Remarks Delivered at Peacestock 2012
by David Swanson
I want to thank Bill Habedank for inviting me here and everyone who’s been involved in setting up this wonderful event, which ought to be replicated all over this country. Almost our entire population claims to favor peace. At least three quarters of us favor getting the U.S. military out of Afghanistan and ending that particular war, which by the way isn’t ending. When carefully surveyed and shown what the federal budget is, a large majority of U.S. residents favors cutting huge amounts of money out of the military and putting it to better use.
But those doing anything about peace as part of a peace movement are a tiny fraction of a percent of the country. I have been lucky enough to see some of my cousins from this part of the country on this trip, and one of them referred to me as her famous cousin who speaks at events and writes books. There are others here much more famous than I within our little movement. But I’m willing to bet at least 99% of the country has never heard of any of us. Maybe the wonderful Coleen Rowley, who made it onto the cover of Time Magazine. Maybe a few others.
Thank you also to Veterans For Peace for being the best peace organization I know of, and to its president Leah Bolger for being here. Leah and I and some others here were occupying Washington, D.C., last fall, and I’ve just now finally had criminal charges that were brought against me for speaking in a public hearing in the U.S. Senate dropped this week, just in time to hang out with the good people of Peacestock, which brings a certain risk of arrest in itself. Raise your hand if you’re an undercover law enforcement officer.
That’s all right. But please pay attention, because I’m going to be talking about some laws that are going unenforced. When I say our movement is small, I don’t mean it’s entirely without influence. And it was much bigger back in 2005 and 2006, when those who oppose wars had, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us, those who oppose Republican wars. There is a big gap, however, between those who oppose all wars, and those who oppose particular wars, be it for partisan or other reasons. President Obama used to oppose dumb wars. We came to find out he favors imbecilic wars, because there are more syllables involved. The thing is, people who oppose particular wars don’t usually put as much energy into it as people who oppose all war. Perhaps they’re hoping that a bad war will evolve into a good war, perhaps by escalating it, perhaps by electing a different president — or maybe they just have other priorities.
The title for my remarks today is “Abolishing War: One Last Step.” I’m willing to bet that even we in the peace movement are fairly unaware of some of the previous steps. In St. Paul, Minnesota, there’s a house listed as a National Historic Landmark because Frank Kellogg lived there. There’s also a Kellogg Boulevard in St. Paul. But Kellogg’s grave is in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Frank Kellogg had a long career, but there is one thing he did, and only one thing he did that made his house historic, named a boulevard for him, and put his ashes in the National Cathedral. I’m willing to bet most people living near St. Paul don’t have the slightest idea what it was. Do you? Raise your hand if you know. And please don’t say he invented corn flakes.
Well, this is not a typical crowd. All the children are above average here. And yet, some of us don’t know.
Frank Kellogg was a pudgy, five-foot-six, Republican lawyer with a glass eye and hands that shook. He was not one to turn down a drink, prohibition or no prohibition, and he was best known for his fiery temper and the use of language that the FCC would not have tolerated. Kellogg was 70 years old in 1927. He’d been a trust buster. He’d been president of the American Bar Association. He’d been a U.S. senator from the great state of Minnesota. He’d voted in favor of entering World War I and against the League of Nations, but in support of pulling U.S. troops out of Russia.
Come 1927, when Kellogg was 70 years old, he was the U.S. Secretary of State. During his tenure, the U.S. Marines went into Panama, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and Kellogg threatened Mexico with war in the interest of U.S. corporations. Kellogg lacked any big following of supporters among the people or the elites. H.L. Mencken called him –quote — a “doddering political hack from the cow country.” I apologize to all the cows around here. Kellogg himself had unkind words for others. In 1927, he called the French a bunch of bleep bleep fools. But Kellogg added that those he hated most were the bleepity bleep bleep pacifists.
In 1928, Kellogg worked night and day to do exactly what the pacifists told him to do. He brought most of the powerful nations of the world together and created a treaty banning all use of war. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, known as the Kellogg-Briand pact. (The vote was 85-1, with the 1 being a senator from Wisconsin who apparently wanted a stronger treaty, but who was censured by the Wisconsin legislature for his vote.) Briand was the French foreign minister, with whom Kellogg had worked on the treaty.
