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Seeds of Insurrection

March 15, 1987

Regarding "Conference Looks at Individual's Role in World Peace" by Kathleen Hendrix (March 4): Hendrix's dependably fine report on the recent conference at California Lutheran University (with the ill-advised and obfuscating title: "First Popular Assembly on Individual Responsibility and Arms Control; Individual Responsibility for International Crimes: From Terrorism to Torture") did more than lift the spirits of us "Grass Rooters"--and confirm my sense that seeds of insurrection are germinating everywhere on the plains. It captured in some remarkably succinct sentences the crux of common sense perceptions by us common folk that a revolutionary change in our national posture is demanded by both morality and prudence.

There was Prof. (George) Woetzel's notion of "holding individuals responsible for crimes involving international economics, including arms trade (and such) crimes against humanity as terrorism, torture, and military force" (through) "an international criminal court where individuals, in government and private life, could be held accountable." That expresses in a nutshell the growing conviction that it is not institutions that engage in what is euphemistically called "real politick," but the particular men and their coteries that wield the power of institutions.

Then there was Prof. (Richard) Falk's observation that, "People were seeing symbolic breaking of laws as a way of upholding international law and holding nations accountable to it. People were perceiving governments to be in violation of obligations to the citizens, and therefore perceiving civil disobedience as a necessity." Does not the memory of the Boston Tea Party ring in that dry reduction of obstreperousness to its critical essence?

But above all there was Abdulahai An'Naim, a vintage candidate for the Melting Pot, only a visitor now, but we need his like. An'Naim noted that ending such unquestionable abuses as terrorism and torture was not "usually a priority for a developing nation" (after all, they have such matters as starvation, infant mortality, rickets, and yaws to divert their attention) while their development and self-determination are ours. To which he might have added, their enjoyment of "freedom" and the Bills of Rights, to which we know, in our comfortable isolation from the stresses that obscure their need, they are imperatively entitled. He concluded with the amazingly simple suggestion that we consider a trade-off: "We need reciprocity: 'We'll contribute to your priorities if you contribute to ours.' "

How come it is not made clearer in the media that this is exactly what the Contradora Process in Central America, which founders these days from a criminal disparity between its statesmanship and the dominant Banana Republic presence of our government at every conference table in the region, is all about? Do we actually believe that our southern neighbors--or for that matter, any peoples anywhere-- want to countenance torture, and welcome tyranny? Atrocities, like other diseases, have their causes, and they are not just of the psyche. Is there any among us who cannot comprehend, if we try the difficult but mandatory exercise of imaging ourselves in their bare feet, that viruses grow not in healthy bodies politic but in those which constitute in effect a malignant medium of abject poverty, gross neglect, and a generally unsupportable life. Again we are called upon to consider what our military budget alone could do to disinfect the sickly Petri dish of the Third World.

GEORGE ERIC MASSEY

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy

California State Long Beach

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