Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Justifying the Kill





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 racist stereotyping that rationalizes 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 inclusiveness than exclusiveness, 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 twelve-month period ending in 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 twenty years later, Rwanda, where 85% of the population are farmers yet 44% 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 is possible where arms sales and war are illegal under consistently applied international law, enforced by reformed and strengthened U.N. peacekeeping forces. 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.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Who Speaks for Earth?"


Few people remember them today, but there were significant global leadership initiatives in the 1980s against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. 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, hundreds of 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, Tanzania, and Mexico, formed the Five-Continent Peace Initiative to advocate for a decrease in tensions among the nuclear super-powers. Jules 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 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, asking “who speaks for Earth?”

Thirty years further on, 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 toward the inevitable nuclear Niagara somewhere down the time-stream. Resources desperately needed to prevent immanent 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 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 powers.  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.

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.

Jules 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 our present rot—the rationalizations, evasions, and delays that led to disaster. Only if citizens everywhere demand true servant-leaders will more life-affirming outcomes become possible.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gaza in the Light of the Stars


There is a solution to the difficult problem of war, but it is evolutionary. That feels bizarre to us humans, uncongenially abstract. No, we cannot grow new brains and hearts. But we can evolve how we think—and feel. We can become more responsive to what reality keeps screaming at us at the top of its lungs: a global population of seven billion and rising, along with nuclear weapons, asserts a grand limit, where the destructive potential of our sheer numbers and our weapons is bigger than the delicate natural systems that support life. Meanwhile we go on applying the hammer of war to ancient grudges that war itself will never solve, instead of expanding the spaces where it feels safe to engage each other from the heart.

When we boil them down, the great religions all offer variations of the same message: do unto others as we would want others to do to us. Don’t use violence to resolve conflict. Learn to want what we have not have what we want. Be as good as our word, real, honest, truthful. Be present, for this moment is our taste of eternity. Be inclusive, even to the point of including the perspective of our supposed adversary, for he is genetically identical to us. Be cooperative—especially with “strangers,” because strangers are potential friends. Act as if we share responsibility for the good of the whole, because we do.

This implies both a humbling and an expansion which has seemed, up to now, impossibly difficult: the realization that being a good person involves something more fundamental and “less than” being a Jew, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Democrat, a Republican, a Shia, a Sunni. Those identifications can be supportive of our goodness, but often put us in violently dysfunctional conflict with others. So we need to know that we emerge from a common context that transcends those labels. We are the outcome of 13.85 billion years of evolution. We are just like everyone else—and we are a preciously unique expression of all that process. Our true identity is both less than the thought-forms of nationalism/religion/race/class and much more than those seemingly crucial but ultimately petty attributes.

In the great journey of human cultural development, there are some hints that we already get this: the native American understanding of how we are part of the great web of life; the Arab tradition of hospitality to strangers; the pan-religious perspective of the contemplative tradition that run through all religions; the insights of poets that tell us that if we could fully understand our enemy he would no longer be our enemy; even the clarifying rigor of the modern scientific method.

All of these glorious cultural achievements point toward a potential greater glory: the end of war on this tiny planet. They help us to see reality more clearly and act upon that clarity for good of the whole. Many call this reality God, but it doesn’t matter what we label it. Life on earth is a vital, moving, ever-changing process to which we must learn to adapt and evolve, by seeing what all humans have in common: the same naked birth and death; the same hopes for each other and our children; the same suffering and the same compassion that suffering calls forth from doctors and nurses and teachers and public servants.

Does this mean that we cannot practice the rituals of our religions, rituals which give the stages of our lives order and meaning, the rhythm of initiation and work and rest and meditation? Does it mean that we are looking at a future in which there will be no more nations or religions or even separate races as we know them?

