“Humanity is on the threshold of a true global community—in the midst of this cultural convergence we have the historic opportunity to compose evolutionary principles for a more sustainable expression of civilization, a government of life and for all life.” ~ Global Peace Solution (2004)
A teardrop of water fell from the ceiling sky landing in the ceremonial pool below slowly sending ripples and rings outward to the installation’s coping. Eleven Tears is a memorial work of art to 9/11 victims at the World Financial Center building overlooking the ongoing One World Trade Center construction site. On Sunday, May Day, I visited Ground Zero for the first time. It was a somber pilgrimage—and little did I realize—while there, the attack on Osama Bin Laden’s compound was taking place.
Like for so many others, 9/11 had been a life shattering, and ultimately, life transforming event for me—hearing of Bin Laden’s death brought up conflicting emotions of elation and sadness. All the trauma and travail of the last ten years came rushing forward. A sudden attack on home soil, 3000 dead, the absolute determined brutality of the hijackers—being rid of the individual who inspired multiple acts of mass murder was a relief—but how could the healing begin?
9/11 fundamentally changed our way of life, the way we travel, it instigated wars leading to hundreds of thousands of dead, wounded, displaced; we’ve wiretapped without warrant, tortured, and sent the drones in. Protected civil liberties have been sacrificed for security.
The war on terror has brought our nation to an existential precipice upon which we stare down into an abyss of overreaching militarism and secrecy—both enemies of republican democracy—which would forever be left behind should we now succumb to the gravity of fear.
With the leader of Al Qaeda now dead, we have come to a crossroads in which our nation’s larger priorities can, and should be, examined.
“Life carries us hither and thither and destiny moves us from one place to another. We see not save the obstacle set in our path; neither do we hear, save a voice that makes us to fear.” ~ Kahlil Gibran, Fantasy and Truth
A friend of mine once gave sage advice. People do what’s important to them. This axiom can equally be applied to nations—as America proceeds into the 21st century, examining some of our outstanding attributes and what makes us unique in the eyes of others, can help better equip us to deal with an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world.
President Calvin Coolidge’s famous aphorism—the business of America is business—is an apt description of a particular American mindset, but certainly an attitude found in many other countries. When compared to the rest of the world, the United States does have a noteworthy emblematic pursuit, not merely business, but the business of war.
Business of War
Discussing the pros and cons of globalization—whether the triple-bottom line, inequitable economic policies, or trends toward “enlightened capitalism”—is a topic I’ll save for later. But the Pentagon, as a corporate-handled global military hegemon, or leader, is chief among unique characteristics of our national enterprise. We currently maintain, at an exorbitant expense, military superiority over much of the planet with 7000 bases (6000 here, 1000 abroad), and U.S. troops stationed in a shocking 77% of Earth’s nations. The United States military spending exceeds the next 45 highest spending countries in the world, combined. Totaling over $1.5 trillion dollars per annum.
Some lesser well-known facts to consider about the U.S. global system of war:
- U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is the worst polluter on the planet, producing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical corporations combined
- DoD is the largest employer in the United States, with over 1.4 million men and women on active duty, and 718,000 civilian personnel
- Half of all Federal tax dollars go to military spending: base budget, emergency supplemental funding for Iraq and Af-Pak wars, veteran benefits, classified “black” ops, and interest on past war debt
The World as a Neighborhood
“The 2011 military budget, by the way, is the largest in history, not just in actual dollars, but in inflation-adjusted dollars, exceeding even the spending in World War II, when the nation was on an all-out military footing.” ~ Dave Lindorff, Your Tax Dollars at War
To put current U.S. military spending into perspective, as a thought experiment, imagine for a moment that our world community is a suburban neighborhood of about twenty homes.
Many homes in the neighborhood are little wooden shacks without electricity, running water, or basic sanitation. About five of the twenty have green lawns and internet access. The United States, with nearly 5% of the global population, is one of these homes—but it doesn’t look anything like the others in the neighborhood.
