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The United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals don't just ignore the fact that development isn't sustainable; they revel in it. One of the goals is spreading energy use. Another is economic growth. Another is preparation for climate chaos (not preventing it, but dealing with it). And how does the United Nations deal with problems? Generally through wars and sanctions.
This institution was set up 70 years ago to keep nations, rather than a global body, in charge, and to keep the victors of World War II in a permanent position of dominating the rest of the globe. The UN legalized "defensive" wars and any wars it "authorizes" for whatever reason. It now says drones have made war "the norm," but addressing that problem is not among the 17 goals now being considered. Ending war is not among the goals. Disarmament isn't mentioned. The Arms Trade Treaty put through last year still lacks the United States, China, and Russia, but that's not among the 17 concerns of "sustainable development."
Saudi Arabia's "responsibility to protect" Yemen by murdering its people with U.S. weapons isn't at issue. Saudi Arabia is busy crucifying children and heading up the UN's Human Rights Council. Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Foreign Minister of Turkey have declared that they will start addressing the full "lifecycle" of young people who become "terrorists." Of course, they'll do so without mentioning the U.S.-led wars that have traumatized the region or the by now long established record of the global war on terrorism producing terrorism.
I'm happy to have signed this letter, which you, too, can sign below:
To: U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon
The U.N. Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945. Its potential is still unfulfilled. It has been used to advance and misused to impede the cause of peace. We urge a rededication to its original goal of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
Whereas the Kellogg-Briand Pact forbids all war, the U.N. Charter opens up the possibility of a "legal war." While most wars do not meet the narrow qualifications of being defensive or U.N.-authorized, many wars are marketed as if they meet those qualifications, and many people are fooled. After 70 years isn't it time for the United Nations to cease authorizing wars and to make clear to the world that attacks on distant nations are not defensive?
The danger lurking in the "responsibility to protect" doctrine must be addressed. Acceptance of murder by armed drone as either non-war or legal war must be decisively rejected. To fulfill its promise, the United Nations must rededicate itself to these words from the U.N. Charter: "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered."
To advance, the United Nations must be democratized so that all people of the world have an equal voice, and no single or small number of wealthy, war-oriented nations dominate the UN's decisions. We urge you to pursue this path.
World Beyond War has outlined specific reforms that would democratize the United Nations, and make nonviolent actions the primary activity engaged in. Please read them here.
Sandra Osei Twumasi
He did not, as his spoken comments heretofore might have suggested, make this statement entirely or at all about fraud and waste in the military. He did not even mention Saudi Arabia, much less declare that it should "take the lead" or "get its hands dirty" as he had been doing in interviews, even as Saudi Arabia bombs Yemeni families with U.S. cluster bombs. While he mentioned veterans and called them brave, he also did not turn the focus of his statement toward glorification of troops, as he very well might have.
All that to the good, the statement does lack some key ingredients. Should the United States be spending a trillion dollars a year and over half of discretionary spending on militarism? Should it cut that by 50%, increase it by 30%, trim it by 3%? We really can't tell from this statement insisting on the need for major military spending while admitting the harm it does:
"And while there is no question our military must be fully prepared and have the resources it needs to fight international terrorism, it is imperative that we take a hard look at the Pentagon's budget and the priorities it has established. The U.S. military must be equipped to fight today's battles, not those of the last war, much less the Cold War. Our defense budget must represent our national security interests and the needs of our military, not the reelection of members of Congress or the profits of defense contractors. The warning that President Dwight David Eisenhower gave us about the influence of the Military-Industrial Complex in 1961 is truer today than it was then."
That warning, of course, might be interpreted by some as suggesting that investing in preparation for "today's battles" is what produces today's battles.
