My Telephone Calls to My Son

by Paul Olson, President Emeritus

About once a week, I call my son, Andrew, in Birmingham, England, where he and his wife teach and do neuropsychological research. I love my children and grandchildren, and we stay in touch across the thousands of miles. Past conversations usually concerned his wife, his kids’ athletic events and school work, his own research and teaching, and recent family junkets. However, in recent weeks, we have had the usual exchange briefly, then Andrew goes into a half hour or so rant about Britain’s departure from the European Union—the lies told in the campaign, the incompetent Tory leadership, Labor’s lackluster role, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) crazies, and the millions of people who, having voted themselves out of the European Union, Googled to find out what they had left!

Andrew is right to be concerned. He is, after all, in England and Europe, and peace is at stake.

Let me explain. The military arm of the European Union is NATO, supplemented by an American presence [a NATO news release says “NATO and the European Union (EU) cooperate on issues of common interest and are working side by side in crisis management, capability development and political consultations.”] Wars start in the EU-NATO area. Since Napoleon in the early 1800s, the world has had six major wars—the Napoleonic wars, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the First World War and accompanying Russian Revolution, World War II, and the Chinese Civil War and associated war in Vietnam. War and colonialism have been Europe’s business. That has changed.

Since 1945, no major wars have destroyed Europe. The combination of the rise of a unified European Union with NATO as its military adjunct, the fear of nuclear holocaust, the demise of certain sorts of Empire-based colonialism, and America’s unipolar domination have seemed to promise that future wars would be nonexistent or different. Now that stability seems to be coming apart. Commentators are suggesting that the United Kingdom’s departure from Europe, the rise of nationalist movements throughout Europe, and the appearance of “the new Cold War” presage a return to old politics and European–based world wars.

However, in my view, the present situation is new. It includes new neo-fascist efforts to dissolve the peace and requires new disciplines to sustain it. The new movements in Europe seem to have the same content as Trump’s in America—the big lie, manipulation of ignorance, nostalgia for nonexistent past greatness, hatred of immigrants, and anger at capitalism’s failures. A spastic nationalism appears to be rising with the threat of war and nuclear war. This is a new and desperate nationalism, based on a sense of threat from ‘those others who are coming’—not on a love of place or one’s people.

This sense of threat in Europe has some real bases but it does not derive from EU Brussels or even Moscow, our bête noir. We are the threat. Our funding, to the tune of $5 billion, of the Ukrainian Civil War that removed Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence and placed it in that of Europe, makes Europe more insecure. So does NATO’s recent 31,000 troop military maneuvers (Operation Anaconda 2016) on Poland’s eastern borders near to Russia, the largest in Eastern Europe since World War II, including 14,000 American troops, 12,000 Polish troops and smaller numbers of British and German troops and tanks—and, according to some reports, also Ukrainian troops. (Think how we would feel if Russia sent 30,000 troops to Cuba for military maneuvers during the heyday of Cuban/U.S. tensions.) The troops practiced nighttime assaults involving helicopters, building bridges to carry military vehicles, and parachutists dropping into unknown territory.

Accompanying Anaconda 2016 is the deployment in Eastern Europe of what we call a ‘missile defense system’ that we say is not directed at Russia though we do not say so in writing. The missiles can be redirected at Russia easily, and NATO forces have a nuclear capacity. The Russians have every reason to fear a European missile and nuclear buildup on their borders, given the 30 million Russians that Europe killed in the two world wars. The situation is made the more dangerous in that we are deploying a massive military force without having a unified and stable Europe to control its possible military venturism.

In threatening Russia, we are barking up the wrong tree as Britain is in threatening Brussels. We need to handle climate and the Middle East. The UK’s movement out of the European Union is, in most quarters, attributed to the influx of refugees caused by climate change (though it is not clear that in Britain’s case the refugee situation will change). Russia didn’t do it nor did the immigrants. Climate did. The refugee crisis will continue to get worse because climate change will prompt it. Increasingly, European nationalism will not be a matter of celebrating ‘my people’—a love of clusters of families, neighborhoods, towns, hills and valleys, literature and music, or the social history of a country. It will be anger at ‘the other’ as a backlash against climate-based migration and venting over disappointed lifestyle expectations.

Peace is not rooted in the artificial reconstruction of old nations where a common should exist. For the moment, it may be rooted in sitting down with the Russians to work jointly on our common problems in the Middle East and on the economic crises in Europe. Peace is never rooted in isolation from communities of nations, even those where unsavory economic interests have a role. Peace now requires common efforts to stop climate change, reduce nuclear weapons and create a world of rational law, care for the earth and care for its peoples. It comes from the opportunity to speak to one’s children and grandchildren in give-and-takes uninterrupted by international terrorism or the new international fascism.

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