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Hiroshima: Local activists seek end existential threats of war, climate change

Rev. Mark Lukens, chair of Interfaith Alliance, addresses 69th commemoration of Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, held by Great Neck SANE/Peace Action and Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, as Shirley Romaine of GN SANE looks on.
Rev. Mark Lukens, chair of Interfaith Alliance, addresses 69th commemoration of Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, held by Great Neck SANE/Peace Action and Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, as Shirley Romaine of GN SANE looks on.
© 2014 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

As they have so faithfully for decades, Great Neck SANE/Peace Action and Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives and the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock gathered on August 6, the anniversary of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to issue "A Call to Conscience! It is Time to Abolish War, Ban Nuclear Weapons, and Stop Climate Change."

We have numerous events in the calendar to honor war (Memorial Day, Veterans Day, July 4) - this is the closest thing we have to a day that turns that notion on its head.

The Peace Advocates have kept alive the spirit of nuclear disarmament, which reached a high point in 1982, with a rally in Central Park that brought out a million people.

Things happened as a result of that human wave of consciousness. Glasnost. The end of the Cold War. Nuclear arms treaties. Nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Outer space treaties. The International Space Station.

But that was the high point.

This year has been a low point for peace advocates, as war and incomprehensibly savage brutalities have erupted in Ukraine, Israel-Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Africa.... the list goes on and on. What is worse, it is hard to argue against fighting back.

When you are faced with sheer evil and the threat that it is literally overrunning civilized communities, it is hard to advocate for turning the other cheek.

Yet they persist.

They believe that merely pointing out the alternative - annihilation of the human species - will be enough to change minds and ultimately policies.

They correctly point to the fact we face existential threat from two sources: nuclear holocaust and climate change -both of which are manmade and within our control.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says we are five minutes to midnight - with midnight being the hour of human extinction.

"The challenges to rid the world of nuclear weapons, harness nuclear power, and meet the nearly inexorable climate disruptions from global warming are complex and interconnected. In the face of such complex problems, it is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges. Political processes seem wholly inadequate; the potential for nuclear weapons use in regional conflicts in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and South Asia are alarming; safer nuclear reactor designs need to be developed and built, and more stringent oversight, training, and attention are needed to prevent future disasters; the pace of technological solutions to address climate change may not be adequate to meet the hardships that large-scale disruption of the climate portends." (http://thebulletin.org/timeline)

Extinction is a very real possibility. Go through the Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum in Washington DC, the epicenter for ostrich-like disengagement, and you are reminded (at least those who don't discount Darwin along with the scientific evidence human-caused Climate Change) that humanoid species have gone extinct many times over the course of the last billion years. There is nothing that would make the current reigning homo sapiens species immune.

But here we have Vladimir Putin determined to put back the clock to the Cold War and the nuclear arms race back to World War II, back further to World War I. His incursion into Ukraine - and those so-called separatists are actually Russian mercenaries - has made that clear.

He has his own grand designs of unchecked power over a broad swath of the planet, much as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) has its grand design of establishing a 7th century Caliphate in the 21st century.

But there is more.

We learn that Russia tested a ground-launched cruise missile, raising serious concerns about Russia’s compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), or I.N.F. Treaty existing treaty.

But it is not just Russia that has increased nuclear insecurity in our world.

Republicans in the Senate blocked consent to the 2010 nuclear pact with Russia until Obama gave in to extending Bush tax cuts (you might recall that Obama has made a priority of furthering nuclear disarmament and had significant success putting into place programs to get control of the "loose nukes" in the former Soviet Union, including the Ukraine, but that seems to have been put on a shelf, and in this whole ruckus in the Ukraine, no one is bothering to mention what will happen to the loose nukes that are left).

Not to mention that George W. Bush unilaterally and without bothering to actually get Senate consent, "pulled the US out of the UN Anti-Ballistic Treaty and the Pentagon, led by Rumsfeld, made space weapons a top priority. In 2003, the US government set aside $8.3 billion for the development of the 'missile defense systems' in space," reported the Politically On Point blog. (You really think Bush wanted to go to Mars or explore the heavens only to discover there is no God? He wanted to set up a space-based system to give US a strategic advantage). Since then, China has demonstrated its ability to shoot an orbiting satellite out of the sky.

Today, you have Republicans really steamed up by Obama's historic negotiations with Iran as a means of deterring Iran's progress toward nuclear weapons.

