For a viable future to be possible we must, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said many years ago, learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools. The reason why is clear: the destructive power of our weapons, the indiscriminate way they are used, and humanity’s addiction to war will, if not stopped, destroy life as we know it through poisoning our land, water and atmosphere with war’s toxic compounds. And that doesn’t count the damage done with birth defects and other health-related problems.
We are addicted to war and the money generated by the weapons industry, and the people involved have little-to-no interest in losing any of it. Peace is not part of the picture, only death and destruction are. The tools of war are taken for granted in the marketplace as if they are nothing unusual, marketed as if they are not much different from the latest model cars or appliances. They do an efficient job, and get you where you want to go.
Watching the evening news one evening, I watched a salesman at a munitions trade show talk about the product he was selling. A nice-looking middle-aged man, probably with a family, he would go home to after the show closed, pleased with the number of sales he had made. Now maybe he and his wife can take the vacation they’ have talked about. The product he was selling will make this dream possible, a new, safer cluster bomb, designed to avoid civilian casualties, killing only combatants. Yet how does a pilot know which os which on the ground below? Listening to the salesman, the impression given was that the cluster bombs would know.
Canisters filled with violence are marketed like the latest model appliance in any department store. The salesman is pleased. His customers will take their receipts with them and await the product’s delivery. A successful day. Perhaps a promotion or a special recognition. But what of the people on whom these cluster bombs are dropped?
What does this say about us as a society, that we can sell weapons as if they are no more than useful appliances used to get a job done well? What does it say about our future as a species, about hope or fear in a small child’s eyes, eyes haunted by grief and terror? Which brings me back to Dr. King’s remark about learning to see each others as brothers, or perishing as fools. As Moscow journalist Yan Shenkman said: “The only moral act right now is to see that killing people is a bad thing, whoever commits it and for whatever aims. Meanwhile, helping people is clearly a good thing. We work to remind people about this moral rule” (in Roger Amis: Children of War Photo Series Tells Stories of Youth in Wartime Ukraine, “Truthout,” 18 January 2015).
The first step to building a liveable future is learning to treat others as we want them to treat us, and practicing it every day with everyone we meet. It’s very simple, just not easy. Easy comes with practice. I don’t know about you, but I want a world in which my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are able to live in peace with their neighbors. I want a world in which, more and more, people recognize that we are all one people, all members of the same family, and we respect that. We learn to live as brothers and sisters, members of the same family, or we condemn our future to death.
Is changing the way we live and see things possible? It is if we focus on treating each other as we wish to be treated. In 1952 as a college freshman, I met a student who became one of my best friends for over fifty years. Our friendship was unusual in those days, because I am white and my friend is black. Many years after we met I asked him why we had become such close friends. His answer: “Because you didn’t treat me as different.” That is the key. When we see people as “different,” we see them as one of “them.” When we don’t see others as “different”, we see them as one of us, as potential neighbors and friends, as family. Very simple; easy comes with practice. The time to begin practicing is now.
But first, a glaring example of how not to build peace, which keeps the destructive cycle going. More about this in my next post.