Peace on Earth

THE message that Jesus brought to this world was of the need for love - love of God, love of fellow man. We are not yet a world where peace reigns, where all men are joined in brotherhood, nor even where all men may worship God without hindrance.

But Christmas, l989, finds our world filled with more promise of peace and freedom than it has known for decades.

It has been a year of incredible change, faster-moving than most of us could have imagined. The Soviet empire in Eastern Europe is being dismantled and millions of people have found new freedom - freedom of speech, freedom to travel, freedom to choose their own governments, freedom to abandon the God-denying theology of communism for worship as they choose.

We should not be deluded that peace and tranquillity have broken out all over.

A leadership divided and in decline holds China in bondage after repressing a people's freedom movement six months ago. (The United States has just made a questionable high-level overture to that regime.)

In Eastern Europe, Romania is a bloody exception to the tide of democracy.

Cuba, unmoved by Mr. Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, continues on a hard-line Marxist course. Its prot'eg'e, Nicaragua, continues exporting revolution abroad, notably to El Salvador, while repressing political opposition at home.

Until this week, a military dictator held sway in Panama. It's too early to tell whether or not democracy will catch hold there.

Colombia is engulfed in bloodshed as its people and leaders war with murderous and brazen drug-dealers.

The Middle East, where Jesus once preached his healing message, is as violent as ever.

In the British colony of Hong Kong, refugees from Vietnam are put weeping on planes and sent back to their communist rulers. Hong Kong itself looks nervously to a future under Beijing's rule.

Yet the overall tide of world history is running in a positive direction. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, even Bulgaria - one after another the communist satellites are shrugging off years of politically emasculating rule. Wenceslas becomes known again as a king who engaged in noble Christmas charity, rather than a square in Prague noted for its communist repression. More drastic change may be seen in the Soviet Union.

Around the world, democracy triumphs. Corazon Aquino, with American help, survived a coup attempt in the Philippines. True, her government remains embattled. True, in the years since she ousted Ferdinand Marcos, she has been unable to meet the economic aspirations of her people. But her government was elected democratically and deserves to survive attempts to topple it.

Turbulent India changes governments, not by the bayonet, but by the democratic vote of millions of citizens.

Prospering Taiwan conducts democratic elections, the opposition gaining ground against the aging Nationalist regime from the Chinese mainland.

In South Africa, where black men remain politically dispossessed, there is movement towards constructive change. Nelson Mandela, imprisoned nationalist leader, meets with the country's white president - unthinkable but a few years ago.

In Afghanistan there is misery, but at least the brutal presence of an occupying Soviet army is no more.

Cambodia remains roiled but the main-line occupying units from Vietnam have gone home.

In one sense this fast-changing world is more of a challenge. Who knows how long Gorbachev will remain in power? Who knows whether it is safe to bring American troops home from Europe, and South Korea? Who knows whether the Pentagon should cut its budget by 25 or 50 percent?

Preparedness and wisdom should still get high priority. But who would have things different than the way they are this Christmas? Who would deny a great deal of gratitude is in order?

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