Andreas Schüller is an attorney on the staff of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He is the lead attorney on a suit being brought by ECCHR and Reprieve against the German government on behalf of three Yemeni survivors of a U.S. drone strike. The case will be heard May 27th in Cologne.
Their suit argues that it is illegal under German law for the German government to allow the U.S. air base at Ramstein to be used for drone murders abroad. The suit comes after the passage of a resolution in the European Parliament in February 2014 urging European nations to "oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings" and to "ensure that the Member States, in conformity with their legal obligations, do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states."
I've always thought of drone murders as illegal under the laws of the countries where the murders happen, as well as under the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact. I asked Schüller: Is your suit seeking prosecution for murder where (or in one of the places where) the act is committed from a distance?
"The suit," he replied, "is based on constitutional rights in Germany and thus not seeking prosecution, but measures by the German administration to stop the use of German territory for illegal actions by the U.S. in Yemen." The central claim, he said, is that the U.S. air base at Ramstein is involved in drone operations, by transmitting data from and to drones through a satellite relay station as well as transatlantic fiber cables. The suit seeks to stop use of the air base's air operations center for analysis of surveillance images sent by drones as part of combat drone missions.
How, I asked, does this differ from the recent indictment of a former CIA station chief in Pakistan?
"The Pakistani case," Schüller said, "deals with drone strikes in the country where they take place in massive numbers and with high numbers of killed civilians. It's about prosecuting individuals responsible for the strikes set up. Our suit concerns the preemptive protection of our clients that are living in an area with continuing drone operations as well as technical and targeting aspects in drone operations and state collaboration."
In the United States it's common for lawyers to claim that murder is legal if it's part of a war, and to defer to the warmakers to tell them if something is part of a war or not; does it matter in your case whether the act was part of a war?
"It is important to prove that the U.S. practice in conducting drone strikes is illegal in several aspects. On the one hand, strikes in Yemen are conducted outside an armed conflict and thus infringe the right to life without any justification. In line with a legal opinion by the German Federal Prosecutor's Office we don't consider the U.S. to be in a global armed conflict against Al-Qaida and associate forces. Even if there would be the case of an armed conflict, the targeting practice by the U.S. is too broad and includes a large number of targets that do not fall under the category of legitimate military targets in an armed conflict. Attacks against those targets are thus illegal, even in armed conflict."
Is Germany obliged by the European Parliament to end drone murders from its soil? (And does this apply to every EU member country?) And by the German Constitution?
"Politically, the European Parliament made a strong statement against the illegal and expanded use of drone strikes. All EU member states are also bound by laws, such as the European Convention of Human Rights, to respect and protect the right to life. A similar provision is part of the German constitution."
Briefly what is the story of the victims in your case?
"On August 29, 2012, five rockets fired by U.S. drones struck the village of Khashamir in eastern Yemen. The extended family of our clients had gathered in the village to celebrate a wedding. Two members of the family were killed in the strike. Other family members were left with ongoing trauma. The family members killed were outspoken critics of AQAP and active in countering their influence in the region through speeches and social activities."
What do you hope to prove?
"It's about the use of German territory for illegal drone operations and the need for European governments to take a stronger legal and political position against the continuing US practice."
What is the timing?
"The lawsuit has been filed in October 2014 with the administrative court in Cologne. In the end of May 2015 an oral hearing will take place. Further court session as well as rendering of a judgment are not foreseeable, as well as appeals procedures."
What could result if you succeed?
"The result could be that the German government must take a stronger position towards the U.S. government to stop the use of the U.S. airbase in Ramstein for drone operations, including activities to rebuild the relay station or the air operations center."
Any benefit for this movement that I just wrote about?
"In Europe, we need to form a transborder activists network addressing and opposing the use of European allies' soil for drone operations. So the German case will definitely be of interest for Italy and other countries in Europe."
What can people do to help?
"The ultimate political goal is to change the U.S. practice of drone strikes and to conduct them according to human rights standards. People must continue to put pressure on governments worldwide to take a clear position on the legal boundaries of drone strikes as well as the long-term consequences in international relations if such an illegal practice continues in many different places worldwide."
Well let's hope the ultimate goal is not murders by flying robots that meet "human rights standards" whatever in the world those might be! But let's help advance this effort to hold the German government to a higher standard than the abysmal one modeled by the United States.
A key witness in court will be former U.S. drone pilot Brandon Bryant. If you know of any other drone pilots willing to speak about what they've done, please let me know.
© ECCHR / Photo: Nihad Nino Pušija
I just did a radio show in South Africa on the topic of Hillary Clinton. Perhaps they won't air it since I told them it was a non-story about something long since underway being "launched," but a story the U.S. media likes because it's substance-free. Yet in South Africa it seems to be a story. They really didn't know she was running until now, and they wanted to know if John McCain was her opponent. And yet they had the sense to ask if she would cause more wars and if there was really any difference between Hillary and the Republicans. If even the places that don't know she's running know that, perhaps there is hope for public awareness of basic facts after all.
Of course I pointed out Hillary Clinton's role in wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Ukraine, etc., her profiteering off Boeing while marketing Boeing weapons as Secretary of State, her transformation of the State Department into a fully owned subsidiary of the military, her foundations taking money from Chevron and Exxon-Mobil while she persuades Eastern European countries not to ban fracking. Hillary backs Israel's crimes, opposes the UN and international law. The corruption and nastiness in her hidden emails need hardly be seen to be estimated. She was too corrupt for the Watergate Committee, for godsake, trying to keep Nixon in for Ted Kennedy to run against, just as the Democrats of 2007 kept the war on Iraq going in order to run against it again. See http://WarIsACrime.org/Hillary
Hillary backs the NSA, wants Edward Snowden in prison, gets $2,777 per minute for speeches at which no questioning is allowed, lets her guards beat up Ray McGovern for turning his back on her, and is a candidate from a presidential dynasty in a year (next year, not this!) in which two of them are in play. See http://NoBushesOrClintons.org
And here is our opportunity. It is time for us to dedicate ourselves to fixing a broken system, not working within it. Don't try to elect someone in a system that is clearly broken. Joke about it, sure:
Ideally Hillary Clinton will run with Jeb Bush as her vice president & Bush will run with Clinton as his so they'll both win no matter what
The thrust of Robert Scheer's new book, They Know Everything About You, is that the U.S. government's mass surveillance and permanent storage of everything you do on the internet is piggybacking on Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, AOL, Yahoo, and other companies that suck up and permanently store every scrap of information about you that they can lay their virtual hands on -- and that this data mining is driven primarily by the profit to be gained from carefully targeted advertising.
In other words, corporations' desire to place the ideal piece of consumer crap under your nose has facilitated the government's ability to intimidate and preempt activism, and to prosecute and convict on the basis of impressively technical circumstantial evidence. This is unfair in at least two ways. First, and most obviously, it is a gross violation of our rights, an assault on self-governance, a move toward totalitarianism. Facebook is openly running experiments manipulating users' emotions. The Pentagon is buying similar studies from the same academics of how to prevent activist movements -- studies that equate peace activism with violent terrorism. Google is deciding which news you should see and hiring the head of DARPA to head its own private DARPA. The owner of the Washington Post has a much larger investment in providing Amazon's services to U.S. spy agencies. Privatized spy agency contractors (a gift of the Bill Clinton presidency) are hacking into computers around the world with hostile intent and with zero public authorization. The Chamber of Commerce apparently has a free pass to target its critics with hacking and smears and traps set with false leaks. Reporter Michael Hastings dies mysteriously when investigating government tech contractors, and Barrett Brown lands in prison just for linking to embarrassing information. All of this is beginning to be understood and resented. Scheer's book is a great primer on much of it.
Second, and perhaps less obviously, it strikes me as unfair that people like me who have never ever, not even once, clicked on an advertisement or bought anything displayed to me in an advertisement on any of my electronic devices, have to have every move we make surveilled, just because the rest of you are tolerating advertising, clicking on advertising, heeding the commands of advertising, and buying shit. I've had to show up at a nonviolent peaceful protest of war and have the New York Police Department officials make clear to me that they had been reading my email earlier that day, because you thought that some shiny new product you had absolutely no need of was adorable. Does this seem fair? Does it seem like a wise setting of priorities? When politicians urge shopping as civic duty, shouldn't we hear in that not only the maintenance of a perverse economic system but also the development of a surveillance state the Soviets never dreamed of, driven by profit, and co-opted by a government that has merged with Silicon Valley until nobody can tell where one stops and the other begins?
According to Scheer the internet has persuaded people that privacy is the same thing as anonymity, and that visibility is far more valuable, as well as that corporate surveillance is of no concern and completely unlike government surveillance. Edward Snowden's revelations, Scheer writes, exposed corporate complicity with government surveillance, threatening corporations' reputations with their customers. But reform proposals that Scheer cites, such as requiring a new click on an "AGREE" button each time a company sells data on you to a third party, have not been created. The European "right to be forgotten" -- that is to have undesired information about oneself removed from the internet -- is not heard of in the United States, and to my mind is in sharp opposition to U.S. belief in the impossibility of redemption, the inherent good or evil of each person from birth to death, and the guilt of anyone accused of wrong doing.
Scheer quotes Lee Tien, attorney for Electronic Frontier Foundation, "There are no personal solutions to this; there is nothing we can do individually." I assume this is based on the reasonable expectation that you won't all stop buying stuff. But imagine the time and savings and security you would have if you did stop buying stuff. What harm would it do? You don't even have to stop buying stuff. Just stop buying anything that's advertised. Buy non-advertised goods. Consider that your civic duty.
Remarks at Michigan Pax Christi annual state conference, April 11, 2015.
How might we get to a world that doesn't plan and produce wars but lives at peace economically, environmentally, culturally, and legally? How might we switch to systems that avoid conflicts and settle unavoidable conflicts nonviolently?
