You are hereBlogs / davidswanson's blog
Please buy it online that day. Please invite David Swanson to speak in your town. Learn more.
Imagine an alcoholic who managed every night to get ahold of and consume huge quantities of whiskey and who every morning swore that drinking whiskey had been his very last resort, he’d had no choice at all.
Easy to imagine, no doubt. An addict will always justify himself, how ever nonsensically it has to be done.
But imagine a world in which everyone believed him and solemnly said to each other “He really had no other choice. He truly had tried everything else.”
Not so plausible, is it? Almost unimaginable, in fact. And yet:
Everyone says the United States is at war in Syria as a last resort, even though:
- The United States spent years sabotaging UN attempts at peace in Syria.
- The United States dismissed out of hand a Russian peace proposal for Syria in 2012.
- And when the United States claimed a bombing campaign was needed immediately as a “last resort” in 2013 but the U.S. public was wildly opposed, other options were pursued.
Numerous U.S. Congress Members said this year that the nuclear deal with Iran needed to be rejected and Iran attacked as a last resort, until the deal wasn’t rejected. No mention was made in 2015 of Iran’s 2003 offer to negotiate away its nuclear program, an offer that had been quickly scorned by the United States.
Everyone says the United States is killing people with drones as a last resort, even though in that minority of cases in which the United States knows the names of the people it is aiming for, many (if not all) of them indisputably could have been easily arrested.
Everyone said the United States killed Osama bin Laden as a last resort, until those involved admitted that the “kill or capture” policy didn’t actually include any capture option and that bin Laden had been unarmed when he was killed.
Everyone says the United States attacked Libya in 2011, overthrew its government, and fueled regional violence as a last resort, even though in March 2011 the African Union had a plan for peace in Libya but was prevented by NATO, through the creation of a “no fly zone” and the initiation of bombing, to travel to Libya to discuss it. In April, the African Union was able to discuss its plan with Ghadafi, and he expressed his agreement. NATO, which had obtained UN authorization to protect Libyans alleged to be in danger but no authorization to continue bombing the country or to overthrow the government, continued bombing the country and overthrowing the government.
Everyone who works for, and wishes to continue working for, a major U.S. media outlet says the United States attacked Iraq in 2003 as a last resort or sort of meant to, or something, even though:
- The U.S. president had been concocting cockamamie schemes to get a war started.
- The Iraqi government had approached the CIA’s Vincent Cannistrato to offer to let U.S. troops search the entire country.
- The Iraqi government had offered to hold internationally monitored elections within two years.
- The Iraqi government offered Bush official Richard Perle to open the whole country to inspections, to turn over a suspect in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, to help fight terrorism, and to favor U.S. oil companies.
- The Iraqi president offered, in the account that the president of Spain was given by the U.S. president, to simply leave Iraq if he could keep $1 billion.
Everyone supposes that the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and has stayed there ever since as a series of “last resorts,” even though the Taliban repeatedly offered to turn bin Laden over to a third country to stand trial, al Qaeda has had no significant presence in Afghanistan for most of the duration of the war, and withdrawal has been an option at any time.
Everyone maintains that the United States went to war with Iraq in 1990-1991 as a “last resort,” even though the Iraqi government was willing to negotiate withdrawal from Kuwait without war and ultimately offered to simply withdraw from Kuwait within three weeks without conditions. The King of Jordan, the Pope, the President of France, the President of the Soviet Union, and many others urged such a peaceful settlement, but the White House insisted upon its “last resort.”
Even setting aside general practices that increase hostility, provide weaponry, and empower militaristic governments, as well as fake negotiations intended to facilitate rather than avoid war, the history of U.S. war-making can be traced back through the centuries as a story of an endless series of opportunities for peace carefully avoided at all costs.
Mexico was willing to negotiate the sale of its northern half, but the United States wanted to take it through an act of mass killing. Spain wanted the matter of the Maine to go to international arbitration, but the U.S. wanted war and empire. The Soviet Union proposed peace negotiations before the Korean War. The United States sabotaged peace proposals for Vietnam from the Vietnamese, the Soviets, and the French, relentlessly insisting on its “last resort” over any other option, from the day the Gulf of Tonkin incident mandated war despite never having occurred.
Hidden in the mystery of the ludicrous “last resort” claims, taken oh so seriously by commentators on war, may lie an explanation of current bigotry toward Muslims in the United States. Should Muslims in your neighborhood turn out to be decent people, perhaps Muslims far away are decent people with whom one might speak instead of dropping bombs on their children. Muslims must be hated here so as to justify killing them there as an unavoidable “last resort.”
