Addiction Is Not Addictive

Whether someone becomes addicted to drugs has much more to do with their childhood and their quality of life than with the drug they use or with anything in their genes. This is one of the more startling of the many revelations in the best book I've read yet this year: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

We've all been handed a myth. The myth goes like this: Certain drugs are so powerful that if you use them enough they will take over. They will drive you to continue using them. It turns out this is mostly false. Only 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers can stop smoking using a nicotine patch that provides the same drug. Of people who have tried crack in their lives, only 3 percent have used it in the past month and only 20 percent were ever addicted. U.S. hospitals prescribe extremely powerful opiates for pain every day, and often for long periods of time, without producing addiction. When Vancouver blocked all heroin from entering the city so successfully that the "heroin" being sold had zero actual heroin in it, the addicts' behavior didn't change. Some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were addicted to heroin, leading to terror among those anticipating their return home; but when they got home 95 percent of them within a year simply stopped. (So did the Vietnamese water buffalo population, which had started eating opium during the war.) The others soldiers had been addicts before they went and/or shared the trait most common to all addicts, including gambling addicts: an unstable or traumatic childhood.

Most people (90 percent according to the U.N.) who use drugs never get addicted, no matter what the drug, and most who do get addicted can lead normal lives if the drug is available to them; and if the drug is available to them, they will gradually stop using it.

But, wait just a minute. Scientists have proven that drugs are addictive, haven't they?

Well, a rat in a cage with absolutely nothing else in its life will choose to consume huge quantities of drugs. So if you can make your life resemble that of a rat in a cage, the scientists will be vindicated. But if you give a rat a natural place to live with other rats to do happy things with, the rat will ignore a tempting pile of "addictive" drugs.

And so will you. And so will most people. Or you'll use it in moderation. Before the War on Drugs began in 1914 (a U.S. substitute for World War I?), people bought bottles of morphine syrup, and wine and soft drinks laced with cocaine. Most never got addicted, and three-quarters of addicts held steady respectable jobs.

Is there a lesson here about not trusting scientists? Should we throw out all evidence of climate chaos? Should we dump all our vaccines into Boston Harbor? Actually, no. There's a lesson here as old as history: follow the money. Drug research is funded by a federal government that censors its own reports when they come to the same conclusions as Chasing the Scream, a government that funds only research that leaves its myths in place. Climate deniers and vaccine deniers should be listened to. We should always have open minds. But thus far they don't seem to be pushing better science that can't find funding. Rather, they're trying to replace current beliefs with beliefs that have less basis behind them. Reforming our thinking on addiction actually requires looking at the evidence being produced by dissident scientists and reformist governments, and it's pretty overwhelming.

So where does this leave our attitudes toward addicts? First we were supposed to condemn them. Then we were supposed to excuse them for having a bad gene. Now we're supposed to feel sorry for them because they have horrors they cannot face, and in most cases have had them since childhood? There's a tendency to view the "gene" explanation as the solider excuse. If 100 people drink alcohol and one of them has a gene that makes him unable to ever stop, it's hard to blame him for that. How could he have known? But what about this situation: Of 100 people, one of them has been suffering in agony for years, in part as a result of never having experienced love as a baby. That one person later becomes addicted to a drug, but that addiction is only a symptom of the real problem. Now, of course, it is utterly perverse to be inquiring into someone's brain chemistry or background before we determine whether or not to show them compassion. But I have a bit of compassion even for people who cannot resist such nonsense, and so I appeal to them now: Shouldn't we be kind to people who suffer from childhood trauma? Especially when prison makes their problem worse?

But what if we were to carry this beyond addiction to other undesirable behaviors? There are other books presenting similarly strong cases that violence, including sexual violence, and including suicide, have in very large part similar origins to those Hari finds for addiction. Of course violence must be prevented, not indulged. But it can best be reduced by improving people's lives, especially their young lives but importantly also their current lives. Bit by bit, as we have stopped discarding people of various races, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities as worthless, as we begin to accept that addiction is a temporary and non-threatening behavior rather than the permanent state of a lesser creature known as "the addict," we may move on to discarding other theories of permanence and genetic determination, including those related to violent criminals. Someday we may even outgrow the idea that war or greed or the automobile is the inevitable outcome of our genes.

Somehow blaming everything on drugs, just like taking drugs, seems much easier.

Watch Johann Hari on Democracy Now.

He'll soon be on Talk Nation Radio, so send me questions I should ask him, but read the book first.

It's the Blind Partisanship

Why did the peace movement grow large around 2003-2006 and shrink around 2008-2010? Military spending, troop levels abroad, and number of wars engaged in can explain the growth but not the shrinkage. Those factors hardly changed between the high point and the low point of peace activism.

