by Gilles d'Aymery
(Swans - September 8, 2008) The seventh anniversary of the "new Pearl Harbor," in the terminology of American neoconservatives, which saw the mighty USA unleash two catastrophic and tragic wars whose consequences have been and will be disastrous, not only in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the U.S., but for the well being of the entire world, is a fitting albeit sad occasion to publish one of the most remarkable short books ever written in favor of peace, non-violence, and understanding among distinct cultures, Letters Against the War by the late distinguished Italian journalist and author Tiziano Terzani.
Originally published in Italian as Lettere Contro la Guerra by Longanesi in 2002, it contains a series of seven letters written by Terzani between September 14, 2001, and January 17, 2002, from various parts of the world (Italy, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India) plus an introduction written from his lair in the Himalayas, dedicated to his grandson, Novalis, so that he may choose peace. It was received with acclamation and became immensely popular in continental Europe.
Terzani succumbed to cancer on July 28, 2004. He was 65. In a short New York Times obituary dated August 6, 2004, Elizabeth Becker made a brief reference to the book, writing that it "was a best seller in Italy" -- which it certainly was, being listed among the 10 best sellers for 18 weeks -- but she failed to mention that this had not been the case in the U.S. and the U.K. for a single reason: Not one publisher in the respective two countries accepted the manuscript, not even the regular publishers of his many other books. Terzani had it translated by David Gibbons and offered the English version for free to any American or English publishers, to no avail -- out of sight, out of mind.
He eventually found an Indian publishing house, but the book never made it to the U.S. and the U.K. In order to reach out to American and British readers Terzani decided to publish it in Adobe Acrobat PDF format and post it on his Web site, from which anybody would be (and is) free to download the document. However, the site is in Italian and the file is hard to findů
But before going on with this train of thought, let's introduce the author, whose name may not be familiar to American readers though he was a real folk hero in Italy and a well-known writer in continental Europe, particularly in Germany.
Tiziano Terzani was born in 1938 in the Tuscan city of Florence in a modest working-class family. A model student, he enrolled at the prestigious Scuola Normale in Pisa where he studied law. He then attended the University of Leeds in the U.K. where he studied international law and English. Upon his return to his native Italy in the mid 1960s, he took a job with Olivetti, an electronic and equipment manufacturer. He was sent to Japan and discovered Asia, which profoundly changed his life. He was writing on the side for a socialist weekly, L'Astrolabia, and eventually decided to leave the corporate world. He spent two years in the U.S. to study Chinese at Columbia University before becoming a journalist and a writer. He first worked at Il Giorno di Milano. In 1971, he joined the German Hamburg-based and European largest weekly magazine Der Spiegel ("The Mirror") -- an association that lasted a span of 30 years, until 2001 -- as its Asian correspondent. He was sent to Singapore to cover the Vietnam War.
In his first book, Leopard Skin: Journal of a War Correspondent (1973), he wrote, "War is sad. Even sadder is that you get used to it." He first identified with the American grunts and their side of the narrative until he decided to travel to the other side and hear their own narrative. Thus began his life-long journey toward nonviolence and the understanding of other cultures, of the Other. He went on to live in Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok, and New Delhi as a Der Spiegel reporter. He also reported for Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica. (a few of his Letters Against the War were published in the Corriere.)
Slowly, the more he became attracted to Asian cultures and deepened his understanding of them, the more he felt disconnected with Western materialism and rejected the obscene consumerism in Europe and more particularly in the United States. He increasingly thought that Westerners had lost their soul. In the early 1990s he convinced Der Spiegel to let him cover the news for an entire year without using air travel. He traveled in the slow lane by boat, buses, trains, cars; an experience he recounted in A Fortune-Teller Told Me (1995), which was translated to English in 2001. In the wake of a two-week book tour in the U.S. in July 2001, he was shell-shocked by what he had observed. He later wrote,
I came back from that tour in a state of shock, with a frightful impression. I had seen an America that was arrogant, obtuse, completely turned in on itself, full of its own power and wealth, with a complete lack of interest in or understanding of the rest of the world. I'd been struck by their pervading sense of superiority, their conviction of being powerful and unique, and their belief that theirs was the definitive civilization - all without a hint of self-irony. (cf. Letters Against the War, "The wasted day.")
Having been diagnosed with cancer in 1997, Terzani slowed his journalistic career and eventually retired in 2001 to become a self-defined Kamikaze for Peace. In the last few years of his life, he split his time between a rustic cabin in the Himalayas surrounded by a forest of rhododendrons, far away from our materialistic civilization, and a house in Orsigna, a small town near Florence. Tiziano Terzani's humanness transpires in all of his writing. He was one of very few Westerners that had fully integrated the Taoist tradition of the yin and yang, the dualistic condition of the natural world (of which we are a part). He came to the deep understanding that the harmony of life must be found in the balance of the opposites and their reconciliation.
A wise man, a man of peace, unity and fraternity who realized that the survival of our planet depends on the recognition of the Other, the cooperation with and tolerance for those who are not us, and the recognition that war is the problem, not the solution to the challenges facing us all. War is death. Peace is life. Hatred is death. Love is life.
Back to Terzani's Web site and the fact that it is in Italian, I wish to express my gratitude to three individuals who have been instrumental in bringing this project to fruition: Guido Monte, Àlen Loreti, and Nicola Spacca. I don't recall the circumstances earlier this year, in April, that made me discover the book but upon reading it I was in total awe. Here was the most humane, sensitive, thoughtful, philosophical, profound, and lucid work I had ever read in regard to the events that have shaken the world ever since September 11, 2001. I felt it had to get a greater exposure. Consequently, I e-mailed Guido, my dear friend and fellow contributor, explaining what I had in mind and asking him to communicate in Italian with the folks at tizianoterzani.com. Guido contacted Àlen Loreti who responded favorably to my request and graciously authorized me to re-publish Letters in HTML format, so long as I kept the copyright information and the link to their site -- requests that I have scrupulously followed. However, I faced a technical hiccup. The PDF file was protected and I was unable to copy its content. In despair, I contacted Guido again and asked him to find out whether Àlen could help by sending me an unprotected document or a text file. He could not unfortunately, but Guido once again came to the rescue through a friend of his, Nicola Spacca, a software magician. Nicola managed to open the PDF file and save its content as a MS Word document. My heartfelt thanks go to the three of them.
I have organized the book in nine separate but linked documents, starting with the front cover, the prologue, and the Table of Contents; then each successive letter. The navigation from one document to the other is quite intuitive with appended links at the bottom of each one. Finally, besides keeping the look of the text as close as possible to that of the original, co-editor Jan Baughman and I decided to reproduce the text as is, even though we found a few minor errors.
I hope that in reading Letters Against the War you will be struck by its actuality and its contemporary resonance.
Guido Monte sent me this short e-mail last April:
I love very much Tiziano Terzani, and I wrote him when he was fighting against the terrible untruth of Oriana Fallaci in favor of hate and war; I told him my love for his pacifist vision.
He answered soon; he was ill, and at the end of his answer he concluded, in English: "Now I'm travelling to nowhere".