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Predator Syndrome

There are twenty thousand nuclear weapons on the planet, a quarter of them ready for launch at a moment’s suicidal impulse, aimed at countries that stopped being enemies two decades ago. It’s six minutes to midnight. “Disarmament” has as much cachet in America’s corridors of power as “socialism.”

And the U.S. House, bless its evil heart, has just sliced the Achilles tendon of peace. It recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011, which has many seriously worrisome provisions, two of which stand in stark, grinning contrast to one another.

One part of the bill, which now heads to the Senate, would give the president unilateral authority to pursue the “war on terror” anywhere in the world. Anywhere evil resides, the president could go after it, no congressional approval needed. It’s kind of like that already, but this would legalize the streamlining of war and help push the United States, in its role as global superpower, completely beyond the constraints of democracy.

Another part of the bill hampers implementation of the New START nuclear arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, which calls for a modest reduction by both countries to 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons. The bill ties implementation of START to weapon systems “modernization,” ensuring that warhead reduction has nothing to do with disarmament.

Lawrence Korb and Alex Rothman, writing recently on Huffington Post, point out that the bill puts three restrictions on the implementation of START:

It bars funding for warhead reduction until the Departments of Defense and Energy certify their commitment to spend $180 billion in nuclear weapons modernization over the next decade; it prohibits the elimination of non-deployed warheads until two next-generation nuclear facilities become operational (right now scheduled for 2024); and “in a historically unprecedented move,” Korb and Rothman write, “the NDAA attempts to bar the president from unilaterally reducing the U.S. nuclear stockpile below New START levels or amending U.S. nuclear targeting strategy without congressional approval.”

In other words, the bill would grant the current and all future presidents the authority to wage war unilaterally, that is, “war on terror,” an unwinnable and therefore endless war against a concept or tactic; but it would prohibit the president from pursuing peace unilaterally, by reducing the country’s obscene stockpile of thousands of undeployed, unimaginably destructive nuclear weapons below START levels.

U.S. nuclear weapons planning is based on the concept of “fewer but newer — nuclear weapons forever,” Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, recently commented to the Inter Press Service.

And the Republican-controlled House is hell-bent on crafting the perfect predator state, one that can wage war without the least need to entertain doubt or acknowledge conscience.

“Citizens who brawl on the streets are punished,” writes Barbara Ehrenreich in Blood Rites, her study of the roots of war. “Nations that go to war are feared and often respected. . . . At a more archaic level of the imagination, the nation-as-organism becomes something more, or less, than human. Here is a ‘creature’ that, according to Hegel, requires blood in order to sustain its life — the blood of actual human beings. We recognize, in this view of a nation, another version of humanity’s primordial enemy and original deity: the predator beast.”

This is our dilemma, those of us — most of humanity, I’m quite certain — on the other side of the nuclear divide, wanting a future for our children far saner than present reality. The sustaining myth of the nation-state is conquest and domination, and the more power a nation attains, the more, I fear, it grounds itself in this myth.

Thus while historical forces have pushed the United States into a role of extraordinary leadership, with unprecedented global reach and influence, at a time when a new sort of geopolitics is crucial if the species is to survive, our national vision has grown, I fear, ever more stunted. The country’s controlling forces, infected with predator syndrome, have committed themselves to the futile vision of more of the same, and this vision is especially futile in the realm of nuclear weapons and nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons forever!

What is it going to take to cause a shift, a letting go at the national level of the myth that might makes right? As individuals, most people begin letting go of it before adolescence.

Yet at a national level, the worst of our impulses rise and converge. They become consensus. We are now governed by the consensus that the United States has every right to continue not simply to possess but to develop, at staggering cost, new generations of nuclear weapons, to make them more efficient, more usable . . . toward an end no one dares say.

But that end is clear enough to those outside the consensus. All we need is the right enemy.

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