Bertrand Russell was a famous mathematician, logician and philosopher. That was how I first learned of him. Even moreso, he was a peacemaker and anti-militarist. He was a conscientious objector during World War I and he demonstrated against Hitler, Stalin, nuclear weapons and myriad other social justice causes. Below is an excerpt from the address Russell gave the night before he passed away. It was printed in the New York Times on April 23, 1970, and it was prohetic in that it sounds like he is living today, speaking to us in the present.
As I help my dear friend Allan Solomonow weed through boxes full of papers spanning five decades of organizing for peace in the Middle East, I am struck by several things:
- Conflict resolution has been near at hand often, and I take hope in that. Sometimes it has staved off catastrophe with lasting positive impact. Of course, the near misses are excruciating in their failure too. Too often, with the worst of hypocrisy, we have been told not to trust others, either out of fear or someone else’s dihonesty. Most people genuinely want peaceful coexistence.
- People have been seeing what we see now for many years and speaking out. We’re not breaking new ground, and we have to keep from reinventing the wheel, rather we need to true our wheel, lube it’s hub, keep the tire inflated properly, and keep pedaling.
- Pointing out that the emperor has no clothes brings attacks of many kinds. As Martin Luther King put it in 1967 as he spoke out against the Vietnam war and the triple evils of racism, militarism and economic exploitation, breaking “the silence of the night…is often a vocation of agony.”
- Racists and peacemakers are bound by no ethnicity, religion or region. To presume that “our” side’s hands and hearts are all clean and the “other” is less, is ruinous folly.
I hope to share more portions of this piece by Russell and also many other gems from the Allan’s files. Here is a bit of Bertrand Russell’s final reflection, delivered as an address to the delegates at the International Conference of Parliamentarians on the Middle East Crisis meeting in Cairo on February 2, 1970, the day before he died.
“The latest phase of the undeclared war in the Middle East is based upon a profound miscalculation. The bombing raids deep into Egyptian territory will not persuade the civilian population to surrender, but will stiffen their resolve to resist. This is the lesson of all the aerial bombardment. The Vietnamese, who have endured years of American heavy bombing, have responded not by capitulation, but by shooting down more enemy aircraft. In 1940 my own felloo-countrymen resisted Hitler’s bombing raids with an unprecedented unity and determination. For this reason the present Israeli attacks will fail in their essential purpose, but at thesame time they must be condemned vigorously throughout the world.
“The development of the crisis in the Middle East is both dangerous and instructive. For mover 20 years Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to ‘reason’ and has suggested ‘negotiations.’ This is the traditional role of the imperial power, because it wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has taken already by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The aggression committed by Israel must be condemned not only because no state has the right to annex foreign territory, but because every expansion is also an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.”
to be continued…