Freeman

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An Experience on the Mount of Olives

AUGUST 01, 1984 by HERBERT V. PROCHNOW

Dr. Prochnow of Evanston, Illinois, is a former professor, government official, and banker and is a well-known author and lecturer on political and economic affairs.

Shakespeare once said, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” This statement applies especially to nations.

One night I stood on the top of the Mount of Olives with one of the world’s great scholars who was in Jerusalem translating the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Old Testament. He was one of only three persons in the world asked by Israel to translate these scrolls. Only a short distance away was the little village of Bethany and on beyond in the distance was the city of Jericho, the oldest city known to man. To the right was the Dead Sea, and the soft light of an October moon was falling gently across its calm waters.

We turned and looked in the other direction down the barren rocky slope of the Mount of Olives. On the left at the bottom were the dark, old olive trees of the Garden of Gethsemane. Just across a little valley a few blocks in width was Jerusalem on the opposite hill. In that historic spot that evening it seemed to me I could look down through the centuries. There was the place where Solomon-who “exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom”—had built his temple. There was the place where many of the great figures of Jewish and Christian history—Abraham and Isaac and David and Peter and John and Matthew—had walked.

There was the birthplace of both the Jewish and Christian religions. There was the place where many of the ideals of Western civilization had been born. There the authorities of the great Roman empire had sent its armies to those distant frontiers. Rome had the greatest armies in its history. With their skill in law and government, with their distinguished judges and generals, the citizens of Rome could say with pride, “We know what we are—the greatest nation of our time.” But they did not know that the Roman empire would gradually disintegrate and fall.

As I looked down the centuries that night, I also saw a very great nation—Egypt—once the mother of the arts and sciences, but now with her people in poverty. I saw Athens, where Plato taught and Pericles gave his nation the Golden Age. In her pride, Athens may well have believed that her culture would determine the future of architecture, science, mathematics, and medicine for centuries, and it did. But Athens did not know that she too would fall and never again regain her former power. In these great centers of civilization there was wisdom. There was genius. There was power. They knew what they were, but they did not know what they were to be.

That evening I saw other great empires through the centuries—Great Britain, Spain, Portugal,France, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, the Netherlands. They knew what they were—powerful empires of their time. But they did not know that one night in August 1914, the sore-ber shadow of war would fall across the world, only to be followed by a second world war, engulfing almost all of mankind and ending only when the terrifying clouds had left behind their dead at Hiroshima. These great empires knew what they were, but they did not know that all of them would fall by the end of the Second World War.

We know what we are—a nation at the peak of its greatest power, and yet unwilling to live within its income. This has been true for many years. A nation with great industries and a highly skilled labor force, but with a large deficit in its international trade. A nation whose people have one of the highest standards of living in history, but where the influence of the family has less ened and where students unable to read or write have graduated from high schools.

We know how great our achievements have been, but will we now meet the hard problems confronting us?

We can succeed if we bring to our problems the character, wisdom and courage that made us a great nation.

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August 1984

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