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August 28, 2008

Olympic Inspiration for Peace

by David Krieger

The world has again witnessed two weeks of extraordinary beauty and talent by young athletes gathered from throughout the world. The athletes met in Beijing for the XXIXth Olympic Games of modern times and competed on a global stage. They inspired me and I believe they must have inspired billions of human beings in every part of the world by the amazing feats of speed, strength, agility and teamwork of which we humans are capable.

The athletes of these Olympic Games demonstrated their concentration and grace under pressure. Some won medals, but most did not. Their crowning common achievement was to come together in the spirit of friendship and peaceful competition, and demonstrate to the world the incredible beauty not only of their skills and talents but of peace in action.

The Olympic Games show us that peace and goodwill are possible. The flags of nations are raised in honor of the achievements of the athletes. The flags symbolize victory in peaceful competition, not the failure of war. What a different ground of competition the Olympics provides than does the battlefield of war. A person can be the best in the world regardless of the size of one's country, the color of one's skin, or the riches one has amassed. Victory is determined on a peaceful and level playing field, without weapons of violence or undue influence.

The Olympics value human life in all its variety. There are no exclusions from the human family. Victory is celebrated, but it is also recognized as transient. One can be a champion, but there will always be new champions. Some champions compete against each other, while others compete against the records of champions of the past. The valor is in the competition, the glory is in being part of it.

How can one not be thrilled by watching the athletes in their native costumes entering the great arena of the Olympic stadium? How can one not be overwhelmed with the beauty of the pageantry that surrounds the opening and closing ceremonies of the games? How can one not be struck with the thought that this is what life on our precious planet could be, not just for two weeks but for all time?

Of course, there cannot be continuous year-round Olympics, but the Olympics show just one facet of human greatness, that of athletic prowess. There could be other great festivals and celebrations of human achievement in the areas of music, poetry, dancing and drama. We could celebrate those who work to save the environment and its precious resources, those who protect endangered species, those who create alternative energy sources, those who work for peace and justice. There is so much cause for celebration, starting with the miracle of our very existence.

The Olympics give us a glimpse of what is possible for our species and our world. They demand that we be more than quiet (or even noisy) observers. They challenge us to re-envision our world, and imagine the paradise that our planet could be. Do we really need to settle our differences by war and violence rather than by law and diplomacy? Do we really need to divide up the earth's resources so inequitably, so that some live in overabundance while others cannot meet their basic needs? Do we really need to keep destroying the Earth as though future generations are of no concern to us?

We have an Earth, a water planet, which supports life and is endlessly interesting and beautiful. We have a sun that powers our planet. We have the Olympic Games to thrill and inspire us. We have talented human beings across the planet. The Olympics, so fresh in our minds, should embolden us to say: "We can do better, much better." In a democracy, the fault for not doing better lies not just with our leaders, but with our own apathy. After the Olympics, we can get up off the couch and do more to help our Earth stay green and healthy in a just world without war. In the Nuclear Age, it's actually up to all of us to build a better world and assure that there is a future.

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a Councilor of the World Future Council.

Posted by mwblog at 7:46 AM

August 14, 2008

Civilian Diplomacy

By Robert C. Koehler Tribune Media Services

Peace is no more -- and no less -- than the audacity of sanity, reaching past the dubious geopolitics of national self-interest and standing, as Hank Brusselback did, underneath the ancient bridge in Esfahan, Iran, listening to the men who had gathered to sing.

It's called civilian diplomacy, and it is one way we will create the peace our leaders don't believe we're ready for.

"If the government isn't willing to talk to people, then the people need to be willing to (talk to each other)," Brusselback said. "It comes from a belief in the nature of security -- it's not about weapons, fear and posturing on the world stage. It's about communication, talking to people, everyone having their basic needs met. If you understood security that way, you'd see that security is about dialogue."

Mostly FOR has been about stopping war, something that may still seem like futility itself, but consider how futile it must have seemed in 1914, when the Great War started while an ecumenical conference among European clergy was being held in Switzerland to avert the outbreak of war. According to the FOR-USA Web site, two of the participants, Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and Friedrich Sigmund-Schultze, a German Lutheran, upon meeting at a railroad station in Germany as they headed home, "pledged to find a way of working for peace even though their countries were at war."

This was a pledge of courageous determination, made to the future of the human race. The Fellowship of Reconciliation was founded out of this pledge a few months later, in Cambridge, England; and in 1915, a second fellowship was established in the United States. Throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries -- for the first time in the long history of the human race -- humanity's passion for peace, justice and connectedness has had a permanent structure from which to challenge the short-sighted self-interest of governments, and their predilection to prepare for and wage wars.

And so, with the Bush administration in popularity freefall, its splendid little war in Iraq having run aground, many Americans have been eying its hollow belligerence toward Iran with acute nervousness. But some have decided to be pre-emptive themselves, rather than simmer in their anger and helplessness.

"Our determination was to do something different than go out in the streets, which we did for Iraq," Brusselback told me. "We wanted to give a message to Iranians -- to let them know there are lots of us here who believe in peace."

This, as I say, is the audacity of sanity, and a sign that the world is changing, the war paradigm is shifting. The May delegation, which consisted of 21 U.S. citizens, was the seventh that FOR-USA has sent to Iran in the last three years. The delegates talked to religious leaders (including Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians as well as Muslims). They toured the country.

"We wore pins, written in Farsi: 'We are part of a peace delegation,'" Brusselback said. "And (people) just had this big, warm smile. They wanted to give us hugs and shake our hands. 'We love Americans!' They told us that day after day."

They also talked to people about the complexity of life in Iran. The country has plenty of problems. People rolled their eyes when talking about President Ahmadinejad, especially his Holocaust-denial posturing. And, yeah, Iran has laws "about all kinds of things that really get in your face personally, especially women," he said. "Morality police. No makeup, can't show legs or hair. (Some people) struggle to push the edges. They're brave. They risk arrest."

But ladies and gentlemen, none of this is fodder for war. The highest order of ignorance is required before airstrikes, and the slaughter of these warm, courageous people, can be condoned.

Brusselback talked about his wife's experience in historic and beautiful Esfahan, when she found herself amid a group of schoolchildren in Imam Square. "The teacher asked who she was," he said. "Then all the children introduced themselves to her one at a time, each saying a phrase in English. It brought tears to her eyes."

He also talked about coming upon a group of men who had gathered under Esfahan's 300-year-old bridge to sing, because the echo there was out of this world. As he stood listening, one of them struck up a conversation. "So you're from the U.S.," the man said. "Do you think we're terrorists?"

If we know enough we'll never go to war again. This is globalization that matters.

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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at bkoehler@tribune.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.

© 2008 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

Posted by mwblog at 7:38 AM