Why the war culture clings to nuclear weapons and why ICAN got the Nobel Peace Prize
I found this statement on October 30 on the Democracy Now! website.
"…Vice President Mike Pence toured an intercontinental ballistic missile launch site at an Air Force base in Minot, North Dakota, telling airmen that the Trump administration was prepared to launch an attack on North Korea.
Vice President Mike Pence: 'The threats we face today mean that, once again, America’s security and our very future depend on the airmen of Minot being ready and being prepared. … History attests the surest path to peace is through American strength. There’s no greater element of American strength, there’s no greater force for peace in the world, than the United States nuclear arsenal.'"
It’s rare, in my peace-culture world, to hear the war-culture approach to peace stated so unequivocally. My guess is that Vice President Pence actually believes this. He clearly believes he is saying something that most Americans believe. So let’s think about it a bit. Here is the Vice President saying that 1) world peace depends on American strength, and 2) American strength depends on the US nuclear arsenal.
1) Peace depends on American strength
I don’t blame the Vice President for harboring this delusion. He is a war-culture leader, and the war culture is structured by power and hierarchy. We inherited this approach to organization and decisionmaking from our animal ancestors, so we are hardwired to follow the alpha male, who leads us based on his superior knowledge, intelligence, intuition, quickness and strength.
Mr. Pence clearly believes that if a kingdom is confused and violent, it’s because the king is weak. A strong king keeps order and leads his subjects to peace and prosperity. Kings do this by rewarding those who support them and punishing their rivals. War-culture DNA is why leaders in the US feel the need to dominate the world. The same instinct explains why so many of the world’s elite support that effort. (If one can’t be king, it’s good to be a valued vassal.) From the war-culture perspective, the world will be peaceful only when the US finally establishes complete dominance. When the US is accepted as King of the World, and when everyone on Earth accepts and supports US dominance, the world will be peaceful and prosperous. Everyone in the kingdom will be happy and healthy. We will have achieved world peace. But don’t take my word for it. This approach is stated explicitly in The Project for a New American Century.
The dominance approach to peace and prosperity still works well for wolves and chimpanzees, but human society has risen to a higher level of consciousness and social interaction. The idea that peace can be enforced by a king or that world peace can be enforced by any one nation is obsolete. Human beings have evolved beyond this level of blind faith in and obedience to a leader. We no longer accept this level of inequality. People want to be free. We expect to elect our leaders and have a say in how we’re governed. We value democracy, which, we learn in school, started with Athenian democracy in the fifth century BC but took a giant step forward in 1787 with the US constitution. I suspect the story of democracy is a bit more complex than this, but history aside, people are simply unwilling now to be slaves, surfs, or even unthinking tools loyally serving the captains of industry. We’re becoming quite disgusted with the 1% controlling everything while the 99% are expected to be cogs in their profit-making machines.
The limits of war culture dominance have been emerging into view since the end of WWII. The Korean War was a stalemate. It isn’t over yet. The Vietnam War ended in a loss for the militarily more powerful side. Afghanistan, a tiny, weak, and internally fragmented country, has successfully resisted control by both of the Earth’s great post-war empires. Regardless of the benefits they might receive from serving those powers, despite the pain and destruction they suffer due to resistance, the Afghans have steadfastly insisted on ruling themselves. The US, the most powerful empire in world history, has been unable to establish peace and prosperity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Detroit, Camden, Miami, Las Vegas, or anywhere really. How will it ever establish firm, peaceful and prosperous dominion over Russia, China, India, Brazil, and other centers of power? It won’t. The US will never be the Great Leader. The war culture approach to world peace taken for granted by Vice President Pence is not possible.
To solve our urgent global problems, we must, as a species, understand that no one person, corporation, tribe, political party, nation, country, state, bank or group of conspirators will ever be able to rule the world. The idea that American power can maintain peace and prosperity is obsolete, impractical, impossible, and causing unnecessary murder and mayhem around the world. To achieve peace, prosperity, health and happiness on this planet, we have no choice but to identify, analyze and solve global problems through dialogue, negotiation, mediation, and cooperation.
2) American strength depends on the US nuclear arsenal
I don’t blame the Vice President for believing this either. Until I went to Hiroshima, I, too, believed that nuclear weapons were peacemakers, that the horrifying prospect of nuclear war kept the US and USSR from directly engaging each other in a hot, shooting World War III. I even believed that nuclear weapons were pushing human society toward cooperation and peace. I was wrong.
