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So now we (or at least the 0.03% of us who care to hunt for it) discover that U.S. military spending is not actually being cut at all, but increasing. Also going up: U.S. nuclear weapons spending. Some of the new nukes will violate treaties, but the entire program violates the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which requires disarmament, not increased armament. The U.S. policy of first-strike and the U.S. practice of informing other nations that "all options are on the table" also violate the U.N. Charter's ban on threatening force.
But do nuclear weapons, by the nature of their technology, violate the U.S. Constitution? Do they violate the basic social contract and all possibility of self-governance? Thus argues a new book called Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom by Elaine Scarry. It's not unheard of for people to see out-of-control nuclear spending as a symptom of out-of-control military spending, itself a symptom of government corruption, legalized bribery, and a militaristic culture. Scarry's argument suggests a reversal: the root of all this evil is not the almighty dollar but the almighty bomb.
The argument runs something like this. The primary purpose of the social contract is to create peace and prevent war and other injury. The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, clause 11) bans the making of war without the approval of both houses of Congress. This approval was to be required not just for an existing military to attack another country, but for a military to be raised at all -- standing armies not being anticipated. And it was understood that an army would not be raised and deployed into war unless the citizen-soldiers went willingly, their ability to dissent by desertion not needing to be spelled out (or, let us say, their ability to dissent by mass-desertion, as desertion in the war that led to the Constitution was punished by death).
And yet, because this point was so crucial to the entire governmental project, Scarry argues, it was in fact spelled out -- in the Second Amendment. Arms -- that is 18th century muskets -- were to be freely distributed among the people, not concentrated in the hands of a king. "Civilian" control over the military meant popular control, not presidential. The decision to go to war would have to pass through the people's representatives in Congress, and through the people as a whole in the form of soldiers who might refuse to fight. By this thinking, had the Ludlow Amendment, to create a public referendum before any war, passed in the 1930s, it would have been redundant.
Before the 1940s were over, in Scarry's view, a Ludlow Amendment wouldn't have been worth the paper it was written on, as the existence of nuclear weapons erases Constitutional checks on war. With nuclear weapons, a tiny number of people in a government -- be it 1 or 3 or 20 or 500 -- hold the power to very quickly and easily kill millions or billions of human beings, and other species, and very likely themselves in the process. "We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both," said Louis Brandeis. We may have democracy, or we may have thermonuclear bombs, but we can't have both, says Elaine Scarry.
Each of the series of presidents beginning with Truman and running up through Nixon is known to have repeatedly come close to choosing to use nuclear bombs, something the public has learned of, each time, only decades after the fact. No more recent president has said he didn't come close; we may very well learn their secrets on the usual schedule. When you add to that insanity, the long string of accidents, mistakes, and misunderstandings, the damage of the testing and the waste, and the repeated ability of ploughshares activists (and therefore anybody else) to walk right up to U.S. nuclear weapons to protest them, it's amazing that life exists on earth. But Scarry's focus is on what the new ability to kill off a continent at the push of a button has done to presidential power.
While wars since World War II have been non-nuclear, apart from depleted uranium weapons, they have also been endless and undeclared. Because presidents can nuke nations, they and Congress and the public have assumed that a president on his or her own authority can attack nations with non-nuclear weapons too. Now, I suspect that the military industrial complex, corrupt elections, and nuclear thinking all feed off each other. I don't want a single person who's trying to clean up election spending or halt fighter-jet production to stop what they're doing. But the possible influence of nuclear thinking on U.S. foreign policy is intriguing. Once a president has been given more power than any king has ever had, one might expect some people to do exactly what they've done and treat him like a king in all but name.
