It's hard to know whether to be pleased each time the place I live, Charlottesville, Va., is named the happiest city in the United States. I grew up largely in Northern Virginia (suburbs of Washington, D.C.) and Charlottesville is a long ways away in Central Virginia. I remember hearing that Fairfax County schools, which I attended at the time, were ranked best in the country. Wow, I thought, other people's schools must be truly awful!
So, I haven't discovered that I'm happier; I've just been informed that everyone else is less happy. Not being much of a schadenfreudist, I can't really find that anything but depressing. I knew that the United States fell behind a lot of nations in international attempts to measure happiness, but the idea that the rest of the United States falls behind my bit of it seems pretty gloomy.
I wasn't interviewed for the latest survey, don't know who was, and have no idea how meaningful it is. Of course I find the analysis interesting that says people in other cities are wealthier but less happy, and concludes that people are willing to be paid to be less happy. Again, I'm sorry not to be pleased, but doesn't that suggest we're a nation of morons? (Well, except for we enlightened few who've moved to Charlottesville.)
Of course, I don't know most people in Charlottesville or have any idea how happy they are or why. Charlottesville, like most places, suffers from income inequality, poverty, pollution, too many cars, ugly sprawl, racial segregation, ignorance, consumerism, and lack of imagination. It's no paradise, and my experience of it is not the same as anyone else's. But let me offer a few ideas on how it manages to win these happiness rankings.
Charlottesville is significantly smaller than the other top-ranked cities. That it is a city is a legal matter; many people would call it a small town. It's even smaller when the University of Virginia is on break. Charlottesville is close enough that people can go to the Washington, D.C., area when and if they need to or want to, by car or train or bus. But the traffic jams and crowds are there, not here. And, importantly, we know it. We know that we have many things better than they have it up north: we can get anywhere in 10 minutes or less; we can walk or bicycle; we can expect to bump into people we know; random people say hello; and there are no lines to wait in when we get where we're going. And, significantly, when we get organized our local government often listens to us -- in stark contrast to many people's experience in larger places.
Charlottesville is heavily populated by people who chose to be here, as I did. People must be happier when they are somewhere they've chosen to be. I suspect that many, like I, appreciate the balance between a small town and a city. Charlottesville is culturally and intellectually rich for its size. It has a pedestrian downtown square -- or, rather, street -- so there is a there there. It has hills and farms and vineyards, a river, mountains, parks. It's an athletic town, and exercise makes happiness. And, importantly perhaps, at least some of us are aware that rural areas not far from Charlottesville can sometimes be politically and culturally akin to stepping back decades or centuries in time, and not in a good way. One hopes we manage to be appreciative without being blindly arrogant.
Charlottesville has a university and two big hospitals and lots of other businesses, but I could never find a decent job here back in the days of real-world jobs. Only after I'd figured out how to work online could I move back to Charlottesville. I could do my job from anywhere and choose to do it from here, in part to be near family, in part to be somewhere that speaks my mother tongue, but in large part because I like the place.
And yet I'm haunted by some of the darker reasons that it's possible to be so happy in Cville. Like most places in the United States, a good chunk of Charlottesville's economy comes from the military and its contractors and subcontractors. Only because the military does what it does very far away and out of sight, and only because we tell ourselves lies to justify those evil deeds, can we enjoy our cafes and bike lanes and farmers markets. There are U.S. weapons companies in Charlottesville and U.S. weapons leveling houses in Gaza -- not such a happy thought.
Like most places in the United States, Charlottesville unsustainably pollutes the earth's air and water. That we're in the piedmont, unlike those low-lying folks in Norfolk who are going to have to get very used to wetness, gives us a false sense of security. Weather extremes have begun reaching us here too, and there's more to come.
Like most places in the United States, Charlottesville locks too many of its most troubled, and untroubled, people up behind bars and out-of-sight. Like most places, Charlottesville consumes products from around the world created in severely inhumane conditions.
I'm not sure I could spend my time writing about violence and injustice if I weren't living in a place that suggests that's not all that's possible, but we all must work on making our happy places possible without hidden dependencies on violence and injustice.
