Younger people find it strange that the Vietnam War has so much importance in the consciousness of those who are now more than 60 years old. During that war, however, many of us knew more about the geography of that small, distant, exotic country than that of our own.
Even stranger, it appears that that war – made by gigantic airplanes and bombs against tiny Asians who filed on bare feet through intricate subterranean labyrinths – was won in part by a 90-year-old Englishman, a philosopher named Bertrand Russell.
Beyond the Viet Cong’s formidable resistance, it was the universal consciousness created by Russell that woke up the world to the inhumanity of that unjust, barbarous war, where the barbarians were the wealthy, cultured, developed and technologically prepared Americans.
The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, Bertrand Russell created the Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal and, walking alongside the young, woke up the world to Vietnamese tragedy.
His tribunal had no legal power but did have an immense moral force capable of restraining the leaders of the great American power who had planes and bombs but no ethical basis for the war.
Forty years later, another, even older gentleman is encouraging the young around the world to express their indignation against another hateful war, the war of the bad economy that destroys nature, causes unemployment, unravels public services. This economy, above all, condemns the young to a life with no future, like that of the young American soldiers in Vietnam.
He is Stéphane Hessel. With a little book entitled Indignez-vous! – published in English as Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous! – he is awakening the young to the crimes against humanity committed by those responsible for the economy. Published in several different languages, the book gives young people in diverse corners of the world the incentive to occupy plazas and streets.
In order to transform himself into the present-day Russell, Hessel needs to take a step forward and convoke the world to create another tribunal. This time, to judge the crimes against humanity caused by the economic model, by the type of growth that constructs walls, excludes multitudes, separating those who have from those who do not have access to the modern goods and services.
It is an economic model that enslaves humanity, one part by the debt contracted to increase the consumption of superfluous goods, and the other by the unemployment that impedes the consumption of even the most essential consumer goods for a dignified survival.
The world has a Hague Tribunal that legally judges crimes against humanity: torture and genocide. But it has no tribunal that, even without legal power, would have the moral force to say that it is also a crime against humanity to destroy nature, treat the international financial system and the government finances irresponsibly, leave young people without employment and the elderly without pensions.
During the Vietnam War, Bertrand Russell’s targets were the American president, his secretaries of defense and the Military-Industrial Complex. Today, the targets would be those who govern the great powers, like the G-8 and the European Union, the presidents of the Central Banks, ministers, speculative and industrial bankers, big construction firms.
The Hessel Tribunal would be a collection of people like Hessel himself and others with the moral force of Gro Harlem Brundtland, of Norway; Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, India; Ricardo Lagos, Chile; Mário Soares, Portugal; Edgar Morin, France; Frederico Mayor, Spain; Amartya Sen, India; Domenico De Masi, Italy; Sebastião Salgado, Brazil; Kofi Annan, Ghana; Boutrous Boutros-Ghali, Egypt; Helen Clark, New Zealand; Desmond Tutu, South Africa; Ignacy Sachs, France, among other men and women of conscience who are worthy of respect, and who, without the strength of the state, without political power, and merely with moral credibility would say, “ENOUGH of the brutality of the economic system,” just as Russell said, “ENOUGH of the brutality of the Vietnam War.”
Bertrand Russell had neither the Internet nor the social networks at his disposal. He needed to walk in the streets. Russell did not have the opportunity of a summit like Rio + 20, when the civil society today, outside the halls of legal power, could launch the cry of the moral force of “Enough!”
The symbolism of creating the Hessel Tribunal would serve to judge the crimes against humanity committed in the name of immoral, inefficient, and existentially empty economic growth.
Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website at www.cristovam.org.br/portal2/, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SEN_CRISTOVAM in Portuguese and http://twitter.com/cbbrazilianview in English and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com).