Humans vs Humans 10/7/15

A (Not So Hidden) Assumption

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Another mass shooting in the U.S.; Russia attacking whomever it thinks most threatens Assad; the carnage across vast swaths of the Middle East, where a Hobbesian chaos reigns so complete that one can no longer tell the players apart enough to decide upon rational strategic policy—these disparate events are united by one primal cultural assumption: that humans murdering other humans represents an effective way to resolve conflicts.

Someday we will understand how the grotesque distortion of reality within the mind of an insane person spraying bullets randomly among his innocent fellow-citizens is not all that different from Assad dropping barrel bombs on his fellow citizens. Or Putin dropping bombs on whomever his planes are targeting today—or Obama firing extra-judicial missiles from drones.

Killing solves nothing. But the not-so-hidden pervasive assumption is that killing solves many things—based upon might makes right.

This is such a given in the media that “objective” reporting of the “facts” doesn’t even need to set violence in the context of values—except when the murderousness results in unavoidable tragic consequences like a mass exodus of refugees. Journalism proudly seeks the objective, the “real.” The “real” is a cold accounting of death and dismemberment without any possible blurring of the “facts” by human values like pity, compassion, and shame.

Whether motivated by fear, revenge, offense as best defense, or any of the major rationalizations for the insanity of war or the insanity of “private” murderousness, humans live, move and have their being within a vast sea of justification of killing.

It extends into the highest reaches of our technological prowess, and thus we have designed and deployed extraordinary instruments of death like the Trident submarine, 600 feet of pure potential destruction, a kind of holocaust in a can administered with an elite and proud professionalism that we would be happy to see emulated elsewhere in our institutions and activities. We justify the necessity of this deterrent/first strike bulwark, just as the others who possess these infernal machines–the Russians, the French, the British, the Indians, and the Chinese–feel equally justified in keeping at the ready their own apparatus of mass murder under the waves of the world’s oceans. Even more nuclear nations—Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea–also keep world-ending bombs in the ground and/or on board war planes.

This is our human paradigm on a small planet. But paradigms can shift. We once thought that drilling holes in peoples’ skulls was the most effective way to heal chronic headaches, or that werewolves were as “real” as present journalistic “objectivity,” or that the sun revolved around the earth, or that cholera germs were airborne and not waterborne.

We humans evolved from mammals who slowly learned compassion and care for their young over millions of years. Within the ecological systems into which these creatures fit, there is constant conflict, but also a level of cooperation in favor of the survival and health of the system as a whole. From this life support system we still have much to learn. And the capacity to learn is native within us, for we evolved from the same system.

It is difficult to gauge how much power for positive change is contained in the mere phrase that killing solves nothing. Surely the vast majority of people believe it to be true. An impractical thought experiment can be performed: imagine that every news story about war and murder simply began with the phrase “Killing humans solves nothing.” To have a wide-ranging dialogue about whether killing solves anything is to open the door to as yet unimagined or at least unchosen possibilities—and perhaps, someday, to close the door for good on humans killing each other.

Nuclear weapons are a perfect place to start, because it is so crystal clear that their use in conflict resolves nothing, and would inevitably make things a great deal worse, worse even to the extent of our very extinction. It is past time for an international conference, attended by those in the military and in high civilian positions in the nuclear nations who are the decision-makers, to address the perfectly feasible abolition of these obsolete weapons. Success in this regard, so much easier than the level of cooperation required to mitigate global climate instability, could become a model of nonviolent conflict resolution replicable in regional and local domains, including addressing the NRA-driven gun-culture in the U.S. with common-sense laws. Killing solves nothing.

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.

Cities Full of Citizens 8/12/15

An Alien Addresses the U.N. on Nuclear Deterrence

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

“Representatives of the nations of earth, I greet you in the name of the Local Group Intergalactic Council. As your Hubble telescope has told you, the Local Group, 10 million light years across, comprises about 30 galaxies, your own Milky Way being the largest.

Perhaps it will not surprise you that around the hundreds of billions of stars in these galaxies spin many planets that support life. I hope it will be a wake-up call for you to know that just within the Local Group, a tiny fraction of the universe, there have already been 87 planets, which have annihilated themselves with weapons of mass destruction.

Try to take this in. An immense struggle of life, exactly like yours, evolving over millions of years out of inert matter on a small sphere in orbit around its own star, slowly developing into forms of mammalian care, self-conscious awareness, and love —but then unleashing complete self-destruction. Some of these worlds had their equivalent Shakespeares, their Mozarts, their Van Goghs, but their masterpieces are as extinct as they are.

We have watched with growing alarm since we received the signal of your first atomic explosion on earth in 1945—immediately followed by the use of nuclear bombs on two cities full of civilians.

Fifty-two years beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis, my fellow-citizens of the Milky Way, you refuse to take in its foreboding lesson. You have not seen that all nations share a common problem, which is that the weapons systems you have developed as your bastions of security have become the gravest threat to that same security.

Yes, for many decades deterrence did indeed work, by a miracle of good fortune, to prevent a third world war. But if nine nuclear powers should turn to fifteen, to twenty-one, to thirty-five, all connected to complex electronic systems, and the systems are all connected to thousands upon thousands of fallible human beings, your chances of survival will diminish to zero. Will you passively assent to visiting this doom upon your children and grandchildren?

The unworkable paradox of deterrence is that the purpose of nuclear weapons is meant to ensure that they will never be used, but at the same time nuclear strategists require them to be on hair-trigger alert for deterrence to be credible.

This is a holocaust waiting to happen.

In the very midst of your democratic institutions you tolerate thermonuclear absolute monarchies, where one person has the power to decide whether to annihilate millions. And where that same person may have to decide within minutes whether to counterlaunch if attacked.

But even without a counterlaunch, computer models have warned you about nuclear winter, which posits that if fewer than one percent of your weapons are detonated, the soot and ash could spread around your planet and shut down agriculture for a decade—in effect, a death sentence for your species, exactly what happened in the case of three other planets in the local group. Therefore the shared problem of nuclear winter should be the foundational talking point of abolition.

Your planet continues to drift downriver on a raft toward an immense waterfall. You have oars, but you have not learned how to row together toward shore. You foolishly believe that you won’t go over the falls, that you will be the exception.

You have not learned to row together because you have locked yourselves into obsolete identifications. You think of yourselves as Jews or Muslims or Persians or Republicans or Palestinians or Africans, each with their separate, tribal story of origin or inviolate holy texts. Such tribalism served your survival instincts for thousands of years. But having seen photographs of your blue planet from space, you know now you are one human tribe facing challenges that no single nation can solve alone.

Many planets in the local group made it through the stage in which you find yourselves by realizing that “enemy” is not a productive concept—especially when it became clear that hurting the enemy only means hurting oneself. When you fear and preoccupy with those who hate you, you do harm to them, which makes them hate you more, and you fear them more, perpetuating an endless, futile cycle. You have built your security systems upon this cycle.

No one will be secure until all are secure. Conflict on your planet will not cease. The task is to resolve conflict without fear, hate, and killing, knowing that your survival depends upon others, and others upon yours.

I am not here to force dominion upon you, but only to set before you a free choice between further maturation or suicide: evolve your thinking or die. We have the technical means to destroy every one of your warheads, but without your own species-wide change of hearts and minds, you would only build them again. Change must come from you. You must learn to love your children, including the children of your adversaries, more than you fear those adversaries. Ask yourselves what benefits all children, and that will point the way.

Whatever happens, you can’t say that you haven’t been told.

—end—

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

Capacity for Shame 4/1/15

Shame

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Hundreds of people recently paid big bucks to hear Monica Lewinsky give a carefully crafted but also quite touching TED talk announcing her survival of a public shaming of planetary proportions.

Brené Brown, a leading researcher who teaches resilience to shame, asserts that a major root cause of our collective shame originates in a paradigm of scarcity: the main message of our culture is that our ordinary lives are not special enough. We are not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, interesting enough, accomplished enough. Adding to the mix are pervasive early experiences of humiliation. An art teacher once told my father there was no hope that he could ever learn to draw. This casual comment stayed with him all his life. School experiences of this sort are legion.

Notwithstanding Brown’s essential research, the roots of shame are even more existential than the superficial criteria of our materialist and appearance-obsessed culture; for proof we need only look to the primordial mythology of Adam and Eve covering their privates after eating the forbidden fruit. The meaning of the myth is still debated; in one interpretation, their shame represented not a disobedient fall into original sin, but a fall upward into consciousness and conscience—into the healthy vulnerability indicated by our capacity for shame.

Having earned my undergraduate degree, I was troubled for decades by a repetitive dream in which I needed to go back to my college as an adult and take one more year of courses in order to authenticate my diploma. It was only in middle age, as I began to fulfill my professional potential, by which time I had acquired enough experience to forgive myself for some serious mistakes of work and love, that the dream ceased to recur. The dream was a manifestation of shame, a deep sense of not living up to the birthright of what it was possible for me to be. Shame and its complement, empathy, are built-in software that helps weave people together in the web of interdependence we call culture—the culture that is and the culture that might be.

Our present culture shames selectively. Monica Lewinsky, whose moment of youthful complicity with a powerful man threatened only herself and one family, albeit a very public family, must carefully eat crow in order to move on. Richard Bruce Cheney, the proximate cause not only of the lies that engendered the ongoing deaths of hundreds of thousands in Iraq and surroundings but also of the environmental catastrophe of fracking, remains comfortably unashamed of the agony he has brought to whole peoples and landscapes. Let’s not hold our breath waiting for him to do a repentant TED talk any time soon.

The shame of our planetary condition is even deeper than an oligarchic culture where those insulated by power get to pick who gets a pass and who does not. After millennia of wars, the human family still accepts the shameless notion that killing each other will resolve our many conflicts. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear from denizens of this or that prestigious Washington think-tank, often not speaking truth to power but beating the drums of power, lending a veneer of legitimacy to activities for which we should be thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed—secret arms sales to all sides in a conflict, hypocrisy around nuclear weapons, drones decimating wedding parties, military cost overruns in the billions that take food from the mouths of the poor.

When pundits encourage violent alternatives as logically inevitable, violence is rationalized, brought into civilized discourse, made credible and fit for daily consumption. At a delicate moment in complex diplomatic negotiations, the bullying and simplistic John Bolton was irresponsibly given a forum in the New York Times to argue that we have no other option but to bomb Iran, a country where ordinary people by the thousands went into the streets in sympathy with the U.S. after 9-11.

A piece of video footage available last year on the net reminds us of the shameful reality of the horror Bolton would plunge Iran into so casually. Much too raw for network TV, it showed a wide-eyed six-year-old child lying on rags somewhere in Syria awaiting medical attention with her intestines exposed in a tangled mound. The editors of this tape had partially blurred this slick protruding pile of guts, but it was still not an easy image to erase from one’s mind. It shouldn’t have been, because it exemplified something truly shameful, the civilian cost of war.

It is possible to imagine a world where violence and killing are universally agreed to be the most shameful, unmanly ways to resolve conflicts—because in fact they never really resolve anything, as tragically demonstrated by the chaos of today’s Middle East and the U.S. role in it. While unhealthy shame can feel as bad to children as getting their guts blown apart—“forget it, you’ll never be an artist”—we live in a world where healthy shame is still in very short supply.

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

Stirring & Eloquent Words 3/18/15

Great Speech in Selma, Mr. President!

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Very stirring and eloquent words at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Mr. President, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.

“What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.”

Not only that nonviolent change is possible, Mr. President, but that nonviolence is by far the most effective route to change both at home and abroad. So stop sending those drones to kill innocent children in faraway desert lands, murders that create more terrorists than they eliminate!

“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”

Yes! So rather than forcing him into exile for fear of not getting a fair trial, let’s honor the heroism of Edward Snowden for exposing the lies of high officials and their trashing of our inalienable right to freedom and autonomy. You promised the most transparent government in the history of our country, but there is more secrecy and persecution of whistleblowers than ever.

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo. That’s America.”

Indeed it is. And that is why it is a tragedy that no one has been held accountable under the law for the web of deceit that led us into the tragic, budget-busting military campaigns that have only planted the seeds for further violence in the Mideast. These wars went forward in the face of the largest peaceful citizen protest marches in the history of the world.

“What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say. And what a solemn debt we owe. Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?”

One way we can repay that debt and we ourselves can shine in the light of Dr. King’s glory is not to forget Dr. King’s truth-telling connection of ill-considered, futile wars abroad with eradicable poverty and racism at home.

“’We are capable of bearing a great burden,’ James Baldwin once wrote, ‘once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.’

There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem . . . If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.”

Right on. These rousing words remind us of your past speeches advocating for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Instead, our government plans to spend untold dollars desperately needed for meeting real human needs on the renewal of our nuclear arsenal, arrogantly disregarding our solemn obligation as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to ramp down and finally eliminate these expensive, useless world-destroying weapons.

“Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the President alone. If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. . .

What’s our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?”

Could it have anything to do with cynicism and disillusion with a political game that is rigged against authentic democracy from the get-go, the corruption at the heart of our politics and economics encouraged by our own highest court, corruption that equates money with speech, rotting our electoral system from within, corruption that allows ethically challenged bankers not only to walk free but also to be bailed out by the hard-earned tax dollars of ordinary citizens?

“That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.”

Sadly, America is also exceptional in its grinding contradictions, as your speech itself demonstrates despite its obvious good intentions and unifying rhetoric. America is indeed exceptional in the incarcerated percentage of its population, in infant mortality, in the number of people who may be uncertain from where their next meal is coming. The exceptional promise of our country will truly be realized when principles applied in one compartment of our national life become relevant to all compartments.

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

Mutual Paranoia & Denial 3/11/15

Servant Leaders vs. Empty Suits

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

In a normal world, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress would have been roundly mocked by the audience for its hypocritical fear mongering. In a normal world, 70 years beyond Hiroshima, major powers would have long since acceded to the wishes of their constituents and established far more extensive arms reduction treaties. In a normal world, there would be a single, not a double, standard challenging the undiluted evil of nuclear weapons, no matter who possesses them. That single standard would underpin not only a regional but also a planet-wide effort at nuclear disarmament. And in a normal world, a foreign leader would not have been handed the most prestigious possible venue to undermine delicate, complex negotiations merely to allow him to score political points in two countries simultaneously.

To focus upon the existential danger of a nuclear Iran is to miss the point Albert Einstein, one of the most prophetic Jewish thinkers, made back in 1946: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” By making Iran into Israel’s nemesis, Netanyahu particularizes and localizes what should be universal and planetary: for Israel to be secure, all nations must be secure. Every nuclear point of tension on the planet today is equally an existential threat to all of us: Ukraine-Russia, India-Pakistan—and Israel-Iran.

Netanyahu did not call for general nuclear disarmament because he is stuck in an old mode of thinking based in his limited identification with his own nation, a nuclear-armed nation tied in ethical knots by the need to choose between democracy and privileging a particular ethnicity. In this old mode, self-interest is defined in terms of what’s good for my own country, in particular for the Jewish citizens of my country, rather than the planet as a whole. The scenario of a nuclear-free zone in the region is dismissed because it doesn’t fit with the Israeli—and American—right wing’s hyper-macho view of response to perceived threats. The drift toward nuclear catastrophe continues, even accelerates, in an atmosphere of mutual paranoia and denial.

In this obsolete mode of thinking, “we” are exceptional and “they” are the axis of evil. “We” project our own unacknowledged aggressiveness onto adversaries and dehumanize them, justifying endless mistrust, closed hearts, and killing that resolves nothing. “We” become more and more like the very thing we fear and hate, descending into torture, unjust land appropriation, secret arms sales, assassination, imperial expansion of spheres of influence—dysfunctional tactics common not only to both Israel and Iran, but also to the U.S. Fear of non-state actors having the same power as the nine nuclear states to incinerate millions in seconds rationalizes extreme behavior against perceived extremists. Would the United States have descended into torture so quickly and completely without the specter of an extremist Muslim with a suitcase nuke?

A new mode of thinking would acknowledge that the nuclear genie cannot be put back in the bottle, that the impossibility of victory in a nuclear war is a challenge shared by all nations, and that it is imprudent to let the tail of fear wag the dog of arms sales, both conventional and nuclear. In the new mode of thinking, the emphasis is taken off bilateral conflict and becomes a cooperative international effort to inventory, control, and lock down loose nuclear materials everywhere. This would cost infinitely less than the trillion dollars the U.S. is planning to spend over the next decade to refurbish its nuclear arsenal.

Netanyahu is inarguably right to assert that Israel lives in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world, but there is much that he and his fragile coalition could do to begin to make it a safer neighborhood for themselves—beginning with restraining illegal settlement colonization of Palestinian land.

An alternative vision of global security is taking shape, based in initiatives that slowly build trust on the basis of overlapping environmental crises and other challenges that simply cannot be addressed by militarism. To grow this embryonic vision toward robust maturity, we need fewer empty suits, pawns in the dangerous game of arms sales and endless war, and more servant-leaders, figures like Dag Hammarskjold, Oscar Arias, Vaclav Havel, and Aung San Suu Kyi, people who exemplify the new mode of thinking for which Einstein implied the need if our species is to survive beyond the nuclear age. As Netanyahu’s hero Churchill once said, “To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.”

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

Roaring Gorilla Style 2/11/15

Hypermasculinity and World-ending Weapons

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Escalating tensions in Ukraine raise the concern that the “firebreak” between conventional and the tactical nuclear weapons potentially available to all parties in the conflict could be breached, with unforeseen consequences.

Loren Thompson spelled out in Forbes Magazine how the Ukraine crisis could go nuclear: through faulty intelligence, through the opposed parties sending mixed signals to each other, through looming defeat for either side, or through command breakdown on the battlefield.

In its simplest form, the complex Ukraine situation boils down to conflicting interpretations and value systems: for Putin, the NATO-izing of Ukraine was an affront to the Russian homeland that could not go unacknowledged, especially given the history of repeated invasion of Russia by foreign forces. From the West’s perspective, Ukraine had the right as a sovereign nation to join NATO and enjoy its protection, though the crisis begs the question of why there is still a NATO at all given our remove from the long finished Cold War. Is NATO a bulwark against Putin’s revived Russian imperialism, or was NATO’s overreach right up to Russia’s borders the initial cause of his paranoid response?

While sovereignty and democracy are significant political values, one has only to reverse the scenario in Ukraine to begin to understand, if not sympathize with, Putin’s macho posturing. The most relevant reverse example already happened way back in 1962. It is of course the Cuban Missile Crisis, where the United States felt its “sphere of influence” unacceptably penetrated, the Monroe Doctrine writ nuclear. Fifty-three years later the international community appears to have learned little from coming within a hair’s breadth of annihilation.

The crisis is an instructive example of why the blithe delay of the great powers to meet the their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty could end in a worst-case scenario. Our strategists have not begun to comprehend how much the presence of world-ending weapons reconfigures the role of military force in solving planetary conflicts.

It helps with this reconfiguration to acknowledge the evolutionary biology of male (female too, but mostly male) interaction in conflict—our fight or flight reflexes. Governmental officials and press commentators dignify this position or that by diplomatically phrased rationalizations, but beneath all the rhetoric we are still in a schoolyard space, or perhaps a zoo, beating our chests and roaring like gorillas.

It is a vast understatement to say that a new paradigm of masculinity is needed. In the old one, I am manly because I protect my position, my turf. In the new, I protect ongoing life on the planet as a whole. In the old, I am credible because I back up my threats with megatons of destructive (though ultimately self-destructive) power. In the new, I acknowledge that the rigidity of my convictions could end up ending the world. Given that the alternate is mass death, I look for reconciliation.

Is such a radical change possible in the present climate of masculine violence that so dominates world media, sports and video games, and hyper-competitive, often corrupt capitalism? But the looming reality of more Cuban Missile crises, assuming the world survives them, will pressure men to broaden out to the planetary level what it now means to be a winner, to be a protector not only of a family or a nation, but of a planet, home of all we share and value.

It is not as if there is no precedent for this emerging masculine paradigm. Think Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, and Dr. King. Were they wimpy or weak? Hardly. The capacity to expand identification to include care for the whole earth and all humanity lies within all of us, waiting for opportunities to take creative form.

One underpublicized example of the new paradigm emerging in creative tension with the old is Rotary. Rotary was begun by businessmen. Business by nature is competitive—and often politically conservative because markets require political stability—but the values of Rotary transcend the schoolyard aspects of competition, in favor of fairness, friendship, and high ethical standards that include asking one question implying planetary identification: will a given initiative be beneficial to all concerned? Rotary has more than 1.2 million members in over 32,000 clubs among 200 countries and geographical areas. They took on the extraordinarily large, seemingly impossible task of ending polio on the planet, and they have come very close to success. Perhaps organizations like Rotary will become the gymnasiums in which a new masculine paradigm will wrestle the old one into obsolescence. What might Rotary be able to do if it dared to take on ending war?

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

Chicken with Putin 2/4/15

Beyond Deterrence, Compassion

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Ronald Reagan’s assertion back in 1984 that “a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought” seems to have become accepted across the political spectrum in the U.S. and abroad. The level of destruction that would result would at best make it impossible for medical systems to respond adequately and at worst lead to climate change on a global scale. Reagan continued: “The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”

Thirty years later, the paradox of deterrence—nine nuclear powers with weapons kept absolutely ready for use so that they will never have to be used—is far from resolved. Meanwhile 9-11 bent our imaginations toward suicidal nuclear terrorism. The possession of even our large and varied arsenal of nuclear weapons would not deter a determined extremist. Fear became so powerful that it motivated not only the grotesque proliferation of information-gathering agencies but also assassination and torture. Anything became justified, including trillion dollar stalemated wars, to preempt the wrong adversary from getting their hands on a nuke.

Are there flashpoints where systems designed for reliable and eternal deterrence blur into a new landscape of deterrence breakdown? The example du jour is Pakistan, where a weak government maintains a stable—we hope—deterrent balance of nuclear forces against India. At the same time Pakistan percolates with extremists with possible sympathetic connections to the Pakistani military and intelligence services. This focus upon Pakistan is conjectural. It may be unfair. A nuclear weapon could just as easily fall out of state control in regions like the Caucasus or—who knows?—even at some U.S. base where security was lax. The point is that fear of such scenarios distorts our thinking as we struggle to respond creatively to the reality that nuclear deterrence doesn’t deter.

To see the fruits of this fear comprehensively invites seeing the process across time, including future time. The familiar argument that nuclear deterrence has kept us safe for many decades starts to break down if we simply imagine two possible worlds: a world toward which we are heading hell-bent if we don’t change course, in which self-escalating fear motivates more and more nations to acquire nuclear weapons, or a world where nobody has them. Which world do you want your children to inherit?

Cold War deterrence was aptly called the balance of terror. The present mythic division of irresponsible extremists and responsible, self-interested nation-states encourages an Orwellian mental contortion: we conveniently deny that our own nuclear weapons are themselves a potent form of terror—they are meant to terrify opponents into caution. We legitimize them as tools for our survival. At the same time we project this denied terror upon our enemies, expanding them into perverted evil giants. The terrorist threat of a suitcase nuke overlaps with the revived threat of the Cold War turning hot as the West plays nuclear chicken with Putin.

Peace through strength must be redefined—to become peace as strength. This principle, obvious to the many smaller, non-nuclear powers, is reluctantly perceived and quickly denied by the powers that be. Of course the powers that be are not unhappy to have enemies because enemies are politically convenient to the robust health of the arms manufacturing system, a system that includes a prohibitively expensive refurbishment of the U.S. nuclear arsenal that wastes resources needed for the looming challenge of conversion to sustainable energy.

The antidote to the Ebola-like virus of fear is to begin from the premise of interrelationship and interdependence—even with enemies. The Cold War ended because Soviets and Americans realized they had a common desire to see their grandchildren grow up. However death-obsessed, cruel and brutal extremists seem to us, we can choose not to dehumanize them. We can keep our perspective by recalling the brutalities in our own history, including the fact that we were the first to use nuclear weapons to kill people. We can admit our own part in the creation of the villainous nest of murderousness in the Mideast. We can dig into the root causes of extremist thinking, especially among the young. We can support vulnerable but worthy initiatives like the introduction of a compassion initiative in Iraq, led by an Iraqi poet. We can emphasize how many challenges we can only solve together.

In the early stages of the U.S. presidential campaign, candidates are unusually accessible—an opportunity for citizens to ask probing questions that penetrate beneath scripted answers and safe political bromides. What would a Middle East policy look like if it were based not in playing multiple sides against each other but rather in a spirit of compassion and reconciliation? Why can’t we use some of the massive pile of money we plan to spend to renew our obsolete weapons on securing loose nuclear materials around the world? Why is the U.S. the top arms dealer? As president, what will you do to help our nation live up to its disarmament obligations as a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

~In memory of peace activist Cynthia Fisk, 1925-2015.

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

A Privileged White 12/3/14

Race, Class, and Violence

By Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

David Brook’s December 2 column in the NYTimes arguing that classism, not racism, is what really ails our nation came off as one of the more racially tone-deaf commentaries so far on events in Ferguson. What must it feel like for an African-American to take in Brooks’s examination of 21st century class differences by means of a description of 19th century conditions in Britain: “The people who lived in these slums were often described as more like animals than human beings. For example, in an 1889 essay in The Palace Journal, Arthur Morrison described, “Dark, silent, uneasy shadows passing and crossing — human vermin in this reeking sink, like goblin exhalations from all that is noxious around. Women with sunken, black-rimmed eyes, whose pallid faces appear and vanish by the light of an occasional gas lamp, and look so like ill-covered skulls that we start at their stare. ‘Proper’ people of that era had both a disgust and fascination for those who lived in these untouchable realms. They went slumming into the poor neighborhoods, a sort of poverty tourism that is the equivalent of today’s reality TV or the brawlers that appear on ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’”

To be fair, later in the column it becomes clear that Brooks doesn’t buy this as a valid comparison with our own times. But that begs the question, why did he attempt it? Not only does it come across as grossly racist, but also he is grossly mistaken to assume that class not race explains the divide in our country between white and black. Most if not all of the latent classism in our country originates in the kind of institutionalized racism that the tragedy of Ferguson has brought into sharp relief.

I know a little more than I want to about Brooks’s tone-deafness because I happen to be a privileged white who attended elite schools and colleges. I cringe when I look back at my experience at Princeton in the late 1950s: my class (in the sense of the year I graduated, but the other meaning works too) included one African-American, and we were served daily in our dining commons by a young black waiters in white coats whose service we took so completely for granted that their invisibility to us future Masters of the Universe was total. I remember attending a party in Princeton where a distinguished alum had recently returned from a diplomatic posting in an African country. His jolly, oblivious stereotyping of the native peoples where he had served was such a Faulknerian caricature that it would have been laughable if it hadn’t felt so sad and dangerous. I also recall slowly awakening to the challenge of making connections across the divide of our racially split culture when I read John Howard Griffin’s classic “Black Like Me,” published in 1961, a year before I graduated. Griffin, a white, worked with a doctor to chemically darken his skin and immersed himself in a six-week voyage through the Deep South. The strain of the terror and deprivation he endured simply surviving as a black man brought him close to breakdown. White people six decades later could do worse than take another look at Griffin’s harrowing tale as a way to learn what it means to be on the receiving end of both passive stares of exclusionary indifference and active stares of hate and fear.

What happened between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown is just one incident among so many that exhibit to the world a toxic mix of deep structural racism and the casual escalation of violence as a “solution” to conflict. Racism shades into every aspect of American life, including the patronizing and obstructive attitude of many in the Congress toward the President, clearly to them a black man who is too confidently sassy and “uppity” to know his place. It even extends to our international policies, where violence toward others of swarthier skin and alien creed is more often the first resort than the last. Tragically and ironically, it therefore implicates our own first African-American president in the murderous, too-rapidly-escalating, international-law-violating vengefulness that motivates our endless “war on terror,” as our political Masters of the Universe join the headlong rush to create enemies faster than we can kill them.

A single statistic utterly gives the lie to the idea that change is impossible in our country: Darren Wilson fired more shots into Michael Brown than the entire police in England and Wales fired at people in 2013.

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

Vengence is Futile 11/26/14

Vengeance is Obsolete

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks on the tragic occasion of the deaths of three Israeli teens at the hands of Palestinians reverberate further than he might think. Understanding their implications is key to what the late Jonathan Schell called “the fate of the earth.”

“’They sanctify death, we sanctify life,’ Netanyahu asserted, comparing the teens to those who killed them. ‘They sanctify cruelty, and we mercy and compassion. That is the secret of our strength.’ A short time later — after the burials of Eyal Yifrach, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Frankel, a 16-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, in Modiin—the Prime Minister spoke again about the three before a security cabinet meeting, saying, ‘May God avenge their blood.’”

If only mercy and compassion truly were the secret of Israel’s, or any modern nation’s, strength. Instead, we see an unworkable policy of revenge at work. Presumably the Prime Minister was referencing Deuteronomy, where God reserves vengeance to Himself alone. Later in the Bible that commandment to leave things to God is complemented by references to the necessity for us to consciously put away wrath and cross over into forgiveness. But ending the cycle does not require forgiveness. It merely requires an awareness that vengeance as policy is futile.

Mr. Netanyahu tries to separate “us” and “them” into distinct moral universes, as if Israelis and Palestinians were not equally human and fallible. Looking down upon adversaries from a moral high ground—just as they do him—contradicts the mercy and compassion he affirms as the presumed basis of Israeli superiority, rationalizing the continued cycle of “an eye for an eye.” Where is the mercy, or justice, in bulldozing of the houses of the murder suspects?

Lest we elsewhere in the world think we are not subject to the corrupting spirit of vengeance, think again. It is the exceptional leader who, at a moment of violence like the ISIS beheadings of American citizens, summons the political courage to refuse to give in to revenge, and urges the rest of us to follow suit.

Since 9-11 vengefulness has corrupted our thinking about the “Muslim world,” a phrase corrupted already by the falseness of thinking of that world as a monolith. Long before the twin towers fell, vengeance was firmly in place as the implied modus operandi of a potentially omnicidal international system: the threat of thermonuclear mutual assured destruction. What else is that threat if it is not a cold calculated version of passionate hot revenge, the logical opposite of the merciful and compassionate Golden Rule? If you plan on doing evil to us, think carefully, for we are ready to give back far worse—even if we risk destroying ourselves in the process. A suicide assassin is rightly regarded as an abomination. The nuclear arsenal is a suicide vest worn large.

Sensible ways out of this thicket of paradox can seem eccentric indeed. Remember when Ronald Reagan proposed to Mikhail Gorbachev that the U.S. share with the Soviets the technology of missile defense? So reasonable, yet so far-fetched, because it assumed Soviets cherished their grandchildren as much as Americans. Reagan understood the endlessness (until the world itself ends) of the revenge cycle.

No matter how profoundly antithetical it would be to the “never again” history of Israel to suggest that they rely on their Iron Dome missile defense system alone for protection and refuse to retaliate when attacked, in the long run lives would be saved on both sides if they did. This life-giving principle of defensive non-revenge applies as well to the search for viable international security norms by the United States and other nuclear nations—applies for that matter to any conflict anywhere. Abandon the policy that the best defense is a good offense. Categorically declare no first use. Aggressively advocate for treaties that further cut numbers of warheads. Declare deterrence immoral and unworkable for all parties. Emphasize true defense, like Israel’s anti-missile system. Most of all replace the vicious cycle of vengeance with a virtuous cycle that begins when any one party has the maturity to affirm with Gandhi that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

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

Think in New Ways 10/15/14

Killing for Peace

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

by Winslow Myers

Since 9-11-01, the United States, by any objective assessment a globe-girdling military empire, has been sucked into an ongoing global civil war between brutal extremists (often fighting among themselves) and those, including us, they perceive as their mortal enemies. We are rightfully outraged by cruel beheadings videotaped for Internet distribution. The beheaders and suicide bombers are equally outraged by our extensive military presence in their ancestral homelands and drone attacks upon weddings.

Meanwhile, though the government of our mighty empire can read our emails and tap our telephones, the worldwide nonviolent movement to bring about positive change somehow flies completely under its supposedly all-seeing radar screens. The peoples of the earth are overwhelmingly against war, and they want their fair share of the earth’s resources and the possibilities of democratic governance. Academic studies (e.g., Chenoweth and Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict ) have proven that, overall, nonviolent movements are more effective for reaching such goals than violent military ones.