Chris Hedges says that Palestinians have the right to self-defense in the form of rockets, without including any consideration of whether the rockets make the Palestinians more or less defended. There is, after all, a reasonable argument that the rockets are counter-productive and endangering, rather than protecting, Palestine.
Legally, if we ignore the Kellogg-Briand Pact and stick to the U.N. Charter, much less its frequent abuse by the powerful nations of the world, there is no doubt that Hedges is correct. If demolishing Iraqi or Afghan or Libyan or Pakistani or Yemeni homes is "defense" of the United States, then surely the people of Gaza, under actual attack, have the legal right to shoot rockets at Israel. That's just basic Western consensus with the hypocrisy removed.
"[M]any Palestinians, especially young men trapped in overcrowded hovels where they have no work and little dignity," writes Hedges, "will risk immediate death to defy the slow, humiliating death of occupation. I cannot blame them."
Here are the false choices framed: either we blame the victims of Israel's vicious and massive assault on a trapped population, blame them for reacting as virtually anyone else in the so-called developed world would, or we advocate for the right to fight defensive wars -- regardless of whether it helps or hurts the situation. Those are not the only options.
I'm not sure I can prove that the rockets hurt the situation, but to render the question inadmissible seems fatally flawed. The justification that the U.S. Congress and White House use for arming Israel and seeking to shelter Israel from legal consequences is always and exclusively the rockets. The justification that Israeli spokespeople use on television is likewise almost entirely the rockets. In a world without the rockets, would other excuses prove successful? It's hard to say for sure. But the rockets provide the public packaging for Israeli war-making, accomplish virtually nothing in military terms, and almost certainly do more to frighten and enrage the people of Israel than to bring Israelis around to sympathizing with the plight of their government's victims.
I've just spoken by phone with a smart writer in Gaza named Sarah Ali for an upcoming edition of Talk Nation Radio. She explained to me quite eloquently how Israeli attacks on Gaza were generating support for Hamas and violence against Israel. She described the emotional need to fight back. So, I asked her if rocket attacks on Israel weren't likewise counterproductive. No, she said, she imagined that Israelis saw the rockets and began to understand the point of view of Palestinians. In the absence of any evidence of that phenomenon, I can only say that I'll believe it when I see it. In every case I'm aware of in which one nation has militarily attacked another, it has done far more to enrage than to stimulate sympathy in the people coming under attack.
Of course, I have no right to tell the people of Gaza what to do or not do from the comfort of my home in the heart of the imperial monster that is funding their apocalypse. Of course I cannot know the situation as they know it. But it's not clear to me that every Gazan has as deep a familiarity with Israelis or every Israeli with Gazans as one might imagine from their geographic vicinity. The division between these two societies is extreme. How else could Israelis imagine children as their enemies? And how else could those children's parents imagine that firing rockets would win over hearts and minds?
Probably the biggest news story of 1928 was the war-making nations of the world coming together on August 27th and legally outlawing war. It's a story that's not told in our history books, but it's not secret CIA history. There was no CIA. There was virtually no weapons industry as we know it. There weren't two political parties in the United States uniting in support of war after war. In fact, the four biggest political parties in the United States all backed abolishing war.
Cue whining, polysyllabic screech: "But it didn't wooooooooork!"
I wouldn't be bothering with it if it had. In its defense, the Kellogg-Briand Pact (look it up or read my book) was used to prosecute the makers of war on the losing sides following World War II (an historic first), and -- for whatever combination of reasons (nukes? enlightenment? luck?) -- the armed nations of the world have not waged war on each other since, preferring to slaughter the world's poor instead. Significant compliance following the very first prosecution is a record that almost no other law can claim.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact has two chief values, as I see it. First, it's the law of the land in 85 nations including the United States, and it bans all war-making. For those who claim that the U.S. Constitution sanctions or requires wars regardless of treaty obligations, the Peace Pact is no more relevant than the U.N. Charter or the Geneva Conventions or the Anti-Torture Convention or any other treaty. But for those who read the laws as they are written, beginning to comply with the Kellogg-Briand Pact makes far more sense than legalizing drone murders or torture or bribery or corporate personhood or imprisonment without trial or any of the other lovely practices we've been "legalizing" on the flimsiest of legal arguments. I'm not against new national or international laws against war; ban it 1,000 times, by all means, if there's the slightest chance that one of them will stick. But there is, for what it's worth, already a law on the books if we care to acknowledge it.
