Seven paths to peace

The Path of Conciliation

He will seek and develop common grounds for agreement with peoples of other lands.

(From the Outline of Policy in International Service.)

A SECRETARY of state for external affairs of Canada relayed to the Golden Anniversary convention of Rotary International this report of a visit to the Afghanistan frontier:

When we got there, we found a chain across the middle of the road. On one side of the chain was an Afghan sentry and on the other a Pakistan sentry. The Afghan sentry was armed to the teeth. I was not quite sure what would happen if I crossed the frontier. So, standing firmly on Pakistan territory, I held out my hand to the Afghan sentry and smiled. He rested his rifle on a rock, broke into a broad grin, and invited me to step over the chain. It did this and shook him warmly by the hand.

Rotary invites and assists all men to step over the chain of national prejudice, national pride, and shake each other warmly by the hand – so, may it grow and flourish and prosper in this great work.

Smiles and handshakes are universal passports to understanding. They relax tensions and create an atmosphere in which conciliation of disputes becomes possible. Of themselves, however, they do not resolve conflicts. Thinking persons ask themselves in desperate sincerity, how can nations committed to different systems of life and government be persuaded to fulfill their aspirations without recourse to violence?

A fable discloses the root of several obstacles to conciliation. It tells of an angel who appeared at a high level conference of great powers. The angel announced that Heaven was much distressed by their disagreements. “The trouble,” said the angel, “is that each of you can veto what the others want. I am instructed to grant one wish to each of you – a wish that the others cannot prevent being carried out.”

One representative responded quickly: “I wish that a tidal wave would engulf your whole country.”

“Well!” exclaimed the next diplomat, “if you want to play rough, I wish that a great plague would descend upon you and kill off all your people.”

There was a pause, and the celestial visitor turned to the third delegate. “All I want,” said he, mildly, “is a good cup of tea, but take care of the other two gentlemen first.”

Does not this fable reflect the basis on which nations large and small approach the process of conciliation? Without wishing the physical extermination of the other party, there is the tacit assumption that he must surrender his purposes and principles – otherwise, agreement is impossible. For all practical purposes this attitude assumes a world in which each nation can “go it alone,” if necessary, and overcome its difficulties with other nations simply by ignoring them.

He will seek common grounds of agreement with peoples of other lands. The expectation is not implied here that any nation will transform itself into the image of another. The objective is a cool and dispassionate examination of actual conditions, needs, and aspirations of the peoples concerned. Neither side is expected to concede its principles or purposes in the agreement; instead, each seeks confirmation of its goals in the benefits resulting from co-operations. This attitude assumes that other nations – far from being external entities which can be ignored – are people like ourselves ant that, because of this likeness, agreements, solutions, and settlements can be found or created which will be beneficial to all concerned.

Too idealistic? Not at all. History abounds with instances that testify to the realism of this approach. For centuries Moslems and Christians battled for supremacy. Neither group has abandoned its goal, but conflict has been replaced generally by a mutual forbearance in the pursuit of other interests. Russia and Britain engaged in a prolonged cold war throughout the nineteenth century, but the first and second world wars found them acting as allies. The belligerents of the second world war have become, in several cases, close friends.

The approach taken by belligerents has something to do with results, too. Two neighbors quarreled over the placement of a line fence. Finally, one of them, weary of bitter conflict, sold his property. After the sale, he explained the problem to the new owner. “You will have trouble with your neighbor,” he said. “He thinks the line fence should be five feet over on your land. Be prepared to go to court with him.”

The new owner moved in. Immediately, the neighbor approached him with fire in his eyes. “You will have to move that fence,” he warned. “It’s five feet too far on my land. I’ll take you to court to prove it.”

“That won’t be necessary,” the new owner said. “I’ve heard about your complaint, so you move the fence where you think it should go – and that will be fine with me.”

The neighbor wilted with unbelief and went away muttering incoherently. The fence was never moved.

Rotarians have demonstrated the validity of this attitude in numerous settings of tension. Perhaps the most remarkable was a boundary dispute between Ecuador and Peru which had gone unsettled for 150 years and had caused three wars. At a crucial moment Rotarians of both countries persuaded their governments to permit an attempt at conciliation. Three Rotarians appointed by the president of Rotary International met in a neutral country, and in four-and-a-half days they devised a solution which was later adopted by a conference of the inter-American organization.

