The Intelligent Citizen's Guide to His World
William R. Polk's series of articles will provide a 'reader friendly' and insightful overview of conditions, developments and activities that are subtly but powerful affecting our daily lives.
The Intelligent Citizen's Guide to His World - An Introduction
Just at the end of the Second World War, when I was getting ready to go to college, I was given a copy of Sumner Wells’ book An Intelligent American’s Guide to the Peace.
Sumner Wells was the most influential foreign affairs adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to whom he was distantly related, and has been called “the father” of the United Nations. He had taken the lead in some of the most complex issues facing America at that time, including the results of the Hitler-Stalin pact and the build-up to World War II. He was certainly the most sophisticated American on world affairs.
In sharp contrast, I was then fresh out of military training and while fascinated by the great events unfolding around the world, knew next to nothing about the world. I hardly knew even the names of the countries and certainly little about their governments, their economies, their hopes and fears. Wells wrote for me and many others who were hungry to know the new world we had escaped into.
Worried about my and other Americans’ ignorance of the world, Wells also started what he called “The American Foreign Policy Library” which, in a series of volumes entitled The United States and… he commissioned historians to write about many of the world’s then significant countries in more depth. As a college undergraduate I read several of them.
Years passed, I graduated from college, became a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation, studied further at Oxford and then returned to Harvard to teach. As I was on the point of resigning to enter the Kennedy administration, Professor Crane Brinton, who had taken Wells place, asked me to write one of the volumes, The United States and the Arab World. That book was a considerable success and went through various adaptations. The last edition was under Brinton’s successor as editor, Professor Edwin Reischauer, who had written The United States and Japan and was himself the American ambassador to Japan in the 1960s.
So the inspiration I owed to Wells lasted long and now has encouraged me to write this book.
Just as Wells found in 1945, so I have found today: there are many highly intelligent people in America – and around the world – who have no easy access to factual information on many of the conditions, developments and activities that are subtly but powerful affecting our daily lives. These things are not so much the lurid newspaper articles on wars, demonstrations, overthrows of governments and or suffer through on television but the less dramatic things like how we get our food and water, is the sea level rising and if so how much, how real are the dangers of dust storms, hurricanes and floods, are glaciers important, what about forests, are we hitting the proper balance on expenditures on “security” and what kind of a world, in short, are we creating?
The aim of the short and, I hope, “reader friendly” series of snippets that I offer here is to provide basic and usable information on these and many other issues.
For a list of published and upcoming articles, please visit the The Intelligent Citizen's Guide to His World overview page.