Acknowledgment: Birthday cakes were drawn by Bill Boys.
“One of the great things about our nation is we can do so many things wrong and still be the greatest.” – “Grin and Bear It.”
“Of course we have problems, but so does the Europe you idealize, so did the past you idealize. To say that America isn’t interesting, to say that all Americans are stereotypes, is to ignore the huge number and rich variety of our problems. In what other nation, at what other time, could you find so many new and pressing crises in desperate need of solution?” – Ordeal of Dudley Dean, Richard Scowcroft.
CHAUVINISTIC, jingoistic, immoderate, blindly enthusiastic, nationalistic, super-patriotic are adjectives that we normally would hate to have applied to us. But on this occasion let us try to earn them everyone. It may be popular lately to focus on the faults of America, but for her 200th birthday, let us forget all about such things and rejoice, exult, sing loud praises, and freely indulge in super-rhetoric without let or hindrance. Tomorrow we can go back to being fair and reasonable; but once in a century, once in two centuries, let us loudly proclaim what we know to be the astonishing truth: There has never been, nor is there now, a country to compare with ours on the face of our planet.
Two hundred years does not seem a long time for a nation to endure, and we are accustomed to thinking of the USA as a young country. Yet few countries in the world have an older, uninterrupted government than the USA.
It is our wonderfully good fortune that our government was formed in a time of ferment, a time when the ideas of individual freedom and dignity had seized men’s imagination, the age of reason. It was like no other time in the history of the world. It has been claimed that today our Bill of Rights could not be adopted, and we are often aware that people do not really seem to appreciate the rare gift of freedom that our ancestors made so easy for us to have. (It may be, however, that this uncaring attitude is the best evidence that we are free.)
Even the American Revolution would not have occurred, at least in the period it did, had not the minds of American leaders been saturated with ideas of liberty and rationalism. One of the most striking facts about the Revolution is that it was largely unjustified. The English yoke and acts of oppression were rather mild in the light of what many colonies have endured, and America’s complaints could have been dealt with at no great loss to the British had the effort been made. Probably nothing could have prevented the Revolution once the idea of independence had spread. It is still an attractive goal for people all over the world, and people continue to show a readiness to pursue it even if they know that independence will lower their standard of living and bring hardships. It is the example of US independence that is still the torch of freedom in the world.
Our own NAPA is an example of our freedom. Freedom, democracy, and republic mean quite different things to different people in different societies. It is surprising, for instance, to read contemporary Russian short stories and find Russian newspaper editors claiming that the press is free in the USSR. They mean, of course, free from capitalism. Quite a different concept than what we mean by freedom of the press.
A free press is the hardest burden a government has to bear, and any government that has the power will throttle the press. Marcos in the Philippines and Ghandi in India are recent examples. Ghandi was even quoted as saying that India could never return to the “unlicensed” freedom that had existed before her “emergency” dictatorship. This was a peculiar choice of words, if the quote was accurate, because all freedom by its nature is “unlicensed.” There can be no such thing as “licensed” freedoms.
No other government on earth would have been unable to prevent its national press from publishing such a thing as the “Pentagon Papers.” Strangely enough, many people decried our governments inability to stop the Washington Post and the New York Times. In fact all of us ought to rejoice that we live where freedom of the press and of individuals can embarrass the government.
The entire Ellsberg affair, including the dismissal of his case, was a triumph for democracy and individual freedom. Even our government must come to court with clean hands. I say that regardless of how you might feel about Ellsberg and his alleged culpability, you should rejoice at the outcome.
There is little doubt that our strong individual rights concept causes a good deal of trouble and even suffering in our society. I heard a respected Danish lecturer, now an American citizen, at a discussion one night maintain that we must begin to give up some of our individualism for a greater social concern. He may, in fact, be correct in the claim that socialistic governments show more concern for the disadvantaged people, the poor, the infirm, and the aged, than does our government. I think it is true that if you get outside the mainstream (as, sooner or later, you must) in America, you do have a serious problem. You might well be better off in a more socialistic society. The medical cost crisis now confronting us is an example.
In the question period the speaker became quite irritated when I asked him if he had ever heard of a people relinquishing individual freedoms who ever regained any of them under the same government. The gamble is a difficult one. You know you will lose your individual freedom and you may or may not gain anything by doing so.
Clarence Kelly, head of the FBI, has recently intimated that we could be provided better police protection if we would give up some of our individual rights. So it goes.
One favorite ploy of governments is to try to convince their citizenry that something is a privilege not a right. “Your driver’s permit is a privilege, not a right.” Who says so? It is easier to govern people to whom you grant privileges than it is to govern people who demand their rights. Eleanor Roosevelt had a different idea. She said, “You have more than a right to be an individual, you have an obligation.”
