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Can Corporatized Universities Allow Criticism of Israel?

The University of California is seeking to ban criticism of Israel. This is a widespread phenomenon in the United States, as attested by two new reports and cases like that of Steven Salaita, author of Uncivil Rights: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom.

Salaita was fired by the University of Illinois for criticizing Israel on Twitter. Norman Finkelstein had been denied tenure by DePaul University for criticizing Israel. William Robinson was almost driven out at UC Santa Barbara for refusing to "repent" after criticizing Israel. Joseph Massad at Columbia had a similar experience.

Why, in a country that stretches "freedom of speech" to the point of covering the bribery of politicians, should it be acceptable to criticize the United States but not a tiny, distant country only just created in 1948? And why should such censorship reach even into institutions that usually pile "academic freedom" on top of "freedom of speech" as an argument against censorship?

First and foremost, I think, is the nature of Israel. It's a nation practicing apartheid and genocide in the twenty-first century using U.S. funding and weaponry. It can't persuade people of the acceptability of these policies in open debate. It can only continue its crimes by insisting that -- precisely as a government serving one ethnic group only -- any criticism amounts to the threat of apartheid and genocide known as "anti-Semitism."

Second, I think, is the subservience of the contemporary degenerate educational institution, which serves the wealthy donor, not the exploration of human intellect. When wealthy donors demand that "anti-Semitism" be stamped out, so it is. (And how can one object without being "anti-Semitic" or appearing to dispute that there actually is real anti-Semitism in the world and that it is as immoral as hatred of any other group.)

Third, the crackdown on criticizing Israel is a response to the success of such criticism and to the efforts of the BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) movement. Israeli author Manfred Gerstenfeld published openly in the Jerusalem Post a strategy for making an example of a few U.S. professors in order to "diminish the threat of boycotts."

Salaita called his book Uncivil Rights because the accusations of unacceptable speech typically take the form of proclaiming a need to protect civility. Salaita didn't tweet or otherwise communicate anything actually anti-Semitic. He tweeted and otherwise communicated many statements opposing anti-Semitism. But he criticized Israel and cursed at the same time. And to compound the sin, he used humor and sarcasm. Such practices are enough to get you convicted in a U.S. Court of Indignation without any careful examination of whether the sarcastic cursing actually expressed hatred or, on the contrary, expressed justifiable outrage. Reading Salaita's offending tweets in the context of all his other ones exonerates him of anti-Semitism while leaving him clearly guilty of "anti-Semitism," that is: criticizing the Israeli government.

This criticism can take the form of criticizing Israeli settlers. Salaita writes in his book:

"There are nearly half a million Jewish settlers on the West Bank. Their population currently grows at double the rate of other Israelis. They use 90 percent of the West Bank's water; the 3.5 million Palestinians of the territory make due with the remaining 10 percent. They travel on Jewish-only highways while Palestinians wait for hours at checkpoints (with no guarantee of passing through, even when they are injured or giving birth). They regularly assault women and children; some bury alive the natives. They vandalize homes and shops. They run over pedestrians with their cars. They restrict farmers from their land. They squat on hilltops that don't belong to them. They firebomb houses and kill babies. They bring with them a high-tech security force largely composed of conscripts to maintain this hideous apparatus."

One could read even such a longer-than-twitter criticism and imagine certain additions to it. But, reading the whole book from which I've quoted it, would eliminate the possibility of fantasizing that Salaita is, in this passage, advocating vengeance or violence or condemning settlers because of their religion or ethnicity or equating all settlers with each other except in so far as they are part of an operation of ethnic cleansing. Salaita does not excuse either side of the conflict but criticizes the idea that there is a conflict in Palestine with two equal sides:

"Since 2000, Israelis have killed 2,060 Palestinian children, while Palestinians have killed 130 Israeli children. The overall death count during this period is over 9,000 Palestinians and 1,190 Israelis. Israel has violated at least seventy-seven UN resolutions and numerous provisions of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. Israel has imposed hundreds of settlements on the West Bank, while Palestinians inside Israel increasingly are squeezed and continue to be internally displaced. Israel has demolished nearly thirty thousand Palestinian homes as a matter of policy. Palestinians have demolished zero Israeli homes. At present more than six thousand Palestinians languish in Israeli prisons, including children; no Israeli occupies a Palestinian prison."

Salaita wants Palestinian land given back to Palestinians, just as he wants at least some Native American land given back to Native Americans. Such demands, even when they amount to nothing but compliance with existing laws and treaties, seem unreasonable or vengeful to certain readers. But what people imagine education consists of if not the consideration of ideas that at first seem unreasonable is beyond me. And the notion that returning stolen land must involve violence is a notion added to the proposal by the reader.

