Address in Saint Paul’s Cathedral San Diego, California April 27, 2008
In this ever changing life, upon this glowing transforming globe, I have lived for nearly 100 years, traveling inwardly and outwardly, in my thoughts and in my dreams, realizing that there are no limits to the paths which can be explored in the thunderous days and illuminated nights of this journey.
I was born in a thunder storm with lightening flickering around my mother’s body. I have landed on a torn beach in Normandy, leaping from a small boat onto a strip of sand covered by parts of bodies and wreckage. I have ridden through villages smashed by allied bombs and shared in the liberation of the city of Paris on a blazing day in August 1944.
I have ridden with a President threatened by defeat and hidden assassins, and sat close to him on the day of his inauguration when the sky was filled with war planes and thousands of men went marching by. I have worked in a huge office in the Capitol of the United States – an office once occupied by the Supreme Court. I have hidden in a cavern under that majestic building, made fearful by reports of a possible attack by enemy bombers.
In all many places I have had glimpses of the Creator who shaped all life. I have seen His awesome power in clouds and volcanoes, in giant animals pacing in cages, in the smiles and wails of little children, in old men and women with authority, in the beauty and delight of love and in nightmares when I thought I heard the cries of a dying Savior asking why he had been forsaken.
I was born in 1914, a year when nations plunged into the catastrophe known as World War I. When President Woodrow Wilson took this country into that war in 1917, proclaiming that it was a war to end war, my father volunteered for military service. He was sent to Camp Funston for training and became a captain in the infantry. But when he went overseas with thousands of other men to crush the German Kaiser, my mother and I felt strangely abandoned.
My father ordered me to wear a little soldier suit – and forced me to salute him and other men in uniform. He ordered me to take care of my dear mother while he bloodied his hands in the Wilsonian crusade. I did not begin to understand the murderous nature of war until he’d returned from France horribly wounded. I did not recognize him. He had a scarred hole in his neck and he woke up at night in savage struggles, fighting in trenches hand to hand confronting the bloody bowels of men he had ripped open with a bayonet.
His nightmares afflicted me – and still do. Our house in Kansas City was filled with deep pains I had not earned and those memories have remained with me all the years of my life. I had been taught that God was good but the world he had made reeked with evils.
To escape from the planet of terror on which I had been born, I leaped toward the stars. It seemed to me that all those glistening spangles in the night skies were there to be explored by voyagers from earth. The stars to me seemed the very signs of God. I was a very religious boy and I felt His arms around me, pulling me into ecstasies.
In my early teens, I wrote science fiction stories about traveling to other planets. When I saw the astronauts landing on the moon many years later, it seemed to me that they were dressed exactly as I had depicted them in my stories. The explorations of space seemed to me very relevant to the questions I had wrestled with in my youth.
My first teachers were Catholic nuns who taught me that the powerful God who gleamed in the stars had also made me. This God loved to make stars, beasts and beetles and millions of other living beings and he loved everything he made. He had created me to love Him and to serve Him and to be happy with Him forever. That was what they taught me.
Yet there were perils which had to be faced. The nuns taught me that there were angels and demons around at all times. Invisible spiritual warfare was even worse than the slaughter in which my father had participated. It was going on around me and around us all. There were dark powers and principalities seeking to devour me and resplendent angels defending me. So they convinced me that I was very important to God and to the enormous power called the devil.
My favorite teacher was a beautiful nun who was not frightened by the questions I hurled at her. She encouraged me to write stories of wonder, to let my mind run freely, to leap toward the farthest places if I felt like jumping high. She told me that God had given me some of his creative power, some of his courage, some of his strength. I was a pioneer of wonder – so I had to be brave and strong.
As I tried to spring higher and higher, I encountered the marvelous eloquence of a scientist, Brian Swimme, who declared: “The vastness of this universe could not have been otherwise….This universe, which is 30 billion light years across, is the smallest universe that we can fit into….The universe had to expand at this rate to enable our existence….We belong here. This is our home. This has been our home for 15 billion years. If you altered the universe even just slightly, none of us would even be here. That means that our very existence is implicit! We don’t only stand on our own feet….We stand on the original fireball; we stand on the expansion of the universe as a whole!”
Now when I stand here in this great center of worship, built by the tremendous surges of creative power, I’m sure that Brian Swimme and other physicists are right. The unfolding of this universe, the Big Bang that occurred billions of years ago, had to happen just as it did.
The first book of Moses, commonly called Genesis, puts it another way, saying that in the beginning the earth was without form and utterly dark and then there was a great burst of light. The whole process began with the emergence of the shining brightness that brings forth the understanding which transforms everything forever. When God said, “Let there be Light,” everything changed.
There are many possibilities for despair in the age of turmoil in which we live. I have often reached the edge of darkness but I’ve always been suddenly aware of those ringing words: “Let there be Light.”
As I gaze at the shining faces that glow before me this morning, I see glorious beings – reaching everywhere.
You are glorious because you are connected to the starry skies – that blaze above and beyond this hall. You have radiating through you the glory of this vast universe! The Big Bang brought you here!
I am sure that Albert Einstein had a glimpse of reality when he said that if we could envision what we really are, we would know that we are glowing fields of electro-magnetic energy. We are collections of vibrating molecules composed of dancing atoms filled with positive and negative charges. And yet we are more than all that! The physicist can describe what we are but cannot convey who we are.
There are auras of light around your amazing bodies, and your immortal souls are visible through your eyes. Look at one another. Listen to one another, to the breathing that goes on, to the heartbeats, to the throbbing of pulses.
Become fully aware of what towering beings you are. You are far more involved in the survival of your planet, in shaping your future, than you have ever begun to realize.
You know that humanity is involved in a tragic situation today. You are surrounded by more dangers than any generation before you – and yet you have more strength in big and little matters, more technological knowledge, more allies to help you than you have fully understood.
How do I dare today to make such statements to you? I dare because I have lived in this body for more than 90 years and in that long life I have experienced many miracles. In my science fiction in the 1920s, I predicted some of the transformations through which humanity has already passed – and glimpsed many more.
In the presidential election of 1948, I had the privilege of writing speeches for Harry Truman, who had attained the Presidency without seeking it, who had survived a war without expecting to be elevated to the highest levels of political power. In a personal interview he revealed to me the principles he had learned from his mother and from reading the Bible. He felt, as I did, that he had to carry the whole world on his shoulders.
He had been taught, as I had, that he had to be an obedient servant of the Creator, a man who prayed publicly and privately to carry out his obligations. In his diary, Truman recorded this prayer: “Oh almighty and everlasting God, Creator of Heaven, earth and the Universe, help me to be, to think, to act on what is right because it is right; make me truthful, honest, and honorable in all things….”
His philosophy was based on confronting what he regarded as reality. In describing how he made what he called the most terrible decision any human had to make in the history of humanity – the use of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities – he spoke in very personal terms. He told me that General LeMay, commander of the B29 Bombers that dropped fire bombs on many places in Japan, thought that Japan could be defeated by those blazing attacks. Truman made a sweeping gesture with his right arm and said: “LeMay told me we didn’t need to use those new atomic weapons. We could burn up Japan from one end to the other. That would have meant setting fire to millions of mothers and children. I couldn’t sanction that!” He leaned toward me: “You know Frank, those Japanese are just as human as we are. Could you have burned up your mother?” I understood his burden. Most of the people in the world felt that the use of the Atom Bombs brought a speedy end to World War II. Mr. Truman believed that, but he thought of it as saving millions of mothers and children.
Later I served as one of Truman’s representatives on the committee which developed the national Democratic Platform in 1948. Mr. Truman told us that he would treat that platform as much more than an instrument to win votes. He reminded me that he had taken steps to rebuild Europe after World War II. We had supported the United Nations fully and we had pledged fully to participate in international programs leading to the development of the UN, which would truly constitute an effective parliament of the world’s peoples.
Mr. Truman carried in his wallet a poem by an English writer Alfred Tennyson, predicting the eventual creation of such a parliament. In that poem written in 1842, the English author wrote:
For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world and all the wonder that could be; Saw the heavens filled with commerce, argosies of magic sails, Heard the heavens filled with shouting and there rained a ghastly dew From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue Till the war drums throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furled In the parliament of man, the federation of the world….
