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UCI Libraries - The Quest for Peace Interviews: Theodore M. Hesburgh Interview Transcript
UCI Libraries: Quest for Peace

 

Perspectives on the Road to Peace

Peace in a Worldwide Community

Theodore M. Hesburgh, 1984

Theodore M. Hesburgh is President of the University of Notre Dame and an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He has been a member and chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, chairman of The Rockefeller Foundation, and trustee of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In addition to numerous honorary degrees he is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the American Liberties Medallion of the American Jewish Committee. His publications include Theology of Catholic Action, God and the World of Man, The Human Imperative, Higher Values in Higher Education. Father Hesburgh believes that of all the problems that demand priority today, the nuclear threat to humanity is, by all odds, the greatest. In the second part of our discussion, he focused his attention on solving the pressing problems of the world through increased global interdependence.

Whiteley: You've urged in preparing people for the 21st Century that our education be one that helps people think about the world as an interdependent entity, that perhaps one of the lessons, as you've written, we should get from the space age is not our close-up pictures of the moon, but our perception on the world from afar.

Hesburgh: That's right. Well, it's so obvious, and so many books you've noticed have on their covers - it's on the cover of one of my books - that beautiful picture of the world from the spaceship coming back from the moon. And it's a world that's blue and green and brown and flecked with clouds; it's like a gem in the darkness of outer space. And when you look at it from afar it's beautiful. It's far more beautiful than it is up close in the slums and the terribly depressed parts of the earth that I've seen anyway. On earth it's divided up into 160 odd different nations that are often at odds and fighting with each other, whereas from afar, if you could see the human species there, it's one species. We all share humanity, whatever our color, whatever our faith, whatever our education. We are all human beings, and if one suffers, all should suffer. Man is not an island as John Dunne said. But beyond that there is that enormous interdependence, there is a moral independence. If one person like a Sakharov suffers a lack of freedom, we ought to all suffer the lack of freedom. There's a continuity in our history and in our relation to each other, and it is: If a hundred million people not very far way are hungry, we ought to do something about it. We can, we're capable of it, but instead, we are caught up with the foolishness of fighting each other rather than helping each other.

The best picture I know of interdependence, which again comes from the space age, is to reduce humanity to five people, and put them aboard a spacecraft. Now, one of those persons would represent us, which is mostly Christian, white, western men and women. Now, I don't care whether the person aboard the spacecraft is a man or a woman, but let's say it's a human being representing our segment of the world, which represents roughly a fifth of humanity. Europe, North America, Canada, U.S., and to be economically honest, we really should put Japan in there too. We are - that proportion of the world which is roughly, say, one-fifth, 20% of humanity, and the other four represent the other 80% of humanity. Now, it would be preposterous if aboard that spaceship our person, or the person representing our section of the world had what we have right now on this Spaceship Earth, which is 80% of all the goodies. We've got 80% of the education, certainly 80% of the freedom, we've got 80% of the health, 80% of the medicine, 80% of the food, 80% of the housing, 80% of the transportation, 80% of the communication. We have all of the things that might be called 'the goodies' of civilization. We have 80% of them.

Whiteley: And our percentage is increasing.

Hesburgh: And increasing. Whereas, the other four humans aboard that spaceship have only 20% of what they need to breathe, what they need to have clean water, what they need to eat, what they need as facilities for a decent life. It would be incredible that, with the interdependence that exists aboard a spaceship, and which certainly exists in a broader sense aboard Spaceship Earth, one of the five crews has 80% of all the life-sustaining qualities, and the other four have to make do with 20%. And their numbers are increasing, and our numbers are decreasing, and our share is increasing, and their share is decreasing. Now that is not very just, and that's because we're in trouble in the world, because justice means that at least we get equal opportunity. And one would be an idiot to say that they have equal opportunity when so many of them can't even read or write, and we're doing nothing to help them lift themselves up and to help themselves in that area.

Whiteley: We have the capacity to destroy it all too.

Hesburgh: That's right. And if we destroy the world, they'll go down with us.

Whiteley: You've written that almost all the problems of the world today do not have national boundaries, and that this notion of interdependence is essentially a new Copernican revolution.

