All Men Are My Brothers

James A. Michener - Doylestown, Pennsylvania
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, May 14, 2010
James A. Michener

From the 1950s series, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist James Michener tells how the people he met during World War II informed his belief in the brotherhood of mankind. Michener says tolerance and kindness can overcome differences in race, culture, and language.

I believe that all men are brothers. I really believe that every man on this earth is my brother. He has a soul like mine, the ability to understand friendship, the capacity to create beauty. In all the continents of this world I have met such men. In the most savage jungles of New Guinea I have met my brother, and in Tokyo I have seen him clearly walking before me.

In my brother’s house I have lived without fear. Once in the wildest part of Guadalcanal I had to spend some days with men who still lived and thought in the old stone age, but we got along together fine. In the South Pacific, on remote islands, I have sailed and fished with brown men who were in every respect the same as I.

Around the world I have lived with my brothers, and nothing has kept me from knowing men like myself wherever I went. Language has been no barrier, for once in India I lived for several days with villagers who didn’t know a word of English. I can’t remember exactly how we got along, but the fact that I couldn’t speak their language was no hindrance. Differences in social custom never kept me from getting to know and like savage Melanesians in the New Hebrides. They ate roast dog and I ate Army Spam, and if we had wanted to emphasize differences, I am sure each of us could have concluded the other was nuts. But we stressed similarities, and as long as I could snatch a navy blanket for them now and then, we had a fine old time with no words spoken.

It was in these islands that I met a beat-up, shameless old Tonkinese woman. She would buy or sell anything, and in time we became fast friends. I used to sit with her, knowing not a word of her curious language, and we talked for hours. She knew only half a dozen of the vilest English obscenities, but she had the most extraordinary love of human beings and the most infectious sense of this world’s crazy comedy. She was of my blood, and I wish I could see her now.

I believe it was only fortunate experience that enabled me to travel among my brothers and to live with them. Therefore I do not believe it is my duty to preach to other people and insist that they also accept all men as their true and immediate brothers. These things come slow. Sometimes it takes lucky breaks to open our eyes. For example, if I had never known this wonderful old Tonkinese woman I might not now think of all Chinese as my brothers. I had to learn, as I believe the world will one day learn. Until such time as experience proves to all of us the essential brotherhood of man, I am not going to preach or scream or rant. But if I am tolerant of other men’s prejudices, I must insist that they be tolerant of me. To my home in rural Pennsylvania come brown men and yellow men and black men from around the world. In their countries I lived and ate with them. In my country they shall live and eat with me. Until the day I die, my home must be free to receive these travelers, and it never seems so big a home or so much a place of love as when some man from India or Japan or Mexico or Tahiti or Fiji shares it with me. For on those happy days it reminds me of the wonderful affection I have known throughout the world.

I believe that all men are my brothers. I know it when I see them sharing my home.
 

James Michener was a popular author of numerous bestsellers, including his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, Tales of the South Pacific, inspired by his travels during his naval service in World War II. Many of his subsequent novels, including Hawaii and Centennial, were based on detailed historical, cultural, and geological research. Michener’s literary career spanned fifty years and forty books. He died in 1997.