World Beyond War, one project that I'm working on, intends to accelerate the movement toward ending war and establishing a peace system in two ways: massive education, and nonviolent action to dismantle the war machine. I'm going to quote a bit of a section I wrote in a longer World Beyond War report on alternatives to war.
If we want war to end, we are going to have to work to end it. Even if you think war is lessening - by no means an uncontroversial claim - it won't continue doing so without work. And as long as there is any war, there is a significant danger of widespread war. Wars are notoriously hard to control once begun. With nuclear weapons in the world (and with nuclear plants as potential targets), any war-making carries a risk of apocalypse. War-making and war preparations are destroying our natural environment and diverting resources from a possible rescue effort that would preserve a habitable climate. As a matter of survival, war and preparations for war must be completely abolished, and abolished quickly, by replacing the war system with a peace system.
To accomplish this, we will need a peace movement that differs from past movements that have been against each successive war or against each offensive weapon. We cannot fail to oppose wars, but we must also oppose the entire institution and work toward replacing it.
World Beyond War intends to work globally. While begun in the United States, World Beyond War has worked to include individuals and organizations from around the globe in its decision making. Thousands of people in over 100 countries have thus far signed the pledge on the WorldBeyondWar.org website to work for the elimination of all war.
War does not have a single source, but it does have a largest one. Ending war-making by the United States and its allies would go a very long way toward ending war globally. For those living in the United States, at least, one key place to start ending war is within the U.S. government. This can be worked on together with people affected by US wars and those living near U.S. military bases around the world, which is a fairly large percentage of the people on earth.
Ending U.S. militarism wouldn’t eliminate war globally, but it would eliminate the pressure that is driving several other nations to increase their military spending. It would deprive NATO of its leading advocate for and greatest participant in wars. It would cut off the largest supply of weapons to Western Asia (a.k.a. the Middle East) and other regions. It would remove the major barrier to reconciliation and reunification of Korea. It would create U.S. willingness to support arms treaties, join the International Criminal Court, and allow the United Nations to move in the direction of its stated purpose of eliminating war. It could create a world free of nations threatening first-use of nukes (Pakistan also makes that threat), and a world in which nuclear disarmament might proceed more rapidly. Gone would be the last major nation using cluster bombs or refusing to ban landmines. If the United States kicked the war habit, war itself would suffer a major and possibly fatal set-back.
A focus on U.S. war preparations cannot work as well without similar efforts everywhere. Numerous nations are investing, and even increasing their investments, in war. All militarism must be opposed. And victories for a peace system tend to spread by example. When the British Parliament opposed attacking Syria in 2013 it helped block that U.S. proposal. When 31 nations committed in Havana, Cuba, in January 2014 to never making use of war, those voices were heard in other nations of the world.
Global solidarity in educational efforts constitutes an important part of the education itself. Student and cultural exchanges between the West and nations on the Pentagon’s likely target list (Syria, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, etc.) will go a long way toward building resistance toward those potential future wars. Similar exchanges between nations investing in war and nations that have ceased to do so, or which do so at a greatly reduced scale, can be of great value as well.
Building a global movement for stronger and more democratic global structures of peace will also require educational efforts that do not stop at national borders.
Using a bi-level approach and working with other citizen based organizations, World Beyond War will launch a world-wide campaign to educate the masses of people that war is a failed social institution that can be abolished to the great benefit of all. Books, print media articles, speaker’s bureaus, radio and television appearances, electronic media, conferences, etc., will be employed to spread the word about the myths and institutions that perpetuate war. The aim is to create a planetary consciousness and a demand for a just peace without undermining in any way the benefits of unique cultures and political systems.
World Beyond War has begun and will continue to support and promote good work in this direction by other organizations, including many organizations that have signed the pledge at WorldBeyondWar.org. Already distant connections have been made among organizations in various parts of the world that have proved mutually beneficial. World Beyond War will combine its own initiatives with this sort of assistance for others’ in an effort to create greater cooperation and greater coherence around the idea of a movement to end all war. The result of educational efforts favored by World Beyond War will be a world in which talk of a “good war” will sound no more possible than a “benevolent rape” or “philanthropic slavery” or “virtuous child abuse.”
World Beyond War seeks to create a moral movement against an institution that should be viewed as tantamount to mass-murder, even when that mass-murder is accompanied by flags or music or assertions of authority and promotion of irrational fear. World Beyond War advocates against the practice of opposing a particular war on the grounds that it isn’t being run well or isn’t as proper as some other war. World Beyond War seeks to strengthen its moral argument by taking the focus of peace activism partially away from the harm wars do to the aggressors, in order to fully acknowledge and appreciate the suffering of all.
In the film The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age we see a survivor of Nagasaki meeting a survivor of Auschwitz. It is hard in watching them meeting and speaking together to remember or care which nation committed which horror. A peace culture will see all war with that same clarity. War is an abomination not because of who commits it but because of what it is.
World Beyond War intends to make war abolition the sort of cause that slavery abolition was and to hold up resisters, conscientious objectors, peace advocates, diplomats, whistleblowers, journalists, and activists as our heroes -- in fact, to develop alternative avenues for heroism and glory, including nonviolent activism, and including serving as peace workers and human shields in places of conflict.
World Beyond War will not promote the idea that “peace is patriotic,” but rather that thinking in terms of world citizenship is helpful in the cause of peace. WBW will work to remove nationalism, xenophobia, racism, religious bigotry, and exceptionalism from popular thinking.
Central projects in World Beyond War’s early efforts will be the provision of useful information through the WorldBeyondWar.org website, and the collection of a large number of individual and organizational signatures on the pledge posted there. The website is constantly being updated with maps, charts, graphics, arguments, talking points, and videos to help people make the case, to themselves and others, that wars can/should/must be abolished. Each section of the website includes lists of relevant books.
Other areas in which World Beyond War may put some effort, beyond its central project of advancing the idea of ending all war, include: disarmament; conversion to peaceful industries; asking new nations to join and current Parties to abide by the Kellogg-Briand Pact; lobbying for reforms of the United Nations; lobbying governments and other bodies for various initiatives, including a Global Marshall Plan or parts thereof; and countering recruitment efforts while strengthening the rights of conscientious objectors.
World Beyond War believes that little is more important than advancing common understanding of nonviolence as an alternative form of conflict to violence, and ending the habit of thinking that one can ever be faced with only the choices of engaging in violence or doing nothing. In addition to its education campaign, World Beyond War will work with other organizations to launch nonviolent, Gandhian-style protests and nonviolent direct action campaigns against the war machine in order to disrupt it and to demonstrate the strength of the popular desire to end war. The goal of this campaign will be to compel the political decision makers and those who make money from the killing machine to come to the table for talks on ending war and replacing it with a more effective alternative security system.
This nonviolent effort will benefit from the education campaign, but will also in its turn serve an educational purpose. Huge public campaigns or movements have a way of bringing people’s attention to questions they have not been focused on.
The WBW Pledge Statement reads as follows:
“I understand that wars and militarism make us less safe rather than protect us, that they kill, injure and traumatize adults, children and infants, severely damage the natural environment, erode civil liberties, and drain our economies, siphoning resources from life-affirming activities. I commit to engage in and support nonviolent efforts to end all war and preparations for war and to create a sustainable and just peace.”
World Beyond War is collecting signatures on this statement on paper at events and adding them to the website, as well as inviting people to add their names online. If a large number of those who would be willing to sign this statement can be reached and asked to do so, that fact will potentially be persuasive news to others. The same goes for the inclusion of signatures by well-known figures. The collection of signatures is a tool for advocacy in another way as well; those signers who choose to join a World Beyond War email list can later be contacted to help advance a project initiated in their part of the world.
Expanding the reach of the Pledge Statement, signers are asked to make use of WBW tools to contact others, share information online, write letters to editors, lobby governments and other bodies, and organize small gatherings. Resources to facilitate all kinds of outreach are provided at WorldBeyondWar.org.
Beyond its central projects, WBW will be participating in and promoting useful projects begun by other groups and testing out new specific initiatives of its own. One area that WBW hopes to work on is the creation of truth and reconciliation commissions, and greater appreciation of their work. Lobbying for the establishment of an International Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Court is a possible area of focus as well.
Partial steps toward replacing the war system will be pursued, but they will be understood as and discussed as just that: partial steps on the way toward creating a peace system. Such steps may include banning weaponized drones or closing particular bases or eliminating nuclear weapons or closing the School of the Americas, defunding military advertising campaigns, restoring war powers to the legislative branch, cutting off weapons sales to dictatorships, etc.
Finding the strength in numbers to do these things is part of the purpose of the collection of signatures on the simple Pledge Statement. World Beyond War hopes to facilitate the forming of a broader coalition suited to the task. This will mean bringing together all those sectors that rightfully ought to be opposing the military industrial complex: moralists, ethicists, preachers of morality and ethics, religious communities, doctors, psychologists, and protectors of human health, economists, labor unions, workers, civil libertarians, advocates for democratic reforms, journalists, historians, promoters of transparency in public decision-making, internationalists, those hoping to travel and be liked abroad, environmentalists, and proponents of everything worthwhile on which war dollars could be spent instead: education, housing, arts, science, etc. That’s a pretty big group.
Many activist organizations want to stay focused in their niches. Many are reluctant to risk being called unpatriotic. Some are tied up in profits from military contracts. World Beyond War will work around these barriers. This will involve asking civil libertarians to view war as the root cause of the symptoms they treat, and asking environmentalists to view war as at least one of the major root problems -- and its elimination as a possible solution.
Green energy has far greater potential to handle our energy needs (and wants) than is commonly supposed, because the massive transfer of money that would be possible with the abolition of war isn’t usually considered. Human needs across the board can be better met than we usually imagine, because we don’t usually consider withdrawing $2 trillion a year globally from the world’s deadliest criminal enterprise.