Frank Kellogg was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Briand already had one. This was in the pre-World War II days when the Nobel Committee still paid some attention to the requirements of Alfred Nobel’s will, including that recipients of the prize have worked for the abolition or reduction of standing armies. Quick, can you name the last Nobel Peace Prize recipient who had worked to abolish standing armies? I think there have only been a handful in recent years who would have even stood for the idea, even in theory, much less have worked to advance it in reality.
Most groups, clubs, projects, etc., that promote peace today propose finding peace in our hearts. I’m reminded of Woody Allen’s remark: I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. Well, I don’t want to achieve peace through my heart. I want to achieve peace through ending war and abolishing armies.
Left to his own devices, Frank Kellogg would have had nothing to do with peace. But in 1927 there was a major peace movement in this country, united around an idea pushed by a Chicago lawyer named Salmon Oliver Levinson. The movement was called the Outlawry Movement, and the goal was to outlaw war. As slavery and blood feuds and dueling had been abolished, so would war be. And the first step would be stigmatizing war as no longer legal. Remember, war was not against the law. Nobody was prosecuted for World War I or any other war, because war making was not a crime. Particular atrocities could be crimes, but not war itself. Levinson opposed what we might call anachronistically the NATO model of banning war, in which the primary tool for preventing war is, of course, war. There were isolationist strains in the U.S. peace movement after the disaster of World War I that echo in some of today’s libertarians. Agreeing with various allies to all go to war if one of them went to war was not a recipe for peace. The Outlawrists’ plan was to make war illegal, to establish written international law and courts for settling international disputes, and to move world culture beyond acceptance of war.
Duelling had been done away with, said Levinson, and not just aggressive duelling. We didn’t keep defensive duelling around. We set the whole barbaric procedure behind us. Thus must it be with war. The Outlawrists did not distinguish good or just wars from bad or unjust wars, any more than we distinguish just cases of rape, good uses of slavery, or humanitarian cases of genocide. War was the most evil thing created, and arranging to end war by means of war left everyone preparing for more war. So, the Kellogg-Briand Pact renounced all war.
There’s a song from 1950 — maybe we can sing it later — that begins “Last night I had the strangest dream I’d ever dreamed before. I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war. I dreamed I saw a mighty room, and the room was filled with men….” That scene had actually happened on August 27, 1928, with the signing of the Peace Pact. It was probably the biggest news story that year. This is not secret CIA history I’m describing. Raise your hand if you’re with the CIA. Well, thank you for coming anyway. No, this is forgotten history, intentionally buried history. Frank Goetz, who may be here, and others are pushing to have August 27th made a holiday.
After the Pact was signed, nations stopped recognizing claims of war, gains of territory made through war. Wars were prevented and halted. The world turned against the horror of war, at least war among wealthy nations. Colonizing poor nations was still very much acceptable. And when World War II happened, Roosevelt directed that the Kellogg Briand Pact be used to prosecute the Germans and the Japanese for the brand new crime of making war. And they were thus prosecuted. And the rich nations never went to war with each other again, at least not yet. Europe, amazingly, finally stopped attacking itself. But the common interpretation became the bizarre notion that Kellogg-Briand had been erased by its failure to prevent World War II. Imagine setting up a legal ban on anything else, and then tossing it into the trash the first time it was violated, and while simultaneously enforcing it. I suppose the Ten Commandments, by that logic, must have been erased by being violated quite some time back now. After World War II the Peace Pact was twisted to prosecute aggressive war, rather than simply war, and it was imposed as victor’s justice. But the Kellogg-Briand Pact, as written, remained on the books, as it remains on the U.S. State Department’s website. Ssh. Don’t tell Hillary.
This week Ralph Nader published a list of 11 books that he thinks everyone should read, and one of them was my book “When the World Outlawed War,” which tells this story. It’s probably the shortest on the list, too, so you can read it tonight and only have 10 books left to go.
World War II was the worst event that has occurred on planet earth, but trends away from war and violence observable in recent centuries continued. New institutions and cultural habits reinforced this. But legally, the U.N. Charter took a step back from Kellogg-Briand by sanctioning wars if they are defensive or U.N.-approved. An example of a defensive war would be the 2003 attack on the impoverished unarmed nation of Iraq thousands of miles from our shores. An example of a UN-approved war would be the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya and overthrow of its government. The UN had authorized a cease-fire, and NATO decided that was the same thing as authorizing bombing of the capital until the president was killed. In other words, the two loopholes opened up by the UN Charter have permitted unlimited warmaking and erased from our culture the idea that war is a crime.
