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Winslow Myers: The U.S. appears to be experiencing some isolationist confusion

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Navalny’s funeral service in Moscow was unfolding as I wrote this. Putin apparently didn’t allow enough of a tiny crack of compassion in the shell of his peanut-sized heart to permit Navalny’s widow Yulia and their two children to attend.

What many of us hoped for—a mass sustained pouring into the streets of Russian citizens all over the country—doesn’t look as if it will happen either, though many thousands did risk possible jail to gather outside the service.

Yesterday Putin gave his annual State of the Nation address and threatened to use his nuclear arsenal if foreign troops are deployed to Ukraine.

In the United States, we don’t need dictators telling us what’s what (though we certainly have plenty of aspirants). We have our own self-imposed blinkers on truth—what Noam Chomsky calls “manufactured consent.” We happily go along with the presumption that our way of life will dissolve unless we keep the military-industrial-political-journalistic-full-spectrum-dominance juggernaut moving “forward.”

Though at the moment the U.S. appears to be experiencing some isolationist confusion. I’m confused about the Ukraine war—did NATO’s eastward expansion help cause it? What can the international community do preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty without blowing up the world? What can be done, even perhaps in the poor old United Nations, to prevent the next Ukraine?

Are we not complicit when we send weapons to Israel to continue the appalling Gazan slaughter and equally complicit in the opposite way when Speaker Johnson, kissing Trump’s behind, refuses to send weapons to Ukraine to resist the equally appalling Russian slaughter of Ukrainian civilians?

The condition of international affairs as a whole remains bizarre. On the one hand, as the decades pass since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fact that nuclear weapons have not been used upon people since 1945 seems to reinforce establishment thinking that deterrence works. The truth is, as Robert McNamara said, we’ve just been astonishingly lucky. When one recalls the Cuban crisis in which he participated, and concedes the growing complexity of present computer systems, warheads and delivery systems interacting with thousands of fallible humans, one’s heart sinks.

Every day we get past without nuclear catastrophe seems a miracle further overlaying the miracle of existence itself. We have been waiting to be blown up for so long that it has to be having an unconscious effect upon our animal optimism, our appreciation of the miracle of our momentary existence in this universe of ordinary wonders like sunlight, sight, snow, flowers, stars, grandchildren, Brandenburg Concertos . . .

But a further miracle is not only possible but is even now unfolding. We humans do have the option to begin to look beyond war and political hatred and the endless sowing of fear and mistrust of the “other.” We can begin to embrace the potential of our other biggest challenge, environmental sustainability. This recognition will jump-start us beyond the illusion of “us versus them” that animates war and the manufacture of weapons of mass (which means self-) destruction.

We live on a planet where authoritarian forces are again on the march. But an infinitely more powerful force, the degradation of the environment, opposes the clinging to power of frightened leaders.

In an odd but genuine sense this opposing force isequal-opportunity, bottom-up, democratic. The breathability of the air makes zero hierarchical distinctions between dictators and ordinary citizens.

Ultimately the ability of Putin or Xi or Trump to govern will not depend on the size of nuclear arsenals. It will hinge upon the ability of all of us to work together to clear the air, sustain nutrients in the soil sufficient to grow healthy food, manage the leakage of methane from the Siberian tundra, keep plastics out of the ocean, bend downward the ominous upward slant of global average temperature—and stand down the weapons which are themselves a major threat to environmental sustainability.

Alongside these challenges that demand a different degree of international cooperation, the hate, fear, and greed that motivate too many of us start to look absurdly irrelevant.

Will we wake up to this involuntary change of paradigm that has silently become the most important condition of our existence? Everything I do or don’t do affects you, and everything you do or don’t do affects me—authoritarians and would-be authoritarians included.

That’s a wrenchingly positive enlargement of our conception of true self-interest. As a Peace Corps volunteer once said, and it cannot be repeated too often: “The earth is a sphere, and a sphere has only one side. We are all on the same side.”

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide” and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.



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