And which of today's battles would Sanders like to end? Drones are not mentioned. Special forces are not mentioned. Foreign bases are not mentioned. The only hint he gives about future action in Iraq or Syria suggests that he would continue to use the military to make things worse while simultaneously trying other approaches to make things better:
"We live in a dangerous world full of serious threats, perhaps none more so than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. Senator Sanders is committed to keeping America safe, and pursuing those who would do Americans harm. But we cannot combat international terrorism alone. We must work with our allies to root out terrorist funding networks, provide logistical support in the region, disrupt online radicalization, provide humanitarian relief, and support and defend religious freedom. Moreover, we must begin to address the root causes of radicalization, instead of focusing solely on military responses to those who have already become radicalized."
Would he end the U.S. war on Afghanistan?
"Sen. Sanders called on both Presidents Bush and Obama to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible and for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for their own security. After visiting Afghanistan, Sen. Sanders spoke-out against the rampant corruption he saw, particularly in regards to elections, security and the banking system."
From that, an American suffering under the delusion that the war had already been ended would be enlightened not at all, and one really can't tell whether Sanders would choose to take any sort of action to end it in reality. Of course, he is a U.S. Senator and is not attempting to cut off the funding.
Sanders' statement is a very mixed bag. He supports the Iran agreement while pushing false claims about "Iran developing nuclear weapons." He criticizes "both sides" in Palestine, but says not one word about cutting off free weaponry or international legal protection for Israel -- or for any other governments. The Pope's call to end the arms trade, which the United States leads, goes unmentioned. He mentions nuclear weapons, but only the nonexistent ones belonging to Iran, not those of the United States or Israel or any other nation. Disarmament is not an agenda item here. And how could it be when he declares, in violation of the U.N. Charter, in his first paragraph that "force must always be an option"?
Sanders offers no details on a shift away from serving as weapons supplier to the world, to serious investment in aid and diplomacy. But he does say this:
"However, after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the Middle East, it is time for a new approach. We must move away from policies that favor unilateral military action and preemptive war, and that make the United States the de facto policeman of the world. Senator Sanders believes that foreign policy is not just deciding how to react to conflict around the world, but also includes redefining America’s role in the increasingly global economy. Along with our allies throughout the world, we should be vigorous in attempting to prevent international conflict, not just responding to problems. For example, the international trade agreements we enter into, and our energy and climate change policies not only have enormous consequences for Americans here at home, but greatly affect our relations with countries around the world. Senator Sanders has the experience, the record and the vision not just to lead on these critically important issues, but to take our country in a very different direction."
Sanders claims, however, absurdly, that he has only supported wars that were a "last resort." He includes among those, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, despite neither having been remotely a last resort. Sanders admits as much, saying, "I supported the use of force to stop the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans." Set aside the fact that it increased the ethnic cleansing and that diplomacy was not really attempted, what he is claiming is a philanthropic mission, not a "last resort." Sanders also says, "And, in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, I supported the use of force in Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists who attacked us." Set aside the Taliban's offer to transfer Osama bin Laden to a third country to be tried, what Sanders is describing is hunting and murdering people in a distant land, not a "last resort" -- and also not what he voted for, and Rep. Barbara Lee voted against, which was a blank check for endless war at presidential discretion.
All of this obviously leaves open the possibility of endless global war but suggests a desire not to eagerly seek it out. Also obviously it is far better than Hillary Clinton would say, less than Jill Stein would say ("Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights. End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases that are turning our republic into a bankrupt empire. Stop U.S. support and arms sales to human rights abusers, and lead on global nuclear disarmament."), and a bit different from what Lincoln Chafee would say (the latter actually admits the U.S. wars created ISIS and are making us less safe, says he'd end drone strikes, etc.). And of course the whole lot of them are a distraction from the struggle to reduce and end militarism and prevent wars in 2015, a year with no election in it. Still, it's encouraging that a leading "socialist" candidate for U.S. president finally has a foreign policy, even if it hardly resembles Jeremy Corbyn's.
