You are hereBlogs
Remarks at teach-in at Spring Rising event March 20, 2015, UDC Law School. Note: Rally at White House is noon, March 21.
More times than I can count, after I've given a speech about war and peace without tears in my eyes I've afterward been either blamed or credited with optimism. As in "What the hell are you so optimistic about?" or "Oh, I'm so glad you're optimistic." So, as our local Nobel Laureate would say, let me be clear: I am not an advocate for optimism, have no respect for it, and as a matter of fact deeply despise it. I once interviewed a real expert on both nuclear dangers and environmental collapse, someone I truly respect and learn from, and asked him if he thought we'd survive these twin dangers. Yes, he declared, no question. Why? Because, he said, if you watch movies they always end happily. I don't mean that as the unconscious explanation of his confidence. I mean that's what he said and repeated when I questioned him disbelievingly. Because Hollywood, not to mention novels, plays, cartoons, etc., tends to have happy endings, at least in our culture, so will our species. What? That, to me, is about as logical as Samantha Powers' claim that bombing Iraq will work out better if we pay less attention to how bombing Libya worked out. If Hollywood is an accurate portrayal of reality, then torture works, violence rarely traumatizes, and high-speed car chases through city squares rarely hurt anybody. Are we at the point of openly encouraging each other to be idiots? That's how I view optimism.
Now, when I oppose a U.S. war on ISIS, I'm generally accused of supporting an ISIS war on the United States. After all, if you're against one side you must be for the other side. So, when I oppose optimism, I'm generally accused of supporting pessimism. And yet, in reality, I view pessimism as optimism's evil mutant twin. And I view the knowing spreading of pessimism as treason against the universe. This is because I don't think one should work to prevent death and suffering for the purpose of enjoying success. When you do that, you end up working for peace only in those cases where success is guaranteed or highly likely to arrive fast. Now, I find struggling for peace and justice highly rewarding, but that has nothing to do with the occasional successes, the expectations of success, or of course the lucrative salaries. I find struggling for peace and justice an end in itself, as Camus' Sisyphus found rolling the rock up the hill a joyful fulfillment.
Optimism and pessimism seem rather beside the point, and a bit self-indulgent. And by that I do not mean that we should act without strategic consideration of most likely routes to success. What other way to act is there? If we can lessen the damage on one particular war ever so slightly, we absolutely must do so even if we'd rather be painting a detailed picture of what a world without the institution of war would look like. The choice between demanding alternatives to war, as two of the four witnesses at a Congressional Progressive Caucus event did this week, and urging a properly civilized and limited war as the other two witnesses did, is a strategic choice, not a question of personality or emotional preference or zodiacal sign. If we don't present alternatives, the logic of war-or-nothing will land us in war up to our necks.
I've met thousands of peace activists over the past many years, and I wouldn't wish away a single one of them. We need each to bring a thousand more into the movement. But I find that I, as a proselytizing atheist who longs for a world beyond religion as well as war, often tend to have the most appreciation for the religiously driven peace activists, and I believe we usually have the most to learn from them. Why would this be? Well, for one thing, they tend not to be driven by optimism or pessimism but by something else, which they might call God's distaste for war and I might interpret as their own distaste for war. In addition, they're not typically as driven by partisanship, but rather by that purer opposition to war. And further, they're not as likely to oppose a particular war while favoring others, but to see opposing one war as a step on the path to ending all wars. On top of which, they are likely to make a moral argument against killing the people who make up over 95% of the victims of U.S. wars, namely the people who live where the wars are fought.
And here's why I prefer that approach despite rejecting as archaic its fundamental premise: I think it's the most likely to work. A U.S. war was prevented in 2013 because too many people thought it sounded too much like the war that began in 2003. But no alternative was pursued because we hadn't communicated the possibility of taking an alternative approach to the world. So the masters of war bided their time, fueled the war with trainers and weapons, and launched the same war, albeit on the opposite side of the conflict, in 2014 when the propaganda was right. By that I mean the beheading videos, which were much like the beheadings done by Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies, but these ones were used to manufacture consent for a military solution to a problem that everyone admits has no military solution although it does have a military origin.
When we wait for the right war, the right war always comes. And it is always the wrong choice.
War has a lot of new weapons these days. Who can tell me the single way in which war kills the most people? Just shout it out.
If you said through taking needed resources away from human needs you are correct, and if there's any justice we'll get President Obama's Nobel Prize transferred to you, because you've now done more than he has to earn it.
We like to get upset about the financial cost of war budgets. Yet the routine military budget, which is somehow considered non-war is typically 10 times the war budget. The solution to this is not an audit, not ending the slush-fund use of the war budget, and not ending the manufacture of weapons that don't work. The weapons that don't work are far preferable to the weapons that do work -- I mean if you're on the side of the victims rather than the executioners. The world spends about $2 trillion on war preparations each year, and the United States alone spends half of that. Meanwhile tens of billions could solve starvation, clean water, and other enormous problems, not just in a particular crisis zone but globally. That choice of how to spend unfathomable amounts of money is the top way war kills.
