Following up yesterday’s thoughts on illusions our leaders benefit from, another occurred to me in learning about ping-pong diplomacy, the 1970s sports phenomenon that contributed to opening relations between the U.S. and China.
In particular, the United States and Chinese governments followed, not led, the opening process. The government of each country called the other its enemy and armed itself against the other.
Yet I expect most people of each nation cared at most little about the others, but certainly didn’t care to fight random people they’d otherwise never meet on the other side of the planet. I doubt anyone wanted to pay taxes to develop weapons just to threaten them either.
Today we commonly say Nixon opened China. While his visit improved relations, I believe ordinary people started the process. People credit him and may even deserve much, but if ordinary citizens hadn’t led him, he wouldn’t have been able to act.
I understand arms races and how they work. Meeting people from a nation in an arms race with my government revealed the importance of people meeting each other. People can lead their governments. In fact, if we don’t, they’ll lead each other to more fighting.
I’ve posted about having played sports in North Korea, how much it affected me, and how much it seemed to affect North Koreans to laugh and play games with us. The more I think about it, the more I think ordinary people like you and me have the greatest chance to open relations between the U.S. and North Korea.
If we want peaceful relations with North Korea, ordinary people like you and me have to lead our elected officials. If we let them lead us, we risk going toward war, from which they can benefit. By the same token, blaming them won’t help as much as taking responsibility and acting.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees