In Turbulent Times, Words of Wisdom from a “Warrior for Peace”
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Disturbing news is coming almost every day from many parts of the world in which Pakistan is no exception. Stormy relations with neighbors on borders east and west of Pakistan are not only causing loss of life but also worries about what lies ahead. So in these turbulent times, one can find words of wisdom from those who sailed through the troubled and unchartered waters in the past.
“How 2014 is strikingly similar to 1914,” an interesting recent article authored by John McLaughlin, former CIA Deputy Director, reminds us about the perils confronting the world. McLaughlin outlines key factors - such as the tinderbox, the geopolitical punches between great powers, growth in trade and technology boom - that played a part, directly or indirectly, in the War to end all wars – more commonly known as World War I.
Patrick Cockburn’s June 29, 2014 article in British newspaper The Independent - “Iraq crisis: John Kerry's search for moderates is five years late” - shows the kind of challenges diplomacy faces these days. But, in the end, it is the diplomats to whom the world looks to for settling disputes and thorny issues.
And, in his article McLaughlin ominously quoted Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” So in these challenging times and in the hope of preventing history from repeating miserable events, it is useful to seek some pearls of wisdom in “Mr. Ambassador – Warrior for Peace,” an autobiographical account by Ambassador Edward J. Perkins.
Contrary to what critics claim – or assail – US diplomacy has been effective, provided it is backed up with the right people who are provided sufficient leeway to achieve the desired goals. A vivid example of effective US Diplomacy is in “Fire with Fire”,the introductory chapter, which starts with “Apartheid South Africa was on fire around me.”
When Ambassador Perkins was appointed as the first Black ambassador to South Africa by President Ronald Reagan, the decision was widely criticized. “They will eat him alive,” someone told the press. “The black South African revolutionaries disdained the United States as unsympathetic to their cause and considered me President Ronald Reagan’s `house nigger`,” he remembers.
Ambassador Perkins was not a potted plant but a courageous diplomat whose goal was to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. “Now the time had come to stand and declare myself and the new policy of the United States. I wanted to capture the attention of not only South Africa but the world… I chose the time and place for that declaration with great care,” he notes in this chapter with a riveting account of the Delmas Treason Trial – the longest in South African history lasting for several years. He attributed his success to the confidence President Reagan entrusted him with and asking him to report every few months. The absence of micromanaging gave him the freedom to chart his own course and helped him achieve the goals President Reagan desired.
The book describes the long journey of a young black man from very humble beginnings in the segregated South to being appointed as the UN Ambassador - with several high level appointments along the way. From these pages, one learns that the path to success, in life as in diplomacy, is paved with a disciplined effort to increase knowledge through education – formal as well as informal – and persistence.
Ambassador Perkins is a towering figure, both physically and intellectually. But, he is a gentle giant in person with whom lunch can be a very pleasant experience. The pages describing ‘The way of the Warrior’ in the chapter ‘Japan, Land of the Rising Sun,’ illuminate how as a young soldier stationed in Japan after World War II he developed the skills that methodically helped him achieve his ambitions later in life. He describes the books that he read during the formative time in his career that help him navigate unchartered waters.
Recognizing that success is often a team effort, Ambassador Perkins goes at great length in mentioning who and how different people took care in his efforts to achieve his ambitions. He provides photographs as well as names of these kind hearts, whom the readers might recognize strikingly familiar through their own life experiences.
“Mr. Ambassador – Warrior for Peace,” is a book that should be on the desk of every aspiring diplomat who seeks to achieve ambitions for success in their career, as it contains many words of wisdom from someone who has been there and done it. Reading a few pages every night can help bring inner peace as well. It might also help the leaders in not only Russia and Ukraine but also - close to home – India and Pakistan find a peaceful solution to the festering problems that have resulted in bloody conflicts.