However, there is at least one area in which Salaita is clearly and openly accepting of violence, and that is the United States military. Salaita wrote a column criticizing "support the troops" propaganda, in which he said, "My wife and I often discuss what our son might grow up to accomplish. A consistent area of disagreement is his possible career choice. She can think of few things worse than him one day joining the military (in any capacity), while I would not object to such a decision."

Think about that. Here is someone making a moral argument for opposing violence in Palestine, and a book-length defense of the importance of this stand outweighing concerns of comfort or politeness. And he wouldn't so much as object to his son joining the United States military. Elsewhere in the book, he notes that U.S. academics "can travel to, say, Tel Aviv University and pal around with racists and war criminals." Think about that. This is an American academic writing this while David Petraeus, John Yoo, Condoleezza Rice, Harold Koh, and dozens of their fellow war criminals teach in U.S. academia, and not without huge controversy about which Salaita cannot have avoided hearing. In response to outrage at his criticism of "support the troops," his then-employer, Virginia Tech, loudly proclaimed its support for the U.S. military.

The U.S. military acts on the belief, as found in the names of its operations and weapons as well as in its extended discussions, that the world is "Indian territory," and that native lives don't matter. A West Point professor recently proposed targeting critics of U.S. militarism with death, not just denial of tenure. And why is such criticism dangerous? Because nothing the U.S. military does to the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, or anywhere else is any more defensible than what the Israeli military does with its help -- and I don't think it would take much consideration of the facts for someone like Steven Salaita to realize that.

Does the Pope Know a Boy Is About to Be Crucified?

The Pope will speak to Congress on Thursday. No other institution on earth does more to destroy the habitability of the planet for future generations. Will the Pope raise his concerns with them or only when he's thousands of miles away?

No other institution sells and gives as many weapons to the world, participates in as many wars, or invests remotely as much in planning, provoking, and pursuing war after war. Will the Pope speak up for abolishing war in the U.S. Capitol or only when he's nowhere near the leading maker of war on earth?

As Nicolas Davies documents in a forthcoming article, when the U.S. has reduced military spending, the world has followed. When it has increased, the world has followed. The Pope wants nuclear weapons eliminated. Will he mention that to the leading investor in nuclear weapons?

Occasionally a particular variety of horror serves to catch people's attention. The boy in the photo at right has been sentenced to be crucified. His crime was participation in a pro-democracy rally. Now he will have done to him what the Pope's religion says was done to Jesus Christ. He won't be smiling blissfully like a Christ on a crucifix either. He will suffer immense pain and torment, and then die.

Who would do this? Why, Saudi Arabia, of course. And who is Saudi Arabia's chief ally, weapons provider, and oil customer? Why, the United States Congress.

Is it possible that this particular murder can arouse action among all of those moral leaders in the United States so desirous of being followers that they're focusing all attention on the Pope?

And if this murder can attract attention, what about all the others? During the course of a brutal civil war in Syria in which all sides have slaughtered numerous innocents with all variety of weaponry, we've been advised at certain points to be indignant over the use of chemical weapons or beheadings. But we don't seem to have managed to carry that over to the full range of murder going on.

Saudi Arabia is dropping bombs, including U.S.-made cluster bombs, on Yemen, slaughtering children by the hundreds. Saudi Arabia is brutalizing the people of Bahrain, not to mention the people of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabians are funding ISIS and other murderers in the region. Are all of these murders acceptable even if the crucifixion isn't? Or can we seize this opportunity to build opposition to all murder? Or might we if the Pope mentions it to Congress?

On Tuesday the Senate Armed Services Committee brought in David Petraeus to testify yet again on how to escalate more wars. Petraeus recently proposed arming al Qaeda. Senator John McCain gave Petraeus credit on Tuesday for extending the Iraq war from 2007 to 2011. Petraeus noted that the whole region is in horrible turmoil. Nobody made any connection between the U.S. wars on Iraq and Libya that have created that turmoil and the results. Nobody questioned the wisdom of using more war to try to repair the damage of war.

Well, a few of us did. The wonderful CodePink was there as always. I was there with a sign that said "Arm al Qaeda? Reagan tried that."

The mad men who run the U.S. government have reached the point of re-arming the enemies of enemies whose blowback first drove them to radically escalate the global murder of innocent people in the name of opposing terrorism while increasing it.

The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance had an answer to this on Tuesday, taking a protest of endless war and environmental destruction to the gate of the White House.