The Geneva Conventions played their part as well, by establishing the idea that wars could be legal if conducted in a particular manner. The Conventions of 1949 look absurd today, as they distinguish participants in war from civilians. Wars today are not fought on distant battlefields, but in inhabited towns. Should those who fight back really lose legal protection? The Conventions do outline permissible conduct for occupying armies, but they require that the occupiers care for the occupied population much better than our governments care for their own populations back home. Of course, nobody takes seriously the idea of complying with this. Governments are permitted to kill huge numbers of civilians, but the killing has to be an accidental, even though foreseeable, byproduct of an effort to kill even bigger numbers of non-civilians or to accomplish some other military objective, such as gaining control over the civilians and non-civilians alike, should they manage to remain alive. Under this rigorous legal standard, José Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecutor for the ICC — or what I like to call the ICCA, the International Criminal Court for Africans — found the U.S. slaughter of Iraqis to be legal, regardless of the fact that the United Nations had found the invasion of Iraq itself, the greater purpose at stake, to be illegal. The Catholic Church no longer sells indulgences, I suspect because it just can’t compete with the United Nations.
And if the Geneva Conventions weren’t bad enough, we created the CIA and NATO. While the world has turned against war, the United States has created a war-based economy with huge permanent standing armies standing in our own and most other countries around the globe. We’ve empowered a military industrial complex beyond Eisenhower’s worst nightmares. In the 1920s war could be blamed on Europe. Now opposing war is almost treasonous. We’ve given presidents such powers that the Declaration of Independence would have to be three times as long if we were to attempt a new overthrow of tyranny. We’ve legalized election bribery, concentrated almost all our wealth in a very few hands, and in most cases swallowed whole the obvious lie that activism can have no impact. We face collapse of representative government, of civil liberties, of our natural environment, of our culture. We face nuclear apocalypse, weapons proliferation, and a vicious cycle of countering terrorism with precisely the policies that produce terrorism.
Last fall I helped organize a conference of experts on various areas of damage being done by the military industrial complex, resulting in the book, “The Military Industrial Complex at 50.” We concluded that this monster, guarded by patriotism, McCarthyism, and financial corruption, is the number one opponent of most campaigns for things decent and good, certainly of campaigns against poverty, for education, against homelessness, for civil rights, against environmental destruction, for peace and prosperity. It’s not a coincidence that the United States spends several times the next approaching country on the military while trailing a great many countries in measures of education, health, security, and happiness. If every movement that should rightfully be targeting the military industrial complex were to do so, it would fall. We would convert, retrain, retool, and prosper. But it’s difficult for narrow interests to act on the big picture. Why should the ACLU oppose the military funding that produces the drone strikes and torture cells, when it can oppose the drone strikes and torture cells indefinitely? Why should the Sierra Club oppose the single largest consumer of oil when it can oppose institutions completely lacking flags and hero-worship?
When we tried to impeach or prosecute Bush or Cheney, well, two things. First, one of the best activists we had was Daniel Fearn who is now doing poorly in a hospital in Minneapolis. I bet a bunch of you know him. I hope you’ll visit him. Can we all applaud the great work that Daniel Fearn did?
