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For the present, President Conant told graduating seniors yesterday in his Baccalaureate Sermon, "all talk of a real settlement with the Soviet Union ... must be regarded as Utopian."
Nevertheless, Conant advised his Memorial Church audience, it would be best to plan on the premise that there will be no global war. "We had best plan our individual lives on an optimistic prognosis of the future, on the assumption that we shall be living in an era of comparative peace," he said.
He spoke from a prepared text to members of the Class of '51 who, with their guest, attended the crowded service.
Conant pointed out that the era since 1945 has been one of disappointment for many Americans. "The pessimistic conservatives of the war years," he stated, "have been proved more accurate prophets than the optimistic liberals."
War and Communism
"Once again we are at war," Conant continued, " ... the rulers of Soviet Russia have pursued a course of extreme hostility ... the Communist party in the United States is something other than a political party; something far more in the nature of a world-wide conspiracy based on deceit and directed from the Kremlin."
But Conant told the seniors, "In human affairs when uncertainties are many, it is folly to make decisions on the basis of a calculation of probabilities." In planning a career, he advised, it is better to spell out "the consequences of acting on certain assumptions." Using this approach, Conant said, would lead to the conclusion that the graduating student should plan on a peaceful world, albeit one of partial mobilization.
For example, Conant stated, an airport-bound traveller caught in a traffic jam doesn't throw his ticket away on the assumption that he will miss his plane.
"It is obvious that we are now living in a time of anxiety ... all such periods generate forces of reaction," he said. He differentiated between conservatism--which "leans heavily on due process of law"--and reaction, "which appeals to the mob spirit and operates by intimidation."
Letter and Spirit
Conant advised the graduates of their responsibility to guard not only the letter but the spirit of the Bill of Rights in these times. And, he said, the independence of universities--which are always sensitive to public opinion--"transcends the importance of these institutions as education centers." For, he argued, they are symbols of our society.
"The spirt of the lynching party .. is working against the hopes for eventual peace," Conant warned. If World War III can be avoided, he concluded, the time will come when the propects for final peace will be brighter.
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