Logan Hebner of Springdale, Utah, is trying to help the world achieve peace one step at a time - literally.
He's a field organizer for International Peacewalk, a group that has overcome diplomatic and bureaucratic hurdles to sponsor unprecedented peace walks by hundreds of Soviets and Americans in each others' countries during the past two years.Such dealing among superpowers isn't bad for a part-owner of a restaurant in a small, rural Utah town. All it took was a big dream - world peace.
It all started a few years ago when the Great Peace March across the country passed by Hebner's Bit and Spur restaurant/lounge just outside Zion National Park.
"When the Great Peace March came through Springdale, I liked the idea. The people were good-hearted and well-intended. But I didn't think they would accomplish much because they only had Americans marching, and something like peace is inherently two-sided. Some of the more devoted people on the march saw the same problem."
Such feelings led to the formation of International Peacewalk, which is currently based in an old home in Silver Spring, a suburb of Washington, D.C., where organization workers live and work. The group will soon move to San Francisco.
"We approached the Soviet Embassy with our idea to have Americans and Soviets participate together in peace walks in both countries. They accepted it," possibly with help from Mikhail Gorbachev's policies for glasnost, or more openness. Gorbachev himself has endorsed the peace walks.
"When we met with the State Department, (they) said the walks would be impossible for dozens of reasons, saying the Soviets would never allow it. We said, `Look, we know what you're saying - but the Soviets have already agreed to this' and laid the documentation on the table. They were flabbergasted. No one spoke in complete sentences for 10 minutes."
The group has had one peace walk in America and two in the Soviet Union during the past two years, the latest finishing last month. Hebner said the walks in the Soviet Union have been especially exciting.
For example, in the city of Novgorod, 70,000 of the city's 210,000 residents came out to meet the the 220 Americans and 220 Soviets on the walk.
"In all the small towns, literally everyone came out to see us as we passed by."
Hebner said he feels such large numbers of Soviets came out - even though crowds were generally small along the American walk - for two reasons.
"First, war is not an abstract notion for the Soviets. They have lost 50 million people this century to wars, purges, the Stalin regime and famine. They know what war is and want to avoid it. Second, we may have had large crowds because there isn't a whole lot to do in many of the small cities. So they treated our arrival as a holiday."
But the large turnouts were not expected by the Soviet government. "It scared the Soviet Peace Committee (the Soviet government agency overseeing walkers) to death, because they were unsure of the passions they had unleashed. But as time went on they realized the things we made happen were good."
The main positive result is better mutual understanding.
"When you're walking hundreds of miles and camping in tents together for weeks, the barriers start to come down," Hebner said. "But just because you understand someone doesn't mean you like them or their system better. If anything, I've become more conservative because of stories of repression I've heard - especially about the Stalin regime.
"But it seems to me what we've been operating on so far has been ignorance. Ask any American how many Soviet republics there are or who's in charge of what, and they don't know. That surprised the Soviets. They said, `You have freedom of information, but you don't use it.' Before we can have peace, we need understanding."
The walks also allowed common people from both countries to talk to each other without intervention.
"The Soviets tried to control our movements, more out of habit than anything else. But they couldn't shuttle us from point to point because we were walking - so we could talk to people along the way and stay in their homes. And we were such a large group that some would always wander down side roads."
In the American walk, the Soviets were shown a broad slice of American life ranging from attending a session of the Delaware Legislature to seeing the homeless who live in the region of 14th Street in Washington, D.C.
He said the 220 Soviets traveling on the walk were the largest freely accessible group to ever come to America.
The Soviets who came on that American walk may have even been more popular once they returned home than they were in America.
"One man wrote that he lived in a small town of 5,000 people or so. The whole town came out to meet him because they wanted to hear what America is like. He said people from nearby towns have also traveled to hear him speak about America."
Hebner is trying to organize two more walks next year - one in the southern United States, and one in the Soviet republic of Georgia. "We call it our Georgia-Georgia walks."
He said some problems have arisen with the Soviets because their officials received criticism in their press for not participating more in the American walk this year, spending much of their time in a recreational vehicle they obtained.
"They figure why should they go through so much work for something they just get criticized for," Hebner said. But he plans to travel to Moscow again soon to try to smooth out the problems and organize another walk.
"Then I hope to spend some time skiing at Alta in Utah (where he was once an assistant to Alta Mayor William Levitt) and get back to my restaurant in Springdale. It's been a year since I've been there, but it's been in good hands," he said.