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12th IVU World Vegetarian Congress 1950

Oosterbeck, Netherlands

From the Vegetarian Messenger, (Manchester) :

By KAJ DESSAU (Denmark).

IN the word "Future" we all see our own heart's desire. Our own vision colours what is to come. Everybody would like to be a man with a future. But if we imagine a future of development and growth-and even of greatness-can we speak with confidence of the future of the International Vegetarian Union?

The purpose of this Congress is to help those people, who represent the Societies in each nation, to meet each other face to face. We do not so meet each other unless, in these discussions, we deal directly with the most fundamental problems of our national and international vegetarian work. There are no strangers here to-day--this is a meeting of ourselves alone-it is our duty to be sincere and frank. We would deceive ourselves and undermine our work if we do not now speak the whole truth as each of sees it.

Our Congress is the Twelfth since we began in 1908. Like eleven others it will doubtless give everybody a week full of very pleasant experiences, which, of course, have their own value, in which old friendships are strengthened, and new ones made. Like the eleven others it will offer lectures arid excursions; it will spend some time discussing motions and constitutional questions, it will send resolutions to the newspapers. Like the eleven others it will leave no mark whatsoever on the life of the nations!

Even if nothing more than this has been attempted-even if you yourselves have been fairly satisfied-and it seems that some regarded such modesty as almost a virtue - I am totally unable to understand how it is possible to be content with so little.

For it is profoundly true that the cause we serve, when all its implications are realized, is of fundamental importance for all mankind-for physical and spiritual well-being-for mere survival yes!- our failure or success determines directly the fate of the whole natural order of the globe. How then could we allow our-selves to be mere spectators of the dreadful panorama that has been unrolled before our frightened eyes during the last half century? For until now the I.V.U. has been no more than a passive onlooker who, as an international entity, has awakened from troubled slum-ber only once in every three years.

The idea of vegetarianism is a revelation of life as an indivisible whole. All Nature, the living and the so-called dead, is related and interdependent, and there is a grand rhythm and eternal harmony at the heart of things. Man attains his highest joy only when he realizes his true place in this great design, and willingly submits to the law of Nature. This understanding of life as a whole ought to be the foundation of Vegetarianism, and make its philosophy all-embracing instead of narrow and sectarian.

But there is no knowledge without responsibility and what knowledge brings us greater responsibilities than that embodied in the age-old traditions of Vegetarianism, proved afresh by modern science and by our own experience year by year. Why then do we not live and act in the full light of this know-ledge ? If we really know what health is-health of mind and body-.and, that it is the birthright of every man-if we really know how, by the right use of soil and plants, and creatures, to pre-vent and cure most of the diseases by which sick mankind has been hag-ridden for thousands of years-why is our sense of responsibility not overwhelming? Or, do you think it right to say that the organized vegetarian movement has realized the enorrmous responsibilites which would almost crush us beneath their weight.

Here is the core of the matter.-Here I must confess my disappointment at what I have seen and learned in these years.

It is true : We do not live up to our great responsibilities. We have used our knowledge with so little power and skill-with so little vision and courage-with so partial a devotion that to-day - more than a hundred years after the first Society was formed England - in no European country, nor in the United States, is there more than one vegetarian in every thousand people. And this, although fine and devoted persons-now as before - have given themselves wholeheartedly to this, the most important of all humanitarian endeavours.

Vegetarianism is a gigantic creative force which, once released would completely and radically transform the life of man-give it a new significance-bring a new peace and a new happiness to our plundered planet, and give birth to new ideals and visions, but vegetarianism is not even yet a vital force in the life of the nations - it is hardly even respected. Its fight, if indeed it is making a fight at all, is pathetic. Nobody working for the betterment of mankind has had better cards to play, and very few have won less games.

Can this, which seems so difficult to understand, be explained? Yes! During my two years stay in the United States I have tried several times to analyse it. And when you have understood the past of a movement you can see what its future is likely to be. Not to take up too much time now, may I just refer to my "Rhinebeck Plan" and to my lecture, "Ends and Means," last year at Lake Geneva. In those two talks I tried to set out the past weaknesses of the movement, as I see them, and to outline a program for the future. But that programme suggests not the sort of future that might be expected to follow the past I have described, but the sort of future that could only follow from the much greater sense of responsibility for which I appeal, and from the utmost use of all our human and other resources in this Vital work.

But let us be realistic. Let us have no illusions ! Look around in the world to-day: Where have we--who have this elixir of life-lighted a light of hope in the hearts of suffering human beings? When millions upon millions are starving to death, alth-ough exactly we know how the hungry might be fed, who looks to us for help? Where do the youth turn to us for advice how to build their future?

