Perhaps it will not surprise you that around the hundreds of billions of stars in these galaxies spin many planets that support life. I hope it will be a wake-up call for you to know that just within the Local Group, a tiny fraction of the total universe, there have already been 87 planets which have annihilated themselves with weapons of mass destruction.
Try to take this in. An immense struggle of life, exactly like yours, evolving over millions of years out of inert matter on a small sphere in orbit around its own star, slowly developing into forms of mammalian care, self-conscious awareness, and love —but then unleashing complete self-destruction. Some of these worlds had their equivalent Shakespeares, their Mozarts, their Van Goghs, but their masterpieces are as extinct as they are.
We have watched with growing alarm since we received the signal of your first atomic explosion on earth in 1945—immediately followed by the use of nuclear bombs on two cities full of civilians.
Fifty two years beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis, my fellow-citizens of the Milky Way, you refuse to take in its foreboding lesson. You have not seen that all nations share a common problem, which is that the weapons systems you have developed as your bastions of security have become the gravest threat to that same security.
Yes, for many decades deterrence did indeed work, by a miracle of good fortune, to prevent a third world war. But if nine nuclear powers should turn to fifteen, to twenty one, to thirty five, all connected to complex electronic systems, and the systems are all connected to thousands upon thousands of fallible human beings, your chances of survival will diminish to zero. Will you passively assent to visiting this doom upon your children and grandchildren?
The unworkable paradox of deterrence is that the purpose of nuclear weapons is meant to ensure that they will never be used, but at the same time nuclear strategists require them to be on hair-trigger alert for deterrence to be credible.
This is a holocaust waiting to happen.
In the very midst of your democratic institutions you tolerate thermonuclear absolute monarchies, where one person has the power to decide whether to annihilate millions. And where that same person may have to decide within minutes whether to counterlaunch if attacked.
But even without a counterlaunch, computer models have warned you about nuclear winter, which posits that if less than 1% of your weapons are detonated, the soot and ash could spread around your planet and shut down agriculture for a decade—in effect, a death sentence for your species, exactly what happened in the case of three other planets in the local group. Therefore the shared problem of nuclear winter should be the foundational talking point of abolition.
Your planet continues to drift downriver on a raft toward an immense waterfall. You have oars, but you have not learned how to row together toward shore. You foolishly believe that you won’t go over the falls, that you will be the exception.
You have not learned to row together because you have locked yourselves into obsolete identifications. You think of yourselves as Jews or Muslims or Persians or Republicans or Palestinians or Africans, each with their separate, tribal story of origin or inviolate holy texts. Such tribalism served your survival instincts for thousands of years. But having seen photographs of your blue planet from space, you know now you are one human tribe facing challenges that no single nation can solve alone.
Many planets in the local group made it through the stage in which you find yourselves by realizing that “enemy” is not a productive concept—especially when it became clear that hurting the enemy only means hurting oneself. When you fear and preoccupy with those who hate you, you do harm to them that makes them hate you more, and you fear them more, perpetuating an endless, futile cycle. You have built your security systems upon this cycle.
No one will be secure until all are secure. Conflict on your planet will not cease. The task is to resolve conflict without fear, hate, and killing, knowing that my survival depends upon yours, and yours upon mine.
I am not here to force dominion upon you, but only to set before you a free choice between further maturation or suicide: evolve your thinking or die. We have the technical means to destroy every one of your warheads, but without your own species-wide change of hearts and minds, you would only build them again. Change must come from you. You must learn to love your children, including the children of your adversaries, more than you fear those adversaries. Ask yourselves what benefits all children, and that will point the way.
Whatever happens, you can’t say that you haven’t been told.
Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global issues and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.