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Peace and War
If I had a Hellfire
Missile in the morning,
And another in the evening,
Oh that'd be grand!
I'd take out Iraqis,
I'd take out Ukrainians,
I'd take out folks between,
The Atlantic and Pacific,
Oh that'd be grand!
If I had a drone
I'd buzz it in the morning,
I'd buzz it in the evening,
All over your sand,
I'd take out Yemenis,
I'd take out some Syrians
I'd take out folksy folks between,
Argentina and the Arctic
Oh oh oh that'd be grand
If I had a bomb
I'd drop it in the morning
I'd drop it in the evening
Wouldya lend me a hand
We'd destroy Libya
We'd demolish Palestine
We'd take out all male folks between
age eighteen and a hundred
Oh let me be clear that'd be grand
Well, I've got a Hellfire
and I've got a drone
I've got a 500-pound bomb to drop
Come lend me a hand
It's the Hellfire of justice
It's the drone of freedom
It's a Nobel Peace Prize bomb
from a Constitutional scholar
Oh isn't it grand!
It's the Hellfire of justice
It's the drone of freedom
It's a Nobel Peace Prize bomb
from a Constitutional scholar
Oh isn't it grand!
Remarks at event for WorldBeyondWar.org in Washington, D.C., on August 9, 2014.
Welcome. I'm going to say a few words and then introduce each of our other speakers, who will each speak for 10 minutes or less, and then we'll open it up for discussion with all of us.
World Beyond War is a brand new organization, just beginning to organize volunteers, raise funds, hire staff, and post advertisements online and around the world. I'm the only paid staff thus far, and that's part-time. But thousands of people and organizations of all kinds from 70 nations thus far have signed the pledge at WorldBeyondWar.org. It reads -- in English; we have it posted in many languages, and can use more translations from any of you who are able:
"I understand that wars and militarism make us less safe rather than protect us, that they kill, injure and traumatize adults, children and infants, severely damage the natural environment, erode civil liberties, and drain our economies, siphoning resources from life-affirming activities. I commit to engage in and support nonviolent efforts to end all war and preparations for war and to create a sustainable and just peace."
We're passing around sign-up sheets on which you can sign your name if you agree with that. You can also indicate how you'd like to be involved, if you would. I hope you will. This is a global effort, but just as the movement to abolish slavery needed to begin in London, this new birth for the movement to abolish war can only get so far without strong participation in Washington, D.C., participation that works together with our allies around the world, many of whom are pushing back against militarism that is funded and directed here, as well as weapons produced in this country and marketed abroad from here.
Why now? Here we are at 100 years since World War One was launched, and people have been trying -- and pretending to be trying -- to use war to end war ever since, and -- like using capital punishment to end murder or using beer to end alcoholism -- it's been a doomed pursuit.
Here we are at 69 years since Truman dropped the bombs on Japan, lied about the nature of the target, and justified it as revenge, not as a means of ending a war, which he knew it was not, and not as a means of threatening the Soviet Union, which he knew that it was. And we've been stockpiling these apocalyptic weapons ever since, knowing that complete destruction due to intentional or accidental use is more likely the more time passes. But people in power in this city believe they are better off the more Russia is antagonized.
Here we are at 50 years since the Gulf of Tonkin incident did not actually happen, the Pentagon is investing millions in commemoration and beautification of the slaughter of 4 million Vietnamese, and President Obama has taken the occasion to start bombing Iraq again, apparently believing that for the first time in history the bombs will generate friendship rather than blowback. It's amazing how long each threatened minority group in Iraq survived before the U.S. brought democracy, and before the U.S. existed. And now dropping food is accompanied by 500 pound bombs. There is no military solution, says President Obama, only reconciliation can help. Well, then why not drop food on the entire region? It would cost a small fraction of what the missiles and bombs cost. Would that be rewarding terrorists? No, it would be recognizing humanity by ceasing to be terrorists. Dropping bombs on people enrages them and binds their loyalty to those fighting back. If the institution of war were continuing for rational reasons, that lesson would have sunk in by now and stopped it.
