The Radical Roots of the World Health Organization
“The Re-establishment of Peacetime Society”
by General G. B. Chisholm, M.D., a Canadian psychiatrist
First Secretary General of the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO)
In 1946, Dr. Chisholm presented a paper entitled Psychiatry of Enduring Peace and Social Progress at a US conference on mental health. Two years later, his message was published by the (now prestigious) magazine Psychiatry, and by his Communist friend, Alger Hiss, the publisher of the socialist magazine, International Conciliation. Alger Hiss, the presiding Secretary General at the 1945 founding of the United Nation, wrote the Preface to Dr. Chisholm’s paper, which now bore the above title. Ponder Dr. Chisholm’s radical views of faith and freedom.
Now that [World War II] has just finished we must… find and take sure steps to prevent wars in the future…. (page 4)
Can we identify the reasons why we fight wars…? Many of them are easy to list–prejudice, isolationism, the ability to emotionally and uncritically to believe unreasonable things, excessive desire for material or power, excessive fear of others… ability to avoid seeing and facing unpleasant facts and taking appropriate action…. They are all well known and recognized neurotic symptoms. The only normal motive is self defense [but even it] may involve a neurotic reaction when it means defending one’s own excessive material wealth….
At least three requirements are basic to any hope of permanent world peace.
- …security, elimination of the occasion for valid fear of aggression…. [refers to global totalitarianism which would eliminate war. See George Orwell’s 1984]
- ….opportunity to live reasonably comfortably for all the people in the world on economic levels which do not vary too widely either geographically or by groups within a population. This is a simple matter of redistribution of material, of which there is plenty in the world for everybody… [redistribution of wealth and resources under government control]
- …there should be enough people in the world, in all countries, who… will not show the neurotic necessities which we and every generation of our ancestors have shown…. [this refers to Christian morality]
All psychiatrists know where these symptoms come from. The burden of inferiority, guilt, and fear we have all carried lies at the root of this failure to mature successfully… (6)
…maturity represents the capacity to cooperate: to work with others, to work in an organization and under authority. The mature person is flexible, can defer to time, persons, circumstances. He can showtolerance, he can be patient, and above all he has the qualities of adaptability and compromise. [See Character Training for Global Citizenship]
Basically, maturity represents a wholesome amalgamation of two things: (1) dissatisfaction with the status quo, which calls forth aggressive, constructive effort, and (2) social concern and devotion….
It would appear that this quality of maturity, this growing up successfully, is what is lacking the human race generally…. What basic psychological distortions can be found in every civilization?…. [The] only psychological force capable of producing these perversions is morality, the concept of right and wrong…
We have been very slow to rediscover this truth and to recognize the unnecessary and artificially imposed inferiority, guilt and fear, commonly known as sin…. which produces so much of the social maladjustment and unhappiness in the world. For many generations we have bowed or necks to the yoke of the conviction of sin. We have swallowed all manner of poisonous certainties fed us by our parents, our Sunday and day
, our politicians, our priests….
“Thou shalt become as gods, knowing good and evil,” good and evil, with which to keep children under control, with which to prevent free thinking, with which to impose local and familial and national loyalties and with which to blind children to their glorious intellectual heritage.
Misguided by authoritarian dogma, bound by exclusive (7) faith, stunted by inculcated loyalty, torn by frantic heresy…and loaded down by the weight of guilt and fear engendered by its own original promises, the unfortunate human race, deprived … of its reasoning power and its natural capacity to enjoy the satisfaction of its natural urges, struggles along under its ghastly self-imposed burden. The results, the inevitable results, are frustration, inferiority, neurosis and inability to enjoy living, to reason clearly or to make a world fit to live in.
Man’s freedom to observe and to think freely… has been destroyed or crippled by local certainties… moralities…personal salvation… frequently masquerading as love… (8)
The re-interpretation and eventually eradication of the concept of right and wrong which has been the basis of child training… these are the belated objectives of practically all effective psychotherapy. Would they not be legitimate objectives of original education? Would it not be sensible to stop imposing our own local prejudices and faiths on children and give them all sides of every question so that…they may have the ability to size things up and make their own decisions?
[These suggestions have been] met with an outcry of heretic or iconoclast such as was raised… those who claimed the world was round and against the truths of evolution…The pretense is made… that to do away with right and wrong would produce uncivilized people, immorality, lawlessness and social chaos.
If the race is to be freed from its crippling burden of good and evil, it must be psychiatrist who take the original responsibility. … What the world needs is honest, simple and clear thinking, talking and writing…. the people who matter are the teacher, the young mothers and fathers, the parent-teacher associations, youth groups, service clubs… churches and Sunday schools — everyone who can be reached and given help toward intellectual freedom [from Biblical guidelines] and honesty for themselves and for the children… (9)
Can such a program of re-education or of a new kind of education be charted? I would not presume to go so far, except to suggest that psychology and sociology and simple psychopathology, the sciences of living, should be made available to all the people by being taught too all children in primary an secondary schools, while the study of such thing as trigonometry, Latin, religions and others of specialist concern should be left to universities. Only so… can we help our children carry their responsibilities as world citizens… (10)
When the other [infectious diseases] were attacked at the preventative level, some martyrs had to be sacrificed to the cause of humanity, because reactionary forces fought back. Ignorance, superstition, moral certainties… resisted through anti-reform organizations, religious and political pressure groups, even political parities… It is not yet possible to lay a manslaughter charge against parentswho allow their… unvaccinated child to die of…diphtheria. The problem is no longer the germ of diphtheria, but rather the attitudes of parents who are incapable of accepting and using proven knowledge for the protection of their children. (15)
…it has long been generally accepted that parents have perfect right to impose any points of view, any lies or fears, superstitions, prejudices, hates, or faith on their defenseless children. It is, however, only recently that it has become a matter of certain knowledge that these things cause neuroses, behavior disorders, emotional disabilities, and failure to develop to a state of emotional maturity which fits one to be a citizen of a democracy….
Surely the training of children in home and schools should be of at least as great public concern as their vaccination for their own protection…. Individuals who have emotional disabilities of their own, guilts, fears, inferiorities, are certain to project their hates on to others... thus jeopardize seriously the external relations of those who are associated with them… They are a very real menace.
The government of a country cannot organize and impose any social developments or external relations which are too far ahead of the state of maturity of its citizens. There would otherwise result internal conflict and dissension, producing a reactionary government and a retreat to a less mature stage of social development. Any such reaction now becomes a dangerous threat to the whole world…. for the very survival of large parts of the human race, world understanding, tolerance, and forbearance have become absolutely essential. We must be prepared to sacrifice much if we would hope to have an opportunity to go on… Whatever the cost, we must learn to live in friendliness and peace with… all the people (16) in the world.
…only mature people can maintain the mature social organization and stability in which alone lies hope of avoiding world chaos and slaughter. (17)
There is something to be said for taking charge of our own destiny, for gently putting aside the mistaken old ways of our elders if that is possible. If it cannot be done gently, it may have to be done roughly or even violently–that has happened before. (18)
Let us accept our own responsibility to remodel the world in bolder, clearer more honest lines.
[1 ]Brock Chisholm, Psychiatry (February, 1946) pages 7, 9-10, 16, 18.