When I was released from the American army in 1945, I was sent by the Associated Press to cover the first sessions of the United Nations. I witnessed Truman’s use of power to get the Soviets to withdraw their soldiers from the Northern part of Iran. I used the knowledge I gained then to write a novel about the United Nations entitled, An Edge of Light, showing Truman’s determination to keep the military strength of nations to be used for the averting of bloody clashes. He insisted that strength had to be an imperative element for maintaining peace. He got the Soviets to back down.
In my conversations with that President, I was enormously encouraged by his confidence and hope. He predicted that the Soviet system would collapse, and that Americans and Russians would work together in meeting the needs of people in many places. In 1983 I was invited to go to Russia under the auspices of the Council of Citizens to discuss steps toward cooperation. I found that many Soviet leaders were eager for peace with Americans. Truman’s efforts to rebuild Europe were known and appreciated in Moscow.
In addition to working with Truman and later serving as assistant to the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, I had the benefit of being Vice President of the Fund for the Republic, an educational foundation, dedicated to preserving the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights. With financial backing from the Ford Foundation and other donors, the fund helped many non-profit organizations to uphold civil rights and liberties in a period of expanding challenges to those rights and freedoms.
The Center for the Study of Democratic institutions created by the fund for the Republic was active for 22 years. It helped to prevent a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It fostered efforts to end the tragic conflict in Viet Nam. It was a pioneer in the environmental movement. It sponsored discussions of the constructive and negative effects of organized religions. It called attention to the positive and negative effects of the mass media, the skeptical clashes between the press and the people, and the destructive impact of commercial television. It published a model Constitution for the World. It brought thousands of people into dialogues and conferences in New York, Geneva,, San Francisco, Washington and many other places. It became “an early warning system” for humanity.
In my 16 years of participation in the Center’s work I gained a full appreciation of the value of long-range thinking. I read and heard the ideas of brilliant people from every field – atomic scientists, philosophers, generals, military strategists, novelists, bishops, priest, theologians, psychologists, poets, science fiction writers including Aldous Huxley and those who’d experimented with LSD and other mind-altering substances, peace activists, Supreme Court judges, senators, governors, presidential candidates, labor leaders, university administrators, state and local officials, economists and others. I argued with Nobel Prize winners and offered questions to the scholars who were employed by the Center, to make major revisions in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
On the Center staff, we planned meetings on science and world affairs, on the demands of technology, on the prospects for democracy in the new nations that had arisen after the collapse of the European Colonial Empires, on the possible changes in the American character in an affluent society, and the connection between American problems and world problems. We had an insatiable thirst for knowledge about everything in every area of human activity. We were intensely concerned about the effects of current events on the lives of coming generations. We were accused of fostering a new sin – the sin of intellectual gluttony. I was among those guilty of that sin -of wanting to know everything there was to know about everything. I am still guilty of that thirst to know as much as God does.
THE NATIONAL PEACE ACADEMY CAMPAIGN
I left The Center in 1975, after it went through a drastic reorganization. After several years of writing books and articles, I had another chance to engage in a project with impacts on humanity’s future. I was invited to join the board of directors of The National Peace Academy Campaign, which had been created to get congress to approve an idea which had been around for almost two centuries – the formation of a federal institution to “promote and preserve perpetual peace.”
In 1793, when George Washington was President, two far-seeing citizens – a Black mathematician named Benjamin Banneker and Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of The American Declaration of Independence, deplored the fact that the new nation had a War Department but no Peace Department. They launched a proposal to create a Peace Office for the United States. They didn’t get much support.
