Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck

The Face and Future of Youth Throughout the World
Her biography
The organization of this International Convention was somewhat different. Yes, RI had come back to New York City after only ten years, but it took 39 years to get there in the first place. More commonplace were the remarks of the outgoing RI President, Clifford A. Randall, in the first plenary session in Madison Square Garden. However, in an unparalleled move, both author Pearl S. Buck and rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun were scheduled to give keynote addresses in the second plenary session, on Tuesday morning, June 9, 1959.

The second plenary session convened at 9:45 o'clock in Madison Square Garden in New York City, USA, President Randall presiding. Community singing was led by Song Leader Walter Jenkins of Houston, Texas. Some telegrams were read, General Secretary George Means presented a summary of his Annual Report on Rotary, a masked panel of journalists (Washington correspondents) answered questions from the delegates, and then President Randall began his introduction of Pearl Buck.

“It is now our great privilege to hear from a remarkable woman who has made a definite place for herself in the history of our time. Though born in West Virginia, her childhood was spent in the historic city of Chinkiang, China, the country which provided the locale for many of her popular novels.

The author of such best sellers as "The Good Earth", "East Wind: West Wind", "The Exile", "Letter From Peking" and others, she was awarded the Pulitzer prize for "The Good Earth" in 1931, and the Nobel prize for literature in 1938, the first American woman to be so honored in the world of letters. Besides being a prolific writer, her other activities include her fine work with retarded children, and the establishment and maintenance of Welcome House, Inc., an adoption agency which finds homes and parents for needy children. It is a real pleasure and privilege for me to welcome our distinguished guest and speaker this morning, Miss Pearl S. Buck.”

Though women were not members of Rotary at the time, a few had addressed plenary sessions of an International Convention, most doing “work of the convention.” Pearl Buck was probably one of only three or four women to give a keynote address by 1959. She addressed the convention on "The Face and Future of Youth Throughout the World."

Buck reviewed some of the historic developments affecting young people, particularly those of modern revolutions, and added, "The young cannot wait. They have seen the faces of the old and they will not wait. They do not want to look like them when they are old. They want to live in the new world that lies over the threshold of tomorrow. The young need hope. They need stability of mind and soul. With hope and stability they can do the work that waits to be done. Our task is to prove to them that it is safe to hope, that it is wise to be sincerely good. From hope and faith in practical goodness will come the security and energy to build the new world which, in technical and practical terms, is waiting only for the creative will of man to go to work."

She was followed by Dr. Wernher von Braun, director of development operations of the U.S. Army's ballistic missile agency and one of the outstanding rocket experts of the Space Age. His topic was "Countdown in Peace."

In view of the events of September 11, 2001, Pearl Buck’s address has a lot to say to the Rotarians of the 21st Century.

The Face and Future of Youth Throughout the World

By Pearl S. Buck
Perkasie, Pennsylvania, U. S. A.

IT IS a great pleasure for me to be here this morning and to see so vast a crowd gathered together from so many countries in the world. I think my first experience with Rotary was too many years ago in the City of Bangkok. Of course, I knew about Rotary in the United States, being an American, but I had never been to any function. And that day, when I happened to be in Bangkok, the prince was giving a luncheon for Rotary; he himself being a Rotarian. He was a very charming person, and I enjoyed sitting next to him. Then he got up to open the meeting. After a few preliminary remarks in English, which was of the Oxford variety, he began to make a speech, such an American speech that I could have thought I was in the corn belt, Ohio or Illinois or somewhere like that. And when he sat down, I said, "Have you been in our Midwest?"

He said, "No, but that speech was sent to me from Chicago."

It was a very good speech, incidentally. I might say from there I went on to Java where I saw my first Walt Disney film, and that was "The Big Bad Wolf." Do you remember that? There, also, I first made the acquaintance, by motion picture, of Mae West. So, I felt quite ready to come back and live in my own country.

MY TOPIC that has been assigned to me this morning is "The Face of Youth in the World of Today," and I think I could not have chosen a title more interesting to myself than this. For I watch the youth of every nation, to the best of my ability these days, with constant attention. They are, of course, the most important group in the human race at this moment.

