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Peace and War
Remarks at Houston Peace and Justice Center Conference on April 25, 2015.
I hope to be brief enough to leave lots of time for questions after I talk.
I know that most of you are probably exceptions to what I'm about to say, because I suspect that most of you came here voluntarily. If you're here on duty for the FBI, raise your hand.
You may all be the exceptions, but most people in the United States have no idea of the suffering that war brings.
War brings suffering first through the wasting of some $2 trillion every year, roughly half of it by the U.S. government alone, but much of the weaponry purchased with the other $1 trillion, spent by other governments, is U.S.-made weaponry. Never mind what the money is spent on. It could be dumped in a hole and burned and we'd all be better off, but the most suffering is caused by what it's not spent on.
For tens of billions of dollars the world could end starvation, unclean drinking water, and various health problems; it could invest in green energy and sustainable agriculture and education in massive, undreamed of ways. Yet $2 trillion is wasted every year on a criminal enterprise without redeeming merit of any sort. To get a sense of the scale of the funding, all the accumulated student debt of former and current students in the United States is $1.3 trillion. The United States spends $1.3 trillion on militarism in a single year, and the same amount again the next year, and the next year. For tens of billions, college could be free. Whether the students who emerged would have learned to love the bomb would depend on how the funding was handled and other factors, but a tiny fraction of military spending would do it -- I'm referring to military spending across numerous departments of the government, and it has doubled or close to it during the Bush-Obama wars. Military spending is over half the money Congress spends each year. The recently proposed Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by 1%, which gives you an idea of the extreme limits of debate in U.S. politics, which I think Robert Jensen will be telling us more about. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut.
Now, it's hard to separate deaths due to disease and starvation, from the direct effects of warfare, with warfare creating refugee crises and destroying farms and so forth. It's also true that the financial resources to address human needs could be found in another place other than war, namely in the pockets of the greediest 400 people in the United States. Their hoarding of wealth, even those of them not principally funded by the war machine, can certainly be blamed as well when a child starves to death anywhere on earth. But blame is not a finite quantity. You can blame plutocracy or militarism, and niether one exculpates the other. Military spending could end starvation for the price of a small rounding error and is therefore culpable.
Most people, I think, also fail to understand that the suffering created by military spending is mostly created by routine war preparations by an empire ever planning for more wars, and much less by the wars themselves. We need to stop announcing how many schools we could have had instead of a particular war, because we could have had 10 times as many instead of the routine so-called non-war military spending during the same period. Or, better, we could have provided 10 times as many to the world rather than to one particular little country that is far from the worst off.
Most people also fail to understand that there is no up side to military spending, that it doesn't balance the slaughter of human beings with the creation of jobs. The same money, if spent on peaceful enterprises, would create more jobs and better paying jobs. Military spending is a drain on the economy of the aggressor.
The U.S. weapons industry is the leading arms dealer to the world, and it arms and props up dictatorships on a permanent basis. Who can calculate the suffering that causes? A former president of Egypt was just sentenced to prison for killing protesters, while the current president tortures them to death and gets a personal phone call from President Obama promising him more free weaponry -- billions of dollars worth for free every year, just as for Israel. And when Israel engages in one of its genocidal fits of bombing, the U.S. rushes more weaponry over to fill the armories. The Saudi war on Yemen is a proxy war, not between Iran and anyone but between the United States and the United States. U.S. weapons provided to support a brutal dictator in Yemen are blown up by U.S. weapons sold to a brutal dictator in Saudi Arabia who also uses them to prop up the U.S.-armed brutal dictator in Bahrain.
Wars and arms races around the world are fueled by the United States, but the United States is also the leading direct user of war. And, again, I think most people do not understand the suffering inflicted. U.S. newspapers refer to the U.S. Civil War as the deadliest U.S. war. It killed some 750,000 people, or 2% of the population. Compare that to a million and a half killed out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or 2 million killed in Korea, or 4 million killed in Vietnam, or 3 million killed by war and sanctions in Iraq since 1991 -- 11% of the Iraqi population. Nobody knows these numbers, but even if they did, the lack of understanding would be intense because the United States still thinks of wars in the terms of the last war fought here, other than the wars of Native American genocide, namely the U.S. Civil War. Everyone still talks about so-called battlefields, while the wars are fought in people's cities, towns, and farms. Most people killed are on one side; most are civilian; as many are women and children and elderly as men. More are injured than killed. More are traumatized than injured. Huge areas are depopulated. Permanent refugee camps are created. Poisons unknown during the U.S. Civil War create permanent health crises and birth defect epidemics. Children unborn during wars die later when picking up cluster bombs. And urban societal structures of energy, health, transportation, and education, unknown in the 1860s, are devastated by war's destruction.
On January 26 of this year, Mohammed Tuaiman, age 13, of Marib, Yemen, became the third member of his family to be killed by a U.S. drone strike. The drone struck a car carrying Mohammed, his brother in law, Abdullah al-Zindani, and another man. Mohammed's older brother Maqded told the Guardian newspaper, "I saw all the bodies completely burned, like charcoal. When we arrived we couldn't do anything. We couldn't move the bodies so we just buried them there, near the car."
During the 20th century, not counting the lives that could have been saved with the same money, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous four centuries. The 21st century is in the running to dwarf that record, or indeed to shatter it through nuclear or environmental catastrophe.
Is there any imaginable way in which the most recent 200 million war deaths could have each been just? If 200 million men, women, and children are guilty of something deserving murder, then must we not all be? If even 10 percent of them are, then must we not all be?
On May 15, 2012, Ahmed Abdullah Awadh of Ja'ar, Yemen, was killed. "It was 9 am in the morning," said his neighbor. "I was at home with my son, Majed. Suddenly we heard a loud noise and we all ran out to see what happened. Everyone in the neighborhood came out. To our surprise, we find our sweet neighbor, Ahmed, a taxi driver, burned and in pieces. About 15 minutes later a second strike struck the same place. I survived but my 25 year old son, Majed was hit pretty hard. 50% of his body was burned. When we went to the only clinic we have here in Ja'ar, they said he was too seriously injured to be treated there. The nearest hospital is in Aden, and the main road was closed. It took four hours to get there. I held him in my arms while we were driving, and he kept bleeding. On the third day in the hospital, at 2:30 a.m., Majed's heart stopped and he died."
According to former U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. military creates 10 new enemies for every innocent person it kills. But most of the people being killed are innocent, in the drone strikes, in the bombing campaigns, in the ground wars. Could that help explain why the U.S. loses every war? Why ISIS begs the U.S. to attack it and then watches its recruitment soar after the U.S. obliges? Why 65 nations polled at the end of 2013 almost all said the United States was the greatest threat to peace on earth? Imagine if Canada decides to continue down its current militarist path how many years it will have to work to generate anti-Canadian terrorist groups to match those the United States has germinated? Canada will have to shut down its schools and hospitals to invest in creating animosity abroad if it hopes to catch up at all.
If I weren't speaking to you exceptional people but to a typical group of Americans, I would be asked at the end how the U.S. might defend itself if it reduced its war preparations. Well, how do other nations do it? I don't mean who does France call on when it thinks Libya needs to be destroyed, the region thrown into chaos, thousands of desperate people left to risk their lives on rafts in the Mediterranean trying to escape post-liberation Libya. I mean, how does France defend itself from being conquered by evil foreign hordes? How does Costa Rica or Iceland or Japan or India? To match average military spending by all other nations, the United States would have to cut 95% of its military spending. And what does that extra 95% buy? It buys less safety, not more.
On January 23, 2012, an eight-year-old girl named Seena in Sanhan, Yemen, lost her father to a drone strike. "I want to play outside," she says. "But I can't dream of that ever happening anymore." Numerically, most victims of drone wars in Yemen and Pakistan are not those killed or injured, but those afraid to go outdoors. Families teach children at home rather than send them to school. But how do they teach them to live with the ongoing sense of horror created by the buzzing noise in the sky, the buzzing of an evil god that can obliterate their world at any moment and for no apparent reason? And how does forcing children to live that way "defend" the United States?
Exceptional as you all are, I doubt you can understand -- I certainly cannot understand -- what the weight of 190 million stories like Seena's feels like. Multiply that times 10 according to Stanley McChrystal. What does that feel like? During the war on Iraq of the last decade, U.S. commanders could plan operations that they expected to kill up to 30 innocent Iraqis. If they expected 31, then they had to get Donald Rumsfeld's approval -- which I dare suggest was something of a known known. U.S. deaths in that war amounted to about 0.3% of the death toll, and fittingly Iraqi deaths were valued by the U.S. government at 0.3% the dollar value of U.S. deaths. That is to say, the U.S. typically paid $0 to $5,000 dollars as compensation for an Iraqi life, while the State Department and Blackwater arrived at the figure of $15,000, but the lowest government value for a U.S. life was $5 million assigned by the Food and Drug Administration.
In Pakistan, the people terrorized by U.S. drones heard about the phrase that drone pilots in the United States use to refer to their murders. They call them "bug splat," because to them, on their video monitors, it looks like they are squishing bugs. So an artist created a giant image on a Pakistani farm, visible to drones above, of a young girl for a project called Not A Bug Splat.
Are we idiots? Do we not know that a girl thousands of miles away is a girl? Do we have to be told? Apparently we do. Our entire culture is permeated with the idea that humans must be "humanized" in order to be recognized as humans. When we see photos or hear personal stories with detail about a person or a group of people, when we learn someone's name and daily habits and little quirks and weaknesses, we declare, "Wow, that really humanizes them." Well, I'm sorry, but what the hell were they before they were humanized?
We have liberal law professors who believe that a drone murder that has been observed in close detail can remain in a state of legal limbo: if it's not part of a war then it's murder, but if it's part of a war then it's perfectly fine -- and whether it's part of a war is unknowable because President Obama claims his legal reasoning is officially secret even though we've already seen it. Even thought it blatantly makes no sense, we maintain the formal pretense that secretly it might.
Have any of you seen a movie called My Cousin Vinny? In it a woman screams at her boyfriend for worrying about what pair of pants to wear when he goes deer hunting. Her concern is for the life of the deer, not the pants of, if you can excuse the language, the SOB who shoots the deer. Here's a modified version of that little speech:
Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck whether the son of a bitch who shot you was part of a war or not?
I can't even say UN-authorized war because the U.S. no longer bothers with that.
I can't even say Congressionally authorized war because the president no longer bothers with that.
The latest stage in the U.S. war on Iraq is called Operation Inherent Resolve. Eager to maintain some pretense of relevance, Congress is constantly debating whether to debate whether to "authorize" this ongoing war, which Obama says will go on just the same with or without their feckless chattering. And somehow we're supposed to hear the name "Operation Inherent Resolve" and not burst out laughing at the sort of idiots who would think we were the sort of idiots who would like that name.
Unless of course we are.
But but but but what would you do about ISIS? That's the question, right? A group of rebels created by the previous U.S. war on Iraq kills some people in the style used on a much grander scale by U.S.-backed governments in places like Saudi Arabia, and suddenly it's my job to explain how to destroy ISIS using the same tools that created it? I wouldn't have created it in the first place. Like you, I protested the war that destroyed Iraq before it even began, and before it even began the first time in 1990. And now I have to choose yet more war or nothing, because the range of debate has been limited to another knowingly hopeless U.S. ground war or a knowingly hopeless U.S. air war with ground troops momentarily assigned as enemies of an enemy, albeit not of other enemies?
The Middle East is armed by the United States. The region explodes in death and destruction using weapons 80-90 percent of which come from the United States. The first step is to stop arming the Middle East. The second is to negotiate an arms embargo. The third is to stop propping up brutal dictators. The fourth is to provide humanitarian aid and diplomacy, peaceworkers, human shields, journalists, video cameras, green energy, doctors, agriculture. All of those steps could be launched on Monday. The urgency of the crisis demands it, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
We need a shift from war to peace. This is why preventing the bombing of Syria in 2013 was a short-lived victory. Instead of taking an approach of peace, the CIA sent in arms and trainers and bided its time until better propaganda could be found.
Now, there are lots of things we can do. We can work on transition to peaceful industries at the local, state, and federal levels. We can build up democratic institutions, workplaces, and credit unions that divest from war and offer jobs to those considering the military or mercenary company careers. We can educate, protect, encourage peaceful alternatives, engage in cultural and educational and economic exchanges.
We can build a movement for the abolition of war like the one we are building at WorldBeyondWar.org where people in 112 countries have signed a statement supporting the ending of all war, and I hope you will too.
But one thing in particular that we can do, and related to my current topic, is that we can convey the reality of the human suffering created by war.
Until a video surfaced recently of South Carolina policeman Michael Slager murdering a man named Walter Scott, the media was reporting a package of lies manufactured by the police: a fight that never occurred, witnesses who didn't exist, the victim taking the policeman's taser, etc. The lies collapsed because the video appeared.
I find myself asking why videos of missiles blowing children into little bits and pieces can't dissolve the stories churned out by the Pentagon. With several qualifications, I think part of the answer is that there are not enough videos. The struggle for the right to videotape the police at home in the United States should be accompanied by a campaign to provide video cameras to populations targeted for wars. Of course the struggle to videotape people dying under a bombing campaign is at least as great a challenge as videotaping a murderous policeman, but enough cameras would produce some footage.
We can also search for stories and photographs and promote awareness of them to new audiences. The stories I've mentioned today, and more, are found at SupportYemen.org
We can find stories closer to home as well. The suffering of U.S. troops and mercenaries and their families is more than enough to shatter any heart with even the faintest beat in it. But there's an educational shortcoming. When we only tell the stories of U.S. troops, people imagine that they make up some significant portion of the victims, even half, even a majority. And people imagine that the other victims are also mostly troops and mercenaries. These are dangerous misconceptions that leave the U.S. population offering some significant degree of support for wars that the rest of the world sees as one-sided slaughters.