Hesburgh: It really is. It's vast, because take all the problems in the world today. There's nothing national about war and peace except nations fight each other. It's an international problem, war and peace. Clean air and clean water are international problems; they're not a national problem. The best example I know of that is the Chinese test of a rather dirty nuclear device in Northwestern China, far, far away, halfway around the world. But two weeks later, Strontium 90, which is a radioactive element was showing up in the milk of children in New Jersey, because it happened to rain over New Jersey when those clouds bearing the radioactive materials passed overhead. And the rain came and the grass picked up Strontium 90, and the cows ate the grass, and when the children drank the milk, the Strontium 90 reacts like calcium. It's taken up into the bones and it will radiate your bones.

Whiteley: You've indicated that in addressing this interdependent world's problems, we counter some of the basic principles of the past: ethnocentrism, nationalism, empires...rugged individualism, competition.

Hesburgh: They're all there...that's right. But today, health is international; you get an epidemic in India, it will very soon strike New York City, people getting off the airplanes at Kennedy. Environment is international because air and water circulate around the world. Terrorism is international. People have to be trained and armed somewhere and sent somewhere else. Certainly, war and peace are interdependent and international. Education today is international and interdependent. Certainly human development is international, because if we close our markets, people can't make any money to buy our goods by sending us their raw materials. Certainly, the whole system - the monetary system is interdependent today. If they have a crisis - someone sneezes in New York, they get pneumonia on the Tokyo Stock Exchange a few hours later. The way money runs up and down, according to something in the headlines of The Wall Street Journal, bang! - it throws all the money markets of the world in a tizzy. Everything you look at today that's important at all to humanity is interdependent and international.

Whiteley: And the flip side is, that if you try to deal with those problems nationally, you're doomed to failure.

Hesburgh: That's right. If we just think of ourselves, we're going to wind up with no markets. What people don't realize is that one out of every three acres that's in agriculture in America, is for an international market. That grain will be sold abroad; that one out of every six jobs in America is producing something for an international market, and the whole thing is totally interdependent. Now, you can cut off those markets, but you're also cutting out a third of our agriculture or a sixth of our manufacturing.

Whiteley: This comes to your message of hope for us all, however, that philosophically, and theologically, and in terms of every human imperative, there's a need to change. But we have the capacity to change.

Hesburgh: That's right, and that gets us back to education. We've got to get young people today thinking in a global, not just in a small context. I often have thought that at our university, one of the great things we do, we take youngsters from small towns and large towns, all over the world, and mix them together. And when they leave, they've got a friend in every corner of the United States, if they are at all gregarious, and most Americans are. And that somehow, their vision is enlarged from 'podunk' to USA. I would like to see their vision enlarged beyond that to that vision of Spaceship Earth, with one species aboard called humanity, that have to live together, like it or lump it. We're either going to wipe each other out or learn to live on one planet. That's all we've got. We can destroy it now; we never could before. We could pollute it to a limited extent; now we can pollute it monumentally, all over the world. We can pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land on which we have to grow our food. We can do it in a matter of a half-hour, all over the Northern Hemisphere, and soon enough, the Southern. So I would just simply say that we live in this kind of world, and as Einstein said, "the splitting of the atom changed everything." But let me end on a word of hope here, that there's an old scholastic adage "ex mollo bonum," from great evil, great good may come. And it may just be that with the possibility of destroying ourselves and our world, a possibility that mankind never had before, or humankind never had before, that faced with that, we may find, as I'm beginning to find, some very interesting things happen. I've had scientists get together recently at Vatican from all over the world, to meet under the aegis of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. You know, Russians, and Japanese, and Bulgarians, and Argentineans, and Scandinavians, and Poles, and people from both sides of the curtain, from every philosophical or religious background, meeting there writing a scientific statement on the nuclear threat to humanity, and then giving it to Holy Father, and out from there, to all of the other religious leaders on earth. That could not have happened a few years ago, but it has happened because the great evil brings out a great good of getting us together. And maybe, face-to-face with our extinction, we may wise up enough to start working together for a better world, for a better material ambiance, first of all, in which human dignity is possible. It's hard to have human dignity if you're an economic or physical slave, if you don't have enough to eat or drink, if you are cold when it's cold, and wet when it's raining, because you've got no shelter, when your children have no possible hope for an education, when you never see a doctor from the day you're born to the day you die, and there's no medicine around, even if there isn't a doctor. When all of your hopes have shriveled up because people are taking the good things of the earth, including intelligence and talent, as well as treasure, and spending them mostly on machines of destruction, when we might be spending them on education and health, and creating a better world. I remember sitting once in an airport in Latin America and seeing a military bomber take off with a great roar. And as it roared across the sky, it might have been a symbol of military power in that particular country, but I had just come from walking through the slums, and I thought that just the cost of that airplane and the fuel it was using, could rebuild two or three blocks of that slum very easily, maybe the whole slum, because those airplanes cost about 30 million dollars. And I can't begin to tell you how much fuel they use up in the course of a year, plus the sophisticated armaments, maintenance, training, a million dollars to train a pilot, etc. So, I have the hope that, faced with this great and overriding threat, all of us may somehow get together and pool our efforts to create a better world, and that's going to have to be done on a worldwide basis. It can't be done just in this country or in the Soviet Union.

