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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Hair-Trigger Alert

I feel the finger on the trigger. I also feel it on the button.

“Dear President Obama,” the letter begins. It goes on to remind him of something he said in his 2008 presidential campaign: “Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice is a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.”

The letter, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, is signed by 90 scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates. It continues: “After your election, you called for taking ‘our nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.'”

Presidential campaigns, mass killings, war . . . nuclear war. Washington, we have a problem.

The time has come for extraordinary change. Who we are — this monstrous, planet-destroying entity called America — needs to be decommissioned and reconstructed on a foundation more solid than the present myths of greatness, greed and entitlement. We need a new vision, a manifestation of the moral intelligence that is also part of who we are: a vision of how this nuclear-armed, gun-saturated nation can disarm itself and, in the process, become a force for real peace.

“We urge you,” the scientists write, “to take U.S. land-based missiles off hair-trigger alert and to remove from U.S. war plans the option of launching these weapons on warning. The United States should encourage Russia to follow suit, but it should not wait to act. Taking these steps would have profound security benefits for all Americans by reducing the risk of nuclear disaster.”

I think about this in the context of the Orlando murders and see a gruesome similarity between U.S. militarism and the violent forays of armed loners — and the “concentrated horror” both inflict. The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that the human carnage and environmental destruction resulting from U.S. militarism remain emotionally invisible, you might say, to the American public.

In a powerful essay at TomDispatch, William J. Astore, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, takes a harsh look at the wars we have waged from on high since World War II, noting that “for all its promise of devastating power delivered against enemies with remarkable precision and quick victories at low cost (at least to Americans), air power has failed
to deliver, not just in the ongoing war on terror but for decades before it. If anything, by providing an illusion of results, it has helped keep the United States in unwinnable wars, while inflicting a heavy toll on innocent victims on our distant battlefields.”

He adds: “At the same time, the cult-like infatuation of American leaders, from the president on down, with the supposed ability of the U.S. military to deliver such results remains remarkably unchallenged in Washington.”

He points out that in the Korean War, in the early ’50s, the U.S. pounded North Korea with 635,000 tons of bombs and 32,557 tons of napalm. Cities were leveled, but the war ended in no better than a stalemate; more than half a century later, Korea remains a bitterly divided nation.

Then came a decade of war in Southeast Asia. By the time this pointless war ended in dishonorable defeat, the U.S. had dropped, according to Astore, “a staggering seven million tons of bombs, the equivalent in explosive yield to more than 450 Hiroshimas,” on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. We also poisoned the jungle with defoliants, having given ourselves free rein to commit environmental carnage with horrific consequences well into the unforeseeable future for absurdly limited tactical ends.

It took a decade and a half for the military-industrialists to overcome “Vietnam syndrome,” the public’s weariness of war, but eventually they were able to put Iraq in the crosshairs, devastating the country with bombs and missiles — including munitions made of depleted uranium — over the course of several decades, spreading immediate carnage and long-lasting genetic damage, all of course to no end except endless war.

And the War on Terror, which I call the War To Promote Terror, is still going on 15 years later, with no end in sight. The funding for it is unquestioned and seemingly limitless. The point of it is also unquestioned, except at the social and political margins. It certainly is unquestioned in the 2016 presidential race, especially the winnowed down version of it — Trump vs. Clinton — that’s left. The military-corporate branch of the American government remains well beyond public reach.

And so I think about the Orlando murders and the unending grief they have caused in the context of all the murders the U.S. and its allies and its enemies have committed in the name of war.

And I think about the congressional failure to enact any legislation in regard to the sale of assault weapons in the context of the letter 90 scientists associated with the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote to President Obama, reminding him that before he was president he expressed awareness of the danger of having nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, and asking him to remove the 450 land-based nuclear missiles (but not the submarine-based missiles) from high alert.

And I wonder at my certainty that the request will be ignored. And I wonder what will happen next.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, “Courage Grows Strong at the Wound” (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.

 

Photo: A Japanese protester holds a placard to protest against U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan May 26, 2016 a day before the leaders arrive in the city. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Beyond Trump: The Politics Of Courage

If Donald Trump can thrive politically by throwing meat to the American id, what else is possible? How about the opposite?