Was pulling troops out of Iraq and sending them in huge numbers into Afghanistan a move the public favored? There's not much evidence for the second half of that, and it was never a demand of the peace movement at its height. Did the wars become more legal, more honest, more internationally accepted? Hardly. The United States escalated in Afghanistan and remained in Iraq as other nations ended their minor roles in those wars. The U.S. president began taking drone wars into a number of other countries with no domestic or international authorization at all, as he would later do with Libya, and then back into Iraq again (which Congress is considering possibly deliberating on whether to debate retroactively "authorizing").

The earlier period saw obvious lies about weapons in Iraq. The latter saw obvious lies about "success" in Iraq and imminent "success" in Afghanistan, not to mention the precision nature of drone "strikes," followed by lies about threats to civilians in Libya, chemical attacks in Syria, Russian invasions in Ukraine, and existential danger from ISIS and Russia.

Was the difference a matter of sheer exhaustion, then? Peace activists could perhaps only keep going for so long? Actually, no, activists moved to other issues more than they dropped out, and those who dropped out disproportionately had something in common: loyalty to the Democratic Party. I don't know this because I've chatted with a few people unscientifically selected as most likely to agree with whatever I say. I know it because I've just read a new book called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11 by Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas who have spent years studying this question using careful surveys of large numbers of activists. Their book begins with 93 pages of scholarly theoretical framework before getting to the data. You want careful examination of the influence of partisanship on activism? This is it.

"The 2006 elections and their immediate aftermath were the high point for party-movement synergy," write Heaney and Rojas. "At exactly the time when antiwar voices were most well poised to exert pressure on Congress, movement leaders stopped sponsoring lobby days. The size of antiwar protests declined. From 2007 to 2009, the largest antiwar rallies shrank from hundreds of thousands of people to thousands, and then to only hundreds."

What explains this?

"Our explanation centers on the shifting partisan alignments favoring the Democratic Party. We observe demobilization not in response to a policy victory, but in response to a party victory. The rising power of the Democratic Party may have convinced many antiwar activists that the war issue would be dealt with satisfactorily."

Is that what happened? The authors, in fact, have found strong evidence for these conclusions:

"Partisan identification tends to be stronger and longer-lasting than movement identification."

"While the Democratic Party was able to leverage antiwar sentiments effectively in promoting its own electoral success, the antiwar movement itself ultimately suffered organizationally from its ties to the Democratic Party."

"[T]he parties agree more on the substance of policy than their political rhetoric suggests."

"Overall, the findings offer strong support for the partisan identification theory as a way of understanding the mobilization of grassroots activists. Partisan identification fueled the growth of the antiwar movement during the Bush years but then trimmed the grass roots in the Obama era."

"Antiwar leaders crafted partisan frames to help get people into the streets. UFPJ's use of the slogan 'The World Says No to the Bush Agenda,' for the protest outside the 2004 Republican National Convention is a classic example of this strategy in operation."

"The bad news for the antiwar movement was that activists were more likely to favor their Democratic identities over their antiwar identities. Especially once Obama became president, there were too many good reasons to be a Democrat. The country had its first African American in the Oval Office, an important symbolic outcome after centuries of struggle for racial equality. The Democratic majority in Washington – which was nearly a supermajority – meant that comprehensive health care reform would stand a real chance for the first time in fifteen years. Thus, many former antiwar activists shifted their attention to other issues on the progressive agenda."

Heaney and Rojas and their surveys were features of antiwar events for years. Here are hypotheses they tested and found support for:

"h4.1. Partisan frames were more effective in drawing participants to the antiwar movement the greater the unity of Republican control in Washington, D.C. Partisan frames were less effective in drawing participants to the antiwar movement the greater the unity of Democratic control in Washington, D.C.

"h4.2. The participation of self-identified Democrats in the antiwar movement was more likely to be motivated by partisan frames than was participation of non-Democrats in the antiwar movement.

"h4.3. Self-identified Democrats were more likely to reduce their participation in the antiwar movement over time than were non-Democrats."

"h4.4. The more salient an individual's identification with social movements, the more likely that she or he maintained participation in the antiwar movement over time.

"h4.5. The more salient an individual's identification with the Democratic Party, the less likely she or he was to participate in the antiwar movement at all.

"h4.6 In cases of conflict, individuals participating in the antiwar movement were more likely to maintain their party loyalties than their movement loyalties.

"h4.7. Self-identified Democratic activists were more likely than non-Democrats to view wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as being managed well by the Obama administration.

"h4.8. After the election of President Obama, self-identified Democrats were more likely to shift their attention to nonwar issues than were non-Democrats."

Heaney and Rojas fend off some likely straw men:

"We do not claim that partisanship entirely explains the decline of the antiwar movement," they write. "There is no doubt that a long list of factors played a role. Activists were frustrated by a lack of policy success, meager resources, intramovement conflicts, and more. Many activists burned out from too many years of traveling to protests. Yet our analysis validates a very important role for partisanship in the decline. If partisan identities were not a contributing factor to the movement's decline, then we would not have observed differences between Democrats and non-Democrats in their behavior vis-à-vis the movement."

