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Norman Cousins In search of statesmen

By Christopher SwanStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 4, 1980

New York

Sitting in the apartment he keeps on the exclusive southern perimeter of New York City's Central Park (he lives in California), Norman Cousins insists he still looks forward to the not-so-distant day when we shall all beat our swords into plowshares.

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But he worries constantly about the dangers that conspire against that day.

He's been talking about these dangers for a long time. Twelve days after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, he wrote in the Saturday Review, "Now that the science of warfare has reached the point where it threatens the planet itself, is it possible that man is destined to return the earth to its aboriginal incandescent mass, blazing at 50 million degrees?"

Today, he says, the world is well off because "we're still alive. And to be able to say that is always a triumph." But he feels the problem of world destruction "has widened in direct proportion to the profusion of planet-shattering gadgets," and our collective future depends largely on the caliber of men who will inherit the governing power of the world.

He is looking for a new generation of statesmen.

"Woodrow Wilson, one of my favorite characters in history," he muses, "said that the role of a statesman is to represent the next generation." Although he himself has headed no governments and wielded no official power, Mr. Cousins has come as close as any private citizen to filling President Wilson's definition of a statesman.

"For me," he says softly, sitting beside a sky-high window and a wall full of books, "the ideal education would be to take a human being, when he's old enough to appreciate things, on a trip to the moon. Then we'd look at this planet and realize that it is blue, that it has oxygen and water, and that it is one planet out of millions that does. When he thinks about the exquisite conditions that support life, he is apt to become rather reverent toward this beautiful planet."

Mr. Cousins himself has had ample opportunity to contemplate the "exquisite conditions that support life." when he was 11, he was required to spend a year in a sanitarium -- an experience that, he later wrote, gave him "a respect for the preciousness of human life." Several years ago he was told he had another serious disease, and successfully undertook his own cure through the use of ascorbic acid and what he calls "the salutary emotions."

Having written a book about his self-cure, entitled "Anatomy of an Illness," and lectured widely on the question of a patient's ability to participate in his own healings, he is reluctant to talk about his own experiences, saying that it smacks of self-congratulation.

But there are plenty of others ready to congratulate him.

He has won more than 35 major awards, including the Thomas Jefferson Award for Advancement of Democracy in Journalism; Benjamin Franklin citation in magazine journalism; the Eleanor Roosevelt Peace award; the City of Hiroshima Award; the Overseas Press Club award for best interpretation of foreign affairs in magazine writing; the Family of Man award; the United Nations Peace Medal Award.

An example of the type of activity that earned such awards was his campaign to bring women who had been disfigured by the atom bomb -- the so-called "Hiroshima maidens" -- to this country for reconstructive surgery. (Mr. Cousins and his wife adopted one of these young ladies.) Later, he made a similar effort on behalf of Polish women disfigured in Nazi experiments.

For a man who has been heaped with so much public acclaim, Mr. Cousins is remarkably modest. He speaks slowly, in a voice as slender as a spider's thread , pausing frequently to collect his thoughts. His soft, brown eyes and thin, white hair are as understated as his voice; only the flash and luster of his smile interrupt the calm poise of his careful demeanor. He is an attractive man who seldom sets off conversational fireworks, but relies on the force of ideas to carry his argument.