While some homes may have a curbed sidewalk or white picket fence bordering them, ours is a sprawling compound surrounded by a 20-foot concrete security wall topped with coiled razor wire. Turrets and watchtowers frame every corner with carbon-arc searchlights and guards manning machine gun nests. But it doesn’t stop there.
Remote control aerial drones with CCD cameras venture forth from our property patrolling the neighborhood to keep an eye on potential or “emerging” burglars; an assortment of motor vehicles ranging from electric golf carts to up-armored Chevy Suburbans with dark tinted windows tool around the subdivision, street-by-street, armed with rent-a-cops ready to fight or carry out “preventive missions”. To top it off at any given moment at least two manned hot air balloons fly thousands of feet in the air over the entire neighborhood to provide extra surveillance 24/7.
If you weren’t a “citizen of the compound”, how would you feel about the people that lived there?
Maybe a little freaked out?
Hyper-Vigilance to the Point of Overreach
“We cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” ~ George Bush, in run-up to the Iraq War (Oct 7, 2002)
Uber-skeptic Michael Shermer recently wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed about why prophecies of doom are so commonplace in human history. He explains that this propensity to see catastrophe everywhere is directly linked to the evolution of the human brain as a “pattern-seeking belief engine”.
Simply put, if our ancestors did not heed the rustling in the grass just beyond sight as being made by a dangerous predator, sometimes, they became lunch. Our thinking and survival strategies eventually evolved to respond to all imagined threats as real danger.
When this tendency toward hyper-vigilance is exploited through politics of fear—and then combined with backdoor alliances between Wall Street, Washington, and the defense industry—a perfect storm in runaway militarism is created.
Military “Empire” as Fait Accompli
I don’t mean to minimize the importance of successful strategies for defense, or the service provided by our Armed Forces. In fact, the military superiority that the United States maintains over the planet could even be rationalized as being the unavoidable product of a constitutional mandate.
Essentially, what we know as the Manhattan Project, the top-secret race to develop the world’s first working atomic weapons, never ended. The United States emerged from WWII with its industrial base intact and was the only nation to possess the atomic bomb. But when the Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1949, the threat of nuclear conflagration became real.
This triggered a comprehensive arms race to maintain military and technological superiority to guarantee survival, as our Constitution’s preamble commands, “…provide for the common defence…and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”.
George Friedman explains the spoils of military superiority in The Next 100 Years,
“…every ship in the world moves under the eyes of American satellites in space and its movement is guaranteed—or denied—at will by the U.S. Navy… This has never happened before in human history…This has meant that the United States could invade other countries—but never be invaded. It has meant in the final analysis the United States controls international trade. It has become the foundation of American security and American wealth.”
Global military empire has been a constitutional fait accompli; and the price tag, trillions upon trillions. But there have been long-term costs—cultural, environmental, and spiritual—for our nation to have constructed, maintain, and continue to expand the most massive military machine ever assembled in the history of humankind. Of all the trillions spent, think about the missed investment opportunities to better our schools, health care, or modernize our infrastructure here at home.
In 2011, we are still playing out the World War II / Cold War narrative—but it’s quickly coming to a close. As we move forward, re-tooling our national security apparatus for the 21st century starts with re-examining the best way to achieve long-term security—simply, we have to find other, more creative and innovative ways to, “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”
Transforming the New World Order
The liberal international order that emerged after World War II was lead by the United States. This system has been framed by post-war agreements, and institutions like the United Nations, G-8 & G-20, WTO, etc. It is characterized by Westphalian principles of sovereignty, rule of law, territorial integrity, and noninterference. But this world order is changing, and nation’s roles shifting. As America moved the international order forward in the latter half of the 20th century, now, she can take on a more reserved leadership position sharing responsibilities with rising economic powerhouses like Brazil, China, and India. However, this movement should not only apply to changing economic roles, but also to security responsibilities as well.
Embracing this shift from economic globalization to global community should also include spreading out the security responsibilities currently shouldered by the United States Department of Defense and the American people. An interdependent and shared international security infrastructure will bring a more robust and deeper sense of security. This is already occurring in the martial sphere with the continued expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO recently deployed troops from 45 nations under one command in Afghanistan—the most ever in history—as reported by Global Research in “Afghan War: NATO Builds History’s First Global Army”.
Largely, the American people are still saddled with the financial obligations of building this international security network, protecting its shipping lanes for trade, and therefore, guaranteeing the stability of the global economic system. This stability translates into massive profits for transnational interests, and although these benefits due not accrue to everyday Americans directly, in some cynical way, our military commitment protecting the global system does satisfy the axiom, “the business of America is business.” Nevertheless, it is not sustainable to continue to burden one nation’s citizens with the responsibility of securing, maintaining, and expanding the transnational corporatocracy—something must give.
Old Skool Systems Analysis
“The struggles of the present age require new modes of thought for new ideas—not old wineskins. New forms and expressions of an interconnected human consciousness demand the transcendence of the boundaries of the past.” ~ Terrence E. Paupp, Exodus from Empire
Finding solutions to new problems starts with challenging previously held assumptions in order to begin to find the quintessential “right question”. Shaking up the status quo isn’t as revolutionary as it sounds because there have been organizations doing just that advising U.S. policy for decades. “Systems analysis” is a methodology developed after World War II by the think-tank RAND Corporation to tackle large, complex dilemmas. Solutions are sought by empirically breaking down problems into individual components and statistics, and then through a multi-disciplinary approach, arriving at the right answers.
Alex Abella’s book about RAND, Soldiers of Reason, describes systems analysis as being “American to the core” and refusing “to be constrained by existing reality…the crux of systems analysis lies in a careful examination of the assumptions that gird the so-called right question, for the moment of greatest danger in a project is when unexamined criteria define the answers we want to extract.”
In a world moving beyond 9/11, we need to scrutinize old premises to find the new questions and answers to succeed in our objective of national and global security. Many in the left, or anti-war/peace movement, talk about dismantling the U.S system of war and oppose it in the same manner—through direct opposition—that that system itself has mastered—an exceedingly difficult task.
A different question for the anti-war movement might be: how do we transform a global system of war toward a community-based system of interconnected, cooperative security?
Changing the trajectory of a system that feeds off the mastery of direct confrontation has to involve an evolved, inverse expression of power; composing solutions on a new field of battle so-to-speak, and not fighting on old terrain.
Joshua Cooper Ramo in The Age of the Unthinkable relates this idea through a 1974 Nobel speech by Austrian economist Friedrich August Von Hayek,
“Politicians and thinkers would be wise not to try to bend history as “the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner a gardener does for his plants.” To see the world this way, as a ceaselessly complex and adaptive system, requires a revolution. It involves changing the role we imagine for ourselves, from architects of a system we can control and manage to gardeners in a living, shifting ecosystem.”
Seeds of peace sown at all levels of political, social, and corporate power—throughout global civil society—will be the connective tissue filling any vacuum of power created by re-tooling our national security infrastructure. The exponential growth of non-governmental organizations (it is said that 90 per cent of all NGOs were created in the last ten years) will provide the organizational vehicles engaging people to participate in moving civilization to higher levels of consciousness.
For example, this is the vision of the Euphrates Institute’s upcoming Warriors for Peace program; inviting “individuals who are not afraid of taking on today’s biggest challenges—who get that overcoming divides, ending conflict, and ameliorating the globe’s environmental challenges require relentless energy and a new set of weapons and strategies.”
Deeper Security through Shared Destiny
“Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained.” ~ Lao Tzu
In a former life as a recording engineer and producer, we would spend hours mixing hundreds of elements together to make one singular, coherent expression of music. A good mix begins with building a sound stage from the bottom-up and through additive synthesis, making adjustments on the fly to reach harmonious balance. It’s not unlike tending a garden—and it provides some insight into how to bring balance to our national priorities. We may not know the exact ratio of hard and soft power to invest in, but knowing which knobs to “tweak-up” and which to “tweak-down” to make a solid mix is pretty obvious.
