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The proposal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a test of whether the people of the United States can communicate something critically important to each other that the major media corporations do not want communicated.
For years I've joined with others in quoting people like former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to the effect that if the text of the TPP were shown to the public, that would be the end of it, because it's just so awful.
But now that the text has finally been made public, certain questionable assumptions loom large, such as that the public will read the text of the TPP and understand it, or that someone will read the text of the TPP and tell the public what it says, and be believed.
The role of communicating what's wrong with the TPP cannot be left to the major corporate media. You can, for example, check out NPR, or Reuters, or the Washington Post, and come away completely uninspired by the importance of stopping the TPP, and generally unenlightened about what's in it. Articles with "Here Are the Details" headlines provide very few details, drop a few hints, and focus on "he said - she said" coverage of who likes the TPP and who doesn't rather than any credible communication of who is right and what the TPP actually has in it.
The full text was made available here, but the site is sometimes down for "maintenance" including outside the hours that it says it will be (and at least the main text of it can be searched here - the page states that the annexes cannot be searched but they show up in the results anyway). The text is also posted here in sections with lots of U.S. flags. The text is here or here in PDFs. Very helpful analysis by Public Citizen is here and here.
The trouble is that the TPP is longer and more boring than a presidential debate, with each section prefaced by pages of definitions, acronyms, unenforceable rhetoric, references to other sections, etc. -- much of it apparently put there purely for obfuscation. So, here's an attempt to communicate what appear, based on trying to read the darn thing and reading the analyses of experts, to be some of the key points:
Under the TPP, corporations will be able to appeal the laws of nations to 3-member panels of arbitrators, with one arbitrator chosen by them and a second agreed to by both them and the nation whose laws they are seeking to overturn. See the chapter on "investment," for how this works. It means that a foreign oil or mining corporation, for example, could overrule a U.S. environmental law by appealing to 2 out of 3 corporate lawyers on a secret panel.
The TPP puts a large number of disastrous policies in place without waiting for corporate arbitration. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy would be required to approve any applications to export liquefied "natural" gas -- meaning more fracking, more destruction of the earth's climate, more profits for those who've been writing this treaty in secret for years, but not more sustainability, environmental protection, or even U.S. energy "independence."
The TPP would lower U.S. tariffs to zero while keeping Vietnam's, for example, in place, which -- along with no meaningful or enforceable labor standards -- will encourage U.S. corporations to move even more jobs abroad to low-wage and even slave labor. The Obama Administration reported on slavery in Malaysia, then altered Malaysia's ranking in order to allow its participation in the TPP. This race to the bottom would lower U.S. wages without encouraging better practices abroad.
"According to an initial analysis published in the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. market access concessions alone will increase the U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods and autos and auto parts by more than $55 billion dollars resulting in the loss of more than 330,000 jobs." --Public Citizen
The TPP could require the United States to import food that doesn't meet U.S. safety standards. Any U.S. food safety rule on pesticides, labeling, or additives that is higher than international standards could be challenged as an "illegal trade barrier."
The TPP would threaten provisions included in Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans' health programs to make medicines more affordable, as well as domestic patent and drug-pricing laws.
The TPP is broader and more encompassing than NAFTA, and weakens rather than strengthening NAFTA's weak protections for labor and the environment. Barack Obama campaigned on substantially reforming NAFTA in those regards. Instead, he's now proposing the worst of NAFTA on steroids.
What can be done?
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Read a section of the TPP and consider whether it ought to be law, exactly as written in secret with hundreds of corporate consultants.
Sign this petition to the U.S. Congress:
"If you don't oppose and vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I will not vote for you in any future primary or general election in which you are a candidate."
Sign this petition to the Speaker of the House, Democratic Party Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Democratic Party Leader Harry Reid:
"We are writing to urge the Congress to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This agreement would destroy jobs, degrade the environment, undermine the Internet and weaken U.S. democracy and sovereignty."
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This episode of the Global Research News Hour takes a dissenting look at the Remembrance and Veterans' Day ceremonies,and similar memorializing and valourization of the soldier as an instrument by which anti-war sentiments and organizing are subverted. The episode looks at what it will take to dismantle the mythology of militarism in our society. We speak with an outspoken anti-war activist and blogger, who is also the author of several books including 'War is a Lie' and 'When the World Outlawed War'. We also air a previously broadcast interview with Stan Goff and Joshua Key. Stan Goff is a Retired Master Sergeant from the U.S. Army. He is now a pacifist and author of a number of books including his most recent, Borderline – Reflections on War, Sex, and Church from Wipf and Stock (Cascade Books).
Joshua Key deserted the Iraq War in 2003,and crossed the border into Canada in 2005. He is the author along with Lawrence (Book of Negroes) Hill of The Deserter’s Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier who Walked Away from the War in Iraq. Having failed to secure refugee status, he is concerned he could soon be deported from Canada and sent to a military prison.
According to a new analysis by Vice News, the University of Virginia is the 19th most militarized university in the United States. Vice News lists the top 100 in order, based on "the greatest number of students who are employed by the Intelligence Community (IC), have the closest relationships with the national security state, and profit the most from American war-waging." Vice provides a detailed account of its data sources and methodology, which itself reads like a damning critique of academia in a society maintaining an alleged preference for peace over war. An additional report looks at trends and patterns in the results.
