Richard Falk, USA, is a professor of international law at Princeton University where he has been a member of the faculty since 1961. He has recently served as a member of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans and as a participant in the project of the city of Valencia and UNESCO on the next millennium. His book “Law in an Emerging Global Village was published at the end of 1998.
A WORLD FOR PEOPLE
I had always enjoyed most those minutes with my eight-year-old daughter, Rabinda, and her younger brother, Eduardo, just after turning their lights out for the night. It was then that we practiced a kind of magic together as I would either read by flashlight to them a part of some wonderful tale drawn from the past or invent something that was strange and improbable in full daylight, yet somehow quite believable in that darkened space so full of trust and awe. I would never leave the room until both children were asleep, and I took pride in how quickly that happened.
And then one evening as I was prepared to continue with a long saga of a happy dragon family that I had been inventing day by day, Rabinda raised her head from a pillow and said these words, “Daddy, we love your stories, but tonight we have a serious question, and we will not be able to sleep until you give us an answer.” “Fine,” I replied hiding my disappointment because I had been especially pleased with my next installment on the dragons, “but what is it?” Eduardo put it best. “I am not sure, but it has to do with all the war and violence that we see every evening on TV.” Rabinda added quietly, “What we really wanted to know was whether it would be possible to have a peaceful world where there is no hunger and where rulers do not mistreat their own people.” I sighed rather too deeply,
And said as patiently as possible, “I will try, but tomorrow let’s get back to the dragons.”
I didn’t do a very good job that evening, and Rabinda and Eduardo fell quickly to sleep, I suspect out of boredom, and they never again raised such a question. Yet I was haunted by their question. It kept me awake for nights afterwards. I kept asking myself whether war was inevitable, whether we were destroying the carrying capacity of the planet, whether the governments around the world really needed to abuse their own citizens and pick fights with their neighbors, and whether the United Nations could be made somehow to live up to the promise of its Charter, particularly those famous opening words, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Discussing these concerns with friends at the university, I sensed their discomfort with such unconventional ideas that seemed to them either wildly unrealistic or dangerously radical. Their eyes more than their words gave me a feeling that raising such deep questions was futile and that I did not understand the limits of useful inquiry. But my restlessness remained. I retreated somewhat, posing the questions of my children only to myself, but still searching for better answers that would bring me a bit of relief, and which I could share later with Rabinda and Eduardo, and hopefully, this time keep them awake until I finished.
I decided that there were developments in the world that were helpful, that could be used in constructing a vision of a peaceful and just world that would live within its material means and would take steps to reduce to a minimum human suffering. I was inspired, first of all, by the great religious and spiritual figures in human history who had disclosed a way of life that challenged conventional wisdom. Jesus and the Buddha came most strongly to my mind, with their revolutionary ideas about right living, peace, and love, and their unconditional dedication to living the life that they advocated for others. And then I thought of others who followed such a path, of St. Francis, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi: A visionary path that had practical effects and the ability to change history.
Such inspirational figures enjoyed a devoted following, and bore witness to the central idea that what was desirable and necessary in human experience was also possible. There is nothing about human nature or warfare that makes it hopeless to work toward and believe in a world based on mutual respect and nonviolent security. At the same time, the obstacles are serious. The habits of violence go far back in human history, and seem widespread. These habits express deeply held ideas in society about s