Remarks at the War Resisters League’s 90th Year Convention at Georgetown University, August 2, 2013.
Congratulations on 90 years! The War Resisters League is almost as old as the Espionage Act and may outlast it yet.
So I sat down yesterday to think about what connects global hot spots, and the first obvious answer I thought of for a great many of them was the United States military. By some strange coincidence numerous war-torn places on the globe have been given or sold weapons or sent troops or been visited by airplanes or drones courtesy of the same nation that spends the most on its military, keeps the most troops stationed in the most countries, engages in the most conflicts, sells the most weaponry to others, and thumbs its nose most blatantly at the use of courts to restrain its warmaking or even, any more, to put individuals on trial who can just as easily be hit with a hellfire missile. When I heard that our government had set up an atrocities prevention board, I immediately pictured a 2×4 being stuck through the door handles at the Pentagon to keep the place closed. That would truly be an atrocities prevention board.
(Is that espionage to say that, or have people heard of 2x4s before?)
I’ve been working on a book about abolishing war, and most of those writing on the subject who think it can’t be done, and those who think it can, and those who think war is already abolishing itself so there’s really nothing to worry about, all tend to treat war as arising out of poor nations of dark skinned people. So the debates over whether this factor or that factor makes war inevitable focus on things like resource scarcity or population density. The evidence is overwhelming, by the way, that no such factor makes war inevitable. Missing from the debate are the factors contributing most significantly to war-making right now: the power of the military industrial complex, the skill of propagandists, the open bribery and corruption of our politics, and the perversion and impoverishment of our educational and entertainment and civic engagement systems that lead so many people in the United States to support and so many others to tolerate a permanent state of war in search of enemies and profits despite decades-long demonstrations that the war machine makes us less safe, drains our economy, strips away our rights, degrades our environment, distributes our income ever upward, debases our morality, and bestows on the wealthiest nation on earth miserably low rankings in life-expectancy, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness.
None of these factors are insurmountable, but we won’t surmount them if we imagine the path to peace is to impose our superior will on backward foreigners by means of cluster bombs and napalm meant to prevent atrocities.
According to the standards of a White House fact sheet posted on April 23, 2012, and addressing nations guilty of atrocities, if the standards were consistently applied, then actions taken by the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and other countries should compel the U.S. government to sanction itself, deny itself entry into itself, surge civilians from the State Department and USAID into itself, write reports about itself, block the flow of money to itself, prosecute itself for its crimes, seek to have itself prosecuted internationally, and unleash its military against itself as needed. The same standards seem to require action against Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and numerous other nations where the United States chooses to support atrocities rather than dropping new atrocities from the sky to prevent the existing ones. In fact, it seems the United States has a moral responsibility to join in on both sides of the war in Syria, given the horrors each side has by now committed, and the responsibility the war machine believes it has to wage war against anyone waging war.
We are a nation of misconceptions. A majority of people in the United States believes Iraq benefitted from the war that destroyed Iraq. And a plurality believes the Iraqis are grateful. Those who admit that the weapons of mass destruction were fictional claim the U.S. still needed to overthrow Saddam Hussein, even though Bush reportedly told the Prime Minister of Spain that Hussein had offered to leave if he could keep $1 billion. He’d also offered to withdraw from Kuwait before the previous war. And even further back in the mists of time, the U.S. government had supported and armed him.
Not only did the U.S. government not need to overthrow Hussein, not only could it have refrained from supporting him in the first place, but overthrowing a government is a crime, war is a crime, and these wars are one-sided slaughters. Iraq lost 1.4 million men, women, and children at best estimate. U.S. deaths were 0.3% of the deaths, yet people in the U.S. think they suffered while Iraq benefitted. As important as it is for Americans to hear about financial costs and costs to U.S. troops, which are certainly horrendous, we’re going to have to do a better job of spreading the news about the costs to the wars’ victims. Those reluctant to invade Syria because the Syrians aren’t worth it will be ready to support the next war if a case is made that it’s in U.S. interests.
What ended the war in Iraq, after eight years of efforts by Iraqis and five years or so by a significant U.S. peace movement, wasn’t the Nobel laureate in the White House pushing Iraq to allow U.S. personnel to stay in Iraq with immunity from prosecution for the crimes they would commit. What helped the Iraqi government to reject those demands was the evidence of past murder and torture made public by a heroic young man named Bradley Manning.
If you want Manning to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, go to ManningNobel.org.
You know, we could be far better off ourselves in this country and make ourselves the most beloved people in the world at the same time. We could do it by practicing democracy rather than preaching it. We could end starvation around the globe for a year, for a third of what we just spent for year #13 of the supposedly winding down war in Afghanistan still scheduled to go on for longer than most wars used to take from beginning to end. We could give the world clean drinking water for a third of what it cost us to keep kids from starving. Al Qaeda is gaining popularity in places like Yemen where it was barely heard of before by opposing U.S. drone strikes and by providing basic services to people. The United States has the resources, if it could find the humility to distribute them respectfully, to make itself remarkably popular by coating the globe with schools and hospitals and solar panels.
I’m tired of hearing that such things would cost money. We’re building the world’s largest building in Utah dedicated purely to violating the Fourth Amendment. We’re putting drone blimps in the skies above Washington. If anybody has a War Resisters League pie chart on them, I can point out exactly where the money would come from, and the billions extra that we could set aside for the things we’ll become capable of imagining only after war is gone.
Down in Charlottesville VA we passed a city resolution against drones as at least three other cities have done since, and we quickly formed a coalition that included people who don’t want to be spied on and people who don’t want to murder foreigners. I think some of the peace activists came to value the need to avoid getting spied on. And I think some of the libertarians, civil and otherwise, came to understand the need to stop the president from picking men, women, and children to murder at meetings every Tuesday. We didn’t tone anything down. We welcomed everything in.
That’s what I think abolition movements should do. That’s where the passion is. We don’t need to civilize war into a process that will supposedly someday exclude every crime but murder. We need to put an end to murder along with all of the other abuses it inevitably drags along in its wake.
A weapons profiteer on National Pentagon Radio was asked what he would do if the occupation of Afghanistan were to end, and he replied that he hoped there could be an occupation of Libya. He was clearly joking. But had he joked about molesting children or practicing racism his comments would not have aired. Joking about a new war has not yet been made offensive. It is not yet understood as joking about mass murder.
I don’t think it need take 90 more years. I think we’re closer than ever. But I think we’re going to have to resist harder the closer we get.