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Dr. Spock & The Good Guys & The Bad Guys

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By Rayarama Das Brahmachary

On Tuesday evening, October 8, Dr. Benjamin Spock received the Gandhi Peace Award at the Community Church of New York. This award is a far-distant poor relative of the Nobel Prize, which went this year to the less controversial figure of a French jurist. There was no big money gift at the Community Church, as is the case at the Oslo affair, though there was a nice medallion, the weight of which pleased Spock. Nor was there any press to speak of at the Gandhi Award, the New York Times didn’t do a “Man in the News” piece on Spock as it did on Rene Cassin, the world’s governments didn’t—and wouldn’t dare praise the American pediatrician on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly.

There are other differences, far deeper ones, between these two personalities and their approaches to peace; though, as we’ll see, the differences don’t go quite deep enough.

The eminence of M. Cassin stems essentially from his part in formulating the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. This document is such a marvel of compromise and euphemism that not one member of the General Assembly voted against it when it was adopted in 1948—the year Russia sealed her iron curtain across Eastern Europe. The Declaration deals with such glossy fancies as the universal right to life, liberty and security of person; freedom from arbitrary arrest; freedom of movement, residence, speech, press, assembly and worship. These were the human rights which M. Cassin and his associates felt could be accepted by all nations, religions and races unanimously. And they were—in theory. On paper, where nobody has to get serious.

The United Nations, naturally, has no power to enforce laws, much less standards of morality, upon its member states, but the Declaration was meant to focus the weight of world opinion on specific issues. In the words of one writer: “…when the Assembly of the United Nations gives its judgment, that judgment has a thundering authority as the voice of mankind.”

The “thundering authority” theory is the bedrock of the United Nations and its mission of peace today. It is a forum rather than an actual court of universal justice, and the notion that such a forum carries real power is the latest thing in opiates for the people. Of course, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam, the Middle East and quite a number of other conflicts—more than fifty in all since the Second World War ended—have shown us that forums don’t mean all that much. Men like Rene Cassin construct their wonderful compromises and legalisms, and try to speak to mankind in terms of fair play and honor, while the people who actually run things go on with their brutal business unaffected.

Dr. Spock on war and peace

Dr . Spock has a somewhat different attitude toward peace. He cares less and less, apparently, for what passes in the world as legality. In his speech accepting the Gandhi Award, he urged those present to become more aggressive in their efforts for peace. “We must stop wringing our hands and become active,” he declared. All those left of center tend, in his estimation, to be hypercritical of one another, while the rightists—the hawks—”keep their eyes right on the ball,” which means power and money.

Dr. Spock entered the war-and-peace business officially in 1962 when he joined the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. Before that, he had achieved great fame as a pediatrician. His book, “Baby and Child Care,” has sold over 20 million copies, and rivals The Bible as the all-time American bestseller. It has gone into twenty-six foreign language editions, and has made Spock the almost unquestioned authority on the subject of child-raising in the Western World, as well as much of the East.

Spock’s concern for children led him naturally to consider the world in which they have to live, and he has found the prospects none too bright. He has said: “I think it’s no longer sufficient to protect children from just the familiar physical diseases and the usual emotional stresses. Now the greatest danger to life—by far—is from nuclear disaster.”

Of his decision to engage actively in the peace movement, the Doctor has commented: “Kennedy said the United States had to resume testing to stay ahead. And obviously you can’t stop testing if you’re behind. It seemed clear that the buildup would continue until there was a nuclear war or a nuclear accident. It made me realize that there wouldn’t be peace and disarmament unless people demanded it.”

Demanding peace has now become Spock’s primary business. He has twice been arrested for his agitation, and in the more recent instance has been convicted of conspiracy to aid and abet U.S. draft resistors. As he has not scrupled to break the law, he has likewise not scrupled to work with any and everyone who will strive for peace. In replying to criticisms of his seeming lack of discrimination, he has said: “My usefulness to the peace movement is in recruiting people from the middle of the road … I’m willing to cooperate with anyone who’s halfway responsible and wants to end this terrible war.”

The “terrible war,” of course, is Vietnam, America’s most excruciating blunder in a long, long time, wherein the “military-industrial elite” sought to establish a base for American forces on communist China’s southern flank—and neglected to consider that the people who live in that region might object.

Dr. Spock said, however, in his speech at the Community Church, that Vietnam “is not an exception or an aberration. It’s only one example of the increasingly imperialistic tendency of the United States,” extending into the military, economic and industrial affairs of the world. Actually, he might quite as accurately have added that Vietnam represents only a single episode in the vast drama of exploitation and brutality which has marked as much of mankind’s history as modern researchers have been able to reveal.

