Remarks in Los Angeles, May 10, 2014.
Thank you to Pat Alviso and all the individuals and groups involved in setting this event up. Thank you to Lila Garrett for doing twice what I do at twice my age, including hosting the best radio show around. And thank you to our friend, recently lost, Tim Carpenter, for whom there is a memorial event today in Massachusetts. We will not forget you, Tim, and we will carry on.
Now, about ending war.
When we start talking about ending war, one common reaction — not as common as “You’re a lunatic,” but fairly common — is to propose that if we want to get rid of war we’ll have to get rid of something else first, or sometimes it’s a series of something elses. We’ll have to get rid of bankers or bribery or the current structure of our government, or the corporate media monopoly. We’ll have to get rid of racism or bigotry or extreme materialism. We’ll have to abolish capitalism or environmental exploitation or religion or greed or resource shortages or sociopaths, and then we’ll be able to move on to abolishing war.
Now, I think there’s truth and falsehood in a lot of such two-step proposals. War is made easier by many evil things. Ending war would be easier if we ended those things. Ending war and some other things together might be an easier job because of the broader coalition that would work on it. And I’m in favor of ending lots of bad things — racism, bribery, predatory capitalism, mass incarceration, the White House Correspondents Dinner, etc. — and I would be even if doing so didn’t help end war.
But war is not made necessary by anything else. The United States has roughly 5% of the world’s population and 50% of the world’s military spending. Many nations spend 10% or 5% or less what the United States spends on war, but they don’t have only 5% of the racism or 5% as many sociopaths (how ever those are defined). Nations with plenty of bigotry and serious resource shortages manage to nonetheless avoid U.S. levels of war investment (whether measured absolutely or as a proportion of wealth). The U.S. media at the moment seems to care about burned Nigerians more than burned Ukrainians; racism can serve imperialism but can also be trumped by it.
In addition, if you look at particular wars launched and possible wars not launched, it becomes clear that the decisions are entirely contingent on human choices. When a particular war is stopped, the lesson we ought to take away is not that the forces of consumerism and capitalism and exploitation will build up greater pressure, making it more likely than before that another war will soon be launched. The lesson we ought to take away, on the contrary, is that because one war has been stopped, the next war can be stopped as well, and the one after it, and the next 100 after that one.
I’m a big fan of the journalist Seymour Hersh, including of the help he’s been in exposing the fraudulent case that was built up to support a White House proposal last summer for missile strikes into Syria — and the help he’s been in exposing the massive scale of the attack that was being contemplated. Some of us had figured out all on our own that when Secretary of State John Kerry said the missile strikes would shift the balance in the war AND be so small as to have no effect on the war, at least one of those two assertions had to be false. It turns out that the plan was for a major assault, not a tiny one. What the result would have been nobody can be sure — beyond widespread death, injury, trauma, and suffering. Two wings of B-52 bombers carrying 2,000-pound bombs were to take out “electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.” This was not a few missiles. This was shock and awe, targeting numerous facilities in densely populated urban areas. If you need an example of the Obama White House immediately expanding a war like this one once begun, the obvious example is Libya.
But when Hersh writes and talks about what went on back in August and September, he doesn’t seem to even consider the possibility that public pressure might have played even the slightest role in preventing the missile strikes. Democracy Now! interviewed Hersh and didn’t raise the topic. I don’t mean to pick on Seymour Hersh or Democracy Now! Nobody else has done any different. A friend of mine, a former CIA officer, Ray McGovern, has been doing some great writing about Syria. He, like Hersh, considers the steps taken by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Congress, the Russians, the President. Nowhere is the public mentioned.
Now, even if the public played no role whatsoever, that fact in itself would be worthy of serious consideration. Members of both houses of Congress from both parties said they had heard more from their constituents on the missiles-into-Syria proposal than they had heard ever before on anything else, and that what they heard was more one-sided than anything they’d experienced before. If the public had no impact, or if Congress had no impact, the scale of the pretense otherwise — and the possible futility of ever lobbying Congress on anything — would make for a remarkable story.
