By Jimmy Carter, former U.S President and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Feb. 21, 2004, Nobel Peace Prize Forum
This is a wonderful forum that you have here, and I am deeply grateful to come back to St. Olaf to talk to you this afternoon as a recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. In reviewing the history of this forum, I noticed that the first such lecture was given by a very close friend of mine, Dr. Norman Borlaug, who still works with me and the Carter Center in 10 nations throughout Africa. In agriculture, he received his Nobel Peace Prize for the so-called Green Revolution in India and Pakistan, and he and I together, sponsored by a private Japanese foundation, still go to Africa. Rosie and I just got back, and I might point out that Dr. Borlaug is still very active. Next month he'll celebrate his 90 th birthday. I couldn't go through this speech without mentioning my good friend and a hero of mine, Dr. Norman Borlaug.
I have obviously received compliments in my life and good introductions like St. Olaf College President Chris Thomforde just gave me. It's always very important for any human being, particularly a speaker, to be brought down a level and not become too proud of oneself because of the sometimes-unwarranted accolades. One of those experiences, which Fritz Mondale and I shared, was the involuntary retirement we had from the White House because of the election of 1980. Even before that, in one of the most glorious days of my life, which some of you are old enough to remember, Fritz and I were inaugurated in January 1977 to be the leaders of this country. Rosie and I walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. We sat in a very cold place and watched the crowd and parade go by, and finally after the parade was all done-we were still freezing-we started walking toward the White House to take up residence there for the first time.
My family was with me, my mother and children and so forth, and as we walked toward the White House we were surrounded by the news media, with their television cameras and microphones, and they wanted to ask me a few questions. My press secretary Jodie Powell said, "Nobody speaks to the news media. The ceremonies are over." And my mother said, "Jodie, you can go to hell." I'm quoting her accurately. She said, "You might tell Jimmy what to do, but you don't tell me what to do." So immediately all the news media got around my mama, as you can well imagine, and stuck the microphones in her face. I was listening to her comments. The first question she got was, "Miss Lillian, aren't you proud of your son?" And my chest swelled up and Mama said, "Which one?" Sometimes, that's what we need to go through.
I'm going to be fairly brief with my talk because we want to have time to answer your questions. My speech is titled "Peace and Change." I think the title might well be: "The Changes That Will Come If We Have Peace." The Carter Center, where Rosie and I have now worked for more than 20 years, is dedicated to a wide range of projects. One of the things we do, primarily with a hundred of the most brilliant student interns in the country, is to analyze every conflict in the world every day. Our total list is about 110; in an average year about 70 of those conflicts break out into violence, and 30 of them are major wars. A major war by our definition is one within which more than a thousand soldiers have been killed on the battlefield. And in modern day war, unrestrained by the so-called Geneva Convention rules, for every soldier killed in a civil war-mostly in Africa, unfortunately-nine civilians perish from landmines, stray bullets, bombs, missiles and deliberate deprivation of food and shelter.
This is a tragedy. What can be done about it? One thing is to understand the causes of conflict. I wrote a book a few years ago called Talking Peace , where I tried to encapsulate my experience with trying to bring peace to others. I finally realized that the causes of conflict between, say, a husband and a wife, or a father and a son, or among students on a campus like St. Olaf, or a conflict between two nations or a civil war, are the same causes. It is an inability to understand one another. It is a derrogation, a condemnation of another group or person as inferior, not worthy to equally shared emotions and hopes and dreams for the future. And also quite often a reluctance to bring in a trusted mediator, and that deteriorates into those kinds of problems.
The Carter Center has recognized that peace around the world is also dependent upon people's right to basic freedom: a chance to choose one's own leaders, an environment that at least will let them gather firewood or catch a fish or grow a stalk of corn or wheat, and a modicum of education or health care. When those kind of basic human needs, which I call, generically, human rights, are not available, there is a deterioration in the heart and soul of a deprived and suffering and forgotten and ignored and despised person or group of people. This happens all too often, and the reason for it was explained in one brief comment that I made in the Nobel acceptance speech.