According to William M. Arkin and Alexa O’Brien of Vice News:
"The prestigious University of Virginia is a lawyer's paradise, feeding counsels to government agencies from the military to the CIA. The school has a National Criminal Justice Command College program, and graduates a fair share of Top Secret special agents, half of them working for the FBI. The largest portion of its graduates with Top Secret clearances, however, come from its school of continuing and professional studies, which teaches cybersecurity, human resources, "procurement," and project management. If UVA's Top Secret graduates aren't working in the federal government, then they're working for a large [military] contractor. UVA faculty have also participated in the IARPA STONESOUP program to develop a technology that securely executes software of uncertain provenance."
UVA makes rank #17, in fact, for "Top Secret Employment," while it's only #30 for "National Security Funding." It receives a whopping $27,426,000 in "DOD Research and Development Funding." UVA conducts classified research inside its campus with its Jefferson quotes about free speech and flow of information.
"This institution [University of Virginia] will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
Hard to tolerate or reason your way out of plans and justifications for killing that are kept secret.
UVA works with "National Intelligence," the NSA, and the Homeland "Security" Department. It also has a military ROTC program, as one can observe by visiting the campus around which killers-in-training jog chanting military chants.
UVA finds itself in the area of the country whose academia (and many other things) are most militarized. Nearby schools on the list include:
#1 University of Maryland
#2 American Military University
#4 George Washington University
#5 George Mason University
#7 Johns Hopkins University
#8 Strayer University
#10 Georgetown University
#16 Northern Virginia Community College
#17 Virginia Tech
#19 University of Virginia
#20 American University
In third place is the online "University of Phoenix." That may change. This came out last month:
"The Department of Defense said today that it would suspend the University of Phoenix from its tuition assistance programs and bar school officials from recruiting at military facilities, including job fairs, after revelations of improper recruiting and marketing practices by the for-profit school."
The above list of shame should trouble every UVA alumnus and every resident of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Rarely does this atheist quote the Pope, but here's one from his speech to Congress in September:
"Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade."
In two recent articles in the Los Angeles Times and the academic studies that inspired them, the authors investigate the question of which war veterans are most likely to commit suicide or violent crimes. Remarkably, the subject of war, their role in war, their thoughts about the supposed justifications (or lack thereof) of a war, never come up.
The factors that take the blame are -- apart from the unbearably obvious "prior suicidality," "prior crime," "weapons possession," and "mental disorder treatment" -- the following breakthrough discoveries: maleness, poverty, and "late age of enlistment." In other words, the very same factors that would be found in the (less-suicidal and less-murderous) population at large. That is, men are more violent than women, both among veterans and non-veterans; the poor are more violent (or at least more likely to get busted for it) among veterans and non-veterans; and the same goes for "unemployed" or "dissatisfied with career" or other near-equivalents of "joined the military at a relatively old age."
In other words, these reports tell us virtually nothing. Perhaps their goal isn't to tell us something factual so much as to shift the conversation away from why war causes murder and suicide, to the question of what was wrong with these soldiers before they enlisted.
The reason for studying the violence of veterans, after all, is that violence, as well as PTSD, are higher than among non-veterans, and the two (PTSD and violence) are linked. They are higher (or at least most studies over many years have said so; there are exceptions) for those who've been in combat than for those who've been in the military without combat. They are even higher for those who've been in even more combat. They are higher for ground troops than for pilots. There are mixed reports on whether they are higher for drone pilots or traditional pilots.
The fact that war participation, which itself consists of committing murder in a manner sanctioned by authorities, increases criminal violence afterwards, in a setting where it is no longer sanctioned, ought of course to direct our attention to the problem of war, not the problem of which fraction of returning warriors to offer some modicum of reorientation into nonviolent life. But if you accept that war is necessary, and that most of the funding for it must go into profitable weaponry, then you're going to want to both identify which troops to help and shift the blame to those troops.
The same reporter of the above linked articles also wrote one that documents what war participation does to suicide. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that out of 100,000 male veterans 32.1 commit suicide in a year, compared to 28.7 female veterans. But out of 100,000 male non-veterans, 20.9 commit suicide, compared to only 5.2 female non-veterans. And "for women ages 18 to 29, veterans kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of nonveterans." Here's how the article begins:
"New government research shows that female military veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces."
Does it really? Is their background really the problem? It's not a totally crazy idea. It could be that men and women inclined toward violence are more likely to join the military as well as more likely to engage in violence afterward, and more likely to be armed when they do so. But these reports don't focus primarily on that question. They try to distinguish which of the men and women are the (unacceptable, back home-) violence-prone ones. Yet something causes the figure for male suicides to jump from 20.9 to 32.1. Whatever it is gets absolutely disregarded, as differences between male and female military experiences are examined (specifically, the increased frequency of female troops being raped).
