To the genre of war abolition treatises that everyone should read add A New Era of Nonviolence: The Power of Civil Society Over War by Tom Hastings. This is a peace studies book that truly crosses over into the perspective of peace activism. The author addresses positive trends with neither rose- nor red-white-and-blue-colored glasses. Hastings isn’t just after peace in his heart or peace in his neighborhood or bringing the good word of peace to the Africans. He actually wants to end war, and thus includes an appropriate — by no means exclusive — emphasis on the United States and its unprecedented militarism. For example:
“In a positive feedback loop of negative consequence, the race for the world’s remaining fossil fuels will produce more conflict and require ever more fuel to win the race . . . ‘[T]he U.S. Air Force, the world’s single largest consumer of petroleum, recently announced a plan to substitute 50 percent of its fuel use with alternative fuels, with particular emphasis on biofuels. Yet, biofuels will be able to supply no more than roughly 25 percent of motor fuel [and that’s with stealing land needed for food crops –DS] . . . so other regions where oil supplies are available will likely see greater military investment and intervention.’ . . . With the growing scarcity of oil reserves the U.S. military has entered an Orwellian era of permanent war, with hot conflict in multiple countries constantly. It may be thought of as a giant raptor, fueled by oil, constantly circling the Earth, seeking its next meal.”
A lot of people in favor of “peace,” just like a lot of people in favor of protecting the environment, do not want to hear that. The U.S. Institute of Peace, for example, may be thought of as a wart on the beak of the giant raptor, and would — I think — see itself sufficiently in those terms to object to the preceding paragraph. Hastings, in fact, illustrates well how Washington, D.C., thinks of itself by quoting a fairly typical comment, but one already proven flawed by well-known events. This was Michael Barone of US News and World Report in 2003 before the attack on Iraq:
“Few in Washington doubt that we can occupy Iraq within a few weeks’ time. Then comes the difficult task of moving Iraq toward a government that is democratic, peaceful, and respectful of the rule of law. Fortunately, smart officials in both the Defense and State departments have been doing serious work planning for that eventuality for over a year now.”
So, not to worry! This was an open public statement in 2003, like many others, yet the fact that the U.S. government was planning to attack Iraq for over a year before that continues to be “breaking news!” right up through this week.
That wars can be prevented even in the United States is clear to Hastings who would agree with Robert Naiman’s recent objection when CNN suggested that having opposed the Contra war on the government of Nicaragua should disqualify someone from running for U.S. president (particularly someone standing next to a shameless warmonger who voted for the war on Iraq). In fact, Hastings points out, huge efforts by the peace movement in the United States at the time very likely prevented a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. “[H]igh ranking U.S. officials with access to [President Ronald] Reagan and his cabinet were speculating that invading Nicaragua was almost inevitable — and . . . it never occurred.”
Hastings examines causes of war outside of the Pentagon as well, tracing, for example, infectious disease back to the common cause of poverty, and noting that infectious disease can lead to xenophobic and ethnocentric hostility that leads to war. Working to eliminate disease can therefore help to eliminate war. And of course a small fraction of the cost of war could go a long way toward eliminating diseases.
That war need not be the result of conflict is clear to Hastings who recounts excellent models such as the popular resistance in the Philippines from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. In February 1986 a civil war began. “The people interposed between two armies of tanks in a remarkable four-day nonviolent mass action. They stopped an emerging civil war, rescued their democracy, and did all this with zero mortalities.”
A danger lurks in the growing recognition of the power of nonviolence that I think is illustrated by a quote from Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall that I’m afraid Hastings might have included without any sense of irony. Ackerman and Duvall, I should mention, are not Iraqi and at the time of making this statement had not been deputized by the people of Iraq to decide their fate:
“Saddam Hussein has brutalized and repressed the Iraqi people for more than 20 years and more recently has sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction that would never be useful to him inside Iraq. So President Bush is right to call him an international threat. Given these realities, anyone who opposes U.S. military action to dethrone him has a responsibility to suggest how he might otherwise be ushered out the back door of Baghdad. Fortunately there is an answer: Civilian-based, nonviolent resistance by the Iraqi people, developed and applied with a strategy to undermine Saddam’s basis of power.”
By this standard, any nation possessing weaponry of use only for foreign wars should by default be attacked by the United States as an international threat, or anyone opposing such action must demonstrate an alternative means of overthrowing that government. This thinking brings us CIA-NED-USAID “democracy promotion” and “color revolutions” and the general acceptance of provoking coups and uprisings “nonviolently” from Washington. But are Washington’s nuclear weapons useful to President Obama inside the United States? Would he be right then in calling himself an international threat and attacking himself unless we could show an alternative means of overthrowing himself?
If the United States were to stop arming and funding some of the worst governments on earth, its “regime change” operations elsewhere would lose that hypocrisy. They would remain hopelessly flawed as undemocratic, foreign-influenced democracy-creation. A truly nonviolent foreign policy, in contrast, would neither collaborate with Bashar al Assad on torturing people nor later arm Syrians to attack him nor organize protesters to resist him nonviolently. Rather, it would lead the world be example toward disarmament, civil liberties, environmental sustainability, international justice, fair distribution of resources, and acts of humility. A world dominated by a peace maker rather than a war maker would be far less welcoming for the crimes of the Assads of the world.
The accepted story in the United States of what's happened in Syria is just that, a story told to make narrative sense of something completely un-understood.