Scarry believes that we're suffering from the false idea that we're in a permanent emergency, and that in an emergency there's no time to think. In fact, the Constitutional constraints on war were intended precisely for emergencies, Scarry argues, and are needed precisely then. But an emergency that can be dealt with by raising an army is perhaps different from an emergency that will leave everyone on earth dead by tomorrow either with or without the U.S. government having the opportunity to contribute its measure of mass-killing to the general apocalypse. The latter is, of course, not an emergency at all, but an insistence on glorified ignorance to the bitter end. An emergency that allows time to raise an army is also different from an emergency involving 21st century "conventional" weapons, but not nearly as different as we suppose. Remember the desperate urgency to hit Syria with missiles last September that vanished the moment Congress refused to do it? The mad rush to start a war before anyone can look too closely at its justifications does, I think, benefit from nuclear thinking -- from the idea that there is not time to stop and think.
So, what can we do? Scarry believes that if nukes were eliminated, Congress could take charge of debates over wars again. Perhaps it could. But would it approve wars? Would it approve public financing, free air time, and open elections? Would it ban its members from profiting from war? Would people killed in a Congressionally declared war be any less dead?
What if the Second Amendment as Scarry understands it were fulfilled to some slight degree, that is if weapons were slightly more equitably distributed as a result of the elimination of nukes? The government would still have all the aircraft carriers and missiles and bombs and predator drones, but it would have the same number of nukes as the rest of us. Wouldn't compliance with the Second Amendment require either the madness of giving everybody a missile launcher or the sanity of eliminating non-nuclear weapons of modern war-making along with the nuclear ones?
I think the historical argument that Scarry lays out against the concentration of military power in the hands of a monarch is equally a case either for distributing that power or for eliminating it. If large standing armies are the greatest danger to liberty, as James Madison supposed on his slave plantation, isn't that an argument against permanently stationing troops in 175 nations with or without nukes, as well as against militarizing local police forces at home? If unjustified war and imprisonment are the greatest violations of the social contract, must we not end for-profit mass incarceration by plea bargain along with for-profit mass-murder?
I think Scarry's argument carries us further in a good direction than she spells out in the book. It's a thick book full of extremely lengthy background information, not to say tangents. There's a wonderful account of the history of military desertion. There's a beautiful account of Thomas Hobbes as peace advocate. Much of this is valuable for its own sake. My favorite tangent is a comparison between Switzerland and the United States. Switzerland decided that air-raid shelters would help people survive in a nuclear war. While opposing and not possessing nuclear weapons, Switzerland has created shelters for more than the total number of people in the country. The United States claimed to have concluded that shelters would not work, and then spent more on building them exclusively for the government than it spent on all variety of needs and services for the rest of us. The nuclear nation has behaved as a monarchy, while the non-nuclear nation may preserve a remnant of humanity to tell the tale.
Scarry ends her book by stating that Article I and the Second Amendment are the best tools she's found for dismantling nuclear weapons, but that she'd like to hear of any others. Of course, mass nonviolent action, education, and organizing are tools that will carry any campaign beyond the confines of legal argumentation, but as long as we're within those confines, I'll throw out a proposal: Comply with the Kellogg-Briand Pact. It is far newer, clearer, and less ambiguous than the Constitution. It is, under the Constitution, unambiguously the Supreme Law of the Land as a treaty of the U.S. government. It applies in other nations as well, including a number of other nuclear weapons nations. It clarifies our thinking on the worst practice our species has developed, one that will destroy us all, directly or indirectly, if not ended, with or without nuclear: the practice of war.
The treaty that I recommend remembering bans war. When we begin to think in those terms, we won't see torture as the worst war crime, as Scarry suggests, but war itself as the worst crime of war. We won't suggest that killing is wrong because it's "nonbattlefield," as Scarry does at one point. We might question, as Scarry seems not to, that Hawaii was really part of the United States in 1941, or that U.S. torture really ended when Obama was elected. I'm quibbling with tiny bits in a large book, but only because I want to suggest that the arguments that best reject nuclear weaponry reject all modern war weaponry, its possession, and its use.