Suppose for a moment that what is at work in the leap in the male statistic has something to do with war. Sexism and sexual violence may indeed be an enormous factor for female (and some male) troops, and it may be far more widespread than the military says or knows. But those women who do not suffer it, probably have experiences much more like men's in the military, than the two groups' experiences out of the military are alike. And the word for their shared experience is war.
Looking at the youngest age group, "among men 18 to 29 years old, the annual number of suicides per 100,000 people were 83.3 for veterans and 17.6 for nonveterans. The numbers for women in that age group: 39.6 and 3.4." Women who've been in the military are, in that age group, 12 times more likely to kill themselves, while men are five times more likely. But that can also be looked at this way: among non-veterans, men are 5 times as likely to kill themselves as women, while among veterans men are only 2 times as likely to kill themselves as women. When their experience is the same one -- organized approved violence -- men's and women's rates of suicide are more similar.
The same LA Times reporter also has an article simply on the fact that veteran suicides are higher than non-veteran. But he manages to brush aside the idea that war has anything to do with this:
"'People's natural instinct is to explain military suicide by the war-is-hell theory of the world,' said Michael Schoenbaum, an epidemiologist and military suicide expert at the National Institute of Mental Health who was not involved in the study. 'But it's more complicated.'"
Judging by that article it's not more complicated, it's entirely something else. The impact of war on mental state is never discussed. Instead, we get this sort of enlightening finding:
"Veterans who had been enlisted in the rank-and-file committed suicide at nearly twice the rate of former officers. Keeping with patterns in the general population, being white, unmarried and male were also risk factors."
Yes, but among veterans the rates are higher than in the general population. Why?
The answer is, I think, the same as the answer to the question of why the topic is so studiously avoided. The answer is summed up in the recent term: moral injury. You can't kill and face death and return unchanged to a world in which you are expected to refrain from all violence and relax.
And returning to a world kept carefully oblivious to what you're going through, and eager to blame your demographic characteristics, must make it all the more difficult.
"Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?" the Pope asked the United States Congress during his speech there in September. "Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade."
At least a large section of the U.S. House and Senate rose and cheered, giving the above words a standing ovation.
Thousands of people, I among them, emailed their misrepresentatives to urge follow through.
In November, one of my senators finally replied. And this is what he had to say:
"Dear Mr. Swanson:
"Thank you for contacting me about the call by Pope Francis to end the arms trade. I appreciate hearing from you.
"As a Catholic, I was delighted to have Pope Francis address a joint meeting of Congress in September. The Pope spoke eloquently about great American leaders in our history, setting high expectations for what we can do when we work together. He challenged us to heal divisions and unite against the global challenges that we face.
"During his address, Pope Francis called for an end to the international arms trade, highlighting the untold suffering that deadly weapons often have on individuals and society. While I agree that that the United States has a responsibility to ensure arms exports do not exacerbate violence, I believe that security assistance plays an important role in our national security interests and international stability. As the world's primary superpower, the United States should support the security of friends and allies and ensure that they have the means to overcome threats from violent belligerents.
"The Arms Export Control Act, International Traffic in Arms Regulations, Export Administration Act, and other legal vehicles authorize the export of arms but also place significant restrictions to keep such items from falling into the wrong hands. These restrictions include serious scrutiny of American arms exports to prevent their use in human rights violations, as well as efforts to ensure against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weaponry. We use those restrictions often to block or delay sales of arms.
"As a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, I will continue to support efforts that advance our national interests and global security. Thank you again for contacting me.
I have never received a single such reply letter from any Congress member that didn't offend me and annoy me. But this one is a doozy. Let's start with "a responsibility to ensure arms exports do not exacerbate violence." I'm sorry, Senator, I may be even more fallible than your Pope, but if you'll forgive my Latin, what the fuck do you think arms are? They are tools of violence, purely and by definition and beyond dispute. If they aren't going to exacerbate violence, what are they going to do?
What about this: "security assistance plays an important role in our national security interests and international stability." Does it, now? Some 80% of the weapons imported to the Middle East, not counting the weapons of the U.S. military or the weapons bestowed on "moderate" killers, are imported from the United States. The stability this has been bringing to that region is staggering. A bit more such stability, and the whole population will move to Europe.
"As the world's primary superpower, the United States should support the security of friends and allies." Yeah? Who asked it to be a superpower? I'm asking it to cease and desist. As for friends and allies, I imagine you mean Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, "moderates" in Syria, Al Qaeda in Syria, etc. With friends and allies like these in the cause of peace, who needs enemies?
"These restrictions include serious scrutiny of American arms exports to prevent their use in human rights violations, as well as efforts to ensure against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weaponry." How'd that work out during Hillary Clinton's stewardship of the Department of State during which she waived legal restrictions to send weapons, including chemical and biological, to numerous nations of exactly the sort that you claim, accurately enough, U.S. law forbids supplying.
If I had to choose which was crazier, your humanitarian pretensions on behalf of the world's greatest purveyor of violence, or your Catholicism (with its infallible Leader in the funny hat, life after death, etc.), I'd have to go with the former. And I'm not feeling very religious.