Nuclear weapons are a major source of perpetual, intense, existential fear of “the other.” They give a tiny handful of aggressive, competitive warlords the power to end human life on our planet. Though most of us are quite adept at repressing this reality, the knowledge is there. We all know at some level that we are in constant danger of instant annihilation, with “we” here being everyone we know and possibly our entire species. This profound existential fear strengthens militarism and amplifies the voices promoting violence. It legitimizes in public consciousness virtually unlimited spending on “defense” against this annihilation. “Defense,” of course, means weapons and the military. Thus, nuclear weapons have fostered tremendous military budgets that, in turn, have funded the propaganda of animosity required to frighten the public into accepting perpetual war. Nuclear weapons are not peacemakers. They are obstacles to cooperation.
But even within the Vice President’s framework, nuclear weapons contribute nothing to American strength. Despite its vast nuclear arsenal, the US failed to win in Korea, lost to Vietnam, and even after sixteen years has been unable to bring peace and democracy to tiny, impoverished Afghanistan. Nuclear weapons are meaningless against terrorists. Nuclear weapons are useless against economic rivals like China, the creditor nation on which Americans are utterly dependent for their economic health and wellbeing.
Vice President Pence still harbors the delusion that nuclear weapons give the United States the strength to be the world’s policeman, bringing law and order to a savage planet. This delusion is dangerous in two ways. First, nuclear weapons must never be used for any reason whatsoever. Just a few hydrogen bombs exploding over a few large cities igniting a few giant firestorms would be enough to lift five million tons of dark particles into the stratosphere. That would cause a condition known as “nuclear darkness,” that is, 10% of sunlight blocked. Nuclear darkness would greatly reduce the total amount of food the human family can grow because most of the areas where we grow the most staple crops (northern China and Japan for rice; the American Midwest, Canada, Russia, and Europe for corn, soybeans, and wheat) would have killing frosts in July and August. Billions of people would starve and the rest of us would be fighting to see who can live in Brazil, Nigeria, Thailand or somewhere with a growing season.
Today, right now, the US and Russia have about 2,000 nuclear weapons on “hair trigger alert;” they are ready to launch on warning. If even a few hundred of these weapons were actually to explode over cities, the resulting debris in the stratosphere would plunge us into a deep nuclear winter, which would kill us all, or nearly all.
And here is where another nuclear problem comes in. Even without a full-scale nuclear war, if global society collapses into widespread violence and chaos, we will irradiate ourselves off the planet. This irradiation will happen in three ways. First, our chaos is likely to go nuclear, and those bombs will release extremely large amounts of radiation, far more than was released in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Second, if any state with nuclear power plants goes to war against a state with significant military capacity, the first bombing targets will be those nuclear power plants. What better way to weaken the enemy?
Mikhail Gorbachev pointed this out in a speech in Hiroshima in 1992, six years after Chernobyl. He said we (the international community) can no longer go to war. Why? Because we have 440 nuclear power plants scattered around the northern hemisphere. These power plants will become targets, and wherever one explodes, a large swath of our planet will be uninhabitable for a century or more.
But even without a war, all we need is profound economic and social collapse. Nuclear power plants are not easy to manage. They require constant electric power and frequent maintenance by highly trained technicians working with replacement parts and control devices so complex and difficult that very few countries can make them. Nuclear power plants can only be managed by affluent, stable, technically advanced and peaceful societies. A nuclear war or even an internal collapse could render nuclear power plants uncontrollable. Uncontrolled nuclear power plants will explode. Three or four hundred Chernobyls could make our entire planet uninhabitable. Thus, nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants make the violent, natural-evolution, survival-of-the-fittest, war-culture approach to peace an absurdly dangerous, obsolete fantasy. To control our nuclear weapons and power plants, to keep the oceans from dying, to restore our soil, water and air, and even to keep Earth marginally habitable, we will need to cooperate. If we fail to graduate from the current hyper-competitive, violent war culture to a cooperative culture of peace, we will be extinct before the end of this century.
This is why the majority of nations on this planet and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee are pressing so courageously and so persistently for a nuclear-weapon-free world, and this is why you should do whatever you can to support this campaign.