Toward these ends, WBW will be working to organize a bigger coalition ready and trained to engage in nonviolent direct action, creatively, generously, and fearlessly.
OK, I'm going to stop quoting my World Beyond War writing. I do think the alliance of all good movements is key. We don't need to re-do the election of Obama and get it right this time. We need to re-do the Occupy Movement and get it right this time. The plutocracy and the warocracy are the same problem. The destruction of the natural world and the acceptance of war as natural are the same problem. Civil liberties and human rights groups that began opposing war would simply be addressing the disease rather than the symptoms. Opponents of poverty and poor education are obliged to oppose the monster that is sucking up all the money. And integral to such a coalition are media and election reform.
We ought to be seizing the opportunity presented by the looming presidential nomination of the two worst candidates possible and quite possibly for the first time two candidates both from presidential dynasties, to withhold a bit of the mountain of money that we dump into electing this slightly less hideous candidate or that slightly less hideous candidate and instead invest it in activism aimed at moving the window of debate to a better location. Getting the lesser evil candidate is not a long-term solution if the pair of candidates gets worse each cycle.
We need automatic voter registration, as just created in Oregon. Apart from all the other benefits, it frees up countless hours for useful activism. How many times have we watched thousands of people who usually ignore politics invest energy in the busy work of registering voters and then collapse with exhaustion the moment an election is over, precisely the moment in which citizens of a government of the people ought to be beginning their efforts to demand good governance? We need to make voter registration automatic state by state and shame the low turnout states that don't catch up. There's a page at RootsAction.org where I work that lets you email your state legislators and governor all the facts about this. Most importantly we know it can be done because not only do lots of other countries do it which of course proves nothing, but one of the 50 U.S. states also does it which proves it's compatible with human nature.
We need to end partisan gerrymandering state by state and shame those states that don't catch up. And of course if Congress catches up to any of these state-by-state reforms, so much the better.
We need hand-counted paper ballots counted publicly at each polling place. We need ballot and debate access based on signature gathering. We need the national popular vote with no electoral college. We need the vote and full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific. We need public financing and free air time and a ban on private election spending. We need voting rights regardless of criminal conviction. We need an election day or days holiday. We need a limited campaign season. Mandatory voting with the option to choose None-Of-The-Above could help as well. Most of these things can be advanced locally, at the state level, and nationally, and can be accomplished through a number of different mechanisms. If a fraction of the money and energy that goes into working within a demonstrably broken system were invested in fixing it, we'd fix it, at which point enthusiasm for participating in it would skyrocket.
But activism is hard. We don't have most of the money. And we get tired out, discouraged, and distracted. How can we, each of us, best advance an agenda of peace, justice, and democracy. I imagine some of you have seen a graphic that a church produced recently matching up anyone's Myers Briggs Personality to a saint. So, based on whether you are more introverted or extroverted, sensing or intuiting, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving, you get to be Saint Patrick the partier or Saint Joan the hard worker, etc. Now I take Myers Briggs with a grain of salt, and none of us are actually saints. And I have my doubts that there would be any saints at all if Facebook had existed over the past millennia and every would-be saint had used it. But I do think there's a type of peace activism for everyone or for every moment.
When I want to do online activism from my computer or phone, I have my job at RootsAction.org. When I want to promote longer discussions in good books, I have my job at Just World Books. When I want to talk with an expert on some area of peace I have my job interviewing people on Talk Nation Radio. When I want to plan events supporting whistleblowers I have my job at Stand Up For Truth. When I want to strategize the creation of a new world, I have my job at World Beyond War. Now, I realize that some of you don't need five jobs to try to make a living, and some of you have other types of jobs, but the point is there is a way into activism for anyone, and as far in as you want to go. World Beyond War welcomes anyone onto any committee who wants to help work on any aspect of ending war.
Here's a vision of where we hope all this work takes us, written by my colleagues at World Beyond War:
We will know we have achieved peace when the world is safe for all the children. They will play freely out of doors, never worrying about picking up cluster bombs or about drones buzzing overhead. There will be good education for all of them for as far as they are able to go. Schools will be safe and free from fear. The economy will be healthy, producing useful things rather than those things which destroy use value, and producing them in ways that are sustainable. There will be no carbon burning industry and global warming will have been halted. All children will study peace and will be trained in powerful, peaceful methods of confronting violence, should it arise at all. They will all learn how to defuse and resolve conflicts peacefully. When they grow up they may enlist in a peace force that will be trained in nonviolent defense, making their nations ungovernable if attacked by another country or a coup d ́etat and therefore immune from conquest. The children will be healthy because health care will be freely available. The air and water will be clean, soils healthy and producing healthy food because the funding for ecological restoration will be available from the same source. When we see the children playing we will see children from many different cultures together at their play because restrictive borders will have been abolished. The arts will flourish. While learning to be proud of their own cultures--their religions, arts, foods, traditions, etc.--these children will realize they are citizens of one small planet as well as citizens of their respective countries. These children will never be soldiers, although they may well serve humanity in voluntary organizations or in some kinds of universal service for the common good.
Steps in this direction exist all around us. Less wealthy nations that forego investment in wars are able to provide education, healthcare, retirement, etc. Costa Rica has no military but is now getting all of its energy from renewable sources. That can't simply be copied. Costa Rica is using dams that won't power anything during a drought. But it's no coincidence that the United States leads in militarism and trails in most everything else.
Why don't we give a leading or at least an equal role in running the world, at the UN and elsewhere, to the nations with the best educational systems, the best healthcare systems, the longest lifespans, the longest periods without wars, the highest happiness rankings, the greatest generosity to others? Why are the permanent security council members the countries with the weapons?
I'm not going to say much about law, because that's Elliott's area today, but the reason I wrote a book about a law, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, was primarily to paint a picture of the peace movement of the 1920s that brought it into being. That there can be a mainstream principled moral movement for the abolition of war is not just possible because anything of the sort if quite obviously possible, but also because it has happened before, less than a century ago, in this very country -- and is therefore compatible with human nature.
But the idea of abolishing war is as old as war. I noticed that we're at St. John Fisher University Chapel. I didn't know who St. John Fisher was, since he's not in the Myers Briggs chart. But I read this about him, which interested me:
"Fisher gave further proof of his genuine zeal for learning by inducing Erasmus to visit Cambridge. The latter indeed attributes it to Fisher's protection that the study of Greek was allowed to proceed at Cambridge without the active molestation that it encountered at Oxford."
So now I'm a fan of St. John Fisher because I was already a fan of Erasmus who has never been as popular among the rich and powerful as has his contemporary Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, but who in 1517 wrote The Complaint of Peace, in which he proposes that we think of ourselves as humans, and thereby become unwilling to make war on any of our brother and sister humans anywhere. Peace, speaking in the first-person, complains about how humanity treats her. She claims to offer "the source of all human blessings" and to be scorned by people who "go in quest of evils infinite in number." The Complaint reads like it was written 500 years ago in Latin for a readership made up of what we would call creationists, astrologers, monarchists, and Eurocentric bigots. Yet it offers rebuttals to defenses of war that have never been surpassed.
On a search for peacefulness, Peace hunts in vain among seemingly polite and amicable princes, among academics whom she finds as corrupted by war as we find ours today, among religious leaders whom she denounces as the hypocrites we've come to know so well, and even among secluded monks. Peace looks into family life and into the internal mental life of an individual and finds no devotion to peace. Erasmus points Christian readers toward the words supporting peace in the New Testament. One might accuse him of hand-picking his quotes and avoiding those that don't support his goal, except that Erasmus quite openly says that that's what he's doing and advises others to do the same. The vengeful God of the Old Testament should be ignored in favor of the peaceful God of Jesus, Erasmus writes. And those who can't so ignore Him, writes Erasmus, should re-interpret him as peaceful. Let "God of vengeance" mean vengeance "on those sins which rob us of repose."
The cause of wars, Erasmus finds, is kings and their war-hungry chickenhawk advisors. The term in Latin is not exactly "chickenhawk" but the meaning comes through. Kings, writes Erasmus, start wars to seize territory when they would be better off improving the territory they have now. Or they start wars out of a personal grudge. Or they start wars to disrupt popular opposition to themselves at home. Such kings, Erasmus writes, should be exiled for life to the remotest islands. And not just the kings but their privileged advisors. Ordinary people don't create wars, says Peace, those in power impose wars on them.
Powerful people calling themselves Christian have created such a climate, says Peace, that speaking up for Christian forgiveness is taken to be treasonous and evil, while promoting war is understood to be good and loyal and directed at a nation's happiness. Erasmus has little tolerance for Orwellian propaganda about "supporting the troops" and proposes that clergy refuse to bury in consecrated ground anyone slain in battle:
"The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or wolf!"
" . . . If you detest robbery and pillage, remember these are among the duties of war; and that, to learn how to commit them adroitly, is a part of military discipline. Do you shudder at the idea of murder? You cannot require to be told, that to commit it with dispatch, and by wholesale, constitutes the celebrated art of war."
Peace proposes in her complaint that kings submit their grievances to wise and impartial arbiters, and points out that even if the arbiters are unjust neither side will suffer to remotely the extent that they would from war. Perhaps peace must be purchased -- but compare the price to the cost of a war! For the price of destroying a town you could have built one, Peace says.
For arbitration to replace war, Peace says, we will need better kings and better courtiers. You can't get any more timely and relevant than that.
Let's get to work.
Remarks at Michigan Pax Christi annual state conference, April 11, 2015.
Thank you for having me here. I know a lot of people have been involved in planning this event. Thank you!
I'm going to try this morning to address the question of how we can best talk our fellow human beings out of one of the primary myths that allows war to continue. And in a second speech later today I'm going to turn more to the question of activism and building a peaceful world.
