While working on another social media project I chanced upon an article Herbert Hoover wrote for This Week magazine in the midst of the grim years of World War II. Hoover had been devoting much time and energy to co-authoring a book Towards a Lasting Peace with Hugh Gibson. While his pen was hot, he wrote a short article on what it meant to be a boy in America.
Hoover opened: ‘There are two jobs for American boys today. One is being a boy. The other is growing up to be a man. Both jobs are important. Both are packed with excitement, great undertakings, and high adventure.
Sometimes a boy’s elders seriously interfere with his sheer joy in being a boy. They fill the department of growing up to be a man with grief and trouble. They create daily problems about everything: about health, about being made to eat food that is “good for you,” washing around neck and ears, keeping neat, with special unreasonableness about rusty jackknives and prized collections of snakes and toads.
There is a constant checkup to make sure that a boy’s every waking activity is a constructive joy, not destructive glee. There is moral and spiritual instruction. And there is going to school. There are many disciplines, directions, urgings and pleadings from elders that no boy understands until he has become a man himself. But then he looks backward to the enchanted boy’s world in which he once lived so splendidly. And he finds its memory one of his most precious personal possessions.’
Hoover then waxed lyrical about his boyhood days in Iowa and Oregon. Fondly reminiscing about fishing, fun and frolic. He also mentioned school and church. He closed his article with this admonition:
‘Since one of the saddest things in the world is that boys must grow up into the land of realities, I think there should be a special Bill of Rights for boys, as boys: Like everyone else, a boy has a right to the pursuit of happiness.
He has the right to the kind of play that will stretch his imagination, tax his ingenuity, sharpen his wits, challenge his prowess and keep his self-starter going.
He has the right to the satisfaction of that thirst to explore the world around him, every bit of which is new to him, and to explore the land of make-believe at will. He has the right to affection and friendship.
He has the right to the sense of security in belonging to some group. He is by nature gregarious, and the cultivation of that instinct will bring him many joys and helps in life. He has the right to health protections that will make him an inch taller than his dad.
He has the right to education and training that will fit him into a job he likes when he becomes a man. These are the rights of boys and it’s up to us, as adults, to see that they have them. The glory of the nation rests in the character of her men. And character comes from boyhood. Thus every boy is a challenge to his elders. It is for them that we must win the war – it is for them that we must make a just and lasting peace. For the world of tomorrow, about which all of us are dreaming and planning, will be carried forward by the boys of today.’
We are now living in the world of tomorrow. Once again the situation is grim. This time rather than war, we are facing disease. Once again the challenge to the elders is to win the war, this time against disease. We must face this challenge, so that the children of today can remain in their enchanted world.