Second, when we tried to impeach Bush and Cheney, we were often told we hated those men or acted on partisan interests, and I always replied that if Bush was not punished for his crimes, the next president would do worse. It wouldn’t matter whether the next president was black or white, male or female, Republican or Democratic. It would only matter whether power still corrupted and whether absolute power still corrupted absolutely. As it turns out, nothing has happened to change that rule. The illicit abuses of Bush are now open and official policy. We’re spied on without warrants and can be locked up without charges, tortured without consequences, and sent to war without Congress. Our president keeps a list of nominees for being murdered. It includes Americans and non-Americans, children and adults. He works his way down the list. He says it costs him not a moment’s worry. He jokes about it to the White House Press Corpse, and they laugh it up. And we run around like chickens with our heads cut off and our souls ripped out registering voters for him because we don’t want to risk having a racist put in charge of our national program of murdering dark skinned Muslims. Even while peace activists have their homes raided by the FBI. Sometimes when we speak out we’re told that we must be in the pay of the Mitt Romney campaign. The irony of the you’re-trying-to-help-Romney-win response to criticism of our current government is that if Romney does win then the people using that line will themselves start objecting to presidential abuses, but it will be too late.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is bigger than ever, in more nations than ever, more privatized than ever, more profitable than ever, more secretive than ever, more at odds with more of the world than ever, and more recklessly than we’ve seen in decades antagonizing both Russia and China for no good reason whatsoever. I don’t consider the fact that Russian fossil fuels with which to destroy our atmosphere will become more readily available as our destroyed atmosphere melts the ice a good reason. Nor do I consider the fact that China owns our grandchildren’s unearned wages a good reason. We just discovered how large a part the U.S. is playing in destroying the nation of Mali when three U.S. Special Forces troops drove off a bridge, killing themselves and three prostitutes. Have you ever wondered what makes special forces special? The only thing I can see that makes them special is that someone whispers in their ears: “You don’t have to obey any laws.” But that’s becoming less and less special in Washington these days.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was just over in Laos helping to expand the U.S. Asian presence, but — as Fred Branfman pointed out — not seriously attempting to pick up the 80 million cluster bombs the U.S. left in Laos where they continue to kill and maim. Clinton opposes signing the Cluster Bomb Treaty, even though 111 countries have signed it, and cluster bombs serve very little humanitarian purpose, unless you count blowing the legs off children as humanitarian.
Alliant Tech Systems, which as moved to Virginia but is also still here in Minnesota, makes money off cluster bombs. It could make that money off something decent if it chose.
Clinton met a young man in Laos whose hand she couldn’t shake. Phongsavath Souliyalat lost both his hands and his eyesight when a friend handed him a cluster bomb on his 16th birthday while walking home from school. These bombs have killed 20,000 farmers and their children since the bombing ended in 1973. Clinton is lobbying other nations against the treaty banning cluster bombs. The United States has used cluster bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and as recently as June 7, 2010, when we used them to kill 35 women and children in Yemen. A journalist reported on that horror, and Obama ordered the president of Yemen to lock him up, calling into question why Obama doesn’t order other people in Yemen locked up rather than killing them and whoever’s too close to them with missiles.
In Laos this week Clinton said, “We have to do more. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here today, so that we can tell more people about the work that we should be doing together.” But she’s not investing a fraction in bomb clean up of what she’s putting into a new embassy in Laos. The lesson of 1927 is that what she does next was not determined by the genes she was born with. Clinton could be Kissinger or she could be Kellogg, depending on what we do. Kellogg, after all, would never have been Kellogg if peace activists hadn’t forced him to.
We have a harder task today, I admit. We’re up against the military industrial complex, and we’re up against the idea of humanitarian war.
Humanitarian war makes as much sense as a benevolent hurricane or a charitable looting. Humanitarian war is based on the following premises:
1. There are evil things happening in the world.
2. We can do nothing or we can bomb people. There are no other options.
The conclusion, of course, is that we must bomb people. But the second premise is faulty. Nonviolent assaults on tyranny are far more successful and long-lasting than violent ones. Even more effective is refraining from funding and empowering the tyrants for decades prior to switching sides, or what is called “intervening.” Turning to violence amounts to deciding that the times have gotten tough and we must therefore resort to a less effective tool much less likely to succeed. That many want to do so suggests other motivations, some of them not very flattering. The same is suggested by blatant inconsistency. In Bahrain we send over our top cops to lead the skull-cracking. In Syria we aid murderous terrorists and child soldiers in the name of human rights, working with such models of democracy as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. By “we” I mean, of course, the regime in Washington. Governments are beyond reproach, and regimes can be overthrown, so we should probably call them all regimes. Washington is quite open about wanting to overthrow the Syrian government or regime because of its ties to the Iranian government or regime. It is much less forthcoming, however, about how doing so would work out any better than Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Panama, Grenada, Cambodia, South Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Philippines, and so on.
That wars must be marketed as humanitarian is a sign of progress. That we fall for it is a sign of embarrassing weakness. The war propagandist is the world’s second oldest profession, and the humanitarian lie is not entirely new. But it works in concert with other common war lies, some of which used to be more dominant. I tried to collect them all in my book “War Is A Lie.” A few major themes are:
First, that only war will address the incredible evil of the chosen enemy, almost always an enemy made more evil by racism and other forms or bigotry and distancing.
