Lawsuits Filed 5/28/14

Global Climate Change and Nuclear Abolition: One Urgent Issue

by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

The Marshall Islands are filing lawsuits against the nine nuclear powers to get them to step up to their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to negotiate total nuclear disarmament. Meanwhile Bill McKibben is gathering citizens for a rally in support of urgent action on climate change in New York on September 21st and 22nd, where the next climate summit will be held.

No two trans-national issues are more closely related than the abolition of nuclear weapons and global climate instability, for three reasons: first, nuclear war is the biggest potential accelerant of life-threatening climate change; second, the resources desperately needed to address climate issues continue to be poured into nuclear weapons and their delivery systems; and third, the solution to both challenges depends upon the same new way of thinking based in the reality that national and international self-interests have merged.

If India and Pakistan, or the U.S. and Russia, should back into a nuclear war, the glare of the explosions will vaporize our most cherished assumptions along with the victims. Survivors will ask, how was it that we ever thought that we could achieve security with these infernal machines? What were we all thinking, national leaders, the thousands of workers who build them, the lawmakers who finance them by siphoning tax dollars away from schools and mass transit, the coolly rational generals who seek budgetary increases for ever shinier toys? Their moral authority will be as devastated as the cratered moonscapes left by the destruction.

In 2007 the late Jonathan Schell spoke presciently about the relationship between nuclear weapons and climate change: “When I wrote The Fate of the Earth in 1982, I said that, first and foremost, nuclear weapons were an ecological danger. It wasn’t that our species could be directly wiped out by nuclear war down to the last person. That would only happen through the destruction to the underpinnings of life, through nuclear winter, radiation, ozone loss. There has been an oddity of timing, because when the nuclear weapon was invented, people didn’t even use the word “environment” or “ecosphere.” The environmental movement was born later. So in a certain sense the most urgent ecological threat of them all was born before the context in which you could understand it. The present larger ecological crisis is that context. In other words, global warming and nuclear war are two different ways that humanity threatens to undo the natural underpinnings of human, and of all other, life . . . we may be in a better position today, because of global warming, to grasp the real import of nuclear danger.”

The second way that global climate change and nuclear weapons are intertwined is through how we allocate our money and creativity. While President Obama has paid lip service to abolition, the U.S. government has continued to modernize existing weapons at grotesque expense, and other nuclear nations are following suit. The Ploughshares Fund estimates that in the maintenance and development of nuclear weapons, America will spend approximately 640 billion dollars over the next decade. Not only all this money, but scientific expertise as well, will be focused upon obsolete defense strategies whose endgame is inevitably suicidal—when doing too little about climate change is equally suicidal, just gradual rather than sudden. Many heads of multinational corporations and their minions in national legislatures deny the climate crisis because they fear their bottom line will be threatened by sensible solutions like a carbon tax. Security, economic growth and full employment will best be achieved, in their view, if we base our economy upon building more ships, planes and weapons rather than solar panels and super insulated buildings.

Citizens everywhere are waking up to the opportunity costs of this paradigm, because even greater threats to each separate nation’s security loom if we do not use the international economic system to transition out of fossil fuels into clean, renewable sources of energy. This massive fortune, 640 billion dollars, would be more than enough to help not only the U.S. but also the planet move into a green economy based upon building windmills not missiles, solar panels not submarines. What will awaken the political will to enact this global shift? The answer is in the third way that nuclear weapons and climate change are connected.

Everything changes when we change our minds. We have been stuck in an old mode of self-interest based on the nation-state and military threat. No victory is possible from a nuclear war, only nuclear winter; similarly, no victory is possible if the forces of international competition devour our planetary resources to the point of no return. A vision beckons of security based in mutually verifiable treaties leading to zero nuclear weapons, and an economy unleashed by building the infrastructure that will stabilize our climate with green energy.

The language of international politics and diplomacy caters to obsolete competitive notions of self-interest meant to soothe domestic national fears. Sadly, much that governments do in the present paradigm— games of chicken, enemy-stereotyping, endless jockeying for advantage—increases both the likelihood of nuclear war somewhere down the time-stream and does nothing to mitigate growing climate instability.

The two-in-one of climate change and nuclear abolition is not something to be addressed after supposedly more immediate brush-fires are extinguished; by viewing it instead as a single challenge, an opportunity for cooperative prevention based in planetary self-interest, success will become a model for resolving more local conflicts without violence.

