This is my winning entry in the Rotary Club's 'Letter of Peace' contest back in the '80s. We had to write a world leader and propose a roadmap to world peace. Just came across the newspaper it was published in.
Dear President Reagan,
I’m writing this letter out of, well, some people call it naivety. That seems to be the term applied to anyone over 10 who asks why there can’t be peace. How can the concept of peace, which seems sensible and attainable, be impossible for many to take seriously?
I live in a small town, secure against all the violence that is shown on television. This town is my world; I’ve never experienced any other. And although I am frightened by the images I see on TV, my fright is always tempered with relief in believing those worlds to be far apart from mine. In reality, that is not an accurate belief, but it is an easy and comforting belief while sitting on the couch, thinking about school assignments. Maybe a lot of people are like that; maybe they desperately want their own worlds to stay set and secure, and will not chance upsetting them by helping or protesting against wrongs done to others.
The ancient Greeks lived by the philosophy of arete: be the best that you can be. That way of thinking has been forgotten in this age, I think. Overcoming desire for glory of the spirit and mind is superficiality: an example would be the current fad with beating the “enemy.” It seems to me that this obsession is leading to where we will search for an “enemy” so that we can play out these fantasies.
To be patriotic now is to believe in our own superiority. We forget that the “enemy” is not some faceless, evil being, but a country whose citizens are people with the same concerns, anxieties, and abilities as ourselves. The only difference is that they were born there, and we were born here. Why can’t our symbol of pride be the study of sciences and arts, the traits that distinguish us from animals, rather than our physical powers, the traits that link us to animals?
People must forget their trivial squabbles; countries must resolve their current feuds. After all, it is not an individual that survives, but all of society, and it is a society that encompasses every race, nationality, and religious sector. We all are alike; we have merely adopted differing cultures. And that should not be a source of opposition, but a source of curiosity. We should ask ourselves, “What can we learn from them?” Instead of arguing, could not there be a unison of countries to work for the good of Man, and not Man broken down into Russians, Americans, Japanese, and all the others?
I specifically suggest the formation of committees made up of all nationalities, one dealing with the arts, one with science, and one with medicine. And, perhaps most importantly, one whose members are children. People meeting for no other reason than to discuss and share ideas in the respective areas in which they are equals, and doing so free from political pressure, would help attain better understanding and respect between nations. And the children will realise that those people from across the ocean are just like themselves, and that knowledge will help when they are the adults making decisions.
Respect is a necessary element in achieving peace. If we do not respect one another, we do not respect ourselves, for we are all One on Earth. And it will not be our wars that our descendants remember a thousand years from now, it will be our achievements of the mind and spirit. We must emphasise the characteristics of Man that make him Man, and pass that philosophy on to our children. In time, those characteristics -- reason, knowledge, and justice -- will take their rightful places as the ambitions of all men and women, and fighting will be a concept that will be looked upon with neither understanding nor sympathy.
I don’t need to point out all the advantages that peace would bring. They are obvious. But I would like to say that the only thing stopping us from achieving peace is our quick instinct to dismiss any serious talk of it.