Murtaza Hussain: Industrialized Militaries & Climate Emergency // Rajan Menon: Hypersonic Weapons and National (In)security Why Arms Races Never End

It may not come as a surprise that the largest industrial military in the history of the world is also the single biggest polluter on the planet.
Over a century before we reached the brink of ecological catastrophe, Rabindranath Tagore had a glimpse of where we might be headed. Tagore, an Indian author and cultural reformer who lived during the period of British colonialism, was among the last of a generation able to examine the industrialized world from the outside. He issued one of the earliest and most eloquent warnings about the precarity of a world sustained, like ours today, on the twin pillars of industrial consumption and industrial warfare. On a sea voyage to Japan in 1916, Tagore witnessed an unfathomable event that seems almost mundane to us today: an oil spill. To him, it was a jarring image of an earth destroyed by humanity’s unbridled pursuit of power, now supercharged by the tools of modern science.

“Before this political civilization came to its power and opened its hungry jaws wide enough to gulp down great continents of the earth,” Tagore wrote in “On Nationalism,” his 1917 book of essays, “we had wars, pillages, changes of monarchy and consequent miseries. But never such a sight of fearful and hopeless voracity, such wholesale feeding of nation upon nation, such huge machines for turning great portions of the earth into mincemeat, never such terrible jealousies with all their ugly teeth and claws ready for tearing open each other’s vitals.”

The climate emergency we are tipping into today — the tearing open of our mutual vitals — is a product of our collective failure to adhere to limits. An economic system that demanded endless growth and endless consumption was always too much to ask from a planet whose resources are finite. Yet, as Tagore recognized, the same avarice and contempt that led us to war against the earth would also lead to catastrophic, endless wars among peoples. At the time of his writing, World War I was underway. Tagore saw that conflict as the first of the modern wars that showed us the great power we had gained to destroy the natural world along with our fellow humans. 

The massive military industries created during that conflict pointed to an even more inhuman future that might be in store. “The gigantic organizations for hurting others and warding off their blows, for making money by dragging others back, will not help us,” Tagore wrote. “On the contrary, by their crushing weight, their enormous cost, and their deadening effect upon the living humanity, they will seriously impede our freedom.” Until his death in 1940, Tagore wrote about the dangers of militarism, race hatred, and a brutal type of industrial development that had begun to disfigure the natural world….

Rajan Menon: Hypersonic Weapons and National (In)security Why Arms Races Never End
My life, in a sense, has been an arms race. The atomic bomb was initially tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 15, 1945, five days short of my first birthday. Less than a month later, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although the Soviet Union didn’t conduct its first nuclear test until August 1949, an arms race was essentially already underway before World War II ended. It’s never stopped and we’ve all -- to use a phrase from my childhood when we dove under our school desks during nuclear-attack drills -- been ducking and covering ever since or, in the post-Cold War world, simply ignoring the fact that an arms race that could take us to Armageddon and back never really ended with the implosion of the Soviet Union.

Consider it symptomatic and symbolic that the administration of the first “abolitionist” president, Barack Obama, who came into office talking about denuclearizing the planet and promptly got a Nobel Prize for his “vision of a world free of nuclear arms” (take that, Donald Trump!), ended up overseeing the launch of a 30-year, $1.2 trillion “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  That meant new missiles, bombers, and submarines. And now, as a new Cold War with China and Russia edges ever closer, we have a president who, in idle conversation, has threatened to essentially blow away two countries, North Korea and Afghanistan, assumedly with just such weaponry, leaving, as he recently put it, “tens of millions” dead. Looking back on the last 75 years since my birth, arms races seem just so yesterday and yet, as TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon suggests in his latest post, so hypersonically today and tomorrow as well. How will all this end?...

see also

The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.." Martin Luther King: My Pilgrimage to Non-violence, September 1958

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