Democracy is a sloppy, inefficient method of government. Its faults are legion and readily available for detailing. There’s only one big thing in its favor, as Winston Churchill once said – all the alternatives are worse.
Perhaps only a country rich in natural resources could have endured and prospered under such a system and early on produced a way of life that became the envy of the world.
America has long been the dream of politically and economically depressed people of the world. We may no longer adhere to the spirit of the message on the Statue of Liberty and probably never fully did so, but no other country has even professed such a sentiment. It is always better to have ideals you cannot live up to than to have none. “America is the only country with a conscience,” a European novelist said about us.
In 1974 when the US offered to allow Russian Jews to come to this country if Russia would allow them to leave, a Russian acquaintance, at a technical conference, asked me, “Can that be true? What do you want with them? What good are they to you?.” He could not even conceive of a nation acting from simple humanitarian motives. After all, his country won’t even permit people to leave it. If the day comes that we forbid people to leave the US, you will know the dream has soured.
The whole world knows that America is a country with a heart. It is expected that a disaster anywhere in the world should become the focus of American aid. It is so taken for granted that the usual reaction from those aided is anger that more aid is not given rather than gratitude for what is given. This is not an unexpected reaction, but it is interesting that America is often criticized for doing too little while no criticism is offered of nations that do nothing.
At the hunger conference in Rome a year or so ago, it was interesting that nation after nation castigated the US for not feeding, or not planning to feed, the people of every disadvantaged nation in the world. Why not Russia? Why were the delegates not demanding that Russia with her enormous food potential feed the world? Simply because they knew the Russians could not (they cannot feed themselves), but they also knew that Russia would not if if she could. Only America could feel any sense of responsibility for feeding people all over the world, and the delegates to the conference knew it.
Mistakes have been made and mistakes will be made, but America is a country with a conscience and a sense of shame. We may not always do right, but at least we are ashamed of our failings.
Say what you will, America is still a land of opportunity. I know dozens of people who started from scratch and having neither money, family, or influence, have achieved standing in jobs that engage their minds and jobs that reward them financially as well. I am well aware of the many traps and of the dead end jobs, but the door is still open in America to challenging and meaningful occupations. I doubt if the barriers to such jobs are lower in any country in the world.
The keys to success in America have been, and still are, education and a willingness to get your hands dirty. The American people have not succumbed to the notion that an educated man should not do dirty work. Americans consider education as another tool to bring to their work rather than believing it should confer special status and raise them above the common herd. An American can hardly think otherwise because the common herd is in college with him. No country ever tried to give higher education to such a huge proportion of its people. If this has not been a complete cultural success,
there is no doubt it has produced the highest technology in the world. And whatever the current feelings about our technology may be, it is the basis of our high standard of living.
I have saved for last a little remarked attribute of my country: America was once in a position to conquer the world and made no effort to do so.
Somehow the people who claim that we are so imperialistic ignore that no other nation in history had such a military advantage and never even considered using it.
At the conclusion of World War II, America alone possessed the atomic bomb and had amply demonstrated by its use to defeat Japan that no nation could withstand an atomic attack. Further, the American leaders knew they were in sole possession, for a short time, of the bomb.
Would the Russians, had our positions been reversed, have exercised a like restraint, or would they have made over the world into their Communist image? It must have been a terrible time for the Russian leaders. They must have been frantic in their need to manufacture their bomb.
What did America do? She turned her attention to the rebuilding of Europe through the Marshall Plan. No country in the history of the world has attempted and succeeded in such a massive rehabilitation.
Let us be quite clear. America indisputably had the power to dominate the world by her military might and made no effort to do so. Nor did she use that power to blackmail any nation.
We have every right to be proud that we have developed a society where that restraint was the normal, expected thing for America.
Nothing like America ever happened in the world before and its like may never come again. But with all its faults and blemishes, and no matter what the outcome, it is one of man’s finest achievements.
America! Love it and make it better. May it endure so that our children’s children enjoy the freedom that has been our happy lot. Happy centennial, USA, and may you have many more of them.
“The NAPA has no definite program for its members’ advancement. Our aims and ideals are purely in the heart and mind of each individual member, who prints or writes according to his own individual fancy. We have no ties to each other except a common hobby, so there must be more to the National Amateur Press Association than what meets the eye.” – Harold Segal, Campane, No. 67.
“I’m having a ball learning about typography, the history of printing, and the ever-greater joys of a private press.” – J. Hill Hamon, National Amateur, Vol. 95, No. 4.