The Secret Service arrested the people in the photo below rather than accept a letter from them articulating their opposition to policies of massive cruelty to the earth and its inhabitants.

The Pope has the opportunity to speak that same message to Congress and to the U.S. corporate media. Will he use it?


Talk Nation Radio: Eve Spangler on Israel/Palestine

Eve Spangler is a sociologist and a human and civil rights activist.  For the last decade, her work has focused on the Israel/Palestine conflict. We discuss her new book, Understanding Israel/Palestine: Race, Nation, and Human Rights in the Conflict.

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War: Legal to Criminal and Back Again

Remarks in Chicago on the 87th anniversary of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, August 27, 2015.

Thank you very much for inviting me here and thank you to Kathy Kelly for everything she does and thank you to Frank Goetz and everyone involved in creating this essay contest and keeping it going. This contest is far and away the best thing that has come out of my book When the World Outlawed War.

I proposed making August 27th a holiday everywhere, and that hasn't yet happened, but it's begun. The city of St. Paul, Minnesota, has done it. Frank Kellogg, for whom the Kellogg-Briand Pact is named, was from there. A group in Albuquerque is holding an event today, as are groups in other cities today and in recent years. A Congress member has recognized the occasion in the Congressional Record.

But the responses offered to some of the essays from various readers and included in the booklet are typical, and their failings should not reflect poorly on the essays. Virtually everyone has no idea that there is a law on the books banning all war. And when a person finds out, he or she typically takes no more than a few minutes to dismiss the fact as meaningless. Read the responses to the essays. None of the responders who were dismissive considered the essays carefully or read additional sources; clearly none of them read a word of my book.

Any old excuse works to dismiss the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Even combinations of contradictory excuses work fine. But some of them are readily available. The most common is that the ban on war didn't work because there have been more wars since 1928. And therefore, supposedly, a treaty banning war is a bad idea, worse in fact than nothing at all; the proper idea that should have been tried is diplomatic negotiations or disarmament or ... pick your alternative.

Can you imagine someone recognizing that torture has continued since numerous legal bans on torture were put in place, and declaring that the anti-torture statute should be thrown out and something else be used instead, perhaps body cameras or proper training or whatever? Can you imagine that? Can you imagine someone, anyone, recognizing that drunk driving has outlasted bans on it and declaring that the law failed and should be overturned in favor of trying television commercials or breathalyzers-to-access-keys or whatever? Sheer lunacy, right? So, why isn't it sheer lunacy to dismiss a law banning war?

This is not like a ban on alcohol or drugs that causes their use to go underground and expand there with added bad side effects. War is extremely difficult to do in private. Attempts are made to hide various aspects of war, to be sure, and they always were, but war is always fundamentally public, and the U.S. public is saturated with promotion of its acceptance. Try finding a U.S. movie theater that is not currently showing any movies glorifying war.

A law banning war is no more or less than what it was intended to be, part of a package of procedures aimed at reducing and eliminating warfare. The Kellogg-Briand Pact is not in competition with diplomatic negotiations. It makes no sense to say "I'm against a ban on war and in favor of using diplomacy instead." The Peace Pact itself mandates pacific, that is, diplomatic, means for the settlement of every conflict. The Pact is not in opposition to disarmament but aimed at facilitating it.

The war prosecutions at the end of World War II in Germany and Japan were one-sided victor's justice, but they were the first prosecutions of the crime of war ever and were based on the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Since then, the heavily armed nations have not yet fought each other again, waging war only on the poor nations that were never deemed worthy of fair treatment even by the hypocritical governments that signed the pact 87 years ago. That failure of World War III to arrive yet may not last, may be attributable to the creation of nuclear bombs, and/or may be a matter of sheer luck. But if nobody had ever driven drunk again after the very first arrest for that crime, tossing the law out as worse than useless would look even weirder than would tossing it out while the roads are full of drunks.

So why do people so eagerly dismiss the Peace Pact almost immediately upon learning about it? I used to suppose this was just a question of laziness and acceptance of bad memes in heavy circulation. Now I think it is more a matter of belief in the inevitability, necessity, or beneficiality of war. And in many cases I think it may be a matter of personal investment in war, or of reluctance to think that the primary project of our society might be entirely and tremendously evil and also blatantly illegal. I think it can be disturbing to some people to contemplate the idea that the central project of the U.S. government, taking in 54% of federal discretionary spending, and dominating our entertainment and self-image, is a criminal enterprise.