Meanwhile in Gaza, genocide has gone mainstream, with discussion of the complete elimination of the people of Gaza openly advocated by top Israeli officials in Israeli media, and by more than a few U.S. columnists, comedians, and crackpots as well. And people protest the slaughter by contrasting it to war. But 97% of the deaths in Gaza are the people of Gaza, and 97% of the deaths in the 2003-2011 war on Iraq were the people of Iraq. One outside observer's genocide is another patriot's war. Neither is a tool to end the other, and both are often words for the same thing.
Why choose this moment, when one speech cannot even mention all the wars, to begin an effort to fully eliminate the whole institution from our culture? A decade back, there were marches in the streets and outrage over war lies that had proved false. Nowadays lies about impending danger in Libya, the use of particular weapons in Syria, the construction of particular weapons in Iran, the origins of hostility in Ukraine, the expansion of the U.S. military into Africa and Asia, and the results of the doings of the deadly drones pass by so unnoticed that when Obama starts bombing Iraq, the one place everyone was supposed to know shouldn't be bombed, at least some people conclude that war is made acceptable by Obama, rather than Obama being made unacceptable by war.
But, you know what, for millions all over the world, Obama and other war makers' actions are unacceptable when they include war. Even in the United States, opinion has swung against war quite dramatically. Polls in recent months have found under 10 or 20 percent favoring a new U.S. war in any place that can be named: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Ukraine. Two weeks ago the U.S. House voted to forbid any new presidential war in Iraq. There's no spine there to enforce that measure, and it wasn't passed by the Senate, but it comes on the heels of dramatic reductions in drone strikes, the blocking of a bill in February what would have committed the United States to joining any Israeli-Iranian war, and the stopping of a proposal in September to send missiles screaming into Syria. The point is not that we're winning or losing. The point is that we have examples to hold up to those who claim no war can be stopped, and we have opinion dramatically moving our way, even on Israel, whenever specific real wars are named.
The trouble lies in how many people believe an unspecified good war might come along someday, because that myth keeps the military fueled and funded in a manner that makes actual very bad wars likely. The trouble is in "looking forward" because the past has such an extreme antiwar bias. That, and how many people protest less against smaller, less expensive, more aerial, or robotized wars, even as those wars proliferate, concentrate power, and generate new enemies. The problem is the widespread belief that some wars or some parts of some wars can be legal, moral, and useful -- a sort of fine-toothed distinction-drawing that we just don't engage in with other evils like slavery or child abuse or rape.
So there is, in fact, anti-war momentum to be harnessed and encouraged and directed toward the entire institution rather than only each of its separate pieces. But why a new organization? Aren't there organizations existing that already oppose war? Of course there are. They are not enough. The need is not to divide our resources but to enlarge them by bringing in new people and groups, and to better use our energies by choosing the best strategies we can. There is a job out there that isn't being done. Much of it is an educational job. Many people do not believe that war can be ended. It's a ridiculous hurdle but one that has to be taken on. Many believe that war can protect us or protect others. The facts say otherwise, but facts require a lot of support when they're going up against emotions like fear or the desire to believe that public officials are not sociopathic. A campaign to spread the word that war can and must be eliminated worldwide needs to be created and is something that WorldBeyondWar has just begun.
I spoke at the Veterans For Peace Convention recently, and they are completely on board with helping to advance this effort, as are many other peace organizations. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom supports this. I attended the national committee meeting of the War Resisters League, of which I'm a member, recently, and they share the vision of World Beyond War but have put their resources into particular efforts, all good ones, including opposing teargas, doing counter-recruitment, etc. WorldBeyondWar has begun supporting and will continue working on all sorts of partway steps that move us in the direction of a world beyond war. But we will advance an understanding of war as a cultural preference, not something made inevitable by any of the factors that interact with and facilitate it. And we will seek to reframe antiwar activism as part of the struggle toward the ultimate goal of abolition, rather than as part of a struggle to reform war or civilize war or only lessen war's damage and stop there.