In Southern Sweden a giant round rock lies on flat farmland, and the lovely story my ancestors used to tell to explain how it got there came down to this: a troll threw it there. As evidence, in a nearby castle, one can find a horn and a pipe that come into the story. The horn contained what today would be called chemical weapons, which burned the back of a horse when the hero of the story was smart enough to dump it over his shoulder rather than drinking it. Man and horse got away by riding across the furrows of a field, because everyone knows that trolls must run back and forth the full length of each furrow, which slows them down tremendously. The facts all fit. Some fringe conspiracy theorists may question the very existence of trolls, but such arguments need not be taken seriously.
A peace activist recently sent this video link to a listserve with a note stating that this video got the Syria story pretty much right. I had a number of objections:
That the United States got involved in Syria in 2006 is revealed in WikiLeaks. That the Pentagon was intent on overthrowing the Syrian government in 2001 is revealed by the Donald Rumsfeld memo shown to Wesley Clark, and by Tony Blair in 2010. So the story in this video of the U.S. taking an interest -- purely humanitarian of course -- only in 2013 is highly misleading.
That misdirection also facilitates leaving out of the story the U.S. brushing aside of a peace process proposed by Russia in 2012.
The statement, presented in the video as fact, that Assad used chemical weapons in that attack in 2013 is outrageous, as that has never been established. What ought to have been said was that someone used chemical weapons and Obama claimed falsely to have incontrovertible evidence that it was Assad.
Quoting Obama on a 2013 proposal for a "targeted military strike" blatantly avoids Seymour Hersh's report on the massive bombing campaign Obama had planned.
The video's conclusion that because the war is complicated there is therefore "just no end in sight" is reckless, as an end could be achieved if some effort were put into it, beginning with an honest assessment of the facts, and a retelling of 2013 as something other than "the United States backing down."
What would an honest account about the same length as this video look like? Perhaps like this:
Sad to say, the global policeman of humanitarian intent is no more real than a troll or a "Khorasan Group."
At least as early as 2001, the United States had the Syrian government on a list of governments targeted for overthrow.
In 2003, the United States threw the Middle East into a whole new sort of turmoil with its invasion of Iraq. It created sectarian divisions, and fueled and armed and facilitated the organization of violent groups.
At least as early as 2006, the United States had people in Syria working for the overthrow of the government.
The U.S. response to the Arab Spring, and the U.S.-led overthrow of the Libyan government made matters worse. ISIS was developing long before it burst into the news, its leaders organizing in U.S. prison camps in Iraq. The region was heavily armed with weapons from outside the region, primarily from the United States. Three-quarters of weapons shipped to Middle-Eastern governments were and are from the U.S. The weapons of the U.S. military itself and of its allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, were intentionally and accidentally supplied to new violent groups.
The Arab Spring in Syria was made violent almost immediately, with support for violence from one side coming from the United States and its Gulf dictatorship allies, and from the other side from Iran and Hezbollah and Russia. The Free Syrian Army became one player in a civil and proxy and regional war, recruiting fighters from around the region of "liberated" disaster states. Al Qaeda became another player, as did the Kurds. The U.S. government, however, remained focused on overthrowing the Syrian government, and took no serious steps to halt support for al Qaeda and other groups from U.S. Gulf allies or Turkey or Jordan (steps such as cutting off the flow of weapons from the United States, imposing sanctions, negotiating a cease-fire or arms embargo).
In 2012, Russia proposed a peace-process that would have included President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, but the U.S. brushed the idea aside without any serious consideration, suffering under the delusion that Assad would be violently overthrown very soon, and preferring a violent solution as more likely to remove the Russian influence and military -- and perhaps also due to the general U.S. preference for violence driven by its weapons industry corruption. Meanwhile the Iraqi government was bombing its own citizens with weapons rushed to it by the U.S., violently fueling the coming ISIS assault. And the U.S. had "ended" its military occupation of Iraq without ending it.
In 2013, the White House went public with plans to lob some unspecified number of missiles into Syria, which was in the midst of a horrible civil war already fueled in part by U.S. arms and training camps, as well as by wealthy U.S. allies in the region and fighters emerging from other U.S.-created disasters in the region. The excuse for the missiles was an alleged killing of civilians, including children, with chemical weapons -- a crime that President Barack Obama claimed to have certain proof had been committed by the Syrian government. He never produced so much as a horn or a pipe or a pleasant story as evidence.
Seymour Hersh would later reveal that the U.S. plan had been for a massive bombing campaign. And Robert Parry, among others, would report on the debunking of White House lies about the chemical weapons attack. While Syria might have been guilty, the White House almost certainly did not know that, and the U.S. public seemed to recognize that even such guilt would not justify entering the war. A Russian proposal to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons had already been known to the White House and been rejected. What compelled Obama to accept diplomacy as the last resort in 2013 was the public's and Congress's refusal to allow war. But Obama went right on arming and training fighters in the Syrian war, and sending more troops back into Iraq.
When ISIS burst onto the scene it openly begged the United States to attack it, viewing this as a huge recruitment opportunity. The United States obliged, attacking ISIS from the air in Iraq and Syria (and getting numerous allies to do so as well), in addition to continuing its arming and training operations -- now supposedly aimed at both ISIS and Assad. ISIS thrived, as did various anti-Asad groups. Turkey joined in by attacking Kurds rather than ISIS or Assad. Russia joined in by bombing ISIS and anti-government groups in Syria. This dangerously increased already high tension between Russia and the United States, as Russia intends to keep the Syrian government from being overthrown, and the United States intends to overthrow it -- and to bring in more allies, with the UK planning a vote on adding their bombs to the mix.
