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Humans almost invariably imagine humans to be far more imaginative and original than they are. But most of our ideas come from (often imperfect and improvised) imitation. And even more powerful than our tendency to imitate is our inability to refrain from imitating, to shake an idea out of our heads once it's there, to "not think of an elephant."
Anthropologists have found cultures whose members cannot conceive of killing. "Why won't you shoot an arrow at those slave raiders?" "Because it would kill them."
In Western culture, children hear of killing in fairy tales, cartoons, Harry Potter books, video games, the TV news, the newspaper, the games played in the park. It's everywhere. Usually it's frowned upon, although often a distinction is made between bad killing by bad guys and good killing by good guys, or inexplicable random killing and killing justified and sanctified by bitter revenge.
But even when a behavior is frowned upon, the listener or viewer has now heard of that behavior. There have been studies of children's responses to stories and television dramas in which fictional children misbehave for three-quarters of the episode and then learn an important moral lesson at the end. Guess what? Kids don't retroactively view the whole story as a package and wipe the bad behavior out of their minds. Instead they display a tendency to try out the behavior demonstrated to them in so many of the isolated moments that they lived while watching or listening to the story.
Humans also almost invariably imagine humans to be far kinder and far more selfless than they are. Most of us very much want others to be kind to us, and we try our best to be kind to others. So, when we see behaviors and institutions that cause horrendous suffering, we like to imagine there is a rational cause, a greater good, or that the explanation is incompetence or stupidity -- anything other than the most obvious explanation: vicious, evil sadism.
We are often encouraged to picture vicious cruelty and irrational evil in certain foreign groups of humans. But usually this perspective is intended to help us avoid seeing cruelty in those who are supposedly like ourselves.
These thoughts arise as I'm confronted by the polling showing that 95% of Israelis deem the slaughter of Gazans to be just, and the realization that for many in Israel "just" is a rather disgusting euphemism for "satisfyingly sadistic." People are sitting on hills watching the missiles hit the homes, some of them telling cameras they want everyone killed, and then explaining that their thoughts are "a little bit fascist."
This week we'll be remembering Harry Truman's bombing of Japan with nuclear weapons, and we'll be told that he must have believed those acts of mass murder would help end the war, even though the evidence shows he knew otherwise. Truman had earlier advocated aiding the Russians or the Germans, whoever was losing, so that as many people as possible would die, he said. Top U.S. military officials wanted Japan cleansed of all human life. The most likely explanation for the nukes, namely that Truman viewed killing lots of Japanese as an advantage to be weighed along with impressing the Russians and so forth, is too ugly, so we turn away. We even have to turn away from his own statement on the occasion, which justified the bombing in terms of revenge, not in terms of ending the war.
Also this week we'll mark 50 years since the Gulf of Tonkin fraud. We like to imagine such incidents, even when they result in the deaths of 4 million foreigners, as misunderstandings. But during the course of the savagery that followed, how was progress gauged? That's right: by body counts.
Examples of evil policies, in one's own or other parts of the world, flood in the moment you begin to look for them. The evidence is clear that locking kids up in juvenile prisons makes them more likely, not less likely, to grow into criminals. But we just go on locking them up for other motives we don't care to examine too closely. We've learned what it's impolite to mention. Support for wars in Afghanistan or Iraq is discussed on television in terms of "strategic interests" and other such blather, but the counter-demonstrators across the street from a peace rally sometimes have different desires, including the death of foreigners -- and of the peace activists with them.
Courageous peace activists in Israel have been facing hostile counter-demonstrations from those in their society who have moved in a different direction.
There are many reasons why I shouldn't make any observation on Israeli society, beginning with the fact that I know very little about it. But when a nation is continually engaging in the most horrific and massive crimes, using weapons and criminal immunity provided by my nation, and protests are raging around the earth, when the news is packed with information, analysis, propaganda, and poisonous pontificating, when the peace meetings I go to discuss the matter at great length, when the guests on my radio show and the books I read and Israelis I meet begin to inform me a little, and when the problem appears enormous and glaring but guarded by a protection of intimidation and obedience, then I think tossing an idea into the mix may be justified, despite being dramatically more impolite by U.S. standards than criticizing Harry Truman or LBJ.
