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The Years Were Good: The Autobiography of Louis B. Seltzer

Chapter 28

TED COOPER is a nice young fellow. I like him. I hope he likes me. I have known him for something like thirteen years. He is now almost exactly the age at which I left public school to take my first job forty-five years ago.

I met Ted Cooper a few hours after he was born. He is one of our five grandchildren.

I am just like any other grandparent -- I am greatly interested in our grandchildren: Leigh, aged fifteen, whom I know as "The Princess"; her small and lively sister, Laura, aged four; and our son's two handsome sons, Charles, aged four, and Robert, two, who live in far-off Las Cruces, New Mexico.

My first interest in them is the natural one of all grandparents. There is another interest. It is the interest

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in the kind of world in which they are likely to live. Ted and I take walks. We talk. As we hike along, my mind persists in these thoughts:

Here we are, two human beings, tied together by blood, but separated by two complete generations -- and living, for practical purposes, in totally different worlds.

His is a world I did not dream of when I was his age. It didn't then exist. The world in which he now lives is for him rather commonplace, and he eagerly looks forward to a still different and more amazing world.

He thinks and talks of things it is hard for me to imagine. He knows they will happen. He takes the happening of them for granted.

I wish it were possible for me to trade places with him. He will live -- together with his sisters and cousins and all others of their age, not alone in America but throughout the earth -- in the most wonderful and exciting world that human beings have ever experienced from the time they first walked upright on this curious planet spinning in infinite space.

I am an incorrigible optimist. History, as I see it, supports that attitude. Certainly human history tends to liquidate the pessimist.

I believe that human beings are constantly getting better. I also believe that the circumstances of life in one generation prepare youth for the one which is to follow. The hot-rodder of today is tomorrow's jet pilot.

The increased tempo of life in these times is simply a conditioning process for what inevitably lies ahead. The earlier maturing of our sons and daughters is Na-

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ture's way of attuning them to a vastly different world which is as yet undefined, but which is just as certain as tomorrow's coming. The children of these days are an advance over their parents, as our own children were over us. It is Nature's law.

If only I had another twenty-five -- or fifty -- years to see for myself this fabulous new world! Since I am reasonably sure this will be denied me, I should like to set down here my own notions of what it may be like for my grandchildren, and their generation -- this brand-new world of 1980, and thereafter.

It will be, first of all, as might be expected, a world of many more people, for man is multiplying in incredible numbers.

Two-and-a-half billion on the earth now. In two decades, another billion.

In the United States now 165 million. By 2000 A.D., 300 million.

The world shrinks.

Man springs a projectile 300 miles into the air and straightens it out at 18,000 miles an hour around the earth. He puts space platforms above the land and holds them there by natural forces which he learns to manipulate.

He puts the atom to peaceful use, draws power from the sun to run his electrical appliances, draws power into his home by the shingles with which he roofs his house.

He controls weather. He makes rain to fall and sun to shine at will. He takes salt from the oceans covering two-thirds of the global land mass. He makes the desert

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bloom. He makes a garden of the barren places on the earth.

Malthus said man would reproduce faster than the land would sustain him. It didn't happen. It won't. Surplus already confounds the scarcity Malthus feared, and already complicates our national politics. Malthus overlooked a few facts: man's ingenuity, man's insatiable curiosity about his world, his indomitable purpose to make it work for him.

What, therefore, of this future for today's grandchildren? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it foreboding, Is it hopeful?

We are a strange people, we earthbound creatures with sky-bound impulses. We -- particularly in America.

We reflect our times. We are a part of them, for the nature of the times at any given moment exerts an irrevocable influence upon our outlook.

If times are bad, we think they will be forever bad.

If times are good, we think they will be forever good.

Neither happens.

We move irresistibly forward -- a setback here, a mighty surge forward there. We, young, dynamic, restless, eager, flexible, explosive, are the wonder of our times.

Nothing like us has ever before happened.

We are the unique product of freedom, incentive, opportunity, ceaseless ferment, interminable self-searching, continuous soul examination and prodding conscience -- unending revolution by ballot.

