13 August 2015

War noises

Separated at birth?    

"I do consider Russia to be the biggest threat," says the head of the USA's air force -- and she's only one of several top American military leaders to make this claim.

At the same time, Russia's Levada Center polling organization documents the increasingly negative views of the USA among Russians. Their most recent poll on the subject shows that 70% of respondents have a "generally bad" or "very bad" view of the USA. As we prepare to return to our beloved community of Elektrostal, these figures naturally draw our attention.

In the current political climate of both countries, with domestic audiences seeming to favor something called "strong leadership" over actual wisdom, maybe these results shouldn't surprise us. But is such posturing risk-free? The European Leadership Network says "no" in its new report, "Preparing for the Worst: Are Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe more Likely?"

To me it seems that this mutual enemy-mongering is absurd. Both countries have much to gain from friendship, and in the long run, less than nothing to gain from conflict with each other -- and acknowledging this reality doesn't require us to like either the imperialism of one country or increasing repression in the other. (My vagueness is deliberate and intended to be instructive.)

The enemy talk between the USA and Russia is not symmetrical; the differences are interesting. The USA seems most concerned about the potential restoration of the Russian empire on the western periphery of today's Russian Federation. American officials don't spend as much time defending human rights as they seem to blame Russia for not cooperating with American-led arrangements for global security. On the other hand, Russians don't see the American threat as one of outright expansion outside the USA's borders. The concern, as summarized in this article by Serghei Golunov, is that the USA and other Western countries are sources of conspiracy and subversion, bent on undermining Russia.

Building up "enemies" in the popular mind often involves exaggerating threats and minimizing commonalities. For Christians in both countries, the way seems clear: analyzing and exposing threats and the forces that benefit from them; emphasizing our commonalities; and investing in each other's well-being through trade, education, exchange, and every other channel, convenient or inconvenient -- because nothing is less convenient than war. And, if the European Leadership Network's report is to be believed, those war noises from the politicians aren't without risk.

What it means when you kill people on the other side of the planet and nobody notices. Tom Engelhardt worries that "War is no longer a part of our collective lives. It’s been professionalized and outsourced." Are we Quakers (for example, in the USA) as indifferent as the larger nation Engelhardt describes?

Micah Bales asks whether it's time to get rid of yearly meetings. I hope to respond in the next week or two. (Update: response is here.)

Who are "cord cutters" and why should politicians care?

This Saturday in Chicago, park your car, tune into B.B. King, turn South Sacramento into a public art project.

James Clem was at this year's Waterfront Blues Festival. Enjoy!

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