Shah of Iran's Address to Harvard University
On The Creation of the Universal Welfare Legion
13 June 1968
I am honoured and glad to receive the Honorary Doctor's Degree of your University. Conferred upon me by the oldest of the American universities, this degree has indeed an exceptional value for me, far this university was founded no less than 330 years ago, concurrently with the dawn of the great epoch of the establishment of American society in a wide unknown land by courageous pioneers from beyond the ocean. Harvard has thus a mission as the torch-bearer to the new continent and to the most advanced country in the New World. It has during this period produced many distinguished people who have achieved fame and distinction in various fields of human endeavour. It is fitting here to pay tribute to the memory of two eminent brothers -the late President John F. Kennedy and the late Senator Robert Kennedy, who were both educated in your University, and whose enlightened ideas kindled hope in the hearts of millions not only within the United States but elsewhere too.
Today, Harvard University has one of the highest reputations in the field of human culture. Its great library with nearly 8 million books is the largest university library on the earth. The fact that my own country's cultural heritage has supplied a part of this treasure-house of human knowledge, in the shape of a large number of Persian books an manuscripts, is a source of special pleasure to me.
The library, gathering in its shelves the results of the talent and genius of many, many leaders of the sciences and the arts, it is the symbol of that ideal world which we all hope to create. This will, needless to say, be a world in which all the constructive and creative thoughts and powers of men irrespective of geographical, racial, religious, and linguistic distances and differences will work harmoniously together in the service of all-pervading truth, to bring about a society fit for the whole of mankind.
Such a society will, without doubt, be created in the fullness of time. This is a result that is made inevitable by the inexorable march of history. The evolutionary progress of humanity makes it possible for us clearly to discern this vista in the horizon without needing the aid of telescopes. Therefore, common sense, good will, and conscience render it imperative that we should make a supreme effort to facilitate as well as expedite as much as possible the establishment of such a society. The component element, or owners, of that society -that is, our children and grandchildren - should have consequently been permanently set free from the social evils, both physical and mental, that are besetting us today.
Why should we put up with the present evils in our society? As opposed to the society we are visualizing, the present one can be described as a diseased one. The evils are there on all levels, international and national, and even within the smaller units such as towns and families.
Of course, the disease did not appear like a bolt from the blue, either yesterday, or last year. It is the result of factors that have deep roots and long lives. These consist of privations, discriminations oppressions, bigotries, hatreds, and hostilities; poverty, ignorance, hunger, and illiteracy. Each and all of these have been left to us as an evil heritage from the past. The fundamental difference between our situation today and that of our forefathers is that now knowledge has enabled us to realize that these evils are neither natural nor inevitable in the same way as we have found that cholera or the bubonic plague are not necessary calamities.
The advancement of knowledge has brought its harvest of anxiety to the human race; and this anxiety, in its turn, is proving to be the means for the ultimate salvation of mankind. Let me offer a word of explanation. So long as our ancestors considered it natural, upon the appearance of cholera or the plague, to resign themselves to fate and to await death, they inevitably had no sense of rebellion against this terrible evil. Thank God that we now have that urge to rebellion. Unlike our forefathers, we do not consider these diseases as irremediable. We take measures to prevent their appearance, and when they do appear, we mobilize all members of the society to fight the scourge. So, as a result of this anxiety, the mother of this rebellion, humanity is today nearly completely free from these calamities.
If this is true of physical disease, it can be equally true of social diseases as well. In fact we already witness human success in the case of the campaign against some of these other evils. For example, our world was for many centuries the scene of bloody religious wars, which appeared to the belligerents to be not only natural but even holy. Humanity as a whole has now come to realize that all the people in the world were created by the one God, and that everyone is entitled to worship God in the way he considers appropriate. The United Nations Charter explicitly states that all individuals have equal rights in this respect. In so doing, the Charter is not really notifying the existence of this right to humanity. It is simply expressing a fact which humanity has already accepted.
In the same manner the existence of colonial regimes appeared to be natural at one time. The political logic, current at the time, said that powerful governments should take weak nations under their domination and exploit them for their own, that is, for the powerful governments' benefit. Nowadays, the weak do not consider such exploitation as natural or inevitable; and even the majority of the former colonial governments themselves, having realized the impossibility of continuing that policy, have abandoned it for ever.
So, our society realizes its ills and knows at the same time that none of them need be there permanently. This is the real cause why our society is disturbed; but this anxiety is the motive for that holy struggle which will bring about a sound society freed from social diseases, as it is from physical diseases today.
Unfortunately, however, this struggle is not always conducted in a well-reasoned and balanced manner. That is why it takes the form of violence on some occasions, and disillusionment and a negative attitude on other occasions. Such reactions merely prove that the individuals concerned would find our society a sick one irrespective of the angle from which they looked at it.
At the highest level, all individuals have equal rights at birth. Actually, however, a great number of people die of hunger, while a small minority have so much food at their disposal that they simply do not know what to do with it. The world is divided between a number of prosperous nations on the one hand and a much larger number of poor nations on the other. Fifty per cent of the world's population earn only 10 per cent of the world's income while 4 per cent of the world's population earn as much as 40 per cent of the world's income. Prolonged malnutrition is, therefore, plaguing no less than three-quarters of the world's population. Out of 6o million people who die every year, the death of 30 to 40 million is due to the effects of some form of malnutrition or inadequate food. This is literally a life-and-death problem for hundreds of millions of people today.