Whiteley: In helping lead the way to a more interdependent view of the world, one question you've urged everybody to address is the question "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Hesburgh: That's right, and it's a good question that was asked in the first pages of the Bible. And Cain asked it of God, and I think the answer was pretty evident, because he became an outcast for killing his brother. He was not, in fact, his brother's keeper; he was his brother's killer. But that made him an outcast on the face of the earth. I don't think any of us today want to be outcasts, even from our position of affluence and power, we don't want to be outcasts. We'd rather be builders than destroyers. I think we'd all rather create than uncreate, if you will, or destroy creation. I think all of us would fundamentally rather live in peace than live in constant tension and war.

Part of the movement towards peace, I hope, which again, is bringing good out of evil of a present situation, is to convince people, especially young people, that you can't create peace unless you're at peace yourself, within your family, with your mother and father or your sisters and brothers, with your neighbors and your classmates, with the nation in which you live, that you're not torn apart on a lot of special interests, but you're committed to what we call the common good of everyone; with your global neighbors, if you will. Unless peace begins on that small microcosm of a person's own life, there's not much hope of spreading it out to China and Russia and Japan and South America and Africa. But if you're a person of peace, and you're dedicated to peace, and you're willing to pray for peace, and you're willing to sacrifice for peace, then I think we can cast out this devil that I call the nuclear threat to humanity.

Whiteley: You've called for a philosophical commitment, the recommitment to helping people achieve a higher level of human dignity.

Hesburgh: Well, it's simply because basically, the great accomplishment, I think, of this nation in our day, has been to rid ourselves of apartheid, which we shared since the time of slavery. We got rid of it in 1965 with The Civil Rights Act of 1965. We have tried in many ways, often failed in trying, to create better health conditions, better nutritional conditions, better educational conditions for our population, and for many parts of the world. Peace Corps is a classic example of that effort. We have, in a sense, put human dignity, and the achievement of human dignity, in a context where it's possible. It's impossible to have human dignity if you're not free or if you're not educated, if you can't read and write, if you can't earn a living, if you are in terribly chronic bad health, if you don't have food to eat, or shelter. All of these things tear down the possibility even, of human dignity. I think in our times we have recognized that, and philosophically, we've tried to create an ambiance or an environment in which human dignity is at least a possibility. Now you can have all of these things and still live in tyranny; that's a classic example of Russia. But at the same time, I would have to say that the world makes it very difficult today, in many, many, many parts of the world, because of their material degradation. It makes it very impossible to even think of human dignity. You can't walk through a slum, whether it be in Santiago, Chile, or whether it be in Panama, or whether it be in Rio, or whether it be in Lagos, or whether it be in Nairobi, or Bombay, or Calcutta, or Hong Kong. You can't walk through that kind of situation and even begin to think about human dignity, because the material situation is so far gone that human dignity is an impossibility. People live worse than farm animals live in this country. I think philosophically, we have seen that human dignity and freedom is not something that comes automatically. You've got to create an environment in which it's possible, freedom, of course, being the basic possibility. Whiteley: One part of that environment for you is an increased access to education. You pointed out that there are more people in the world that are illiterate today than there were twenty years ago, despite the marvelous new technologies of teaching.

Hesburgh: That's right. I've helped pioneer that in Brazil where they went into teaching by television and radio, and hopefully, in the long run, by satellite. And it's amazing that the people who got their lessons that way, outproduced the people who had access to a school. So, the new technology is - we're benefiting from it right now - but it's incredible. If we can put rather banal television programs all over the world in translation, we can certainly put good teaching all over the world in the language of the people who need to be taught.

Whiteley: In thinking about ways to achieve peace, you've identified the multi-national corporation and business as an important force. Some, as you've pointed out, of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, 42 are multi-national corporations. What role do you see business playing in achieving peace?