Our media narrows discourse and fans the flames by only allowing U.S. citizens to see through the narrow lens of exceptionalism, polarization and violence. Fear mongers, legion in our culture, insist that adherents of ISIS are hardly human. But we should keep their humanity in our hearts even as we abhor their acts, just as we ought to abhor our own descent into torture and extra-judicial killings. People do not do what those ISIS fighters do without having been rendered desperate and callous by some painful sense of injustice. As Auden wrote, “Those to whom evil is done/do evil in return.” The question for us is how we can best respond to evil without rationalizing our own evil behavior.

Setting aside the blurry distinction between the sadism of beheadings and the supposed good intentions of those who control the drones, our side and theirs share the conviction that the only solution to this great conflict is killing. If ISIS can kill enough of its enemies, a Caliphate can be established from Lebanon across to Afghanistan, obliterating the despised arbitrary borders created by the colonial powers after World War l. Conversely, if the West can only assassinate enough terrorist leaders in Afghanistan and Yemen and Syria, moderate elements will emerge from the slaughter to renounce the vain and presumptuous notion that Islam is destined to conquer a pluralistic world.

But the presumptions of both present American empire and possible Muslim empire are equally vain and closed-minded in their separate ways. Continued mass killing by either side will never resolve the underlying cultural disparities, and so unless we think in new ways, this planetary civil war will continue, multiplying recruits to terror faster than they can be exterminated—a perpetual motion meat-grinder of violence.

We can’t just leave the various extremist groups to fight it out among themselves. We have to lead, but why not lead in a new direction? Amid all the hand wringing about least bad options, there is a good option: change the game. Admit that the U.S. occupation of Iraq led to some unforeseen outcomes. Call an international conference that includes representatives from as many parties that are willing to consider how to contain and end the violence. Agree to embargo the arms pouring into the region.

The possibility that we are already fighting a third world war, having forgotten the lesson of how little anybody wanted or expected to get into the first one, suggests the need to call upon the spirit of figures like King and Dag Hammarskjold, that world ambassador for peace. As we look down the time stream, it becomes harder and harder to guarantee who will and who will not be able to possess nuclear weapons. Even now some disaffected Pakistani general might be transferring a warhead to some non-state actor with malign intentions. It is equally possible that someone in the U.S. military could go rogue with a nuke, initiating catastrophe.

Is a third world war leading to total destruction the intention of either the Christian God or the Muslim Allah? The opportunity is for all parties to accept this possibility and build agreements based in a common desire for human survival—listening at last to the pleas of millions around this small planet who desperately want the madness of endless war to cease.

Winslow Myers is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative, is a member of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace, and writes for Peacevoice.

Palatable Vengefulness 9/24/14

Suckered Again?

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Why must vengefulness be the default strategy for humans—the very thing we dislike and fear most about our adversaries? Mob rule is a temptation we assume we have grown beyond, but have we? The media hounds and the war lovers like Senators Graham and McCain bay for blood, putting enormous pressure on the President to get suckered into a third Middle East war. To avoid the label of wimp, Mr. Obama had to say what he said in his speech to the nation on his strategy against ISIS, but what he said was only a palatable version of the vengefulness paradigm.

The agony of loss the parents of Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff must feel is beyond comprehension. But is their pain any different from the universal pain of violence and war that has been felt by the parents of murdered children time out of mind?—the pain of Aleppo, the pain of mothers in Gaza, the pain of innocents in Baghdad who found themselves on the wrong end of Shock and Awe, the pain of wedding participants in Afghanistan blown up under the pitiless eye of US drones, the horror of people having to jump from the twin towers to avoid being burned alive.

When we refuse to get sucked into the vengeful mob mentality, we see the cycle of violence objectively, including our own role in it—as colonial powers that created arbitrary borders in the Middle East at the end of World War I, and more recently as equally ineffective neo-colonial occupiers with ambiguous motives. We see the Hobbesian atomization of conflict that has overtaken the region: the U.S. and Iran support Iraq. Iran, Iraq, Russia and Shia militias support Assad. The U.S. and the Gulf States want to contain Iran and prevent it from going nuclear. The Gulf States, the U.S. and Sunni militants want to defeat Assad. The Kurds, Iran, the U.S. and Iraq want to defeat ISIS, even as the Kurds have benefited from the chaos created by ISIS. For the United States, never seen as a disinterested party, to intervene militarily in this stew is madness.

We do not know enough about the motives of ISIS to be sure what they wanted to accomplish with the beheadings. On the face of it, such abhorrent acts appear to be an ongoing response in an endless cycle of eye for eye and tooth for tooth—like 9-11 itself. The leader of ISIS was mistreated at Abu Ghraib. The U.S. dropped bombs on ISIS soldiers. And it is also possible that they assume strategic advantage might be found by luring in the U.S. and its allies—perhaps to unite fragmented factions against a common enemy—us, if we choose to get suckered once again.

What is more certain is that thought-systems of violent revenge can take on a bizarre life in an endless cycle of hate and fear, preventing us from thinking outside the constricting box of compulsive military reaction. However tired of war we may be, we feel insulted and helpless—and that leads us to assume we have no alternative but to try war again.

We know from hard experience we will end up spending much more to defeat ISIS by military means, assuming any so-called defeat does not create more enemies than it destroys. We have alternatives. Extrapolating from our feckless campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, imagine some arbitrary sum roughly equal to a quarter of what we spent on those wars becomes an available resource to do something outside the box of war. In this alternative paradigm, weapons sales, to any party, would be an automatic no. That only pours gasoline onto fire.

One alternative model is Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Global Marshall Plan, the preamble of which goes: “In the 21st century, our security and well being depends on the well being of everyone else on this planet as well as on the health of the planet itself. An important way to manifest this caring is through a Global Marshall Plan that would dedicate 1-2% of the U.S. annual Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty years to eliminate domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, and inadequate health care and repair damage done to the environment . . . ”

Such common-sense generosity helps undercut the motives of ISIS to attack Western targets and isolates extremists by building relationships with a majority of people who would be grateful for genuine humanitarian help. It is past time for the U.S. to abandon its knee-jerk assumption that pouring in yet more raw military force can end, rather than intensify, the tribal enmities tearing apart the region. George W. Bush in 2002: “Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.” We’d better hope not.

Winslow Myers, author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global issues for PeaceVoice and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.

Campaigns of Obliteration 9/17/14

Combating Plagues

By Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

I wrote my Senator, Angus King, to register my judgment that further military American intervention in the Middle East was a catastrophic mistake. His response was measured and thoughtful. Principles which will guide his future votes on policy include: “there must be a vital national interest to justify any intervention; specific goals must be established; any action we take should be as one component of a coalition strategy whereby other nations, particularly those in the region, are actively involved and supportive; no commitment of ground combat forces; and the establishment of an open and inclusive government in Iraq that unites the country’s diverse ethnic and religious communities.”