I mailed a box of my books here, and I had to mail another one because the first box arrived undamaged except that all of the books were missing. Although I don't know who stole the books, Mary Hanna recommended I inform you that the message I bring you was so threatening that the books were taken, and the empty box delivered, by a bunch of -- and I quote -- Weannie-heads!
Now, you see what I've done. I've called somebody a weannie head in a speech about peace but arranged it so you'll blame Mary (and maybe the U.S. Postal Service) instead of me. But of course when Michigan State's basketball team beat Virginia's I said something worse than Mary has probably said in her life, just as I'd done the year before, not that I'm holding any grudges.
Now, we all know that resentment and blame are tools of war propaganda. So, in Mary's defense and mine: neither of us called anybody a name in the presence of that person or proposed to harm any person or armed ourselves with massive machinery of death in preparation for books going missing or a basketball team losing. I didn't put any Michigan State fans on a kill list and blow them and everyone near them to bits with hellfire missiles. Neither of us launched any invasions.
It's rather a key distinction, isn't it, getting angry with or without war weapons. But try to find a discussion of wars in the Middle East that even mentions that 80 to 90 percent of the weapons there are from the United States, with weapons sales and gifts up significantly under the Nobel Peace President.
So, when you come down to it, we would all probably be better people if we didn't get angry at any other people -- only at injustice. But since I didn't organize millions of people to plan and prepare for carefully executed crusades of mass murder, my anger did considerably less damage than, say, George W. Bush's feelings about Saddam Hussein having tried to kill his daddy.
I bring all of this up in order to comment on the idea of what's called "human nature." If "human nature" is something distinct from culture, then -- whatever it may be -- one might speculate (why you would I have no idea, but one could speculate if one wanted to) that my emotions watching basketball are "human nature." War, on the other hand, is a collective effort. It requires plans, preparations, manufacturing, training, conditioning. How can such a group effort be distinct from culture? War is absolutely central to our culture. One would have to speculate baselessly and pointlessly that parts of our culture are "human nature" while other parts are not. But then which would be which?
When you take war participation on the individual level, you find that most individuals want nothing to do with it, nobody gets post traumatic stress from war deprivation, and in fact intense conditioning developed over decades of cultural experience is required to get most individuals to participate, many of whom never recover from having done so.
And when you take war participation at the group level, you find that many groups of humans, large and small, rich and poor, now and in the past, have had nothing to do with war. For most of human existence there was nothing that could be called war. Since war's creation it has been sporadic. Societies have abandoned it for centuries and brought it back again. Most groups, most of the time, have left it well alone. And war today bears very little resemblance to war as it was 1,000 or even 100 years ago. In addition, the 95% of humanity that lives outside the United States mostly thinks about war very differently from how it is discussed in the United States. Discussion of "the next wars" as if war is inevitable is not normal. Debates over whether to bomb people in trouble or leave them alone are far less common than debates over how to help them. Concern over a nation resisting the presence of one's own nation's troops and missiles is unheard of outside of the imperial Homeland.
An American raised on Hollywood will tell you war is "natural," "human nature," inevitable, and genetic. But there are numerous well-documented accounts of human cultures not only free of war but unable to even understand what it is. An anthropologist asked a man why he didn't use a dart gun, meant for hunting animals, against slave raiders coming to enslave his family, and he replied "Because it would kill them." Probably I shouldn't think of that as ignorance of the possibility of killing. We always want to treat difference as ignorance. The fact is that killing is the worst thing possible. It's worse than enslaving. Logically a perfectly good case can be made for the man's action and justification. In the United States, however, the idea that you would hold a gun and not use it against someone enslaving your family is almost incomprehensible. Probably we should think of that as ignorance. In our culture we praise people by saying "You really killed!" Probably we should think of that as prejudice. What we shouldn't think of it as is "human nature."
No, I'm not advocating that you let someone enslave your family. I'm simply pointing out that cultures exist that view murder very differently from how ours does. So, if acceptance of killing and total avoidance of killing both exist, as they do, how do we choose which one is "human nature." Or if neither is "human nature," is there something else that is "human nature"?
Well, if you try to define "human nature" as what every single human does, its content is vanishingly small. If you try to define it as things that most humans that you know of at a particular time and place do, how do you pick which things to include? And why bother? What is the point? The fact is that "human nature" is a meaningless and, to state it another way, a purposeless concept.
So why does it exist as a concept? Because there are purposes it has tried to serve. I can think of two, which might be called the normative and the excusatory. By normative I mean the habit some people have had of declaring that anything most people do should be done by everyone. If it's normal for people to care for their children then everyone should care for their children. That sounds harmless enough. But what if it's normal in Indiana to be heterosexual? What if it's normal to hit kids or burn gasoline or eat dogs or sacrifice virgins? Why in the world should something's being common make it good? On the contrary, whatever is good we should work to make common.
By excusatory I mean to refer to what has probably been the most frequent use of the concept "human nature" over the years, namely as a means to excuse horrible actions. Am I supporting something cruel and unfair, brutal and destructive? Do I hit or humiliate people? Do I exploit the weak? Do I steal and cheat? Do I participate in the large-scale murder of foreigners or the destruction of the natural world? Well, that's OK. It's "human nature," so I'm powerless to stop. Stopping would require that I transform into some other species. Of course thousands of other people I know of don't do the evil thing I'm doing, and they're humans, but in my position they would do it too because it's "human nature" — meaning no more and no less than it's what I happen to be doing at the moment. If we don't do it, supporters of continuing the slave trade argued in Parliament, other nations will do it. But other nations didn't. If we don't garrison the planet, says the Pentagon, others will. Of course, they might or might not, but this won't be determined by their sharing "human nature," only by their sharing Pentagon nature.
"Human nature" has got to be the grandest term for the most mundane concept ever created. Have you ever heard of anyone doing something good and announcing that it wasn't human nature? When a dog does something unusual, do the other dogs, or even the humans around chastise the dog for violating dog nature? Why does the human species alone get to drag around this bizarre concept of a "nature" that is both just whatever somebody happens to be doing and something very vaguely more than that?
Last October, Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore took out an advertisement in the National Catholic Reporter that read: "CRUSADES, INQUISITION, SLAVERY, TORTURE, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT, WAR: Over many centuries, Church leaders and theologians justified each of these evils as consistent with the will of God. Only one of them retains that position in official Church teaching today. We believe it's time for the Catholic Church to reject 'just war' as inconsistent with the teaching and example of Jesus and to become a Just Peace Church."
Not a bad statement, huh?
Do you know what people who don't have special access to the "will of God" called and still call slavery, torture, capital punishment, and numerous other evils? That's right, "human nature." And if two people disagree about the will of god or the content of human nature they can appeal to exactly the same evidence to settle their dispute, namely nothing whatsoever -- except either an agreement to disagree or the violent removal of the person disagreeing with one's claim.
We've reached a point, of course, at which continuing with war risks the existence of humanity. The twin dangers of nuclear apocalypse and climate chaos are advanced more by war than anything else. The primary way in which war kills is by diverting massive resources away from where they could do good, including the good of environmental protection. In addition war is, in some ways, our top destroyer of the environment. On top of which wars are fought for the fuels that we use to destroy the environment. And in addition, the proliferation of nuclear energy and weaponry and the increasing ease of robotic war increases dramatically the risk of war destroying us all before the climate can.
Now, I'm not a professor of logic but I think we have arrived at something that qualifies as a logical proof.
· If war is "human nature," collective suicide is "human nature." In other words, the nature of humanity is to cease to be.
· But everybody from Aristotle to Bill O'Reilly would agree that the nature of something cannot be its absence.
· Therefore, whether "human nature" means anything or not, it isn't war.
Because "human nature" is an excuse for war, you'll hear it most in the places that most frequently make war. And this of course leads to the humorous situation of the people who make war appealing to all the people who don't to justify their war-making. The United States is far and away the world's leading supplier of war weapons, buyer of war weapons, user or war weapons and all around facilitator of war. Ninety five percent of humanity is governed by governments that don't have anything remotely like the U.S. investment in war. Many countries invest between 0 and 5 percent what the United States does in war. But if you ask an American why they can't reduce the militarism a bit, they'll tell you it's "human nature." See, the other 95% of humanity is not really part of "human nature." "Human nature" turns out to be American nature. You find this same phenomenon across issues. No other country destroys the natural environment, at least on a per capita basis, remotely like the United States. But the waste and consumption are defended or accepted as "human nature."
The United States spends over a trillion dollars a year on war preparations, about $1.3 trillion in fact, which is exactly what U.S. students and former students owe in total accumulated student debt which is understood to be an outrageous and massive crisis, yet it's what Congress spends on war preparations each year - year after year -- without comment, discussion, or debate. U.S. military spending has doubled since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, yet the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget this year proposed to cut it by a grand total of 1 percent and didn't even mention that in any of its statements about its budget. The rest of the world spends about another trillion dollars all together. So the average among about 200 other countries is about a half a percent of what the U.S. spends. If the United States, for whatever cockamamie reason, felt obliged to comply with a "human nature" that included the rest of the, you know, humans, it would be compelled to reduce its military by 99.5 percent. And if it did that, I'd be glad to let it defend its behavior with whatever language it wanted.
By the way, if you did the calculation based on per-capita military spending the reduction for the U.S. to meet the rest of the world's average would be similarly extreme. The U.S. spends about $3,135 per person per year, and the rest of the world's average is about $143, meaning about a 95 percent cut for the U.S. to start acting human.
If you did the calculation as a percentage of a nation's economy, even by the most conservative measure, you'd still have to cut U.S. military spending by over a third -- but the idea (quite common in Congressional testimony) that a country should have more weapons if it can afford them, rather than if they serve some good purpose, is -- in my view -- completely unacceptable, is in fact the root of the problem itself; excusing rich countries' greater levels of killing because they're rich seems to add insult to injury.