We're going to try to stop using the term "we" when referring to public crimes we've opposed, stop opposing Pentagon waste more than Pentagon efficiency, stop calling an aggressive institution the defense industry, stop denouncing particular war crimes in a way that suggests a war itself is not a crime, stop opposing dumb wars as if some are smart, stop opposing wars because they leave the military ill-prepared as if we don't want the military ill-prepared, stop focusing on financial costs and costs to the aggressor in a way that blocks out the nature of a war as a one-sided slaughter, stop celebrating veterans and begin celebrating resisters, and develop a culture of peace that marks peace holidays and thanks peace activists for their service, while making visible the nonviolent alternatives to war.
World Beyond War is also developing a website that makes the strongest case we know how against every argument for war. The case against war that is laid out at WorldBeyondWar.org includes these topics:
War is immoral.
War endangers us.
War threatens our environment.
War erodes our liberties.
War impoverishes us.
That last one is important, and a bit different from how many schools we could have built for the price of one war -- which is always a useful point too. The larger point is that ordinary military spending, apart from particular wars, is easily ten times the price of a particular war. And a small fraction of that spending could end starvation, provide clean water, and bring medicine and agriculture and green energy to the world. We could take on real dangers, including environmental ones, rather than generating dangers through war.
We can talk about each argument, but now I want to introduce our next speaker.
Maria Santelli was the founder of the New Mexico GI Rights Hotline and is the Executive Director of a terrific organization here in D.C. called the Center on Conscience and War.
Jeff Bachman is a professorial lecturer in human rights and the Co-Director of the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs program at the School of International Service at American University.
Vincent Intondi is Associate Professor of History at Montgomery College and Director of Research at the Nuclear Studies Institute of the American University here in D.C. He is also author of African Americans Against the Bomb.
Nadia Kamoona is an Iraqi-American student at the University of Virginia, a future international human rights lawyer, and this summer has been an intern for World Beyond War.
Andy Shallal is an Iraqi-American artist, activist, and entrepreneur, and a recent candidate for mayor of Washington, D.C., and the proprietor of Busboys and Poets, which makes him our host this evening.
President Obama may want us to sympathize with patriotic torturers, he may turn on whistleblowers like a flesh-eating zombie, he may have lost all ability to think an authentic thought, but I will say this for him: He knows how to mark the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin fraud like a champion.
It's back in Iraq, Jack! Yackety yack! Obama says the United States has fired missiles and dropped food in Iraq -- enough food to feed 8,000, enough missiles to kill an unknown number (presumably 7,500 or fewer keeps this a "humanitarian" effort). The White House told reporters on a phone call following the President's Thursday night speech that it is expediting weapons to Iraq, producing Hellfire missiles and ammunition around the clock, and shipping those off to a nation where Obama swears there is no military solution and only reconciliation can help. Hellfire missiles are famous for helping people reconcile.
Obama went straight into laying out his excuses for this latest war, before speaking against war and in favor of everything he invests no energy in. First, the illegitimate government of Iraq asked him to do it. Second, ISIS is to blame for the hell that the United States created in Iraq. Third, there are still lots of places in the world that Obama has not yet bombed. Oh, and this is not really a war but just protection of U.S. personnel, combined with a rescue mission for victims of a possible massacre on a scale we all need to try to understand.
Wow! We need to understand the scale of killing in Iraq? This is the United States you're talking to, the people who paid for the slaughter of 0.5 to 1.5 million Iraqis this decade. Either we're experts on the scale of mass killings or we're hopelessly incapable of understanding such matters.
Completing the deja vu all over again Thursday evening, the substitute host of the Rachel Maddow Show seemed eager for a new war on Iraq, all of his colleagues approved of anything Obama said, and I heard "Will troops be sent?" asked by several "journalists," but never heard a single one ask "Will families be killed?"
