THIS I BELIEVE
What I believe has always struck me as less important than how I’ve lived my beliefs. This has occurred to me as I listen to the Public Radio Monday oral essays and as I reflect on my own life at age 86.
I served in World War II aboard a cruiser and battleship in the Pacific Ocean. It was many routine months at sea, punctuated by spasm of action: bombarding islands in support of invasions, repulsing enemy air attacks, engaging in one major ship-to-ship battle. Although I did my duty as an anti-aircraft defense officer, I was never called upon for feats of extraordinary bravery or extreme endurance.
“And that is my point,” I wrote in the Rutgers Alumni Monthly at the end of the war. “The war was no test. …I was never pushed to the ends of my courage , to the limits of my strength. I thought I was fighting for certain ideals, but I never discovered how hard I would have fought for them and what I would have given up for their attainment. I never endured the hard, tough experiences that force a man against his values and reveal his true character.
“Now in the postwar world I want some of those experiences I missed during the and I want to see how I will measure up.”.
My first challenge came in the early 1950s when the anti-communist mania swept our country. In defiance of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his bullying tactics, I helped form a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in Hartford, Connecticut and was elected its first president. As its spokesman, I testified before a Connecticut legislative committee to oppose a bill banning the Communist Party from the ballot. In the same capacity I appeared before the state board of education to oppose a proposed regulation requiring public school teachers to take a loyalty oath. I made numerous public speeches on civil liberties asserting that denying the constitutional rights of anyone weakened those rights for all of us.
As a lawyer, I represented before a federal loyalty review board a man suspended by the Veterans Administration on suspicion of Communist affiliations and won back his job. The most guts I showed was representing a union leader before the House Un-American Activities Committee to help him plead the Fifth Amendment. Sitting within the line of fire of that Committee, breathing the animosity it generated against the witnesses, I felt with a physical intensity its enormous power to scare the daylights out of people.
I fought against racial discrimination all my adult life. As an attorney, I brought suit against the largest hotel in Hartford for denying a room to a black man, who happened to be a New York Supreme Court judge. Elected to the Connecticut legislature, I introduced in 1959 the first bill to prohibit racial and religious discrimination in the sale or rental of private housing and led the floor debate in the House to get it passed.
My devotion to the cause of the working man led me to represent labor unions of factory workers and public school teachers. Together with union leaders, I negotiated collective bargaining contractrs to improve the wages, health benefits, and pensions of their members.
As a veteran, I had always believed that when our country went to war, we should stand behind it. During the Vietnam war, however, my bright high school daughters taught me the falsity of that patriotism. I became as ardent a protester against that war as they, marching and carrying signs in peace demonstrations in Hartford and Washington D.C.
From the beginning I have opposed the war in Iraq as without justification and counter-productive to the war on terrorism. I have written op-ed pieces against it in the Hartford Courant, as well as pieces condemning our country’s wrong-headed policies of refusing to join the International Criminal Court and to sign treaties protecting the world environment, banning germ warfare and land mines.
I ended that essay in the Rutgers Alumni Monthly in 1945 this way:
People tell us the war is over and the victory won. But we feel, somehow, there is another battle still to be fought: the battle to implement our ideals, to prove we are the men we hope we are. That victory is yet to come.
At the age of 86, I am l no yet ready to declare that victory, to proclaim “mission
accomplished.” I shall wage that battle as long as I shall live. .
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