By David Swanson
Remarks in Cambridge, Mass., April 13, 2017
The Mother of All Lies is this: you can fix things by blowing them up. Alcoholics should not drink, and people who cannot watch TV and distinguish it from reality should not watch TV. Donald Trump watches a lot of TV and may very well believe what it teaches, namely that blowing things up solves problems. He certainly has figured out, as I knew he would, that the way to get love from the U.S. corporate media is to blow stuff up.
For many of us who are not believers in myths about good wars and just wars and defensive and humanitarian wars, war may have initially struck us as evil because it so directly does harm. Driving a gas-burning car helps render the earth uninhabitable, but only very slowly and only in combination with larger factors. Building a nuclear power plant risks horrible disaster, but it doesn’t intentionally and immediately create it. War, on the other hand, when looked at clearly, consists of mass murder described with other words. It’s direct and immediate and fatal and large-scale violence. What could be more evil?
It’s ironic, then, that the bulk of the damage that war does, and the vast majority of the deaths it causes are caused indirectly. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees put out a statement this week that warned of mass starvation in Yemen without mentioning that there is a war there. The Washington Post yesterday published a shockingly honest article that described the famines in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, and noted that they would be unimaginable without the wars in those countries. At least 20 million people are at risk of starving to death there, a number that dwarfs the number killed directly in wars in a given year — and that is true even using credible numbers, not the super low estimates of which the U.S. media is so fond.
People all over the United States will naturally be eager to help hungry men, women, and children at risk of starvation in the impoverished nation of Yemen, where the greatest number are at risk, and where the U.S. government has the greatest ability to quickly reverse destructive policies, if we can inform them that this catastrophe is happening. This is one of many possible paths to enlarging the peace movement. We can build a movement against starving people to death.
To reverse the policies responsible in Yemen will require admitting who is behind them, namely the governments of the United States and Saudi Arabia, and — perhaps even harder to admit — that chief among those policies is war making. While an estimated 10,000 people in Yemen have died directly from Saudi/U.S. bombing, estimates place the death toll from war-induced starvation already much higher. UN agencies estimate that 462,000 Yemeni children under five years of age are currently suffering severe acute malnutrition, meaning that they are at serious risk of dying. Many more are approaching that status.
Contributing to the crisis in Yemen have been:
- U.S. drone murders in Yemen;
- U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia;
- U.S. purchasing of fossil fuels from Saudi Arabia;
- U.S. and European allies’ defense of Saudi Arabia from sanctions by the United Nations;
- U.S. identification of targets for Saudi bombing;
- U.S. mid-air refueling of the bombers;
- U.S./Saudi targeting of agricultural, health, and transportation infrastructure;
- The bombing of August 17, 2015, that destroyed all of the cranes used to unload container ships at the main port of Hodeidah, as well as a World Food Program warehouse;
- Newly escalated targeting of Hodeidah and the Red Sea coast;
- U.S. “special forces” raids on Yemeni families;
- U.S./Saudi propaganda falsely implicating Iran in the war in Yemen;
- Saudi takeover of the Central Bank of Yemen.
Two nations helping to lead the destruction of the earth’s climate, joined at the hip by fossil fuel and weapons sales, and both invested in supporting terrorists in Syria, have been collaborating for years on the creation of this other tragedy as well. It is time for us to put an end to it, to send in food and medicine rather than missiles and guns.
Bombing food supplies and roads and ports and hospitals is not the only indirect way in which war is causing deaths by starvation. Another is this. The droughts now devastating large swaths of the thus-far habitable land areas on earth have been exacerbated by climate change. The biggest contributor to climate change is war and military preparations for war. The U.S. military is the biggest consumer of petroleum we have, not to mention the first tool our government turns to in trying to control the production and transportation of more fossil fuels.
