Din Merican: the Malaysian DJ Blogger
Nothing is impossible with effort.–Cambodian Philosopher-Monk
Dietrich Fischer, Academic Director: We can help create a better world
I thought I should share this speech by Dietrich Fisher, Academic Director, EPU with you. It is indeed appropriate at this time that we should think about peace in this troubled world. May 2008 be a peaceful period for all of us–Din Merican
I wish to thank our President Gerald Mader, who founded the European University Center for Peace Studies (EPU) twenty years ago, without whose initiative and persistent efforts none of us would be here today.This trimester has been a wonderful experience for me, and I hope for all of you, too. You are very dedicated and committed to peace, and many of you will make important contributions to peace and development in your own countries and in the world.
Here are four examples of people who have made major contributions to peace.HOW HAITI ABOLISHED ITS MILITARY
A soft-spoken, retired Quaker couple took a crucial step that led to the complete abolition of Haiti’s army, which in 1991 had violently overthrown the democratically elected government of President Aristide and arbitrarily arrested, tortured and murdered many Haitian citizens. Through the mediation of former US President Jimmy Carter, Aristide’s government had later been restored.
In 1994, Sue and Marvin Clark from Troy, New York, founded a small NGO, “Global Demilitarization.” Their first initiative was to write to Oscar Arias Sanchez, who had won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the war in Nicaragua and who now is Costa Rica’s President for the second time. The Clarks asked if they could come and meet him in Costa Rica’s capital San Jose. He replied that he would be in New York the next month and proposed to meet there. Marvin smiled and said, “That is what I expected. If we had asked to meet him during his next visit to New York, he probably would have said,’Thank you, but my schedule is already full.’ Seeing that we were ready to fly to Costa Rica to meet with him persuaded him to make time for us.”
At that meeting in February 1995, at which I was present, Marvin Clark asked President Arias among other questions what country he thought might be the next to abolish its military, as Costa Rica’s had done in 1949. Arias suggested Haiti, since most Haitians saw their army as threatening their personal security rather than protecting them from aggression. From informal conversations with many ordinary Haitians, he estimated that about 80 percent wished the army were abolished. He was disappointed that nobody seemed to pay attention to his observations, but was convinced that if an internationally recognized polling firm could confirm his impressions, the world would notice. But that would cost about $20,000, and he did not have that money.
When Sue and Marvin Clark heard this, they immediately wrote> to all their friends and friends of friends, sending out about thousand letters, explaining this opportunity and asking for donations. Within three weeks, they raised $27,000, including a major contribution from themselves, and sent it to the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San Jose, Costa Rica. This helped train young Haitians how to conduct a scientific poll, and soon the poll was conducted.
At a news conference in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on 28 April 1995, Oscar Arias could announce that 62 percent of the Haitian people wished to abolish the army, and only 12 percent wished to keep it, with the rest expressing no opinion. When President Aristide heard this, he stepped to the microphone and spontaneously announced, in front of the assembled military leadership, that given the clear wish of the vast majority of his people, he herewith declared the army abolished!
The international media totally ignored this important event.But when President Aristide was asked on a nationally televised interview in the United States after the election of his successor what he considered his greatest achievement during his term in office, he said abolishing the Haitian military.
It is impressive how much difference the efforts of individuals can make. Not even the U.S. Navy was able to abolish Haiti’s army. When President Clinton sent the navy in 1994 to land> in Port-au-Prince in an attempt to help restore the democratically elected government, it turned around in the face of a violent demonstration on the landing peer by a small group of backers of the military dictatorship. Who would have thought that two private citizens, without power or wealth, would succeed in helping abolish the Haitian military, simply by talking to the right people and taking the right action at the right time. We can all take courage and hope from this. If we have a dream and pursue it step by step, never giving up, we can ultimately reach it.
THE BLACK HOLE
When Johan Galtung, who is widely recognized as the founder of the academic discipline of peace studies, founded the first International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959, he and his colleagues sent copies of their working papers regularly to about 400 social science institutes around the world, including the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) in Moscow. They received thank notes and sometimes other working papers from many places, but never heard anything from IMEMO. It was as if the papers sent there disappeared in a black hole,leaving no trace. Despite of this lack of feedback, the members of the Oslo team persistently kept sending their papers on alternative approaches to peace, security, democracy, human rights and development to IMEMO throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1979, Johan Galtung attended a conference at IMEMO. During a break, the librarian took him to the basement in the library, opened a locked room, opened a locked cabinet inside the room, and showed him a pile of papers. Here was the entire collection of papers that he and his friends had been sending over the years.This was the “black hole.” Surprisingly, the papers were worn out from having passed through many hands, edges bent and torn, with portions underlined and numerous notes in the margins.