Pro-war veteran Democratic congressman elected by war opponents Patrick Murphy cheered for Obama supposedly drawing a red line for war. Murphy spoke of Congress without seeming aware that less than two weeks ago the House voted to deny the President any new war on Iraq. There are some 199 members of the House who may be having a hard time remembering that right now.
Pro-war veteran Paul Rieckhoff added that any new veterans created would be heroes, and -- given what a "mess" Iraq is now -- Rieckhoff advocated "looking forward." The past has such an extreme antiwar bias.
Rounding out the reunion of predictable pro-war platitudes and prevarications, Nancy Pelosi immediately quoted the bits of Obama's speech that suggested he was against the war he was starting. Can Friedman Units and benchmarks be far behind?
Obama promises no combat troops will be sent back to Iraq. No doubt. Instead it'll be planes, drones, helicopters, and "non-combat" troops. "America is coming to help" finally just sounded as evil as Reagan meant it to, but it was in Obama's voice. The ironies exploded like Iraqi houses on Thursday. While the United States locks Honduran refugee children in cages, it proposes to bomb Iraq for refugees. While Gaza starves and Detroit lacks water, Obama bombs Iraq to stop people from starving. While the U.S. ships weapons to Israel to commit genocide, and to Syria for allies of ISIS, it is rushing more weapons into Iraq to supposedly prevent genocide on a mountaintop -- also to add to the weapons supplies already looted by ISIS.
Of course, it's also for "U.S. interests," but if that means U.S. people, why not pull them out? If it means something else, why not admit as much in the light of day and let the argument die of shame?
Let me add a word to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman David Swanson, who is not me and whom I do not know: Please do keep pushing for actual humanitarian aid. But if you spoke against the missiles that are coming with the food, the reporters left that bit out. You have to fit it into the same sentence with the food and water if you want it quoted. I hope there is an internal U.N. lobby for adoption by the U.N. of the U.N. Charter, and if there is I wish it all the luck in the world.
Benjamin Ferencz was a prosecutor at Nuremberg and at age 94 is still focused on the problem of applying the rule of law to a world plagued by war. His website is http://benferencz.org
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There's a wide and mysterious chasm between the stated intentions of the Israeli government as depicted by the U.S. media and what the Israeli government has been doing in Gaza, even as recounted in the U.S. media.
With the morgues full, Gazans are packing freezers with their dead children. Meanwhile, the worst images to be found in Israel depict fear, not death and suffering. Why the contrast? If the Israeli intent is defensive, why are 97% of the deaths Gazan, not Israeli? If the targets are fighters, why are whole families being slaughtered and their houses leveled? Why are schools and hospitals and children playing on the beach targeted? Why target water and electricity if the goal is not to attack an entire population?
The mystery melts away if you look at the stated intentions of the Israeli government as not depicted by the U.S. media but readily available in Israeli media and online.
On August 1st, the Deputy Speaker of Israel's Parliament posted on his FaceBook page a plan for the complete destruction of the people of Gaza using concentration camps. He had laid out a somewhat similar plan in a July 15th column.
Another member of the Israeli Parliament, Ayelet Shaked, called for genocide in Gaza at the start of the current war, writing: "Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there."
Taking a slightly different approach, Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University has been widely quoted in Israeli media saying, "The only thing that can deter [Gazans] is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
The Times of Israel published a column on August 1st, and later unpublished it, with the headline "When Genocide Is Permissible." The answer turned out to be: now.
On August 5th, Giora Eiland, former head of Israel's National Security Council, published a column with the headline "In Gaza, There Is No Such Thing as 'Innocent Civilians'." Eiland wrote: "We should have declared war against the state of Gaza (rather than against the Hamas organization). . . . [T]he right thing to do is to shut down the crossings, prevent the entry of any goods, including food, and definitely prevent the supply of gas and electricity."