Look at how people go along with Congress supposedly banning torture every couple of years even though it was totally banned before the torture spree that began under George W. Bush, and the new bans actually purport to open up loopholes for torture, just as the U.N. Charter does for war. The Washington Post actually came out and said, just as its old friend Richard Nixon would have said, that because Bush tortured it must have been legal. This is a common and comforting habit of thought. Because the United States wages wars, war must be legal.

There have been times in the past in parts of this country when imagining that Native Americans had rights to land, or that enslaved people had the right to be free, or that women were as human as men, were unthinkable thoughts. If pressed, people would dismiss those ideas with any excuse that came to hand. We live in a society that invests more heavily in war than in anything else and does so as a matter of routine. A case brought by an Iraqi woman is now being appealed in the 9th Circuit seeking to hold U.S. officials responsible under the laws of Nuremberg for the war on Iraq that was launched in 2003. Legally the case is a sure win. Culturally it's unthinkable. Imagine the precedent that would be set for millions of victims in dozens of countries! Without a major change in our culture, the case doesn't stand a chance. The change needed in our culture is not a legal change, but a decision to abide by existing laws that are, in our current culture, literally unbelievable and unknowable, even if clearly and concisely written and publicly available and acknowledged.

Japan has a similar situation. The Prime Minister has reinterpreted these words based on the Kellogg-Briand Pact and found in the Japanese Constitution: "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes ... [L]and, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized." The Prime Minister has reinterpreted those words to mean "Japan shall maintain a military and wage wars anywhere on earth." Japan doesn't need to fix its Constitution but to abide by its clear language -- just as the United States could probably stop bestowing human rights on corporations by simply reading the word "people" in the U.S. Constitution to mean "people."

I don't think I would let the common dismissal of the Kellogg-Briand Pact as worthless by people who five minutes earlier never knew it existed bother me were so many people not dying of war or had I written a tweet instead of a book. If I had just written on Twitter in 140 characters or fewer that a treaty banning war is the law of the land, how could I protest when someone dismissed it on the basis of some factoid they'd picked up, such as that Monsieur Briand, for whom the treaty is named along with Kellogg, wanted a treaty with which to force the U.S. to join in French wars? Of course that's true, which is why the work of activists to persuade Kellogg to persuade Briand to expand the treaty to all nations, effectively eliminating its function as a commitment to France in particular, was a model of genius and dedication worth writing a book about instead of a tweet.

I wrote the book When the World Outlawed War not just to defend the importance of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but primarily to celebrate the movement that brought it into being and to revive that movement, which understood that it then had, and which still has, a long way to go. This was a movement that envisioned the elimination of war as a step building on the elimination of blood feuds and dueling and slavery and torture and executions. It was going to require disarmament, and the creation of global institutions, and above all the development of new cultural norms. It was toward that latter end, toward the purpose of stigmatizing war as something illicit and undesirable, that the Outlawry movement sought to outlaw war.

The biggest news story of 1928, bigger at the time even than Charles Lindbergh's flight of 1927 which contributed to its success in a manner completely unrelated to Lindbergh's fascist beliefs, was the signing of the Peace Pact in Paris on August 27th. Was anyone naive enough to believe that the project of ending war was well on its way to success? How could they not have been? Some people are naive about everything that ever happens. Millions upon millions of Americans believe that each new war is going to finally be the one that brings peace, or that Donald Trump has all the answers, or that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will bring us freedom and prosperity. Michele Bachmann supports the Iran agreement because she says it will end the world and bring back Jesus. (That is no reason, by the way, for us not to support the Iran agreement.) The less that critical thinking is taught and developed, and the less that history is taught and understood, the wider a field of action naiveté has to work in, but naiveté is always present in every event, just as is obsessive pessimism. Moses or some of his observers may have thought he would end murder with a commandment, and how many thousands of years later is it that the United States has begun taking up the idea that police officers shouldn't kill black people? And yet nobody suggests tossing out laws against murder.

And the people who made Kellogg-Briand happen, who were not named Kellogg or Briand, were far from naive. They expected a generations-long struggle and would be amazed, bewildered, and heartbroken by our failure to continue the struggle and by our rejection of their work on the grounds that it hasn't succeeded yet.

There is also, by the way, a new and insidious rejection of peace work that pokes its way into the responses to the essays and into most events like this one these days, and I fear that it may be growing rapidly. This is the phenomenon that I call Pinkerism, the rejection of peace activism on the basis of the belief that war is going away on its own. There are two problems with this idea. One is that if war were going away, that would almost certainly be in large part because of the work of people opposing it and striving to replace it with peaceful institutions. Second, war isn't going away. U.S. academics make a case for war vanishing that rests on a foundation of fraud. They redefine U.S. wars as something other than wars. They measure casualties against global population, thus avoiding the fact that recent wars have been as bad for the populations involved as any wars of the past. They shift the topic to the decline of other types of violence.

