Rotary's Power for World Peace

Caption: In Australia, South Africa, and Europe – in short, everywhere Paul Harris has gone as an ambassador of Rotary – he has planted trees as a living symbol of Rotary fellowship. This picture was snapped on his tour of South America.


A North American looks South


By Paul P. Harris

President Emeritus, Rotary International


Wherein the Founder of Rotary
reports on his recent journey

to South America and presents

some cogent points for thought.


FEW North Americans who have not travelled that way realize how much alike are South and North America. Thinking of Amazonian jungles, of rubber and coffee, they forget that south of tropical South America lie vast territories occupied by the great plains, the rugged mountains, and the vast fields of grain so characteristic of Canada and the United States.


My recent trip to South America, which took me to eight countries of that great continent, was in a sense a voyage of discovery. Fascinating were the discoveries geographical and economic facts which, although I had read of them, had to be met with at first hand to be appreciated. Inspiring was the beauty of the cities and the depth of the cultural life of these peoples. But even more impressive was the realization that we of the Americas, though living on the same continent, are in some ways worlds apart.


It is natural that, as an ambassador of goodwill for Rotary International, I should have been particularly sensitive to the sentiments and feelings between North and South Americans. I recalled while on my trip an address given by Norman Angell, famous English writer, before the Chicago Rotary Club, in which he stated that misunderstanding is the one great cause of international strife.


I was frequently reminded also of the words of another commentator, Rotarian Clayton Sedgwick Cooper, a member of the Rotary Club of Miami, Florida, who has travelled extensively in South America. He wrote, in one of the several books on those lands which I read before leaving, that one of the principal reasons for the lack of understanding between the Americas is the feeling of superiority expressed in the manner of the North Americans.


I am afraid that no one can deny the truth of that statement. I must admit with equal frankness, even at the risk of appearing disloyal to my own countrymen, that while Canada and the United States are superior in industrial and material matters, the upper strata of South Americans are ahead of us in many respects. We have more to learn from them about the fine art of living than the average North American dreams of.


As an envoy of Rotary it has been my high privilege to visit many parts of the world. Everywhere I have discovered values in which the peoples of one country are the superiors to those in other countries. The simple truth is that North America leads in some things, South America in others.


Such a simple truth, yet its wider recognition would do so much to further international understanding. It is of course quite natural that North and South Americans have a quite different outlook on life. To begin with, there are the racial differences. Beauty and the cultivation of the beaux arts means much more to South Americans than to most of us of the North. It is natural, therefore, that they should look to Paris rather than to New York or Washington for their inspiration. The magnificent cities ‑ and I say without reservation that I consider South American cities to be among the most beautiful in the world ‑ are built on the European rather than the North American pattern.


JUST as we who sometimes call ourselves Yankees are inclined to caricature other peoples, so the South Americans sometimes exaggerate some of our faults and overlook some of our good qualities. I frequently met polite yet unmistakable evidence that many Latin Americans distrust North Americans. They feel we have been overly aggressive, and they express wonder as to what we are going to do next.


To cite but a few examples, the genial and friendly President of Uruguay, who was one of the five Presidents with whom I had the honor of an interview, felt that Americans charge exorbitant interest on their loans. In Colombia, our nearest South American neighbor, I found a feeling that the United States had not been ethical in its handling of the Panama Canal rights. In other countries I met with a prejudice against the U. S. A. for its acquisition of Mexican territory following the Mexican War.


This is not the place to discuss these charges; the fact remains that, whether they are founded on fact or fancy, to many South Americans the United States is a Colossus which has not always been beneficent in its dealings with smaller and weaker countries. "And if the United States should decide to expand southward, what would become of the smaller countries in the way of such expansion?" is a question I frequently was asked.


In a word, many South Americans distrust and misunderstand us just as we of the North often misjudge them.


How can this unfortunate situation be corrected?


Rotary is one potent force which can overcome and is overcoming this mutual misunderstanding. Rotary entered South America in 1918 with the establishment of a Club in Montevideo, Uruguay. The founders were Herbert P. Coates, and Charles Ewald, of that city, and William Dawson, then United States Minister to Uruguay and Dow Minister to Colombia.


Less than 20 years later, we find 193 Clubs and 5,437 Rotarians in the nine South American countries where Rotary's wheel turns ‑ Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. In Chile alone there are 56 clubs and 1,500 members.


Rotary has served to promote goodwill between the countries of South America. For example, bad feeling existed between Peru and Chile for nearly 50 years after the great war of the Pacific in the '70's. There were no points of contact and every relation between the countries was suspended. Then it occurred to the Rotarians of Chile to send Christmas greetings to those of Peru. Peruvian Rotarians sent New Year's greetings in reply and through this simple wedge was opened a channel through which cordial relations have been resumed between the two countries.


During the war in Gran Chaco, the Rotary Clubs LaPaz, Bolivia, and Asuncion, Paraguay, looked after the prisoners of war in their respective countries, some Rotarians in Argentina acting as go‑betweens. This work was praised by the Red Cross, and helped bring about closer relationship between the countries after the several Rotarians serving on the Peace Commission.


It has been related by several prominent South American Rotarians that during the period of the war, a Rotary button often served as passport while travelling, between the belligerent countries.


Perhaps even more important as an example of Rotary as a force for international understanding is the “Institute Cultural” of the Buenos Aires Rotary Club. This institute was organized to encourage a more friendly relationship between the Americas. In it, 3,000 young people attend classes where they learn to speak English, hear talks on life in the United States, and learn all they can about Cultural differences and similarities in the various sections of the American hemisphere. It was my pleasure to address this group, and I found them interested, charming, and responsive ‑ three characteristics which are universal among South Americans of all ages and status and which cannot fail to impress the North American visitor.


THE Rotary Caribbean Conference, which will be held in Havana, Cuba, early next year is another force which serves to unite the Americas, as are the Pan‑American Conferences, organized 46 years ago, the next of which will be held in Buenos Aires in December, 1936.


Through such conferences, and through exchange of visits, correspondence, and speakers, it may be hoped the present lack of understanding between the people of North and South America may one day entirely disappear. That is the objective of all sincere Rotarians.


If there is any outstanding need in the family of nations, it is that the people of the two Americas understand each other. They are the complement, one of the other. To the strong practical qualities of the North American, add the charming grace of the South Americans and the result will mark a new epoch in the evolution of mankind.


In many respects our South American visit was the most enlightening of all. We found more to learn and more false impressions to cast aside.


 When our ship raised anchor one moonlit night in the beautiful harbor at Rio Janeiro we felt that the gods had been kind in granting us a great adventure; that our lives had been immeasurably enriched by contacts with fellow creatures living down below the equator, who cannot, in truth and sincerity, be classed as anything less than lovable.


Dr. Wolfgang Ziegler 23 June 2006

Harris in the Rotarian

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