"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cold War Redux? Let's HOPE not.

Buried inside the Friday, November 14 Seattle Times - the front page had the really important stuff like increased parking fees and inauguration ticket scams - was an article with the title, "Moscow warms to Obama." Moscow recently warned the U.S. (with a shot across the bow) that it was prepared to deploy short-range missiles to counter President Bush's plan to place tracking radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland as part of a U.S. anti-missile shield.

While The White House claims it is a purely defensive system and intended to counter threats from the Middle East (and in particular Iran), the Russians haven't particularly warmed to the idea of missiles of any type being based on the other side of their fence. Of course, they may have reason for concern if history has any meaning.

At the height of the Cold War, Europe bristled with intermediate range nuclear missiles aimed at the (then) Soviet Union, while the Soviets had their missiles ready to incinerate Europe. It was all part of the "MAD" standoff that was at the heart of Cold War. Although the Cold War technically ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall 1989, things have gotten a bit chilly once again thanks in part to the Bush administrations push for a missile defense shield.

But I digress (to a point)! And the point of the Times article is that there is a good chance that relations between the United States and Russia (two nations that were once prepared to destroy each other and the rest of the world along with them) could "warm" (again). The article noted that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President-elect Barak Obama are (among other things) "less inclined to Cold War mindsets than their predessors". While this is very likely the case, it might be prudent for us to study a bit of history to know where we currently stand.

Fourty nine years ago today, another president-elect was preparing to move in to The White House in the midst of the Cold War tensions. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy took office on January 20, 1961 and in his Inaugural Address presented a message of hope (in the midst of Cold War rhetoric) "that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction."

Presidents before and after Kennedy have made "hopeful" statements about the need for the U.S. and Soviet Union/Russia to work together to eradicate the threat of nuclear weapons, and some took (usually token) steps toward that end. But only one president in the history of our nation has actually brought the world back from the brink of nuclear war, a war that would have changed life (as we know it) on our planet. And President Kennedy performed this remarkable feat by choosing to talk to his "enemy", to establish an ongoing (and secret) dialogue with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. It was through this ongoing dialogue during (and in between) some of the most tense moments of the Cold War that President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev came to understand each other and work together to resist their military advisors, avoiding what would have been the greatest genocide in the history of the world.

All of this has been documented, and the most recent (and thorough) documentation of Kennedy's remarkable peacemaking journey can be found in Jim Douglass' book, "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters." Much of what most of us know about JFK comes from either his oratories or the stories of his sexual exploits, but there is something much deeper that we have missed, and I propose that it is the quiet, behind-the-scenes JFK who we need to know and understand as we move forward.

If we come to understand the JFK who had hope for (and was willing to lay down his life for) "a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just", we will come to understand that President-elect Obama will need to not only pursue genuine dialogue with President Medvedev, but concurrently have a firm grasp of the historical context underlying the relations between our nations along with a parallel vision of the future that Kennedy (and I hope Obama) envisioned and worked for.

We will need to remind President-elect Obama of that vision Kennedy had (and we as peacemakers have) for the world, particularly as he will enter The White House with the largest "defense" budget in history, a deeply entrenched nuclear weapons complex, and hundreds of nuclear weapons still ready to launch within a few minutes. With both powerful military and corporate interests - it always comes down to power and money - pushing for missile defense, it will require significant pressure to overcome the massively invested legacy of Star Wars.

The President-elect seems to think that a missile shield is "appropriate", but wants to be sure it is effective before he backs it. The trick will be clearing away the Pentagon's smoke and mirrors to make Obama see the folly of missile defense, and convincing him of the effectiveness of diplomacy and real efforts at non-proliferation. Our hope should be that Obama will see the wisdom of Kennedy's approach, and follow Kennedy's model of direct and sincere dialogue, cutting through the political rhetoric that separates nations (and their leaders) and guarantees continued military buildups. It is time to build up peace.

Building for Peace,



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