What if we had politicians who believed in the abolition of war with as
much passion as the Republican right believes in the abolition of taxes?
For me, the question that immediately follows is: What kind of politics
draws power from resources other than the deep pockets of billionaires?
Just because the world is sick of war, how will that ever translate into
serious political action to defund standing armies and ongoing weapons
research? How will it ever cohere into a consensus that has political
traction? Does Washington, D.C. only have room for one consensus?
For the Democrats to stand moderately tough against GOP right-wing
zealots in defense of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Social
Security, there’s no way they could also — even if they wanted to
— stand tough on, let us say, nuclear disarmament or a movement toward
demilitarization. Such concepts aren’t on or anywhere near the fabled
“table” of national debate; they’re as marginalized as segregated
restrooms. This is a deep problem from the point of view of anyone
looking clear-eyed into the future.
“‘They were all dying,’ she said, ‘and there was no medicine,
and there was nothing we could do.’”
The speaker is 82-year-old Kono Kyomi, one of the “Hibakusha,” or
survivors of the atomic blasts that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki in
1945, quoted by the Rev. John Dear . She was part of a delegation of
survivors who came to the United States last August to commemorate the
anniversary of those blasts and speak of their experiences. Their visit
included a trip to Los Alamos, N.M., where the Hiroshima bomb was built
and still the center of the country’s ongoing nuclear weapons research
Dear, a long-time peace activist who traveled with the Hibakusha
delegation during their visit, described the moment Kyomi looked him in
the eye during a church dinner in Santa Fe: “Be sure to speak to young
people,” she said. “We need to tell them the stories, to tell them
about these weapons, and to educate them to work to get rid of them.
That’s the most important thing we can do for the future.”
This message can resonate at a church basement potluck, but I no longer
have the least bit of faith it has the force to penetrate our national
political fortress. Nukes and militarism are done deals at the official
level, uncontroversial, off the table, forever funded. The
military-industrial complex has no serious opponents. It seems to have
won the war for our future, limited as that future might be because of
What fascinates me is how recently this was not the case. Consider, for
instance, the criticism that so frequently, these days, swirls around
the Nobel Peace Prize committee and its choice of winners. This year the
prize was awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons, a watchdog group that had its spirit broken more than a decade
ago, critics say. That was when the Bush administration succeeded in
ousting its then-director general, Jose Bustani, whose plans to inspect
Iraq’s chemical weapons put the U.S. case against Saddam Hussein—
and the pending invasion of Iraq — in jeopardy.
“The subsequent OPCW leadership has been far weaker and more averse to
challenging great power prerogatives, as indicated by the fact that they
are currently in the process of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons
arsenal while the vast stockpiles belonging to U.S. allies Israel and
Egypt remain intact,” Middle East scholar Stephen Zunes  said after
the Peace Prize winner was announced.
And Fredrik Heffermehl , author of _The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel
Really Wanted_, called the 2013 award half-hearted. Alfred Nobel’s
vision, he said, was “to abolish not only certain weapons, like the
chemical, but all weapons in all countries. Demilitarize international
relations — not only civilize war but abolish it.”
Michael Parent i, lamenting the committee’s decision in 2012 to
award the Peace Prize to the European Union, quoted from Nobel’s 1895
will specifying the prize be given “to the person who shall have done
the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the
abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and
promotion of peace congresses.”
I repeat: “Demilitarize international relations — not only civilize
war but abolish it.” This was a real goal a century ago, a glowing
possibility. And even 50 years ago, it remained so.
John F. Kennedy , announcing that talks on a Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty
with the Soviet Union had begun, declared: “Our primary long range
interest in Geneva, however, is general and complete disarmament . . .
permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions
of peace which would take the place of arms. . . .
“While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also
safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is
clearly in the interest of both.”
This was once a goal of nations, a goal of wealth. It had credibility
and presence at the highest levels. Now it has vanished. Bitterly
cherished as this goal may still be among ordinary humanity, the
governing classes have decreed: The next war is coming.
The time has come not to believe them. The time has come to return
disarmament to the political agenda. The time has come to refuse to make
peace with war.
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 Bob Koehler, visit his website at Common Wonders or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.
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