It’s what Senator King doesn’t include in his response that troubles me, and what even the liberal media isn’t asking in talk shows on NPR and elsewhere: what are the creative alternatives to militarism and arms sales that won’t merely create more extremists? Instead, there is this extraordinary rush to consensus that bombs and bullets are the only way open to us.

This consensus stands in schizophrenic contrast to the vital religious infrastructure of our country, where church members contribute money and volunteer time to feed the hungry from food pantries, deliver meals on wheels to the elderly, and build housing for the indigent. But this benevolent model doesn’t seem to translate into our foreign policy initiatives—except, just now, in Africa. At this moment the U.S. military is setting up staging areas in Liberia to rapidly train medical personnel to limit and reverse the runaway Ebola epidemic. No doubt there is an element of self-interest in our generosity—we want to ensure that Ebola does not come to our own shores.

Ultimately what ails members of ISIS young and old is also a plague, a plague of hatred and ignorance, infecting people who like all humans including us began life as innocent children. Our national conversation about what motivates and intensifies this hatred has been superficial and inexcusably incompetent (Senator King, to his credit, has urged that we look more deeply into the root causes of Islamic extremism)—with the not unexpected result that one symptom of the plague, vengefulness, has snuck across our borders like the 9-11 conspirators and infected our own minds. As one of our American heroes said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

In spite of our outrage at videotaped beheadings, what if we thought of ISIS more on the model of a typhoon, or earthquake, or plague—like Ebola? Our soldiers in Africa are not there to kill those with Ebola but to save them. Are there ways to apply that model to the plague of extremist hatred? We won’t know until we open our minds to what might lie beyond knee-jerk shock and awe. We did this (the “we” here including Russian diplomats) when we negotiated the peaceful destruction of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons instead of bombing.

I was speaking about war prevention at the Rotary Club of Boston a few years ago and suggested mildly that it might have been a mistake not to have made more of an effort to bring Osama bin Laden back alive. A woman, eyes darting with indignation, walked out in protest. The infection of hate assumes that murderous obliteration of the adversary is the only possible resolution of conflict. Unfortunately, that is our own national policy goal for ISIS, explicitly stated by the President himself—as if he somehow forgot how hard he has tried to extricate us from two other fruitless campaigns of obliteration. Our challenge is to discover how best to fight the plague of hatred without being contaminated by it ourselves. In the nuclear age, unless we find an effective vaccine, catching this plague could lead down the time stream to the extinction of us all.

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

Vengence or Survival 9/17/14

Survival

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

The way the United States has chosen to approach the chaos of the Middle East has far more frightening implications than we think, especially in terms of the world our children will inherit. If we are honest about how our adversaries perceive us, we will have to admit that there is a grand cycle of violence and insult operating, in which we ourselves are implicated up to our necks.

If we are to have any chance of breaking this potentially endless cycle (our military bases in Saudi Arabia leading to 9-11; 9-11 leading to the second Gulf War, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; the second Gulf War helping to create ISIS; ISIS beheading our journalists; President Obama suckered into reluctant bellicosity etc. etc. etc), we have to start by admitting our own role in it—something extremely difficult for our culture, and therefore almost impossible for our political leaders.

Righteous wrath and the urge for revenge are terrible foundations for creative policy-making. They lead almost inevitably to doing stupid stuff. 50 years beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis and 70 years into the nuclear age, the time for stupidity in international strategy is over. It is not merely possible, it is just about inevitable that the cycle of violence between the West and the Middle East will eventually go nuclear if we keep on as we are. Building these weapons is now an open secret.

If we want our children to survive, the foundation for smart, realistic international relations in the nuclear world becomes the polar opposite of military force, whether bluntly or surgically applied: the emphasis must shift to encouraging the positive, the relational, the building of trust and friendship, mutual compassion, understanding, and aid. Erik Erikson put it this way back in 1964, in an essay called “The Golden Rule in the Light of New Insight”:

“Nations today are by definition units of different stages of political, technological and economic transformation . . . insofar as a nation thinks of itself as a collective individual, then, it may well learn to visualize its task as that of maintaining mutuality in international relations. For the only alternative to armed competition seems to be the effort to activate in the historical partner what will strengthen him in his historical development even as it strengthens the actor in his own development—toward a common future identity.”

This constitutes Erikson’s savvy modern restatement of the Golden Rule, a formulation that occurs, with some variation, in all the major religions, including Islam, where it goes: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.”

Erikson’s theme was the active, creative potential of mutuality—between spouses, parents and children, doctors and patients, teachers and pupils, even between nations. Mutuality, Erikson asserted, is a relationship in which partners depend upon each other for the enhancement of their respective strengths. The curiosity of a student elicits from the teacher the skills for transmitting the excitement of learning in a way that benefits both teacher and student.

There is an urgent need to figure out how to apply this thinking to breaking the great cycle, to making it the foundation of foreign policy—not merely as “soft power,” which is simply the flexibility we think is open to us when we possess an overwhelming excess of hard power, which we do. We possess sufficient hard power to destroy the world many times over. What is required for our survival is to use our immense resources to make things better where we can, giving extremists infinitely less reason to attack. Our bombs only create more fanatics bent upon crucifixion and beheading—an old, old story. Only we can create a new story, and if we do, the world will respond gratefully.

Today, the Golden Rule has been perverted into the Iron Rule of vengefulness. We hear this when our Vice-President, a good man, asserts that we will follow terrorists to the gates of hell. If we do that, we can be sure that the gates will be wide enough to swallow us right along with the extremists.

Winslow Myers, author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global issues for PeaceVoice and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.

Our Inner Dinosaur 8/27/14

Justifying the Kill

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Is it too much of a stretch to link the alleged police execution of Michael Brown in Missouri with the terrorist execution of journalist James Foley somewhere in Iraq? Setting aside obvious differences, do these tragedies have anything in common?

We humans are a potent combination of impulse and rationalization. We are inhabited by a primitive, kill-or-be-killed part of our brain that connects back millions of years to our evolutionary ancestors. And we also share what evolved later, the cortical, empathetic part of our brain. These two parts are not separate; they are in (mostly unconscious) dialogue with one another. When the primitive, irrational part of our brain overcomes us under the stress of fear and we regress into violence, the cortex can step in, ideally to restrain us, but often merely to rationalize—to justify the kill.

This interaction of dinosaur-brain and our capacity to rationalize only rachets up the endless cycle of killing. The Islamic State perpetuates this cycle by justifying the gruesome beheading Mr. Foley in retaliation for American bombing. The Ferguson police department perpetuates the cycle by rationalizing racist stereotyping and arming their ranks to the teeth. The president perpetuates the cycle by rationally justifying the assassination of terrorists by drone. And in an ultimate act of dinosaur-brained rationalization, we humans have drifted into an international security system based in deterrence by nuclear weapons that could kill us all—we justify our security with potential mass death.

