By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
I have vivid memories of the night of 13 December 1984. On 13 December 1984 Beyond War and the USSR State Committee for Television and Radio jointly presented “Spacebridge."
I was there.
A crisp clear night embraced San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium. Inside, excitement built among the more than 3,000 attending. Television would soon link us with Muscovites. We would see each other as we talked -Skype before Skype but on a mass scale.
The occasion was the first annual “Beyond War Award,” presented that night to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Bernard Lown, MD and his Soviet counterpart, Evguenni Chazov, MD accepted on behalf of the organization.
I belonged to Beyond War -- a movement birthed by Creative Initiative Foundation of Palo Alto (to which I also belonged). I had already volunteered over 20 hours per week for over a year by this time. Less than 500 couples launched Beyond War at Stanford Chapel. By 13 December 1984 the movement exceeded 20,000 committed participants.
No Frames No Boundaries was Beyond War's video statement of faith. Rusty Schweickart's experiences in space, narrated by the former astronaut, play a pivotal role in the development of the video's theme.
Beyond War as an organization may have differed somewhat from what you might expect. Many at the centre of the movement were Republican leaning businessmen and professionals. The influence of Stanford University was omnipresent. This was not a poor people’s movement. It was not a worker's movement. It was a Silicon Valley/ Bay Area movement.
They were a high powered lot. Creative Initiative's revered founder had been a Stanford Law School professor. One member was a physician engaged in the joint US-USSR space medicine programme. Another was the "R" in ROLM Corporation. A third had been a White House fellow, an entrepreneur who retired in his early 30's. A fourth had been counsel to the US Defense Department under President Ford.
The event did not disappoint.
Mel Swope, a well known Beyond War member, was Spacebridge's creative consultant. Dan Dippery, another member, directed audio visial. Dippery had been Vice-President of Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne.
Bill Burch of “Fame” fame directed the music. Etta James performed an original song, “Beyond War,” she composed for the occasion. William Goldstein contributed an original musical score. Goldstein had previously composed the “Celebration Overture” for the National Symphony Orchestra’s US Bicentennial celebration at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Paul Winter and Paul Halley performed Winter’s beloved hymn, “The Blue-Green Hills of Earth,” from his famed “Missa Gaia/Earth Mass.” The Gosteleradio Childrens Chorus of Moscow joined them, along with the San Francisco’s Boys Chorus.
But the most moving bit had to be the Spacebridge itself.
With Vladamir Posner hosting in Moscow and Craig Ritchey, a Beyond War member, hosting in San Francisco, technology facilitated a live chat between Soviets in Moscow and us in San Francisco. Compared to today's Skype it all now seems almost antique. In 1984 it was moon-landing novel.
I will never forget one face in the Moscow audience. The camera zoomed in as she listened. She struck me as strong and maybe just a little hard and angry. Then she spoke. It was more avalanche than conversation. She spoke movingly of her hopes and her fears. I later learned she was a member of the Politburo, but that evening she was a grandmother terrified for her grand children.
Not many years later the USSR collapsed.
President Reagan took credit for it, as did it seems every politician in office at the time. But all of us present 13 December 1984 knew it was the irrepressible human drive for a safe space for a free and ordinary life. It was no less than evolution in action. No less a light than Mikhail Gorbachev had, after all, adopted Beyond Warisms in his speeches.
Or did all of us?
Was it all about evolving a safe place for a free and ordinary life?
In the nearly 30 years since, I've come to wonder.
New World Order
The geo political landscape has not become a safe space for a free and ordinary life. It is dominated by unrest, war, torture, uncertainty and what former President George Bush, Sr dubbed “the New World Order.”
A plethora of free trade treaties based on neo-liberal free market ideas followed the collapse of the USSR. Originally “packaged” as bringing peace and raising the living standards of the developing world, they arguably have more likely brought down living standards in the West and the control of ordinary Western citizens over their lives. In these last 30 years, the gap between the wealthiest few and everyone else has grown dramatically.
A new breed of international entrepreneur transformed itself into a transnational elite. Banks and multi-nationals outgrew the power of nation states to regulate them. Indeed, the anonymous “markets” now tell those nation states what to do and how to do it with the media hanging on every word.
It is as if the collapse of the USSR served as starting gun for a race that led the 1% to unimaginable wealth -- and to a decline in the general prosperity of the 99 per cent. National and international policy now seems locked in service to the goals of a trans-national elite without national loyalties.
Sitting in Masonic Auditorium 13 December 1984 we dreamed that the time of nations had passed. We hoped the pressure of mutually assured destruction had led to an evolutionary turning point. The human species would transcend tribalism and violence. We would work out conflicts without violence. We would share in each other’s cultures without demanding the others’ capitulation to ours. Every man's culture would become our culture without our losing our own. We would build a brave new and generally prosperous and decent global society. Out of many, one.
But it hasn’t turned out that way, has it.
I have personally benefited from the neo-liberal dream. I still thrill to the Missa Gaia vision. I wouldn’t want to go back to the way it was, exactly, even if that was possible, which I doubt.
On the other hand, I've watched in horror as our dream turned into a nightmare race to the bottom for my children and grandchildren. I've recognized the safe place we made was not for our ordinary lives but for the golden lives of the 1 per cent, golden lives that came at a significant cost to everyone else, including our children and grandchildren.
In a forthcoming piece I'll examine the evidence for the economic decline of the West generally, the United Kingdom particularly, but for the moment put in suspense what you may think about such a proposition. The specifics aside, we all know we produce too many of us for too few resources. Global society cannot sustain what the West built and the East seeks.
And we know none of this has brought peace, general prosperity, rising living standards, or a safe place for a free and ordinary life.
This situation presents a problem to us all. It isn’t a Socialist problem or a Conservative problem. It is a problem for both ends of the political spectrum. It isn’t a Roman Catholic problem, a Muslim problem, a Jewish problem, a Protestant problem, a Hindu problem or a Buddhist problem. It isn’t a UK problem, a European problem or a US problem.
Nor is it only the problem of the 99% or the developed West.
It is a human problem and it isn’t a small problem. It must be faced and solved in our time if any kind of safe place for a free and ordinary life is to survive.
See also: Patricia H. Kushlis, Back to the Future: Revisiting the US Russian Dialog, WV April 23, 2010 on the Seattle-Leningrad Spacebridge with Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner.