Light of the World 1/18/17

Winslow Myers

The Light of the World – by Winslow Myers

There are two things that too many of us seem to be reluctant to take in about present conditions on our planet—the first is the threat of mass death, either suddenly by nuclear war, or gradually by changes in climate. The second is the possibility of reconciliation among enemies on the basis of common goals. Our brains are not particularly well wired by evolution to see either of these both as an immediate threat and as an equally immediate, available opportunity. Perhaps for the first time in history, we are gradually becoming aware that the two shed significant light on each other. In fact, in our historical moment they have become an inseparable duality. As the poet W.S. Auden wrote, “We must love one another or die.”

In a world where nuclear weapons are so destructive that it would only take the detonation of a few hundred of them to fatally affect agricultural production around the globe, perhaps we can now begin to see the absurdity of our hatreds in a new light—almost as if we were growing a new kind of mind more evolutionarily suited to the realities that loom around us. The destructiveness of our weapons is so enormous in scale, that even the most intractable loathing and fear we may feel weighs like a feather measured against a ton of lead. It is really the same, in only a slightly less urgent way, for global climate instability: the imperative has become a level of cooperation on the basis of a shared desire to survive that our evolution has not prepared us for as well as it might, but which is nonetheless essential.

It’s as if a malign alien presence had landed on the earth and all the parties to international and civil conflict, Sunnis and Shia, Arab and Jew, the U.S. and the Taliban, suddenly realized that we had so much more in common with each other as members of the human species than with the aliens, that it would become obvious that we needed to cooperate against the common threat. But we do face a common threat: war itself, with the potential of any war anywhere going nuclear by accident, misunderstanding or passive drift. The “alien” we ought to fear and unite to overcome is found in two places, one physically real, the other psychologically real: the weapons themselves, and the way we have been programmed by evolution to think about the “other,” the different, the fearsome stranger, the enemy.

Our collective fears, hates and desires for security have led us to unlock the secrets of the atom and evolve out of those secrets a bizarre system: deterrence by mutually assured destruction. If we again imagined aliens coming to our planet, this time benign ones, how amazed they would be by the utter ridiculousness of the trap we have willingly set for ourselves. Would they be able to distinguish between the hapless terrorism of the suicide bomber and the strategic deliberation of the nuclear “balance of terror”? Are these two so completely different? Certainly not either in their threat to the innocent or in their futility.

The trap in full is not just deterrence, but the way we think about the usefulness of any kind of violence, on any level, to solve problems—the assumptions humans make that flying a plane into a building or setting off a bomb in a marketplace will make a positive difference. The extraordinary freedom of the human condition includes the tragic built-in freedom to kill. This freedom is so very easy to indulge even within the web of a quasi-organized civil society, as we see in the president of the Philippines’ murderous extra-judicial war against drugs.

Many of us are distressed that one duly elected, but apparently very thin-skinned, leader will soon be given the authority to cause mass death on a planetary level. We pray that his obsession with business success will preoccupy him with making deals rather than making wars. At least we can be somewhat consoled by the fact that the international markets he seeks to dominate will not benefit from nuclear annihilation.

But our apparent programming, our collective thin skin, is not biologically inevitable. History confirms the absurdity of enemy-imaging by recording how arbitrary our animosities are as seen over time—Americans who once incinerated Japanese soldiers with flame throwers or Viet Cong with napalm are now welcome in Japan or Vietnam as tourists or business people.

There is only one way out of our self-devised trap, and that is relationship. The opportunity for relationship is immediate, instant, all around us at every moment, even if we seem to be wired instinctively to hide within our skin, be it thin or thick. I recently entered my first board meeting of a non-profit and made a casually insensitive comment about Mr. Trump’s press conference circus. Next to me sat a woman who unapologetically made it clear that she had voted for the man—but kept her genuine welcoming smile in place.

I felt so grateful that her friendliness and willingness to work with me did not diminish in spite of my off-hand sarcasm, and so we were able to begin a fruitful dialogue—the topic of which became—surprise!—the need for more fruitful dialogue.

Her sort of friendliness may be the light of the world. It is a ton of gold weighed against the feather of our momentary and potentially superficial political opposition to each other. Sometimes initiating and maintaining a culture of connection may not come easy, but it is constantly there as a possibility. The hoary cliché has never been more relevant and important: a stranger is just a friend we haven’t met yet. And if that is true, why isn’t it just as true that an enemy is just someone we haven’t tried hard enough to be friends with yet?

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

No Final Arrival 11/16/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

The High Calling of Teaching – by Winslow Myers

Post-election shock has invited many of us to look within. What might have been our own role in this extraordinary outcome? I hope having been a teacher for 40 years gives me sufficient credibility to address my own profession. Many teachers are underpaid and asked to do too much, but that’s not where my concerns lie at this anxious moment.

Whatever else it means, this election surely denotes a landmark failure to help our citizenry learn to think independently—the difficult job of our benighted teachers. Voting did not break along class lines that would indicate that those with fewer educational opportunities were more susceptible to demagoguery and lies. Forty-two percent of all women—all women!—voted for a serial sexual assaulter, an over-promiser in an empty suit, upon whom we now must project our best wishes, for his successes and failures will be ours, up to and including the prevention of nuclear war.

I was privileged to graduate from a top-ranked private high school and university. These two “elitist” institutions had one thing in common: they put together the best teachers with small groups of students in a circle, encouraging the dialogue to become, at its best, student-led.

Educational research demonstrates the counterintuitive fact that we learn to think autonomously, expand our worldviews, and temper our judgments by speaking. And thus the counterpart to speaking, listening, also becomes a sacred act in the classroom. So much teaching is debased simply by teachers slipping into a lifetime of being in love with their own voice, with student cynicism the awful consequence—cynicism that leads ultimately to making debased choices in the voting booth.

I had a colleague who could not have cared more deeply for his charges—except that he pretty much undermined his own authenticity by asking a question, waiting two beats, three beats—but not long enough for the students to believe he really wanted to know their thoughts. After silence hung in the air for a few seconds, he would inevitably answer his own question. It was just easier. Soon enough students were content to remain silent if that was what he wanted, and his classes, year after year, became permanently univocal.

Early in my career I myself believed I was a mediocre teacher, precisely because I had had such remarkable models at the institutions from which I had graduated. But that forced me back upon myself. What did it mean to teach well, and what was worth knowing? What gradually helped me improve were two things: first, appreciating at the heart level the fundamental interaction through which a teacher awakens the mind of a student, deepening the teacher’s readiness for further, ever-richer relationships with students and with the infinite body of collective wisdom and hard-won truth. This led me to set up my physical teaching space in the same kind of circle, as opposed to a lectern and desks in rows, I had experienced in my own education. Second was my encounter with what is now being called “deep history,” the scientific story of the 13.8 billion year development of the universe—the story we all share.

From the natural coherence of that story I began to sense that however much the departmentalization of knowledge had given the world by way of dissection into chewable bits, there was a crying need for students to see the vast spectrum of knowledge in a larger context of a single great unfolding, a new way to apprehend all knowledge, the whole of history, scientific endeavor, the arts. From that perspective the widest artificial gap of all had become the divide between the scientific and the humanistic, what Stephen Jay Gould mistakenly called “non-overlapping magisteria.”

In the classroom or in the great world beyond it, is the search for truth exemplified by the scientific method so different from Socratic dialogue as practiced in the humanities? Are such questions as “how does the chemical process of photosynthesis work?” and “what is Robert Frost trying to say in his poems about spring?” entirely “non-overlapping ”? Pregnant, endlessly searchable mystery hangs equally over these “separate” realms of knowledge.

Teachers provide the initial role-models, after parents, for what it feels like to be a sensitive, independent, fair, thinking and feeling citizen engaged in a sincere search for truth. Teachers can lead students into skepticism about bunkum, but only by authentic, not instrumental, encounters between themselves and their constituents. The needed skills are endlessly perfectible and challenging; there is no final arrival.

Take for example the essential skill of leading a discussion about any aspect of our current national political scene—our original sin of slavery, the uses and misuses of great power, if or how America is an exceptional nation, bias in the news. To bring it off without betraying one’s private preferences while encouraging the civil engagement of diverse points of view can never be easy. But not to have the discussion at all out of fear of what might go awry is a tragic reinforcement of the ignorance that oozed out not just on Election Day but overflows from our whole gridlocked, venal and science-averse political culture.

How different might our recent history have been if Henry Kissinger had had a history professor who taught him to see the truth of the thousand-year enmity between Vietnam and China, dispelling the simplistic nature of the “domino theory” in favor of the Jefferson-admiring nationalism of Ho Chi Minh? If the ethical context of Nixon’s Quaker background had sunk in more deeply? If George Bush or Dick Cheney had taken in something in college about the Middle East and the fraught record of the colonial powers in that region since World War 1? If the Fox News folks had been educated to the ever-unreachable but always worthy ideal of objectivity over ratings-based partisanship? And yes, if someone at Wellesley had touched Hillary Clinton’s heart deeply enough to give her from the outset an instinctive sense of what ethical short-cuts to avoid?

The sacred encounter of teacher and student, where teachers hope they can set students on their way toward both self- and teacher-surpassing , replicates the interdependence of all growing, evolving, blossoming life, and even points toward the ideal of ideals, what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.” That the United States produced a teacher, for he was that as much as preacher, on King’s level is one exceptionalism we can claim with pride. King taught us well by making connections across race in the basis of constitutional rights, and, not long before he was martyred, by dispelling the illusion that grinding poverty at home and racist wars abroad were “non-overlapping magisteria.” Teaching at its best is true servant leadership. Servant leadership on behalf of an inclusive beloved community is what we admired in King—servant leadership into which we can only hope our new president will grow.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Evolve to Survive 11/9/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

To Survive, Evolve – by Winslow Myers

The concept of evolution should not be limited to the scientific assertions around Darwin’s theory of natural selection, but ought to include the more general idea that people and processes constantly evolve in response to the forces that surround them. We evolve from childhood into adulthood, and, ideally, from self-centeredness toward the good of larger entities like our community or nation (and now, faced with climate change, the good of our planet). Political arrangements have evolved from the divine right of kings into still–evolving democratic systems.

A Supreme Court justice’s orientation toward evolution in this basic sense determines whether he or she is a strict originalist (a nicer word for fundamentalist), or sees the Constitution as a living document that must be responsive to changing conditions. No founding father composing the second amendment could have foreseen the surfeit of guns decimating our country today.

Such evolutionary processes are alive, dynamic, an unstoppable juggernaut pervading every aspect of reality. Against them, even the determination not to evolve has evolutionary effects, as we have seen in the bizarre presidential process of the past year. A Neanderthal candidate has helped awaken a generation of young women, and ideally young men also, to evolve beyond being victims of crude chauvinist stereotypes.

The whole cosmos has been evolving for 13.8 billion years, from energy to matter to, here on earth, life and self-conscious life. Evolution is the context of our reality, the story all humans share. This story is beginning to seep into collective consciousness in a way that may yet render obsolete divisions such as those between Shia and Sunni, let alone between “radical Islamic fundamentalism” and the “post-Enlightenment West.” We all evolved from the same mysterious source. Every differentiation in that largest context, by race, tribe, religion, ethnicity, feels arbitrary and abstract.

It is not surprising that fundamentalism in whatever form has often found the evolutionary paradigm threatening, because it implies a challenging dynamic of change that feels insecure. For many believers, to generalize unfairly, religion provides behavioral rules that can be a source of security and comfort even as they are used as excuses to remain exclusive and resist evolving.

Within each world religion, there are minority enclaves (the Sufis in Islam, Zen practitioners of Buddhism, Catholic mystics like Teilhard de Chardin) who understand that their spiritual discipline is an opportunity to evolve toward inclusivity, toward looking within at fears and projections rather than looking outward for enemies, and toward expanding our identifications and responsibilities beyond the national to the planetary.

Far from being a benign, feel-good process, evolution is often painful, one step forward, two back. Take the tortured but necessary demise of the American coal industry. No one wants to see the debilitating effects of unemployment on real people with real families, but so far the technology of coal burning hasn’t evolved a way not to accelerate global warming.

We humans are supposedly not built to respond effectively to long-term threats like changes in climate, but, late in the game as it is, we do seem to be collectively learning what is at stake and evolving locally and globally. Entrepreneurs are rapidly bringing to market solar, wind, and other cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.

Unfortunately, negative and harmful processes can also become subject to an evolutionary juggernaut. Since 1945 weapons systems have evolved (more accurately, we have evolved them) to a level of complexity and destructive power that we are already powerless to control. The Pentagon is reported to be spending its usual vast sums on research into computer-controlled robotic drones capable of making their own autonomous decisions about who is an enemy. The defense establishments of other great nations are presumably up to the same mischief, or soon will be, because the arms race never stops evolving. Or won’t until we embrace a new way of thinking: that we must evolve to survive.

We, we the nations, are hopelessly complacent in our present reliance upon deterrence as a workable security system. As the fellow falling from the hundredth floor said as he passed the sixtieth: so far so good. The system, an emperor with no clothes solemnly worshipped by legions of self-confident experts, is too complex not to be subject to breakdown at any moment, perhaps by accident, perhaps where NATO and Russia push up against each other in Eastern Europe, perhaps in Kashmir.

The threat of nuclear extinction provides a new context for the obsolete parochialism of the world’s major religions. If this threat isn’t enough to accelerate the ecumenical impulse, what is? As people of diverse spiritual worldviews acknowledge that they have in common the possibility of annihilation, our shared anxiety can energize evolution toward inclusivity and nonviolent solutions to conflict. The world is in a race between fundamentalists and arms manufacturers on the one hand, and evolutionaries who see clearly both the futile dead-end of the arms race and the possibility of a security built upon the truth of interdependence, which appears in similar form in all the religions as the Golden Rule. We will live together or die together. As we treat others, so we will be treated. Whether they each understand this or not, this is the hidden-in-plain-sight background behind the Trump-Clinton mud-wrestle.

Will the arms manufacturers and the politicians in league with them evolve in the face of the nuclear threat in a way similar to our positive responses to the challenge of climate instability? I live in Maine, where the state’s largest private employer is the Bath Iron Works. They are building three of a new kind of guided missile destroyer that is contoured to hide from radar. Each one costs 4 billion dollars. Recently I had a conversation with an Iron Works employee. I made the assumption that, given his job, he would be hawkishly supportive of a robust military. Not at all. His exact parting words were “I’d be much happier building solar panels.”

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Boards of Beyond War and the War Prevention Initiative.

Hope and Belief 10/26/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Open letter to Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine

by Winslow Myers

I am unreservedly delighted that Secretary Clinton picked Senator Kaine and assume that all is on track for both of you to assume high office in January.

However I did take note of Secretary Clinton’s reference in the third debate to the four minutes a leader would be allowed before having to decide how to respond to information that a nuclear attack was under way. The context of course was the unassailable fact of Mr. Trump’s lack of fitness were he to find himself in the same position.

But the question that haunts me and many others is what it might mean for even the most disciplined and experienced leader to have to undergo the stress and consequence of those four minutes.

It seems to me that the system of deterrence that has evolved among the nine existing nuclear powers, the system we all rely upon for our security, is becoming ever more unworkable. Granting that the system may have helped to prevent a third world war over the past half century, what is its future? Even taking into account our own extraordinarily expensive efforts to refine our weapons systems to both increase their flexibility and render them more immune to failure, the inherent nature of a “balance of terror” can only increase paranoia among all parties. In the missile crisis of 1962 we dodged a bullet. Add in the increasing complexity of the electronics attached to the weapons and the possible infection of such electronics from without. Add further the political third rail—because it suggests weakness—of telling constituents, of whatever nation, the truth about the actual insecurity of such systems of deterrence. Disaster down the road is inevitable unless there is a fundamental change of direction.

Mr. Putin may be a bad hombre, but he is subject to the same irrefutable logic, as are the heads of India or Pakistan or China, Israel, or even North Korea, or anyone else with command responsibility for these hideously destructive weapons.

We are at a fateful moment similar to when Lincoln took the risk of abolishing slavery. I’m aware of just how much political capital would have to be risked in taking leadership and educating not just our own nation but the world to the need for Gorbachev-type new thinking, and for sponsoring an ongoing international conference leading to a gradual, reciprocal, total abolition of nuclear weapons, along with increased regulation and sequestration of nuclear materials. It pleases me that old hands such as Dr. Kissinger, William Perry, Sam Nunn and George Shultz are already actively advocating for this goal. One key to success is surely education, building worldwide agreement around such issues as the dangers of human or computer misinterpretation of electronic information, the insanity of launch-on-warning, and the potential for nuclear winter as a result of the detonation of a relatively small number of warheads. It could take a generation, but mere commitment to the process would ease tensions on a small planet waiting breathlessly for someone to take the lead on this issue.

And after all I am only suggesting that we fulfill our solemn obligations as signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968.

Real international security will come, I hope and believe,

•from small, even merely symbolic, confidence-building measures

•from heart-to-heart relationships among leaders who share hopes for their grandchildren

•from proven nonviolent processes for the resolution of conflict

•from consistent adherence to a growing body of international law

•from collaboration on issues of common concern to all members of our global village

•from an escalating repurposing of precious resources away from wars without clear outcome toward meeting humanitarian needs in the urgent context of climate instability.

All this can be done without compromising the security of the United States, especially given our overwhelming superiority in conventional military strength, and in fact such initiatives and changes in thought and action will increase that security.

Respectfully and with all good wishes for the years ahead,

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Innocent Hopeful Children 8/10/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

What’s Best for Children?  – by Winslow Myers

The policy of nuclear deterrence is a raging failure masked as a roaring success. It is a failure because if it does break down—and it will unless we change direction—we are all toast—we and our innocent, hopeful children.

The candidacy of Donald Trump, however disconcerting, has opened the door a crack to public discussion of deterrence. Mr. Trump has, at least implicitly, raised the issue of the unfortunate effect of NATO having violated its word not to expand eastward, the word given when Gorbachev was in the midst of dissolving the Soviet Union.

Agreed, deterrence has been a major factor in preventing a third world war from 1945 until the present. The problem is what the future holds. Deterrence masquerades as a stable system when in truth it is constantly subject to ongoing imbalances—advances in technology, the diversification of kinds of nuclear weapons available, enlargement of the number of nations possessing them, and successions of leadership. All these factors in combination almost certainly will result in a deterrence breakdown sometime in the future.

We persist in the illusion that someone is “in charge” of these weapons. Here especially the emperor is walking around naked, clothed only in the transparent illusion of fail-safe mechanisms. There are indications that in some circumstances control has moved down the military chain of command, as in Pakistan, where it is said that the use of nuclear weapons has been left up to battlefield commanders in the Kashmir conflict. We may assume the nine nuclear nations have given some thought to what might happen if their head of state was unable, in the chaos of war, to maintain command and control, and so mechanisms no doubt have been developed that would allow others to make world-ending decisions. But that only intensifies the potential for confusion. Because of the complexity of the electronic systems connected to these thousands of weapons, there is a strong argument to be made that no one is really in charge—only the system—a system, as the record shows, capable of feeding false information to the fallible humans monitoring it.

The questions raised about Mr. Trump’s temperament, particularly where it comes to his potentially being in charge of the nuclear codes, underscore the bizarre nature of deterrence overall, where the head of a democracy—or for that matter a totalitarian state like North Korea—may have only minutes to make decisions that affect the lives of everyone on the planet.

The provocative notion of a “madman” somehow getting into the system and starting a war oversimplifies the reality of our situation, which is that any human being, not just a knowledge-averse demagogue like Mr. Trump, may have the capacity to go “mad” in the tensions leading up to the decision to launch. The historical record shows that past presidents of the U.S. had seriously considered using nuclear weapons, most distressingly Mr. Nixon when he realized we were losing in Vietnam. Even a “no-drama” Obama could be rendered almost psychotic with dread by evidence that missiles were apparently headed for our major cities. This is a situation that is far beyond the psychological endurance of even the sanest and most well-trained leader. Madness is relative in the nuclear world. We would certainly label mad an extremist who set off a nuclear weapon in a city. We do not apply the same label to the whole field of leaders and diplomats who seem to be more or less satisfied, or pretend they are, with a status quo that is patently insane.

If leaders had the same nightmares that many citizens have, they would be far more aggressive in setting up ongoing international conferences hell-bent on raising the level of awareness that the deterrence system is obsolete and self-contradictory—a god that fails to provide security and must be altered before it fails to provide survival. Nuclear weapons have been proliferating on the planet now for more than 70 years. Their destructive power has far outgrown the most intense hatred any human could feel for adversaries. Computer models hypothesize that it would take the detonation of only a fraction of the available weapons to bring about planet-wide changes in climate, rendering a nuclear “solution” to conflict self-negating. (Discussion of this in our presidential election process so far seems off-limits.)

What would constitute a healthy response to this collusive madness? It ought to be shame. Shame because we know that we have invented a system intended to protect civilians, including children, which will make no distinction between civilian and military. We know shame is present if only because we do not talk with children about this curse we have laid on them. We are not honest about it because it is unbearable and makes us feel helpless. If we did have the courage and skill to talk about it, it might be something like the situation in which black families are forced to have a poignant talk with their young male children about being extra-subservient in the presence of the police—except no degree of subservience to power will prevent nuclear apocalypse. It is up to grown-ups to begin now to make the necessary structural changes in these similarly intolerable situations.

One of the bottlenecks that slows nuclear disarmament is that nations know that possessing nuclear arms deter powers like the U.S. from imposing regime change upon them. We are not going to be able to use superior police-the-world military force to cut this particular Gordian Knot. An open dialogue that breaks down fears and stereotypes on the basis that we’re all in this together, leading to gradual, reciprocal agreements to disarm, is the only way to keep our children from becoming toast.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

“Jews and Executives” 7/27/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Beyond Drift – Winslow Myers

It is hard to say which is more mesmerizing about our present cultural moment, the blustering neo-fascism of Donald Trump, or the state of the body politic which seems to be so receptive to it, encouraging him ever closer to the presidency. Like Bernie Sanders, he has charged forward riding upon our collective longing for authenticity, our pervasive fatigue with political double-speak and government by corruption, cronyism, and gridlock.

Trump’s “authenticity” is a two-sided coin: his “solutions” will only lead to further division of race and class domestically and further war internationally—and they invite careful listening as a manifestation of our country’s unadmitted shadow, as Kern Beare writes in his brilliantly concise piece, “Listening to Trump.”

Some—I hope there will be enough who will back up their conviction with a vote—might say that Trump’s authenticity is consummately fake, the ultimate manifestation of reality TV, shallow celebrity culture, being famous for being famous. But he would never have gotten this far without having given authentic voice to a strain of darkness in our past and present that will do us harm unless we keep bringing it into the light of self-reflection and repentance.

Shadow is a simple word that encompasses all that we refuse to consciously address, preferring to drift in a haze of convenient simplifications and half-truths. It is easy, especially in the midst of an intensely polarized political contest, to assert that it is my party alone that will restore the U.S.A. to unalloyed greatness. It is much harder to acknowledge our shadow side as manifested in the three great interrelated whirlpools of darkness charted by Martin Luther King Jr. back in 1967: materialism, racism, and militarism.

If these remain unconscious, we drift. As our black president finishes out two terms, those in congress who have opposed his every initiative drift in a sleep of latent racism. Our materialism has led to an uneven playing field and a drift of wealth and power toward the top. Mr. Trump is a prime example, even while he pretends to be a pal of the working class. As Nick Kristof wrote in the Times, materialist excess and racism are woven into his business history: “A former building superintendent working for the Trumps explained that he was told to code any application by a black person with the letter C, for colored, apparently so the office would know to reject it. A Trump rental agent said the Trumps wanted to rent only to “Jews and executives,” and discouraged renting to blacks.”

But the greatest whirlpool of all in which we drift in semi-conscious unease is our unchecked militarism. Racism and militarism are interwoven whirlpools, as we saw recently in the tragedies in Dallas and in Baton Rouge—African American veterans targeted the police with a military assault rifles and tactics—one of whom was in turn killed by police equipped with a military-style explosive robot.

And in all the presidential debates so far, there has been zero mention of the trillion-dollar proposal to renew all our nuclear weapons systems over the next 30 years—as if nuclear weapons were an authentic answer to the challenges of poverty, food insecurity, disease, climate change, or terrorism. What real human needs could we meet by the reallocation of just a few of those thousand billions poured into all our foreign bases and weapons?

The international community and the U.S. especially lack a vision for concluding both the war on terror and the nuclear balance of terror, relying instead entirely on overwhelming, world-deployed, fight-fire-with-fire military force. If brute strength is not complemented by non-violent processes of reaching out and reconciliation, by adherence to international law, and by generous humanitarian aid, a violent backlash, as we have seen with ISIS, becomes inevitable.

There are people everywhere, not enough, but perhaps more than we may think, who have ceased to drift passively in these whirlpools of our times. People like peace activist David Hartsough, who recently led a group of citizens to Russia to establish friendly connections and overcome hardening stereotypes recalling the obsolete cold war of the last century. People like Len and Libby Traubman, who for 20 years have brought together small groups of American Jews and Palestinians to share a meal, trade stories, and put a human face on a seemingly intractable conflict. People like David Swanson, a one-man dervish who has put together a mega-sized peace conference to take place in Washington in September. Or Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza, the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is difficult to understand how anyone can argue that “black lives matter” is a racist statement when unarmed black people are being profiled and then shot by police at much higher rates than whites. Or Al Jubitz, an Oregon philanthropist who works tirelessly on citizen initiatives to prevent war. Or the police in Aarhus, Denmark, who fight terrorism by welcoming back young people who have been sucked into the whirlpool of ISIS. Or Paul Kando, a retired engineer in my small town in Maine who has come up with a comprehensive plan to gradually end our local and state over-reliance on fossil fuels in favor of a citizen-initiated transition to renewable energy sources.

The triple threat of racism, militarism and materialism always divide the world into “us” and “them,” the well-heeled and the needy, the Caucasian and the swarthy, the fully human Western European and the Muslim in whose distant cities death by suicide bombings does not merit the same media coverage as identical carnage in Paris or Orlando.

Michelle Obama’s moving speech at the Democratic Convention was so effective because it focused upon an issue that potentially unites us all, both conservative and liberal: what is best for our children? Children will not flourish without adults in their lives who have come to terms with their own shadow, with the deep truth that we are all human and imperfect. In The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn provided the precise antidote to Trumpian bromides that perpetuate division and encourage our continued drift: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.”

Need To Focus On 7/13/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

“No Conflict Has Ever Been Solved with Violence”  by Winslow Myers

The inside of Obama’s head must be a fascinating place. Our first black President, clearly one of the most self-aware and brilliant minds that ever held the office, must not only walk a line between sympathy for black victims of unwarranted police violence and support for the risky work that police must do daily to maintain us as a society of laws, but also make wrenching, complex decisions about how best to put the enormous military forces at his disposal to constructive use in faraway lands.

Further, he presides over a gridlocked congress, subject to an apparent subliminal racism of its own, that has fought him tooth and nail, him and anyone else who thinks a few small gun law reforms might not be a bad idea at this chaotic, bloody moment in our history. At the same time, he meets with subordinates regularly to decide who may be worthy of assassination by drone somewhere in the lawless hinterlands of Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan or Iraq—what some have called extra-judicial murder. Sometimes the cognitive dissonance must be mind-boggling.

Martin Luther King Jr., in his famous Riverside Church speech of 1967, “Beyond Vietnam,” cataloged the ingredients of the toxic brew we must acknowledge and eliminate if we really hope to make America great: rampant racism, materialism, and militarism. America’s original sin, the slave trade and its lingering consequences, is far from resolved. Donald Trump’s rhetoric only drags us back into the dark side of our history, taking us further from the light of resolution.

Racism, materialism, and militarism are closely woven into our culture and with each other. When our militarism seeks out enemies to justify itself, they are frequently non-white (and since World War II—except for some Serbs in 1999—when we actually attack and kill, none are caucasian). Our economic system, rigged to benefit a small number of the privileged, is fatally tied to the manufacture of bombs and fighter planes and missiles and submarines. Material greed is the motivational engine driving the contemptible lobbyists for the gun industry like the NRA and the equally contemptible politicians that lack the courage to pass common-sense gun regulation. The “chickens coming home to roost” element in the Dallas horror is inescapable. The shooter was a veteran who had been deployed to Afghanistan. Instead of trying to capture him alive, perhaps allowing us to learn more about whether his experience abroad affected his mental stability, a “drone” (robot-delivered) bomb was used to blow him up, a tactic associated with the military, never before with police.

One way we have avoided confronting ourselves has been to take on the strange and futile task of playing policeman to the whole world. What hubris gives us the moral authority to play this exalted role? The events of this past week demonstrate how much work we have to do at home before we browbeat the rest of the world into arranging their affairs to suit our interests.

Erik Wilson, the black deputy mayor pro tem of Dallas, spoke the most important words this week: “No conflict has ever been solved with violence,” he told CNN. “It’s always been solved with conversation. And that is something that we need to focus on.”

If this country—if this planet—is to have a future beyond racism, militarism, and materialism, we and our leaders must embrace Erik Wilson’s diagnosis and prescription as something worthy of consistent application at home and abroad. What kind of conversation with each other and with our fellow human beings beyond our borders will give form to a shared vision of peace beyond our own “civil wars” and the endless war on terror? What example could we set here that might help Shia and Sunni, Indians and Pakistanis, Israelis and Palestinians understand that “no conflict has ever been solved with violence?”

There’s a huge upside to our situation: we are a free country; in fact, we are still the hope of the world, as we know because so many millions would give an arm and a leg to come here. We are free to face our pain, anger and fear, and our addiction to violence as the unworkable response to these emotions. We are free to name our challenges honestly, and to find new ways to meet them by deep conversation in our “civil public square.”