However, the largest way in which war indirectly causes deaths by starvation, as well as indirectly causing many other types of deaths, is something else entirely, something you may want to keep in mind as tax day approaches. The United Nations is trying to raise $4.4 billion for emergency hunger relief, and has raised a tiny fraction of it. The United States and Saudi Arabia are spending vastly higher sums inflicting starvation than are needed to alleviate it. The United States spends close to a trillion dollars a year, every year, on militarism, while $30 billion, or 3%, could end starvation on earth, $11 billion, or just over 1%, could end the lack of clean drinking water. And so on through countless massive projects that are not massive in comparison with military spending — are, in fact, literally too small to be noticed in the never-audited Pentagon budget, significantly smaller than sums the Pentagon often fails to account for.
The financial cost of war skyrockets if one considers the lost economic opportunities. It was of course economists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who found that military spending produces fewer jobs than other spending or even than never taxing the money in the first place. While it strikes me as sociopathic to defend war spending as a jobs program, it is in fact a job destruction program. The unfathomable amount of money lost by investing in war balloons further when we consider that war literally destroys trillions of dollars worth of goods every year — primarily in the nations where the wars are fought.
The machinery of war extends its horrific destruction far beyond the damage created by one government, even the greatest purveyor of violence on earth, through weapons sales. The war-torn nations facing famines do not manufacture weapons of war. The vast majority of those weapons come from 6 wealthy nations, first among them the United States. The major wars now happening in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya all have major involvement by the U.S. military. Other wars across Northeast Africa are being exacerbated by U.S. drone murders, special forces, and weapons sales. It is incumbent upon us in the United States to address this, as those best capable of addressing it. It doesn’t change the fact that numerous other governments and groups also deserve infinite blame for their roles in these slaughters.
It does, however, mean that even those who are believers in good wars and just wars and so forth have to make an impossible argument. They have to claim that the chance of their fantasized just war occurring outweighs all the harm done by the investment in war preparations and by all the obviously unjust wars that this preparation produces.
And that’s all before considering that war generates terrorism, that war is the justification for government secrecy and the erosion of our civil liberties, that war militarizes local police, that war is fueled by and fuels in its turn racism and sexism and violence, that those who survive war can suffer and cause others to suffer for the rest of their lives, and — perhaps most significantly — that the institution of war creates the nuclear weapons that will kill us all, sooner or later, unless they are abolished.
Someone I do not know posted this comment on our website at World Beyond War:
“Dear United States of America,
“You are terrifying the rest of us. We had no say whatsoever in bringing your current political administration into power. And yet the actions of your leader, who some have called unstable, have the potential to annihilate all people, all life on the planet. It is horrifying to think that the person you have elected as your president could be goaded into pushing the nuclear button for the sake of proving himself or personally saving face. As you search for some way forward please remember all that is at stake and that the lives of over 7 billion who are essentially hapless bystanders to the choice you made in November now hang in the balance.”
Over 130 nations, of course, are now working on creating a treaty that will ban nuclear weapons. That this process has been boycotted by those six big weapons dealers I mentioned earlier: the U.S., France, U.K., Germany, Russia, and China, has meant a far more open and democratic set of meetings at the UN than many can recall ever seeing before. The only nuclear nation to have voted in favor of a treaty banning nukes is . . . who can tell me? I’ll give you a clue. Trump calls it a menace. The United States bombed it flat 60 years ago and dropped diseased insects on it in hopes of creating a plague. The United States and South Korea fly practice first-nuclear-strike missions over it every year just to ease tensions. You guessed it: North Korea. Here’s another way to build the peace movement: support the nuclear weapons ban treaty. Pressure nations that are on the fence to join it. And then start pushing for divestment from nuclear weapons on the ground of illegality. There will be a women’s march to ban the bomb in New York on June 17.
