The No More War Movement

Remarks at UNAC Conference, May 8, 2015.

This week I read an article by someone I have a lot of respect for and who I know to mean well, and who wrote about being a part of something called “the Less War Movement.”

Now, in my analysis, war murders, it injures, it traumatizes, and it harms huge numbers of people, fuels hostility, makes the aggressor less safe, drains away wealth for both victim and aggressor, wastes resources that could have saved many more lives than war kills, devastates the natural environment, erodes civil liberties, turns police officers into occupying armies, destroys the rule of law, and corrupts morality beyond recognition. So I consider myself part of something I call the No More War Movement.

If I wanted only less war but still some war, that would mean that I believed some wars were good. But, then, wouldn’t I want to make sure to keep the good wars and get rid of the bad ones? I mean, if I just demanded less war, and the wars were reduced or eliminated at random, we might get stuck with all the bad ones and none of the good ones. Wouldn’t it make more sense to start an Only The Good Wars Movement?

But then you’d have to find some good ones, a crusade that carries most of its participants back 70 years in search of their most recent example — an example that transforms into a nightmare monster once examined. An Only the Good Wars Movement ends up making as much sense as an Only the Good Rapes Movement or an Only the Good Child Abuse Movement. There are no good wars.

I suspect the reasoning behind proposing a so-called Less War Movement is actually that all wars are bad but it’s more strategic to pretend otherwise. Of course if this were so and it could get us fewer wars, who would complain? But, in reality, once you’ve proposed that some wars are good, you’re trapped inside the logic of the war machine. If even a single potential war is going to be good, why not make 110% sure — indeed, why not make 1,000% sure — of winning it? And that means weapons, and troops, and mercenaries, and flying killer robots, and personnel in 175 countries, and surveillance of the planet, and emergency authoritarian secrecy and power that generates more wars — all of which, incidentally, are lost, not won.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, recall Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870 which said, “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession.”

There’s logic. There’s passion. There’s something to build a movement around. You can’t build a movement around less war. You can’t create a coherent agenda around “Hey Hey LBJ Please kill somewhat less kids today.” Nobody’s moved by “No justice, no peace. U.S. partially out of the Middle East.”

It isn’t the bad wars, whichever ones they may be, that do the major damage. It’s the routine preparation in case of a future good war. The routine so-called non-war military spending is 10 times the war spending. It kills more by how it’s not spent than by how it’s spent. It’s not spent on food, water, medicine, agriculture, and clean energy.

Baltimore City Schools spends $5,336 per student, while Maryland spends $38,383 per prisoner, and every man, woman, and child in Maryland and in the rest of the United States on average each, EACH spends $4,063 per year on the U.S. military — except those who refuse to pay. That the prisons and military do harm, rather than good, compounds the damage.

The routine weapons business, buying by the U.S. government, and marketing to dictatorships abroad is what ends up providing local police with the equipment, training, conditioning, and attitude of war. You can’t sell all the weapons to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, with the latter blowing up the former’s. You have to unload some of them on police ($12 million worth to Maryland), who then figure out what to do with them when you explain that protesters are low-level terrorists, and terrorists are by definition protesters. Many of the police who rioted in Baltimore were trained in Israel, and as Medea just noted in U.S. wars.

This weekend in 1944, in El Salvador, a nonviolent movement overthrew a dictator. The victory did not last, but on average such nonviolent victories last far longer than violent ones, and nonviolent action is more likely to result in a victory to begin with. Notice that I said nonviolent ACTION, not nonviolent inaction, which we have way more than enough of.

Nonviolent action is the answer to the question “What do you replace war with?” You replace it with tools that work better: economic, legal, and political structures that facilitate peace and disarmament, actions of resistance and constructive replacement that disrupt business as usual.

You know, I have to confess that I feel bad for the Baltimore Police. The Pentagon would have immediately announced that it broke its victim’s spine for women’s rights and the spread of democracy. The Baltimore Police had to get the Washington Post to claim that Freddie Gray broke his own spine. It’s hard to have to claim something you yourself cannot believe. Like a drone pilot driving home for dinner, the Baltimore Police have been thrust from participation in a war on poor black people into trying to defend murder in a civilian world. In war you don’t have to defend murder.

What yanked those killers out of a war and into a society under the rule of law? People in Baltimore standing up and acting.

Young people in Baltimore are as trapped in poverty as almost anywhere on earth. Yet we’re told to look for the causes of anger in skin color or culture. In a parallel manner we’re told that Western Asia, the so-called Middle East, is violent because of a religion. Yet it is as heavily armed as anywhere on earth, and armed principally by the United States weapons industry.

We’re told to debate which type of violence to add to the mix, when the answer right in front of us is Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Stop arming people and beating people and denouncing them as violent.

When we push for disarmament with the logic of reality, that armaments bring wars, and wars bring enemies, and enemies bring the propaganda that brings more armaments, we break a vicious cycle. And perhaps we begin to get somewhere. Of course we won’t achieve an instant result of zero armaments. The government will at best give us less armaments. But that is no reason to pre-compromise. Our job is to speak truth to power, not because it makes us feel better, but because it is believable.

Don’t put your time, energy, or money into a less war movement, much less a less war candidate for president and for kill list decider in chief. Put it into disarmament, disarmament of Israel, disarmament of Egypt, disarmament of Saudi Arabia, of Bahrain, of Washington D.C., of police departments across this country, of secret agencies, of immigration patrols, disarmament of our households, disarmament of our minds.

We have more powerful tools. We just need to stand up and use them.

Peace.