They have always been important, and those of us who are partly Asian by birth or long acquaintance and education, have always known somehow the very special value of children, the young, who are to carry on the torch of life after we are gone. They have been the ones we have had to teach, the ones that are destined to take the place of the elders, and they are the transmitters of the lessons of history and the traditions of culture. We have trained them and adjured them; we have reproved and approved them.

In the past, that man or woman was most approved who understood most clearly and valued most highly the experiences of those who went before him. But today's young people have quite a different significance. Within the lifetime of each of us here in this great hall, such tremendous changes have taken place that our youth no longer can be or are transmitters. What can they transmit? What of the past is worth saving? What can be restored even if it is worth saving? What shall we teach our youth? What do we ourselves know? So rapid have been the changes in every part of the world and in every phase of life that what we teach today may be of little use tomorrow. The young know our predicament. They stand peculiarly alone. The past seems to have dropped away and the future is still clouded in mystery.

WHAT has brought about this singular moment in which we live? When I survey the changes even in my own insignificant lifetime, it seems to me that T can survey the whole of human history compressed. I take myself as a mere example. I began my conscious years in ancient China. I grew up in the medieval ages, which then, for a time, seemed endless. I read my books by candlelight or by the slow flame of a primitive oil lamp. Until I was 12 years old, I never saw a train in China, and I was a good deal older before I ever entered one. Instead, when I traveled, I rode a Mongolian pony or sat in a spring-less mule cart and jostled over stone paved roads built centuries before I was born. We did not even have rickshaws in the city near which I lived. Rickshaws were, only in modern cities like Shanghai.

Peace was our atmosphere. I never heard of such crimes as I see every day now on the front pages of newspapers. There must have been crimes, human nature being what it is, but we did not hear of them. I never saw a policeman until I was 15 years old, and then they were Sikh policemen in the British Concession in Shanghai, and I used to wonder why they stood there obstructing the traffic. Running water, electricity, telephones–these were heard of but unknown to me.

YET even in those years, seemingly so calm, there were tremendous changes taking place, subterranean but heroic and portentous. Under the quiet flow of time, an era was ending and a new one begun, whose full meaning we are not yet able to comprehend. The empire of China, the dynastic stream which seemed eternal, was coming to an end. The end was not sudden. Nothing is really sudden, if we read history aright. The decline of the Chinese empire took 200 years, and even the speed with which it fell seemed rapid during the last hundred years, after the Taiping Rebellion, during which 20 million Chinese were killed. That rebellion, led by a disappointed youth, a young scholar, who was inspired by the revolutionary doctrines of Christianity, could never have been quelled had not western military men organized armies for the Imperial Peking government.

It is interesting to pause here for half a minute and to consider what would have happened if those western governments had chosen not to side with the old imperial forces but with the young rebel forces. China today would not have been Communist, in all probability, and it might even have been that Russia would not have been Communist. Undoubtedly, Lenin was encouraged and inspired by the knowledge that an uncommitted and distraught Asia lay beyond the borders of Russia as possible allies for the future.

At that time, however, the astute old Empress Dowager already guessed such dangers. When the czar of Russia offered to send help against those young Taiping rebels who threatened her throne and, indeed, her very life, she sent back a doughty answer. "We prefer our Chinese rebels," she said. "We prefer our Chinese rebels to Russian armies, even though those armies come to fight on our behalf."

THE West had another opportunity to win the new China in 1911, when the young rebels of that generation, inspired by Sun Yat-sen, brought about the final end, not only of a dynasty but of the whole complex system of government which had been slowly and painfully developed and built through thousands of years. The end came too quickly. The young rebels themselves were not prepared for so sudden a change. Their ideas of modern government hastily absorbed from the republican system of the United States, were impractical for a people whose history was totally different from that of the Americans. In the distressful vacuum, and I experienced it with everyone else living then in China, Sun Yat-sen and his followers appealed in his time to one western power and another for help, financial and advisory. Again, the West rejected the new group. And, again; Russia came forward with promises and advice– a Communist Russia this time, one immeasurably stronger than the old Czarist Russia, because she had already embarked upon her own revolution successfully and was in the process of changing her ancient agrarian culture into a modern industrial one.