It is absolutely appropriate to condem Russian militarism in the Crimea. I recently did so on Russian TV and was yelled at for my trouble. But it must be noted that:
1. The United States promised Russia years ago that NATO would not expand "an inch" eastward (see account by President Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the USSR in the New York Times of April 20, 1999);
2. NATO has rapidly expanded eastward (having already added the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, and Croatia);
3. The United States has invested $5 billion in shaping Ukrainian politics including overthrowing a democratically elected president in the Ukraine who refused to join NATO (U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is on video talking about the investment and on audiotape planning to install Ukraine's next leader who's now in place);
4. The refusal to join NATO was a democratic action as the people of the Ukraine oppose joining NATO according to numerous opinion polls;
5. The United States is now negotiating to fund the new Ukrainian government in exchange for placing missiles in the Ukraine (as recounted by the Ukrainian ambassador to Belarus); not to mention that
6. The new Ukrainian government (as widely reported) includes neo-Nazis openly hostile to Russia among other things.
Columnists like Tom Friedman argue that we should avoid war but focus U.S. policy on frightening Russia. That's like trying to avoid a fire by playing with matches. The United States ought to apologize for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, stop threatening Syria and Iran, halt the drone strikes on Pakistan and Yemen, and get its own claws out of the Ukraine. THEN denouncing Russian aggression will carry the weight it ought to carry.
Ann Wright has been a leading peace activist for years. Her bio is here http://voicesofconscience.com/authorbio.php And her schedule of upcoming events is here http://voicesofconscience.com/events.php
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Tonight we focus on the book War No More. Our guest and author of
the book David Swanson speaks to us from the United States about why the
US should stay out of the Syrian war, the US invasion of Iraq and Afghan
and breaking the American military-industrial complex.
Source: CII Broadcasting
The following is the foreword by David Swanson to a new book called Peace Philosophy and Public Life: Commitments, Crises, and Concepts for Engaged Thinking edited by
This book makes a compelling case that if we are to rid the world of war, we will want to employ not only the usual tools—organization, education, activism, lobbying, nonviolent resistance, art, entertainment, and the creation of alternative structures that lead away from war—but we will also want to employ a healthy dose of philosophizing. By that I do not mean attempting to arrive at extra-human, divine, pure, or objective viewpoints on anything, but rather, attempting to bring into focus how much of our view of things is optional, and to propose preferable options.
In these pages, you will likely grasp the utility, not just the curiosity, of reconsidering any number of ways in which we speak and think, including what we mean by “we” when discussing foreign affairs, what we mean by “nationalism,” by “terrorism,” or by “humanitarianism.” Why do we assume that forgiveness has no place in public policy while overlooking those cases in which we unwittingly demand and expect it? We reject arguments from authority as consumers and voters but not—this book suggests—when we listen to law enforcement. Why?
Any number of contradictions in our labeling of practices should be examined. Can the prison and war industries really be described as creating jobs? Can we have a corrections institution that corrects nothing, or a counter-terrorism policy that increases terrorism? Are there other approaches to our public life that we haven’t properly considered? Or, rather, given the endless variety of alternative approaches that we have not considered, what provocative proposals can we bring ourselves to invent for consideration?
This is why we need philosophers and books like this one.
A couple of years ago, science writer John Horgan made a lengthy argument for the possibility of eliminating war from the world. He debunked the claim that war is in our genes, the claim that war is driven by population changes, the claim that a handful of sociopaths inevitably leads a nation to war, the claim that resource scarcity or inequality or stockpiles of weaponry make war unavoidable. After mountains of research, Horgan concluded that war exists only in those societies that accept or celebrate the idea of war. Therefore, we are free to choose to reject the idea of war and with it the practice, as others have done before.
Jean Paul Sartre, of course, arrived at this same conclusion without a speck of research. I actually think it is important that we arrive at the conclusion that we can end war without the research. We should not get into the habit of imagining that we must wait for authorities to prove to us that something has been done before, before we attempt to do it. Nothing could be more limiting. If we cannot have a world government until someone has demonstrated that world governments have existed before, we will never have one, and the idea of having one will strike us as absurd. Maybe it is absurd. Maybe it’s a horrible idea. But we should not write it off as such simply because it has not yet been tried.
