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The End of an Era
"World Peace" was always illusory. And yet...
It’s a popular trope of beauty pageants that the contestants are always keen on “World Peace”. The cynical side of my brain eagerly leaps forward to snipe: Miss America, herald of the world’s most militant power, championing peace, eh? Hilarious! Hypocritical! Historically illiterate!
I can see my point. Americans have been the guarantor of a relatively peaceful world at the point of a sword for decades. It’s the pose of a cop telling you to calm down while already pointing their gun at your midsection. Come to think of it, that was less a simile (or metaphor?) than a congruent event. But the Pax Americana has provided a profitable stability in the world since the breakup of the Soviet Union. In a way, this has been the history of my lifetime: I was just a kid when the Berlin Wall came down. I don’t even remember it. But I grew up in the Clinton years, came of age in W’s time, coasted (with concern) through the Obama era, and watched horrified through the age of Trump.
That’s when the wobble started to show. Atlas wasn’t shrugging so much as he was just exhausted, riven by disease and a profound cognitive dissonance, possessed of too many conflicting conceptions of itself. Was it a melting pot or a multi-culture? A peacekeeper or a warmonger? An exceptional nation of free thinkers or a dutiful country exercising a sacred dogma?
It was both, of course. Always. And many other things besides. As I get exhausted by the press of history and tragedy in our time, I’ve come to believe that politics is only really good when it is dialectic, and almost always evil when ideologies are dominant. Ideas and goals and outlooks and liberty and conservation are supposed to exist in tension. They do so within our hearts and our minds; ideally, they do so in our politics. And we’ve seen in a few short years what the politics of dominance creates. Maybe it should have been an Argument for Independence, rather than a Declaration. Righteousness is a heady drug.
We need the dialogue, if we’re going to live together. The world is too crowded to indulge in the politics of domination. The Ukrainian War illustrates the danger of one voice in charge. Dictators can destroy civilizations on a whim. I wouldn’t trust any person to wield that much power. You might disagree, but when you’re arguing for one dominant voice, you’re arguing to end the dialogue. Permanently.
I haven’t written in a while, because the world is quite possibly coming to an end. We’re in a war right now. Economic sanctions and armaments deals might not look like the real thing - nobody’s drafting me and putting a rifle in my hand - but much of the world is currently at war with Russia. Their currency has been effectively destroyed. Take a moment to imagine the bank collapses that could be incoming, the people losing jobs, homes, businesses. Yes, what the Russian army is doing to Ukraine is obviously worse, but the decisions of our governments to crush Russia’s economy is an opening salvo in a war, one that could escalate into shooting at almost any point. Economics are simply war by other means.
It’s not enough. Our morality demands that we do more, but there are excellent, cynical reasons not to. Ukraine is dying. Struggling, but dying. I want to help. But I’m also very attached to the peace in my life. I know enough to know how badly wrong this could go at any time.
We’re perched on the brink, not just of a hot shooting war but of nuclear war. It probably doesn’t feel like it. An uncomfortable lesson of the Cold War is that nuclear war doesn’t feel like much of anything, right up until the missiles leave the silos. Two nuclear powers - Russia on one side, the West on the other - are staring one another down across the bombed and bloodied remains of a modern and developing democracy. “World Peace” is over.
For now, anyway. Let’s hope we stay lucky.