The Chance to Believe

Button, Dick

  • Dick Button, five-time World Champion, describes how, during a skating exhibition in Prague in 1948, he was showered with oranges wrapped in messages from the Czech people, messages which underscored his belief in the importance of political freedom. Audio also contains an Advertisement for This I Believe book, Volume II.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Richard T. Button of Englewood, New Jersey was five times World Champion figure skater and holds more skating honors than any other American ever won. He is a technical artist, a fine sportsman, and a serious student, having graduated from Harvard cum laude. Two years ago, he turned professional. He now is devoting his earnings and himself to getting through Harvard Law School. Here is Dick Button.
An incident, which happened to me in the winter of 1948, illustrates most clearly one of the basic tenets of what I believe.
It was a cold evening in February in 1948, and I was being flown from Switzerland to Prague to give a skating exhibition. Rumors that the communists in Czechoslovakia would attempt to overthrow the government and establish a satellite regime had been freshened daily by word of the political unrest there. Despite the warnings of the American Consulate, I had accepted the invitation to skate in a sports festival in the city stadium in the center of Prague.
Almost immediately on arrival, however, signs of the growing tension could be seen. Other Americans, who were to join me for the exhibition, had their flights from Amsterdam turned back, and the welcoming officials were more tense than they cared to appear. My exhibition was to take place the following evening at 8:30. But between the time of our landing and that hour, much was to happen.
The expected blowup came in a rush of frenzied action. The Communist Premier, Clement Gottwald's action committees, were taking over authority throughout Czechoslovakia. The army was told to remain true to the Soviet Union. The free press was being suppressed.
The center of Prague was occupied by throngs acting under orders of the communist-controlled General Federation of Law and marching for the new National Front government.
In no time, banks, communication buildings, and important offices were guarded by uniformed soldiers with red rags tied round their arms like the seared scars of a fresh political wound. The outlook for my skating exhibition, though widely heralded in the press, was bleak indeed. Yet, at 8:30, a crowded stadium instead of the expected meager audience hostile to an American cheered the skaters on.
After my exhibition, I waited on the ice while being presented with a cut-glass bowl. Suddenly, an orange was flung out of the audience, landed on the ice, and skidded past my skates. What I had feared would happen, in light of the unrest, was apparently starting. It could only be a Czech form of the American raspberries. There was little that I could do, so I picked up the orange and threw it back into the crowd. But soon, another, and still another, orange fell on the ice, rolling helter-skelter over the slippery surface.
Before I threw these back, I looked at one more closely. It was neatly wrapped in cellophane, and printed on one side were the words "Good luck, Mr. Button."
I could only smile at myself. The next one that I picked up said, "Bring us your freedom, soon again." By the time I left the ice, my glass bowl was piled high with oranges and printed messages.
What does this incident mean to me? It means that these people, in the midst of a social upheaval, could still come to cheer not just a skater, but an American and what, as an American, he represented. In the light of later events, I can see that this was near the end of the time when their thoughts could be so freely expressed. And the swiftness with which that end came makes me want to guard, even closer, my own opportunity for freedom of thought.
The Czechs, like most of us, have known what this freedom is. They lost it, and it will be ours, only as long as we keep it. The chance to believe in what you wish to believe is what I believe.
You have just heard the beliefs of Dick Button. And here's news: a brand new This I Believe book with 100 new beliefs now at your bookstore. Of these 100 new beliefs, 80 are from living men and women, 20 are immortals, chosen from all history to get the beliefs of most interest and help to you. Volume One of This I Believe was second in sales only to the Bible. Why? Because it interested and helped hundreds of thousands. This new book has more interest, more help. For yourself and for a gift, get Volume Two, This I Believe.