The Making of a Radical (Excerpt)

by Scott Nearing


Let me illustrate with the true story of a young American couple, "John" and "Mary." Both were working in the labor movement. He was steady-going and a plugger; she was vivid, energetic, active. Both had high hopes in the early 1920s of helping to create a better United States.

Then came the fat years, with their lure of pelf and power for all who would worship the Golden Calf. My young friends enlisted in his service, in a respectable profession, and began climbing. Within ten years they were close to the top of a big business. The labor movement was far behind — all but forgotten. The world deemed them well-fixed and successful.

Another ten years slipped by. The concern of which they were a part joined with other big businesses in a united effort to escape depression by way of war business. The first born of my friends, grown near to man's estate, decided to join the hue and cry, entered the air force, went to Europe and played his part in dropping high explosives on "enemies" — old, young, of both sexes and all conditions of life. He was killed on one of his terror missions.

The young wife of the dead aviator wrote a slight book about her hero husband. She told what a nice chap he was, how readily he took to flying, how much his fellow bombardiers appreciated him and how tragic it was when his life was snuffed out. The book was sent to me by Mary, the boy's mother.

I acknowledged the book and wrote Mary that while I did not know the detail about her son, I could tell her the story of my nephew, who left college, enlisted in the Air Force, made a brilliant record for himself and went down to his death in the Pacific. "So long," I wrote her, "as fine, capable young men respond thus to the call of the big shots, destroying and murdering at the word of command, fine young men will be snuffed out in their early years, leaving mothers and wives to lament their loss. This holds true whether they respond to the orders of Roosevelt, Hitler, or any other commander-in-chief. It is up to the fine young men and those who love them to learn this lesson and to find and follow a way of life that is not built upon organized destruction and mass murder."

It was not a kind letter under the circumstances, but it was true. I wrote it because I thought the time had come for John and Mary to face the music of a comfortable, secure life built on a foundation of exploitation and war.

Mary was away from home when my letter arrived. John opened it and wrote me that Mary was still beside herself with grief, that she had not been able to reconcile herself to the loss of her first born and that, with my permission, he would destroy the letter, lest it plunge her afresh into despairing anguish. He added that it would be appropriate and pleasant if I wrote her a nice letter acknowledging receipt of the book.

I answered, agreeing to the destruction of the letter, and decided to let the matter rest there. But John was not satisfied. He wrote again, "Please write a little note to Mary, merely saying that you got the book, so that she will not keep expecting some acknowledgment from you."

Well, he had asked for it, so I wrote him:

Dear John:

We live in a society of butchers and murderers. we butcher fellow creatures for food and for sport, and murder fellow humans for pelf and for power. Years ago you and Mary decided to go to work for the plunderers and killers who run our social system. In return, you got considerable comfort, a measure of recognition and some power. Then they murdered your beloved son. That was part of the price you paid for living in a world run by plunderers and killers. No use blinking the facts. You know them as well or better than I do.

When I wrote Mary, I did not put it quite so baldly as this, but I stated the issue clearly enough so that she might get the point, learn the bitter lesson and profit by it. You asked me to cancel that letter. I agreed.

Now you ask me to tell one of our conventional social lies, — to write and say it is a nice book and thank her for sending it. Destroy the letter? Yes, if you wish. That is a negative lie--dodging the issue by saying nothing about it. Write a socially correct note, pretending to express a sentiment I do not feel? No. That is a positive lie and I will have no part in telling it.

You and I (and Mary) are getting on in years. We should have learned to face the music. I am all for facing it here and now. I either say what I think or I say nothing. I think we live in a community built on lies, robbery, butchery and murder. There is no dodging the issue. I also think that the lying, robbery, butchery and murder will continue till we face the facts, turn about and reshape our lives. Again there is no dodging.

Also, I say it is time we stood up and told each other the truth, without fear of favor ... This is grim doctrine, but we live in a grim world where millions of young victims are paying with their lives for ignorance, stupidity, greed, hypocrisy and connivance. Maybe it is wiser to tell Mary, after all.

I hesitated for a couple of days before I sent the letter to John. He was in his late fifties. Twenty-five years before, while in the labor movement, he could take hard knocks. Could he still take them? Would they do him any good? Then there was Mary, bowed down by her grief. Could she meet the issue or would it crush her? Twenty-five years ago she would have met it and held to her course. A quarter century of soft bourgeois living might have so corrupted her that she could not stand up to the implications of the social system under which she had eaten from the fleshpots.

Against these personal and private considerations I set social responsibility. The leaders of the West were doing what they could to perpetuate a war system. In the press and over radio, at the graduation exercises in Annapolis and West Point, in the elementary and high schools and universities, they were straining every nerve to recruit a new crop of youngsters who would destroy and kill on order. I sent the letter...


[Source: The Making of a Radical: A Political Autobiography, by Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine - Social Science Institute, 1972. p281]  

Scott Nearing [1883-1983], was a social critic of imperialism, a radical whose ideas and opinions led him to be ostracized by the US society after World War I. He lost his various teaching jobs, the main press spurned him, publishers refused his work and he slowly withdrew to a quieter life in Vermont and finally in Maine where he and his wife lived with few ties to the market economy. He is known for having spawned the 'conscientious self-reliance' that has inspired many modern homesteaders. Nearing dated the end of the American Republic and the beginning of Empire to the 1899 Philippine War. As he wrote in The American Empire (New York: Rand School of Social Science, 1921), "The end of the nineteenth century saw the end of the Republic about which men like Jefferson and Lincoln wrote and dreamed. The New Century marked the opening of a new epoch -- the beginning of world dominion for the United States." (the full text of "The Beginnings of World Dominion" can be read on boondocksnet.com. Nearing wrote more than 50 books and monographs on social issues during his life.

•  Nearing's books at the Good Life Center, the last homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing on Penobscot Bay in Harborside, Maine.
•  Nearing's books at Amazon.com (please visit the Good Life Center first)

Published under the provision of U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.


This Week's Internal Links

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The Dictatorship of Bullshit - by Stephen Gowans

Democracy? When? - by Stephen Gowans

Back to Crete - by Andreas Toupadakis

Talk About Demons! - by Gilles d'Aymery

Sweeping the Truth Under the DU Rug - by Dr. Vladimir Ajdacic & Dr. Predrag Jaksic

Lie Has Short Legs - by Pedja Zoric

The Potter of Gold - by Alma A. Hromic

A Trip to the Garden - by Andreas Toupadakis

Ending or Beginning? - by Milo Clark

The Real Freedom of Free Speech - by Scott Nearing

Uniform Engendered - by Sandy Lulay

Three Quotes to Ponder - by R. D. Laing & Derrick Jensen


Published November 26, 2001
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