Many more questions could be asked and all the answers would show our humiliating inadequacy. It is too obvious ; we have the knowledge, but we have not been able to place it in the service of life. We have spoken great words but have not followed them with brave actions. We have lived by vegetarianism, but how many of us have lived for it.

There is such a terrifying abyss between the little we have accomplished and all that we should have attempted. It is as if we have understood nothing. The magnitude of the task has been hidden in a dark cloud of internal rivalries and jealousies, and the pursuit of self-interest. The history of the vegetarian movement is no epic story. No holy war has ever been fought for paradise here on earth. Our teachings have never caught the imaginations of men or spread like fire through the lands. No ; this history is a record of the spasmodic efforts of small scattered groups-the strongest personalities have almost always been outside the organi-satgions fighting, with a few exceptions, for their own place in the sun and with a self-satisfied conviction that only their own formula contains a monopoly of the truth.

The vegetarians have too often missed their greatest opportunities. They were called to a noble service, to proclaim the sacredness of life. They were given insight into the laws of Nature, and saw with their own eyes the miracles of natural health and healing. And yet they failed to form a united front to witness for their life-bringing -faith. How strange-in spite of all !

* * * *

I..V.U. was formed to create a council of nations: a meeting place for all national Vegetarian Societies-a clearing-house for all international work. The I.V.U. should strengthen the efforts of each country, inspire them to further action, and coordinate their activities. But the I.V.U. can only be strong if the national Societies are strong, and if the Societies within each nation are themselves united. For it is the best men in each nation, acting together through the I.V.U. who will plan and lead its world-wide work. So the future of the I.V.U. is completely determined by the quality and the unselfishness of the national Societies.

If you were to plan a completely new vegetarian organization to-day-national as well as international-how different it would be from those we have now! For the organized vegetarian move-ment has come to a turning-point in its existence, whether or not vegetarians realize it. In the modern world the destructive forces have the upper hand and threaten final catastrophe. Our organiza-tion is out of date-our resourses are absurdly small-our objective far too limited. We do not build upon the young people in our midst, and this alone threatens our very survival. Yes, we are, in almost every way, unable to influence the complex and machine-minded civilization of to-day. It is true that well-meaning and idealistic individuals are doing great and unselfish work-but they themselves must be the first to see how powerless they are alone remedy the misery and madness of unnatural living.

I am sorry that I cannot share the satisfaction with our work -and its results and the optimism about the future which is so often expressed. I do not think that I have seen more misery and suffering, or have been more a victim of events than most normal people. But when I think how disease and death have ravaged lives of so many I am overwhelmed to see how little vegetarians as a whole have done. I know that we could do much, much more.

When war threatens a country its people are welded together into one will-each and everyone does his utmost in the common defence. But that defence to which we vegetarians have pledged ourselves-the defence of the sacredness of life-has not united us in service to our common cause, and made us put the movement before ourselves. There is our fatal weakness !
Until we give all we do not give enough!

* * * *

I have been asked to give you my opinion of the future International Vegetarian Union, now that I have come to the end of my three years period of office as its Honorary Secretary and may soon be absent from Europe for a long time. There can be no doubt in your minds after listening to these few remarks, and if you care to look at the American talks I mentioned, as to what coclusions I have reached: I do not believe in the future of the International Vegetarian Movement in its present form. The I.V.U. is a dream that has never materialized and it will never be able to deve1op further until the national societies accept their full responsibilities and acknowledge that their organisation to-day is quite inadequate to accomplish the task that is their only true raison d'etre. This means nothing less than a reorganisation-a complete transformation of vegetarian work in all countries-the drafting of a common overall plan based on a direct study of conditions in the world of to-day. For the world of to-day is the only true yard-stick we can use. It is the world of today that must determine the stucture of our organisations - it is the world of to-day which will shape the only tools with which we can now succeed. In such an over-all plan the I.V.U. would be the integrating centre, an I.V.U. with resources for continuous existence and deserving its proud title.

I therefore venture to propose that an International Committee be set up charged with the special responsibility of preparing such a plan and submitting it to the next Congress.

I earnestly desire you to understand the gravity of the crisis of our civilisation. All my experience during fourteen years of studies in two continents tells me that the hour of destiny is at hand. We must choose whether we shall continue the modest existence which was all very well a century ago or gird ourselves for direct action and meet the challenge of life. We must determine whether we will now set up new goals for ourselves and build up a world organisation in collaboration with like-minded humanitarian societies and groups enabling us to help those thousands and thousands who are waiting for health and vital harmony.

Vegetarians must by their own example point the way for others. A civilisation which makes impossible a complete, direct and permanent contact with those forces of nature that determine all life on our planet must die. Such is the law. Vegetarianism must acccept this knowing that no compromise is possible.