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Peace Group Tries a 'Spacebridge' : Beyond War Uses 6-Nation TV Hookup for Award Rites

December 16, 1985|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

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.

Fragile Hookup

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.

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