Now to quibbling. Heaney and Rojas, I think, fail to place the decisions that doomed the anti-Republican war movement quite early enough or to adequately distinguish the extent to which partisan organizations engaged in purely anti-Republican war activism even during the height of the movement. "[M]any of UFPJ's members no longer wanted to focus on antiwar opposition once a Democrat was in the White House," they write. In fact, I remember the big drop-off (whether driven by popular interest or funders or executive decisions) coming in 2007 as Democrats took more interest in electing a president than in opposing wars or building peace.

"While MoveOn formally continued to hold antiwar positions after Obama's election," write Heaney and Rojas, "it threw its weight behind health care organizing, rather than antiwar mobilizations." They add: "Neither MoveOn nor its members suddenly became 'prowar' in 2009. Instead, their issue priorities shifted with the rise of a new administration. With so many of its members identified with the Democratic Party, it was unlikely that MoveOn would maintain an agenda that was counter to the party's trajectory. Democratic identities outweighed antiwar identities within MoveOn, so, one of the leading players of the antiwar movement from 2003 to 2008 moved on to a different agenda."

But in fact, well before 2008, MoveOn was organizing antiwar events in the districts of prowar Republicans and not in the districts of prowar Democrats. In March 2007, shortly after the Democrats took power in Congress I wrote this analysis of MoveOn's refusal to lobby for peace as it had in years gone by:

"The Congress that was elected to end the war just voted to fund the war. Congresswoman Barbara Lee was not permitted to offer for a vote her amendment, which would have funded a withdrawal instead of the war. Groups that supported Lee's plan and opposed Pelosi's included United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America, US Labor Against the War, After Downing Street, Democrats.com, Peace Action, Code Pink, Democracy Rising, True Majority, Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Backbone Campaign, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Voters for Peace, Veterans for Peace, the Green Party, and disgruntled former members of MoveOn.org.

"True Majority was a late addition to the list. The organization polled its members. Did they favor the Pelosi bill to fund the war but include various toothless restrictions on it, or did they favor the Lee plan to use the power of the purse to end the war by the end of the year? Needless to say, True Majority's membership favored the Lee plan.

"MoveOn polled its membership without including the Lee alternative, offering a choice of only Pelosi's plan or nothing. Amazingly, Eli Pariser of MoveOn has admitted that the reason MoveOn did this was because they knew that their members would favor the Lee amendment."

Heaney and Rojas, however, emphasize popular will as the decisive factor:

"Did the movement decline because individual antiwar activists stopped showing up at public demonstrations? Or was the absence of organizational leadership the culprit? Our evidence suggests that the declining magnitude of antiwar protests during the 2007–2008 period was in large part, if not entirely, due to decreased interest among individual activists. If anything, the major organizations and coalitions intensified their mobilization efforts in 2007–2008, reflecting their access to financial and human resources accumulated over the past few years. The institutionalized movement persisted in its opposition in 2007–2008, even in the face of declining interest among its mass constituency. Still, decisions by organizational leaders had a greater hand in the movement's decline in 2009–2010 than they had in the earlier period."

I'm not convinced. I have no doubt that public sentiment, and in particular political partisanship, was hugely important. But organizations that have been corrupted by closeness to power don't advertise their shifts in position. They "poll" their members and declare themselves "member-run." The most common comment on antiwar conference calls in 2008 was "People are too busy with the election." Were they? Some were, some weren't. The question wasn't really tested. The most common comment on antiwar conference calls in 2009 was "It's too early to be seen as protesting Obama." Was it? That wasn't tested either, but it seems easier to answer in retrospect. We're more ready to say that in fact we shouldn't have hacked our own legs off at the knees and transformed into a collective Nobel Committee handing out magical prizes. We should have demanded peace if we thought it likely, and we should have demanded peace if we thought it unlikely. In fact, Obama supporters frequently quoted him telling us to go out there and make him do it, even while advocating against going out there and making him do it. The fact that we'd already gone relatively silent in 2007-2008 tends to get forgotten.

Heaney and Rojas deal in actual views of numerous actual people. So there are no imaginary master plots of deception involved. The idea is not that everyone who turned out to march in February 2003 was actually indifferent to war but using the war as an excuse to protest Bush. Rather, protesting both war and Bush were desirable to many. Then, Heaney and Rojas, argue, protesting war became less important than demanding healthcare.