This is not, of course, to suggest that empirical research is of no value. We could hardly survive or thrive without it. We could not speak intelligently about the world we want to change without it. It is hardly a condemnation of facts and data to deny them the role of limiting our imagination. No research to prove that slavery could be abolished existed prior to its abolition. Yet there was willingness by some to accept what is, after all, obvious: slavery would end if people chose to stop utilizing slavery, if they envisioned and constructed a society that lacked it.
People invest great effort in creating wars. They could choose not to do so. Transforming those glaringly obvious observations into a scientific study of whether enough people have rejected war in the past to reject it in the future is both helpful and harmful to the cause. It helps those who need to see that what they want to do has been done before. It hurts the habit we need to develop of imagining innovations.
This book in your hands is full of facts, but it is not fact driven. It is imagination driven. In these pages, you will be led to imagine various conceptions of nationalism and countryism. Is there a benevolent variation on the theme? Is there one with enough good in it to outweigh the harm? Here you will find that material to ponder.
Can we imagine nations with anti-terrorism policies? To do so, we will have to stop assuming we already have them. During the Cold War, the “balance of terror” was perfectly respectable. “Shock and awe” is a terrorist argument. Drone aircraft buzzing over villages are unmanned terrorists. What would a non-terrorist anti-terrorist policy look like?
We are helped along in our thinking by examples throughout the book of how some remarkable people have proposed paths that have not yet been taken. Dorothy Day proposed a response to Pearl Harbor that included forgiveness of the Japanese. Told that hers was an outrageous expectation, Day pointed out that African Americans were regularly lynched or assaulted in the United States and that their loved ones were expected to forgive.
Following 11 September 2001, Shirin Ebadi proposed building schools in Afghanistan named for the victims of the attacks of that day. Such a proposal will still sound crazy to most people when next it is made following some future disaster. But there is little doubt looking back that it would have done far more good than the approach actually taken—the natural, normal, acceptable, mainstream approach of bombing people to punish a crime most of them had never heard of and still have not. When the clearly preferable approach still sounds crazy, that’s a good sign we need to change our perspective.
The contributors to this volume propose shifts in perspective in several interlocking areas. These include immigration, ethics in economics, problems of consumerism, and wealth and poverty. Should we be tolerant of immigrants or welcome them with gratitude? Should we engage in charity or in solidarity? And what impact would these choices have on our acceptance of so-called “humanitarian” wars?
Nick Braune encourages us to think past arguments from authority so far as to radically shift the motivation for police interrogations. Instead of aiming for confessions, interrogators could aim to protect and inform the person being interrogated. If that sounds nonsensical, come back to this foreword after reading the book and maybe it will then seem normal. It is very hard for us to see anything as other than normal, even when it seemed crazy an hour before. But seeing choices, seeing multiple “normals,” is a skill we should practice, because we need to become capable of altering our vision.
The majority of people selling illegal drugs in the United States are white, but only people of color “look like” drug dealers to some police officers. Anyone accused of a crime “looks” guilty to many people employed in the criminal justice system. A “war” on drugs that has been used to generate real wars looks justified by those wars. Surely we would not legalize something we fight wars over!
Our “corrections” industry is not educating prisoners, but it is educating the rest of us to accept mass incarceration. The prison and war industries are promoted as jobs programs, as life-giving, as pro-peace. But we are perfectly capable of a coherent worldview in which that sort of nonsense sounds like nonsense. We should strive to develop that perspective.
Nuclear weapons are sometimes imagined as keeping us safe, but Day and Sartre and Albert Camus responded with appropriate horror immediately upon their creation. It turns out that horror is an appropriate response to all sorts of developments announced as progress or not announced at all. We are filling the skies with killer drones these days and suffering a corresponding deficit of horror.