Please remember that in 1921 the Communists were formally recognized as a political party in China. But before Sun Yat-sen could understand what he had approved in desperation, it is true, he was dead of cancer of the liver, dying in that great hospital in Peking built by a great American capitalist. Seven years later, his favorite young military officer, Chiang Kai-shek, separated himself from the new rebel phase of revolution flourishing under Russian Communist leadership and, by a tour de force, set up the Nationalist Government in Nanking in 1927. And as his first step in the task of unification of his country, a task unfinished because of the attack from Japan, he drove the Communists, as you will remember, into the far northwest where, in retreat, they planned their grand strategy, which strategy they were able to carry out far more swiftly than they had hoped, because of the war which Japan forced upon them, and which became the second world war.

IN the chasm left at the end of that war, the young Communist revolutionary party stepped into power and, as you know, today we face a rising and mighty nation, a great structure built upon the foundation of centuries. And yet China is only part of the future, which the young of every other country must now face, possibly a fearful part, we do not know.

I have spoken thus much of China because she is the example, above all others today, of the force of desperate rebellious youth in our world, a world where the past has been destroyed by the findings of science, just as the little old empire of China was destroyed by the impact of modern ideas. The revolution in China, certainly the revolution of the last hundred years, has been fomented, developed and accomplished by youth, led by the brilliant young intellectuals who learned long ago that, if they were to be successful, they must summon to their support the bulk of the nation, who are the peasants.

So, therefore, when we look at the face of our youth today, let us remember the history of China of the last hundred years. Desperate and frustrated youth, springing from the sturdy peasant soil of Asia, may present a glorious opportunity for a better world than we have ever known, if we can remove the- frustration and ease that desperation, or it may fall a victim to tyranny, capable of the most frightening behavior and the most monstrous acts.

A CANADIAN friend of mine, whom I knew in China throughout childhood, who speaks Chinese as his native tongue, has been in China recently, and while there he observed those changes which seemed to us tragic. He said that China seems to be administered by young people between the ages of 17 and 25–a terrifying situation, I might say, when contemplated by those of us no longer young.

But I can believe it, and I can believe anything that youth does, in desperation, can be true. Even when I was in China, I saw the young people struggling to make a new world. They came back from abroad, from America and from Europe, and what they found at home filled them with the strange, maddening rage that is compounded of anger and love. They loved their country; they loved their native land, their villages, and they hated them because they were so backward, seemed so slow and medieval. They were amiable and content and ignorant of the modern world. It is a mood common enough in any country to youth coming home from college, hut in China, I saw it on a stupendous scale, and these young people were so few compared to the many of the mass and, therefore, they were the more fierce and the more angry.

I once wrote a story about it, entitled "Shanghai Scene", a scene I actually saw at the railway station there, where a young guard is trying to force some sort of order among a crowd of humble people all struggling to get on the train at once. When he is totally unsuccessful, in spite of shouts and orders, he bursts into loud sobs and began to beat those people with a carrying pole he snatched from a farmer.

I UNDERSTOOD him so well, but I understood the bewildered folk, too. They were centuries apart. But that young man could be the Communist leader of today, ruthless in desperation, not knowing how to shape his world to his desire, except by force, extermination, liquidation, death, if necessary, not always because he wants to kill but because he must rid himself somehow and at last, anyhow, of the old, unteachable and the reluctant, if his new dream world is ever to come true.

This is the secret of revolution, the bloody secret, which grows into such monstrous flowering. The young cannot wait. They have seen the faces of the old, and they will not wait. They do-not want to look like those people, when they grow old. They want to live in that new world that lies over the threshold of tomorrow.

I have spent this much time with you, as best I can, in trying to describe in a very sketchy way the youth of today.

Well, I do not envy the young their task, because today our young people are all in untried territory. They have paper maps, constitutions, bills of rights, or Karl Marx, but the roads are still only plans and the jungles are not cleared. The task is more than formidable; they fear it may be impossible. To build new governments, to create order, they think can only be done by force when there is no time.

