One of the world’s most beloved peace workers, Professor Dietrich Fischer, died on October 17, 2015 near Basel, Switzerland. With his friend Johan Galtung, he was a co-founder of Transcend, a peace, development, and environment network, and during the last years of his life was the mainstay of the Galtung-Institut, a peace university led by Galtung.
Dietrich was born in Münsingen, Switzerland in 1941 and spent his childhood there. After studying mathematics, physics, astronomy, and computer science, he received his doctorate in computer science at New York University in 1976. For many years he taught at Pace University, but took early retirement to become the academic director of the European Peace Universiry in Stadtschlaining, Austria. When funding for that organization was cut, he and friends launched the World Peace Academy in Basel Switzerland, though that private initiative too eventually ran short of funds.
Throughout his adult life, Dietrich was dedicated to research and education about peace. He consulted for various UN agencies on matters of disarmament, development, and alternative security.
His books include Preventing War in the Nuclear Age (1984), Nonmilitary Aspects of Security: A Systems Approach (1993), Warfare and Welfare: Integrating Security Policy into Socio-Economic Policyv (with Nobel Laureate Jan Tinbergen, 1987), Winning Peace: Strategies and Ethics for a Nuclear-Free World (with Wilhelm Nolte and Jan Oberg, 1989), Conditions of Peace: An Inquiry (with Grace Boggs, et al., 1991), and Peaceful Conflict Transformation and Nonviolent Approaches to Security (with Johan Galtung, 1999).
Dietrich was a marvelous storyteller and famous for his jokes. He was an extraordinarily empathetic person, always available to listen, to be a sounding board. Never confrontational or quarrelsome, he always sought to further mutual learning rather than to best an opponent in an argument. With his excellent memory he made every interaction memorable and personal, and stayed in touch with his friends and students long after they had moved on in their lives.
Their lasting affection showed up after his death, when dozens of them exchanged messages of tribute, recalling past kindnesses of Dietrich. One African student recalled that Dietrich had paid his tuition fees, pretending that the money had been received from an “anonymous donor.” Another remembered being invited for a lengthy stay in Dietrich’s apartment, discovering only after several days that Dietrich had given him his own bedroom and was occupying a sleeping bag under his desk.
Such are the accolades that come at the end of a life well-lived, and from students well-nurtured. Rest in Peace, Dietrich.
Farah Jaffer is a member of the Peace Magazine editorial board.