During this year's competition for Miss Italy, contestants were asked what historical epoch they might like to have lived in and why. The first young woman to answer said 1942. She had heard so much about World War II, she said, that she'd like to actually live it -- plus, she added, women didn't have to be in the military anyway.
A number of people over 18, including to all appearances the judges, deemed this idiotic. And yet that contestant won and is now Miss Italy, whose job seems to be giving sadly laughable interviews in which she says that her favorite Italian historical figure is Michael Jordan, and she can understand why refugees flee horrors but that they should really go somewhere else other than Italy. Maybe she would have fit into 1942 better than most people imagine.
There is a World War II problem in the United States and in more of Europe than one might expect, and -- in fact -- in a good bit of the Hollywood-viewing world. World War II is our origin myth, our hero myth, our tragedy, our locus of meaning and justification for how we live.
Reality still registers with many to a great extent. Some realize at times that World War II was the worst thing ever to happen on earth in a relatively brief space of time -- the greatest quantity of death, injury, suffering, and destruction, and also the most dramatic degeneration of morality. This was the war that moved the whole institution of war from something that killed primarily soldiers to something that has ever since killed primarily civilians. This was the acceptance and then the glorification of all-out war, tied to technological innovation, and transformed into a project of the entire community and an imagined economic good.
Without the World War II myth of "good war" one could not justify 70 years of militarism, materialism, and mad exploitation of planet and people ever since. Without the World War II myth, the Pope's request that the United States end the wars and the arms trade could actually be heard and comprehended. An enormous percentage of stories in film, tv, books, magazines, etc., are set in or somehow connected to World War II. An 18-year-old in Italy (or the United States, for that matter) attempting in a moment of panic to think of an historical era in which something exciting occurred, could hardly answer other than World War II.
That the excitement was no greater than excitement easily obtainable today is incomprehensible to people raised on the myth. That it was overwhelmed by horrific suffering gets lost in the mythologizing. That the region Miss Italy is from was bombed, and that the bombs didn't kill only males, has been buried in a mountain of cultural rubble. That moral clarity was most notable during World War II for its absence sounds like crazy talk to a young television viewer or reader of history text books.
World War II is glorified in Hollywood because the United States was on the Russian, and therefore winning, side, having entered the European war once the Germans and Russians had killed each other for years, as Harry Truman openly advocated allowing. World War II is held up as a justification for dozens of unrelated wars that lack their own justifications, because of the particular evil of the losing side -- the side that, perhaps unbeknownst to Miss Italy, Italy was on.
But of course the evil of the death camps had nothing to do with the U.S. refusal to aid Jewish refugees or stop the war short of absolute devastation. The evils of eugenics and human experimentation and biological weapons and so forth were on both sides and continued by the United States using former Nazi and Japanese scientists after the war. The creation of the war was foreseen in 1918 by many wise observers, and yet the policies that led to it were never halted. The German people were not assisted until after the second war. But the Nazis were assisted by Wall Street for years and years.
A war is a human-made disaster, just like climate chaos, just like the Miss Italy competition -- only just a little bit worse. A war is not an ennobling adventure. Watching lies about it on television is not the same as "living" it would be. War is, in fact, what those unwanted refugees are fleeing. They're fleeing the wreckage of completely unromantic war, created by governments in Washington, Rome, London, and Paris that pretty much view history the way Miss Italy views it.
I lack patience. I admit it.
There's my confession.
I couldn't sit through the Pope's slow and plodding and polite speech to Congress, waiting for him to say something against the primary thing that body does and spends our money on. But finally he got there:
"Being at the service of dialogue and peace," he said, "also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: 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."
No, he didn't list the wars that must be ended or the bases that must be closed or the resources that Congress itself must stop investing in militarism. But he told the world's top arms dealers to end the arms dealing.
Perhaps they heard his words as a mandate to end the arms trade by everyone other than the United States, since the United States of course only sells and gives away weapons for the sake of peace and progress. But the Pope explicitly rejected those justifications.