And, of course, encouraging Americans to think that they should only care about American lives is the root of the problem. It also merges subtly into cheerleading for the military, which merges imperceptibly into cheerleading for the wars.
We need a culture that opposes war and celebrates nonviolent action, peace, the rule of law, and sustainable practices that resist militarism, racism, and extreme materialism.
Yes, yes, yes, of course the presidents and congress members and generals get more blame than the rank and file. Yes, of course, everyone is redeemable, everyone remains human, every troop is a potential resister, whistleblower, and peace activist. But there is nothing accomplished by internalizing "support the troops" propaganda. Nobody says they oppose the death penalty but "support" the guy who flips the switch. Nobody says they oppose mass incarceration but "support" the prison guards. Why should they have to? What would that mean? Our failure to "support the prison guards" is not interpreted as some sort of treasonous plan to harm the prison guards. Why would it be? And, by the way, please go to RootsAction.org to email your state legislators to try to protect prisoners in Texas from dying of extreme heat and other inhumane conditions. You won't be failing to support the prison guards.
I live in Virginia, which probably does more for war than any other U.S. state. But on Thursday I got an email from Francis Boyle who wrote the Biological Weapons Act and who tends to notice when it's being violated. He was alerting people to a notice that the National Biocontainment Laboratories at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, as well as at Boston University, is, in his words, "aerosolizing BSL4 Biowarfare Agents—a telltale sign of offensive biowarfare work for delivery as a weapon by air to human beings." Now, I know that every corner of the United States is packed full of places to protest the military, but Galveston suddenly seems like an especially important one to me.
Another might be Ellington Airport from which I understand drone pilots have been killing people in Afghanistan. If there aren't protests of that yet, there are people in New York, Nevada, California, Virginia, etc., who can help. KnowDrones has been running TV ads in some of these places asking pilots to refuse to fly.
Another thing we can do is to stop celebrating war holidays and instead celebrate peace ones. We have a calendar of peace holidays at WorldBeyondWar.org. Today, for example, is the day on which, in 1974, the Carnation Revolution ended military rule in Portugal. Almost no shots were fired, and crowds of people stuck carnations into the muzzles of rifles and onto the uniforms of soldiers. There are in fact suitable holidays for peace every day of the year, just as there are for war. It's up to us which we choose to mark.
Four years ago Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee created a new holiday that I'm pleased to say I've never heard of anyone celebrating. This is the law as passed:
"The President shall designate a day entitled a National Day of Honor to celebrate members of the Armed Forces who are returning from deployment in support of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat areas."
Catchy, isn't it?
Did the president designate such a day? Just once or annually? I have no idea. But this is part of what the Congresswoman said in proposing it:
"Today I rise . . . to ask support for an amendment that can bring all of us together, the designation of a national day of honor to celebrate the members of the Armed Services who will be returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and other combat areas. This national day of honor would recognize the enormous sacrifice and invaluable service that those phenomenal men and women have undertaken to protect our freedom and share the gift of democracy in other parts of the world. How many of us have stopped to say 'thank you' to a soldier walking alone in an airport. . . . "
Now, the alternative to this is not the apocryphal spitting on troops. The alternative to this is to grow out of a barbaric culture that continues to recruit and train and send off more troops, albeit in such insufficient numbers for the Pentagon that mercenaries and robots are coming to dominate. The alternative is to honestly recognize that even if you say "freedom" and "troops" in the same breath the fact remains unaltered that we lose our freedoms with every passing year of war. The alternative is to join the rest of the earth in recognizing the grotesqueness of pretending that the U.S. military has brought democracy to Iraq or Afghanistan or to the unnamed "other combat areas" that our great democracy does not always afford us the right to even know the names of.
Do not thank a soldier in an airport. If you're able to sit down and speak with a soldier, tell them that you know of veterans who suffer horribly, that you'd like to help, that if they ever want to consider a different career there may be a way to make that change. Give them your number or one for a GI Rights Hotline. And you can say more or less the same thing to the TSA agents in the airport as well of course.
Much more importantly is for us to figure out how we can say to the people of the many places the U.S. military makes war: we are sorry, we are with you, we are working to end it.
PAINTING BY FARIBA ABEDIN.
Chris Woods' excellent new book is called Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars. The title comes from a claim that then-President George W. Bush made for drone wars. The book actually tells a story of gradual injustice. The path from a U.S. government that condemned as criminal the type of murder that drones are used for to one that treats such killings as perfectly legal and routine has been a very gradual and completely extra-legal process.
Drone murders started in October 2001 and, typically enough, the first strike murdered the wrong people. The blame game involved a struggle for control among the Air Force, CENTCOM, and the CIA. The absurdity of the struggle might be brought out by modifying the "Imagine you're a deer" speech in the movie My Cousin Vinny: Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck which agency the son of a bitch who shot you was working for?
Yet much more attention has gone into which agency does what than into how best to pretend it's all legal. CIA team leaders began getting orders to kill rather than capture, and so they did. As of course did the Air Force and the Army. This was novel when it came to the murder of specific, named individuals as opposed to large numbers of unnamed enemies. According to Paul Pillar, deputy chief of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center in the late 1990s, "There was a sense that the White House did not want to put clearly on paper anything that would be seen as authorization to assassinate, but instead preferred more of a wink-and-nod to killing bin Laden."
In the early months of Bush-Cheney, the Air Force and CIA were each struggling to impose the drone murder program on the other. Neither wanted to end up in a heap of trouble for something so illegal. After September 11, Bush told Tenet the CIA could go ahead and murder people without asking for his permission each time. One model for this was Israel's targeted murder program, which the U.S. government denounced as illegal up until 9-11-2001. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was the lead author of an April 2001 U.S. government report that said Israel should cease and desist, and criticized its operation as failing to distinguish protests from terrorism.
How did the U.S. government get from there to a "Homeland Security Department" that trains local police to consider protesters to be terrorists? The answer is: gradually and fundamentally through a change in behavior and culture rather than through legislation or court ruling. By late 2002, the U.S. State Department was being questioned in a press conference as to why it condemned Israeli murders but not similar U.S. murders. Why the double standard? The State Department had no answer whatsoever, and simply stopped criticizing Israel. The U.S. government kept quiet for years, however, about the fact that some of the people it was murdering were U.S. citizens. The groundwork had not yet been prepared sufficiently for the public to swallow that.
Some three-quarters of U.S. drone strikes have been in supposed battlefields. As one weapon among many in an existing war, armed drones have been deemed legal by lawyers and human rights groups across the full spectrum of the tiny percentage of humanity whose governments are engaged in the drone murders -- plus the "United Nations" that serves those governments. What makes the wars legal is never explained, but this sleight of hand was a foot in the door for the acceptance of drone murders. It was only when the drones killed people in other countries where there was no war underway, that any lawyers -- including some of the 750 who've recently signed a petition in support of allowing Harold Koh (who justified drone murders for the State Department) to teach so-called human rights law at New York University -- saw any need to concoct justifications. The UN never authorized the wars on Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya, not that it actually could do so under the Kellogg Briand Pact, and yet the illegal wars were taken as legalizing the bulk of the drone murders. From there, just a little liberal sophistry could "legalize" the rest.
The United Nations Human Rights Council's Asma Jahangir declared non-war drone murders to be murder at the end of 2002. UN investigator (and law partner of Tony Blair's wife) Ben Emmerson noted that in the U.S. view, war could now travel around the world to wherever bad guys went, thus making drone murders anywhere only as illegal as other wars, the legality of which nobody gave a damn about. In fact, the CIA's view, as explained to Congress by CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass in 2013, was that treaties and customary international law could be violated at will, while only domestic U.S. law need be complied with. (And, of course, domestic U.S. laws against murder in the United States might resemble domestic Pakistani or Yemeni laws against murder in Pakistan or Yemen, but resemblance is not identity, and only the U.S. laws matter.)
The growing acceptance of drone murders among Western imperialist lawyers led to all the usual attempts to tweak the crime around the edges: proportionality, careful targeting, etc. But "proportionality" is always in the eye of the killer. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, along with various innocent people, when Stanley McChrystal declared it "proportionate" to blow up a whole house to murder one man. Was it? Was it not? There is no actual answer. Declaring murders "proportionate" is just rhetoric that lawyers have told politicians and generals to apply to human slaughter. In one drone strike in 2006, the CIA killed some 80 innocent people, most of them children. Ben Emmerson expressed mild displeasure. But the question of "proportionality" wasn't raised, because it wasn't helpful rhetoric in that case. During the occupation of Iraq, U.S. commanders could plan operations in which they expected to kill up to 30 innocent people, but if they expected 31 they needed to get Donald Rumsfeld to sign off on it. That's the sort of legal standard that drone murders fit into just fine, especially once any "military aged male" was redefined as an enemy. The CIA even counts innocent women and children as enemies, according to the New York Times.
As drone murders rapidly spread during the Bush-Cheney years (later to absolutely explode during the Obama years) the rank and file enjoyed sharing the videos around. Commanders tried to halt the practice. Then they began releasing select videos while keeping all the others strictly hidden.
As the practice of murdering people with drones in nations where mass-murder hadn't been somehow sanctioned by the banner of "war" became routine, human rights groups like Amnesty International began stating clearly that the United States was violating the law. But over the years, that clear language faded, replaced by doubt and uncertainty. Nowadays, human rights groups document numerous cases of drone murders of innocents and then declare them possibly illegal depending on whether or not they are part of a war, with the question of whether murders in a given country are part of a war having been opened up as a possibility, and with the answer resting at the discretion of the government launching the drones.
By the end of the Bush-Cheney years, the CIA's rules were supposedly changed from launching murderous drone strikes whenever they had a 90% chance of "success" to whenever they had a 50% chance. And how was this measured? It was in fact eliminated by the practice of "signature strikes" in which people are murdered without actually knowing who they are at all. Britain, for its part, cleared the way for murdering its citizens by stripping them of their citizenship as needed.
All of this went on in official secrecy, meaning it was known to anyone who cared to know, but it wasn't supposed to be talked about. The longest serving member of Germany's oversight committee admitted that Western governments were depending largely on the media to find out what their spies and militaries were doing.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize in the White House took drone murders to a whole new level, destabilizing nations like Yemen, and targeting innocents in new ways, including by targeting the rescuers just arrived at the bloody scene of an earlier strike. Blow back against the U.S. picked up, as well as blow back against local populations by groups claiming to be acting in retaliation for U.S. drone murders. The damage drones did in places like Libya during the 2011 U.S.-NATO overthrow was not seen as a reason to step back, but as grounds for yet more drone killing. Growing chaos in Yemen, predicted by observers pointing to the counterproductive effects of the drones strikes, was claimed as a success by Obama. Drone pilots were now committing suicide and suffering moral stress in large numbers, but there was no turning back. A 90% majority in Yemen's National Dialogue wanted armed drones criminalized, but the U.S. State Department wanted the world's nations to buy drones too.
Rather than ending or scaling back the drone-murder program, the Obama White House began publicly defending it and advertising the President's role in authorizing the murders. Or at least that was the course after Harold Koh and gang figured out how exactly they wanted to pretend to "legalize" murder. Even Ben Emmerson says it took them so long because they hadn't yet figured out what excuses to use. Will the dozens of nations now acquiring armed drones need any excuse at all?
Remarks at Physicians for Social Responsibility annual event in Baltimore, Md., April 18, 2015.
It is an honor to be asked to speak to a group of people doing as much strategic and principled good as you, not to mention the good that those of you who are doctors do as doctors and health advocates in your day jobs. The closest I ever came to a respectable profession was when I studied architecture prior to dropping out. I later got a master's degree in philosophy which, combined with a couple of dollars, will get you a bus ride. Anyway, architecture students always read this novel by Ayn Rand called The Fountainhead because the protagonist is an architect. But architecture doesn't really come into it, as the book focuses more on the fact that the guy is also something of a sociopath. But around the time I read that book I also read The Plague by Albert Camus in which the protagonist dedicated himself to cheerfully making the world a better place against overwhelming odds, without any real concern for the likelihood of success, and without any particular mythologizing of the good supposedly accomplished by being a superior bastard. Camus' protagonist has stuck with me, though I haven't reread the book. He's always somewhere in the back of my head. And of course he was a doctor.
I've rather given up on every other profession in our society. NYU has hired Harold Koh, legal architect of the drone wars and legal defender of the 2011 war on Libya and of presidential war powers, to teach human rights law. After students circulated a petition protesting, liberal law professors this week created a counter petition defending Koh's record. Our hope right now does not seem to lie with lawyers. I know there are exceptions, thank goodness.
Teaching in U.S. academia now are John Yoo, David Petraeus, and all variety of killers and torturers. Erik Prince, the creator of the mercenary company Blackwater came on a book tour to the University of Virginia this week and was treated like any good academic. After all, the people his company kills aren't usually Americans or Christians or English speakers. A couple of years back professors at the University of Virginia organized a teach-in in favor of war on Syria. The students have not organized an event for, against, or indifferent to war. I don't turn to academia for inspiration at the moment. I know there are rare exceptions.
Do I even have to mention the shortcomings of the hacks we used to call statesmen and women? The Congressional Progressive Caucus produced its progressive budget this month. It stood no chance of passing. It was a rhetorical statement. Yet it made no mention of an item that takes up a majority of the budget, namely militarism. If you hunted through the numbers you could find that they were proposing to cut military spending, which has doubled during the so-called war on terror -- they were proposing to cut it by 1%. I don't look to politicians for salvation. I would say, in this case as well, that I know there are rare exceptions, except that there really aren't, not in the federal government. There are, at best, people who try to mitigate the damage a bit or who plagiarize that parental (or is it medical?) attitude of "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you" as they sorrowfully destroy the planet.
So I don't really mean to put the weight of humanity on your shoulders, but maybe physicians, or at least some significant number of physicians are a group we can look to with respect and appreciation rather than contempt or sadness.
When I was in philosophy school at the University of Virginia near the home of the guy who wrote that we were endowed by a creator with certain inalienable rights, I came across the idea of how ludicrous that might sound to a doctor. You have to picture the scene of a doctor cutting open a human body and trying to locate the right to free speech, for example. Do people really believe political rights are somehow inherent in us anymore, as opposed to being things we create and struggle to defend? I don't know. But I'll tell you what a lot of people believe. They believe that war is inherent in the human body. Now I ask you, as doctors, have you ever looked into a human brain or any other organ and discovered there a massive cultural institution that requires huge organization, planning, preparations, and investment, and has been completely unknown to most humans who have ever lived? Of course you haven't. If there's anything meant by calling a behavior "natural," war is the furthest thing from it. Raise your hand if you've encountered any epidemics of post traumatic stress from war deprivation. The United States would have to cut its military spending by 95% to match the average of the other 95% of humanity, if the spending is taken per-capita, 99.5% if taken per nation. So if you could find war in a human body, would you find it prominent in U.S. bodies? And in U.S. infants? Of course not. That seems pretty easy to figure out even without medical school, but I'm not sure most Americans would go along with it. War, they believe, is built into us somehow.
OK. Here's an even easier question. War has been evolving technologically and in other ways. Who can tell me the number one way in which war kills people today? Just shout it out.
You know, war used to kill more people than it injured, and it used to kill them first and foremost by spreading deadly diseases. Deadly diseases remain the top cause of death in the poor countries of the earth, but the way war contributes to them is primarily through the diversion of resources into war. While tens of billions of dollars per year could provide the earth with clean drinking water and all sorts of hygienic and medical aid, not to mention ending starvation, two TRILLION dollars every year, half of it from the United States alone, is dumped into war. If military spending were redirected into a global marshall plan and a domestic marshall plan and a massive crash investment in green energy aimed at protecting the planet's climate, imagine the lives that could be saved. As already noted, this very idea is basically absent from discussions of the U.S. government's budget.
Of course, war advances disease and starvation through its active destruction, its generation of refugee crises, and the injuries and trauma it inflicts, so drawing a line between deaths caused by war and those caused by other sicknesses seems difficult. Wars have rendered large areas of the earth uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War has slowed the eradication of polio, and may have spread HIV/AIDS. Land mines make farmland unusable. Et cetera. War "rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality," according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School. Leaning divides war's environmental impact into four areas: "production and testing of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment of terrain, dispersal and persistence of land mines and buried ordnance, and use or storage of military despoliants, toxins, and waste."
According to the World Health Organization, "between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress." Of course that prediction could be wildly off in either direction, possibly depending on what we do in the next 15 years. War is not only our top producer of superfund sites and destroyer of islands used as bombing ranges, but it's our top consumer of petroleum. The U.S. military burns more oil and gas than does each of the majority of nations on earth. The military obsession with oil began as a way to fuel the British Navy. The British Navy wasn't created to fight over the oil. The idea that keeping the wars far away, where they only kill people who don't look like us, the idea that that will keep us safe -- well that idea falls apart if you even glance at it from all different angles, but one story that might stick with people and make the point is the story of John Wayne's death. Raise your hand if you know how John Wayne died.
He died filming pro-war movies and avoiding war himself. He filmed a movie down-wind from a nuclear test site, and an unusually high percentage of the cast and crew died of cancer, including him. You can run but you cannot hide. The Koch brothers' beach houses will go underwater. There's only one little planet and no planet B.
Here's another question. Does the United States spend more money fighting wars or preparing to fight wars?
That's right. We hear loud lamentations over war spending. We read comparisons of war spending and what we could have purchased instead. But war preparations spending, normalized routine "base" military spending is ten times greater. It would stun President Eisenhower in its size, in its profitability, in its privatized nature, and in the degree to which chunks of it are recycled back into the system through bribes we call campaign contributions, just as the people involved spin through a revolving door between public and private sector employment. Opposing a war in order to save money and keep the military prepared for supposedly better wars is a self-defeating argument. It is the preparation for wars that spends most of the money, and that generates the wars.
So, militarism by the greatest purveyor of violence kills first by sucking up all the money, and most of it is for maintaining the military. Actually using the military becomes an excuse for extra funding. But there's another major problem with militarism before even arriving at actual U.S. wars, and that is weapons sales. The United States is far and away the leading seller and donor of military weaponry to the rest of the earth. A good patriotic weapons factory job is a job producing weapons for dictatorships and so-called democracies around the globe. We're trained to think of Western Asia, the Middle East, as inherently violent. But the vast majority of the weapons are from the United States. The U.S. backed dictatorship in Saudi Arabia uses U.S. weapons to support the U.S. backed dictatorships in Bahrain and Yemen, and is currently bombing U.S. weapons in Yemen using other U.S. weapons, which the U.S. is rushing to replenish.
Imagine a prison experiment like the famous one at Stanford where you give some students power over others and wait for cruelty to begin. Only imagine that whenever you use Muslim students you provide each guard and prisoner with tasers, grenades, and automatic assault rifles. A conclusion that Muslims are more violent would be ridiculous. But if you watch a political talk show tomorrow morning, that's what they'll tell you.
Coming finally to war itself, an article in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health said, "Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous 4 centuries."
Despite population growth, this sounds like it might be at odds with the Western academic pretense that war is going away. In fact, that pretense is based largely on the fact that some other forms of violence have declined, combined with a Western view of war that miscounts the dead, attributes many of the dead to other causes, and weighs the dead in places wars occur against the population of the globe or of the distant war power that attacked a poorer country.
The same article goes on to say that "civilian war deaths constitute 85% to 90% of casualties caused by war," including delayed casualties. For example, "seventy percent to 90% of the victims of the 110 million landmines planted since 1960 in 70 countries were civilians." Of course these numbers also indicate something else about war victims: most of them are on one side. When the U.S. attacks Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan and most of the deaths are civilian, those include very few if any U.S. civilians. The civilians killed are all in the place where the war is. And to them can be added most of the non-civilians, as also being residents of the country under attack. When we hear about U.S. war dead, and the suffering of U.S. military families, the suffering can be absolutely heartbreaking. But it is hardly a drop in the bucket of all the damage done. And when U.S. newspapers tell us that the deadliest U.S. war was . . . What? What do they say was the deadliest U.S. war?
Right, the U.S. Civil War, which killed perhaps 750,000 people, compared to a million and a half out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or perhaps 2 million in Korea, 4 million in Vietnam, or something over a million in Iraq. When the U.S. media says that the U.S. Civil War was the deadliest U.S. war without specifying that it is only considering U.S. lives, it keeps the U.S. public misinformed about its largest public investment.
Some of the worst wars in recent years have been in places like the Congo and Sudan that we hear less about, but that our government plays a part in. 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 assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was likely done by the U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda. The West did not send in peaceworkers or negotiators, but allowed the crisis to develop. The killing of civilians in Rwanda has continued ever since, although the killing has been much more heavy in neighboring Congo, where Kagame's government took the war -- with U.S. aid and weapons and troops -- and bombed refugee camps killing some million people. The excuse for going into the Congo has been the hunt for Rwandan war criminals. A real motivation has been Western control and profits from resources, including materials used in the NSA tracking devices we call smart phones. War in the Congo has continued to this day, leaving as many as 6 million dead.
But the worst major war led by U.S. troops in recent years has of course been Iraq, a true sociocide, the killing of a society. I've seen polling suggesting that Americans believe their nation suffered and Iraq benefitted from that war, with a plurality in the U.S. believing Iraqis are grateful. It is on these sorts of lies that arguments for future humanitarian wars rest. In March, Physicians for Social Responsibility co-authored a report called "Body Count" that looks at deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over a 12-year period, finding 1.3 million people killed by U.S.-led warmaking, of whom 1 million were Iraqi. Some have placed the figures much higher, especially in the case of Afghanistan. Others have looked at Iraq from 1991 forward and found a total of 3 million Iraqis killed by U.S.-led wars and sanctions over that longer period. The deaths in recent U.S. wars in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere add to the total, as do the death and suffering of refugees abroad following wars of so-called liberation. One estimate finds 4 million people in Muslim countries killed by U.S.-led wars since 1990.
How does the war on Iraq compare to historical horrors? Well, let's see. The worst single, relatively short event in world history, the worst thing we've done to ourselves, was World War II. One can ignore the decades of decisions that led up to it, from the Treaty of Versailles to the Wall Street funding of Nazis to the rejection of Jewish refugees to the antagonization of Japan. One can ignore the vicious brutality of its conduct including the completely unjustifiable development and use of nuclear weapons. One can claim it was a good war, but one can hardly dispute the vast extent of the death and misery.
The impact of World War II on particular nations varied dramatically, ranging from 16% of the population of Poland killed, all the way down to 0.01% of the population of Iraq killed. That compares to 5% of Iraq's population killed by Operation Iraqi Liberation (the original name in 2003 with the acronym OIL). (That's 1.4 million killed out of 27 million.) Or 11% of the Iraqi population killed by U.S. militarism since 1991. (That's 3 million killed out of 27 million.) In World War II, Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Union suffered a higher percentage of deaths than Iraq has from its recent U.S.-led wars. Most nations did not. Japan lost 3% to 4%. France and Italy lost 1% each. The U.K. lost less than 1%. The United States lost 0.3%. Nine nations in World War II lost a million or more lives. Five or six lost over 3 million. Of course the Soviet Union and China lost a LOT more. But among those that did not lose a million were France, Italy, the U.K., and the United States.
So the United States imposed a level of killing on Iraq that it has not experienced, not even in the U.S. Civil War in which it may have lost 2% of its population. And the damage continues to spread. A group like ISIS has a long ways to go to reach total U.S. murders, or even total Saudi beheadings, but ISIS would not exist without the U.S. attack of 2003. A comprehensive calculation of U.S. killing in Iraq might include some share of ISIS's killings. Of course in saying that, I am aware of the necessity to add the obvious disclaimer that contrary to popular conception blame is not a finite quantity. When you blame someone for something you don't unblame anybody else. ISIS remains 100% guilty of its killings even though it would not have come into existence without the U.S. war machine that is now trying to fix the problem with yet more war.
The second-strangest thing about war is that, unlike other evils that hardly compare to it in evilness, we aren't by and large trying to get rid of it. Instead rules are constantly being devised to distinguish good wars from the bad small wars known as terrorism. The strangest thing about war is that the efforts to devise good wars are making it much easier to start more wars. Drones are still only killing half as many people as U.S. police officers kill, but they are serving to stir up much greater violence. A report by the United Nations special rapporteur, also known as Tony Blair's wife's law partner (remember what I said about lawyers, with apologies to the good ones), maintains that drones have now made war the norm. This is an institution, the U.N., supposedly established to abolish war, albeit by using war to abolish war, that is now declaring war the normal state of affairs. How is such a development, directly related to our biggest public program, not news? A law professor named Rosa Brooks, whose mother I consider something of a genius and a hero who speaks at War Resisters League and other peace events, has herself now advocated for legally establishing permanent war time, doing away with any distinction between peace and war, in order to apply the same laws everywhere all the time.
In her defense there was something unsustainable about the U.S. liberal lawyerly notion that murdering someone with a drone is either murder if not part of a war, or just fine if part of a war, with the determination as to whether or not its part of a war being left up to the people firing the missile, and the answer as to what makes the war legal being left unanswered. But the solution is not to throw in the towel on civilization and declare war eternal and limitless. The solution is to ban weaponized drones, which even by the standards of the civilizers of war, should be no more acceptable, because no more targeted and discriminate, than poison gas. Of the thousands of men, women, and children murdered by drones (and "murder" is the charge brought against the CIA station chief by courts in Pakistan, "murder" is in fact the term used by the U.S. government in its own memo justifying drone murders) -- of the thousands killed, most have been so-called collateral damage, and most of the rest have been profiled, with living-while-Muslim serving as the equivalent of driving-while-black. Many of those actually targeted could easily have been arrested if charged with any crime. And the vast majority of the drone victims are not the dead, and not the wounded, but the traumatized -- the children who dare not go out of doors and who spend days and weeks wondering at what moment everything will be pulverized. Banning fully automated drones but keeping other armed drones legal -- and selling them to dozens of nations -- grossly overestimates the distinction between a drone pilot and a machine. By the accounts of a former drone pilot, there is very little thought involved in the following of illegal orders that constitutes the job of piloting drones.
Unless we end drone wars, the next president will walk into the power to murder at whim, as well as greater war powers and secrecy powers and spying powers than ever before held by anyone on earth. The idea that it matters which individual walks into those powers, choosing between two war mongers, is ridiculous. But let me come back to that.
The damage of all types of war has to include the injuries and the trauma as well as the deaths. It also has to include war's status as top cause of homelessness. Forty-three million people have been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes. The U.N.'s figures for the end of 2013 list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. Colombia comes in second place following years of war, Congo third, Afghanistan fourth. Also in the top of the list: Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Palestine. Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem. Honduran children aren't bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They're fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers.
The case that we're trying to make at World Beyond War for the ending of all war is that war has no upside. It makes us less safe. It robs us of resources. It kills, injures, and harms like nothing else. It drains an economy. It erodes civil liberties. It perverts morality. It damages the natural environment. And it increasingly risks nuclear holocaust. Increasingly -- because of the proliferation of nuclear weaponry and nuclear energy, and because of the lack of interest in preventing disaster.
The Soviet and U.S. occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. U.S. bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan's forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants.
The movements resisting U.S. base construction and presence in South Korea, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Sicily, Sardinia, Italy, England, the Marianas, and even in the United States are focused on preventing environmental damage as well as on preventing war.
Despite the huge catalog of health impacts from war and militarism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health provide zero grants for work on war prevention. And war prevention is not taught in most schools of public health. The NRA is trying to stop doctors from advising kids on the dangers of guns. What about the dangers of enlistment? I've never seen a good argument that we can survive continuing to make war like this, and yet there is just a universal assumption that we will continue it -- just as there was the assumption that plantation slavery would always continue up until just before it ended.
On fossil fuel consumption there is a growing assumption that we will end it, with most people assuming that we will end it at a pace that is probably too slow. And yet somehow this seems to cheer them up.
This week on TomDispatch.com, Michael Klare wrote that a shift to renewable energy is underway and that "perhaps the most impressive indication of this shift can be found in the carbon-reduction plans major nations are now submitting to U.N. authorities in preparation for a global climate summit to be held this December in Paris. . . . These plans, for the most part, have proven to be impressively tough and ambitious. More important yet, the numbers being offered when it comes to carbon reduction would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. The U.S. plan, for example, promises that national carbon emissions will drop 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, which represents a substantial reduction. . . . No one can predict the outcome of the December climate summit, but few observers expect the measures it may endorse to be tough enough to keep future increases in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius, the maximum amount most scientists believe the planet can absorb without incurring climate disasters far beyond anything seen to date. Nevertheless, implementation of the [plans], or even a significant portion of them, would at least produce a significant reduction in fossil fuel consumption and point the way to a different future."
Think about that a minute. The author is predicting a future of disasters far beyond what we've known, and yet a somehow encouraging future because we will have slowed the pace at which we are worsening those disasters for the still more distant future -- even though the new low U.S. consumption in 2025 will still be much higher than current European (or anywhere else) consumption in 2015. This is something like how many Americans think of war. It's become the norm, it's become the main thing we do, we have an economy built around it, we've empowered the president and secret agencies to engage in it no questions asked, polls of the world find the United States overwhelmingly seen as the greatest threat to peace on earth, and yet Steven Pinker and some other imperialist professors say war is going away, so it must be. And that's nice, because we're all for peace, especially the Pentagon. Erik Prince said he was in favor of peace when he spoke at UVA this week.
Today is a day of action everywhere against the Terrible Plutocratic Plan, also known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TPP, also known as NAFTA on steroids, and as the bestowing of nationhood on corporations. That they've packed everything bad on every issue into a single law and are trying to pass it in secret -- even though we know from leaks much of what's in it, ought to be taken as an opportunity to launch a massive popular movement for change, for shifting our priorities from war profiteers and other oligarchs to human needs. That the next presidential election, already underway, is going to put up one incredibly corrupt corporate warmonger against another, both of them possibly from presidential dynasties, ought to be taken as an opportunity. What if we were to withhold a bit of the resources, the money and time, that we usually invest in an election and invest it instead in policy-based activism for peace, the environment, and election reform that would allow us to elect and unelect who we want? The results could be dramatic.
I'm not against elections. I think we should start having elections. In 2016 we will not have a legitimate election with any chance of doing anyone any good in its choice of president. Here's what I think we need:
- No private election spending.
- Free media air time on our air waves for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- Public financing, ballot access, and debate access for candidates qualified by signature gathering.
- No gerrymandering.
- Hand-counted paper ballots publicly counted in every polling place.
- Election day holiday.
- Limited campaign season.
- Automatic voter registration.
- Full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific.
- Voting rights regardless of criminal conviction.
- National popular vote with no electoral college.
- Mandatory voting with an option for "none of the above."
- Abolition of the Senate.
- A larger House of Representatives.
- Direct public vote on important matters (national initiative).
- Ban on war profiteering.
- Ban on secret budgets and agencies.
- Ban on executive power use by vice presidents.
Here's how we could get it: Declare the current system so broken that you will invest not a minute and not a dime in trying to elect anyone president of the United States. Instead, put all that effort and money into a policy-driven nonviolent activist campaign for these reforms and other urgent policy changes (peace, the environment, etc.) at the local, state, and federal levels.
It's a well kept secret that the primary propaganda goal of the government is not to sell us on wars or convince us they care but to persuade us that we are powerless. Why did the government invest such enormous resources in opposing Occupy? Why is the Pentagon working with Facebook to study how emotions can be manipulated and movements stifled? Not because we are powerless! In 2013 the war mongers wanted to bomb Syria. But you had members of Congress reportedly expressing concern that they not become seen as the guy who voted for "another Iraq." Why is Hillary Clinton not already president? Because unlike President Obama she was in the Senate in time to vote for and advocate for and propagandize for the 2003 Iraq invasion. Who made that a badge of shame rather than honor? In large part the peace movement (or I should say the anti-Republican-war movement, which is different from a peace movement).
There are some startling signs that people are ready for actions that require sacrifice. There's a great media outlet here in Baltimore called The Real News Dot Com, and one of their reporters pointed out to me that in the past week, a man has landed his little bicycle-helicopter on the U.S. Capitol Grounds in an attempt to deliver 535 demands to clean the money out of politics, and a man has apparently shot himself to death at the U.S. Capitol after holding up a sign that reportedly said "Tax the 1%." Does that sound like people not ready to organize for action?
We are held back primarily by our accepting and repeating of the propaganda that we have no power. And of course we have a moral duty to try even if there's only the slimmest chance that we have any power. And of course doing so is enjoyable and fulfilling. Read The Plague by Albert Camus. This comes at the end of it:
"It was in the midst of shouts rolling against the terrace wall in massive waves that waxed in volume and duration, while cataracts of fire fell thicker through the darkness, that Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise."
"It's bad enough to be creating more profit incentive for war," I told former head of Blackwater Erik Prince, "but you recycle part of the profits as bribes for more war in the form of so-called campaign contributions. You yourself have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties and candidates. The three of you," I said, referring to Prince, another guest, and the host of a television show that had just finished filming and was taking questions from the audience, "you seem to agree that we need either mercenaries or a draft, ignoring the option of not having these wars, which kill so many people, make us less safe, drain the economy, destroy the natural environment, and erode our civil liberties, with no upside. But this systemic pressure has been created for more war. Will you, Erik Prince, commit to not spending war profits on elections?"
Prince had hardly been asked a serious question during the past hour of filming, but that of course did not mean he would answer one. The point was to raise the topic and put it in the minds of the people sitting and applauding him. Prince tried to answer by talking about how much the F-35 fighter jet costs, continuing the hour-long pretense that if you oppose mercenaries you favor the rest of the military. I cut him off and told him to answer the question. So he said that he was no longer working with the U.S. government but with other governments around the world. Does that mean he'll stop bribing the U.S. government? Does that mean he doesn't bribe other governments? He didn't say.
The event was held at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, which has a long, long tradition of inviting war makers and war advocates, but has never that I know of asked an opponent of the institution of war to speak. The show, minus the question and answer portion, will air on television on May 3rd. The host, Doug Blackmon, asked challenging questions like, "Do you think contractors should receive medals like other soldiers?" The day before the event he'd emailed me this comment:
"We've featured a lot of people over the past two years, with a lot of objections to the war-making of the United States—as well as a lot of objections to mass incarceration, police violence, and other terrible manifestations of our society. We also have heard from people who would disagree with you—but had nothing to do with making war. In any case, this will be a vigorous dialogue tomorrow. It may not cover everything you would cover if you were organizing the same program, but it's a completely appropriate way for us to explore these hugely important and controversial issues, and to hear two sides in a meaningful way."
At the end of the event I asked him whether Prince would have been invited to speak had most of the people Blackwater killed been Americans. Blackmon refused to answer.
The other guest was Ann Hagedorn, author of The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security. Her book is not bad, but from the first moments of the event it became crystal clear why Prince had agreed to take part. The subject of drones wasn't broached, but there was a lot of droning, and ummming, and slow and deliberate prefacing of . . . nothing. I could have clicked the audio on my little electronic device to have it read sections of Hagedorn's book and made a better debate than she made in person. This was frustrating, of course, because the well-spoken Erik Prince needed somebody to reply to the outrages he was uttering. In an attempt to figure out where, if anywhere, Hagedorn was coming from, or perhaps to expose her as a commie peacenik, a member of the audience asked after the show whether, if mercenaries were eliminated, Hagedorn would move on to opposing the standard military. This was actually a good question, because most of Hagedorn's critique of mercenaries, even more so at the event than in the book, was of their differences from other soldiers. But she didn't answer the question. She said that she was a reporter who had no opinions or positions. Inspiring!
Hagedorn's book is not a bad primer for people just discovering that the U.S. military hires mercenary companies. In Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, she writes, the use of mercenaries and other contractors climbed -- under Obama/Clinton direction -- to the point where there were 10 for every 1 troop, 18 for every 1 state department personnel, and 100 for every 1 USAID worker. She criticizes the lack of accountability for what this huge number of people do. She admits that the majority of deaths in these wars are civilians. I say "admits" because at the show taping she claimed that if Americans knew about the deaths of U.S. mercenaries they would then have a good sense of the deaths in the wars. She points out the fear mongering done by mercenary companies as well as governments to gin up business. She writes that of 195 Blackwater shootings between 2005 and 2007 in 84% Blackwater shot first and left the scene. She even quotes someone proposing we have fewer wars and cites the example of South Africa banning mercenaries.
Hagedorn notes Obama and Clinton's flip to support mercenaries beginning in 2009, and their use of them to extend the occupation of Iraq in 2011 while "ending" it. Hillary Clinton, she writes, also pushed shipping companies to hire mercenaries to fend off pirates. The United Nations, too, is using mercenaries. The U.S. border with Mexico is being armed with mercenaries. Immigrants are being handled by mercenaries. U.S. police are being trained by mercenaries (with horrible results).
But Hagedorn is big on patriotism and the supposed democratic public institution of war (which would never survive a Ludlow Amendment creating a public vote on wars). When she called war an inherently public operation on Wednesday, Prince ignored any hint that private war creates more wars and simply pointed to the long history of mercenaries and to examples of other operations that have been privatized.
Blackmon began Wednesday's show by asking Prince about the sentencing of four of his former employees to prison on Monday. Part of Prince's defense was that "We've asked for cameras. . . . The State Department denied them." This is bizarre because he never asserted that anything other than the intentional murder of civilians would have been filmed had there been cameras. He also claimed that his killers could not get a jury of their peers among civilians 7,000 miles away. So, does he want crimes committed in Iraq to be prosecuted in Iraq then?
Hagedorn explicitly refused to discuss the details of the Nissour Square Massacre but did point out that it was the sort of thing that boosted recruitment of forces against the U.S. military/mercenaries.
Blackmon asked if mercenaries had been scapegoated for an overall disaster, but Hagedorn said no, that that made no sense if you considered the scale of the mercenary involvement. Prince said that during the war on Vietnam peace activists went after troops and now they go after mercenaries. "Nature hates a vacuum," he argued, suggesting apparently that Congressional contracts are produced by "nature." Prince also pointed to the murder of Miriam Carey by the U.S. Capitol Police as if one inexcusable killing justifies others. "There was no hue and cry," over that killing he lied, but imagine the uproar if it had been poor little old mercenaries who had done it. Of course, most killings of civilians by mercenaries in distant U.S. wars produce in fact no hue or cry at all back home.
I should note that Prince claims his mercenaries are (were) not mercenaries because they were U.S. military veterans. What that changes he never explained. Instead he calls them "volunteers" despite paying them. Asked about financial interests in keeping wars going, he said what was needed was oversight, but not from Washington, from empowering the people at the front. Whatever that meant. Prince advocated a smaller military budget, and Hagedorn said that smaller overall budgets always mean more for mercenaries.
Repeatedly Prince claimed to be fighting evil people "who want to destroy the Western world, you know, our way of life." He claimed that mercenaries could be hired to destroy ISIS, no problem! He also claimed that what's going on in the Middle East is an age-old Sunni-Shia conflict that the United States can only tweak around the edges (through such steps, I suppose, as destroying ISIS). That each war creates more problems to be addressed with more wars, that ISIS would never have existed without the 2003 invasion, didn't come up (except through my comments during the Q&A).
One questioner suggested that "if war were the path to peace we'd sure have peace by now," and Prince claimed to be for peace. So Hagedorn asked him, a-t l-e-n-g-t-h, to fund the peace movement (even though she has no opinions as a Journalist), and he declined, suggesting that the mercenary industry association should do it. That's an association, by the way, that changed its name from the International Peace Operations Association to the International Stability Operations Association in response to criticism of being "too Orwellian" -- as if war brings stability any more than it brings peace.
Prince said that rather than funding peace he would focus on "protecting Christians who are being driven out of the Holy Land." He said this during the Q&A section with the filming of the show already stopped. Someone might have asked why people of a particular religion were of more value. But then we were at an event that never would have happened if the people whom Prince's company killed had belonged to that religion.
Sheila Carapico is a Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. She discusses the state of affairs in Yemen.
