In the years between Versailles and Munich, there was an argument common among the Englishmen, Frenchmen and Americans as to who won the war. Nobody won that argument for the sufficient reason that nobody won that war. This time there won't be any argument; whose advance is greatest toward Democracy, that nation will be counted victor. (...) We aspire to that leadership, and there's worth and honor in our ambitions for an American century. (...) Only the wasting sickness of disunity, the pestilence of race hate, can cheat our children out of that fulfillment.
This war is fought against the source, the very causes of race hate. These are military objectives or this war is without end, without meaning and without hope.
We are persuaded that our fight is against denial of man's equal dignity, men and women so persuaded are dying on the battlefronts. We've sent them little bottles of our blood and we've bought bonds, but tomorrow morning we expect to wake up to another prosperous day, and they will be dead. Who says there's nothing we can do about it?
If we can't die in behalf of progress, we can live for it. Progress we Americans take to mean a fuller realization of democracy. The measure of progress as we understand it is the measure of equality enjoyed by all men. We can do something about that.
Our continent, sanctified to the uses of liberty, has been named the new world. For most of the races of man this is a new place to live in. For all races it promises a second chance.
Much is against us on the records: we oppressed the Indian, we stole the Black Man from his home and held him in bondage. Our sins matched patterns and examples, though; we begot more life than we destroyed, and the fragrance of American freedom rose over the stench of butchery. If the conquerors and slavers left us a mad strain of hate—hate by the sons of slavers for the sons of slaves—we've told our children that this was hate from the old world, that in our climate it must finally perish.
Our Republican splendor in this new age will shine by its own virtues, not by virtue of contrasting tyranny, and what was excused in us before is no longer excusable. The morality of the auction block is out of date. There is no room in the American century for Jim Crow.
The times urge new militancy upon the democratic attitude. Tomorrow's democracy discriminates against discrimination; its charter won't include the freedom to end freedom.
What is described as "feeling" against some races can't be further respected. "Feeling" is a ninnyish, mincing way of saying something ugly, but the word is good enough for race hate when we add that it's a feeling of guilt.
Race hate isn't human nature; race hate is the abandonment of human nature. But this is true: we hate whom we hurt and we mistrust whom we betray. There are minority problems simply because minority races are often wronged. Race hate, distilled from the suspicions of ignorance, takes its welcome from the impotent and the godless, comforting these with hellish parodies of what they've lost—arrogance to take the place of price, contempt to occupy the spirit emptied of the love of man. There are alibis for the phenomenon—excuses, economic and social—but the brutal fact is simply this: where the racist lie is acceptable there is corruption. Where there is hate there is shame. The human soul receives race hate only in the sickness of guilt.
The Indian is on our conscience, the Negro is on our conscience, the Chinese and the Mexican-American are on our conscience. The Jew is on the conscience of Europe, but our neglect gives us communion in that guilt, so that there dances even here the lunatic spectre of anti-semitism.
This is deplored; it must be fought, and the fight must be won.
The poll tax is regretted; it must be abolished.
And poll tax thinking must be outlawed. This is a time for action. We know that for some ears even the word "action" has a revolutionary twang, and it won't surprise us if we're accused in some quarters of inciting to riot. FREE WORLD is very interested in riots. FREE WORLD is very interested in avoiding them.
We call for action against the cause of riots. Law is the best action, the most decisive. We call for laws, then, prohibiting what moral judgment already counts as lawlessness. American law forbids a man the right to take away anothers right. It must be law that groups of men can't use the machinery of our Republic to limit the rights of other groups—that the vote, for instance, can't be used to take away the vote.
It's in the people's power to see to it that what makes lynchings and starts wars is dealt with, not by well-wishers, but by policemen.
For several generations, maybe, there will be men who can't be weaned from the fascist vices of race hate. We should deny such men responsibility in public affairs exactly as we deny responsibility to the wretched victims of the drug habit. There are laws against peddling dope; there can be laws against peddling race hate.
That every man has a right to his own opinion is an American boast. But race hate isn't an opinion; it's a phobia. It isn't a viewpoint; race hate is a disease. In a people's world the incurable racist has no rights. He must be deprived of influence in a people's government. He must be segregated as he himself would segregate the colored and Semitic peoples—as we now segregate the leprous and the insane.
Anything very big is very simple. If there's a big race question, there's a big answer to it, and a big answer is simple like the word "no."
This is our proposition: that the sin of race hate be solemnly declared a crime.
What makes this difficult is the conservative fear of raising issues. Let's admit that this fear is often no more sinister than an honest dread of going to the dentist. But let's respect the effectiveness of reactionary manipulations of that fear, which is the fear of anarchy and revolution. It is put to wicked use against the same general welfare conservative opinion seeks to protect. Forced to acknowledge Hitler's enmity, conservatives are loathe to admit that even as he surrenders in Europe, he may succeed in America. Let conservatives evaluate the impudent candor of fascism in Argentina and be reminded that the heroic survival of our liberty is no proof of its immortality.
Our liberty has every day to be saved from marauders whose greed is for all things possessed by the people. Care of these possessions is the hope of life on this planet. They are living things, they grow—these fair possessions of democracy—and nothing but death can stop that growth. Let the yearners for the past, the willfully childish, learn now the facts of life, the first of which is the fact of that growth.
In our hemisphere the growing has begun, but only just begun. America can write her name across this century, and so she will if we, the people brown and black and white and red—rise now to the great occasion of our brotherhood.
Column written by Orson Welles for "Free World" in July 1944, via
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photographs by Walter Carone (1950) via