Second, that war is a form of defense, even if we provoked the enemy’s attack, even if the enemy hasn’t attacked, even if the enemy is incapable of attacking, even if the enemy hasn’t yet thought to develop the capacity to attack. We’re one step ahead, that’s how smart we are.
Third, that war is a generous sacrifice, the noblest deed imaginable, something so beautiful it ought to be multiplied a thousand fold, and so we only go to war as an absolute last resort in order to benefit the evil dark people who need to be wiped off the face of the earth.
It doesn’t matter if the reasons for war conflict. It doesn’t matter if they change through the course of a war. If an individual believes that the war makers mean well — these being the same politicians that nobody would trust as far as they could thrown them on any other topic, and if he believes that warriors are heroes who must be cheered for no matter what they do, and if he takes some vicarious pleasure in the primitive notion that lashing out makes him safe, then it doesn’t much matter what the pretense is. Let some back war as philanthropy and others as enlightened genocide, as long as enough of them back it or tolerate it, it will get started. And once started, it must be continued for the sake of the soldiers doing most of the killing and a little bit of the dying.
In Afghanistan, the top killer of U.S. troops is suicide. Continuing a war so that our troops will not have been killing themselves in vain brings a new level of blindness to the question of what types of destructive madness are simply and unavoidably in vain. Of course, U.S. troops are in Afghanistan to spread democracy, while the vast majority of U.S. residents oppose keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the casus belli has been assassinated and given a proper Muslim sea burial, according to our president, who occasionally brags about such killings while refusing to officially say whether they exist. He has said, however, that we’re leaving Afghanistan, and the primary way in which we’re leaving is, oddly enough, by staying, at least for the next two and a half years, after which we’re staying in an unspecified smaller way for another 10 years. Then we’ll see.
Will the third poorest nation in the world be able to keep fighting off our loving embrace, night raids, and drone strikes for 12.5 more years? It will if we keep paying for it. Imagine how many of that last 25 percent of Americans would turn against this war if they knew they were paying for both sides of it while their schools and fire stations and ecosystems collapse. A report by the congressional Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, chaired by Rep. John Tierney, found that $360 million per year was being handed over by the Pentagon to insurgent groups or their warlord front men for the safe passage of truck convoys carrying US military supplies, from one trucking contract alone. We’re paying for permission to drive down roads without being shot at. What a war! Imagine if the British had thought of that in 1776. Maybe we could still be colonies.
We don’t need to abandon Afghans, or Libyans, or Syrians, or for that matter Bahrainis or Saudis. But effective financial aid and reparations would support nonviolence and independence. As Ralph Lopez has been pointing out, there are good examples of humanitarian programs in Afghanistan that could be built on. Most foreign aid, however, is a scam, with 40 to 50 percent never reaching Afghanistan. Aid profiteers rival war profiteers in their greed, while 60 percent of Afghan children are in various stages of starvation and 23 froze to death last winter outside Kabul. And half the so-called aid money has gone to training soldiers and police. I remember the late Richard Holbrooke telling Congress that civilian operations in Afghanistan were subordinate to the military. That dooms them to failure, and Afghans to suffering.
I went to Afghanistan last year with Kathy Kelly and Voices for Creative Nonviolence. I met there a man named Hakim who has organized a group called Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. Last week I heard from Kathy that he wanted to visit the United States but had been denied a visa. So, Voices and Global Exchange and Fellowship of Reconciliation and the group I work for RootsAction.org flooded the State Department with emails and calls. And they reversed their decision and gave Hakim a visa. He’ll be here soon. Sometimes our voice is loud enough. Other times it’s just one tiny little whisper short and we imagine it’s nowhere close.