Perhaps, instead, Congress members heard a condemnation of the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, which is using them to slaughter innocents. Perhaps they heard a warning not to promise $45 billion in new free weapons to Israel. Perhaps they heard a verbal slap in the face to a body that often debates the violence of the Middle East without acknowledging that the majority of the weapons of war in the region originate in the United States. Perhaps Secretary of State John Kerry, whose hand the Pope shook on his way to the podium, heard a suggestion to transform the State Department into something other than a marketing firm for weaponry.
Perhaps in combination with the Pope's comments on aiding refugees some listeners heard the responsibility of those fueling the violence to address the results, and to cease making matters worse.
Perhaps they even heard the shout of honesty in the line: "Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood."
We do all know that, don't we? But we're told that it's good for the world for weapons to be shipped to dozens of nasty governments. It's for a balance of power. It's for U.S. jobs distributed across unnecessarily large numbers of Congressional districts. It's to counter terrorism with greater terrorism.
The Pope brushed aside such logic and spoke the truth. Weapons of war -- which are sold and shipped by the United States far more than any other nation -- are sold for profit. They encourage, initiate, escalate, elongate, and exacerbate wars for profit.
But in the end, I'm not sure such a remark was hearable by members of Congress. I'm not sure they weren't secretly thinking of something else. Because they gave those lines in the Pope's speech a standing ovation.
Did they mean it? Will the U.S. corporate media ask them if they meant it, if they'll act on it? Of course not, but perhaps we can.
As documented in Douglas Blackmon's book, Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, the institution of slavery in the U.S. South largely ended for as long as 20 years in some places upon completion of the U.S. civil war. And then it was back again, in a slightly different form, widespread, controlling, publicly known and accepted -- right up to World War II. In fact, in other forms, it remains today. But it does not remain today in the overpowering form that prevented a civil rights movement for nearly a century. It exists today in ways that we are free to oppose and resist, and we fail to do so only to our own shame.
During widely publicized trials of slave owners for the crime of slavery in 1903 -- trials that did virtually nothing to end the pervasive practice -- the Montgomery Advertiser editorialized: "Forgiveness is a Christian virtue and forgetfulness is often a relief, but some of us will never forgive nor forget the damnable and brutal excesses that were committed all over the South by negroes and their white allies, many of whom were federal officials, against whose acts our people were practically powerless."
This was a publicly acceptable position in Alabama in 1903: slavery should be tolerated because of the evils committed by the North during the war and during the occupation that followed. It's worth considering whether slavery might have ended more quickly had it been ended without a war. To say that is not, of course, to assert that in reality the pre-war United States was radically different than it was, that slave owners were willing to sell out, or that either side was open to a non-violent solution. But most nations that ended slavery did so without a civil war. Some did it in the way that Washington, D.C., did it, through compensated emancipation.
Had the United States ended slavery without the war and without division, it would have been, by definition, a very different and less violent place. But, beyond that, it would have avoided the bitter war resentment that has yet to die down. Ending racism would have been a very lengthy process, regardless. But it might have been given a head start rather than having one arm tied behind our backs. Our stubborn refusal to recognize the U.S. civil war as a hindrance to freedom rather than the path to it, allows us to devastate places like Iraq and then marvel at the duration of the resulting animosity.
Wars acquire new victims for many years after they end, even if all the cluster bombs are picked up. Just try to imagine the justifications that would be made for Israel's attacks on Palestinians had World War II not happened.
Had the Northern U.S. allowed the South to secede, ended the returning of "fugitive slaves," and used diplomatic and economic means to urge the South to abolish slavery, it seems reasonable to suppose that slavery might have lasted in the South beyond 1865, but very likely not until 1945. To say this is, once again, not to imagine that it actually happened, or that there weren't Northerners who wanted it to happen and who really didn't care about the fate of enslaved African Americans. It is just to put into proper context the traditional defense of the civil war as having murdered hundreds of thousands of people on both sides in order to accomplish the greater good of ending slavery. Slavery did not end.
