Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Not Charity -- But a Chance

Creator: Herbert Kaufman (author)
Date: June 1918
Publication: Carry On: Magazine on the Reconstruction of Disabled Soldiers and Sailors
Source: American Printing House for the Blind, Inc., M. C. Migel Library
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 1

Page 1:


CLOSE examination of your family tree will disclose a monkey sitting on the bottom branch. Examine it again and you'll find a prognathous, long-toed, upstanding brute, covered from head to foot with coarse, springy hair.


Without tails our dim ancestors could not have swung through the upper reaches of the primeval jungle and thus have escaped from sundry voracious horrors that infested the Dawn. When beasts grew weaker and great-great-great-great-grandfather developed brain talons, his progeny descended to terra firma and, for lack of employment, caudal appendages and long, strong, flexible toes disappeared from the species.


In brief, we educated ourselves out of their use, and Nature, always thrifty, ceased to waste material where it wasn't essential.


As soon as man learned to build houses and wear pelts, she removed him from the class of fur-bearing animals; we became smooth-skinned -- evolution shaved us and simplified our physiques. Evolution constantly says: "Exercise faculties and functions or lose them. What limbs and instincts you don't require, progeny shan't acquire. It's my particular job to reshape you for the environment you select. At this particular moment, for instance, I'm at work eliminating your toes altogether. As you avoid exertion and institute conveniences -- elevators, trains, automobiles, telephones, automatic machinery and the like -- I shall correspondingly divert attention from legs and arms and devote myself to the improvement and extension of your nervous system.


"Behold how your once stodgy fingers have thinned and tapered -- but consider how adept they are. Your neck is longer; the jugular vein and throat are not in peril nowadays. Formerly I had to guard it for you by exposing the least possible area and by hiding vulnerable cords under tough layers of muscle and cartilage.


"I've pulled in your chin and removed ounces of bone from the jaw, but your forehead is rising century by century and your whole head is roomier; so that there may be ample space to add gray matter."


The foregoing may seem a far-fetched introduction to the subject of crippled soldiers and their reconstruction, but when one pauses to reflect that a tailless forebear was even more badly off and sadly handicapped in the pre-historic ages than a legless being is in this period of wheelchairs, elevators, typewriters, adding machines and switchboards, the preface is quite germane to the subject.


Few questions demand more insistent attention than this matter of maimed folk. Europe is permanently injuring a million men annually, but not disabling them -- with negligible exceptions, these victims of battle can be restored to self-support.


The staggering cost of maintaining such a multitude at State expense has forced society to consider ways and means of applying their remaining efficiency to suitable tasks.


We repudiate the callous conviction of recent pasts, that amputation cuts off opportunity; we dissent from the cruel prejudice which hitherto sequestered the blind in depressing asylums, or the communal un-economy which sentenced them to the beggar's hand-organ and tin cup.


All that is done with, and with it must go unworthy, primitive abhorrence and debasing pity.


We're going to put these people where they belong; where their sound energies and sturdy intelligence can be turned to mutually profitable account. A missing foot is not a drawback for a desk responsibility. One hand or two play no part in the exercise of superintendence. Imagination needs no eyes; it has a thousand. There are few heights prohibited to those who can find ideas in the dark.


The vital reconstruction is not for the surgeons -- they'll do their bit, never fear.


We, the stay-at-homes, the sons and brothers of scarred and marred men sacrificing their persons, writhing in agony for our sakes -- mangled in defense of our wealths and liberties -- holding the gate against barbarism -- we must be reconstructed, too-- must reconstruct our impulses -- must lose the Tarpeian Rock attitude toward the crippled -- must learn to measure the worth of a fellow by his enterprise and capacity and give him the preference at every post and in every engagement -- if he can deliver the goods.


A civilization that won't do its duty by its defenders isn't worth fighting for -- prepare to prove that this one is. They don't want your charity -- they demand their chance.