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Essays by RGHF Historian Norm Winterbottom

James Earl (Jimmy) Carter Jr

Naval Officer, Physicist, Businessman, Politician,
Author, Peace Maker, Humanitarian, Rotarian


By Norm Winterbottom
New Zealand History co-ordinator, RGHF
Co-Chair, RGHF History Committee, 2007-2008
RGHF Board Member 2007-2008

Portrait of Jimmy Carter“To be just, a war must represent the last resort. It is obvious that other alternatives to war exist." - Jimmy Carter

Born in Plains, Georgia on 1 October 1924, Jimmy Carter was the son of a farmer and businessman, James Earl Carter and Lillian Gordy Carter, a registered nurse.. Growing up in a religious home environment, he attended local school in Plains, Georgia South Western College and Georgia Institute of Technology. Having held the ambition from age four, to join the Navy, he received an appointment to the US Annapolis Naval Academy in 1942 and entered it the following year. He graduated in 1946 with a Bachelor of Science degree and received a commission in the United States Navy.. In that year he married Rosalynn Smith of Plains, Georgia. In 1948 he was accepted for submarine officer training school, at New London, Connecticut and after graduating was posted to the US Pacific Fleet In 1951 he returned to New London as senior officer of the pre-commissioning crew of the K-1, the Navy’s first new ship since the end of World War II. On 1 June 1952, Carter joined the Navy’s elite nuclear submarine programme under Admiral Hyman Rickover and attended the Naval Reactor Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, in Washington before returning to New London to work on the Navy’s second nuclear submarine, “Seawolf.” At that time also he studied nuclear physics and nuclear reactor design at Union College, New York.

On the death of his father in 1951, Jimmy Carter received an honourable discharge from the Navy and returned to Plains to manage the family business. After serving in state politics between 1963 and 1975 he defeated Gerald Ford for the US presidency on 2 November 1976. It was during this period that he and Rosalynn experienced a religious reaffirmation and developed a conviction of the need to promote human rights.

Carter’s presidency occurred at a divisive time in United States domestic politics resulting from the residual bitterness over the Viet Nam War, the events leading up to the resignation of President Nixon and high inflation resulting from high price of oil charged by the OECD nations in retaliation for the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel.. At that time, also, the world was divided into the two opposing camps of Democracy (the West) and Communism (the East). The threat of a nuclear war was ever present and the USA, Britain, France on the one hand and Russia and China on the other, were actively pursuing a nuclear armaments policy The succession of wars between the Arab states and the state of Israel made the Middle East highly volatile. US foreign policy during the Cold War had been one of containment of Communism and President Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger had sought détente with the Soviet Union and China. Kissinger’s efforts towards rapprochement with China failed with the US bombing of North Vietnam. Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, an expert on Communism and the son of a Polish diplomat held the view that the Soviet control of the Eastern European states was weakening and that Communism itself would not survive for too many years. The United States foreign policy under Carter, Brzezinski and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance shifted from containment of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations to emphasis on human rights and peaceful engagement with Eastern Europe..

US Secretary of Defence and former head of the CIA, Robert Gates in his book “Out of the Shadows” wrote "I believe the Soviets saw a very different Jimmy Carter than did most Americans by 1980, different and more hostile and threatening," Gates wrote. ”His emphasis on human rights made Carter the first president during the Cold War to challenge publicly and consistently the legitimacy of Soviet rule at home." Those were "the first steps" Gates wrote,” toward the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union,”

A dialogue had developed between Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Ytzak Rabin with Sadat travelling to Israel and addressing the Israeli Knesset pushing for the implementation of United nations security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. In 1977 in an endeavour to restart the stalled 1973 Geneva Conference Carter travelled to the Middle East for meetings with Sadat, Rabin, King Hussein of Jordan and Hafez Al Assad of Syria. Rabin’s Labour Party government was defeated by Menachem Begin’s Likud Party in the Israeli election and Begin refused to consider giving up the West Bank occupied by Israel. Sadat, Begin and Carter met at the presidential Camp David retreat from 5 - 17 September, 1978. While Carter and Sadat had established a rapport, Begin refused to sit down with Sadat. Carter was forced to discuss a matter first with one and then discuss it again with the other. Brzezinski recorded that “the President is driving himself mercilessly, spending most of his time either debating with the Egyptians or the Israelis or drafting or revising texts that are being submitted to him. He has single-handedly written the proposed document on the Sinai formula.”.

On September 17 two agreements were signed; the first, “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East,” and the second, “A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.” The Peace Treaty was signed on 26 March, 1979, returning the Israeli-occupied Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and relations between the two nations were normalised in January, 1980.

