January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to the related issue of Nonviolence News]
Developing a culture of peace in a world of war, war preparations and war-as-entertainment is a difficult business. Treaties on landmines and cluster weapons represent a couple of successes. This summer's United Nations Treaty on nuclear weapons is an important staging point in working to have these weapons of mass – and eco – destruction banned and binned, and there are no thanks due to nuclear weapon holding states who would prefer just to sit on their WMD piles until, finally, an accident or deliberate use brings catastrophe.
This complacency was well represented by the fact that the only nuclear weapon supporting state to attend the UN conference was the Netherlands. With great disdain and aloofness the others, in a cynical display of 'what we have we hold' effrontery, the nuclear weapons holding states - China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, the USA - did not attend. And recently Donald Trump has unwisely been counter-threatening North Korea which is a relatively new member of the club. Trump might talk big but in fact Barack Obama instituted a $400 billion modernisation plan of the USA's nuclear arsenal and apparatus that includes new nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers – so much for his Nobel Prize for Peace.
The August news supplement to Nonviolent News (Supplement to issue 251) had a short news item about the UN conference in July and the treaty banning nuclear weapons; this item is repeated in the news section of this issue.
'Nuclear deterrence' is the main legitimating theory behind holding nuclear weapons. Obviously it is also the main reason why North Korea want to possess an intercontinental nuclear weapons system, and military might is certainly one factor in why the North Korean regime has not been toppled by the USA. 'MAD', or Mutually Assured Destruction, was or is the theory that nuclear weapon use would entail complete destruction of both sides in a conflict and thus something neither side would wish to contemplate. If this is the case, why not negotiate their elimination rather than risk our elimination by annihilation?
But one problem with nuclear deterrence is regarding proliferation, that if you hold a weapon then others are likely to want to do so too. It is simply illogical to say "we are entitled t hold nuclear weapons but you can't". And the idea that western countries like the USA are a 'safe pair of hands' for nuclear weapons, compared to somewhere such as North Korea, is a nonsense when you consider the past US record of accidents (just do a word search and you will be shocked), generals who wanted to use nukes, and the unpredictability of someone like Donald Trump.
But the biggest problem with nuclear weapons is simply that they are Weapons of Mass Destruction – many times more powerful than what destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki - and indiscriminate. They are thus illegal in international law but the 'big boys' (sic) and a former colonial power like Britain still retain them. If used they could destroy millions and even institute a nuclear winter. If not used they take up huge resources which could be used for something useful, like transforming countries to green energy and helping avoid the worst excesses of global warming.
The idea that the holding of nuclear weapons has given 'peace' is an illusion. During the Cold War there were different times when the world seemed to be on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Nuclear weapons are also highly inappropriate for the security risks of today's world which are less to do with big power's military confrontation (Russia as a renewed enemy for the West not withstanding) and more to do with issues which are internal to states and non-state actors. Furthermore, nuclear weapons have done nothing to prevent the hundreds of conflicts which have gone on – many involving the big powers either directly or indirectly through proxy wars – since nuclear weapons came on the scene.
The UN conference in July has led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It will now be up for ratification. Nuclear weapon holding states may do their best to ignore this UN Treaty but the extent of world support for it does a good job in pulling the rug from under the legitimation of nuclear weapons. Because they are the big boys (sic) they can, for the moment, ignore this but it is to be hoped that the power of international pressure and UN law will eventually drive them to the negotiating table.
The abolition of nuclear weapons would be a major gain for peace and world stability. Might is not right, and might does not even necessarily achieve its goals but rather resentment and even failure. However getting the mighty to realise that they, and the world, will be safer by disarming and engaging with each other in a more meaningful fashion is a more difficult task. Otherwise the risks are simply too great. We have 'got away with' no major nuclear weapons disasters, intentional or unintentional, so far since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not through good management but good luck. We cannot expect that luck to last for ever.
Compliments need to be paid to all those who have struggled against nuclear weapons for years, in many countries. This includes activists at home in Ireland and, in relation to the recent UN conference, perhaps we can especially mention activists from Scotland whose doings are detailed online and in the August-September issue of Peace News https://www.peacenews.info/node/8762/nae-place-nuclear-weapons This gives just some idea of the huge amount of work going on behind the scenes at this conference, and is symbolic of the very detailed work going on, day in and day out, in many parts of the globe to get rid of this criminally dangerous and ludicrously expensive weaponry.
