To fully appreciate Jim Garrison's ascension, one must go back to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when the Garrison's resembled John Steinbeck's Joad family.
Garrison's father, then a teen-ager, was one of nine children who loaded onto a rickety truck in MIssouri and moved out to California. Like many migrant farmers, the Garrisons located in the Central Valley.
“I still remember living in a tent in Bakersfield,” says Jesse Leonard Garrison, Jim Garrison Jr.'s 69-year-old cousin. (During a phone interview, Jesse Leonard reveals why he calls himself Len – which entails a little family secret: Garrison is a sixth cousin to Jesse James.)
By 1934, most of the Garrisons had set down roots in San Jose. Garrison's father took a stab at accounting, married San Francisco native Virginia La Rocca and then dedicated his life to the Lord's work.
“I was an inner compulsion,” the Rev. Garrison says, gesticulating with his hands in a manner similar to his son. “I'd always thought about God and why we were here. Those thoughts always ran through my mind.”
In 1947, Garrison moved his wife and three daughters to China. After the Communist reign of terror in Hwei Li and the birth of little Jim, the family moved to Taiwan, where they lived until Jim Garrison was 15.
Garrison Sr. says his son was always an inquisitive and highly intelligent boy. “He liked to read heavy books,” Garrison Sr. says. “Never any casual books.” From the time he was a young boy until he was in high school, Garrison's favorite book, one which he read over and over, was Lorainne Betner's classic theological study, The Doctrine of Predestination.
The family left Taiwan and returned to San Jose in 1965. It didn't take long for Garrison to acclimate, and he quickly became every parent's dream. In 1967 – only two years after coming to America – he was elected sophomore class president. He won again his junior year. And as a senior, he was elected student body president. His father says there was some rule at the time prohibiting someone from serving as president three consecutive years.
“But he got around that somehow,” Garrison Sr. says.
Garrison played football and tennis and won statewide awards as a member of the debating team. On weekends, he counseled youth at the James Boys Ranch. His list of academic awards staggers: first-place winner in the Elks Club's youth leadership contest; winner of the George Hunter Outstanding Junior Boy Award; Optimist Club's Youth of the Year in 1969.
That same year, Garrison served as the school's delegate to the mock U.N. in San Frnacisco, where he was U.S.S.R. representative on the Security Council. Of course, he won an award: outstanding speaker. Ironically, in real life he campaigned for arch anti-communist Richard Nixon that year.
Before he graduated, Garrison faced every young man's nightmare at the time: the draft. Garrison registered for the draft but failed to ask for a student deferment. After receiving his draft notice and date to take a physical, the teen-ager, obsessed at the time with girls and similarly pressing matters, promptly forgot his appointment. After the Selective Service Administration sent a second letter, outlining the many felony charges it could bring down on the teenager's head, Garrison had some thinking to do.
“I said, 'Give me a break,'” Garrison recalls. “The idea of someone examining my body, of taking my clothes off to see if I'm healthy enough to go kill people, struck me as absurd. So I refused to go.”
His parents called in counselors who preached anti-communism, but Garrison stood firm. Then an amazing thing happened. The government simply forgot about Garrison.
The same year, Garrison attended Pepperdine University before transferring to Santa Clara University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1973, graduating magna cum laude. He went on to Harvard, where in 1975 he earned a master's degree in theology from the divinity school. Beginning in 1975, Garrison participated in Cambridge University's doctoral program in theology. He bounced back and forth between the States and England, finally earning his Ph.D. in 1982.
At the same time, his work in the anti-nuclear movement brought him into contact with Hager and others building the Silkwood case. After the case was resolved, the core group of Silkwood litigators and hangers-on began discussing the need to infuse the left with a sense of spirituality.
“We were struck by the fact that the right had really monopolized the issue of religion,” Hager says.
The group decided to found a think tank and legal defense fund. Garrison, who read the New Age Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard De Chardin ( a favorite of Jerry Brown and Jimmy Carter), pulled a neologism out of the book The Heart of Matter and named the organization the Christic Institute. (Later, under lawyer Danny Sheehan, the Christic Institute imploded beneath the weight of its legal campaign against the alleged “Secret Team” of spook Ted Shackley.)
