by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Correspondent
June 21, 2007
U.N.'S WALDHEIM LEAVES FAR-REACHING LEGACY OF HATE
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Kurt Waldheim, the once "dapper diplomat" and former United Nations Secretary General reminding one of Henry Kissinger-styled poise and star power, died June 14 at age 88.
In earlier days the tall and elegantly-dressed Austrian invariably kissed the hands of the ladies. Well-known for his charm and discretion, respected at the time by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union for his reserve and quiet diplomacy, Waldheim assumed the UN leadership post in January, 1972. It was in that capacity, as the symbolic head of the nations of the world, that the former Nazi officer would sign on as we started engraving "greetings" in space capsules destined to leave the bounds of the solar system - just in case anyone out there is listening.
The space mission officially ended more than a decade ago, but the Pioneer 10 capsule is still coasting; it transports a gold plaque, attached to the antenna support struts in a way that would shield it from solar dust, bearing a goodwill message and a map locating the Earth in the solar system. A similar plaque was sent out a year or so later, on Pioneer 11, and then more elaborate versions, helped along by science writer Carl Sagan, followed in the Voyager spacecrafts. Along with symbols that seek to provide information about the spacecraft, the plaques show nude figures of a human male and female. Some of us can't help but wonder how this nudity might have been handled in the current Bush Administration.
In 1976, with the curious charm of a Kissinger, Waldheim was reelected to a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations. Along with hundreds or thousands of others, many of whom proved useful in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, it had long been forgotten that soon after World War II an allied war crimes commission had sought to bring Waldheim to trial as a big-time Nazi war criminal. Others have been hanged for less than he was accused of; but few knew, and thus Waldheim might have been reelected to a third term as UN chief, except for China.
China had been accepted into the UN. Nixon, in Watergate times, suddenly and conveniently sought improved U.S. relations with China, given that only a proven conservative could make such a peaceful overture without being accused of being a serious pinko.
After the 1972 opening to China, Nixon gained recognition as a serious statesman, even though it was Nixon himself that for a good many years had blocked China - with one-fourth of the world's population- from participating in the world body. So the Chinese gambit worked well for Nixon - but not so well for Waldheim.
China wanted a Third World candidate to run the UN and backed the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who won and took office in 1982. He presided with reasonable success at the UN for two terms, helped along by the end of the Cold War.
As noted in the current Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Perez de Cuellar "personally negotiated the cease fire [in 1988] that ended the Iran-Iraq War, secured the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and brokered the 1991 Cambodian peace accord. Under his leadership UN negotiators obtained the release of the Americans held hostages in Lebanon, and the Secretary-General personally negotiated a peace pact between El Salvador's government and rebels. He was succeeded by Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt."
As history goes, Perez de Cuellar fared well at the UN, but then, in 1995, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency in Peru; unlike Waldheim, who managed somewhat less successfully than de Cuellar at the U.N. but in 1986, despite fresh revelations of his Nazi past, won the presidency of Austria.
All the while, of course, Waldheim's diplomatic greetings have continued coasting along deeper into the universe. The Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, four years after Pioneer 11 and using state-of-the-art media, reportedly includes a far more complex, detailed message in its Golden Record; but it will take some doing, apparently, to "unearth" any of Waldheim's greetings.
Perhaps because of the sheer embarrassment over the former UN Chief's Nazi past, which he finally confessed to - he's been accused (but not convicted) of contributing significantly to thousands of deaths - Waldheim and his "greetings" to the Universe are simply never, ever, commented upon. I saw no mention of them in the current Waldheim obituaries in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the wire services, or in a current, deep Google Search of the media; nor, actually, have I seen mention in Space Age publicity over the years. Admittedly, for a good many years Waldheim's Nazi past wasn't all that well-known, and he wasn't talking. Then he fudged, and in turn that wasfollowed by new and more disturbing allegations, and then new admissions, and then some voters were highly embarrassed when he went on to win the presidency of Austria in 1986.
Less than a year after Waldheim won that presidency, as Tracy Wilkinson reported June 15 in the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. government formally banned him from entering the country, citing evidence it said showed that he had assisted or otherwise participated "in the persecution of Allied prisoners, Yugoslav partisans, Jews and other civilians."
At the time of his death Thursday, Waldheim was still on watch lists and banned from the U.S. as a war criminal.
Meanwhile, what does anyone out there beyond our solar system know about Nazis and who would find out, anyway? On Jan. 22, 2003, 31 years after the initial greetings went out, the TRW-built Pioneer 10 capsule sent its last weak signal home. At the speed of light, the signal took some 11 hours to reach us. Coasting toward the star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus, the capsule was then about 7.5 billion miles out and already way beyond the bounds of our solar system. Yet the scientists calculated that it would still take about two million years to reach it.
So, personally. I'm not too worried about Earth being embarrassed
by Waldheim's greetings. If Albania knows as much about President Bush as Aldebaran knows about Waldheim, we have plenty of other embarrassments to worry about.
Ron Kenner is a former Metro reporrter for the Los Angeles Times. He is based in Hollywood, Calif., where he is now a book editor. Write hiom at firstname.lastname@example.org.