Of course, a ceasefire, an arms embargo, actual aid and reparations, regional disarmament and diplomacy, and the departure from the region of foreign powers all remain possible if pursued.
Signers of this statement are listed below.
“The U.S. and NATO occupy my country under the name of all the beautiful banners of democracy, women’s rights, human rights. And for this long time, they shed the blood of our people under the name of the war on terror…” —Malalai Joya
President Obama’s decision to leave actually ending, as opposed to officially “ending,” the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan to his successor (barring Congress developing the nerve and the decency to act) illustrates our collective and his personal failure to overcome what candidate Obama once called the mindset that gets us into wars. The idea that year 15 or year 16 is going to go better in Afghanistan than the first 14 years have gone is based on no evidence whatsoever, but merely the hope that something will change combined with a misguided and arrogant sense of responsibility to control someone else’s country. As numerous Afghans have been saying for nearly 14 years, Afghanistan will be a disaster when the U.S. occupation ends, but it will be a larger disaster the longer it takes to do so.
This longest-ever U.S. war since the destruction of the Native American nations is, when measured in deaths, dollars, destruction, and numbers of troops and weapons, far more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s. Yet President Obama has been given credit for “ending” it, without actually ending it, for nearly seven years, including while he was more than tripling the U.S. troop presence. The idea that escalating a war helps to end it, built on myths and distortions about past wars (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Iraq “surge”), has to be set aside after these many years of failure. The pretense that a military can both end and not end the occupation of another people’s country by shifting to “non-combat” troops (even while bombing a hospital) must be abandoned.
The view that further war, in particular with drones, is counterproductive on its own terms is shared with us by
—U.S. Lt. General Michael Flynn, who quit as head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in August 2014: “The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict.”
—Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer, who says the more the United States fights terrorism the more it creates terrorism.
—The CIA, which finds its own drone program “counterproductive.”
—Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence: While “drone attacks did help reduce the Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” he wrote, “they also increased hatred of America.”
—Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “We’re seeing that blowback. If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”
—Sherard Cowper-Coles, Former U.K. Special Representative To Afghanistan: “For every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge.”
—Matthew Hoh, Former Marine Officer (Iraq), Former US Embassy Officer (Iraq and Afghanistan): “I believe it’s [the escalation of the war/military action] only going to fuel the insurgency. It’s only going to reinforce claims by our enemies that we are an occupying power, because we are an occupying power. And that will only fuel the insurgency. And that will only cause more people to fight us or those fighting us already to continue to fight us.” — Interview with PBS on Oct 29, 2009
—General Stanley McChrystal: “For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.”
Afghanistan need not be “abandoned.” The United States owes Afghanistan reparations in the form of significant actual aid, the cost of which would of course be less than that of continuing the war.
The U.S. air strikes on the Kunduz hospital have generated more attention than many other U.S. atrocities committed in Afghanistan. Yet horrific attacks have been the mainstay of this war which was begun illegally and without U.N. authorization. The motivation of revenge for 9-11 is not a legal justification for war, and also ignores the Taliban’s offer to have bin Laden face trial in a third country. This war has killed many thousands of Afghans, tortured and imprisoned, wounded and traumatized many more. The top cause of death among members of the U.S. military who have gone to Afghanistan is suicide. We shouldn’t allow continuation of this madness to be depicted as reasonable and cautious. It is criminal and murderous. A third U.S. president should be given no opportunity to continue “ending” this war for additional years.
End it now.
David Swanson, director of World Beyond War
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
Medea Benjamin, Co-founder, Code Pink
Ret. Col. AnnWright, former U.S. diplomat, including in Afghanistan
Mike Ferner, former Navy Hospital Corpsman and president of Veterans For Peace
Matthew Hoh, Former Marine Officer (Iraq), Former US Embassy Officer (Iraq and Afghanistan)
Elliott Adams, former National President, Veterans for Peace, FRO
Brian Terrell, co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Ed Kinane, Steering committee, Syracuse Peace Council
Victoria Ross, Interim Director, Western New York Peace Council
Brian Willson, Esq., Veterans for Peace
Imam Abdulmalik Mujahid, Chairperson, World Parliament of Religions
David Smith-Ferri, Co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Dayne Goodwin, secretary Wasatch Coalition for Peace and Justice, Salt Lake City
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Randolph Shannon, Progressive Democrats of America – PA Coordinator
David Hartsough, Peaceworkers
Jan Hartsough, San Francisco Friends Meeting
Judith Sandoval, Veterans for Peace, San Francisco
Jim Dorenkott, Veterans for Peace
Thea Paneth, Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Arlington United for Justice With Peace
Rivera Sun, author
Michael Wong, Veterans for Peace
Sherri Maurin, Global Days of Listening co-coordinator
Mary Dean, Witness Against Torture
Dahlia Wasfi MD, Iraqi-American activist
Jodie Evans, Co-Founder, Code Pink
By David Swanson, originally published at teleSUR
There's a view of Syria, common even among peace activists in the United States, that holds that because the United States has been making everything worse in Syria and the entire Middle East for years, Russian bombs will make things better. While the actions of the United States and its allies will lead to victory for ISIS, horror for millions of people, and chronic chaos in Syria along the lines of post-liberation Iraq and Libya, Russian bombs -- this view maintains -- will destroy ISIS, restore order, uphold the rule of law, and establish peace.