Céline Nahory is International Coordinator for Peace Boat and the Global Article 9 Campaign. She also serves as Regional/International Representative in the International Peace Bureau's Council. She has worked for fifteen years with NGOs in the US, Japan and India, carrying out research and running advocacy campaigns on issues of peace, security, disarmament, economic justice and sustainable development.
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The poor frog has of course been slandered. A frog will die in boiling water, but jump out of a slowly warming pot.
The homo not-so-sapiens is another story. You can sit a human down in front of a graveyard, and he'll tell you about eternal life. You can sit a human down in front of a blunder in her own handwriting, and she'll tell you and believe that someone else did it. And you can put a Marylander in a rising Chesapeake Bay, show him islands sinking beneath the water, and he'll swear to you that nothing's changed.
This is from Newsweek:
"Smith Island comprises . . . a stretch of islands . . . where roughly 280 residents live in three small villages about 5 feet above sea level. But erosion nips away at Smith Island's banks at a rate of roughly 2 feet each year, and a 2008 report predicted that by 2100 Smith Island will be 'almost completely under water as the Bay's average level goes up nearly one-foot.' Which is why, even though Smith Island emerged relatively unscathed after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, the state's Department of Housing and Community Development offered Smith Island residents a buyout to move. Most rejected the offer. Some, like Marshall, don't believe there's any risk to living on the island. 'The whole sea-level rise—it's BS,' he says, talking loudly over the boat's motor. 'I've lived here my whole life and haven't seen a difference,' he continues, then shakes his head at excavators on barges piling gray stone in front of the refuge's outer bank. . . . The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that some 3,300 acres of Smith Island land have eroded over the last 150 years. Currently, only 900 acres of the island chain are habitable. . . . 'The island is going to be just fine. Our problem is we're running out of people,' Marshall says to me on his boat in early August. As we head for Ewell, he makes it clear how he feels about media reports claiming Smith Island is falling into the Chesapeake Bay. He asks me if I'm familiar with Public Enemy. Sure, I tell him. He quotes: 'Don’t believe the hype.' But, in truth, Smith Island's story seems to have been written many times over on other Chesapeake Bay islands: . . . Holland Island today is best known nationally for the photograph taken in 2010 of its final house falling into the Chesapeake, another victim of rising seas."
On the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, and in the Hampton Roads-Norfolk area of Virginia, flooding has already become routine. The sea level will rise, if current trends continue, between 3 and 18 feet by 2100. Already it has risen an inch every 7 or 8 years -- 12 inches in the last century. Some 628,000 Virginians live within 6.5 feet of sea level. Paul Fraim, Mayor of Norfolk since 1994, says the city may need to soon establish "retreat zones" and abandon sections of the city as too costly to protect. Real estate agents are discussing the need to require disclosure of sea level as well as lead paint and other defects when selling property. The famous ponies of Chincoteague live among trees killed and grasses weakened by risen saltwater, and will not live there much longer.
Yet, people living on sinking islands in the Bay tell you they see no problem. How could they? They're humans, and they've got climate blindness.
The U.S. military, headquartered largely in Virginia, the world's largest Navy base in Norfolk, and the swamp-built Capital of the United States in Washington, D.C., face potential devastation directly contributed to by the endless wars for oil, and the consumption of that oil, despite the widespread belief that the results of the wars are distant. Just as ice melting in Greenland lifts water onto the streets of Norfolk, the investment of trillions of dollars in pointless death and destruction not only diverts resources from addressing climate damage but heavily contributes to that damage. The U.S. military would rank 38th in oil consumption if it were a nation.
Try to find an appropriate response to the rising water in Washington, D.C., and it quickly becomes clear that climate blindness afflicts government officials as readily as anyone else, if not more so. The malady can be exacerbated by even a mild case of partisan blindness, to the point where -- if President Barack Obama sabotages climate control efforts in Paris as he did in Copenhagen -- blame will be placed entirely on others, and then forgotten about. Until we drown.
Ninety-seven years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, fighting ceased in the “war to end all wars.” People went on killing and dying right up until the pre-designated moment, impacting nothing other than our understanding of the stupidity of war.
Thirty million soldiers had been killed or wounded and another seven million had been taken captive during World War I. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter, with tens of thousands falling in a day to machine guns and poison gas. After the war, more and more truth began to overtake the lies, but whether people still believed or now resented the pro-war propaganda, virtually every person in the United States wanted to see no more of war ever again. Posters of Jesus shooting at Germans were left behind as the churches along with everyone else now said that war was wrong. Al Jolson wrote in 1920 to President Harding:
“The weary world is waiting for
So take away the gun
From every mother’s son
And put an end to war.”
Believe it or not, November 11th was not made a holiday in order to celebrate war, support troops, or cheer the 15th year of occupying Afghanistan. This day was made a holiday in order to celebrate an armistice that ended what was up until that point, in 1918, one of the worst things our species had thus far done to itself, namely World War I.
World War I, then known simply as the world war or the great war, had been marketed as a war to end war. Celebrating its end was also understood as celebrating the end of all wars. A ten-year campaign was launched in 1918 that in 1928 created the Kellogg-Briand Pact, legally banning all wars. That treaty is still on the books, which is why war making is a criminal act and how Nazis came to be prosecuted for it.
