No one person should have first strike capability

Every once in awhile you come across a fact and think that can’t be right. And then you find out it is. That’s what happened to me when I received a plea to ask my members of congress to discuss restricting the first use of nuclear weapons.

My first response was Oh, you mean if someone lobs a nuke at us, we tie the hands of the president so that she or he can’t strike back? Do we really want to do that?

No, I was told, the bill has nothing to do with responding to a nuclear attack. It only concerns being the one to first launch the nukes.

Queue the response: that can’t be right. So I have to ask. Did you think that the president could launch a nuclear weapon for any reason right now? With no declaration of war? All by himself? Well, it turns out that he or she can.

I admit that the next thing I did was guess that this bill had been introduced because of the rash immaturity frequently shown by the man now occupying the white house. And I admit that part made sense to me. But it turns out I was wrong about that as well.

The bill was originally introduced in 2016 during the Obama administration, with the encouragement of the Union of Concerned Scientists. This group believes that we need to have a robust congressional discussion about the wisdom of giving any president, no matter how cautious or how brash, the unilateral power to initiate a civilization-ending event. I think they have a good point.

Our current situation increases the probability of nuclear war in a real and dangerous way. It makes perfect sense to me that we should insist that Congress take these dangers seriously and that we should work to change a system that puts all of our lives at risk.

Right now both measures (known as Senate Bill 200 and House Resolution 669) are sitting in committees (Foreign Relations and Foreign Affairs) while congress spends its time handling what they believe to be more pressing matters. (Don’t get me started on that.)

If you haven’t developed the habit of contacting congress yet, it is an easy and worthwhile activity. Find out who you should be contacting at whoismyrepresentative.com. Then search for them by name, go to their website, and hit contact. The easiest thing to do is to fill out their little form with your information, and then type in something simple like “Please lend your support to bringing House Resolution 669 on restricting the first use of nuclear weapons to the house floor for a vote.” A poorly paid intern will note the subject matter of your email and will tally up your opinion on it.

It’s a little bit like littering. If just you do it, it really doesn’t make much of a difference. But if five percent of the population does it, everyone is going to notice.

It’s a VUCA world out there, people ….

person of interest2I’m a big fan of the TV show “Person of Interest” and last night I watched the long awaited first episode of Season 5. It has turned into a story about two warring supercomputers, one of which is good. Good supercomputer had to be totally rebooted last night and as it became reacquainted with its human helpers, it considered the amount of death and mayhem they had inflicted during the fight for goodness. To no science fiction readers’ surprise, it ended up deeming them every bit as bad as the bad guys.

The supercomputer has a point. When does what you are fighting for become irrelevant due to the amount of carnage and pain you have inflicted? Is the answer really “never”?

Enter an article in my to-be-read file called “The Madness of Modern War” published on the blog Alternet and written last month by William Astore. I stumbled on it this morning and it fed right into my funk about the moral ambiguities of fighting for peace. It begins

Since 9/11, can there be any doubt that the public has become numb to the euphemisms that regularly accompany U.S. troops, drones, and CIA operatives into Washington’s imperial conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa? Such euphemisms are meant to take the sting out of America’s wars back home. Many of these words and phrases are already so well known and well worn that no one thinks twice about them anymore.

fighting2Things do have a way of coming together like this, don’t they? The truth is, life under the watchful eye of good computer would be a whole lot nicer than human life on bad computer’s watch. And life in the freedom loving  U.S.A., for all of its faults, is orders of magnitude better than anyone’s life under the rule of the Islamic State.

So exactly how horribly is one morally entitled to behave in order to achieve an outcome destined to provide more freedom and joy for all?

I fall in the camp that believes there are limits. Something you do remains something you have done, and it stretches your capacity to do the unthinkable. I worry that good guys can become bad guys by imitating them. I think that part of a moral compass includes having lines you will not cross, and directions you will not go.

Let me be clear. I will fight for my own life and my liberty, and thank the others who do it for me. But I will not pay any price to purchase those things, and I like to think that I have the courage to accept that.

Peace2You don’t think you agree? If your life, or your freedom, required you to push a button and wipe out every living creature in Australia, would you do it? Would you let someone else do it for you? How about just half of Australia? Just a quarter of it? Okay, exactly how much of Australia are you willing to destroy? How about if we change the country to Somalia? Syria? Sweden?

It’s a messy question, isn’t it? As a species we can identify some actions clearly on one side of the line and others clearly on the other, but it is all that grey area in-between that gets us into so much trouble. How about we begin by at least agreeing that there is a line. That’s a start.

William Astore concluded his article with

If the gray zone offers little help clarifying America’s military dilemmas, what about VUCA? It’s an acronym for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, which is meant to describe our post-9/11 world. Of course, there’s nothing like an acronym to take the sting out of any world. But as an historian who has read a lot of history books, let me confess that, to the best of my knowledge, the world has always been, is now, and will always be VUCA.

Well said.