It's all part of putting Gaza "on a diet," in the grotesque wording of an advisor to a former Israeli Prime Minister.
If it were common among members of the Iranian or Russian government to speak in favor of genocide, you'd better believe the U.S. media would notice. Why does this phenomenon go unremarked in the case of Israel? Noticing it is bound to get you called an anti-Semite, but that's hardly a concern worthy of notice while children are being killed by the hundreds.
Another explanation is U.S. complicity. The weapons Israel is using are given to it, free-of-charge, by the U.S. government, which also leads efforts to provide Israel immunity for its crimes. Check out this revealing map of which nations recognize the nation of Palestine.
A third explanation is that looking too closely at what Israel's doing could lead to someone looking closely at what the U.S. has done and is doing. Roughly 97% of the deaths in the 2003-2011 war on Iraq were Iraqi. Things U.S. soldiers and military leaders said about Iraqis were shameful and genocidal.
War is the biggest U.S. investment, and contemporary war is almost always a one-sided slaughter of civilians. If seeing the horror of it in Israeli actions allow us to begin seeing the same in U.S. actions, an important step will have been taken toward war's elimination.
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
The 16th Annual Kateri Peace Conference will be held with Fonda, NY, as its base on August 15th and 16th.
Extensive information on the nature of this event (I've been before and highly, highly recommend it. --David Swanson) is available here: http://kateripeaceconference.org
On Friday, August 15, from 10 a.m. to 4:40 p.m., the third annual day of reflection associated with this conference will be held at the bucolic National Kateri Tekawitha Shrine in Fonda. The day of reflection will be led by Thomas Gumbleton, a Roman Catholic Bishop from Detroit who for many decades has raised his voice, with great personal consequence, against war, militarism and social injustice.
On Friday evening, the Conference will officially open at 7 p.m. with the first ever "Rocking the Boat for Peace" cruise on the Erie Canal, leaving from Herkimer, NY. On board will be conference keynoters:
- DR. JILL STEIN, former Green Party Presidential candidate;
- DAVID SWANSON, author, journalist, radio host, organizer, blogger, World Beyond War director;
- KRISTIN CHRISTMAN, local writer and peace philosopher;
- BISHOP THOMAS GUMBLETON;
- HOWIE HAWKINS, Green Party candidate for Governor of New York;
and many others eager to consider the conference theme of transformation in a transformationally beautiful and peaceful setting. The evening promises to be a fun filled one and a lovely chance to have a great time with some powerful voices for peace and justice.
On Saturday from 9 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. we'll have the opportunity to engage in a day long "conversation" with our speakers ( see above and including DR. STEVE BREYMAN) and fellow conference attendees through a series of questions designed to move us from a consideration of issues confronting us as concerned global citizens to a contemplation of strategies and solutions . The day's structure is designed to promote reflection, solidarity, and action.
Saturday's discussion promises to be extremely informative, enlightening, and energizing. Hope to see you there!
Among those who cheer when a cease-fire ends and killing resumes are those who want more Palestinians slaughtered as a form of mass punishment for fictional offenses. Also among those cheering are certain mainstream U.S. newspaper columnists. In fact, at least one person is clearly in both of the above categories.
My local newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., printed a column on Friday from Thomas Sowell, distributed by Creators Syndicate but actually written for the right-wing Jewish World Review. Sowell writes:
"It is understandable that today many people in many lands just want the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians to stop. Calls for a cease-fire are ringing out from the United Nations and from Washington, as well as from ordinary people in many places around the world. According to the New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry is hoping for a cease-fire to 'open the door to Israeli and Palestinian negotiations for a long-term solution.' President Obama has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have an 'immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire' -- again, with the idea of pursuing some long-lasting agreement."