Robert Reich's website is full of proposals for how to oppose plutocracy, raise the minimum wage, reverse the trend toward greater inequality of wealth, etc. His focus on domestic economic policy is done in the traditional bizarre manner of U.S. liberals in which virtually no mention is ever made of the 54% of the federal discretionary budget that gets dumped into militarism.
When such a commentator notices the problem of war, it's worth paying attention to exactly how far they're willing to go. Of course, they'll object to the financial cost of a potential war, while continuing to ignore the ten-times-greater cost of routine military spending. But where else does their rare war opposition fall short?
Well, here, to begin with: Reich's new post begins thus: "We appear to be moving ever closer toward a world war against the Islamic State." That helpless fatalism doesn't show up in his other commentary. We're not doomed to plutocracy, poverty, or corporate trade. But we're doomed to war. It's coming upon us like the weather, and we'll need to handle it as well as we can. And it will be a "world" affair even if it's principally the 4% of humanity in the United States with a military engaged in it.
"No sane person welcomes war," says Reich. "Yet if we do go to war against ISIS we must keep a watchful eye on 5 things." Nobody, inlcuding Reich as far as I know, ever says this about plutocracy, fascism, slavery, child abuse, rape, de-unionization. Imagine reading this: "No sane person welcomes massive gun violence and school shootings, yet if we're going to let all these children die for the gun makers' profits we must keep a watchful eye on 5 things." Who would say that? What could the 5 things possibly be? The only people who talk this way about climate destruction are those who believe it's already past the point of no return, beyond any possible human control. Why do U.S. liberals "oppose" war by pretending it's inevitable and then keeping an eye on certain aspects of its damage?
Reich must be aware that most of Europe is very reluctant to engage in another U.S. war, that proxies in the Middle East are almost impossible to come by, and that President Obama still insists on a limited war slowly worsening the situation. But I suspect that Reich, like many people, has seen so much "election" coverage that he thinks the United States is about to have a new president, and that it will be either a war-mad Republican or a war-mad Hillary Clinton. Yet, such a development is over a year away, making Reich's fatalism all the more outrageous.
Let's look at the five things we're suppose to keep an eye on.
"1. The burden of fighting the war must be widely shared among Americans. America’s current 'all-volunteer' army is comprised largely of lower-income men and women for whom army pay is the best option. 'We’re staring at the painful story of young people with fewer options bearing the greatest burden,' says Greg Speeter, executive director of the National Priorities Project, whose study found low- and middle-income families supply far more Army recruits than families with incomes greater than $60,000 a year. That’s not fair. Moreover, when the vast majority of Americans depend on a small number of people to fight wars for us, the public stops feeling the toll such wars take. From World War II until the final days of the Vietnam War, in July 1973, nearly every young man in America faced the prospect of being drafted into the Army. Sure, many children of the rich found means to stay out of harm’s way. But the draft at least spread responsibility and heightened the public’s sensitivity to the human costs of war. If we go into a ground war against ISIS, we should seriously consider reinstating the draft."
This is madness. As a bank shot aimed at indirectly preventing war it's incredibly risky and uncertain. As a means of ameliorating war by making it more "fair," it grotesquely ignores the vast majority of victims, who will of course be the people living in the areas where the war is fought.
"2. We must not sacrifice our civil liberties. U.S. spy agencies no longer have authority they had in the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act to collect Americans’ phone and other records. The NSA must now gain court approval for such access. But in light of the Paris attacks, the FBI director and other leading U.S. law enforcement officials now say they need access to encrypted information on smartphones, personal and business records of suspected terrorists, and 'roving wiretaps' of suspects using multiple disposable cell phones. War can also lead to internment of suspects and suspensions of constitutional rights, as we’ve painfully witnessed. Donald Trump says he’d require American Muslims to register in a federal data base, and he refuses to rule out requiring all Muslims to carry special religious identification. "We’re going to have to do things that we never did before….we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago,” he adds. We must be vigilant that we maintain the freedoms we are fighting for."
This is delusional. The FBI needs to break through encryption but is kindly refraining from spying on anything unencrypted? The wars strip away civil liberties but are fought "for" them? There has not in fact been a war fought that did not remove liberties, and it seems highly unlikely that there could be. This has been clearly and accurately understood for centuries now.