I think a couple of points are worth adding some emphasis on, however, that may darken the picture slightly. When the Democrats took Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, it became necessary in protesting war to protest Democrats. That, in fact, was a worse fate in a lot of people's minds than accepting war. Democratic politicians do not typically try to be antiwar. They just work to be seen as less pro-war than Republicans (although many exceptions don't even do that). In addition, Democratic politicians pretend to favor things when they are out of power. In 2005 and early 2006, numerous Democrats in Congress were making commitments to end the war in Iraq. But by 2007, with the majority and the chairmanships in the House, 81 Representatives felt obliged to sign a letter committing to not fund more war just prior to, almost all of them, voting to fund more war. The activists who let them get away with that before moving onto healthcare were organized by groups that took direction from those very Democrats. They were forbidden to have signs reading "Single Payer" at their rallies or to advocate for anything not already in the legislation. It was a completely inverted relationship with public servants telling constituents what to demand of them. And now, with the Democrats back in the minority, they're starting to make noises about favoring progressive taxation and all sorts of things they stayed away from while in the majority.

Is all of this inevitable? I'm afraid the scholarly apparatus of scientistic studies tends to suggest it. Here are Heaney and Rojas: "The greater the size of the party in the street, the more likely a movement is to evolve toward using institutionally based political tactics. The smaller the size of the party in the street, the less likely a movement is to evolve toward using institutionally based political tactics." In other words, if you start to build numbers of people involved, they will move into lobbying and electioneering rather than nonviolent resistance or creative communication. Given that inevitability, the one thing that might seem unnecessary would be urging movements to make that turn voluntarily. Yet Heaney and Rojas have this advice for Occupy:

"A first step for the Occupy movement might be to recognize that many of its supporters and potential supporters identify with the Democratic Party. By taking such a strong stand against the Democratic Party, Occupy cuts itself off from a key part of its support base. Instead, the movement might look for ways to recognize and incorporate the intersectional identity of 'Occupy Democrats.' A second step might be to inaugurate some institutional structures within Occupy. These structures might help to raise funds, employ staff, and regularize communication with Occupy supporters. While this suggestion is somewhat counter to the nonhierarchical ethos of Occupy, some minimal level of organization may be necessary to make any systematic progress toward the movement's long-term policy goals. A third step might be to forge alliances with genuine allies in the progressive community. While it may be that alliances with the Democrats and MoveOn are untenable, perhaps Occupy could partner with the Green Party and other political organizations whose agendas are not incommensurate with Occupy's vision."

Weighing against that advice is evidence in this very book that a mere generation back the laws of movement politics were different:

"Public opinion was polarized according to party to a much greater degree during the 2000s than was the case during the Vietnam War era (Hetherington 2009, p. 442). Polarization was highly consequential in the formation of public opinion on the war. As Gary Jacobson (2010, p. 31) notes, 'the Iraq war has divided the American public along party lines far more than any other US military action since the advent of scientific polling back in the 1930s.' Americans often took their cues about how to make sense of developments in Iraq from their partisan identifications (Gelpi 2010). We argue that, as a result, the rhythms of the antiwar movement after 9/11 were driven by partisanship much more than was the case during the Vietnam antiwar movement."

Now, I am not proposing that we can turn back time. I have enough respect for laws of physics to discount that alternative. Heaney and Rojas cite the youth of the Vietnam-era movement as one possible factor weighing against partisanship. Clearly a draft is not the only possible way to involve youth in a movement. The contrast between war making nations with student debt and peaceful nations with free education is one possible lever. Another is education in exactly the field Heaney and Rojas have mastered. Surely if everyone in the country read this book its conclusions would be thereby rendered wildly wrong -- and in a good way. If people recognize that their partisanship is hurting the causes they support, they will surely begin to question in it. I'd like to see research similar to Party in the Street but focused on those who move away from partisanship: what enables them to do that?

Born at War

Foreword to America's Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying (available in Kindle version free this week.)

One of the ways in which we commonly handicap our own struggles to reform the bad practices of the U.S. government is by imagining those practices to be degenerative developments taking us away from a purer and nobler past. As Gary Brumback shows in this book, the United States grew out of the idea that (in Thomas Paine's phrase) it was "common sense" to launch a war to settle political differences, a war that in turn set the new nation free to launch a series of wars against the indigenous people of the continent, followed quickly by a ceaseless string of wars waged in near and far-flung corners of the globe.

This deeply moral, highly readable, and urgently necessary book, which provides a wealth of new information even to a reader like myself who writes on similar topics, takes us from the birth of the United States to the Barack Obama presidency. Brumback documents George Washington's role as first warrior in chief and first chief spy, and traces that legacy through some 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. military wars/interventions since, operations that have killed some 20 million to 30 million foreign civilians just in the years after World War II, and that have killed more than two and a half million U.S. soldiers over nearly two and a half centuries.

Brumback's argument is not for "just wars" or more competent spying but for a shift away from these practices. War destroys the natural environment, wastes trillions of dollars, and has no upside. All militarism and spying cost the U.S. government well over $1 trillion a year and rising. In exchange for this investment, which at least matches if it does not exceed the rest of the world combined, the United States leads wealthy nations in inequality, unemployment, food insecurity, life expectancy, prison population, homelessness, and other measures of what all the militarism is supposedly protecting: a way of life.