- See also 'Readings in Nonviolence' in this issue.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
""First contact!" someone yelled. Horns honked. Eclipse glasses were popped on to faces, all of which turned eastward to the sun.
As the sky grew dark, around 10.16am, the temperature started to drop and eclipse viewers started to shout and cheer. The most common exclamation was: "Oh my God!" A ring of light glimmered around the black moon – the long-awaited corona, finally safe to view with the naked eye."
(The Guardian, 22 August 2017)
The media reports that millions of US Americans made a special effort, often at some expense, to see a total solar eclipse on Monday, 21st August as the moon blocked out the sun in a coast-to-coast 70-mile wide 2,600 mile long arch across the United States. This was the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States in nearly a century. Many were awestruck, most were deeply touched. There was interest in the eclipse outside the United States with billions watching it live on television and the internet.
The mass interest in the eclipse and the awe many experienced raises two interesting points. First, aside from the rarity appeal of the event, why do so few people feel a sense of awe for the equally spectacular bio and geological wonders all around them? The forests and seas are things of wondrous beauty and mystery, as are roadside verges, which in rural Ireland at this time of the year are ablaze with a multitude of colours and forms. Yet we systematically poison, burn and trash the bio-world and often without the prospect of economic gain. The case of an endangered red kite found shot to death on a public laneway in County Down this August is a case in point. (The Irish News, 23 August 2017) Across the globe people litter beaches, mountain pathways and roadsides for no other reason than cold indifference.
A second point about the solar eclipse, as Nicholas Kristof points out in The New York Times, 21 August 2017, and Justin Gillis in the same newspaper on 18 August 2017 is the ability of scientists to predict with pin-point accuracy the timing and location of solar eclipses decades even centuries in advance. As both writers point out the millions of Americans, including President Donald Trump, who made a point of watching the eclipse, trusted the accuracy of the science. Yet, when it comes to climate change and its truly dire consequences for humankind and the entirety of nonhuman nature, people, both the powerful and the powerless, behave as if the science is fiction.
The question is why are so many people discriminating in the science they chose to trust and act upon? A plausible explanation is that we are not, as the Enlightenment thinkers believed, rational beings. We see the world and symbolically construct it through the prism of our biases and emotional needs. Many people as a matter of course studiously ignore evidence-based information that undermines their deeply ingrained prejudices and worldview. Addressing this disposition is one of the major challenges of our time and one we cannot ignore.
Lessons learnt by social psychologists and therapists in their work to understand what motivates people to commit mass murder, such as committed in Barcelona this August, can be applied to our destruction of nonhuman nature. Laura Spinney writing about this in New Scientist, 19 August 2017, informs us that one cause of such atrocities is the inability of the perpetrators to empathise with those outside their identity group. Referring to research by Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, Spinney informs us that compassion "evolved as part of an ancient nurturing instinct that is usually reserved for kin." Singer's work shows that extended training in compassion and theory of mind, which enables one to see a situation from the other's perspective, not only enhances prosocial behaviour but as MRI scans show results in corresponding structural brain changes.
If empathy training and theory of mind were an integral part of school curricula, and made available to the post-school population, it could only but lead to a weakening, and perhaps over a period of time, to the disintegration of the idea of 'the other'. Gone would be the idea of my group, tribe or race against all others and my species against all other species. This of course would cost a great deal of money. Would the global cost equate to the trillion dollars the United States has spent in fighting their war in Afghanistan since 2001, or the billions they annually spend on other wars and what is called national security? The same question can be put to any country. Prevention is always cheaper than dealing with the aftermath and this includes climate change, the death of the oceans, loss of biodiversity and the scarce living organism called soil in which we grow food.
As the widespread interest in the total eclipse of the sun in the United States shows people of every demographic feel a connection and are interested in the greater that lies outside themselves. With planning and an adequate budget this aptitude can be further awakened and extended in the interests of the survival of humankind and the nonhuman world we are an integral part of.