Those declines of other types of violence, including the death penalty in U.S. states, should be celebrated and held up as models for what can be done with war. But it's not yet being done with war, and war is not going to do it by itself without a great deal of effort and sacrifice by us and by many other people.

I'm glad that people in St. Paul are remembering Frank Kellogg, but the story of late 1920s peace activism is a great model for activism precisely because Kellogg was opposed to the whole idea such a short time before he was enthusiastically working for it. He was brought around by a public campaign initiated by a Chicago lawyer and activist named Salmon Oliver Levinson, whose grave rests unnoticed in Oak Woods Cemetery, and whose 100,000 papers sit unread at the University of Chicago.

I sent an op-ed on Levinson to the Tribune which declined to print it, as did the Sun. The Daily Herald ended up printing it. The Tribune did find room a couple of weeks ago to print a column wishing that a hurricane like Katrina would hit Chicago, creating enough chaos and devastation to allow the swift destruction of Chicago's public school system. An easier method of wrecking the school system might be just to force all the students to read the Chicago Tribune.

This is part of what I wrote: S.O. Levinson was a lawyer who believed that courts handled interpersonal disputes better than dueling had done before it was banned. He wanted to outlaw war as a means of handling international disputes. Until 1928, launching a war had always been perfectly legal. Levinson wanted to outlaw all war. "Suppose," he wrote, "it had then been urged that only 'aggressive dueling' should be outlawed and that 'defensive dueling' be left intact."

I should add that the analogy may be imperfect in an important way. National governments banned dueling and handed out punishments for it. There's no global government punishing nations that make war. But dueling didn't die out until the culture rejected it. The law was not enough. And part of the cultural shift against war certainly needs to include the creation and reformation of global institutions that reward peacemaking and punish war-making, as in fact such institutions already do punish war-making by poor nations acting against the agenda of the West.

Levinson and the movement of Outlawrists whom he gathered around him, including well-known Chicagoan Jane Addams, believed that making war a crime would begin to stigmatize it and facilitate demilitarization. They pursued as well the creation of international laws and systems of arbitration and alternative means of handling conflicts. Outlawing war was to be the first step in a lengthy process of actually ending that peculiar institution.

The Outlawry movement was launched with Levinson's article proposing it in The New Republic magazine on March 7, 1918, and took a decade to achieve the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The task of ending war is ongoing, and the Pact is a tool that might still help. This treaty commits nations to resolving their disputes through peaceful means alone. The U.S. State Department's website lists it as still in effect, as does the Department of Defense Law of War Manual published in June 2015.

The frenzy of organizing and activism that created the peace pact was massive. Find me an organization that's been around since the 1920s and I'll find you an organization on record in support of abolishing war. That includes the American Legion, the National League of Women Voters, and the National Association of Parents and Teachers. By 1928 the demand to outlaw war was irresistible, and Kellogg who had recently mocked and cursed peace activists, began following their lead and telling his wife he might be in for a Nobel Peace Prize.

On August 27, 1928, in Paris, the flags of Germany and the Soviet Union newly flew along many others, as the scene played out that is described in the song "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream." The papers the men were signing really did say they would never fight again. The Outlawrists persuaded the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty without any formal reservations.

The U.N. Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945, so its 70th anniversary is approaching. Its potential is still unfulfilled. It has been used to advance and to impede the cause of peace. We need a rededication to its goal of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war. But we should be clear about how much weaker the U.N. Charter is than the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Whereas the Kellogg-Briand Pact forbids all war, the U.N. Charter opens up the possibility of a legal war. While most wars do not meet the narrow qualifications of being defensive or U.N.-authorized, many wars are marketed as if they meet those qualifications, and many people are fooled. After 70 years isn't it time for the United Nations to cease authorizing wars and to make clear to the world that attacks on distant nations are not defensive?

The U.N. Charter echoes the Kellogg-Briand Pact with these words: "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered." But the Charter also creates those loopholes for war, and we are supposed to imagine that because the Charter authorizes the use of war to prevent war it is better than a total ban on war, it is more serious, it is enforceable, it has -- in a revealing phrase -- teeth. The fact that the U.N. Charter has been failing to eliminate war for 70 years isn't held up as grounds for rejecting the U.N. Charter. Rather, the U.N. project of opposing bad wars with good wars is imagined as an eternal on-going project that only the naive would suppose might be completed some day. As long as the grass grows or water runs, as long as the Israeli Palestinian peace process holds conferences, as long as the Non-proliferation Treaty is pushed in the faces of non-nuclear nations by permanent nuclear powers that violate it, the United Nations will go on authorizing the protection of Libyans or others by the world's dominant war makers who will go on immediately creating hell on earth in Libya or elsewhere. This is how people think of the United Nations.