What new horrors await us? This book warns of some of what we can expect: resource crises, climate catastrophe, mass immigration, refugees, and minority societies existing within hostile larger ones. These problems have solutions and means of prevention, and we should be thinking our way through them now.
Our politicians are largely ignoring Syrian refugees at the moment in which I write, while supporting violence in Syria for the supposed benefit of Syrians. If we had a better understanding of refugee crises in the world, could they get away with this?
We cannot know what all the problems will be. The unknown unknowns await us. But we can know for certain that the unknown knowns—the products of human thought that some people in places of power choose to avoid awareness of—will dominate many a future Donald Rumsfeld.
War is not only the product of the idea of war. It is a product of irrational madness and willful ignorance. It does not hold up on its own terms. The cakewalks are never cakewalks. The liberated are never grateful. The resources slip through the fingers of the plunderers. The bombs persistently fail to generate popular democracies. The freedoms we kill for are inevitably sacrificed to support the killing.
David Swanson Charlottesville, Virginia
I've been asked to debate Danny Postel on the question of Syria, and so have read the op-ed he co-authored with Nader Hashemi, "Use Force to Save Starving Syrians." Excellent responses have been published by Coleen Rowley and Rob Prince and probably others. And my basic thinking on Syria has not changed fundamentally since I wrote down my top 10 reasons not to attack Syria and lots and lots of other writing on Syria over the years. But replying to Postel's op-ed might be helpful to people who've read it and found it convincing or at least disturbing. It might also allow Postel to most efficiently find out where I'm coming from prior to our debate.
So, here's where I'm coming from. Postel's op-ed proposes the use of force as if force hadn't been tried yet, as if force were not in fact the very problem waiting to be solved. What he is proposing is increased force. The arming and funding and training of one side in Syria by the CIA, Saudi Arabia, et al, and the other side by Russia, et al, is not enough; more is needed, Postel believes. But "force" is a very non-descriptive term, as are all the other terms Postel uses to refer to what he wants: "air cover," "coercive measures," "Mr. Assad ... [should] be left behind."
I find it hard to imagine people on the ground while NATO dropped thousands of bombs on Libya pointing to the sky and remarking "Check out the air cover!"
Or this: "What happened to your children, Ma'am?" "They experienced some coercive measures."
Or this: "What became of Gadaffi?" "Oh, him? He was left behind."
When people who experience modern wars that wealthy nations launch against poor ones talk about them, they describe detailed horror, terror, and trauma. They recount what it's like to try to hold a loved one's guts into their mutilated body as they gasp their last. Even the accounts of recovering and regretful drone pilots in the U.S. have much more humanity and reality in them than do Postel's euphemisms.
I'm not questioning the sincerity of Postel's belief that, despite it's long record of abysmal failure, humanitarian war would find success in a nation as divided as Syria, of all unlikely places. But Postel should trust his readers to share his conclusion after being presented with the full facts of the case. If Postel believes that the people whose lives would be ended or devastated by "air cover" are out-weighed by the people who he believes would be thereby saved from starvation, he should say so. He should at the very least acknowledge that people would be killed in the process and guesstimate how many they would be.
Postel claims Somalia as a past example of a "humanitarian intervention," without dwelling on the chaos and violence aggravated and ongoing there. This seems another shortcoming to me. If you are going to make a moral decision, not only should it include the negative side of the ledger, but it should include the likely medium-term and long-term results, good and bad. Looking at Somalia with a broader view hurts Postel's case, but so does looking at Libya, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Studies by Erica Chenoweth and others have documented that violent solutions to oppression and tyranny are not only less likely to succeed, but if they succeed their success is shorter lived. Violence breeds violence. "Force," translated into the reality of killing people's loved ones, breeds resentment, not reconciliation.