“[O]n November 11, 1918, there ended the most unnecessary, the most financially exhausting, and the most terribly fatal of all the wars that the world has ever known. Twenty millions of men and women, in that war, were killed outright, or died later from wounds. The Spanish influenza, admittedly caused by the War and nothing else, killed, in various lands, one hundred million persons more.” — Thomas Hall Shastid, 1927.
According to pre-Bernie U.S. Socialist Victor Berger, all the United States had gained from participation in World War I was the flu and prohibition. It was not an uncommon view. Millions of Americans who had supported World War I came, during the years following its completion on November 11, 1918, to reject the idea that anything could ever be gained through warfare.
Sherwood Eddy, who coauthored “The Abolition of War” in 1924, wrote that he had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of U.S. entry into World War I and had abhorred pacifism. He had viewed the war as a religious crusade and had been reassured by the fact that the United States entered the war on a Good Friday. At the war front, as the battles raged, Eddy writes, “we told the soldiers that if they would win we would give them a new world.”
Eddy seems, in a typical manner, to have come to believe his own propaganda and to have resolved to make good on the promise. “But I can remember,” he writes, “that even during the war I began to be troubled by grave doubts and misgivings of conscience.” It took him 10 years to arrive at the position of complete Outlawry, that is to say, of wanting to legally outlaw all war. By 1924 Eddy believed that the campaign for Outlawry amounted, for him, to a noble and glorious cause worthy of sacrifice, or what U.S. philosopher William James had called “the moral equivalent of war.” Eddy now argued that war was “unchristian.” Many came to share that view who a decade earlier had believed Christianity required war. A major factor in this shift was direct experience with the hell of modern warfare, an experience captured for us by the British poet Wilfred Owen in these famous lines:
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The propaganda machinery invented by President Woodrow Wilson and his Committee on Public Information had drawn Americans into the war with exaggerated and fictional tales of German atrocities in Belgium, posters depicting Jesus Christ in khaki sighting down a gun barrel, and promises of selfless devotion to making the world safe for democracy. The extent of the casualties was hidden from the public as much as possible during the course of the war, but by the time it was over many had learned something of war’s reality. And many had come to resent the manipulation of noble emotions that had pulled an independent nation into overseas barbarity.
However, the propaganda that motivated the fighting was not immediately erased from people’s minds. A war to end wars and make the world safe for democracy cannot end without some lingering demand for peace and justice, or at least for something more valuable than the flu and prohibition. Even those rejecting the idea that the war could in any way help advance the cause of peace aligned with all those wanting to avoid all future wars — a group that probably encompassed most of the U.S. population.
As Wilson had talked up peace as the official reason for going to war, countless souls had taken him extremely seriously. “It is no exaggeration to say that where there had been relatively few peace schemes before the World War,” writes Robert Ferrell, “there now were hundreds and even thousands” in Europe and the United States. The decade following the war was a decade of searching for peace: “Peace echoed through so many sermons, speeches, and state papers that it drove itself into the consciousness of everyone. Never in world history was peace so great a desideratum, so much talked about, looked toward, and planned for, as in the decade after the 1918 Armistice.”
Congress passed an Armistice Day resolution calling for “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding … inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” Later, Congress added that November 11th was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
While the ending of warfare was celebrated every November 11th, veterans were treated no better than they are today. When 17,000 veterans plus their families and friends marched on Washington in 1932 to demand their bonuses, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower, and other heroes of the next big war to come attacked the veterans, including by engaging in that greatest of evils with which Saddam Hussein would be endlessly charged: “using chemical weapons on their own people.” The weapons they used, just like Hussein’s, originated in the U.S. of A.
It was only after another world war, an even worse world war, a world war that has in many ways never ended to this day, that Congress, following still another now forgotten war — this one on Korea — changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day on June 1, 1954. And it was six-and-a-half years later that Eisenhower warned us that the military industrial complex would completely corrupt our society. Veterans Day is no longer, for most people, a day to cheer the elimination of war or even to aspire to its abolition. Veterans Day is not even a day on which to mourn or to question why suicide is the top killer of U.S. troops or why so many veterans have no houses at all in a nation in which one high-tech robber baron monopolist is hoarding $66 billion, and 400 of his closest friends have more money than half the country.
It’s not even a day to honestly, if sadistically, celebrate the fact that virtually all the victims of U.S. wars are non-Americans, that our so-called wars have become one-sided slaughters. Instead, it is a day on which to believe that war is beautiful and good. Towns and cities and corporations and sports leagues call it “military appreciation day” or “troop appreciation week” or “genocide glorification month.” OK, I made up that last one. Just checking if you’re paying attention.