Virtually this entire country was opposed to the missile strikes. Add to that the fact that Congress members were on break and being directly confronted at district townhall meetings, accused of joining a war on the side of al Qaeda, accused of falling for propaganda again. It didn’t hurt that Jewish holidays left AIPAC missing in action. It was an advantage that many people in the halls of power were themselves reluctant to launch a war. But why were they? Why were members of Congress stating that they didn’t want to be the guy who voted for another Iraq war? Why did the House of Commons oppose a prime minister on war for the first time since Yorktown? Why did the conversation swing away from the missile strikes?
President Obama and his Secretary of State were telling us to watch Youtubes of suffering children and support that suffering or support missile strikes. That’s not a half-hearted sales pitch. Wall Street was completely sold: Raytheon, the company that made the missiles, saw its stock hit an all-time high. The leaders of both big political parties were on board. The corporate news outlets were gung ho. John Kerry was calling Bashar al Assad a new Hitler. The illegality of the proposed action was hardly a blip in the conversation, the way it might have been before Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya and the drone wars. Illegality had become the new normal.
Russia and Syria came up with a solution, but they’d been willing to do that for some time. President Obama allowed Congress to have a say as he had not on Libya and does not on most drone strikes (we all, including Congress, pretend it’s up to the president to allow Congress to act). But why did he? I think it can help to contrast the war-and-peace climate in the U.S. in 2013 with a different, imaginary one. I proposed this to Ray McGovern, and he completely agreed.
Imagine that the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were considered the peak of U.S. glory, were routinely celebrated, were what everyone had come to hope for as the ideal outcomes for all future wars. Imagine that those who voted against the war on Iraq were shamed and shunned and forced to defend their mistake. Imagine 90% of the country rather than 5 or 10% favored every new war proposal. Imagine that doubt of new assertions about chemical weapons use or other supposed reasons for wars was unheard of. Imagine crowds chanting their demands for more wars, bigger wars, more costly wars, greater destruction, more extravagant atrocities. Imagine the phones in Washington ringing off the hook and the online petitions flooding in with a demand for war rather than a demand to avoid it. In such a climate, would the balance have tipped the little bit that it tipped, bumping war — which is never a last resort — into the position of second resort, from the first-resort action that it had been the day before?
Now, to claim that public pressure, both over the past decade or longer and immediately, may have had some impact is not to reject other factors. This was a horribly timed, horribly marketed war that any self-respecting member of the world’s second-oldest profession, war propaganda, should be ashamed of. Another war might have been harder to stop. Nor would it be right to claim a complete victory, with the U.S. government continuing to arm and train and support fighters in the war, and with no investment in humanitarian aid or diplomacy or nonviolent peace workers to match the public demand. The crisis in Syria rolls on, reinforcing the ridiculous notion that if you aren’t going to bomb a country, there’s nothing else you can do for it. But the resolution of the Syrian Missile Crisis, like the blocking of a sanctions-and-possible-war-on-Iran bill earlier this year, suggests possible victories to come, as well as suggesting that no underlying force makes any war inevitable.
If I had to pick a factor to eliminate, in hopes that war would be eliminated as well, and if I had the magical ability to effectively eliminate any factor I chose, I think I would pick, rather than bigotry or greed, the factor of dishonesty. While you can have dishonesty without war, you cannot have war without dishonesty. You can have lies about other, much smaller public programs: police, schools, parks, courts, housing, agriculture, research, environmental protection, diplomacy, etc., but you can also create and fund such programs without lying about them. In contrast, there’s no example of an honest war, and there’s reason to believe that there cannot be one.
This isn’t new, and it extends as far back as historical records, probably farther. Enemies are dehumanized, threats and abuses are invented or exaggerated, victims in need of rescue or protection or vengeance are airbrushed or pulled out of thin air. Victory is always right around the corner. And if nothing is accomplished, the war is glorified as an end in itself. This country began with these lies about Native Americans. In 1812, among other occasions, Canada was depicted as eager to be liberated. Then Mexico was falsely said to have invaded the United States. Spain was said to have blown up the Maine. President Wilson pretended the troops and arms on the Lusitania had not been public knowledge. The Gulf of Tonkin incident launched war on Vietnam despite never happening. The Gulf War began two-decades of devastation for Iraq after a completely fictional skit created by a public relations company pretended babies had been taken out of incubators.