I've been informed repeatedly that because I'm opposed to Russian bombing I'm opposed to peace, I'm in favor of war, I want ISIS to win, I lack any concern for the suffering Syrian people, and my mind is either overly simplistic or somehow diseased. This line of thinking is a mirror image of the many self-identified peace activists in the United States who for years now have been insisting that the United States must violently overthrow the government of Syria. That crowd has even found itself alligned with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who in 2013 told the U.S. public that if we didn't support bombing Syria we were in favor of Syria murdering children with chemical weapons. To our credit, we rejected that logic.
Advocates for U.S. bombs and advocates for Russian bombs each see a particular evil and wish to remedy it. The evil of the Syrian government, while often exaggerated and embellished, is real enough. The evil of the U.S. government, and what it has done to Iraq and Libya and Syria, can hardly be overstated. Both groups, however, place their faith in violence as the tool for remedying violence, revealing deep beliefs in the power of force, clearly at odds with professed commitments to peace.
Dropping bombs kills and injures civilians, traumatizes children who survive, harms infrastructure, destroys housing, poisons the environment, creates refugees, fuels bitter commitments to violence, and wastes massive resources that could have gone into aid and rebuilding. These are all well documented facts about every past bombing campaign in the history of the earth. In theory, peace activists agree with these facts. In practice, they are not outweighed by other concerns of realpolitik; rather, they are avoided entirely.
When the U.S. bombs a hospital in Afghanistan we're outraged. When Russia is accused of bombing a hospital in Syria, we avoid knowing about it. (Or, if we're from another camp, we put on our outrage for Syrian bombs but imagine U.S. bombs planting little flowers of democracy.) In wars that we oppose, we debunk claims to precision from the bombers. But good bombs are imagined has hitting just the right spots. After so many endlessly drawn-out U.S. wars that were advertised as quick and easy, we've begun to recognize the unpredictability of campaigns of mass murder -- and yet awareness of war's unpredictability doesn't seem to play at all into praise for Russian bombers joining in an already chaotic civil/proxy war.
The United States is accusing Russia of murdering people it armed and trained to murder different people. Some of those people are now asking for missiles with which to shoot down Russian planes. Russian planes have nearly come into conflict with Israeli and U.S. planes. A major figure in the Ukrainian government wants to help ISIS attack Russians. Congress members and pundits in the United States are urging conflict directly with Russia. Warmongers in Washington have been working hard to stir up conflict with Russia in Ukraine; now their hope lies in Syria. Russian bombs only heighten U.S.-Russian tensions.
When you unscramble the chaos of forces, and questionable claims about those forces, on the ground in Syria, some facts stand out. The United States wants to overthrow the government of Syria. Russia wants to maintain the government of Syria, or at least protect it from violent overthrow. (Russia in 2012 was open to a peace process that would have removed President Bashar al Assad from power, and the United States dismissed it out of hand in favor of his imminent violent overthrow.) The United States and Russia are the world's major nuclear powers. Their relations have been deteriorating rapidly, as NATO has expanded and the U.S. has orchestrated a coup in Ukraine.
A war with Russia and the United States on different sides, and all sorts of opportunities for incidents, accidents, and misunderstandings, risks everything. Russian bombs solve nothing. When the dust clears, how will the war be ended? Will Russian bombs leave behind generous good-willed people eager to negotiate, unlike U.S. bombs which leave behind anger and hostility? We've learned to ask the U.S. government to spell out its "exit strategy" as it dives into each new war. What is Russia's?
Here's my position. Murder is not moderate. You cannot find "moderate" murderers and engage them to kill extremist murderers. You cannot bomb the extremist murderers without producing more murderers than you kill. What's needed now, as in 2012 when the United States brushed it aside, is a peace process. First a cease fire. Then an arms embargo. And a halt to training and providing fighters and funding by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States, and all other parties. Then major aid and restitution, and a negotiated settlement in which, in fact, Russia should be included as it is located in that region of the world, and the United States should not as it has no legitimate business being there.
This is what has been needed for years and will continue to be needed as long as it is avoided. More bombs make this more difficult, no matter who's dropping them.
It is entirely possible that President Al Gore would not have attacked Afghanistan or Iraq. President Henry Wallace might very well not have nuked Hiroshima or Nagasaki. President William Jennings Bryan almost certainly would not have attacked the Philippines.
Presidents are pushed into war and held back from war all the time, but they also do some pushing and pulling of their own. Within days of Germany's surrender in World War II, Winston Churchill proposed recruiting German troops into a new UK/US war on the Soviet Union. The idea went nowhere with his own government or allies, except to become the Cold War. But every crazed idea he'd had for years prior to that moment had been deemed acceptable and acted upon, and someone else might not have had the same ideas.
Do the sorts of powerful insiders epitomized by the Council on Foreign Relations usually get their way? Is the United States an oligarchy? Are small differences between electoral candidates magnified and exaggerated? Do both major political parties in the United States back essentially the same sort of militarism? Does a quasi-permanent shadow government within the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, etc., sometimes circumvent and overrule presidents? Yes, of course, all of those things are true. But individuals also matter.