War in the Chaco came to an end, partly as a result of efforts by Rotarians in the belligerent countries and in Chile . Fierce tensions on the borders of Uruguay and Brazil were relaxed through the influence of Rotarians of the two countries who lived near the frontier. More recently, Rotarians of Costa Rica and Nicaragua helped to prevent conflict between their countries by a campaign of friendly visits and correspondence with non-Rotarians.

The anguish produced by the partition of India and Pakistan will be long remembered. Hordes of homeless refugees roamed the lands. Anarchy threatened. Restoration of order was attributed largely to the actions of individuals – many of whom were Rotarians. As one of the few organizations where Hindus and Moslems met socially, Rotary clubs formed conciliation committees which “sent into the streets patrols consisting of leading Moslems and Hindus. They addressed meetings and `called upon the people to abate their inflammatory attitude and to resolve their common difficulties.”

Most Rotarians, however, do not have opportunities to follow the path of conciliation in such dramatic circumstance. They can, however, seek common grounds for agreement through personal acquaintance and discussion with other Rotarians – both with Rotarians in their own clubs and in clubs in distant places. In these ways any Rotarians can use Rotary facilities for exploring with men of good will the real needs and aspirations of their countrymen. Having discovered what interests are vital, the search for means of satisfying them without prejudice to the vital interests of other nations can be undertaken. Meanwhile, the fresh insights and the constructive quest for agreement can be shared with the people of the community.

It is apparent, then, that those who would follow the path of conciliation must possess imagination and ingenuity. One must have the temerity to imagine himself as a sort of foreign minister vested with responsibility for the international relations of his country, but free from the pressures which surround foreign ministers. The challenge is to consider every international problem on its merits, in all its aspects. Can you see a solution which you could recommend to your fellow citizens?

Actually, this projection of ourselves into such a role is not difficult. Everyone does it unconsciously as he reads his newspaper or views pictures of current events. It is much more difficult, however, to imagine all the different factors which affect any given situation or problem. Anyone who makes the most superficial study of international relations is appalled by their complexity. He can sympathize with the foreign minister who fumbles or hesitates in forming a policy when faced with such considerations as defense, economics, public sentiment, and alternative but mutually exclusive proposals. Positive action of any sort is sure to offend some person or group.

The complexity of international problems, however, has a fortunate side. Competing proposals tend to “cross-pollinate” each other and to generate new ideas. That all nations are caught between competing alternatives implies that any nation is capable of persuasion if alternatives are sufficiently explored and matched together. In short, international relations is not dealing with monolithic entities. Nations are people!

The world scope of rotary provides an opportunity for each Rotarian to make a significant contribution in this “exploring and matching” process. Within Rotary there is frankness which may be lacking in communications on the official level. In this respect the Rotarian who explores a problem with a Rotarian in another country may gain a more flexible impression of what that country really wants. At the same time he may be spared the disillusionment that occurs when verbal declarations are not followed by appropriate action. Instead of feeling ill-will, he will understand.

Another advantage derived from the complexity of international affairs is the ever=present possibility of technical solutions. We live in a technical age. Science can be blamed as the source of many of our troubles, but science never submits to a stalemate in its quest for answers. No group has been more resolute, for instance, in its attach upon the problem of international control of atomic energy than the scientists who produced the bomb.

Consider, for example, the case of water rights in the Punjab . The boundary line of partition cuts across the Indus river system, leaving most of the canals in Pakistan and the headwaters and the controlling canal works in India . Dispute over use of the waters has been one of the most serious problems dividing the two nations. Then, engineers came up with a scheme for using the wasted waters which might satisfy both countries. Said one of the engineers: “It’s the method of thinking that counts. To get people to look at a canal as a canal, a problem in engineering – and not as a political controversy – that is the important step.”