Peace in any time

As mentioned above, there has been no real shortage of major violent conflicts since the close of World War Two, and we all know that there was no shortage of them before that. In other words, the world never lacks a war, even though nowadays we don’t call them by that name, ever, though it has become fashionable not to “declare war,” thus committing oneself to “victory”—and possibly annoying one’s people with a sense of insecurity that might make them question their leaders.

Dr. Spock, Senator Eugene McCarthy and quite a sizable number of others raised their voices against the Vietnam War in the U. S. recently, and as a result they toppled Lyndon Johnson from his pinnacle of power, forcing him to think the wiser of running in the 1968 election. And yet a measure of the futility of the peace movement’s endeavors can be witnessed in the fact that not one of the three serious presidential candidates is running on a peace platform. In fact, the most “dovish” of the three is the Vice-President, the very man most committed to defending the administration’s policy.

The peace movement—and by this I mean not only the present McCarthy- and Spock-led insurrection, but the cause of world peace itself, going back at least to the Hague Conferences which preceded the First World War, and following through the League of Nations which preceded the Second, right up to our own United Nations—the peace movement has proved itself a dismal failure. In fact, the more vocal and determined our peace advocates are, the more horrifying and all-inclusive grow the wars that punctuate their protestations, until today we await, half-expectantly, the moment when someone presses The Button, and our glittering civilization goes up in a white hot flash.

The reasons for this are not very apparent: The way men feel in their hearts is not a topic for newspaper headlines. But it is necessary to understand that nations cannot be peaceful if their individuals are belligerent, they cannot be sane if their people are mad, they cannot be stable if their inhabitants are disgusted and discontent. The international situation that confronts us today is only a magnification of the interpersonal situation of exploitation, deception and malice which forms the daily atmosphere of our lives. And so long as the more basic problem remains unsolved, the larger one will not be solved either.

Dr. Spock has reached much the same conclusion, as he pointed out in a recent interview. ‘It seems to me,” he said, “that I see that the problems of America and the problems of the world are moral problems.” And, further: “Man can’t live without a moral sense. He is a naturally religious person, or at least a believing person. When he becomes disenchanted or cynical he turns rotten very fast. He has to have moral, ethical and preferably religious beliefs.”

The trouble here, of course, is not morality itself. It’s not as though Lyndon Johnson and Dean Rusk have declared themselves against it, and have launched a policy of deliberate evil upon the world, or that they don’t believe in anything. Quite the contrary, they’re fully convinced, it seems clear, that theirs is the truly moral course, and the prosecution of Spock and numerous others in the courts is a natural corollary to such a concept of morality. And the conflict now existing between the hawks and the doves is not a matter of the moral vs. the amoral; it is a question of whose morality is correct.

This was made glaringly apparent in a Meet the Press interview last January, when Douglas Kiker of NBC News asked the Reverend Wm. Coffin, one of Spock’s co-defendants in the conspiracy case, whether he was “advocating” that young men turn in their draft cards in protest of the war. The Rev. Coffin replied: “…if you came to me as a student at Yale and said ‘Should I turn in my draft card’ the last thing I would ever tell you to do is turn in your draft card. That is such an eminently personal decision that you have to make it yourself.”

The point of most of the newsmen’s questions on that occasion, and the point which led to the conviction in court, the point Rev. Coffin seemed strangely to avoid, is whether men can decide for themselves what is moral and what is not. The legalist, the “Establishment,” says that men cannot, that society depends upon men agreeing among themselves as to what they may and may not do—and then sticking to the agreement. The peace activists, strangely enough, do not disagree with this view, with the exception of a small anarchist element. What the peace activists say, however, is that a small group—America’s “military-industrial elite”—have usurped the power of agreement from the people, and are forcing a war upon them which they do not desire, and that this “elite” is, therefore, damaging society.

To go on from here any further into the pros and cons, the moralities and amoralities of the particular Vietnam issue can only involve us in the sort of bickering which everyone else has so fruitlessly engaged in for so many long years. Instead, let’s step back a pace and examine the situation in a slightly different light. This is the light of spiritual knowledge, as it is conveyed to us not by our individual “consciences”—which I do not doubt both Johnson and Spock possess equally—but spiritual knowledge as it is found in the scriptural teachings of the world.

