davidswanson's blog


Acting on Bill Ayers' Radical Manifesto

Tag: Peace and War, Political Ideas

Bill Ayers' short new book, Demand the Impossible: A Radical Manifesto, is different from the typical liberal view of a better world in two ways. First, its goals are a bit grander, more inspiring. Second, it adds as the first and most important goal one that others don't include at all.

A typical proposal that a lesser evilist might give for "voting against Donald Trump" might include minor economic or police or prison reforms, a bit of environmentalism, healthcare, or education. Ayers wants to abolish prisons, end capitalism, disarm the police, redesign schools, create universal healthcare, and nationalize energy companies. And he's right. The radical vision is the better one, not just because it leads to a better place but also because the incrementalist approach will get us all killed -- only a bit more slowly than doing nothing.

The more important, because rarer, difference in Ayers' manifesto is the addition of the missing topic. Most U.S. "progressives" imagine a world of greater economic equality and opportunity, environmental sustainability, fewer police killings, shorter prison sentences, investment in human needs, and the withering away of all sorts of bigotries, prejudices, sexisms, racisms, and other sorts of unfairness and cruelty -- resulting in a multicultural community all united in our support for dumping a trillion dollars a year into preparing for battle with our collectively loathed foreign enemies, and supporting the weapons trade as a supposed economic program.

Ayers takes a different approach. "What," he asks, "if we broke from the dogma of militarism -- rejecting the anemic and seemingly endless debates about whether the United States should bomb this country or instead boycott some other country . . . -- and organized an irresistible social upheaval strong enough to stop U.S. invasions and conquest[?] What if we occupied bases, blocked munitions shipments and private militias, boycotted arms dealers, sabotaged surveillance operations and drone manufacturers -- and forced the U.S. government to disarm and close all foreign military bases within a year? . . . Or what if we built a colossal transnational movement that organized shadow elections (initially), inviting any resident of a country with a U.S. military presence within its borders to vote in U.S. national elections?"

Ayers proposes that we take on the culture of militarism, not just the industrial structure of it. "[I]magine," he writes, "any bit of the war culture transformed into a peace-and-love culture: the Super Bowl opening with thousands of local school kids rushing through the stands distributing their poetry, and then everyone singing 'This Land Is Your Land,' or 'Give Peace a Chance,' or 'We Shall Overcome'; an airlines or bus terminal clerk saying, 'We want to invite any teachers or nurses in the gate area to board first, and we thank you for your service'; urban high schools eliminating ROTC and banning military recruiters in favor of school-wide assemblies for peace recruiters featuring Code Pink, and after-school programs led by Black Youth Project 100 and the American Friends Service Committee."

Some of us like this idea so much we've organized an event this weekend to try to advance it. The event is called #NoWar2016. This Friday and Saturday, you can watch the live stream at TheRealNews.com. Videos of Friday through Sunday will be quickly posted online. Sunday will include activism workshops and a planning session for a protest at the Pentagon at 9 a.m. Monday morning. The details are all at http://worldbeyondwar.org/nowar2016.


Talk Nation Radio: Reese Erlich and Coleen Rowley on Syria, War, and Peace

Tag: Peace and War, Talk Nation Radio


Reese Erlich is a foreign correspondent and book author. The paperback edition of Erlich's book Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect, has just been published this week. See https://reeseerlich.com

Coleen Rowley is an FBI whistleblower, peace activist, retired FBI agent, former legal counsel who taught law enforcement ethics, and member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence. See http://coleenrowley.com

Coleen Rowley will be participating in No War 2016. See http://worldbeyondwar.org/nowar2016

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.Producer: David Swanson.Music by Duke Ellington.

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World War Two Was Not a Just War

Tag: Peace and War

By David Swanson

Excerpted from the just released book War Is Never Just.

World War II is often called “the good war,” and has been since the U.S. war on Vietnam to which it was then contrasted. World War II so dominates U.S. and therefore Western entertainment and education, that “good” often comes to mean something more than “just.” The winner of the “Miss Italy” beauty pageant earlier this year got herself into a bit of a scandal by declaring that she would have liked to live through World War II. While she was mocked, she was clearly not alone. Many would like to be part of something widely depicted as noble, heroic, and exciting. Should they actually find a time machine, I recommend they read the statements of some actual WWII veterans and survivors before they head back to join the fun.[i] For purposes of this book, however, I am going to look only at the claim that WWII was morally just.