"3. We must minimize the deaths of innocent civilians abroad. The bombing raids have already claimed a terrible civilian toll, contributing to a mass exodus of refugees. Last month the independent monitoring group Airwars said at least 459 civilians have died from coalition airstrikes in Syria over the past year. Other monitoring groups, including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also claim significant civilian deaths. Some civilian casualties are unavoidable. But we must ensure they are minimized – and not just out of humanitarian concern. Every civilian death creates more enemies. And we must do our part to take in a fair portion of Syrian refugees."
Minimize inevitable murders? Assist inevitably displaced families turned into refugees by the destruction of their homes? This is kinder gentler imperialism.
"4. We must not tolerate anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States. Already, leading Republican candidates are fanning the flames. Ben Carson says no Muslim should be president. Trump says 'thousands' of Arab-Americans cheered when the Twin Towers went down on 9/11 – a boldface lie. Ted Cruz wants to accept Christians refugees from Syrian [sic] but not Muslims. Jeb Bush says American assistance for refugees should focus on Christians. Marco Rubio wants to close down 'any place where radicals are being inspired,' including American mosques. It's outrageous that leading Republican candidates for president of the United States are fueling such hate. Such bigotry is not only morally odious. It also plays into the hands of ISIS."
Hmm. Can you name the last war that did not include the promotion of bigotry or xenophobia? By now xenophobia is so engrained that no U.S. columnist would propose a project that would kill U.S. citizens while "minimizing" such deaths, yet proposing such a fate for foreigners is deemed liberal and progressive.
"5. The war must be paid for with higher taxes on the rich. A week before the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Senate passed a $607 billion defense spending bill, with 93 senators in favor and 3 opposed (including Bernie Sanders). The House has already passed it, 370 to 58. Obama has said he’ll sign it. That defense appropriation is larded with pork for military contractors – including Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system in history. Now Republicans are pushing for even more military spending. We cannot let them use the war as a pretext to cut Social Security and Medicare, or programs for the poor. The war should be paid for the way we used to pay for wars – with higher taxes, especially on the wealthy. As we move toward war against ISIS, we must be vigilant – to fairly allocate the burdens of who’s called on to fight the war, to protect civil liberties, to protect innocent civilians abroad, to avoid hate and bigotry, and to fairly distribute the cost of paying for war. These aren’t just worthy aims. They are also the foundations of our nation’s strength."
Of course the wealthy should pay more taxes and everyone else less. That's true for taxes for parks or taxes for schools. It would also be true for taxes to pay for a project of blowing up coral reefs or a new initiative to drown kittens, but who would justify such things by properly funding them?
War, in fact, is worse than virtually anything else imaginable, including many things we absolutely reject in moral horror. War is mass murder, it brings with it brutality and a total degradation of morality, it is our top destroyer of the environment including the climate, it endangers rather than protecting -- just as bigotry plays into ISIS's hands, so does bombing ISIS. War -- and much more so, routine military spending -- kills primarily through the diversion of resources. A fraction of what is wasted could end starvation. I mean 3% of U.S. military spending could end starvation worldwide. Diseases could be wiped out. Energy systems could be made sustainable. The resources are that massive. Housing, education, and other rights could be guaranteed, in the United States and abroad.
Sure it's good for liberal commentators to point out some of war's downsides. But depicting them as acceptable and inevitable doesn't help.
So what should be done? Do I love ISIS, then? Is it my wish for us to all die? Et cetera.
Johan Galtung is the founder of the discipline of peace studies. He founded the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959 and the Journal of Peace Research in 1964, and has helped found dozens of peace centers. He has taught peace studies at universities all over the world, and mediated hundreds of conflicts. He is author or coauthor of over 160 books, and is cited and discussed in many thousands. He is the founder of Transcend Peace University and Transcend International. See http://transcend.org
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
And, behold, a certain debate moderator stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
And he said unto him, Thou hast made this stuff up. There thou goest again.
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his ankles and wrists, gagged his mouth, threw him in the Humvee and brought him to a forward operating base.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out a box of $100 bills, and gave them to the commanding officer, and said unto him, Take care of him and take care of him real good, I assume he has not yet been permitted to sleep, and if he comes clean, if he proves himself a Christian, if he's never supported terrorism, if he can recite the U.S. Constitution, and if he understands that any children born unto him within the United States of America will never become citizens, then when I return we will welcome him into a refugee screening program over the next 18 months that I'm having put on hold for 10 years.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed great cowardice, brutality, and absolutely no pity on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Chicago media outlets are reporting that drones have been banned from most of Chicago's skies and cannot fly over you or your property without your permission. The text of the ordinance, however, makes exceptions for police that will require eternal vigilance.
