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Obsession and Peace

"We live in a world of mutuality from which no one and no nation can steal away without damaging the whole and oneself. The tragedies in Israel/Palestine and September 11 made this clear..Is it normal when a president publically decares he is executing a divine will with the war against Iraq? Is it normal when he believes himself chosen with America to represent the good in the world and combat the evil with bombs and missiles? This obsession is a dangerous illusion that can only create discord." Translated from the German
Obsession and Peace

By Horst-Eberhard Richter

[At the opening of the IPPNW (International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War), the 80-year old Horst-Eberhard Richter, honorary chairperson of the IPPNW, spoke about the peace movement, the Iraq war, the power obsession of certain politicians and alternatives of the anti-globalization movement. His address was greeted with great applause. A short version of the address appeared on May 2 in Frankfurter Rundschau. This longer version is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.uni-kassel.de/fb10/frieden/bewegung/richter2.html.]

Ladies, gentlemen and colleagues,

Let me heartily thank you for coming in the name of the organizers. Some of you may have come after overcoming doubt. Wouldn't it be healthful to recover from the terror pictures that robbed many of us of sleep in the last weeks? What good is analyzing, criticizing and protesting if those who intended war from the first will do whatever they want? Must we not admit our powerlessness as the peace movement and come to terms with our powerlessness? Isn't the mild comfort left to us that we have acted out good will and will act out our good will in the future?

Recovering after our emotional strains is obviously reasonable. Repression doesn't create relief, only the bottling up inside of tension. Who can repress while the US bellows at Syria as it bellowed at Iraq all last year?

Powerlessness, Responsibility and Conscience

On the theme of powerlessness, the marvelous admonition of Joseph Weizenbaum, the next speaker this evening, occurs to me. Every individual must act as though the future of humanity depended on him or herself. "Everything else is an evasion from responsibility, a de-humanizing power degrading the individual as a mere figure in a drama written by anonymous powers and hardly regarded as a whole person. That is the beginning of passivity and aimlessness."

To my joy I rediscovered this text when 400 students in Kassel held a massive peace demonstration. Weizenbaum teaches us that self-made passivity and flight from responsibility are our condition, not powerlessness. That sounds heroic. What can I do with this responsibility so something changes? That is the typical question concerning the economy. What should change? An important improvement of the climate for East-West understanding came out of the peace movement of the 80s, as Gorbatchev said. Who knew that before? Who could anticipate that?

As a rule, we don't observe responsibility as an abstract duty but as a spontaneous feeling when we don't close ourselves. When we consider what bombs and missiles have wreaked in Iraq, when we see the faces of the wounded children in Baghdad's hospitals, we suffer because we didn't help where our compassion called for joint responsibility. This presses many of us to activity in the peace movement and drives millions on all continents to the streets.

What should be said about the supposed moral self-satisfaction that devalues our engagement? In our nature, we feel better when we straighten things out with our conscience and express joint responsibility for the whole as Joseph Weizenbaum emphasizes. Hundreds of thousands of mentally sick would have escaped murder in our country if leading psychiatrists had only said "No" to the moral self-satisfaction when they were called to participate in the annihilation. Unfortunately not enough good men did this.

When people protest to an unparalleled extent, when majorities in most countries oppose the war in surveys, sometimes against their own government, they see an elementary principle of world order endangered on which the Charter of the United Nations is founded. This charter is the ordering of everyone with equal rights in a world organization that protects peace from the abuse of power of the stronger against the weaker. That was the lesson drawn from the rape of many countries through Hitler's omnipotence delusion and megalomania. In 1945 the US was a driving force in creating this international institution. Now the same United States regards its superiority in strength as a justification for breaking the peace at its own discretion. The US no longer accepts obligations for the common protection of the atmosphere or punishing war crimes. The US rejects the Kyoto convention on protecting the atmosphere. The International Criminal Court in the Haag may call war criminals of all countries to account, except American criminals. The execution of the Iraq war without a UN mandate and against the resistance of the Security Council was the next step to the practical disempowerment of the world organization and the uninhibited realization of egoistic arbitrariness. Thus the new hegemonial power actually does what the organization should preserve us from though it helped create the organization.

Washington only sees a Bridgehead in Iraq

The resistant ones in the Security Council, the masses of protesters in the streets and the peace movement see this danger... The suspicion of many who mistrusted the agitators or rabble-rousers in the Pentagon from the start is now confirmed. What was involved was far more than eliminating a brutal dictator and his weapons of mass destruction that are still nowhere to be found today... The true goal of the war was to bring Iraq under military, economic and cultural control as a bridgehead of the whole Islamic Middle East. Three bases are planned. If Americanization of Europe succeeded through the victory over Hitler, why shouldn't the same succeed in the region after Saddam Hussein's overthrown? Boutros-Boutros-Ghali, ex-secretary general of the United Nations, warned very early: Bush's Iraq invasion is nothing but an imperialist war of conquest in the style of the colonial age, a relapse to the primitivity of a stage of civilization believed to be overcome.

