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The East and the West in the War and the Peace

by John L. Childs - 1942

If democracy is to win this war, it must also win the peace. That means putting at the head of all of our directing governmental agencies leaders who share the longing of the common man for a world of peace, abundance, and security. To get that kind of result from the war will require basic changes in our attitudes and relationships in our dealings with the people of the East. These changes are discussed.

AS WORKERS in the field of education, we make no pretense of neutrality in the realm of social, or human, values.1 We are engaged in education because we want to see a definite kind and quality of human living prevail as opposed to others which might come to dominate were it not for the influence of our persistent educational effort. When we made education our life career, we also gave our allegiance to certain great movements in the modern world. To illustrate:

The educator is necessarily on the side of knowledge, experimental science, critical thought, and human enlightenment, as opposed to ignorance, magical intuition, superstition, blind faith, and authoritarian imposition. The educational institutions in which we work are deliberately organized to help make this life of reason prevail. At the earlier levels, education is primarily devoted to the cause of communicating to the young whatever of knowledge, principle, and understanding the human race has accumulated through its long experience of suffering, enjoyment, success, and failure. At the advanced levels, education is primarily devoted to the important cause of human inquiry, experiment, research, and the extension of knowledge. In other words, liberal education is based on the faith that mankind will fare better if knowledge is made available to all, and the process of untrammeled inquiry is institutionalized and given unqualified public approval and support.

As American educators we are also committed to the cause of democracy. We are loyal to a political and educational tradition which accepts and supports democracy both as a form of social and political organization, and as a personal way of life. Central in this democratic way of life and thought is the conception of the worth and the dignity of the individual human being. The individual is regarded, not as the pawn of the state, a mere hand in a factory, or as a bayonet in the army, but rather as a person with a life of his own to live, possessed of the right, in cooperation with his fellows, to determine the kind of interests and activities to which he shall give his energies. In other words, the individual is the object of supreme moral consideration: the end and not the mere means of society and the state. Indeed, democracy holds that society has no good other than the good of its individual members, present and prospective, and that the ultimate test of all human institutions, including the national state, is what they contribute to the enrichment of the experience of these individual members. According to authentic American doctrine, laws, institutions, and even governments are to be altered or abolished whenever they fall short of this foundational purpose.

For us in education this democratic conception has meant commitment to the principle of equality. From the beginning American educators have struggled for a free public system of schools that would give each child his chance to develop his potentialities regardless of nationality, region, race, religion, sex, or economic status. As educators we have fought for this ideal of equality of opportunity and our efforts have not been without real result. In the United States we have never accepted the tradition of a dual school system with one set of schools for the masses and another set of schools for a privileged elite. Today, in an economy of potential plenty, we are more determined than ever that this ideal of genuine equality of educational opportunity shall be made a fact, and that such serious discriminations as now exist between different regions, races, and economic classes shall be overcome by the adequate use of federal funds and the national resources of leadership.


These twin social movements of science and democracy—faith in intelligence and faith in the common man—have combined to give us a third value and a third allegiance, which is summarized by the term liberalism. The central doctrine of liberalism is that laws and institutions should rest not primarily upon force but upon the rational consent of those who live under them. In our country we have attempted to institutionalize this theory of consent by making the civil liberties —the right to associate, to investigate, to criticize, to discuss, to publish, and to agitate—part of the organic law of our land. In sum, we have sought to institutionalize processes that would be adequate to attain all necessary social, economic, and political reconstruction by peaceful means.

As a corollary of this conception of a free people progressively determining its own way of life, we have given the minorities a creative role in our society. Instead of seeking to suppress criticism and opposition we have endeavored to legalize it, and to give minority interests and groups the chance—through public criticism and agitation—to become the controlling majority. As the educational correlative of this liberal purpose we have sought to support and free a school system which would function, not as the subservient mouthpiece of the governing party and its officials, but as an agency of liberation. Educators have not been expected to hand on an orthodox, authoritarian interpretation of the operating economy, or government, but rather to lead the young to understand the institutions under which they live, to know something of the past from which they have come, to have a realistic grasp of the problems posed by changing life conditions, and to develop constructive, responsible ways of dealing with these emerging life situations. As one thinker has said, we have cherished the ideal of "an open society"—a society which has consciously accepted the principle of change and improvement, and which recognizes the creative contribution of minorities in calling attention to places where established arrangements fail to utilize existing resources, and work to the disadvantage of certain groups in our society.

