Saturday, February 2, 2008

On Cora Weiss And ....

As I clicked through my daily blitz of email messages last Friday, one brought me up short. It said that the Hague Appeal for Peace was passing the "peace education" torch to another organization. It made it seem as if Cora Weiss, the primary mover in the HAP process, was retiring. However, a call to Cora quickly put me right. No. "There's too much to do for me to retire" she said. "I was just in Costa Rica, speaking at the University for Peace. I think there should be a crisis intervention team sent to Kenya, to work with faculty and students on conflict resolution and reconciliation. And I'm writing a book."

As it usually does with Cora, the conversation took unexpected turns. The book, she said, was about the "African airlift, the one that brought over Barack Obama's father to the United States." What airlift was that? The answer widened the background even more. "It was a vision that Tom M'boya had." [For those too young to remember, M'boya was one of the most dynamic of Africa's anti-colonial leaders, and after Jomo Kenyatta, the unquestioned star of Kenyan politics. He was assassinated in 1969.] "

M'boya wanted a generation of young Kenyan leaders educated here. The Brits were under pressure to leave Kenya, and they were threatening to pull out all the civil servants. So a committee was set up here to make the arrangements, and my husband was president of the American Committee on Africa, one of the groups that came together to form the African American Students Foundation (AASF) I was asked to be the Executive Director and a member of the Board. That's how I first got involved. One newspaper described me as a 'housewife from Bronx.' They thought I was black because the committee was dealing with Africa!"

The committee managed to get some 779 Kenyan students admitted to American colleges, but then the question arose of how to get them here. Jack Kennedy (then a senator), offered to have his family foundation pay for chartered aircraft, but Vice President Nixon had the State Department, which had initially denied the grant request, step in with an offer to pay for the program. The airlift group, AASF, refused the government money after the Kennedy Foundation made its offer. The first batch of students came in 1959, and the program went on till 1963. Of the original committee the only surviving members are Cora and Peter Weiss, Ted Kheel and Harry Belafonte. "I thought I'd better write it up before its entirely forgotten" Cora said.

Cora's speech at the University for Peace in Costa Rica also sums up some history worth remembering. Here are some extracts (with occasional light edits):

"It is an honor and privilege, actually, a thrill, to be in the country I’ve talked about for years. The country where army barracks were transformed into school rooms and where the world’s only University for Peace is located. I dream that you will lead the majority of nations to follow this example. “When we dream alone it is just a dream, but when we dream together it becomes reality.” Dom Helder Camara.

All over the United States today, people, the media, and the candidates for President are celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King, jr. Barack Obama reminds us of King´s phrase, “The fierce urgency of now”. And as I will be talking about the Hague Appeal for Peace and its call for the abolition of war, I remember Dr King´s words, “It is as possible and as urgent to put an end to war and violence between nations as it is to put an end to poverty and racial injustice.” .......

Historians agree that the 20th century was the most bloody in history. The wars and the weapons capped with the most lethal, the use of nuclear bombs, demonstrated the enormous damage that humanity is capable of committing in terms of human life, destruction to the earth, pollution of the atmosphere, and obscene cost in money that is stolen from human security. Of course it was also a remarkable century in so many ways.

The unlimited violence and misuse of national treasuries has resulted in oppression, gross violations of human rights, major contributions to climate change, ethnic cleansing, hatred to say nothing of death and lifelong wounds.

I fear that we have become seduced by war and violence. The media are seduced by violence. Military budgets are sacred cows immune from being reduced or having funds transferred to desperately needed human security.

The United Nations decided that the last decade of the last century was to host 10 summits, among them government meetings on housing, human rights, women, children food, population, environment, etc., and the last was to be on peace. But a certain country´s ambassador declared that there was summit fatigue, that summits were circuses and the UN was asked to drop the peace meeting.

Thus it was left to civil society, which had always been a guest at world summits, never the host, to give peace the last word of the most violent century. Three organizations that had demonstrated their ability to mobilize public opinion, The International Peace Bureau, (IPB) the Int´l Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, (IPPNW) and the Int´l Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) the first two of which are Nobel Peace laureates, came together with the World Federalist Movement and agreed to call a gathering on the 100th anniversary of the world´s first peace congress. .....

The world´s first peace conference met in 1899; it was called by the Tsar of Russia and the 19 year old Queen of the Netherlands. .... Bertha von Suttner, a leading figure for peace who wrote Die Waffen Neider, Lay Down Your Arms, and later became a secretary, housekeeper or girlfriend to Alfred Nobel and pèrsuaded him to turn the profits from his invention of TNT into a peace prize, was an important voice in convening that first conference, and helped persuade reluctant governments to attend. Indeed she was the only woman delegate.

The 1899 conference resulted in the convention for the pacific settlement of disputes; the Permanent Court of Arbitration; the Hague Convention the basis of humanitarian law, and a third agreement on maritime warfare. The conference called for a ban on “throwing projectiles from hot air balloons; use of asphyxiating gasses and dum dum bullets.” There were to be two more conferences one in 1907 and the third in 1915. The second meeting, with strong support from civil society from the US, had an agenda filled with items postponed from the first meeting. Two million women from 20 countries signed a petition in support of the conference hoping for disarmament measures as a result. These meetings led to the League of Nations and then the United Nations.

