The Ultimate Power
by Howard Zinn
The weapons addiction of all our political leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, has the same characteristics as drug addiction. It is enormously costly, very dangerous, provokes ugly violence, and is self-perpetuating-all on a scale far greater than drug addiction.
The possession of 10,000 thermonuclear weapons by the United States did not change the fact that it was helpless to stop a revolution in Cuba or another in Nicaragua, that it was unable to defeat its enemy either in Korea or in Vietnam. The possession of an equal number of bombs by the Soviet Union did not prevent its forced withdrawal from Afghanistan nor did it deter the Solidarity uprising in Poland, which was successful enough to change the government and put into office a Solidarity member as prime minister. The following news item from the summer of 19X9 would have been dismissed as a fantasy two years earlier: "Solidarity, vilified and outlawed for eight years until April, jubilantly entered Parliament today as the first freely elected opposition party to do so in a Communist country.
If the U.S. government can give several hundred billion dollars in contracts to corporations to build weapons, why can it not (by powerful public demand) give that valuable money to public-service corporations whose contracts will require them to employ people, young and old, to make life better for everyone? The conversion of resources requires a conversion of language. New definitions of old terms could become a part of the common vocabulary. The old definitions have misled us and caused monstrous harm.
The word security, for instance, would take on a new meaning: the health and well-being of people, which is the greatest strength and the most lasting security a nation can have. (A simple parable makes this clear: Would a family living in a high-crime city feel more "secure" if it put machine guns in its windows, dynamite charges in the yard, and tripwires all around the house, at the cost of half the family income and less food for the children? The analogy is not far-fetched. It is an understatement of what nations do today.)
The word defense would mean, not the waging of war and the accumulation of weapons, but the united actions of people against tyranny, using every ingenious device of nonviolent resistance.
Democracy would mean the right of people everywhere to determine for themselves, rather than have political leaders decide for them, how they will defend themselves, how they will make themselves secure, and how they will achieve justice and freedom.
Patriotism would mean not blind obedience to a nation's leaders, but a commitment to help one's neighbors and to help anyone, regardless of race or nationality, achieve a decent life.
It is impossible to know how quickly or how powerfully such new ways of thinking, such reversals of priorities, can take hold, can excite the imagination of millions, can cross frontiers and oceans, and can become a world force. We have never had a challenge of this magnitude, but we have never had a need so urgent, a vision so compelling.
History does not offer us predictable scenarios for immense changes in consciousness and policy. Such changes have taken place, but always in ways that could not be foretold, starting often with imperceptibly small acts, developing along routes too complex to trace. All we can do is to make a start, wherever we can, to persist, and let events unfold as they will.
On our side are colossal forces. There is the desire for survival of s billion people. There are the courage and energy of the young, once their adventurous spirit is turned toward the ending of war rather than the waging of war, creation rather than destruction, and world friendship rather than hatred of those on the other side of the national boundaries.
There are artists and musicians, poets and actors in every land who are ready to make the world musical and eloquent and beautiful for all of us, if we give them the chance. They, perhaps more than anyone, know what we are all missing by our infatuation with violence. They also know the power of the imagination and can help us to reach the hearts and souls of people everywhere.
The composer Leonard Bernstein a few years ago spoke to a graduating class at John Hopkins University; "Only think: if all our imaginative resources currently employed in inventing new power games and bigger and better weaponry were re-oriented toward disarmament, what miracles we could achieve, what new truths, what undiscovered realms of beauty!"
There are teachers in classrooms all over the world who long to talk to their pupils about peace and solidarity among people of all nations and races.
There are ministers in churches of every denomination who want to inspire their congregations as Martin Luther King, Jr., did, to struggle for justice in a spirit of joy and love.
There are people, millions of them, who travel from country to country for business or pleasure, who can carry messages that will begin to erase, bit by bit, the chalk marks of national boundaries, the artificial barriers that keep us apart.
There are scientists anxious to use their knowledge for life instead of death.
There are people holding ordinary jobs of all kinds who would like to participate in something extraordinary, a movement to beautify their city, their country, or their world.
There are mothers and fathers who want to see their children live in a decent world and who, if spoken to, if inspired, if organized, could raise a cry that would be heard on the moon.
It is, of course, an enormous job to be done. But never in history has there been one more worthwhile. And it needn't be done in desperation, as if it had to be done in a day. All we need to do is make the first moves, speak the first words.