By Johan Galtung
On the table are some old clippings mainly from that remarkable paper; in my mind the International Herald Tribune, IHT, from 1857 and a part of my reality for about fifty years. Maybe an addiction? Hard to live without. The recent name change to International New York Times was understandable but too specific geographically, not global. The Honolulu papers, well located, are often more global.
Why homage? Not for the news coverage; usually the news “fit to print”. The news that do not contradict too openly the world views carried by US and Israeli foreign policies, even if this has improved considerably recently. Nor for the editorials, they are usually on the same line and also, sorry, frankly, often boring.
No, the homage is for the articles, essays even, at a very high level in what is after all a newspaper, a paper with news. Those essays often carry discourses that are wide ranging, way back into the past, far into the future. We are not talking about agree-disagree but about broadness, openness, even globally.
Take William Safire 30 September, 1991 on “the difference between federation and confederation hinging on the question of sovereignty”. As he points out, the former is “a single sovereign power”, the latter is “an association of sovereign states”. He also warns against filling the latter with content from the US South and the Civil War. Very useful distinction as the world is dealing with so many countries where colonial powers wrapped together very different nations in one unitary state and, when “troubles” show up, does not have enough alternatives. In fact, devolution-federation-confederation is a good range, and there are or could be in-betweens. But Washington seems to have only maps of states, never maps of nations, hanging on walls and minds, and is, hence, unprepared for “troubles”. Relax, there are alternatives, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. Even in the United States.
Thus, Scott Shane reports in the Honolulu Advertiser 19 June, 1988 from Moscow that the Party under Gorbachev supports union of Nagorno-Karabagh with Armenia–the Party in Azerbaijan indeed against. The problem has not been solved, but the article explores that state-nation contradiction in the Soviet Union. One day also in the USA?
The leading Soviet specialist on the USA, Georgi Arbatov of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, had an article 20 May, 1988, also in the Honolulu Advertiser: “US problems call for glasnost, perestroika“, meaning open debate giving voice to all, and structural change. He challenges “myths and illusions”, “American exceptionalism”. He reminds the readers of the “vivid symbol” of the need for basic change: the October 19, 1987 stock exchange crash. Of course, no change came–more crashes came, indeed–but the point is that the paper opened for this perspective. Most did not; some do.
The Honolulu Advertiser also featured “Singapore’s Lee: Decline of America” (Richard Reeve reporting from Singapore 29 November, 1989. “Now we are into a multi-polar world. America is still the biggest player, but not the dominant player that she was”. Lee’s focus was only on the economy, and the challenge from Western Europe and Japan–for which he also fears military growth–no word on the China Lee had given advice). American dominance cannot be restored, and Americans are not “emotionally ready for it”. William Safire of the NYT was in the audience and opined that “he is just wrong. American diversity and creativity will prevail”. Well, maybe violence rather.
Trends have proven Lee right even if wrong on Western Europe and Japan: he failed to see BRICS coming. But, again the same: the paper gives ample space to a forecast for which the USA was not prepared.
Back to IHT: Tamotsu Sengoku, 1 December, 1987, gives voice to a major Japanese problem, the manga, the comic strip as communication at the expense of depth, now getting worse; and this paper mentioned it.
In a series of impressive dispatches “Plutonium on the Seas” (4-17-28/29 November, 1992 and 6 January, 1993) the paper reported critically about the shipment from France to Japan of above a ton of plutonium for Japanese breeder reactors. We know what happened some twenty years later: Fukushima, just going on and on. Had some top decision-makers taken those dispatches seriously–well, that did not happen–the paper, however, did its job, impressively; not only reporting but analyzing the implications in detail.
But the paper also has space for the light shed on the future by distant history, like Barry James 30 July, 1990 on “The Dark Side of 1492; Spain’s Eviction of Jews”. Well, there were other dark sides, like what happened to indigenous South America in the process of becoming Latin America, and to the Moors when driven out. But many are not aware of the position of Jews, even as a vizier in a Muslim state, Granada (in 1027), nor that after the most brutal expulsion by Catholic kings it was in Muslim–post-1453 victory over the East Roman Empire–Istanbul, and Ottoman lands that the Jews were welcomed.
No doubt much of that old history is still alive in the deeper recesses of present reality. The Sephardic Jews are now welcomed back again to Spain, including to full citizenship. There are still links between Turkey and Jews in the sense of Israel. Maybe Israel’s future is in the past, not on collision course with Islam in general, not only Palestinians and not building on US evangelicals who may one day turn against them? The article opens for such reflections.
A remarkable paper, mobilizing talent from all over the world. The choice of articles quoted above is biased; but much more biased would be papers with no such discourses, perspectives, at all. One could wish for more eye-openers for broader ranges of alternatives, for more articles putting the finger on aching contradictions not readily admitted. Work on it, dear INYT–and thanks that you exist.
The original published at Transcend Media Service here.