When we buy TV ads as one organization has just done, supporting diplomacy with Iran but falsely implying that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and threatening to use it, and stating that the danger in a war on Iran is that Americans might die, we like to think we're being strategic. After all, people are selfish and stupid, and one must appeal to their selfishness and stupidity. I don't think so. If Iran were really trying to build a nuke and kill us all (including themselves of course) I'd be scared and lean toward distrust and be more likely to urge a tough approach. If a war to prevent the total destruction of Israel could really be prevented by risking a handful of U.S. deaths, I'd consider that brave and noble -- and I'd feel obliged to sign up. It matters when our rhetoric and the facts we tell and the facts we don't tell guide people away from the action we propose.
By the way, the new year in Iran begins at 6:45 and we apologize to anyone who couldn't be here for that reason. Sadly, there is a holiday for a different group of people any day we choose, and we have to schedule things as best we can.
Let's go back to 2013 for a moment. People and groups favoring peace, or at least a time-out from war, argued, in some cases, that investing in U.S. schools and roads and parks would be preferable to wasting our money on $2 million missiles for Syria. Smart and strategic, right? Appeal to selfishness in order to prevent what Seymour Hersh later exposed as a massive campaign to destroy Syria from the air. But humanitarian warriors were given an opening and they jumped through it. We must bomb Syria because we care about the Syrians, they said. Rejecting the argument that Iraqis had failed to be grateful for the destruction of Iraq, they proposed a generous and magnanimous, even friendly, launching of missiles into Syria for the good of the Syrians, and opposed that to the greed of people who wanted more, more, more at home -- isolationist irresponsible first-world ostriches. But of course wars cost very little compared to the base military budget that Congress now wants to increase to record heights, and yet even the war budgets could fund massive investment in human needs both at home and abroad. Why choose? And why allow a debate to go on in ignorance of the fact that non-Americans die in wars, thousands and thousands of them, women, men, children, and infants?
A week ago, the Washington Post ran a column claiming that a war on Iran was the best choice. Imagine the firestorm if they'd said that racism or rape or child abuse or cruelty to cats was the best choice. Nobody would have said "They print lots of columns against torturing kittens, would you stifle debate by censoring one column in support?" Some things are rightly put beyond the realm of acceptable behavior. Not war. On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch put out a report on events of last August 31st when U.S. and Iraqi air strikes "drove ISIS forces away from the town" of Amerli. No doubt, many people died and were maimed and traumatized (also known as terrorized) by those "air strikes," but that's just part of war, which it wouldn't be ethical for Human Rights Watch to question. What concerns Human Rights Watch is what began on September 1st. About 6,000 fighters for the Iraqi government and various militias moved in, with their U.S. weaponry. They destroyed villages. They demolished homes, businesses, mosques, and public buildings. They looted. They burned. They abducted. In fact they behaved exactly as troops taught to hate and murder certain groups of people had behaved in every previously recorded war. Human Rights Watch recommends that Iraq disband the militias and care for the refugees who have fled their wrath, while holding "accountable" those responsible for the documented violations of the "laws of war." Human Rights Watch wants the United States to establish "reform benchmarks." That ought to do it. The possibility of ending participation in the war, creating an arms embargo, negotiating a ceasefire, and redirecting ALL energy into aid and restitution doesn't arise in reports on the proper and civilized if illusory conduct of mass murder.
What if we're trying to fix something that can't be fixed? What if we're asking rapists to wear condoms? Are there not things that should be ended rather than mended because they cannot be mended? Think of fossil fuel use or health insurance corporations or the death penalty or the prison complex or the United States Senate. If your children don't recite the pledge of allegiance will they be in danger of devoting their lives to the Soviet Union? Does altering the hand position to look less Nazi make the pledge non-fascist? Don't some things outlast their usefulness? The Bible verses cited to prove that climate change isn't real may have once served a purpose. Perhaps war did too.
The Strategy Committee of World Beyond War, led by Kent Shifferd, has produced a document that I have learned a lot from. It's called A Global Security System: An Alternative to War, and it begins thus:
"In On Violence, Hannah Arendt wrote that the reason warfare is still with us is not a death wish of our species nor some instinct of aggression, '. . . but the simple fact that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on the political scene.' The Alternative Global Security System we describe here is the substitute. The goal of this document is to gather into one place, in the briefest form possible, everything one needs to know to work toward an end to war by replacing it with an Alternative Global Security System in contrast to the failed system of national security."
