The book opens with a thought "exercise": thirteen short essays, each in a different national voice and beginning "We, the people of a nation . . . " The honest, intelligent "speakers" love their countries and traditions; however, they try to express the ugly truths about their homelands as challenges for the future.

For example, American smugness over its know-how and wealth combines with American failure to recognize the resentment sparked elsewhere by these same attributes. Similarly, the mutual intolerance of Canada's linguistic and religious duality is portrayed as a grotesque irony. The U.S.S.R. has exchanged an old tyranny for a new; Japan must face the issue of controlling its population, if it is to control its impulse to aggression.

Chisholm then returns to his role as a socially committed psychiatrist who hopes to avert a war that could annihilate the human species. World aggression, he writes, is caused by the "anxiety" that emerges from intolerance typifying narrow parental guidance and even narrower systems of education and religion. People must learn to be comfortable with differences in population, race, language, and wealth. The message is simple: "anxiety" leads to "aggression." The book ends with a ideal curriculum for "world citizenship," surprisingly different from any currently in use.


From 1948 to 1953, the author, psychiatrist Brock Chisholm, served as the first Executive Director of the World Health Organization. Published five years later, his book reflects the privileged insights of his sometimes frustrating position at the helm of an international organization supposedly dedicated to world health. It also reveals the convictions that he brought to his task: religious, racial, and cultural tolerance, access to contraception, and recognition of the social determinants of health.

Admitting that his thought exercise would be limited by his own prejudices, he strove for open, direct communication as he described each country, finding something nice to say about almost all (except South Africa). The result is an intimate glimpse of "good intentions" at the dawn of the nuclear age. The view that the causes of war were to be found in the nature and behavior of man in society did not originate with Chisholm; it pervaded his era, only to be rejected as naive by contemporary "realist" scholars of international relations who located the problem in states. [See Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959)].

Read a half century later and in the wake of the Balkans war, these national essays generate an eerie blend of ironic "déjà vu" and haunting prophecy. Chisholm's optimism notwithstanding--the answer to his title's question, sadly, seems to be "no."


For more on Chisholm, see Allan Irving, Brock Chisholm: Doctor to the World (Markham, Ont. : Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1998).


Harper & Brothers

Place Published

New York



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