Whether we agree or disagree with the specific prescriptions of a candidate like Bernie Sanders, he has exemplified an integrity and moral consistency that speaks to many of us, especially young people. He has touched a longing in us, only intensified by this week’s horrors, to embrace a vision of authenticity and inclusivity beyond the reflexive violence of the wars at home and wars abroad that share all too much in common.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide” and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.

Everything We Cherish 6/29/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Up Against the Wall  – by Winslow Myers

Everything on our small planet affects everything else. This interdependence is more a harsh reality than a New Age bromide. A diminishing few may still deny human agency in climate instability, but they can hardly pretend that diseases, or wind-driven pollution, are stoppable by national borders. Even Donald Trump would not be able to build a wall that stopped the Zika virus, or micro-particulates wafting from the coal plants in China, or the cross-Pacific drift of radioactive water from Fukushima.

It is especially urgent that we understand the bizarre interdependence that arises from the reality that nine nations possess nuclear weapons. It no longer matters how many nuclear weapons a given country has, because detonation of such weapons by any nation, even a relatively small portion of the world’s arsenals, could result in a “nuclear winter” that would have planet-wide disastrous effects.

We have reached a wall, not a physical Trump-style wall, but an absolute limit of destructive power that changes everything. The implications even reverberate back down into supposedly smaller, non-nuclear conflicts. The late Admiral Eugene Carroll, who was once in charge of all American nuclear weapons in the European theater, said it straight out: “to prevent nuclear war, we must prevent all war.” Any war involving any nuclear power, including such regional conflicts as the ongoing border dispute in Kashmir between India and Pakistan, could rapidly escalate to the nuclear level.

Apparently, this notion, understandable enough to a layperson like me, has not sunk in at the highest levels of foreign policy expertise in our own and other countries. If it had, the United States would not be committing itself to a trillion-dollar upgrade of its nuclear arsenal. Nor would Russia be spending more on such weapons, nor India, nor Pakistan.

The analogy with America’s gun obsession is inescapable. Many politicians and the lobbyists who contribute to their campaigns, defying common sense, advocate for an expansion of rights and permits to carry guns into classrooms and churches and even bars, arguing that if everyone had a gun, we would all be more secure. Would the world be safer if more countries or God forbid all countries, possessed nuclear weapons—or would we be safer if none did?

When it comes to how we think about these weapons, the concept of “enemy” itself needs to be mindfully re-examined. The weapons themselves have become everyone’s enemy, an enemy much fiercer than the evilest human adversary imaginable. Because we share the reality that my security depends upon yours and yours upon mine, the concept of an enemy that can be effectively annihilated by superior nuclear firepower has become obsolete. Meanwhile, our thousands of weapons remain poised and ready for someone to make a fatal mistake and annihilate everything we cherish.

The most implacable adversaries are precisely the parties who should be reaching out and talking to each other with the most urgency: India and Pakistan, Russia and the U.S., South and North Korea. The difficult achievement of the treaty slowing and limiting the ability of Iran to make nuclear weapons is beyond laudable, but we need to augment its strength by building webs of friendship between U.S. and Iranian citizens. Instead, the status quo of mistrust is maintained by obsolete stereotypes reinforced by elected officials and pundits.

Important as are treaties of non-proliferation and war-prevention, networks of genuine human relationship are even more crucial. As the peace activist David Hartsough has written about his recent trip to Russia: “Instead of sending military troops to the borders of Russia, let’s send lots more citizen diplomacy delegations like ours to Russia to get to know the Russian people and learn that we are all one human family. We can build peace and understanding between our peoples.” Far from the easy dismissal as naive, it is actually the best realistic way our species can get past the wall of absolute destruction that contains no way out on the level of military superiority.

Reagan and Gorbachev came very close to agreeing to abolish their two nations’ nukes in their conference in Reykjavik in 1986. It could have happened. It should have happened. We need leaders with the vision and daring to push all-out for abolition. As a citizen with no special expertise, I cannot understand how a person as smart as President Obama could go to Hiroshima and hedge his statements about the abolition of nuclear weapons with mealy phrases like “We may not realize this goal in my lifetime.” I hope Mr. Obama makes as great an ex-president as has Jimmy Carter. Set free from the political constraints of his office, perhaps he will join Mr. Carter in robust peace initiatives that use his relationships with world leaders to seek real change.

His voice will be crucial, but it is only one voice. NGOs like Rotary International, with 1.2 million members in thousands of clubs in virtually all countries, are our safest, quickest way to real security. However, for organizations like Rotary to really take on war prevention as it took on the worldwide eradication of polio, rank-and-file Rotarians, like all citizens, must awaken to the degree to which everything has changed, and reach across walls of alienation to supposed enemies. The horrific possibility of nuclear winter is in an odd way positive because it represents the self-defeating absolute limit of military force up against which the whole planet has come. We all find ourselves up against a wall of impending doom—and potential hope.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

No Finger on the Button 6/15/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Many Fingers on the Button   by Winslow Myers

If we had a nickel for everyone who has muttered some variation on “I worry about Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button,” we could finance an anti-Trump Super-PAC.

Obviously the temperament of the leader of any nuclear nation matters deeply. But there will be moments when it matters not whether the leader is sober and restrained, because the action will be elsewhere, further down the chain of military command and control. Thousands of military personnel around the world have access to nuclear weapons. We are told that battlefield commanders of the Pakistani army deployed in Kashmir are free to unleash their tactical nukes without the command and control of their political leaders.

One of the lesser-known pivotal moments of the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred on a Soviet submarine deep beneath the Atlantic. From an article in the Guardian, October 2012: “In late October, 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, the decision to sidestep WWIII was taken, not in the Kremlin or the White House, but in the control room of a Soviet submarine under attack by the US fleet. The submarine’s batteries were failing, air conditioning was crippled, communication with Moscow was impossible, and Savitsky, the captain of the ship, was convinced that WWIII had already broken out. He ordered the B-59’s ten kiloton nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing against the USS Randolf, the giant aircraft carrier leading the task force. The launch of the B-59’s torpedo (2/3 the power of Hiroshima) required the consent of all three senior officers aboard. Vasili Arkhipov, one of the three, was alone in refusing permission. It is certain that Arkhipov’s reputation was a key factor in the control room debate. The previous year the young officer, son of peasant farmers near Moscow, had exposed himself to severe radiation in order to save K-19, a submarine with an overheating reactor. That radiation dose eventually contributed to his death in 1998. What saved us was not only Arkhipov’s clear-headedness under great stress, but the established procedures of the Soviet navy, which were respected by the officers aboard the B-59.”

How bizarre, this barely, rarely acknowledged truth: we all owe our lives to one ethical Russian man, a man already sick unto death with nuclear radiation.

In 1940, speaking of the Nazis and Mussolini, the poet Wallace Stevens wrote of the “absence of any authority except force.” Held up against Trump’s simplistic and bullying bombast, how refreshing are the outspoken convictions of the late Muhammed Ali, who refused to go to Vietnam and kill people with whom he had no quarrel. Too many of us prefer the comforting lie that soldiers in Vietnam died for our freedom. Has not the absence of any authority except force, with a few quiet intervals, been a constant ever since?

The most frightening element in our present world situation is not only that nuclear weapons could slip out of the control of national leaders, but also that there is no non-military endgame in sight for many contemporary conflicts. Terrorists multiply faster than we can kill them with our drones—indeed, because we kill them and their friends and families. The United States especially seems to know only the endless use of overwhelming force, actual or potential. The two major candidates for president, sadly, share this empty lack of vision, one dangerously habituated to military options, the other dangerously inexperienced in their use. There is no vision of other, better ways to stabilize an unstable planet, such as increased humanitarian aid, adherence to international law, and non-violent processes of mediation and reconciliation.