We always will be.

In my own lifetime I have seen three generations of

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America -- three ways of life so different that they might almost be described as distinct "civilizations."

I overheard my grandfather, Lucien Bonaparte Seltzer, say to my father in 1907, when I was ten:

"Son, the United States is through, washed up. It will never be the same. It's done for."

My grandfather was right when he thought that the country would never again be the same. But it was not "washed up" or "done for."

My grandfather had lived in a country where wood was cut for the fire; where food was either slaughtered on the farm, or bought by bulk from a store reached by wagon over miles of corrugated dirt roads; where stereopticon was incredible; where life was both leisurely and communal, tempo slow, problems relatively few, life largely sustained by beneficence of the elements.

At the very time my grandfather was making his prophecy of national doom, the scientists, the industrialists, the physicists were combining their talents to push benefits at the American people in greater profusion and in a shorter time than ever before; and these benefits were to alter life more completely and abruptly than at any other time in human history.

Images were to move across screens. Machines were to fly in the air. Ships were to travel under water. Autos were to thread their way over thousands of miles of highways. Voices and music were to be sent thousands of miles without wires. Thermostats were to order the exact degree of heat for human comfort. Water was to come forth crystal-clear by the simple turn of a faucet.

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A thousand other things, now too commonplace to enumerate, were literally catapulted at us from laboratory and assembly line.

Life in the United States of America, as Grandpa Lucien asserted, was, indeed, never to be the same again.

In 1939 my own father, Charles Alden Seltzer, who had scoffed at my grandfather's prophecy of doom in 1907, said to me in the living room of my home:

"Son, the United States of America is through, washed up. It will never be the same. It's done for."

My grandfather, in 1907, made his prophecy as one distinctive way of life in these United States had ended, and another, a vastly greater one, was beginning.

My father, in 1939, made his prophecy likewise, when a distinctive way of life was ending and another, a vastly greater one, was about to begin.

We now embark upon the third, and perhaps the most remarkable, of our "civilizations." Surely more will follow.

Today, despite the confusion, bewilderment, uncertainty, internal social, economic, and political divisions, the atmosphere of inconsistency and conflict, the despair, the disjointed outlook of the country and the world itself -- today, the United States is entering, without our especially realizing it, upon a newer, a vastly greater age.

This age of electronics, of radar, of television, of atomic power, of solar energy, of things now only in scientific and technological swaddling clothes, will exert

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even greater change upon the whole of life than any which preceded it.

It will carry us -- as certainly and immutably as the forward thrust of life itself, as the rising and setting of tomorrow's sun -- to greater prosperity, greater human happiness and equity, and, I believe, to greater economic and social stability.

This third "civilization" will be as completely revolutionary in its ultimate effects, as the automobile - airplane - radio - television -- movie civilization was, in contrast with the horse and wagon - stereopticon -- coal bucket-kerosene lamp -- water well civilization of my own boyhood.

We will see changes far greater in scope and effect during the next twenty- five years than any seen in the past fifty.

We know that a single secret of the celestial outer spaces, disclosed to the inquiring mind and eye of the scientist, opens vistas to many other secrets in a fabulously multiplying fashion. Equally is this true of the industrial technologist who translates the findings of the scientist into the realities of everyday life.

We live at a constantly accelerated pace. We cannot stop it. We cannot declare a moratorium -- a sabbatical -- to the forward march of science and technology. It is not in man's nature to do so.

My grandfather and my father were the finest and most sincere men I have ever known, among the most discerning and alert, but they were deceived by the apparently irrevocable nature of their times. Perhaps,

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this was because change in their time was less frequent, and more perceptible. When it came it seemed sharp and abrupt, revolutionary and upsetting.

This is no longer true. We are caught up in the swift and tumultuous whirlpools of incredibly unfolding change. We expect it. We take it for granted. Each new thing brings only momentary arching of eyebrows. We adapt ourselves quickly.

So now we face a brand-new age, the greatest of all. Out of it will emerge the greatest United States of America in all our dynamic history. And yet most of us, accustomed as we are to change, scarcely notice.