Second, the movement that created the Pact of Paris grew out of a widespread mainstream international understanding that war must be abolished, as slavery and blood feuds and duelling and other institutions were being abolished. While advocates of outlawing war believed other steps would be required: a change in the culture, demilitarization, the establishment of international authorities and nonviolent forms of conflict resolution, prosecutions and targeted sanctions against war-makers; while most believed this would be the work of generations; while the forces leading toward World War II were understood and protested against for decades; the explicit and successful intention was to make a start of it by outlawing and formally renouncing and rendering illegitimate all war, not aggressive war or unsanctioned war or inappropriate war, but war.
In the never-ending aftermath of World War II, the U.N. Charter has formalized and popularized a very different conception of war's legality. I've just interviewed Ben Ferencz, aged 94, the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, for an upcoming edition of Talk Nation Radio. He describes the Nuremberg prosecutions as happening under the framework of the U.N. Charter, or something identical to it, despite the chronological problem. He believes that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal. But he claims not to know whether the U.S. invasion and ongoing over-12-year war on Afghanistan is legal or not. Why? Not because it fits either of the two gaping loopholes opened up by the U.N. Charter, that is: not because it is U.N.-authorized or defensive, but -- as far as I can make out -- just because those loopholes exist and therefore wars might be legal and it's unpleasant to acknowledge that the wars waged by one's own nation are not.
Of course, plenty of people thought more or less like that in the 1920s and 1930s, but plenty of people also did not. In the era of the United Nations, NATO, the CIA, and Lockheed Martin we have seen steady progress in the doomed attempt, not to eliminate war, but to civilize it. The United States leads the way in arming the rest of the world, maintaining a military presence in most of the world, and launching wars. Western allies and nations armed, free-of-charge, by the United States, including Israel, advance war-making and war-civilizing, not war-abolition. The notion that war can be eliminated using the tool of war, making war on war-makers in order to teach them not to make war, has had a far longer run than the Kellogg-Briand Pact had prior to its supposed failure and the Truman Administration's remaking of the U.S. government into a permanent war machine in the cause of progress.
Civilizing war for the benefit of the world has been an abysmal failure. We now have wars launched on unarmed defenseless people thousands of miles away in the name of "defense." We now have wars depicted as U.N.-authorized because the U.N. once passed a resolution related to the nation being destroyed. And just seconds before the Israeli military blows up your house in Gaza, they ring you up on the telephone to give you a proper warning.
I remember a comedy sketch from Steve Martin mocking the phony politeness of Los Angeles: a line of people waited their turn to withdraw cash from a bank machine, while a line of armed robbers waited their turn in a separate line to politely ask for and steal each person's money. War is past the point of such parody. There is no space left for satire. Governments are phoning families to tell them they're about to be slaughtered, and then bombing the shelters they flee to if they manage to flee.
Is mass-murder acceptable if done without rape or torture or excessive targeting of children or the use of particular types of chemical weapons, as long as the victims are telephoned first or the murderers are associated with a group of people harmed by war several decades back?
Here's a new initiative that says No, the abolition of the greatest evil needs a renaissance and completion: WorldBeyondWar.org.
Mary Anne Grady Flores (pictured, far right) and Judy Bello have long been among those protesting drone murders in Afghanistan conducted at Hancock Air Base in Upstate New York. Grady Flores is out on bail and facing a year behind bars for allegedly violating an Order of Protection, a legal order normally used to protect someone from domestic violence but currently used to "protect" the commanders of an Air Force base from some 50 nonviolent demonstrators. Learn more:
Read this background:
Harassing the Drones, by Kathy Kelly.