During his presidency, Richard Nixon had taken steps to normalise the relations between the Peoples Republic of China and the United States. During 1977 – 78 Carter engaged in discussions with Chinese officials in Washington and Secretary of State Vance travelled to China for discussions, but without the authority to negotiate any agreements. On 30 January, 1979 Carter and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping signed the Accords which normalised the relations between the two countries. The simple act of placing two signatures to paper paved the way for mutual economic and trade advantages for both nations, and admitted the Peoples Republic of China to the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member but equally important, was a major step forward in the pursuit of a peaceful world.

Throughout the Cold War years, the world lived under the threat of the nightmare of a nuclear war between the Soviet dominated Eastern Bloc and the Western powers. Resulting from Carter’s initiatives the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, (SALT II) limiting the stockpiles of nuclear weapons to be held by both nations, was signed by Jimmy Carter and Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev on 30 March 1979 in Vienna. Although the agreement was never ratified by the United Sates government, both parties adhered strictly to the agreement.

Following his defeat by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election, Jimmy Carter returned to Georgia and has become the most active ex president in United States history.

In 1982 he accepted the position of Distinguished Professor and began teaching at Emory University in Atlanta. In association with the university Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter established the Carter Centre to undertake humanitarian projects not undertaken by other organisations.. The Centre’s central principle is “Everyone on Earth Should be Able to Live in Peace.” Both Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter joined Habitat for Humanity and give up one week of each year to physically work on housing projects for the poor and the homeless. Jimmy Carter is an accomplished woodworker.

Between 1986 and 1991 the Carter Centre assisted the African state of Ghana to become self-sufficient in food production. In 1987 the Centre persuaded the pharmaceutical giant Merck to donate the drug Mectizan.for as long as it may be required in Africa to control River Blindness. It has undertaken conflict resolution in Ethiopia, Eritrea, North Korea. Liberia, Haiti, Bosnia, Sudan, Great Lakes region of Africa, Uganda and Venezuela an Carter himself has been personally involved in much of this work, in addition to which he and the Carter Centre have undertaken election monitoring work in Panama, Nicuragua, Guyana, China, Nigeria, Indonesia, East Timor, Mexico, Guatumala, Venuzuela, Ethipoia, Liberia and the democratic Republic of Congo..

In 1962 Ethiopia annexed Eritrea and for thirty years the Eritreans sought independence in a war causing horrific casualties. Between September 7-19 the Carter Centre hosted preliminary peace negotiations between the Ethiopian government and the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front. These proved ineffective and the war continued with huge human suffering until both sides agreed to a comprehensive peace agreement in June 2000.

At the conclusion of World War II hostilities against Japan, Russian forces accepted the surrender of the Japanese in Korea above the 38th degree latitude north and the Americans accepted the surrender of those south of that mark. It proved impossible to unite the country and on 25 June, 1950 hostilities broke out between North and South Koreas lasting until an armistice was signed on 27 July 1953. China had supported North Korea during the hostilities and on 14 June, 1967 exploded its first hydrogen bomb, thus creating an additional threat to world peace. In June, 1994, Carter met with the leaders of North and South Korea to discuss nuclear disarmament and although some success was achieved the death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung shortly afterwards aborted the plans.

Following the death of Marshal Tito in 1980, Yugoslavia a nation of eight disparate states which he had held together by his strength of will and political cunning began to disintegrate and a series of civil wars broke out with huge casualties and abuse of human rights. In December 1994 Carter travelled to the Balkans and negotiated a four-month cease-fire and resumption of peace talks between Muslim Bosnia and Catholic Serbia. In 1995, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter negotiated a two month cease-fire in Sudan to allow for efforts to eradicate Guinea Worm Disease, prevent River Blindness and immunisation against the polio virus. ..

A Rotarian, and the author of twenty-two books on human rights, and the peaceful resolution of conflict, his views have been the subject of strong criticism by those whose agenda is the continuation of conflict or status quo.. He has received numerous honours in recognition of his efforts in those fields; He received the Rotary International Award for World Understanding in 1984 and was the first recipient of the United Nations Human Rights Prize in 1998, On10 December, 2002 received the Nobel Prize for Peace. It is said that events in history cannot be put in their proper perspective until fifty years afte the event. When historians analyse the 20th century, James Earl Carter Jnr of Plains, Georgia, USA will occupy a respected place as a humanitarian and a peacemaker.. The last words should be his and they are the conclusion of his address on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize:-

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children.

The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. God gives us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes - and we must.

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