No matter how many years one writes books, does interviews, publishes columns, and speaks at events, it remains virtually impossible to make it out the door of an event in the United States at which you’ve advocated abolishing war without somebody hitting you with the what-about-the-good-war question. This belief that there was a good war 75 years ago is a large part of what moves the U.S. public to tolerate dumping a trillion dollars a year into preparing in case there’s a good war next year,[ii] even in the face of so many dozens of wars during the past 70 years on which there’s general consensus that they were not good. Without rich, well-established myths about World War II, current propaganda about Russia or Syria or Iraq or China would sound as crazy to most people as it sounds to me. And of course the funding generated by the Good War legend leads to more bad wars, rather than preventing them. I’ve written on this topic at great length in many articles and books, especially War Is A Lie.[iii] But I’ll offer here a few key points that ought to at least place a few seeds of doubt in the minds of most U.S. supporters of WWII as a Just War.

Mark Allman and Tobias Winright, the “Just War” authors discussed in previous chapters, are not very forthcoming with their list of Just Wars, but they do mention in passing numerous unjust elements of the U.S. role in WWII, including U.S. and U.K. efforts to wipe out the populations of German cities[iv] and the insistence on unconditional surrenders.[v] However, they also suggest that they may believe this war was justly engaged in, unjustly conducted, and justly followed through on via the Marshall Plan, etc.[vi] I’m not sure Germany’s role as host of U.S. troops, weapons, and communications stations, and as collaborator in unjust U.S. wars over the years is included in the calculation.

Here are what I think of as the top 12 reasons the Good War wasn’t good/just.

World War II could not have happened without World War I, without the stupid manner of starting World War I and the even stupider manner of ending World War I which led numerous wise people to predict World War II on the spot, or without Wall Street’s funding of Nazi Germany for decades (as preferable to communists), or without the arms race and numerous bad decisions that do not need to be repeated in the future. The U.S. government was not hit with a surprise attack. President Franklin Roosevelt had quietly promised Churchill that the United States would work hard to provoke Japan into staging an attack. FDR knew the attack was coming, and initially drafted a declaration of war against both Germany and Japan on the evening of Pearl Harbor. Prior to Pearl Harbor, FDR had built up bases in the U.S. and multiple oceans, traded weapons to the Brits for bases, started the draft, created a list of every Japanese American person in the country, provided planes, trainers, and pilots to China, imposed harsh sanctions on Japan, and advised the U.S. military that a war with Japan was beginning. He told his top advisers he expected an attack on December 1st, which was six days off. Here’s an entry in Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s diary following a November 25, 1941, White House meeting: “The President said the Japanese were notorious for making an attack without warning and stated that we might be attacked, say next Monday, for example.” The war was not humanitarian and was not even marketed as such until after it was over. There was no poster asking you to help Uncle Sam save the Jews. A ship of Jewish refugees from Germany was chased away from Miami by the Coast Guard. The U.S. and other nations refused to accept Jewish refugees, and the majority of the U.S. public supported that position. Peace groups that questioned Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his foreign secretary about shipping Jews out of Germany to save them were told that, while Hitler might very well agree to the plan, it would be too much trouble and require too many ships. The U.S. engaged in no diplomatic or military effort to save the victims in the Nazi concentration camps. Anne Frank was denied a U.S. visa. Although this point has nothing to do with a serious historian’s case for WWII as a Just War, it is so central to U.S. mythology that I’ll include here a key passage from Nicholson Baker:

“Anthony Eden, Britain’s foreign secretary, who’d been tasked by Churchill with handling queries about refugees, dealt coldly with one of many important delegations, saying that any diplomatic effort to obtain the release of the Jews from Hitler was ‘fantastically impossible.’ On a trip to the United States, Eden candidly told Cordell Hull, the secretary of state, that the real difficulty with asking Hitler for the Jews was that ‘Hitler might well take us up on any such offer, and there simply are not enough ships and means of transportation in the world to handle them.’ Churchill agreed. ‘Even were we to obtain permission to withdraw all the Jews,’ he wrote in reply to one pleading letter, ‘transport alone presents a problem which will be difficult of solution.’ Not enough shipping and transport? Two years earlier, the British had evacuated nearly 340,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk in just nine days. The U.S. Air Force had many thousands of new planes. During even a brief armistice, the Allies could have airlifted and transported refugees in very large numbers out of the German sphere.”[vii]

Perhaps it does go to the question of “Right Intention” that the “good” side of the war simply did not give a damn about what would become the central example of the badness of the “bad” side of the war.

