With so much sadness around the Santa Barbara/Montecito fires, I’m deeply grateful to see so many here tonight.
I am also very delighted to share tonight’s honors with Stanely Sheinbaum. We have been friends, colleagues and co-workers for justice and peace for over three decades. What a great man. I love him dearly. I’ve known David Krieger and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation throughout your courageous history. What important, innovative, challenging work you have done over all these critical years. Twenty-five yeas and still going strong; what a great achievement.
It is a profound honor to follow people like the Dalai Lama, Jody Williams, Desmond Tutu, King Hussein of Jordon, and Walter Cronkite. And coming after last years honorees, the incomparable singing trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, I feel like I should begin by singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “If I Had a Hammer” – but I will spare you.
This Distinguished Peace Leader Award means so very much to me and I’m very grateful. I will cherish it. That wonderful introduction by Mark Asman and Anna Grotenhuis warmed my heart. But it does remind me of a story. One day a speaker was introduced to his audience with these words: “Listen to this man. He is a most gifted person, which is evidenced by the fact that he made a million dollars in California oil. So listen to him.”
The speaker responded with thanks, but he was somewhat confused and embarrassed. Many items were essentially there, but a little misinterpreted. He said:
“First, it wasn’t oil – it was coal. Second, it wasn’t California – it was Pennsylvania. Third, it was not a million dollars – it was $100,000. Fourth, it was not me, but my brother. Fifth, it didn’t make it; he lost is. But facts aside, I’m glad to be here.”
Well, I am George Regas and I, too, am glad to be here. I don’t know much about making a million dollars – but I do know something about peacemaking.
PRESIDENT ELECT OBAMA AND PEACEMAKING
There is a deep, deep rejoicing with the election of Barack Obama. All over the world, Obama’s election has sent the message that hope is viable, that change is really possible, that peace is on its way.
President elect Obama – hear us. Your first decision as President must be to instruct The Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a sensible plan for ending the Iraq war and occupation. Get us out of Iraq. No more arguments about time tables. And if you establish a Peace Department and let Rabbi Leonard Beerman and George Regas head it up – Peace just might have a chance!!
When both John McCain and Barack Obama, during the Presidential Campaign, would say, “we are the greatest country in the world…the ‘city shining on the hill’, that America with our history is exceptional” – that rhetoric always pushed me away. Not that I don’t love America because I love my country dearly. But this kind of thinking, this exceptionalism, is central to the Iraq tragedy.
At the grave, we are all equal, and the suffering of one is not more important than the suffering of another. This reality is tragically missing from the American psyche. I think of all those children killed in Iraq as a result of our war; I think of those 30,000 children across the globe who die every day of malnutrition and hunger — and my heart is broken. Very clearly, modern war is total war. With the lethality of modern weapons, there can be no discrimination between combatants and civilians. Some studies say more than 1 million Iraqi civilians have been killed in this war. We need to proclaim as loudly as possible that war with the face it wears today is sin itself. Jesus would bless Howard Zinn when he says, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
The sin and evil at the heart of this war in Iraq is the belief that an American child is more precious than an Iraqi baby. Therefore, a reaffirmation of our common humanity and our equality in joy and in pain must be given primacy if there is ever to be peace in our world.
Barack Obama must restore American moral credibility. Closing Guantanamo, banning all torture and ending the Iraq war and occupation will provide a start but only that. He must inspire the world as he has America that great things are possible; we can have a world without war.
NOW LOOK AT ECONOMICS
The world wide economic crises are overwhelming. There are significant moral issues surrounding this bleak situation.
Larry Bartels of Princeton University and one of the country’s leading political scientists says some provocative things in his book, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Guilded Age. He indicates that from the 1940s to the 1970s the real income of the poorest fifth of Americans more than doubled, advancing faster than any other quintile. Since 1974 the pattern has been skewed significantly toward the rich.
The years 1979 through 2008 have been calamitous for poor and middle class people in the U.S.
Larry Bartels writes that he was surprised to find in his research how profoundly partisan differences affected economic outcomes.
It is true there are many causes for the growing inequality in our globalized economy. But it is unwise to assume there is no cause and effect relationship between government policies and income distribution. Professor Bartels asserts “economic inequality is, in substantial part, a political phenomenon.”
The war system is deeply embedded in this nation: in education, in government, in industry.
Joseph Stiglitz, nobel laureate for economics, is saying in a new book that the Iraq war will eventually cost the U.S. $3 – $5 trillion. 40% of the 1.65 million people who have been deployed are coming home with disabilities – some very serious disabilities. That’s an obligation we must honor and we will be paying this for decades to come. We have borrowed every dime for the Iraq war. George Bush has tried to pretend that you can have a war and not pay the price. What a tragedy. The war system is a criminal mismanagement of humanity’s resources.
The political reality that nuclear war still remains an option for America, Russia, China, Britain, France, Pakistan, India and Israel – that reality is the paramount moral issue of our time.
James Carroll, a great peace leader, writing in the Boston Globe October 13, 2008 says that the word “meltdown” came naturally to the lips last week, referring to the collapse of the financial markets. But Carroll talks about another meltdown which is the purpose of a nuclear bomb.
