The most sobering commentary of last night was from the students whose parents had chastened, berated, and even outright abandoned them over their involvement in this event. For a community that prides itself on family values, I was ashamed of what these young men and women have had to go through to speak their conscience. If my children were ever doing a similar event and I disagreed with their politics, I would still be by their sides, cheering them on. I can expect a random knucklehead passing by to lob a thoughtless comment at these individuals, but if you are a parent who abandoned your own child over this, I find it utterly disgraceful. You should be so lucky to have sons and daughters as bright and committed as these.
The text of my speech follows.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
“Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.” – I stole that line from Kurt Vonnegut. I miss Kurt Vonnegut.
My family’s history is rooted in the great conflicts of the 20th century. I am fortunate that these conflicts did not prevent my family from having a history.
My grandfather signed up for World War I and was selected for sniper duty. No doubt due to the amount of time spent sniping deer in the hills of Bountiful, Utah. His entire regiment was called up to be shipped out to France but my grandfather fell ill with the flu. Because the scarlet fever was ravaging America and depleting troops that shipped out with the infection, his commanding officers decided he would stay on base in California until he was well. This short illness saved his life. Nearly all of his regiment was wiped out in France. Snipers primary amongst them.
My mother was ten years old when the Germans overran Denmark in a day. She would vividly recount to me as a child how the Nazi commanders rode horses into the gymnasium of her elementary school in a show of force only to have them defecate on the floorboards. She, like many of her generation in Europe, held a deep seated distrust of anything German for the rest of her life.
My father was 16 when he wanted to join the Navy to fight the Japanese menace in World War II. He pleaded with my grandmother to sign the permission documents. She ended up signing these documents through her tears. At 16 he must have felt immortal because he requested submarine duty, one of the most dangerous jobs in the Navy. Yet my father, who has had 20/20 vision for most of his life, failed the eye exam. He told me that the hand of God must have been on his shoulder at the time. I think he was wrong, for it most definitely was in front of his eyes. Much to the dismay of an eager, immortal 16-year-old, he was placed on a supply ship in the Pacific that never saw any action for the duration of the war.
Throughout most of my childhood, an atomic mushroom cloud floated over my head. The Russians had their finger on the button and Hollywood did a good job of painting the inevitable outcome to me on a regular basis. I caught the tail-end of the ridiculous “duck and cover” and bomb shelter campaigns while I was in kindergarten.
Although I believe these conflicts have little in common with the war we find ourselves in today, one thing remains the same. My grandfather and my parents were told by their governments that the people we were fighting were savage, inhumane animals who cared less for their own children than they cared for world domination. The enemy were not individuals but hive-minded automatons who would fight to the very last man.
Then some wonderful things happened to my family. My older brother was called on a mission to Japan. I struck up a lifelong friendship with a fellow computer geek in Germany. The cold war ended, the Soviet Union collapsed, and now I count many former unknown enemies as my greatest friends.
My brother eventually married a woman from Japan whom he met while studying at BYU. Her father witnessed the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast and lost a sister who was vaporized because she was standing on the train platform unlike his other sister who was standing below it. I had the good fortune to visit the Shimamoto family in Hiroshima and to be taken to the peace memorial that has been constructed on ground zero. Visit this hallowed ground at least once in your lifetime. It is the most profound, moving sight I have ever seen. It changed me forever and convinced me to run for political office. I have no doubt that a day at this memorial can motivate even the hardest heart to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons and for global peace.
Peace between the United States and Japan, Germany, and even former Soviet Union countries seems to be a natural fit now. It is incomprehensible that we would ever find reason to declare war on these former enemies, for we have trade, communication, and most importantly an understanding of people who were once as alien as another planet.
I lament when I read Plato stating, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Will Plato be interminably right until mankind blows out the candle of its existence? I have but one hope. That if Plato had foreseen the Internet, he wouldn’t have been so pessimistic. Communication and trade are the foundations of the Internet, but more importantly, communication and understanding are the foundations of peace.
Today, insurgents, radicals, extremists, the ignorant and the insane have turned war into an entrepreneurial sport. We can no more fight teenagers using bombs and cell-phones with multibillion-dollar-aircraft-carriers and the latest jets than we can kill mosquitoes with a shotgun. If the Iraq war has taught me anything it is that our traditional methods of nation-state defense are currently useless against committed individuals. The inability to grasp this realization is what dates many politicians as dinosaurs in a modern world.
It is said that if you fear death you have a life worth living. The reverse is also true, if your life is worthless you welcome death. This country must work with its allies to make life worth living for all on this planet, or we will face suicidal bombers and campus killers for the remainder of our existence.
Today, I urge you to respond to the entrepreneurs of war by being an entrepreneur of peace. Try an experiment. Go to Google and search for “Iranian Blogs”. You may be surprised by what you find. Reviews of American movies, love poems, cyclists going on European tours. Barely an anti-American rant in sight. Instead a great admiration for our country’s culture and, imagine this, a zest for the basic things in life outside politics.
Then try this, email an Iranian and strike up a conversation. Ask them about the weather. Then wonder if you’ve just been put on a government watch-list in the land of the free and home of the brave. I hate that feeling.
In addition to exporting peace, work on it here at home. Find some common ground with your fellow Americans who may disagree with you politically. Respond to rhetoric with reason. Be open to changing your own mind. The best way to get rid of your enemies is to make them your friends.
Service is an essential part of all our lives. Give back at every opportunity, not only when it is convenient. Through my involvement in Rotary I have learned it costs $2500 to bring clean water to a village, $20 to cure some forms of blindness and $5 for a mosquito net that prevents the most common killer in Africa, malaria. How many hearts and minds could this country win with these cheap, life saving implements rather than expensive machines of death bought on a payment plan? America should be a beacon for what is right with humanity, not a pulpit for ideology.
Congratulations on your graduation. You have met a great challenge and the best is yet to come. There is much work to be done, and I know you can do it. Every day think about peace. Every day think about service. Every day believe that people can coexist no matter our cultural differences. Every day question your political leaders no matter the party and do not fear to speak your mind. This gathering is more than a response. This gathering is the future.
“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul – ”We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
Peace on earth is the most virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy goal I can imagine. I ask you to share it with me.