Posted: 21 September 2013
Updated: 28 Sep 13
Dear Editor, Please consider this presentation for the Sunday edition. Thank you.
How Can We Build The Moral Strength Of Our Nation?
This 5-minute speech was written in 1961 by the author as a first-year graduate student at the
Universityof Utahin Salt Lake Cityand an active Mormon in the LDS University of Utah student stake.[i] The stake leadership, concerned about the moral direction of its young people in the church and the country, had tasked all student wards to send their representatives to a stake speech festival to address the theme: How can we build the moral strength of our nation?
Because of the author’s clandestine military background, which he could not then disclose directly, he was especially passionate about the theme’s challenge. After more than five decades since the presentation, the author has become even more passionate about its theme, the direction of our country and especially the church institution that invited its young people to rise to the challenge of the theme. The ideas, which he so energetically wrestled with at that time, seem even more relevant today.
At the end of the festival the stake leader, who was responsible for organizing it and providing its theme, excitedly approached the author and demanded to know specifically what he was referring to toward the end of his presentation. Even though he was legally prohibited from revealing such information, the author chose to answer candidly, since in those days his loyalty to
authority trumped his loyalty to the country. LDS Church
That risky disclosure led to disastrous personal and professional consequences less than 5 years later. However, as of this writing (September 2013), the author can now identify the military operation that so affected his young life and motivation.[ii][iii][iv]
Eugene N. Kovalenko, Ph.D.
Los Alamos, NM
How Can We Build The Moral Strength Of Our Nation?
by Eugene N. Kovalenko (aka Kregg)
LDS Church University of Utah Stake
Salt Lake City
You’ve all probably heard the popular song that goes: “Give me some men who are stouthearted men, who will fight for the right they adore.”[v] Remember that song? Have you ever listened to it sung by a favorite singer with particularly great conviction and, at the same time, sensed an inner patriotic resonance as he sang? If you’ve felt such a feeling, perhaps you’ve wondered what it was or where it came from. Well, I think the topic this evening has something to say about this kind of feeling.
Moral strength, more than chastity, more than virtue, innocence and clean living, is, I think, made of the stuff that gives the patriot his drive to serve. I dare say that if our nation were a nation of patriots, we would have little need to be as concerned as we justifiably are about the lack of moral strength or how to build it. If this is so, and I believe it is, perhaps we might restate our abstract aim of building moral strength in terms of a more concrete concept: that of “patriotism.”
Who, then, is the “patriot”? What is he made of? How did he get that way? In my opinion a patriot is he who, first of all, is devoted to his country. But he is devoted with reason. He is devoted because he understands what his country is and what she is not. He is devoted because he understands why and how she was conceived, what she has become, and what she is capable of becoming. But, more than just understanding, he believes in her. And he makes her aspirations his own. He believes in her despite her weaknesses, not because he is blind to them, but because his understanding tells him that man-made organizations have never been perfect and in all probability never will be.
The true patriot does not ignore these weaknesses. On the contrary, he understands them and then calmly, deliberately, sets out to lend his strength to their correction, v
igorously when necessary. He is awake, willing, and prepared to serve. But most of all, he possesses two fundamental traits: understanding and conviction.
So much then for a very brief description of what in my opinion a patriot is. As for how he got that way, or how his understanding and conviction may be developed, let me suggest that the major part of the answer lies with two more significant words: truth and responsibility.
To examine the converse, surely he cannot develop the requisite understanding on which to base unshakable conviction without first having the truth and then the opportunity to apply it: responsibility.
Unfortunately, behind such a simple sounding solution lie hidden, deceptive complexities. For example, you and I both know that it is difficult these days to know how to tell the truth from misleading propaganda, whether it is commercial or official. Furthermore, I cannot help but feel as the result of my own experiences, and those of many of my closest friends, that there exists an ill-advised attitude towards us, the youth of the country, of over-protection from ideas not in harmony with what some people consider proper. In other words, somehow somebody is afraid to tell us the straight scoop--the unvarnished truth--out of fear that we, the youth, would not know how to handle it.
This is indeed a paradox, because moral strength, or in our consideration, patriotism, which is so desired by responsible people in the government, cannot come or develop properly without a greater effort by the government to speak plainly in matters of propaganda and policy.
(Incidentally, I might note that President Kennedy, himself, in his unprecedented live news conferences, does seem to be doing this very thing: that is, speaking more plainly, which is extremely encouraging!)
For just as a true faith in God cannot come without a true understanding of who he is, so a true understanding of the country cannot come without a true understanding of who she is.
As I see it, the only result that can come from unbalanced or one-sided information are corresponding unbalanced and faulty decisions, which faulty decisions, when confronted by further and sometimes contradictory facts and ideas, wither and crumble from lack of prior consideration or depth of understanding.
The remedy is certainly not increased protection and censure, but rather more opportunity to make proper and sound decisions on the basis of more responsible information. On the basis of the truth!
Here then is the heart of what I have been trying to say from the beginning. In my opinion, a partial solution to our country’s lack of moral strength or patriotism is for us, the youth and potential leaders of our country, to be intensely challenged by the new and youthful administration, with greater latitude to think and to respond--assuming, of course, that we have nothing to fear from knowing the truth.
Give to us, and expect from us, greater responsibility in governmental affairs, that our understandings might become sounder, that we might devote ourselves more responsibly and proudly to reality, rather than to false images.
I submit that this thesis is NOT as naive as it might at first seem. For I have seen with my own eyes—I know from my own experience—remarkable examples of the responses of young men called by this country to serve as a last resort, and given what at first seemed impossible responsibility!
I am convinced that truth and responsibility will, indeed, give us the patriot’s attributes of understanding and conviction.
Then, having armed ourselves with insight, as well as courage and imagination: “give us more youth (to paraphrase the song I referred to in the beginning) who are stouthearted youth, and we’ll soon give you ten thousand more!”
[i] An LDS stake is a group of wards or parishes, like a Catholic diocese.
[ii] http://orthodoxodyssey.blogspot.com/2009/01/great-berlin-tunnel-mystery.htmlOn Sept 27, Anonymous wrote:
[v] Stouthearted Men, from The New Moon, an operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
OK, you say this speech, given over 50 years ago is still relevant today. Why? What happened after that stake authority demanded to know what you were referring to?On September 28, 2013, Eugene wrote:
Two things happened:
1) five young men, including myself, who had given presentations at that speech festival, met and formed an on-going dialogue group to discuss how to implement the ideas presented. These were: Eugene England, Rex Mitchell and two others whose names I don't now remember. This was probably the seminal impulse that led to the founding of the now well-known Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, by Eugene England and others at Stanford University several years later (1966).
2) I was called to serve what turned out to be a two-year extra-curricular stake proselytizing mission, which would eventually lead me to finding my father's relatives in Ukraine. See here.