A different perspective on peace

By Kent D. Shifferd

Think of where we are, on a very special, tilted planet that revolves on its own axis every 24 hours while it is circled by a moon that moves around it every 27 days, and both are circling the sun every 365 days, and the sun and all its planets are part of the spiral barred galaxy we call the Milky Way, which is revolving around its own axis once every 250 million years which means that our incredible little planet is racing through space, carried along by the galactic revolution or Cosmic Year, at a speed of 500,000 per hour or 12 million miles per day. Try to picture all these simultaneous movements in your mind. We are on the outer edge of just one galaxy in a universe of 100 billion galaxies, a tiny dot in measureless space.

And yet, and yet…this incredible planet has life, indeed is a living planet encased in a web of creatures dependent on one another and all functioning to support the whole miraculous enterprise. And here we humans are, conscious of all this, which ought to be both overwhelmingly humbling and awe-inspiring to the point of putting us on our knees. To think that we are a part of this almost inconceivable cosmic dance leaves me breathless. And I say to myself, how can we possibly harm one another and the whole web of life, for as far as we know there is no such other planet like earth, and if there is, it’s too far away get to.

This is it, here on this rapidly moving miracle planet. So, to put it simply, let’s all get along together and nurture the unique systems of life which support us in this remote but awesome place in the universe.

Kent Shifferd, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years and former Executive Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.

“Gangsterism” or “Progress”? Examining North Korea’s latest statement on denuclearization

By Mel Gurtov

Most US news reports are suggesting that the North Koreans may be backtracking on their commitment to denuclearization, calling the US position “gangster-like” following the visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang. What the North Korean foreign ministry actually saidin its statement of July 7 is far more nuanced, and speaks directly to the longstanding differences between Pyongyang and Washington.

I urge readers to judge for themselves whether or not it is a rational, reasoned statement—and then consider Pompeo’s assessment of progress in the talks with the North Koreans. Here are my brief assessments:

• The North Koreans believe Trump promised “a new way” to deal with US-DPRK relations and denuclearization, namely, step by step. Their view is clear: denuclearization comes last, not first—a longstanding position. Instead, Pompeo brought only renewed US insistence on the old US position: CVID (comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization).

• In the North Koreans’ mind, the joint US-DPRK statement out of Singapore laid out three priorities (and in this order): creating a “peace regime” on the Korean peninsula, improving relations, and denuclearization. But the US is riveted on the last, they say, and has offered nothing on the other two.

• What does a “peace regime” mean? Some observers think it means terminating the US military presence in and defense obligation to South Korea. But the North Korean statement says otherwise. “Peace regime” means a “declaration of the end of [the Korean] war at an early date”—replacing the armistice with a peace treaty, which “is the first process of reducing tension…” The statement makes no demands about the US-South Korea relationship other than to dismiss as inconsequential Trump’s decision to suspend (not end) the joint exercises that had been scheduled for August.

• The statement emphasizes trust building. That’s the key argument for a phased approach to denuclearization: establish a peace regime to defuse tension and build trust. Only then will the North Koreans feel secure enough to take action—exactly what kind, we still don’t know—on denuclearizing. And the North Koreans maintain that they have taken a few trust-building actions, listing dismantlement of a test area for a new ICBM engine and discussion of returning the remains of US POWs and MIAs.

To those of us who watch North Korea closely, this picture is not in the least surprising. Kim Jong-un had staked out his notion of the proper timeline for denuclearization months ago, and the North Korean quest for security
via normal relations with the US and a peace treaty to end the Korean War is well known. The Trump-Kim summit was a breakthrough in terms of direct dialogue, but unless the US gets beyond “CVID,” the North Koreans will continue work on nuclear weapons and missiles and the dialogue with Washington will revert to an ugly form.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Separation of Immigrant Families Is Institutionalized Cruelty

José-Antonio Orosco, Ph.D, writes for PeaceVoiceand is Associate Professor of Philosophy: School of History, Philosophy, and Religion Director, Oregon State University Peace Studies Program.

As I listened to the recording of immigrant kids crying because they were being separated from their parents, I heard the Border Patrol agent joke that they sounded like an orchestra without a conductor. My reaction was to wonder how anyone could be so cruel to the fear of young children. What could make a person so cold to that kind of pain?

The incident reminded me of philosopher Phillip Hallie who wrote about the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Hallie pointed out that amid the daily horror of the camps, there were guards who had not been broken down by the constant show of degradation and would display kindness to the prisoners. They would share a kind word, or sneak an extra roll of bread to a starving person. Such examples are often used to argue that despite cruel situations, there might be solitary individuals who recognize the humanity of others. The Border Patrol agent laughing at children in terror doesn’t seem to be one of those.

But Hallie warns that we shouldn’t narrow our focus on the morality of individuals or on episodic instances of cruelty or kindness when thinking of the concentration camps. In fact, a Nazi guard’s smile or an extra ration from the camp kitchen only works to remind the prisoners that there is a world in which people can be kind and people are treated with dignity, but they aren’t part of that world inside the camp.