World War One’s environmental destruction is ongoing today. The development of new weapons for World War I, including chemical weapons, still kills today. World War I saw huge leaps forward in the art of propaganda still plagiarized today, huge setbacks in the struggle for economic justice, and a culture more militarized, more focused on stupid ideas like banning alcohol, and more ready to restrict civil liberties in the name of nationalism, and all for the bargain price, as one author calculated it at the time, of enough money to have given a $2,500 home with $1,000 worth of furniture and five acres of land to every family in Russia, most of the European nations, Canada, the United States, and Australia, plus enough to give every city of over 20,000 a $2 million library, a $3 million hospital, a $20 million college, and still enough left over to buy every piece of property in Germany and Belgium. And it was all legal. Incredibly stupid, but totally legal. Particular atrocities violated laws, but war was not criminal. It never had been, but it soon would be.
We shouldn’t excuse World War I on the grounds that nobody knew. It’s not as if wars have to be fought in order to learn each time that war is hell. It’s not as if each new type of weaponry suddenly makes war evil. It’s not as if war wasn’t already the worst thing every created. It’s not as if people didn’t say so, didn’t resist, didn’t propose alternatives, didn’t go to prison for their convictions.
In 1915, Jane Addams met with President Wilson and urged him to offer mediation to Europe. Wilson praised the peace terms drafted by a conference of women for peace held in the Hague. He received 10,000 telegrams from women asking him to act. Historians believe that had he acted in 1915 or early in 1916 he might very well have helped bring the Great War to an end under circumstances that would have furthered a far more durable peace than the one made eventually at Versailles. Wilson did act on the advice of Addams, and of his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, but not until it was too late. By the time he acted, the Germans did not trust a mediator who had been aiding the British war effort. Wilson was left to campaign for reelection on a platform of peace and then quickly propagandize and plunge the United States into Europe’s war. And the number of progressives Wilson brought, at least briefly, to the side of loving war makes Obama look like an amateur.
The Outlawry Movement of the 1920s—the movement to outlaw war—sought to replace war with arbitration, by first banning war and then developing a code of international law and a court with the authority to settle disputes. The first step was taken in 1928 with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which banned all war. Today 81 nations are party to that treaty, including the United States, and many of them comply with it. I’d like to see additional nations, poorer nations that were left out of the treaty, join it (which they can do simply by stating that intention to the U.S. State Department) and then urge the greatest purveyor of violence in the world to comply.
I wrote a book about the movement that created that treaty, not just because we need to continue its work, but also because we can learn from its methods. Here was a movement that united people across the political spectrum, those for and against alcohol, those for and against the League of Nations, with a proposal to criminalize war. It was an uncomfortably large coalition. There were negotiations and peace pacts between rival factions of the peace movement. There was a moral case made that expected the best of people. War wasn’t opposed merely on economic grounds or because it might kill people from our own country. It was opposed as mass murder, as no less barbaric than duelling as a means of settling individuals’ disputes. Here was a movement with a long-term vision based on educating and organizing. There was an endless hurricane of lobbying, but no endorsing of politicians, no aligning of a movement behind a party. On the contrary, all four — yes, four — major parties were compelled to line up behind the movement. Instead of Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, the Republican National Convention of 1924 saw President Coolidge promising to outlaw war if reelected.
And on August 27, 1928, in Paris, France, that scene happened that made it into a 1950s folk song as a mighty room filled with men, and the papers they were signing said they’d never fight again. And it was men, women were outside protesting. And it was a pact among wealthy nations that nonetheless would continue making war on and colonizing the poor. But it was a pact for peace that ended wars and ended the acceptance of territorial gains made through wars, except in Palestine. It was a treaty that still required a body of law and an international court that we still do not have. But it was a treaty that in 87 years those wealthy nations would, in relation to each other, violate only once. Following World War II, the Kellogg-Briand Pact was used to prosecute victor’s justice. And the big armed nations never went to war with each other again, yet. And so, the pact is generally considered to have failed. Imagine if we banned bribery, and the next year threw Sheldon Adelson in prison, and nobody ever bribed again. Would we declare the law a failure, throw it out, and declare bribery henceforth legal as a matter of natural inevitability? Why should war be different? We can and must be rid of war, and therefore incidentally we can and must be rid of bribery, or — excuse me — campaign contributions.
Online petition campaigns were launched this week to stop Wal-Mart from selling Israeli soldier Halloween costumes and to get Wheaties cereal to start putting U.S. soldiers on its cereal boxes -- boxes known for featuring photos of outstanding athletes.
The two campaigns have no relation to each other. Wheaties has not, to my knowledge, indicated the slightest interest in doing what the petition asks it to do.
I'd like Wal-Mart and every other store to stop selling all (not just Israeli) military and every other sort of armed, killer costume, including science-fiction futuristic Star Wars and any other. Sure, it's a particular problem that the U.S. government gives Israel billions of dollars in free weapons every year with which to attack civilians, and that presidential candidates in the United States behave as if they're campaigning to represent Israel. But if you oppose celebrating murder, including organized state-sanctioned uniformed murder, then you oppose everything that normalizes and encourages it.
So, of course, I also oppose glorifying "our troops" on cereal boxes. For one thing, it conflates the idea of an athlete with the idea of a soldier (which I use here as shorthand for sailor, Marine, airman, drone pilot, mercenary, special force, etc., etc.). An athlete doesn't kill anyone, maim anyone, turn anyone's house to rubble, traumatize any children, overthrow anyone's government, throw any regions of the world into chaos, produce radical violent groups that hate my country, drain the public treasury of $1,000,000,000,000 a year, justify the stripping away of civil liberties in the name of wars for freedom, devastate the natural environment, drop napalm or white phosphorus, use DU, imprison people without charge, torture, or send missiles into weddings and hospitals killing one vaguely-identified victim for every 10 people murdered. An athlete plays sports.