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There's a chance to watch DRONES, the movie, online on July 30th and then to join a discussion with filmmakers and experts. There's a preview video below. The movie's website is at http://dronesthefilm.com and the free screening is at http://demandprogress.tv/drones
I saw a screening of this film back in November at the drone summit in DC. It's wonderful. I was a bit put-off and staggered, to be frank, at the time, because someone involved with the film bragged about how inexpensively it had been made, and yet the budget was so unfathomably huge that I knew that if an anti-war organization had that kind of money we could hire organizers all over the world and quite possibly make the abolition of war a major mainstream force.
And, of course, you can't simply ask if the money was well spent, because no one will say that it was spent to end the practice of drone murder. The director and the cast, of course, say they wanted to make a socially important film about a serious issue, but not what they wanted to accomplish, beyond raising questions and being entertaining. Everyone's always happy to say that a film opposes racism or cruelty to animals or bullying, but not war.
But, you hundreds of millions of odd-balls who, like me, happen to give a damn whether your government is murdering people in your name with your money will, in fact, want to make this film a huge viral success. I'm telling you, right now, it's a good one. It is indeed entertaining. It's not simple, predictable, pedantic, or preaching. But neither is the film itself reluctant to face head-on the banal, evil, arrogant mass-murder engaged in by these young people who dress up in pilots suits to sit at desks in trailers taking orders from military bureaucrats and private contractors, and ultimately from a president who reviews a list of potential men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays.
Drones look like a golden opportunity to war makers who don't want to ask Congress or the U.N. or the public, don't want to send in armies, just want to target people and groups for death anywhere in the world and obliterate them with the push of a button from an air-conditioned -- or, sometimes not so air-conditioned -- office.
But drones also look like a golden opportunity to those of us who have been trying to point out that murder and war are distinguished only by scale. I suspect that many who cannot see the bombing of a city as murder will see the drone-targeting of an individual as nothing else -- particularly if they watch this film.
If you can watch the film and not want to Ban Weaponized Drones, watch it again.
A few years back, prior to the International Day of Peace on September 21st, a school board member here in Virginia said that he would back a resolution marking that day as long as everyone understood that in doing so he was not opposing any wars.
Wars for peace, like sex for virginity, appear contradictory to some. But what about militarism for peace? What about war preparations and peace? A so-called "defense" department that arms the world; can that be compatible with peace?
We need our governments to begin planning for a day of peace. Instead of investing everything in planning for war, preparing for war, and proliferating enough weapons to fuel plenty of wars, governments could invest in alternatives to war, nonviolent means of conflict resolution, moves toward justice that reduce conflict, international standards of law that make negotiations and diplomacy effective.
One of the tools that we can use to move our cultures and our governments toward planning for a day of peace is to ourselves plan for a day celebrating peace -- peace understood precisely as the elimination of war. September 21st, the International Day of Peace, is one such day. WorldBeyondWar.org is organizing events here. And here is a list of events in the U.S. arranged on a map by Campaign Nonviolence.
Groups and individuals interested in planning events this September can work with Campaign Nonviolence and Global Movement for the Culture of Peace and Peace One Day and A Year Without War. Advocates of peace and environmental sanity who grasp the connections between the two may want to participate in a People's Climate March in New York City, September 20-21, and bring this flyer: PDF.
Some resources that can be used to create events of various types are here:
Screen and discuss the World Beyond War video.
Bring speakers from this Speakers Bureau.
Use these flyers, sign-up cards, sign-up sheets.
At some events already planned for September 21, 2014, people will begin marking 100 years since the Christmas Truces of World War I. You can find great information on World War I at 100 on NoGlory.org
You may want to screen Joyeux Noel: a film about the 1914 Christmas truce. Or use this script for reenactment of a Christmas Truce: PDF. Here's more Christmas Truce information and videos. And if you're in the Northeast U.S. or the U.K. you might be able to attend or even set up a production of The Great War Theatre Project: Messengers of a Bitter Truth: Info in PDF.