The Marshall Islands, which endured open-air atomic testing, are courageous to speak for the powerless in bringing suit against the mighty nuclear powers. In 2013 they appealed to the U.N. for more help with climate change, already a life-and-death issue for these low-lying atolls, but soon enough for all of us.

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.

Hypocritical Flunkies 4/23/14

Looking back on Easter 2014—and forward to Easter next

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

When Jonathan Schell, the most cogent moral philosopher of the nuclear age, died of cancer last month, it left a rift in the moral fabric of our small planet, a hole similar in size to those left by the three Alberts—Camus, Einstein and Bigelow. Never heard of Bert Bigelow? He was the Harvard grad who in 1958 twice tried to sail his ketch, the Golden Rule, into the waters of the South Pacific where nuclear weapons were being tested—and found time as well to be beaten up by racist thugs alongside Congressman John Lewis while protesting for civil rights.

Compared to giants like Schell, Bert Bigelow, or General Lee Butler, a former head of the Strategic Air Command who now advocates for nuclear abolition, the people who presume to military, political and industrial leadership here and abroad sometimes seem, from top to bottom, like a bunch of corrupt, deluded, hypocritical flunkies.

I take this indignant tone not out of moral superiority, but because like many ordinary citizens I experience periodic spasms of hopelessness. I have no say—except here—in deliberations over war and climate change that could affect the lives of billions of my fellow inhabitants of spaceship earth.

I take comfort that a similar spleen occasionally overtook the prophet of love whose rise from death into new life we celebrate on Easter: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness!”

NATO presses against the Western flank of Russia, risking a game of nuclear chicken, and then feigns surprise when Russia pushes back. While the U.S. administration self-righteously excoriates Iran for its mere intent to build a nuclear weapon, our Congress in January happily funds the production of the latest version of a 700-lb. hydrogen bomb that will be fitted to fighter planes in Belgium, Holland, Turkey, Germany and Italy. A more blatant violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is hard to imagine.

That the law of force still prevails over the force of law has its roots in a collective insanity, a gigantic echo chamber of projection. Possessing such enormous destructive power themselves, the nuclear nations cannot afford to acknowledge that they are potential agents of genocide—even omnicide—so we project onto each other the malevolence contained in our own weapons. The effect is a grotesque chimera, a monster “meme” that does nothing but make apocalypse more likely. Some in the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) coalition, which focuses on genocide, have rightly turned their attention to the genocide-in-waiting that reside under the wings, in the silos, and within the submarines of the nuclear powers.

Do Costa Rica or Sweden feel so threatened by each other that they obsess with obtaining nuclear weapons to keep them “safe”? They do not. Nonetheless if, God forbid, nuclear winter happened, they would perish alongside those in the nuclear club. The whited sepulcher of our international system is based in the gross illusion that the potential for perfect destruction will maintain perfect security. And behind that looms a far older illusion, that the best way to resolve a conflict is to kill those with whom you disagree. Did this work between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda 20 years ago? It did not. Will it work between separatists and their opponents in the Ukraine—or between Russia and NATO? It will not.

The vast majority of our leaders and lawmakers do not yet seem to understand that national interest can no longer be at cross-purposes with planetary interest. Spending billions more on nuclear weapons will do nothing to solve growing climate instability or the withering away of life in our oceans.

Effective leadership must now initiate on the basis that the self-interest of my country is intimately bound up with the self-interest of my “adversaries.” Shia will not be secure until Sunnis feel secure. Israelis will not feel secure until Palestinians feel secure. Ukraine will not feel secure until Russia feels secure. No one will feel secure until we start spending less on weapons and paying more attention to resolving conflict nonviolently, developing compassion and empathy, and enlarging our frame of reference to include all of humanity and the whole earth. That is what it will take to bring new life to dead bones.

Out of the crucifixion that was Dresden and Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, out of the crucifixion that is Iraq or Syria or the Central African Republic today, may a resurrection come where military creativity measures its effectiveness by something other than the sheer level of destruction at its command. Let us call upon all the institutions that enshrine our values and powers, the governments and their armies, the churches and mosques and synagogues and temples, the universities, and the corporations, to turn their creativity toward the life-affirming mission of caring for the entire earth community.

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.

Uncomfortable Questions 1/8/14

Has the Idea of a Jewish State Become Obsolete? 

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

While John Kerry admirably shuttles around like the Energizer Bunny in search of Middle East peace, is there anything new to say about the intractable tension between Israelis on the one hand and predominantly Muslim peoples, especially the Palestinians, on the other?