Bruce Blakeman, the Republican candidate for Carolyn McCarthy's Congressional seat told me at the Rally for Israel. conflating the Israel-Gaza issue with US-Iran: "I am disappointed the Obama Administration is pressing Israel to stop [bombing Gaza]. We shouldn't be sidelined from the bigger issue: Iran's [effort] to acquire nuclear weapons. Hamas may be starting trouble [to provide cover for Iran's nuclear ambition]. I oppose extending the negotiations with Iran. We need to stop Iran's nuclear program and if not, America should take military action. "

And Reza Aslan, the Muslim author of "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," appearing on Bill Maher's "Real Time" show, argued that the US should not provide further military aid to Israel (nearly $1 billion for the Iron Dome which has saved countless Israeli lives from Hamas rocket attacks), because he said, "Israel has 50 nuclear bombs." Is his implication that Israel should use them? Clearly just having the nuclear bombs has not been a deterrent to Hamas' call to annihilate Israel and Jews everywhere.

The threat of a nuclear disaster is not even necessarily at the hand of enemies or as a result of war. Eric Schlosser, author of "Command and Control," and "60 Minutes" have documented numerous "mishaps" that but for dumb luck could have unleashed a nuclear holocaust - in one incident that sounds like the plot of "War Games," a training program was accidentally introduced into the computer that thought the US was under attack from Russian nuclear missiles (we were moments away from launching the so-called "mutually assured destruction" attack), in another, a 46-cent "control" in a Russian computer failed, making it seem like Russia had in fact launched 2,000 nuclear missiles at the US. Schlosser describes how Breshnev assumed President Carter would unleash an attack in response.

What is more, these systems are aging and obsolete.

More threatening now though, is the problem of a rise in extra-national terror groups getting their hands on "loose nukes" - the nuclear material left behind in the Soviet Union and other unsecured areas. This is an added threat with the loss of Putin's cooperation (which pre-dates Ukraine).

Not to mention cyber security,. or the lack of it. We already have known examples (and God knows how many are not known), of Israel and the US inserting viruses into computers running Iran's nuclear facility, and China hacking into government and corporate computers.

One can show the folly of war - as Obama, now chided for his "reluctance" at bombing in Iraq to push back ISIS, said at West Point's commencement address:

"America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader – and especially your Commander-in-Chief – to be clear about how that awesome power should be used. "

This is now termed "The Obama Doctrine," - as distinguished from the "Bush Doctrine" which was based on preemptive war (hence Iraq) - which asserts the right and the need to use military force when necessary and if possible as part of coalitions, but to use diplomacy whenever possible.

And using language that surely must have warmed the cockles of anti-war activists' hearts, he said, "After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress – from NATO and the United Nations, to the World Bank and IMF. Though imperfect, these institutions have been a force multiplier – reducing the need for unilateral American action, and increased restraint among other nations. But just as the world has changed, this architecture must change as well. At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon, “a gradual evolution in human institutions.” Evolving these institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership.

"Of course, skeptics often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong....

"Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty. But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be – a place where the aspirations of individual human beings matter; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in the direction of justice."

Obama, in what seems to have been Golden Age so long ago (when it was only a matter of weeks), told the West Pointers that "you are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan."

Monday morning quarterbacks (even Hillary Clinton), are saying that ISIS problem in Iraq and those 40,000 Kurds facing genocide on a mountaintop, all could have been avoided if Obama had only armed the "moderate" Syrian rebels against Assad, and that Obama showed his word was not his bond when he declared Assad's use of chemical weapons a "red line" and then didn't bomb as he threatened.

Excuse me? Congress refused to give him authority to bomb Syria - Democrats were most definitely opposed - and as we saw when the Reagan administration armed Osama bin Ladin against the Russians in Afghanistan, that lead to an Osama bin Ladin using those same weapons against the US. Let's recall that ISIS is fighting Asad, and Iran is fighting ISIS. But as it turned out, Putin was sufficiently concerned about the threat to intercede, scoring Obama a major success (completely unacknowledged), of forcing Syria to dispose of most of its chemical weapons.

And frankly, there would not be an ISIS invading Iraq if there were not the Bush/Cheney invasion that destabilized the country, produced Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo which served as recruiting tools to jihadists, and actually strengthened Iran which bolstered Hamas.

