Historian seeks clear U.N. mandate for peace

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German-born Klaus Schlichtman is a peace historian. An academic who found his way late in life — a “seeker” in every sense of the word.

Since he lives in Hidaka, Saitama, we meet halfway, at the gates of Sophia University in Yotsuya, Tokyo, where he has often lectured. Uppermost on his mind is what is happening in the United Nations; but he is also packing for a research trip to India. This will place him geographically nearer any attack on Iraq, but the question lingers: Will it happen?

“What you see now is the U.N. trying very hard to look like a world government body,” he says. “But having no sovereignty — no mandate for peace — it’s limited in what it can achieve. Actually the Japanese peace Constitution’s Article 9 aims at world government.”

The proposition for world peace has been lying on the U.N.’s table for over 50 years, he goes on to explain.

“When a bill is normally proposed, what is the next democratic step? It needs to be seconded. And what comes before that? Debate. And then it will be voted on. Well, the subject of giving the U.N. real power has never been officially debated, because no country has ever proposed seconding the Japanese motion to abolish war.”

Born in Hamburg a year and three months before the end of World War II, dreams of conflict stopped only over a decade ago. “There was no trauma; my mother protected me. But it is true to say that war has been much on my mind since I was a teenager.” And he recalls writing a poem about Hiroshima, with a line about milk turning black.

He dropped out of high school wanting to be an artist, and not wanting to be drafted. Spent a year in Rome, playing music (jazz trombone) and painting. Having read about Buddhism while still at school, and deciding that the world was a better university than any red brick building, he set out in 1964 to travel to India overland. “A friend who joined me in Turkey got sick in Pakistan, so I went on alone.”

Reaching Varansi (Benarares), he donned the orange robes of Buddhist monks for six months. After Hinduism beckoned, he taught at the Sanscrit University in the city and began learning Chinese and Japanese. “I wish now I’d kept them up.” Later he headed for Nepal, where he tried to set up a graphic design studio. After that failed, he got involved in social work and community development in West Bengal.

Finally, after living in a Khali temple, “wandering like a madman,” Klaus set out on a pilgrimage — sewed skins together for a kayak, which he waxed and varnished, and paddled down the Ganges. “After that I spent two years traveling around India, mostly walking.”

Back in Germany in 1976, and after hearing about “world citizen” Gary Davis, who issues “world passports” and works for world government, Klaus became active in peace movements. Elected chairman of the German World Federalists organization in 1980, he attended international conferences (including some at the U.N.), and worked on putting together a democratic and practical “World Constitution.”

It was through this work and later membership of the Peace Historical Society that he earned the titles “peace scientist,” “historical peace researcher” and “peace historian.” “Search my name on the computer and you will find quite a few articles and papers.”

He was 41 when he decided to get academically serious (“I was a late bloomer,” he jokes), studying political science, history and international law at Kiel University. After finishing his master’s in 1990, he was awarded a scholarship by the Japanese-German Center Berlin (JDCB) to pursue his studies here.

His focus was the Japanese statesman and pacifist Kijuro Shidehara (1872-1951). “He was a major player in the international diplomatic arena in the 1920s, when Japan as a sovereign power was actively participating in efforts to accommodate what some perceive as official Western policy objectives, i.e., ending or abolishing war and realizing an effective world organization of peace.”

It was Shidehara, as prime minister from October 1945 to May 1946, who suggested the war-abolishing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution to Gen. Douglas MacArthur on Jan. 24, 1946. “Yet as a businessman, he was also concerned with not working against Japan’s interests. It was the means he employed that made all the difference.”

Klaus believes the Japanese government is being conscientious about resisting foreign pressure to guard the heart of Article 9.

“The central point — nonuse of force — remains intact. It has been eroded, but even the Yomiuri has a valid argument when it complains about Japan’s ‘one-nation pacifism.’ So, while Japan retains self-defense forces, somehow it has to be delivered from its ‘one-nation pacifist’ predicament by another nation ‘seconding’ the sovereignty-shattering Article 9 in order to rid the world of the institution of war.”

If another country — say Germany or some other nation having the courage to stand against U.S. President George W. Bush’s warmongering — would second this unique Japanese constitutional “motion,” the subject would be open for official debate. And an official debate at the U.N. on the issue of abolishing war would be very difficult for any country to oppose.

“If a sufficient number of countries were to follow suit,” he continues, “all nations, including the permanent members of the Security Council and eventually the U.S., could disarm.”

Of course, there would be many stumbling blocks. Right now power and wealth is in the hands of a few nations. Until there is a fairer distribution, there will be a deep-seated anger in many parts of the world that such inequalities exist: that the U.S., for example, with just 6 percent of the world’s population, lays claim to 50 percent of the world’s wealth.

“We missed the chance in the 1990s after the Berlin Wall fell — squandered all the peace dividends. Europe should go into the U.N. and say, ‘We back you, do it.’ We must give the U.N. genuine power. That’s what it’s there for. But we may need U.S. power to back up the process. If a European country legally empowers the U.N. by relinquishing part of its sovereignty like Japan has done, the U.S. will cooperate.”

E-mail: k-schlic@sophia.ac.jp