 

Planning for Peace

My interest in world peace began five years when I wrote a book about telepathy. Today, it is something of an obsession, along with the related topics of compassion and empathy. I like to look up every once in awhile from my writing and see who else is fascinated by the question of “can we really learn to respect each other and get along?”

1The good news is that it looks like there is a fair amount of interest for 2016. From the Rotarians to meditations groups, from college campuses to religious institutions, a lot of people are holding gatherings to contemplate the concept of peace in their own ways. Here are some of my favorites, chosen to demonstrate the wide variety of approaches a war-weary planet is taking.

We all missed the 3nd Annual “Be the Peace Retreat” in Sedona Arizona held New Year’s Eve and Day, which offered an opportunity to come together in meditation with the “intention to create the peace we want to see in the world.” Presumably modeled after Gandhi’s famous advice to be the change that you wish to see in the world, attendees were treated to meditation training and live music to help them focus on peace.

Tomorrow, Jan. 14, an International Peace Conference will be held

When Mohannad Mofid Alshalalda left his home in Palestine to attend an international school called United World College Maastricht, he had no plans to talk to Israelis, much less make friends with them. But when he met the school’s Israelis in person, a strange thing happened: he found that he could no longer hate them. It was one thing to hate the idea of an Israeli, and quite another to hate an Israeli when they were standing right in front of him.Over time, he and Ido David (Israel) began to talk about their differences in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While they could not reach a consensus on everything, they could reach a consensus on a surprising number of issues. Thus, with this inspiration in mind, they decided to plan a peace conference together. The conference grew. In six short months, we became a team of nearly twenty people, from Botswana to Hong Kong.

You have got to love this story, and what these students are trying to do. I hope that their conference is a huge success.

6In only a few days the 2016 Rotary World Peace Conference will be held in Ontario, California, just outside of Los Angeles. My father was a Rotarian and, honestly, I thought they just got together for lunches. I was clearly mistaken. Today’s Rotarians are serious about world peace! January 15th and 16th, Rotarians from around the world will attempt to connect leaders and conflict resolution experts with solutions to create a culture of peace. Go Rotarians!

The Kroc Institute at Notre Dame hosts an annual conference for students to present papers, posters, workshops, round table discussions, panel presentations, artwork or media displays to illustrate how their project, perspective, or approach influences the development of sustainable peace.This year’s conference,“Members of the Mosaic,” is scheduled for April 8–9, 2016, at the University of Notre Dame. I love this idea! It sounds like a science fair for college students, but with ideas for pathways to peace replacing the science experiments.

Another entry from academia is the Waging Peace conference sponsored by the the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Southern Mississippi. This conference will be held in New Orleans, LA September 8 – 10. Papers and panel discussions are being solicited on topics that include subjects as diverse as veterans and postwar politics, refugees and refugee resettlement, transitions to peace on the home front, violence inflicted by occupying forces, making sense of peace via the media and popular culture, memories as therapy, and postwar empowerment of previously enslaved, persecuted, or marginalized groups. The conference organizers add that they are “especially interested in panels that are comparative and that offer broad conclusions across time and place about the challenges of ‘Waging Peace’.” Wow.

At the same time this is happening in New Orleans, a group called Build Peace will be holding its annual international conference in Zurich, Switzerland. Build Peace takes the innovative approach of bringing peace builders and technologists together to “share experience and ideas on using technology for peace building and conflict transformation.” According to their website, they will meet on September 9 – 11.

2World Peace Congress 2016 is scheduled for October in Waterford, Ireland. According to the website for the conference, its purpose is to “foster serious and immediate Dialog, in the hope of maintaining it on a continuing basis thereafter, between all the extant Paradigms/ World-Views/ Interests / Ideologies that have divided the Human World into disparate, and often feuding, Sectarian Groupings.” More information is coming.

November 10-13 will see an Interfaith Peace Conference being held at Lake Junaluska in my own home state of North Carolina. This group has a rather specific faith based approach. According to their website “The Interfaith Peace Conference at Lake Junaluska is an ongoing response to God’s call to peacemaking and reconciliation. Affirming the community of Abrahamic faiths, the Peace Conference seeks to work in partnership with Christians, Jews, Muslims, and members of other religious traditions to advance the work of reconciliation and peace.”

12Finally, November will also see the 26th biennial conference of the Interna­tional Peace Research Association (IPRA) in Freetown, Sierra Leone. According to the IPRA website, it is the largest and most established global professional organization in the field of peace research. More details about the conference will be forthcoming soon.

It’s not like we don’t have a lot of brain power and energy focused on various aspects of the problem. Is it enough to begin to make a difference? I think that depends on exactly what the real problem is. My next post will be a review of Rachel Maddow’s book “Drift”, and a look at why she thinks we find it so easy to go to war. Maybe the problem isn’t a lack of compassion and empathy at all.

For more year end fun see some of the oddest predictions for 2016, catch My Best New Years Resolution Yet, read about whether it is an honor to be person of the year, and take a look at the top women of 2016.

 

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