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Getting to Know the Other Side

By Craig K. Comstock
Section introduction in Citizen Summitry: Keeping the Peace When It Matters Too Much to be Left to Politicians (edited by Don Carlson and Craig K. Comstock, published by Tarcher/St. Martin’s Press)


For the leader of a superpower, summitry means briefly meeting his counterpart, surrounded by a circus of foreign policy aides, security agents, and reporters, amidst widespread hope that somehow the discussions will make war less likely. Four out of ten Americans confess to expecting a major world war within the next decade. It’s no wonder many people dream of a breakthrough during a fireside conversation, a walk in the woods, or a quiet dinner in an embassy. Sometimes leaders sign a meaningful agreement at the summit, yet the "spirit" of the occasion always seems to dissipate not long after the leaders fly home.


In general, summitry simply means going to the top. We ordinarily think of the top as being occupied by officeholders rather than by citizens. Since war is conducted by nations, it’s assumed that peace is likewise necessarily created "at the highest levels." All that citizens can do, according to this theory, is vote for the best available leaders and then acquiesce in what they do, unless their actions become flagrantly counterproductive.


A different perspective was offered, in striking terms, by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had commanded a great army and who, when he spoke, was President of the U.S. "I like to believe," he said in 1959, "that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than are governments." He may have liked to believe this because he knew from direct experience how awful wars are—how awful they were even prior to the nuclear age—and also how awkward governments have generally been in preventing them.


Willis Harman, President, the Institute of Noetic Sciences:
 "Summarizing the book, Craig Comstock says, 'Although we are now in serious danger, our civilization does not have to perish in a nuclear war. In fact, we can have a future much better than most of us usually allow ourselves to imagine. Peace can be kept. We don't have to wait for somebody else, such as a leader, to provide the initiative; everyone can take part. Getting there will be half the fun. It will involve enriching our lives through contact with what's now alien and foreign, through inner development, and through imagining exactly what we want and working back to how we get there. In a few words, that's the message of this book.' It's a message both welcome and effectively presented."

William E. Colby, former U.S. Director of Central Intelligence:
         "Cutting through the fog of complexity surrounding the ultimate danger of nuclear weapons, the authors have properly looked at the real solution-ordinary people reaching out to each other for understanding and a better alternative than catastrophe."

Amory Lovins, Director of Research, Rocky Mountain Institute:
         "Citizen Summitry is, for once, a peace book that's about peace, not war, about how to get there from here, not why it won't work. These essays are not just hopeful; they give us good reason to hope. More good sense and clear thinking like this will make survival-and more-politically feasible."

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