What are we to say about a U.S. culture in which people can openly admire Germany for backing yet another genocide, and condemn warning of World War III as reckless endangerment?
Germany has formally endorsed Israel’s defense of its genocide in Gaza, while Namibia has publicly denounced Germany’s longstanding policy of committing or supporting genocides, including the one everyone is supposed to know about in Europe and the one nobody is supposed to know about that preceded that one in Africa. To not be revolted by this, one must either
- actively avoid knowing what is happening in Gaza, in gross violation of the Western self-image of insisting on knowing, of following the facts, and of making sure genocide is allowed “never again,” or
- embrace the bizarre notion that at least one genocide, the one committed by the Nazis, permanently renders anyone associating themselves with its victims (or one major category thereof) blameless for any crimes.
This basic reality cannot be altered by mountains of words about redemption and poetic justice, or divine sanction and existential mandate, or the sanctity of every act taken by a president who is not Trump. The fact that one should despise both Nazism and Trumpism is not in conflict with knowing the basic facts of what is happening in the world.
The risk is growing rapidly of new wars and of nuclear war. It is growing predictably and familiarly, as a result of actions by the U.S. and other governments advertised as protection of public safety. Those who have been right in warning of wars in the past are warning of worse wars than ever.
The action taken by South Africa to uphold the rule of law at the International Court of Justice has done more for the safety of South Africa than any military ever could. The world is in love with the South African government. And the U.S. military is not going to retaliate against South Africa because it is too busy responding to vicious cycles of violence it is participating in around the globe. One could deny the basic facts of South Africa’s case against Israel’s genocide in Gaza, imagine falsely that South Africa has acted out of fear and for its own protection, and then accuse South Africa of endangering itself and the world by giving in to pressure from the wrong side of violence a.k.a. “the terrorists.”
But there was no pressure. There was no threat of violence against South Africa, and had there been, responding to such a threat wisely rather than through infantile or visceral reflex can sometimes be understood as something other than cowardice. On March 11, 2004, Al Qaeda bombs killed 191 people in Madrid, Spain, just before an election in which one party was campaigning against Spain’s participation in the U.S.-led war on Iraq. The people of Spain voted the Socialists into power, and they removed all Spanish troops from Iraq by May. There were no more bombs in Spain. This history stands in strong contrast to that of Britain, the United States, and other nations that have responded to blowback with more war, generally producing more blowback.
Violent and nonviolent opposition to U.S. actions is rising around Western Asia, driven universally by the demand to end the war on Gaza. When there was a brief ceasefire in Gaza, hostages were freed. And yet Genocide Joe insists on more and expanded war supposedly in order to free more hostages.
There is a logic to the notion that one must never give into the other side. But it is a genocidal logic. If the other side’s violence is driven by the same vicious cycle of revenge and ignorance as yours is, and if the other side is going to continue to exist, then the idea of never giving into the other side is a recipe for disaster. The alternative need not be giving in, however. The alternative can instead come out of a mentality that has advanced beyond a preschool level. Of course, that remark is unfair to preschoolers who are not sufficiently organized to develop the level of collective madness adults can.
Instead of thinking in terms of giving into enemies, we can begin by prioritizing avoiding nuclear apocalypse, and continue by prioritizing avoiding the mass murder of families, and arrive at the need to use nonviolent means to address conflicts and the need to prosecute crimes as crimes rather than treat them as excuses for reenactments of Nazism. We can arrive at the need to address grievances through negotiated compromise rather than denial.
The war in Ukraine was a long time coming, predicted — and even desired and strategized for — by many in the U.S. government. The actions taken to provoke the evil, inexcusable, illegal, and horrific invasion by Russia have parallels in the actions now being taken to provoke evil, inexcusable, illegal, and horrific attacks by Iran, China, and North Korea, as in the decades of oppression by Israel that led so predictably to the evil, inexcusable, illegal, and horrific attacks by Hamas, not to mention the evil, inexcusable, illegal, and horrific attacks of 9-11 that figure so largely in the ongoing vicious cycles — and the U.S. response to which is claimed by Israel as a model justifying everything it does.
If you stay in the frame of mind of preparing yourself for indignation and rage against Iran and China and North Korea when they are finally provoked into violence, if you’re now gearing up for self-righteous indignation at the inscrutable and subhuman threats to the Rules Based Order that will be the violent responses to U.S. militarism from Iran or China or North Korea, there is one thing we can be sure of about the outcome of keeping this frame of mind. The predictable downsides
- mass death and suffering and a serious risk of an end to life on Earth
outweigh the predictable upsides
- qualification for a nice but short career for you at a major U.S. media outlet.
If someone points out that other nations are drawing red lines and issuing warnings, as Russia did prior to invading Ukraine, they may not be urging you to cave into random criminal threats and welcome an age of violent anarchy. They may be asking you to become aware of what the U.S. military is doing around the world, and how much safer the world could be if it were not doing it. The U.S. props up and arms and trains and funds the militaries of almost all of the most oppressive governments on Earth. Israel is no outlier. The few governments designated as enemies of the U.S. government are not pleasant humanitarian institutions, but they are no worse than many others whom the U.S. talks with constantly and never threatens. Negotiating compromises with these governments is not a one-way affair. That’s not what compromise means. But it’s a nonviolent affair, and that’s what human survival requires.