These are not exceptions. Every war requires such lies about fake motives and omission of real motives, as well as lies about how the war is proceeding. One-sided slaughters of civilians on a scale that ancient and medieval wars couldn’t approach are depicted as sporting contests on battlefields in which the aggressor suffers. Polls find a majority in the United States believing Iraqis benefitted from the war that destroyed Iraq. That lie is more dangerous than the WMD lies ever were. Lies about the glory of WWI after 100 years of war failing to end all war, lies about victory in Korea and nobility in Vietnam: these are major undertakings for governments like ours for a reason.
A central lie for war-makers is the pretense of working for peace. The United States worked for the breakup of Yugoslavia, intentionally prevented negotiated agreements among the parties, and engaged in a massive bombing campaign, 15 years ago, that killed large numbers of people, injured many more, destroyed civilian infrastructure and hospitals and media outlets, and created a refugee crisis that did not exist until after the bombing had begun. This was accomplished through lies, fabrications, and exaggerations about atrocities, and then justified anachronistically as a response to violence that it generated.
The United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society. The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. And among the results of the war was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the government would topple. First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide. And before that would come the murder of two presidents. At that point, in April 1994, Rwanda was in chaos almost on the level of post-liberation Iraq or Libya. The U.S.-backed government post-slaughter took war into the Congo, where 6 million people have since been killed. And we’re taught that Rwanda is a case where more violence was needed, but where the so-called international community, consisting of representatives of 1 percent of nations containing 8 percent of humanity, supposedly failed to act.
Never again!is a shout we hear about Rwanda and about World War II, understood as a war that should have been and a war that righteously was. It’s stunning how many people go back 73 years to find an example they support of what has been our top public investment ever since. But was the good war actually good? It is widely accepted that World War I was unnecessary, yet without World War I its sequel is unimaginable. Ending World War I with punishment of an entire nation rather than of the war makers was understood by wise observers at the time to make World War II very likely. The arms race between the two world wars was widely and correctly understood to be making the second war more likely. U.S. and other Western corporations profited by enriching and arming dangerous governments in Germany and Japan, which also had the support of Western governments between the wars. The United States had tutored Japan in imperialism and then provoked it through territorial expansion, economic sanctions, and assistance to the Chinese military. Winston Churchill obtained a secret commitment from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to bring the United States into the war. The U.S. government expected the Japanese attack, took numerous actions it knew were likely to provoke it, and prior to the attack: ordered its Navy to war with Japan, instituted a draft, collected the names of Japanese Americans, and ignored peace activists marching in the streets for years against the long build-up to a war with Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye proposed talks with the United States in July 1941, which Roosevelt rejected. President Roosevelt lied to the U.S. public about Nazi attacks on ships and plans to take over the Americas in an effort to win support for entering the war. President Roosevelt and the U.S. government blocked efforts to allow Jewish refugees into the United States or elsewhere. Facts about Nazi crimes in concentration camps were available but played no part in war propaganda until after the war was over. Wise voices predicted accurately that continuing the war would mean the escalation of those crimes. After gaining air superiority, the Allies declined to raid the camps or bomb the railway lines to them. No crimes apart from the war, by any nation, remotely matched in scale the death and destruction of the war itself. The U.S. military and government knew that Japan would surrender without the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japanese cities, but dropped them anyway. The U.S. military put numerous Japanese and German war criminals on its staff following the war. U.S. doctors, engaging in human experimentation during and after World War II, widely viewed the Nuremberg Code as applicable only to Germans. Nonviolent resistance to Nazism in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and even in Berlin — poorly planned and developed though it was in that day and age — showed remarkable potential. World War II gave the world: wars in which civilians are the primary victims, as well as a permanent massive U.S. military aggressively present around the globe.