When we look at a rational proposal like this new book from World Beyond War, our first reaction should not be to choose optimism or pessimism. Many people look at the relentless presence of war despite all rational arguments and resign themselves to the idea that humans are driven by primitive primate inclinations. The problem with pessimism is not about whether its adherents are right or wrong on some analysis, it is that they turn their analysis into defeatism. This is the process that blaming things on biology is part of. For the vast majority of the existence of the human species there was zero war. War, which for millennia was closer to a game of football than to a nuclear strike, has been sporadically and rarely present. Most countries are not at war most of the time, and most people take no part. In many countries, large majorities say they would never take part in fighting for their country. War requires more conditioning than any other behavior, and the results are more damage to participants than from any other behavior. Not one single person has ever suffered PTSD from war deprivation. And we pick this institution to excuse as inevitable and natural?
No, the case made in A Global Security System is that war cannot result from an individual's or a group's emotional inclinations. It requires long-term investment, planning, and preparation. And if we prepare for other means of avoiding and resolving conflicts then we will end up using those means. If we create a culture of peace, develop peace journalism, invest in peace planning, support systems of global law and dispute resolution, disarm the world of which the United States is the leading armer, send in peaceworkers rather than bombs, negotiate ceasefires rather than military alliances -- if we strengthen and reform and ultimately replace international structures with global, democratic, and nonviolent means of solving our problems, war will go the way of blood feuds, dueling, and colored bathrooms.
Big changes will be needed in our politics, our economy, our energy use, our culture, and in the stories we tell each other about the world. But these changes can come step-by-step and advance self-aware toward complete replacement of the war system with a peace system. Attempting such a change, which is in some ways well underway already, can hardly be less sensible than the knowing failure of war. A few weeks ago Time Magazine featured a debate on the war on ISIS. One side argued for U.S. ground troops while admitting it probably wouldn't solve anything. The other side argued for U.S. bombs and local troops, while admitting that it probably wouldn't work. This is beyond attempting the same thing and expecting a different result. This is attempting the same thing and expecting the same disastrous result.
We can do better.
I'm just back from a rally in front of the Charlottesville Police Department at which I heard a black UVA student say that black friends were going to think twice about trying to attend UVA after what happened tonight.
Unless more video materializes we won't know exactly what happened, but we know this: a black UVA student needed 10 stitches to the head. The policemen who injured him have made known no injuries to themselves whatsoever. In fact they've charged him with "obstruction of justice without force." However it may be that a young man standing on a sidewalk obstructs justice without using force, one thing seems clear: he didn't use force. He's also not accused of threatening to use force. Rather, he's charged with "profane swearing and/or intoxication," neither of which justifies ANY action by police, much less the sort of brutality that requires 10 stitches and leaves blood on the street.
As an alumnus and a local resident may I humbly request that UVA prosecute the police officers responsible and seek, not a Department of Justice report telling us what we know, but meaningful restorative justice that involves actual understanding and reform by those involved.
I have to confess, I'm getting a little tired of the scandals, UVA. And I don't mean playing a shooter with a broken finger in the ACC tournament. I mean:
Paying your employees so little they need second jobs.
Jumping at a false tale of rape, damaging true accounts among other things damaged.
Hosting forums advocating U.S. war in Syria.
Bringing Blackwater mercenaries, neocon reactionaries, torture defenders, and warmongers of all stripes to speak at the Miller Center.
Sending law students to observe the Guantanamo human experimentation camp, who find nothing to oppose.
Weakening the honor code.
Empowering a corporate board that attempts coups -- a board that meets this coming Tuesday and should be confronted with a plan for serious reform.
I know it wasn't your cops tonight, UVA. Nor was it your cops who assaulted the young woman for buying a case of water. But it's your response that can set things right. We don't need a scapegoat or more cameras or a "study." We need the University to instruct the police that violence will not be tolerated.
The University has an honor code but exists in the midst of a society in which police are being turned into warriors -- and guess who plays the role of the enemy? The rumor is that tonight's victim had a fake ID for entering a bar -- certainly less than honorable, but something millions of people have done for many years without being attacked or brutalized.
There's video of a young woman being attacked by a policeman at the rally tonight protesting the initial crime. Apparently her offense was standing in a street and being unable to move because of the surrounding crowd. This assault is on video and should be prosecuted without delay.
I'm not going to urge you to restore the honorable tradition of your imperialist enslaving rapist founder, UVA. I want your to aspire to something better than you've been. I think you can do it.
I think we must be due some kind of prize. This is the 50,000th war in a row to have violated the "laws of war."
The documentation comes from Human Rights Watch which reports that last August 31st U.S. and Iraqi air strikes "drove ISIS forces away from the town" of Amerli. No doubt, many people died and were maimed and traumatized (also known as terrorized) by those "air strikes," but that's just part of war, which it wouldn't be ethical for Human Rights Watch to question.
What concerns Human Rights Watch is what began on September 1st. About 6,000 fighters for the Iraqi government and various militias moved in, with their U.S. weaponry. They destroyed villages. They demolished homes, businesses, mosques, and public buildings. They looted. They burned. They abducted. In fact they behaved exactly as troops taught to hate and murder certain groups of people had behaved in the 49,999 previous recorded wars. "The actions violated the laws of war," Human Rights Watch says.