And if the United States reduced its militarism significantly, the path would be made smooth to reduce it entirely. That is, without losing faith in militarism, the United States could limit its Defense Department to things that serve a defensive purpose. It could guard its borders with all kinds of weaponry. But doing just that, and closing the foreign bases and occupations, scrapping the aircraft carriers and submarines, dismantling the nuclear weapons, abandoning all work on weapons in space, would have some major results. Without the U.S. threat and arms supply, arms races could reverse. Korea could reunite. Palestine could potentially reach a one-state solution. Without U.S. troops kicking in doors -- excuse me, I mean policing -- the globe, the U.S. government, the primary holdout, would be able to support international law.
Most importantly perhaps, any significant fraction of $2 trillion has the power to transform the world for the better if put to proper use. Gone would be starvation. Gone would be unclean water. (And lack of water in Detroit.) Gone homelessness. These are problems that end with the proper use of a tiny fraction of $2 trillion a year. Imagine if in 2003 the United States had simply given each citizen of Iraq a quarter of a million dollars. That expense wouldn't approach what's actually been spent, but I'm willing to bet at least some Iraqis would have appreciated the act. Of course giving away money is not simple and there are more effective ways to invest in health and education and green energy then just handing out cash. The point is we spent more money than that and what did we get? Over a million killed. Millions injured. Millions traumatized. A nation destroyed. The natural environment severely damaged. Our economy drained. Our civil liberties eroded. Our culture corroded. Our morality poisoned. And most of the world viewing the United States as a threat. For a smaller expense, the U.S. government could be loved. It chooses to spend more to be hated. When Gallup polled 65 nations at the end of 2013, and asked what nation was the greatest threat to peace in the world, the overwhelming winner was the United States.
I recommend pointing that poll out to people. It seems to me you either have to declare the world severely and irrationally deluded, perhaps requiring yet more militarism. Or you have to begin opening your eyes to the failure of militarism on its own terms, at which point you can notice that the United States loses all of its land wars, exacerbates whatever it claims to be fixing with its air wars, and plants seeds of evil with its drone wars -- and countless recently retired U.S. officials admit all this.
Our neighbors up in Canada are trying to follow our warlike path, and I've been trying to tell them that they will regret it, but that it will take them years of work to build up anti-Canadian terrorist groups to rival those the United States has generated. So-called "defense" spending is counter-productive, but it's not for amateurs. To have each new militant group in the Middle East using your weapons and imitating your rhetoric while releasing full-length films begging you to attack it, then growing by leaps and bounds when you do attack it, so that even your own citizens (with some FBI prodding) want to join it and your media can start pretending that the foreign group has infiltrated your cities -- that takes skills that the United States has been mastering since before it stopped invading Canada. Did you see the headline "ISIS IN BROOKLYN"? Of course, no one from Iraq or Syria had come to Brooklyn to work for ISIS or even contacted anyone in Brooklyn; rather someone in Brooklyn had been poked and prodded into something by an FBI agent pretending to be ISIS.
The U.S. began in Yemen with murders by missiles, and drone defenders would tell you that missiles are better than other kinds of war, because with drones nobody dies. Meaning no Americans. A year ago, President Obama was claiming some sort of success. Several years ago, even I who couldn't predict the basketball final four worth a darn, predicted that the drone war on Yemen would create a wider war. And now you have the U.S. assisting Saudi Arabia in slaughtering children to blow up U.S.-supplied weapons using U.S.-supplied weapons. And we get to sit back and think of those Yemenis as backward violent beasts because of their human nature which justifies our Pentagon which created this disaster.
Did you know there was a big protest in the Czech Republic recently of the U.S. militarism directed at Russia? And one in Kiev? On Hitler's upcoming birthday, April 20th, the United States will start training Ukraine's neo-Nazi volunteer military force. The United States has troops and weapons in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe now, right up to the border of Russia. People take this sort of thing a bit seriously, while we watch our basketball. The U.S. lied to Russia when the two Germanies reunited, claiming NATO wouldn't expand an inch eastward. The U.S. facilitated a coup in Ukraine and is building up hostilities there, and Europeans and Russians are outraged. Last July Fourth I spoke outside a U.S. military base in England where the locals celebrate an Independence from America holiday. I've been talking with protesters in Sicily who are resisting construction of a U.S. Navy communications base. On Jeju Island, South Korea, resistance to a new U.S. Navy base is intense. In Okinawa the local government has heeded the protesters and halted U.S. base construction, against the will of the Japanese government. The Philippines is in an uproar over U.S. military action there. Around the world, people know the United States through its military occupation of their land. And as I watch basketball the announcer thanks U.S. troops for watching from 175 countries as if that's good and normal.
Some know it isn't. I applaud Pax Christi for speaking against the idea of a "just war." Once we rid ourselves of the idea that some wars are good wars, we ought to be able to rid ourselves of the idea that we should be funding the permanent presence of either troops or robot death planes in darn near every country on earth. One doesn't generally hear about cases of just child abuse or just rape or just racial discrimination. The Washington Post recently ran a column headlined "War on Iran May Be Our Best Option." Imagine if it had said "Racism may be our best option" or "Killing kittens may be our best option." Some things are, quite rightly, unacceptable. What if war were made one of those?
This is the case we're making at World Beyond War: there is no upside to war, no excuse for war. It is all negative and it is the most negative thing we do, the most evil institution on earth. And there is no way to fix it. Human Rights Watch recently wrote a report on the horrors inflicted on Iraqi towns, not by ISIS, but by the Iraqi militias said to be "liberating" people from ISIS. But rather than acknowledge that such horrors have been part of every single war ever waged, Human Rights Watch urges reform plans and benchmarks and compliance with the so called laws of war. Amnesty International just came out with a report on the 2014 assault on Gaza that condemns the rockets shot out of Gaza for being insufficiently precise, as if better U.S.-made rockets would be more legal and acceptable. The UN is planning another meeting on inhumane weapons, but which are the humane weapons? You cannot use laws to reform the greatest violation of law. You cannot reform an institution of mass killing. Imaging trying to reform cancer.
Studies have actually found that talking about a so-called "war" on cancer hurts the cause of reducing cancer because people don't adjust their behavior to avoid risks, focusing instead on medical hopes to eliminate cancer from the world. But at least the understanding is there that cancer is entirely undesirable, that we don't need Geneva Conventions for the proper creation and use of good cancer.
A remarkable article appeared in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. I quote:
"Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous 4 centuries."
Beyond the death, war injures and traumatizes on a far vaster scale. It is the leading cause of homelessness. It is, by various measures, the leading destroyer of the natural environment. It is by far the leading justification for the erosion of civil liberties and self-governance. It is the leading drain on wealth and prosperity in the world. Imagine if such an institution were newly proposed. Wouldn't we immediately reject it out of hand?
It was wonderful to see push back when Indiana proposed to allow discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. Imagine if Indiana proposed the creation of the institution of war. I mean, imagine if we didn't have war, and Indiana came up with the idea. We'll dump over half of government spending into this new operation, Indiana would propose, and it won't do us any good, but it will put our lives at risk while murdering thousands upon thousands of innocent people, and we'll lose a lot of rights in the process. Who would stand for such an outrage?
But then why should something be acceptable just because it already existed yesterday? Shouldn't we bloody well be outraged? Isn't there an appropriate anger here? Might there not even be a place, at least generically, for the term Weannie-heads?
What if, instead of Indiana, it was a foreign country that did some of the things the United States does? When Ecuador said the United States could keep its bases there if Ecuador could have a base in Florida, the idea was seen as ludicrous. Why? When Iran tries to keep U.S. ships a bit further from its coast, the U.S. sees this as aggressive, but how close would the U.S. like Iranian ships to be to its coast? If Mexico was murdering people with drones in the United States, would the U.S. approve? If Cuba bombed Miami for harboring terrorists, would U.S. State Department lawyers defend that action? This is always a good test of morality, sometimes known as the golden rule, but also in this case a good test for nationalism. One way to test whether you're identifying with a nation is to ask yourself if you would approve of the same actions if performed by a different nation. You can identify with a nation but want it to behave fairly toward other nations, but only if you're identifying more so with humanity.
Another way for people to question their beliefs is to ask how you would feel if the so-called collateral damage, that is to say the bulk of the people killed in a war, the innocent civilians, were in the United States. Could you justify it as a price worth paying for ... whatever it is supposedly a price worth paying for? Most people clearly could not, but do not ask the question and do not let themselves even know that wars are one-sided slaughters of people from the dispensable nations rather than the indispensible one.
Another good test is to ask yourself what you would approve if another political party did it. If a Republican president were going through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays and picking which ones to murder, would you react in exactly the same way in which you have reacted to President Obama's kill list? This question begins with the question of whether you would allow yourself to know about a story that has been public knowledge for three years since a frontpage New York Times article covered it, or would you avoid knowing about this outrage? Secondary is the question of what you would do if you allowed yourself to know.
A similar question is what you would think if a different branch of government did something. If the House Armed Services Committee were going through a kill list, picking victims, and murdering them and anyone nearby, would you approve, dissent, or ask for details?
In the case of the one war that President Obama does not want, Iran, people have suddenly discovered that they can advocate for alternatives to war. Another good question to put into people's minds is this: Why not prefer alternatives to war in the case of each of the other wars being waged or contemplated? Why only in Iran? Why object to the rush to war only when one U.S. political party does so? Why object to gruesome executions by ISIS but not by Saudi Arabia? Why get outraged on command rather than everywhere events are outrageous?
I think we need to ask these questions and get organized to work for a stronger push to eliminate war and replace it with nonviolent means of resolving conflicts, because contrary to certain Western academic pretenses war is not going away, much less going away on its own. On the contrary, war is worsening its destruction, and the use of drones is normalizing war in a way that makes greater and greater destruction likely.
