The Qualities of Mercy and Truth

Duveen, Charles

  • Charles Duveen, Jr. describes his experience of being shot from a plane while flying over the Pacific durinig WWII, and how his perspective on life changed from one which placed value in material objects to one which found value in service to others.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Charles Duveen, Jr. is an art expert, writer and lecturer. The nephew of Lord Joseph Joel Duveen, the famous art dealer, he presided over the House of Duveen for several years before its recent dissolution. During World War Two he was highly decorated for his service with the United States Air Force. This is Charles Duveen’s creed.
On June 5, 1945, while returning from a bombing mission over the mainland of Japan, the B-29 of which I was bombardier/navigator was shot down by enemy fighter planes over the Pacific Ocean. As I jumped from the plane, I felt a pang of regret for leaving behind a fine watch, which was a prized possession. Then as the chute snapped open and I stared down at the vast, cold ocean rising to meet me, I knew the chances were a thousand to one that I would never need that watch again.
Having been born into a family which sought and revered objects of art, I had been taught material value since earliest childhood, and pride of possession was a dominant factor in my life.
Now, dangling at the ends of the parachute shroud lines like a puppet, I realized how securely I had been tied to a foolish doctrine. It had been an essence that fed my ego and left me in dire need. In the water, I felt terribly alone, and as hope faded, I thought of family and friends, and was weighted down with self-pity.
Then I remembered other miraculous rescues from the open sea, and I knew people were thinking of me, that they would make every effort to help me. In the meantime, I must help myself. This, I learned, is the definition of rescue, for body or soul.
Life, I believe, is highly experimental. Its appreciation stems from experience, its interest from discovery, its defeats from selfishness. I am convinced, since my hour of rescue, that mankind can survive only as a cooperative unit. And I understand now that sorrow and trouble brings one close to many people, who are a symbol of weary recklessness in this troubled world and very often forget that their greatest talent is goodwill toward each other.
The small amount of the present that divides the past from the future is a charitable existence. It generously holds the memories of yesterday’s happiness, yet shields us from the knowledge of tomorrow’s sorrows.
As mere human beings, we need help—collectively and individually. To live and let live is not quite enough, but to do as I would be done by would help me erase the contagion of fear and despair. I have tried to live these borrowed years of my life by helping others. Thus I have helped myself.
This, then, I believe: that man is bound to the qualities of mercy and truth, and by their dispensation, he reveals himself. I believe the quality of living measures the strength of loving, for wife or child or fellow man. I believe that love is the soul of man.
Thus, I believe in the dignity of humanity, for it is based on the principle that man has a soul. It follows, then, that honor is the pulse of life, as faith is its heartbeat. I believe that I must live my religion—as I see it and within my experience—for only then can I be true to myself.
That was Charles Duveen, Jr. of New York City, an expert in the world of art whose judgement of values extends to life as well.