I said then that the greatest challenge that the world faces today is a growing chasm between rich people on earth and the poorest people on earth. At the beginning of the last century the ratios between the 10 richest countries and the 10 poorest countries was 10:1. By the year 1960 the ratio was 30:1. Now it's just past 75:1, which means that the average person in a rich country makes $75 more per day than the people in the poorest countries. So you see, it's growing rapidly. And the poverty is not just in foreign countries. The gamut of poverty is quite wide even between the poor people in this country and elsewhere. Earlier this week I gave a lecture at Emory University, where I've been a professor now for 22 years. The subject was on poverty in the United States. Seventeen percent of the people in our country fall below the poverty line, which is quite disturbing. I won't go into detail about the causes of that and how it adversely affects them, but the definition of poverty now is about $14,000 for a family of four. If you divide that annual income by 4 and then divide that by 365 days, you come up with a figure of about $13 per day-about half of which comes from wages, on average, and a fourth from welfare and a fourth from social security, $13.
But we have to remember, which Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland may have told you yesterday, that over half the world's people live on less than $2 a day, and 1.2 billion live on less than $1 per day. That is an easy statistic to throw out, but I'd like you for a moment, if it's possible, to think about how it would affect you. Suppose you had to support yourself on $1 a day. That includes shelter, food and clothing. As you can quickly see, there is nothing left over for an education, for health care, for self-respect or for hope. There is an enormous responsibility for our country and others to help with this problem, not only because it's a beneficent and generous thing to do, but it's also a good investment for the future and safety of our country.
Because as those people do become hopeless and in despair-particularly with modern day globalization, where information travels instantaneously even to the most remote villages-there is no longer a sense that I'm just like everybody else. There's a deep and growing sense that I'm different from the ones I hear about on my radio or see perhaps on video. And out of that comes a feeling of despair and a sense that racism and deliberate discrimination are involved. Now maybe my government is at stake; that's what causes all the civil wars. Or maybe there's an animosity toward the rich countries on earth, which leads to violence and quite often makes a receptive environment for terrorists to induce these people to take up arms against innocent people.
Our country is by far the richest country on earth. We've failed miserably. Not just our government, not just the Republican incumbents. Our country has failed. If you add together all of our gross national product, we give about one-tenth of 1 percent, one thousandth, to others. The average European country gives four times as much per capita. Norway gives 17 times as much as the United States. But there is no sense in our country of shame or a desire to improve or to be more benevolent, more caring or more knowledgeable about other people who are just in a different world from ours. We really don't care much about what happens to them. The Carter Center has programs now in 65 nations on earth, the poorest and most destitute, most forgotten and needy countries in the world. It's not an accident that of those 65, 35 are in Africa.
Rosie and I have been to more than 120 countries in all. Recently, I was in Bolivia. Bolivia is a land-locked little country in the heart of South America. As you know, they had a government elected in 2002. For the first time their indigenous people, the Indians who make up 65 percent of their population, got a place in Parliament. Those indigenous people for thousands of years have grown coca leaves, which they use for chewing. If you go to a hotel in Lapaz you immediately get coca tea to help overcome the high altitude and so forth. But the U.S. Embassy is forbidden to communicate in any way, directly or indirectly, with the leaders of the indigenous Indians. Well, in October the incumbent elected president-a good man, I think-was overthrown, and he is now living in exile, in Washington. But there is a sense throughout the State Department and throughout diplomacy of not wanting to reach out to people and to give them a boost if they disagree with American policy.
Last week, we were in Toko, in Ghana and in Mali. These countries have terrible illnesses, which the Carter Center is trying to address. One disease that we were looking at in all three countries was guinea worm . Guinea worm will be the second disease ever eradicated on the face of the earth. The first one was small pox, 25 years ago. They still have guinea worm ; we saw worms coming out of little children. In Northern Ghana, the first time Rosie and I ever saw this disease, I won't describe it in detail; it's kind of nauseating. But the people drank water out of a local water hole, which fills up during the rainiest season and quite often runs dry before the next rains. And guinea worm eggs breed in the water, which people imbibe, and within the next year the worm grows about a yard long. It makes a horrible sore and comes out of the body, and then the people, unsuspecting, in the past, have waded out in the watering hole to get more water or to ease the pain, and the guinea worm lays hundreds of thousands of eggs. That's a cycle. We went to a village in Ghana where about 500 people lived; two-thirds of the total population was lying right under the shade trees. Others couldn't crawl out of their huts to meet us because they had guinea worms . They're incapacitating. The adults can't go to the field to plant crops and to grow food, the children can't go to school, obviously.
