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.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Local and Global


I attended the Special Town Meeting in the town of Bristol on October 1, 2014. The purpose of the meeting was to vote on a non-binding resolution that would allow a cable from experimental wind turbines off Monhegan to cross prime fishing grounds and come ashore in New Harbor. Apparently the cable cannot be buried on the sea bottom and would pass across uneven rocky ground, making it all too easy for fishermen to entangle their equipment. Even though the resolution was overwhelmingly defeated, the meeting was packed and the energy in the room was genial and inclusive. Whatever the outcome, it always feels good in these cynical times to experience passionate citizen involvement, where the tension between opposing interests can almost always lead to a constructive outcome with which all parties can live.

The late Edward Myers, my father, lived for more than half a century with the tension between his lobster business and changes in the ocean system bearing on lobster health. While he did much to enlarge the international market for Maine seafood, at the same time, year after year, he carefully noted changes in salinity, acidity, temperature and mean tidal levels in the Damariscotta river.  The changes he witnessed were alarming enough for him to put together a book before he died in 2002, called Turnaround, a gentle prophecy of what is coming unless we change course in our relations with the natural world. This tradition of scientific analysis of environmental changes continued with his granddaughter, who spent three years studying shell disease in lobsters at the New England Aquarium. It is becoming clear that factors such as water temperature and water quality may be increasing stress upon lobster immune systems.

The eloquent fisherman who spoke against the cable characterized it as a potential “environmental atrocity.”  But an environmental atrocity a trillion times larger than the proposed cable has already happened and continues to unfold as the oceans change in ways with which marine research can hardly keep pace. At the moment, lobsters in the Gulf of Maine seem to be plentiful, but south of Kittery the story looks more ominous. We ought to fear for the long-term health and livelihood of all fisheries off the coast, should we continue to deny locally what is looming over us globally. “The way life should be” becomes a meaningless slogan if it fails to take into account the way life actually is.

I volunteer for a non-profit called the Mid-coast Green Energy Cooperative. Our purpose is to help people, especially working people struggling with the rising costs of oil and gas, to insulate their houses and switch to energy-saving devices like solar panels and heat pumps—without spiraling into unsustainable debt.  A by-product of our work is the mitigation of human-caused global warming and climate instability.

We can debate where the best place might be for wind turbine experiments. But Initiatives like our Co-op and the University of Maine wind experiments, whether they are merely academic or eventually commercially viable, remain essential, given that local, national, and international political responses lag behind environmental warning signals that are affecting all of us and will overwhelm our children and grandchildren unless we become more proactive. Nations like Germany are years ahead of the U.S. in their commercially successful conversion to wind and solar

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Letter to my Senator

Dear Senator King,

I really do admire your ability to think for yourself and I have high hopes for what you can do, as an independent, to shift policy in sensible directions. But, having played the video of your ISIS remarks, I felt I was hearing the voice of the politician rather than the independent thinker—with the exception of when you asked at the end of your remarks, though without attempting an answer with the same conviction that you earlier went along with Obama's reactive "plans" to respond to ISIS militarily, for more examination of the root causes of extremism.

Other authoritative governmental voices have asserted that in fact ISIS does not pose a direct threat to the U.S., so I am confused when my senator argues so vehemently that they do. Who to believe?

But setting the threat level aside, what I really want from those who represent me is some moral imagination and creativity in this fiendishly complex situation, and I know you especially have the capacity for that. For the politician, perhaps moral imagination begins with some stringent interior reflection that begins to separate the political from a comprehensive sense of cause and effect. Our political culture going back decades is awash with insights that simply could not be uttered because it would be political suicide to do so. Such as articulating honestly what "our" (the colonial and neo-colonial powers from WW1 forward) role has been in what has unfolded—surely germane to the present fanaticism of ISIS and what we might do about it. I am not a "blame America firster." I just believe our culture has vastly oversimplified the karmic complexity of history into America-good/Islam-bad dichotomies.

What I deplore is how my country, especially since 9-11, has been speaking and acting before it understands. I simply do not believe it is possible for you, or even the military, to understand what the allegiances are of the parties on the ground in the region. It has become too Hobbesian, too atomized, too insane and contradictory to allow us to constructively ally ourselves with anyone. And therefore bombing, no matter who we try to bomb, can only add to the chaos. Perhaps we might be able to do some humanitarian military-policing to save certain groups of civilians, but that is different from our Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader mouthing bloodthirsty and empty cliches. Vengefulness is a stupid place from which to make rational policy. I believe we were suckered by those beheadings.

As you yourself said, whatever we do is going to be a least bad option. That being so, why not stand up for a least bad option that doesn't simply add to the destruction, such as a comprehensive arms embargo for the region. Yes, there would be holes in it, and yes the place is already awash in arms (many of them apparently American). But pursuing a policy that is based in the correct context (that context being that killing does not resolve and can never resolve political or religious conflict) would at least not motivate extremists to recruit more of themselves than we can kill.

