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Moving Beyond War

Douglas P. Fry’s book Beyond War looks at the essential nature of humans and suggests that there may be a way out of our current cycle of violence. What could be more important?  In the article below he looks at the North Korean nuclear crisis as an opportunity for change.  To read more OUPblog posts by Fry click here.

The North Korean nuclear crisis may be a blessing in disguise if it re-awakens not only concerns about nuclear war but also action to disarm the nuclear time bomb. The North Korean tests can serve as a somber reminder of the ever-present danger of Armageddon, as long as nuclear weapons exist on our planet. If we are wise, we will treat the current nuclear crisis as a wake-up call. Nuclear weapons in the cellar do not make the house secure.

Most of us, leaders included, go out of our way “to forget” about nuclear weapons and the horrific threat they pose every person on the planet. As an anthropologist, I have learned that sometimes a person from afar who does not share the same worldview can go directly to the heart of the matter. I once was working in a rural village in southern Mexico, and one day a dirt-poor farmer asked me whether it was really true that my country had bombs so powerful that one explosion could destroy an entire city. I answered “yes” and explained that if one of these bombs was exploded 20 miles away over the state capital, we also would be incinerated even at this distance—or wish we had been. The man mused: “Why would anybody ever make a bomb like that?”

Ask this man, or for that matter your local extra-terrestrial, about the logic of having over 8,000 nuclear warheads on a planet of this size, and the answer will certainly be that Homo sapiens are not showing much sapience. How, exactly, are nuclear arsenals contributing to our safety and security? How, again, does nuclear proliferation make the world a safer place? In the name of true security for the people of this planet, it is time to outlaw, globally, these suicide devices.

Aside from putting us in the gravest peril, the care and maintenance of nuclear weapons also takes money away from true security needs. Millions suffer from medically treatable diseases and extreme poverty. We share a planet that is suffering ecologically from global warming, loss of biodiversity, and pollution of the oceans. No individual country or region can address these global challenges alone. We’re all in this together. Rationally, we have a huge incentive to cooperate and work together to solve these problems that threaten every nation’s and every person’s safety and security.

The Mardu people of Australia offer us a parable. Living in small bands that are spread out over the Western Desert, the Mardu are very aware that they need each other. The desert has little rainfall and moreover the rain is sporadic. One area may get rainfall one year and a different area may receive the precipitation the next year. The Mardu know their climate and realize that it makes no sense whatsoever to carve out a territory and try to exclude other groups. Instead, they reciprocally share access to food and water resources over time. They do not war or feud. They recognize that such fighting would be detrimental to long-term survival.

It’s a parable for the planet. Now that the North Korea nuclear crisis is rousing us from our slumber, it is time to take action for true security. We must rise to the challenge of getting rid of nuclear weapons–and ultimately do away with the practice of war itself. We also must work together to solve shared problems such as global warming, terrorism, poverty, and disease. These challenges threaten all of us. The Mardu would urge us to cooperate rather than fight, not merely because fighting is disruptive and harmful, but because it will not lead to security in an interdependent world.

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  1. [...] of my own here in a week or so. The book is Douglas P. Fry’s Beyond War. The blog post is Moving Beyond War at the Oxford University Press blog, and it gives you a brief overview of Fry’s text, which [...]

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