How It All Got Under Way
"WHAT can I do about it?"---a question that many an able man his asked himself. Feeling deeply, believing honestly, as he thinks about some great world problem, he faces the fact that after all he is only an individual, a single unit lost among all the swarming millions that inhabit the face of the earth. Intense though his convictions may be, the realization of the vastness of the problem and the smallness of his own voice makes him see only the futility of individual effort. The men who emerge from that sort of despair, who dare to push at the mountain, are the true leaders. Though their names may not be blazoned in newspaper headlines, they move the current of humanity.
Sven V. Knudsen, who has written this record of his endeavor, is one of these. At the close of the World War he. was known in his own little country of Denmark as a good athlete and able teacher, who was likely to settle down and become the head of a school. But the far horizons beckoned to him, an idea stirred in his mind---he wanted to push at the mountain.
I first saw him in 1921, when he was on his way around the world with the avowed purpose of studying the youth of all nations. I next saw him in 1925, when he returned to America with his idea crystallized. At the moment the world was reaping the aftermath of the Great War. Shoutings and recriminations rose from every nation. Men were sitting about the council tables debating guardedly, playing the international game with the cards face down. International debts, trade rivalries, and armaments were the Aces and Kings and Queens. Racial prejudice and the hates and misunderstandings born of the War flamed and flared.
This young Dane's idea was to strike at the root of international misunderstanding by bringing the youth of all nations into contact with one another, to make neighbors of the American boy and the European, to give to the boy in Buenos, Aires or Dresden or Tokyo an opportunity to become the lifelong friend of the boy in Boston or London or Bombay.
A big order! For one person, a colossal undertaking. At first his two hands alone pushed against the mountain. But he brought to this task such dynamic energy, such tirelessness, such complete freedom from ulterior motive that he found allies who placed their hands beside his.
It is my belief that Sven Knudsen is one of the most remarkable personalities of our day. He tells in this book the story of his dream come true, of friendships established among the boys of sixty nations. He says nothing of the enormous obstacles that stood in his way, because he has never been able to see in obstacles anything more than stumbling-blocks which can be kicked aside or easily passed by.
CLAYTON HOLT ERNST.
BOSTON, November 1, 1932.
THIS is the, story of eight hundred American college, preparatory, and high school boys, and similar boys from abroad, who have been entertained in private homes in Europe and in the United States, respectively, all contrary to the popular belief that Americans and foreigners do not mix well. It is also the story of a million personal letters written and interchanged spontaneously by thousands of boys of sixty different countries, in spite of the assumption that boys dislike writing letters. Combined, the two stories present a picture of close contacts between Americans and people abroad.
It seems unusual, in view of America's reputation for independence and Americans' love of freedom, which is often misunderstood. At times it is interpreted as lack of stability and community sense, and sometimes it even looks like disrespect, as in the incident of the American farmer of foreign stock who rebuked his farm hand for keeping his hat on in the house and got the answer: "Why shouldn't I? Don't we live in the Land of the Free?"
No one would pay much attention to the differences in attitude towards the small and big thing, in life, let alone be bothered by them, if Americans confined their activities to this side of the Atlantic Ocean and the people abroad to their side. Figuratively speaking, the Americans could keep their hats on and the people abroad take theirs off where and when they wanted to, and no one would ever be thinking of hats. Life, however, is not confined so easily any longer, and it is our job to find out how the other fellow wears his hat.
This is what is behind the story about the world-wide interchange of letters and of boys who have come right out of their native homes and gone into private homes for a vacation in America, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Norway, and Sweden. The credit for any good results of the interchange is due to the parents, the host families, and the boys who have followed the path of friendly mingling.