“We of NAPA, whether editor, printer or writer, are communicators with things to say. For 97 years members of our organization have been saying things, some of which appeal to a big percentage of the membership, some to a few members and some only to the sayers.” – Mary Brunori, National Amateur, Vol. 95, No. 4.
On July 4, 1876 a group of young printers and writers met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and founded the National Amateur Press Association. It is a non-profit organization established to promote amateur journalism as a hobby. The members write, print, publish and exchange papers, either by direct mail or through their Mailer who collects and sends a “bundle” of amateur journals to each member every month. Membership is not restricted by age, sex or race. Anyone interested in the hobby, upon endorsement by a present member, will be considered for membership.
THE above words appear in almost every issue of the National Amateur. I have read them many times and always with some amazement that such an organization could endure, and indeed flourish, in the modern day when the whole concept has an anachronistic air about it.
I think it is safe to say that the organizers of NAPA would still recognize the organization in spite of the many changes and would feel at home in the familiar spirit of aj.
When I first started reading the early NA‘s I was struck by the quarrelsome vigor of the articles, of the officers’ reports, of the conventions, and especially of the elections. It was some time before I understood that the organization consisted of boys and that twenty was a ripe old age for a member of the association. Also the primary purpose of the association seems to have been to provide a medium in which the boys could, by practice of amateur journalism, learn journalism. I gather from old NA‘s that the hobby aspect was also important, but that one was expected to sharpen his skills and eventually outgrow amateur journalism.
The very formation of The Fossils, “the alumni of amateur journalism,” had that as its basis.
I don’t know what the median age of members is now but NAPA is clearly no longer a young person’s organization. I’m sure there are more retired members than members under twenty or even thirty.
And clearly the purpose of the organization has changed. Few, if any, of present day members expect to become professional journalists by virtue of their practice in the NAPA. There are obviously people who hope to improve their writing by writing stories and articles for our amateur journals, and I suppose some of these dream of becoming professional writers. But it is basically now a hobby oriented organization and therefore its anachronistic air is to be expected since it is quite normal for hobbies to be concerned with arts, skills, and machinery no longer commercially important.
As you may note in Harold Segal’s First Hundred Years, it was no accident that July 4 was chosen as the founding meeting date for the National Amateur Press Association. Aj had flourished on a nationwide basis for a number of years, and the organizers deliberately combined the birth of NAPA with the nation’s Centennial celebration. The organizers clearly had a sense of history, and I do not feel they would be surprised that we are in Philadelphia celebrating the survival of our country and of our NAPA at the Bicentennial and the Centennial respectively.
Fred Liddle in a letter to me said that while he seldom agreed with any opinion that I published he relished the thought that I was able to publish views at variance with his. “We are the last bastion of the free press,” he went on to say. He is certainly right. Even great newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post are subject to economic pressures and political threats. The Nixon-Agnew attack on the freedom of the press might well have been successful if these leaders had not fouled their own nests. As it turned out, Watergate was a major affirmation of the benefit of a free press, but this lesson can all too easily be forgotten.
Anyway, the aj journal is free in a way that would make the publishers of commercial journals, magazines and newspapers writhe with envy. The freedom to say what you think, unlicensed, unregulated, unregistered, unhampered in any way, is a freedom enjoyed by citizens of few countries in the world today. No dictator, right or left, could abide my having in my basement a press that he doesn’t even know about – a press whose output is reviewed by no government agency, a press whose presence does not have to be made known to any government on any level. Therefore I believe that our monthly bundle, ineffectual as it may often seem, is a constant affirmation that we are still free men.
I read somewhere that an Englishman at a meeting in Moscow astonished his hosts by mentioning that he had a printing press in his basement. The Russians were even more astonished that his chief output was non-political poetry. In their minds a private press was a hazardous undertaking and its output had to be of importance commensurate with the risk. Thus the very fact that much of our output is trivial is a celebration of the freedom of the press and evidence of our individual freedom.
We may snicker cynically when we recall Charles Wilson’s statement that what was good for General Motors was good for the USA, but we can be sure that if NAPA at its Bicentennial is similar to our present organization that the citizens of the USA are still free at its Tricentennial. What makes the NAPA possible is truly good for the USA.
So, happy first centennial, NAPA. May you have many more and bring to our children’s children the quiet, deep pleasure you have given us and generations of members.
Hand set in Deepdene. Display type is Goudy Hand Tooled. Inks are Van Son 40904 Black, Red Pepper (rubber based) , and Delft with a lot of white added. Paper stock is unknown. Published by Jake Warner and 600 copies printed (150 intended for distribution at the convention) by him on a 10×15 C&P at the Boxwood Press, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770.