One layer of the unspoken is Israel’s implicit status as a nuclear power.  Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama draw red lines in the sand concerning the threat of Iranian nukes, but say little about the only viable long-term solution: a negotiated and verified nuclear-free zone in the Eastern Mediterranean—even better, a planet-wide nuclear-free zone. Nuclear war anywhere on earth has become more unthinkable as it has become more possible.

Also rarely spoken—lest howls of anti-Semitism ensue—is an uncomfortable question:  why do we frown upon the lack of separation of church and state in many Muslim countries, while Israel gets a pass in privileging a particular constellation of religion and ethnicity?

The historical rationale for the birth of the Jewish state could not be more reasonable. In the context of Jewish history over thousands of years climaxing in the Holocaust, no one could argue with Jewish fears of extinction and their need for a secure homeland.

Though all parties in the region ought to know from long experience how futile war, terror, obstruction, and discriminatory harshness are as tools to suppress the universal impulse toward justice, each keeps trying one or another unworkable method, making the success of Mr. Kerry’s quixotic mission all the more crucial.

The present Israeli government derives its identity in large measure from fear of what it is against, and so it has encouraged injustices like the settlements that it would never tolerate were it a victim of similar treatment.

Obviously this is not to say that the anti-Semites of the Arab world are innocent. And it is unfair to compare the civil rights Israel has afforded non-Jews with the civil rights much of the Muslim world affords women and non-believers.  Israel does not order the execution of those who abandon Judaism.  However much it may wish to be even-handed, it sees its own Muslim population growing. If this population enjoyed full citizenship Israeli could eventually become a de facto Muslim state.  So it waters down Muslim civil rights to preserve its identity.

As we express our hope that Arab countries (and even the U.S. itself) evolve toward a more inclusive and tolerant politics, it is worth asking if the maintenance of Israel as a Jewish state become counter-productive to its own long-term security? It is not that Zionism is racism, in the crude Arab formulation, but that Zionism has been transcended by the notion of a state relatively untethered to any one religion.

If the identity of Israel were re-established on the basis of equal rights for all ethnicities, ancient fears might begin to dissolve from within. The corrosive “us-and-them” dynamic could be undermined in a way that left Jews safer—just as Jews, while a minority in the United States, are surely as safe there, if not more so, as they are in Israel.

For Israel to become a fully secular state, the international community would have to guarantee the security of Jews, whether inside or outside Israel, a task that for understandable reasons Israel has always zealously reserved for itself. Abdication of self-determined security is, to say the least, unlikely. Tragically however, maintaining a Jewish state will increasingly tie its citizens in knots as they are forced to choose between Jewish identity and full democracy.

Jews and Palestinians for the most part do not know each other as people, and the predictable theatrics of their leaders do nothing to help reconciliation. The entry point into a shared future beyond war is the face-to-face engagement of ordinary citizens at the heart level. It is people moving one by one from unfamiliarity, ignorance, and fear, toward familiarity, empathy, and enough trust to allow the heart to message the brain that it’s safe to get creative together.

The moral basis of the secular state, the tolerance and compassion that flows from the acknowledgement of universal rights, is ironically a major premise of the Jewish ethical tradition. An unbeliever once asked Rabbi Hillel if he could sum up the Torah while standing on one foot. The simple answer was “What is hateful to yourself, do not to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the rest is but commentary.”

One of the many gifts world civilization owes the Jews is this confidence in an ethical universality that transcends specific sects and ethnicities. If I identify as a Jew but also as citizen of secular democracy, I am better able to interact with Palestinians according to our common identity as humans. Finding ourselves in this shared human context, we will stand a measurably better chance of resolving our differences. To the extent that Jews allow themselves that larger identification with the “other,” they may not only come closer to fulfilling the ethical promise of their heritage, but also may find the security that has eluded them since the founding of the Jewish state. How poignant that after thousands of years of their culture contributing so much to the world, this idea should still feel so risky. Godspeed, Mr. Kerry.

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

 

Nuclear Motivation 11/20/13

Nuclear Weapons and the Unfolding Universe

By Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Through the work of the eco-philosopher Thomas Berry and his protégés, a new way of looking at the universe and our human place in it has been established. While still not “mainstream,” this new story has given hope not only to hundreds of thousands of environmental activists around the world, but as well to thoughtful people in many fields, including economics, theology, education, politics, and science.

