WiLL/WAND Torchbearer Award
Delivered at the Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, DC
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Good evening. I am profoundly honored to receive the Torchbearer award from great women leaders who are not ready to consign the twenty-first century to war without end. It is up to us to see that peace is given a chance. When the cold war ended after fifty years with both superpowers aiming–but not triggering–weapons of mass destruction at each other, we thought we were going to live happily ever after. The twentieth century was personified by war, death and destruction: two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War. Of course, there were great breakthroughs–we landed on the moon, we reached out, we led the world in high tech, we promoted civil rights, women’s rights and human rights. We thought we had learned our lesson.
But now it is once more into the breach for us, and once more truth is the main casualty of war. In the brief five months of the Iraqi war, we already have learned that the human and financial costs are too high. But when will our leaders learn–war is not the answer. It’s time for women to make their voices heard. Their silence on the subject of war and peace is deafening. We all remember the Martin Luther King Jr. march on Washington in 1963 in behalf of civil rights and his immortal speech: I have a dream. But I remember even more the words of a rabbi on that program at the Lincoln Memorial. He had spent years in a Hitler concentration camp and he said that the greatest sin of all in the Nazi era was silence.
As we see our constitutional rights being chipped away by the current administration in the name of patriotism, it’s time to call a halt. There is so much at stake not just in terms of human liberty but to try to recapture the way we were–role models for the rest of the world, venerated because we were willing to share our ideals and our wealth with the disadvantaged. We cared.
We have lost our halo, because we represented the…best hopes and ideals of mankind and we have disappointed the world. To be a military superpower does not arrogate to us the right to invade countries, defy laws and dictate to other people. That is not us. It never was. We have no choice–it is imperative for us to take back the dawn.
If we care about the children, the grandchildren, the future generations, we need to make sure that they do not become the cannon fodder of the future. Otherwise history will never forgive us for sitting back and letting the neoconservative hawks prevail. Terrorism per se must be challenged and defeated–but that all-inclusive epithet “terrorism” surely does not fit all sizes and all those who strive for change. Only the bereft would think so. There are better ways we can transform this virulent hatred–by living our ideals, the Peace Corps, exchange students, teachers, exporting our music, poetry, blue jeans. The Pope and other religious leaders, voices of reason and hope, and by keeping our treaties and by understanding that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for all of us.