It takes two sides to wage a war between wealthy nations. The crimes of one side don’t excuse the crimes of the other. The point of recognizing them is to avoid their repetition. Japan’s president, with U.S. support, hopes to remove peace from Japan’s Constitution. The U.S. government is backing a coup in Ukraine that includes Nazis among its leaders. We are handicapped if we don’t know we’ve been here before. If we only ever say “Never again!” after horrors rather than before them, then the life expectancy of our species is severely limited.
World War II became the good war in contrast to Vietnam, or what the Vietnamese call the American War. Afghanistan became a good war in contrast to Iraq. But we don’t view cases of slavery or child abuse or rape as good because other cases are worse. Afghanistan was and is as illegal and immoral and counterproductive on its own despicable terms as Iraq. Decades of horrible policies preceded the latest assault, just as with Iraq. Allies were made enemies and demonized, just as in Iraq. The bulk of the population that just wants to live in peace was deemed essentially valueless, just as in Iraq. There was no U.N. authorization, just as in Iraq. And every effort was made to avoid any peaceful resolution, just as with Iraq. A group of mostly Saudi hijackers had spent time in a number of nations and U.S. states. The Taliban government was willing to turn Osama bin Laden over to a neutral country to be put on trial. The Taliban was not itself al Qaeda, and the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan not only did not support the attacks of 911 but had never heard about them. Over a dozen years into this war, the idea to keep 5,000 troops there for another 10 years and beyond is being reported, not as a decision to keep troops there but as a decision to keep fewer than 10,000, as if keeping 10,000 troops in a country were just the norm. In fact, the U.S. has some million troops in 175 nations; that’s an average of 5,714.
Three years ago, the White House claimed that Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi — conveniently, as the head of a government on a Pentagon list of governments to be overthrown — had threated to massacre the people of Benghazi with “no mercy,” but the New York Times reported that Gaddafi’s threat was directed at rebel fighters, not civilians, and that Gaddafi promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away.” Gaddafi also offered to allow rebel fighters to escape to Egypt if they preferred not to fight to the death. Yet President Obama warned of imminent genocide. The result of NATO joining the war was probably more killing, not less. It certainly extended a war that looked likely to end soon with a victory for Gaddafi.
Last year, the White House claimed with Bush-like certainty that the government of Syria had used chemical weapons. Piece by piece the evidence for that claim has fallen apart. It now looks quite unlikely that the government used chemical weapons, and altogether certain that President Obama possessed no solid evidence that it had. It’s also certain that the use of chemical weapons, just like the so-called harboring of bin Laden, and just like the supposed stockpiling of weapons in Iraq, would not have been a legal or moral or practical reason for a war even if true. The same goes for Iran possessing a nuclear weapons program, which we’ve been told for 30 years, but which has never been true. Read Gareth Porter’s new book if you haven’t.
And how are the drone wars dependent on lies? Let me count the ways. There’s the lie that murder is legal if it’s part of a war, the lie that the warmaker gets to make that determination, the lie that a war can be limitless in time and space, the lie that killing people is more humane than arresting and prosecuting them, the lie that the people killed are small in number, the lie that the people killed pose an imminent threat to the United States, the lie that Obama’s claimed justification for killing one U.S. citizen actually justified it despite conflicting with all known facts of the case and despite being presented in a speech rather than a court of law, the lie that the killing of other U.S. citizens is therefore justified too, the lie that killing non-U.S. citizens requires less justification, the lie that the killings are discriminate and targeted unlike the killing done by bad weapons like poison gas, the lie that whole communities aren’t traumatized by the constant buzzing threat, the lie that we’re being made safer rather than generating enemies, and the lie that a drone war is better than a ground war whereas the drone wars have actually created wars where there weren’t any before.