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Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater, visited Charlottesville 8 years ago and explained some of what's wrong with private mercenaries.
He said that the Pentagon is useless to politicians because it doesn't make campaign "contributions". But when you take a big chunk of that enormous military budget and give it to private companies, you free it up to come back (some portion of it) to politicians every campaign season.
Thus you trade higher costs and less oversight for a built-in generator of systemic pressure for more wars. It's win-win-win.
Scahill described the then recent "Bloody Sunday" incident in Baghdad in which Blackwater mercenaries shot and killed approximately 28 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in a square. The Iraqi government claims to have video proving the shooting was unprovoked. Witnesses corroborated that story.
Within hours of the incident, Condoleezza Rice phoned Iraqi President and Bush puppet Nouri al Maliki. Within 5 days Blackwater was back on the streets. Five days. Prison sentences took 8 years.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman asked Prince to testify before Congress, but Prince had previously chosen not to. The State Department told Waxman that any information it provided Congress on occupation contractors would be classified.
Scahill described the size of the problem. There were at the time 181 "security" companies in Iraq and 180,000 private contractors, tens of thousands of whom were mercenaries. And they were basically unaccountable. When a Blackwater mercenary shot and killed the Iraqi Vice President's body guard, Blackwater snuck the shooter out of the country. In February of 2007 year, Waxman held hearings and invited Prince to testify. Prince did not show up, but sent his lawyer instead. Rep. Dennis Kucinich noted at the hearing that Blackwater appeared to be complicit in the flight of a murder suspect.
Blackwater has frequently found itself in gun battles with Iraqis, as recounted by Scahill. The U.S. Embassy, Scahill said, lied when it said it had never had complaints about Blackwater. The Iraqis had complained frequently. But the U.S. wants shock troops, Scahill said. "They want Iraqis to have the fear of god in them if they try to approach Ryan Crocker or Condoleezza Rice."
A US soldier can be court martialed. There had by 2007 been 64 courts martial for murder charges in Iraq, which Scahill found stunningly low, given that in his estimate there had been 750,000 Iraqis killed. Mercenaries are generally not prosecuted under Iraqi or U.S. law or courts martial.
Scahill said that when he recently testified before Congress, the whole issue seemed to be brand new to Congress members. After four years of slaughter and wild west tactics in Iraq, Scahill said, two freshman senators had finally proposed establishing a system of justice for mercenaries.
Scahill seemed to be of two minds about this proposal. He recognized that mercenaries, aggressive wars, and foreign occupations were illegal to begin with, making their regulation a dubious endeavor. He recognized that the mercenary companies were themselves supporting the proposal, and that this was a good indication of how worthless it was. Yet, he found something encouraging about the fact that there was a proposal and a discussion underway.
Scahill had recently given a talk in Eric Prince's home town in Michigan (a town described well in Scahill's book). Prince published an op-ed in the local paper claiming that Blackwater was not a mercenary company. But, Scahill explains, Blackwater has hired soldiers from countries like Chile whose democratically elected governments opposed the occupation, and sent those soldiers to fight in Iraq. Employing soldiers to fight for a foreign power, such as Chileans for the United States, is the very definition of mercenary used by Prince himself.
The Democrats in Congress were asleep on this issue, said Scahill, and he blamed the financial "contributions" they received from the war industry.
Is anyone awake yet?
Prince is still very much active. Possibly due to concern over criminal investigations and civil suits, Prince has set up residents in the United Arab Emirates.
But from there he oversees the same corrupt murderous activities for the U.S. and other governments.
Why exactly does the University of Virginia see fit to invite him to speak?
Andreas Schüller is an attorney on the staff of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He is the lead attorney on a suit being brought by ECCHR and Reprieve against the German government on behalf of three Yemeni survivors of a U.S. drone strike. The case will be heard May 27th in Cologne.
Their suit argues that it is illegal under German law for the German government to allow the U.S. air base at Ramstein to be used for drone murders abroad. The suit comes after the passage of a resolution in the European Parliament in February 2014 urging European nations to "oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings" and to "ensure that the Member States, in conformity with their legal obligations, do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states."
I've always thought of drone murders as illegal under the laws of the countries where the murders happen, as well as under the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact. I asked Schüller: Is your suit seeking prosecution for murder where (or in one of the places where) the act is committed from a distance?
"The suit," he replied, "is based on constitutional rights in Germany and thus not seeking prosecution, but measures by the German administration to stop the use of German territory for illegal actions by the U.S. in Yemen." The central claim, he said, is that the U.S. air base at Ramstein is involved in drone operations, by transmitting data from and to drones through a satellite relay station as well as transatlantic fiber cables. The suit seeks to stop use of the air base's air operations center for analysis of surveillance images sent by drones as part of combat drone missions.
How, I asked, does this differ from the recent indictment of a former CIA station chief in Pakistan?
"The Pakistani case," Schüller said, "deals with drone strikes in the country where they take place in massive numbers and with high numbers of killed civilians. It's about prosecuting individuals responsible for the strikes set up. Our suit concerns the preemptive protection of our clients that are living in an area with continuing drone operations as well as technical and targeting aspects in drone operations and state collaboration."
In the United States it's common for lawyers to claim that murder is legal if it's part of a war, and to defer to the warmakers to tell them if something is part of a war or not; does it matter in your case whether the act was part of a war?
"It is important to prove that the U.S. practice in conducting drone strikes is illegal in several aspects. On the one hand, strikes in Yemen are conducted outside an armed conflict and thus infringe the right to life without any justification. In line with a legal opinion by the German Federal Prosecutor's Office we don't consider the U.S. to be in a global armed conflict against Al-Qaida and associate forces. Even if there would be the case of an armed conflict, the targeting practice by the U.S. is too broad and includes a large number of targets that do not fall under the category of legitimate military targets in an armed conflict. Attacks against those targets are thus illegal, even in armed conflict."
Is Germany obliged by the European Parliament to end drone murders from its soil? (And does this apply to every EU member country?) And by the German Constitution?
"Politically, the European Parliament made a strong statement against the illegal and expanded use of drone strikes. All EU member states are also bound by laws, such as the European Convention of Human Rights, to respect and protect the right to life. A similar provision is part of the German constitution."
Briefly what is the story of the victims in your case?
"On August 29, 2012, five rockets fired by U.S. drones struck the village of Khashamir in eastern Yemen. The extended family of our clients had gathered in the village to celebrate a wedding. Two members of the family were killed in the strike. Other family members were left with ongoing trauma. The family members killed were outspoken critics of AQAP and active in countering their influence in the region through speeches and social activities."
What do you hope to prove?
"It's about the use of German territory for illegal drone operations and the need for European governments to take a stronger legal and political position against the continuing US practice."
What is the timing?
"The lawsuit has been filed in October 2014 with the administrative court in Cologne. In the end of May 2015 an oral hearing will take place. Further court session as well as rendering of a judgment are not foreseeable, as well as appeals procedures."
What could result if you succeed?
"The result could be that the German government must take a stronger position towards the U.S. government to stop the use of the U.S. airbase in Ramstein for drone operations, including activities to rebuild the relay station or the air operations center."
Any benefit for this movement that I just wrote about?
"In Europe, we need to form a transborder activists network addressing and opposing the use of European allies' soil for drone operations. So the German case will definitely be of interest for Italy and other countries in Europe."
What can people do to help?
"The ultimate political goal is to change the U.S. practice of drone strikes and to conduct them according to human rights standards. People must continue to put pressure on governments worldwide to take a clear position on the legal boundaries of drone strikes as well as the long-term consequences in international relations if such an illegal practice continues in many different places worldwide."
Well let's hope the ultimate goal is not murders by flying robots that meet "human rights standards" whatever in the world those might be! But let's help advance this effort to hold the German government to a higher standard than the abysmal one modeled by the United States.
A key witness in court will be former U.S. drone pilot Brandon Bryant. If you know of any other drone pilots willing to speak about what they've done, please let me know.
© ECCHR / Photo: Nihad Nino Pušija
Remarks at Michigan Pax Christi annual state conference, April 11, 2015.
How might we get to a world that doesn't plan and produce wars but lives at peace economically, environmentally, culturally, and legally? How might we switch to systems that avoid conflicts and settle unavoidable conflicts nonviolently?
World Beyond War, one project that I'm working on, intends to accelerate the movement toward ending war and establishing a peace system in two ways: massive education, and nonviolent action to dismantle the war machine. I'm going to quote a bit of a section I wrote in a longer World Beyond War report on alternatives to war.
If we want war to end, we are going to have to work to end it. Even if you think war is lessening - by no means an uncontroversial claim - it won't continue doing so without work. And as long as there is any war, there is a significant danger of widespread war. Wars are notoriously hard to control once begun. With nuclear weapons in the world (and with nuclear plants as potential targets), any war-making carries a risk of apocalypse. War-making and war preparations are destroying our natural environment and diverting resources from a possible rescue effort that would preserve a habitable climate. As a matter of survival, war and preparations for war must be completely abolished, and abolished quickly, by replacing the war system with a peace system.
To accomplish this, we will need a peace movement that differs from past movements that have been against each successive war or against each offensive weapon. We cannot fail to oppose wars, but we must also oppose the entire institution and work toward replacing it.
World Beyond War intends to work globally. While begun in the United States, World Beyond War has worked to include individuals and organizations from around the globe in its decision making. Thousands of people in over 100 countries have thus far signed the pledge on the WorldBeyondWar.org website to work for the elimination of all war.
War does not have a single source, but it does have a largest one. Ending war-making by the United States and its allies would go a very long way toward ending war globally. For those living in the United States, at least, one key place to start ending war is within the U.S. government. This can be worked on together with people affected by US wars and those living near U.S. military bases around the world, which is a fairly large percentage of the people on earth.
Ending U.S. militarism wouldn’t eliminate war globally, but it would eliminate the pressure that is driving several other nations to increase their military spending. It would deprive NATO of its leading advocate for and greatest participant in wars. It would cut off the largest supply of weapons to Western Asia (a.k.a. the Middle East) and other regions. It would remove the major barrier to reconciliation and reunification of Korea. It would create U.S. willingness to support arms treaties, join the International Criminal Court, and allow the United Nations to move in the direction of its stated purpose of eliminating war. It could create a world free of nations threatening first-use of nukes (Pakistan also makes that threat), and a world in which nuclear disarmament might proceed more rapidly. Gone would be the last major nation using cluster bombs or refusing to ban landmines. If the United States kicked the war habit, war itself would suffer a major and possibly fatal set-back.
A focus on U.S. war preparations cannot work as well without similar efforts everywhere. Numerous nations are investing, and even increasing their investments, in war. All militarism must be opposed. And victories for a peace system tend to spread by example. When the British Parliament opposed attacking Syria in 2013 it helped block that U.S. proposal. When 31 nations committed in Havana, Cuba, in January 2014 to never making use of war, those voices were heard in other nations of the world.
Global solidarity in educational efforts constitutes an important part of the education itself. Student and cultural exchanges between the West and nations on the Pentagon’s likely target list (Syria, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, etc.) will go a long way toward building resistance toward those potential future wars. Similar exchanges between nations investing in war and nations that have ceased to do so, or which do so at a greatly reduced scale, can be of great value as well.
Building a global movement for stronger and more democratic global structures of peace will also require educational efforts that do not stop at national borders.
Using a bi-level approach and working with other citizen based organizations, World Beyond War will launch a world-wide campaign to educate the masses of people that war is a failed social institution that can be abolished to the great benefit of all. Books, print media articles, speaker’s bureaus, radio and television appearances, electronic media, conferences, etc., will be employed to spread the word about the myths and institutions that perpetuate war. The aim is to create a planetary consciousness and a demand for a just peace without undermining in any way the benefits of unique cultures and political systems.
World Beyond War has begun and will continue to support and promote good work in this direction by other organizations, including many organizations that have signed the pledge at WorldBeyondWar.org. Already distant connections have been made among organizations in various parts of the world that have proved mutually beneficial. World Beyond War will combine its own initiatives with this sort of assistance for others’ in an effort to create greater cooperation and greater coherence around the idea of a movement to end all war. The result of educational efforts favored by World Beyond War will be a world in which talk of a “good war” will sound no more possible than a “benevolent rape” or “philanthropic slavery” or “virtuous child abuse.”
World Beyond War seeks to create a moral movement against an institution that should be viewed as tantamount to mass-murder, even when that mass-murder is accompanied by flags or music or assertions of authority and promotion of irrational fear. World Beyond War advocates against the practice of opposing a particular war on the grounds that it isn’t being run well or isn’t as proper as some other war. World Beyond War seeks to strengthen its moral argument by taking the focus of peace activism partially away from the harm wars do to the aggressors, in order to fully acknowledge and appreciate the suffering of all.
In the film The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age we see a survivor of Nagasaki meeting a survivor of Auschwitz. It is hard in watching them meeting and speaking together to remember or care which nation committed which horror. A peace culture will see all war with that same clarity. War is an abomination not because of who commits it but because of what it is.
World Beyond War intends to make war abolition the sort of cause that slavery abolition was and to hold up resisters, conscientious objectors, peace advocates, diplomats, whistleblowers, journalists, and activists as our heroes -- in fact, to develop alternative avenues for heroism and glory, including nonviolent activism, and including serving as peace workers and human shields in places of conflict.
World Beyond War will not promote the idea that “peace is patriotic,” but rather that thinking in terms of world citizenship is helpful in the cause of peace. WBW will work to remove nationalism, xenophobia, racism, religious bigotry, and exceptionalism from popular thinking.
Central projects in World Beyond War’s early efforts will be the provision of useful information through the WorldBeyondWar.org website, and the collection of a large number of individual and organizational signatures on the pledge posted there. The website is constantly being updated with maps, charts, graphics, arguments, talking points, and videos to help people make the case, to themselves and others, that wars can/should/must be abolished. Each section of the website includes lists of relevant books.
Other areas in which World Beyond War may put some effort, beyond its central project of advancing the idea of ending all war, include: disarmament; conversion to peaceful industries; asking new nations to join and current Parties to abide by the Kellogg-Briand Pact; lobbying for reforms of the United Nations; lobbying governments and other bodies for various initiatives, including a Global Marshall Plan or parts thereof; and countering recruitment efforts while strengthening the rights of conscientious objectors.
World Beyond War believes that little is more important than advancing common understanding of nonviolence as an alternative form of conflict to violence, and ending the habit of thinking that one can ever be faced with only the choices of engaging in violence or doing nothing. In addition to its education campaign, World Beyond War will work with other organizations to launch nonviolent, Gandhian-style protests and nonviolent direct action campaigns against the war machine in order to disrupt it and to demonstrate the strength of the popular desire to end war. The goal of this campaign will be to compel the political decision makers and those who make money from the killing machine to come to the table for talks on ending war and replacing it with a more effective alternative security system.
This nonviolent effort will benefit from the education campaign, but will also in its turn serve an educational purpose. Huge public campaigns or movements have a way of bringing people’s attention to questions they have not been focused on.
The WBW Pledge Statement reads as follows:
“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.”
World Beyond War is collecting signatures on this statement on paper at events and adding them to the website, as well as inviting people to add their names online. If a large number of those who would be willing to sign this statement can be reached and asked to do so, that fact will potentially be persuasive news to others. The same goes for the inclusion of signatures by well-known figures. The collection of signatures is a tool for advocacy in another way as well; those signers who choose to join a World Beyond War email list can later be contacted to help advance a project initiated in their part of the world.
Expanding the reach of the Pledge Statement, signers are asked to make use of WBW tools to contact others, share information online, write letters to editors, lobby governments and other bodies, and organize small gatherings. Resources to facilitate all kinds of outreach are provided at WorldBeyondWar.org.
Beyond its central projects, WBW will be participating in and promoting useful projects begun by other groups and testing out new specific initiatives of its own. One area that WBW hopes to work on is the creation of truth and reconciliation commissions, and greater appreciation of their work. Lobbying for the establishment of an International Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Court is a possible area of focus as well.
Partial steps toward replacing the war system will be pursued, but they will be understood as and discussed as just that: partial steps on the way toward creating a peace system. Such steps may include banning weaponized drones or closing particular bases or eliminating nuclear weapons or closing the School of the Americas, defunding military advertising campaigns, restoring war powers to the legislative branch, cutting off weapons sales to dictatorships, etc.
Finding the strength in numbers to do these things is part of the purpose of the collection of signatures on the simple Pledge Statement. World Beyond War hopes to facilitate the forming of a broader coalition suited to the task. This will mean bringing together all those sectors that rightfully ought to be opposing the military industrial complex: moralists, ethicists, preachers of morality and ethics, religious communities, doctors, psychologists, and protectors of human health, economists, labor unions, workers, civil libertarians, advocates for democratic reforms, journalists, historians, promoters of transparency in public decision-making, internationalists, those hoping to travel and be liked abroad, environmentalists, and proponents of everything worthwhile on which war dollars could be spent instead: education, housing, arts, science, etc. That’s a pretty big group.
Many activist organizations want to stay focused in their niches. Many are reluctant to risk being called unpatriotic. Some are tied up in profits from military contracts. World Beyond War will work around these barriers. This will involve asking civil libertarians to view war as the root cause of the symptoms they treat, and asking environmentalists to view war as at least one of the major root problems -- and its elimination as a possible solution.
Green energy has far greater potential to handle our energy needs (and wants) than is commonly supposed, because the massive transfer of money that would be possible with the abolition of war isn’t usually considered. Human needs across the board can be better met than we usually imagine, because we don’t usually consider withdrawing $2 trillion a year globally from the world’s deadliest criminal enterprise.
Toward these ends, WBW will be working to organize a bigger coalition ready and trained to engage in nonviolent direct action, creatively, generously, and fearlessly.
OK, I'm going to stop quoting my World Beyond War writing. I do think the alliance of all good movements is key. We don't need to re-do the election of Obama and get it right this time. We need to re-do the Occupy Movement and get it right this time. The plutocracy and the warocracy are the same problem. The destruction of the natural world and the acceptance of war as natural are the same problem. Civil liberties and human rights groups that began opposing war would simply be addressing the disease rather than the symptoms. Opponents of poverty and poor education are obliged to oppose the monster that is sucking up all the money. And integral to such a coalition are media and election reform.
We ought to be seizing the opportunity presented by the looming presidential nomination of the two worst candidates possible and quite possibly for the first time two candidates both from presidential dynasties, to withhold a bit of the mountain of money that we dump into electing this slightly less hideous candidate or that slightly less hideous candidate and instead invest it in activism aimed at moving the window of debate to a better location. Getting the lesser evil candidate is not a long-term solution if the pair of candidates gets worse each cycle.
We need automatic voter registration, as just created in Oregon. Apart from all the other benefits, it frees up countless hours for useful activism. How many times have we watched thousands of people who usually ignore politics invest energy in the busy work of registering voters and then collapse with exhaustion the moment an election is over, precisely the moment in which citizens of a government of the people ought to be beginning their efforts to demand good governance? We need to make voter registration automatic state by state and shame the low turnout states that don't catch up. There's a page at RootsAction.org where I work that lets you email your state legislators and governor all the facts about this. Most importantly we know it can be done because not only do lots of other countries do it which of course proves nothing, but one of the 50 U.S. states also does it which proves it's compatible with human nature.
We need to end partisan gerrymandering state by state and shame those states that don't catch up. And of course if Congress catches up to any of these state-by-state reforms, so much the better.
We need hand-counted paper ballots counted publicly at each polling place. We need ballot and debate access based on signature gathering. We need the national popular vote with no electoral college. We need the vote and full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific. We need public financing and free air time and a ban on private election spending. We need voting rights regardless of criminal conviction. We need an election day or days holiday. We need a limited campaign season. Mandatory voting with the option to choose None-Of-The-Above could help as well. Most of these things can be advanced locally, at the state level, and nationally, and can be accomplished through a number of different mechanisms. If a fraction of the money and energy that goes into working within a demonstrably broken system were invested in fixing it, we'd fix it, at which point enthusiasm for participating in it would skyrocket.
But activism is hard. We don't have most of the money. And we get tired out, discouraged, and distracted. How can we, each of us, best advance an agenda of peace, justice, and democracy. I imagine some of you have seen a graphic that a church produced recently matching up anyone's Myers Briggs Personality to a saint. So, based on whether you are more introverted or extroverted, sensing or intuiting, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving, you get to be Saint Patrick the partier or Saint Joan the hard worker, etc. Now I take Myers Briggs with a grain of salt, and none of us are actually saints. And I have my doubts that there would be any saints at all if Facebook had existed over the past millennia and every would-be saint had used it. But I do think there's a type of peace activism for everyone or for every moment.
When I want to do online activism from my computer or phone, I have my job at RootsAction.org. When I want to promote longer discussions in good books, I have my job at Just World Books. When I want to talk with an expert on some area of peace I have my job interviewing people on Talk Nation Radio. When I want to plan events supporting whistleblowers I have my job at Stand Up For Truth. When I want to strategize the creation of a new world, I have my job at World Beyond War. Now, I realize that some of you don't need five jobs to try to make a living, and some of you have other types of jobs, but the point is there is a way into activism for anyone, and as far in as you want to go. World Beyond War welcomes anyone onto any committee who wants to help work on any aspect of ending war.
Here's a vision of where we hope all this work takes us, written by my colleagues at World Beyond War:
We will know we have achieved peace when the world is safe for all the children. They will play freely out of doors, never worrying about picking up cluster bombs or about drones buzzing overhead. There will be good education for all of them for as far as they are able to go. Schools will be safe and free from fear. The economy will be healthy, producing useful things rather than those things which destroy use value, and producing them in ways that are sustainable. There will be no carbon burning industry and global warming will have been halted. All children will study peace and will be trained in powerful, peaceful methods of confronting violence, should it arise at all. They will all learn how to defuse and resolve conflicts peacefully. When they grow up they may enlist in a peace force that will be trained in nonviolent defense, making their nations ungovernable if attacked by another country or a coup d ́etat and therefore immune from conquest. The children will be healthy because health care will be freely available. The air and water will be clean, soils healthy and producing healthy food because the funding for ecological restoration will be available from the same source. When we see the children playing we will see children from many different cultures together at their play because restrictive borders will have been abolished. The arts will flourish. While learning to be proud of their own cultures--their religions, arts, foods, traditions, etc.--these children will realize they are citizens of one small planet as well as citizens of their respective countries. These children will never be soldiers, although they may well serve humanity in voluntary organizations or in some kinds of universal service for the common good.
Steps in this direction exist all around us. Less wealthy nations that forego investment in wars are able to provide education, healthcare, retirement, etc. Costa Rica has no military but is now getting all of its energy from renewable sources. That can't simply be copied. Costa Rica is using dams that won't power anything during a drought. But it's no coincidence that the United States leads in militarism and trails in most everything else.
Why don't we give a leading or at least an equal role in running the world, at the UN and elsewhere, to the nations with the best educational systems, the best healthcare systems, the longest lifespans, the longest periods without wars, the highest happiness rankings, the greatest generosity to others? Why are the permanent security council members the countries with the weapons?
I'm not going to say much about law, because that's Elliott's area today, but the reason I wrote a book about a law, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, was primarily to paint a picture of the peace movement of the 1920s that brought it into being. That there can be a mainstream principled moral movement for the abolition of war is not just possible because anything of the sort if quite obviously possible, but also because it has happened before, less than a century ago, in this very country -- and is therefore compatible with human nature.
But the idea of abolishing war is as old as war. I noticed that we're at St. John Fisher University Chapel. I didn't know who St. John Fisher was, since he's not in the Myers Briggs chart. But I read this about him, which interested me:
"Fisher gave further proof of his genuine zeal for learning by inducing Erasmus to visit Cambridge. The latter indeed attributes it to Fisher's protection that the study of Greek was allowed to proceed at Cambridge without the active molestation that it encountered at Oxford."
So now I'm a fan of St. John Fisher because I was already a fan of Erasmus who has never been as popular among the rich and powerful as has his contemporary Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, but who in 1517 wrote The Complaint of Peace, in which he proposes that we think of ourselves as humans, and thereby become unwilling to make war on any of our brother and sister humans anywhere. Peace, speaking in the first-person, complains about how humanity treats her. She claims to offer "the source of all human blessings" and to be scorned by people who "go in quest of evils infinite in number." The Complaint reads like it was written 500 years ago in Latin for a readership made up of what we would call creationists, astrologers, monarchists, and Eurocentric bigots. Yet it offers rebuttals to defenses of war that have never been surpassed.
On a search for peacefulness, Peace hunts in vain among seemingly polite and amicable princes, among academics whom she finds as corrupted by war as we find ours today, among religious leaders whom she denounces as the hypocrites we've come to know so well, and even among secluded monks. Peace looks into family life and into the internal mental life of an individual and finds no devotion to peace. Erasmus points Christian readers toward the words supporting peace in the New Testament. One might accuse him of hand-picking his quotes and avoiding those that don't support his goal, except that Erasmus quite openly says that that's what he's doing and advises others to do the same. The vengeful God of the Old Testament should be ignored in favor of the peaceful God of Jesus, Erasmus writes. And those who can't so ignore Him, writes Erasmus, should re-interpret him as peaceful. Let "God of vengeance" mean vengeance "on those sins which rob us of repose."
The cause of wars, Erasmus finds, is kings and their war-hungry chickenhawk advisors. The term in Latin is not exactly "chickenhawk" but the meaning comes through. Kings, writes Erasmus, start wars to seize territory when they would be better off improving the territory they have now. Or they start wars out of a personal grudge. Or they start wars to disrupt popular opposition to themselves at home. Such kings, Erasmus writes, should be exiled for life to the remotest islands. And not just the kings but their privileged advisors. Ordinary people don't create wars, says Peace, those in power impose wars on them.
Powerful people calling themselves Christian have created such a climate, says Peace, that speaking up for Christian forgiveness is taken to be treasonous and evil, while promoting war is understood to be good and loyal and directed at a nation's happiness. Erasmus has little tolerance for Orwellian propaganda about "supporting the troops" and proposes that clergy refuse to bury in consecrated ground anyone slain in battle:
"The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or wolf!"
" . . . If you detest robbery and pillage, remember these are among the duties of war; and that, to learn how to commit them adroitly, is a part of military discipline. Do you shudder at the idea of murder? You cannot require to be told, that to commit it with dispatch, and by wholesale, constitutes the celebrated art of war."
Peace proposes in her complaint that kings submit their grievances to wise and impartial arbiters, and points out that even if the arbiters are unjust neither side will suffer to remotely the extent that they would from war. Perhaps peace must be purchased -- but compare the price to the cost of a war! For the price of destroying a town you could have built one, Peace says.
For arbitration to replace war, Peace says, we will need better kings and better courtiers. You can't get any more timely and relevant than that.
Let's get to work.
Remarks at Michigan Pax Christi annual state conference, April 11, 2015.
Thank you for having me here. I know a lot of people have been involved in planning this event. Thank you!