We are a young, great, and dynamic nation, made so by the genius of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. Our original sin, still not fully confronted and repented, is our treatment of Native Americans and African slaves. Our contemporary temptations have been materialism and militarism. But our future includes the inevitable end of exceptionalism. While we may persist with our nativist pride in our freedom and prosperity, the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin got it right: “The age of nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the earth.” The three greatest challenges we face are global in scope and require global cooperation: climate, food, and nuclear weapons. We’re all in this together.

That “common sense” is lacking among the nuclear powers. Instead, they are playing a game of chicken that accelerates toward the purest folly. However effectively Mr. Obama represented us in his visit to Hiroshima, there was a haunting distance between his rhetoric and the obscenely expensive renewal of our nuclear arsenal that our government is planning. No matter whom we choose to allow access to the nuclear button, before America can “become great again,” we need national repentance and reflection. Perhaps this will yield a new vision of our commonality and interdependence with all peoples. If we can grow into that understanding, we will no longer need anyone’s finger on the nuclear button.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Fallible Human Beings 4/20/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Inevitability – by Winslow Myers

Nuclear war is coming. Our officials are currently increasing the chances of that.

I only write ominous op-ed pieces like this in the spirit of hoping I’m an inaccurate prophet. But I’m unable to avoid the difficult conclusion that nuclear war, absent an immediate, fundamental, worldwide change in attitude, is an inevitable part of our future. It could be weeks, months, or years away. But it is coming.

It could break out at any moment between India and Pakistan, the most likely scenario at present. Pakistan is deploying tactical nuclear weapons controlled by local commanders on the front lines in Kashmir, as if the near-miss of the Cuban crisis of 1962 had never happened. War could almost as likely start between NATO and Russia. It might begin with an accident, a misinterpretation of computer blips, a terrorist act, a careless or calculated overreach by a dictator, or a troubled officer with access to sequestered codes. There are too many weapons of too many sizes connected by too many complex but imperfect electronic systems to too many fallible human beings.

If it happens, all our incremental steps toward a semblance of world order will disappear in a few minutes of unimaginable destruction, to be replaced by a barbaric chaos where medical facilities are overwhelmed and water and food supplies are contaminated. Those still alive at the periphery of the blasts will envy those annihilated at the center.

The effects will be experienced around the world, even from a so-called “regional” war. As the ash and soot and radioactive particles from the detonations rise into the upper atmosphere and disperse upon the winds, we will learn just how small a planet we inhabit together—a lethal lesson with no do-over.

The political fallout will be equally grave and far-reaching. Those leaders who made lukewarm but ineffectual efforts to control the weapons, who paid lip service to non-proliferation treaties, who made high-minded speeches while convinced that disarmament initiatives would mean the end of their electability, will feel a remorse that screams within like the howling mobs that will surround their offices and palaces demanding to know why the leaders let disaster happen.

Not a day goes by that I do not ponder why it has not happened already. However ignored, this issue has hung over our lives like a gray pall. Working to prevent nuclear war has provided invaluable moments of shared hope, but feelings of foreboding have dominated. Morbid preoccupation seems less neurotic than total denial. Anyone who admits the urgency of this issue cringes and waits and wonders when, say, the radio goes temporarily dead—has it finally happened? There’s also the magical thinking that says that since it has not yet happened, there may indeed be miraculous hidden forces at work, helping us avoid the worst until we grow mature enough to realize our folly.

History suggests to us that divine intervention will not prevent the worst. It did not stop the Nazi holocaust. Nuclear weapons were conceived and created by people. People are equally capable of realizing that such weapons have not led, and cannot lead, to the global security we seek. It is this logical conclusion, sidestepped and diluted by hundreds of thousands of “experts,” but clear enough to the average 10-year-old, that can be the shared basis of universally applied, reciprocal negotiations toward absolute and total abolition. The world would rejoice in relief if it happened.

Meanwhile we remain stubbornly blind. How much more deeply could we fail our 10-year-olds than by introducing them to a world where such hideous and unmerited suffering hangs over them? The bumper-sticker question persists: do we hate our enemies more than we love our children?

We have kept these weapons at the ready as our primary way to avoid looking at our own darkness. We have projected evil motives upon a series of less-than-fully-human stereotypes, from the toothy, sadistic, slant-eyed Orientals (suddenly transformed back into agonized human beings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki), to brutal, corrupt, vodka-swilling Soviets, to bearded, misogynistic Islamic thugs. And the real people behind these crude and false stereotypes have projected the same malevolence onto us. Out of this “us-and-them” animosity has arisen the systemic evil of world-destroying weapons.

Our mutual fear can only be mastered by living the golden rule common to all major religions, of doing as you would wish to be done by. Refusal to heed this practical advice has borne a perverse shadow-version of the universal rule of interdependence: if you do harm unto me, I will destroy you utterly—even if it also destroys me in the process!

We need to see, with the same visceral fright that we respond to a poisonous snake rearing up and baring its dripping fangs, the immediacy of the danger we face.

On this earth the universe has tried an experiment in consciousness, an experiment in learning to see what causal conditions lead to life and what lead to death.

We have been gifted with the capacity to see. Instead, we are very close to doing ourselves in. We ignore the life-affirming realism of Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King in favor of the illusory “realism” of Kissinger, Cheney, Trump and Cruz. Millions on the planet continue to work their hearts out to wake people up to reasonable alternatives based in common interest and common sense.

May they prove my pessimism wrong.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Ground Zero Everywhere 4/13/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Ground Zero Is Everywhere  by Winslow Myers

The philosopher Krishnamurti once asserted that we are each totally responsible for the whole world. Global climate change, among other issues, has made this provocation seem more and more undeniable. It is impossible to shift elsewhere the responsibility we each bear for our own environmental footprint. There is no way not to make a difference.

The amount of psychic energy that Americans have invested in our current presidential race suggests that citizens feel so weighed down by the burden of our multiple challenges that we invest our preferred candidates with magical powers. We pledge our allegiance to whatever authoritative, or authoritarian, parent figure we assume can best tackle threats too large and amorphous for any one of us to get our arms around.

When Senator Sanders makes it an explicit theme of his campaign that he cannot achieve a political revolution alone, he’s acknowledging a condition of interdependence and shared responsibility that is not only domestic but also global—a new and unavoidable level of civic engagement. While his major issue has been the need for greater citizen involvement in fighting income inequality, other challenges that candidates have addressed more reluctantly also require a different level of participation. More than half a century ago we came within a hairbreadth of annihilation as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis. To some extent the U.S. and Russia have gradually taken its lessons to heart, with improved communication between their leaders and welcome cutbacks from the grotesque numbers of warheads that had been deployed on both sides.

Now India and Pakistan have chosen to ignore the grave lessons of the Cuban near-disaster of 1962. Unable to resolve a conflict over territory in Kashmir extending back to the partition of the two nations in the late 1940s, a conflict that has already resulted in three wars, Pakistan has deployed tactical nuclear weapons on their border with India. These weapons are under the control not of the head of state, but of local commanders. Should the region slide into a nuclear war and subsequent nuclear winter, it would affect the entire earth. Like it or not, ground zero is now everywhere. “Over there” has become “here.”

Broad anthropological studies and world gatherings of scientists (see the 1986 UNESCO Seville Statement) have asserted that we humans are not doomed by our biology to behave violently. Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature presents a hopeful spectrum of global trends toward less violence and war. Pinker asserts that the present moment is one of the most peaceful eras in all of history. Sadly, this must still be qualified by the phrase “relatively speaking.” Our dark side certainly shows itself too.