There are two relatively recent twists on this on-going disaster, I think. One is the looming catastrophe of climate change that sets a time limit that we may have already surpassed but that certainly isn't lengthy on our on-going waste of resources on war and its intense environmental destruction. Eliminating war has to have an end date and it has to be fairly soon, or war and the earth on which we wage it will eliminate us. We cannot go into the climate-induced crisis we are headed into with war on the shelf as an avialable option. We'll never survive it.

The second is that the logic of the United Nations as permanent maker of war to end all war has been stretched far beyond the norm by both the evolution of the doctrine of "responsibility to protect" and by the creation of the so-called global war on terror and the commission of drone wars by President Obama.

The United Nations, created to protect the world from war, is now widely thought of as having a responsibility to wage wars under the pretence that doing so protects someone from something worse. Governments, or at least the U.S. government, can now wage war by either declaring that they are protecting someone or (and numerous governments have now done this) by declaring that the group they are attacking is terrorist. A U.N. report on drone wars mentions rather casually that drones are making war the norm.

We are supposed to talk about so-called "war crimes" as a particular type, even a particularly bad type, of crimes. But they are thought of as the smaller elements of wars, not the crime of war itself. This is a pre-Kellogg-Briand mentality. War itself is widely seen as perfectly legal, but certain atrocities that typically constitute the bulk of the war are understood as illegal. In fact, war's legality is such that the worst crime possible can be legalized by declaring it to be part of a war. We've seen liberal professors testify before Congress that a drone killing is murder if it's not part of a war and just fine if it is part of a war, with the determination of whether it's part of the war being left up to the president ordering the murders. The small and personal scale of drone murders should be helping us recognize the wider killing of all wars as mass murder, not legalizing murder by associating it with war. To see where that leads, look no further than the militarized police on the streets of the United States who are far more likely to kill you than ISIS is.

I've seen a progressive activist express outrage that a judge would declare that the United States is at war in Afghanistan. Doing so apparently allows the United States to keep Afghans locked up in Guantanamo. And of course it's also a mar on the myth of Barack Obama ending wars. But the U.S. military is in Afghanistan killing people. Would we want a judge to declare that under those circumstances the U.S. is not at war in Afghanistan because the President says the war is officially over? Do we want someone who wages war to have the legal power to recategorize a war as an Overseas Contingency Genocide or whatever it's called? The United States is at war, but the war is not legal. Being illegal, it cannot legalize the additional crimes of kidnapping, imprisonment without charge, or torture. If it were legal it couldn't legalize those things either, but it's illegal, and we've been reduced to the point of wanting to pretend it isn't happening so that we can treat the so-called "war crimes" as crimes without coming up against the legal shield created by their being part of a wider operation of mass-murder.

What we need to revive from the 1920s is a moral movement against mass-murder. The illegality of the offense is a key part of the movement. But so is its immorality. Demanding equal participation in mass-murder for trans-gendered people misses the point. Insisting on a military in which female soldiers are not raped misses the point. Canceling particular fraudulent weapons contracts misses the point. We need to insist on an end to mass-state-murder. If diplomacy can be used with Iran why not with every other nation?

Instead war is now a protection for all lesser evils, an ongoing rolling shock doctrine. On September 11, 2001, I was working on trying to restore value to the minimum wage and was immediately told that nothing good could be done anymore because it was war time. When the CIA went after whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling for supposedly being the one to reveal that the CIA had given nuclear bomb plans to Iran, he appealed to civil rights groups for help. He was an African American who had accused the CIA of discrimination and now believed he was facing retaliation. None of the civil rights groups would go near. The civil liberties groups that address some of the lesser crimes of war will not oppose war itself, drone or otherwise. Environmental organizations that know the military is our single biggest polluter, will not mention its existence. A certain socialist candidate for president can't bring himself to say that the wars are wrong, rather he proposes that the benevolent democracy in Saudi Arabia take the lead in waging and footing the bill for the wars.