Here is where Sowell might logically object to Washington shipping Israel more weaponry in the midst of proposing cease-fires and mumbling quietly about the inappropriateness of particular bits of the mass-murder underway. John Kerry doesn't hope for a long-term solution any more than he knew Syria used chemical weapons or Putin shot down a plane or Iraq deserved to be destroyed before it didn't but after it did. John Kerry knows the U.S. provides the weaponry and the criminal immunity to a nation intent on completing the process of eliminating its native peoples, as Kerry's own nation effectively did long ago. There's no solution possible in that context other than a Final Solution for Palestinians. But this is not what Sowell goes on to say.
"If this was the first outbreak of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis, such hopes might make sense. But where have the U.N., Kerry and Obama been during all these decades of endlessly repeated Middle East carnage?"
Well, the same place all of their Republican and Democratic predecessors have been, supporting endless armaments for Israel and most of its neighbors, and vetoing any U.N. resolutions that would impose any consequences for Israel's occupation, blockade, and Apartheid repression on the basis of religion and race.
"The Middle East must lead the world in cease-fires. If cease-fires were the road to peace, the Middle East would easily be the most peaceful place on the planet."
Stop for a moment and appreciate the unfathomable stupidity of that remark. One might as well say the Middle East must lead the world in U.S. weapons imports or the Middle East must lead the world in wars. If these were paths to peace, the Middle East would easily be the most peaceful place on the planet. One might also just as easily say the Middle East must lead the world in the brevity of its cease-fires, with cease-fires elsewhere lasting longer, and with as many broken agreements lying in the sand of the Middle East as anywhere since the last big batch of promises made to Native Americans. One might even just as easily say the Middle East must lead the world in resumptions of fighting, rather than in halts to fighting. But that's not where Sowell is headed. He's out to reverse Benjamin Franklin's notion that there has never been a good war or a bad peace.
"'Cease-fire' and 'negotiations' are magic words to 'the international community.' But just what do cease-fires actually accomplish? In the short run, they save some lives. But in the long run they cost far more lives, by lowering the cost of aggression."
Here it comes. Just as the Jewish World Review wants to make poor people "self-sufficient" by denying them any assistance, Sowell wants to teach the people of Palestine a lesson for their own good. Of course people dispossessed of their land, made refugees, entrapped and blockaded, and targeted with missiles that level their homes and explode in their schools and hospitals and shelters are unusual suspects to accuse of aggression. And for those who shoot rockets, so ineffectively and counter-productively, into Israel, the lesson Sowell wants to teach through mass slaughter is demonstrably not taught. Everyone in Gaza will tell you that Israeli violence increases support for Palestinian violence. Not every Palestinian understands that the reverse is also true, that the rockets fuel Israeli attacks, but that hardly justifies their murder or creates a lesson where Sowell imagines Israeli missiles teaching one.
"At one time, launching a military attack on another nation risked not only retaliation but annihilation. When Carthage attacked Rome, that was the end of Carthage."
Ah, the good old days, when any colony or challenger that stepped out of line could be wiped out, starved out, and cleansed from the earth.
"But when Hamas or some other terrorist group launches an attack on Israel, they know in advance that whatever Israel does in response will be limited by calls for a cease-fire, backed by political and economic pressures from the United States."
The political pressure of Kerry groveling before Netanyahu? Of Susan Rice explaining to the world that Kerry never meant to negotiate and has always been 100% in Israel's camp? Of Obama joining Sowell in blaming the victims? The economic pressure of the free weapons continuing to flow from the U.S. to Israel? What sort of fantasy is this?
One possibility is that it's a fantasy of racism or culturalism. Americans are rational beings in this fantasy. It would only make sense to apply obvious points of pressure for a cease-fire once you've proposed one. Arming the Middle East for peace would be insanity. So, Sowell perhaps fantasizes that sanity and rationality prevail. Except in places like Palestine or Iran:
"Those who say that we can contain a nuclear Iran, as we contained a nuclear Soviet Union, are acting as if they are discussing abstract people in an abstract world. Whatever the Soviets were, they were not suicidal fanatics, ready to see their own cities destroyed in order to destroy ours. . . . Even if the Israelis were all saints -- and sainthood is not common in any branch of the human race -- the cold fact is that they are far more advanced than their neighbors, and groups that cannot tolerate even subordinate Christian minorities can hardly be expected to tolerate an independent, and more advanced, Jewish state that is a daily rebuke to their egos."