The war was not defensive. FDR lied that he had a map of Nazi plans to carve up South America, that he had a Nazi plan to eliminate religion, that U.S. ships (covertly assisting British war planes) were innocently attacked by Nazis, that Germany was a threat to the United States.[viii] A case can be made that the U.S. needed to enter the war in Europe to defend other nations, which had entered to defend yet other nations, but a case could also be made that the U.S. escalated the targeting of civilians, extended the war, and inflicted more damage than might have occurred, had the U.S. done nothing, attempted diplomacy, or invested in nonviolence. To claim that a Nazi empire could have grown to someday include an occupation of the United States is wildly far fetched and not borne out by any earlier or later examples from other wars. We now know much more widely and with much more data that nonviolent resistance to occupation and injustice is more likely to succeed—and that success more likely to last—than violent resistance. With this knowledge, we can look back at the stunning successes of nonviolent actions against the Nazis that were not well organized or built on beyond their initial successes.[ix] The Good War was not good for the troops. Lacking intense modern training and psychological conditioning to prepare soldiers to engage in the unnatural act of murder, some 80 percent of U.S. and other troops in World War II did not fire their weapons at “the enemy.”[x] The fact that veterans of WWII were treated better after the war than other soldiers before or since, was the result of the pressure created by the Bonus Army after the previous war. That veterans were given free college, healthcare, and pensions was not due to the merits of the war or in some way a result of the war. Without the war, everyone could have been given free college for many years. If we provided free college to everyone today, it would then require much more than Hollywoodized World War II stories to get many people into military recruiting stations. Several times the number of people killed in German camps were killed outside of them in the war. The majority of those people were civilians. The scale of the killing, wounding, and destroying made WWII the single worst thing humanity has ever done to itself in a short space of time. We imagine the allies were somehow “opposed” to the far lesser killing in the camps. But that can’t justify the cure that was worse than the disease. Escalating the war to include the all-out destruction of civilians and cities, culminating in the completely indefensible nuking of cities took WWII out of the realm of defensible projects for many who had defended its initiation—and rightly so. Demanding unconditional surrender and seeking to maximize death and suffering did immense damage and left a grim and foreboding legacy. Killing huge numbers of people is supposedly defensible for the “good” side in a war, but not for the “bad” side. The distinction between the two is never as stark as fantasized. The United States had a long history as an apartheid state. U.S. traditions of oppressing African Americans, practicing genocide against Native Americans, and now interning Japanese Americans also gave rise to specific programs that inspired Germany’s Nazis—these included camps for Native Americans, and programs of eugenics and human experimentation that existed before, during, and after the war. One of these programs included giving syphilis to people in Guatemala at the same time the Nuremberg trials were taking place.[xi] The U.S. military hired hundreds of top Nazis at the end of the war; they fit right in.[xii] The U.S. aimed for a wider world empire, before the war, during it, and ever since. German neo-Nazis today, forbidden to wave the Nazi flag, sometimes wave the flag of the Confederate States of America instead. The “good” side of the “good war,” the party that did most of the killing and dying for the winning side, was the communist Soviet Union. That doesn’t make the war a triumph for communism, but it does tarnish Washington’s and Hollywood’s tales of triumph for “democracy.”[xiii] World War II still hasn’t ended. Ordinary people in the United States didn’t have their incomes taxed until World War II and that’s never stopped. It was supposed to be temporary.[xiv] WWII-era bases built around the world have never closed. U.S. troops have never left Germany or Japan.[xv] There are more than 100,000 U.S. and British bombs still in the ground in Germany, still killing.[xvi] Going back 75 years to a nuclear-free, colonial world of completely different structures, laws, and habits to justify what has been the greatest expense of the United States in each of the years since is a bizarre feat of self-deception that isn’t attempted in the justification of any lesser enterprise. Assume I’ve got numbers 1 through 11 totally wrong, and you’ve still got to explain how an event from the early 1940s justifies dumping a trillion 2017 dollars into war funding that could have been spent to feed, clothe, cure, and shelter millions of people, and to environmentally protect the earth.


[i] Studs Terkel, The Good War: An Oral History of World War II (The New Press: 1997).

[ii] Chris Hellman, TomDispatch, “$1.2 Trillion for National Security,” March 1, 2011, http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175361

[iii] David Swanson, War Is A Lie, Second Edition (Charlottesville: Just World Books, 2016).

[iv] Mark J. Allman & Tobias L. Winright, After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Justice (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010) p. 46.

[v] Mark J. Allman & Tobias L. Winright, After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Justice (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010) p. 14.

[vi] Mark J. Allman & Tobias L. Winright, After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Justice (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010) p. 97.

[vii] War No More: Three Centuries of American Antiwar and Peace Writing, edited by Lawrence Rosendwald.

[viii] David Swanson, War Is A Lie, Second Edition (Charlottesville: Just World Books, 2016).