Hallie argues that the way to comprehend the immorality of slavery or of the Nazi concentration camps is with the idea of “institutionalized cruelty”–the way in that the individual infliction of pain and suffering becomes normal, justified, and everyday. The Nazi guards could kill, beat, starve, torture prisoners because they had lived for years with their leaders telling them that their country, and their own families, were threatened by enemies who were not quite human. Ordinary Germans tolerated the Nazi policies because they became convinced by Nazi rhetoric they were somehow morally better than Jews, and therefore, deserved to control and dominate them.

Recent public opinion polls suggest that 28 percent of Americans approve of the President’s policy of separating immigrant children from parents at the borders; among those identifying as Republican the approval shoots up to almost 60 percent. These numbers indicate that more than 1 in 4 Americans think that there is an immigration crisis facing the nation that requires an extraordinary effort of cruelty to solve. How could they be convinced of that?

Trump started his presidential campaign in 2016 by railing against Mexican immigrants as dangerous criminals, assuring his followers that (only) some of them are good people. He continued this way of thinking at the beginning of this year, bemoaning that the only kinds of refugees we attracted came from “shithole” countries. Then he warned that our laws were letting in “animals,” having then to clarify that he meant specific MS-13 gang members and not undocumented immigrants in general. The ambiguity in Trump’s language might be attributed to lazy speech, but just this week he reiterated that immigrants want to “infest” our country. It’s clear that when it comes to immigrants, Trump relies on metaphors about animals, insects,
disease, filth, and crime. It’s really not surprising that cruel policies follow such patterns of thinking.
Hallie pointed out that the remedy to institutionalized cruelty is not kindness but what he called “hospitality”—caring for the victim of cruelty in a way that removes them from the relationship of domination that makes them suffer. Hallie’s heroes were the people who sheltered runaway Jewish families and kept them out of the grasp of the Nazis. This suggests that what we need now is not just a reform to keep immigrant families together, but also a recommitment to assist refugees and asylum seekers and attention to the economic and political circumstances that are creating waves of migrants to our borders. And we need to stand up to the dehumanizing language from our leaders that hardens hearts and then, crushes bodies. Like Hallie’s heroes, we ought show kindness not only by alleviating the suffering inside the tent cities where immigrant families are being detained, but by making sure that such places don’t come to exist at all.

Is a gap year the right choice for you?

According to the Gap Year Association, a gap year is a year “on” during which students, typically after graduating from high school, do not go directly to college. While no rules govern gap years, students who take them typically spend their year emphasizing experiential education.

Some students challenge their comfort zones and make sacrifices during their gap years that they would not necessarily make if they went directly from high school to college. Many students take gap years because they are unsure of what they want to study in college, and such students typically use the gap year to explore potential majors and career paths that might be available to them once they earn degrees in those fields.

Other students may take gap years to volunteer, feeling that a year of service is both a great way to give back and to better understand the world beyond the one in which they grew up. Burnout from the competitive pressures of high school is another reason many students take gap years.

The Gap Year Association urges students considering gap years to do their research regarding the opportunities available to them during the year so their year is truly transformative and not merely a year to pass time without the pressures of school.

What Happened? Assessing the Singapore Summit

“Peace and prosperity,” “lasting and stable peace,” “peace regime,” “denuclearization,” “new US-DPRK relations”—these fine words and phrases dominate the joint statement of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Yet it’s difficult to describe in a concrete way what they agreed to actually do. The joint statement stands as one of hope, nothing more, similar to the tone of the Pyongyang Declaration between Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. The Trump-Kim statement has nothing of substance to say about denuclearization, a Korean peninsula at peace, normalization of US-North Korea relations, economic or military incentives, verification of promises, and schedules for implementation.
Whatever substantive agreements were reached took place between Trump and Kim alone, without any top advisers. And here’s where the trouble begins: the contrary claims that are bound to emerge about who promised what. Already, North Korean state media are saying that Trump promised to ease sanctions, whereas Trump insisted that sanctions will continue. Trump said US military exercises will be suspended, but surely many kinds of small-scale joint exercises with South Korea’s military will go on. And what about Kim’s promise of denuclearization? Does it apply to US nuclear-capable ships and planes in East Asia that comprise extended deterrence? Will “denuclearization” mean anything at all?
The joint statement is thus fair game for critics of Trump, myself included. Yet I have to acknowledge that for all the weaknesses not only of the statement but also of Trump’s entire approach to dealing with North Korea—the sanctions, the threats, the boasts, the ignoring of experts, the false claims about previous administrations’ policies, the insensitivity to South Korean and Japanese interests—in the end we are better off having had the summit than not. Surely no one wants a return to trading threats and insults, with use of a nuclear weapon a possibility.
Still, the summit was more photo-op than peace building project. Some observers believe, with good reason, that Kim Jong-un outfoxed Trump—elevating North Korea’s international standing, obtaining a suspension of US military exercises, and gaining sanctions relief from China in exchange for a repetition of previous North Korean promises to denuclearize. Trump can respond that getting to denuclearization is a lengthy “process”—a word he used quite a bit recently, and certainly not one John Bolton likes. But the process should have preceded the summit, with diplomatic engagement paving the way to agreement on step-by-step de-escalation of tensions and time points for establishing diplomatic relations and reducing nuclear weapons in a verifiable way.
Now Trump must, and fairly soon, show that his “terrific relationship” with Kim is paying off, not just on the nuclear issue but also with regard to improved North-South Korea relations, North Korea’s missiles and cyber war capabilities, and repression of human-rights. Otherwise, his gamble will have failed and he will look like a fool for having tried. As he acknowledged after the summit, “I think he’s [Kim] going to do these things. I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.” Yes, he will.
Trump has already created yet another problem: his effusive praise of Kim Jong-un. Ignoring the North Korea gulag and the Stalinist character of Kim’s regime, Trump has actually said (twice) that Kim “loves his people,” assured us that Kim is “very honorable,” and expressed appreciation for the difficult job Kim has had maintaining order in his society. Such extraordinarily ignorant and politically explosive comments speak to Trump’s fascination with dictators and envy (previously expressed about Putin and Xi Jinping) for their iron-fisted rule. Too bad he can’t find equally laudable words for democratic leaders.
Thus, Donald Trump’s effort to create a diplomatic triumph that might divert attention from the Russia investigation may implode early.
He has the monumental job of convincing Americans, including many in his party, that the Singapore summit solved the problem of North
Korea’s nuclear weapons and took the measure of a dictator. His undeserved reputation as a deal maker is about to be sorely tested.