Human Rights Watch recommends that Iraq disband the militias and care for the refugees who have fled their wrath, while holding "accountable" those responsible for the documented violations of the "laws of war." Human Rights Watch wants the United States to establish "reform benchmarks." The possibility of ending participation in the war, creating an arms embargo, negotiating a ceasefire, and redirecting ALL energy into aid and restitution doesn't arise.
The "laws of war" are not laws of physics. If they were, the first law of war would be:
People instructed to murder will engage in lesser crimes as well.
Laws of war, unlike laws of physics, are just not this sort of observation of something that always happens. On the contrary, they are laws that are always violated. Human Rights Watch explains:
"International humanitarian law, the laws of war, governs fighting in non-international armed conflicts such as that between Iraqi government forces, government-backed militias, and opposition armed groups. The laws of war governing the methods and means of warfare in non-international armed conflicts are primarily found in the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the First Additional Protocol of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions (Protocol I). . . . Central to the laws of war is the principle of distinction, which requires parties to a conflict to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians. . . . While Iraqi government forces may have destroyed property for military reasons in some cases, Human Rights Watch found that the large-scale destruction of property by pro-government militias in the cases detailed in this report appear to violate international law. . . . In the instances detailed above, it appeared militias destroyed property after fighting had finished in the area and when combatants from ISIS had fled from the area. Therefore it suggests their justification for the attacks may have been for punitive reasons; or in order to prevent Sunni residents from returning to the areas from which they fled."
So, the next time you're murdering large numbers of Sunnis, and the ones designated as combatants have left, please begin behaving decently to all the others. Do not torture anyone you wounded while trying to murder them. Do not destroy people's homes with thoughts of punishment or demographic change in your head, but rather ponder military objectives while burning houses, and as quickly as possible get back to the acceptable and legal efforts to kill combatants, especially whenever possible with bombs from airplanes whose pilots have been carefully instructed to only intend to kill combatants and whose commander in chief defines "combatant" as military-aged male.
Michael T. Heaney is co-author with Fabio Rojas of Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11. We discuss how partisanship built up and then tore down a peace movement, and what to do about it. Heaney is Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies and Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has previously served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of American Politics at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, and as the William A. Steiger Fellow in the Congressional Fellowship Program at the American Political Science Association. His research has received funding from the National Science Foundation and has been published in a wide array of academic journals, such as the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Sociology, Social Networks, and Perspectives on Politics.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Download from LetsTryDemocracy.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
In early 2014 there were unusual news stories about Gallup's end-of-2013 polling because after polling in 65 countries with the question "Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?" the overwhelming winner had been the United States of America.
Had Gallup then conducted a poll on whether Gallup would ever ask that question again, I'm willing to bet large numbers would have said no. And thus far they would have been right. But Gallup managed to ask some other good questions, almost certainly by accident as well, in its end-of-2014 polling, revealing something else about the United States and militarism.
Curiously, Gallup's end-of-2014 polling managed to ask a lot more questions -- 32 instead of 6 and even squeezed in one on whether people wash their hands after using the bathroom -- so the threat-to-peace question wasn't dropped for lack of space.
In both the 2013 and the 2014 polling, the first question is whether people think the next year will be better than the last, the second whether their country's economy will do well, and the third whether the person is happy. This sort of fluff is odd, because Gallup advertises the polling with this quote from Dr. George H. Gallup: "If democracy is supposed to be based on the will of the people, then somebody should go out and find out what that will is." So, what policies do the people want? Who the hell can tell from this sort of questioning?
By question 4 of those questions made public, the 2013 and 2014 polls diverge. Here's what was asked in 2013:
- If there were no barrier to living in any country of the world, which country would you like to live in?
- If politicians were predominantly women, do you believe the world would in general be a better place, a worse place or no different?
- Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?
And that's it. There's nothing like Should your government invest more or less in militarism? or Should your government expand or reduce support for fossil fuels? or Does your government imprison too many or too few people? or Do you favor greater or less public investment in education? The questions Gallup asks are supposed to produce fluff. What happened is that the last question ended up producing a substantive response by accident. When the rest of the world declared the United States the greatest threat to peace (the people of the United States gave Iran that designation) it amounted to a recommendation to the U.S. government, namely that it stop launching so many wars.
We can't have that! Polling is supposed to be fun and diverting!
Here are the remaining questions from the end of 2014:
- Compared to this year, do you think that 2015 will be a more peaceful year freer of international dispute, remain the same or a troubled year with more international discord?
What a great polling question, if you don't want to learn anything! Any discord is equated with the opposite of peace, i.e. war, and people are asked for a baseless prediction, not a policy preference.
- If there were a war that involved [your country's name] would you be willing to fight for your country?
This reduces respondents from citizen sovereigns to cannon fodder. It's not "Should your country seek out more wars?" but "Would you be willing to commit murder on behalf of your country in an unspecified war for an unstated purpose?" And again, Gallup accidentally revealed something here, but let's come back to that after listing the rest of the questions (feel free to just skim the list).