Israel is a nation where children grow up learning about the holocaust, marking the holocaust with holidays, planning trips to Germany to visit the camps. U.S. children dress up as Pilgrims and Indians, but nobody tells them that the Pilgrims ended up murdering the Indians, or what it was like to be an Indian child preparing to be murdered or watching your loved ones murdered. The U.S. origin story is, appropriately enough, one of feasting, not one of genocide. I'm speaking of how it is told, of course, rather than what actually happened.
To criticize the Israeli government for its wars, even though I also criticize every other government for their wars, generates inevitable and truly stupid accusations of anti-Semitism. But criticizing the teaching of the holocaust, which I've never done before, seems likely to go beyond that into an area of accusations of holocaust denial. I have, of course, been there. I've been accused of denying the holocaust for opposing bombing Iran because someone in Iran supposedly denied the holocaust. I've been accused of denying the holocaust for criticizing World War II, even though the actions I express a wish had been taken include opposing fascism in its early years instead of waiting, defunding the Nazis rather than supporting them as preferable to Communists, and finding homes for Jewish refugees when they needed them, rather than turning them away. But this is all ridiculously dumb: denying the holocaust and flooding society with its ubiquitous presence are not the only two choices, any more than leveling people's homes in Gaza and "doing nothing" are the only two choices.
To say that people are behaving like Nazis is not to say that they are exactly identical to Nazis, any more than to say that your child's piano playing is exactly like Mozart. Without question, Nazism is a source of imitation for rightwingers around the world, including in Israel. Might a lesser focus on its significance be helpful? Would a greater emphasis on peace studies do any harm?
Sarah Ali is a Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip. She has lost friends and neighbors in the current war on Gaza. She speaks to us about conditions under the bombing. Sarah Ali studied English and literature and currently is working as a teacher in Gaza City. She contributed a short story called "The Story of the Land" to the book Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine. We close the show by reading that story.
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War and cancer are among our leading causes of human death around the world. They can't be strictly separated and compared since war is a major cause of cancer, as is war preparation. (And a small fraction of the U.S. budget for war preparations could fund cancer research well beyond all the money raised by public and private funding and by all the 5-K races for a cure and other activities we've become familiar with.) War and cancer, by their nature, also can't be addressed with the same sort of responses.
Cancer prevention, including possibly radical changes in industrial and energy policies, is fairly off-limits, whereas cancer treatment and the search for a cure is almost certainly our most widespread and publicly visible form of altruistic charity and advocacy. When you see athletes or celebrities marked with bright pink, or a public event packed with pink shirts or ribbons, or -- alongside a road -- a giant pink inflatable anything, you are now less likely to think "WTF is that?" than "We need to help cure breast cancer."
War prevention, including radical redirection of our resources and economy away from war, re-education away from the propaganda of beneficial violence, support for nonviolent conflict resolution, and promotion of international law and the prosecution of war makers, is likewise fairly off-limits. But war treatment and the search for a cure for war once begun, seems significantly less useful than the search for a cure for cancer. War is indisputably and entirely human-made. Most of its fatal victims die immediately. Halting a war once begun is immensely more difficult than refraining from starting it, as no one party can control a war's path, and support-the-troops propaganda convinces people that ending a war is more evil than continuing it. Once a war ends, undoing the resentment and hatred and habits of violence, and the environmental destruction (and the cancer epidemics), and the destruction to liberties and democracy, all adds up to an immense -- if not impossible -- task compared to that of avoiding wars before they're started.
So, when we compare a public demand to abolish cancer with one to abolish war, the latter seems to require halting our biggest public program, whereas the former allows us to go on driving our SUVs to Wal-Mart as long as we stick a pink ribbon on the back to indicate that doctors and scientists should continue the great march of progress. And of course they should. We should be investing vastly more in curing cancer, not to mention Alzheimer's which is as big a killer as cancer but opposed by far less funding (and not a particular threat to that favorite of all body parts: the breast).
But abolishing war may be the more pressing demand. Nuclear weapons could be used intentionally or accidentally and destroy us all. The resources dumped into war are badly needed for the work of averting environmental catastrophe (not to mention curing cancer). What if a campaign to abolish war were to learn a few tricks from the campaign to abolish breast cancer?
Following the lead of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Campaign Nonviolence, World Beyond War, and other peace groups are encouraging everyone to use sky blue scarves and bracelets as symbols of peace and support for ending all wars. What if sky blue symbols became as widespread as pink ones? What would that look like?
I started seeing graphics pop up on social media sites this past week that said about Gaza: "It's not war. It's murder." So I started asking people what exactly they think war is if it's distinct from murder. Well, war, some of them told me, takes place between armies. So I asked for anyone to name a war during the past century (that is, after World War I) where all or even most or even a majority of the dying was done by members of armies. There may have been such a war. There are enough scholars here today that somebody probably knows of one. But if so, it isn't the norm, and these people I was chatting with through social media couldn't think of any such war and yet insisted that that's just what war is. So, is war then over and nobody told us?
For whatever reasons, I then very soon began seeing a graphic sent around that said about Gaza: "It's not war. It's genocide." And the typical explanation I got when I questioned this one was that the wagers of war and the wagers of genocide have different attitudes. Are we sure about that? I've spoken to advocates for recent U.S. wars who wanted all or part of a population wiped out. Plenty of supporters of the latest attacks on Gaza see them as counter-terrorism. In wars between advanced militaries and poor peoples most of the death and injury is on one side and most of it -- by anyone's definition -- civilian. This is as true in Afghanistan, where war rolls on largely unchallenged, as in Gaza, about which we are newly outraged.
Well, what's wrong with outrage? Who cares what people call it? Why not criticize the war advocates rather than nitpicking the war opponents' choice of words? When people are outraged they will reach for whatever word their culture tells them is most powerful, be it murder or genocide or whatever. Why not encourage that and worry a little more about the lunatics who are calling it defense or policing or terrorist removal? (Eight-year-old terrorists!)
Yes, of course. I've been going after CNN news readers for claiming Palestinians want to die and NBC for yanking its best reporter and ABC for claiming scenes of destruction in Gaza that just don't exist in Israel are in fact in Israel -- and the U.S. government for providing the weapons and the criminal immunity. I've been promoting rallies and events aimed at swaying public opinion against what Israel has been doing, and against the sadistic bloodthirsty culture of those standing on hills cheering for the death and destruction below, quite regardless of what they call it. But, as you're probably aware, only the very most open-minded war advocates attend conventions of Veterans For Peace. So, I'm speaking here backstage, as it were, at the peace movement. Among those of us who want to stop the killing, are there better and worse ways to talk about it? And is anything revealed by the ways in which we tend to talk about it when we aren't hyper-focused on our language?
I think so. I think it's telling that the worst word anyone can think of isn't war. I think it's even more telling that we condemn things by contrasting them with war, framing war as relatively acceptable. I think this fact ought to be unsettling because a very good case can be made that war, in fact, is the worst thing we do, and that the distinctions between war and such evils as murder or genocide can require squinting very hard to discern.
We've all heard that guns don't kill people, people kill people. There is a parallel belief that wars don't kill people, people who misuse wars, who fight bad wars, who fight wars improperly, kill people. This is a big contrast with many other evil institutions. We don't oppose child abuse selectively, holding out the possibility of just and good incidents of child abuse while opposing the bad or dumb or non-strategic or excessive cases of child abuse. We don't have Geneva Conventions for proper conduct while abusing children. We don't have human rights groups writing reports on atrocities and possible law violations committed in the course of abusing children. We don't distinguish UN-sanctioned child abuse. The same goes for numerous behaviors generally understood as always evil: slavery or rape or blood feuds or duelling or dog fighting or sexual harassment or bullying or human experimentation or -- I don't know -- producing piles of I'm-Ready-for-Hillary posters. We don't imagine there are good, just, and defensible cases of such actions.
And this is the core problem: not support for bombing Gaza or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq or anywhere else that actually gets bombed, but support for an imaginary war in the near future between two armies with different colored jerseys and sponsors, competing on an isolated battlefield apart from any villages or towns, and suffering bravely and heroically for their non-murderous non-genocidal cause while complying with the whistles blown by the referees in the human rights organizations whenever any of the proper killing drifts into lawless imprisonment or torture or the use of improper weaponry. Support for specific possible wars in the United States right now is generally under 10 percent. More people believe in ghosts, angels, and the integrity of our electoral system than want a new U.S. war in Ukraine, Syria, Iran, or Iraq. The Washington Post found a little over 10 percent want a war in Ukraine but that the people who held that view were the people who placed Ukraine on the world map the furthest from its actual location, including people who placed it in the United States. These are the idiots who favor specific wars. Even Congress, speaking of idiots, on Friday told Obama no new war on Iraq.
