Reconciliation and Resistance: Two Sides of a Coin (c. 1991)

In the opening chapter of his book, Weapons and Hope, Freeman Dyson described humanity as divided into two camps – the Warriors and the Victims. The former comprise the multi-million army of professional soldiers, technicians, scientists, strategists, spies, in short all engaged in thwarting a designated Enemy and in plotting his eventual demise. The enemy is, of course, engaged in similar activities. In a sense, therefore, the Warriors of both sides cooperate, since each is indispensable to the other.

The Victims comprise every one else. Actually, since Warrior and Victim are properly conceived as roles rather than persons, it is possible to belong to both camps. Freeman makes a point of this when he declares that he is both a Warrior (that is, a member of the U.S. defence establishment) and a Victim (that is a human being). He suggests that this double role facilitates the task he undertook, namely, to establish a meaningful dialogue between the Warriors and the Victims. Each, says Dyson, should learn to appreciate the legitimate concerns of the other, thus taking the first step toward reconciliation.

I welcome Freeman’s dichotomy between Warriors and Victims. I also approve of attempts of people to come to an understanding regarding their respective concerns, convictions, aspirations, or commitments. I don’t believe, however, that such understanding, no matter how enlightening, can lead to a modus vivendi between the Warriors and the Victims. There can be no compromise between them any more than between a dog and his fleas or between healthy and cancerous tissues of a body. In this context, one must always keep in mind that Warriors and Victims are roles not people. Their relationship is one not of enmity but of incompatibility.

To be sure, the people who fill the roles of Warriors and of Victims have feelings, and to the extent that people identify with their roles, their feelings are affected accordingly. In fact, we have seen this happen in the wake of the events that shook the world in the past two years.

In this period three “New World Orders” were announced. The first was proclaimed when the Berlin Wall came down. Among the Victims there was general jubilation. The Warriors viewed the East European Revolutions with a mixture of satisfaction and malaise. Jubilation was especially vociferous in the American Establishment. The collapse of the Iron Curtain was hailed as a victory over Communism, attributed emphatically to the success of the containment policy and of deterrence, and, most significantly, to the strategy of escalating the arms race until the Soviets were ruined. But there was also malaise, especially in the war sector of the American Establishment. It was induced by the phenomenon of the “disappearing target.” To be sure, the scrapping of war plans developed over four decades may have been welcomed by some strategists, who may have started looking forward to years of creative work on new worst case scenarios. But the prospect of budget cuts and demands for a “peace dividend” must have generated considerable gloom among the Warriors.

The next time a “New World Order” was announced was in the wake of the Gulf War. This time the jubilation in the war camp was undamped. The peace dividend menace was clearly dissipated. The “target” didn’t just disappear. It was smashed, pulverized, trampled upon. The victory was a glorious triumph of arms, not an embarrassing decision by default. It was like an orgiastic ejaculation. The happiness of the Warriors was complete.

This time it was among the Victims that feelings were mixed. In the peace camp there was revulsion and a feeling of helplessness. But millions, especially in the US were carried away by an intoxicating identification with power, by delight in vicarious violence, the pretense of dishing out knockouts to the bad guys, all in the safety of one’s living room. The face of the New World Order was now unmistakable. Some columnists suggested that UN would now be the judge and US the cop. The analogy is less than convincing if one realizes who is to decide which judgments are to be enforced and how.

It was the darkest hour of the post-cold-war era. I came across an explicit statement of this New World Order as it was envisaged by the US at the close of World War II. The author was George Kennan, the architect of the so called containment policy, designed to stem the spread of Communism, whereby all attempts on the part of the world’s poor to better their condition were seen as instances of Soviet expansionism. The statement appears in a policy planning study dated February 23, 1948. It was first classified as top secret, but later published by the US government in a series on the foreign policy of the United States.

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day dreaming. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans the better.”

Kennan’s advice was apparently followed but not to the letter. As Iraq was bombed back to the stone age, talk about democracy, human rights, etc, kept on droning. Evidently, the inertia of cold war rhetoric was too formidable to be overcome.