Local legislative action around drones began in U.S. cities in early 2013 with the public demand for resolutions opposing foreign drone murders by the military and CIA (and related training in U.S. skies), combined with public concern about domestic U.S. police departments that had begun acquiring weaponized and surveillance drones. This quickly expanded to include concerns about private drones -- among other reasons, because surveillance footage from private drones could be acquired by governments. As near misses between drones and passenger aircraft began piling up, those issues of safety were added to the mix.
Chicago has now passed a modified version of an ordinance that forbids any drone "that is equipped with a firearm or other weapon" and any drone flown "with intent to use such small unmanned aircraft or anything attached to it to cause harm to persons or property." The new law also bans any drone flight "for the purpose of conducting surveillance, unless expressly permitted by law."
Then come the exceptions: "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person who is authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration . . . ." And: "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency in accordance with Section 15 of the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, codified at 725 ILCS 167/1 et seq., or its successor provision."
That Illinois law allows police to use drones whenever they claim there is "a high risk of a terrorist attack" or they obtain a 45-day warrant from a court, or they decide they don't have time to bother obtaining a warrant and must act swiftly "to prevent imminent harm to life or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence," or they're attempting to locate a missing person but not undertaking a criminal investigation, or they're solely doing crime scene or traffic crash scene photography (with a warrant if on private property), or there is a disaster or public health emergency (which need not have been formally declared).
None of that explicitly allows weaponized drones for police, except in so far as the word "terrorist" is generally taken to allow just about anything. So, does Chicago's ban on weaponized drones remain intact for police? I'm pessimistic. I don't think the ban on entering the sky over private property or flying at night or flying drunk or any of the other bans survive for police. The law says "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency. . . ."
How police drone use works out, I think, depends entirely on how the state law is interpreted and enforced. Who will monitor police drone use? Who will punish violations? The new Chicago ordinance includes penalties: "Any person who violates this section or any rule promulgated thereunder shall be fined not less than $500.00 nor more than $5,000.00 for each offense, or may be incarcerated for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both. Each day that a violation continues shall constitute a separate and distinct offense." But that sounds like a penalty for an individual, not a government agency.
I'm afraid what has been created is a policy of restricting drone use by individuals in Chicago, without effectively restricting it by the entities most likely to violate rights, intimidate, restrict ability to exercise free speech or assemble or petition the government for redress of grievances, and to use unjustifiable force.
This question is far from settled. Chicago is only one city. Other cities and states could choose to clearly ban weaponized drones, and to ban police surveillance drones under a clear system of supervision, oversight, and accountability.
This statement by the Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, surely takes the prize for government-sanctioned ignorance and bigotry in 2015.
Is he aware that comparing World War II participating armies to a group like ISIS is ridiculous, that World War II killed upwards of 50 million people, primarily through the activities of the largest, wealthiest militaries on earth?
Is he aware that the United States was forced to apologize for and pay reparations to the victims of the internment camps used against Japanese Americans?
Is he aware that the blatantly illegal and anti-democratic discrimination he is encouraging can easily lead to very ugly places?
If Mayor Bowers is waking up in a sweat fearful of Syrian toddlers, perhaps he shouldn't be Mayor of Roanoke. After all, one stands a much greater chance of dying at the hands of local police, health insurance companies, fast food restaurants, one's own automobile travel, environmental pollution, cigarette marketers, a lightning strike, a fall down the stairs, or accidentally bumping into the hard head of a mayor than as a result of admitting refugees.
The United States screens all refugees before they even come to the United States, while those refugees have no equal right to screen their future neighbors or mayors.
Between 1945 and 1952, the United States accepted 400,000 displaced persons from Nazi controlled areas of Europe, after having shamefully turned away Jewish refugees before the war.
Between 1970 and the fall of the U.S.S.R in 1991, the United States accepted over 200,000 Jews to the United States from the Soviet Union -- which had a slightly larger military force than ISIS.
The U.S. accepted 19,000 refugees from Iraq last year and 784,000 from around the world since Sept. 11, 2001.
The French understand that the attackers there were not refugees, and France has announced that it will take in 30,000 more refugees in need of help.
The ethnic, religious, and racial fear-mongering bigotry at work around the United States on this issue at the moment is ironic in the extreme, given what the central teachings of Christians were before they became "Keep Out the Muslims."