In the 19th Century, various members of Congress and other citizens had tried to bring a Department of Peace into existence, but they couldn’t get enough public backing to put it over. In the 1970s, in the connection with the Bicentennial celebration of the American Republic, Senator Hartke of Indiana and Republican Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon sponsored a bill to “establish an educational institute” to promote understanding of “the process and the state of peace.” The United States had been involved in many wars and they thought it was time for this country “to consider the dimensions of peaceful resolution of differences.” Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, who had been my executive assistant in Averell Harriman’s campaign for the presidency in 1952, held hearings on the Hartke – Hatfield Bill and suggested the formation of a national commission to examine proposals for a Peace Academy. The commission came into existence in 1980, and conducted public hearings in various locations ranging from Hawaii to Massachusetts and finally urged the Congress to establish the Academy. In 1984, through an amendment attached by Senator Hatfield to a huge Defense Department of Appropriations bill, a few million dollars were allocated to make available to what was then called the United States Institute of Peace. At last, the United States had an agency engaged in full time programs for peace. Harry Truman and Woodrow Wilson must have rejoiced!
Remembering my father’s years of nightmares – and the sufferings of wounded men I had seen in World War II, I hoped that my sons and my grandsons – as well as the children of millions of other veterans – would not have to settle disputes by stabbing or shooting or bombing one another. When I spoke in honor of President Truman in a recent meeting in Kansas City, a man in the audience came up and gave me a copy of a science fiction story I had written in the 1920s celebrating the erection of a giant peace tower in the 21st century America, signifying the increasing progress for peace made by Americans.
When the Peace Academy Campaign was at its height, I was invited to become a founder of another organization with a global mission – The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, launched by David Krieger, Wallace Drew, Charles Jamison and myself in 1982. That Foundation initiates and supports worldwide efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, to strengthen International law and institutions, to use technology responsibly, and to empower young people to create a more peaceful society.
The Foundation publishes a journal and sponsors and co-sponsors meetings, dialogues and conferences with schools, colleges, universities, women’s organizations, and other peace groups. It has consultative status to the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council, and is recognized by the UN as a Peace Messenger organization.
I am grateful to be connected to this inspiring foundation. Its vision is a world full of joyful activities, free from aggressive assaults and the threats of mass destruction. We try to develop an atmosphere in which human beings realize how glorious they are, how many gifts they have, how the future may unfold with beauty and unconditional love everywhere.
We work daily to make that future possible. We honor people who have demonstrated leadership in advancing peace and justice. We have presented awards to educators, scientists, religious leaders, artists and others. Among them are Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame, Mairead Maguire of Ireland, The Dalai Lama of Tibet, Dr. Linus Pauling, Elisabeth Mann Borgese, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Carl Sagan, Paul Ehrlich, Yehudi Menuhin, Queen Noor of Jordan, Senator Claiborne Pell, Jacques Cousteau, Admiral Gene LaRocque and others.
We also acknowledge the dangers of the modern world. People from 80 countries died in the wreckage of the World Trade Towers in New York after they were attacked from the air. Everyone now knows that terrorists may strike again at any time, anywhere. The “preventive war” launched by the US in Iraq in 2003 has brought many deaths and much suffering to millions of people in the Middle East. The war in Afghanistan destroyed one terrorist group, but there are now reported to be such groups in 65 nations. People everywhere are now fully aware of the vulnerability that has to be faced in big rich countries and small poor ones.
That awareness of vulnerability has made us all realize that we are all connected. We had a large meeting in Santa Barbara in 2001 to present peace leadership awards to two young people for their bravery.
One went to Hafsat Abiola, who founded the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy on the African Continent. The other was given to Craig Kielberger, founder of the Free the Children organization, who started a movement that led to the liberation of thousands of children from slave labor.
When these two young leaders described what they had done, the people there gave them standing ovations. Bursts of admiration and affection flashed through the men and women of all ages in that gathering. The young leaders had shown how constructive human beings could become.
I thought then of the triumphant joy I had felt on the day in August 1944, when I had taken part in the liberation of Paris. That beautiful city in France had been occupied for years by the gray legions of Hitler’s army. Thousands of Frenchmen had been taken away to German prison camps.
As a member of General Patton’s army, I had ridden into that city to the sound of applause. I saw the Nazis running. French people came to our trucks and embraced us. We were kissed by bearded men as well as women. We were hailed as Heroes. The city was bubbling like a fountain of champagne.