Peace deserves more than empty platitudes compatible with the preservation of war as our largest public project. Sometimes bringing truth back from propaganda is so jarring as to be humorous. "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work," said Woody Allen. "I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment." We should not want peace only in our hearts or in the press releases of the Pentagon; we should want peace through the ending of war and the abolition of the institutions that continue to plan and create more wars even while they pretend to a sight degree of outrage that each new war has been successfully created.
I was not sure I would like a book called Worth Fighting For by a former soldier who walked across the United States to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. The website of that foundation celebrates military "service" and the "higher calling" for which Tillman left professional football, namely participation in the U.S. war on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather than funding efforts to put an end to war, as Tillman actually might have wished by the end of his life, the foundation hypes war participation, funds veterans, and to this day presents Tillman's death thusly:
"On the evening of April 22, 2004, Pat's unit was ambushed as it traveled through the rugged, canyon terrain of eastern Afghanistan. His heroic efforts to provide cover for fellow soldiers as they escaped from the canyon led to his untimely and tragic death via fratricide."
Those heroic efforts happened, if they happened, in the context of an illegal and immoral operation that had Tillman defending foreign invaders from Afghans defending their homes. And the last two words above ("via fratricide") tell a different story from the rest of the paragraph, page, and entire website of the Pat Tillman Foundation. Tillman was shot by U.S. troops. And he may not have died a thorough-going supporter of what he was engaged in. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead.
Rory Fanning's book -- Worth Fighting For -- relates, however, that Tillman looked forward to getting out of the military and sympathized with the actions of Fanning, a member of his battalion who became a conscientious objector and refused to fight. According to Fanning, Tillman "knew his very public circumstances forced him to stick it out."
That's obviously a different use of the word "forced" from "gravity forced the weight to drop" or "the missile striking the house forced the people inside to split apart into fragments of flesh and gore." Imagine the benefits to the cause of peace if the one troop who had a name, face, and voice had shattered the bullshit choruses of "Support the Troops!" by doing what Fanning did, and thus living to tell the tale? Instead Tillman stuck it out and left many believing that military propagandists had either become quite fortunate or something worse, when Tillman did not live to quite possibly oppose -- better late than never -- what he had been doing.
When I worked with a number of talented people to draft articles of impeachment for George W. Bush that were introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, they included this:
"The White House and the Department of Defense (DOD) in 2004 promoted a false account of the death of Specialist Pat Tillman, reporting that he had died in a hostile exchange, delaying release of the information that he had died from friendly fire, shot in the forehead three times in a manner that led investigating doctors to believe he had been shot at close range.
"A 2005 report by Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones reported that in the days immediately following Specialist Tillman's death, U.S. Army investigators were aware that Specialist Tillman was killed by friendly fire, shot three times to the head, and that senior Army commanders, including Gen. John Abizaid, knew of this fact within days of the shooting but nevertheless approved the awarding of the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion.
"On April 24, 2007, Spc. Bryan O'Neal, the last soldier to see Specialist Pat Tillman alive, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he was warned by superiors not to divulge information that a fellow soldier killed Specialist Tillman, especially to the Tillman family. The White House refused to provide requested documents to the committee, citing 'executive branch confidentiality interests.'"
What made Pat Tillman a particular hero to many in the United States was that he had given up huge amounts of money to go to war. That he had passed up the evil of hoarding wealth in order to engage in something even more evil does not register with supporters of war. And had the U.S. Army not killed him, and had he not subsequently killed himself (the leading cause of U.S. military deaths now being suicide), Tillman might have lengthened his life by leaving the NFL, which abandons its players to an average lifespan in their 50s and in some cases dementia in their 40s -- an issue that arises in Fanning's book as he meets with former NFL greats to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.
Tillman was, by all accounts, kind, humble, intelligent, courageous, and well-intentioned. He clearly inspired many, many people whom he met, and whom he never met, to be better people. Fanning would, I think, include himself in that list. But when Fanning decided to walk across the country raising funds, and finding support and shelter for himself along the way, in the name of Pat Tillman, he was playing on the beliefs of a propagandized public, beliefs that he himself had ceased to fully share. A sheriff, in a typical example, takes Fanning's empty water bottles, drives 12 miles to refill them, and hands them back to Fanning with tears in his eyes, saying, "What Pat did for our country is one of the bravest, most admirable things I can remember anyone doing. Take this for your cause." And he handed Fanning $100.