Francois Rabelais said, “Nature abhors a vacuum”, and in this light, seeking a higher degree of diversification and balance for the way we ensure domestic security would be wise. With overreaching military spending on the traditional accoutrements of power—bullets, bombs, tanks, planes—and falling victim to the classic blunder of preparing for the “last war”, we need to turn-down military overreach and turn-up new modes of dynamic diplomacy and engagement.
Simply put, meeting force with force alone, responding to violence with more violence, is only half of a balanced security portfolio—to wit, you can fight fire with fire, but you also can fight fire with water; squelching the flames of conflict before they ignite. The “water” in this case means amplifying a particular worldview—increasing the number of people who look through an intercultural lens of shared destiny to thwart conflict.
Throughout human history, the co-mingling of destinies for neighboring peoples has proven to be a successful peacemaking tool, either through intermarriage, trade or co-habitation. Directing a portion of our current enormous defense spending toward building bridges of peace, connection, and creating a common narrative of “shared destiny” will be a more effective national strategy delivering a deeper, resilient form of security for our world beyond 9/11.
In a recent interview I conducted with Rabbi Michael Lerner at J Street he laid out the purpose of shared destiny,
“…to help people get away from the fantasy that the way to get homeland security is through domination and control of other people, when in fact, the only way we can really be secure as a nation in the United States is through a policy of generosity and caring for others. In the 21st century we need to recognize that our well-being depends upon the well-being of everyone else on the planet, and that the only possibility of survival is for us to come together as a global community and address the tremendous damage we’ve done to the environment and work in environmental districts to develop ways to compensate and repair the damage we’ve done—both to the planet—and each other.”
Many observers have attempted to articulate the Copernican shift that’s taking place around the world moving from military Empire and “dominance-over” toward global community, interdependence, and cooperation. It is transformation hastened by people-to-people communication tools as interlaced networks of people spring up all around the world. The idea of the United States’ security being directly dependent upon the security of everyone on the planet seems to defy conventional logic, as does quantum mechanics or concepts like chaos theory. But the simple fact is finding safety for others will bring a more lasting and deeper security for us.
Joshua Cooper Ramo explores an idea called “Deep Security” as an attempt to frame a new grand strategy taking into account a world of increasing complexity and inter-conductivity. Old mechanistic models for organizing civilization with rigid inputs and outputs like that of a factory assembly line are giving way to more adaptive models that mirror the only examples of true sustainability we know of: natural ecosystems.
Ramo echoes this idea of mirroring natural systems,
“What we need now, both for our world and in each of our lives, is a way of living that resembles nothing so much as a global immune system: always ready, capable of dealing with the unexpected, as dynamic as the world itself. An immune system can’t prevent the existence of a disease, but without one even the slightest of germs have deadly implications.”
Deep Security embodies a philosophical and political shape-shift from a classic Newtonian and mechanistic view of the world, to the deeper universe of the Quanta, where the impossible not only becomes possible, but probable; it morphs the politic of leading from the center, left, or right, toward leading from below. It pops a third dimension into what currently is a very two-dimensional political world.
Preparing for Peace
“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” ~ Kung Fu-tzu (Confucius)
I remember hearing a story evangelizing about the promise of President Eisenhower’s 1950s Interstate Highway System: “If you’re in the middle of nowhere in the plains of Kansas paving another lonely mile—don’t think you’re wasting your time.”
Certainly laying the asphalt and concrete of the U.S. Interstate Highway, foot-by-foot, mile-by-mile, was an act of perseverance and vision that, in sum, materialized as the largest public works program in history, facilitating an era of prosperity and advancement.
The incremental work of building cultural bridges of peace—one person at a time—may seem like laying pitch in the middle of the desert, but don’t think it’s a waste of time. It will be these connections between individuals who make global peace and sustainability their personal business, which will save civilization. The relationships that are developed today will pay peace dividends tomorrow by sending ripples and rings out into the world like the Eleven Tears install at Ground Zero.
“Nitzahon la shalom tze lechem l’chaim”—the victory of peace is the bread of life.