Nonviolence: Muste’s Getting Rid of War

The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of PeaceThe twelfth chapter of The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace  contains A.J. Muste‘s 1959 essay  Getting Rid of War.  The essay leads off the third section of the book:  The Cold War and Vietnam. Muste’s life was a journey toward pacifism and through politics and religion.  He was a labor organizer, anti-war leader and civil rights mentor.

Muste seeks a path to “abolish war and the benumbing threat of nuclear destruction.”  He defines the problem as having two “characteristics”: 1) the cancerous growth of weapons of mass destruction, and 2) the political intransigence between the Western and Eastern blocs.  The first problem has not been resolved.  The second has only changed players, but the fight over resources has not. 

Muste complains that the struggles between the White House and Congress over the budget are never between “pacifist and militarists” because the “military budget will still be of astronomical proportion. .”  Though the excuse for this tumorous spending has changed, the ultimate result has not.

Peace Agitator: The Story of A. J. MusteMuste worried that some computer mistake would send us all into nuclear oblivion.  We have have lucky enough to avoid that fate, so far.  But plenty of intentional mistakes of the last half century have killed millions through less-than-nuclear military means.

Muste laments that this potential for planetary suicide combines with a facade of negotiation, despite the knowledge of so many in positions of power knowing an alternative is imperative.  He sees no difference between the rival political and religious leaders in their support of “irrational” militarism.  The alleged righteousness of their cause does not justify nuclear war. Nor is it justified — or logical — as a defense.  Nations need to stop seeing each other as the enemy, and instead see war as the common enemy.  And the flourishing of humanity as their common goal.

Muste believed this could not happen until nations put aside the tit-for-tat negotiating over nuclear weapons, and instead work toward a planet free of nuclear weapons.  To reach that goal, he deconstructs the fantastical notion that the more nuclear weapons we have the less likely they are to be used. This line of thought only leads to even greater danger, and never toward the abolition of war.

Muste calls for a new way of thinking in order to enter a peaceful world. The path to escape is unilateral disarmament. he then goes to answer the objection that our enemies will “overrun” us.  First he tells the parable that a homeowner does not prevent burglary by blowing up his home.  Second, he argues that the best way to undermine the dictatorial forces in the world is for the US to set the example of being sane and just. Third, he quotes at-length US uber-diplomat George Kennan that he does not want to live a world where all is sacrificed to the next “defensive device.”

Muste states the urgency of action because the situation becomes worse as more nations gain weapons of mass destruction to ensure their “safety”.   He exhorts each of us to take personal responsibility for the situation and to change course.

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