What Happened? Assessing the Singapore Summit

“Peace and prosperity,” “lasting and stable peace,” “peace regime,” “denuclearization,” “new US-DPRK relations”—these fine words and phrases dominate the joint statement of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Yet it’s difficult to describe in a concrete way what they agreed to actually do. The joint statement stands as one of hope, nothing more, similar to the tone of the Pyongyang Declaration between Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. The Trump-Kim statement has nothing of substance to say about denuclearization, a Korean peninsula at peace, normalization of US-North Korea relations, economic or military incentives, verification of promises, and schedules for implementation.

Whatever substantive agreements were reached took place between Trump and Kim alone, without any top advisers. And here’s where the trouble begins: the contrary claims that are bound to emerge about who promised what. Already, North Korean state media are saying that Trump promised to ease sanctions, whereas Trump insisted that sanctions will continue. Trump said US military exercises will be suspended, but surely many kinds of small-scale joint exercises with South Korea’s military will go on. And what about Kim’s promise of denuclearization? Does it apply to US nuclear-capable ships and planes in East Asia that comprise extended deterrence? Will “denuclearization” mean anything at all?

The joint statement is thus fair game for critics of Trump, myself included. Yet I have to acknowledge that for all the weaknesses not only of the statement but also of Trump’s entire approach to dealing with North Korea—the sanctions, the threats, the boasts, the ignoring of experts, the false claims about previous administrations’ policies, the insensitivity to South Korean and Japanese interests—in the end we are better off having had the summit than not. Surely no one wants a return to trading threats and insults, with use of a nuclear weapon a possibility.

Still, the summit was more photo-op than peace building project. Some observers believe, with good reason, that Kim Jong-un outfoxed Trump—elevating North Korea’s international standing, obtaining a suspension of US military exercises, and gaining sanctions relief from China in exchange for a repetition of previous North Korean promises to denuclearize. Trump can respond that getting to denuclearization is a lengthy “process”—a word he used quite a bit recently, and certainly not one John Bolton likes. But the process should have preceded the summit, with diplomatic engagement paving the way to agreement on step-by-step de-escalation of tensions and time points for establishing diplomatic relations and reducing nuclear weapons in a verifiable way.

Now Trump must, and fairly soon, show that his “terrific relationship” with Kim is paying off, not just on the nuclear issue but also with regard to improved North-South Korea relations, North Korea’s missiles and cyber war capabilities, and repression of human-rights. Otherwise, his gamble will have failed and he will look like a fool for having tried. As he acknowledged after the summit, “I think he’s [Kim] going to do these things. I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.” Yes, he will.

Trump has already created yet another problem: his effusive praise of Kim Jong-un. Ignoring the North Korea gulag and the Stalinist character of Kim’s regime, Trump has actually said (twice) that Kim “loves his people,” assured us that Kim is “very honorable,” and expressed appreciation for the difficult job Kim has had maintaining order in his society. Such extraordinarily ignorant and politically explosive comments speak to Trump’s fascination with dictators and envy (previously expressed about Putin and Xi Jinping) for their iron-fisted rule. Too bad he can’t find equally laudable words for democratic leaders.

Thus, Donald Trump’s effort to create a diplomatic triumph that might divert attention from the Russia investigation may implode early.  He has the monumental job of convincing Americans, including many in his party, that the Singapore summit solved the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and took the measure of a dictator. His undeserved reputation as a deal maker is about to be sorely tested.