Academic freedom has been the counterpart of this liberal social and political conception. We have sought to keep the schools open intellectually as well as physically. We have striven to emancipate the teachers from authoritarian control, for we have recognized that the minds of the young could be liberated only as they were taught by those who also were free to follow the lead of their own thinking and investigations. Today many economic and political pressure groups are seeking to curb this freedom of the schools and the teachers, but as educators we realize that our right to act as free men and women would be gone should this kind of authoritarian control come to dominate the schools. Without a school system free to criticize, to investigate, to explore alternatives, to choose its own textbooks, source and reference books, this basic democratic ideal of an open society seeking change by rational and peaceful means is menaced. One of the most encouraging developments in the educational world is the growing organization of teachers, labor, and parent groups to resist these external pressures and to keep alive the liberal, experimental, democratic conception in education.

Finally, American educators are on the side of socially useful work. We believe that the ideal of craftsmanship is superior to the principle of mere acquisition and accumulation; that the conception of cooperative production for human use is superior to a ruthless economic individualism which is willing to exploit natural resources, and sabotage agricultural and industrial production in the interests of the profits for a few. The methods and the purposes of both science and democracy are negated by a dog-eat-dog competitive system which is willing to tolerate want in the midst of potential plenty, and which is willing to protect the interests of certain classes even at the cost of deliberately curbing our productive possibilities. Cooperative social and economic planning in the interest of the welfare of all is a social necessity, not a luxury, in our closely integrated, interdependent technological world. Neither science nor liberal democracy has a future of promise in a withholding economy. Today democracy, in order to continue to advance, must be reconceived in terms of a society of workers, by workers, and for workers—a socialized functional society in which each member makes his distinctive contribution to the whole, and is, in turn, supported by the socially useful activities of others.


To ideals and values such as these, we, as American educators, are committed. Giving our allegiance to the agencies and movements which support these values of science, democracy, and liberalism, we can pretend to no neutrality in this war. A long and tragic record of events has demonstrated that the forces of Fascism, Hitlerism, and Japanism are hostile to this whole conception of human living. Educators and scientists are also keenly aware, at last, that these scientific, democratic, and liberal ideals and practices cannot flourish in the world of education unless they are also respected and observed in that world of economic, political, and social practice in which the school is contained. The victory of the totalitarian Axis Powers means, at least for a long period, the end of the world in which this experimental, democratic conception of life and education was generated.

In order to justify all-out participation in this war, we do not need to contend that the so-called liberal democratic countries have ever achieved a complete embodiment of these values and ideals. This we certainly have not done. We have fallen far short of the democratic ideal of liberty, equality, and fraternity. But to recognize the injustice and discrimination in our existing arrangements should not blind us to their points of strength and then-rugged virtues, particularly when they are compared to the ruthless and cruel exploitation of human beings in the aggressive racialism and militarism of the nationalistic totalitarian systems.

The peoples of the East suffering under the onslaught of our economic and military system have had an experience of the worst side of our way of life. At firsthand they have endured all the injustices of American and British imperialism. They want no more of it. But the people of Korea, Manchuria, and China have also had decades of experience with the imperialism of Japan. Therefore they have had no difficulty in. deciding where the better prospect and the larger hope lie. Because they have been able to make discriminating judgments of this sort, the peoples of Korea and China are wholehearted in the support of the cause of the United Nations. As one of the able Chinese nationalists told me a few weeks ago: "We know that we have no cultural, economic, or political future if the Axis Powers win." Even the people of India who have lived under British rule and know nothing at firsthand of what subjection to Japan and Germany might mean, have no hesitancy in declaring that while they want an end to all foreign control, they also want to see the United Nations victorious in the present struggle.


In order to win this war, we need to abandon two notions: first, the notion that the Axis powers are led by supermen and that the democratic countries do not have it within their power to defeat their cruel, powerful thrust. This defeatist notion can, if it spreads, breed the very outcome that it predicts. One way to make certain things inevitable is to assume that nothing can be done about them. If we make official the kind of war purposes that Vice President Wallace defined in his recent speech, we can still bring the vast popular forces of this world to our side in this mortal struggle, and ultimate victory will be ours.2

Secondly, and equally to be feared is the complacent notion which assumes that the victory of the United Nations is inevitable. There is nothing as yet assured about the outcome of this war. The result is contingent through and through. It depends upon the will, the unity, the determination, the courage, the organizing power, and the endurance which we as a people can exhibit. As educators, believing in the values which I have defined, we have a peculiar role to help the people of our country understand the true nature of this total struggle and the basic values that really are at stake in it. It is in literal truth a struggle for survival—the kind of life we have learned to cherish will not survive a smashing defeat at the hands of the forces now arrayed against us.

