Peace Group Tries a ‘Spacebridge’ : Beyond War Uses 6-Nation TV Hookup for Award Rites
Shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday morning Richard Hicks, a lawyer from the San Fernando Valley active in the Beyond War movement, stood in front of a huge blank television screen before a packed house at the Scottish Rite Auditorium on Wilshire Boulevard.
He bade the crowd of about 1,700 welcome, and then, casting a wary eye at the suddenly ominous-looking screen, he said, “This has never been done before. We have just a little anxiety--somewhere between complete panic and a catatonic state. When that picture appears on the screen all the nervous tension will disappear from my body. If it does not appear, I’ll disappear.”
Instead, he waited, introducing members of the diplomatic corps and other dignitaries while ushers escorted people to their seats. State Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, former U.S. Sen. John Tunney and Caltech President Marvin Goldberger were among those seated in one row of dignitaries. Mayor Tom Bradley sat by himself, quietly waiting. Behind him, City Councilman Marvin Braude and his wife, Marjorie, a psychiatrist active with Physicians for Social Responsibility, sat in their velour sweat suits--they had ridden their bikes in from the Westside.
Hicks and the hushed crowd had something of that solemn, then silly, mix of emotions that overtakes a wedding crowd moments before the ceremony begins. They were gathered at that early hour, however, for something far more unusual.
The 1985 Beyond War Award was being presented to the Five Continent Peace Initiative, a call for an end to the arms race and threat of a nuclear holocaust that was issued by six heads of state at a meeting in New Delhi last January.
The Beyond War Foundation aimed to present the award to all six of those world leaders, each in his respective country, at the same time on two-way television so they could all see and hear each other, and so the world could look on.
It meant uniting President Miguel de la Madrid in Mexico, President Raul Alfonsin of Argentina, Prime Minister Olof Palme in Sweden, First President Julius Nyerere (now retired) in Tanzania, Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in Greece and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in India.
But the technology involved was not entirely without precedent for Beyond War. The Palo Alto-based educational foundation that works to convince people that war is obsolete and that life is interconnected, had given the Beyond War Award last year to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Last December, San Francisco and Moscow were linked by satellite--a “spacebridge” Beyond War called it--so that Dr. Bernard Lown of the United States and Dr. Yevgeny Chazov of the Soviet Union, IPPNW’s co-founders, could receive the award simultaneously. (The two men have recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.) Also, the 3-year-old, 8,000-member organization held a national meeting by satellite hook-up across the country last October.
Now Beyond War president Richard Rathbun was about to convene this, the world’s first live five-continent teleconference. It was being coordinated out of San Francisco where a crowd similar to the one in Los Angeles had gathered at the Masonic Temple.
In Los Angeles, the familiar, and now-reassuring, color bars of a test pattern appeared on the screen at the Scottish Rite Auditorium.
It was 8:30 a.m. And 10:30 a.m. in Mexico City; 1:30 p.m. in Buenos Aires; 5:30 p.m. in Stockholm; 6:30 p.m. in Dar es Salaam; 7:30 p.m. in Athens; and 10 p.m. in New Delhi.
Time to begin.
Richard Rathbun came on the screen from San Francisco. It was fragile, he warned, and by no means secure: “We’re not absolutely sure it’s going to happen until it’s over.”
And then there was Miguel de la Madrid being introduced in Mexico City. The picture faltered and disappeared once or twice--snow, bars and static--and returned. A slight echo when the announcers spoke from Argentina. On to Sweden.
It worked. And it was fragile. And almost everyone who had anything to say afterwards seemed to find that fragile success a most hopeful and appropriate symbol for the peace-seeking behind the enterprise.
Perhaps most moving of all, in terms of technology, was the broadcast from Tanzania. It was the first live television of any kind from that country, and indeed, the wavy, dark pictures, color fading in and out, and dark bars occasionally obliterating the images on the top of the screen were reminders of the early days of television.
Not so the announcer. Elli Mbotto was a smooth, relaxed moderator who seemed to have spent his life in front of the cameras. When the sound cut off from Sweden just as actress and moderator Bibi Andersson was introducing Olof Palme, the decision was made to go on to Tanzania and come back to Sweden when the sound was restored.
“I think we can take over and go back to Sweden,” a barely visible Mbotto announced reassuringly.
One by one the national leaders were presented with the citation and a facsimile of a Steuben Glass sculpture of the world and made their remarks, De la Madrid and Alfonsin in Spanish, the rest in English. After each one’s remarks, a cultural presentation from that country was offered, ranging from the Ballet Folklorico in Mexico City, to the Sanaa National Service choir and dance group in Tanzania, to Ravi Shankar playing the sitar in India.