In that glorious moment, I remembered the men who had been wounded or killed on the roads after we had moved inland from Normandy. I thought of the bodies on the beach, the torn legs and arms, the eyes and limbs we had passed over. Why had we been spared? Why were we given a share in that tremendous celebration? I had been in a training camp for “replacements” for months before D-Day. Then an officer from General Eisenhower’s headquarters had come to our camp looking for men with journalistic experience. Because I had worked for the Associated Press, I had been taken out of the ranks and given patches on my uniform, which had proclaimed me to an “Army Correspondent.” I still carried a rifle but I was not asked to use it. I was ordered to interview the bloody wounded for the army newspaper Stars and Stripes and hometown publications. I was supposed to depict every soldier as a hero even though he might be crying out for his mother or weeping for his dead friends.
Even now, I can’t explain why I was pulled from the edge of death and carried into a bright city full of hugs and embraces. Years later, when I was asked by Admiral Hyman Rickover to explain the miracles of my life, I could only bring forth words put into the mouth of Hamlet by the great poet William Shakespeare: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”
In preparing for the talk I am delivering here today, I examined the draft of the new constitution I helped to write many years ago. In that document, I saw the signs of a global community arising from the efforts of people in many nations. I advocated the creation of a Center for Humanity’s Future at that time.
I thought then and still do now that the Center should be dedicated to celebration – to foster the release of everyone’s finest thoughts and everyone’s dancing spirit. Celebration means more than a never-ending party, although it does include all aspects of joy, because human beings are at their best when they are joyful, feasting and frolicking.
This Center could spread the light of eternal sunrise over our beautiful earth. It would honor all the works of compassion going on in many places, sparking many dialogues, and loving exchanges, inviting everyone to open up and communicate with people of all ages.
Now there are many thousands of non-profit organizations, engaged in providing food and medicines for the poor in many countries, learning from one another, striving to end wars, and to send aid to people struck by hurricanes, tornadoes, epidemics, and other natural disasters. This Center could work with all of them.
I have to mention that the Center I have described here today is simply a revival of a proposal I made in 1962 in the Saturday Review. It came to the attention of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower through the recommendation of Everett Clinchy, then head of The National Conference of Christians and Jews. Eisenhower endorsed the idea in a letter to me and it also received support from 15 members of the US Senate, but it never went into operation.
I know that people in this great Cathedral have demonstrated their concerns for humanity’s future in many ways. I am very grateful to the Reverend Richard Lief for giving me a chance to express my confidence in the greatness of human beings.
I am encouraged by the recent creation in Hamburg, Germany of a World Future Council, which was designed to link moral authority with political power. Jacob Von Uexkull, one of the founders of this Council, recently gave a Frank Kelly Lecture on Humanity’s Future sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, financed by 100 donors who share these ideas.
Von Uexkull said, “This Council will work closely with policymakers worldwide to implement national legislation and to create binding international agreements based on best-practices solutions. It will expand the boundaries of what is regarded as politically realistic, building on previous initiatives, which had been too narrowly focused or lacked the necessary follow-ups.” “The World Future Council is a uniquely broad institution with members from governments, parliaments, civil societies, businesses, science and the arts. Councillors – ‘planeary elders,’ global pioneers and visionaries – are world citizens, serving in a personal capacity. I am very happy that David Krieger, President of the NAPF, has accepted the invitation to join the Council, as has Frances Moore-Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet.”
Today I have taken you with me through the long journey of my life, which began in 1914 and still continues (to my amazement) with high vitality.
In closing, I must say that this speech today is a song of thanksgiving – for all the blessings, for all the wonderful people who have helped me and guided me – for the Franciscans, the Catholics of all kinds, the good Protestants, for Harry Truman, for Robert Hutchins, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Mandigo Kelly, Christine Boesch, for the Liefs, for Fr. Virgil Cordano, for Terry and Mary, for Stephen and Misa, Carol Ann Manzi and Tom Heck, for Maryellen Kelley, Sisters of the Holy Nativity, Fabio Duran, Ernest Hemingway and thousands of others who have inspired me to believe in the greatness of humanity.
Frank Kelly is Senior Vice President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org).