[ix] Book and Film: A Force More Powerful, http://aforcemorepowerful.org

[x] Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Back Bay Books: 1996).

[xi] Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times, “U.S. Apologizes for Syphilis Tests in Guatemala,” October 1, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/02/health/research/02infect.html

[xii] Annie Jacobsen, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America (Little, Brown and Company, 2014).

[xiii] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Gallery Books, 2013).

[xiv] Steven A. Bank, Kirk J. Stark, and Joseph J. Thorndike, War and Taxes (Urban Institute Press, 2008).

[xv] RootsAction.org, “Move Away from Nonstop War. Close the Ramstein Air Base,” http://act.rootsaction.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12254

[xvi] David Swanson, “The United States Just Bombed Germany,” http://davidswanson.org/node/5134


The African American History Missing from the Smithsonian

Tag: Culture and Society, Media, Peace and War

The new corporate-funded African-American History museum in Washington, D.C., built on the former site of Camp Democracy and all sorts of protests and festivals, is getting a great deal of purely positive press before its doors have opened.

This press and the museum's own website suggest that the museum covers slavery, Jim Crow, racism, sports, and entertainment, but doesn't step out of the mold set by the Smithsonian when it celebrated the Enola Gay or began letting war profiteers fund and shape the exhibits in the Air and Space Museum or in the American History Museum, which has gone out of its way to glorify war.

The New York Times informs us about the new museum: "Above ground, the museum departs from the chronological narrative to examine African-American achievements in fields like music, art, sports and the military. Visitors can tour these brighter third-floor and fourth-floor themed Culture and Community galleries without venturing into the harsher history sections below."

Get it? War is part of a well-rounded liberal life alongside music and sports, unlike those "harsh" bits of history. The new museum's website promotes "Military" as a category of exhibit item. Click it and you'll find 162 things including smiling portraits of soldiers in uniforms, medals, letters, hats, binoculars, propaganda posters, etc. If you search the site for "Peace" you find one photo of an unidentified man wearing a peace sign necklace and one photo of unidentified men holding up a giant peace sign.

We know that Marin Luther King Jr. is to be found in the new museum, but we don't know if he's the corporate-approved Martin Luther King Jr. who opposed racism but never noticed war. We know that Muhammad Ali shows up in the sports section along with his head-gear and gloves. We don't know if his reasons for refusing the Vietnam War draft are included.

African Americans have been a major part of resistance to war, especially from the Korean War through the nomination of Barack Obama for president. Some of this history is told by Kimberley Phillips who will be speaking in Washington, D.C., as the museum opens, but speaking at a conference at American University called No War 2016.

Does the Smithsonian touch on African-American resistance to wars on Africa or the growth of Africom? Also speaking at No War 2016 will be Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo. Is the story his group tells in the film Crisis in the Congo told by the Smithsonian? Also speaking on a panel on racism and war at No War 2016 will be Bill Fletcher Jr. and Darakshan Raja. Where is their wisdom at the Smithsonian? Where is any history of the ties between a racist foreign policy and domestic racism? What is the relationship between racism and war propaganda? I wouldn't enter the new museum holding your breath until you find that exhibit.

What public service is being offered by a museum that celebrates the Tuskeegee Airmen but thus far has given no public indication that it will explore the significance of the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment? Bombing foreigners who engage in human experimentation makes a better story than just bombing foreigners while engaging in human experimentation. The story can be told with the flaws of segregation, later remedied or in the process of quickly being repaired. There is value in that story. It's not without its merits. But it is fundamentally false and may just get us all killed.


The Great Dismal World Outside the Swamp

Tag: Culture and Society

The Smithsonian magazine recently published an article about the Great Dismal Swamp. I picked up the book that the article is based on, but the article does a better job of telling the story; I don't recommend the book.

The Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina appears to have been a place where African, European, and Native Americans found refuge from slavery, indenture, and genocide -- and not just momentary refuge, but permanent settlement that lasted for centuries with little interaction with the outside world -- but also little written record or record of any kind.

Daniel O. Sayers has been digging into the ground of the Great Dismal Swamp since 2003 and bringing out tiny specks of evidence. His conclusion that "some of the most successful and transformative social radicals of the modern era have gone unnoticed and unrecognized for centuries," is based on one very brief second-hand comment that people worked together and treated each other well in the Swamp, plus a good deal of circular reasoning: Because a small group separated from modern enterprise would likely behave as most small groups do and would lack modern enterprise, or because a group of African-Americans would likely rely on some African traditions, Sayers can conclude that the Swamp dwellers lived more communally than did those on the outside.