I've drafted some remarks for later today in which I look at how we might get to a world beyond war and what a world beyond war might look like. I think properly understanding a world devoted to war is the only place to start. And I think we should understand it not as an entire world hopelessly condemned to war but as a world making the completely optional decision to proliferate war primarily at the insistence of the United States government. Understanding that war is a choice, means that peace too is an available option.
I had planned to leave time here for questions but learned that there's a whole separate section on the schedule for questions, so let me instead begin the topic of What Do We Do About It?
How do you get enough people sufficiently active to push back against war and militarism? Well, we had enough people active from 2001 to 2007 to spread a great deal of at least short-lived awareness of at least some of the evils of war and to force an end, temporary as it turned out, to the U.S. war on Iraq -- albeit on a three-year delay.
And we had enough people informed and active in 2013 to prevent a massive assault on Syria that Wall Street, the corporate media, and all the top politicians in Washington favored and expected to begin imminently.
But by 2014, President Obama, who'd been forced out of Iraq by Bush's treaty, was right back in, and the U.S. was engaged in the same war it had failed to fully join in 2013, albeit on the opposite side.
Yet in 2015 publicly supported diplomacy with Iran was holding off the neocon vision of a war there.
What makes the difference between moments when peace succeeds and moments when war does? Well, it helps when other interests align. Obama wants peace with Iran but Iranian war along with U.S. war against ISIS. The reason peace only succeeds for a moment, though, is that peace doesn't advance beyond a pause for reloading. The U.S. didn't bomb Syria two years ago, but it didn't invest in aid, diplomacy, or arms embargoes either. Instead it armed and trained killers, bided its time, and waited for better propaganda. The propaganda that seems to do best is not that of the humanitarian war but that of the war against evil demons coming to get us: ISIS throat slitters bringing Ebola from Mexico to our children's schools.
What makes the difference in terms of public engagement in the United States at the moment -- and we'd better change this or it will kill us all -- is partisanship. A couple of scholars, Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas have a new book out called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11. Some of you may have run into them as they did surveys of participants in peace events for years. They found that identification of the Democratic Party with peace was the primary factor in enlarging the peace movement toward the beginning of the Bush presidency and in shrinking it toward the end of that presidency.
So the obvious answer as to how you enlarge the peace movement is not really a secret at all: you install a Republican president. Now, you can debate whether the cure is worse than the disease, but the cure is as certain as Advil for a headache. You want a big peace movement, swallow a Republican President and a Republican Vice President and see how things look in the morning.
Now, determining whether Republican presidents are worse war makers, even with activist resistance, is not so simple and not actually going to help us. Unless we build a peace movement larger and more principled than alliance with either big political party will allow, we're done for.
The top risk from war is nuclear holocaust. That danger continues to grow with active U.S. assistance. The second worst thing a U.S. president can do about war is grab more war powers and pass them on to all future presidents. In that regard, President Obama has outdone President Bush. Lying to Congress is now totally routine: Congress and the United Nations can simply be ignored. Secrecy has mushroomed. President Obama picks out men, women, and children to murder from a list on Tuesdays. The public, the Congress, and the courts have no say and often no knowledge. President Obama has dramatically increased U.S. weapons sales abroad -- the U.S. being far and away the top supplier of weapons to regions that the U.S. public thinks of as inherently violent.
While Obama's body count doesn't yet begin to approach Bush's in terms of people directly and violently killed, that's not a standard that will get us to survival, much less peace and prosperity.
We should not, of course, think of the political party that lied the United States into two world wars, the Korean war, the war on Vietnam, the Kosovo war, the Libya war, and the war on ISIS -- the party that dropped the nukes on Japan -- as a party for peace. Longtime war advocates like Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton shouldn't get a pass. Hillary was instrumental in persuading her husband to bomb the former Yugoslavia against the will of Congress. She pushed for the 2003 attack on Iraq and the 2011 attack on Libya. She tried to get a U.S. war on Syria going in 2013. She pushed for the Obama-era escalation in Afghanistan -- a war that is now more Obama's than Bush's by every measure. Hillary has urged Iran to be aware that she could "obliterate" it. She has giggled with pleasure at having killed Muamar Gadaffi. She's hawkish on Ukraine. But the sort of candidate the Republicans will nominate will be just as bad. The answer to a broken electoral system begins with ceasing to look for new messiahs through elections. Imagine the world survives to 2024 and the Democrats are dedicated to electing a Latino warmonger or perhaps even a gay warmonger, valuing tokenism over human life. I don't think such a world would last to 2026.
But Democratic-party-style opposition to a Republican president won't save us either. Opposing the war on Iraq because of the 3 percent of the deaths that were American or because of the fraction of the financial damage that was American left people ill-informed and ill-prepared to oppose other wars. Opposing the war on Iraq because the war on Afghanistan was more important, was not a way to end war. Opposing the war on Iraq because it drained military preparedness was a way to elect a new regime intent on enlarging the military and preparing for more wars. Opposing Pentagon corruption and wasting money on weapons that don't even work is not the way to oppose war. I love the weapons that don't even work, when compared with the alternative.
What should give us some inspiration is the public resistance in 2013 to the so-called missile strikes into Syria, because the support for it was bipartisan, and the opposition was bipartisan. That opposition is what we can build on. But it needed to be far stronger to make its momentary success last. It needed to undo the phony debate between bombing and doing nothing. It needed to make clear the alternatives of diplomacy, cease fires, arms embargoes, negotiations, aid, peaceworkers, human shields, journalists, and video cameras, rather than weapons and trainers and war planners and that horror of an embarrassment known as the CIA.
So we need a bigger better peace movement, and we need it allied with other movements, including one to create open, free, and verifiable elections. And I'll talk about that in my second speech.
OK, do you want to hear my paranoid suspicion as to why my first shipment of books arrived here as an empty box? I think I annoyed the CIA. There was a trial of Jeffrey Sterling. Raise your hand if you know about Jeffrey Sterling. He was the CIA handler of a former Russian used by the CIA to slip nuclear bomb plans to Iran in 2000. The plans had mistakes inserted into them, which was supposed to slow down Iran's nonexistent nuclear bomb program, except that the mistakes were glaringly obvious, to the Russian among others. So, Sterling went to Congress with this information, and Congress did nothing. So, somebody went to a New York Times reporter named James Risen, and the New York Times would do nothing, but Risen published it in a book. So they've now convicted Sterling of giving secret information to Risen based on what the NSA calls meta-data. That is, they know Sterling spoke to Risen on the phone but not what he said. Many other people could have told Risen. And it was secret not to protect you and me but to protect the conniving weannie heads at the CIA.
In the course of the trial, the CIA made a document public with certain words blacked out. It was a report on plans in 2000 to give nuclear bomb plans to another country. Well, I wrote about this document and pointed out that the country was Iraq, that not long before the big Iraq mushroom cloud scare of 2002, the CIA had been at least planning to give nuke plans to Iraq. There were two clues, which frankly Encyclopedia Brown could have found quite easily, that made the blacked out country in the CIA report Iraq. First, it was proceeded by the article "an," not "a," meaning that it began with a vowel. Second, the document was written on a grid, with the characters lining up in vertical columns, so it was obvious exactly how many letters had been blacked out. Only Iraq or Oman would work, and Oman made no sense at all.
Of course, my goal is not to annoy the CIA but to encourage those working at the CIA to quit, those funding the CIA to cut it off, and those tolerating in the CIA a secret warmaking machine to at least imagine how they would feel about that if the president were a Republican.
Thanks for being here today.
There's a popular movement in Sicily called No MUOS. MUOS means Mobile User Objective System. It's a satellite communications system created by the U.S. Navy. The primary contractor and profiteer building the satellite equipment at the U.S. Navy base in the desert in Sicily is Lockheed Martin Space Systems. This is one of four ground stations, each intended to include three swivelling very-high-frequency satellite dishes with a diameter of 18.4 meters and two Ultra High Frequency (UHF) helical antennas.
Protests have been growing in the nearby town of Niscemi since 2012. In October 2012, construction was suspended for a few weeks. In early 2013 the President of the Region of Sicily revoked the authorization for the MUOS construction. The Italian government conducted a dubious study of health impacts and concluded the project was safe. Work recommenced. The town of Niscemi appealed, and in April 2014 the Regional Administrative Tribunal requested a new study. Construction goes on, as does resistance.
I spoke with Fabio D'Alessandro, a giornalist and law school graduate living in Niscemi. "I'm part of the No MUOS movement," he told me, "a movement that works to prevent the installation of the U.S. satellite system called MUOS. To be specific, I'm part of the No MUOS committee of Niscemi, which is part of the coalition of No MUOS committees, a network of committees spread around Sicily and in the major Italian cities."
"It is very sad," said D'Alessandro,"to realize that in the United States people know little about MUOS. MUOS is a system for high-frequency and narrowband satellite communications, composed of five satellites and four stations on earth, one of which is planned for Niscemi. MUOS was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. The purpose of the program is the creation of a global communications network that allows communication in real time with any soldier in any part of the world. In addition it will be possible to send encrypted messages. One of the principal functions of MUOS, apart from the speed of communications, is the ability to remotely pilot drones. Recent tests have demonstrated how MUOS can be used at the North Pole. In short, MUOS will serve to support any U.S. conflict in the Mediterranean or the Middle East or Asia. It's all part of the effort to automate war, entrusting the choice of targets to machines."
"There are many reasons to oppose MUOS," D'Alessandro told me, "first of all the local community has not been advised of the installation. The MUOS satellite dishes and antennas are built within a non-NATO U.S. military base that has existed in Niscemi since 1991. The base was constructed within a nature preserve, destroying thousands of cork oaks and devestating the landscape by means of bulldozers that leveled a hill. The base is larger than the town of Niscemi itself. The presence of the satellite dishes and antennas puts at serious risk a fragile habitat including flora and fauna that exist only in this place. And no study has been conducted of the dangers of the electromagnetic waves emitted, neither for the animal population nor for the human inhabitants and the civilian flights from the Comiso Airport approximately 20 kilometers away.
