This issue marks the thirtieth anniversary of Peace Magazine, and also of Gorbachev’s ascension to power. It’s time to reflect on our history. Lawrence Wittner’s article reminds us of the astonishing eighties, when the planet seemed to be reversing course on its axis. Those of us who were then active often think of social change as fluctuating in decade-long cycles. Before the eighties, a previous wave had crested during the sixties, as René Wadlow notes. In those days the hippies among us trusted in flower power and love, expecting that casting white light at the Pentagon would banish its malevolence toward Vietnam.
Maybe it worked. In the seventies that war did end. But for the rest of the decade, activists abandoned social reform projects to explore “personal growth” possibilities. Then came the heady eighties and the end of the Cold War. In the nineties, idealism faded again. Former activists weakly demanded only incremental progress toward societal reform and disarmament, and barely achieved any at all. Nor, regrettably, has any new wave of activism begun to swell in the new century, though this new decade is already half over. The flower children of the sixties, having marched with our banners in the eighties, are now limping home, old, wounded and discouraged.
But don’t give up. A new generation of flower children will inevitably rise to meet the challenge. If you are one of them, we have learned lessons worth passing on to you. Here’s one: Waves are not inevitable. You don’t have to vacillate between idealism and realism, between spiritual enthusiasm and materialistic ladder-climbing, between visionary commitment and pragmatic lassitude. You need some of both all the time, though they seem incompatible. The challenge is to combine them, though there is no perfect blend. But peace work is soul work, not its opposite. Learn how to work fervently for your political goals, while tolerating your adversary. Kindness makes better politics than ideological zeal, and it feels better. But it’s not enough.
As John Feffer notes in his long interview, Barack Obama tries, as a politician must, to balance vision with pragmatism. He surely leans more toward the latter than did Martin Luther King, who always could see the promised land. We thank, yet also criticize, Obama, while awaiting another Martin Luther King, or (as Alexander Likhotal suggests in his article) another Mikhail Gorbachev, with the vision to inspire us. Only then will a new wave of the peace movement crest. But don’t wait; start your peace work today. It’s good for you.