The very word Ukraine at this point is so packaged in lies as to practically make a liar of anyone who utters it. First there’s the lie that one must choose sides and declare anyone on one’s chosen side angelic and beyond all reproach. This really shuts down conversation, and action. Many well-intended people sought to nonviolently reform or replace a deeply flawed Ukrainian government. That doesn’t change the fact that the coup was violent, that the new government is of dubious legitimacy, that the new government contains neo-Nazi leaders, or that the new government immediately sought to deny acceptance to the Russian language. The story of a popular democratic uprising also misses the growing threat to Russia of U.S. and NATO military expansion eastward over the years, the current efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO, and the extensive efforts of the U.S. government to influence Ukrainian politics and activism, to the tune of $5 billion, with the outcome of the coup being the installation of the U.S. State Department’s chosen man as president. Obama refers to the duly elected government of Ukraine as if a NATO member but it isn’t and wasn’t elected. We’ve seen the U.S. media push and then retract claims about Russian troops in Ukraine (while largely avoiding the massing of U.S. troops and weaponry nearby), and about anti-Semitic actions by Eastern Ukrainians that turned out to be fictional. Federalists are called separatists (and terrorists) and are said to be taking orders from Moscow, although reporters who actually meet them report that they are independent of Russia. Meanwhile, the neo-Nazis of the U.S.-backed coup wave flags of the U.S. Confederacy as well as of Nazism, and burn people to death by the dozens. Their opponents have burned Nazis in effigy, with no sense of irony, and violently attacked them. No major group of ideal saints seems to be involved in this crisis at all. But imagine the relentless barrage of images of burned bodies we would be subjected to if those bodies were in a different country — well, I guess, not in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Jordan or . . . — but I mean in a country on the list to be overthrown, like Syria or Iran.
And imagine the news it would be if the government of Syria sent tanks to attack Syrians, but unarmed crowds (perhaps a bit saintly after all) persuaded the drivers of the tanks to abandon that mission. This happened in Ukraine just after CIA director John Brennan visited. He’s used to drones. Drones don’t stop to have a beer with the enemy. This Prague Spring-like moment of militarism collapsing in the face of humanity is hardly a U.S. news story in the way that speculation about evil intentions by Russia has become. According to Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin is a new Hitler. According to Obama, the U.S. destruction of Iraq (and murder of a half-million to a million-and-a-half people) was nowhere near as bad as Russia accepting Crimea’s vote to rejoin Russia. There should not have been Russian troops on the streets. Crimea’s departure from Ukraine should be agreed to by the government of Ukraine, if it comes up with one. But the vote by Crimea has no parallel in the U.S. war on Iraq, or in Nazi invasions. Iraqis did not choose to have their home destroyed. Poland did not vote to be invaded. And if Quebec voted to leave Canada and join the U.S. it’s hard to imagine Putin screaming about Nazis or declaring it worse than the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The U.S. public, to its credit, is not longing for a U.S. war in Ukraine. Seven percent want military options considered (poll by McClatchy-Marist, April 7-10), up from six percent a bit earlier (Pew, March 20-23), or 12 percent for U.S. ground troops and 17 percent for air strikes (CNN, March 7-9). The Washington Post says 13% want U.S. military action, and 16% can find Ukraine on a map. Americans place Ukraine in Africa, Asia, Alaska, or the Americas. And the further people place Ukraine on the map from where it actually is, the more they want it attacked — including people who place Ukraine in the United States. So, either they’re suicidal, or they think the United States is itself in Africa or somewhere else. There’s a Canadian comedy show called “Talking to Americans” in which the host asks people on the street in the United States whether they believe it’s reached the point where there’s no choice but to bomb _________ (and he makes up the name of a fictional country). People who hear the country’s name for the first time declare that in fact it must be bombed. They’re sorry that it must be bombed, but the world is full of bad people and there just isn’t any other choice. Sometimes I think de-funding war to fund education presents a chicken and egg problem.
Congress members including the House so-called “Defense” Appropriations subcommittee chair are using Ukraine as a reason to keep a war slush fund going for another year, as well as a reason to halt any reduction in nuclear weapons. Some profiteers would no doubt be happy to make billions from weapons even if the weapons are never used. Sadly, it doesn’t tend to work out that way. And their playing around with a conflict between two nuclear nations is as suicidal as any fossil fuel lobbying.