But I was going to say something about taxes. Next Tuesday and anytime before and after are good times to talk with people about what taxes go to. Raise your hand if you’ve ever met anyone who likes wars but hates taxes. I think the best approach to such people may be the approach that the signs tell you to take with bears in the mountains. Back away slowly, no fast movements. And if they show signs of attacking, make yourself look big and make a lot of noise. Specifically, hold up a giant pie chart of the federal budget and scream “Wars cost money! Wars cost money!” until they back down. You can get a variety of pie charts and graphs from the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, from the War Resisters League, from the National Priorities Project, etc. Did you know that Americans know less about the federal budget than they know about the metric system, soccer, or healthy eating? Did you know that the typical believer in a 5,000-year-old earth has even less idea where taxes came from?
Taxes were created for wars, the income tax was invented for the Civil War and went away again. The income tax on ordinary working people was created for World War II and never went away again, as that war has in a great many ways never ended. Few are aware of the origin of taxes, but many are aware that billionaires and corporations and presidents regularly cheat on their taxes, and most are aware that in return for your taxes you don’t get much. In some countries you get fast clean trains, beautiful parks, top quality education preschool through college, healthcare, retirement, parental leave, vacation, etc. In the United States you get wars basically, with some prisons and highways on the side.
Raise your hand if you know why we call junk email spam. Right, in a Monty Python skit you could order for your meal only some combination of foods that included spam. I once rewrote the thing to illustrate what you could get from the U.S. government:
“Well, there’s sanctions and prosecutions; sanctions drone strikes and prosecutions; sanctions and war; sanctions prosecutions and war; sanctions prosecutions drone strikes and war; war prosecutions drone strikes and war; war sanctions war war prosecutions and war; war drone strikes war war prosecutions war cyber war and war.”
That’s the menu you get for your taxes. The budget pie chart, by the way, will show the majority (or close to it, depending how it’s defined) of your income tax dollar going to war, and the majority of discretionary spending (according to every calculation I’ve seen) going to war — a percentage that Trump wants to push up to over 60%. Another tool that I know people in Cambridge know how to use is the local resolution. While Cambridge has admirably passed a good resolution for Trump’s impeachment, on the model that we’ve promoted at ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org — and I’ll talk about that in a minute — a number of cities and counties have passed resolutions against Trump’s federal budget proposal. On the World Beyond War website we have a statement signed by an impressive list of people, and at worldbeyondwar.org/resolution you’ll find a model resolution. I think it’s here on flyers.
Some cities have, I think, done this right and others wrong. Some have passed resolutions that just list all the programs they don’t want cut. This produces opposition from the small-government crowd who come out in support of all the supposed cuts. But I want a much smaller government and dramatic increases to all of those programs. How is that possible? It’s explained by the better resolutions that make clear that Trump’s budget proposal is the same size as last year’s, only it moves $54 billion from virtually everything else to the military. It doesn’t actually cut funding; it moves it. A poll that showed people the budget and asked how to change it found that on average they wanted to move over $41 billion out of the military — a $94 billion gap from what Trump wants.
The U.S. Congress, House and Senate, are out of session right now. Congress Members and Senators are in their districts and states until April 23rd. This is the time to challenge them to do better. It was this kind of in-person pressure that was key to preventing a massive bombing of Syria in 2013, and that has been central to improving policy on numerous issues.
Sign and print out the petition to Un-Trump the Budget. Search for that and you’ll find it. Find events that your misrepresentatives have already scheduled, and attend them. There’s a list at townhallproject.com. Create your own event, invite your rep and senators. Get from them commitments to de-fund the wars and to move the money out of militarism. If they are not responsive, do not shy away from sitting across the doorway to their office and phoning the media.
Do not fail to act like a United Airlines passenger in a video when an injustice is happening. If the other passengers had simply blocked the aisles, corporate thugs could not have dragged their fellow passenger away. If everyone on board had demanded that the airline offer higher compensation until someone volunteered to take a later flight, rather than being violently “reaccommodated,” then it would have done so. The idea that United Airlines had no choice but to assault a man is as ludicrous as the idea that a government had no choice but to launch a war. In fact, United now claims to have a policy of never assaulting anyone again, just as the U.S. government should have a policy of never launching a war again.