Since when does Iran not tolerate minorities? Since when is it populated by 76 million suicidal fanatics?
You see, not only do the Gazans want to die, in the view of Sowell and so many others we've been hearing from via our so-called public airwaves, because it makes good footage, because they have a culture of martyrdom -- you've heard all the explanations for Gazans stubbornly remaining in their homes and hospitals rather than swimming to Cyprus as normal people would do -- but the source of Gazans' irrational aggression against the benevolent power that stole their land and starves their children and bans the importation of books is -- wait for it -- jealousy. It's wounded egos. Just as poor Americans are jealous of the success of those with the wisdom and fortitude to be born into the families of billionaires, so Palestinians resent the superiority, the Ubermenschness of the people who have been clever enough to get born into Pentagon subsidies.
As a contrasting view of the world to Sowell's allow me to offer this new Willie Nelson video (http://youtu.be/MezGqmMCrwo):
God sent Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, the fire next time
Said Noah to God, you'd better toe the line
We'll have no more fire in Palestine
Said God, whoa, Noah, you've got some spine
I made you from dust, and that makes you mine
Said Noah to God, now don't you whine
Just keep your vengeance out of Palestine
Pay attention, said Noah, let me redefine
I made you out of fears that I've left behind
And I never meant to make you so asinine
So float right back across that borderline
Keep your wrath and your fury out of Palestine
And just one point, let me underline
If you ever incline to realign
On the side of love, that'll be just fine
I'll sign your name on my valentine
Saying Dear dear Palestine
This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
My neighbors and I are intertwined
The propagandists can all opine
But they're breaking Commandment Number Nine
You want to come with me?
We're gonna redefine
Our needs and our interests
We're about to enshrine
In our hearts this one cry
Make it yours, make it mine
Free Free Palestine
Humans almost invariably imagine humans to be far more imaginative and original than they are. But most of our ideas come from (often imperfect and improvised) imitation. And even more powerful than our tendency to imitate is our inability to refrain from imitating, to shake an idea out of our heads once it's there, to "not think of an elephant."
Anthropologists have found cultures whose members cannot conceive of killing. "Why won't you shoot an arrow at those slave raiders?" "Because it would kill them."
In Western culture, children hear of killing in fairy tales, cartoons, Harry Potter books, video games, the TV news, the newspaper, the games played in the park. It's everywhere. Usually it's frowned upon, although often a distinction is made between bad killing by bad guys and good killing by good guys, or inexplicable random killing and killing justified and sanctified by bitter revenge.
But even when a behavior is frowned upon, the listener or viewer has now heard of that behavior. There have been studies of children's responses to stories and television dramas in which fictional children misbehave for three-quarters of the episode and then learn an important moral lesson at the end. Guess what? Kids don't retroactively view the whole story as a package and wipe the bad behavior out of their minds. Instead they display a tendency to try out the behavior demonstrated to them in so many of the isolated moments that they lived while watching or listening to the story.
Humans also almost invariably imagine humans to be far kinder and far more selfless than they are. Most of us very much want others to be kind to us, and we try our best to be kind to others. So, when we see behaviors and institutions that cause horrendous suffering, we like to imagine there is a rational cause, a greater good, or that the explanation is incompetence or stupidity -- anything other than the most obvious explanation: vicious, evil sadism.
We are often encouraged to picture vicious cruelty and irrational evil in certain foreign groups of humans. But usually this perspective is intended to help us avoid seeing cruelty in those who are supposedly like ourselves.
These thoughts arise as I'm confronted by the polling showing that 95% of Israelis deem the slaughter of Gazans to be just, and the realization that for many in Israel "just" is a rather disgusting euphemism for "satisfyingly sadistic." People are sitting on hills watching the missiles hit the homes, some of them telling cameras they want everyone killed, and then explaining that their thoughts are "a little bit fascist."
