War against War
[Yesterday’s post explored the risk of a double-dip recession and an economic warning implied in the President’s Nobel Peace Prize. Today’s post explores the Prize’s primary and explicit meaning: international endorsement and approval of the President’s bold new directions in foreign policy.]
A cold war is transpiring globally as we watch. It’s not a new conflict between Russia and America. Two leaders of uncommon intelligence, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, seem to have put that cold war to bed, at least for now.
The cold war on which I write is a universal civil war. It embroils every nation and society. It divides the President’s advisers, the Kremlin’s most secret operatives, and the councils of China, Europe, the two Koreas, Iran and Japan. It infects the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as their partisans, and divides them among themselves. Undoubtedly it touches even the Taliban and some members of Al Qaeda.
This cold war is not one among nations, religions, or tribes. It is a war between those who think that war is inherent in the human condition and those who dare to think otherwise. It is a war between those who prepare incessantly for war and organize to fight and win—often heedless of consequences—and those who devote their skill and humanity to avoiding and ending war. It is a war against war.
There is nothing new about this cold war. It is as old as humankind. History offers many examples of decisive battles.
Women led some. They include the probably fictional sexual “strike” of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Queen Elizabeth I diverting Britain from incessant internecine conflict to global commerce and trade, and the Russian mothers’ letter-writing campaign that helped end the Soviets’ war in Afghanistan.
Others battles in this cold war had male leadership. They included Nazi officers’ belated attempt (in 1944) to assassinate Hitler, as fictionally portrayed in the recent movie Valkyrie, Mahatma Gandhi’s successful nonviolent campaign to free India from British colonial rule, Nelson Mandela’s struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s successful similar campaign to free African-Americans from legalized racist oppression. Modern media, including the Internet, have helped spread these sagas of war against war and have made them as compelling as bloody battles.
The Norwegians granting the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama may mark a turning point in this age-old cold war. Many decried a reward for aspiration before achievement. But it was not really a prize in the usual sense at all. It was a declaration of alliance.
Norwegians of all political stripes, including the far right, declared their admiration of and allegiance to a young leader in the struggle against war and the spread of nuclear weapons. By implication—and by generally favorable reaction—the whole EU endorsed this informal alliance.
The EU knows something about “hot” war, having experienced tribal, religious and imperial wars for over two millennia, including history’s most brutal conflict. Perhaps because of that hard experience, EU leaders seem to have placed their hands on the President’s in a pledge to end war, or at least the threat of nuclear war.
Barack Obama’s ideals and aspirations are hardly unique. Many throughout human history have shared them. Besides the historical leaders mentioned above, there was Woodrow Wilson. He also won the Nobel Peace Prize. But he had his dreams of a war to end war shattered by unthinking opposition from both allies and enemies, inadequate economic understanding, and the resentment of an aggrieved Germany.
Now things may be different. President Obama commands a position unique in human history. Never before has an enemy of war led a superpower with thousands of nuclear weapons and the best trained, best equipped, and best led (if small) military forces on the planet. Never before has an enemy of war led the most innovative nation on the planet, which developed controlled flight, nuclear weapons, and the Internet and put men on the Moon. Never before has an enemy of war controlled a Navy from which a single nuclear submarine could utterly annihilate a troublemaker like Iran or North Korea in fifteen minutes. Never before has a leader with all this military power commanded sufficient practical knowledge of economics to improve life substantially for everyone, whether friend or foe.
Never before, in other words, has an enemy of war commanded such immense practical power both to destroy and to build. It is as if someone had given Queen Elizabeth I, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., the strength and knowledge of gods to match their wisdom and self-restraint.
No one lacking the President’s humility and self-restraint should ever command such power. But with the help of those qualities, that power could turn the tide of history.
Where all this will lead is still unknown. Humanity is in uncharted territory. War’s proponents are already up in arms, doing their best to rekindle the fires of fear, hatred and tribalism. That’s all they know.
But slowly, inexorably—with the Internet’s aid—the notion of peace as a possible practical reality is spreading globally. For the first time in human history, the proponents of peace can prevail in war, certainly any war of destruction. They also have the knowledge to offer a glowing alternative. That strength and knowledge may give them the upper hand in the war against war.
That’s why so many hailed the President’s Peace Prize and why he accepted an award based on aspirations, not achievement. No one can know what the Prize and the nascent global alliance it symbolizes means for the future. But we can know that the world has never seen a peacemaker in such a position of strength, knowledge and global popularity before. The possibilities of that novelty are awe-inspiring.