USE YOUR IMAGINATION
Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work in the banning
and clearing of anti-personnel mines.
Asked to opine about what I think one or two of the biggest issues facing
us in the coming decades might be, I find myself needing to quote Arundhati
Roy, in her anti-nuclear polemic The End of Imagination. Roy writes,
"There's nothing new or original left to be said about nuclear weapons.
There can be nothing more humiliating for a writer of fiction to have
to do than restate a case that has, over the years, already been made
by other people in other parts of the world, and made passionately, eloquently
and knowledgeably." She goes on to say, however, that she is "prepared
to grovel. To humiliate myself abjectly, because in the circumstances,
silence would be indefensible." Roy is talking about her need to
speak out against the open embrace of nuclear weapons by the country of
her birth, India.
When asked to comment about "big issues" and "issues related
to war and peace" -- after all, I was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
so I should have "big thoughts" about any number of such "big
issues" -- as often as not I find myself reduced to feeling more
like what Roy describes. What more can be said about a multitude of issues
facing this increasing small and overwhelmed planet, issues as wide-ranging
as global warming or the HIV crisis or unbridled globalization? People
with much more intimate knowledge of these issues have spoken -- often
and with much wisdom. It feels like there is nothing left to be said.
Yet, I also find myself willing to try on some issues -- on which I am
not even approaching what would be called "an expert" -- because
I also feel that, under the circumstances, silence would be indefensible.
Along with challenges facing us such as those noted above, one that causes
me particular concern is the open embrace by the Bush administration of
national missile defense (NMD), a project flirted with -- to greater and
lesser degrees and in various incarnations -- for approaching two decades
since launched under the Reagan administration and known in common parlance
as Star Wars. As many others, I tend to revert to calling NMD the Son
of Star Wars -- yet I recognize that such terminology threatens to reduce
the cold-blooded horror of militarizing space to something amazing and
almost wonderful. Son of Star Wars, of course, conjures the fabulous high-tech
wizardry of that imaginative series of movies and suggests NMD is little
more than lasers and "good guys" just trying to defend us from
the "bad guys."
While I may not be an expert on national missile defense and its implications
for the militarization of space, it doesn't take an expert to see how
this move fits into the arrogant isolationism of the new administration.
And from my experience sometimes it is the least expert questions that
are the most difficult to answer.
We are now being asked to stunt our imagination and intelligence to accept
that real freedom means being free from the arms-control treaties that
have formed a cornerstone of stability for decades. We are told that our
friends and allies around the world just don't understand this new concept
of freedom and security. But not to worry, given enough time and a bit
more backslapping, they will come around. And if they don't, we'll do
It is also implied -- and not just by this government -- that if we do
not accept this new wisdom, if we speak out passionately, eloquently and
even with great knowledge, we are somehow not patriotic. And missile defense
does seem so overwhelming that it is tempting to give in to being "patriotic"
and to letting the "experts" advise how best to protect us from
the rogue enemies who will feel the wrath of these defensive missiles.
After all, what can ordinary individuals really understand about such
difficult national defense issues?
I think the challenge is for "ordinary citizens" to believe
that their view on this -- and any other "big issues" facing
us -- is important, that they fire up their imaginations and believe they
can make a difference if they take action. My friend and fellow Nobel
Peace Prize laureate Betty Williams (a founder of the Northern Ireland
Peace Movement) once said -- and I shamelessly use her words whenever
I can -- that sometimes we try to get by just invoking our feelings of
empathy for problems that face others or us all collectively. Somehow,
just by "feeling the other person's pain" we are more righteous
than those who cannot even do that. But as Betty says, emotions without
action are irrelevant. If you do not take action to make the world the
place you want it to be, it really doesn't matter what you feel.
So, I will have to move beyond my words of horror about NMD and the militarization
of space and the arrogant isolationism in America. I will have to fire
up my imagination to find ways to demonstrate that real security comes
with meeting the needs of individuals on this planet and not through spending
billions of tax dollars "freely," for imaginative weapons that
threaten us all.
I reread this and discover that I have not found new eloquence on the
issue of NMD and the militarization of space. I have not found some magic
combination that will convince someone to stop this madness. At the same
time, I recognize that the point isn't necessarily to find new eloquence
-- it is to add my voice and my actions to bring about change that is
critical to making this world a better place. All I have to do is use
(c) 2001, Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune
For immediate release (Distributed 6/20/01)
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