The Pentagon's new Law of War Manual which replaces its 1956 version, admits in a footnote that the Kellogg-Briand Pact is the law of the land, but proceeds to claim legality for war, for targeting civilians or journalists, for using nuclear weapons and napalm and herbicides and depleted uranium and cluster bombs and exploding hollow-point bullets, and of course for drone murders. A professor from not far from here, Francis Boyle, remarked that the document could have been written by Nazis.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff's new National Military Strategy is worth reading as well. It gives as its justification for militarism lies about four countries, beginning with Russia, which it accuses of "using force to achieve its goals," something the Pentagon would never do! Next it lies that Iran is "pursuing" nukes. Next it claims that North Korea's nukes will someday "threaten the U.S. homeland." Finally, it asserts that China is "adding tension to the Asia-Pacific region." The document admits that none of the four nations wants war with the United States. "Nonetheless," it says, "they each pose serious security concerns."

And serious security concerns, as we all know, are far worse than war, and spending $1 trillion a year on war is a small price to pay to handle those concerns. Eighty-seven years ago this would have seemed insanity. Luckily we have ways of bringing back the thinking of years gone by, because typically someone suffering from insanity doesn't have a way to enter into the mind of someone else who's viewing his insanity from the outside. We have that. We can go back to an era that imagined the ending of war and then carry that work forward with the goal of completing it.

Talk Nation Radio: Salt Rebellion in U.S. Colonies and Sailing Food from Maine to Boston

Why sail food from Maine to Boston, and what do salt and the British colonies in North America have in common with Gandhi's India?

Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha, and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Occupy Radio, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network. She tours nationally speaking and educating in nonviolent civil resistance. Her essays on social justice movements appear in Truthout and Popular Resistance. See

Marada Cook is a food entrepreneur who can be found at Crown O'Maine Organic Cooperative, Northern Girl, and Fiddler's Green Farm.

Read Rivera Sun's article "Maine Sail Freight Revives: A Salty History of Revolution, Independence."

Find the Maine Sail Freight at

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

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Talk Nation Radio: Aspen Baker on Abortion and Being Pro-Voice

Aspen Baker is the author of Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight, and spokesperson for Exhale. She discusses how to transform discussions of abortion. Her website is

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or  LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

and at

How Can This Still Be Happening in Our World?

How does war impact people who believe in it?

What does it do to people who live through it?

How does it feel to begin to doubt it?

This play is a flood of sensations streaming out of the madness of militarism half-aware of itself.

"I'm going to create a Sanctuary, a place inside myself first where I tell the truth," says a character toward the end, as if telling the truth to others openly would be a difficult, second step to someday follow telling the truth to oneself.

For how many people is that true?

How many of them might it help to hear someone else tell the truth in a room of someone elses listening and appreciating?

Watch this:

Talk Nation Radio: Kayaks and Soap vs. Big Oil and Trash

Bill Moyer is cofounder and executive director of the Backbone Campaign. He discussed the kayaktivists who have taken to the water in Seattle to oppose Shell's planned artic drilling. See

Diane Wittner is the Baltimore-based owner of a new zero waste, all natural, locally-based cleaning powder business Echotopia LLC. She also discusses the campaign to stop the largest trash incinerator in the U.S. from being built in Baltimore. See and And Joseph Brodsky's poem "New Life" is here:

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from Archive or  LetsTryDemocracy.

Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

and at

Que Pasa, New York?

The Nation magazine recently republished an old column by Jean Paul Sartre in which he described the myths he had been told about Americans by American culture, and compared those with what he observed. He was supposed to see eternal happiness, but instead, as he wandered around New York, he saw "the most pathetic visages in the world, uncertain, searching, intent, full of astonished good faith, with appealing eyes." "[A]nd we know," he wrote, "that the most beautiful generalizations are of very little service: they permit us to understand the system but not the people."

Sartre was once described as one of the last great writers willing to expound at length on a subject without bothering to learn anything about it. As a frequent practitioner of the same practice which is far from dead, whether it's done greatly or not, I think something can be said in Sartre's defense. Of course he could not accurately detect astonished good faith based on faces, and of course he had confused New York with the United States. But he could recognize human beings, and he knew some things that were true of just about every human being he'd known. Based on that, he could consider carefully the possibility that American propaganda accurately depicted real people, and he could reject the idea. In fact, he could conclude:

"Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life."

Sartre could have discovered that about the United States without leaving France, as he discovered most things. It's possible there's still something to it.

I used to live in New York and now just visit, recently quite a number of times. I was also recently in Cuba where I had a hard time convincing one man I spoke with that any U.S. street had potholes. The representation of life in New York is often not that of what I see: third-world infrastructure, trains so slow you expect the mayor will have kept a campaign promise by the time you ever get somewhere, medieval inequality of wealth, racial segregation surrounded by inter-racial advertisements, environmentalism with hardly a hint of the natural world in sight, an unnatural world so unremittingly ugly that the beauty of its human inhabitants stands out.

