Back in 1986 when Reagan and Gorbachev were beginning to warm to each other, they met at Reykjavik to hammer out a deal that suggested we might actually see a world free of nukes. The talks hung up on the issue of the fictitious American Strategic Defence Initiative (a.k.a Star Wars), and ultimately broke down at the last minute. When the two men parted ways, you could see disappointment on both their faces, in part one assumes because history would have recorded them as potentially the greatest peacemakers of all time had they come up with a deal; in part, I am given to believe, because neither man had too much love for the menace of their nuclear arsenals.
But while the Reykjavik Summit ended without a treaty, it did enable the men who had met only once before, to get a better measure of each other, and to each get a sense of how far their rival was willing to go at the negotiating table.
That was important, not just because it opened the door to further talks and an eventual treaty of sorts in 1987, but because the entire world was depending on them to step above their rhetoric and posturing and make a solid effort to get along.
Had Reagan vs. Gorbachev been nothing more than a remake of Kennedy vs. Khruschev or Nixon vs. Brezhnev, the result probably wouldn’t have been wildly different: the odd increase in tensions along the lines of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis or the 1970 Cienfuegos submarine base crisis (CMC II) as peaks in an otherwise shapeless tapestry of general non-cooperation.
But what we could all stand to recognise is that non-cooperation can be no less destructive than active sabotage. By refusing to get along for the 69 years from 1917 to 1986, the United States and what turned into the Soviet Union created distractions, viewpoints and even whole industries built on nothing but paranoia and single-minded self-interest that would otherwise never have had to exist.
Had all that energy been channeled toward cooperative ideas, the notion of a third world may simply not exist as we perceive it today. This, within a diverse capitalist / socialist framework where each nation elected to follow its preferred economic ideology and continued to joyfully beat the hell out of one another at ice hockey.
The destructiveness of non-cooperation is just as evident today, in any sphere of existence you choose to examine. And you’re guilty of it too.
As a South African, I see it every day. We’re waging an ideological war that cannot possibly have a good outcome, but which is nevertheless fuelled by our individual everyday thoughtless prejudice. It’s a race war, but it’s also a gender war, a war about economic status, a war about selfishness in which the most significant weapon we each wield is non-cooperation.
And it all comes down to you. What if we changed our every day assumption from I must come out on top to people are depending on us to get along?
Could the difference could be a world in which we’re free to disagree, but which is also free of figurative nukes?