The third government conference (postponed because of the First World War), was convened in 1999 at The Hague and St Petersburg, but was attended by small numbers of low level government officials and had no public impact. The pressure from and voice of civil society was totally absent. Because of the huge success of the Hague Appeal for Peace conference which had taken place just a week before, the government organizers allowed a few of us, from civil society, to testify at that meeting.

The single most important impact of the Hague Appeal for Peace conference was the significant role that civil society does and must continue to play to be the conscience of the world. Bertha von Suttner, a role model for all, at the turn of the last century said, “Whatever is expressed by the peace movement is not a dream dreamt by people far removed from reality, it is, rather civilization´s drive to sustain itself.” And she said of the world´s first peace congress, “If public opinion did express itself with appropriate vigor, there is nothing the Congress would not try to do. Public opinion is the master, even the god, of the conference.”

Back to 1996, when we decided to give peace the last word of the 20th century and to call for the abolition of war and peace as a human right.

We called the conference for May 1999 and held preparatory meetings in every part of the world in the years leading up so that we could find international agreement on an Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century. We continued the three themes from the 1899 conference, a) Disarmament and Human Security, b) Prevention, Resolution and Transformation of Conflict, c) International Humanitarian and Human Rights Laws and Institutions and and added a fourth, Root Causes of War/Culture of Peace.

We planned on a gathering of 3,000 and quickly adjusted when 10,000 people showed up. This may have been largely due to President Clinton´s decision to ask NATO to bomb Serbia and Kosovo in response to ethnic cleansing. The reaction to that bombing nearly broke up our meeting. We received thousands of petitions from both sides asking for us to condemn the bombing and asking to support it. We decided to do neither, and instead set up two microphones in large rooms for people to express their views and organize. .......

The conference was unique because civil society called it, paid for it, and organized it, never done on such a scale before, but also because we invited governments and international non governmental organizations to participate. Traditionally at other summits, civil society ( NGO´s), are kept miles apart from government meetings under their own tents. Our meeting was democratic, huge, totally participatory, integrated with art, music, dance, theater, photography, cinema, panels, round tables, open discussion and only 2 plenary sessions, at the opening and the end, starring a mix of grassroots activists and the world´s leading moral authorities, Nobel Peace laureates and heads of state and foreign ministers. .............

What emerged was, The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century, a 50 point program for moving from a culture of violence to a culture of peace- now a UN document; (A/54/98) a dozen new programs or organizations dedicated to working on small arms, child soldiers, coordinating the campaign to ratify the Int´l Criminal Court, campaigns to abolish nuclear weapons and implement the land mine treaty and the Global Campaign for Peace Education.

Each issue was picked up by a participating organization and the Hague Appeal for Peace, which had been in existence since 1996 for the purpose of organizing this centennial conference, took on the peace education campaign. Why? Because peace does not come with our DNA, we must learn non violence, learn cooperation, learn to make peace and to sustain it. There are universities for war, and I think only the U Peace is exclusively for peace, while today more and more schools and universities are including peace and justice studies and peace education in their curriculum. But teacher education colleges are not yet catching on to the need to integrate peace education methodology into the preparation of educators for a new kind of education needed to meet today´s violence.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “More than an end to war we need an end to the beginning of war.” I believe we need peace education to prevent war, to train generations of children, youth, students, in alternatives to violence and understanding peoples needs and ways to meet them, and an appreciation of cultural differences.

H G Wells in 1921 said that “Human history becomes a race between education and catastrophe.” We were dedicated to education, peace education. And our first publication was a three volume book called Time to Abolish War: teaching for a culture of peace.

Before our conference we were laughed at for calling for the aboilition of war….never, we were told. But look at the institutions in history that have been abolished, or virtually abolished: slavery, colonialism, apartheid, the prohibition of women voting--- why not war?

We published two more books, Peace Lessons from Around the World and Peace and Disarmament Education based on our two year partnership with the United Nations Department for Disarmament Afairs where we worked with local teachers and their schools in Albania, Niger, Cambodia and Peru. These are all available on our web site,, for free.

The HAP has also produced an unusual document written by the Israeli and Palestinian
Co chairs of the GCPE, which is available for all and any negotiators of peace agreements reached from now on. It calls for every peace agreement written after violent conflict to include the integration of peace education and re examination of text books. .......

We could talk about how we go about abolishing the institution of war; about the desperate need to stop the theft of funds from human needs that goes instead to pay for militarism and wars which this year, not including the enormous costs of the Afghan and Iraq wars, came to 1.1 trillion dollars world wide; Iraq and Afghanistan will come to another aggregate cost of over $1trillion.we could talk about the new Peace Building Commission and about the need to run a parallel civilian peace brigade with every peacekeeping operation, and we could talk about the desperate need to implement SC Res 1325 on women peace and security so that equal numbers of good women are at every decision making table everywhere. We could talk about why there is a new generation of women dying to kill. Some are no longer victims of war but perpetrators of war. There are many urgent matters to discuss in this war weary world.