Indeed, a recent issue of the New Yorker carries a riveting report on the heroic efforts of activists to smuggle tons of paper records out of the offices of Assad’s security services, records which document with Nazi-like bureaucratic zeal the horrific war crimes of the Syrian regime. Human cruelty, as the survivors of Assad’s torture chambers attest, can become truly devilish in its creativity. In the South Sudan, tribesmen have been using the rape of children, including infants, as a weapon of war. The sadism of Sudanese soldiers, the keepers of Abu Ghraib, or the Assad functionaries who blowtorch and castrate dissidents testify to the distance we have yet to travel if our small planet is to become a place where each is responsible for all and love really does trump hate.

Torture and rape are unbearable enough, but a nuclear war anywhere could throw billions of people into the misery of worldwide starvation. It is a dangerous illusion to assume that our political leaders and foreign policy experts will magically prevent apocalypse—that the generals on the front lines in Pakistan or anywhere else are sufficiently trained and disciplined never to fall into fatal error. With each further deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons, weapons that the United States and other nuclear powers are also developing, the temptation grows to cross the nuclear threshold. As Lao Tzu said, “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” All nations share an interest in stepping back from a catastrophe where any “victory” is a mirage that briefly disguises defeat for all.

One presidential candidate, until he changed his mind after a couple of days of negative feedback, rashly proposed that Japan and South Korea be encouraged to become new members of the nuclear club. And even as President Obama convened an international conference to discuss the sequester of fissile materials against terrorists, he has also quietly agreed to an obscenely expensive long-term renewal of U.S. nuclear weapons systems. Instead, our country could still set an example for India and Pakistan, helping them understand how dangerous it would be if they repeated the same folly into which we drifted during the Missile Crisis of 1962. Setting an example demands that citizens become more engaged with foreign policy, acknowledge that there is good and evil in all of us, and bear the truth that ground zero is everywhere on one small planet.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Profound Doubleness 2/17/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Looking for America    – by Winslow Myers

In the New Hampshire primary, we have raised up an authentic firebrand in one party, and in the other a classic purveyor of fear and simplistic solutions—results that remind us of what we have always half-known: we are a country split by a profound doubleness: on the one hand, we are the city on the hill upon whose gates a world of refugees is knocking to get in. On the other hand we are a young nation that has never really come to terms with how we built our unequaled economic and military power: by slave labor and imperial violence. These twin evils continue to bear fruit in the widening split between rich and working poor, and in addiction to the war and corruption that feed our military-industrial-political-media complex.

It would be an overreach to say that our disaffection with self-entitled political royalty like the Clintons and Bushes arises directly from a fully informed consciousness of the twin evils of our national heritage. But we are clear that all is not well, even if we remain reluctant to face the causes directly. This vague unease has benefited both Trump and Sanders.

Can our polarized body politic identify a core consensus of values that transcends our cultural deadlock? One place to begin is a speech Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Riverside Church in 1967, one year before he was assassinated. King is clearly reading his text, rather than riffing spontaneously as he did in the more famous “I Have a Dream.” Listen and follow the transcript: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

King declares the unequivocal evil of the United States intervention in Vietnam. But he goes further, using Vietnam as an example of something diseased in our nation’s collective psyche, and tying our military adventurism to our willingness to accept racial injustice and poverty at home. He argues that we must change from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society, or we have no chance to overcome the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” He asserts that a country that continues year after year to spend more on the military than on social programs “is approaching spiritual death.”

King’s prophetic eloquence could not be more relevant in 2016. The U.S. wants its own way, not realizing that the success of our way depends now upon the success of the entire community of nations. This is undeniable when it comes to the issue of climate instability, but it is also true regarding the endless cycle of war. We are stubbornly convinced that it is our destiny to fix the horrendous chaos of the Middle East, but we are fixated on the notion that “solutions” inevitably require military intervention. No longer can the United States resolve the daunting chaos of the international scene by being the primary seller of arms to a bewildering mass of parties in murderous conflict. No longer can we maintain the double standard that says we can renew our own nuclear arms at obscene expense to be “safe,” even after we signed treaties requiring us to move deliberately toward worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons. Sadly, no longer can we say that we are morally superior to some other nations when it comes to sanctioning torture.

Has it begun to dawn on us finally that war leads only to more war (even Trump seems to agree with Sanders about the waste of Iraq), and the trillions we have spent could have funded—and our remaining resources still could fund—not only a global Marshall Plan to address the poverty and ill-health and alienation that are the root causes of terror, but plans to rebuild our own infrastructure to prevent more disasters like Flint? Trump and Sanders in their stark difference both from each other and from establishment candidates exemplify our national duality: fear-mongering and oversimplification from Trump, idealism and authenticity from Sanders. Every four years we have a fresh chance to look both for the real America and for the best possible America. Fifty-seven years ago, King pointed the way.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Nothing Nailed Down 1/20/16

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Another Look at Building 7

by Winslow Myers

The shock of President Kennedy’s assassination back in 1963 on my impressionable 21-year-old mind led me to the usual articles, fictional films, and documentaries about who did it and why. Did Oswald act alone? Was there something on the grassy knoll? More than 50 years later, definitive answers are as elusive as ever. Then in 1968 we lost both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Again, conspiracy theories became legion, but nothing has ever been nailed down.

John Kennedy’s mysterious death began decades of mistrust between citizens and government, intensified by evasions and outright lies on the part of many subsequent U.S. administrations—Johnson with the Gulf of Tonkin fabrication, Nixon with Watergate lies, the Pentagon Papers, the lies that led us to invade Iraq in 2003, to the realization that a gigantic secret bureaucracy is trawling who we email and telephone.

Our leaders often urge us to become civically engaged beyond mere voting, as Obama did in his latest State of the Union address. But there has been a divisive tension between a presumed need for secrecy and an informed citizenry—a tension that encourages conspiracy theory at its most paranoid.

A further grave wound to our civil cohesion came on September 11, 2001. The dust had barely settled before the conspiracy theorists were once again hard at work. Such theories, considered far-fetched by most Americans, gained some traction by way of the Bush administration’s perverse response to 9/11. While 15 of the conspirators who brought down the twin towers were Saudi, George W. Bush and colleagues began to beat the drums for an invasion of—Iraq.

Like millions around the world, I could see no connection to 9/11 and no good reasons for war. Aluminum tubes? Uranium in Niger? Weapons of mass destruction? Saddam was bin Laden’s buddy? The evidence seemed flimsy. But the U.S. attacked anyway, cobbling together a “coalition of the willing” to employ “shock and awe.” The result was the greatest foreign policy disaster in our country’s history. The Iraqis didn’t greet us as liberators. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Every rationale the cocksure Bush administration gave for the invasion has been proven bogus. And the blowback, all the way forward to the contemporary rise of ISIS, is still unfolding.

Though it was obvious that what Bush and Cheney told us about Iraq wasn’t true, when the 9/11 Commission Report was published in 2004, I registered the gravitas of the Commission members and accepted their findings. However, at the urging of a friend in the construction business, I recently watched the 15 minute film narrated by Ed Asner, about one huge loose end in the events of 9/11: the collapse of World Trade Center Building No. 7.