Thus, they are caught in the wasteful processes of revolution. For revolution is surely the most wasteful and explosive and destructive force in human history. When we realize that such an explosive force may at any time be combined with the-explosive force of atomic energy in new weapons and will certainly be combined with the rise in population, potentially explosive, the future could seem doomed to nonexistence.

I SAY "could" and not "must", because the atomic explosion ~ill not be used unless it is set up by the human explosion, and that explosion will not come from old people or tired people or sick people, but from youth, and for youth there is still measurable time.' It is true that youth is more explosive today than it has ever been before, especially in the underprivileged) countries.

Science has not only created the bomb but it has also created life-prolonging instruments, for example, the simple insecticide DDT. DDT, to use only one example, destroys, as you know, the anopheles mosquito, among other insects. This mosquito brings malaria into the blood stream of human beings. Malaria has been a great asset to empire builders. Malaria makes people submissive and apathetic; and not very hungry for food. People have no strength or will to rebel, when they are full of malaria. But put an end to malaria by killing the mosquito, and people begin to grow strong and hungry.

In the last few years, we have achieved a sudden and radical health improvement in many areas of the world, a work begun beforehand during the war and mainly for military services, but which the UN sponsored programs are carrying on, and other organizations, also. In the past, the Asian life span, for example, shortened by malaria and other diseases to a mere 20 or 30 years, left little time for work or rebellion or education, but it is now being lengthened to provide not only energy but time for education and achievement and, if necessary; rebellion.

The result of all this is a more vigorous and longer-lived population. Hemoglobin has been a source of strength for revolutions. As someone has said, when Churchill ordered DDT to be used for the British forces in Egypt in 1944, he unwittingly hastened the liquidation of the British Empire.

TODAY'S youth is energized by modern science, awakening, hungry for life and opportunity, a tremendous asset to any people, if these young people pour their energies into constructive work, but dangerous if their energies are not used. Communist governments understand this fact, I am afraid, and while I do not doubt they value youth partly because youth are malleable and easily led and inspired, yet I do not doubt, either, that they realize very well that youth, unappeased-and idle, threatens the continuing existence of any-government.

Where the government is still in control by means of tradition, stability and a trained police force, as in the United States and Britain, for example, and other countries, the frustrations of the young break out in juvenile delinquency, or are expressed in a studied indifference to the outside world and in an unnatural quest for security, a security that cannot exist in human life. Industries, at least in the United States, complain that young men today are more interested in benefits and retirement plans than they are in the job itself. This is the reverse of revolution, you might say, but it is also destructive, because it is an evidence of inner hopelessness and despair.

So, in this day of crumbling idealism and weakening tradition, and changing family mores, what shall we give our youth, if they are to be an asset and not a menace?

FIRST of all, I think we all realize we must give them hope. There has been too much talk of terror–terror of atomic attack, terror of Communism, terror of alien peoples, terror everywhere. The world atmosphere has been dark with depression and fear. I am not a sentimental person and not, perhaps by nature or experience, an optimist, but I am not a pessimist either. These extremes are irrational. After considerable and continuing acquaintance with scientists and their work, taken in conjunction with some knowledge of various peoples, I am persuaded to a cautious, calculated optimism.

I am convinced that peoples everywhere–this includes scientists and everyone–not only don't want war but they are terrified, above all else, of modern war. I am sure that even governments are anxious to prevent war, in spite of their tricks and manners. I agree with many others that it is extremely unlikely that we shall have another large-scale war, barring accident or folly. At least this peace, uneasy though it is, gives us precious time to make hope into a reality. It is quite possible we shall have time to create a world where peace can be watchfully taken for granted.

IT IS this hope, which we must somehow give to our young–a reasonable, calm, calculated hope. Last week, when I spoke to a great crowd of high school students not far from here, 1800 of them, many of them came up, not to thank me so much as to say, with a sort of touching wonder, "You have given us some hope. We do so want to have some hope." Well, there is hope; there is hope for new adventure. Youth has to adventure, must adventure.

It may be quite true that space travel will, as some have said, provide this adventure as an alternative to war. The roots of war we do not understand. They lie deeply hidden in men's blood and brains. None of us understands why it is that men seem unable, century after century, to free themselves from the enchantment of battle. Military heroics are essentially false because they are regressive and harmful, yet they continue especially to charm those men who are perennial boys.