The problem is the people, ranging across the population from morons right up to geniuses, who favor imaginary wars. Millions of people will tell you we need to be prepared for more wars in case there's another Adolf Hitler, failing to understand that the wars and militarism and weapons sales and weapons gifts -- the whole U.S. role as the arsenal of democracies and dictatorships alike -- increase rather than decrease dangers, that other wealthy countries spend less than 10 percent what the U.S. does on their militaries, and that 10 percent of what the U.S. spends on its military could end global starvation, provide the globe with clean water, and fund sustainable energy and agriculture programs that would go further toward preventing mass violence than any stockpiles of weaponry. Millions will tell you that the world needs a global policeman, even though polls of the world find the widespread belief that the United States is currently the greatest threat to peace on earth. In fact if you start asking people who have opposed every war in our lifetimes or in the past decade to work on opposing the entire institution of war, you'll be surprised by many of the people who say no.
I'm a big fan of a book called Addicted to War. I think it will probably be a powerful tool for war abolition right up until war is abolished. But its author told me this week that he can't work to oppose all wars because he favors some of them. Specifically, he said, he doesn't want to ask Palestinians to not defend themselves. Now, there's a really vicious cycle. If we can't shut down the institution of war because Palestinians need to use it, then it's harder to go after U.S. military spending, which is of course what funds much of the weaponry being used against Palestinians. I think we should get a little clarity about what a war abolition movement does and does not do. It does not tell people what they must do when attacked. It is not focused on advising, much less instructing, the victims of war, but on preventing their victimization. It does not advise the individual victim of a mugging to turn the other cheek. But it also does not accept the disproven notion that violence is a defensive strategy for a population. Nonviolence has proven far more effective and its victories longer lasting. If people in Gaza have done anything at all to assist in their own destruction, it is not the supposed offenses of staying in their homes or visiting hospitals or playing on beaches; it is the ridiculously counterproductive firing of rockets that only encourages and provides political cover for war/ genocide/ mass murder.
I'm a huge fan of Chris Hedges and find him one of the most useful and inspiring writers we have. But he thought attacking Libya was a good idea up until it quite predictably and obviously turned out not to be. He still thinks Bosnia was a just war. I could go on through dozens of names of people who contribute mightily to an anti-war movement who oppose abolishing war. The point is not that anyone who believes in 1 good war out of 100 is to blame for the trillion dollar U.S. military budget and all the destruction it brings. The point is that they are wrong about that 1 war out of 100, and that even if they were right, the side-effects of maintaining a culture accepting of war preparations would outweigh the benefits of getting 1 war right. The lives lost by not spending $1 trillion a year in the U.S. and another $1 trillion in the rest of the world on useful projects like environmental protection, sustainable agriculture, medicine and hygiene absolutely dwarf the number of lives that would be saved by halting our routine level of war making.
If you talk about abolishing war entirely, as many of us have begun focusing on through a new project called World Beyond War, you'll also find people who want to abolish war but believe it's impossible. War is natural, they say, inevitable, in our genes, decreed by our economy, the unavoidable result of racism or consumerism or capitalism or exceptionalism or carnivorism or nationalism. And of course many cultural patterns interact with and facilitate war, but the idea that it's in our genes is absurd, given how many cultures in our species have done and do without it. I don't know what -- if anything -- people usually mean when they call something "natural" but presumably it's not the provocation of suicide, which is such a common result of participating in war, while the first case of PTSD due to war deprivation has yet to be discovered. Most of our species' existence, as hunter-gatherers, did not know war, and only the last century -- a split-second in evolutionary terms -- has known war that at all resembles war today. War didn't used to kill like this. Soldiers weren't conditioned to kill. Most guns picked up at Gettysburg had been loaded more than once. The big killers were diseases, even in the U.S. Civil War, the war that the U.S. media calls the most deadly because Filipinos and Koreans and Vietnamese and Iraqis don't count. Now the big killer is a disease in our thinking, a combination of what Dr. King called self-guided missiles and misguided men.
