Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hypermasculinity and World-Ending Weapons


Escalating tensions in the 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 (http://www.forbes.com/sites/lorenthompson/2014/04/24/four-ways-the-ukraine-crisis-could-escalate-to-use-of-nuclear-weapons/) 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 the 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, the 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 cold war—the former 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 the 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. 53 years later the international community appears to have learned little from coming within a hair’s breadth of annihilation.

The Ukraine 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, 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 and 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?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Beyond Deterrence, Compassion


In memory of peace activist Cynthia Fisk, 1925—2015

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 possess nuclear weapons, or a world where nobody has them. Which world do we want our children to inherit?

Cold war deterrence was aptly called the balance of terror. The present 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 giants of evil. 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 in common a 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 rat’s 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 (https://charterforcompassion.org/node/8387). 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 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. among the top arms sellers instead of the top provider of humanitarian aid? 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?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Our Christmas Schizophrenia



On Christmas Eve 1914, German and British soldiers crept out of their trenches, played soccer together, exchanged gifts of food, and joined in singing carols. Alarmed, commanders on both sides warned of the crime of “fraternizing with the enemy” and the war ground on for an additional four years, not only killing millions but setting the stage for the next world war two decades later.

From the safe perspective of a new century, those soldiers who tried to reach out peacefully to one another seem sane and realistic, while hindsight shows their generals to have suffered from a kind of mental illness based in rigid over-adherence to abstractions like flag, country and total victory. 

A hundred years later it seems we would prefer to sentimentalize the story of Christmas in the trenches rather than using it as a measure of our own mental health. In the way we think about war, most of us suffer equally from group schizophrenia, made infinitely more dangerous by the presence of nuclear weapons combined with antique delusions of victory.

Progressives like to excoriate the obvious war lovers among us, politicians who are lost without enemies to blame or pundits who traffic in crude polarizing stereotypes. But we need to acknowledge the beam in our own eye even as we point out the mote in theirs. Tragically, those who try too hard to make sense of the insanity of war can slip into participation in war. Commentators, even liberal ones, wanting to appear sensible and realistic by displaying their comprehensive knowledge of all the parties in complex fights such as the one grinding on right now in Syria and Iraq, drift away from the essential truth that the civil war there is just as senseless as the trench warfare between the British and the Germans a hundred years ago. Calmly accepting least bad options, we choose from a safe distance whom to bomb and to whom to sell weapons, only fanning the flames of chaos.

Mentally healthy discourse about any war on the planet requires a context based in values both spelled out and lived out by pillars of sanity like Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.  These leaders knew that killing solves nothing and that the spirit of vengeance initiates a cycle that leads only to further killing.

“Realists” will reply that the idealism of Jesus and friends is all very well but when we are pushed we must shove back. This fundamental assumption, apparently impossible to refute and always referring back to the uber-case of Hitler, becomes more questionable when looking at the insane karma of America’s response to 9-11-01. Our leaders unleashed a stream of squid-ink that tried to blur Saddam with al-Qaeda when most of the perpetrators were inconveniently Saudi and none Iraqi. Much of the ensuing chaos in Iraq and Syria, along with our horrific descent into the insanity of torture, flowed out of this initial, still unpunished lie.  

The light of history reveals that wars often exhibit a causation that implicates all parties—as we know from examining how the Hitler phenomenon was a direct result of the allied powers failing to exhibit a spirit of magnanimity toward a defeated Germany when World War 1 ended in 1918. The Marshall plan demonstrated allied determination not to repeat the same mistake in 1945, and the result was a stability in Europe that endures to this day.

There are practical reasons we set aside holidays to honor Jesus and King, because we know these men taught the only possible way beyond the plague of war—an understanding that we are one human family. Those long ago soldiers in the trenches had the courage to awaken from the insanity of “my country right or wrong” and tried to connect spontaneously with each other on the heart level. If journalists and interpreters could remain with the values context that asserts that all killing is insane, that arms sales that exacerbate such killing are universally shameful, that war is always the failure of all parties to conflict to avoid slipping into the insanity of enemy stereotyping, perhaps a new mental climate would be created—a positive form of global warming.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Race, Class and Violence

David Brook’s recent column in the NYTimes (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/opinion/david-brooks-class-prejudice-resurgent.html), 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 a half-century 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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vengeance is Obsolete


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 even a 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.’” (CNN)

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 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 game of tit for tat. Where is the mercy, or justice, in bulldozing 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: nuclear deterrence. What else is deterrence 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.