May not space flight offer a field for this pioneering and adventure? If so, let us encourage it for the sake of a peace that, so far, no age in the history of mankind has been able to achieve. There are also the side benefits of space travel. Space satellites, we are told, will serve as weather stations and global communication relay stations. Human lives will be saved from hurricanes and droughts and floods. Weather satellites alone will save us here in the United States, our chief of the Weather Bureau says in Washington, about $4 billion a year. Information concerning tornadoes will be very valuable, for these storms originate in the cumulus clouds high in the atmosphere and always rotate counterclockwise to earth–we do not know why.

WE HAVE other reasons for hope, peace, adventure but also economic security. Atomic energy has been discovered at a time when the world most needs it, perhaps, or the time is coming soon. As our resources of coal and oil dwindle and become increasingly difficult and expensive to procure, we have this wonderful atomic energy, not to mention solar energy, hydrogen fusion, an inexhaustible new power. The very oceans are being combed for resources hitherto inaccessible to man.

In one year, for another example, the immense electrically powered pumps of the Ethvl-Dow bromine plant near Wilmington, Delaware, lifted a square mile of ocean, eighty-nine feet deep, into the towers of that plant. The bromine was extracted and the water, with the rest of the elements, was returned to the sea. But, we are told by chemists, if all the elements could have been removed by atomic energy, or some other energy, it would have provided a mineral wealth of 100 million dollars. We cannot mine the sea yet, still too expensive, but some day it will be mined by new and cheaper power. Then gold, and silver and platinum will be so plentiful that we can use it for pipes, non-rusting pipes, and, best of all, the deserts of the earth will be flooded with fresh, life-giving water.

YFS, we can hope even for plenty of food for an expanding population.

In plant life, radiation and radioactive isotopes speed up evolution and produce changes that would take the labor of many men for at least a century to produce by breeding alone. In a single generation, we can project plants 1,000 years into the future. Oats, for example–I happen to be a farmer–treated by radioactive isotopes, mature earlier, give a higher yield and are rust resistant, have shorter and stronger stalks than ordinary oats. Barley, wheat and corn so
treated will produce higher yields and are disease-free. Peanuts yield a 30 per cent higher crop and are disease-resistant.

On the very day when I last visited Oak Ridge and saw the wonderful plant improvement they are doing there, I found that my friend from India, the famous scientist, Dr. Boshi Sen, had sent wheat and corn from Almora, India, to be treated with radioactivity. He told the scientists at Oak Ridge that his yields were much improved thereby. Atomic energy can be used to improve the yield of fruit trees, and help to find out how and when to fertilize land. It can preserve foods so that countries without refrigeration can have balanced diets of meats and vegetables and fruits. Perhaps the most important result of all is yet to come.

Biophysicists are now studying how to reproduce photosynthesis, or the process whereby growing plants use sunlight to produce essential body-building units.

WE HAVE reason to hope, too, for deliverance sometime in the not too distant future from certain deadly diseases.

One of the principal sources of radioisotopes in the world today is the great reactor at Oak Ridge. It stands, a huge block of graphite encased in cement, with more than 1,200 openings in the face. Into these openings are thrust the medical materials to be irradiated. More than 1,000 shipments go out every month to various hospitals, industrial plants and laboratories all over the world, just from this one reactor, and there are others.

With all this hope, reasonable, calculated and cautious hope for material improvement and abundance, we need the hope of new faith, faith in ourselves and in our fellow human beings. Much of our trouble today, a source of insecurity, is the loss of faith in the integrity of human beings. We do not trust one another; we cannot, for we have no common agreement upon what constitutes basic grounds for trust, for mutual trust.

It is natural that people are afraid, not only the young, as we gaze into the limitless horizons before us. But let us remind ourselves and our youth, that, while the human race has always met new horizons with preliminary fear, the eternal verities of human goodness remain the same, in whatever country, among whatever people. A good man, a good woman, is the same person, wherever he or she is born and whatever language he or she speaks. Honesty, integrity, the habit of industry, the cultivation of wisdom and human understanding, the habit of compassion–these remain unchanged throughout the ages, whatever the world and however the world changes.

