In a CBS interview, former President Jimmy Carter cited the appointment of John Bolton as Trump’s “worst decision.” This is made more alarming because there are a number of other appointments vying for that distinction.
Like Ronald Reagan (right after Carter’s short presidency), The Donald hired a number of people antagonistic to and not necessarily suited for the primary duties of their office. The Secretary of Education is antagonistic toward public education. The Labor Secretary is against the rights of organized labor. The Attorney General had to recuse himself from the investigation of Russia’s interference in our last presidential election. And the Secretary of Defense is all about actions which have consistently increased both real and imagined threats to our country and made life both within the US and abroad more perilous.
It is clear to me, if not to John Bolton or our president, that threatening nuclear war and preemptive nuclear strikes, as Bolton recently suggested, are no longer effective tactics for a world superpower and pose a clear and present threat to the survival of all humanity. For a man whose title is National Security Advisor, this is beyond brash or aggressive. It is seen by much of the rest of the world as bullying and terrorism. He seems to believe that if we put enough fear into the rest of the world, they will conduct themselves according to our bigoted, self-aggrandizing rules.
Looking at the results of recent belligerent behavior, this submissive response to our bullying is highly unlikely.
Yes, we profited greatly by cheating and killing for our ownership of land previously inhabited by and often granted legally to native Americans. And we got away with it. Our mentors and closest political allies, the British, have a long and illustrious history of successfully taking ownership and control of lands, of whole nations, not rightfully theirs.
And dropping atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 got a quick and unconditional surrender from Japan.
But somewhere between the Soviet Union’s successful re-subjugation of Hungary in 1956 and Castro’s successful revolt against our puppet dictator in Cuba in 1959, the Third World changed. Little countries like Afghanistan and Vietnam successfully resisted colonization by the USSR, China, and the US, taking frightful casualties and/or suffering huge economic losses from boycotts, but eventually reclaiming their sovereignty. Russia’s lies about Chernobyl and Afghanistan; our own lies about Vietnam, Cuba, and Iraq; and China’s indifference to the welfare of the people in its care were exposed to a far greater audience with the time and means to resist such abuses of power. Arab Spring, Tiananmen Square, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the holding of US hostages in Iran, and the suicides of 9/11/01 are all part of this new nationalism, this sustained resistance to “superpowers” and their violent interventions in Third World affairs.
Instantaneous communication made lies and propaganda far less effective. Methods of resistance became more destructive. The world learned that “superpowers” could be thwarted successfully. The Third World fought back and continues to fight back.
“Suicide terrorism” wasn’t and isn’t a religious movement! It is a direct response to abuses of power. If we continue to bully the Third World, they will resist. Even buying them off with billions of taxpayer dollars isn’t working any more1. Like Donald Trump’s private life, bullying has reached a point where it cannot be sustained without massive losses on both sides.
As a nation among nations, we have no better right to nuclear weapons than Iran or North Korea. There is no rational reason some nations should be allowed Weapons of Mass Destruction while others are disallowed defending themselves or, more likely, destroying civilization.
The United States invented nuclear weapons. Almost immediately, we used nuclear weapons against civilians. Then we built a lot more of them. We and the other two “superpowers,” Russia and China, built bigger and bigger bombs with increasingly greater destructive potential. We also built smaller “tactical nuclear weapons” to shoot from hidden submarines, gigantic nuclear weapons put on massive rockets with multiple bombs which enter the target country with such enormous velocity that there is no defense against them. We dispersed these devices which immediately ruin and then gradually spread poison over the globe and have kept them active and ready to fire for my entire lifetime. After rejecting Jimmy Carter’s peace initiatives and embracing Ronald Reagan, we embarked on an unsuccessful attempt to weaponize space and rejected the enhanced Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty negotiated by Carter. This was our best chance to stop nuclear proliferation and we, a democratic society, rejected it.
We do not have the moral high ground in these disputes with Iran and North Korea. And we cannot successfully threaten or defeat North Korea without horrendous side-effects, without unacceptable consequences, without massive suffering for us all. Even without nuclear weapons, Seoul would be slag, ashes and dead bodies 24 hours into a resumption of the Korean War. Now, Honolulu and possibly cities on the West Coast are at risk.
Bullying Iran and North Korea isn’t just immoral and unethical. It isn’t just irrational. It isn’t just short-sighted and eventually ineffective in stopping nuclear proliferation. It is against the long-term survival of every human being on the planet!