So, I think Postel's case for dropping tons of deadly "coercive measures" on Syria would be a weak one even were it likely to resemble his outline. Sadly, it isn't. The war on Libya three years ago was sold as an emergency use of "force" to protect supposedly threatened people in Benghazi. It was immediately, illegally, predictably, cynically, and disastrously turned into a campaign of bombing the nation to overthrow its government -- a government that, like Syria's, had long been on a Pentagon list to be overthrown for anything but humanitarian reasons. Postel presents a quick and antiseptic "leaving behind" operation to provide food to the starving, but surely he knows that is not what it would remain for any longer than it takes to say "R2P." Why else does Postel refer so vaguely to leaving Assad behind?
It may be worth noting that it's not aid workers advocating for "coercion" strikes on Syria. I spoke with a U.S. government aid worker in Syria some months back who had this to say:
"Before we contemplate military strikes against the Syrian regime, we would do well to carefully consider what impact such strikes would have on our ongoing humanitarian programs, both those funded by the U.S. and by other countries and international organizations. These programs currently reach hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people throughout Syria, in areas controlled both by the regime and the opposition. We know from past military interventions, such as in Yugoslavia and Iraq, that airstrikes launched for humanitarian reasons often result in the unintended deaths of many civilians. The destruction of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, which such airstrikes may entail, would significantly hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria.
"The provision of this assistance in regime controlled areas requires the agreement, and in many cases the cooperation, of the Asad government. Were the Asad regime, in response to U.S. military operations, to suspend this cooperation, and prohibit the UN and Nongovernmental Organizations from operating in territory under its control, hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians would be denied access to food, shelter, and medical care. In such a scenario, we would be sacrificing programs of proven effectiveness in helping the people of Syria, in favor of ill considered actions that may or may not prevent the future use of chemical weapons, or otherwise contribute to U.S. objectives in any meaningful way."
Let's grant that the crisis has continued for months and worsened. It remains the fact that it is advocates of war advocating war, not aid workers advocating war. The option of ceasing to arm both sides, and of pursuing a negotiated settlement, is simply ignored by the war advocates. The option of nonviolent efforts to deliver aid is avoided entirely. The failure to provide adequate aid to refugees who where that can be reached seems far less pressing than the failure to provide aid where that failure can become a justification for an escalated war.
"Humanitarian interventions," Postel writes, "typically occur when moral principles overlap with political interests." This seems to be an acknowledgment that political interests are something other than moral. So, there's no cry for "humanitarian intervention" in Bahrain or Palestine or Egypt because it doesn't fit "political interests." That seems like an accurate analysis. And presumably some interventions that do fit political interests are not moral and humanitarian. The question is which are which. Postel believes there have been enough humanitarian interventions to describe something as being typical of them, but he doesn't list them. In fact, the record of U.S. military and CIA interventions is a unbroken string of anti-humanitarian horrors. And in most cases, if not every case, actual aid would have served humanity better than guns and bombs, and so would have ceasing pre-existing involvement rather than escalating it and calling that an intervention.
But once you've accepted that the tool of war should be encouraged in certain cases, even though it's misused in other cases, then something else has to be added to your moral calculation, namely the propagation of war and preparations for war. Those of us who cannot find a single war worth supporting differ only slightly perhaps from those who find one war in a hundred worth backing. But it's a difference that shifts opposition to support for an investment that costs the world some $2 trillion a year. The United Nations believes that $30 billion a year could end serious starvation around the world. Imagine what, say, $300 billion could do for food, water, medicine, education, and green energy. Imagine if the United States were to offer that kind of aid to every nation able to peacefully and democratically accept it. Would polls continue to find the U.S. viewed as the greatest threat to peace on earth? Would the title of most beloved nation on earth begin to look plausible?