- Do you feel that elections in [your country's name] are free and fair?
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: [your country's name] is ruled by the will of the people.
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Democracy may have problems but it is the best system of government.
- Which of the following is more important to you: your continent, your nationality, your local county/state/province/city, your religion, your ethnic group, or none of these?
- Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: lack of political or religious freedom in their country?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: to join their family who are already in the country?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: fleeing persecution in their country?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: wanting a better life?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: escaping sexual or gender discrimination?
- How sympathetic or unsympathetic would you say you feel toward those who come to your country for the following reason: escaping war or armed conflict?
- Overall do you think globalization is a good thing, bad thing, or neither good nor bad for the USA?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Judges?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Journalists?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Politicians?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Business people?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Military?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Healthcare workers?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Police?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Teachers?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Bankers?
- Do you trust or distrust the following groups of people: Religious leaders?
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: We should not allow corrupt foreign politicians and business people to spend their proceeds from corruption in my country.
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: The Government is effective at preventing corrupt politicians and business people from spending their proceeds from corruption in my country.
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: The Government should require companies to publish the real names of their shareholders and owners.
- How strongly do you feel that your mobile device (including mobile phone and other hand held devices) enhances your quality of life?
- To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: Washing my hands with soap after going to the toilet is something I automatically do.
Now, something interesting might be gathered from any of these questions, even the soap one. It's interesting that in religiosity the United States resembles the places it wages war on, as opposed to the places its military is allied with which have virtually no use for religion. And the questions on corrupt investment and shareholder transparency almost seem like policy questions, although the predictably one-sided responses give them a dog-bites-man non-news quality.
Which Nations' Populations Are Most Accepting of More Wars?
This question is quite interesting because of the answers given around the world: "If there were a war that involved [your country's name] would you be willing to fight for your country?" Now, if your country were under attack or recently under attack or threatened with attack, that might, I suppose, lead you toward a yes answer. Or if you trusted your government not to launch offensive wars, that too -- I'm guessing -- might lead you toward a yes answer. But the United States routinely launches wars that, before long, a majority of its population says shouldn't have been launched. What percentage of Americans will nonetheless say they're theoretically willing to join in any war whatsoever?
Of course, the question is a bit vague. What if "a war that involved the United States" were taken to mean the actual United States and not the affairs of its government thousands of miles away? Or what if "fight for your country" were taken to mean "fight in actual defense of your actual country"? Obviously such interpretations would add to the yes answers. But such interpretations would require serious distance from reality; those aren't the kind of wars that are waged by the United States. And very clearly people who answered this survey in some other parts of the world tended not to use such an interpretation. Or even if they understood the question to involve an attack on their nation, they did not see war as a viable response worthy of their participation.
In Italy 68 percent of Italians polled said they would NOT fight for their country, while 20 percent said they would. In Germany 62 percent said they would not, while 18 percent said they would. In the Czech Republic, 64 percent would not fight for their country, while 23 percent would. In the Netherlands, 64 percent would not fight for their country, while 15 percent would. In Belgium, 56 percent would not, while 19 percent would. Even in the UK, 51 percent would not participate in a UK war, while 27 percent would. In France, Iceland, Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland, more people would refuse to be part of a war than would agree. The same goes for Australia and Canada. In Japan only 10 percent would fight for their country.
What about the United States? Despite waging the greatest number of most baseless and most costly wars, the United States manages 44 percent claiming a willingness to fight and 31 percent refusing. By no means is that the world record. Israel is at 66 percent ready to fight and 13 percent not. Afghanistan is at 76 to 20. Russia, Sweden, Finland, and Greece are all ready to fight with strong majorities. Argentina and Denmark have ties between those who would fight and those who would not.
But look at the incredible contrast in the two places I've lived, for example: the United States and Italy. Italians clearly view it as largely unacceptable to say you would participate in a war. The United States has 44 percent saying that despite the destruction of Iraq, despite the chaos brought to Libya, despite the misery added to Afghanistan's lot, despite the destabilization of Yemen, despite the costs even to the aggressor and despite the world believing the United States to be the greatest threat to peace on earth, those 44 percent at least feel obliged to claim they would participate in an unspecified war.
Are those 44 percent rushing to the recruitment offices to get trained up and be ready? Luckily, no. It's just a poll, and we all know how Brian Williams and Bill O'Reilly would have answered it, but even lies told in polls reflect cultural preferences. The fact is that there is a sizable minority in the United States that has never believed any of its recent wars were crimes or blunders, never questioned trillion dollar military spending, and never desired a world without war in it. Trying to explain that to people from the Netherlands can be like trying to explain why Americans don't want healthcare. The gap is wide, and I thank Gallup for accidentally revealing it.
Further study is needed to find the roots of the relative degrees of militarism revealed.
"War with Iran is probably our best option." This is an actual headline from the Washington Post.