Our voice was loud in 2005 and 2006. It was loud enough to prevent an attack on Iran in 2007. We’ve been helping to hold off an attack on Iran for years, since our 1953 overthrow of its government and our aid to Iraq in killing Iranians in the 1980s. Now we hear that Iran may have nuclear weapons, or nuclear weapons facilities, or nuclear weapons program capabilities, and Iran was behind 9-11, and Iran is criminally threatening to put up a fight if attacked again, plus Iran hired a Mexican drug gang to assassinate a Saudi ambassador in D.C. and then called it off just to make us look bad for catching them. There’s no limit to the Iranians’ evil, which is why we should take an action that the war proponents themselves say would fail on its own terms. Bombing Iran would do no more than the murderous sanctions already in place or the assassinations of scientists already committed to overthrow the government. And for the U.S. to allow Israel to attack Iran would only fool people in a single nation: ours. Iran would strike back at U.S. troops, and it would be a U.S. war by day two.
War is not just reserved for poor nations now, but it has — in other ways — changed almost beyond recognition. Mostly the elderly and children die in wars now, mostly civilians. The wars happen where they live. Almost entirely non-Americans die in U.S. wars. Sometimes the U.S. warriors are seated in air-conditioned offices in the United States. Drones are better than armies, someone told me recently, because with drones nobody gets killed. Imagine the terror produced by the buzzing of a drone over your house night and day, able to take your life and the lives of your loved ones at any moment. But don’t bother to protest. You’re nobody. You’re not listed in the war casualty reports in U.S. newspapers. When drones kill, nobody dies, and you — you 95 percent of humanity — you are nobody. Harold Koh says that bombing houses is neither a war nor hostilities, under the War Powers Act. Unless Americans are under the bombs, they are not hostile bombs. Perhaps they are friendly bombs, or bombs that are good for people whether they know it or not.
The military now wants to give medals to drone pilots. I picture them as bronzed joy sticks. I actually think there’s something unfair about this idea. I think our brave drones themselves should be getting the medals. They show the absolute least hesitation to kill. Or what about the ants fighting in my back yard? They sacrifice their lives and abandon their comrades with complete efficiency. If we’re handing out medals for desk jobs, what about the guys who pay the protection fees on Afghan roads? Or the guy who catches Petraeus when he faints in Congressional hearings? Why should some people get medals and others not? “War will exist,” wrote John F. Kennedy, “until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” Therefore, I say, scrap all the medals except for those who refuse to fight.
The key, I think, to getting to that distant day when resisters are honored and warriors are not, is that we stop justifying or ignoring mass-murder. The deaths of 95 percent of the victims of our wars are the most closely guarded secret. The deaths of so-called civilians, of those not understood to be fighting back in defense of their homes, of those not male or fighting age. (Fighting-age males are posthumously declared combatants whenever our government kills them). This is the most forbidden information, because it brings down the war machine. The war machine depends for its existence on being something other than murder on a larger scale, even as it strives to reduce itself to exactly murder on a recognizable scale. Our sacred troops are the war machine’s best defense, since whatever they do must be brave and therefore good. And yet some of those troops are the gravest threat, not only because they can refuse to fight, or can speak out in opposition, but because some of them persist in producing videos and photos of themselves posing with, mutilating, and urinating on the bodies of people they kill.
And then we’re told to be outraged by the urination. But when you get outraged that someone has peed on the body of a man they just murdered, what does that convey about your attitude toward the murder itself? Surely most of us would object more to being killed than to being peed on after we’re dead.
The forbidden thought is that all killing is regrettable, immoral, and criminal. This is the thought of which Lockheed Martin, David Petraeus, General Electric, Buck McKeon, and your neighbors are frightened.
It’s all right to call a war a failure and the failure a SNAFU and incompetence the order of the day. The military money machine can generate even more money out of that. It could have done better with another trillion or two to spend.
It’s all right to point out the injustice, hypocrisy, and shame in our society’s treatment of veterans after they’ve served their war-making purpose. People can devote their time and energy to bake sales for veterans’ needs. That only furthers the acceptance of war in many minds, while a few are awakened. And the Pentagon can shift to fighting its wars with robots.
It’s all right to point out the economic trade-offs at stake, the standard of living we could have if we gave up some bombers and some billionaires. I make this point all the time. A few will understand, but the military industrial complex will counter by calling itself a jobs program and threatening congress members with unemployment in their districts.
What is not all right is finding out that our wars are one-sided slaughters of helpless families, and that over a million Iraqis lie dead in a devastated society where the first question any mother asks in areas poisoned by our weapons is “Is it normal?”
