Seeing Ourselves In Others
In one of the more painful ironies of World War II, the Nagasaki bomb, having been blessed at take-off by Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, obliterated the largest Christian church in the Orient and vaporized most of its adherents. Today urban populations worldwide are so diverse that a terrorist who detonated a suitcase WMD in a major city would kill thousands of his co-religionists and their children. On a small planet where “friends” can no longer be clearly delineated from “foes,” it is time to think new about global security.
Since the beginning of the atomic age in 1945, everything to do with war—security, strength, survival, and power—has changed irrevocably. Only our thinking, based in an obsolete “us and them” conception of our world, remains the same, rooted in millennia of violent conflict.
In the nuclear age “us and them” has taken the form of President Reagan’s cold war characterization of the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire” or President Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” President Obama is already in danger of entrapment in the same unworkable paradigm because of our understandable nuclear fears about Al Quaeda and its Taliban supporters.
The military strategies of the “enlightened” West and of Osama bin Laden’s brand of Islamic nihilism possess one thing in common: they are both based on the premise that it is possible for “us” to stamp out evil, ignorance and error in “them.” No matter what the conflict, Iran vs. Israel, India vs. Pakistan, the U.S. vs. Al-Quaeda, the true face of evil may lie in the mutual assumption of opposing parties that evil can be exterminated. This dynamic now possesses an unavoidable nuclear dimension. 60 years after the allies raced to get the bomb before Hitler, whose insane project it was to stamp out evil on the basis of race, potentially anyone can build a weapon of mass destruction.
Will we continue to focus the energy of our fears toward the “stamping out” paradigm, or will we go the way the Buddha suggested: “See yourself in others. Then what harm can you do?”
Seeing ourselves in others is not idealistic. Instead it is pragmatic, because it is the only way we are ever going to de-cock the nuclear gun that we assume is pointed at others but is really pointed at everyone, ourselves included. For thousands of years we have chosen to pay lip service at best to the revolutionary instruction to love our enemies. In the nuclear age, creative good will and offers of humanitarian help to those who oppose us have become enlightened, hardheaded self-interest.
Winslow Myers, a retired teacher, writes on global issues. He serves on the Board of Directors of Beyond War, an educational foundation, and is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.”
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