But I would like to raise a Fierce Urgency of Now issue.

I am wondering if U Peace would be interested in first trying to contact Kenyan education authorities and local organizations to see if your skills would be welcome. Then to figure out if you have the capacity to have a few educators and students go to Kenya to do short term crisis training for people who would be gathered by the Ministry and or local organizations or churches…and help them work out their own hatred and other feelings and then work on methods they could use to work with young people. These youngsters would then bring what they have learned into their homes with a domino effect.

This is a very short hand proposal. You have the imagination and experience to know what is probably needed and how it might be done. It shouldn't be too expensive to send 4-6 people and maintain them for a few weeks. "


Anonymous said...

Joy sent me this comment directly, but it's worth wider notice.

She sent me a link to a Guardian article of 10 January that also noted the Obama-Kennedy-Cora Weiss connection. Titled "The other Obama-Kennedy connection: How a Kenyan airlift that brought a young scholar named Obama to America in 1960 - where he met a wife and fathered a son - was saved by a young senator from Massachusetts," the article by Elana Schor in Washington, began:
"In his command of the US political stage over the past year, Barack Obama has inspired many a comparison to John F Kennedy. Both young senators brought a lofty message, an appealing young family and a movie-star aura to the presidential race. But the two men forged a less known link - before Obama was even born.

"The bond began with Kenyan labour leader Tom Mboya, an advocate for African nationalism who helped his country gain independence in 1963. In the late 1950s, Mboya was seeking support for a scholarship program that would send Kenyan students to US colleges - similar to other exchanges the US backed in developing nations during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Mboya appealed to the state department. When that trail went cold, he turned to then-senator Kennedy.

"Kennedy, who chaired the senate subcommittee on Africa, arranged a $100,000 grant through his family's foundation to help Mboya keep the program running.

"It was not a matter in which we sought to be involved," Kennedy said in an August 1960 senate speech. "Nevertheless, Mr Mboya came to see us and asked for help, when none of the other foundations could give it, when the federal government had turned it down quite precisely. We felt something ought to be done."

One of the first students airlifted to America was Barack Obama Sr, who married a white Kansas native named Ann Dunham during his US studies. Their son, born in 1961 and named for his father, has only once mentioned his Kennedy connection on the campaign trail.

"[T]he Kennedys decided: 'We're going to do an airlift,'" senator Obama said during a March speech in Selma, Alabama. "We're going to go to Africa and start bringing young Africans over to this country and give them scholarships to study so they can learn what a wonderful country America is. This young man named Barack Obama [Sr] got one of those tickets and came over to this country."

"Many of the airlifted students worked their way up to elite universities in America before returning to help Kenya adjust to independence, and Obama Sr was no exception. He left the family to take a Harvard scholarship when the young Obama was only 2 years old, beginning the future presidential candidate's remarkable personal journey to Indonesia, New York and Chicago and Capitol Hill.

"Obama is hailed in Kenya as one of the great results of the airlift," said Cora Weiss, who led the US group that helped Mboya organise the airlift. At a recent reception for alumni of the program, she recalled, one Kenyan journalist made a rousing toast to the student exchange that produced "the next president of the United States". Thanks to a bizarre twist in the airlift saga, Kennedy ended up discussing his Obama connection much more openly than Obama mentions the late president's role in his life."

Anonymous said...

This is a nice story that has been told over and over again regarding the senior Obama. However He was not part of the airlift that Cora Weiss is speaking of. The plane carrying the first load of students landed in New York in September 1959 and his name is not on the list of students who were. In June 1959 he was already established and enrolled in the University of Hawaii and interviewed by Shurei Hirozawa of the Honolulu Star Bulletin about his plans while he was there. His presence had nothing to do with the Kennedy family foundation either as it was over a year before JFK even heard of the Kenyan airlift plan. There was no link. Recently I also came across part of a letter which he wrote to Tom Mboya telling him that he had completed his BA in Hawaii in two years acheiving the highest of academic honors and also his MA in 1 year thereby cutting 2-3 years off what is the normal course. The letter is dated May 29, 1962 and was found in the papers of a William X Scheinman who was also very much involved in the African-American Students Foundation and is kept in a library in Los Angeles. His son at this time was only almost 10 months old not 2 years as everyone keeps repeating over and over and he was living with Stanley Ann who was going to university in Seattle Washington and was visited by a high school friend in the fall towards the end of the Seattle World's Fair after which she returned to Hawaii--months after the senior Obama had already departed. The letter to Mboya, unless he himself is lying to Mboya, also calls into question his having gone to Harvard since he was interviewed by a Honolulu paper in June 1962 before he has been reported to have gone there. This newspaper article is supposedly the one that the young Obama found in a box with his long-form birth certificate as was written in the book, Dreams from My Father. In actual fact noone knows just when the senior Obama arrived in the United States, how he supported himself and when he left. The reporter Elana Schor, as almost all of the media, evidently has not taken the time to do some real investigative journalism. All of this information is available on the web and has been for some time for any reporters who are willing to look for it and tell the truth rather than continuing the myth.