Never Betraying the Values We Hold Most Dear

A German Heinkel He 111H bomber dropping bombs. A Royal Air Force Battle of Britain campaign diaries photo. Public domain.

John Pepper, the former Procter & Gamble executive and board chairman, urges readers to “face our own challenges today” by “holding fast to our deepest values” following the example of Britain in World War II.

The inspiring book, “This I Believe: The Living Philosophies of 100 Thoughtful Men and Women in All Walks of Life” includes a Forward by the renowned newsman, Edward R. Murrow, who reported from London during World War II.

Murrow takes us back to the autumn of 1940, “when Britain stood alone”, and yet, as Murrow said:

“At a time when most men save Englishmen despaired of England’s life, there was a steadiness, confidence, and determination that must have been based on something other than a lack of imagination.  As the months wore on, and the nights lengthened, and the casualty list mounted, I became more concerned to try to understand what sustained these people: what belief or what methodology caused them to stand so steady in their shoes.  In part, it was ignorance of their own weakness; in part, it was a reluctance to appear obvious by expressing doubt as to the ultimate outcome.

London, England during World War II. This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 195566. Public domain.

But at bottom, this calm confidence stemmed from the belief that what they were defending was good; that Englishmen had devised a system of regulating the relationship between the individual and the state which was superior to all others, and which would survive even though cold military calculations concluded that the state was doomed.”

There was little logic in this British belief.  Unconsciously, they dug deep into the history and felt that Drake, Raleigh, Hawkins and Cromwell and all the rest were looking down at them, and they were obliged to appear worthy in the eyes of their ancestors.  But above everything else, they believed.  They believed in not only themselves, but that they were fighting against evil things and the fight was worthwhile.”

No democracy has been nearer the fire and survived than was Britain in that long winter and one reason for survival was that the nation did not betray the things in which it believed.”

Abandoned boy holding a stuffed toy animal amid ruins following German aerial bombing of London, England, 1945. This work is from the Toni Frissell collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work.

At a time when German bombers were coming through in the daylight over London, when the Germans were expected on the beaches the first foggy morning, the House of Commons, which might have been destroyed with all its members by one well-placed enemy bomb, devoted two days to discussing the conditions under which enemy aliens were being held on the Isle of Man.”

For the House of Commons was determined that, though the island fell, there would be nothing resembling concentration camps in Britain, and the rights under law of enemy aliens could not be abused.  That is what the British collectively believed.”

No man can measure or transmit the degree of detail of another man’s belief.  But it is possible on occasion to report it.  Murrow continued: “The night after the Munich Agreement was signed, I (Murrow) sat with Jan Masaryk, the Czechoslovak Ambassador in his London Embassy.  It was the anniversary of his father’s death.  We finished a broadcast to America at 4:00 am; we both thought that the Munich Agreement meant that war was inevitable.  But Jan believed, someway, that the forces of evil would be defeated.  Speaking of Hitler and Mussolini, he said: ‘I assure you, God will not let two such heathens control Europe.’  His belief, at that time, was greater than my own.”

I recall this story in order to display the ideals which kept Britain alive during the dark days in the early years of World War II and which are needed to keep all of us going at times of challenge.

The scene Murrow describes in 1940 bears a striking resemblance to the risk and the challenge, that was faced by the young United States of America, in 1776, when having lost virtually every battle in the Revolutionary War, Washington pulled a group of ragged men together to cross the Delaware River on a blustery, sleeting Christmas night, to go on to win battles in Wilmington and Princeton, that would turn the tides of the War.  No one at that moment would have bet on the success of Washington and his Army, but they were committed to noble ideas, just as England was in 1940.

We face our own challenges today, here in the United States and around the world. We must face them in the same way Murrow describes: holding fast to our deepest values.

It timely to recall Murrow’s words:

“No democracy has been nearer the fire and survived than was Britain in that long winter (of 1940) and one reason for survival was that the nation did not betray the things in which it believed.”

Re-posted here from the Pepperspectives blog with permission from the author.

John Pepper spent a 39-year career at Procter & Gamble where he served in various roles as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman from 1986-2003. He served as Chairman of the Board of the Walt Disney Company from January 2007 to March 2012.