THE stability youth seeks so desperately today and needs so much will not be found only in the material solidifies, which always change, but in the qualities of good character and trustworthiness in human beings. Indeed, there can be no real progress or peace, whatever our material improvement, until, also, we develop these qualities in common.

It is true that in times of disturbance and distress people do forsake wisdom and follow false leaders, thereby destroying civilization itself. We saw this in Nazi Germany, for example, and humanity has not yet recovered. It is as essential therefore, practically speaking, for nations to agree upon how we ought to act toward one another, upon what principles should be held in common, as it is to agree upon the uses of nuclear power; otherwise one nation may teach its young the ways of peace and mutual respect and cooperation; another nation may at the same time be instilling the doctrines of hate and hostility.

I hear, again for example, that the policy today in Communist China is to take children, very young, away from the families and put them into the commune system. Twenty-five million is the figure I have been given. These children, I am told, are being taught systematically to hate Americans, or the United States. At intervals during the day they shout in unison, for as long as 15 minutes at a time, "Kill Americans. Sak ma kowlen." If this is true, what shall we of the United States teach our children? We cannot and will not teach them hate, for this would destroy our own civilization and the ideals which we ourselves are struggling to achieve. Yet to do nothing, not even to recognize the potential danger of hatred against us, is as dangerous as it would be to ignore the possibility of atomic bombs being dropped upon us.

IN COMMON prudence, we ought all to remove barriers between peoples so that we can learn that we are not hateful, that no nation is hateful. And the young must so be taught. I should like to see the educators of youth, everywhere in the world, meet together to decide upon the essentials of character and character-building, in order that we can develop a basic human nature, approved by all and practiced by all.

I submit that this is the stability we need and must have as inevitably we come closer together in this new world. Real security is in the validity of character. To be able to trust one's neighbor is security better than money in the bank. Such trust is essential to world-peace. It must, of course, have its guarantees, just as a town must have its police. But the town agrees first upon what the security must be.

When we agree upon the essentials of good character, and when we can teach those essentials to all our youth, at the same time, not an impossible dream, we have a plan whereby we can proceed to Q better world and a stable world. Man has new power, but the center of power shifts so rapidly that, without the stability of moral character, we live in continual instability. The time constant in scientific development is about a decade or, at most, two. Each new technical development follows rapidly on the one before.

WE MUST find stability within ourselves, based upon these common codes of character and similar standards of behavior. We must find it, or we will find that our youth is consumed by fear of potential enemies. We must somehow put into practice the simplicities of goodness. You may ask how we can get two such presently opposed nations as the United States and Soviet Russia to agree on anything. I think we can agree upon the welfare of the peoples. Then, this principle agreed upon, each nation can proceed to its own method of putting this principle into practice. The responsibility must rest upon each nation to provide for the growth of the human beings within its own boundaries. It is not our business here in the United States, or any other country, to tell others how this is to be done.

The social rivalry will be met by how well the method works and the fittest will survive. Most of the world needs food and good health and education and jobs. There is much hard, interesting work to be done to make this world, and our youth can do it, if they are given hope instead of desperation, the stability of integrity and goodness instead of deceit and intrigue and, with all this, the inspiration of work itself.

THIS will, of course, take leadership and organization. But, in closing, I would like to remind you that there is ample leadership in the world, in the wise men and women of every nation. We are wasting our wise people now. They live far from each other; they speak in single voices, and they are unheard in the clamor. Yet they are a resource and our primary source. I recommend that we seek them out and get them together and demand their wisdom. Let us use them not only to teach our young but to teach us, all of us, so that we can do more easily what must be done and can be done, if we will only bestir ourselves to do it. Criminals gather together to do their evil. Why should not the good gather their forces together to do their good?

The young need hope. They need stability of mind and soul. With hope and stability, they can do the work that is to be done, that waits to be done. Our task is to prove to them that it is safe to hope and that it is wise to be sincerely good. From hope and new faith I believe there will come the security and energy to build the world that we wait for, in technical and practical terms–that new and better world which is really waiting only for the creative will of mankind to go to work.

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