And now we are the victim of a brazen cyber-attack that is so massively destructive that we cannot even calculate the extent of the damage. What do we do? Our leaders will likely say (and are saying) that we must build far greater offensive cyber weapons and then brutally retaliate and thus hold “them” accountable. “America must retaliate, and not just with sanctions,” Sen. Marco Rubio proclaimed. That will deter “them” and any “Other” from attacking us again. And then- and then- who knows? Total cyber -paralysis?
Deterrence by “mutual assured destruction” may have deterred a nuclear holocaust, but it’s a disastrous policy in the long term. “They” arm; we arm; we arm some more, in the name of national security, and the wheel turns, not aimed at parity but superiority. Churchill wisely said: “The stone age may return on the gleaming wings of science, and what might now shower immeasurable blessings upon mankind (sic), may even bring about its total destruction. I say, time may be short.”
Look what it’s already done to our international soul. The U.S. assassinates an Iranian general with a “smart” missile. Israel (probably) assassinates an Iranian scientist with a “smart” super weapon. Russia attempts to assassinate a political leader with a “smart” poison. And instead of expressing horror, the world marvels at the technology. Reports the New York Times: “Unlike nuclear weapons, or even sophisticated conventional arms, powerful cyber weapons are cheap to produce, proliferate with alarming speed and have no regard for borders.” We are celebrating both the banality of evil and the evil of banality.
What can be done? Well, it is probably delusional to fight such evil as if it is something that arises totally beyond our borders. Look at our defense budget. Look at all the statutes scattered all over our landscapes of mostly men with swords drawn astride rearing steeds, commemorating their bloody battles. Look at Hollywood. (Or don’t.) If we look deep inside, we will probably discover that we’re pretty shallow on issues of peace.
Again, what can be done? Well, it’s usually the listless who elect the lawless. Perhaps we can do better on that score.
At some point in the play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Guildenstern reflects: “There must have been a time at the beginning when we still could have said ‘no.’” This might be such a time– a time when we recognize that Russia is our toughest and most dangerous adversary, but not our enemy; that our mortal enemy may be the approaching cyber war itself.
This cyber-situation is doubly challenging today because the technology is probably way beyond anything most of us can comprehend. Understanding that technology, though, is secondary to our need to understand why we think it is needed. Do we have the moral imagination to at least envision a world where we don’t need technology to spy and to kill? What would it look like if we only used technology to help us better understand each other?
It is in offering understanding to others that we take the first steps of peacebuilding. Here in Connecticut, we can cultivate our moral imagination and peacebuilding competence– starting small, focusing on that first step of getting to know those who are somehow different from us.
The ultimate destination in peacebuilding is never as important as finding the courage to step off in the right direction. And here is some good news on that count: We can participate in international peacebuilding right here in Connecticut. Right here in Hartford! This fall, an accredited one-year master of arts program in International Peacebuilding is being launched at the Hartford Seminary. Students come from all over the world, on full scholarship, to spend an immersive, transformative year developing skills at interreligious peacebuilding, bonding and then returning home to spark the process among others.
That may be a small step, but it is surely in the right direction. Check it out. Perhaps it can lead to a network of compassion more powerful than the forces of cyber destruction now attacking us.
James Robertson is a minister and a partner in the firm Carmody Torrance Sandak Hennessey