We dwell in a smaller world, by the scale of clocks; we are more vulnerable to our enemies, more accessible to our friends; we tap previously distant sources of supply. Science has revalued geographical locations, increased the density of populations, and offered its rewards to new knowledges and trades. The houses we own, the meals we eat, the tensions we feel, the skills we teach, differ from those of our forefathers in fundamental ways. Ideals, wealth, and power are all in a state of flux.
When the art of flying was very young, most of us thought that men on wings would soar over mountains and oceans to bring countries close together in peaceful understanding. We assumed that easy contact between peoples would simplify diplomacy, and decrease war. Now, at the end of the first half century of engine-driven flight, we are confronted with the stark fact that the historical significance of aircraft has been primarily military and destructive. Our bombs have wiped out, in minutes, an inheritance of life and labor which centuries created. Aviation is having its greatest effect on the force-influence of nations and factors of survival, while diplomatic relationships are floundering in a strange new framework of power, time, and space.
With hindsight we see that our early enthusiasm over the discoveries of science and the conquest of the air blinded us to natural laws which govern the conduct of men.
Man has always had a tendency to complicate his life with technical knowledge and material devices. Since the mechanistic age began, we have allowed ourselves to become increasingly bound to a regime required by its training and encouraged by its products.
Our scientific, economic, and military accomplishments are rooted in the human quality which produces them. In the last analysis, all of our knowledge, all of our action, all of our progress, succeeds or fails according to its effect on the human body, mind, and spirit.
The Nature of Man
Man is born with qualities of body, mind, and spirit. No system can maintain the utmost power unless it gives all his faculties free play. Most of us remember when the requirements of living enforced a more balanced life. Not many years ago, the efficiency and specialization demanded of us today were impossible. As a lawyer, my father harnessed a horse to carry on his business. As a young pilot, I unlashed my wings from fence posts and pulled through my own propeller. But my father and I knew the feel of rain and the smell of ground, and there was time for our thoughts to wander. When night came, our muscles put our brains to sleep.
Now, modern standards require an efficiency which immobilizes the muscles and the senses while it over activates the brain.
Youth must specialize in technical training. Daylight hours of adult years must be spent beside machines, drafting boards, and desks. Here, we meet the basic question of how deeply and how long man can consecrate himself to his machines without losing the human qualities essential even to effective consecration.
American aviation has accepted the responsibility for material power. From the standpoint of short-term survival, the confidence placed in our science and industry has been justified through the performance and the numbers of our aircraft. But our very success in the field of material power silhouettes problems of human power which confront us. War, strikes, and political unrest have flamed on all our speed-compressed horizons. From the standpoint of long-term survival, what is our regime of life doing to our people?
Problems of Our Age
During decades of industrial development, western man has taken himself for granted while he concentrated his attention on his material creations. He now wakes rather suddenly to find his security dependent on the machine organization he has built, with his civilization threatened by its products. He comes to the increasing realization that he has not kept inward pace with his outward actions.
This mid-century generation we represent stands on amazing accomplishments, but faces alarming problems. We have wiped out a city with a single bomb, but how can we use this fact to heighten our civilization? We build aircraft by the tens of thousands in our factories, but what will our factories build in the character of their personnel — not only in our generation, but in our children’s, and their children’s? We tie all countries close together, put each doorstep on a universal ocean, but how are we to direct these accomplishments to improve the basic qualities of life? In emphasizing force, efficiency, and speed, are we losing a humility, simplicity, and tranquility without which we cannot indefinitely hold our own, even in worldly competition?
These are the problems of human power, of long-term survival upon earth. We have shown what man can make of science. Now it is a question of what our scientific environment will make of man, for an environment affects the form and thought of each new generation. To date, the results of science have been primarily materialistic. We have measured success by our products rather than by ourselves. A materialism which overemphasizes short-term survival detracts from the humanism essential to long-term survival. We must remember that it was not the outer grandeur of the Roman, but the inner simplicity of the Christian that lived on through the ages.
I have stated a problem. You have the right to ask for a solution. I believe the solution lies in each individual, through the standards he holds; that it lies not in political parties or radical movements, but in human values and gradual trends; not in a greater complication, but in a greater simplicity of life. In other words, I believe that the solution lies within ourselves, and that we can find it nowhere else.
But we must have more than an intellectual desire, filed away in the archives of idea. It must enter the roots of our being until it shapes our action instinctively as well as through the conscious mind, until we see the producer as more important than his product, and find it no sacrifice to renounce material standards of success —until we realize in our bones as well as in our brains that the character of man still forms the essential core of a lasting civilization.
From an address before the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, New York, January 25, 1954.