Brains, Courage, Integrity
When at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us -
- John F Kennedy
Gandhi and Sakharov Set Us an Inspiring Example for the 21st Century
by Tom Gehrels
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) and Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (1921-1989) were men of intelligence combined with integrity and the courage of their convictions, even at great personal cost. They were kindred souls, remarkably alike in their use of these attributes for the sake of peaceful progress.
Their original professions were very different. Sakharov's first assignment was to amunitions factory during the Soviet Union's war against Germany, when it was found that he could solve problems, increasingly more difficult, which led to his assignment to the nuclear weapons programme. At first he believed this work was necessary for a balance of power, but gradually his conscience drove him to consider the related issues of human rights and survival for the whole world. Gandhi began with studying for a law degree in England, but later, as a lawyer in South Africa, he found that his views on independence and human rights led him to develop a successful new career.
Gandhi and Sakharov were equally bright and courageous people, setting themselves goals to achieve, even at the cost of repeated hunger strikes. Gandhi tried desperately but unsuccessfully to prevent the partition of colonial India into the separate states of India and Pakistan. However, he saved many lives during the frictions between Hindus and Muslims. Sakharov was able to exert a powerful influence in the Soviet Union and on Premier Khrushchev, because he had originally worked within their system. A dissident of lesser status would have simply "disappeared", but instead he was exiled to Gorky with his wife, and the news of his hunger strikes kept leaking out. The nearly terminal sufferings of both Gandhi and Sakharov made the deepest impression on their people and their leaders. Finally, Premier Gorbachev allowed Sakharov to return from Gorky to Moscow, at a critical time when the balance was swung towards democracy rather than towards disastrous international confrontation.
Gandhi at a spinning wheel during a demonstration in India June 1925
The intellects of both men and their acts of courage were guided by integrity. In Gandhi's opinion:
The possible consequences of their actions never prevented either man from doing what he perceived to be right. At the very beginning of his involvement with dissident issues, in 1966, Sakharov was asked to sign a statement against Stalin's rehabilitation, a dangerous subject at the time, but he writes simply: "I read his draft letter, found nothing objectionable in it, and added my signature."
However, Gandhi and Sakharov were not helpless martyrs: they both knew how to make the best political use of the sacrifices they made. Another character trait they shared was an openness of manner, combined with a certain detachment, an ability to compromise on the spot. Gandhi was always willing to negotiate:
And they were always willing to try again. Gandhi said:
Sakharov lived by an epigraph in Goethe's Faust:
We can learn a great deal about a person from the way he judges others. Sakharov provides an insight into his moral convictions when he describes one of his favourite professors as having "absolute intellectual integrity and courage, willingness to reexamine his ideas for the sake of truth, and readiness to take action."
Sakharov surrounded by the electorate at the Congress of the USSR People's deputies in May 1989
The legacy of the two pioneers may serve to guide humanity in the 21st century. Gandhi's warnings and hunger strikes protesting against ethnic cleansing are still important teachings today. Although Sakharov was weakened by his exile and did not live long enough to help guide the new Russia, he left us practical advice in his Memoirs and other writings. Thus, the lawyer and the engineer who fought for such similar ideals have left a literature to prepare us for future crises. They may also be role models for us as individuals, setting examples of personal integrity and common sense, and the courage to rise above adversity when it comes.
Tom Gehrels is in the Department of PlanetarySciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona USA.
Source: Nature Vol 404 23 March 2000 Millennium essay
One Person's Good Deeds Create Ripple Effect
Anne Hoshiko Akabori walks through the doors of a bank in downtown Sacramento to make an important deposit. The cheques she carries reflect an outpouring of gratitude and admiration for the family of a man many call the "Japanese Schindler." Many are wrapped in notes - some pensive, others the remnants of tragic family histories. A little girl in New York sends a dollar.
The notes are addressed to Hiroki Sugihara, whose late father, Chiune Sugihara, is perhaps one of the world's least-known great humanitarians. Not so in the international Jewish community, where his legacy is legendary. Following a small notice this spring in a Jewish publication saying that Chiune's oldest son was battling cancer in Sacramento and without insurance, the cheques flowed in - hundreds of them.
Akabori sees them as proof of the sheer power of goodness. It's a message she's determined to keep alive. Akabori was still in high school in Sacramento in the 1950s when she met Hiroki Sugihara at a social gathering. He was a college student from Japan; she helped him with his English. He mentioned that his father had been a diplomat in Eastern Europe, but characteristic Japanese humility kept him from revealing the real story behind the story.
Akabori was stunned when she read about it years later in Reader's Digest. The story told about the Japanese consul to Lithuania who, in 1940, dared defy his government's orders, following his conscience instead. As all other doors of escape closed to desperate European Jews during the Holocaust, Chiune Sugihara issued more than 6,000 visas from his post in Lithuania, saving Jewish refugees there from imprisonment and death at the hands of the Nazis.
For 29 days, Sugihara and his wife, Yukiko, endlessly wrote and signed exit visas by hand, racing against the clock. Even when forced to leave his post, Sugihara signed visas from the train window until it pulled out of the station. He handed off the visa stamp to a refugee, who, in turn, saved even more Jews trying to flee the country. More than 100,000 Jews now claim that they and their descendants are alive because of Sugihara's courage and compassion. Those saved by his heroics call themselves Sugihara Survivors.
The story went untold for years, catapulting to international attention when Sugihara Survivors started to speak out after the 1993 release of the Academy Award-winning movie, Schindler's List. Only after his death was Chiune Sugihara's family convinced to share their story.
Anne Akabori reconnected with Hiroki Sugihara in 1995 when he spoke in Sacramento. He ultimately asked Akabori, by then a Sacramento schoolteacher, to help translate his mother's memoir to English. She did and also wrote a children's book called Puppe's Story, which tells the Sugiharas' story through Hiroki's eyes at age 5.
The last seven years of Hiroki Sugihara's life were dedicated to establishing the Visas for Life Foundation in San Francisco. The organisation's goal is to perpetuate the legacy of his father's humanitarian deeds and to celebrate the lives of other heroic acts during the Holocaust. Akabori left her teaching career to help establish the foundation.
"The idea is to remember, not only people like Hitler," Akabori said, "but the people who did good, even at great personal risk. ... One person doing good can make a difference."
This spring, Sugihara was battling cancer and still trying to carry on the foundation's work from a small San Francisco apartment when his illness overwhelmed him. At their insistence, he moved into Akabori and her husband's South Land Park home. A Sacramento oncologist aware of the Sugihara family legacy took over his treatment.
When it became clear that cancer was winning, Akabori accompanied him back home to Tokyo. He died six days later, on June 12.
His work continues.
Source: "Opinions" 25 July 2001 Diana Griego Erwin of the Sacramento Bee: contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org © 2001 Nando Media and Scripps McClatchy Western Service
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