And of course the people and their incredible mix of cultures and personalities have next to nothing to do with the world they live in, and in fact notice it less and less the longer they've been in it -- hearing the cacophony of noise pollution only through its absence when having left the city. In New York one finds friendliness, neighborliness, the shattering and the upholding and the skewing of every stereotype. And, I think, despite the endless dissatisfaction of a consumerist society, one finds here a certain satisfaction not always present elsewhere in the United States and born of a belief in lying at the center of the universe.

Being Pro-Voice

The abortion debates is the last place I would have looked for inspiration in methods of handling the major political and social problems of the world. Politically I've always thought of abortion -- the topic of abortion, that is -- as part of a fraud. A so-called democracy is limited to two political parties, both of which serve corporate monopolies, both of which invest primarily in war preparations, both of which cavalierly sacrifice the future habitability of the planet as well as the immediate survival of numerous species, both of which advance income inequality, both of which strip away our civil liberties -- and yet, the two of which are depicted as diametrically opposed, supposedly offering us a world of difference at the polling place. And how is this done? Easy, one of them is pro- and the other anti- abortion! I can't count how many people have listed everything they oppose about a presidential candidate and then begged me to vote for that same candidate in order to determine the abortion issue in the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, Aspen Baker's book, Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight, comes as a pleasant surprise. To begin with, this book causes me to recognize another reason I've had a distaste for the abortion debate. I don't mean that there's not really any clearly desirable position to take on it; I already realized that. I mean that the abortion debate is exceptionally simplistic, dishonestly so. And the reason for this, brought out I think by Baker, is that people who have abortions do not talk about them. There is such a stigma attached to it, that the experience of having an abortion, including the decision making process gone through, including the days and years after the abortion, including the impact on other people involved, is basically unknown. And that vacuum is filled by slogans dedicated toward legislative ends.

One result of keeping abortion shameful and secret is isolation and suffering for those who have abortions. One goal of creating telephone talk-lines and websites and media coverage, as Baker's group Exhale has done, is to bring human friendship and compassion to people isolated by politics and treated as political tools by two opposing groups. Now, if you are fervently dedicated to the "pro-life" or "pro-choice" position, then the emotional state of women who have abortions may seem secondary, and how it's addressed may seem worth judging primarily in terms of how it advances or impedes another goal. But what if, without hurting your pro-choice or pro-life goal, a pro-voice approach began to create a little reconciliation between the two camps, and what if that began to create some new goals?

I began reading this book skeptically. I found myself asking why a book-length account of the value of telling specific stories didn't instead just tell a few of those stories. Eventually it did, at least in excerpt form. And what happened around those stories began to seem important as well. Exhale created greeting cards for people who'd had abortions, something now also done for queer and poor families and single moms. Creating understanding and acceptance of women who've had abortions, regardless of your view of abortion, is a valuable contribution to a discussion, a negotiation. Do you view abortion as murder? Well, murderers too should be treated as human beings, and some day we may advance our understanding that far as well.

Baker claims to have influenced the discourse so much that conservative groups have reduced their talk about "postabortive women" and "postabortion syndrome," choosing, Baker writes, to speak about "healing from grief and loss, rather than seeking forgiveness for a sin." And organizations have arisen to help women that include both pro-choice and pro-life staff people. In fact, Baker writes, most Americans are both pro-choice and pro-life. When Exhale advised an MTV program featuring three women's stories, the result was positive reviews both from serious feminists and from Fox News commentators. "It was not a cavalier decision she made," commented one Fox News host on one of the women featured by the MTV show, noting in effect that the woman's experience resembled reality more than common caricature.

What if we all read stories like these? What if the conversation became an open one? We should, I think, all have enough confidence in our political agendas to believe they would succeed in the light of day with full information. And in fact they might. The horrendously bad aspects of abortion could be made known in a real and credible way -- much more persuasive than pro-life myths. The overwhelming moral justifications for abortion in many cases, could be more widely understood.

And what if those who shout from one side or the other then began talking with each other?

And what if reading the stories of women struggling through difficulties resulted in some political awareness of the extent and nature of those difficulties and how they impact each other? Women lacking access to good education, jobs, income security, healthcare, and so on (part of only a small fraction of the stories, which really come in infinite variety -- though perhaps a larger fraction among the stories that never reach the internet)  -- those are women in need of more than just common human decency. But common human decency sure is a good place to start.