I'm going to try this morning to address the question of how we can best talk our fellow human beings out of one of the primary myths that allows war to continue. And in a second speech later today I'm going to turn more to the question of activism and building a peaceful world.
I mailed a box of my books here, and I had to mail another one because the first box arrived undamaged except that all of the books were missing. Although I don't know who stole the books, Mary Hanna recommended I inform you that the message I bring you was so threatening that the books were taken, and the empty box delivered, by a bunch of -- and I quote -- Weannie-heads!
Now, you see what I've done. I've called somebody a weannie head in a speech about peace but arranged it so you'll blame Mary (and maybe the U.S. Postal Service) instead of me. But of course when Michigan State's basketball team beat Virginia's I said something worse than Mary has probably said in her life, just as I'd done the year before, not that I'm holding any grudges.
Now, we all know that resentment and blame are tools of war propaganda. So, in Mary's defense and mine: neither of us called anybody a name in the presence of that person or proposed to harm any person or armed ourselves with massive machinery of death in preparation for books going missing or a basketball team losing. I didn't put any Michigan State fans on a kill list and blow them and everyone near them to bits with hellfire missiles. Neither of us launched any invasions.
It's rather a key distinction, isn't it, getting angry with or without war weapons. But try to find a discussion of wars in the Middle East that even mentions that 80 to 90 percent of the weapons there are from the United States, with weapons sales and gifts up significantly under the Nobel Peace President.
So, when you come down to it, we would all probably be better people if we didn't get angry at any other people -- only at injustice. But since I didn't organize millions of people to plan and prepare for carefully executed crusades of mass murder, my anger did considerably less damage than, say, George W. Bush's feelings about Saddam Hussein having tried to kill his daddy.
I bring all of this up in order to comment on the idea of what's called "human nature." If "human nature" is something distinct from culture, then -- whatever it may be -- one might speculate (why you would I have no idea, but one could speculate if one wanted to) that my emotions watching basketball are "human nature." War, on the other hand, is a collective effort. It requires plans, preparations, manufacturing, training, conditioning. How can such a group effort be distinct from culture? War is absolutely central to our culture. One would have to speculate baselessly and pointlessly that parts of our culture are "human nature" while other parts are not. But then which would be which?
When you take war participation on the individual level, you find that most individuals want nothing to do with it, nobody gets post traumatic stress from war deprivation, and in fact intense conditioning developed over decades of cultural experience is required to get most individuals to participate, many of whom never recover from having done so.
And when you take war participation at the group level, you find that many groups of humans, large and small, rich and poor, now and in the past, have had nothing to do with war. For most of human existence there was nothing that could be called war. Since war's creation it has been sporadic. Societies have abandoned it for centuries and brought it back again. Most groups, most of the time, have left it well alone. And war today bears very little resemblance to war as it was 1,000 or even 100 years ago. In addition, the 95% of humanity that lives outside the United States mostly thinks about war very differently from how it is discussed in the United States. Discussion of "the next wars" as if war is inevitable is not normal. Debates over whether to bomb people in trouble or leave them alone are far less common than debates over how to help them. Concern over a nation resisting the presence of one's own nation's troops and missiles is unheard of outside of the imperial Homeland.
An American raised on Hollywood will tell you war is "natural," "human nature," inevitable, and genetic. But there are numerous well-documented accounts of human cultures not only free of war but unable to even understand what it is. An anthropologist asked a man why he didn't use a dart gun, meant for hunting animals, against slave raiders coming to enslave his family, and he replied "Because it would kill them." Probably I shouldn't think of that as ignorance of the possibility of killing. We always want to treat difference as ignorance. The fact is that killing is the worst thing possible. It's worse than enslaving. Logically a perfectly good case can be made for the man's action and justification. In the United States, however, the idea that you would hold a gun and not use it against someone enslaving your family is almost incomprehensible. Probably we should think of that as ignorance. In our culture we praise people by saying "You really killed!" Probably we should think of that as prejudice. What we shouldn't think of it as is "human nature."
No, I'm not advocating that you let someone enslave your family. I'm simply pointing out that cultures exist that view murder very differently from how ours does. So, if acceptance of killing and total avoidance of killing both exist, as they do, how do we choose which one is "human nature." Or if neither is "human nature," is there something else that is "human nature"?
Well, if you try to define "human nature" as what every single human does, its content is vanishingly small. If you try to define it as things that most humans that you know of at a particular time and place do, how do you pick which things to include? And why bother? What is the point? The fact is that "human nature" is a meaningless and, to state it another way, a purposeless concept.
So why does it exist as a concept? Because there are purposes it has tried to serve. I can think of two, which might be called the normative and the excusatory. By normative I mean the habit some people have had of declaring that anything most people do should be done by everyone. If it's normal for people to care for their children then everyone should care for their children. That sounds harmless enough. But what if it's normal in Indiana to be heterosexual? What if it's normal to hit kids or burn gasoline or eat dogs or sacrifice virgins? Why in the world should something's being common make it good? On the contrary, whatever is good we should work to make common.
By excusatory I mean to refer to what has probably been the most frequent use of the concept "human nature" over the years, namely as a means to excuse horrible actions. Am I supporting something cruel and unfair, brutal and destructive? Do I hit or humiliate people? Do I exploit the weak? Do I steal and cheat? Do I participate in the large-scale murder of foreigners or the destruction of the natural world? Well, that's OK. It's "human nature," so I'm powerless to stop. Stopping would require that I transform into some other species. Of course thousands of other people I know of don't do the evil thing I'm doing, and they're humans, but in my position they would do it too because it's "human nature" — meaning no more and no less than it's what I happen to be doing at the moment. If we don't do it, supporters of continuing the slave trade argued in Parliament, other nations will do it. But other nations didn't. If we don't garrison the planet, says the Pentagon, others will. Of course, they might or might not, but this won't be determined by their sharing "human nature," only by their sharing Pentagon nature.
"Human nature" has got to be the grandest term for the most mundane concept ever created. Have you ever heard of anyone doing something good and announcing that it wasn't human nature? When a dog does something unusual, do the other dogs, or even the humans around chastise the dog for violating dog nature? Why does the human species alone get to drag around this bizarre concept of a "nature" that is both just whatever somebody happens to be doing and something very vaguely more than that?
Last October, Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore took out an advertisement in the National Catholic Reporter that read: "CRUSADES, INQUISITION, SLAVERY, TORTURE, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT, WAR: Over many centuries, Church leaders and theologians justified each of these evils as consistent with the will of God. Only one of them retains that position in official Church teaching today. We believe it's time for the Catholic Church to reject 'just war' as inconsistent with the teaching and example of Jesus and to become a Just Peace Church."
Not a bad statement, huh?
Do you know what people who don't have special access to the "will of God" called and still call slavery, torture, capital punishment, and numerous other evils? That's right, "human nature." And if two people disagree about the will of god or the content of human nature they can appeal to exactly the same evidence to settle their dispute, namely nothing whatsoever -- except either an agreement to disagree or the violent removal of the person disagreeing with one's claim.
We've reached a point, of course, at which continuing with war risks the existence of humanity. The twin dangers of nuclear apocalypse and climate chaos are advanced more by war than anything else. The primary way in which war kills is by diverting massive resources away from where they could do good, including the good of environmental protection. In addition war is, in some ways, our top destroyer of the environment. On top of which wars are fought for the fuels that we use to destroy the environment. And in addition, the proliferation of nuclear energy and weaponry and the increasing ease of robotic war increases dramatically the risk of war destroying us all before the climate can.
Now, I'm not a professor of logic but I think we have arrived at something that qualifies as a logical proof.
· If war is "human nature," collective suicide is "human nature." In other words, the nature of humanity is to cease to be.
· But everybody from Aristotle to Bill O'Reilly would agree that the nature of something cannot be its absence.
· Therefore, whether "human nature" means anything or not, it isn't war.
Because "human nature" is an excuse for war, you'll hear it most in the places that most frequently make war. And this of course leads to the humorous situation of the people who make war appealing to all the people who don't to justify their war-making. The United States is far and away the world's leading supplier of war weapons, buyer of war weapons, user or war weapons and all around facilitator of war. Ninety five percent of humanity is governed by governments that don't have anything remotely like the U.S. investment in war. Many countries invest between 0 and 5 percent what the United States does in war. But if you ask an American why they can't reduce the militarism a bit, they'll tell you it's "human nature." See, the other 95% of humanity is not really part of "human nature." "Human nature" turns out to be American nature. You find this same phenomenon across issues. No other country destroys the natural environment, at least on a per capita basis, remotely like the United States. But the waste and consumption are defended or accepted as "human nature."
The United States spends over a trillion dollars a year on war preparations, about $1.3 trillion in fact, which is exactly what U.S. students and former students owe in total accumulated student debt which is understood to be an outrageous and massive crisis, yet it's what Congress spends on war preparations each year - year after year -- without comment, discussion, or debate. U.S. military spending has doubled since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, yet the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget this year proposed to cut it by a grand total of 1 percent and didn't even mention that in any of its statements about its budget. The rest of the world spends about another trillion dollars all together. So the average among about 200 other countries is about a half a percent of what the U.S. spends. If the United States, for whatever cockamamie reason, felt obliged to comply with a "human nature" that included the rest of the, you know, humans, it would be compelled to reduce its military by 99.5 percent. And if it did that, I'd be glad to let it defend its behavior with whatever language it wanted.
By the way, if you did the calculation based on per-capita military spending the reduction for the U.S. to meet the rest of the world's average would be similarly extreme. The U.S. spends about $3,135 per person per year, and the rest of the world's average is about $143, meaning about a 95 percent cut for the U.S. to start acting human.
If you did the calculation as a percentage of a nation's economy, even by the most conservative measure, you'd still have to cut U.S. military spending by over a third -- but the idea (quite common in Congressional testimony) that a country should have more weapons if it can afford them, rather than if they serve some good purpose, is -- in my view -- completely unacceptable, is in fact the root of the problem itself; excusing rich countries' greater levels of killing because they're rich seems to add insult to injury.
And if the United States reduced its militarism significantly, the path would be made smooth to reduce it entirely. That is, without losing faith in militarism, the United States could limit its Defense Department to things that serve a defensive purpose. It could guard its borders with all kinds of weaponry. But doing just that, and closing the foreign bases and occupations, scrapping the aircraft carriers and submarines, dismantling the nuclear weapons, abandoning all work on weapons in space, would have some major results. Without the U.S. threat and arms supply, arms races could reverse. Korea could reunite. Palestine could potentially reach a one-state solution. Without U.S. troops kicking in doors -- excuse me, I mean policing -- the globe, the U.S. government, the primary holdout, would be able to support international law.
Most importantly perhaps, any significant fraction of $2 trillion has the power to transform the world for the better if put to proper use. Gone would be starvation. Gone would be unclean water. (And lack of water in Detroit.) Gone homelessness. These are problems that end with the proper use of a tiny fraction of $2 trillion a year. Imagine if in 2003 the United States had simply given each citizen of Iraq a quarter of a million dollars. That expense wouldn't approach what's actually been spent, but I'm willing to bet at least some Iraqis would have appreciated the act. Of course giving away money is not simple and there are more effective ways to invest in health and education and green energy then just handing out cash. The point is we spent more money than that and what did we get? Over a million killed. Millions injured. Millions traumatized. A nation destroyed. The natural environment severely damaged. Our economy drained. Our civil liberties eroded. Our culture corroded. Our morality poisoned. And most of the world viewing the United States as a threat. For a smaller expense, the U.S. government could be loved. It chooses to spend more to be hated. When Gallup polled 65 nations at the end of 2013, and asked what nation was the greatest threat to peace in the world, the overwhelming winner was the United States.
I recommend pointing that poll out to people. It seems to me you either have to declare the world severely and irrationally deluded, perhaps requiring yet more militarism. Or you have to begin opening your eyes to the failure of militarism on its own terms, at which point you can notice that the United States loses all of its land wars, exacerbates whatever it claims to be fixing with its air wars, and plants seeds of evil with its drone wars -- and countless recently retired U.S. officials admit all this.
Our neighbors up in Canada are trying to follow our warlike path, and I've been trying to tell them that they will regret it, but that it will take them years of work to build up anti-Canadian terrorist groups to rival those the United States has generated. So-called "defense" spending is counter-productive, but it's not for amateurs. To have each new militant group in the Middle East using your weapons and imitating your rhetoric while releasing full-length films begging you to attack it, then growing by leaps and bounds when you do attack it, so that even your own citizens (with some FBI prodding) want to join it and your media can start pretending that the foreign group has infiltrated your cities -- that takes skills that the United States has been mastering since before it stopped invading Canada. Did you see the headline "ISIS IN BROOKLYN"? Of course, no one from Iraq or Syria had come to Brooklyn to work for ISIS or even contacted anyone in Brooklyn; rather someone in Brooklyn had been poked and prodded into something by an FBI agent pretending to be ISIS.
The U.S. began in Yemen with murders by missiles, and drone defenders would tell you that missiles are better than other kinds of war, because with drones nobody dies. Meaning no Americans. A year ago, President Obama was claiming some sort of success. Several years ago, even I who couldn't predict the basketball final four worth a darn, predicted that the drone war on Yemen would create a wider war. And now you have the U.S. assisting Saudi Arabia in slaughtering children to blow up U.S.-supplied weapons using U.S.-supplied weapons. And we get to sit back and think of those Yemenis as backward violent beasts because of their human nature which justifies our Pentagon which created this disaster.