The U.S. is about to spend 355 billion dollars over the next decade to renew our nuclear arsenal. When I think of the lack of moral imagination that such a policy represents it just dumbfounds me. All nations know that if a tiny percentage of such weapons are used, a global nuclear winter is possible. All nations know that nuclear weapons do not have the slightest effect upon what is unfolding in Syria and environs. But 355 billion dollars spent on a Middle East Marshall Plan to build hospitals and desalinization plants and solar electric generating stations—why is the nuclear arsenal "realistic" and the idea of a Marshall Plan "pie in the sky"? Only because fear constricts everyone, constricts the discourse of the media and politics to a narrow, familiar rut of tit-for-tat violence. But you are in a unique position to speak out, to propose policies that go beyond fear, outlining a positive vision for what our country might do to really help that torn-apart region, as one answer to the question you so rightly asked about the roots of fanaticism. . .

Respectfully,

Winslow

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Combating Plagues


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Survival


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, the Golden Rule has been perverted into the Iron Rule of vengefulness: if you do harm unto me, I will do yet more harm to you.  A wise teacher who lived 2000-odd years before nukes understood that those who live by the sword will perish by it. We hear this when our Vice-President, a good man, asserts that we will follow terrorists right to the gates of hell. If we do that, we can be sure that the gates will open wide enough to swallow us right along with the extremists.
 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Suckered Again?


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

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

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

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

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

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

One alternative model is Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Global Marshall Plan (http://spiritualprogressives.org/newsite/?page_id=114), the preamble of which goes: “In the 21st century, our security and well being depends on the well being of everyone else on this planet as well as on the health of the planet itself. An important way to manifest this caring is through a Global Marshall Plan that would dedicate 1-2% of the U.S. annual Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty years to eliminate domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, and inadequate health care and repair damage done to the environment . . . ”

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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kissinger's Truth?




In 2010 I wrote an op-ed expressing pleasure that Henry Kissinger had teamed up with Sam Nunn, William Perry and George Schultz to plead actively for the abolition of nuclear weapons. I called my piece “Kissinger’s Truth,” implying that while he might not always have been the most truthful of statesmen, it was not altogether bad that he had arrived, even if only in retirement and old age, at a more dove-ish position, at least concerning nukes.  The possibility of nuclear winter rubs even the faces of pitiless realists in the gigantic performative contradiction of modern war: the potential for absolute destruction upon which international security depends leads only to absolute destruction.

When my op-ed was published on line, it inspired a spew of vitriolic comment that took me to task for holding Dr. Kissinger up as anything more than a war criminal. In that regard the record is indeed troubling, including the Cambodian bombing, unwarranted interference in Chile and East Timor, even the possible undermining of the Vietnam peace talks to advantage Mr. Nixon politically, unnecessarily extending the war into further years of horror and pain.

Whether he is a war criminal or one of the most brilliant statesmen of all time or both, for decades he was at the center of global power politics. People who have been that close to nuclear decision-making represent a kind of dark priesthood. The rest of us, because it’s our planet too, want to know what such people may have learned as they tried to move themselves and their nations safely through that darkness.

In the case of the tragedy of Vietnam, perhaps Kissinger did indeed realize that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist whose people had hated the Chinese for a millennium, but went ahead anyway with the bombing because at root it was a matter of maintaining credibility against the Soviets, in a cruel but wholly unnecessary proxy for nuclear war that “could not be won and must never be fought.”

In the eyes of the powerful, Robert McNamara’s bitter public tears of remorse about the Vietnam War constituted a dangerous aberration, a threat to the complacent fa├žade of establishment toughness and righteousness, though in my judgment the tears represented a redemptive moment of contact with reality. Meanwhile, in our own time, so much deception, meddling, blood and torture goes not only unpunished, but also apparently unregretted.  

Though he speaks of anguishing decisions, we should not expect to see Dr. Kissinger shed remorseful tears any time soon. When Scott Simon interviewed him on NPR in September of 2014 on the occasion of the publication of his new book “World Order,” (http://www.npr.org/2014/09/06/346114326/henry-kissingers-thoughts-on-the-islamic-state-ukraine-and-world-order), Kissinger lamely rationalized the U.S. carpet-bombing of Cambodia by saying that Obama’s drones had killed more than those B-52s a half-century ago. Still, in that very need to rationalize, so human, one felt a tiny lifting of the veil covering Kissinger’s conscience. How different another Nobel prize winner (Literature, 1960), the poet St. John Perse, who once occupied a position equivalent to Kissinger’s in the foreign office of France. The last line of Perse’s Nobel acceptance speech goes: “And it is enough for the poet to be the guilty conscience of his time.” Perse helped Aristide Briand author the text of the 1928 Kellogg-Briand treaty outlawing war—a treaty still in effect, to which the United States is a signatory.

Much ink has been spilled on the issue of whether Dr. Kissinger ought to be or could be indicted and tried by the International Criminal Court. Most of the ICC trials that have taken place so far concern alleged criminals from African nations and Serbia. Once again, as in so many cases concerning differences between the dominators and the dominated, a double standard is apparently at work.

The existence, however tentative their present effectiveness, of the ICC and the International Court of Justice, surely points toward a world where men and women of power will be constrained in their use of the law of force by the force of law—a world where endless warring parties, your tribe and my tribe justifying futile patterns of revenge, will look up and see they inhabit one earth, menaced a hundred times less by each other than by the dying oceans, the thawing of frozen methane long trapped under polar ice, the decimation of the forests that make possible our very breath. How strange we humans are, that so many remain blind to that truth.

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.