Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

History Book: 'Because it's there'


WORLD Radio - History Book: 'Because it's there'

Plus: Truman warns Congress about threats to freedom in Europe and an important POW is released from captivity in Vietnam

This still from video obtained exclusively by Associated Press Television News shows Republican presidential candidate and then prisoner of war John McCain, stands with other POWs as they were released by the North Vietnamese in Hanoi on March 14, 1973. AP Photo/AP TV News, SVT

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.

Today’s picks: Vietnam prisoners of war return home and President Harry Truman has strong words for the USSR. Plus, 100 years ago, the New York Times publishes what would become the three most famous words in mountaineering. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: In the early spring of 1923 British mountain climber George Mallory is touring the United States. He is raising money for his third expedition to Mount Everest—the highest elevation above sea level in the world. Mallory had visited the mountain twice before…in 1921 and 1922.

As Mallory travels across the country, the adventurer is often interviewed by the press. On March 18th, 1923, The New York Times runs a story with the headline: CLIMBING MOUNT EVEREST IS WORK FOR SUPERMEN.

The reporter asks the great adventurer why he is so interested in Mount Everest—a common question during Mallory’s tour. Mallory explains that as no one had yet reached its summit, its very existence is a challenge. He goes on to say that mankind has an innate desire to conquer the universe.

But the most famous line from the story is the three word answer to the question: “Why climb Everest?” “Because it’s there.” The phrase is attributed to Mallory, though it’s difficult to know if he actually said it—or if it was just the reporter’s characterization of Mallory’s attitude. Either way, the expression entered the mountain climbers canon, and generations of adventurers have repeated the witticism as they push back the boundaries of the universe.

Perhaps the most famous reference to Mallory’s expression occurred on September 12th, 1962 on the campus of Rice University:

KENNEDY: Many years ago, the great British Explorer, George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked, “why did he want to climb it?” He said, “because it is there.” Well, space is there and we're going to climb it…as we set sail, we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked. Thank you.

Next, March 17th, 1948—President Harry S. Truman addresses a joint session of congress:

TRUMAN: Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Congress: I am here today to report to you on the critical nature of the situation in Europe, and to recommend action for your consideration.

In an attempt to limit Soviet influence in Europe, President Truman argues for quick and significant US economic aid to the region—what becomes known as the Marshall Plan.

TRUMAN: It is of vital importance that we act now, in order to preserve the conditions under which we can achieve lasting peace based on freedom and justice.

Truman lays out a series of measures to “strengthen the powerful forces for freedom, justice, and peace”—not just in aid, but also a national commitment to maintaining a strong military force.

But the speech is best remembered for its strong criticism of the Soviet Union.

TRUMAN: The situation in the world today is not primarily the result of natural difficulties which follow a great war. It is chiefly due to the fact that one nation has not only refused to cooperate in the establishment of a just and honorable peace, but—even worse—has actively sought to prevent it.

The Cold War is already well underway between the Western allies and the USSR. But President Truman offers an olive branch—speaking of an open door for any nation that seeks to preserve the peace.

TRUMAN: We shall remain ready and anxious to join with all nations—I repeat, with all nations-in every possible effort to reach international understanding and agreement.

In the years after the war, the nation was deeply divided over how involved to become in rebuilding Europe—and how best to respond to the growing threat of the Soviet Union. Truman ended his speech with a plea to set aside political bickering and work together.

TRUMAN: The American people have the right to assume that political considerations will not affect our working together. They have the right to assume that we will join hands, wholeheartedly and without reservation, in our efforts to preserve the peace in the world. With God's help we shall succeed.

And finally, 50 years ago this week…

BRUCE DUNNING: One by one, 40 men descended from the plane, the first of three to arrive from Hanoi…

CBS newsman Bruce Dunning is at Clark Air Base in the Philippines as more than 100 POWs arrive from Vietnam.

BRUCE DUNNING:  All but one of these men who flew to freedom in this latest release were shot down during some of the fiercest fighting of the war. 17 months from July, 1967 to November, 1968…

On January 27th, 1973, the US agreed to a ceasefire with Vietnam. Terms included the release of nearly 600 Americans held as prisoners of war within 60 days. The two-month long Operation Homecoming began on February 12th.

On March 14th, 1973, the third group of POWS arrive in the Philippines for medical evaluation before being relocated to US military hospitals or home.

One of those service men is Air Force Colonel John Flynn. He addresses the crowd of well-wishers and reporters from the airstrip:

FLYNN: I would like to particularly acknowledge the courage and the integrity of our President…He had our support and our prayers always…

Another of the released POWs is John McCain III, a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander shot down over North Vietnam more than five years earlier.

DUNNING: He was also the most seriously marked by his five and a half years of imprisonment. But his smile was broad as he saluted and shook hands with Admiral Geyer, who replaced McCain's own father, Admiral John S McCain Jr. As Pacific Forces Commander.

The disembarking seemed increasingly familiar to people who had watched the first two releases, but the enthusiasm of the crowd was just as strong for these former prisoners As for those who preceded them…Bruce Dunning, CBS News, Clark Airbase, the Philippines.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Paul Butler.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...