Along with hunger, there is the problem of disease. Official statistics indicate that the death-rate in America and Europe is about 10 per cent; but 17 per cent in Latin America; 25 to 30 per cent in Africa, and 28 to 30 per cent in Asia. The infantile death-rate is 30 per 1000 in the United States, and 200 to 250 in Africa. The average life-span in North America and western Europe is sixty to sixty-nine years, while it is less than forty years in Asia and Latin America, and even less than thirty-two years in certain countries Can we hope, at least, that this vast difference is diminishing? Unfortunately, facts show that the opposite is the case. Perhaps it will suffice to refer for this purpose to a report of the United Nations' Secretary- General, from which we learn that poverty and disease are on the increase in most of the developing countries in the world. The report tells us further that it is foreseen that in the year 1970 the number of the unemployed, as well as the number of men and women suffering from disease and hunger, will be many times the present number.
As a result, a fundamental difficulty has arisen which has been often referred to, or fully discussed in various international conferences, particularly in the conference recently held in New Delhi.
The difficulty consists of the fact that the difference between the rich and the poor nations is not diminishing, and is actually increasing every day. The Secretary-General of the United Nations stated in a recent report that between the year 1960 and 1962 the per capita income of the advanced nations rose by $100, while the same figure for the developing countries had not reached even $ 5.
In the case of the very important problem of illiteracy the situation is no better by any means. According to UNESCO statistics there are at present 700 million adult illiterates on the earth; and the total number of illiterates exceeds 1 000 million. Ninety per cent of this number live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This situation is frightening, both from the moral and the human standpoints. Speaking strictly economically, it is leaving unutilized a huge human capital because of the ignorance of vast numbers of people.
What does the balance-sheet of all these facts and figures show? On the one hand, a number of people in the world enjoy economic prosperity, a superb health service, good food, advanced education, and a high standard of life. On the other hand, the large mass of the earth's population are caught in the clutches of poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance, and a standard of life lower than a decent minimum.
Can we in conscience look at the members of the second group and still quote the great verse in the Bible: 'So, God created man in His own image'? I have no doubt that God did create men in His own image, but I am inclined to add that man's injustice and selfishness has crushed and misshaped them.
In the early part of the last century the great English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:
It is the sublime of man
Our noontide majesty, to know ourselves
Parts and proportions of one wondrous whole!
Still, can we agree that both the prosperous, healthy, well-fed, and literate person, and the weak, hungry, and illiterate individual are equal members of the same social unit?
Such is the general view of human society spread before the eyes of a man of good will, not only at the international level but even within towns and families. Racial discrimination, class distinction, social injustice, aggression against the freedoms of the individual, still prevail in many communities. Some methods of education are not right. Not enough attention is paid to the moral and spiritual needs of the individual.
We are disturbed to find that our society is unwell, that the world is beset by darkness, and that the human race is suffering from various forms of injustice. We realize also that against this general background, our private grievances, whether within the country, the town, or the family, are of relatively less sign finance.
The fact is that even should we be able to improve the conditions of our own home, our own city, or even our own country, but should we let human society remain sick, then this will naturally affect the well-being of each and every one of its units. Until such time as the roots of the curses that afflict humanity are removed we shall never be able to enjoy peace and tranquillity.
There is a deep sense of disillusionment and despondency in many individuals who sincerely long for a better world and a happier society. They want man to be, in the words of Confucius, free from perplexities, free from anxieties, free from fear'. This is the great divide, where individuals, according to their physical and mental make-up, and education, fall into either of two distinct classes. One group takes the way of constructive activities of a political, social, economic, scientific, or artistic nature, in an endeavour to attain a better and healthier society.
Another group goes the way of negative rebellion by cutting off their connection with all the established customs and well-tried traditions of society.
The way of real service, however, is not closed to these individuals. They may not desire, or may be unable to adapt themselves to the various fundamental institutions of their society, but they can try to reach their objectives by less complicated, and perhaps shorter, ways. When I speak of political and social institutions, I am not referring to any specific, inexorable political or economic creed. In our country we have accepted the principle that with the great progress of science, and considering the ever-increasing power of technology and its effect on human society, many of the thoughts, principles, and 'isms' which were presented to us in the past as eternal and unalterable truths have become antiquated, and can no longer cope with the present needs of human society.
On the basis of this belief we have chosen our own way in the all-embracing social revolution in our country in recent years. We refused to follow inexorable regulations, but carefully examined all existing principles and creeds. From among them we selected anything which we came to believe was most suitable for our country, and most likely to serve its needs in the best possible manner. We did not limit ourselves even to these principles, but we also created and devised whatever factors we found to be useful or necessary for our national conditions and requirements. On the basis of a combination of all these elements we drew up and are carrying out a program of social revolution directly allied to our national interests - moral, psychological, material, and otherwise.