Another hurdle for abolishing war is that the idea rose to popularity in the West in the 1920s and 1930s and then sank into a category of thought that is vaguely treasonous. War abolition was tried and failed, the thinking goes, like communism or labor unions and now we know better. While abolishing war is popular in much of the world, that fact is easily ignored by the 1% who misrepresent the 10% or 15% who live in the places that constitute the so-called International Community. Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come or weaker than an idea whose time has come and gone. Or so we think. But the Renaissance was, as its name suggests, an idea whose time came again, new and improved and victorious. The 1920s and 1930s are a resource for us. We have stockpiles of wisdom to draw upon. We have example of where things were headed and how they went of track.
Andrew Carnegie took war profits and set up an endowment with the mandate to eliminate war and then to hold a board meeting, determine the second worst thing in the world, and begin eliminating that. This sounds unique or eccentric, but is I believe a basic understanding of ethics that ought to be understood and acted upon by all of us. When someone asks me why I'm a peace activist I ask them why in the hell anyone isn't. So, reminding the Carnegie Endowment for Peace what it's legally obligated to do, and dozens of other organizations along with it, may be part of the process of drawing inspiration from the past. And of course insisting that the Nobel Committee not bestow another peace prize on a war-thirsty presidential candidate or any other advocate of war is part of that.
The case against war that is laid out at WorldBeyondWar.orgincludes these topics:
I find the case to be overwhelming and suspect many of you would agree. In fact Veterans For Peace and numerous chapters and members of Veterans For Peace have been among the first to sign on and participate. And we've begun finding that thousands of people and organizations from around the world agree as people and groups from 68 countries and rising have added their names on the website in support of ending all war. And many of these people and organizations are not peace groups. These are environmental and civic groups of all sorts and people never involved in a peace movement before. Our hope is of course to greatly enlarge the peace movement by making war abolition as mainstream as cancer abolition. But we think enlargement is not the only alteration that could benefit the peace movement. We think a focus on each antiwar project as part of a broader campaign to end the whole institution of war will significantly change how specific wars and weapons and tactics are opposed.
How many of you have heard appeals to oppose Pentagon waste? I'm in favor of Pentagon waste and opposed to Pentagon efficiency. How can we not be, when what the Pentagon does is evil? How many of you have heard of opposition to unnecessary wars that leave the military ill-prepared? I'm in favor of leaving the military ill-prepared, but not of distinguishing unnecessary from supposedly necessary wars. Which are the necessary ones? When sending missiles into Syria is stopped, in large part by public pressure, war as last resort is replaced by all sorts of other options that were always available. That would be the case anytime any war is stopped. War is never a last resort any more than rape or child abuse is a last resort. How many of you have seen opposition to U.S. wars that focuses almost exclusively on the financial cost and the suffering endured by Americans? Did you know polls find Americans believing that Iraq benefitted and the United States suffered from the war that destroyed Iraq? What if the financial costs and the costs to the aggressor nation were in addition to moral objections to mass-slaughter rather than instead of? How many of you have seen antiwar organizations trumpet their love for troops and veterans and war holidays, or groups like the AARP that advocate for benefits for the elderly by focusing on elderly veterans, as though veterans are the most deserving? Is that good activism?
I want to celebrate those who resist and oppose war, not those who engage in it. I love Veterans For Peace because it's for peace. It's for peace in a certain powerful way, but it's the being for peace that I value. And being for peace in the straightforward meaning of being against war. Most organizations are afraid of being for peace; it always has to be peace and justice or peace and something else. Or it's peace in our hearts and peace in our homes and the world will take care of itself. Well, as Veterans For Peace know, the world doesn't take care of itself. The world is driving itself off a cliff. As Woody Allen said, I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen, I want to live on in my apartment. Well, I don't want to find peace in my heart or my garden, I want to find peace in the elimination of war. At WorldBeyondWar.org is a list of projects we think may help advance that, including, among others:
- Creating an easily recognizable and joinable mainstream international movement to end all war.
- Education about war, peace, and nonviolent action — including all that is to be gained by ending war.
- Improving access to accurate information about wars. Exposing falsehoods.
- Improving access to information about successful steps away from war in other parts of the world.
- Increased understanding of partial steps as movement in the direction of eliminating, not reforming, war.
- Partial and full disarmament.
- Conversion or transition to peaceful industries.