Across most of the South, a system of petty, even meaningless, crimes, such as "vagrancy," created the threat of arrest for any black person. Upon arrest, a black man would be presented with a debt to pay through years of hard labor. The way to protect oneself from being put into one of the hundreds of forced labor camps was to put oneself in debt to and under the protection of a white owner. The 13th Amendment sanctions slavery for convicts, and no statute prohibited slavery until the 1950s. All that was needed for the pretense of legality was the equivalent of today's plea bargain.
Not only did slavery not end. For many thousands it was dramatically worsened. The antebellum slave owner typically had a financial interest in keeping an enslaved person alive and healthy enough to work. A mine or mill that purchased the work of hundreds of convicts had no interest in their futures beyond the term of their sentences. In fact, local governments would replace a convict who died with another, so there was no economic reason not to work them to death. Mortality rates for leased-out convicts in Alabama were as high as 45 percent per year. Some who died in mines were tossed into coke ovens rather than going to the trouble to bury them.
Enslaved Americans after the "ending of slavery" were bought and sold, chained by the ankles and necks at night, whipped to death, waterboarded, and murdered at the discretion of their owners, such as U.S. Steel Corporation which purchased mines near Birmingham where generations of "free" people were worked to death underground.
The threat of that fate hung over every black man not enduring it, as well as the threat of lynching that escalated in the early 20th century along with newly pseudo-scientific justifications for racism. "God ordained the southern white man to teach the lessons of Aryan supremacy," declared Woodrow Wilson's friend Thomas Dixon, author of the book and play The Clansman, which became the film Birth of a Nation.
Five days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government decided to take prosecuting slavery seriously, to counter possible criticism from Germany or Japan.
Five years after World War II, a group of former Nazis, some of whom had used slave labor in caves in Germany, set up shop in Alabama to work on creating new instruments of death and space travel. They found the people of Alabama extremely forgiving of their past deeds.
Prison labor continues in the United States. Mass incarceration continues as a tool of racial oppression. Slave farm labor continues as well. So does the use of fines and debt to create convicts. And of course, companies that swear they would never do what their earlier versions did, profit from slave labor on distant shores.
But what ended mass-slavery in the United States for good was not the idiotic mass-slaughter of the civil war. It was the nonviolent educational and moral force of the civil rights movement a full century later.
The Pope will speak to Congress on Thursday. No other institution on earth does more to destroy the habitability of the planet for future generations. Will the Pope raise his concerns with them or only when he's thousands of miles away?
No other institution sells and gives as many weapons to the world, participates in as many wars, or invests remotely as much in planning, provoking, and pursuing war after war. Will the Pope speak up for abolishing war in the U.S. Capitol or only when he's nowhere near the leading maker of war on earth?
As Nicolas Davies documents in a forthcoming article, when the U.S. has reduced military spending, the world has followed. When it has increased, the world has followed. The Pope wants nuclear weapons eliminated. Will he mention that to the leading investor in nuclear weapons?
Occasionally a particular variety of horror serves to catch people's attention. The boy in the photo at right has been sentenced to be crucified. His crime was participation in a pro-democracy rally. Now he will have done to him what the Pope's religion says was done to Jesus Christ. He won't be smiling blissfully like a Christ on a crucifix either. He will suffer immense pain and torment, and then die.
Who would do this? Why, Saudi Arabia, of course. And who is Saudi Arabia's chief ally, weapons provider, and oil customer? Why, the United States Congress.
Is it possible that this particular murder can arouse action among all of those moral leaders in the United States so desirous of being followers that they're focusing all attention on the Pope?
And if this murder can attract attention, what about all the others? During the course of a brutal civil war in Syria in which all sides have slaughtered numerous innocents with all variety of weaponry, we've been advised at certain points to be indignant over the use of chemical weapons or beheadings. But we don't seem to have managed to carry that over to the full range of murder going on.