The new story of the universe goes something like this: we moderns, using tools like the Hubble Telescope, are the first generation that possesses the resource of the continuous 14 billion-year story of the unfurling from the original flaring forth, through the establishment of the galaxies, stars, and planets, to the development of cellular life, to the expanding diversity of life here on earth, to the rise of a particular kind of self-reflective consciousness that is the hallmark of human beings. The cosmologist Brian Swimme offers one of the most concise and beautiful retellings of this story in his prize-winning one hour DVD, “Journey of the Universe” (www.journeyoftheuniverse.org/). This life-changing account of our origins and creative potential ought to be seen by every student, every congressman, every pastor, rabbi, mullah, every businessman, in short, everyone.

What are the implications? First, this scientific story of the universe is the basis for all stories, all religions, all the mythic systems humans have devised to give meaning to our presence here—and further, this story is the basis not only for our religious myths and symbols, but also for our educational systems, our economics, and our political arrangements. We humans belong in this universe. We emerged from it. The elements in our bodies, carbon and oxygen and calcium, were forged in the furnace of the stars.

A second obvious implication is that our economic systems must be based in the reality of the economics of the earth itself. As Berry said over and over, you cannot have healthy humans on a sick planet. We cannot extract more resources than the planet can naturally replace, or pollute its systems to the point where it is unable to heal itself. At present our world economic system is based on doing exactly that.

A third clear implication is that all humans are intimately related and connected in their collective story and their collective fate, and connected to all the living systems of the earth without which our lives would be impossible. All our divisions, in the context of the universe story, are artificial abstractions based upon fears, labels, and projections: Arab and Jew, Shia and Sunni, Islam and “the West,” capitalist and socialist, Republican and Democrat.

The degree of this interdependence has taken on a fresh intensity of meaning in the light of our ecological awareness of global interdependence. We cannot save the earth in parts. If Brazil fails to preserve the rain forest, the very lungs of the earth, none of us will breathe oxygenated air. Among thoughtful citizens worldwide, such ideas are already well-worn clichés. But the cliché falls far behind the actions we need to undertake to actually address the problems.

It is astonishing to realize that as a part of this awesome unfolding story, our reflective self-consciousness has also managed to unlock the enormous destructive power at the heart of the atom—threatening everything on our small planet. In the same way our minds and hearts have not caught up with the need for radical concerted action to address our ecological challenges, we also experience a distance between the reality that humans cannot afford to use nuclear weapons, and concrete political efforts to abolish them, efforts which are still considered pie-in-the-sky by our leaders.

Nuclear weapons are a symptom of our security fears, but these very fears can become a motive for action toward disarmament if the shared system of mutual fears is made the basis of diplomacy. The fatal combination of our us-and-them thinking and weapons themselves, no matter who has them, is the threat. It is an illusion to think that just because we are American or French or Pakistani or Chinese, we are infallible and wouldn’t misuse them. There is no going back. They can’t be uninvented. They cannot provide security, because if they were detonated above a certain not-so-large number (some scientists speculate about 5% of existing weapons), a planet-ending nuclear winter would ensue.

Most of the media seems utterly wed to the apparently unchangeable truth of this fear system. But the normative political gesture of people who understand that they all emerged from one universe begins with reaching out beyond an automatic assumption of competitiveness toward the familiarity that establishes safe spaces for dialogue, friendship and gradually built trust, in the context of challenges shared by all.

Were I a diplomat, I would base my confidence-building overtures with perceived adversaries on this new way of thinking—that this nation or that may be enemies on one level, but on a planetary level we all face this threat together. I would pledge no-first-use. I would push hard for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, especially difficult as that might be.

In the larger context of the universe story, may there soon come a time when the nations of the world, accepting the uselessness of nuclear weapons in war, might cooperate to create a reliable system of rockets and warheads for diverting asteroids on a collision path with our earth. People tend to cooperate more effectively if they can join forces toward a common goal. Then these destructive weapons will take their place in the creative context that we already know to be true: we’re all in this 14-billion-year-old adventure together.

Winslow Myers is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the advisory board of the War Prevention Initiative, and writes for PeaceVoice.

 

What Are They Good For? 10/2/13

What on earth are nuclear weapons for?

By Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Eric Schlosser’s hair-raising new book about actual and potential accidents with nuclear weapons, “Command and Control,” sharpens the dialogue, such as it is, between the anti-nuclear peace movement and nuclear strategists who maintain that these weapons still enhance the security of nations.