- Closing, converting or donating foreign military bases.
- Democratizing militaries while they exist and making them truly volunteer.
- Banning foreign weapons sales and gifts.
- Outlawing profiteering from war.
- Banning the use of mercenaries and private contractors.
- Abolishing the CIA and other secret agencies.
- Promoting diplomacy and international law, and consistent enforcement of laws against war, including prosecution of violators.
- Reforming or replacing the U.N. and the ICC.
- Expansion of peace teams and human shields.
- Promotion of nonmilitary foreign aid and crisis prevention.
- Placing restrictions on military recruitment and providing potential soldiers with alternatives.
- Thanking resisters for their service.
- Encouraging cultural exchange.
- Discouraging racism and nationalism.
- Developing less destructive and exploitative lifestyles.
- Expanding the use of public demonstrations and nonviolent civil resistance to enact all of these changes.
I would add learning from and working with organizations that have been, like Veterans For Peace, working toward war abolition for years now and inspiring others to do the same. And I would invite you all to work with WorldBeyondWartoward our common goal.
David Swanson is Director of World Beyond War, host of Talk Nation Radio, author of books including War No More: The Case for Abolition, War Is A Lie, and When the World Outlawed War.
It's hard to know whether to be pleased each time the place I live, Charlottesville, Va., is named the happiest city in the United States. I grew up largely in Northern Virginia (suburbs of Washington, D.C.) and Charlottesville is a long ways away in Central Virginia. I remember hearing that Fairfax County schools, which I attended at the time, were ranked best in the country. Wow, I thought, other people's schools must be truly awful!
So, I haven't discovered that I'm happier; I've just been informed that everyone else is less happy. Not being much of a schadenfreudist, I can't really find that anything but depressing. I knew that the United States fell behind a lot of nations in international attempts to measure happiness, but the idea that the rest of the United States falls behind my bit of it seems pretty gloomy.
I wasn't interviewed for the latest survey, don't know who was, and have no idea how meaningful it is. Of course I find the analysis interesting that says people in other cities are wealthier but less happy, and concludes that people are willing to be paid to be less happy. Again, I'm sorry not to be pleased, but doesn't that suggest we're a nation of morons? (Well, except for we enlightened few who've moved to Charlottesville.)
Of course, I don't know most people in Charlottesville or have any idea how happy they are or why. Charlottesville, like most places, suffers from income inequality, poverty, pollution, too many cars, ugly sprawl, racial segregation, ignorance, consumerism, and lack of imagination. It's no paradise, and my experience of it is not the same as anyone else's. But let me offer a few ideas on how it manages to win these happiness rankings.
Charlottesville is significantly smaller than the other top-ranked cities. That it is a city is a legal matter; many people would call it a small town. It's even smaller when the University of Virginia is on break. Charlottesville is close enough that people can go to the Washington, D.C., area when and if they need to or want to, by car or train or bus. But the traffic jams and crowds are there, not here. And, importantly, we know it. We know that we have many things better than they have it up north: we can get anywhere in 10 minutes or less; we can walk or bicycle; we can expect to bump into people we know; random people say hello; and there are no lines to wait in when we get where we're going. And, significantly, when we get organized our local government often listens to us -- in stark contrast to many people's experience in larger places.
Charlottesville is heavily populated by people who chose to be here, as I did. People must be happier when they are somewhere they've chosen to be. I suspect that many, like I, appreciate the balance between a small town and a city. Charlottesville is culturally and intellectually rich for its size. It has a pedestrian downtown square -- or, rather, street -- so there is a there there. It has hills and farms and vineyards, a river, mountains, parks. It's an athletic town, and exercise makes happiness. And, importantly perhaps, at least some of us are aware that rural areas not far from Charlottesville can sometimes be politically and culturally akin to stepping back decades or centuries in time, and not in a good way. One hopes we manage to be appreciative without being blindly arrogant.
Charlottesville has a university and two big hospitals and lots of other businesses, but I could never find a decent job here back in the days of real-world jobs. Only after I'd figured out how to work online could I move back to Charlottesville. I could do my job from anywhere and choose to do it from here, in part to be near family, in part to be somewhere that speaks my mother tongue, but in large part because I like the place.
