Sy Miller & Jill Jackson: Let There Be Peace on Earth

"OK. So science sent the Hubble Telescope out into space, so it could capture light and the absence thereof, from the very beginning of time. And the telescope really did that. So now we know that there was once absolutely nothing, such a perfect nothing that there wasn’t even nothing or once. Can you imagine that? You can’t, because there isn’t even nothing to imagine. 
"But then there was this great big BANG!  And that's where all this crap came from."

~Excerpt from a commencement speech that was to be given by Kurt Vonnegut at Clowes Hall in Indiana on April 27, 2007.  

He died two weeks prior.

So it goes.

In 1955, the world was well-embroiled in the Cold War, which historians generally agree began around 1947.  This is a period of approximately 44 years when the two largest countries of the world continually demonstrated that it would be no challenge whatsoever to eliminate humanity from the face of the Earth with but a simple phone call and perhaps by clicking a few buttons or flipping a switch or two.

Imagine that- 200,000 years of bipedal primates hailing from the family Hominidae gone at the press of a button.  Your science dollars at work!

Both nations possessed the technology to make this happen.  Neither wanted it, but the grip of escalation set in and the die was cast.  In order to not miss the party should it start unannounced, an early detection network was established within a complex known as the Continental Air Defense Program. CONAD was the predecessor to NORAD and both organizations were (and still are) used to track things in the air that were moving above and about the United States.

Seven years before nuclear warheads attached to rockets were parked about 90 miles south of Key West (and fourteen years before similar rockets were launched from 378 miles north of Havanna to drop a few men off at the moon), a man named Col. Harry Shoup sat at his desk in what was the former National Methodist Sanatorium in Colorado Springs, CO.  The sanatorium had been purchased by the government and converted for use in CONAD's mission of tracking flying and potentially lethal objects.

Upon the Colonel's desk was a red phone.  And one day it rang.  Now according to the family of Col. Shoup, only two people knew the number of that phone- the Colonel and a four-star General at the Pentagon.  It was to be used in the event that nuclear missiles were anticipated to be hurtling towards American interests.  On the other end of the line at this moment, however, was a boy.  He was asking, hopefully, to speak with Santa Claus.

Since the burden of preventing the fiery deaths of millions of people is presumably quite heavy, the Colonel responded negatively to what he initially assumed was a joke.  At some point, the boy began to cry and he realized that this was no prank.

Now, I feel that in many parts of our history (both on a grand scale as well as personally) there are these great divides- they are moments that exist when a choice is presented and must be made, often irrevocably.  Actions taken that will have the potential to impact a great many people and could have echoing ramifications for years to come.

In his moment, Colonel Shoup chose to be Santa Claus.


Again in 1955, but a few months before a boy accidentally called the government headquarters for preventing the apocalypse looking for St. Nick, a large group of teenagers went into the mountains of California on a retreat with Seymour "Sy" Miller (1908-1971?) and Jill Jackson (1913-1995) who were musicians, composers, and writers. Additionally Jill was an accomplished actress for film and TV.

Jill had been previously married to a German writer and director and had two children. Sadly, they divorced in 1944 and as a result of the turmoil from exiting that relationship she attempted suicide.  Recovering from her depression led her to begin writing and finding peace in her Christian faith.

When she met Sy, it began a trove of song writing with Jill a lyricist and Sy composing music.  One of the works produced was a piece entitled "Let There Be Peace On Earth"- the central theme of which (read here) is the concept that peace on our planet is achievable provided that each and every person does their part. Jill and Sy really believed that with this simple concept, world peace was attainable and they both continually worked toward that end for the rest of their lives.

When they worked with this group of youngsters on the mountaintop, they taught them their song about peace and goodwill toward men with the hope and idea that when they came down from the mountaintop it would spread to their friends and families and communities.  

It worked.  

The song was eventually performed worldwide and covered by a great many artists and usually performed around the holidays (which is when it's socially acceptable to encourage peace and whatnot). To be honest though (and I mean this with all respect) I find the song a bit campy.  It oversimplifies what it exemplifies in that all we really need to do in order to achieve a brotherhood of peace throughout the world is to one by one take up hands together and stand around like some Coke commercial from the 90's?

Fly the white turtleneck of peace!
It can't possibly be that simple.

And it's not.

Just take the US for instance, a country so bitterly and willfully divided that issues are no longer even relevant. You see, thanks to the internet everyone is always right. The pundits and politicians have in fact streamlined debate by discovering that any problem can be solved by simply ignoring the alternatives.  You would think with everyone in a state of perpetual correctitude the world would be a much happier place.

Sadly, this is not the case.  Our country is divided because we're told that we must think only one of two ideologies.  As a result, our country is fearful because one side is constantly in terror that the other side will inadvertently destroy the nation through their poorly chosen actions.  We have arrived at an internal Cold War, just a little over two decades following the initial dust up with the Soviets.

So then, is it possible for someone to change the world by simply not being a jerk all of the time and being friendly and open to other people as well as their ideas?

Probably not.

But, should that be a discouraging factor?  Does it really matter that one person's actions would have an essentially incalculable difference on the global scale?  Again, probably not, but that one person might impact another.  And that person who was affected by some act of goodwill might then again decide to share a kind word with a friend who needs it most.  The established chain could potentially reach hundreds if not thousands.  But more importantly, it's just the right thing to do.

I've been torn for some time on a basic concept of Christianity.  So, Jesus comes down to Earth and pretty much says getting into Heaven is like basic simple.  It's harder to find a hotdog at a baseball game than it is to get into the Pearly Gates.  Him and God and the Holy Spirit got this deal, you stick with the Son of God and he can get you backstage.  Now, since eternity is off the table, how about we just go on with doing the right thing and being helpful and friendly and kind to one another and try not to kill each other for a few millennia?

And then they nailed the guy to a cross.

I guess that's why I find Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. so appealing.  He was a self-proclaimed Humanist which means he tried to be altruistic without the expectation that some great reward would be waiting for him after he died.  I truly believe that was what Jesus was talking about when he referred to His kingdom come.  To imagine- being good for goodness' sake!

If it weren't for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn't want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake. 
~ Kurt Vonnegut
Presuming Heaven is eternal, shouldn't it matter more what we do in this blip of an existence than in the face of the unending afterward?


So there is Colonel Shoup, sitting alone at his desk with a child whimpering softly in his ear. How will he change his world?

As the story turns out, an ad taken out by Sears in the newspaper had printed a number for which children could contact Santa and hash out their naughty to nice ratios for the year. Incidentally, a mistake in the printing caused a random number to be printed and by a stroke of chance that number happened to be to the red phone on the good Colonel's desk.

Today, Santa is regularly tracked by NORAD and a small group of airmen assigned to that command field phone calls and manage a webspace for youngsters the world over so that they can see how Santa's getting along on the big day.  All this because one man, sitting at the helm of destruction saw a way to shine a bright light of faith back out into the shadows.

In the darkest hour, there was a beacon.  In the bleakest of nights, a brave few made the right choice.

God bless you, Colonel Shoup, Mrs. Jackson, and Mr. Miller.

See you next Friday*.


*Just a note, I will be refraining from providing an entry next Friday due to the Christmas holiday.  However, you can expect a special gift come Christmas morning.  Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanza, et al, to all!