They would matter less in a democracy. If Congress decided on war as the U.S. Constitution requires, or if the public voted on war as the Ludlow Amendment would have required, or if the United States gave up war as the Kellogg-Briand Pact mandates, then the militarism in the mind of one individual would not decide the fate of so many lives and deaths. But that's not reality now.
A President Lincoln Chafee or a President Bernie Sanders or a President Jill Stein, rather than a President Hillary Clinton or a President Donald Trump, would be one factor among many weighing to some degree against the likelihood of more and larger and more dangerous wars. Whether the chance and possible benefit of electing a better president is worth diverting resources from other anti-war work into the national circus of election obsession is a separate and much more complex question.
This point, that individuals matter, is made in the new book Why Leaders Fight by Michael Horowitz, Allan Stam, and Cali Ellis. They go up against the academic tradition of attempting to explain war decisions through whatever process can most resemble the physical sciences. That tradition has steered far clear of anything as messy as a human being, preferring to ponder game theory or to hunt for non-existent correlations between war and population density, resource scarcity, or anything else that can be quantified.
Having brought the individual back into consideration, the authors of Why Leaders Fight immediately attempt to make that resemble as closely as possible a mathematical equation. Was this national ruler someone who had been in the military, and was he or she in combat? What was their first experience with war? What is their education level? What is their age? What previous job did they hold? Were they raised by good parents? Were they raised wealthy or poor? What was their birth order? Et cetera.
Will all such data ever allow a calculation to reliably predict war mongering or peacefulness? Of course not. Will examinations of enough past leaders along these lines open our eyes to some areas for concern or reassurance? Perhaps. But can such scientistic studies reach the level of being a better guide to what a political candidate might do than is an examination of what that candidate has done and said? I doubt it.
A careful reading of candidates' platforms, speeches, and casual remarks, including what is given prominence and what is omitted, and weighed against what they've actually done in the past, takes one quite far. Add in who's funding them, what party they've sworn allegiance to, how they relate to government and media insiders, how they relate to foreign leaders, how they handle mistakes, how they deal with crises, and one can -- I think -- predict fairly accurately which candidate is going to be a minor or major weight against a war that powerful interests demand, and which candidate is going to be easily pushed into war or, in fact, rush to create one at the earliest opportunity. It's not as though George W. Bush and Harry Truman and William McKinley hadn't advertised what sort of things they planned to do.
Academics bent on making the social sciences into real by-god sciences left out more than the individual politician after all. They left out the wider culture. An older politician eager to make his or her mark before their time is up won't create wars in a culture that honors making peace. An official whose childhood and background statistics suggest they will take great risks would have to take none at all to go along with the routine militarism of the current U.S. government, but would challenge the whole military industry and the whole communications industry by attempting nonviolent solutions to crises. Disarmament is considered risky in U.S. culture, making questionable the expectation that risk-taking personalities will promote militarism. In other words, the interpretation and weighting of the data has to change so drastically with the culture that one is better off just looking at the culture.
President Obama would have heavily bombed Syria in 2013 if not for the weight of U.S. culture against it. President John McCain would not have been free to develop a kill list and a drone murder program without the sort of intense public opposition that meets Republicans who do such things. There can be no question that individuals matter, especially large numbers of individuals actively demanding something. Nor can there be any question that one of those individuals who matter is you.
When the United States is identified as an empire, albeit of a different sort than some others, it's common to point to the fate of ancient Rome or the empires of Britain, Spain, Holland, etc., as a warning to the Pentagon or even to CNN debate moderators.
But a closer analogy to the current United States than ancient Rome, in a certain regard, might be the Vikings. The United States doesn't create colonies in the places it wages war or wields influence. It raids. It pillages. It plunders resources. It manufactures smart phones. It fracks. It sets up isolated settlements, heavily fortified, also known as military bases, embassies, green zones, safe zones, and moderate rebel training camps. It sails for home.
What ever happened to the Vikings anyway?
I'd like to see a survey done on that question. I'm afraid many people would answer that the Vikings died out or got themselves slaughtered or slaughtered each other. That would certainly be an anti-imperial moral for the Viking story. It would also fit with the idea that violence controls people rather than the other way around.
Others might respond that the Vikings mysteriously disappeared, but they actually did nothing of the sort.
Much of what we know about the Vikings comes from literate people in other cultures attacked and raided by the Vikings. Just as people around the world told Gallup in a recent poll that the United States is the greatest threat to peace on earth, people impacted by Viking raids viewed Vikings as warrior beasts. No doubt this produced exaggerations, but there can be no question that the Vikings routinely practiced what we today would call aggressive war or targeted humanitarian regime change, depending on who was paying us to label the acts.
There can also be no question that the Vikings never died out. Current understanding of DNA suggests that a significant percentage of people in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are descendants of Vikings, as are many people in other parts of Europe and Britain (including over half the older families in Liverpool, for example -- Viking Beatles?!).
Well, if they didn't die out, what happened? Surely, common U.S. wisdom holds that if an evil violent people like, say, the Iranians were to continue to exist, they would continue to launch all the wars they keep launching all over the world. Surely, somewhat better informed opinion holds that the United States wages all the wars it wages because of tragic but unavoidable tendencies buried in our genes. In fact, I'm pretty sure that "Our Genes May Be Violent, But We Can Make a Buck Off That" was once the slogan of Lockheed Martin, or it may have been Raytheon. Surely, if the Vikings were warriors, their descendants must still be warriors.