Was generating hatred and resentment in Afghanistan by killing helpless people a service to the United States? Was the environmental destruction and economic cost and eroded civil liberties a benefit to us all? In the minds of the people whom the Pat Tillman Foundation is still trying to milk for funding, perhaps so. Such a foundation not only saves the government from providing for veterans (or anyone else) while investing more in weaponry, but it also generates public support for and identification with supposed military heroism. It's a double-victory for the makers of war in Washington, most of whom are far more misguided than Pat Tillman ever was, but most of whom are more remarkable for cowardice than bravery.
As I say, I wasn't 100% sure I would like Fanning's book. I believe things are worth working for, struggling for, suffering for, and dying for, but not fighting for. What could he mean? I was very pleasantly surprised, and recommend the book enthusiastically. It recounts an adventure worth having that contained no fighting at all. It's a tale told with wisdom, erudition, kindness, humor, humility, and generosity of which I think Tillman might have been proud.
Like the guy in that Craig's List movie, Fanning finds people going out of their way to help him as he very publicly walks across the country, doing interviews along the way, speaking at events, and chronicling his progress on a website (now gone). This does not, of course, prove that anyone without a public cause or celebrity label, or anyone of any race or sex or appearance, could safely and successfully find the same sort of selfless support from so many Americans. It is heartening and encouraging, nonetheless, to read. And these accounts come interspersed with descriptions and historical background on the places Fanning walks through that suggest he has a future as a travel writer if he wants it. Intermingled as well quite seamlessly is an account of how Fanning himself moved from being "a devout Christian to an atheist and from a conservative Republican to a socialist." He later adds that he ceased opposing environmentalists and became one. As this world needs such transformations on a large scale, a smart account by someone who's been through one has great value.
One aspect of Fanning's own drama that sheds light on the notion that Tillman was "forced" to "support the troops" even while being one (that is, support a war he may have disagreed with), is the description of how hard it was for Fanning to turn against the military (a process that may perhaps remain incomplete for him even now). Fanning had joined after 9-11 for similar reasons to Tillman, believing it his duty. He then found he "did not have it in him" to kill. And he saw the injustice and absurdity of capturing people falsely ratted out by rivals to an ignorant foreign occupier eager to punish (and torture) anyone it could. He came to see himself as an imperialist pawn rather than a rescuer on a mission for humanity. When he refused to go along to get along, he was ostracized and abused by everyone around him except Pat Tillman and his brother Kevin Tillman. Despite his refusal to fight, Fanning was sent to Afghanistan again, made to do chores, labeled "bitch" by his commander, and forced to sleep outside alone in the snow. And Fanning supported his own abuse, attempting to make himself ill, afraid of the shame of his own behavior rather than wishing to expose the shame of the evil behavior of those around him.
Fanning recounts a conversation with a military chaplain. Fanning made the case that the whole war was unjust. The chaplain made the case that God wanted him to do it anyway. The loser in that contest was apparently Fanning's use for the concept of "God."
But Fanning's struggle continued within himself even after getting home and getting out. "After I left the military," he writes, "the hardest thing I had to do was look someone in the eyes. I was afraid I would be exposed for breaking my oath." Not for having been part of an operation of mass-murder, but for having abandoned it. That's how Fanning thought even after getting out, so one can imagine how Tillman thought while still in -- and while in with a world telling him he was a god himself for being there. Fanning sees the contradiction. "I knew U.S. imperialism was destroying the planet," he writes, "but I still felt guilty for leaving."
Through Fanning's walk he gives talks that avoid mentioning what he (and perhaps Tillman) actually thought, until -- three-quarters of the way along -- a boy asks him which branch of the military to join, and he answers "I don't think you should join any of them." He then gives the $100 from the sheriff to a homeless man under an overpass.