When it comes to world politics, the best Beatle was right. Last week as the news came in from Pyongyang, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of him at some long ago peace rally singing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Not that it didn’t seem at times corny and futile trying to keep those little candles from blowing out, but the world peace he was pushing now does, at last, seem to be the happening thing.
What further evidence do we need than that picture of the two Kims from Korea, North and South, holding hands and singing a song of peaceful reunification? Yoko Ono could’ve written the script. Mark that moment; it represents the triumph of Lennonism. John that is, not Vladimir.
The specter of communism, the threat of violent worldwide revolution, died with that Kim to Kim photo, and along with it the cold war obsessions that have made the world crazy these past fifty-five years. If the two Koreas, divided by the most heavily fortified military barrier left in the world, can come to terms, what warring parties can’t? The message is clear: The threat from this and other “rogue nations” can be met far more cheaply with talk, trade and aid than with a $60 billion missile defense system and other warrior fantasies.
It is time to pay homage to that much maligned army of pacifists like Dorothy Day, A.J. Muste, David Dellinger, Bertrand Russell, Benjamin Spock, Linus Pauling and Martin Luther King Jr. Merely for insisting that we share a common humanity that can redeem our enemies, they were scorned as dupes and even reviled as traitors.
Some hard-liners thought that as well of Richard M. Nixon when he journeyed to Red China to make peace with the devil that he had done so much to define. Then came Gorbachev and Reagan burying the hatchet that their military advisors preferred be honed. Today, Pete Peterson, a former prisoner of war, sits as the US ambassador in Hanoi, where the prison in which he was held has been turned into a tourist hotel. Soon, we may even have the courage to recognize that the “threat” from Cuba has never been more than a cruel joke.
But the lesson that peace is practical has been extended to conflicts beyond the cold war. The mayhem inspired by those drunk on the potency of their purifying religious, ethnic and nationalist visions continues, but they can smell the odor of their own defeat. The fools fight on in places like Sierra Leone, but the smartest among the world’s militant revolutionaries have already abandoned violence for peace.
The PLO and the IRA are now partners in peace with their sworn enemies, for which another president–Bill Clinton–deserves much credit. Iran has elected a majority of moderates to run its government; Syria will have a modern new leader who may at last respond positively to the risks that Israel has taken for peace in withdrawing from southern Lebanon. Libya’s Moammar Kadafi has surrendered alleged hijackers, and even the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan is now said to be uneasy with the Osama bin Laden gang of terrorists.
Forgiveness of past crimes is far from automatic, and it can be more tempting for demagogues such as Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic to profit from the stoking of hatred than to engage in tedious efforts at reconciliation. But the evidence is overwhelming that peace can prevail even when the historic sense of grievance runs high. The model is Nelson Mandela, who emerged from almost three decades in horrid prisons in South Africa as a true saint of peace, shunning hate and even embracing the jailers who stole most of his life.
Think of Pope John Paul II, who forgave his would-be assassin and travels endlessly to make peace with those who trampled on the religion he holds sacred. Or Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin, who died at the hands of their own people but whose example in life had been so strong that it lasted beyond their deaths.
So, too, the example of John Lennon, who risked his celebrity and was treated as a fool by a media that dismissed his Eastern pacificism as they once did that of Mohandas K. Gandhi. And King, another Gandhi disciple, who dared to link the civil rights and peace movements as a common assertion of humanity and was scorned by the political establishment for it.
There will be other martyrs to the cause of peace, many quite obscure, as those who serve in barely noticed international brigades like the blue-helmeted troops of the United Nations. They stand, sometimes pathetically, against chaos, but in the end, they will be blessed as peacemakers.
Peace works because deep down, it’s what people of all stripes want–to make love, not war.