War Is Never Just: The End of "Just War" Theory

Tag: Peace and War

Several weeks back I was invited to speak this coming October at a U.S. university on ending war and making peace. As I often do, I asked whether the organizers couldn't try to find a supporter of war with whom I could debate or discuss the topic, thus (I hoped) bringing in a larger audience of people not yet persuaded of the need to abolish the institution of warfare.

As had never happened before, the event organizers not only said yes but actually found a war supporter willing to take part in a public debate. Great! I thought, this will make for a more persuasive event. I read my future interlocutor's books and papers, and I drafted my position, arguing that his "Just War" theory could not hold up to scrutiny, that in fact no war could be "just."

Rather than planning to surprise my "just war" debate opponent with my arguments, I sent him what I had written so that he could plan his responses and perhaps contribute them to a published, written exchange. But, rather than respond on topic, he suddenly announced that he had "professional and personal obligations" that would prevent his taking part in the event in October. Sigh!

But the best event organizers ever have already found a replacement. So the debate will go forward at St. Michael's College, Colchester, VT, on October 5th. Meanwhile, I have just published as a book my argument that war is never just. You can be the first to buy it, read it, or review it here.


Who Killed the People of California? Should Kaepernick Protest His Uniform?

Tag: Civil Rights, Culture and Society, Peace and War

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been given much deserved credit for protesting racism by sitting out the Star Spangled Banner, which not only glorifies war (which everyone, including Kaepernick is totally cool with) but also includes racism in an unsung verse and was written by a racist slave owner whose earlier version had included anti-Muslim bigotry. As long as we're opening our eyes to unpleasant history hiding in plain sight, it's worth asking why the 49ers is not a team name that everyone associates with genocide. Why isn't Kaepernick protesting his uniform?

Of course, protesting one injustice is worthy of infinite thanks, and I don't actually expect anyone who speaks out on one thing to also protest everything else. But I've just read a terrific new book that I suspect unearths a history that most Californians are largely unaware of. The book is An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873, by Benjamin Madley, from Yale University Press. I doubt I've seen a better researched and documented book on anything ever. While the book maintains an engaging chronological account, and while there is plenty of uncertainty in the records used, the 198 pages of appendices listing particular killings, and the 73 pages of notes back up an overwhelming case of genocide by the UN's legal definition.


Paying the Price for Peace to be screened with the director at UVA on 9/29

Tag: Peace and War

WHAT: Screening of Paying the Price for Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson, and discussion with the director Bo Boudart and with peace activist David Swanson. See http://payingthepriceforpeace.com

WHEN: 7-11 p.m., Thursday, September 29

WHERE: Commonwealth Room, Newcomb Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

HOST: Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine

COSPONSORS: World Beyond War, RootsAction.org, and the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Charlottesville Friends Meeting. (More welcome!)

COST: No one turned away. Donation appreciated: $10, or $20 to leave with a copy of the DVD. Donations pay for Bo Boudart's travel. You can also donate at http://payingthepriceforpeace.com

Please sign up on Facebook if you want to come, and please share it to spread the word: https://www.facebook.com/events/1591911061110859

Please retweet this tweet: https://twitter.com/davidcnswanson/status/776406756939399168




Suing Saudi: Congress Is Right, Stephen Kinzer Is Wrong

Tag: Impeachment, Peace and War, Political Ideas, Prosecution

Now there you have two things that I never expected to write. How often is Congress right about anything or Stephen Kinzer wrong? Congress wants 9/11 victims' families to be able to sue Saudi Arabia for its role in those crimes. Kinzer does not.


Talk Nation Radio: Elizabeth Murray and John Kiriakou on Working in a Corrupt Government and Whistleblowing

Tag: Peace and War, Political Ideas, Talk Nation Radio


John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer, who in 2007 became the first U.S. Government official to publicly confirm and describe CIA use of waterboarding on al-Qaeda prisoners, which he described as torture. In January 2013, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was released after serving more than 23 months. Since then, he has become a tireless writer and speaker on whistleblowing, torture, and civil liberties. Kiriakou is the sole U.S. Government official to have been jailed for any reason relating to CIA torture – a victim of the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on government truth-tellers. When President Obama openly acknowledged at a White House press conference on August 1, 2014, “We tortured some folks,” John was in prison for having said essentially the same thing seven years earlier.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), and of Sam Adams Associates. She writes for Consortium News.

Murray and Kiriakou will be speaking at No War 2016. See http://worldbeyondwar.org/nowar2016

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.Producer: David Swanson.Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.Pacifica stations can also download from Audioport.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete athttp://TalkNationRadio.org

and athttps://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/tracks

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