Annoyingly, the facts are otherwise. The Vikings kept right on living and radically reduced their killing. "The transformation of the Northmen, the 'scourge of Europe,' into the architects of the most peaceful region of Europe, Scandinavia, and the designers of strategies and institutions to replace war is an intriguing story," wrote Elise Boulding. As she tells that story, the Vikings gradually found consensus more useful than conquering, and negotiated trade more profitable than pillaging. They shifted from raiding to building settlements. They adopted some of the more peaceful ideas of Christianity. They began to farm more and sail less.
Other sources expand on this theme. The Vikings had profited by enslaving people where they raided. As the Christian church was established in Scandinavia, it insisted on enslaving only non-Christians, which badly damaged the profitability of European raiding. Viking (or former Viking) violence was redirected into the Crusades against Muslims and Jews. But, make no mistake, the quantity of violence was on a steep downward slope. The peaceful separation of Norway and Sweden in 1905 was a model for other nations that have a hard time accomplishing such feats without wars. The relative resistance of Scandinavia to militarism in recent times, including Sweden's choice not to fully join NATO -- as well as its choice to stay out of the two world wars -- is a model as well.
But the real lesson is that the Vikings stopped being Vikings. And so can we.
I know what you're thinking. There is no draft. There hasn't been a draft in decades. They'd let entire Central American nations immigrate, pay recruits six-figure salaries, and let robots fly the drones before they'd create a draft. Crackpot Congress members only bring up a draft as a supposed bank-shot maneuver for ending all the damn wars. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Your government has nonetheless decided that registering men for a possible draft (whether they like it or not, and even though nobody believes there will ever be a draft) is far more important than allowing them to register to vote.
And not just the U.S. government, but most of the 50 state governments have chosen this priority.
Don't take it from me, look at the numbers. If you're male and you get a driver's license in any of these places, you're signed up automatically with, or you're given the option to sign up automatically with, or -- in most cases -- you're required to sign up with the Selective Service System: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.
Also Maryland enacted driver's license legislation in 2002, but has not yet implemented it.
This is a work in progress. Some states have yet to climb on board. It's a bit of extra work for state and federal governments, but the technology is pretty simple, and they clearly consider it worth the effort to spread awareness that all men might have to kill on behalf of some war crazed president or Congress, and that -- as the SSS website says -- "It's What a Man's Got to Do. It's quick, it's easy, it's the Law."
Actually it's against any number of laws, including protections of conscientious objectors (you're not offered any choice of that when the process is automated), and including obviously the laws against war -- the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the U.N. Charter.
But what does this have to do with voting? Ruining Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or Yemen in the name of "democracy" isn't exactly about voting in the United States, is it?
Well here's the deal. Two states -- two (2), count 'em, TWO -- have just made voter registration as easy as 39 states make draft registration. Those two states make it optional. If you don't want to register to vote when you get a driver's license, you can opt out. So, that's different. And it works for women as well as men. So, that's different, and simpler. And there's no need to interact with the federal government, so that, too, is different and easier. But otherwise it's the same deal. The state division of motor vehicles is identifying you for a driver's license or ID through a more rigorous process than is usually used to register voters. After doing that, it's hardly any extra work to simply consider you registered to vote as well.
Only two states have done this. If you'd like to see which two they are, or if you'd like to click a button to email your state legislators and governor about doing the same, click here.
Now, the federal government doesn't do driver's licenses, but it does do Social Security numbers, and it and many other institutions rely on Social Security numbers as a reliable means of identification. There is no reason that a person possessing a Social Security number cannot be considered eligible to vote. (Making sure that the 8 people who try to drive around voting in more than one state get caught would be identical to how that's done now.) The federal government chooses not to do this. Forty-eight state governments plus various occupied territories choose not to do this, even though it would be far easier than draft registration and even though its connection to actual democracy is much more straightforward.
At least half the country is pretty well disgusted with both of the two big political parties and all of their elected members. And most members of the U.S. House of Representatives are gerrymandered and sponsored into their seats more or less for life or until promotion to the lobbying league. But the general theory holds, nonetheless, that higher voter turnout is better for Democrats than Republicans. The two states that have acted so far have done so with Democratic legislatures and governors. But many Democratic states have not acted yet, and the benefits of acting would be very much to small-d democracy.
With more voters, candidates would have to appeal to more people, including more poor people. More candidates might gain traction. The range of debate would be widened. It would also become easier to place public initiatives on the ballot through the process of gathering the signatures of registered voters. Political polling would more accurately reflect public sentiments, because pollsters would have more registered voters to poll.
In addition, each state government would save the expense of the existing ridiculous system of "registering" people it already knows and has identified. This would free up time and energy and money for other things. "Let's get [people] on the rolls automatically and put all the resources and energy we've put into voter registration into voter education," says California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
It wouldn't be just state governments doing that. Every election season, thousands of volunteers for political parties and candidates across the country spend endless hours registering people to vote. They think of this as useful work. Many even think of it as "activism." Let's imagine that work were eliminated. What could those thousands of volunteers do instead? They could educate and organize around the issues and policies they care about. What a gift to democracy that would be! Better than any bloody foreign quagmire I can imagine!
I was part of a debate on Tuesday that involved a larger disagreement than any exhibited at the Democratic presidential candidates debate that evening. A group of peace activists met with the president, a board member, some vice presidents, and a senior fellow of the so-called U.S. Institute of Peace, a U.S. government institution that spends tens of millions of public dollars every year on things tangentially related to peace (including promoting wars) but has yet to oppose a single U.S. war in its 30-year history.
