Floating for Peace on the Golden Rule

It’s 10 p.m. at Montrose Harbor in Chicago. Kiko and Tamar help me step from the dock into the wobbly rowboat. Kiko rows us out to the Golden Rule and I climb aboard in wonder. Oh my God! This is it – the 30-foot, anti-nuke sailboat with a history going back almost seven decades . . . back to the era of atmospheric nuclear testing and the Cold War at its simmering height.

The Golden Rule: “Floating for sanity in an insane world.”

Well, somebody’s got to do it! The United Nations has tried. In 2017 it passed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was finally ratified (by 50 countries) in 2021. Technically, nuclear weapons are now “illegal” – what a joke. The possibility of nuclear war, i.e., Armageddon, is more alive than ever. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock is now set at 90 seconds to midnight.

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‘The Enemy Is Not a Human Being’

There’s a crucial, overlooked aspect of Daniel Ellsberg’s legacy that’s very much worth saluting, you might say: his transformation from a believer in the Vietnam war to a horrified opponent of it, ready to risk prison time to bring classified truth about its pointlessness into public awareness.

Ellsberg, who died on June 16 at age 92, had been part of the military-industrial establishment in the 1960s – a smart young man working as a Pentagon consultant at the Rand Corporation think tank. In the mid-’60s he wound up spending two years in Vietnam, on a mission for the State Department to study counterinsurgency. He traveled through most of the country – witnessing not simply the war up close but Vietnam itself, and the people who lived there.

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Before the Bombs Come the Platitudes

What is democracy but platitudes and dog whistles? The national direction is quietly predetermined – it’s not up for debate. The president’s role is to sell it to the public; you might say he’s the public-relations director in chief:

". . . my Administration will seize this decisive decade to advance America’s vital interests, position the United States to outmaneuver our geopolitical competitors, tackle shared challenges, and set our world firmly on a path toward a brighter and more hopeful tomorrow. . . . We will not leave our future vulnerable to the whims of those who do not share our vision for a world that is free, open, prosperous, and secure."

These are the words of President Biden, in his introduction to the National Security Strategy, which lays out America’s geopolitical plans for the coming decade. Sounds almost plausible, until you ponder the stuff that isn’t up for public discussion, such as, for instance:

The national defense budget, recently set for 2023 at $858 billion and, as ever, larger than most of the rest of the world’s military budget combined. And, oh yeah, the modernization – the rebuilding – of the nation’s nuclear weapons over the next three decades at an estimated cost of nearly $2 trillion. As Nuclear Watch put it: "It is, in short, a program of nuclear weapons forever."

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Ukraine and the Nuclear Paradox

Somewhere out there in the geopolitical wilderness of Eastern Europe, two powerful beasts stalk each other. One of them is good. One of them is evil. The future of all life on this planet is at stake.

We’ll be back after these messages . . . (or maybe not).

This seems to be the context in which the spectator public gets the details about the re-emerging Cold War, suddenly back from the dead, and the nuclear brinkmanship that comes with it.

Will Russia invade Ukraine? Such an act, according to President Biden, would be "the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II."

Wow. Only we get to invade countries, apparently.

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The Myth of the Good War

Love thy enemy? I get a chance to do so on a regular basis, thanks to the email (or nasty-mail) I sometimes get in response to my column, e.g.:

"Must be a dearth of anyone with anything intelligent to say for the News to put your drivel out for us to chew on. Not going to go over ridiculous points you made . . . not worth my time. Next time offer a cure. Otherwise it’s just reportage that we already know."

I have an advantage here. When I get a communiqué like this, I know the writer read my column in a regular newspaper, not a progressive site on the Internet – and that’s a good thing for multiple reasons.

One: The mainstream media is often fearful of a viewpoint like mine, which is critical of war and nukes and nationalism and border cages and such, so I always feel delight on learning I’ve made it into mainstream print.

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Separating the Cross and the Sword

What is a gaffe but an inadvertent uttering of an awkward truth? For instance:

"This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while."

The "gaffe" part of George W. Bush’s post-9/11 announcement that the War on Terror had begun was, of course, his calling it a crusade. Doing so, as the Wall Street Journal put it at the time, was "indelicate," because:

In strict usage, the word describes the Christian military expeditions a millennium ago to capture the Holy Land from Muslims. But in much of the Islamic world, where history and religion suffuse daily life in ways unfathomable to most Americans, it is shorthand for something else: a cultural and economic Western invasion that, Muslims fear, could subjugate them and desecrate Islam.

And of course we didn’t want them to think that when we started killing them, when we launched our shock-and-awe bombing campaign. War is secular, rational and absolutely necessary, period. A generation or so earlier, Bush’s use of that word in the context of war wouldn’t have been particularly controversial, because religion was still overtly part of the mix. But by 2001 its casual reference was no longer politically correct . . . even though its quiet blessing of the war machine was still crucial.

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