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.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Giants on the Earth: A Review of Waging Peace by David Hartsough



There were giants on the earth in those days . . . (Genesis 6:4)

The fear that we citizens of the United States have been seduced into since 9/11 spreads across our benighted nation like a fog, inhibiting all policy alternatives not based in blind vengefulness. Special are those who have the spiritual clear-sightedness and persistence to make people-oriented global connections that pierce the fog of fear with the light of visionary possibility.

One such giant is David Hartsough, whose vivid, even hair-raising, memoir of a lifetime of peace activism, Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist, has just been published by PM press.  It ought to be required reading for every U.S. citizen befogged by the crude polarization between Islamic extremism and the equally violent, ineffective, but seemingly endless Western military reaction it has elicited.

It hardly seems possible that Hartsough has been able to crowd into one lifetime all his deeds of creative nonviolence. He was there with Martin Luther King in the late fifties in the South. He was there when a train loaded with bullets and bombs on their way to arm right-wing death squads in Central America severed the leg of his friend Brian Willson in California. His initiatives of support for nonviolent resistance movements span both decades and continents, from efforts to get medical supplies to the North Vietnamese, to reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians, to support for Russian dissidents as the Soviet Union was breaking up, to the resistance to Marcos in the Philippines, and on and on. Hartsough’s book thus becomes a remarkably comprehensive alternative history to set against “the official story” of America’s—and many other nations’—often brutal and misguided reliance upon military intervention.

David Hartsough gave himself a head start by getting born into the right family. As a boy he heard his minister father preach the gospel of loving your enemies and almost immediately got a chance to try it out when bullies pelted him with icy snowballs. It worked, and Hartsough never looked back. Having determined to do integration in reverse by attending the predominantly black Howard University, he soon found himself sitting in with courageous African-American students at segregated restaurants in Virginia. A white man crazed with hate threatened him with a knife. Hartsough spoke to him so gently that the man was “disarmed” by the unexpected shock of a loving response and retreated open-mouthed and speechless.

Sixty years of innumerable protests, witnesses, and organizing efforts later, Hartsough is still at it as he helps to begin a new global movement to end war on the planet, called “World Beyond War.” While his book is a genuinely personal memoir that records moments of doubt, despair, fear of getting shot, and occasional triumph, even more it is a testament to the worldwide nonviolent movement that still flies completely under the radar of American media. Living in a bubble of propaganda, we do not realize how intrusive the bases of our far-flung empire are felt to be. We do not feel how many millions worldwide regard the U.S. as an occupying force with negative overall effects upon their own security. Even more importantly, we remain insufficiently aware how often nonviolence has been used around the world to bring about positive change where it appeared unlikely to occur without major bloodshed. The U.S. turns to military force reflexively to ”solve” problems, and so it has been difficult indeed, as we are seeing in our ham-handed response to ISIS and the chaos in Syria, for us to learn lessons that go all the way back to the moral disaster of Vietnam. We have not registered how sick of the madness of war the world really is. Now academic studies are starting to back up with hard statistical evidence the proposition that nonviolent tactics are more effective than militarism for overthrowing dictators and reconciling opposing ethnic or religious groups.

Coincidentally, the book I read just before Waging Peace was its perfect complement: a biography of Allen Dulles, first director of the CIA, and his brother John Foster Dulles, longtime Secretary of State. The Dulles book goes a long way toward explaining the hidden motives of the military-industrial-corporate behemoth which Hartsough has spent his life lovingly but persistently confronting—truly a moral giant named David against a Goliath of clandestine militarism that props up narrow business interests at the expense of the human rights of millions. Always this David has kept in his heart one overarching principle, that we are one human family and no one nation’s children are worth more than any other’s.

Hartsough’s tales of persistence in the face of hopeless odds remind us not to yield to despair, cynicism, fear mongering or enemy posing, all temptations when political blame is the currency of the day. Hartsough is a living exemplar of the one force that is more powerful than extremist hate, reactive fear, and weapons, including nuclear bombs—the human capacity to be harmless, helpful and kind even to supposed adversaries.

If—let us say optimistically when—peace goes mainstream and deluded pretentions to empire are no longer seen as the royal road to security, when we wake up to the hollowness of our selfishness and exceptionalism, when we begin to relate to other nations as opportunities to share good will and resources rather than to bomb, it will be largely because of the tireless efforts of insufficiently heralded giants like David Hartsough.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Killing for Peace


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.