Jimmy Carter has some profoundly wise words regarding war and the value of peace from this 2013 interview.
“The Vietnam War, I think, was an unnecessary war; the invasion of Iraq was an unnecessary war… We need to be more reluctant to go to war.” – Jimmy Carter (Former U.S. President, Peacemaker, and Humanitarian)
In 2013, journalist Mayumi Yoshinari with the Japanese literary magazine, Chuo-Koron, conducted an interview with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The extensive interview took place in Dublin, Ireland during a meeting of The Elders.
Also included in the piece are some interesting and perhaps not well-known facts about Mr. Carter. Here are a few:
During his ten-year service in the US Navy as an engineer and officer, Carter attended graduate school, majoring in reactor technology and nuclear physics.In 1952, he risked his life to dismantle a nuclear reactor when he was ordered to lead the clean up of a nuclear accident caused by melted fuel rods at Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories.
As US President from 1976 to 1980, Carter established an energy policy that cut US oil imports by half. (Reagan dismantled most of Carter’s policies.)
Aside from the eight people who were killed during a hostage rescue mission during the Iranian Revolution, no American or any other national was killed under the banner of an American war [during the Carter administration].
Considering that millions of people lost their lives in the wars before and after Carter’s presidency – the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan – the fact that the Carter administration did not wage war on any country makes it unique in American history.
The piece by Chou-Koron covers topics which include WikiLeaks, the Middle East, North Korea, Democracy, Religion, and the president’s last three days in office dealing with the Iranian Hostage Crisis. I hope some of Carter’s words below inspire many to read the full interview. It’s a long fascinating read. Here are just a few excerpts:
Chuo-Koron: Should we avoid war at any cost? Or should we be prepared to fight when there is a danger of losing national sovereignty?
Mr. Carter: Well, my prominent career was in the US Navy as a submarine officer. I was prepared to give my life if necessary – if my country went to war. But I felt that to have a strong defense and a willingness to use it if necessary was the best prohibition or obstacle to go into war. And so I think that it’s been one of the mistakes that the American government has made since the Second World War – that we have been involved almost constantly in military conflicts, most recently, obviously, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and earlier than that in Bosnia. I could name fifteen different places where we’ve been in armed conflict. Japan has not; China has not; Brazil has not; and so forth. But the US stays in military conflict or the threat of that.
So I believe that in almost every case, the wars have been avoidable without betraying the basic moral principles and privileges and well-being of the countries involved. I think we’ve had unnecessary wars. The Vietnam War, I think, was an unnecessary war; the invasion of Iraq was an unnecessary war; and so forth. So I think that we need to be more reluctant to go to war, and to go there only in desperate conditions when all avenues towards peace are exhausted, including good-faith discussions, either directly with our potential adversaries or through a trusted intermediary.
Chuo-Koron: It is often said: “The first casualty of war is truth.” (Hiram Warren Johnson) In the US, when we listen to news about a war, we know every American – to the last person – who died in the war. Yet, we don’t know how many were killed on the other side. Sometimes, the death toll may reach more than 100,000, and we still do not know about it. Don’t you think that there a lack of imagination here – an inability to acknowledge that the other side consists of human beings with equal human value and equally valuable stories to tell?
Mr. Carter: Yes. We dehumanize the people against whom we are fighting. We call all the Japanese “Japs”, we call the Germans “Huns”, we call the Italians “Wops”. And you know what we called the Vietnamese when we were at war with them: “Gook”, “Charlie”, etc. We tend to convince ourselves and to convince our fellow citizens that the people against whom we are fighting are no longer human – they’re not equal to us. This is contrary to basic moral principles. It’s contrary to my own religious beliefs. But it’s certainly something that lets us rationalize what we do.
Chuo-Koron: I’ve always wanted to ask, President Reagan and Vice President George Bush, at the time, secretly negotiated with Ayatollah Khomeini to delay the release of the Iranian hostages for 72 days to prevent your re-election. When did you find that out?
Mr. Carter: [Large smile] I never have been willing to comment about that. Well, I spent the last three days and nights as President… I never went to bed. I was negotiating all the details with Ayatollah Khomeini on how the hostages should be released. I had confiscated twelve billion dollars of Iranian money that I was holding.
At ten o’clock in the morning, when I was going out of office at noon, all the hostages were in an aeroplane ready to take off. But Ayatollah didn’t let it take off until five minutes after twelve o’clock when I was no longer President.
But I would say that when I learned from the Secret Service who came and whispered in my ear “the plane has taken off,” it was one of the happiest days – the happiest moments – of my life, to know that my hostages were free.
In 1982, President Carter and his former First Lady Rosalynn Carter founded the Carter Center, dedicated to advancing peace and health worldwide. The Carters still live in a simple one-story house built in 1961. An activist at 90, Carter has authored 28 books, including a new book in 2014 called, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.
Jimmy Carter: “We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. We never went to war.”
This interview is part of a Chuo-Koron series about “The Elders‘ wisdom.” The story originates on TheElders.org.
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