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Nuclear weapons and the politics of domination

Power to the People vs. Power to the Bomb: Alternatives to Nuclear Domination Sunday, June 04, 2017By Ira Chernus, Truthout   Even before the first atomic bomb exploded, the United States government had a single, simple principle to guide it through the nuclear age: domination. We would prevent other nations from getting the bomb.Franklin D. Roosevelt established that principle when he decided not to tell the Soviet Union anything, and not to tell his closest ally, Britain, everything that Americans knew about the bomb. Harry Truman gave classic expression to that principle when he crowed about his power over the Soviets: “I’ll certainly have a hammer on those boys.”

Of course, Truman didn’t have the hammer long. The Soviets soon had the bomb, and other nations followed. So the basic principle had to have a corollary: If we could not be the world’s sole nuclear power, we would be the strongest.

Every president since has followed the same principle in shaping nuclear policy. Some, like FDR and Obama, did it quietly. Some, like Truman, did it more noisily. Donald Trump may turn out to be the noisiest nuclear warrior of all in the White House. As a candidate, he threatened that he might use nukes in the Middle East and in Europe. He has loudly voiced his insistence that Iran and North Korea must cease their nuclear programs.

All presidents, and all those who have helped them shape nuclear policy, have agreed on the basic meaning of “nuclear power”: The bomb must give us the power to dominate as much of the world as possible and to make sure that no other nation can dominate us. (The other meaning of “nuclear power” — the electricity that comes from nuclear-powered generators — is merely an ancillary “benefit” of the science that created the bomb.)

Beneath this way of thinking lies a fundamental premise: The world is divided into dominators and dominated. To have power is to be among the dominators and to avoid becoming dominated. That’s what power means in the world of the nuclear warriors: domination over others.

It’s also what power means in the cultural world of most Americans, which is why the public has generally supported, or at least accepted, the massive nuclear arsenal, despite its phenomenal costs in tax dollars and its much, much higher cost to our sense of personal safety.

We as a nation have largely learned to stop (consciously) worrying and live with — if not love — the bomb for many reasons, no doubt. Most Americans have probably believed presidential claims that we would use the bomb, as we supposedly use all our other military weapons, only to promote peace and democracy around the world.

At a deeper level, though, such moral claims serve mainly to ease our national conscience over our desire to have, and our pleasure in having, seemingly infinite power. If those who do not dominate are bound to get dominated, it makes perfect sense to want, to get and to keep infinite power over others.

Is there any alternative view of power to show us a way out from under the nuclear shadow? The history of the antinuclear movement offers a clue.

“Power With,” Not “Power Over”

There have been two brief eras when the US public’s demand for safety grew stronger than its demand for power. Those eras spawned movements to reduce, and some even said abolish, our nuclear arsenal: once in John F. Kennedy’s presidency and again in the early years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency…….

some had begun to explore the possibility of living life with a very different idea of power: Power means the ability to make things happen. We are most able to make things happen when we work together with others toward shared goals. Real effective power comes not from competition, but cooperation. It is “power with,” not “power over.”

One key source of this idea was the African American civil rights and Black power movements. Nonviolent civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. agreed with Black power advocates on some basic truths about power. Power is always political. It is (in King’s words) “a social force any group can utilize by accumulating its elements in a planned, deliberate campaign to organize it under its own control.”

And there is nothing intrinsically bad about political power. Indeed, disempowered groups, like Black Americans, had to get more power, because the only way to get real reconciliation between groups is first to equalize their power.

So King’s vision of the beloved community, as an ideal that can be realized in this world, would not eliminate power relationships. But it would set them right: “Power at its best is the right use of strength.” The right use is to share power so that no one dominates and everyone is helped to be free to fulfill their personal potential. “Freedom is participation in power,” MLK taught. “Participation” suggests that no one possesses power. Rather, it is a force that all share in………

From Resistance to the Revolution of “Power With”

The idea of “power with” has been slowly growing in influence over the last 50 years. However, it has often remained on the fringes of American society, as toxic masculinity has hampered efforts for the idea to become mainstream. But a whole generation of activists who learned to be political in the late ’60s understands it well enough. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they have built their political lives around it.

Now the quirks of the American electoral system have given us a president who lost the election by nearly 3 million popular votes but still entered the White House on January 20. It is surely no coincidence that the massive uprising of protest the very next day was a “Women’s March.” ……..

When it comes to power, we may have no choice. Whenever we resist Trump and the Republicans, we are not only resisting the traditional notion of “power over,” we are also, necessarily, promoting the idea of “power with.” As Dr. King and so many others have taught us, we can never dispense with power in society altogether. But we can choose the forms that power will take and the ways we will understand the workings of power.

“Power over” and “power with” are the only two concepts of power that are generally available in American political culture. By rejecting “power over,” we necessarily advocate and promote “power with.” Why not do so consciously, even enthusiastically, moving from mere resistance to real revolution, with a nod of gratitude to the roots of today’s movement that stretch back to the 1960s?

IRA CHERNUS

Ira Chernus is a professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of Colorado and author of MythicAmerica: Essays. He blogs at mythicamerica.us, hosted by History News Networkhttp://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/40819-power-to-the-people-vs-power-to-the-bomb-alternatives-to-nuclear-domination

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June 5, 2017 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, psychology and culture

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