And yet I'm haunted by some of the darker reasons that it's possible to be so happy in Cville. Like most places in the United States, a good chunk of Charlottesville's economy comes from the military and its contractors and subcontractors. Only because the military does what it does very far away and out of sight, and only because we tell ourselves lies to justify those evil deeds, can we enjoy our cafes and bike lanes and farmers markets. There are U.S. weapons companies in Charlottesville and U.S. weapons leveling houses in Gaza -- not such a happy thought.
Like most places in the United States, Charlottesville unsustainably pollutes the earth's air and water. That we're in the piedmont, unlike those low-lying folks in Norfolk who are going to have to get very used to wetness, gives us a false sense of security. Weather extremes have begun reaching us here too, and there's more to come.
Like most places in the United States, Charlottesville locks too many of its most troubled, and untroubled, people up behind bars and out-of-sight. Like most places, Charlottesville consumes products from around the world created in severely inhumane conditions.
I'm not sure I could spend my time writing about violence and injustice if I weren't living in a place that suggests that's not all that's possible, but we all must work on making our happy places possible without hidden dependencies on violence and injustice.
Chris Hedges says that Palestinians have the right to self-defense in the form of rockets, without including any consideration of whether the rockets make the Palestinians more or less defended. There is, after all, a reasonable argument that the rockets are counter-productive and endangering, rather than protecting, Palestine.
Legally, if we ignore the Kellogg-Briand Pact and stick to the U.N. Charter, much less its frequent abuse by the powerful nations of the world, there is no doubt that Hedges is correct. If demolishing Iraqi or Afghan or Libyan or Pakistani or Yemeni homes is "defense" of the United States, then surely the people of Gaza, under actual attack, have the legal right to shoot rockets at Israel. That's just basic Western consensus with the hypocrisy removed.
"[M]any Palestinians, especially young men trapped in overcrowded hovels where they have no work and little dignity," writes Hedges, "will risk immediate death to defy the slow, humiliating death of occupation. I cannot blame them."
Here are the false choices framed: either we blame the victims of Israel's vicious and massive assault on a trapped population, blame them for reacting as virtually anyone else in the so-called developed world would, or we advocate for the right to fight defensive wars -- regardless of whether it helps or hurts the situation. Those are not the only options.
I'm not sure I can prove that the rockets hurt the situation, but to render the question inadmissible seems fatally flawed. The justification that the U.S. Congress and White House use for arming Israel and seeking to shelter Israel from legal consequences is always and exclusively the rockets. The justification that Israeli spokespeople use on television is likewise almost entirely the rockets. In a world without the rockets, would other excuses prove successful? It's hard to say for sure. But the rockets provide the public packaging for Israeli war-making, accomplish virtually nothing in military terms, and almost certainly do more to frighten and enrage the people of Israel than to bring Israelis around to sympathizing with the plight of their government's victims.
I've just spoken by phone with a smart writer in Gaza named Sarah Ali for an upcoming edition of Talk Nation Radio. She explained to me quite eloquently how Israeli attacks on Gaza were generating support for Hamas and violence against Israel. She described the emotional need to fight back. So, I asked her if rocket attacks on Israel weren't likewise counterproductive. No, she said, she imagined that Israelis saw the rockets and began to understand the point of view of Palestinians. In the absence of any evidence of that phenomenon, I can only say that I'll believe it when I see it. In every case I'm aware of in which one nation has militarily attacked another, it has done far more to enrage than to stimulate sympathy in the people coming under attack.
Of course, I have no right to tell the people of Gaza what to do or not do from the comfort of my home in the heart of the imperial monster that is funding their apocalypse. Of course I cannot know the situation as they know it. But it's not clear to me that every Gazan has as deep a familiarity with Israelis or every Israeli with Gazans as one might imagine from their geographic vicinity. The division between these two societies is extreme. How else could Israelis imagine children as their enemies? And how else could those children's parents imagine that firing rockets would win over hearts and minds?
Probably the biggest news story of 1928 was the war-making nations of the world coming together on August 27th and legally outlawing war. It's a story that's not told in our history books, but it's not secret CIA history. There was no CIA. There was virtually no weapons industry as we know it. There weren't two political parties in the United States uniting in support of war after war. In fact, the four biggest political parties in the United States all backed abolishing war.
Cue whining, polysyllabic screech: "But it didn't wooooooooork!"