But there are those who question whether war is ever noble or justified. We have been marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which has been nobly presented as a war to end slavery and hold the union together. But it was a war fought to keep slavery, rather than let the institution die a natural death.

We just marked the 100th anniversary since the start of World War I - the Great War, the War to End All Wars - but wildly considered a tragic waste. People still ponder what triggered such a cataclysm in the progress of civilization. The New York Times this week gave a litany of reasons - nationalism, tribalism, religion - which have echoes in the conflagrations today. The real reason then - and probably now - was that a few Power Brokers stood to make a fortune on military arms, and could persuade those in power of some political advantage to be made. And then the Leaders could play upon nationalism, religion, tribalism, to rally the masses into turning themselves into cannon fodder.

Rev. Mark Lukens of Bethany Congregational Church, East Rockaway, and Chair of the Interfaith Alliance of Long Island, made the best case for uncompromising, total opposition to war, and for a moment, even made the abolition of war seem attainable:

"These kinds of gatherings represent our willingness and courage to look fearlessly and critically at ourselves, cherished sacred cows," he told the gathering. "It is only that kind of willingness, courage that allows us to have hope that maybe we can change the future – break the cycle of violence that is too much our history."

World War II is probably the last war that is widely considered "the good war," but, as he noted, "In its final days in order to bring an end to that bloodiest of all wars and defeat enemy that threatened the very foundation of human civilization, the United States, on this day in 1945, dropped an atomic bomb on city of Hiroshima, and a few days later on Nagasaki – and in a blink of an eye, in the effort to defeat a terrible foe, we committed an instant genocide of our own, taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings- civilians and soldiers – unleashed on history a Pandora's box of utter annihilation, the madness of mutually assured destruction and forever altered the ecology of our planet, even as US legitimate use of mass destruction on civilian population, and hung sword of Damocles on entire human race, a threat to entire existence on planet, we deal with to this day.

"You can argue the morality of that decision, and good men and women stand on both sides, but there can be no doubt about its legacy – like fallout, a nuclear event remains with us, polluting the air we breathe, the water we drink, poisoning the atmosphere – It is accepted, if not a legitimate means of waging war, and creating a blueprint for a pattern of atrocities we see repeated over and over again, from Bosnia, to Afghanistan to Syria to Gaza."

"Worst of all, is the erosion of bonds of our shared humanity as the possibility of annihilating those who stand in way of national, religious aspirations, political desire – has gone from unthinkable to realizable, even the very same nations who went to war precisely to end that madness.

"That’s why events like this one tonight are so important, why it matters so much we have gathered.

"We won’t put the genie back in bottle through sanctions, threats of military force, or any of those strategies that, like bombing, make us the image of those we hate – we won’t alter the arc of human history by self-justifying..

"Because change, if it is to be, can only come by altering the paradigm, by standing up as we are this evening to mourn, remember together those whose lives were taken, not as inevitable casualties of justified war but for who they really were, women, and men and children just like ours, people with hopes and aspirations, shared with those they loved, as human beings created in image of god, their lives uniquely valuable, uniquely precious and worthy of our concern –

"By bringing that message to the world, to assure that no matter how necessary, how worthy the cause, there is no such thing as a good war, because every war is about death of the innocent, the devastation of that which can never be replaced, every war destroys our planet, every war steals a bit of our future and takes from us a piece of our collective soul.

"As our planet becomes smaller, hotter and so many of our people, more desperate, we have no more pieces left to give. We can’t hide behind our arsenals any longer – as the suffering, destitute pound at our gates.

"We have to demand for ourselves as well as them, an end – not just Iran, North Korea but right here at home as well.

"For those who are yet to be, we have to make peace – and not just for some of us, all of us, because no less than the very survival of all of us is at stake."

He makes it sound so clear and absolute.

But the Israelis are also looking at survival. The Kurds on a mountaintop as well. The situation in Ukraine is reminiscent of World War I, while ISIS resounds to World War II.

And even the progressive think tank Center for American Progress was pushing for the US to bomb Iraq (that is ISIS) back in June.

I usually come away with a tender feeling and utter admiration for these persistent peaceniks, but a cynical sense of futility.

This year, a feeling of hopelessness swept over me. Just then, Shirley Romaine, who led the program, seemed to sense it too, and said, "We complain, get upset, depressed. The best antidote is to really do something."

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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