We can imagine a hypothetical moment somewhere in time. No one can say when exactly, but for my money it is definitely far in the past. Before that moment—perhaps it was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, or perhaps one of the terrifying incidents Schlosser describes, when computer glitches caused the Soviets or the Americans to misperceive that nuclear missiles had been launched—realists could argue that the deterrent effect of the balance of terror was preventing world war. After that moment, the more nuclear weapons, the more risk and insecurity for the planet as a whole and therefore for all nations whether they have the weapons or not.

One of the important points that Schlosser makes, one which former Secretary of Defense William Perry has also emphasized, is that our present moment is not less dangerous because the Cold War has passed and treaties have reduced the overall numbers of warheads, but much more dangerous—because military service in the nuclear weapons sector is considered a career dead-end, and the very lack of post-cold-war tension increases potential carelessness. At least General Curtis Lemay, whom John Kennedy had to restrain from launching World War III by attacking Cuba in 1962, pushed the Strategic Air Command to adhere to strict protocols for the safer handling of the weapons. Still, even that additional rigor was insufficient to prevent some of the near-disasters that Schlosser chronicles in such vivid detail.

The ultimate absurdity of the whole system of security-by-nukes is the potential of nuclear winter, which posits that it would only take the detonation of a small percentage of the total warheads on the planet to loft enough soot into the atmosphere to shut down world agriculture for a decade—in effect a death-sentence for all peoples and nations. Wherever the hypothetical line is before which nuclear weapons enhanced international security, the possibility of nuclear winter demonstrates irrefutably that we are on the other side of that line.

If some superior intelligence equipped with an interstellar version of the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders looked closely at the accepted order of things on our planet, they would have serious misgivings about our mental health. As such a visit from aliens seems unlikely to happen, we come to the question of authority here on earth. Ever since Oppenheimer and other scientists gave us nuclear weapons, other deep thinkers like Herman Kahn in his book “Thinking about the Unthinkable” and Henry Kissinger have tried to make rational the permanently irrational subject of mass death. In retirement, Kissinger has thrown up his hands and works now for total abolition. He does this because he knows from experience that nuclear weapons put us in the realm of Rumsfeld’s unknown knowns—no matter what experts may assert, we do know that no one knows how a nuclear war might begin. We have a somewhat clearer idea of how it would end, and “victory” is not one of the words that we associate with such an end.

No one defined more exactly the reasons why we have been so slow to acknowledge our own madness than Dag Hammarskjold:

“It is one of the surprising experiences of one in the position of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to find in talks with leaders of many nations, both political leaders and leaders in spiritual life, that the view expressed, the hopes nourished, and the trust reflected, in the direction of reconciliation, go far beyond what is usually heard in public. What is it that makes it so difficult to bring this basic attitude more effectively to bear upon the determination of policies? The reasons are well known to us all. It might not be understood by the constituency, or it might be abused by competing groups, or it might be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness by the other part. And so the game goes on—toward an unforeseeable conclusion.”

On Thursday, September 26, 2013, the UN hosted the first ever High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament. Russia and the United States boycotted the meeting.

The urgent and primary task is educational, and that is where you and I can do our small but necessary part, with letters to our newspapers and our legislators. The task is to seed into worldwide discourse the complete dysfunctionality of “realist” nuclear rhetoric—an act of love on behalf of our beautiful and deeply threatened planet. If we succeed in changing the paradigm, a moment in time will come, again a hypothetical, indefinable moment, when the majority of the world’s people and leaders, Obama and Putin and Netanyahu and Hasan Rouhani, the new head of Iran, the thinkers and the generals of the nine nuclear powers, the corporations who make money off these weapons, all will come to realize the futility of the course we are on. And together we will begin to change. God help us, may no fatal accident or misinterpretation happen before that moment arrives.

Winslow Myers is 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.

 

Hypocritical Violence 9/4/13

“Credibility” is Obsolete 

By Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Lord have mercy, a half-century beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis and almost as many years beyond Vietnam, our erstwhile leaders are still mouthing stale clichés about “credibility.” Remember Dean Rusk saying we went eyeball to eyeball with the Soviets and they blinked? Of course the world almost ended, but never mind.

And to go back a little further into the too-soon-forgotten past, some historians surmise that Truman dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki not to force an already forthcoming Japanese surrender, but to make ourselves more threateningly credible to the expansionist Soviets as the World War II wound down.

Credibility was the main motif of Secretary of State Kerry’s statement rationalizing possible military action against Syria. If we’re going to kill a few thousand non-combatants in the next few days or weeks, and it looks increasingly as if we are, could we not do it for some better reason than maintaining to the world, as if the world cared, that we are not a pitiful helpless giant?