We've been trained to think of war preparations -- and the wars that result from being so incredibly prepared for wars -- as necessary if regrettable. What if, however, in the long view that this book allows us, war turns out to be counterproductive on its own terms? What if war endangers those who wage it rather than protecting them? Imagine, for a moment, how many countries Canada would have to invade and occupy before it could successfully generate anti-Canadian terrorist networks to rival the hatred and resentment currently organized against the United States.

Brumback goes further, documenting that spying is as useless and counterproductive on its own terms as war is. Most secrets sought and maintained by the U.S. government have literally no strategic value even in terms of the militarist thinking that drives the spying. The CIA straddles the space between keystone cop performances of handing nuclear plans to Iran or grounding flights because a con artist claims to see secret terrorist messages in television broadcasts, and the deadly anti-democratic destruction of overthrowing governments and murdering innocent people with drone strikes. In a "free market" competition, the CIA or the Pentagon would lose out to an agency that did literally nothing, much less to a department that worked toward peace, justice, and stability through nonviolent means.

So, what drives what has come to look like war for the sake of war and spying for the sake of spying? Brumback proposes the useful term "badvantages" to categorize features of U.S. society that are not necessarily "roots" or "causes" of war but which facilitate war when found in combination. This section of the book provides an excellent outline of the military industrial spying congressional complex and analysis of how it functions. Greed, obedience, and banal immorality play central roles. As I write these words, the U.S. Congress is missing in action, having fled Washington in order to allow a new war to begin without holding a vote on whether or not to authorize it. Weapons stocks are at record heights on Wall Street, and a financial advisor on National Public Radio was just heard recommending investing in weaponry.

Banksters come in for a healthy dose of criticism as a badvantage, as do the think tanks that just can't stop thinking about tanks. Also exposed to the light in these pages are front groups for war interests, war supporters in religion and especially in education, patriotic festivals, news media, Hollywood, war toys, the domestic U.S. gun industry, academia, and -- last but not least -- people who do nothing, or "accessories after the fact." That's a lot of badvantages to be overcome.

Often, of course, it is after the fact -- after the launching of a new war -- that people come around to opposing it. For 70 years somewhere upwards of 90 percent of Americans who argue that war can be just or necessary have gone primarily to World War II as evidence for their claim. Never mind that World War II is unimaginable without World War I which nobody thinks was necessary. Never mind the support that Wall Street and the U.S. State Department gave to the Nazis for years leading up to the crisis. For 70 years people have imagined that, like World War II, some new war might be a good one. This hope has lasted for weeks or months and then faded. For most of the duration of the 2003-2011 U.S.-led war on Iraq, a U.S. majority said it should never have been started. In this sense, it is "accessories before the fact" who are hurting us the most.

Brumback envisions another way of addressing ourselves to the world, in which we would lose the idea that War #14,001 might finally be the good one that fulfills the promises of World War I and trails peace and prosperity behind its bombs and poisons. He also recommends a comprehensive series of steps to move us in that direction. This book is worth whatever you paid for it for its concluding sections alone. The creation of a Citizens Assembly is, I think, exactly the way to go, although I'm not so sure it should be national. An assembly composed of citizens of the world has potential, I believe. In either case, building such a structure is project number one. We do not need a better Obama, a change of face in a position that corrupts absolutely. We need a better Occupy, a bigger broader bolder movement that finally resorts to the most powerful tool in our arsenal: nonviolence.

 

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.

Talk Nation Radio: Raed Jarrar: Obama's budget spends 58% of discretionary spending on military

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-raed-jarrar-obamas-budget-spends-58-of-discretionary-spending-on-military

Raed Jarrar is Policy Impact Coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee. He discusses President Obama's proposed budget. See http://www.afsc.org/media-kit/bios/raed-jarrar

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Talk Nation Radio: Joseph Hickman on Deadly Human Experimentation at Guantanamo Bay

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-joseph-hickman-on-deadly-human-experimentation-at-guantanamo-bay

Joseph Hickman is the author of Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant's Pursuit of the Truth About Guantanamo Bay. He details the evidence that Guantanamo has been used for deadly human experimentation.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
http://TalkNationRadio.org

and at
https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

Head of Blackwater Coming to Town on Tax Day to Hype the Good of Hiring Mercenaries

In its tradition of sponsoring war advocates, the ​Miller Center is bringing Erik Prince to speak: 

April 15, 11:00 AM​
Television Broadcast: May 3, 2015
ANN HAGEDORN, author of The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security, and ERIK PRINCE, founder of the famously controversial Blackwater private-security company, discuss and debate whether the U.S. has made a mistake in its growing reliance on private para-military operators. Prince is the author of the new book, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror. Hagedorn is a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal and instructor at Northwestern University and Columbia University. Her book examines private military and security companies that have profited from the trend, and profiles members of Congress who see dangers in the practice but have been unable to limit it. A book signing will follow their Forum. 

