Guy on the Horizon

Guy Murchie, Jr. had big shoes to fill, and a big name to live up to. He lived as though he was keenly aware of his father’s figurative shoe size.

While a student at Harvard, Guy was a member of the school’s prestigious rowing team. He graduated from Harvard in 1929, at age 22. He left before commencement ceremonies for a trip featuring Alaska, Hawaii, East Asia, and Russia that lasted about a year. His plan was to pay his way by working as he went, sailing “before the mast” as did Ishmael in Moby-Dick, though he paid his way as a conventional traveler much of the way. He kept a trip journal that would become the book, Men on the Horizon, published in 1932. The book was something of a success, making the New York Times “Best Sellers” list for nonfiction. [1]

The Stock Market Crash of October 1929 would strike while Murchie was just getting work in the engine room of a liner from Honolulu to Kobe, Japan. Though he discussed economics at length throughout the book and throughout the Soviet Union, he seemed to do so as an open-minded but proud and optimistic American, utterly oblivious to the mounting economic catastrophe at home. But though he may have been a patriot, he delivered a pointed message of international brotherhood.

At the beginning of the book, Murchie spells out his mission:[2]

About the rest of [the world] I know only that it is made up of vast masses of men grouped in races and classes, unknown to each other, uniformed about each other, doubting and disliking each other — and yet, all of them made in the same image and of the same material, and all human. … I must find out for myself whether it is not ignorance, and ignorance alone, that prevents friendship and understanding between these masses of human beings.

Summing up his journey at the end of the book, Murchie reflects:[3]

Though eyes be slant, they crinkle with fun, and change when they look at children; they cloud with pain, and shift with fear, just as do eyes set straight. The sweat that streams out of a brown skin is salt like mine.

And I know that, in the shared orange held out to my hunger by a dirty little hand on a Chinese way-train, is the world’s hope.

It seems that Murchie considered himself a world citizen years before he first heard of the Bahá’í Faith.

The account includes some interesting if not always prescient observations. Japan is described as a very orderly, lawful, and beautiful place, though he is amused by his inability to get decent directions due to the unfailing courtesy of the Japanese. He did mention that the Japanese were generally underfed, perhaps due to population growth. Murchie’s pleasant depiction of Japan at the time may have been realistic, for democratic reforms were more the order of the day than the nationalistic fervor to come.

As for China, Murchie observed the famished and impoverished state of the Chinese people and dined with Nationalist leaders, watching them engorge themselves, one of them boasting of being on friendly and respectful terms with the Communist General “Feng,” who at the time was conquering more and more of Hunan Province.[4] Murchie assessed the state of China to be pathetically impoverished, doomed by its patriarchy, ancestor worship, and “face-saving;” harassed by rebels and bandits, but generally stable:

Once in a long while the soldiers do a bit of ravaging here and there, but everybody is used to bandits, who are always lurking in the open country, and the ravaging is hardly noticed. … All in all, China is not nearly so unstable politically as it seems …[5]

It should be borne in mind that these were the observations of 22 year-old New England blue-blood.

Murchie voiced respect for Stalin as a shrewd political strategist, and he viewed Soviet Communism with nuance. He saw it as a religion with similar fundamentals to Christianity, complete with an ethic of brotherhood, charity, and with missionaries of its own. He thought the Golden Rule to be the fundamental ethic of Communism. Still, he was a proud American of the Roaring Twenties. He did not care for Communism at all, though he did exhibit a somewhat open mind toward it.

Though the communists understand by the word ‘religion’ a superstitious worship of a god who is represented by temple bells, ikons, candles, and old priests in fancy robes — all of which they denounce — they do recognize the larger meaning of religion — a superhuman, guiding, vital force. This force, they call ‘naouka,’ which means ‘science’ or ‘nature.’ They believe that naouka[6] is the great force behind communism, which makes communism not only possible but inevitable.[7]

In March of the year Murchie published his travelogue he married Eleanor Forrester Parker, a 51 year-old friend of his whom he affectionately called Worgzie and Piggie. Murchie was 25 at the time.

© 2016 Dan Jensen

 

[1] New York Times, 16 May 1932

[2] Murchie, Guy. Men on the Horizon. Page 2

[3] Murchie, Guy. Men on the Horizon. Page 308

[4] Peng Dehuai, 1898–1974. Defense Minister of China, 1954–59. Purged by Mao for his criticism of the Great Leap Forward, as well as for Peng’s Soviet sympathies.

[5] Murchie, Guy. Men on the Horizon. Page 165

[6] Commonly spelled “nauka.”

[7] Murchie, Guy. Men on the Horizon. Page 291

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