FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: Essays for the Presidency

Putting First Things First

A Democratic View

Adlai Stevenson, 1956 U.S. Presidential campaign. Wikimedia Commons

PEACE is the most imperative business in the world today. It is the world's most universal desire and most powerful force. The mass of humanity seems to understand better than its rulers the idiocy of war and its mortal danger to the human race. Everywhere I travel the people appear to know that all their aspirations for freedom and dignity and a better life are going to be destroyed if mankind ever fights a modern war.

The United States has been the source of the most revolutionary and glorious concepts of human and political freedom. It had been my hope that in this revolutionary century the United States, which first split the atom, would be the tireless, fearless, indomitable leader of the cause of freedom from war. And I still think that to seize that role and pursue it with passion should be the top priority of American foreign policy.

Why haven't we really led the postwar world since the Korean War? Why are many Americans fearful that we have lost our sense of national purpose? Why is there confusion about intellectual and moral values? Why is there a slackness about public problems and a wholesale retreat to the joys of private life? Why is balancing the budget a greater national concern than exertion, self-denial and hard work? Have we confused prosperity with security? Why is there a growing uneasiness over the contrast between a society like that of the Soviets which believes in its destiny and our own which seems to regard itself as fulfilled?

Personally, I think the trouble is not in the nation's energy, its will, or its nerve; and if wealth and comfort have softened us I am sure we are not yet beyond repair! The root of the trouble lies in this: the nation faces a series of massive changes in the world scene; they call for new ways of looking at the world; for new policies; for increased efforts. But since Korea our political leadership

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