Veterans For Peace put out a statement last week in response to a United Nations communication to the U.S. government expressing concerns about our country’s treatment of children in war. Included were concerns about the recruitment of children into the U.S. military, the U.S. killing of children in Afghanistan, the U.S. detention and torture of children labeled “combatants,” and the provision of weapons by the United States to other nations employing child soldiers. I suspect it is the senseless killing of children abroad that will ultimately sway the most minds, but recruitment — or at least the cost of it — if an issue that is gaining traction.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota has won bipartisan support and passed through the Armed Services Committee a measure blocking the military from spending $80 million on sponsoring NASCAR drivers. We have a campaign at RootsAction.org to keep that measure in the bill. The U.S. Army says a third of its recruits come from motorsports sponsorships. Recruitment stations at racetracks help. But how does the Army measure the impact on our culture of sponsoring race cars? Dale Earnhardt, Jr., whom the National Guard has paid $136 million over the past five years to put a National Guard sticker on his race car and wear the logo on his uniform, predictably opposes cutting the funding, as do the biggest recipients of weapons money in Congress, none of whom have agreed to plaster their bodies with the logos of their sponsors. Military race cars have been featured in music videos, movies, and the shelves of toy stores. How can something so pervasive be measured? Well, we do know this: the total cost of advertising and recruitment per recruit is so much that we could have taken that money and simply given that young person and a bunch of his friends jobs doing something productive.
Those of us over on the left tend to think of cuts as bad and spending as good. For libertarians, cuts are good and spending is bad. This conveniently erases from the discussion the question of WHAT cuts and WHICH spending. We need to stop shouting “Jobs Not Cuts” and start shouting “Jobs Not Wars.” The U.S. military is so well funded, that it could be cut by half, remain far and away the best funded military in the world, and fund with those cuts every program any progressive group has ever dared to dream of for clean energy, education, housing, etc., and quite a few programs nobody has yet dared to dream. Or we on the left could make a deal with libertarians: we work together. We cut a half trillion out of the Pentagon — and I mean each year, not “over 10 years” as they like to say — and we put a quarter trillion into tax cuts and a quarter trillion into useful spending.
A massive urgent program, or what people unthinkingly like to call “a war,” is needed right now to prevent catastrophic climate change. Another is needed to rid the world of nuclear weapons and power. Another is needed to pull government out of the hands of plutocracy. And these aren’t movements aimed at making life a little bit better. Jeremy Brecher wrote recently of the need for a human preservation movement. This is what we need, a survival movement, part of which will be the full abolition of war.
The Occupy movement is a good start at bringing important issues together. But of course we need to carry with us into the occupy movement the distinctly minority understanding that war can and must be completely eliminated. We can learn from the Outlawry movement. It was moral, educational, non-electoral, and long-term with no expectation of succeeding even in a generation, and no trigger to collapse into despair if it didn’t.
We need to recognize that war is not in our genes. It’s a relatively new creation, sporadically present and absent in various societies, avoided when we choose and not otherwise. It’s not created by mystical forces of history or population or resource shortages or testosterone. It’s created by a culture’s tolerance for it, or tolerance for an unrepresentative government that engages in it. That’s our situation. War is a creation of the 1 percent that recruits members of the 99 percent to support it, as well as to do the dirty parts. War and the weapons barons and the oil oligarchs and the Wall Street banksters and the corporate media and the big business lobbies and the crowd of court jesters and sycophants in Washington who claim to be our government: they look more powerful than they are. They’re afraid of their own shadows. Six years ago they were secretly telling each other to end the wars before we gained more strength. Instead we switched parties and went home, while they breathed a sigh of relief. Yet, now, again they are scared of everything we do. They’re spying on every word, comprehending little. What they understand is resistance. Frank Kellogg never understood the Outlawry of War, but he didn’t have to. He just had to do what the people demanded. There are more of us in any small town than there are of them in the whole country. We need to realize our strength.
“And these words shall then become,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley,
“Like Oppression’s thundered doom
“Ringing through each heart and brain,
“Heard again – again – again -
“Rise like Lions after slumber
“In unvanquishable number -
“Shake your chains to earth like dew
“Which in sleep had fallen on you -
“Ye are many – they are few.”
David Swanson is the author of War Is A Lie and Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union. He blogs at davidswanson.org and warisacrime.org, where this article originally appeared. He works for the online activist organization rootsaction.org, and hosts Talk Nation Radio.