Members of the nonviolent peaceforce, Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire, and other advocates of de-escalation in Syria traveled freely around Syria some months back. How were they able to do that? What might trainers in creative nonviolent action offer Syria that CIA and military trainers aren't offering? The alternative is never even considered by advocates of war-or-nothing. Postel wants to back "democratically oriented" rebel groups, but is violence clearly democratically oriented? Turning our eyes back on ourselves suggests a rather disturbing answer. In September 2013, President Obama gave us the hard sell. Watch these videos of suffering children, he said, and support striking their nation with missiles or support their ongoing suffering. And a huge majority in the U.S. rejected the idea that those were the only two choices. A majority opposed the strikes. An even larger majority opposed arming the rebels. And a large majority favored humanitarian aid. There is a case to be made that democracy would be better spread by example than by defying the will of the U.S. people in order to bomb yet another nation in democracy's name.
Postel, to his credit, calls the "Responsibility to Protect" a "principle." Some have called it a "law." But it cannot undo the U.N. Charter. War being illegal, its use damages the rule of law. That result must also be factored into a full moral calculation of how to act. Act we must, as Postel says repeatedly. The question is how. Rob Prince presents a useful plan of action in the article linked above.
Postel's most persuasive argument is probably, for many readers, his contention that only threatening to act will save the day. He claims that Syria has responded positively to threats of force. But this is not true. Syria was always willing to give up its chemical weapons and had long since proposed a WMD-free Middle East -- a proposal that ran up against the lack of "political interest" in eliminating Israel's illegal weapons. Also false, of course, were claims by the Obama administration to know that Assad had used chemical weapons. See Coleen Rowley's summary of how that case has collapsed in the article linked above.
Granted, there can be a good honest case for an action for which misguided, false, and fraudulent cases have been offered. But I haven't seen such a case yet for taking an action in Syria that would, to be sure, dramatically declare that action was being taken, release a lot of pent-up tension, and enrich Raytheon's owners, but almost certainly leave Syrians, Americans, and the world worse off.
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This article is really better as a video.
If you search on the internet for "the stupidest idea in the history of the world" you'll come away thinking that maybe a top contestant is the invention of Youtube. Who knew so many idiots could do so much damage to themselves with so many motorbikes and diving boards and flame throwers?
If you survey the span of human history a little more seriously, some big ideas jump out, beginning with the creation of history itself. Maybe if we'd stayed unhistoric, hunted, gathered, and existed eternally as part of nature we wouldn't have gotten into such a mess. But that's too easy an answer, and way too much for people who ride surf boards off their roofs -- and film it -- to think about.
Other ideas are in the running, I think, from industrial farming, to religion, to racism, to fossil fuels, to science at any cost, to the creation of the United States Senate. And yet, one idea stands out for its wild improbability, creativity, long-lasting destruction on an enormous scale, and insidious ability to turn even people who don't own video cameras and catapults into champion unwitting masochists.
The idea I'm talking about, and my nominee for Stupidest Idea in the History of the World, is the idea that any ordinary person should ever support a war.
While it's undoubtedly true that the war propagandist is the world's second-oldest, and least respectable, profession, he or she is a product of history who wasn't needed in prehistoric times. Nobody needed to be sold on the idea of hunters fighting off lions and bears. It's when they ran out of lions and bears and decided to keep their jobs by starting fights with other tribes of humans that persuasion became necessary.
Why in the world would people want to support fighting and killing other people and having those other people fight and kill you? What's to be gained? A thrill? If you want a serious and useful and communal thrill these days you can do nonviolent resistance to fascist governments. Or you can join a fire department. If you want a useless and pointless thrill, you can jump off a 100-foot bridge with a 100-foot (but all too stretchable) bungee cord and a video camera. Back then, you could go hunting or exploring, or try to discover gravity or surgery. Never was the only thrill available war.
And yet, down through the ages, war has popped up again and again, here and there, around the globe. And where it takes hold in a culture it carries with it the false belief that it's always around in every culture. Thus people manage to find that they support the stupidest idea ever for the stupidest reason ever, because supposedly they have no choice. Yet, choosing to support war because you have no choice in the matter remains a feat which people with developed brains find challenging.