*****

Making this a debate hardly excuses it, and the range of debate can be expected to be quite limited between the two extremes of: "Mercenaries murder best" and "Murdering foreigners is a public service that shouldn't be outsourced." 

Prince has moved to Abu Dhabi and apparently engaged in ​gray mailing the U.S. government to hold off criminal charges against him. He's ​protested in his home town in Michigan. Surely, Charlottesville can match that.

Note that Prince is coming to town to hype hired mercenaries on tax day. Here are some relevant events:

April 13, Global Day of Action Against Military Spending

April 15, March for the Homeless

When Veterans Try to End Wars

Nan Levinson's new book is called War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built, but it left me wishing there were a "Where Are They Now" chapter, because it ends around 2008. The book is focused on Iraq Veterans Against the War, but includes Veterans For Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Cindy Sheehan, and others. It's a story that has been told many times during the past several years, but this version seems particularly well done; perhaps the distance helps.

Of course I've met many of the characters in person and been at many of the events, in addition to reading many of the accounts. Nonetheless, I learned new things I'd never known and saw them summarized in new ways. And yet I continue to be convinced that everyone, including Levinson, has some basic elements wrong.

She writes that the veterans "brought to the antiwar movement a moral authority no other group could equal," and that IVAW and the rest of the peace movement failed to stop any wars, something she says peace movements seldom succeed at. She also seems to overestimate what IVAW brought to the movement and to exaggerate its demise.

Let's start with the question of moral authority. I recently wrote an article comparing the movement against U.S. wars to the movement in the U.S. against Israel's war on Palestine. The latter, I realized, faces stiff opposition and charges of anti-Semitism but not charges of treason. Its setting in the United States and its distance from Israeli society perhaps combine to produce a movement that I've never heard swear its allegiance to "support" of Israeli troops. I've heard cheers for refuseniks, but not for Israeli veterans. A general's son who speaks against the occupation benefits from his pedigree, but never does he preface his remarks with a commitment to "supporting" the Israeli troops.

A movement against U.S. wars in the U.S. is of course very different in this regard, often proclaiming slogans like "Support the Troops, Bring Them Home." So any troop, and any former troop, including those opposing a war, is given a certain authority from the fact that we are all supposed to "support" them. And any veteran who has been in a war has the actual experiential authority to tell others what he or she saw there. That authority is an invaluable contribution to the peace movement. So is the youth that IVAW has brought into a movement that is disproportionately old. So is the passion that comes with youth or veteranness or some combination of factors. But moral authority?

Levinson tells the story of a former sniper who I know now to be an admirable and dedicated peace activist, and who some have cited as a "real hero" in contrast to the sadist depicted in the film American Sniper, but in telling his story of outspoken opposition to the war, which included blogging against it while on active duty, Levinson quotes him saying "I never once slacked in my duty. Even when it resulted in killing innocent civilians, I still went out of the gate every single day and did my job to the best of my ability." This leaves morality in a bit of a jumble, to say the least. And it can leave activism in the same state. Is demanding better armor for troops in war as good a strategy as demanding that they be brought home, even if it results in higher military funding? There is no reason to suppose that someone who has always opposed war has more moral authority than someone who has turned against it. But during the process of turning against it, the morality of the values in competition seems questionable and at least worthy of some explanation that Levinson does not offer.

IVAW's core demands have in fact been absolutely right on: bring the troops home, give them the benefits they were promised, and see that Iraq is rebuilt and returned to its people. Those, however, are also the goals of the wider peace movement.

What about success or failure in ending wars? There too is a topic at least worthy of debate. By the time Levinson finishes her narrative, but unmentioned by her, Presidents Bush and Maliki had signed a treaty requiring that the U.S. war on Iraq end in three years. When those three years ran out, and President Obama was unable to get Iraqi agreement to criminal immunity for U.S. troops remaining longer, the war did indeed briefly end. Iraq remained a hell on earth, of course, and at the first opportunity Obama sent troops back in. But he did so on a smaller scale, against greater skepticism, and with less expectation of being able to drag the war on or escalate it.  Heightening the public resistance is the fact that in 2013, a year before Obama managed to restart the war, and two years after he'd been forced to end it, his proposal to send missiles into Syria -- a full-scale war according to the plans unearthed by Seymour Hersh -- had died stillborn. Public opposition, built up over a decade of activism, was key to rejecting a new war, as Congress members were heard expressing their fear of being "the guy who voted for another Iraq." If having voted for Iraq were a badge of honor, the Syria debate would have looked radically different. Having voted for Iraq became a badge of shame, not simply due to immutable facts, but due to intense activism and education -- which has been slacking off as retroactive support for that god-awful war has been inching back upward.