If we’re going to stop not just one war, but the machinery that drives us toward more wars, we’re going to have to come to an understanding that war can be eliminated from the world. That’s the mission of a new project I’m working on called WorldBeyondWar.org. As long as it is believed that there must be wars, the United States is going to want to sell the weaponry, get involved, and be guaranteed overwhelmingly superior force. Some people believe we’re trapped in a hopelessly pro-war culture. See if you know who this quote is from:
“We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong. We live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.”
If you said the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, you were right. He sounds like a jerk because overt racism is not an unquestionable part of our culture anymore. In fact, it can get you banned from the NBA. But when a professor from Stanford named Ian Morris publishes a nonsensical book claiming that war is good for us, his career carries on just fine. When a weapons CEO jokes on NPR, as I heard him do prior to the attack on Libya, that if the occupation of Afghanistan has to end he hopes there can be an occupation of Libya, nobody demands his resignation.
But if you step outside of our culture for a moment, in your mind, and think Why is it OK to joke about mass murder for profit? Why is it acceptable for Congress Members to talk about militarism as a jobs program? Why did a Congressman publicly say he was voting against Iraq war funding because his brother died in Vietnam, and not because 4 million died in Vietnam and 1 million in Iraq and mass murder is the responsibility of each and every one of us because no man is an island? When you ask those questions, then the Donald-Sterling everybody’s doing it defense looks shameful, even about something that everyone really is doing.
Not everyone’s buying the lies. The lies aren’t working well enough to sell any war, but they are working well enough to keep alive the idea that there might be a good war some day. Ridding ourselves of that idea is a matter of survival at this point. Or in the words of George W. Bush, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me — umm — err — uh — can’t get fooled again.”
Polling for war support is not just low on Ukraine. It’s very similar on U.S. desire for a war with Iran, or for U.S. military involvement in Syria. Many more Americans believe in ghosts and UFOs, according to the polls, than believe that these would be good wars. The U.S. public never got behind the war on Libya, and for years a majority has said that the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan never should have been launched. The search for a good war is beginning to look as futile as the search for the mythical city of El Dorado. And yet that search remains our top public project.
The U.S. military swallows 55.2 percent of federal discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project. Televised U.S. sporting events thank members of the military for watching from 175 nations. U.S. aircraft carriers patrol the world’s seas. U.S. drones buzz the skies of nations thousands of miles from our shores.
No other nation spends remotely comparable funds on militarism, and much of what the United States buys has no defensive purpose — unless “defense” is understood as deterrence or preemption or, indeed, aggression. As the world’s number one supplier of weapons to other nations, ours may be said to extend its search for a good war beyond its own affairs as well.
A 2006 National Intelligence Estimate found that U.S. wars were generating anti-U.S. sentiment. Former military officials, including Stanley McChrystal, say drone strikes are producing more enemies than they are killing. A WIN/Gallup poll of 65 nations at the end of 2013 found the U.S. far ahead of any other as the nation people believed was the greatest threat to peace in the world. When I lived near Vicenza, Italy, pre-911, people tended to like Americans despite the Army base. Now that they’ve built an enormous new base despite overwhelming local opposition, feelings are not quite as friendly. People who tried to stop the base just posted a video online of themselves cutting a fence, going in, and planting marijuana seeds everywhere — set to music; you should watch it.
Tim Carpenter always used to talk about healthcare, not warfare. He had his priorities right. But we spend twice per capita what any other nation spends on healthcare, and we get worse healthcare as a result of how we spend it. We spend SEVERAL TIMES what any other nation spends on war and war preparation. And we get a lower level of safety because of how we spend it. Canadians don’t go without healthcare, and there are no anti-Canadian terrorist networks. It’s the country that routinely bombs people in the name of fighting terrorism that is generating all the terrorism.
It is the ethics of a coward to believe that safety justifies all, but of a fool to commit immoral acts that actually endanger oneself. And what is more immoral than modern wars, with deaths and injuries so massive, so one-sided, and so heavily civilian?