Yes it's an op-ed, but don't fantasize that it's part of some sort of balanced wide-ranging array of varied opinions. The Washington Post wouldn't print a column advocating peace to save its life -- as such an act just might help to do. And you can imagine the response if the headline had been: "Racism is probably our best option," or "Rape is probably our best option," or "Child abuse is probably our best option." Nobody would object: "But they've probably had lots of columns opposing child abuse. Surely they can have one in favor, or do you want to shut down debate?" No, some things are rightly considered beyond the range of acceptability. War, in Washington, is not one of them.
Now, war propaganda is illegal under the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights. War itself is illegal under the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the United Nations Charter. But the Washington Post isn't one to worry about legal niceties.
There was quite a brouhaha last week when 47 senators tried to impede negotiations between the White House / State Department and Iran. Yes, charges of violating the Logan Act were ridiculous. If that was a violation, there have been thousands. In fact here's one now from the Washington Post. Iran's government reads this vicious piece of propaganda just as surely as it reads an "open letter" from 47 sexually repressed climate-denying bible-thumping nimrods with corporate funding. When my town's government passed a resolution opposing any U.S. war on Iran I was immediately contacted by Iranian media, and our city council members were never charged with undermining the federal government's so-called foreign policy. But the nonpartisan substance of the critique of the 47 Fools and of the Netanyahu Get-Up-Sit-Down aerobics workout was important and applies equally to the Washington Post: advocating war is immoral, illegal, and idiotic.
It is no secret what war on Iran means: lots of death and suffering -- the extreme version being if Israel were to use its nuclear weapons:
"Iranian cities -- owing to geography, climate, building construction, and population densities -- are particularly vulnerable to nuclear attack, according to a new study, 'Nuclear War Between Israel and Iran: Lethality Beyond the Pale,' published in the journal Conflict & Health by researchers from the University of Georgia and Harvard University. It is the first publicly released scientific assessment of what a nuclear attack in the Middle East might actually mean for people in the region.
"Its scenarios are staggering. An Israeli attack on the Iranian capital of Tehran using five 500-kiloton weapons would, the study estimates, kill seven million people -- 86% of the population -- and leave close to 800,000 wounded. A strike with five 250-kiloton weapons would kill an estimated 5.6 million and injure 1.6 million, according to predictions made using an advanced software package designed to calculate mass casualties from a nuclear detonation.
"Estimates of the civilian toll in other Iranian cities are even more horrendous. A nuclear assault on the city ofArak, the site of a heavy water plant central to Iran's nuclear program, would potentially kill 93% of its 424,000 residents. Three 100-kiloton nuclear weapons hitting the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas would slaughter an estimated 94% of its 468,000 citizens, leaving just 1% of the population uninjured. A multi-weapon strike on Kermanshah, a Kurdish city with a population of 752,000, would result in an almost unfathomable 99.9% casualty rate."
The barbaric boneheadedness of someone who would write such murder off as acceptable because the victims are not Americans is almost unfathomable. The response would be attacks on U.S. soldiers and U.S. citizens and the United States. The potential for escalation into a global and nuclear war would be significant, particularly with the U.S. playing at war games on Russia's western border and arming attacks on the government of Syria.
But here comes Joshua Muravchik in the Washington Post. He's funded by corporate-funded and war-industry-funded institutes. He's backed all the recent wars, including the war on Iraq. He has no shame, no repentance. He wants more war. And all the many wars that President Obama is happy to wage or provoke just aren't enough. There must be a war on Iran.
Muravchik calls Iran "violent, rapacious, devious, and redolent with hatred for Israel and the United States" without offering any evidence or explanation, and then claims -- contrary to some 17 U.S. and 1 Israeli spy agencies -- that Iran "is bound to continue its quest for nuclear weapons." Imagine submitting an op-ed to the Washington Post that asserted that Iran had never had and does not have a nuclear weapons program. The editors would demand proof. Imaging providing the proof. The editors would reject it out of hand. After all, "both sides" make the same baseless accusations. President Obama and Senator McCain will both tell you that Iran is trying to build a nuke and must be stopped. They'll just disagree on how to stop it, with Obama proposing a response that fits better with reality than it does with his own rhetoric.
Muravchik objects to any deal that might be reached with Iran because it will, necessarily and by definition, have Iran's agreement. A better option, he says, would be the above mass-murder scenario. "What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons?" Iran is abiding by its treaty obligations, unlike the United States or Israel. Its nuclear energy puts it close to nuclear weaponry, but no closer than many other nations including all the Gulf dictatorships to which the West is currently spreading nuclear energy, just as it did to Iran -- not to mention the CIA's handing nuclear bomb plans to Iran and scapegoating Jeffrey Sterling over it. Beyond a negotiated agreement, a little leading by example, the removal of Israel's nukes, the provision of clean energy, and a coordinated elimination of nuclear energy are entirely doable.