No. If all sects and rituals were magically swept away, we would renew them as a comfort against the terrifying chaos of life. And there will always be differences among us, more conflict than ever, which will require the administration of boundaries and the exercise of compromise. But the conditions of life today, where all our most important problems transcend religious and national borders—climate change, feeding billions of people, finding clean water, preserving the health of the oceans and rain forests—suggest that while we may go on thinking of ourselves as Israeli, a Palestinian Gazan, Socialist, Brazilian, our primary identification must be as responsible citizens of one small planet.  This amounts to no less than a deep evolutionary shift. Already it is bringing about new political structures, such as revised constitutions that give rights not only to people but also to natural systems like rivers.

The Gazans and Israelis enduring another futile round of eye-for-an-eye thinking are understandably disinclined to look upward and feel their connection to the creativity of the spiraling galaxies out of which they emerged; they are desperately focused upon day by day survival. So it is up to us living in greater security to promote—and model—the planetary expansion of identity that will make their agony obsolete.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Let's Make a Deal


My dreams are invaded these days by the spectre of methane frozen under arctic ice bubbling up as the ice above it melts, setting up a potentially irreversible cycle: more methane, more climate change, yet more methane, yet more climate change. A group of us here in our little coastal Maine town are so disgusted with congressional gridlock and so eager to do something that we have formed a cooperative to help our fellow citizens transition off fossil fuels in their homes. Co-op members walk their talk; outside each meeting it’s a veritable pride of Priuses.

For a couple of decades back in the 1980s, I was haunted by a different flavor of catastrophe: I might hear a real jet roaring overhead but believe in my dreams that I was hearing a fleet of Soviet missiles arcing toward our major cities.

But there are many reasons why global climate change and nuclear weapons are really one issue: They both require a level of international cooperation based on transnational shared self-interest. Even a small nuclear war could cause even more rapid descent into climate chaos. Leaders of great powers have the opportunity to see that, especially because genuine security depends upon resolving the climate challenge, maybe there is a grand bargain to be made to cut international spending for nuclear weapons systems where everybody can win big.

Even if a nuclear exchange somehow remained below the threshold necessary to cause a nuclear winter, far from resolving whatever conflict engendered it, it would only create conditions thousands of times worse than when any given war began. The weapons, no matter who owns them, are strategically useless. Don’t take my word; ask Henry Kissinger, who spends his declining years advocating steps toward abolition. Yes, there is the nuclear terror issue, but the solution to that is to have less weapons and components floating around. Moreover, all the nuclear weapons in the world won’t deter an extremist.

Meanwhile the United States is a case study in the tail of out-of-control defense spending wagging the dog of policy. Perhaps the most egregious example is the Navy plan to build 12 new Ohio class submarines, six-hundred-foot behemoths of mass destruction. Professor Lawrence Wittner reports that to build deploy and maintain this fleet, scheduled to be phased in by 2031 and to operate until 2070, would cost about 350 billion in today’s dollars—an amount so great that the Navy worries about how it will squeeze other shipbuilding priorities, and the Congress has begun to think about how to fund it outside the parameters of the regular budget. Of course the U.S. is not alone in its insanity: six other nuclear powers seem to be in the process of expanding or renewing their own submarine hardware.

350 billion dollars would buy an awful lot of solar panels, windmills, fusion research, and desalinization plants for the water-starved in our own country and abroad. It seems remarkable that no leader has initiated some kind of international conference to address our horrendous misplacement of resources. Imagine the heads of the nuclear powers realizing that they could divert those hundreds of billions of dollars/yen/rubles/Euros presently designated for ultimately useless weapons into projects that would contribute to some genuine increase in peoples’ health, like cleaning up the air in Peking or Moscow. Treaties are especially feasible because our technical capabilities can bypass trust and go right to verification. Nothing would increase global security more than authentic, substantive mitigation of climate chaos, with the dividend of mitigating fears of nuclear apocalypse at the same time.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Beyond the Abyss


Nothing more clearly illustrates the absurdity of murder for political ends than this moment of chaos in Iraq and Syria.  Imagine spaceships of an alien civilization hovering over that vast desert area and assessing the state of our humanity on the basis of the welter of alliances and rivalries to-ing and fro-ing below, leaving trails of blood and traumatized children. As borders arbitrarily set by colonial powers a century ago dissolve, the strategic hopes of nations are undercut by vicious tribal rivalries going back almost a thousand years. The so-called superpowers are paralyzed giants armed with useless nuclear weapons. Moral pygmies who initiated unnecessary wars based on shameless lies have the unmitigated gall to blame those in office for events the liars themselves set in motion.  