"Within the base there are already present 46 satellite dishes, surpassing the limit set by Italian law. Moreover, as determined anti-militarists, we oppose further militarizing this area, which already has the base at Sigonella and other U.S. bases in Sicily. We don't want to be complicit in the next wars. And we don't want to become a target for whoever attempts to attack the U.S. military."
What have you done thus far, I asked.
"We've engaged in lots of different actions against the base: more than once we've cut through the fences; three times we've invaded the base en masse; twice we've entered the base with thousands demonstrating. We've blocked the roads to prevent access for the workers and the American military personnel. There has been sabotage of the optical communication wires, and many other actions."
The No Dal Molin movement against the new base at Vicenza, Italy, has not stopped that base. Have you learned anything from their efforts? Are you in touch with them?
"We are in constant contact with No Dal Molin, and we know their history well. The company that is building MUOS, Gemmo SPA, is the same that did the work on Dal Molin and is currently under investigation subsequent to the seizure of the MUOS building site by the courts in Caltagirone. Anyone attempting to bring into doubt the legitimacy of U.S. military bases in Italy is obliged to work with political groups on the right and left that have always been pro-NATO. And in this case the first supporters of MUOS were the politicians just as happened at Dal Molin. We often meet with delegations of activists from Vicenza and three times have been their guests."
I went with representatives of No Dal Molin to meet with Congress Members and Senators and their staffs in Washington, and they simply asked us where the base should go if not Vicenza. We replied "Nowhere." Have you met with anyone in the U.S. government or communicated with them in any way?
"Many times the U.S. consuls have come to Niscemi but we have never been permitted to speak with them. We have never in any way communicated with U.S. senators/representatives, and none have ever asked to meet with us."
Where are the other three MOUS sites? Are you in touch with resisters there? Or with the resistance to bases on Jeju Island or Okinawa or the Philippines or elsewhere around the world? The Chagossians seeking to return might make good allies, right? What about the groups studying the military damage to Sardinia? Environmental groups are concerned about Jeju and about Pagan Island Are they helpful in Sicily?
"We are in direct contact with the No Radar group in Sardinia. One of the planners of that struggle has worked (for free) for us. We know the other anti-U.S.-base movements around the world, and thanks to No Dal Molin and to David Vine, we have been able to hold some virtual meetings. Also thanks to the support of Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space we are trying to get in touch with those in Hawaii and Okinawa."
What would you most like people in the United States to know?
"The imperialism that the United States is imposing on the countries that lost the Second World War is shameful. We are tired of having to be slaves to a foreign politics that to us is crazy and that obliges us to make enormous sacrifices and that makes Sicily and Italy no longer lands of welcome and peace, but lands of war, deserts in use by the U.S. Navy."
Io mi chiamo Fabio D'Alessandro, sono un giornalista prossimo alla laurea in Legge. Vivo ormai in modo stabile a Niscemi. Durante gli anni universitari ho fatto parte di collettivi politici ed ho occupato un teatro da destinare a centro sociale. Faccio parte del Movimento No Muos, un movimento che lotta per bloccare l'installazione e la messa in funzione dell'impianto satellitare Usa chiamato Muos. In particolare faccio parte del Comitato No Muos di Niscemi, che fa parte del Coordinamento dei Comitati No Muos, una fitta rete di comitati territoriali sparsi in tutta la Sicilia e nelle maggiori città italiane.
È molto triste sapere che negli Usa si sappia poco di Muos. Il Muos, (Mobile User Objective System) è un sistema di comunicazioni satellitari ad alta frequenza (UHF) e a banda stretta composto da cinque satelliti e quattro stazioni di terra, una delle quali è stata prevista a Niscemi, in Sicilia. Il programma MUOS è gestito dal Dipartimento della Difesa USA. Scopo del programma è la creazione di una rete globale di comunicazione che permetterà di comunicare in tempo reale con qualunque soldato o mezzo in qualunque parte del mondo. Inoltre sarà possibile inviare informazioni criptate. Una delle caratteristiche fondamentali del Muos, oltre alla velocità di comunicazione, sarà la capacità di teleguidare i droni, aerei senza piloti. Recenti test hanno dimostrato come il Muos sia utilizzabile al Polo Nord (north pole), zona strategica. Insomma, il Muos servirà da supporto a qualunque conflitto Usa nel mediterraneo e nel medio e lontano oriente. Il tutto nel tentativo di automatizzare la guerra, affidando la scelta dei bersagli alle macchine. Un'arma strategica e fondamentale per i prossimi conflitti e per tenere sotto controllo un'area ormai destabilizzata.
Ci sono molti motivi per opporsi: anzitutto la comunità locale non è stata avvisata dell'installazione. Le antenne Muos sorgono all'interno di una base militare USA (non Nato) presente a Niscemi dal 1991. La base è stata costruita all'interno di una riserva naturale (regional park) distruggendo sughere (oak) millenarie e devastando il paesaggio a causa delle ruspe che hanno sbancato una collina. La base è più grande della stessa città di Niscemi, la città più vicina all'installazione. La presenza delle antenne mette a serio rischio un habitat delicato, fatto da flora e fauna presenti solo in questo territorio. Inoltre nessuno studio è stato mai fatto circa la pericolosità delle onde elettromagnetiche emesse, né per quanto riguarda la popolazione animale nè per quanto riguarda gli abitanti e i voli civili dell'aeroporto di Comiso, distante circa 20 km dalle antenne. All'interno della base sono già presenti 46 antenne che superano i limiti previsti dalla legge italiana. Inoltre, da convinti antimilitaristi, riteniamo che non si possa militarizzare ulteriormente il territorio, avendo già la base di Sigonella e altre installazioni militari USA in Sicilia. Non vogliamo essere complici delle prossime guerre, non vogliamo diventare obiettivo sensibile per chiunque intenda colpire gli Usa.
Contro la base sono state fatte diverse azioni: abbiamo più volte tagliato le reti di recinzione, abbiamo 3 volte invaso la base in massa, in particolare per ben due volte siamo entrati dentro in migliaia di manifestanti. Abbiamo effettuato dei blocchi stradali per vietare l'ingresso agli operai e ai militari americani. Inoltre sono stati fatti dei sabotaggi riguardanti le fibre ottiche di comunicazione e molte altre azioni.
Siamo in costante contatto con i No Dal Molin, e conosciamo bene la loro storia. La "company" che sta realizzando il Muos, la Gemmo SPA, è la stessa azienda che ha realizzato i lavori del Dal Molin e attualmente è indagata a seguito del sequestro del cantiere Muos da parte dei giudici di Caltagirone. Chiunque provi a mettere in dubbio la legittimità delle basi militari americane in Italia è costretto a fare i conti con la politica, di destra e di sinistra, da sempre filo-Nato. Anche in questo caso i primi sponsor del Muos sono stati i politici, così come accadde con il Dal Molin. Spesso incontriamo delegazioni di attivisti di Vicenza e per 3 volte sono stato ospite dei No Dal Molin.
Molte volte i consoli Usa sono venuti a Niscemi ma non ci hanno mai permesso di parlare con loro. In nessun modo abbiamo contatti con senatori Usa, nessuno ci ha mai chiesto un incontro.
Abbiamo contatti diretti con i No Radar della Sardegna, uno degli ingegneri della lotta No Radar ha lavorato (gratis) per noi. Conosciamo le altre questioni contro le basi Usa nel mondo e, grazie ai No Dal Molin e David Vine, siamo riusciti a realizzare alcuni meeting virtuali. Inoltre, grazie all'appoggio di Bruce Gagnon del Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space stiamo cercando di ottenere contatti con gli abitanti delle Hawaii e di Okinawa.
L'imperialismo che gli Usa obbliga ai paesi che hanno perso la seconda guerra mondiale è vergognoso. Siamo stanchi di dover essere schiavi di una politica estera per noi folle, che ci obbliga ad enormi sacrifici e che rende la Sicilia e l'italia non più terre di accoglienza e di pace ma terre di guerra, deserti in uso alla marina statunitense.
As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out, until a video surfaced of South Carolina policeman Michael Slager murdering Walter Scott, the media was reporting a package of lies manufactured by the police: a fight that never occurred, witnesses who didn't exist, the victim taking the policeman's taser, etc. The lies collapsed because the video appeared.
I find myself asking why videos of missiles blowing children into little bits and pieces can't dissolve the stories churned out by the Pentagon. With several qualifications, I think part of the answer is that there are not enough videos. The struggle for the right to videotape the police at home in the United States should be accompanied by a campaign to provide video cameras to populations targeted for wars. Of course the struggle to videotape people dying under a bombing campaign is at least as great a challenge as videotaping a murderous policeman, but enough cameras would produce some footage.
There are other parts to the answer as well, of course. One is complexity, exacerbated by intentional obfuscation. To explain the current war in Yemen, the Washington Post finds someone to quote saying, "nobody can figure out either who started this fight or how to end it."
Really? Nobody? The second U.S.-armed dictator in the past few years is overthrown by militants empowered by opposition to U.S.-armed dictatorship. This after a Yemeni man told the U.S. Congress to their faces that the U.S. drone strikes were empowering terrorists. A larger neighboring U.S.-armed dictatorship in Saudi Arabia starts bombing and threatening to take over, as in nearby U.S.-armed dictatorship Bahrain. Saudi U.S. weapons are destroying piles of Yemeni U.S. weapons, and nobody can figure anything out?
Here are some U.S. children hiding from Soviet nukes many years ago, and a Yemeni child hiding from U.S. drone strikes more recently (source). How does that alone not indict anyone?
Here are photos and stories of innocent children murdered with U.S. drones in Yemen. How does that not indict anyone?
