While reporting from Germany during Nazi rule, radio commentator William L. Shirer learned the value of tolerance and freedom and was inspired by people's ability to retain their faith and will to live in the face of attrocities. Shirer believes that mans resilience, especially during times of war, comes from having a rich inner life of reflection and contemplation.
And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. The more a reporter sees, the more he learns about life and about himself. William L. Shirer has seen a great lot of what has happened to the world and the people in it in our time. His Berlin diary was one of the first documents to impress on us the enormity of the plague inflicted on civilization by a man named Hitler. Bill Shirer is a distinguished foreign correspondent, author and lecturer, but he has another side: a simple homespun side springing from a boyhood in Illinois and college days in Iowa. This is the background against which he states his convictions.
It’s rather difficult in these noisy, confusing, nerve-racking days to achieve the peace of
mind in which to pause for a moment to reflect on what you do believe in. Though it is a thing we live by—and without it—without beliefs, human existence today would hardly be bearable. In my own case, there were two experiences, in particular, which helped to shape my beliefs: years of life and work under a totalitarian regime, and a glimpse of war.
Living in a totalitarian land taught me to value highly—and rather fiercely—the very things the dictators denied: tolerance, respect for others and, above all, the freedom of the human spirit.
A glimpse of war filled me with wonder not only at man’s courage and capacity for self-sacrifice, but at his stubborn, marvelous will to preserve, to endure, to prevail—amidst the most incredible savagery
and suffering. When you saw people—civilians—who were bombed out, or who, worse, had been hounded in the concentration camps or worked to a frazzle in the slave-labor gangs—when you saw them come out of these ordeals of horror and torture, still intact as human beings, with a will to go on, with a faith still in themselves, in their fellow man, and in God, you realized that man was indestructible. You appreciated, too, that despite the corruption and cruelty of life, man somehow managed to retain great virtues: love, honor, courage, self-sacrifice, compassion.
It filled you with a certain pride just to be a member of the human race. It renewed your belief in your fellow man.
Of course, there are many days in this age of anxiety when a human being feels awfully low and rather discouraged. I myself find consolation at such moments by two means: trying to develop a sense of history, and renewing the quest for inner life.
I go back, for example, to reading Plutarch. He reminds you that even in the golden days of Greece and Rome, from which so much that is splendid in our own civilization derives, there was a great deal of what we find so loathsome in life today: war, strife, corruption, treason, double-crossing, intolerance, tyranny, rabble-rousing. Reading history thus gives you perspective. It enables you to see your troubles relatively. You don’t take them so seriously then.
Finally, I find that most true happiness comes from one’s inner life; from the disposition of the mind and soul. Admittedly, a good inner life is difficult to achieve, especially in these trying times. It takes reflection and contemplation. And self-discipline. One must be honest with oneself, and that’s not easy. You have to have patience and understanding, and, when you can, seek God.
But the reward of having an inner life, which no outside storm or evil turn of fortune can touch, is, it seems to me, a very great one.
That was William L. Shirer, father of two children, Connecticut farmer and a reporter recently turned novelist, but most of all a citizen of integrity who believes that, even in these anxious times, men will not only survive but progress, if they don’t break faith with themselves.