Did you know there was a big protest in the Czech Republic recently of the U.S. militarism directed at Russia? And one in Kiev? On Hitler's upcoming birthday, April 20th, the United States will start training Ukraine's neo-Nazi volunteer military force. The United States has troops and weapons in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe now, right up to the border of Russia. People take this sort of thing a bit seriously, while we watch our basketball. The U.S. lied to Russia when the two Germanies reunited, claiming NATO wouldn't expand an inch eastward. The U.S. facilitated a coup in Ukraine and is building up hostilities there, and Europeans and Russians are outraged. Last July Fourth I spoke outside a U.S. military base in England where the locals celebrate an Independence from America holiday. I've been talking with protesters in Sicily who are resisting construction of a U.S. Navy communications base. On Jeju Island, South Korea, resistance to a new U.S. Navy base is intense. In Okinawa the local government has heeded the protesters and halted U.S. base construction, against the will of the Japanese government. The Philippines is in an uproar over U.S. military action there. Around the world, people know the United States through its military occupation of their land. And as I watch basketball the announcer thanks U.S. troops for watching from 175 countries as if that's good and normal.
Some know it isn't. I applaud Pax Christi for speaking against the idea of a "just war." Once we rid ourselves of the idea that some wars are good wars, we ought to be able to rid ourselves of the idea that we should be funding the permanent presence of either troops or robot death planes in darn near every country on earth. One doesn't generally hear about cases of just child abuse or just rape or just racial discrimination. The Washington Post recently ran a column headlined "War on Iran May Be Our Best Option." Imagine if it had said "Racism may be our best option" or "Killing kittens may be our best option." Some things are, quite rightly, unacceptable. What if war were made one of those?
This is the case we're making at World Beyond War: there is no upside to war, no excuse for war. It is all negative and it is the most negative thing we do, the most evil institution on earth. And there is no way to fix it. Human Rights Watch recently wrote a report on the horrors inflicted on Iraqi towns, not by ISIS, but by the Iraqi militias said to be "liberating" people from ISIS. But rather than acknowledge that such horrors have been part of every single war ever waged, Human Rights Watch urges reform plans and benchmarks and compliance with the so called laws of war. Amnesty International just came out with a report on the 2014 assault on Gaza that condemns the rockets shot out of Gaza for being insufficiently precise, as if better U.S.-made rockets would be more legal and acceptable. The UN is planning another meeting on inhumane weapons, but which are the humane weapons? You cannot use laws to reform the greatest violation of law. You cannot reform an institution of mass killing. Imaging trying to reform cancer.
Studies have actually found that talking about a so-called "war" on cancer hurts the cause of reducing cancer because people don't adjust their behavior to avoid risks, focusing instead on medical hopes to eliminate cancer from the world. But at least the understanding is there that cancer is entirely undesirable, that we don't need Geneva Conventions for the proper creation and use of good cancer.
A remarkable article appeared in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. I quote:
"Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 20th century, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous 4 centuries."
Beyond the death, war injures and traumatizes on a far vaster scale. It is the leading cause of homelessness. It is, by various measures, the leading destroyer of the natural environment. It is by far the leading justification for the erosion of civil liberties and self-governance. It is the leading drain on wealth and prosperity in the world. Imagine if such an institution were newly proposed. Wouldn't we immediately reject it out of hand?
It was wonderful to see push back when Indiana proposed to allow discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. Imagine if Indiana proposed the creation of the institution of war. I mean, imagine if we didn't have war, and Indiana came up with the idea. We'll dump over half of government spending into this new operation, Indiana would propose, and it won't do us any good, but it will put our lives at risk while murdering thousands upon thousands of innocent people, and we'll lose a lot of rights in the process. Who would stand for such an outrage?
But then why should something be acceptable just because it already existed yesterday? Shouldn't we bloody well be outraged? Isn't there an appropriate anger here? Might there not even be a place, at least generically, for the term Weannie-heads?
What if, instead of Indiana, it was a foreign country that did some of the things the United States does? When Ecuador said the United States could keep its bases there if Ecuador could have a base in Florida, the idea was seen as ludicrous. Why? When Iran tries to keep U.S. ships a bit further from its coast, the U.S. sees this as aggressive, but how close would the U.S. like Iranian ships to be to its coast? If Mexico was murdering people with drones in the United States, would the U.S. approve? If Cuba bombed Miami for harboring terrorists, would U.S. State Department lawyers defend that action? This is always a good test of morality, sometimes known as the golden rule, but also in this case a good test for nationalism. One way to test whether you're identifying with a nation is to ask yourself if you would approve of the same actions if performed by a different nation. You can identify with a nation but want it to behave fairly toward other nations, but only if you're identifying more so with humanity.
Another way for people to question their beliefs is to ask how you would feel if the so-called collateral damage, that is to say the bulk of the people killed in a war, the innocent civilians, were in the United States. Could you justify it as a price worth paying for ... whatever it is supposedly a price worth paying for? Most people clearly could not, but do not ask the question and do not let themselves even know that wars are one-sided slaughters of people from the dispensable nations rather than the indispensible one.
Another good test is to ask yourself what you would approve if another political party did it. If a Republican president were going through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays and picking which ones to murder, would you react in exactly the same way in which you have reacted to President Obama's kill list? This question begins with the question of whether you would allow yourself to know about a story that has been public knowledge for three years since a frontpage New York Times article covered it, or would you avoid knowing about this outrage? Secondary is the question of what you would do if you allowed yourself to know.
A similar question is what you would think if a different branch of government did something. If the House Armed Services Committee were going through a kill list, picking victims, and murdering them and anyone nearby, would you approve, dissent, or ask for details?
In the case of the one war that President Obama does not want, Iran, people have suddenly discovered that they can advocate for alternatives to war. Another good question to put into people's minds is this: Why not prefer alternatives to war in the case of each of the other wars being waged or contemplated? Why only in Iran? Why object to the rush to war only when one U.S. political party does so? Why object to gruesome executions by ISIS but not by Saudi Arabia? Why get outraged on command rather than everywhere events are outrageous?
I think we need to ask these questions and get organized to work for a stronger push to eliminate war and replace it with nonviolent means of resolving conflicts, because contrary to certain Western academic pretenses war is not going away, much less going away on its own. On the contrary, war is worsening its destruction, and the use of drones is normalizing war in a way that makes greater and greater destruction likely.
I've drafted some remarks for later today in which I look at how we might get to a world beyond war and what a world beyond war might look like. I think properly understanding a world devoted to war is the only place to start. And I think we should understand it not as an entire world hopelessly condemned to war but as a world making the completely optional decision to proliferate war primarily at the insistence of the United States government. Understanding that war is a choice, means that peace too is an available option.
I had planned to leave time here for questions but learned that there's a whole separate section on the schedule for questions, so let me instead begin the topic of What Do We Do About It?
How do you get enough people sufficiently active to push back against war and militarism? Well, we had enough people active from 2001 to 2007 to spread a great deal of at least short-lived awareness of at least some of the evils of war and to force an end, temporary as it turned out, to the U.S. war on Iraq -- albeit on a three-year delay.
And we had enough people informed and active in 2013 to prevent a massive assault on Syria that Wall Street, the corporate media, and all the top politicians in Washington favored and expected to begin imminently.
But by 2014, President Obama, who'd been forced out of Iraq by Bush's treaty, was right back in, and the U.S. was engaged in the same war it had failed to fully join in 2013, albeit on the opposite side.
Yet in 2015 publicly supported diplomacy with Iran was holding off the neocon vision of a war there.
What makes the difference between moments when peace succeeds and moments when war does? Well, it helps when other interests align. Obama wants peace with Iran but Iranian war along with U.S. war against ISIS. The reason peace only succeeds for a moment, though, is that peace doesn't advance beyond a pause for reloading. The U.S. didn't bomb Syria two years ago, but it didn't invest in aid, diplomacy, or arms embargoes either. Instead it armed and trained killers, bided its time, and waited for better propaganda. The propaganda that seems to do best is not that of the humanitarian war but that of the war against evil demons coming to get us: ISIS throat slitters bringing Ebola from Mexico to our children's schools.
What makes the difference in terms of public engagement in the United States at the moment -- and we'd better change this or it will kill us all -- is partisanship. A couple of scholars, Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas have a new book out called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11. Some of you may have run into them as they did surveys of participants in peace events for years. They found that identification of the Democratic Party with peace was the primary factor in enlarging the peace movement toward the beginning of the Bush presidency and in shrinking it toward the end of that presidency.
So the obvious answer as to how you enlarge the peace movement is not really a secret at all: you install a Republican president. Now, you can debate whether the cure is worse than the disease, but the cure is as certain as Advil for a headache. You want a big peace movement, swallow a Republican President and a Republican Vice President and see how things look in the morning.
Now, determining whether Republican presidents are worse war makers, even with activist resistance, is not so simple and not actually going to help us. Unless we build a peace movement larger and more principled than alliance with either big political party will allow, we're done for.
The top risk from war is nuclear holocaust. That danger continues to grow with active U.S. assistance. The second worst thing a U.S. president can do about war is grab more war powers and pass them on to all future presidents. In that regard, President Obama has outdone President Bush. Lying to Congress is now totally routine: Congress and the United Nations can simply be ignored. Secrecy has mushroomed. President Obama picks out men, women, and children to murder from a list on Tuesdays. The public, the Congress, and the courts have no say and often no knowledge. President Obama has dramatically increased U.S. weapons sales abroad -- the U.S. being far and away the top supplier of weapons to regions that the U.S. public thinks of as inherently violent.
While Obama's body count doesn't yet begin to approach Bush's in terms of people directly and violently killed, that's not a standard that will get us to survival, much less peace and prosperity.
We should not, of course, think of the political party that lied the United States into two world wars, the Korean war, the war on Vietnam, the Kosovo war, the Libya war, and the war on ISIS -- the party that dropped the nukes on Japan -- as a party for peace. Longtime war advocates like Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton shouldn't get a pass. Hillary was instrumental in persuading her husband to bomb the former Yugoslavia against the will of Congress. She pushed for the 2003 attack on Iraq and the 2011 attack on Libya. She tried to get a U.S. war on Syria going in 2013. She pushed for the Obama-era escalation in Afghanistan -- a war that is now more Obama's than Bush's by every measure. Hillary has urged Iran to be aware that she could "obliterate" it. She has giggled with pleasure at having killed Muamar Gadaffi. She's hawkish on Ukraine. But the sort of candidate the Republicans will nominate will be just as bad. The answer to a broken electoral system begins with ceasing to look for new messiahs through elections. Imagine the world survives to 2024 and the Democrats are dedicated to electing a Latino warmonger or perhaps even a gay warmonger, valuing tokenism over human life. I don't think such a world would last to 2026.
But Democratic-party-style opposition to a Republican president won't save us either. Opposing the war on Iraq because of the 3 percent of the deaths that were American or because of the fraction of the financial damage that was American left people ill-informed and ill-prepared to oppose other wars. Opposing the war on Iraq because the war on Afghanistan was more important, was not a way to end war. Opposing the war on Iraq because it drained military preparedness was a way to elect a new regime intent on enlarging the military and preparing for more wars. Opposing Pentagon corruption and wasting money on weapons that don't even work is not the way to oppose war. I love the weapons that don't even work, when compared with the alternative.
What should give us some inspiration is the public resistance in 2013 to the so-called missile strikes into Syria, because the support for it was bipartisan, and the opposition was bipartisan. That opposition is what we can build on. But it needed to be far stronger to make its momentary success last. It needed to undo the phony debate between bombing and doing nothing. It needed to make clear the alternatives of diplomacy, cease fires, arms embargoes, negotiations, aid, peaceworkers, human shields, journalists, and video cameras, rather than weapons and trainers and war planners and that horror of an embarrassment known as the CIA.
So we need a bigger better peace movement, and we need it allied with other movements, including one to create open, free, and verifiable elections. And I'll talk about that in my second speech.
OK, do you want to hear my paranoid suspicion as to why my first shipment of books arrived here as an empty box? I think I annoyed the CIA. There was a trial of Jeffrey Sterling. Raise your hand if you know about Jeffrey Sterling. He was the CIA handler of a former Russian used by the CIA to slip nuclear bomb plans to Iran in 2000. The plans had mistakes inserted into them, which was supposed to slow down Iran's nonexistent nuclear bomb program, except that the mistakes were glaringly obvious, to the Russian among others. So, Sterling went to Congress with this information, and Congress did nothing. So, somebody went to a New York Times reporter named James Risen, and the New York Times would do nothing, but Risen published it in a book. So they've now convicted Sterling of giving secret information to Risen based on what the NSA calls meta-data. That is, they know Sterling spoke to Risen on the phone but not what he said. Many other people could have told Risen. And it was secret not to protect you and me but to protect the conniving weannie heads at the CIA.
In the course of the trial, the CIA made a document public with certain words blacked out. It was a report on plans in 2000 to give nuclear bomb plans to another country. Well, I wrote about this document and pointed out that the country was Iraq, that not long before the big Iraq mushroom cloud scare of 2002, the CIA had been at least planning to give nuke plans to Iraq. There were two clues, which frankly Encyclopedia Brown could have found quite easily, that made the blacked out country in the CIA report Iraq. First, it was proceeded by the article "an," not "a," meaning that it began with a vowel. Second, the document was written on a grid, with the characters lining up in vertical columns, so it was obvious exactly how many letters had been blacked out. Only Iraq or Oman would work, and Oman made no sense at all.
Of course, my goal is not to annoy the CIA but to encourage those working at the CIA to quit, those funding the CIA to cut it off, and those tolerating in the CIA a secret warmaking machine to at least imagine how they would feel about that if the president were a Republican.
Thanks for being here today.