(Photo of David Swanson and Nancy Lindborg by Alli McCracken.)
Without CNN’s Anderson Cooper there to steer us away from the issues into name calling and triviality, we dove right into the substance. The gap between the culture of peace activists and that of the U.S. Institute of “Peace” (USIP) is immense.
We had created and took the occasion to deliver a petition which you should sign if you haven’t, urging USIP to remove from its board prominent war mongers and members of the boards of weapons companies. The petition also recommends numerous ideas for useful projects USIP could work on. I blogged about this earlier here and here.
We showed up Tuesday at USIP’s fancy new building next to the Lincoln Memorial. Carved in the marble are the names of USIP’s sponsors, from Lockheed Martin on down through many of the major weapons and oil corporations.
At the meeting from the peace movement were Medea Benjamin, Kevin Zeese, Michaela Anang, Alli McCracken, and me. Representing USIP were President Nancy Lindborg, Acting Vice President Middle East and Africa Center Manal Omar, Director of Peace Funders Collaborative Steve Riskin, Board Member Joseph Eldridge, and Senior Policy Fellow Maria Stephan. They took 90 minutes or so to talk with us but seemed to have no interest in meeting any of our requests.
They claimed the Board was no impediment to anything they wanted to do, so there was no point in changing board members. They claimed to have already done some of the projects we proposed (and we look forward to seeing those details), yet they were uninterested in pursuing any of them.
When we proposed that they advocate against U.S. militarism in any number of possible ways, they replied with a couple of main justifications for not doing so. First, they claimed that if they did anything that displeased Congress, their funding would dry up. That’s likely true. Second, they claimed they could not advocate for or against anything at all. But that isn’t true. They’ve advocated for a no-fly zone in Syria, regime change in Syria, arming and training killers in Iraq and Syria, and (more peacefully) for upholding the nuclear agreement with Iran. They testify before Congress and in the media all the time, advocating for things left and right. I don’t care if they call such activities something other than advocacy, I’d just like to see them do more of what they’ve done on Iran and less of what they’ve done on Syria. And by law they are perfectly free to advocate even on legislation as long as a member of Congress asks them to.
When I had first communicated about our petition with USIP they had expressed interest in possibly working on one or more of the projects we proposed, possibly including reports we suggest in the petition that they write. When I asked about those report ideas on Tuesday, the reply was that they just didn’t have the staff. They have hundreds of staff, they said, but they’re all busy. They’ve made thousands of grants, they said, but couldn’t make one for anything like that.
What may help explain the array of excuses we were offered is another factor I haven’t yet touched on. USIP seems to actually believe in war. The president of USIP Nancy Lindborg had an odd response when I suggested that inviting Senator Tom Cotton to come speak at USIP on the need for a longer war on Afghanistan was a problem. She said USIP had to please Congress. OK, fine. Then she added that she believed there was room to disagree about exactly how we were going to make peace in Afghanistan, that there was more than one possible path to peace. Of course I didn’t think “we” were going to make peace in Afghanistan, I wanted “us” to get out of there and allow Afghans to start working on that problem. But I asked Lindborg if one of her possible paths to peace was through war. She asked me to define war. I said that war was the use of the U.S. military to kill people. She said that “non-combat troops” could be the answer. (I note that for all their non-combatting, people still just burned to death in a hospital.)
Syria brought out a similar perspective. While Lindborg claimed that USIP’s promotion of war on Syria had all been the unofficial work of one staffer, she described the war in Syria in a completely one-sided manner and asked what could be done about a brutal dictator like Assad killing people with “barrel bombs,” lamenting the lack of “action.” She believed the hospital bombing in Afghanistan would make President Obama even more reluctant to use force. (If this is reluctance, I’d hate to see eagerness!)
So what does USIP do if it doesn’t do war opposition? If it won’t oppose military spending? If it won’t encourage transition to peaceful industries? If there’s nothing it will risk its funding for, what is the good work it is protecting? Lindborg said that USIP spent its first decade creating the field of peace studies by developing the curriculum for it. I’m pretty sure that’s a bit anachronistic and exaggerated, but it would help explain the lack of war opposition in peace studies programs.
Since then, USIP has worked on the sorts of things taught in peace studies programs by funding groups on the ground in troubled countries. Somehow the troubled countries that get the greatest attention tend to be those like Syria that the U.S. government wants to overthrow, rather than those like Bahrain that the U.S. government wants to prop up. Still, there is plenty of good work funded. It’s just work that doesn’t too directly oppose U.S. militarism. And because the U.S. is the top arms supplier to the world and the top investor in and user of war in the world, and because it’s impossible to build peace under U.S. bombs, this work is severely limited.
The constraints that USIP is under or believes it is under or doesn’t mind being under (and enthusiasts for creating a “Department of Peace” should pay attention) are those created by a corrupt and militaristic Congress and White House. USIP openly said in our meeting that the root problem is corrupt elections. But when some section of the government does something less militaristic than some other section, such as negotiating the agreement with Iran, USIP can play a role. So our role, perhaps, is to nudge them toward playing that role as much as possible, as well as away from such outrages as promoting war in Syria (which it sounds like they may leave largely to their board members now).
When we discussed USIP’s board members and got nowhere, we suggested an advisory board that could include peace activists. That went nowhere. So we suggested that they create a liaison to the peace movement. USIP liked that idea. So, be prepared to liaise with the Institute. Please start by signing the petition.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.