Leaving conspiracy aside, the hard facts are very troubling. Everyone remembers the horror of the twin towers collapsing on the morning of 9/11 shortly after being struck by two hijacked planes. But a third skyscraper, Building 7, collapsed at 5:20 that afternoon. The impact of the two jet airplanes and the large quantities of burning fuel were given as the reason for the fall of the twin towers, but there was no airplane or jet fuel involved in Building 7’s collapse. Strangely enough, the 9/11 Commission Report published in 2004 didn’t even mention Building 7. A 47-story building collapsed straight down into its own footprint for no apparent reason, and there wasn’t a word about it in the initial 9/11 official story.

Finally, after loud protests, the government produced a lengthy report in 2008 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that claimed office fires were responsible for the collapse of Building 7. The 2,000 architects and engineers of AE9/11Truth, however, don’t buy the NIST explanation. In the Asner film, some of these experts in their respective fields present credible explanations in the areas of structural steel, demolition, fire fighting, fire protection, metallurgy and explosives. Their evidence is overwhelming that the building came down in a controlled demolition.

As someone who would prefer to avoid conspiracy theory, I find it congenial to stay with the established scientific facts. I’d like to see experts on opposing sides of the issue go toe-to-toe and argue openly about who is right. The issues are based in established principles of science and engineering. It shouldn’t be that hard to determine the truth.

Pondering the implications of the collapse of Building 7 ought to remain a separate step altogether, avoiding the temptation to wonder about inside jobs, Al Qaeda, and all the other suspicions native to our experience of deception from whatever quarter. But if a further step leads downward into that darkness, it will be easier to face it armed with the truth about how the collapse actually occurred. Kudos to those persistent architects and engineers calling for a new independent investigation of what happened to World Trade Center Building No. 7.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Illusory Mis-identity 12/30/15

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me’ – Review by Winslow Myers

Toni Morrison calls this book required reading, and it is. Even if it first germinated before the many police murders of unarmed African American boys and men over the last year, it could not have entered the cultural scene at a more fateful moment.

The book takes the form of a letter from Coates to his son, overflowing with mingled anger, despair, and love, about the experience of growing up in a country where our foundational heritage is the ongoing freedom of whites to kill blacks with impunity. This injury is complemented by the insult of hundreds of years of rank economic injustices extending back to the origins of our “exceptional” political experiment, conceived, with due respect for their good intentions, by slaveholding white men.

To define whiteness, Coates uses the provocative phrase “people who believe they are white,” by which I take him to mean that there is a negative part of some of us that needs to feel superior to, and therefore also fearful of, some “lower” order. No peak without a valley. The pain caused by this illusory mis-identity is unfathomable.

After the latest mass shooting in San Bernardino, the African-American president of the United States spoke from the Oval Office trying to calm the fears of citizens anxious about the random terror of ISIS. He appealed to our best tendencies: “We were founded upon a belief in human dignity that no matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.” While acknowledging the reality of terrorism, he cautioned against separating Muslims and non-Muslims into a stereotypical “us and them.” Because “us and them” sadly forms a big chunk of our only partly acknowledged heritage, Obama was immediately attacked by presidential candidates of the opposing party with the fear-mongering version of our national identity.

The violence of ongoing exceptionalism, built upon so much insufficiently processed history, continues to assume grotesque forms. Sadly, the Senate cannot even pass a bill forbidding people on terrorist watch lists from buying weapons because the National Rifle Association has such a powerful lobby. What are the roots, if not raw fear of the “other,” of this white obsession with the Second Amendment?

At my Ivy League college 50 years ago, the hundred or so young white men with whom I shared meals were served by a group of young black men in white coats. Did we speak a friendly word to them? Did we see them as people with the same potentialities as ourselves? We did not.

Now I have become part of a family where I have four mixed-race adoptive grandchildren. My love for them is just as fierce and fearful as Ta-Nehisi Coates’s for his son. Suddenly it is of more than the academic interest that the oldest of my four is approaching the adolescent moment when he will start to look dangerous to the police.

The knotted heritage of our nation cannot be loosed by the descendants of slaves who endured it and endure it still. Instead, the knot must be newly owned by those who have too long disowned it; can we who think we are white emerge from the dreamy pretension of our effortlessly assumed privilege? Can we admit that our perverted form of exceptionalism has cut a swath of destruction not only through our national history but also through such diverse haunts of otherness as Vietnam and Iraq?

Those who think they are white came to wherever they are now by free migration not by slave ships, out of the common pool of all humans from the savannas of Africa. In that shared origin story may reside some hope of post-racial—or post-religious for that matter—interrelationship among equals. Meanwhile, we have Coates’s authentic cry of the heart from which to learn and grow.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Adversarial Proliferation 10/14/15

The Only Way to Win is Not to Play

By Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

As the possibility grows that Russian and American, or NATO, forces will inadvertently clash over or in the Syrian chaos, it is hard not to be reminded of Eric Schlosser’s electrifying 2013 book, “Command and Control,” a comprehensive account of the development and deployment of nuclear weapons over the last 60 years. It might be the most frightening book you will ever read.

Schlosser walks us through the bizarre ambiguities of deterrence, always in the context of the tension between the need for fail-safe mechanisms to prevent misuse and the even more pressing military need for split-second readiness. This tension has left an all too lengthy trail of close calls, misunderstandings, hair-raising false alarms, and one micro step-away-from accidental thermonuclear detonations. Our planet’s having been spared apocalypse—so far—approaches the miraculous.

The threat of mutually assured destruction has almost certainly had a major role in preventing yet another world war—again, so far. Given the inability of the victorious powers at the end of World War II to trust one another enough to see where an all-out arms race would end up, they chose instead to slide down the slippery slope of adversarial proliferation.

Even as safety specialists focus upon protecting the weapons from the possibility of detonation by someone who has lost his mind, they deny the stark insanity of the deterrence system itself. Nuclear protocol remains so hair-trigger that it feels as if the weapons possess a kind of almost-independent eagerness to show what they can do.

Pick your poison: the knife-edge Cold War balance of terror, where at least elite forces like the Strategic Air Command took enormous pride in their professionalism, or the present era of bored, restless crews in missile silos smoking dope and cheating on readiness tests.

Only if we face such realities honestly, can we hope to change them, beginning with foundational principles congruent with our actual condition:

In the pre-nuclear world, international relations emerged from the conflict of national interests. In a post-nuclear world, national self-interest is intimately connected with planetary self-interest. The possibility of even a small number of nuclear detonations anywhere on earth causing “nuclear winter” underlines this radical change.

In both the pre-nuclear and post–nuclear world, it has been of primary strategic interest to try to psyche out the mentality of the “enemy”—almost always leading to projective distortions like “they support brutal regimes, we do not.” In the post-nuclear world, the desire not to appear weak common to all sides in a conflict has become a recipe for psychological war—credibility—sliding into a real war. Diplomacy must be founded both upon the shared threat of nuclear winter and admitting the universal tendency toward macho posturing. The only way anyone wins is if everyone wins.

In a pre-nuclear world, greater strength in arms made victory a strong likelihood; in a post-nuclear world, victory is a phantom. Schlosser’s book is full of military leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere, General Curtis Lemay of Strategic Air Command first among them, who entertained the folly of believing that total victory was possible in a nuclear war. Only President Kennedy pushed back against Lemay’s relentless pressure to launch an air attack on Cuba during the Missile Crisis of 1962, which would almost certainly have started a third world war.

A half-century later, there is still no person on earth possessing sufficient wisdom to be able to make sensible decisions once a nuclear war begins. There is also no military or civilian commander that can say with assurance that the thousands of nuclear weapons around the globe will never be involved in an accident that tips us into a war that no one can win. Past time to convene an international conference that pushes the nine nuclear nations to accelerate a reciprocal, verifiable disarmament process. It is perfectly possible to do, and crazy not to.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

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