Note that I'm also not proposing that we put troops on cereal boxes with devil horns inked onto their heads, blaming them for the faults of the whole society into which they were born. Sure, I blame them. Sure, I'd rather celebrate conscientious objectors. But there is an almost universal delusion in our culture which holds that when you blame someone for something, you exonerate everyone else. So, although it makes not the slightest sense, people interpret blaming a soldier for participating in a war as un-blaming the presidents, Congress members, propagandists, profiteers, and everyone else who helped make that war happen. In reality, blame is a limitless quantity, and everyone gets some, including me. But in the fantasyland we live in, you can't go around blaming anyone for something done by many people, unless you are allowed a paragraph of explanation. And, besides, I'd start with all the presidents, Congress members, etc., as war criminals before reaching any rank-and-file in the list of candidates for cereal box condemnation.
Also, "our troops," are simply not our troops, not collectively. Many of us vote against, petition against, demonstrate against, write against, and organize against the use and the expansion and the existence of the military. One wishes it were needless to say, but this does not suggest some sort of hatred for the individuals who are soldiers, the majority of whom say that economic option limitations was one big factor in their joining up, and many of whom believe what they are told about doing good for the places they invade. Nor of course does opposition to militarism imply some sort of twisted support for the militarism of some other nation or group. Imagine disliking soccer and consequently being denounced for supporting some other soccer team. Opposing war is the same way -- it actually means opposing war, not routing for the "team" opposed by someone else.
"Team" is a horrible metaphor for a military. The military can involve lots of teamwork, but it has been a century now since a war involved two teams competing on a battlefield. In World War II and ever since, wars have been fought in people's towns, and the majority of the victims have been civilians not signed up on any team. When groups like Veterans For Peace speak out against further participation in war, on the grounds that war is the unjustifiable, counter-productive slaughter of men, women, and children, they do so out of love for soldiers and potential future soldiers. Of course, many other veterans do not share that belief, or do not voice it aloud or publicly if they do. Perhaps not unrelated is the fact that the leading cause of death of U.S. soldiers sent into recent and current wars is suicide. What more profound statement that something is amiss could be made than that? What could I possibly say to even approach it?
Here's the text of the petition in favor of putting troops on cereal boxes:
"The Wheaties Box is an iconic image in America. It celebrates our best, our brightest, and those achieving high honors on the athletic field. Isn't it time to honor another set of American heroes? Our troops who served their country and gave their all, deserve the same honor as our great athletes."
In fact our brightest and most creative intellects are not honored at all on Wheaties. Neither are our firemen and women, our emergency crews, our environmentalists, our teachers, our children, our poets, our diplomats, our farmers, our artists, our actors and actresses. No. It's just athletes. If you think troops deserve an honor, clearly it is not, in fact, the same as athletes. And what of those of us who agree with President Kennedy ("War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today") -- Should we get our heroes on cereal boxes, too?
"Imagine the national pride of seeing a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor on the Wheaties box. General Mills, proud maker of Wheaties, can make this a new tradition. Next to the sacrifice these heroes and their families have made, it's a small honor. But in our celebrity-obsessed culture, it can be a new tradition we all can be proud to share."
It's just not true that we would all be proud. Some of us would deem it fascistic. Of course, we could just choose not to buy that cereal, while Anderson Cooper and anyone else who despises conscientious objectors could just not buy any cereal box honoring that tradition. But this petition is not proposing to force Wheaties to honor soldiers, just recommending it. Well, I'm just recommending against it.
"General Mills, we are asking you to please add servicemembers [sic] who have been honored for their distinct service and heroism, to your rotation of those recognized on the Wheaties Box. We don't do enough to honor those who served, especially those people who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield. And while an image on a box of cereal may not seem like much, it's a gesture that says so much about what we value. It's the type of gesture we need to see happen more often. We hope General Mills will show us that these men and women are worth recognizing on their iconic brand. Please sign and share the petition telling General Mills to place our honored heroes from the military on their Wheaties box."
The U.S. military spends a fortune in public tax dollars advertising itself on race cars and in ceremonies at football games, and so on. Were Wheaties to pick up on this idea and profit from it by making the military pay, that would be bad enough. Doing it for free would be worse. But I don't think the military would pay for it. The military advertises the generic faceless troop, not an actual specific soldier. Many veterans are essentially abandoned by the military, denied healthcare, left homeless, and -- again -- in many cases doomed to suicide.
During the war on Vietnam, recipients of medals of honor, angrily threw them back, rejecting what they had been part of. Any actual specific war hero could do that. And then where would Wheaties be?