Saudi Arabia is dropping bombs, including U.S.-made cluster bombs, on Yemen, slaughtering children by the hundreds. Saudi Arabia is brutalizing the people of Bahrain, not to mention the people of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabians are funding ISIS and other murderers in the region. Are all of these murders acceptable even if the crucifixion isn't? Or can we seize this opportunity to build opposition to all murder? Or might we if the Pope mentions it to Congress?
On Tuesday the Senate Armed Services Committee brought in David Petraeus to testify yet again on how to escalate more wars. Petraeus recently proposed arming al Qaeda. Senator John McCain gave Petraeus credit on Tuesday for extending the Iraq war from 2007 to 2011. Petraeus noted that the whole region is in horrible turmoil. Nobody made any connection between the U.S. wars on Iraq and Libya that have created that turmoil and the results. Nobody questioned the wisdom of using more war to try to repair the damage of war.
Well, a few of us did. The wonderful CodePink was there as always. I was there with a sign that said "Arm al Qaeda? Reagan tried that."
The mad men who run the U.S. government have reached the point of re-arming the enemies of enemies whose blowback first drove them to radically escalate the global murder of innocent people in the name of opposing terrorism while increasing it.
The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance had an answer to this on Tuesday, taking a protest of endless war and environmental destruction to the gate of the White House.
The Secret Service arrested the people in the photo below rather than accept a letter from them articulating their opposition to policies of massive cruelty to the earth and its inhabitants.
The Pope has the opportunity to speak that same message to Congress and to the U.S. corporate media. Will he use it?
Khury Petersen-Smith is an activist who lives in Boston. He traveled to Gaza in 2009 as part of the Viva Palestina medical relief delegation. He also traveled to Iraq on a peace delegation in 2004. His organizing and writing focus particularly on Black liberation, Palestine solidarity, and U.S. empire. He was an organizer of a new statement of black solidarity with Palestine: www.blackforpalestine.com
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SOWING THE SEEDS OF HOPE: FROM CONGRESS TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Join us at an event organized by the National Campaign of Nonviolent Resistance in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Part of a week of actions with Campaign Nonviolence.
Meet in cafeteria in Longworth House Office Building at 9:00 am.
Together we will go to Paul Ryan's office at about 10:00 am.
Bring packets of seeds and photos or news articles of issues you would like to address i.e. war, climate crisis, poverty, institutionalized violence etc.
Leave Ryan's office around 11:00 or 11:15.
Take public transportation to Edward R. Murrow Park – 1800 block of Pennsylvania Ave. NW
12:00 Noon RALLY AT THE PARK
We will proceed together from the park to the White House.
We'll hear speakers at the White House, read a letter sent to Obama, and some will protest even at risk of arrest but others need not do so.
Sign up here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1681885392045454/
In the United States it's hard to imagine admiring an attorney general. The words call to mind people like Eric Holder, Michael Mukasey, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Janet Reno, and Edwin Meese. There were those who fantasized that Barack Obama would not prevent an attorney general from prosecuting top officials for torture, but the idea of a U.S. attorney general prosecuting a U.S. president for war/genocide doesn't even enter the realm of fantasy (in part, because Americans don't even think of what the U.S. military does in the Middle East in those terms).
For a lesson in daring to imagine equality before the law, we can turn our eyes toward Guatemala. Here's a country suffering under the Monroe Doctrine since the dawn of time, a place where the United States engaged in human experimentation giving syphilis to unwitting victims during the time that U.S. lawyers were prosecuting Nazis in Nuremberg. Guatemala had a relatively decent government in 1954 when the CIA overthrew it. U.S. destruction has been unremitting in Guatemala, with the U.S. government backing dictators, killers, and torturers, including during the 1980s and 1990s, a period from which Guatemala is still trying to recover.