There will be physical changes which defy the imagination, and paralleling them, the greatest advance mankind has ever witnessed in social, spiritual, and cultural areas. Inevitably we will elevate and strengthen the underfed, the underclothed, the undersheltered, the undereducated, the overdominated peoples of the earth -- those whose number we loosely approximate at two- thirds of all who draw breath each day.

What all of this will do to man's spirit is a separate question -- and a basic challenge to humanity.

Man's ego tends to rise with his own accomplishments. In the days when he was required to fell the tree in the forest for shelter, rely upon kindly elements for food, track down animals for clothing, he felt insignificant, impotent, apprehensive, against the vastnesses of land, sky and air with which he was surrounded.

As he put up skyscrapers, made machines work for him, sent vehicles through the air, automobiles over land, ships under water, made images to move on

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screens, sent rockets and missiles at remote targets with uncanny precision, exploded bombs, conquered disease, prolonged life -- in proportion to these accomplishments his ego expanded and his faith in something Big and Providential apart from himself shrank.

In moments of preoccupation with material accomplishments, man has always experienced misgivings -- and we in our time have not been immune to them.

For a long time we, as Americans, have experienced singular bodily comforts -- and paradoxically, sore anguish of heart and spirit. Strange inexplicable yearnings persist. By trial, by error, by torment, we are tardily realizing that there is something more important than physical accomplishment even when achieved in such astonishing pattern and significance as during the last half century.

We now search more deeply, more questioningly, more anxiously, as we pass the midpoint of the epochal twentieth century.

As we comprehend the spiritual vacuum created by diverting ourselves so exclusively to the flow of material benefits, we now wisely seek for balance -- to accomplish what was denied other great civilizations which flowered and withered and were blown away. We have gained wisdom in America -- the wisdom of a child who eats too much candy, who puts fingers to fire.

And in this new wisdom we are spiritually and morally restrengthening ourselves for the greatest experience this nation has ever enjoyed.

What, therefore, of this future for today's grandchildren?

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I wish it were possible to trade places with them.

It will be great and wondrous. It will, I profoundly believe, come very close to the peace on earth and good will among men -- for all colors and kinds -- which mankind, deep in its collective heart, has always hoped for. There is, after all, one man under God, in one world. Science is steadily shrinking it to that one world. It simply cannot be stopped.

Everywhere mankind is making a mighty effort to throw off the restricting shackles of prejudice, discrimination, illiteracy, backwardness, domination by others. Man wants to be free, in both mind and spirit. And, wanting it, he will be free.

The scientific accomplishments of our century dwarf anything man has seen in the past, and the spiritual accomplishments of the future will dwarf anything thus far achieved.

And now --

Could I -- or anyone else -- do again at the early age I began what has been recounted in this book?

Ed Murrow asked me this question one evening when he brought his "Person to Person" show into our home.

I said no. The law wouldn't allow it for one thing. A boy of thirteen cannot work at a regular job today.

Along with all other professions and businesses, ours is now highly specialized and complicated. Even if the law today were to permit an uneducated thirteen-year-old boy to go into our business, he would be utterly lost. He might somehow, if a genius, come through, but I doubt it. Conditions have changed unbelievably. It is

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now almost imperative that we have adequately educated reporters and executives.

Our grandchildren are often told that it was an advantage to be born when their grandparents were, but their world of tomorrow will more than offset any advantages of the past.

The thirteen-year-old boy of today will do things I never dreamed of.

Thus, I end my first book, saying as I do so --

In God, I believe. My Country, I love. For its future I have, as you will observe, profound and abiding faith.

And to all who have made my life, up to the very moment I write these words, possible and endurable and pleasant -- and, I hope, useful -- I am eternally indebted. And I am indebted, likewise, to those in my family, my paper, my home town, who persist in making me look better than I know in my heart I am.

I have looked back -- I have looked at today -- I have looked at tomorrow.

The years have been both hard and good, but when the totting-up is finished -- THE YEARS WERE GOOD.