Norwegian philosopher, peace advocate, and former vice chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Henrik Syse smiled and quipped jokes with his audience at the University of Mississippi this week, but his subsequent lecture proved somber.
“We live in a time of very serious challenges to peace,” he said. “We are living in a time of crisis, of great polarization.”
Recalling the horrific wars of the 20th century and the brutal regimes of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, he asked the question: “What stands between us and that nightmare scenario?”
His answer was values, dialogue, compromise, diplomacy. “We have certain values that we need to protect.” Then, “the mystery of dialogue. Look at Plato’s dialogues. In conversation, you have to pay attention to others.”
Giving respect to the human dignity of the other is key. “The mystery of the other person. If you know them, you don’t want to destroy them.”
Words of wisdom at a time when the world seems teetering toward what the old 1960s ballad sung by Barry McGuire and written by P.F. Sloan called the “Eve of Destruction”.
“If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave.”
A murderous attack by the Hamas terrorist group on Israeli citizens followed by what appears to be the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by Israeli armed forces, the bloody proxy war between USA-led NATO and Russia on the increasingly scorched earth of Ukraine, the dangerous saber-rattling by both Democrats and Republicans against China and Iran—not much dialogue, compromise, or diplomacy there.
“You cannot negotiate with evil,” GOP presidential candidate Tim Scott said during the most recent televised debate with fellow candidates. Essentially calling for war against Iran, Scott said, “You have to destroy it.”
Scott merely echoed what Republican U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina has been saying. When CNN asked him whether the U.S. and Israel should “bomb Iran even in the absence of direct evidence of their involvement” in the Hamas attack, Graham said, “Yeah.”
Syse’s answer? “Compromise is not a four-letter word. Most people are not evil. (Former Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev and (former U.S. President Ronald) Reagan saw you have to build bridges. They spoke with each other and publicly praised each other. … We must try to sit at the same table.”
Paraphrasing Pope Francis, Syse said, “One doesn’t come out of a crisis the same as one was before. We’re either better or worse.”
Yet look at the first point Syse made: the necessity of protecting values. According to the New York Times, abortion has become the major issue of the modern-day Democratic Party and was a key reason for victories in this week’s elections. What about the values of the Democratic Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt: workers’ rights, limits on unhinged capitalism, the positive role that government can play in people’s lives, help for the desperate and needy?
Today, Democratic President Joe Biden is a warmonger who ended the war in Afghanistan only to launch one in Ukraine, albeit with only Ukrainian and Russian lives at stake, no Americans. He and the other warmongers in his administration are already preparing for possible war against China primarily to prevent that nation from outdoing the USA as the world’s premier economic power. Biden gave Israel’s right-wing leader, Benhamin Netanyahu, carte blanche support when he launched his vengeful attack on not just Hamas but also the Palestinian people.
Republicans aren’t any better. A few have begun to be critical of the war in Ukraine, but they march in lockstep support for Israel’s reckless bombing of Gaza.
These times are reminiscent of what the great opera singer Fedor Chaliapin saw when he returned to his native Russia from war-torn Europe. He sensed that his homeland, caught between the senseless destruction of World War I and an impending revolution, stood at the brink of something overwhelming and that it would never be the same afterward.
“Chaliapin started to think that what was happening was nothing other than collective madness,” his biographer, Victor Borovsky, wrote. “In a world which has visibly run amok, stifling the voice of reason, calls for new sacrifices and for new victories grew increasingly vociferous.”
A major reason was political corruption and the performance of the media, as is the case today. “The widespread corruption and confusion, the blaring manifestos, the boastful claims of newspapers too revolting to soil your hands with, the reports of successes when in reality military debacle was complete.”
And in Chaliapin’s own words: “When war is declared, it is not the people who want it, but the leaders.”