I wouldn't be bothering with it if it had. In its defense, the Kellogg-Briand Pact (look it up or read my book) was used to prosecute the makers of war on the losing sides following World War II (an historic first), and -- for whatever combination of reasons (nukes? enlightenment? luck?) -- the armed nations of the world have not waged war on each other since, preferring to slaughter the world's poor instead. Significant compliance following the very first prosecution is a record that almost no other law can claim.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact has two chief values, as I see it. First, it's the law of the land in 85 nations including the United States, and it bans all war-making. For those who claim that the U.S. Constitution sanctions or requires wars regardless of treaty obligations, the Peace Pact is no more relevant than the U.N. Charter or the Geneva Conventions or the Anti-Torture Convention or any other treaty. But for those who read the laws as they are written, beginning to comply with the Kellogg-Briand Pact makes far more sense than legalizing drone murders or torture or bribery or corporate personhood or imprisonment without trial or any of the other lovely practices we've been "legalizing" on the flimsiest of legal arguments. I'm not against new national or international laws against war; ban it 1,000 times, by all means, if there's the slightest chance that one of them will stick. But there is, for what it's worth, already a law on the books if we care to acknowledge it.
Second, the movement that created the Pact of Paris grew out of a widespread mainstream international understanding that war must be abolished, as slavery and blood feuds and duelling and other institutions were being abolished. While advocates of outlawing war believed other steps would be required: a change in the culture, demilitarization, the establishment of international authorities and nonviolent forms of conflict resolution, prosecutions and targeted sanctions against war-makers; while most believed this would be the work of generations; while the forces leading toward World War II were understood and protested against for decades; the explicit and successful intention was to make a start of it by outlawing and formally renouncing and rendering illegitimate all war, not aggressive war or unsanctioned war or inappropriate war, but war.
In the never-ending aftermath of World War II, the U.N. Charter has formalized and popularized a very different conception of war's legality. I've just interviewed Ben Ferencz, aged 94, the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, for an upcoming edition of Talk Nation Radio. He describes the Nuremberg prosecutions as happening under the framework of the U.N. Charter, or something identical to it, despite the chronological problem. He believes that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal. But he claims not to know whether the U.S. invasion and ongoing over-12-year war on Afghanistan is legal or not. Why? Not because it fits either of the two gaping loopholes opened up by the U.N. Charter, that is: not because it is U.N.-authorized or defensive, but -- as far as I can make out -- just because those loopholes exist and therefore wars might be legal and it's unpleasant to acknowledge that the wars waged by one's own nation are not.
Of course, plenty of people thought more or less like that in the 1920s and 1930s, but plenty of people also did not. In the era of the United Nations, NATO, the CIA, and Lockheed Martin we have seen steady progress in the doomed attempt, not to eliminate war, but to civilize it. The United States leads the way in arming the rest of the world, maintaining a military presence in most of the world, and launching wars. Western allies and nations armed, free-of-charge, by the United States, including Israel, advance war-making and war-civilizing, not war-abolition. The notion that war can be eliminated using the tool of war, making war on war-makers in order to teach them not to make war, has had a far longer run than the Kellogg-Briand Pact had prior to its supposed failure and the Truman Administration's remaking of the U.S. government into a permanent war machine in the cause of progress.
Civilizing war for the benefit of the world has been an abysmal failure. We now have wars launched on unarmed defenseless people thousands of miles away in the name of "defense." We now have wars depicted as U.N.-authorized because the U.N. once passed a resolution related to the nation being destroyed. And just seconds before the Israeli military blows up your house in Gaza, they ring you up on the telephone to give you a proper warning.
I remember a comedy sketch from Steve Martin mocking the phony politeness of Los Angeles: a line of people waited their turn to withdraw cash from a bank machine, while a line of armed robbers waited their turn in a separate line to politely ask for and steal each person's money. War is past the point of such parody. There is no space left for satire. Governments are phoning families to tell them they're about to be slaughtered, and then bombing the shelters they flee to if they manage to flee.
Is mass-murder acceptable if done without rape or torture or excessive targeting of children or the use of particular types of chemical weapons, as long as the victims are telephoned first or the murderers are associated with a group of people harmed by war several decades back?
Here's a new initiative that says No, the abolition of the greatest evil needs a renaissance and completion: WorldBeyondWar.org.