Once in recent years the military tried to honor a particular flesh-and-blood soldier, and at the same time to merge its image with that of athletes. The soldier's name was Pat Tillman. He had been a football star and had famously given up a multi-million dollar football contract in order to join the military and do his patriotic duty to protect the country from evil terrorists. He was the most famous actual troop in the U.S. military, and television pundit Ann Coulter called him "an American original — virtuous, pure, and masculine like only an American male can be."
Except that he came to no longer believe the stories that had led him to enlist, and Ann Coulter stopped praising him. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead at short range, bullets shot by an American.
The White House and the military knew Tillman had died from so-called friendly fire, but they falsely told the media he'd died in a hostile exchange. Senior Army commanders knew the facts and yet approved awarding Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion, all based on his having died fighting the enemy. They would no doubt have also approved his photo for a Wheaties box.
And then where would the Wheaties thank-a-warrior campaign have been when the truth about Tillman's death and the truth about Tillman's views came out? I say: Wheaties, do not risk it. The Pentagon has not risked it since Tillman. Its generals (McChrystal, Petraeus) inevitably attract the spotlights and inevitably disgrace themselves. No rank-and-file troops are put forward as "icons." They're just used to justify massive spending "for the troops" that goes to weapons profiteers and not to one single troop.
The thought of blood just doesn't go with breakfast cereal, Wheaties, and even the thought that this proposal came from somewhere in this country is enough to make me slightly nauseated.
* Thanks to D Nunns for calling the Wheaties thing to my attention.
"War Is Beautiful" is the ironic title of a beautiful new book of photographs. The subtitle is "The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict." There's an asterisk after those words, and it leads to these: "(In which the author explains why he no longer reads The New York Times)." The author never explains why he read the New York Times to begin with.
The author of this remarkable book, David Shields, has selected color war photographs published on the front page of the New York Times over the last 14 years. He's organized them by themes, included epigrams with each section, and added a short introduction, plus an afterword by Dave Hickey.
Some of us have long opposed subscribing to or advertising in the New York Times, as even peace groups do. We read occasional articles without paying for them or accepting their worldview. We know that the impact of the Times lies primarily in how it influences television "news" reports.
But what about Times readers? The biggest impact that the paper has on them may not be in the words it chooses and omits, but rather in the images that the words frame. The photographs that Shields has selected and published in a large format, one on each page, are powerful and fantastic, straight out of a thrilling and mythical epic. One could no doubt insert them into the new Star Wars movie without too many people noticing.
The photos are also serene: a sunset on a beach lined with palm trees -- actually the Euphrates river; a soldier's face just visible amid a field of poppies.
We see soldiers policing a swimming pool -- perhaps a sight that will someday arrive in the Homeland, as other sights first seen in images from foreign wars already have. We see collective military exercises and training, as at a desert summer camp, full of camaraderie in crises. There's adventure, sports, and games. A soldier looks pleased by his trick as he holds a dummy head with a helmet on the end of a stick in front of a window to get it shot at.
War seems both a fun summer camp and a serious, solemn, and honorable tradition, as we see photos of elderly veterans, militaristic children, and U.S. flags back Home. Part of the seriousness is the caring and philanthropic work exhibited by photos of soldiers comforting the children they may have just orphaned. We see sacred U.S. troops protecting the people whose land they have been bombing and throwing into turmoil. We see our heroes' love for their visiting Commander, George W. Bush.
Sometimes war can be awkward or difficult. There's a bit of regrettable suffering. Occasionally it is tragically intense. But for the most part a rather boring and undignified death about which no one really cares comes to foreigners (outside the United States there are foreigners everywhere) who are left in the gutter as people walk away.
The war itself, centrally, is a technological wonder bravely brought out of the goodness of our superior hearts to a backward region in which the locals have allowed their very homes to turn to rubble. An empty settlement is illustrated by a photo of a chair in a street. There are water bottles upright on the ground. It looks as though a board meeting just ended.
Still, for all war's drawbacks, people are mostly happy. They give birth and get married. Troops return home from camp after a good job done. Handsome Marines innocently mingle with civilians. Spouses embrace their camouflaged demigods returned from the struggle. A little American boy, held by his smiling mother, grins gleefully at the grave of his Daddy who died (happily, one must imagine) in Afghanistan.
At least in this selection of powerful images, we do not see people born with gruesome birth defects caused by the poisons of U.S. weapons. We do not see people married at weddings struck by U.S. missiles. We do not see U.S. corpses lying in the gutter. We do not see nonviolent protests of the U.S. occupations. We do not see the torture and death camps. We do not see the trauma of those who live under the bombs. We do not see the terror when the doors are kicked in, the way we would if soldiers -- like police -- were asked to wear body cameras. We do not see the "MADE IN THE USA" label on the weapons on both sides of a war. We do not see the opportunities for peace that have been studiously avoided. We do not see the U.S. troops participating in their number one cause of death: suicide.
A few of those things may show up now and then in the New York Times, more likely on a page other than the front one. Some of those things you may not want to see with your breakfast cereal. But there can be no question that Shields has captured a portrait of a day in the life of a war propagandist, and that the photographers, editors, and designers involved have done as much to cause the past 14 years of mass dying, suffering, and horror in the Middle East as has any single New York Times reporter or text editor.