The stupidest idea ever is a marvel of simplicity, and in its simplicity answers every challenge. Why should people of tribe A be willing to go to war with the people of tribe B just because the tribe A chiefs want to steal some stuff from tribe B? The answer is easy if you're a certified idiot who juggles flaming torches on Youtube: Anyone in tribe A who opposes waging war on tribe B is, by magical definition, in favor of tribe B winning a war against tribe A. Or, as modern sophisticates like to put it: Either you're with us or you're with the terrorists.
OK, so that's a nifty trick, but the stupidest idea ever must be more comprehensive. It must surprise us in its ability to destroy in new areas, to pass unseen behind the backs of its moronic supporters, and to gain partial support from the partially informed, limiting its actual opponents to the barest minority of freaks and misfits. I offer for your consideration, once again, the idea of supporting war.
Observe: the nations that wage the most war claim that they are under attack for no good reason and are forced to wage war to defend themselves, even as their wars make them more and more hated and less and less safe. While the nations that wage the least war have the fewest enemies threatening them in the world. But people who've begun supporting war will readily believe that sending killer robot planes over the homes of poor people thousands of miles away is defensive, and that when it creates hatred and hostility the answer must be yet more weapons.
In fact, the same people support manufacturing tons of weapons and selling them to other countries against whom theirs will later fight wars, and they support this as a jobs program even though it actually sucks jobs out of their society rather than creating them. That is to say, war-related jobs cost more per job than do jobs created by spending on just about anything else, even tax cuts. So, people support weapons-making because they have been misled into supporting war, and they support war because they have been misled into supporting the weapons industries, and then they just support both out of sheer stupid habit -- which is, of course, the single most powerful force in the universe.
But the stupidity of war doesn't end there. People who support wars can be brought to believe that wars are good for their victims. They think of each war as building better nations where it's fought, even though that's never actually happened. They talk of humanitarian wars even though humanity suffers. They imagine war is a solution to genocide, even though war kills more people and those people are just as disproportionately helpless innocents from one group in a war as in a genocide.
A recent U.S.-led war on Iraq destroyed that nation and killed some million people there, leaving behind chaos, violence, and environmental ruin; and war supporters think of Iraq as having benefitted. Someone explain to me how that's not stupider than cleaning your loaded gun on Youtube or praying for god to make the other football team lose. And it gets even stupider when you hear how Iraqis supposedly benefitted. They benefitted by being given freedom, because wars bring freedom, even though -- during the course of any war its supporters end up with fewer and fewer actual rights, due to restrictions justified by the war, even thought the war is justified by the cry of "freedom!"
How stupid can you get? War gets even stupider. It is the leading destroyer of the natural environment, but environmental groups will hardly touch it because they wouldn't want their concern for the earth to interfere with their blind stupid loyalty to a tribe. And human rights groups and civil liberties groups are the same way. They want to have war without murder, torture, rape, or imprisonment -- but opposing war would be unacceptable. Never mind that the atrocities increase in direct proportion to the war spending, they want to oppose only the atrocities. The war spending that generates the wars is viewed almost universally as an insurance against wars.
In the U.S. there are those who will object to murdering a U.S. citizen with a missile from a drone -- and some will object even if the president does have a secret memo he won't show us but which he claims re-writes the law and makes murder legal. Some will even object to murdering non-U.S. citizens with drones if they're civilians. Some even extend their concern to militants suspected of fighting on the side in some local war opposed by the far-off and unthreatened United States. And some, the true radicals, will object to all killing of human beings outside of a proper war zone.
But try pointing out to them that murdering people remains cruel and evil, immoral, impractical and counter-productive, and in violation of laws like the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact regardless of where you declare there to be a "war zone," and you'll run head-first into the brick wall of the Stupidest Idea in the History of the World.
That's a powerful force to challenge, but it can be challenged, and it can be brought down, brick by brick.
You can get involved at WarIsACrime.org