We Americans, we Israelis, we of Hamas, we Salafists of the Islamic State, we Alawites, we Shias, we Sunnis, are culturally habituated to exclude and dehumanize the thousand diverse “thems” surrounding us on all sides. We assume this justifies our right to kill. The more we understand that this is a universal human condition, not something “they” do that forces us to respond in kind, the greater chance we have of building moral, legal and cultural structures based more upon inclusivity than exclusivity, structures that de-escalate the cycle of violence.

Most British police, for example, do not carry firearms at all. In England and Wales over a 12-month period ending March 2013, there were only three incidents during which police had to discharge their guns. You would think the U.S. would be interested in what might help us move in a similar direction.

Rwanda is one of the most hopeful examples of a culture in self-aware transition from death-affirming to life-affirming structures. Within the space of a few months in 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered at least 800,000 minority Tutsis. Only 20 years later, Rwanda–where 85 percent of the population are farmers yet 44 percent of children are malnourished–is learning how to grow a balance of nourishing crops in small-scale agricultural projects like Gardens for Health, an international organization that “steps in where food aid stops. “ Through this program Rwandans are teaching other Rwandans the principles of sustainable agriculture in a model that is easily replicable, potentially meeting gargantuan needs in many other regions of the African continent.

In tragic contrast, areas of the Middle East have become potential if not actual hotbeds of genocide. There are so many parties eager to kill one another that former enemies like the U.S. and Iran or even the U.S. and Syria absurdly find themselves in common cause, attempting to subdue people armed with the very weapons the U.S. distributed in its misguided attempts to secure oil by force.

A world at peace is possible where arms sales and war are illegal under consistently applied international law. A world is possible where verifiable treaties prohibit nuclear weapons and resources sunk into such weapons are released for projects like the Rwandan Gardens for Health. A world is possible where we no longer rationalize killing but instead, humbly acknowledging our inner dinosaur, justify what leads to life.

Winslow Myers, author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global issues for PeaceVoice and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.

No Bellicose Fulminators 8/13/14

“Who Speaks for Earth?”

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Few people remember them today, but there were significant global leadership initiatives in the 1980s against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The dawn of the nuclear era had coincided with the beginning of the Cold War. People in the United States and their leaders viewed the world through the lens of East-West cold war superpower tensions, reinforced by the rigid dualistic convictions of officials like John Foster Dulles, U.S. Secretary of State from 1953 to 1959. A quarter century further into the cold war era, nearly 200 less powerful nations came to realize that a superpower nuclear exchange was potentially just as life threatening to them as to the superpowers themselves.

The leaders of six non-aligned countries on five continents, India, Sweden, Argentina, Greece, and Mexico, formed the Five-Continent Peace Initiative to advocate for a decrease in tensions among the nuclear super-powers. Julius Nyerere, representing Africa, asserted that “peace is too important to be left to the White House and the Kremlin.” Indira Gandhi, before she was tragically assassinated, introduced the initiative in 1984 by saying in words that should haunt us today: “I am deeply distressed and also astonished at the apathy which one sees, almost a resignation or acceptance of such a horrifying event [as nuclear war].” At the same time, respected public intellectuals like Carl Sagan obtained access to diplomats at the United Nations, and, warning them for the first time about the phenomenon of nuclear winter, asked “who speaks for Earth?”

Thirty years further on–today–only Dr. Strangelove types would continue to argue against Ronald Reagan’s sensible assertion that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.” Yet no one in power today seems able to muster the moral imagination to reverse the continued drift of our lifeboat we call Earth toward the inevitable nuclear Niagara somewhere down the time-stream. Resources desperately needed to prevent imminent conflicts over water and other natural resources, let alone needed to mitigate the gigantic challenge of climate change, continue to be poured into an international security system that rests upon extremely dubious premises—first and most egregious of all the assumption that no nuclear nation will ever make that fatal mistake or misinterpretation that ends in apocalypse for all.

Attaining top positions of national leadership often requires years of Machiavellian manipulation that inevitably includes compromise with agents of huge corporate and financial power. The security bureaucracies that have sprung up in the U.S., Russia and China are vast, complex, self-perpetuating and both inter- and intra-paranoid. The mystery that clings to the assassination of the Kennedy brothers and even Martin Luther King Jr. suggests that leaders who over-indulge in the rhetoric of peacemaking and international cooperation may put their own lives in mortal danger.

A quick look at those in power at the present moment is not reassuring for citizens who are wondering what the possibilities are for creative servant-leadership based upon the interest of the planet as a whole. President Putin initially made conciliatory gestures toward the West, but the West betrayed its word and expanded NATO aggressively eastward toward Russia’s borders. Putin now operates from the heart of an enormous web of kleptocratic corruption, and identifies with a backward-looking czarist conception of the Russian empire.

President Obama reached out to the Muslim world, advocated in Prague for the abolition of nuclear weapons, wound down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, in spite of a racist, obstructionist Congress, managed to pass the Affordable Care Act. Recently he has advocated for authentic measures against climate change. At the same time he has condoned the enormous growth of an off-the-books national security bureaucracy, rationalized his failure to bring torturers to justice, indulged in routine extra-judicial killing by drone, and continues to renew the U.S. nuclear arsenal at obscene expense (yet another $355 billion according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office).

International leaders interested in creating safe spaces for people to come together at the heart level to work on common challenges seem to be few and far between. Benjamin Netanyahu and his counterpart Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal are perfect demonstrations of exactly the obverse: they dehumanize and scapegoat each other with hyper-masculine zeal and thus perpetuate an endless round of utterly futile destruction.

Julius Nyerere refused to benefit personally from high office and consistently put the best interests of his country ahead of his own well-being. Nelson Mandela is another servant-leader who earned worldwide respect. Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the U.N., is yet another example of disinterested international leadership. Sadly, like King and the Kennedys and Indira Gandhi, he paid with his life for his service to us all. Is it the veiled threat of individual martyrdom that makes disinterested efforts to prevent collective destruction so rare?

Another Five-Continent Peace Initiative is long overdue. The agenda: nuclear disarmament, restriction of conventional arms sales, and reallocation of resources to address climate instability. The survivors of inadvertent nuclear war—itself a source of climate disaster—would be pitiless in their condemnation of the present rot—the rationalizations, evasions, and delays that led to disaster. Only if citizens everywhere demand true servant-leaders instead of bellicose fulminators will more life-affirming outcomes become possible.

Winslow Myers is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative, is a member of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace, and writes for Peacevoice.

 

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