This is our present situation. Many people who don't want to fall back in the powerlessness of passivity express their will of resistance. We all face the choice whether to cooperate in the project of a more just and more democratic globalization or surrender to an American alliance of capital power and religious self-sanctification. We should not imagine falling into this dilemma without our own culpability. With this We, I think of a long common development to a system that promises a kind of freedom as the American president understands it to the victors in the neoliberal conflict, namely far-reaching independence at the expense of the losers in the competition. The American vision of threatening and extorting all others as it sees fit through a missile-defense shield, a superior nuclear power and its own invulnerability is on this line. However this vision is deceiving. We live in a world of mutuality from which no one and no nation can steal away in the long run without damaging the whole and oneself. The tragedies in Israel/Palestine and September 11 made this clear. The strongest and most modern offensive weapons and the best defensive armor cannot protect from the power of suicide attacks.

The most powerful always remains fettered with a remnant of powerlessness, a remnant of the power of the powerless. Israel and Palestine must live together and can only live together if they agree on a common security. Every attempt to force down the other side through superior military strikes or terrorism only increases the common suffering. If the US together with its satellites adopts Israel's past violent strategy, repetition of those violent acts threatens them and all of us on a world scale.

"We live in a complete dependence on one another"

This is an obvious truth... There were almost three years in Israel/Palestine without terrorism after the negotiations of Oslo. The Palestinians lived with the prospect of their own state and regaining the occupied territories, in other words with the hope of a future in equal partnership. Yitzak Rabin was determined to realize this project. However the will of reconciliation collapsed that had stirred up on both sides. The project fell with the murder of Rabin.

Still his idea is valid since it mirrors the principle that alone assures us of a common future on the small scale and on the world scale. We live in a complete dependence on one another. Neglect of this mutuality through unilateral oppression always strikes back through the hatred of the oppressed. A complicity of misuse of power and terrorism - hardly ever seen by the actors - threatens at the end. Bonds to one another must be transformed into a constructive community. That was the lesson from September 11 and from the entanglement of violence in Israel/Palestine and the conclusion that must be drawn from the dangers of the new confrontation between the western war alliance and the Islamic peoples.

Genuine peace is only possible when people acknowledge one another in their humanity. Albert Einstein said this in 1948 in the simple sentence: "In the shadow of the atomic bomb, all persons are brothers (or sisters). If we recognize this simple truth and act accordingly, humanity can rise to a higher plateau."

On the Psychopathology of Politicians

When we started our peace organization IPPNW at the beginning of the 80s, we had two principles. One was: A nuclear war kills without chance of medical help. The other was: the nuclear arms race only increases the danger that deterrence could fail at some time. Thus peace can only be found and secured together through understanding. Because we practiced this community beyond the iron curtain to a modest extent, we received a Nobel Prize for peace in 1985 in Oslo as praise and a spur for a non-nuclear policy. Michail Gorbatchev who advocated this concept believed persistently in the following years in the power of the humanization of international relations, not in the power of weapons. Even if ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt still defends his missile policy at that time, there is no reasonable doubt that Gorbatchev's will of understanding created the basis for developing mutual trust. Both sides were released from the obsession of enmity and the persecution mentality. Since 1987 I had opportunities for studying this man for years in an international study group. He was deeply convinced that politics with inhuman threats can only be repaired from within by the human power of reconciliation.

Is the health or sickness of policy or politicians a reliable perspective? I believe so. Isn't it true that the nuclear competition of the 80s and Bush's new war policy suggest psychopathic standards? In his time, the UN secretary general Perez de Cuellar described the nuclear arms race as a delusion. What is it now? Is it normal when a president publically declares that he is executing a divine will with the war against Iraq? Is it normal when he believes himself chosen with America to represent the good in the world and combat the evil identified by him with bombs and missiles? This obsession is a dangerous illusion that can only create discord. From inner pressure, self-idealization always needs the evil outside as a persecutor. In the current case, this means conquering again and again as an allegedly persecuted one. What is negative and threatening fragmented in one's own interior requires this permanent projection outward.

The contagious effect of such obsession is considerable. To many Americans, participating in this self-idealization is self-evident since they live in God's own country and repressing common guilt whenever possible is part of the national tradition. Hiroshima with over 200,000 dead is an example. This war crime should remain in the national memory as a glorious patriotic deed. The bomber was christianly consecrated. General Thomas Farrel spoke as an eyewitness of a signal of the Last Judgment and of the release of powers reserved until then to the Almighty. There was never a public apology for Hiroshima. A planned commemorative event in Washington on the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb was prohibited at the last moment to avoid violating patriotic feelings.

This repression capacity can be envied and morally criticized. Still matters should be considered carefully. What one cannot repent remains as a temptation to repetition. The new American nuclear strategy also threatens countries without nuclear weapons. The US recently appeared proud of its latest super-bombs that have the effect of a small atomic bomb and extinguish all life in a radius of 1.5 miles. They call them almost lovingly the mother of all bombs. What does this mean, the mother of all bombed children, the arsenals of destruction as a great family? Is that healthy and normal?

