Reaching Out for the Public

Benjamin B. Ferencz

Recent discoveries of DNA, about which I know practically nothing, revealed that all humans, as well as beasts, are almost identical; yet it remains unclear why some people are willing, or eager, to kill others whose ideas, color, nationality, or religious persuasion may not be the same with their own. If we are to avoid planet earth becoming just another lifeless particle in an infinite cosmos, a way must be found to diminish the senseless slaughter that continues to ravage our common planetary home.

After A Common Sense Guide to World Peace was published in 1985, I received a strange phone call from a man who began by saying, “This is Ken Keyes calling from Coos Bay, Oregon, and you are the hundredth monkey!” My response was, “What number are you calling?” He explained that he had written a small book, The Hundredth Monkey, which postulated that fundamental changes in thinking and behavior are brought about when a certain critical mass is reached by persons who are striving for one particular goal. He used the verified example of monkeys who struggled for generations trying to learn how to remove sand from sweet potatoes. At a certain point in time, one unknown monkey, identified fictitiously by being called “The Hundredth Monkey,” discovered how sand could be washed from potatoes. Almost simultaneously, monkeys all over the globe independently made the same discovery. A critical mass had been reached which, through some unexplained process, triggered universal awareness of the vital information. The Keyes book was more than monkey-business. It was a widely disseminated appeal for ending the nuclear arms race. After reading my Common Sense Guide, the caller concluded that my book could provide the missing “critical mass” needed for world peace. He asked permission to print it in a million copies—provided there was no profit to either him or me. Never having been a monkey before, I concluded that he was crazy.

Hoping to avoid further involvement, I asked Mr. Keyes to send me a memo. To my surprise, a few days later, his response arrived. He had indeed successfully published many books on how to enjoy life and find happiness and how to build a better world. He offered to provide a lively style and promised that nothing would be done without my prior approval. We corresponded only by phone and mail. The first edition of PlanetHood, The Key to Your Survival and Prosperity, appeared in 1988. The cover noted “In cooperation with Ken Keyes, Jr., Author of The Hundredth Monkey.” The invented word “PlanetHood” was to indicate that the notion of “Nationhood” had to be enlarged by a broader vision that included all inhabitants of the planet. It proclaimed “The ULTIMATE HUMAN RIGHT” to live in a peaceful world free from the threat of nuclear war. It listed eight steps that could save the life of every reader. In contrast to my heavily footnoted legal tomes, the Keyes production reached out to the general public with bold declarations. The text was supported by citations from well known personalities whose quotations were inserted in boxes on every page. The introduction noted that the book was not copyrighted and anyone was free to reproduce it without any obligation to the authors.

Ken was a great public relations man. The books poured off the press. If bought by the hundreds, it cost only 70 cents per copy; a thousand or more could be had for only fifty cents each, including shipping. Once, at a conference of peace organizations, I was approached by an elderly lady who told me with pride that she had bought a thousand copies of PlanetHood. I thanked her and asked which organization she represented. She said she belonged to none. I asked whether she just read one copy after the other. “Oh, no,” she laughed, “on Sundays I take them down to Broadway and sell them for a dollar apiece. All of the money earned is used to buy more books.” Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold or given away. Some high schools used it as a textbook. The tiny outreach book seemed to be having a greater impact on the public mind than all of my legal volumes combined. Its widespread acceptance came as a great surprise. I looked forward eagerly to meeting my new collaborator who was responsible for the popular style and the massive distribution. I was in for another surprise.

The book was already flourishing when Ken called to say that he was coming to lecture in New York and he would be pleased if we could meet. He explained that he couldn’t afford a hotel, but would appreciate being picked up in Rye, a town near New Rochelle, where he and his wife, Penny, would be staying with one of her relatives. Of course, I agreed and invited him to my home for dinner. He got fair warning that I wasn’t much of a cook. My wife had already escaped from the cold New York winter by fleeing to our small hideaway in Florida. When I arrived to pick up my guests, Ken’s wife, a robust and smiling young lady, met me at the door and asked me to wait until she came back with her husband. In a few minutes she returned, carrying in her arms a beaming old man with a neatly trimmed beard and sparkling eyes. Ken Keyes, the man who was so full of love, hope, and optimism, was quadriplegic. He weighed 70 pounds and was completely paralyzed. His legs were like useless ribbons. He could just about scribble his name if a paper was held below his hand. He could not lift a spoon to his lips. Penny sat in the front seat, with Ken strapped to her lap as we drove off to what became a warm and enduring friendship.

Ken Keyes was an inspiration. He had contracted polio after having served in the merchant marine. His mind remained sharp and creative and filled with dynamic vitality. He treated his disability with the contempt he thought it deserved and never let on to any of his readers that he was handicapped in any way. My class at Pace Law School was privileged to meet him. I pushed his wheelchair from Grand Central station to the United Nations where his name was well known as The Hundredth Monkey author. A little reception was arranged in his honor. As I held the microphone down to his wheelchair, he spoke movingly of the need for an improved UN and a more humane world. He inspired the audience by saying, “We must all be like Atlas, holding up the world.” I followed with a brief challenge: “If this man is prepared to be like Atlas, by what right do we do less?” Perhaps all human beings should ask that question of themselves.

By 1991, we had issued several revised editions of PlanetHood and close to a million copies must have been in circulation. Someone brought out a beautiful French edition and it was rumored that there was one in Russian, too. Books were important, but not sufficient to alter ingrained ideas that are widely held by many people of different backgrounds. It is unavoidable that people will have differences of opinion, but those differences must not be allowed to manifest themselves in homicidal acts. It seems there is nothing more difficult that having people with firm convictions change their minds, even if it is obviously in their own interest to do so. PlanetHood was a simple “outreach book.” It did more to educate the general public than all of my heavy tomes. Defining International Aggression, An International Criminal Court, and Enforcing International Law had all been recognized by eminent legal authorities as laying a foundation for a more rational world order, but without broad public support, their impact was limited to scholars and a limited number of other strange people.

My search for world peace continued simultaneously on multiple tracks. On April 12, 1999, a TV Film, “The Nazi Killing Squads” hosted by Bill Kurtis, was seen by over 2 million people. It featured my views on international justice. I wrote countless Letters to the Editor and many articles in respected journals to support the call for a humane world under law. The leading Encyclopedia of International Law published by the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg carried three of my articles. Other encyclopedias and law reviews did the same. I lectured in dozens of schools and universities all over the country and in Europe. Some of them offered an honorarium. There were countless unpaid television and radio interviews. Wherever I went, I preached the need for new thinking. Bible breakfasts in churches usually earned me blessings; in synagogues I could also take home the bagels.

My lectures almost invariably met with enthusiastic reception, particularly among young people, but audiences were relatively small and self-selected advocates of peace. My views were reaching a larger public, but it was still not enough. Some professors who shared my goals had expressed appreciation for my work, but challenged me to explain just how those shared objectives could realistically be achieved. I accepted the challenge. My attendance and research at the United Nations continued unabated, as did my contacts with countless numbers of nonprofit organizations concerned with human rights and world peace. There was no end to conferences, seminars, panel discussions, and assemblies in remote places. It gradually dawned upon me that my reach was greater than my grasp. I had to sharpen my perspectives. If I hoped to make any significant impact, I would have to limit myself to only a few specific points in the vast matrix of world problems that needed to be resolved. That meant writing one more big book explaining how global survival could be achieved, and then a shift in my focus from the general to the particular areas to which I would devote my remaining time and energies.