Remarks at event for WorldBeyondWar.org in Washington, D.C., on August 9, 2014.
Welcome. I’m going to say a few words and then introduce each of our other speakers, who will each speak for 10 minutes or less, and then we’ll open it up for discussion with all of us.
World Beyond War is a brand new organization, just beginning to organize volunteers, raise funds, hire staff, and post advertisements online and around the world. I’m the only paid staff thus far, and that’s part-time. But thousands of people and organizations of all kinds from 70 nations thus far have signed the pledge at WorldBeyondWar.org. It reads — in English; we have it posted in many languages, and can use more translations from any of you who are able:
“I understand that wars and militarism make us less safe rather than protect us, that they kill, injure and traumatize adults, children and infants, severely damage the natural environment, erode civil liberties, and drain our economies, siphoning resources from life-affirming activities. I commit to engage in and support nonviolent efforts to end all war and preparations for war and to create a sustainable and just peace.”
We’re passing around sign-up sheets on which you can sign your name if you agree with that. You can also indicate how you’d like to be involved, if you would. I hope you will. This is a global effort, but just as the movement to abolish slavery needed to begin in London, this new birth for the movement to abolish war can only get so far without strong participation in Washington, D.C., participation that works together with our allies around the world, many of whom are pushing back against militarism that is funded and directed here, as well as weapons produced in this country and marketed abroad from here.
Why now? Here we are at 100 years since World War One was launched, and people have been trying — and pretending to be trying — to use war to end war ever since, and — like using capital punishment to end murder or using beer to end alcoholism — it’s been a doomed pursuit.
Here we are at 69 years since Truman dropped the bombs on Japan, lied about the nature of the target, and justified it as revenge, not as a means of ending a war, which he knew it was not, and not as a means of threatening the Soviet Union, which he knew that it was. And we’ve been stockpiling these apocalyptic weapons ever since, knowing that complete destruction due to intentional or accidental use is more likely the more time passes. But people in power in this city believe they are better off the more Russia is antagonized.
Here we are at 50 years since the Gulf of Tonkin incident did not actually happen, the Pentagon is investing millions in commemoration and beautification of the slaughter of 4 million Vietnamese, and President Obama has taken the occasion to start bombing Iraq again, apparently believing that for the first time in history the bombs will generate friendship rather than blowback. It’s amazing how long each threatened minority group in Iraq survived before the U.S. brought democracy, and before the U.S. existed. And now dropping food is accompanied by 500 pound bombs. There is no military solution, says President Obama, only reconciliation can help. Well, then why not drop food on the entire region? It would cost a small fraction of what the missiles and bombs cost. Would that be rewarding terrorists? No, it would be recognizing humanity by ceasing to be terrorists. Dropping bombs on people enrages them and binds their loyalty to those fighting back. If the institution of war were continuing for rational reasons, that lesson would have sunk in by now and stopped it.
Meanwhile in Gaza, genocide has gone mainstream, with discussion of the complete elimination of the people of Gaza openly advocated by top Israeli officials in Israeli media, and by more than a few U.S. columnists, comedians, and crackpots as well. And people protest the slaughter by contrasting it to war. But 97% of the deaths in Gaza are the people of Gaza, and 97% of the deaths in the 2003-2011 war on Iraq were the people of Iraq. One outside observer’s genocide is another patriot’s war. Neither is a tool to end the other, and both are often words for the same thing.
Why choose this moment, when one speech cannot even mention all the wars, to begin an effort to fully eliminate the whole institution from our culture? A decade back, there were marches in the streets and outrage over war lies that had proved false. Nowadays lies about impending danger in Libya, the use of particular weapons in Syria, the construction of particular weapons in Iran, the origins of hostility in Ukraine, the expansion of the U.S. military into Africa and Asia, and the results of the doings of the deadly drones pass by so unnoticed that when Obama starts bombing Iraq, the one place everyone was supposed to know shouldn’t be bombed, at least some people conclude that war is made acceptable by Obama, rather than Obama being made unacceptable by war.
But, you know what, for millions all over the world, Obama and other war makers’ actions are unacceptable when they include war. Even in the United States, opinion has swung against war quite dramatically. Polls in recent months have found under 10 or 20 percent favoring a new U.S. war in any place that can be named: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Ukraine. Two weeks ago the U.S. House voted to forbid any new presidential war in Iraq. There’s no spine there to enforce that measure, and it wasn’t passed by the Senate, but it comes on the heels of dramatic reductions in drone strikes, the blocking of a bill in February what would have committed the United States to joining any Israeli-Iranian war, and the stopping of a proposal in September to send missiles screaming into Syria. The point is not that we’re winning or losing. The point is that we have examples to hold up to those who claim no war can be stopped, and we have opinion dramatically moving our way, even on Israel, whenever specific real wars are named.