To those who still believe that the world is made of takers and losers, of superpowers and slave nations, tell me why 30 million Vietnamese could lose 10% of their population over two decades, absorb more US bombs than everyone dropped in both world wars, and still resist the most powerful nation and economy on the planet. Would carpet bombing or nuking North Vietnam have made us any less objectionable to the average Vietnamese citizen? They were brought up in French Indochina and their parents were brought up in Indochina, neither divided nor free. Their ancestors had lived and died in a united Vietnam for over four millennia. What would have made soldiers speaking English and carrying automatic weapons seem any different to them than previous colonizers speaking French, Japanese, or Chinese?
When we killed parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren still fought us. How were we to “win their hearts and minds” after they suffered such losses at our hands? Would a desolate Vietnam poisoned with radioactivity leaking into the rest of the world’s ecosystem count as a victory?
We chose, finally, to leave them alone. As soon as we did, they quickly became allies against communist aggression from Laos, Cambodia, and China, a military defeat but a better outcome for the rational average American who, as a result of losing this war, stopped having to support it with taxes and lives, was relieved of the guilt which genocide brings, didn’t have to station troops there for generations and didn’t have to experience suicide terrorism from Southeast Asia or dissidents at home if we had continued our immoral — and irrational — aggression. We lost face but gained massively in every other way. The best outcome, had we stayed, would have been the same standoff, the same distrust, fear, and resistance we’ve experienced with North Korea for almost 70 years. Or would genocide have made us happier?
Look at the violence against us. The 9/11/01 suicides didn’t even get us to listen to their side of the story. Instead, their side made up their own stories about their heroes and we made up our own stories about our heroes and both became fixed in mutual enmity. What violence of theirs would change OUR behavior? Would nuclear strikes on Seoul, Tokyo, Pearl Harbor, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego make US stop? Where, when and how does violence create peace and prosperity? When can we count a nuclear war anything but a crushing defeat for both sides?
Despite constant fantasies in which it works, despite all our heroes being successful with it, despite the violence in our Bibles, inner cities, schools, televisions, Nintendos, X-boxes, computer screens, and jails; violence hasn’t worked consistently in the real world in more than sixty years. Alternatives involve humility, compassion, and patience; qualities in short supply in the current White House. These alternatives tend to preclude violence.
We wrapped ourselves in the American flag and felt justified in invading farms, villages, towns, and cities halfway around the world. We pretended that we were “helping” people by these invasions, these armed incursions into their daily lives. We were outraged by their resistance, their defense of their towns and cities, their improvised destruction of our armored vehicles and their killing of our troops as we invaded their homes and businesses and demanded cooperation from them at the point of a gun.
We threaten small, poor, starving nations like North Korea not only with destruction but with economic ruin for daring to defy us, for not accepting our unfair, biased rules, for not whimpering and licking our boots. We think this is just and proper. We bristle at their defiance, at their audacity to not accept our God-given superiority and to not cater to our political whims and wiles.
Maybe appointing Bolton as his National Security Advisor was Trump’s worst decision so far. I think our worst decision was swallowing the idea of “Make America Great Again” — twice — appointing television star bullies to our highest office, and prematurely replacing our greatest peacemaker precisely because he was humble, compassionate, and patient; precisely because he made peace instead of war which slowed down our economic engine.
If our nation is “under God,” why can’t we turn the other cheek? If our nation is “under God,” why can’t we at least try to love our enemies or just try to know something about them rather than libel them with half-truths and misinformation. Why is it so hard for Americans to treat others with the same respect we require; to follow the Golden Rule in international relationships?
There may come a time when the rest of the world boycotts us; when the rest of the world considers owning anything American as shaming and disgraceful. How will we react if this happens? What wealth will console us when we are outcasts from civilized societies; when an American passport is rejected by the rest of the world; when US dollars and US flags are burned by the rest of the world?
The Holocaust would be a small footnote in history next to even a limited nuclear war — and The Donald, John Bolton, and the rest of the Cabinet aren’t likely to limit a war if it comes to that.
Will your starving, mutated great-granchildren say “that was our finest hour?” Or are they more likely to shake their heads in disbelief. What were they thinking? Or were they thinking at all?
1Robert Pape: Dying to Win, an exhaustive sociological study of suicide terrorism and its causes.