When I saw the horrific toll that the tsunamis exacted in Asia and Africa, my first thought was that nature is the ultimate terrorist, since we define terrorism as the taking of innocent life.
But on second thought, that unpleasant title still belongs to governments. During World War II, we killed more people than the tsunamis with our strategic-bombing campaigns in Europe and Japan. The waves did not intend to kill anybody. We did intend to visit death on the people we killed.
Altogether, the quarrel among governments that we call World War II took 55 million lives.
Today, Russia and the United States alone have the capability of killing people in the hundreds of millions. The human race is still in great need of good luck if it is to survive. Unfortunately, the technology of weaponry is far advanced, while the political processes that control the technology are about as backward as they ever were.
It seems to be difficult for many people to grasp, because they tend to idolize the rich and powerful, but all the world's leaders are just plain, ordinary human beings like the rest of us.
President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin wake up in the morning, attend to the call of nature, brush their teeth, shave, shower and put their clothes on just like the rest of us. They have tempers, imagination, prejudices and are subject to bad moods just like the rest of us. There is nothing in the office they hold that makes them special or smart or wise. They are exactly the same people they were before they ever held any office at all. The only difference is that because of the position they occupy, they have great power, and power is neutral. It can be used for good or for evil.
What we should remember is that World War II resulted from governments competing with each other for control of other people's lands and resources. The United States, the Soviet Union, France, Belgium, Holland and the United Kingdom all had their empires, and the Japanese and the Germans wanted empires themselves. It was war over turf and resources.
That competition continues today, though in a different form. Nobody wants to control other people and their land as long as the "right" multinational corporations have access to the resources. The rich nations have learned that bribery is cheaper than conquest.
Nevertheless as those resources grow scarce, as they inevitably must, the competition will intensify, and there in the future, shrouded in the mists of the unknowable, will lie the greatest danger of wars. Nuclear weapons are far too powerful for those who have them to give them up, or for those who don't have them to not seek them. If they continue to exist, sooner or later they will be used.
Thus I think mankind has time, but not a long time, to bring about a revolution of thinking so that political leaders around the world will once and for all agree that force or the threat of force is not an acceptable way to get what they want. This can occur only if the United Nations is strong enough to guarantee the borders of every country.
What is so unfortunate about President Bush's new doctrine of pre-emptive war is that at one stroke it has undone a century's worth of work toward peace and disarmament. Russia has begun to develop new nuclear weapons and has already announced joint maneuvers with China involving strategic-weapons systems. Only a fool or an ignoramus would believe that the rest of the world was going to sit back and allow the United States to dominate the planet.
Nature is without hubris or arrogance or malice. The forces of nature obey the laws of nature. When the earth shakes, when the winds blow, when the waters rise, they do so because they must. Man, however, always has a choice to kill or not to kill, to seek war or to seek peace. Natural tragedies cannot be prevented, only assuaged, but the ultimate tragedy of global nuclear war can be prevented. It is up to us.
January 1, 2005
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.