But if democracy is to win this war, it must also win the peace. That means that we must wage the war itself in such way that progressively we shall put into positions of leadership and control those who desire to make this a people's war. It means fewer dollar-a-year men at the head of important government boards that are regulating our internal affairs and our external effort. It also means putting into Congress, next year the kind of men and women who know what is at stake in this war and will support the President's effort to win it in the shortest possible time, and without sacrifice of the social gains we have made during the past decade. It means putting at the head of all of our directing governmental agencies leaders who share the longing of the common man for a world of peace, abundance, and security.


To get that kind of result from the war will require basic changes in our attitudes and relationships in our dealings with the people of the East. To achieve the kind of outcome which will give us a just and stable peace, we must re-examine many of the hidden premises of our thought, for these unconscious moral and intellectual attitudes hide fallacies and assumptions of superiority which are incompatible with the organizing of the world for peace, freedom, security, science, and abundance.

First, there is the fallacy that the white man is intellectually superior to the members of the yellow race. Such evidence as we have, however, even from intelligence tests constructed by the white man, which inevitably reflect the cultural influences of the West, do not seem to bear out this notion of white-race superiority. To one who has lived and worked with the Chinese in the educational affairs of China, it is difficult to find any foundation for this assumption of white intellectual superiority. Even if we limit our interpretation of intelligence to ability to work with symbols, we still find nothing to support this prejudice of the white man. The Chinese generally does a much better job with the English language than the Westerner does with the Chinese. In fact, the lingual ability of the Chinese has long been the marvel of those who have taught Western languages to them.

Second, there is the fallacy that the white man is courageous and dependable and the Far-Easterner is not. Since the events of the past few years we hear much less of this variety of talk than formerly. Chinese repeatedly have stood courageously at their posts even though their weapons were vastly inferior to those opposed to them. To give the Japanese their due, it must also be said that they have fought with the greatest courage, repeatedly displaying a supreme indifference to the risks involved in carrying through their daring exploits.

Now the argument shifts and we hear less about "racial" bravery and more about the Oriental disregard for the life of the individual. But to call daring and fortitude under fire "courage" when exhibited by the white man, and merely "Oriental fatalism" or "lack of regard for human personality" when shown by the Easterner, is too obvious a case of rationalization to merit serious attention.

Third, there is the fallacy that the white man can understand scientific thought and the precision techniques of modern technology, but the Easterner cannot. Associated with this is the notion that the Westerner has a capacity to organize and to administer which the Easterner does not enjoy. Since Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the "Repulse" and the "Prince of Wales," the disastrous defeat in the Java Sea, and the loss of Hong Kong, Manila, the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, Java and Burma, it is much more difficult to assume that technology and efficient large-scale organization are the exclusive attributes of the Westerner, In the Coral Sea and at Midway we have had our victories, but those who have met the Japanese on the land, in the air, and at sea are the first to declare their competence.

The same testimony is given by those Western soldiers who have fought side by side with the gallant Chinese. In scientific research, medicine, and the like, Oriental scientists share impressively in important discoveries. Whatever lead the West may once have had in the realm of science and technology does not seem, likely to be continued indefinitely.

Fourth, there is the fallacy that the West has a superior moral and spiritual tradition. That the Hebraic-Christian ethic with its ideals of universal brotherhood, peace, love, humility, mercy, tolerance, good will, and forgiveness expresses some of the supreme ethical conceptions of the race no one can deny. That our democratic tradition is continuous with this basic spiritual emphasis on the worth of human personality is also a primary fact. But objective, critical study of the moral teachings of the different human groups makes it difficult any longer to give absolute supremacy to any one of these moral systems.

Moreover, we must judge a tradition of this kind, not only by its abstract statements of principle but also by its fruits in personal and group life. "By their fruits ye shall know them." In spite of its sublime ethical inheritance, the West in the space of twenty-five years has been the breeding ground for two of the most devastating wars the human race has ever known. It must also be said to our shame that it was this Western World which gave birth to Fascism, with its doctrine of master and slave races, with its cruel persecution of minorities, with its agencies of the secret military police, with its concentration camps, and with its ruthless slaughter of innocent and defenseless people. In light of this sorry moral failure and inhuman cruelty, the West cannot complain if the East is no longer impressed with its assertion of all-round moral superiority. This is not to say that the West has nothing of moral value to give the East, but the East also has a moral wisdom from which the West has much to learn.