“The term 'christic' stands for a force in the universe that is moving mankind toward positive change,” Hager explains. “To put it in biblical terms, it means 'kingdom on earth.'”
Adds Hager, “That's Jim, the guy never has any lower plans than the cosmos and God's broad firmament.”
At Cambridge, Garrison struggled to find a concept big enough for his dissertation.
“I wanted to think the biggest thought I could,” Garrison says. “So I asked: Why is it that after several billion years of evolutionary life on this planet, why is it that our species and our generation has brought this entire life process to the brink of extinction through nuclear weapons?”
In the process of writing his dissertation, Garrison read Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, who debunked the Dr. Strangelove rationale for amassing weapons of mass destruction.
“They made the point,” Garrison continues, “that Westerners and Americans in particular thought we needed nuclear weapons because the Soviets were so bad. Actually, it was the other way around. If you have weapons of absolute destruction you need absolute enemies. The Russian threat was a function of and rationale for our weapons. Not the other way around.” [page]
To confirm his thesis, Garrison traveled for the first time to the Soviet Union in 1981. The trip, the first of many jaunts over the next decade, transformed him from overachieving student of religion into rising star on the international stage.
After he was satisfied that Einstein and Bohr were correct, Garrison made an even greater discovery.
“There was this prevailing mentality that the Soviet system was this impenetrable monolith,” he says. “All the people in the American Embassy in Moscow never left the building. It was Fortress America. At the time, a lot of my friends were into citizen diplomacy, middle America meets middle Russia. I was never interested in that. I wanted to penetrate the Central Committee, the Politiburo. Know what I found? They weren't doing anything. They were happy to meet with people. And here was this American who was committed to better relations and I was meeting people on the Politburo.”
It was these connections, Garrison says, that helped him gain entree into the establishmentarian world of U.S. foreign policy-makers. “I could leverage my contacts over here to meet a Kissinger ot a George Schultz. I became important because I could deliver important Soviets.”
Garrison's trans-Atlantic schmoozing kicked into overdrive in 1985 when he took a job directing the Esalen Institute's Soviet American Exchange Program.
The Esalen Institute, famous as the font of the human potential movement in the '60s, became interested in the Soviet Union in 1972 when some Russian psychologists held a conference on parapsychology and psychophysiology – the studies of how the mind effects the body. Eventually, the institute became interested in the more pedestrian activity of citizen diplomacy.
The institute began a series of exchanges with the Soviet government, drawing scientists and bureaucrats to the mineral baths at the institute's famous Big Sur retreat. As director of the exchange program, Garrison was in the middle of this so-called “hot-tub” diplomacy. For years, State Department officials and Russians would soak with academics who studied the psychology of conflict to discuss the state of the world. In 1989, Garrison left the Esalen Institute.
“Our focus was too narrow for him,” says Dulce Murphy, the current director of the institute's exchange program.
Well-ensconced in the upper echelons of the foreign-policy establishments, Garrison heard from a Moscow contact who asked if he would like to meet Boris Yeltsin.
Yeltsin had just been booted from the Politburo by Gorbachev, and Garrison sensed an emerging star. After meeting with him, Garrison proposed for the first time what would become a standard strategy for increasing cachet here and in Russia: the U.S. tour.
Though his Russian superstar tours would cement his role as an international player, Garrison was off to a rocky start with Yeltsin in '89.
“Well,” Garrison saysm “he's a heavy drinker if not an alcoholic.”
Arriving in America for the first time, completely skulled on in-flight cocktails, Yeltsin stumbled off the pland and onto the tarmac, where the press was waiting. Before making a statement, Yeltsin attended to some business by walking away from the crowd to relieve himself on the massive tires. Flustered, Garrrison ran back to grab Yeltsin and steered him toward the awaiting press.
Later in the trip, Yeltsin blitzed again, was in the middle of an incoherent speech at Johns Hopkins University when Garrison's cellular phone rang. It was his buddy Condolezza Rice, then a Bush administration Russia advisor (and now provost at Stanford University). Bush had finally agreed to meet with Yeltsin – a dream connection Garrison had been hoping to make on the trip.
Garrison yanked Yeltsin from the stage and placed him on a limo for the frantic one-hour drive to the White House. By the time they got there, Garrison had been informed by phone that National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and not Bush would meet with Yeltsin. Sitting in the limo, parked outside the White House in the middle of the night, Yeltsin went nuts.