Trump’s most recent attempt to reclaim poll supremacy — his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what’s going on” — is not simply reckless and dangerous, but also starkly clarifying. America’s bully billionaire, so rich he doesn’t have to heed the niceties of political correctness, is channeling old-time American racism, as mean and ugly and self-righteous as it’s ever been. Jim Crow is still with us. “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” is still with us.

Americans — at least a certain percentage of them — like their racism straight up, untampered with code language, unmodified by counter-values. Come on! An enemy’s an enemy. A scapegoat’s a scapegoat. Don’t we have the freedom in this country to dehumanize and persecute whomever we want?

The unfolding Trump phenomenon is stunning to behold because there’s no telling how far — or where — it will go. Following his latest reckless “proposals,” which include mandatory IDs for Muslims, he’s being compared with Adolf Hitler. He’s also being called the best friend ISIS could have, as he spreads outrage and hatred across the globe and, in the process, helps foment the same war they’re attempting to engage.

Fascinatingly, some of Trump’s biggest critics are neocons and fellow Republicans, who, though not that far away from him politically, feel threatened by his reckless candor. The conservative strategy, at least since the Nixon era, has been to use and manipulate American racism rather than directly rouse it to a fever pitch. That sort of volatility isn’t so easy to control and could be counterproductive to the economic and geopolitical interests of the stewards of American empire.

For all the baseness of Trump’s scapegoat politics, he’s doing, it seems, one thing right, which is what makes him unacceptable as the Republican presidential nominee. He’s speechifying as though values matter, as though they supersede market and strategic interests. The danger Trump represents cuts in multiple directions.

All of which makes me wonder whether American democracy is, in spite of itself, at a transition point. I mean, it’s been decades, from my point of view, since real, society-changing values have been on the line in a presidential election. Questions of war and peace, among much else, have been utterly off the table, with any serious questioning of U.S. militarism ignored and belittled by the mainstream media and completely excluded from the corridors of national decision-making.

The Republicrats rule and war is no longer merely inevitable but eternal. At the same time, the security state has grown like cancer and the prison-industrial complex has expanded exponentially. America in its exceptionalism is the world’s largest arms dealer, snoop, jailer and hell raiser. We destabilize the planet in the interests of the corporate few and call it exporting democracy.

And none of this is Donald Trump’s doing.

But the fact that he’s a threat to this status quo raises some interesting questions. Trump is a dangerous idiot, but perhaps as he pursues his own interests he is also, unintentionally, helping to crack open the locked vault of American politics.

“He’s essentially the American id,” writes Glenn Greenwald, “simply channeling pervasive sentiments unadorned with the typical diplomatic and PR niceties designed to prettify the prevailing mentality.”

The challenge Trump poses, it seems to me, is this: If the basest of human instincts — fear and revenge and the hunger to blame our troubles on a scapegoat — can enter, or re-enter, American politics, can the best of human nature enter as well and, in the process, challenge the prevailing status quo more deeply and profoundly than Trump could ever imagine?

Let me put it another way. “In the practice of tolerance,” said the Dalai Lama, “one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

Such a statement poses a serious challenge, of course, on the order of a quote I heard several years ago from a seatmate on a transatlantic airplane flight: You’re as close to God as you are to the person you like the least.

What if such ideas had political resonance? What if — even in the face of tragedy, even in the face of murder — we lived within a social and political structure that was committed not to dehumanizing and destroying a designated enemy but to understanding that enemy and, my God, looking inward for the cause of problems, not simply flailing outward with high-tech weaponry? What if human compassion, soul deep and without strings attached, played a role in international relations?

Believe me, I’m not asking these questions simplistically, with some pat belief that the answers are obvious. Rather, I’m pressing forward into a dark unknown, or so it seems.

“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,” Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said earlier this year, in the context of a global refugee crisis staggering beyond belief.

To grow spiritually is to begin to realize how little one knows and practice reaching out not with aggression but with humility. This is what takes courage. Can we begin creating nations with this kind of courage, whose “interests” embrace the welfare of the whole planet?

(Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, “Courage Grows Strong at the Wound” (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.) (c) 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

People take part in an anti-Donald Trump, pro-immigration protest in the Manhattan borough of New York December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A Wedge For Nuclear Disarmament

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith . . .”

What if words like this actually meant something?

