Should an applicant be offered a Graduate Fellowship by the Hertz Foundation, she or he must formally accept it before commencing its tenure. This acceptance includes a statement that the Fellow makes a moral commitment to make his or her "skills available to the United States in times of national emergency."
What does this mean, and why does the Foundation require it?
John Hertz felt he owed the United States more than he could repay for the opportunities he had been given when he arrived here as a very young immigrant, fleeing ongoing oppression in central Europe. Thus it is not surprising that he wanted any young person who was going to be supported by his wealth through the course of their graduate education to deliberately answer, on at least one occasion, the question "What do I owe my country?"
Hence, the statement on the Foundation's Fellowship acceptance form.
Please note that this is not a legal or contractual obligation, but rather a freely given moral commitment.
No one from the Foundation has ever approached a present or former Fellow and told him or her that the United States faces a national emergency and she or he is obligated to address it. No one ever will.
The Foundation believes that each individual Fellow must decide for him/herself, at any point in time, whether the country faces a truly serious problem and, if so, whether he or she is capable of employing the technical skills they possess to help address it.
The Foundation offers no definition of what constitutes a "national emergency"—these are reasonably well-recognized only in distant hindsight—but one might consider as examples the following historical events in which scientists and engineers have played a major role:
- The development of radar by British scientists and engineers in the late 1930s that enabled the RAF to win the Battle of Britain.
- The Manhattan Project in the United States.
- The Apollo Program that fulfilled President Kennedy's declaration: "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth".
In the future, we might reasonably expect our nation to face emergencies in:
- Fuel shortages and quests for new energy sources
- Materials supplies
- Transportation and communication system overloads
- Deterioration of environmental quality
- Malevolent utilization of cyberspace
- Misuse of modern molecular biology
In every case, the Foundation believes that it is up to the individual Fellow to determine for herself or himself whether a serious problem exists and whether or not she or he can help. We believe that any Hertz Fellow answering the Hertz Question in the affirmative in any of these respects has a clear moral obligation to go to work accordingly.