“Nyet, nyet,” he spat. “Bush. Bush.”
Garrison sought to calm him, to no avail. Suddenly, Yeltsin bolted from the limo and charged like a madman toward the White House gates.
Bear in mind here that Yeltsin is a massive man, more than 6 feet, and Garrison is a wisp of a fellow. All the same, Garrison had had enough. Although he does not speak Yeltsin's language, he confronted the raging politician and said in his halting Russian something like, “Hey, motherfucker, I got you here and my rep is on the line so you are just going to behave and do what I say.” A stunned Yeltsin obeyed and eventually won an audience with Bush, Quayle and Scowcroft.
Not surprisingly, Garrison never suggested establishing a joint foundation with Yeltsin.
It's May 1992, and Garrison is organizing Gorbachev's first tour of the United States since his ouster. One of Gorbachev's destinations – Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri – suggests Garrison and Gorbachev's intent.
Churchill, one of Garrison's heroes, made his famous Iron Curtain speech here. Why not have the man who lifted that curtain talk about the future from the same place? Such a symbolic moment, such a grand act of imagination.
The Gorbachev/Churchill parallels extend from there. At the time of his defining address, Churchill was, like Gorbachev, hailed as a hero but was chased from office all the same. Both were haunted by a sense of things undone.
So Gorbachev comes to Missouri, not far from where Garrison's family once lived, in hopes of memorializing himself. After Churchill's speech, the town built the portly prime minister a memorial – a museum, a statue and a library. As Gorbachev makes his speech on the post-Cold War world, nearby is a far less grand icon of Gorbachev's legacy: a 32-foot-long sculpture fashioned from pieces of the Berlin Wall. [page]
The day of the speech everyone wonders: Will Gorbachev make history like Churchill? Will he utter a pharse to define the new age? Will he retake the world stage?
Today, the answers are clearly no, no and no, says Richard Starr, a former arms negotiator for the Reagan administration who is now a Hoover Institute scholar.
“The man is irrelevant,” Starr says. “No one is paying attention. Maybe with this foundation he can rub shoulders with statesmen. But I don't think he has anything left to contribute anymore. He already made his contribution, which was immense and courageous. But his time has passed.”
Starr and other Russian scholars believe Garrison and Gorbachev's hopes for international cooperation on a grand scale – even world government – are bound to be dashed by reality.
“You can build an intellectual construct and say it's necessary, ” Starr continues. “OK, it's necessary. Yes, you want to stop a Chechnya from even starting. But there are no common denominators. You would have to assume norms of behavior. But you have nothing in common between the major powers. China is testing nucelar weapons. Iran wants to build nuclear weapons. It's completely impossible.”
To establish the world governing bodies proposed by Garrison and Gorbachev, Starr estimates it would require “two or three more Gulf Wars.”
Does this sit well with Garrison? “There's going to be conflict, coercion and consensus,” he says. “That's all part of what will be required as we give birth to the first global civilization.
“We have to set up a judicial and executive force to punish the bad guys,” he adds.
Speaking in such inevitabilities comes easy to Garrison. Going by what he says, he's a firm believer in the immutable forces of history. But his theory of history also calls for a great figure who can see the coming shape of things and seize what is possible.
“I've always admired Alexander the Great,” he says. “Can you imagine being taught by Aristotle, to have as one of your teachers one of the greatest thinkers of all time, to have him train your mind and then at 18 get on your horse, Bucephalus, and ride across the Hellepont, with a couple thousand Greek soldiers who passionately believe in you and you conquer the entire known world?
“One of the greatest lines of Alexander,” Garrison continues, “which has been very powerful in shaping my sense of things, which is one of the few things that was ever recorded, that he said, was that it is a great thing to live with courage and to die leaving an everlasting fame.
“And fame to the Greeks was not an Andy Warhol 15 minutes. Fame for the Greeks was living the authentic life that personified the virtues. I've always thought that there was a purity to that. To live with courage, to go out there and do what you know is the right thing even if nobody else is doing it. If you see the possible, have the courage to fill it with your imagination. But always, in the course of implementing your vision, be as morally clear with yourself as you possibly can be.