A new film called Burden of Peace tells the story of Claudia Paz y Paz, Attorney General of Guatemala from December 9, 2010 to May 17, 2014. Paz y Paz had a poster of Robert Kennedy on her wall during her time as attorney general, herself finding something admirable in a U.S. holder of that same office. Kennedy's actual record was quite mixed, of course. Paz y Paz became attorney general following a long period of unaccountable crime, understood impunity, and rampant corruption.
"Where there were massacres there are now power plants," says one voice in the film. "Where there were massacres there are now mines." People had been killed in large numbers for money, and those responsible would be protected from prosecution as well.
A 1996 peace agreement did not end violence in Guatemala. The government remained corrupt, with killers still holding positions of power.
It's interesting to imagine what would happen if a true reformer were made president or attorney general in the United States, while their staff and colleagues and Congress and the courts and the system of bribery and lobbying remained unchanged. It will be fun to watch Jeremy Corbyn try to take on the British Parliament. We have an example of how this works from Guatemala.
In Burden of Peace we see Claudia Paz y Paz meeting with an office of attorneys in a northen province that had solved zero murder cases and prosecuted almost no one. She insists on change. And she gets it. For over three years she achieves big increases in prosecutions and convictions, including of gang members, including of police officers.
This law-and-order heroism should appeal to Americans if they can overlook the fact that the United States helped cause the problem. I have a mixed reaction. I can't be totally thrilled watching a SWAT team arrest gang members. This is not truth and reconciliation, but force and degradation. And yet I recognize that in a state of lawless violence it will be difficult to address other problems and solutions unless the violence is addressed first. Paz y Paz, in fact, reduced crime rates as solved murdered cases increased from 5% to 30%.
She had previously worked on the first big investigation of crimes committed during the civil war in Guatemala, which accused top military and political leaders, inlcuding the head of state, of genocide. Bishop Juan José Gerardi presented the report to the public and was murdered the next day. You see a big crowd taking part in his funeral in footage included in the film.
In her second year as AG, Paz y Paz reopened the investigation of war crimes. Soon she would issue warrants for the arrest of Oscar Mejia Victores, former Secretary of "Defense," for genocide. But because of his age and health, he was not tried.
Paz y Paz continued to increase law enforcement, as Otto Perez Molina, a former military official, was elected president. Business elites wanted Paz y Paz not to prosecute military members. In fact they wanted her removed from office. But she held a four-year term and refused to leave early.
During the dictatorship of Rios Montt, Mayans had been murdered in large numbers. He was not held accountable. He enjoyed immunity as president of Congress until 2012. Then Paz y Paz prosecuted him for genocide. In Burden of Peace we see the trial, including survivors recounting the horrors of soldiers killing and raping, as the accused sits and listens.
His lawyers declare the trial illegal and rise and leave, leaving him sitting there alone. The trial is suspended, then reconvened with new lawyers. The elderly Montt is convicted and sentenced to decades in prison. We see the people of Guatemala celebrating.
And then a higher court overturns the sentence, and people protest to no avail. But Montt spends only one day in prison, and the rightwingers acquire a taste for blood. They pursue Paz y Paz. Seeking to block her from completing her fourth year in office, they charge her with abuse of power (although they publicly focus on accusing her of being a Marxist). The same court that overturned the sentence for Montt removes Paz y Paz from office.
She appeals, and we see a crowd cheering her at the appeal. She tries to run for reelection, and a court denies her that right. It's over. She is out of office, and we see her staff as well as the public cheer for her, tearfully, as she departs, fleeing the country with her husband and son because she will no longer have security guards.
This is a true story that ends in May of 2014, crying out for a sequel. But earlier this month, Molina was forced to resign as president, after prosecutors accused him of running a scheme to defraud the customs service of millions of dollars, and Congress stripped him of immunity from prosecution. This was a first in Central America, as was much of what Claudia Paz y Paz did. It begins to appear that she was part of a change in the culture of Guatemalan governance, that the idea of holding the powerful to account has actually caught on.