There are, of course, certain basic facts which we consider as unchangeable. The first of these is the necessity for paying due respect to the personality of the individual. It follows, inevitably, that we should not treat the individual as a slave to the government but rather consider the government as the servant of the individual. Furthermore, we realize that God, in Whom we all deeply believe, created resources and placed them at the disposal of man. No person has had a share in their creation I am referring to forests, grasslands, waters, and in general the natural resources, the private ownership of which may turn into exploitation. Our national program is consequently based on the principle that these resources cannot be the property of specific individuals, but really belong to the nation as a whole.
As against these broad principles which we regard as unalterable, there are facts which, being dependent on science and technology, are in the process of change, and indeed must change with the forward march of technology and science. Evolutionary progress is irrevocably associated with these changes. Otherwise, social stagnation is inevitable.
The fundamental and decisive condition for social evolution is that there should exist the maximum possible measure of cooperation between the various human communities, resulting in the development of mutual understanding and of a united general effort for the solution of universal and national difficulties. For our part, we believe that the best means for the achievement of this result in any society, irrespective of the political regime by which it is governed, is the adoption of the cooperative principle and also that of participation. We are accordingly trying to make this principle the basis for the regulation of the affairs of our new society. We do not imitate others in the execution of the various principles guiding our own social revolution. At the same time, we do not expect others to imitate us. I am only presenting the basic facts about the extensive experiment which is being carried out in my country in the course of this evolution. It is up to others to judge whether or not such an experiment is useful for them. It is, however, simply true that the Iranian community is proceeding with perfect unity, complete faith, and unprecedented enthusiasm on a way which has, in every respect, produced constructive and brilliant results for Iran, like, for instance, land reform or participation of workers in up to 20 per cent of the net profit of the factories where they work, or the creation of compact organizations which we have collectively called 'The Armies of Iran's White Revolution'. These consist of conscripts who perform their national service in the Literacy Corps, the Health Corps, and the Development Corps, and who would otherwise have served in the rank and file. These young men go to the Iranian villages to educate the illiterate, to improve the health services, or generally to reconstruct the district concerned. They take with them the newest ideas and principles of progress and civilization.
The young men serving in all these organizations have worked so hard and so zealously they have gained the deepest love and admiration of the people of Iran. Furthermore, at least one of these organizations, the Literacy Corps, has achieved international recognition. These three separate groups have already become the finest symbols of social service throughout the country.
I would add that in Iran, where, as recently as five years ago, women had no electoral rights, whether for voting or for being elected to parliament, we now expect that Iranian girls will in the near future participate in their brothers' endeavours in all these services.
A propose of the extraordinary success of these three groups, and the enthusiastic welcome accorded to their spirit of selfless service in Iran I want today to make a suggestion to all the people who are prepare to enter a holy struggle for rendering real service to humanity. Such service is undoubtedly their sincerely cherished ideal and my suggestion is meant to afford them an opportunity to advance towards their ideal without being obliged to follow the strict routine required by ordinary political and social organizations.
There are today hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who are in the clutches of hunger, ignorance, and assorted social inequalities. They are in sore need of help from persons moved by the spirit of benevolence and self-sacrifice. Hundreds of millions of men, women, and children in the four corners of the world are anxiously hoping and expecting that some other persons, out of kindness, should come to their help, and to soothe their sufferings. I am certain that, at the same time, there are millions of people not far away who, in their hearts, cherish the desire to render selfless human service to their fellows; and would find spiritual solace and moral satisfaction in living for a high ideal and a holy purpose.
Today, on the basis of these facts, I propose the creation of an international organization to be known by some such name as the Universal Welfare Legion, in which individuals irrespective of country, class, race, religion, sex, age, economic level, or social state will render service. Their only common denominator will be that they should have decided to devote a part of their lives to the service of mankind. The headquarters for the general administration of this organization should be attached exclusively to the United Nations; that is, to the greatest organization which has been created internationally to serve the whole of humanity.
I dearly wish that the countries of the world will take a decisive step toward final disarmament, and then place a part of the amount they thus save at the disposal of this international legion. Before that day arrives, however, one can hope that such help shall be given voluntarily; that is, benevolent individuals and organizations as well as governments will render financial assistance to such a legion in the form of donations through the United Nations. It is, no doubt, the United Nations that should provide for the living and working expenses of these volunteers who aim at nothing but the happiness of mankind.
Since Imperial Roman times many legions have been formed for the purpose of military conquest. Let us for once, create an international leg ion for the purpose of gaining victory in the fight against the real enemies of humanity; that is, against poverty, hunger, and social injustice in any form. Let future history bear witness to the fact that the moral power of the servitor of humanity is greater, and the more lasting, than the force of any army and the energy of any destructive device. Let those who wish to devote themselves to the service of humanity gather together and make the voice of selfless service reach the ears of hundreds of millions of their shelterless despondent brothers and sisters throughout the world. In the depressing darkness of discriminations, oppressions, and unscrupulous, ruthless calculations, let this legion be the torch-bearer of selflessness and benevolence. Let this legion give objective reality to the great words of the great classical Persian poet Saadi when he wrote:
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of man."