What is it with my country? It is particularly painful to hear these valorous-sounding, but actually exhausted, toothless locutions from John Kerry, who began his political career with electrifyingly refreshing congressional testimony opposing the Vietnam War, a war pursued on the basis that if we did not maintain a credible presence in Southeast Asia, country after country would fall to the Commies, ultimately the Chinese Commies. Meanwhile the historical record of a thousand years showed that China had been Vietnam’s mortal enemy. Never mind.

Only a day before Secretary Kerry’s rationalizations, we listened to our first black president commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The truth-force of Martin Luther King Jr. seemed to hover above Barack Obama like a tired and angry ghost, because any person with half a brain could feel the cognitive dissonance between the president’s mealy-mouthed obeisance to the mythology of King’s non-violence, and the hellish violence soon to be visited upon Damascus from our cruise missiles. Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry, surely you cannot have forgotten how steadfastly Reverend King stood against militarism, how he made the connection between inequality at home and the waste of foreign adventures.

Our missiles will unleash stupid violence. Unnecessary violence. Hypocritical violence. 

Stupid violence because it extends yet further the hatred that so many in the Middle East must feel for our crudely righteous meddling.

Unnecessary violence, because the resolution of the civil war in Syria will not come one whit closer on account of our missiles—even if we kill Assad. There are now too many conflicts folded into the Syrian tangle, the Shia-Sunni conflict, the Iran-Israeli conflict, even the proxy Russian-American conflict. 

Hypocritical violence, in view of the U.S. military’s own indiscriminate use of depleted uranium in the Iraq war—and our government’s eagerness to look the other way when Saddam, back when he was our ally, gassed Kurds and Iranians.

Hypocritical violence also because we Americans rationalize our looking to violence as the “solution” to conflict by hiding behind the fig-leaf that gas is so much worse than our other well-trod paths of war-making.  It is not gas that is uniquely horrific. It is war itself.

All this being so, there is zero loss of credibility in admitting that there is no military solution to this war, which the world already knows.

When will my country begin to enhance its credibility for “living out the true meaning of its creed”? The worldwide equality of humans, their equal right to life and liberty and happiness, is fundamentally threatened by Orwellian political shibboleths like “credibility,” especially coming from a nation that possesses vast piles of weapons of mass destruction that could make death by Sarin gas look like a family picnic. This kind of credibility is incredible. 

The Syrian impasse is horribly difficult, but at least we don’t have to ham-fistedly make it worse. There are so many creative things we could do besides throwing around our power. First of all, restraint itself can be a creative act, when lack of restraint, such as what we are contemplating, leads nowhere but further into chaos. Don’t just do something, stand there. Or at least stand for credible, consistent values.

Stand against reflexive unilateral military posturing. Stand for the encouragement—and funding—of unarmed U.N. Peacekeeping troops going into Syria in large numbers to create buffer zones between adversaries. Stand for supporting the creation of a parallel Syrian government-in-exile that could make halting steps toward processes of truth and reconciliation when the violence finally exhausts itself.  Stand for giving ten times more resources to career diplomats in our State Department, in order that a larger number of people get trained not only in foreign languages and cultures, but also in the arts of diplomatic conflict resolution.

We have forgotten the kind of credibility slowly but steadily built up by Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the U.N., the first person to undertake endless, patient shuttle diplomacy as a better solution than war.  Hammarskjold lived a consistent, impartial ethic bent upon steadfastly reconciling the interests of nations with the interests of the human family. Oh that my country could be led by stout hearts like King and Hammarskjold. They were giants of credibility. 

Winslow Myers leads seminars on the challenges of personal and global change,  is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the advisory board of the War Prevention Initiative, and writes for PeaceVoice.  http://www.peacevoice.info/

 

Winds of Chaos 8/28/13

Roger Lipsey’s “Hammarskjöld: A Life”

Book review by Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers

Roger Lipsey has produced a magisterially comprehensive portrait of the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, in his 2013 book “Hammarskjöld: A Life.” Lipsey’s achievement is all the more remarkable because at first glance Hammarskjöld appears to be, in the combination of his monastic bachelor dedication to his role and his veiled diplomatic tact, a uniquely unknowable person.

As Secretary-General, what kept him steadily moving forward against the gale-force winds of chaos, violence, and cynical double-dealing by governments was his systematic subjugation of individual will to a fervent wish to be used by God. Brought up in Swedish Protestant Christianity, a deep reader of the Christian mystics, Hammarskjöld not only valued, but actually lived, what he called “stillness,” a creative discipline that enabled him to stay flexibly creative in the welter of such events as the Suez crisis of 1956, when he was one of the first to initiate the exhausting process of shuttle diplomacy.