Perhaps she will return to Guatemala one day. Perhaps peace will return to Guatemala one day.
Imagine if the United States were to leave Guatemala alone and try following its example in the U.S. Justice Department.
In the United States it is considered fashionable to maintain a steadfast ignorance of rejected peace offers, and to believe that all the wars launched by the U.S. government are matters of "last resort." Our schools still don't teach that Spain wanted the matter of the Maine to go to international arbitration, that Japan wanted peace before Hiroshima, that the Soviet Union proposed peace negotiations before the Korean War, or that the U.S. sabotaged peace proposals for Vietnam from the Vietnamese, the Soviets, and the French. When a Spanish newspaper reported that Saddam Hussein had offered to leave Iraq before the 2003 invasion, U.S. media took little interest. When British media reported that the Taliban was willing to have Osama bin Laden put on trial before the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. journalists yawned. Iran's 2003 offer to negotiate ending its nuclear energy program wasn't mentioned much during this year's debate over an agreement with Iran -- which was itself nearly rejected as an impediment to war.
The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, who had been involved in negotiations in 2012, said that in 2012 Russia had proposed a process of peace settlement between the Syrian government and its opponents that would have included President Bashar al-Assad stepping down. But, according to Ahtisaari, the United States was so confident that Assad would soon be violently overthrown that it rejected the proposal.
The catastrophic Syrian civil war since 2012 has followed U.S. adherence to actual U.S. policy in which peaceful compromise is usually the last resort. Does the U.S. government believe violence tends to produce better results? The record shows otherwise. More likely it believes that violence will lead to greater U.S.-control, while satisfying the war industry. The record on the first part of that is mixed at best.
Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000 Wesley Clark claims that in 2001, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld put out a memo proposing to take over seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. The basic outline of this plan was confirmed by none other than former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in 2010 pinned it on former Vice President Dick Cheney:
"Cheney wanted forcible 'regime change' in all Middle Eastern countries that he considered hostile to U.S. interests, according to Blair. 'He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it — Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.,' Blair wrote. 'In other words, he [Cheney] thought the world had to be made anew, and that after 11 September, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.'"
U.S. State Department cables released by WikiLeaks trace U.S. efforts in Syria to undermine the government back to at least 2006. In 2013, the White House went public with plans to lob some unspecified number of missiles into Syria, which was in the midst of a horrible civil war already fueled in part by U.S. arms and training camps, as well as by wealthy U.S. allies in the region and fighters emerging from other U.S.-created disasters in the region.
The excuse for the missiles was an alleged killing of civilians, including children, with chemical weapons -- a crime that President Barack Obama claimed to have certain proof had been committed by the Syrian government. Watch the videos of the dead children, the President said, and support that horror or support my missile strikes. Those were the only choices, supposedly. It wasn't a soft sell, but it wasn't a powerful or successful one either.
The "proof" of responsibility for that use of chemical weapons fell apart, and public opposition to what we later learned would have been a massive bombing campaign succeeded. Public opposition succeeded without knowing about the rejected proposal for peace of 2012. But it succeeded without follow-through. No new effort was made for peace, and the U.S. went right ahead inching its way into the war with trainers and weapons and drones.
In January 2015, a scholarly study found that the U.S. public believes that whenever the U.S. government proposes a war, it has already exhausted all other possibilities. When a sample group was asked if they supported a particular war, and a second group was asked if they supported that particular war after being told that all alternatives were no good, and a third group was asked if they supported that war even though there were good alternatives, the first two groups registered the same level of support, while support for war dropped off significantly in the third group. This led the researchers to the conclusion that if alternatives are not mentioned, people don't assume they exist — rather, people assume they've already been tried. So, if you mention that there is a serious alternative, the game is up. You'll have to get your war on later.
Based on the record of past wars, engaged in and avoided, as it dribbles out in the years that follow, the general assumption should always be that peace has been carefully avoided at every turn.