The trouble lies in how many people believe an unspecified good war might come along someday, because that myth keeps the military fueled and funded in a manner that makes actual very bad wars likely. The trouble is in “looking forward” because the past has such an extreme antiwar bias. That, and how many people protest less against smaller, less expensive, more aerial, or robotized wars, even as those wars proliferate, concentrate power, and generate new enemies. The problem is the widespread belief that some wars or some parts of some wars can be legal, moral, and useful — a sort of fine-toothed distinction-drawing that we just don’t engage in with other evils like slavery or child abuse or rape.
So there is, in fact, anti-war momentum to be harnessed and encouraged and directed toward the entire institution rather than only each of its separate pieces. But why a new organization? Aren’t there organizations existing that already oppose war? Of course there are. They are not enough. The need is not to divide our resources but to enlarge them by bringing in new people and groups, and to better use our energies by choosing the best strategies we can. There is a job out there that isn’t being done. Much of it is an educational job. Many people do not believe that war can be ended. It’s a ridiculous hurdle but one that has to be taken on. Many believe that war can protect us or protect others. The facts say otherwise, but facts require a lot of support when they’re going up against emotions like fear or the desire to believe that public officials are not sociopathic. A campaign to spread the word that war can and must be eliminated worldwide needs to be created and is something that WorldBeyondWar has just begun.
I spoke at the Veterans For Peace Convention recently, and they are completely on board with helping to advance this effort, as are many other peace organizations. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom supports this. I attended the national committee meeting of the War Resisters League, of which I’m a member, recently, and they share the vision of World Beyond War but have put their resources into particular efforts, all good ones, including opposing teargas, doing counter-recruitment, etc. WorldBeyondWar has begun supporting and will continue working on all sorts of partway steps that move us in the direction of a world beyond war. But we will advance an understanding of war as a cultural preference, not something made inevitable by any of the factors that interact with and facilitate it. And we will seek to reframe antiwar activism as part of the struggle toward the ultimate goal of abolition, rather than as part of a struggle to reform war or civilize war or only lessen war’s damage and stop there.
We’re going to try to stop using the term “we” when referring to public crimes we’ve opposed, stop opposing Pentagon waste more than Pentagon efficiency, stop calling an aggressive institution the defense industry, stop denouncing particular war crimes in a way that suggests a war itself is not a crime, stop opposing dumb wars as if some are smart, stop opposing wars because they leave the military ill-prepared as if we don’t want the military ill-prepared, stop focusing on financial costs and costs to the aggressor in a way that blocks out the nature of a war as a one-sided slaughter, stop celebrating veterans and begin celebrating resisters, and develop a culture of peace that marks peace holidays and thanks peace activists for their service, while making visible the nonviolent alternatives to war.
World Beyond War is also developing a website that makes the strongest case we know how against every argument for war. The case against war that is laid out at WorldBeyondWar.org includes these topics:
War is immoral.
War endangers us.
War threatens our environment.
War erodes our liberties.
War impoverishes us.
That last one is important, and a bit different from how many schools we could have built for the price of one war — which is always a useful point too. The larger point is that ordinary military spending, apart from particular wars, is easily ten times the price of a particular war. And a small fraction of that spending could end starvation, provide clean water, and bring medicine and agriculture and green energy to the world. We could take on real dangers, including environmental ones, rather than generating dangers through war.
We can talk about each argument, but now I want to introduce our next speaker.
Maria Santelli was the founder of the New Mexico GI Rights Hotline and is the Executive Director of a terrific organization here in D.C. called the Center on Conscience and War.
Jeff Bachman is a professorial lecturer in human rights and the Co-Director of the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs program at the School of International Service at American University.
Vincent Intondi is Associate Professor of History at Montgomery College and Director of Research at the Nuclear Studies Institute of the American University here in D.C. He is also author of African Americans Against the Bomb.
Nadia Kamoona is an Iraqi-American student at the University of Virginia, a future international human rights lawyer, and this summer has been an intern for World Beyond War.
Andy Shallal is an Iraqi-American artist, activist, and entrepreneur, and a recent candidate for mayor of Washington, D.C., and the proprietor of Busboys and Poets, which makes him our host this evening.