Yes, it seemed last spring that the peace movement was dealt a crushing blow, so complete was the recovery of the war camp and so self-assured was their gloating,

A few months later we again witnessed the unthinkable: the voluntary liquidation of the “other” superpower. The Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires fell apart in consequence of defeat. The British empire disintegrated in the aftermath of a debilitating victory. This time there was no war. Instead, we saw the capping climax of the peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe – a similar bloodless revolution in the Soviet Union. There was more – much more. The dreaded coup cooked up by military and secret police bosses was washed out within 72 hours. Not crushed – washed out, exposing the pitiful bankruptcy of the supposedly “strong men” for whose “strong hand,” it was thought in many quarters, the Soviet people nostalgically yearned. The “elite” troops of the putchists refused to fire on people, refused to storm the buildings where the democratic leaders took refuge, joined, incidentally, by the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Boris Yeltsin confronted tanks with eloquence, and the tanks were paralyzed. Mikhail Gorbachev put his life and the lives of his family on the line, and the would-be saviours of the country did not dare touch him. The heir to Lenin and Stalin gave the moribund authoritarian regime the coup de grace. People power, all too often dismissed as a sentimental illusion, all of a sudden surfaced as a vital social force. The citizens of Moscow and Leningrad showed the world what people determined to protect their freedom could do without recourse to violence. They gave the lie to Mao’s brutal slogan that power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

The theme of this conference is Building the World Community. I like the subtitle, Reconciliation and Resistance, because it reminds of the duality of conflict and cooperation. There are other such dualities, unions of opposites, as enthusiasts of dialectics called them. Science at its best, that is, in its enlightening rather than power-amassing role, achieves a union of opposites, namely, unity in diversity when it subsumes under general laws most diverse natural phenomena. Unity in diversity is the principle underlying an ideal ecosystem, in which a vast variety of life forms co-exist in a viable equilibrium, an approach to immortality. Unity in diversity is also the ideal of democracy – an amalgam of individual autonomy and collective solidarity.

It was the duality of conflict and cooperation that frustrated throughout history attempts to eliminate violence from human life. For the strongest motivation for cooperation is induced by the perception of a common enemy. Families coalesced into tribes; tribes were welded into nations, nations into blocs to fight a common enemy until the world was polarized and the Warriors of both poles faced each other in a frozen posture of fear, hatred, and threat.

Perhaps the duality of conflict and cooperation is inevitable. In fact, nowhere is cooperation more ardent than on the battle field. There is only one way out of this impasse. The image of the common enemy should be preserved, but this common enemy should not be human. Let poverty, disease, injustice, tyranny play the role of the common enemy of humankind. And of course the institution of war can play the star part.

Reconciliation and resistance are two sides of a coin. Reconciliation of people – yes. This is what Freeman Dyson had in mind in his book, Weapons and Hope. His vivid portrait, of Warriors as people and Victims as people is a plea for conciliation of people. But Dyson confused people with roles. The person of the Warrior, like any other person, has a claim on understanding, sympathy, affection, if you will. This is taught by religions conceived as foundations of universal siblinghood. The role of the Warrior, however, deserves only destruction, like the role of the executioner in a civilized society, like the role of a spy or a terrorist in a peaceful world.

Consider. The birth of democracy in Europe coincided with the birth of nationalism. But nationalism led to two disastrous wars. The present conspicuous process in Europe is a trend toward unity in diversity. The nations remain autonomous but united by realization of common goals. Let us hope that this reconciliation is accompanied also by resistance to old war-oriented realpolitik culminating in the final destruction of the institution of war. Institutions are notoriously mortal. Think of chattel slavery. Think of the Holy Inquisition. Observe what is happening to totalitarianism. The turn of war will surely come.

The dissolution of centralized power in the Soviet Union and the unification of Europe seem to be opposite processes. But actually they are going in the same direction – toward unity in diversity. If the new Union of Sovereign Republics is put on firm foundations, it will be held together by the recognition of unity in diversity by common loyalty to peace and cooperation instead of by adulation of Hobbes’s Leviathan.

Dare we hope that we are witnessing the birth of a world community based on the same principle – unity in diversity? Of course we can hope. Who is to stop us? The question is not quite rhetorical, however, if hope is spiked with action. Action can be stopped, and at times blocked actions undermine hope. All the more reason why actions should be selected that are likely eventually to succeed. These are typically actions of resistance. There are also “opportunistic” actions, follow-ups of successes – pursuit of a disoriented enemy (to borrow an expression from the Warriors). It may be that the war establishment of the remaining superpower will be for some time in disarray, following the disappearance of their most reliable target – the Soviet Union itself. Inevitably they will take credit for it in the usual way. But justifying the same old policies by the same old rhetoric will eventually run out of gas. Let us take advantage of it. Let us see whether this time around it will be easy to dismiss contemptuously some unilateral initiative by the new Russia, say another nuclear testing moratorium. Or may be Nevada can do what Kazakhstan has done – forbid nuclear explosions on its territory. Or may be Germany can follow Ukraine’s example and declare itself a nuclear-free zone. Whatever.

Let us applaud all such initiatives and think up some of our own. If they are acted upon – excellent. If they are rejected, let us demand to know why. Eventually, the very shabbiness of the rationalizations will contribute to the building of a world community united by resistance against the common enemy, the enemy of humanity – the institution of war.

Leave a Reply