This is Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which the United States signed in 1970. It continues: “. . . on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Please read it again, slowly, understanding that 190 nations have signed on to these words: “a treaty on general and complete (nuclear) disarmament.” Here’s a wild thought. What if they were recited aloud every Sunday in churches and other public spaces across the nation, the way congregants at my parents’ church recited the Apostle’s Creed when I was a boy? Each word, slowly uttered, welled up from the soul. The words were sacred. Isn’t a world free of nuclear weapons — and beyond that, free of war itself — worth believing in?

The treaty’s preamble also calls for “the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery . . .”

What if these words could stand up to the geopolitics of cynicism and military-industrial profit? What if the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — the NPT — weren’t simply a verbal coffin in which hope for humanity’s future lay interred? What if it could come to life and help reorganize global culture?

I ask such questions only because I suddenly believe it’s possible, thanks to an unlikely player in the geopolitical realm: a nation with a population of about 70,000 people. Recently I wrote about the fact that the Republic of the Marshall Islands has filed suit in both the International Court of Justice in the Hague and U.S. federal court against the five NPT signatories — the United States, the U.K., China, Russia, and France — that possess nuclear weapons, demanding that they comply with the treaty they signed. For good measure, the lawsuit demands compliance from the other four nuclear nations as well — Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea — on the grounds of international law and, well, sanity.

Here’s the thing. This audacious lawsuit is a disarmament wedge. Since I wrote that first column, I’ve been in touch with Laurie Ashton, the lead attorney for the case in U.S. federal court, and have read the brief appealing the suit’s dismissal, which was filed last month. To get this close to the case — to its language, to its soul — is to feel possibility begin pulsing in a unique way.

As Ashton put it, “The NGOs and protesters are just talk, talk, talk. When you sue them, then they listen.”

Attesting to the seriousness of this suit, she noted: “The Marshall Islands are on record. They have a mission to make sure this never happens to another people again.”

This tiny nation of coral reefs in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, once a U.S. trust territory, was the site of 67 above-ground nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958. These tests, so cynically perpetrated on an “expendable” people, turned much of the area into radioactive wasteland, wrecked a way of life and created terrible health problems for the residents, which they are still struggling with two generations later.

“No nation should ever suffer as we have,” said Tony de Brum, foreign affairs minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Speaking of the appeal of the decision dismissing the U.S suit, he declared: “We are in this for the long haul. We remain steadfast in our belief that nuclear weapons benefit no one and that what is right for humankind will prevail.”

Only as I began to grasp the courage and determination behind the lawsuits did the words of the NPT start to come to life for me. In nearly half a century, no other nation or organization has sued for the enforcement of this treaty, which has been contemptuously ignored by the nations that possess and continue to upgrade their nuclear arsenals. The U.S. routinely invests tens (or hundreds) of billions of dollars annually into its nukes. The NPT, for all practical purposes, doesn’t exist — not for the haves.

But it does exist.

“At the time” — in the 1960s, as the NPT was being negotiated — “there was intent to negotiate nuclear disarmament,” Ashton said. “At the time, (the nuclear danger) was much more in the consciousness. It was a different era. The level of complacency we have now was not the case then.”

That intent was encased in legal language, then filed under the heading “irrelevant.” It disappeared for 45 years. But now it’s back.

In the case in U.S. federal court, which challenges only the U.S. arsenal, the Marshall Islands are claiming injury in two ways: 1. As a signatory of the treaty themselves, they are owed U.S. participation in disarmament negotiations, as per its agreement. 2. Without that participation, as the U.S. continues to upgrade and enhance its nuclear arsenal and maintain hundreds of weapons on hair-trigger alert, the Marshall Islands — and all the rest of the Planet Earth — are in “a measurable increased risk of grave danger” from nuclear weapons use, either intentional or accidental.

Oral arguments in the U.S. case are likely to begin sometime next year. There’s no telling what will happen, of course. But this is not mere powerless, symbolic protest of a great wrong. The Marshall Islands suits challenge the nuclear states at a level that could yield real, not symbolic, victory and change.

As the website Nuclear Zero puts it: “The Republic of the Marshall Islands acts for the seven billion of us who live on this planet to end the nuclear weapons threat hanging over all humanity. Everyone has a stake in this.”

(Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book,
Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.)