The working heart of Lipsey’s approach is to subtly tie the entries in “Markings,” Hammarskjöld’s spiritual poetry, a number of which are specifically dated, to the stream of acute international crises in which Hammarskjöld was crucially involved, including the battle for Congolese independence, during which he lost his life in a plane crash—a crash that may not have been accidental. Hammarskjöld’s refusal to compromise his impartiality, his total loyalty to the principles of U.N. Charter, was seen by his enemies as a kind of partiality in itself, in the spirit of “if you’re not with us you’re against us”—that all-too-familiar accelerant of alienation and war.

Even as he describes Hammarskjöld’s difficulties with the prickly egotism of heads of state, Lipsey has managed to absorb some of the spirit of Hammarskjöld himself—as found in this quotation from an interview Hammarskjöld did with a journalist: “A certain humility . . . helps you to see things through the other person’s eye, to reconstruct his case, without losing yourself, without being a chameleon, if you see what I mean.” Inspired by Hammarskjöld, Lipsey takes considerable pains to search out the universal humanity beneath the arrogance of figures like Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union and French General Charles de Gaulle.

As this is being written, a gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in Syria is putting more and more pressure upon Western leaders to intervene in yet another horrific civil war. The superpower players are hardly different from Hammarskjöld’s time, Syria being a client state of Russia. The web of corruption and violence in the Congo has only become more and more tangled during the 60 years betweenHammarskjöld’s death and the present. Not a lot has changed since he was Secretary-General, except that since the end of the cold war, U.S. military power has taken the partisan place of what might have been, and still could be, a transition toward a nonpartisan U.N. with more effective nonviolent peacekeeping forces, including far more comprehensive arms sales bans and economic sanctions that target elites.

But public opinion in the U.S. today concerning international cooperation still yields a division between conservative “realists” and progressive “dreamers”—advocates for a U.N. with more teeth often being stereotyped as the latter. Hammarskjöld himself was something quite different from a dreamer. He kept tenaciously to his understanding that if peace was an international necessity in the nuclear age, it had to follow that peace was also in every country’s national interest.

Given that challenges like nuclear disarmament and global climate change cannot be resolved by any nation working alone, national and international interests are inevitably merging. Surely this has a bearing upon how diplomats everywhere ought to be oriented in their training. If foreign service officers are unable to see the equal humanity of their counterparts in other cultures, if a spirit of international mutuality does not penetrate the narrowness of self-interested realpolitik, we will be left with the no-win of “you’re either with us or against us.” Surely there must be room for more of the Hammarskjöld spirit, a conviction that it is possible to identify something common in the interests of one’s own country and the interests of all countries.

The tragedy is that statesmen like Dr. Kissinger or General Colin Powell spend their careers in the obedient service of ostensibly American interests, but then, in the backward-glancing wisdom of retirement, they advocate eloquently—not that we shouldn’t be grateful, better late than never—for planet-oriented goals like the total abolition of nuclear weapons. Hammarskjöld, speaking to a group of American governors, understood this process with laser clarity:

“It is one of the surprising experiences of one in the position of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to find in talks with leaders of many nations, both political leaders and leaders in spiritual life, that the view expressed, the hopes nourished, and the trust reflected, in the direction of reconciliation, go far beyond what is usually heard in public. What is it that makes it so difficult to bring this basic attitude more effectively to bear upon the determination of policies? The reasons are well known to us all. It might not be understood by the constituency, or it might be abused by competing groups, or it might be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness by the other part. And so the game goes on—toward an unforeseeable conclusion.”

At some indefinable point in time, which many believe is already behind us, the need for separate nations either to maintain their grotesque stockpiles of nuclear weapons or to refuse to adjust their economic goals for the sake of climate stability, is going to be trumped by the reality that the status quo carries more risks than the risks of cooperation toward common survival goals.  Over this fateful paradigm shift hovers the benign, tenacious, far-seeing spirit of Dag Hammarskjöld.

Winslow Myers leads seminars on the challenges of personal and global change,  is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the advisory board of the War Prevention Initiative, and writes for PeaceVoice.

Beyond Secrets 6/19/13

Beyond Secrets

By Winslow MyersWinslowMyers

As lowly citizens trying to understand the enormous resources poured into the national security state, it may help to examine the “meta-thinking” behind the mass mining of “meta-data” from our telephones and e-mails.