For what the Rev. Coffin failed to establish in his rather lame retorts to the Meet the Press panel was that morality is not created by men, whether in a mob or alone. In any dispute between two parties to which no compromise or solution can be found, there must be a resort to a third party—a higher, standard authority, who can judge the situation properly. And the authority in questions of morality can only be God, the Absolute Truth. To realize why this is so, why an ordinary handshake between the President and the pediatrician can’t solve things, to see how there could be an irrevocable right or wrong beyond the letter of the law, we must inquire into the nature of morality itself.

Public morality means the good of the people. And according to the standard Scriptures of the world, the real good, the very perfection of human life, lies in each being’s personal confrontation with the Godhead, known in the Vedic writings as Sri Krishna. Because Krishna is absolute—that is, because He is the supreme good for every single being at every single moment without limit in time or space—knowledge of Krishna is the only worthwhile goal of human life.

No government can, therefore, offer anything to its people which is beneficial—neither money nor power nor peace—if it fails to offer an approach to God. And any dissenting movement, regardless of the particular situation, must be judged by the same standard. Now, if God realization is the only true goal of human existence, then morality—the good of the people—indicates whatever way of life will bring them to this stage. And, except in terms of this pursuit of God realization, “morality” does not exist.

Further, the approach to God cannot be created at a convention of human minds; it has already been outlined by God Himself, as He has directly addressed mankind through The Holy Bible, The Koran, The Bhagavad Gita, and the other Scriptures of the world. Therefore what is necessary now, for Dr. Spock and the Rev. Coffin quite as surely as for President Johnson and his allies, is to look into the directions and teachings of the Scriptures. The solution to the problems of war and peace can be found there, because the single valid, irrevocable standard of morality can be found there: the guidance and revelation of God, Who declares Himself in The Gita to be the Friend and Maintainer of all creatures without exception or discrimination. Without reference to this standard of morality, neither the doves nor the hawks can actually claim morality as their own.

Institutional humanism

The first mantra of Sri Ishopanishad, one of the oldest of the Upanishads, states:

Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one must not accept other things, knowing well to Whom they belong.

This is a call for a change in consciousness, not a change of institutions. It states that one must recognize the supremacy of God in the practical terms of ownership, and that Krishna’s ownership extends to every being and object. Simply to pray to God to supply us with peace, after we’ve prayed for Him to supply us with plenty, is not the pure consciousness recommended in Sri Ishopanishad.

Similarly, in The Holy Bible, when asked what the first commandment of the Lord might be, Jesus Christ replied:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Love here is not an intonation or formality. It is advised to love God “with all thy heart,” no simple matter. But Jesus Christ taught that, with this as the first business of life, the pure love of other beings could be achieved.

Like the message of Sri Ishopanishad, this message of Lord Jesus implies the ownership of God over man. To love God completely is to give oneself into His hands completely, to serve Him and follow Him completely.

It will be unnecessary, I think, to labor the point. There is a real fulfillment for human beings, and that fulfillment lies in the realm of transcendental bliss, the ecstasy of love of God. It has nothing to do with material prosperity, with material peace or war. And to achieve this state of fulfillment, one must recognize—in the most concrete of terms, terms of property rights—that God is supreme . If Americans, if Vietnamese, if peace workers and military strategists alike can give up their false concepts of ownership, if the United Nations can stop trying to parcel out the world’s wealth as though it were the exclusive possession of mankind, then peace will prevail. Otherwise, the situation that presents itself is one of thieves trying to divide their spoils with equanimity. Being thieves in the first place, equanimity can never realistically be expected.

In this sense we must also look at the present labors of the peace movement as no more than karma—the reverse side of the coin of war. One man is trying to exploit Nature through battle, another through law, another through human consensus, another through fair play. Someone offers communism. Someone offers compassion. Someone offers freedom of the press. The problem, however, lies not in our systems, but in our directions. Until the human race gives up all its schemes for exploiting Nature, it will never be free of the evils of Nature. It will never be able to release itself from the dualities of pleasure and pain, affluence and poverty, war and peace, which are a part of Nature. And, furthermore, these schemes cannot be given up unless there is something better, something more desirable, to replace them. This most desirable of objects is love of God.

That the Rev. Coffin wastes his valuable time testing the constitutionality of worldly laws is therefore a commentary upon the pointlessness of the peace movement. That Dr. Spock stands at his side, trying to create in a nation’s institutions a kind of humanism which its people do not feel in their own hearts, with his clinical advocacy of “preferably religious” convictions, punctuates the problem. The secular atmosphere of the Community Church auditorium, with its images only of Gandhi and Schweitzer, with its hymnals that proclaim true worship to be the “celebration of life,” where God is only called upon to help us push forward our own affairs, perhaps completes the picture. It is a picture of good men chasing bad men, who are chasing good men all in circles, endlessly.

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