Fifth, there is the fallacy that the peoples of the East are unable to govern themselves. The record of the West in government was much more impressive a generation ago than it is today. In those days—prior to World War I—of rapid industrial development, expanding world trade, and efficient colonial administration, it seemed to many that the West had made a splendid and lasting combination of industrial efficiency, political democracy, social stability, and cultural freedom and advance. But the failure of the Western nations in the period following the last war to solve either the international or the domestic economic and political problems has greatly lowered this earlier prestige. The recent sorry record of want, insecurity, and unemployment in the midst of potential plenty at home, and the inability of the nations victorious in the last war to deal effectually with the growing threat of the fascist states has convinced the peoples of the East that no people has a monopoly of social and political administration or governmental capacity. They are convinced that self-government is the best government, and there will be no security in the world if we seek to induce them to return to the former colonial status. They are prepared to insist that we of the West lay down the white man's burden for all time. Nothing less than national independence and free partnership in a commonwealth of nations will satisfy their aspirations.

Finally, there is the fallacy that this is to be either the American century, or the century of Anglo-American supremacy in world affairs. This fallacy is the more dangerous because it does contain certain valid elements. This conception is wholly correct in assuming that the day of American isolation is gone beyond recall. It is to be hoped that as a nation we shall recognize from now on that we live in a world-society, and that whatever happens in any part of that world is a matter of real moment and consequence for us. Let us be done for all time with that species of immoral neutrality which we recently practiced under the persuasion of the isolationists. American foreign policy reached a real low indeed when it held that we should tend to our own business, cultivate our own garden, and sell munitions and other war supplies to whoever could come and get and pay for them.

Wrapped up as we supposed we were in the security of our geographical position, we assumed that the distinction between the aggressor nation and its victims was not one that need concern us. Operating under this principle of blindfold neutrality, the United States helped supply Franco with the munitions which he needed to destroy the people's movement in Spain, and gave much sympathy to the people of China, while selling scrap, oil, cotton, and other war materials to Japan, who was seeking to subjugate her. This notwithstanding the fact that at the Washington Conference in 1922 we had taken the initiative in drawing up a Nine-Power Treaty which bound all the signers— including Japan, Britain, and the United States—to respect the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of China.

But the alternative to isolationism, and evasion of national responsibility in world affairs, need not be a modified form of Anglo-American imperialism. To attempt to re-enact that policy is to set the great masses of the people of India, China, and Russia against us. It means the sowing of the seeds of another great war, even more devastating than the one in which we are now engaged, for the peoples of the East do not intend to accept longer the arrogance and tutelage of the white men of the West.

A difficult, but much more promising alternative is the renunciation of the policy of exploitation and domination, and honest acceptance of our due part in a world program which includes as equal partners the peoples of the East as well as of the West. A world program of this kind could give up trying to adjust to an economy of potential plenty by withholding the plenty, and could set as its goal the full use for the whole human race of the new powers of production, control, and human betterment which science and technology have given us. Within the framework of such a cooperative world order the life of freedom, democracy, and science, and the cause of reason would have a chance to blossom among us once again.

The earlier we adopt this alternative and announce that the principles of the Atlantic Charter apply in the East as well as in the West, the better the prospect for our democratic way of life in both the War and the Peace.

1 An address delivered before the All-College Conferences on Education, held daily during the Summer Session of 1942 at Teachers College. The theme of the Conferences was "Education—the American Way." Professor Floyd B. O'Rear served as chairman. Also included in this issue are the addresses delivered at the Conferences by Professor Linton and Professor Spence.

2 Since this was written, Mr. Willkie has also made a notable statement of democratic principles of world organization. J. L. C.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 44 Number 2, 1942, p. 84-91
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 9183, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 12:22:26 PM

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About the Author
  • John Childs
    Professor of Education, Teachers College
    Professor JOHN L. CHILDS, whose article on "The East and the West in the War and the Peace" is included in this issue, was engaged in college work in Peking, China, from 1916 to 1927 as a foreign secretary of the National Council of the YMCA. The National Government of China conferred upon him the Order of the Abundant Harvest for his work in famine relief in 1921. At present he is chairman of the National Commission of the American Federation of Teachers on "Education and the Problems of the War and the Peace."
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