Aside from debate about whether our government may be massively violating the 4thAmendment, we need to begin with compassion. It is not hard to see how fear and political necessity are among the engines driving the growth of the secrecy bureaucracy. There are bad actors out there, and a certain alertness is required to prevent them from doing their worst. Political leaders do not get elected by advocating love for enemies.

Thus President Obama cannot say aloud that the lives of children in Pakistan or Yemen are worth as much as the lives of his own daughters. That such evasions are politically necessary is one indication that our “meta-thinking” may be inadequate.

Our conception of national and international interest has not caught up with the advent of nuclear weapons and planetary ecological stresses. Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago has defined the term “offensive realism” as the only sensible stance a nation can take in the face of multiple existential threats. Because it cannot know the motivations of, say, the Chinese leadership, the United States must stay on the offensive militarily. And in fact the U.S. does project its forces—and listening devices—all around the world.

The Chinese leadership, or the Russian, or the Iranian, or the Israeli, are equally in thrall to “offensive realism”—what will be called “paranoid realism” once the planet passes through this dangerous but also opportune moment of history.

When the mutual fears of nations and even non-state actors motivate not only the acquisition of world-destructive weapons but the need for vast systems of data-analysis in order to watch and anticipate all the moves of the players, the general paranoia becomes as much the problem as the solution.

But there are forces at work in the world far larger that the supposed malign motivations of powerful nations. These forces can push all of us, in spite of our mutual fears, toward a renewed sense of compassion for ourselves as a species and a mutuality based in common survival goals—similar to the mutual superpower desire to end the Cold War after the Cuban crisis of 1962.

In this new understanding of common interest, the old “meta-thinking” that insists upon nations as exceptional, defensible systems has now become obsolete. Our present international paranoia is a current taking us downriver toward a waterfall. We can see this deadly drift in Syria today. For too long not only the U.S. but many nations have made a policy of selling arms to the enemies of their enemies. It will not work in Syria any better than it did in Afghanistan.

In order to dissolve the tensions of paranoia, experts and citizens alike need to understand our international predicament as a total system and build personal relationships across boundaries on the basis of this reality.

Though it has not yet sunk into the planetary group mind, our overall environmental challenge is the most obvious one that dissolves the illusion of nations possessing separate self-interests requiring an “offensive realist” response, including exceptionalist pretensions that the lives of “our” children are worth more than “theirs.”

The challenge of nuclear weapons, as Jonathan Schell has asserted, takes its place within the context of the environmental crisis. Computer models confirm that the detonation of only a small percentage of the world’s nuclear arsenals would throw enough soot into the upper atmosphere to shut down agriculture for a decade—in effect, a death-sentence for the planet. This alone renders all present nuclear strategy obsolete, as even that pitiless realist Dr. Kissinger has admitted.

Given the role of human error, or insufficiently safe design, in disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, or near-disasters like the Cuban Missile Crisis, in combination with the variety of forms that nuclear weapons have taken—nuclear missiles, mines, and artillery shells supervised by thousands of fallible humans—it defies all notions of common sense that the species can avoid forever the inadvertent or deliberate use of these weapons.

Disarmament then becomes a gradual, reciprocal process that depends upon a change of emphasis appropriate to the new paradigm: diplomatic and non-governmental initiatives based upon mutual assured survival, with continuing sensible alertness toward the ever-present possibility of the lethal combination of medieval mind-sets and weapons of mass destruction—making the sequestration of all nuclear materials an urgent priority.

Sunni and Shia, Russians and Saudis, and, yes, Republicans and Democrats will look up someday from their narrow preoccupation with each other’s shortcomings to see bearing down upon them a planetary oneness of disaster, oceans that rise even as they become empty of fish, air that our children cannot breathe, diseases that travel from tropical to temperate zones on the wings of climate change. We’re all in this together, our survival utterly dependent upon what our “enemies” do and vice versa.

The secrets that governments hold close and that the disaffected strive to reveal contain at their heart a hollowness based in the illusory assumption of separation. Taking their cue from this pragmatic truth, the major religions can function at their best to strengthen connection (re-ligare, to tie back together), not to separate—on the basis of the deep common truth of our planetary oneness. Inverting the lines from Auden’s famous poem—“those to whom evil is done, do evil in return”—reconciliation, nonviolence, forgiveness, active initiatives to build trust and resilience on the basis of common goals, will cause those to whom good is done to respond in kind. Before it is too late, may it be so.

Winslow Myers is 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.

 
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