Agitate and Educate

Peace movements limit the abuses of power to which world leaders often resort



In my last post Alasdair MacIntyre, a Marxist turned Thomist, had my full attention. Of late he’s argued that anything human dignity can do, justice can do better. I’m not persuaded, since it’s dignity that decides membership in the moral community, that is, the community of all those to whom justice is due.

But this post returns me to my old friend Karl Meyer, a truth-telling radical turned Catholic who has now fallen into secular humanism. As you might recall, gentle readers, I’m engaged in dialogue with Karl. It’s been a frank and candid exchange.

Recently he sent me his annual humanist letter — not a Christmas letter, but not half bad. Karl, you see, put an important but neglected book high on his “best reads” list. It’s Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine (Bloomsbury, 2017). Therein Ellsberg blows the whistle on nuclear war strategies. Remember his 1971 release of Vietnam War documents?

Plus, Karl does his own whistle blowing on the regime in Washington. He writes, “I am still trying to figure out what we might effectively do to counter the outrageously combative and hypocritical…foreign policy of Joe Biden and Anthony Blinken, unregenerate 50s style Cold Warriors for the Military/Industrial/Congressional/Mass-Media complex that so dominates public discourse in this country.”

Ironically, though, Messrs. Biden and Blinken could easily digest the mashed potatoes that Meyer himself serves up. “Our best hope,” he says, “for solving global problems, and gradual worldwide evolution toward more benign domestic political systems, lies with sincere policies to end military confrontations, minimize military spending, and cooperate with all countries through comprehensive international agreements.”

China and Russia, for their part, would welcome Meyer’s added rejection of the “seventy years of encirclement by forward military bases and medium-range nuclear missile installations of the U.S. and its military allies along all the accessible frontiers of their homelands.” But from the perspective of realpolitik, hasn’t the encirclement been largely justifiable?

If Karl hasn’t read Solzhenitsyn on the gulags, he needs to do so and fast. I’ll look for evidence on his next book list. He should also add at least a primer on Mao’s mass murders. It would be an antidote to any complacency about President Xi’s campaign to erase civil rights and religious freedom in China.

That said, I’m no apologist for the United States’ nuclear policy. (On my view, Elizabeth Anscombe rightly charged Truman with war crimes.) But how to change that policy? Doing so will call for much more than tepid incrementalism.

So what is to be done? For a start, we need to commit to never use nuclear weapons first. Then, perhaps a week later, we need to pledge never to use nuclear weapons at all. If it is wrong to use nuclear weapons, it is wrong to use them in retaliation. Mutual assured destruction has just the right acronym: MAD. And the following week? It will be time to begin to dismantle our nuclear stockpiles.

Just days ago Bishop David J. Malloy, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, called on world leaders to keep in mind the words of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti: “international peace and stability cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation.”

But if history teaches us anything, it is that the poor promises of world leaders aren’t enough. And here I’ll return to Karl Meyer. On his view, peace movements “through agitation and education” limit the abuses of power to which world leaders often resort. A case in point: Lately there’s been talk of mandatory national registration for military service. It would apply to men and women. Here’s an alternative, one that I’ll wager that Karl and I can both agree to. Let’s instead raise up a peacemaking army of conscientious objectors. Doing so requires that we agitate and educate!


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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