In August of 1942 the world was at war. The President of the United States had just authorized that Wendell Willkie, a private citizen, to make a world tour in the interest of global unity and peace. His plan was to see as much of the world and the war, its battlefronts, its leaders, and its people. The hope of this undertaking was to help translate into reality the dream of a world without violence-the age-old dream of peace and harmony among nations.
It was a uniqe and challenging assignment and one that Willkie eagerly welcomed. He was to have the opportunity of seeing the world at war, of visualizing the world at peace, of viewing the nations of the world as though on a giant chessboard and of contemplating the best moves in the direction of international peace, understanding and co-operation. And in the process, he talked with Field Marshall Montgomery, Charles de Gaulle, Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek. He talked with soldiers at the front and their families behind the lines-with teachers, farmers and factory workers-with generals, prime ministers and kings.
He visited more than a dozen countries, traveled a total of thirty-one thousand miles and talked with hundreds of people around the world. The impression he got was not of distance from these people but of nearness to them. The more he saw of the world, the smaller it seemed to him; and the greater became his desire to see the nations of the world united in a just and lasting peace. "If I had ever had any doubts that the world has become small and completely interdependent," he said later, "this trip would have dispelled them altogether."
So what was his conclusion seventy-four years ago? He reported on a world transformed by swift communication and economic interdependence, a world of shrinking boundaries, of revolutionary new values and ideas. He stressed the need for broader vision and better understanding, insisted that our thinking and planning in the future must be world-wide. "There can be no peace for any part of the world," he said, "unless the foundations of peace are made secure throughout all parts of the world.
Shortly after reporting his findings and impressions, Wendell Willkie wrote a book, "One World," that became a sensation. As a child, I remember seeing a copy of Willkie's book on a shelf in the library of a my family home. My mother was much of a dreamer and no doubt the inspirational message and thesis of the book had great appeal to her. The gist of his message is summed up in the following paragraph-a simple, unadorned statement of fact which millions of folks found memorable and provocative.
There are no distant points in the world any longer, I learned by this trip that the myriad millions of human beings of the Far East are as close to us as Los Angeles is to New York by the fastest trains. I cannot escape the conviction that in the future what concerns them must concern us, almost as much as the problems of the people of California concern the people of new York. Our thinking in the future must be world-wide.
I believe that everyone can agree that Willkie's conclusions are correct and remarkably insightful, reflective of what the last seventy-four years have turned out to be. So what has gone wrong? He made one fundamental misjudgment: The people in California don't care about the people in New York and vice verse. What happened to the "One World' of Wendell Willkie is that we have evolved into a world where a great majority of people don't give an iota about anything other than what they want. The motto has evloved into. "If it's good for me, then everybody else has to make sure I get it."
The purpose of this whole enterprise was to make people aware of the turth of what the world will become (and in fact became.) The point that was somehow missed was, that we are members of a world team. We are partners in a grand adventure. We are offered the most challenging opportunity of all history: the chance to help create a new society in which men and women around the world can live and grow invigorated by independence and freedom. Unfortunately, this dream will never be realized as long as humanity is more interested in self-gratification and personal benefit. As long as individuals and civilizations remain all wrapped up in themselves, Willkie's vision for "one better world," will remain nothing more than a dream. So l leave you with a really uncomfortable truth: You cannot build a better world unless you first have better people.