Digging in my tiny Jewish library this Passover season, I came across a short contribution to a published symposium, made by Rabbi Nehemia Polen, a well-known scholar, author and congregational rabbi.
Polen wrote his short piece in 1986, for the literary publication New Traditions. But his words were ominously current for me, discovered as if by what we Jews call “hashgachah pratit,” a kind of destined timeliness.
He was considering the phrase in Jewish prayer liturgy, “hem yevoshu ve’yehatu mi’gevuratam,” translated “may the nations of the world be put to shame and crushed despite their power.” He meditated on the meaning of this phrase, and its intention in prayer:
Then it hit me. Ever since nuclear weapons entered the world, with the potential to destroy not only the victim but the attacker as well, the nations of the world have indeed become terrified of their own power. A sense of shame does indeed adhere to this power. The logic of power in history has reached its extreme, self-negating limit…
Polen perceives this part of Jewish prayer as “a lengthy meditation on the shamefulness of power.” I’ve been considering it throughout this Passover season. And the world’s so-called leaders have given me plenty of evidence corroborating that shamefulness.
This past weekend, as we observed both Passover and Easter worldwide, and likely other holy days not given so much publicity; as we asked for freedom and commemorated the death of a free-thinking Rabbi, we watched and listened as Trump and Un of North Korea rattled nuclear sabers at one another, threatening on one side to send “armadas” – sailboats from Spain?
On the other side, Kim Jong Un of North Korea is presenting video mock-ups of a US city being nuked, apparently to applause, though that may have been canned or forced.
We are at the mercy – dubious as that word “mercy” is in this context – of a couple of posturing Krusty the Klowns.
Writing in the Guardian, British commentator Richard Wolfe described Trump thus:
“He has made the awesome transition from a neophyte candidate into a neophyte president; from a man who bluffed and blustered his way in TV debates to a man who bluffs and blusters his way through international crises.
Here is a small-time businessman who knew nothing about foreign affairs, who has grown into a nuclear-armed president who knows nothing about foreign affairs. He used to fire B-list celebrities on TV; now he just fires off Tweets and Tomahawks after watching TV.
We’ve had many overt signals from the Trump regime, of its intent to expand the US nuclear arsenal – under the rubric of “updating” – and of its intent to resort to extreme displays of its own destructive war-making power.
Yes, North Korea is capable of insane bluster and violence. And Obama’s administration made crucial efforts to rein in the hostility. He wanted to negotiate a non-aggression pact with North Korea.
Now it is the USA initiating the current saber rattling cycle with North Korea, through public declarations of threats to use weapons of mass destruction. Beyond threats:
On April 13, the US dropped what it terms the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, wiping out whatever was within a mile radius of its epicenter. Media touted Russia’s “father of all bombs” as four times more destructive than the “mother”… as if to rationalize the US use of the bomb. Maybe they’d want the US to catch up with Russia, with a “father of all bombs” as well?
And the Trump regime has used every platform including Twitter, to declare its intention to spare no “option” from “the table.” Pence just made a surprise appearance in South Korea, threatening North Korea, increasing the tension and violent rhetoric in this latest incident between the US and North Korea.
At the United Nations, the Trump ambassador Nikki Haley went on record to undermine the UN’s historic ban on nuclear weaponry – insisting the ban would be “naive.” She advised the nations of the world to adhere to the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty of 1968, which of course the USA has abrogated in numerous ways, including in its embrace of “upgrading” its nuclear arsenal, instead of eliminating it in cooperation with Russia.
In turn, and in reaction to US policy, Russia has scrambled to allocate funding to “upgrade” its own nuclear arsenal.
By contrast, North Korea was a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty until 2003, when it commenced nuclear testing. Might that testing have been in response to the US appropriation of Korea’s Triple Crown UN designated ecological jewel, Jeju Island, for the purpose of planting nuclear armed ships in the North China Sea?
So who’s “naive,” Ms. Haley, or more honestly stated, who’s manifestly disingenuous in claiming that “rogue nations” wouldn’t adhere to a nuclear weapons ban? Or were you, Ms. Haley, referring to the “rogue nation” par excellence, the United States of America?
We, the United States, are presently in the vise, and vice, grip of a regime that has no shame whatsoever in any aspect or attribute of its behavior. McConnell openly flouted all decency and legality in refusing Garland and forcing Gorsuch on SCOTUS. He even called his tactic the “nuclear option”… enough said about that.
Shameless is a byword for the present leadership of the United States. And that should give rise to the “mother of all antinuclear movements,” in the USA and in the world.
But I feel with deep unease that the nuclear posturing, and the cavalier attitudes toward nuclear dangers, are met with public silence, with a numb denial or spiritual blindness, reminiscent of that which grabbed Israel when it began its long slavery in Egypt…
Wake up America! Trump’s stupid arrogance, Haley’s dishonesty, the trigger happy “Dr. Strangelove” attitudes of military personalities such as “mad dog Mattis,” disguise the underlying hell at the end of the primrose path dubbed “making America great again.” We need to turn away from that path, and we need to turn away now.
It is useless to remind someone like Nikki Haley, or like Trump, of Albert Einstein’s warning: “You cannot simultaneously prepare for and prevent war.” She and the regime for which she works are deaf to all warnings. What will it take to shame her or them? A nuclear “accident,” of which there have been many? A nuclear “close call,” of which there have been many?
Globally we must rise to support the United Nations in its call for a ban on nuclear weaponry, and somehow we must find a way to force the United States to get on board with that ban. This is one of the critical faces of resistance now.
We have global partners in this pursuit, including organizations of women disarmament activists in both North and South Korea. Let us women, in particular, take very seriously the upcoming Women’s March to Ban the Bomb, coming up June 17th. I am hoping that this march will expand and grow exponentially, like the Women’s March of January 21st, following and protesting the inauguration of Trump.
For more information on the current state of nuclear armaments and nuclear energy, listen to a two-part series from Women Rising Radio featuring the voices of women from around the world, working to ban the bomb and nuclear energy.
Lynn Feinerman produces Women Rising Radio, has written previously for Tikkun, and is a supporter of Jewish Renewal for over 25 years.