This I Believe

Katz, Milton


  • Milton Katz describes how his experiences in another culture caused him to question the universal nature of his own values, but his reaction to world powers such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union led him to conclude that his values of freedom and justice and charity were true, after all.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Milton Katz is the Associate Director of the Ford Foundation. A graduate of Harvard, and then professor of law at that university, a member of the New York Bar, he was appointed Solicitor of the War Production Board during World War II. He then served with the OSS as Lieutenant Commander in the Navy--in the Mediterranean and in the European theaters. After the war, he was the United States delegate to the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, and then became chief of the Marshall Plan in Europe. He was appointed, with the rank of ambassador, as President Truman's special representative in Europe. Here now is Milton Katz.
Some 25 years ago, I crossed central Africa on a scientific expedition. As we moved among the tribes of the Belgian Congo, it was slowly borne in on me that here were men who reacted to the death of a stranger hardly more than I might to the death of a stray cat. This was not easy for me to grasp. My own belief in the worth of an individual human life was so intimate and all-pervading a part of me that I had subconsciously assumed it to be a necessary attribute of all mankind. For the first time, I began to wonder if this belief might be a product of the particular society and moral tradition in which I had been nurtured. Vaguely, I sensed that such a limitation might raise a question about the validity of the belief itself, but I shrugged these shadows off.
Not long afterwards, back home in the United States,
I read an article by a great American judge who recalled that in his youth he had once inclined to the view that truth was merely the prevailing opinion of the nation that could lick any other nation. Prevailing opinions changed, of course, as did the relative power of nations but, he had felt, this merely meant that truths changed.
In the years that followed, these questions took on a grimmer meaning as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union threw out their challenges. Here were powerful nations whose ruling caste rejected not only the values of freedom and justice and charity, but the belief in the dignity of man and the worth of the individual, out of which these values grew. Was it possible that the spiritual issues were subsidiary to the issues of power? Was it possible that there was no ultimate standard but chance or force?
In contests of power, victory or defeat might turn on an accident of temporary technical advantage, on the incompetence of a particular leader, on a transient condition of popular confusion. Are factors such as these to prove the final arbiter of values?
As I lived with these questions, I came to realize that, for me at least, they were merely variable and not real. It is a simple fact that the values of freedom and justice and charity and the beliefs out of which they grew come home to me with such overwhelming conviction that I am incapable of really doubting them. Well, that’s fine for me, but what does it prove for anybody else?
The cynic might suggest that I was merely reflecting the way in which I had been conditioned by my upbringing, and so seek to
reduce the whole business to a theory of accident and manipulation. I am convinced that the sources of my belief are not to be found merely in my personal tendencies but that they rest deep in the nature of man. Look at the technique of even the most cynical of political adventurers or rabble-rousers, in Europe or Asia or America, and you will see that even they acknowledge this. The adventurer never seeks to arouse people by a simple statement that others have material goods which they want, but they have the power to take it and therefore should take it. He invariably speaks in terms of alleged injustice and violated rights. This is the unconscious homage which cynicism pays to the spiritual element in man.
I am aware of the hold which ambition and greed can have on the minds of men and how ignorance and fear and pain can brutalize people, but I believe in man and his possibilities and in the essential truth of the words of the Psalmist, “What is man that thou art mindful of him.”
Those were the beliefs of Milton Katz, Associate Director of the Ford Foundation.