I never will forget one woman; it's the only personal thing I will mention to you. A young beautiful woman who happened to be pregnant, her guinea worm was emerging from the nipple of her breast. And later, after we left, we discovered that she had 11 other worms coming out of her body. She was about the same age as our daughter, Amy. It was an emotional experience for Rosie and me just to try to imagine the difference in opportunities. We found among these people-in Ghana, in Toko, in Mali, in Haiti, in Gahanna, in Bolivia, in Nigeria, in Ethiopia, in Mozambique-that the people are just as intelligent. They are just as ambitious and just as hard working, and their family values are just as strong as mine. They just need to have partners with people like you and me, through the American government, yes, but individually as well.
We visited Mali, going to perhaps the most famous city in the world. Maybe not Paris, maybe not New York, but Timbuktu. I heard of Timbuktu before I heard of Paris, and we were there. Timbuktu used to have horrible guinea worm ; now it has zero guinea worm . And the village that we visited the first time, where we saw these people, we went back a year later after telling them what to do, and letting them do it, not us; no guinea worm . We started out with 3.5 million cases of this disease, in 23,000 villages; we've been to all the villages. Of the 31,000 cases left in the world, we know every one of them. That's more than a 99 percent reduction. And it took very little help. The Carter Center has been in the lead, working with Gro Brundtland and others at the World Health Organization, and UNICEF and the Peace Corps and others, to help resolve this problem.
Ninety-one percent of the people in Mali make less than $2 a day. Their infant mortality rate is 126 out of a thousand. While we were there, meeting with the leaders and others, the World Bank officials told us that of all the money available for the entire continent of Africa, from the World Bank and IMF and USAID, and Norway's government and so forth, that the average African nation is able to utilize only 20 percent because of the strings attached to foreign aid, so called. Because of the inability to have an adequate bureaucracy within those countries, to put in the proper application forms and to account for the funds that aren't expended so they can get some more, in Mali, for example, they utilize only 15 percent of the available funds.
We live in the greatest and most powerful country in the world, the only super power. No one can challenge us anymore: militarily or politically or economically or even culturally. But something in recent years seems to have been lost. And it's grievous as you travel around to a country like Bolivia or Ghana or Mali. In Ghana, for instance, 8.5 percent of the total population has HIV/AIDS. Last year the allotment of U.S. funds through the embassy was $1.5 million. This year, in 2004, despite all the glorious speeches made in Washington, that $1.5 million has been reduced to $250,000-just one-sixth as much as it was last year.
Peace is what this forum is about. Our country has become feared. Our military budget now, and Fritz and I kept it strong, is greater than the military budgets of all the other countries combined in the world. And the reputation for the United States is that we no longer put peace and conflict resolution and the alleviation of threats to people's safety in the forefront. We single out potential adversaries who might disagree with U.S. government policy and almost a first resort, it seems, is a military response. The completely unwarranted, almost unilateral war that we started in Iraq is a typical example of this. And it's not the only one. We brand people as the axis of evil, and it alienates them. Sometime their leaders obviously deserve condemnation, but it arouses within their people quite often-people who are suffering under a disputed leader-a sense of fear and intimidation and aggravation and even hatred of the United States.
I read in the paper this morning about the third case coming to the Supreme Court about whether we can lock up people for months and years, with no charges made against them, no access to their own families, no access to an attorney. This is unprecedented, in my opinion, in the history of a nation that has always been looked upon as the champion of human rights. Well, where is the problem? Obviously part of it is in the political arena, there's no doubt about that. It was when I was president and it is now. But the problem lies among the people of the United States. It's time for us to assess what our government is doing and what the policies of our government might be-and to shape our voices and our votes and our influences appropriately.
We still live in a great country, with great potential. But that potential can only be realized if we adhere to the broadest definition of human rights: the right of every person on earth to live in peace, the right of everyone on earth to be free. The right of everyone to have a democratic government, to have their environment and our environment protected, not destroyed. The right to have individual rights not be abused, and to alleviate suffering. That's a description, of the America that I love. Thank you.