Muravchik knows this. And he knows that anyone you can talk to can work out a deal with you that is far superior to murdering millions of human beings. In fact everyone who's not a vicious fascist pig knows this. So, there are two solutions in the standard propaganda toolbox: 1) claim Iran cannot be talked to, 2) call Iran a bunch of Nazis:
"Ideology is the raison d'etre of Iran's regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran's power to achieve that goal."
He admits that nuclear arsenals tend not to be used. But he claims that the madmen of Iran, even while exhibiting such rational restraint, would nonetheless spread their imperial conquests. Never mind that the United States has troops in 175 nations while Iran has not attacked another nation in centuries. If Iran can be imagined as behaving the way the United States would, and the United States can be imagined as behaving the way civilized countries do, then violence can be made to seem justified.
But you have to catapult the propaganda: "Sanctions may have induced Iran to enter negotiations, but they have not persuaded it to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons." There is of course no evidence for the opening claim in that sentence, nor for the concluding lie.
So, what we need, according to the Washington Post's columnist is another knowingly self-defeating war that makes everything even worse: "Wouldn't an attack cause ordinary Iranians to rally behind the regime? Perhaps, but military losses have also served to undermine regimes, including the Greek and Argentine juntas, the Russian czar and the Russian communists." Our over-excited neocon may actually be at the point of imagining that Ronald Reagan invaded the USSR. The Washington Post, if questioned, will tell you that accuracy is not relevant in opinion writing.
And, if at first you kill millions of innocent people while accomplishing nothing: "Wouldn't destroying much of Iran's nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary. Of course, Iran would try to conceal and defend the elements of its nuclear program, so we might have to find new ways to discover and attack them. Surely the United States could best Iran in such a technological race."
Surely. And if not, what's the viability of life on planet earth in the grand scheme of things? After all, there is some "us" for whom a war on Iran is "our" best option. For this crowd, there is a more important world than this one. It is the world of sacred self-deluded megalomaniacal murderers for whom killing is a sacrament.
And never mind the uncontrollable outbreak of wider war, when you've already written off the planet: "And finally, wouldn't Iran retaliate by using its own forces or proxies to attack Americans — as it has done in Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — with new ferocity? Probably. " But, says our sociopathic friend, it is better for the United States to suffer hard losses, while killing lots of Iranians unworthy of any notice, than to suffer the even worse losses that would surely come if an imaginary Iran that behaved like the United States attacked its neighbors and the United States were "drawn in" to those wars.
When you're starting wars, not on the grounds that fictional weapons of mass destruction will kill you otherwise, not on the pretense of preventing an attack on civilians, but on the grounds that if you don't start a war now someone else could theoretically start one later, you have set up a logic of Armageddon. And it may kill us all. We may die in part of overdosing on Hollywood movies with happy endings that convince us reality looks like that. But we won't all die, I feel fairly certain, without the Washington Post cheering death through the door.
Most people in the United States have little contact with Iran or its culture. Iran comes up as a scary threat in the speeches of demagogues. A range of debate is offered between obliterate it and pressure it into compliance with our civilized norms, or at least the civilized norms of some other country that doesn't obliterate or pressure people.
So how do Americans view Iran? Many view it, like all governmental matters, through the lens of either the Democratic or the Republican Party. The Democratic President has come to be seen as on the side of preventing a war with Iran. The Republican Congress has come to be seen as pushing for that war. In this framework, something remarkable happens. Democrats begin recognizing all of the arguments against war that ought to be applied to every war.
Liberals and progressives are full of talk about respecting their president and their commander in chief and following his course to tame the Iranian threat, and so forth. But they are also pointing out that war is optional, that it is not a justifiable last resort because there are always other choices. They are pointing out the undesirability of war, the horrors of war, and the preferability of a diplomatic resolution, indeed the generation of friendly and cooperative relations -- albeit in some cases as a means to fighting another war with Iran as an ally. (This seems to be Obama's scheme for using war to fix the disaster left by a past war.)
Online activist organizations that identify with the Democratic Party are actually doing remarkably well at arguing against a war with Iran. They've largely dropped the President's own rhetoric that baselessly claims Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, preferring to rail against the danger of Republican warmongering. That's a reality-based position held by neither Party -- the Republicans don't claim they're starting a war and the White House doesn't generally focus on accusing them of it. Yes, these groups are still pushing the idea that Republicans disrespecting their president is an even bigger deal than starting a war, but when they turn to the topic of war they truly sound like they oppose it and understand why we always all should.
If you see Iran through that left-Democratic lens, that is if you are opposed to Republican efforts to start yet another unnecessary catastrophic war, this one with Iran, I have a few ideas I'd like to run by you.
1. What if President Obama were opposed to efforts to undermine and overthrow the government of Venezuela? What if Republicans in Congress were ridiculously claiming that Venezuela was a threat to the United States? What if the Republicans were writing letters of encouragement to the leaders of coup attempts in Venezuela to let them know that they had U.S. backing regardless of what the State Department might say? Would you oppose the overthrow of the Venezuelan government?