Hesburgh: Well, again, I tend to be optimistic and positive, I think, rather than negative and critical. Many people pillory the multi-national corporation, and there's no question some multi-national corporations have exploited poor countries. But I think of some things I've seen around the world where a multi-national corporation can be an engine for development in the following ways: They can determine where there's an economic possibility that is created within a country, like they have copper, for example (it needs to be mined), or some other basic material, or something can be produced there, whether it's plywood, or some other product, because they have forests. Anyway, the first thing a company can do, say, "It is possible for this product to be manufactured, or this material to be mined, and you can do it yourselves and make money doing it. On top of that, you can get profit from selling it. We also can not only teach you how to mine it and provide the capital, as needed, for the layout of equipment and mechanization, etc., but we will train your people to use this equipment. We will train managers, we will train sales people, and we will give you the lion's share of what is earned, because it's your material to begin with. We will take a fee for managing, and we'll take a fee for rounding up the capital, which you can't do because you don't have the credit that we have. We'll also help you develop markets, and we'll help you get the stuff there. We know a lot about transportation."

But the big thing that is done, I remember talking to a multi-national drug corporation, and I asked them "how many people they had working for them throughout the world." And they said "48,000." and I said "How many are Americans?" We have the idea that Americans do all these jobs overseas. and he said "less than 50." Which means that they have trained 47,950 people out of the 48,000 to do jobs, to have jobs, to get paid, and to learn how to run their own business in time, and that's that educational effort, plus the employment, plus the new hope that comes with that through housing and better medical care, and things that they could also provide, is a beacon of hope.

And so I'd say, rather than kick multi-nationals around, which is being done very thoroughly today in many quarters, some religious and some political, I'd rather say - make a challenge to them and say "See what you can do, which some companies are doing, to change a social condition where you're going to work overseas. See what you can do to train people and create new jobs, see what you can do to provide capital where it's desperately needed, see what you can do on the transfer of appropriate technology to countries that need it to develop some asset they have, be it forest land or minerals or whatever. But do it in a way that they are the first beneficiaries, that you have a normal profit, and you are doing business because you have to have a profit to do business. But at the same time, they are the ultimate beneficiaries, and they can, over time, learn to do it for themselves.

Whiteley: A final area that you've singled out for people to think differently about, as part of creating an interdependent world, is the notion of how we govern ourselves on a planetary basis.

Hesburgh: Yes, I think again, looking at the earth from afar, that wonderful jewel in the darkness of space, to think that that is divided up into countries as small as twenty, thirty thousand, and others as large as over a billion - I think of Gambia and China, for example - and to say they're equal actors on the stage of humanity politically on earth, is rather ridiculous. I think what we have to do is to find some way of seeing the world in larger chunks, whether it's regionally, or ethnically, or culturally, or whatever. But we have to find some way of getting a better approach to development than having 160 different nations have to have their own foreign service, and their own limousines, and their own military, and their own very complicated political situation. The whole thing is not a proper way to run a planet, I don't think.

I think we have to start thinking more in planetary terms. People get the willies when you say that because fundamentally, we're all members of a nation. It's no problem if you're a member of the United States, because you're a citizen of the richest nation on earth, but if you happen to be a citizen of Haiti, things are quite different, and your whole life would be enormously different. So somehow, we have to start thinking of large regions of the world that can help each other develop. Haiti is right next door to us. I mean you could take a rickety boat, and many people have done it, and come to our shores. The thing that I think is desperately needed today, is certainly to tell people they are a citizen of the nation in which they're born, be it American, or Russian, or French, or German, whatever. But at the same time, for all of us to be citizens of the world, and not to close our eyes to the misery around us, to the opportunities around us, to the quest for liberty that's around us. And if we don't do that we're going to find enormous problems or refugees who are simply going to pick up and say, "I don't want to live here anymore. I'm going to the United States where things are better."

Unless things are made better where people are, they're going to move to where they are better. That's been the history of humanity since mankind came on this earth; he's been a migrant, and he's migrated where there's better food to eat, or better crops, or better animals to hunt, or something of that sort. And that instinct is not going to stop unless we develop the whole world, as we're perfectly capable of doing, for about, I'd say, five or six percent of the present military budget of the world (not just ours), we could turn this world into a garden.

Whiteley: Father Hesburgh, thank you for sharing with us today your insights into the way to a more peaceful world.