Beyond complexity and obfuscation and the justification of pretended rationales and euphemized explanations like "collateral damage," lies the problem of getting Americans to give a damn about people far away. But the U.S. government is horrified by the idea of releasing more photos and videos of torture in Abu Ghraib. It seems that direct, personal violence, even short of murder, is seen as more offensive than mass-murder by aerial assault.
I think these weaknesses in how visual documentation of killing in war is perceived can be overcome, and that in fact a greater volume of videos and photos obtained more rapidly could have a qualitative impact. Most Americans imagine a video like collateral murder to be an exception. Most have no idea at all that U.S. wars are one-sided slaughters killing primarily civilians and overwhelmingly the people who live where the wars are fought. One video of a family being dismembered by a bomb could be dismissed as accidental. Tens of thousands of such videos could not be.
Of course, logically, war victim selfie videos ought not to be needed. It's no secret that the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Libya have fueled greater violence and failed utterly to drop little baskets of liberty and democracy on the people being burned to death. It ought to be no secret that 80 to 90 percent of the weapons in the supposedly inherently violent region of the Middle East are U.S.-made. The White House does not deny that it has significantly increased weapons sales to that region among others. With no plan for success and open confession that "there is no military solution" it rushes more weapons into war after war with no end in sight.
But words don't seem to do the job. Explaining that police were getting away with murder wasn't producing any indictments. A video finally indicted a cop. Now we need the video that can indict the world's policeman.
Amanda Bass and Aman Singh are law students at NYU and organizers of a letter condemning the hiring of Harold Koh. Read and sign the letter here:
Amanda Bass is a third year student at NYU School of Law where her work has focused on human rights and racial justice. Amanda has interned with the Worker Justice Center of New York, where she assisted workers with wage and hour claims, and with the Southern Center for Human Rights, where she worked on the post-conviction appeal of an individual sentenced to death-in-prison by Alabama courts. Upon graduation from law school, Amanda plans to return to Alabama to work with the Equal Justice Initiative on behalf of prisoners.
Amandeep Singh is a Juris Doctorate candidate at NYU School of Law. Before law school, Amandeep worked for two years in Cairo, Egypt, through the country's tumultuous political experiment with democracy. As a research assistant with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a local rights group, Amandeep carried out comparative legal and policy research to support various legislative and constitutional initiatives. His work included developing a long-term legal and policy blueprint for non-discrimination and various legislative and constitutional proposals related to civil liberties and government accountability. He also provided research and support for investigations into the killing of protestors. In addition to his professional experience, Amandeep was involved in multiple grassroots initiatives, including Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH), an activist group that documents and responds to organized mob sexual assaults at protest sites, as well as humanitarian assistance efforts for Syrian refugees in Cairo. Amandeep has appeared on Egyptian television and been published for his commentaries on political developments in the Middle East and South Asia. He has lived in Egypt, the Palestinian Territories and India, speaks five languages, and is an avid practitioner of Kundalini Yoga.
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The United States sends people to kill and die in war that it doesn't trust with a beer.
Here's an idea: Drink At 18, Don't Kill Till 21.
Alcohol prohibition is not working, and creates unsafe drinking by people old enough to vote, drive, and work. A case can be made, and is being made, for returning the drinking age to 18.
But allowing 18-year-olds to join the military has created illegal and immoral recruitment of minors, not to mention deep moral regret, post-traumatic stress, and suicide in young veterans.
Raising the age for war participation (for joining either the military or one of its contractors) to 21 would do more for education and informed career choices -- not to mention reducing drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide -- than banning alcohol does.
Make-Daiquiris-Not-War is a policy based on actual dangers. The problem with alcohol is not responsible drinking of it. Alcohol is not a satanic liquid to be counterproductively made into a forbidden fruit. The problems with alcohol are: drinking and driving, which should be addressed by avoiding the driving, not through an unenforceable ban on drinking; drinking to dangerous excess, which should be addressed through open discussion, not the secretive plotting of contemporary speakeasies; and addiction, which is driven not so much by the chemicals involved as by the life of the person who becomes addicted.
And what could we most easily do to assist young people in leading more fulfilling, less horrific, lives? We could put off the decision to join in a program of mass murder until age 21, thereby giving a young person a chance to consider all the options.
In many nations there is no drinking age. In others the drinking age is after you're dead (alcohol is prohibited). Among those with a drinking age between zero and forever, far and away the most common is 18. Exceptions are Egypt, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, Indonesia, the United States, and various Pacific island colonies of the United States, all of which make the legal age to drink 21.
But how's that working out for them? In Egypt if you happen to witness the police murder someone, you'll face prison or worse, while the U.S. President chats with the Egyptian President promising him more weapons and money, but if you want to drink underage, apparently nobody really minds. The inevitable result of making it legal to sell alcohol to some but not all adults (taking adults to be 18 and up) seems to be either stiffer and stiffer penalties or routine violation. This of course creates both a disrespect for laws and drinking in secret without appropriate discussion of dangers and measures to prevent recklessness.
In Argentina enlistment in the military is allowed at 21, or at 18 with parental consent. In Bahrain and Kazakhstan military enlistment starts at 15. Who's right? Who's respecting the enlistees? Well, according to some brain scientists at MIT -- not that they should know anything:
"As a number of researchers have put it, 'the rental car companies have it right.' The brain isn't fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car."
So upping the killing age to 21 would be moving in the direction of the wisdom of the scientists and the rental car companies. Why lower the drinking age at the same time? Because alcohol needs to be treated principally not as a means of drunken escape, but as an enjoyable beverage with dinner. Nations with no drinking age at all tend to have less alcoholism than do puritanical nations. The point is not that 18 year olds are qualified to head off to parties at which they'll drink gallons of hard liquor (as some currently do, law or no law) but that alcohol, like other enjoyable and risky parts of life -- from dangerous sports to sex to other drugs to those televisions in airports blasting Fox News -- should be dealt with openly and calmly by parents and teachers and friends, with the actual dangers made crystal clear and imaginary dangers debunked.
The fact is that prohibiting alcohol leads to more reckless drinking, while prohibiting war participation leads to less reckless killing. We've got our priorities wrong. Let's rework them.
Joy First reports from Mauston, Wisc., that Bonnie Block, a Madison grandmother and long-time peace activist, was found guilty of trespassing in a jury trial in the Juneau County Courthouse on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, and sent to jail.
Sadly, this is not an April Fool's joke. Block, pictured at right, was compelled to either pay $232 or spend 5 days in the Juneau County Jail. Faced with that choice, Block said in court:
"Your Honor, I asked for a jury trial in this matter so I could explain to the citizens of Juneau County my moral, constitutional, and legal reasons for opposing the drone training via handing out a leaflet at the Volk Field Open House. I also wanted to point out the absurdity of being arrested for trespassing at an event to which the public had been invited.
"However, the Court’s pretrial orders based on the District Attorney's 25-point Motion in Limine precluded me from explaining this to the jury because the pre-trial orders prohibited any mention to the jury of the very issues that I believe constitute a defense for my nonviolent action.
"These prohibitions also made it impossible for me to testify on my own behalf because I couldn't honor the oath 'to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.' And to top it off, there was the unilateral refusal of Volk Field Commander Romauld to honor my third-party subpoena to testify so he could explain the military rules and rationale that he considers the justification for my arrest. It puts the military brass above the law and I object.
"For these reasons, I can't in good conscience pay the fine. It would be giving consent to the outcome of a legal process I believe was unfair and which sets dangerous precedents for those of us engaged in nonviolent civil resistance and seeking justice for victims of U.S. drone warfare. So I'll 'do the time instead of paying the fine.'"
After sentencing Block to 5 days in jail, First reports, Judge Paul Curran told Block that he would allow her to have lunch with her husband and son before reporting to the Juneau County "Justice" Center to begin her sentence.
First explains the background: "The trespassing charge was the result of a May 17, 2014, action in which Block and Fr. Jim Murphy took a bus tour of Volk Field which was part of the Base's Open House to which the public was invited. As they left the bus at the National Guard Museum, they handed out a leaflet with four questions about drones to the other passengers on the bus. As a result they were arrested and ultimately charged with trespass. Block opted for a jury trial because she believed her constitutional right of free speech was violated as was her conscientious objection to drone warfare.
"Block, who represented herself in front of the 6-person jury, was prevented from mounting a vigorous defense as a result of Judge Curran's pretrial ruling in favor of a motion which prevented Block from talking about international law, the U.S. Constitution, morals and ethics, and other topics important to the case. . . .
"The jury deliberated for thirty minutes before returning with the guilty verdict."
Block is part of the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars which holds monthly vigils outside the gates of this Wisconsin Air National Guard Base. Since 2009, Volk Field has been training operators of RQ-7 Shadow drones that are part of U.S. drone wars.
BUT CHARGES DROPPED IN SYRACUSE
Meanwhile Ed Kinane reports from Upstate New York: "This afternoon in the Dewitt (NY) town court, after hearing about 90 minutes of motions, Judge Robert Jokl dismissed charges against four Hancock Air Force Base defendants 'in the interest of justice.' Arguing against Assistant D.A. Peter Hakes were attorneys Jonathan Wallace representing Julienne Oldfield and John Honeck; Kathy Manley representing Andrew Schoerke, and Kim Zimmer representing Mary Snyder.
"Their charges were trespass, two counts of disorderly conduct, and obstruction of government administration -- a misdemeanor. The four perps were among 31 arrested in a nonviolent die-in at the front gate of Hancock’s 174th attack wing (home of the reaper drone) on April 28, 2013, following a weekend drone conference here in Syracuse. For half a decade we have been charging Hancock with war crime and terrorism against the people of Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"This acquittal follows our March 19th 'big books' action at Hancock’s main gate in which seven of us were arrested with similar charges. Arraignments will be in late April."
Kinane's report was generally taken to be an April Fool's joke by drone activists around the country, but he says it is not. So, thank you to Judge Jokl for acting in the interest of justice.