Many of us who have become dependent on drink or drugs turn for help to support groups; others, to psychotherapy. If we persevere with either, before long we’re likely to discover that, while active, we may have been approaching a cul de sac. But once there, we find it opens to a path to a higher ground hitherto unbeknownst to us. In other words, the humanity and usefulness to society that we enjoy today might never have come to pass if substance abuse hadn’t demanded that we reinvent ourselves. We need, as they say in support groups, to reach our bottom.

You’d think that humanity had reached its collective bottom in the 20th century with World Wars I and II. What more havoc had to be wreaked before we got the message that wholesale conflict would lead to the end of civilization? But, instead of “letting go and letting God,” to borrow from AA lingo, states remained in a defensive crouch, none more so than the victors. As well, the United States and the Soviet Union sought to solidify their newfound dominance by building up their nuclear arsenals as if they we were still on a war-time basis cranking out munitions.

Viewed from the perspective of one who’s suffered from substance abuse, it was as if two winos had dragged themselves from the gutter and stopped drinking. But, hedging their bets on sobriety, they carried around pints of Everclear 190 proof grain alcohol in their pockets in case they really needed a drink, even though they knew it would kill him.

Meanwhile, however much those of us who advocate for disarmament question whether nuclear deterrence was critical to averting another world war, one has yet to occur. But nuclear weapons’ arguable status as the last word in national security wasn’t what I had in mind when I described nuclear weapons as a gift from above.

The true gift granted by the existence of nuclear weapons is that, as weapons, they’re essentially too big for the planet to contain. They’re more suitable to lighting off in outer space. In other words, they demand that, once and for all, we step back and look at the whole subject to which nuclear weapons are a sub-category — mass warfare.

We’ve failed to take the cue, however. Since nuclear weapons were developed, the bulk of the reflection by the national-security world has been over the unique strategy adaptations called for by the possession of a weapon that essentially can’t be used. Meanwhile, about the best example of deliberation that disarmament advocates can come up with is that the abolition of nuclear weapons will lead to demilitarization and the redistribution of military expenditures toward human needs and the environment.

We’re just too emotionally invested in them — as well as economically. The 13-percent funding hike that the National Nuclear Security Administration is due to receive next year — a greater percentage increase than for any other government agency — is a tribute to the power of pork: its allure to Congress persons and its perceived importance to their constituents. Besides, writes Bruno Tertrais, a “realist” about nuclear weapons, in the April Washington Quarterly:

The intellectual and political movement in favor of abolition suffers from unconvincing rationales, inherent contradictions, and unrealistic expectations. A nuclear-weapons-free world is an illogical goal.

In fact, winning the abolition debate is well night impossible, especially when it arguments such as this by Tertrais need to be refuted:

All three Asian nuclear countries — China, India, and Pakistan — are steadily building up their capabilities and show absolutely no sign in being interested in abolition, other than in purely rhetorical terms. [As well as this] Smaller countries that seek to balance Western power may actually feel encouraged to develop nuclear weapons or a “breakout” option if they believed that the West is on its way to getting rid of them.

You can be forgiven for wondering how we’ll ever talk ourselves off the ledge. It turns out that the existence of nuclear weapons has done little to induce us to reexamine the tendency of our species to resort to mass warfare. Quite the contrary, the prevalence of nuclear weapons, as well as their immensity, seem to have created a mental block, or placed a governor, on our minds. It’s as if we’re prohibited from cycling our thoughts up to a frequency at which we might see our way of clear of nuclear weapons.

Bless the little children. For they shall lead us to a nuclear-free world.

However crucial the disarmament movement — in all its manifestations from policy adepts to peace workers to radicals — is, it’s time to recognize the truth. The most it can hope for is to keep disarmament near the forefront of the national debate and to win minor policy points. In other words, in and of itself, the disarmament movement is incapable of precipitating nuclear abolition.

Sweeping change can only come from the bottom up — from, in fact, the depths of the human heart. Apologies if you’ve heard this from me before, but, except for a few enlightened pockets, child-rearing practices around the world need a significant upgrade. Otherwise, the planet will never produce a critical mass of humans to whom a national-security policy that puts the lives of tens of millions of people at risk is no longer tolerable.

IR (international relations) types may argue that the human psyche comes in a distant second to political considerations as a cause of war. But the influential and recently deceased Swiss psychotherapist and author Alice Miller wrote (emphasis added): “The total neglect or trivialization of the childhood factor operative in the context of violence . . . sometimes leads to explanations that are not only unconvincing and abortive but actively deflect attention away from the genuine roots of violence.” In other words — surprise, surprise — abusing a child predisposes him or her toward violence and, arguably, an inclination to advocate or support violent solutions to international conflict.

How do we turn that ocean liner around? Measures such as these have already been implemented: laws banning corporal punishment, community centers to teach parenting skills, and programs that teach high-school students childrearing; others provide children with empathy training. The more they’re implemented, the more children will grow up unmarked by abuse. In short order, fewer individuals in positions of authority will find that strategies that put enormous numbers of individuals in harm’s way make sense.

At the end of the day (let’s hope not — that cliché is infused with frightening new meaning when applied to nuclear weapons), there’s still time to accept the gift of the message that nuclear weapons is trying to impart to us and stare mass — and all war — down. As Jonathan Schell writes in the Nation:

The bomb is waiting for us to hear the message.

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