Photo: Nuclear weapon test Bravo on Bikini Atoll. The test was part of the Operation Castle. The Bravo event was an experimental thermonuclear device surface event. (U.S. Department of Energy/Public domain, via Wikicommons

Nuclear Disarmament: If Not Now, When?

Oh plaintive cry for justice, for change, for the world we must create, welling up from a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean. I can only pray: Let there be an authority large enough to hear it.

My first reaction, upon learning that the Republic of the Marshall Islands — former U.S. territory, still ravaged and radioactive, the site of 67 H-bomb tests between 1946 and 1958 — has filed lawsuits against the nine nations that possess nuclear weapons demanding that they eliminate their arsenals, as per the provisions of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, was cringing disbelief. Are they serious? I couldn’t imagine an action more futile.

But the disbelief was mixed with hope, and the hope remains vibrant as the world marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the launching of the geopolitics of M.A.D. Could hope possibly be more painful?

The anti-nuke lawsuits were filed in April 2014, in both U.S. Federal Court and the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Big surprise. The U.S. suit was dismissed some months ago as “speculative” and because the Marshall Islands “lacks standing” to bring the suit.

Yeah, upstart nation of no international significance. All it did is serve as an expendable swath of atolls in the middle of nowhere, a site ideal to absorb multiple megatons of nuclear testing over a dozen years. The islands’ inhabitants were, in the arrogant, racist parlance of the time, simple “savages” whose culture, whose very lives, had far less value than the technological advancements the testing yielded. Cancer, birth defects and other consequences of radiation are the lasting result, but who cares? Three decades ago, the U.S. settled its genocidal debt to the islanders with a payment of $150 million “for all claims, past, present and future.” This pittance — this nuisance settlement — is, of course, long gone. Too bad.

“What many Americans seem to want to forget,” wrote scholar Sandra Crismon, as quoted recently by Robert Alvarez in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “is that for the Marshallese, nuclear testing is not a historical event, as they continue to deal with the huge environmental and human health costs.”

But their lawsuits in the two courts, with a decision still pending from the ICJ, isn’t seeking additional compensation. The suits merely seek to hold the nuclear-armed nations accountable to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for the dismantling of all nuclear weapons. How did that small provision get overlooked? Five of these nations — the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China — are signatories to the agreement. The other four — Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — though they’ve snubbed the treaty, are nonetheless accountable to international law, the lawsuit maintains.

If nothing else, the tiny island nation is standing eyeball to eyeball with superpower arrogance and crippled morality.

As Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote last week in The Guardian, “One of the many ironies of history is that non-nuclear-weapon states, like Iran, have actually done far more for the cause of non-proliferation in practice than nuclear-weapon states have done on paper. Iran and other nuclear have-nots have genuinely ‘walked the walk’ in seeking to consolidate the non-proliferation regime. Meanwhile, states actually possessing these destructive weapons have hardly even ‘talked the talk,’ while completely brushing off their disarmament obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.”

History’s conquerors will not be the ones who free humanity from its suicidal vise. This is the paradox. The transition we have to make must emerge beyond the institutions that have trapped us.

Nuclear weaponry is the outcome of 10,000 years of human experimentation outside the circle of life. The institutions we’ve built, the logic we’ve adhered to, lead us nowhere, except to more of the same. Desperate as we are to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we devote billions of dollars annually to upgrading our own. There are still nearly 16,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, some 1,800 on Cold War-era hair-trigger alert. We’ve been on the brink of self-annihilation for 70 years. What sanity can we access to save ourselves?

“Everything turned red — the ocean, the fish, the sky and my grandfather’s net. And we were 200 miles away from ground zero. A memory that can never be erased.”

These are the words of Tony DeBrum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, who, Alvarez tells us in his Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists essay, addressed the recent Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. DeBrum was 9 years old, out fishing with his grandfather, on March 1, 1954, when the Castle Bravo blast — all 15 megatons of it, the largest U.S. nuclear test ever — was detonated on Bikini Atoll. To its innocent witnesses, it must have foretold the end of the world.

The Marshall Islands lawsuits ask: If not us, who? If not now, when? These are the questions asked by those who have no choice. That means all of us should be asking them.

(Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.)

Photo: U.S. Department of Energy via Wikicommons (Public Domain)