Military spending produces fewer jobs than spending on education or infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people, according to studies by the Political Economy Research Institute. It is the ethics of a sociopath to justify killing for economic gain, but of a fool to do so for economic loss.
The military is our top consumer of petroleum and creator of superfund sites, in addition to being the hole into which we sink the funds that could address the real danger of climate change.
War justifies secrecy and the erosion of liberties: warrantless surveillance, lawless imprisonment, torture, and assassination, even as wars are marketed as defending “freedom.” Did you see the report last week that Haji Gulalai, Afghanistan’s “torturer-in-chief,” over a period of several years of the U.S. occupation is now living in a two-story pink house in a suburb of Los Angeles, having brought a dozen relatives with him, not bothered to learn English, and remaining unemployed? He sounds a lot like George W. Bush. Both should be prosecuted, as should Condoleezza Rice who has just been stopped from speaking at Rutgers’ graduation by student protests.
Another thing the keeping war around does is keep weapons around that could destroy the planet. Maintenance of nuclear and other weapons for war risks intentional or accidental catastrophe.
The downsides to war, even for an aggressor nation with overwhelming fire power, are voluminous. The upside would seem to be that if we keep fighting wars, one of them might turn out to be a good one. But, here’s the thing: We don’t need a good one. We have the knowledge and the resources to avoid conflicts, to resolve conflicts nonviolently, and to resist violence nonviolently more effectively than it can be resisted using violence.
It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. Round up to $50 billion per year to provide the world with both food and water. That’s 5 percent of the roughly $1 trillion the U.S. wastes every year on militarism. Foreign aid is $23 billion now. It would cost very little to make the U.S. the most beloved rather than most feared nation on earth. Refraining from war-making would cost nothing and on the contrary save a fortune that could be spent at home and abroad. Spending a bit of it on useful projects would save many times the number of lives that would be spared by avoiding the warmaking.
What if we invested in peace education, nonviolent activist training, conflict negotiation, human-shields and nonviolent peace teams, aid, diplomacy, the rule of law, and sustainable energy? To hear President Obama talk you’d think we were already headed that way and the world was outraged about it. “Typically,” Obama said last week, “criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force.” Really? That’s why people rank the U.S. as the greatest threat to peace in the world? Of course, by critics Obama means corporate television and rightwing warmongers and Republicans. Perhaps he even means his own Republican Secretary of so-called Defense Chuck Hagel who just made this comment in support of incredible levels of military spending: “We want our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines active around the world, deploying with greater frequency and agility, with the skills and expertise needed to build security capacity in each region.” Really? Who’s we?
I want to close with a few things you can do, before taking questions. There are sign-up cards for WorldBeyondWar.org around in the room. They have a survey question at the top that it would be very helpful if everyone could answer Yes or No. Then there’s a short statement to sign if you agree with it. Thousands of people have signed from 57 nations thus far. This is how we’re going to build an international pivot to peace instead of a pivot to war in Asia. Then there are places to check if you’d like to join in in any way.
You can also start planning, and maybe some of you are already, for the International Day of Peace on September 21st. Join an existing event and enlarge it, or start a new one and we’ll help promote it. There are resources you can use at WorldBeyondWar.org.
Also start planning for an October 4th global day of actions against drones.
Connecticut has established a commission to work on converting from war to peace industries. Los Angeles and/or California could use one of those.
Other things to tell Congress (and come to RootsAction.org where I work on online activism and where you can create your own online petitions):
1. Repeal the authorizations for the use of military force from Afghanistan and Iraq
2. End the occupation of Afghanistan
3. End drone murders
4. Disband NATO
And I would add, out of the millions of other things you might tell Congress, do not put troops back into the Philippines, do not build a Navy base on Jeju Island South Korea, and do not build a new Marine base on Okinawa, Japan. Ten days from today I’ll be speaking at an event in Washington with a mayor from Okinawa who was elected to stop the construction of a base that the people of Okinawa overwhelmingly oppose. Congress should hear his message from you while he’s in town. And I hope he has as good a crowd as this one today. Thank you for being here.