The fact is that IVAW and every other group and person named in this book has done and is doing a great deal of good. But IVAW didn't give birth to or transform the peace movement, or scale it back so dramatically just at the time that IVAW was, in Levinson's view, reaching its zenith. Blind partisanship and monarchism did those things. It was a movement against George W. Bush's wars that shriveled away as a movement against Barack Obama's wars. There was nothing IVAW could have done about either development. But it added wonderfully to the movement that was, and is adding remarkably to the movement that is today. 

It's not unusual for me to direct veterans to IVAW or VFP, as most seem never to have heard of such groups.  Their work is as badly needed now as ever.  But of course it needs to be directed against every war, and even more so against the machinery of war. Levinson remarks on the period during which a quarter of a million dollars a minute was being dumped into the war on Iraq. But ordinary base military spending in the United States is $1.9 million / minute, and it generates wars just as Eisenhower said it would. The drone "pilots" who are coming out and speaking against what they have been part of need to be part of the peace movement. Active duty troops need to know there are groups that support their resistance in whatever nonviolent form it can take.

"The number of things activists who are basically in sympathy with each other can find to fight about is impressive," Levinson writes with even greater wisdom than I'd thought at first, as I've just finished finding points to disagree with in a valuable book. But I mean my arguments as constructive criticism and praise, and as examples of the thinking this book can stimulate. Also in the book are signs of enormous potential. Imagine if we had a communications system to consistently match that moment in which the television networks decided to cover Cindy at Bush's ranch:

"'You never knew who would show up,' said [Ann] Wright, tearing up as she talked about the encampment five years later. 'In the middle of the night, we'd see headlights coming up this long, deserted road. Here would be a car full of grandmothers coming from San Diego. You'd ask why they were there and they'd say, "We heard on the radio or on TV that Cindy's here. And we just had to be here."'" That encampment and everything else would not have been the same without Iraq and Afghan and other veterans. They bring wisdom, dedication, courage, and humor to the movement we need now more than ever. I look forward to seeing them this Spring in the heart of the empire.

Exporting Sherman's March

Sherman statue anchors one southern corner of Central Park (with Columbus on a stick anchoring the other):

Matthew Carr's new book, Sherman's Ghosts: Soldiers, Civilians, and the American Way of War, is presented as "an antimilitarist military history" -- that is, half of it is a history of General William Tecumseh Sherman's conduct during the U.S. Civil War, and half of it is an attempt to trace echoes of Sherman through major U.S. wars up to the present, but without any romance or glorification of murder or any infatuation with technology or tactics. Just as histories of slavery are written nowadays without any particular love for slavery, histories of war ought to be written, like this one, from a perspective that has outgrown it, even if U.S. public policy is not conducted from that perspective yet.

What strikes me most about this history relies on a fact that goes unmentioned: the former South today provides the strongest popular support for U.S. wars. The South has long wanted and still wants done to foreign lands what was -- in a much lesser degree -- done to it by General Sherman.

What disturbs me most about the way this history is presented is the fact that every cruelty inflicted on the South by Sherman was inflicted ten-fold before and after on the Native Americans. Carr falsely suggests that genocidal raids were a feature of Native American wars before the Europeans came, when in fact total war with total destruction was a colonial creation. Carr traces concentration camps to Spanish Cuba, not the U.S. Southwest, and he describes the war on the Philippines as the first U.S. war after the Civil War, following the convention that wars on Native Americans just don't count (not to mention calling Antietam "the single most catastrophic day in all U.S. wars" in a book that includes Hiroshima). But it is, I think, the echo of that belief that natives don't count that leads us to the focus on Sherman's march to the sea, even as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gaza are destroyed with weapons named for Indian tribes. Sherman not only attacked the general population of Georgia and the Carolinas on his way to Goldsboro -- a spot where the U.S. military would later drop nuclear bombs (that very fortunately didn't explode) -- but he provided articulate justifications in writing, something that had become expected of a general attacking white folks.

What intrigues me most is the possibility that the South today could come to oppose war by recognizing Sherman's victims in the victims of U.S. wars and occupations. It was in the North's occupation of the South that the U.S. military first sought to win hearts and minds, first faced IEDs in the form of mines buried in roads, first gave up on distinguishing combatants from noncombatants, first began widely and officially (in the Lieber Code) claiming that greater cruelty was actually kindness as it would end the war more quickly, and first defended itself against charges of war crimes using language that it (the North) found entirely convincing but its victims (the South) found depraved and sociopathic. Sherman employed collective punishment and the assaults on morale that we think of as "shock and awe." Sherman's assurances to the Mayor of Atlanta that he meant well and was justified in all he did convinced the North but not the South. U.S. explanations of the destruction of Iraq persuade Americans and nobody else.