2. What if Congress had sent a delegation to instigate a violent coup in Kiev, behind the back of the State Department and the White House? What if pressure was building toward a war with nuclear Russia, and Republican leaders of Congress were eagerly fanning the flames while the White House pursued the alternatives of diplomacy, demilitarization, ceasefires, negotiations, aid, and the international rule of law? Would you oppose U.S. Congressional support for the rightwing coup government in Ukraine and its antagonization of Russia?
3. What if President Obama gave an eloquent speech acknowledging that not only is there "no military solution" in Iraq or Syria but that it's wrong to keep saying that while pursuing a military solution? What if he pulled U.S. troops out of that region and out of Afghanistan and asked Congress to fund a Marshall Plan of aid and restitution, at a much lower price tag than the troop presence of course? And what if Republicans introduced a bill to put all the troops back in? Would you oppose that bill?
4. What if the Congressional armed "services" committees set up panels to review kill lists and ordered men, women, and children targeted and murdered with drone strikes, along with anyone too close to them and anyone with a suspicious profile? What if President Obama accused Congress of violating national laws on murder, the U.S. Constitution, the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Kellogg Briand Pact, the Ten Commandments, and the lessons of the past that show such reckless actions to generate more enemies than they kill? Would you protest drone kills and demand the elimination of armed drones?
Here's what worries me. There are some positive signs right now and were some in late 2013 and at moments since. But the anti-Republican-war movement of 2002-2007 may not be matched again until the U.S. President is again a Republican (if that ever again happens). And by then, President George W. Bush's wars will have long passed without any penalties for those responsible. And President Obama will have increased military spending and foreign presence and privatization, given the CIA the power to wage wars, eliminated the practice of gaining UN approval for wars, ended the custom of gaining Congressional sanction for wars, established the practice of murdering people with missiles anywhere on earth (and armed half the earth's nations with similar ability), while continuing to spread violence and weaponry through Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and on and on.
One last question: If you had a chance to oppose things you dislike, even though they're the result of bipartisanship, would you?
Michael Schwartz is an Emeritus Distinguished Teaching Professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University and the author of six books and scores of articles and commentaries, including award winning books on popular protest and insurgency. His most recent book, War Without End, analyzes how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling sectarian civil war inside Iraq. His work on the Middle East appears regularly in TomDispatch including his latest article, "The Great Game in the Holy Land."
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Download from LetsTryDemocracy.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
Join Hatem Abudayyeh, Susan Abulhawa, Pam Africa, Abayomi Azikiwe, Ajamu Baraka, Media Benjamin, Lamis Deek, Steve Downs, Bernadette Ellorin, Glenn Ford, Sara Flounders, Bruce Gagnon, Teresa Gutierrez, Lawrence Hamm, Chris Hedges, Joe Iosbaker, Charles Jenkins, Antonia Juhasz, Chuck Kaufman, Kathy Kelly, Jeff Mackler, Christine Marie, Ray McGovern, Cynthia McKinney, Michael McPhearson, Malik Mujahid, Lucy Pagoada, Lynn Stewart, David Swanson, Clarence Thomas, Ann Wright, Kevin Zeese & many more at ...
A national conference to connect all the issues:
“Stop the Wars at Home & Abroad!”
(to register now, click the link below)
The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) invites you to attend the “Stop the Wars at Home & Abroad!” conference, to be held May 8-10, 2015, in Secaucus, N.J, just outside New York City.
More and more, we can see how all the problems of the world are connected. The trillions of dollars being spent on wars-for-profit abroad could be used here at home to rebuild our cities, educate our youth, employ our jobless, repair damage to the environment – and try to make up for the endless suffering the Pentagon is inflicting on people around the world, most of them people of color, the vast majority of whom have nothing to do with threatening us or anyone else.
Some of the connections are even more striking. Some of the very same kinds of military equipment used in Iraq was seen this past summer on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. Surveillance drones developed for use by the military are now being used by domestic police departments. The endless “war on terror” is being used to justify taking away our civil liberties here at home. Wars for oil in the Middle East keep fossil fuels flowing, accelerating the climate change that threatens all humanity.
This conference will be an opportunity to meet and network with activists from across the country and learn about the many struggles going on today, both at home and around the world. Speakers with decades of experience will be joined by members of the new generations of activists who are bringing fresh energy and ideas into the movement. Together, we will learn from and inspire each other.
Most conferences cost many hundreds of dollars to attend, but UNAC organizers are doing their best to keep this one affordable for young activists and working people. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to expand your knowledge, make many new progressive friends and build the movement for fundamental social change.
Stop the Wars at Home & Abroad!
For more information and to register for the conference, see:
To place an ad in the conference journal, see:
UNITED NATIONAL ANTIWAR COALITION (UNAC)
P.O. Box 123, Delmar, NY 12054 ● Ph: 518-227-6947