Part 3-The Futility of Trying to Debate Our Way to Disarmament

“What price security?”

This post is Part 3 of a three-part series. Read Post 1 here and Post 2 here

In the end, disarmament won’t spring from a fruitless quest for ironclad rationales. Its establishment will be the result of a groundswell of reactions ranging from disgust with to bewilderment at a national security policy that puts the lives of tens of millions at risk. Never mind preserving the sanctity of the state, this will even be seen as too high a price a pay to keep not only us from dying, but our families. “What price security?” indeed.

That’s not to disparage the head-banging work of those who hammer out treaties, summits, and posture reviews, as well as the recently completed nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty review conference. At worst, as mentioned above, they’re a cover under which the nuclear-weapons industry can continue to flourish. But viewed in a more positive light, these undertakings are stopgap measures, or delaying tactics, to keep hawks and the nuclear-weapons industry at arms length until the day that worldwide disarmament momentum might build to a crescendo.

But how do we rally Americans around disarmament? For most of us the fear of nuclear weapons has narrowed to a nuclear terrorist attack. We believe either that the end of the Cold War has freed us from the threat of war between nuclear powers or we’re convinced that deterrence works. Speaking of tough arguments to win, demythologizing deterrence is almost as difficult as explaining to pro-lifers that pro-choice is not murder.

Still, avenues to the consciousness of the public, remain. For example, two can play the “messaging” game. In a report titled Talking about Nuclear Weapons with the Persuadable Middle, an organization called U.S. in the World analyzed various research projects undertaken to facilitate communication with what might be called political independents. In the following passage, the phrases that are emphasized highlight two of its essential recommendations:

Peace and security advocates should . . . “re-frame” the issue [of nuclear weapons] to help people see that it is the existence of the weapons themselves — not who has them — that poses the primary threat to global and national security. The fact that nuclear weapons are a source of risk — not the fact that they are morally wrong — should be presented as the underlying reason why the issue of nuclear weapons matters.

An evangelical group, of all things, agrees with both points. As the Two Futures Project‘s founder, Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, sees it, even with the devout, “the moral argument doesn’t [always] run the show. The first question that everyone has is, ‘What makes us safer?’ So it’s important to lead, at least in most contexts, with the fact that nuclear weapons don’t make us safe anymore — that the problems they cause are far worse than any they purport to solve.”

Rev. Stevenson also addresses the “What price security?” question in a piece on the Washington Post website (emphasis added):

There’s nothing wrong with a strong military [but] we cannot simply take a secular utilitarian, value-less approach to security policy. [If] we take seriously the whole witness of Scripture, we must also recognize that the unfettered pursuit of strength — fearing mortal enemies more than God’s judgment — in fact leads to an ungodly arrogance and idolatry.

When it comes to fear, we need to understand that nuclear weapons are not just a greater risk than those who possess them. But, what the messaging reports don’t address, as implied by the word risk they’re a more legitimate source of fear than states we deem hostile.

IR (international relations) types may argue that the human psyche comes in a distant second to political considerations as a cause of war. But as with nuclear methods, there’s no way we can win that debate. Common sense, or our own intuition, tells us that safer methods of addressing our fear than by arming ourselves to the point of overkill exist. They include, on an individual basis, psychotherapy, meditation, and body work. Even better, let’s nip incommensurate fear and its consequence, the reflex to violence, in the bud before they have a chance to gain a foothold in a child as a default state.

The first goal is to halt the abuse of children: emotional, physical violence, and sexual. As the influential and recently deceased Swiss psychotherapist and author Alice Miller wrote (emphasis added): “The total neglect or trivialization of the childhood factor operative in the context of violence . . . sometimes leads to explanations that are not only unconvincing and abortive but actively deflect attention away from the genuine roots of violence.”

In other words — surprise, surprise — abusing a child predisposes him or her toward violence and, arguably, an inclination to advocate or support violent solutions to international conflict.

How do we reverse centuries of violent tendencies? By promulgating methods of enlightened child-rearing. Measures to that end have already been implemented: laws banning corporal punishment’ community centers and high-school programs to teach parenting skills. Or as linguist and “framing” master George Lakoff suggests: “The president should ask the First Lady to sponsor a major government program to do research on and support empathetic parenting.”

The more these programs are implemented, often at little cost with staffing consisting of volunteers, the more children will grow up without being marked by abuse and devoid of the impulse to respond to fear by turning to or supporting violence. One day, individuals in positions of authority will wake up and find that the public is no longer on board with national-security strategies that put enormous numbers of individuals in harm’s way.