All of them warned of a disaster and condemned the arms race as a perpetrator of poverty and as a deterrent to peace and development. De la Madrid spoke of its wastefulness during a time when most of humanity is enduring such economic crisis.
“Man has acquired an immense power of nature. It could free men from all constraints,” a very serious-looking Alfonsin said from Buenos Aires, while some excited members of a children’s choir looked on. Instead, he said, the power was being used to threaten all life on the planet. “This is not reasonable.”
In Dar es Salaam, as people in the studio cheered and made the trilling sound unique to that part of the world, Nyerere thanked the Beyond War Foundation “for enabling me to meet my colleagues in this most spectacular manner. This is a demonstration of what modern technology should be doing.”
No longer a head of state, he pledged to continue to work for peace as an individual and said both his country and the current regime shared his commitment to peace and justice.
“The whole purpose of this exercise,” he said of the initiative, “is to engage humanity in working for peace. Coming from the Third World, and coming from Africa, I want to say that peace is the product of justice. You cannot work for peace if you are not working for justice. We know that development and peace are linked together.”
In Athens while a children’s choir stood waiting to sing “The Ninth Ode to Freedom” in the dark on the steps of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis, Andreas Papandreou spoke of “the shame of the century, poverty and famine.” He referred to the hopes that the recent summit meeting in Geneva had raised, saying “The danger of nuclear annihilation is neither vague nor very far away,” and said that there were practical steps the rest of the world could take, citing the initiative’s call for a freeze on nuclear weapons testing and the resolve of nations to keep nuclear weapons off of their territories.
“The time has come,” he said to the cheers of the Beyond War workers watching in the United States, “for the creation of a world beyond war.”
Rajiv Gandhi was continuing work started by his mother, Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister of India who was assassinated, when he convened last January’s conference in New Delhi out of which came the initiative. It had been his first order of business after his election last December, moderator Saeed Naqvi said.
The initiative, sometimes called the Delhi Declaration, originated with the Parliamentarians for World Order, a group of some 600 elected national representatives from 31 countries. In 1983 they approached leaders of nations asking them to act as a third voice in the dialogue between the superpowers.
Indira Gandhi responded favorably to their delegation and offered to help. The process led to the meeting convened in January by her son.
The six leaders committed themselves to work to bring about an “agreement between the nuclear weapons states.”
The initiative says ". . . nuclear weapons states have applied traditional doctrines of war in a world where new weapons have made them obsolete. If the old doctrines are applied to the future, the holocaust will be inescapable sooner or later. But nuclear war can be prevented if our voices are joined in a universal defense of our right to live.”
Wearing the type of suit made famous by his grandfather, Jawaharial Nehru, India’s first prime minister, Gandhi said, “The format of the ceremony, the technological wonder of the spacebridge used to highlight the dangers of nuclear (weapons), shows the marvels of modern science and the menace of its misuse.”
He too alluded to the specifics of the initiative, urging a 12-month moratorium of all nuclear testing, saying the nations of the initiative would monitor it.
“We have no illusions, but we do have hope,” he said, calling on everyone to “keep up the pressure of public opinion.”
Sound restored in Sweden, the final leader to receive his award was Olof Palme. He referred to this month’s Nobel Peace Prizes, and described the importance of the work the physicians were doing, warning that there would be no medical relief for those left on the “darkened frozen planet” that a nuclear war would bring.
He appealed directly to the superpowers on behalf of the non-nuclear nations--"most of the people on earth"--for a comprehensive test ban treaty: “If the problem is verification, we can handle the verification for you.”
The Adolf Fredriks Boys and Girls Choir sang Mozart’s Donas Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace). When it was over the audiences on the five continents, watching each other, stood, applauded and cheered.
Back in San Francisco Rathbun wrapped it up by informing the six leaders that the people of the United States had a cultural offering too. During the past four weeks pledges of support for the initiative had been circulated throughout the country by Beyond War members and 750,000 signatures had been gathered. The audience at the Masonic Temple stood and each person there waved a fistful of the pledges until the room was a sea of white paper. In Los Angeles, people cheered and hugged each other, some still in tears as the lights went up.
John Van de Kamp, who had come because, he said, his mother is active in Beyond War and he has seen their presentations, said “It was very moving. I’m very glad to have been here. I’m happy to see this organization succeed and broaden out.”
For Marvin Braude, “It was just overwhelming. I’m so glad I came. I have more compassion in my heart and hope for the future. . . . I thought I was a hardened elected official. I’m deeply touched. And I wept. I wept.”
Pat Weil was one of many exuberant and relieved Beyond War workers who moved through the lobby saying “We made it” to her friends. Illustrating by joining her fingers and pulling on them, she said, ‘We’ve all been trying to hold it together with our own will! Did you feel it?”