To seek and develop common grounds for agreement with peoples of other lands implies a willingness to project oneself into the often seemingly incomprehensible thought patterns of other nations and the resolution to explore all sorts of complicated technical solutions. The key word in this context is develop. Development implies effort and time. A number of international disputes have been under discussion for years without much progress, and public opinion, especially in the countries directly concerned, tends to become impatient. It has been led to expect perfect – and quick – solutions. Why?

Part of the answer to this question can be found in the system of mass communications upon which the public depends for most information and part of it can be answered by the method of negotiation itself.

Generally speaking, conference is the accepted pattern of negotiation – bringing the interested persons together around a table. Then, the scene begins to develop; behind each national delegate is a little knot of experts representing officials not present but actively interested in the negotiations; further back are rows of interested spectators drawn from all walks of life, by motives ranging from the earnest to the frivolous. Representatives of the press are present; television lights are glaring, and radio networks carry each syllable to the ends of the earth. Presto! The statesmen’s dream – “open diplomacy”.

This dream grew out of resentment against the cynical character of private negotiations. It was believed that honesty could be preserved by submitting transactions of nations to public view. Besides, the people had a right to know.

However, there were temptations in this picture which had not been foreseen. The diplomat turned delegate was often revealed as an eager propagandist, full of angry tirades and more or less subtle prevarications. If he shoed the slightest tendency to reach an understanding with an opponent, he risked being called an “appeaser” by some indignant editorialist or opposition politician. Under these circumstances only a statesman with the stature of a Churchill would dare to urge a return to the practice of secret diplomacy. Sir Winston declared on one occasion:

This conference should not be overhung by ponderous or rigid agenda or led into mazes or jungles of technical details zealously contested by hordes of experts and officials drawn up in a vast cumbrous array.

The conference should be confined to the smallest number of persons and powers possible. They should meet with a measure of informality and a still greater measure of privacy and seclusion.

It may well be that no hard and fast agreement would be reached but there might be a general feeling among those gathered together that they might do something better than tear the human race, including themselves, into bits.

Does this counsel present some hope of removing the impasse which now obstructs the path of conciliation? Proponents argue that the public would be freed from the confusion and uncertainty created by open diplomacy and consequent chronicling of a new crisis in every headline.

On the other hand, the public has a duty to be informed – a right to be present when its fate is being debated. Proponents of open diplomacy opine with equal vigor that pressure from constituents helps to raise the level of statesmanship, that in the long pull it is the one best hope for people-to-people diplomacy.

The daring person – and it must be clear that he is the daring one – who would follow the path of conciliation must also possess patience. Patience tempers conviction with the long breath and saving grace of common sense. It sustains the imagination in seeking to understand the other fellow’s point of view and in the examination of difficult technical problems. Above all, patience is needed to deal with objections of the public at delicate stages of negotiations against being betrayed – “sold down the river” – accepting anything less than perfect solutions.

The very nature of the quest for common grounds excludes the possibilities of perfect solutions. No unconditional surrender, no victory for one side or the other can be expected. Little is gained by taking votes if the effect is to isolate a minority and harden its resistance. The task of conciliation is to devise alternative solutions based on whatever areas of agreement may be discovered through sympathetic efforts to understand.

Many persons are inclined to regard this task as one for mechanics – a precision job like putting an automobile together. Better suited, perhaps, are the gifts of a gardener who knows that he can only cultivate the ground, or change the atmosphere, and thus encourage growth. He must conform to nature, pruning a little here and fertilizing a little there. Mechanics armed with blueprints could accomplish little in transforming a wilderness. But a patient gardener, conscious of his limitations, can produce results.

“One of the most impressive examples of the possibilities of international co-operation,” wrote a Rotarian, “is to be seen in one of those gardens wherein we find plants, shrubs and trees from all over the globe flourishing and flowering side by side in perfect harmony and beauty, to create between them that atmosphere wherein it is generally agreed that man comes nearest to his Maker.

“There is much wisdom to be learned in a garden, and the very beginning of that wisdom is a realization that all final results depend upon proper preparation of the soil. So it is with Rotary. The crop we envisage is world peace and stability. The seed to be sown – fellowship and friendship, understanding, good will, and good faith. The soil – the minds and thinking processes of individual Rotarians; and first in importance comes the preparation of the soil. …”