Sherman believed that his nastiness would turn the South against war. "Thousands of people may perish," he said, "but they now realize that war means something else than vain glory and boasting. If Peace ever falls to their lot they will never again invite War." Some imagine this to be the impact the U.S. military is having on foreign nations today. But have Iraqis grown more peaceful? Does the U.S. South lead the way in peace activism? When Sherman raided homes and his troops employed "enhanced interrogations" -- sometimes to the point of death, sometimes stopping short -- the victims were people long gone from the earth, but people we may be able to "recognize" as people. Can that perhaps help us achieve the same mental feat with the current residents of Western Asia? The U.S. South remains full of monuments to Confederate soldiers. Is an Iraq that celebrates today's resisters 150 years from now what anyone wants?

When the U.S. military was burning Japanese cities to the ground it was an editor of the Atlanta Constitution who, quoted by Carr, wrote "If it is necessary, however, that the cities of Japan are, one by one, burned to black ashes, that we can, and will, do." Robert McNamara said that General Curtis LeMay thought about what he was doing in the same terms as Sherman. Sherman's claim that war is simply hell and cannot be civilized was then and has been ever since used to justify greater cruelty, even while hiding within it a deep truth: that the civilized decision would be to abolish war.

The United States now kills with drones, including killing U.S. citizens, including killing children, including killing U.S. citizen children. It has not perhaps attacked its own citizens in this way since the days of Sherman. Is it time perhaps for the South to rise again, not in revenge but in understanding, to join the side of the victims and say no to any more attacks on families in their homes, and no therefore to any more of what war has become?

U.S. Government Tried to Give Nuclear Plans to Iraq and Nobody Cares

This cable was submitted as evidence by the prosecution in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a trial in which Sterling was convicted on entirely circumstantial evidence of leaking to a reporter that the CIA had given nuclear weapons part plans (with flaws added) to Iran. The cable makes crystal clear that the CIA proposed to do the same with Iraq.

There are only two nations beginning with a vowel and containing in adjectival form five letters: IRAQI and OMANI. The United States has neither worried about slowing down a nuclear weapons program in Oman nor sought to concoct reasons for a war on Oman. Iraq is of course a different story.

The above cable is in a font with each character receiving equal space. The letters line up in vertical columns. There are in two places blanks that will hold the word "IRAQI" and in one the word "IRAQIS." There is no way that OMANI and OMANIS makes sense. No other countries fit at all. And it has to be a country. And it has to be a country that follows the word "AN" not "A."

I reported on this on Friday morning, and the reaction was complete disinterest.

If any other nation in the world were discovered to be handing out nuclear weapons plans, it'd be interesting. Maybe the U.S. just does too much of this stuff. But whether you believe the CIA was attempting through a reasonable means to impede weapons proliferation or you think they were recklessly contributing to it, the sheer irony of having worked on giving Iraq nuke plans not long before attacking Iraq over the false accusation that it was building nukes should be of interest. There should be a half dozen people alive and awake in the United States who find themselves at least vaguely curious as to how far this plan was carried out.

Now, I recognize that the corporate media obeys the CIA's wishes. If the CIA wants us to pretend we can't spell the names of countries or count the letters in words, then it is our patriotic duty to uphold that pretense. But what about people whose jobs don't depend on the good wishes of the corporate media?

I've had people tell me that the CIA would not put something out that's so obvious, and therefore it's false.

I've had people tell me it simply must be forged, as if the CIA wants to pretend it was giving nukes to Iraq, as if that helps its image.

I've had people give me all sorts of screwy reasons for not giving a shit (and a few people expressing actual interest) but in the end it seems to come down to this: We've reached saturation. If we're not among those who consider it a duty to think what we're told, we're among those who -- with growing disgust and fatigue -- see a cop choke a man on video and walk, see a government lie about Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Ukraine and Russia and ISIS and launch wars right and left, and see Henry Kissinger treated as an honored guest in Congress (with a handful of honorable protesters).

That's not all it is, of course. There's also the combination. There's the person who knows the government lies and commits evil acts but wants the government to openly and explicitly say it was giving nuclear plans to Iraq, not let it slip in a redacted memo, before it can be deemed believable. The human experimentation at Guantanamo should be announced at a press conference, not buried in footnotes in masses of reports. What kind of a manner is that in which to present a hideous crime of such proportions. It just doesn't fit.

Well, I don't know what to do about that. But, unlike the government, I've never lied to you. And I'm not making any assertion anyway. You can trust me or not, it's completely irrelevant. Read the cable above and see what it says and what it must have said with the blanks filled in. And then see if you can bring yourself to give a damn. The rest of the world already thinks we're insane. Imagine it they knew that this is the sort of thing we just accept with our morning coffee before going about our wasteful lives.