He says the economic meltdown caused us to ignore a much greater problem. That very week over the signatures of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, the government released the statement “National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century.” The two officials argue that the time has come for the development of a new nuclear weapon, the so called Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). Because “nuclear weapons remain an essential and enduring element” of American military strategy, the aging arsenal of several thousand deployed nukes (and many more “stored” nukes) must be replaced.
Obviously, President Bush will not succeed in getting new nuclear weapons approved in Congress. What Gates and Bodman are doing at the urging of the nuclear establishment is putting this item at the very top of the next President’s agenda.
Carroll writes that for 20 years the United States has been ambivalent about its nuclear arsenal. The indecision was enshrined in the policy that America would “lead” the post Cold War world in the ongoing reduction of nuclear weapons, aiming at the ultimate abolition called for by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. However, at the same time we would maintain a sizable nuclear force, both deployed and stored, as a protection, a “hedge”, against the re-emergence of some Cold War-style threat.
This nuclear policy was a deadly contradiction. It simply made U.S. leadership on meaningful nuclear weapons reduction impossible.
Today nuclear nations want to renew and expand their arsenals, keeping their own nuclear advantage, and non-nuclear states, especially Iran, are moving towards acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Gates-Bodman recent proposal is saying that if the policy of deterrence fails there will be an actual use of nuclear weapons to “defeat” an enemy. That is incomprehensible. Once nuclear war begins, all notions of victory and defeat are meaningless.
During the days of the Interfaith Center to Reverse the Nuclear Arms Race, organized by Rabbi Leonard Beerman and Leo Baeck Temple and All Saints Church, Dr. Marvin Goldberger, distinguished physicist and former Cal Tech President, spoke at an event in the mid 1980s. I can still hear his words: “Those who use the rhetoric that suggests we can survive and win a nuclear war are certifiably insane. Such rhetoric is the greatest illusion of our day. It points to the moral bankruptcy of our age”.
The Non Proliferation Treaty has integrity only if we are committed to the centerpiece of that treaty – a movement toward nuclear abolition.
In the United States the public has been manipulated to focus almost exclusively on nuclear proliferation. And so there is no attention given to the possession and continued development of nuclear weapons and the thinly disguised reliance on their threatened use.
When we deal with Iran, we are using a nuclear double standard. We only discuss proliferation. The U.S. must commit to nuclear disarmament if we are to have integrity. The reason Iran should not have nuclear weapons is because no country should have them. The only way to prevent Iran and other aspiring countries acquiring those deadly, world destroying nuclear weapons is for this country and Russia to disarm.
Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2005, says we must always remember the goal of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is a world free from nuclear weapons. So we must move on two fronts: Non-proliferation and equally the disarmament front. To deal with Iran with any integrity we must build an effective system of collective security that doesn’t rely in any way on nuclear weapons.
GRASS ROOTS ORGANIZING
None of this will happen without us. If there is to be a progressive agenda, Barack Obama must use his bully pulpit to continue to inspire and educate America to move this country in a new direction. But he needs a grass roots movement for peace at the center of the Obama agenda if he is to succeed.
Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized his ability to push legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protestors and organizers. He once told a group of activists who sought his support for legislation, “you’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”
There were many factors contributing to Obama’s great victory, but the real key to his success was grass roots organizing.
Now Obama’s supporters will need to transform that electoral energy into grassroots movements for change.
Winning the election was only the beginning, the first stage, of a broader movement to help America become a nation of compassion, justice and peace.
Do you remember during the Vietnam War the Newsweek cover in 1971 of a naked 9 year old Vietnamese girl running down the road screaming – her skin on fire from a napalm bomb? The picture epitomized the horrific tragedy of the Vietnam War. Americans began rather miraculously to identify with that child. She was just like our own children. She, too, was precious to a mother and father, and precious to God. That realization of the sacredness of all life was central to the mobilization and final victory of the peace movement during the Vietnam War. The same motivating experience of compassion can help us build a peace movement today.
Virtually every meaningful social transformation in the history of the United States has resulted from nonviolent movements that have mobilized grass roots “people power.” “Together,” as Jody Williams said when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, “we are a superpower. It’s a new definition of superpower. It’s not one of us; it’s all of us.” All of us can fuel a new movement – to free the world of nuclear weapons, to bring justice to the world’s poor, to end the ways of war and destruction and see peace reign across the globe.
As I close, I want us to remember there is such a thing as being too late. Will we learn about the perils of revenge, violence and war soon enough to act and change our ways? Will we learn before it is too late?
Of all Michelangelo’s powerful figures, none is more poignant than the man in the Last Judgment being dragged down to hell by demons, his hand over one eye and in the other eye a look of dire recognition. He understood, but all too late.
Michelangelo was right: Hell is truth seen too late.
The call goes out to all of us to join the movement for peace. The call to act before it is too late.
So hold on to hope. Cynicism and despair are deathblows to any movement for peace and disarmament. Good people will do nothing if they have lost hope. Teillard de Chardin said, “the world of tomorrow belongs to those who gave it its greatest hope.” I love that.
My sisters and brothers don’t give up. It’s not too late yet. God needs you and me to save this wondrous creation and calls us to share this mission. What a privilege.