Grossman discusses a proposed change in policy by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would permit nuclear radiation on the grounds that it is safe or even good for us. Submit your comment here:
Or write to Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, Attention:Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff. Docket ID. Needed to be noted on any letter is the code NRC-2015-0057.
Some articles by Grossman:
Radiation Is Good for You, and Other Tall Tales of the Nuclear Industry
The Nuclear Cult
Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission
Nuclear Power/Nuclear Weapons
Embracing Nuclear Power Like a Religion
Money is the Real Green Power: The Hoax of Eco-Friendly Nuclear Energy
Nuclear Power Through the Fukushima Perspective
Nuclear Power Can Never Be Made Safe
The Perils of Nuclear-Powered Space Flights
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
The "senior digital organizer" of Bernie Sanders for President volunteers Aidan King, has this to say:
"I was so excited about Obama. And I still think he's done amazing things. But I wanted more follow-through," says King, listing "drone strikes, kill lists, NSA spying on Americans, the expansion of Bush-administration policies, a failed drug war, failed foreign policy," and the increasing influence of money in politics as his main concerns. "I put a lot of stake in authenticity," he says. "And I've been exposed to Bernie's politics and his honesty since I was in diapers."
Was this last week? Was Senator Vitter there?
Because here's Senator Sanders announcing yet again this week, as he's done before, that as president he would murder people with drones. (Yes, he only favors the good drone murders, not the bad ones, exactly what Obama says too.)
There's actually no knock on Sanders' honesty here. There's no indication of inconsistency, no reason to imagine he's lying. He may be 100% USDOD-grade authentic. But what about his staff and volunteers? And what about journalists? Is it responsible journalism to publish an article on people working for Bernie in order to end drone murders and not include any mention of the fact that Sanders is in favor of them? Is it responsible, for that matter, to be reporting on candidates' volunteers prior to and instead of ever reporting on what those candidates would do if elected? The Nation does lots of great reporting, but its interview of Sanders pretended 96% of humanity and 54% of the federal budget didn't exist, and the magazine has never made up for that by reporting on Sanders' foreign policy. So all a Nation reader gets is the golly gee report on the dude just out of diapers who is putting in long hours to end drone strikes by electing Bernie.
"I was so excited about Obama." There's an opening remark that reveals a similar level of misguided ignorance in the past. "And I still think he's done amazing things." One has a heck of a time imagining what those are and how they outweigh what comes next. "But I wanted more follow-through." More follow through? On what? He then lists drone strikes, kill lists, NSA spying on Americans, the expansion of Bush-administration policies, a failed drug war, failed foreign policy, and the increasing influence of money in politics." He surely doesn't want more follow through on any of these crimes and abuses and outrages. He wants them halted.
And so do I. So why should I give the poor guy a hard time? Millions and millions of people aren't doing a damn thing for the world. They're sitting on their butts watching TV while Rome burns. Several political candidates openly want to radically enlarge the military (yet again) and launch any number of wars. Why pick on Bernie?
I'm not picking on anyone. I'm well aware of such obvious facts and numerous others. I think such facts are good things to know, no matter what you decide to do about them. I'd just add a few more. You want to spend the next many months calling people on the phone and telling them Bernie is against drone murders, knock yourself out. I just think you should do it with open eyes. You shouldn't actually believe what you're saying.
I'm also of course, as we all are, painfully familiar with the argument that Bernie simply must secretly agree with the progressive views of his volunteers, but that in order to get elected he has to put on a pretense of sucking a good bit, whether it's to please the public or the media or the military industrial complex depending on the variation. We were told the exact same thing about Obama. It didn't work then and it won't work now. You can't pretend someone secretly agrees with you and then expect him to keep the promises you fantasized.
If you look at the facts and adopt for just the moment the crazy hypothesis that you're more or less right about Bernie's authenticity but wrong about his closet anti-militarism, you'll find that he's nowhere near as bad as Obama was, is, and shall continue to be for well over a year more. No mere human is going to out warmonger Hillary Clinton, though Jim Webb and a whole crowd of Republicans will try. You can make more or less the same argument you make to yourself to justify volunteering for Bernie, after facing the facts, as you made before.
So why do I care?
Because there are activists working night and day, strategically, courageously, with pure principles and endless dedication to actually end drone murders, and they need your help, and they need it now. They have built the awareness of these horrors that has led to volunteers wanting to end them. But volunteers volunteer in the wrong places. Instead of joining the peace movement and educating, organizing, lobbying, protesting, reporting, suing, artistically moving, and nonviolently resisting drone murders and the militarism that is risking war with Russia prior to the next corporate-bought election in the U.S. -- instead of following the path that has tended to effect change over recent centuries and needs to do so in Paris next month if the climate is to have any hope, they instead dedicate themselves to one candidate or another, start making apologies for them, start living out fantasies about them, and start arguing with other peace activists who are working their fingers to the bone for some other candidate, or with activists who haven't gone all election yet in a year that has no election in it.
If we ever have real elections we'll need people to work on them, and there's always a chance working on them now will help bring that about, and if you'd asked me months ago I'd have said the media would never let Sanders get this far. So, if you want to do the election thing, go ahead. Do it with Sanders who disagrees with you. Do it with Jill Stein who agrees with you. Do it with one of the others. But do it with a bit of honesty and with awareness that it's not the only thing you could be doing.