© Mark Rahman 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
August 8, 2010

Two days ago was the sixty-fifth anniversary of the atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima. Tomorrow will be the sixty-fifth anniversary of the atomic bomb explosion at Nagasaki. They were the watershed events that separated the modern world from the traditional era. The very essence of the cold war - the atomic age - the focus of fifty years of global maneuvering and power shifting, was brought into being by the implications of the power of those awesome weapons. And yet the change had taken place earlier than the birth of unlimited destruction.

Once upon a time, human beings were the spoils of war. If an important person was taken, they could be saved for ransom. Ordinary persons could be sold or kept as slaves. If land was taken in the war, it was useful only if there was a labor force to work the fields, or if one had a population surplus in one's own city that had to be placed somewhere outside the city walls. It was always easier to entice them to foreign soil if there was someone else to do the farmwork. It was an era when the entire population was on or at the front lines and was intimately and immediately concerned with the outcome.

When professional armies became the norm, great events and tragedies could occur without local populations having their entire lives turned upside down. Unless the army of one side consisted of a militia that gathered to form a force at such time as need arose. In that event, many farmers and artisans could be removed from the society, as happened to the Highlanders at Culloden or the Gauls at Alesia. Otherwise if land changed hands as a result, all that changed was to whom one paid tithes, tribute or taxes.

Siege warfare is special in involving the whole of the society of a city state. There frequently were massacres if the siege lasted a long time. If land was the prime incentive, then the eradication of the population was a probable event. From Joshua, sixth chapter:

20. So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.

21. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

24. And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

Destroying cities is not a new policy, it has an illustrious history plus sanctification for those that desire it. In our modern era, people have been considered to be a strategic resource of the enemy. They run the factories, deliver the goods to the front line, maintain the will to continue the fight and produce the next generation of fighting men. The transition to targets takes place the second that human beings are considered to be a strategic resource, or possibly it is the other way round. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish the reason from a justification. Strategic bombing was enthusiastically endorsed in the Second World War. Only one problem: it did not work as intended. There is no evidence that any population gave in or was unable to keep up the war effort because of the new methods of eliminating a population. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a continuation of the idea with new technology. They barely had an effect on the situation. Peace offers were already being sent out and the total capitulation vote in the cabinet only barely passed, even with the backing of the emperor.

Since WWII there has been a tremendous change in who goes to war. There has not been a set traditional war between advanced countries since that time. Soon after the 'Good War' we evolved into asymmetrical warfare. At first there were poor countries that substituted quantity for quality. Later came enemies that were rebel movements that aimed at taking over a single country. Today the main enemy consists of multinational nongovernmental organizations that have a cause and hide among the populations of many nations. If you defeat an enemy then you win, but but if there is no government to surrender, then you must be occupiers. But there is always someone who holds out and keeps the fight alive. In asymmetrical warfare the people are not directly targeted by the more powerful antagonist, but neither are they off limits when they are near the desired targets. From Korea to Afghanistan bombs, shells and missiles kill whom they kill and the euphemistic collateral damage is always considered acceptable, necessary in pursuit of a goal.

The importance of the atomic bombs is for the implications for the future. The 200,000 that died in those few minutes are, I am sad to say, not a particular large number. Lower tech methodology, if sufficiently well organized, is capable of equal or greater travesty. The Turks used the ordinary small arms of an organized military to slay two million Armenians and Greeks. The Hutus killed a quarter million over the course of months using only sharp-edged tools and fire. The fire bombings of Tokyo alone exceeded the toll of the combined atomic cities. Against an atomic power that had sufficient weapons on hand, no nation would be able to go to war and survive even if they had the weapons themselves. But that would not end war nor the willingness to kill others when someone is willing to continue by other means.

How can people bring themselves to carry such harm to others? I am afraid the answers are well known and not very profound. We can demonize the other and therefore they deserve whatever happens to them. A moral imperative will be found that for some reason requires us to attack them. We can legitimize people as targets because they have taken up arms against us or show support for those that have. We can trivialize their deaths as having come in pursuit of other objectives. That is what collateral damage means, that something else was going on when they died, unfortunately, without intention, and therefore not part of the equation, life has become unimportant even as an abstract.

In Tammany Hall there was an aphorism that all politics is local. For us the meaning is that we have sent our young men and women to foreign shores because of needs that are felt here at home. The great tragedy is that we are over there for no reason that has to do with matters in that region. What sends us is an imperative of economics, of profit, of jingoism, or of revenge. Acts that have profound consequences in that far place are gauged only by the results at home. If there is a price to be paid then only let it be paid by someone else and all is well.

Gone are the days when bad results far away had no direct effect at home. We cannot ignore the consequences of our actions. Globalization means instant and universal communication, transportation and organization. Anything we do is known everywhere immediately. It is responded to quickly, not just in a violent manner but also in markets, movements of people and in changes in thought. Other people care about what happens in obscure locations because it indicates how they in their turn will be treated.

Markets react to instability but forced stability is inherently unstable, a pressure cooker. Since the days of Eisenhower, efforts have been made to create stability by setting up local undemocratic strongmen or to destabilize countries that were not compliant enough. As Dr. Phil says, "How is that working out for you?" We are still trying to fix the mistakes we made back then and not necessarily in a way that is better. The Shah was installed and now we have the Ayatollah. Where there was Bautista now there are the Castros. The government of Columbia was too left leaning and now there is narcoterrorism and Hugo Chavez. The war on drugs has been exported for years and ever since, criminal powers have been moving closer to our own land. Our neighbor to the south is in danger of collapsing and violence is crossing the border. Africa has never been treated seriously. The first attempt to help Somalia when national government there collapsed involved sending troops who tried to impose order. Today we have a local war that is trying to keep out an Al Qaida-associated government. So how is that working out for you?

Here we are, integrated with China as a primary trading partner while in geopolitical competition that has seen China send arms to our enemies. We further a world economic and political order that has young muslims at very high permanent unemployment levels making fertile ground for radicalization. The world is changing faster than people and institutions can adapt. They do not have the advantage of our history nor the luxury of time we had by being first, and we ourselves did not have a smooth passage of change even so. When the economy changes so radically, when society is swept aside with no network to replace the old patterns, I can only promise blood and tears along the way.

I have not ventured to address global warming, immigration, women's rights, child warriors, piracy or permanent loss of jobs. There are enough issues to see that there is no wall high enough that we can keep out our problems, nor arms strong enough to hold them at bay. We need to finally submit to the fact that our problems must be solved, not beaten. The interdependent web is more interdependent and weblike than we can know. To say that the world is one is to understate the extent of the interdependency. Not only is what we do abroad consequential, but what we do at home. Freedom to marry, energy use - almost anything moves beyond this territory and has an effect on the lives of those living elsewhere. Our lives are enmeshed in ways that only our grandchildren will learn.

You cannot compress a balloon by holding it in your hands and squeezing. Everything everywhere responds to pressure and comes out where and how we do not expect it. War cannot be used for any purpose any longer without costing a much higher price than any possible benefit. War must unsettle the interconnectedness and cause us and others in ways we cannot predict. War is not army against army, it is people against people. There are no parts of the world that are not tied together, that can be cut loose without causing harm everywhere. Our lives reside within a context of the whole world. Our actions are part of an intricate web that holds together only by making life better. The challenge is to find a new way to operate, even among those who do not share our values, and still build a world where human beings are valued.

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