In 1991, Vladimir Petrovsky, the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, came to see Johan Galtung in Oslo and said, “I really wanted to tell you once how grateful we were for all your papers that you kept sending us, even though for political reasons we could not write back to you. During the Brezhnev era, I was part of a group of young scholars at IMEMO who met frequently to discuss new ideas, and we studied your books and papers intensively, among others. We knew that our system needed reform, and that the time for change was coming. You provided us with valuable new concepts and concrete ideas how to proceed.”
The end of the Cold War has many sources, but new ideas developed by Western peace movements–on human rights, economic and political participation, nonviolent conflict resolution, security based on mutual cooperation instead of threats and confrontation,conversion of military industries to civilian use, and nonoffensive defense–which seeped into the former Soviet Union through various discrete channels and apparently found receptive ears, have played an important role.
Can individuals make a difference for the course of history, or are their efforts insignificant compared to major trends, like the movement of a single molecule in the wind? It is clear that if a situation is not ripe for change, if nobody wants to hear new proposals, one individual can make little difference. But if people are unhappy with their present conditions and search for new ways,a good idea, persuasively argued, can go a long way. Yet even when the opportunity for major change arises, someone must seize it or it may be missed. Similarly, if one plants a fruit tree in the desert, it will die. But even in the most fertile soil, under the best climatic conditions, only weeds may grow unless we plant fruits or flowers. And we never know for sure whether an apparent desert may not hide fertile ground just below the surface, in which one seed can over time give rise to a whole forest. Even if we do not see the results of our efforts for peace immediately, we must not give up, because they may bear fruit some day in unexpected ways.A SNOWFLAKE
My friend Randy Kehler, who later became national coordinator of the Nuclear Freeze movement in the United States, was drafted into the Army in the early 1970s to go fight in Vietnam. Like many others, he refused to serve and was sentenced to jail. But unlike many others, he did more than that. Before beginning his jail sentence, he toured the United States, speaking out against the war on university campuses, in churches and to peace organizations. He had no idea whether this would make any difference, but he said that to satisfy his conscience he had to try whatever he could do.
In one of his audiences was Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon analyst and co-author of the “Pentagon Papers,” the secret history of the Vietnam war. He had become increasingly disillusioned with the way the United States fought the war, and had begun to doubt whether is was morally right for the most powerful army in the world to fight poor peasants in a distant jungle. But he said that what finally persuaded him to do something was hearing Randy Kehler speak. Here was a young man willing to go to jail for his conviction that the war was immoral.
So Ellsberg secretly made four sets of photocopies of the 7,000 page report, and left them anonymously in boxes in front of the offices of the New York Times, the Washington Post and two other major national newspapers. When editors read the reports, they realized that they contained so many accurate facts that they could not have been forgeries by someone outside of the government, and they began to publish them.
President Nixon ordered them to halt publication, but the USupreme Court ruled that “prior restraint” violated the first amendment of the US constitution guaranteeing free speech. People could be punished afterwards if they had knowingly printed lies,but they could not be prohibited in advance from expressing an opinion. When people read that they had been deceived all these years by their own government, and that the United States was not winning the war, they began to oppose it in large numbers. That forced President Nixon to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1973, and led to an end of the war in 1975. So, indirectly, Randy Kehler helped end the Vietnam war.
At the right moment, one more snowflake can break the branch of a tree. Even if our efforts don’t show any immediate result,whatever we do makes it easier for others who follow to complete our work.THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY
In 1835, Lloyd Garrison, the publisher of the anti-slavery gazette “The Liberator”, spoke in Boston against slavery. He was arrested by the police–to protect his life–because an angry mob was ready to lynch him. He was secretly moved out of the city at night in an enclosed horse coach. But undeterred he continued to fight against slavery, and 30 years later, it was indeed abolished in the United States by President Lincoln.
An important contribution to the end of slavery was also the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852), in which she vividly described the suffering of slaves, and persuaded many people that it was morally wrong.
When we see the billions spent for weapons today and the pittance available to work for peace, it is easy to despair. But the people who fought for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century did not even have any foundations to apply to. They made personal sacrifices and took risks, while the slave traders and slave owners accumulated huge fortunes. Yet the anti-slavery movement prevailed in the end, because it had a just cause. For the same reason, the global peace movement will prevail over those who profit from war.STARFISH
Alone we can do little, but together we can make a difference,as the following metaphor suggests. A boy walked along the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the sea. A wise old man watched him for a while, and then asked him, “What are you doing?” The boy said, “I am throwing these starfish into the water to save them, because otherwise they would dry out and die.” The wise old man laughed and said, “My dear little boy, there are millions and millions of starfish, you can never save them all.” The boy replied, “I know I cannot save all of them, but it surely makes a difference for this one, and that one. They feel much better in the water.” The old man agreed and began to help pick up starfish and throw them into the water. Other people saw them, and began to join. This way, the starfish were indeed saved.
As the anthropologist Margaret Mead has said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Let us all do our best to help create a more peaceful and more just world.
European University Center for Peace Studies (EPU), Stadtschlaining, Austria
21 December 2007