Yesterday's News Today: An Open Letter from William Saroyan
The tradition of the open letter dates back to some of the earliest public writings. Composed as a letter, and usually addressed to an individual or specific group, they are intended to be widely copied and distributed. Some open letters became quite famous, including Émile Zola's J'Accuse...!, Ghandi's open letter to Hitler, Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, and Bill Gates' An Open Letter to Hobbyists. Open letters are usually drafted to allow for a freer form of speech, often more personal, while still addressing a mass audience. World War II saw many open letters written and printed, including the famed A Soldier's Declaration by Siegfried Sassoon.
Recently, an open letter written by William Saroyan came to light.
Written on Easter Sunday, April 25, 1943, it was addressed to all writers, educators, publishers, industrialists, statesmen, and church leaders, among others. At the time, Saroyan would have been assigned to the Army Pictorial Service working in Astoria, Queens, New York. In the letter, he addressed not the specifics of the Second World War, but the general idea of war, how it infests humanity, and what war and peace can, and should, mean. It is at once a call for peace and for contemplation.
Forever Saroyan, LLC, has not been able to locate any printing of this letter, though it may have been withheld by Saroyan himself, fearing the reaction of his command chain. It may have been submitted and not accepted, as this sort of material would have had a hard time finding publication during this period of the war.
One matter that should be addressed is the date- April, 1943. Saroyan seems certain that the war is nearly over, but it would be two years before the war’s end. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall, or maybe it was simply wishful thinking. The signs were pointing towards Allied victory, with the Navy shooting down the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, as well as the Warsaw Uprising, and general victories over the Axis powers in Europe all occurring over the previous month.
AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL WRITERS; EDUCATORS; PUBLISHERS OF BOOKS, MAGAZINES AND NEWSPAPERS; OWNERS OF RADIO NETWORKS; OPERATORS OF ALL INDUSTRIES; STATESMEN; CHURCHMEN; LEADERS OF ALL CLASSES AND PEOPLES OF THE WORLD.
We are all over 21 years of age. We are all human. We are all civilized. We are the heirs of many cultures and many political, economic and religious systems.
We are the inheritors of the earth.
While it is true that radio communication and air transportation have reduced the size of the earth, we do not believe it has become too small to contain all of us.
The time has come for the asking of questions. Therefore, let us ask. Let us talk about one another.
Wars are fought for peace.
But what is peace?
Is it poverty, injustice, disorder, political trickery, religious corruption, might amuck, right afoul, truth confounded and so on?
Is peace anything else?
War and peace are aspects of the same event: human beings trying to live.
No war has ever been fought by an army against anything inhuman, such as untruth. No army has ever marched onward as to war upon any enemy other than another army marching onward as to war. There are fiercer enemies than the enemies who are also only men, consequently every army is at least partially right and somewhat wrong.
War is peace in a frenzy. It is human anarchy organized, disciplined and controlled. To say that war is wrong is as idle as to say that disease is wrong.
When there is a war, it is beside the point whether or not it is right or wrong.
To feel that war is psychic collapse is all right, but no matter; to feel that it is man's abuse of himself is all right, but no matter; to feel that it is the profoundest disgrace of which man is capable is all right, but no matter. Or to feel that war is man's only chance for salvation, for dignity, for immortality, for exaltation, for escape from the narrow limits or physical mortality and so on is all right, but again no matter.
Whatever is, is part of everything else, and everything is part of the life of man on earth.
Peace is an illusion we no longer need. We do not need peace. There is no peace. We do not need war. There is no war. Each is the illusion of the other, and together they are the illusion of what we really need and want, which we must now identify and then seek to achieve and enjoy.
The present war is almost won---or lost, as you prefer. We---whoever we are---are determined that we shall win the war, whatever it is, and that the enemy, whoever he is, shall lose the war, whatever that means—and we shall win the war, whatever we mean.
Since this is so, since the war is almost ended, and we shall all soon be forced to go on living without any assistance from any Army, or from any idea of quick winning or losing of anything. In short, we shall all be forced to return to what we have inherited:
the earth and human life upon it.
It is not too early, therefore, to try to find out what we want to do with ourselves when we shall have once again all the time in the world.
What do we want to do?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
William Saroyan, Easter Sunday, April 25, 1943, New York, New York.