Personal Background and Blog Introduction

16 Nov

The idea of doing a blog never before occurred to me, but having been given the opportunity, I find it a welcome challenge at the start of my ninth decade on the planet. I hope it will allow me to find at long last unity in diversity, exploring several distinct concerns that constitute my private and professional life, my academic identity and my engagement as a citizen, and fulfill an ambition to write more poems than in the recent past.  I hope, also, that it will stimulate enough of a response to frame dialogues over time on a variety of themes, and that I will not feel either overwhelmed or completely on my own while navigating through cyberspace.

I am not sure, of course, that the interest in this venture will extend much beyond those who are family or unconditionally loyal friends, or even in such close quarters. Because I have had strong involvement with a number of activist struggles over the years, my awareness has to some extent been shaped by happenings in public space. My scholarly life, which has always been in tandem with this activism, is not likely to be of much interest except possibly to others working on similar problems from congenial perspectives. Only time will tell.

I started my teaching career at the School of Law at Ohio State University way back in 1955 after completing a law degree. Although I had never contemplated becoming a university teacher, I was immediately drawn to what seemed at the time a privileged existence: autonomy and the freedom to pursue deep interests. Of course, there was also some anxiety as to whether I could satisfy the academic gatekeepers and gain tenure. I had never lived outside the East Coast, but I found life in Columbus, Ohio socially warm, intellectually stimulating, politically challenging, and quite enlightening about the friendly yet provincial culture of the Midwest.

Two turning points in my life are worth mentioning in this exercise of introducing myself to this as yet phantom blog audience. First, was an invitation out of the blue to visit Princeton for a year in 1961, with a serious prospect of a longer term faculty appointment if I did not mess up too much. Princeton had a chair in international law, which had remained vacant for some years due to the inability to find someone who had a law background yet could fit into a liberal arts university atmosphere. The gatekeepers at Princeton were lenient in those years, and I managed to be invited to stay on more or less indefinitely. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would become a faculty member at such a leading university. It was a trancelike experience for some years as I struggled to overcome a high school and early college identity as an underachiever who was lucky to scrape by.

The second turning point was political, and even more of a rupture with my past. I had gone through my college years under the influence of a very conservative father who loved the U.S. Navy and hated the New Deal; he had been a lawyer for some of the most prominent anti-Communists who were hostile to all forms of progressive thought, which were angrily labeled as ‘socialistic’ or ‘pink,’ with prominent adherents being cast either as Soviet agents or dupes of the world Communist movement. Gradually I liberated myself from such an ideological bondage, but it was my deepening opposition to the Vietnam War that served as my political coming of age. In the beginning, through extensive reading, I opposed the war on realist grounds that it was a repetition of the French failure in Indochina, a waste of lives and resources, and in the end would be a costly setback for the United States. I was also offended by the flagrant violations of international law, especially those associated with the extension of the war to North Vietnam in 1965. I wrote extensively in this vein, and considered myself a participant in the anti-war movement. But what transformed my political outlook was an invitation in June 1968 to view the bomb damage in the vicinity of Hanoi, and to meet the leaders of the North Vietnamese government. It was a deeply moving two weeks in which I came to understand the war from the perspective of the Vietnamese who were exposed day and night year after year to punishment from air, land, and sea, and lacked any capacity to retaliate against the United States. And I met many people while there and political figures who were humanly compelling, remarkably free from bitterness, and seemed genuinely to seek peace and even friendship with the United States and the American people, but at the same time were willing to pay any price in blood and suffering to attain national independence. I came back from Vietnam convinced that the flow of history was running against military interventions by the West, and that it was totally unacceptable for the United States to seek to fill the colonial shoes of France and the United Kingdom. From this time, I have never departed from an essentially critical view of American foreign policy regardless of the party in power, and have called attention to the best of my ability to a series of militarist policies that struck me as legally, morally, and politically deficient.