This week we'll be remembering Harry Truman's bombing of Japan with nuclear weapons, and we'll be told that he must have believed those acts of mass murder would help end the war, even though the evidence shows he knew otherwise. Truman had earlier advocated aiding the Russians or the Germans, whoever was losing, so that as many people as possible would die, he said. Top U.S. military officials wanted Japan cleansed of all human life. The most likely explanation for the nukes, namely that Truman viewed killing lots of Japanese as an advantage to be weighed along with impressing the Russians and so forth, is too ugly, so we turn away. We even have to turn away from his own statement on the occasion, which justified the bombing in terms of revenge, not in terms of ending the war.
Also this week we'll mark 50 years since the Gulf of Tonkin fraud. We like to imagine such incidents, even when they result in the deaths of 4 million foreigners, as misunderstandings. But during the course of the savagery that followed, how was progress gauged? That's right: by body counts.
Examples of evil policies, in one's own or other parts of the world, flood in the moment you begin to look for them. The evidence is clear that locking kids up in juvenile prisons makes them more likely, not less likely, to grow into criminals. But we just go on locking them up for other motives we don't care to examine too closely. We've learned what it's impolite to mention. Support for wars in Afghanistan or Iraq is discussed on television in terms of "strategic interests" and other such blather, but the counter-demonstrators across the street from a peace rally sometimes have different desires, including the death of foreigners -- and of the peace activists with them.
Courageous peace activists in Israel have been facing hostile counter-demonstrations from those in their society who have moved in a different direction.
There are many reasons why I shouldn't make any observation on Israeli society, beginning with the fact that I know very little about it. But when a nation is continually engaging in the most horrific and massive crimes, using weapons and criminal immunity provided by my nation, and protests are raging around the earth, when the news is packed with information, analysis, propaganda, and poisonous pontificating, when the peace meetings I go to discuss the matter at great length, when the guests on my radio show and the books I read and Israelis I meet begin to inform me a little, and when the problem appears enormous and glaring but guarded by a protection of intimidation and obedience, then I think tossing an idea into the mix may be justified, despite being dramatically more impolite by U.S. standards than criticizing Harry Truman or LBJ.
Israel is a nation where children grow up learning about the holocaust, marking the holocaust with holidays, planning trips to Germany to visit the camps. U.S. children dress up as Pilgrims and Indians, but nobody tells them that the Pilgrims ended up murdering the Indians, or what it was like to be an Indian child preparing to be murdered or watching your loved ones murdered. The U.S. origin story is, appropriately enough, one of feasting, not one of genocide. I'm speaking of how it is told, of course, rather than what actually happened.
To criticize the Israeli government for its wars, even though I also criticize every other government for their wars, generates inevitable and truly stupid accusations of anti-Semitism. But criticizing the teaching of the holocaust, which I've never done before, seems likely to go beyond that into an area of accusations of holocaust denial. I have, of course, been there. I've been accused of denying the holocaust for opposing bombing Iran because someone in Iran supposedly denied the holocaust. I've been accused of denying the holocaust for criticizing World War II, even though the actions I express a wish had been taken include opposing fascism in its early years instead of waiting, defunding the Nazis rather than supporting them as preferable to Communists, and finding homes for Jewish refugees when they needed them, rather than turning them away. But this is all ridiculously dumb: denying the holocaust and flooding society with its ubiquitous presence are not the only two choices, any more than leveling people's homes in Gaza and "doing nothing" are the only two choices.
To say that people are behaving like Nazis is not to say that they are exactly identical to Nazis, any more than to say that your child's piano playing is exactly like Mozart. Without question, Nazism is a source of imitation for rightwingers around the world, including in Israel. Might a lesser focus on its significance be helpful? Would a greater emphasis on peace studies do any harm?