union bosses and employers. You have ro be under someone who has the power to hire and fire – just like that – OUT YOU GO!

I thought, as I listened to these youngsters, of the words of a wise man, spoken to his sons:

Choose early a pursuit that can’t be taken away. Discover, if you can, an INDEPENDENT gift, and train it fast and sure. Then, never mind what comes. IT is your master, and you can keep your dignity and peace of soul. No one can take your work from you. No one will have the power to hire or fire you.

And I was reminded how, the other night, I came upon a young man who had found and made his, this INDEPENDENT job. I found him bent over a delicate experiment in the laboratory of Duquesne University. It was the eleventh Pharmacy Night Exhibit, and the great laboratories had been set for a magnificent demonstration for the public, one of the most exhilatring scientific “shows” I ever had seen.

Dr. Hugh C. Muldoon, Dean of the School of Pharmacy (one of the outstanding science educators in our country), presided over the exhibit; and it was plain, observing these devoted students at their appointed demonstrations, that here had been found the answer to the query of youth today: What can I find which NOTHING CAN TAKE AWAY?

One youth, a colored boy, said to me:

I would be happy to spend my life here, proving chemical truths.

Another, freckled and Irish, said:

I’m lucky to be born just at the right time – just in time to be in on all these new miracles in science!

Another said:

I’m going to help lick Hitler with the one thing he can’t destroy – Science. He only accelerates its pace against him. Wait. You’ll see!

Yes, they had found the answer; they had found the one unbeatable, the one independent, work: they were making themselves masters of it. They were entering the one remaining uncrowded field so vast that it would forever require increasing hosts of youths to man it.

You felt this rush to meet its urgency, you felt it as you looked at thee intent and ardent youths, apprentices to a magician but now beginning to unfold his greatest mysteries! For as they held up to our view the absolute and unvarying results of their demonstrations, their hands so precise and steady, their eyes so alert and keen, it was as though they were holding up to view the only safe, the only exact answer to our query:

What master left who can be counted upon, not to enslave, but free us?

Science, the pure abstraction and the pure proof of science, nowhere so clearly demonstrated as in the field of pharmacy, nowhere else holding out so friendly and so welcoming a hand!

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