For complex reasons, after the Vietnam War I came to be increasingly concerned with the Israel/Palestine Conflict, and very opposed to the one sidedness of the American attempt to play the role of ‘honest broker’ in mediating the conflict and yet serve simultaneously as Israel’s most unconditional advocate. Unexpectedly in 2008 I was asked if I would agree to become Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine by the UN Human Rights Council if selected. Knowing of Israel’s public opposition to my appointment, and its influence in Washington, I assumed I would not be selected, but I was, and have taken on this contested unpaid position for a three year term. On December 14, 2008, while attempting to carry out a UN mission that involved visits to East Jerusalem, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip I was denied entry to Israel at Ben Gurion Airport, held in a detention cell overnight, and expelled the next day. As someone of Jewish identity this set of developments led me to reflect upon the relationship between ethnicity and politics in the context of Zionist efforts to stifle criticisms of official Israeli behavior by alleging anti-Semitism.  I received quite a bundle of hate mail, along with a few threats, but I have not altered my sense of the injustice of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the related feeling that associating a state in the 21st century with an exclusive religious/ethnic identity cannot be reconciled with human rights, particularly as is the case for Israel, there exists a significant Palestinian minority that endures an inherent structure of discrimination.

Throughout my professional life I have been concerned with devoting my teaching and writing to an understanding of world order and global justice. I have felt that nationalism and the state system, although performing some positive functions, were dangerously anachronistic given the realities of modern warfare, especially after the use of atomic bombs in the last days of World War II. In this work I have written several books, collaborated with scholars in many parts of the world, and tried to encourage a normative approach to international relations, bringing humanistic values to bear as analytical tools and envisioning better futures for humanity. I intend to continue to use this blog for further explorations in support of nonviolent geopolitics, but adding a special emphasis on the intensifying dangers of global warming as well as the sinister campaign to confuse public opinion about the mounting threats to human wellbeing.

Finally, I hope that this blog will over time become interactive, a way of engaging in digital communication about shared concerns and common interests.

It will be a continuing experiment with lots of questions to answer. Will anyone take note? Can I sustain my own effort to communicate regularly? Will the blog assume a predominantly political character? Or will it serve primarily as an outlet for mostly suppressed literary and philosophic interests? Will it come to please or embarrass relatives and friends?

For me in the end, undertaking a blog is a digital extension of my chosen identity as a ‘citizen pilgrim.’ To venture into cyberspace is to discover a new realm of engagement with a political community that seems without normal terrestrial boundaries. A genuine to an unknown, yet desired future, a time/space for renewal and exploration. To be a citizen pilgrim in the 21st century is to find creative ways to benefit from and enjoy the digital.
All I know is that for me at this moment I am about to dive into an unknown sea from a dizzying height!

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5 Responses to “Personal Background and Blog Introduction”

  1. ceylan November 23, 2010 at 3:03 am #

    Dearest Richard,

    Congratulations on your blog!

    I sincerely hope this blog will just be the beginning of a unifying medium within diversity for a better world which will last even after you are long gone :-)

    keep on tracking!

    ceylan

    • Georgianne E. Matthews November 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

      Sir: Dear Richard Falk:
      Your blog is so wonderful, so touching, so high minded, so from your brilliant mind and loving heart. You are a true beacon in this troubled world and I am sure many love you and are grateful for your noble efforts to help the oppressed and to bring peace on earth.

      If you were my student, I would give you a feather to put in your cap! And, the Pleasure Award…The pleasure of doing something very well.

      Thank you so much. I am going to send this around the world.
      Sincerely,
      Georgianne E. Matthews
      Pacific Grove, California

    • Richard Falk November 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

      Dear Ceylan,

      Welcome to blog world, and keep commenting on it. Soon, you will have no time for Mazi, but keep commenting Richard’s writings….

      Much love from Hilal….

  2. José Cullcay May 8, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    Dear Richard Falk:

    You are an awesome person, and your blog is amazing! I really appreciate your effort working for a better world. I am reading (and saving on my computer) every entry in this blog, not only for the information, but also because you are a great writer! I am so happy for this material, it is a gift that could help all the world. Thank you so much. Greetings from Ecuador!

    Sincerely,
    José Cullcay

    • Richard Falk May 8, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

      Thanks, Jose, for these appreciative words, which encourage me. Wishing you the best.

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