So – I want to be an upstander. Let’s just say even I’m inspired to decide I’m going to stand up and be a citizen activist against genocide or Guantanamo. I’m going to be a public defender for poor people who don’t have legal defense. Have we actually prepared people to think in terms of what it’s like to choose among values? The tradeoffs that are actually inherent in pursuing one’s ideals? I know in the international context there are real tradeoffs between peace, on the one hand -- something synonymous with this town and this building -- and justice. The idea of pursuing the bad guys who might be responsible for massive war crimes, crimes against humanity. If you could get peace today in Sudan for instance where a terrible genocide has been underway for the past five years, but you had to give amnesties for the people responsible for the genocide, would you do it? How do you even think about that question?
Well, I happen to think that peace and justice actually do go more hand in hand than some; but in the short term, you actually really do have to ask actual questions about sequencing and what you value. Human rights and humanitarian values, again in my world. Before I started in this business I thought they were synonyms. I’m for human rights. I’m for humanitarian objectives. Well, it turns out if you go to Sudan and you feed people -- you’re responsible for keeping hundreds of thousands of people on life support mainly through US aid, US food and medical assistance -- and yet you know in order for the women in the refugee camps to heat the humanitarian aid the American government gives them, the women have to actually leave the camps in order to get firewood in order to cook the humanitarian aid, in order to feed their families; and the Janjaweed, the genocidal militia who are still active in Sudan, surround the camps. So you’re an aid worker and what you really want is for the Janjaweed to go away. You want them to be incapacitated. You want maybe for them to be arrested. Certainly you want them out of the lives of innocent civilians and yet if you are to feed people, in these camps, chances are that speaking out against the Sudanese government that is sponsoring the Janjaweed is going to be counterproductive, because you’re going to be thrown out of the camp. So what do you do there? The human rights imperative says you have to denounce the Janjaweed who are prowling around and who are systematically raping the women who go to fetch firewood in order to feed their families. That’s the human rights imperative. The humanitarian imperative says, “feed.” Feed, feed, feed. Help. Keep alive. Keep your own opinions on the larger political problems, the larger security dimensions, to yourself. In the interests of maintaining this life support.
So what about this complexity? You want to bring young Americans, you want to bring citizen Americans, into these issues. You want them to feel they have a role, all of us to have a role, How can we somehow engage people in this realm of grey areas? And remind people that in the 21st century there are no on/off switches. The time of moral absolutes, if it ever had its time, has passed.
And then fifth and in terms of the challenge of teaching history, embracing history, around the values so central to Portsmouth, what about the specific way of handling 21st century challenges? Unconventional challenges. We at the Kennedy School and many, many professors, many politicians, public personalities talk about global challenges – almost incessantly. Global Terrorism. Global Warming. Global Poverty. The Global Economy. The Global financial crisis. If it doesn’t have ‘global’ in front of it, almost – I don’t know -- it’s very 20th century. Everything is Global.
And yet, have we really thought through what it entails to actually embrace challenges that by definition can’t be met by a single country acting alone? Or even if we embrace the idea that you have to create political constituencies for particular policies that it is citizens that have to push democracies to do certain things – to look out for the global commons, to fight for policies to stop climate change. Even if we acknowledge that we have to be a citizen to be a part what happens then? Have we as citizens really grappled with the kinds of sacrifices or tradeoffs we might have to make with other countries as we think through what a global solution will actually mean? I think we’re doing much better job building consensus around the importance of the global than we are grappling with what the actual global management and cooperation will entail.
So, all of this is meant to be a provocative backdrop to a couple of stories that I’d like to tell you.