Forgive our politicians, world. They know not what they do.
Toward the end of altering our idea of what counts as "doing something," I offer this composite representation of numerous media interviews I've done.
Interviewer: So you'd stop the planes and the drones and the bombs and the special forces. You've said lots about what you wouldn't do, but can you say what you would do?
Me: Sure, I believe the United States government should propose and attempt to negotiate and at the same time unilaterally begin a ceasefire. When President Kennedy asked the Soviet Union to agree to a ban on nuclear tests, he announced that the United States was itself going ahead and halting them. Negotiating is helped through leadership by example. For the United States to stop engaging or assisting in live fire would give huge momentum to a ceasefire negotiation.
Interviewer: So, again, you would stop firing, but what would you do instead?
Me: The United States ought to propose and work to negotiate and unilaterally begin an arms embargo. I say the United States because I live there and because the majority of the weapons in the Middle East originate in the United States. U.S. participation alone in an arms embargo would end the majority of arms provision to Western Asia. Ceasing to rush Saudi Arabia more weapons would do more good than writing a report on that kingdom's atrocities, for example. An arms embargo should be developed to include every nation in the region and be expanded into disarmament -- first and foremost of all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons (yes, including Israel's). The United States has the leverage to accomplish this, but not while working against it -- as it now vigorously does.
Interviewer: Yet again, here's something you don't want to do: provide arms. But is there something that you do want to do?
Me: Other than creating peace and a WMD-free Middle East? Yes, I'm glad you asked. I'd like to see the U.S. government launch a massive program of reparations and aid to the people of Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Pakistan, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, and the entire rest of the region. (Please, please, please take my word for it that I am not listing every single nation purely in order to save time, and not because I hate some of them or any such insanity.) This no-strings-attached program should include food aid, medical aid, infrastructure, green energy, peace workers, human shields, communications technology for popular use of social media, environmental cleanup, and cultural and educational exchanges. And it should be paid for (note that it does have to be paid for and therefore should count as the very essence of a capitalist "doing something") through a modest reduction in U.S. militarism -- in fact, converting U.S. military facilities in the Middle East into green energy and cultural institutions, and handing them over to the residents.
Interviewer: I hate to have to keep asking the same question, but, again, what is it that you would do about ISIS? If you oppose war, do you support police action? What is something, anything at all for goodness sake, that you would dooooooooo?
Me: Well, in addition to halting violence, negotiating disarmament, and investing on a scale and with a level of respectful generosity to bump the Marshall Plan right out of the history books, I would begin efforts to deprive ISIS of funding and weaponry. A general halt to arms shipments would, of course, already help. Ending the air strikes that are ISIS's biggest recruitment tool would help. But Saudi Arabia and other regional powers have to be brought around to cutting off the funding to ISIS. That would not be nearly as difficult to do if the U.S. government ceased thinking of Saudi Arabia as a valued weapons customer and stopped bowing down to its every demand.
Interviewer: Stop the funding. Stop the arming. This all sounds nice. And you keep saying it over and over again. But I'm going to ask you one last time to say what you would do instead, and what weaponry you would use exactly to do it.
Me: I would use the weapon that eliminates enemies by turning them into something other than enemies. I would embrace the ideology that ISIS works against. It doesn't oppose U.S. militarism. It feeds off it. ISIS opposes humanism. I would welcome refugees without limit. I would make the United States a part of the global community on an equal and cooperative basis, joining without reservations the International Criminal Court, and existing treaties on the rights of the child, land mines, cluster bombs, racial discrimination, discrimination against women, weapons in space, rights of migrant workers, arms trade, protection from disappearances, rights of people with disabilities, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I would work to reform the United Nations beginning by unilaterally foreswearing use of the veto. I would announce a policy of ceasing to prop up or to overthrow foreign dictators. I would announce plans to support nonviolence, democracy, and sustainability at home and abroad, leading by example -- including in the area of disarmament. Reforming U.S. democracy by removing the system of legalized bribery and the whole list of needed reforms would set an example and also allow more democratic policies. I would shift our officially propogated sympathies from We Are All France to We Are All the World. To imagine that any of these steps is unrelated to ISIS is to misunderstand the power of propaganda, image, and the communication of respectful goodwill or arrogant disdain.
Interviewer: Well, we've run out of time, and yet you still won't tell me anything you would do. Sadly, that leaves us obliged to support an assault on ISIS, as much as we dislike war.