This I Believe
Vansittart, Robert Gilbert
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And now, This I Believe. The living philosophies of thoughtful men and women presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow
This I Believe. Lord Vansittart, seventy-two year old diplomat and author, is one of England’s elder statesmen. Though he retired from government service in 1941 after an outstanding career in the foreign office he continues to make his voice heard through frequent letters to the newspapers. No issue of broad importance escapes Lord Vansittart’s attention and he is decidedly outspoken if controversial in his views. Now he turns to the basic principles which underlie his opinions and actions.
I’ve always believed that there is no possible compromise between good and evil. You may say, “Who is to decide which is which?” That’s a debating point, and there’s something in it. Borderline cases abound, and in these, tolerance is essential. But in the main issues which have threatened and afflict the modern world, there’s no doubt whatever. I believe with all my heart and mind that there are certain moral imperatives which spring from the Christian commandments, that we cannot get away from them at any hour, and that they apply even to the daily round of political life.
We know perfectly well that cheating and lying, let alone theft and cruelty and murder, are evil.
We are perturbed by the unquestionable sag in morals when we bump into such things on the individual plan. We bother curiously less when torture, deportations, concentration camps, and every form of oppression occur wholesale in police states, though we should be continuously filled with horror and compassion. In other words, I believe that we are not concerned enough with the fact that the world is going mechanically forward and morally backward. It follows that for what is, in essence, inexcusable, one must make no allowances. While remaining continually on guard against the dangers of inquisitions and witch-hunting, one should say “this and this are evil,” say “plunk out” and stand by it, without giving an inch to the fear of being thought extreme.
There’s no virtue in being easygoing where others suffer. There’s plenty of room on this Earth for smalltime good and evil, that’s simply the way of the world. I firmly believe, however, that the world is now too small to admit the powers of darkness on any huge scale. And because I believe this, I repudiate neutralism where the existence of the human soul is at stake. I can understand it where old and often mad dynastic wars were involved, struggles for nakedly mundane ends. I do not understand creeds and countries which treat good and evil alike. That’s so far from being moral courage—it’s moral cowardice. It simply means that others are expected, at deed, to die for the things that make life worth living and raise man above the beast.
I don’t wish to compel anyone to take sides, but I can’t respect those who don’t. Refusal to equate right and wrong in any walk of life will bring no great success and may involve some obloquy. One may come to the end of one’s life with no achievement. But I believe that there is something much more valuable than success: the sense of having done something by leaving rigorously undone all that endangers the future. We are engaged willy-nilly in a great moral struggle. We shall find nothing better than our Christian ethics, but they cannot win if we palliate their contraries.
That was the creed of an English diplomat, Lord Vansittart, whose ideas have had an impact on his country since the First World War.