Signs of Hope

Let us speak of signs that could give us hope and kindle new engagement. Consider the disgrace experienced by Washington in the Security Council, for example the steadfastness of countries like Mexico and Chile, both dependent on the US and threatened with reprisals and nevertheless firmly persisted in their No to war. Remember the illicit applause with which the assembled UN ambassadors in the Security Council celebrated the peace address of the French foreign minister Villepin on February 14. Remember the worldwide demonstrations of the will for peace from Indonesia to Turkey, from Capetown to Seoul.

Unlike the anti-missile protests of the 80s, this is a humanistic movement, less aggressive but with firm determination. When I actively participated in Germany and in two neighboring countries, I found a remarkable self-confidence and self-respect. The mood was not marked by fierce resentment and bitterness. People regarded themselves as more far-sighted and rational than the war preacher in the Pentagon and strengthened
by their refusal to justify the offensive war. Saddam's alleged nuclear world threat was a fairy-tale! The result was zero after over 500 inspections of presumed hiding places of weapons of mass destruction. There was no evidence of the predicted use of such weapons on the Iraqi side. Falsified documents, fake dossiers, meaningless photos proving nothing - one failure after another. Brief notes about this in the media and then quickly silence. Fear of scandal prevails. Misleading has a dubious success. According to polls, 42 percent of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was mainly responsible for September 11.

The conduct of the media will be one of the main themes of our congress. If only Americans and no longer independent UN inspectors may seek for prohibited weapons, this means they will have to find something. But who can still believe them after so many deceptions and lies? Great effort was made to stamp Saddam Hussein as a horror figure threatening the world as the High Noon scenario required. Masses of Americans have enjoyed seeing themselves in this scenario since time immemorial. This is a trick for propaganda since the fire-spewing dragon proved weak and only armed with meager antiquated weapons. His troops could be finished off with high-tech bombs and missiles in a way resembling an execution more than a regular war-like battle... As President of the German republic Rau remarked, the dictator was the best controlled of the world among all the rotten dictators. Certainly he was one of the worst but could and should have been kept under a reliable control by the inspectors.

The idealized self-image of Americans doesn't allow confrontation with its own inhuman cruelties. As a result, there is still dread in being shown again the horrors of Hiroshima. Let us not forget that millions in the US joined the ranks of demonstrating opponents of wars. People were in the streets in Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Miami. No one knows how long the Americans will hold out their increasing moral isolation in the world. Americans are irritated when they no longer appear as the defenders of the good as happened to them in and after the Vietnam disaster when they temporarily made the peace-loving Jimmy Carter into the president... There are others representing the fair America that doesn't confuse its responsibility in the world with arbitrary power.

"Spirit of Humanliness" in all areas of life

American colleagues together with Russian physicians led the way in creating the medical peace movement. Since then, the engagement of our American friends has contributed to the radiance of the German organization. Leading minds of the US like the highly regarded philosopher Richard Rorty still seek to check American chauvinism and encourage respect for the United Nations. We are glad to welcome critical intellectuals to our congress, John MacArthur, Norman Birnbaum and Joseph Weizenbaum. They strengthen us in our hope that the ancient democratic idea of freedom may replace that freedom that understands itself as the right to unlimited independence as long as one is strong enough to subject others to one's will. This is the second congress after its successful predecessor in 2000. The theme "Culture of Peace" proclaims that a more peaceful and more just world needs a spirit of humanliness penetrating all areas of life from the church to international law, from the economy to art, from ecology to pedagogy, from public health to natural science and from the media to philosophy. The invasion of this spirit in a practical politics where the evil spirit of an egomaniacal will to power prevails against an alternative community of people, the majority of the populations, is ultimately decisive. This majority has spoken out in polls and in worldwide demonstrations against the offensive war imposed on them.

We must reflect at our congress how more effective democratic possibilities may prevent the discouragement of large majorities who now urge better peace protection according to the Charter of the United Nations. We must strive that our plea is heard and receives more weight. "Mere praise of peace is simple but ineffective", Einstein said 50 years ago at the Jewish Peace Fellowship in New York. "What we need is active participation in the struggle against war and everything that leads to war", he continued. In other words, we must learn to identify what is better, not only to better understand what is wrong. For example, energetically spreading the results of our congress is part of the struggle. We must pound the doors of our representatives. We must light the fire in the media and go more into the public even if we make ourselves uncomfortable and ask for all kinds of trouble. When one is silent and continues being silent against one's conviction to avert frictions and hostilities, one must pay for that all life long with secret self-contempt. The large part of a generation experienced this in Germany and bequeaths this conflict to the coming generation. May our congress encourage further determined assertive engagement. A book in the 70s was titled "Escape or Stand Firm". This question must be answered again and again.

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Hiroshima 06.Nov.2004 16:54

coincidence coincidence23@hotmail.com

While more often then not a proponent of Peace I think that an appolgy for Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not a logical moivement. First has there been a Japanese appology for Nankang and the Batan Death march and Burning down Manilla when they realized they could no longer hold it? In light of hteir actions in that war refering to two bombings as a 'war crime' is negligent. Even in such circumstance it should be remembered that the fire-bombing of Dresden was more destructive than either nuclear strike. Should we not first appologize to Germany?