Time magazine lays out the mind-boggling confusion in its June 30 issue: the U.S. and Iran support Iraq. Iran, Iraq 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, but the U.S. and the Gulf States have also sent money and arms to extreme Sunni groups in Syria that may intend future harm to the U.S. The Kurds, Iran, the U.S. and Iraq want to defeat ISIS, even as the Kurds have benefited from the chaos created by ISIS. Millions of innocent citizens across the region have been displaced, their children hurt in every way, terrorized and starved, with doctors and teachers and business leaders unable to exercise skills essential to the web of civil society.

All of this bloodletting, confusion, and waste has the potential to get much worse because it is unfolding in the context of a planetary moment when our common future is at stake unless we humans can cooperate on a whole new level to find sustainable forms of food and energy. Yet from the perspective of the spaceship, the trackless desert could also be seen as a resource of staggering possibilities. Solar arrays could transform the harshly abundant rays of the sun into power for desalinization plants, preventing future water conflicts. The same solar energy could manufacture hydrogen to power a vibrant economy—a Muslim renaissance. Imagine if the trillions America spent on its Iraq misadventure had gone instead into building such a system. Halliburton, which took a reported $39.5 billion in war profits from that conflict, could have still made billions and actually have done something positive in that part of the world.

When it becomes this difficult to discern who are the good guys and who are the bad, the whole “us and them” paradigm fades into smoke. The common interest becomes, fundamentally, what’s good for children: Syrian, Iraqi, Kurdish, Iranian, Israeli, American. Brought up short by the helplessness of being unable to distinguish between alliances and enemies, is this not the moment for us to say enough—how much greater proof do we need that war and murder never work? Instead, there is an all-too-pervasive climate of opinion in the American government-industrial-media complex that more war and murder are the only answer to war and murder.

One part of an alternative answer is the nature of this moment, in the largest perspective of the unfolding of geological time.  More and more of us are defining our primary identity not in terms of nation or tribe or religion, but instead in terms of the whole delicate, threatened planet now seen as the outcome of billions of years of evolutionary development. This is new—an encompassing story that has enormous potential to unite the diversity of humans into a larger community.

Meanwhile a hierarchy of needs still operates, and the primary need of the torn-apart Middle East is security, in the bare-bones form of simple cessation of slaughter. It would make zero sense to approach a fiery Kalashnikov-wielding adherent of ISIS and plead that he look up at the stars: “See who you really are, a descendent of these trillions of galaxies. It is out of this one unfolding universe that our sacred texts of Islam and Christianity and Judaism arose. We are one species. Shia and Sunnis may have a long history of enmity, but go back far enough and they are one, polarized by illusions of difference that are meaningless in terms of this astronomical creativity out of which we all came.”

This felt sense of oneness is the great message that bears in upon us from both our biggest challenges and our biggest opportunities—challenges like ocean acidification, rain forest destruction or nuclear proliferation, opportunities for vast networks of communication and understanding like the Internet. Global climate chaos encompasses not just about physical weather but spiritual weather as well. Though the ongoing horrors of Iraq and Syria represent a sickening step backward from the possibility of reconciliation among tribes and sects, the context of reconciliation surrounds us and points the way ahead. Let us pay greater heed to the softer, kinder voices that speak of a world that works for everyone.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Global Climate Change and Nuclear Abolition Are One Issue


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. 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. 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. 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 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.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter 2014


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-pound 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 pay 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 the military 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.