We have to get to a place where supporting genocide is not imagined as good and warning of World War III is understood as protection rather than endangerment — even if getting there requires a radical new understanding of war as a barbaric practice in which both sides are always entirely (if differently and disproportionately) wrong.
Yesterday, I participated in a webinar organized by Massachusetts Peace Action on “Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War.” One of the speakers was probably the single most antiwar member of the U.S. Congress, Ro Khanna. And yet he said things we should never allow ourselves to become comfortable with. Things like, and I’m paraphrasing, President Biden has just grossly violated the Constitution by attacking Yemen and we need above all to reelect him. Things like, we must protect a Jewish democratic state. Seriously? What about a Christian democratic state? Or an antidemocratic democratic state?
I append here some remarks I prepared for my bit in the webinar, which was supposed to be about direct action and divestment:
We live in a world in which most people are heavily influenced, not to say predictably controlled by, corporate media, but in which sometimes there are significant deviations, widespread resistance to the instructions of televisions and newspapers. Resistance to the basic assumptions at the heart of the culture are of course more rare.
More people in the U.S. were ready to protest the latest Israeli escalation against Gaza on Day 1 than to oppose more weapons to Ukraine on Day 500. (And to march for peace today instead of joining a webinar.) Why?
They understand protesting invasion and occupation. They might even protest a U.S. invasion and occupation, but in this case didn’t even have to because they understood this as an Israeli one, and there’s been organizing and educating in the United States against Israeli occupations and wars for decades. That the actions of Hamas were evil and counterproductive and criminal could be denied or ignored, because of the vast difference of scale and power. People could protest one side of a war, even though the corporate media told them to oppose the other side. Independent and social media encouraged them in taking the other side.
That Russia’s actions were evil and counterproductive and criminal was much harder to ignore or deny (though some of course went that route). Russia was the bigger nation and military, invading and occupying. Nobody had to accuse you of having an anti-Ukrainian bias analogous to anti-Semitism if you expressed concern for Russians, because you weren’t likely to express concern for Russians. Understanding was lacking, and could not be immediately developed, of the endless blocking of peace, provoking of war, facilitating of coups, low scale violence, or high-scale threats. Asking people if they’d like Russian missiles in Toronto and Tijuana was both too abstract and too at odds with the entire worldview of U.S. exceptionalism. Suggesting the potential of unarmed civilian defense was at odds with thousands of hours of Hollywood productions.
So, timing matters for activist turnout. But unless we accomplish a long-term revolution of thinking, there will continue to be times when masses of people just don’t understand the need for peace.
When it comes to divestment, there’s another way in which timing matters. The profitability of weapons stocks changes. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the concomitant boosting of NATO, escalating of military spending around the world, and soaring of weapons profits, we could show people responsible for the profits of various funds that they could make as much or more money if they divested from weapons. Now we cannot. That doesn’t make divestment impossible everywhere, but makes it harder in those places where the decision makers are required to maximize profit. So, in those cases, it can still be an educational and organizing tool, but loses the advantage of a likely quick victory.
So we need a mix of long-term events aimed at moving our culture gradually to an understanding that all sides of all wars are wrong, and short term events aimed at building and directing energy against particular sides of particular wars — including directing energy into opposing war, and not just one side of a war. We need a focus on bringing energized people into a movement against all sides of all wars before they go home and switch off. A direct action blocking weapons shipments or blocking the doors of a weapons company, and even a divestment campaign, can ride and heighten the tide of momentary unpopularity of a particular side of a particular war. World BEYOND War has had some success in recent months in Canada, for example, going after profiteers from Israeli wars and at least starting a divestment campaign for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.
One of the advantages of a divestment campaign is that it can be local. So can be campaigns for city resolutions, or to take down or put up monuments, or to transition military industries to peaceful ones, or to create sister cities or exchange programs. So can all variety of educational and cultural events that advance understanding and celebrating peace, including understanding nuclear war — plowshares style actions, tableaux posing victims with messages, webinars like this one, etc, etc.
Another obvious strategy is to go global. Would people rather push an unlikely effort to get the U.S. Congress to require more reporting on Israel’s atrocities, while laws are already in existence that would block sending more weapons to Israel if they were obeyed, or a likely effort to get various national governments to support the prosecution of Israel for genocide at the International Court of Justice? Other global actions include: teaming up with people near a planned or existing base to close that base, building support for treaties and agreements, truth and reconciliation, departments of peace, departments of unarmed civilian defense, and doing citizen diplomacy and developing a global community that honors and celebrates peacemaking.
Global can also be local, for example with an event on a global day of events, such as on January 22nd, the anniversary of the creation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
I’m glad to be here to join a discussion of any of these things, including, if you like, how we got my city to divest from fossil fuels and weaponry.