Jennifer Simons hosted an elegant luncheon for the charming Hans Blix the other day, as well as about 150 other people. (See his photo.) It was Blix’s birthday, so we sang to him. He said that when he was younger he thought new ideas were essential, but as he grows older he has concluded that experience is even more important. I’m sure he didn’t mean for us to conclude that the Report of the WMD Commission, which he had chaired and which was published on that day, lacked new ideas. Still, if it makes any new proposals, they are not conspicuous. This is to be expected. All the proposals for eliminating weapons of mass destruction have been bruited about for a decade or more, yet they have to be re-stated continually with fresh emphasis, as if they had just been invented. Blix recalled that Anna Lindh, the Swedish foreign minister, had recruited him for work on these issues before she was shot dead by a madman. She, like Blix himself, had believed that the key to eliminating such weapons is to make all nations regard them as unnecessary.
The World Peace Forum has been, by all accounts, a remarkable gathering, though I’m a poor reviewer, since I attended only a few events. Mostly I have used the interval between the coming and returning phases of my journey to rest, promote my book, and tend to my electronic equipment. As usual, the real value of a conference comes from personal conversations in bars and restaurants — schmoozing, which I’ve enjoyed a lot. Most of the official speeches have been predictable, but I’ve been surprised several times.
One surprise was recounted by Joanna Santa Barbara, who had been on a panel promoting what she calls “the third option” regarding Afghanistan. The audience held sharply divided opinions on this topic, with a substantial majority favoring the alternative view, “Troops Out Now!” But Alexa McDonough took a different tack, evidently supporting the third option. This astonished me, since in the parliamentary debate a few weeks ago the NDP took a “Troops Out Now” position against the government. Apparently Alexa said she had gone to Afghanistan and was convinced there that the people want and need Canadian troops, but not in a war-fighting capacity. They are required as peacekeepers, to protect civilians. I don’t know whether Alexa said anything else along the lines that Siddiq Weera has been proposing – an expanded Canadian effort to resolve the conflict with the warlords, Taliban, and other contending factions.
It was no surprise, but I think significant, that Walter Dorn referred harshly to Michael Ignatieff, whose favored candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party constitutes, as he said, the greatest threat to peace and security in Canada at the present time. Some of us had bumped into each other on the street. Derek Paul proposed that a group from Pugwash go see him. I had just mentioned my own interaction with Ignatieff at the Munk Centre a few months ago, and Derek apparently inferred that I would be too provocative and should not be included in the delegation. On the other hand, I told Jo and Jack Santa Barbara about this discussion, as well as my dust-up with Ignatieff, and they enthusiastically approved of my efforts. I do want to participate in any new meeting. Walter had reported to us that Michael says that he is “haunted” by the difference of opinion between himself and his late father regarding military intervention. He should feel haunted. George would not vote for him, I’m sure.
Last night I ran into Dieter Heinrich, whom I had not seen for a decade or more. We ate dinner together and talked a couple of hours about a wide range of topics. He pins a great deal of hope on the spread of democracy – which I think is a wise approach. He wants to have the Community of Democracies undertake a policy of “fair trade,” and believes that corporations would even like the idea. I doubt that – and he admitted that he isn’t sure of it either. That’s the next thing he is going to explore to find out.
One curious but enjoyable conversation with Dieter involved the relationship between spirituality and peace work. Dieter takes a Hegelian view, feeling that life is working itself out through some intelligent process, which he no longer refers to as “God.” He doesn’t like the word spirit either because that could cover everything from auras to Ouija boards. We can do without any of those concepts, he said. I disagreed, pointing out with a little diffidence that I feel I am being led, that I have callings and must pay attention carefully to discern whether I am doing what I am supposed to do or not. I like Michael Lerner’s position – that the left keeps losing out because they have ruled out spirituality as a legitimate term in political discourse, so the only place left open to religious-minded activists is within the right, which is not shy about speaking of values.
Yet Dieter also feels that he has vocations, too – tasks that life sets for him – though he doesn’t believe in God. He believes there’s an intelligence inside the world, yes – but only inside all of life, not in the inanimate world of rocks, wind, and tides – and not an intelligence that created the universe. Okay, we’re not significantly disagreeing substantively. It’s just that I call this intelligence “God” and he doesn’t. And I’m part of it. But so are the rocks.
Dieter kept insisting that we can mess up and destroy our planet. Nothing is protecting us from that. I agree. We could do so, but if that happens, maybe it’s part of the bigger plan. Who am I to conclude otherwise? We spoke of the “farmer’s horse” story, where it’s impossible to know whether anything is good or bad, lucky or unlucky, since that judgment will depend on what will result from that event later -- but the subsequent events keep unfolding forever and ever. So one cannot know. One can only have faith or not have faith. I choose to have faith.