With passing day, the likelihood of war in the Gulf region grows despite the efforts of many people, in and out of the realm of international and national politics, to prevent another episode of military violence as a purported means of resolving the problems in Iraq; problems which many people in the world and in our own nation believe could well be handled through diplomacy and the ongoing U.N. weapons inspections.
Yet the almost hypnotic pull toward war, a war that will be dominated by another display of overwhelming high-tech weaponry, looks to prevail in the coming months.
After 9/11, “everything changed.” That was the prevailing theme of comments made in those terrible first weeks after the devastating events. Surely, this seemed as if it was one of the defining moments of human history calling for significant change. But what actually changed? Or did the response to 9/11 simply accelerate the slippery slope humanity has been on since the end of World War II?
The sense of fear we experienced in September 2001 is certainly not diminishing. Almost every new episode of violence is countered by a response of equal or greater violence. Yet to lay the cause of today’s worldwide insecurity exclusively at the door of terrorism and “rogue nations” is to avoid seeing the long-term perspective and threats of our time and the future.
I refer to the widening gap between the magnitude of humankind’s high-technological capacities in the realm of weaponry and warfare, as compared to our limited ability to resolve disputes peacefully. In this dilemma we can, to some extent, foresee the greatest danger of all for this planet and its people. Soon after the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japanese civilian centers at the end of World War II, Albert Einstein, whose discoveries went a long way toward making such weaponry a reality, is quoted as saying: “Everything has changed – except the way we think.”
“If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”
More than 50 years later, we see the awesome but tragic unfolding of a new phase in human history. Our unlimited technology advances and the rapid spread of their use throughout the planet – without a consequent growth of restraint and wisdom – are leading to an unprecedented imbalance in almost every sphere affecting human life and the health of the planet.
Unlike earlier periods, our abilities today to inflict massive destruction on an “enemy” are limited only by the scope of our imaginations. The U.S. arsenal of military weaponry, including missile and nuclear technology, is extraordinary. Yet the patience and wisdom required to seek and utilize methods alternative to brute violence is in short supply.
We persist far too often in the belief that we can control or end opposing ideas we deem evil through our overwhelming military power rather than dealing with international conflicts by nonviolent methods. Despite the growing realization that all beings deserve respect, and that the mass killing of civilians in war is unacceptable, even when classified as “collateral damage,” it is still possible to win support for intense military violence if the case for war is presented with sufficient arguments and “facts” to bolster the image of a fearful enemy.
There is nothing new in the way governments and their leaders use simple psychology tactics to bring the public on board when they believe it is in their interest to do so. At the Nuremberg trials after the end of World War II, Hermann Goering, a high-ranking Nazi official in Germany, stated: “It is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to tell them is that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
There is something very strange and troubling when the world’s foremost military power; the only nation to possess thousands of nuclear bombs, nuclear weaponry, missiles; the only nation to have actually used atomic bombs on a civilian population, demands the total disarmament of a small, devastated nation under threat of pulverizing that nation into total submission and regime change.
Incredibly, this threat includes the possible use of nuclear weapons to deal with the possibility that the other nation might have some nuclear capability.
We would like to believe that the United States could be the force of change that might deliver humanity from its present misery, often as not due to poverty aggravated by endless wars. Yet it is well known that the United States leads the world in sales of weapons of every variety. The character and quality of a nation – even a superpower – can be judged by its priorities. A look at the figures describing our global military expenditures tell the story.
The United States will spend $343 billion this year (and increasing amounts each coming year) for military expenditures. All our allies combined will spend $205 billion in 2003, China $42 billion, Russia $60 billion, while all the so-called rogue states’ military budgets will not exceed $14 billion.
It is not difficult to foresee an abyss into which many centuries of ethical-moral progress may fall. At a time when the technology of war has succeeded in making weaponry more lethal, while bestowing an aura of surgical cleanliness as a way of having modern warfare seem more “acceptable,” it is essential that we not lose the moral foundations of our humanity, still striving to affirm the value of all life against the tremendous odds of a power-dominated planet.
As one of millions of Americans who can see no legitimate reason for a new war, and who has tried to speak sanity to our current leadership, I wonder how we shall endure the anguish of watching the needless massacre of innocent lives and the devastation of fragile regions of our precious Earth. How shall those of us who truly believe that violence only begets more violence, and that the risks of peace are far less than those of war, walk on and not despair?
ALWYN MOSS lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. She is a writer, art teacher and member of the Society of Friends. Moss can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org