Passivity in the face of injustice is the greatest danger we face. This fact does not mean I’m “blaming the victims.” Of course United Airlines should be shamed, sued, boycotted, and compelled to reform or “reaccommodate” itself out of our lives entirely. So should the government that has deregulated the industry. So should every police department that has come to view the public as an enemy in a war.
But one should expect corporations and their thugs to behave barbarically. They are designed to do so. One should expect corrupt governments that lack popular influence or control to abuse power. The question is whether people will sit back and take it, resist with some nonviolent skills, or disastrously resort to violence themselves. (I’ve not searched yet for proposals to arm airline passengers, because I really don’t look forward to reading them.)
The one nonviolent skill that seems to be advancing most encouragingly is videotaping and livestreaming. People have got that down. When police blatantly lie, such as by claiming to have carried a passenger who fell, rather than dragging a passenger whom they assaulted, video sets the record straight. But we often lack video of events far away that the U.S. military blatantly lies about, and events locked out of sight that prison guards blatantly lie about, and events that happen over long periods — such as the willful destruction of the earth’s climate.
When it comes to those injustices that can’t be videotaped or litigated, too often people fail to act entirely. This is extremely dangerous behavior. We’re collectively being dragged down an airplane aisle, and we’re failing to act. A U.S.-Saudi war is threatening millions with starvation in Yemen. In Syria, the U.S. is risking a nuclear confrontation with Russia. The Pentagon is considering attacking North Korea. Baby steps toward slowing down the destruction of the earth’s climate are being reversed. Warrantless spying, lawless imprisonment, and presidential drone murder have been normalized. As the great Howard Zinn used to say, civil disobedience is not what we have to be afraid of. Rather, civil obedience is the danger.
Here’s another reason that Cambridge should pass a resolution against the Trump military budget: the first city to do so was New Haven. You can’t let those guys get away with that. Also, if we pass enough resolutions, we’ll get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass one, an organization that, along with I believe nearly every employee of the corporate U.S. media, recently applauded Donald Trump for bombing Syria. “Donald Trump finally became president of the United States,” pundits said, a status that is apparently determined by how much reckless violence you order at one time. Someone else remarked this week: “United Airlines finally just became president of the United States.”
I’ve written a lot about war lies. Here are what I think are the top 10 lies about Syria at the moment, other than Hitler being above using chemical weapons. Have you noticed that Trump, like the government in general, is routinely denounced as an habitual liar, but unproven claims about war must be revered as gospel truth or you’re an Assad lover or a Putin puppet? It’s worse than four years ago when Obama made similar claims.
Of course I’m mentioning Syria, so an hour’s worth of disclaimers should come first, but let me try to shorten that to this: Guilty of murder in Syria are: the United States, Russia, Syria, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and numerous other funders and suppliers of all sides. The crimes of these parties are not equal, but none of their crimes erase any of the crimes by the others. If one cannot criticize some of the crimes without being immediately labeled a cheerleader for other crimes, then one cannot say anything and we’ve simply censored ourselves into silence. Reasons to focus on U.S. crimes at the moment include: we can have the most influence on the U.S., if we do not resist we are complicit, the U.S. media focuses on everything else, a U.S.-Russian confrontation risks nuclear holocaust, and it is a recent U.S. bombing that has changed the conversation and the politics regarding Syria. So, here are the top 10 lies:
- Chemical weapons are worse than other weapons.
This is not the case. Death and dismemberment are horrific regardless of the weapon. No weapon is being used legally, morally, humanely, or practically in Syria or Iraq. U.S. bombs are no less indiscriminate, no less immoral, and no less illegal than chemical weapons — or for that matter than the depleted uranium weapons with which the United States has been poisoning the area. The fact that a weapon has not been banned does not create a legal right to go into a country and kill people with it.
- Chemical weapons use justifies the escalated use of other weapons.
Does shoplifting justify looting? If a Hatfield poisoned a McCoy, would another McCoy be justified in shooting a bunch of Hatfields? (Do yall Northerners know the names of those feuding families?) What barbarism is this? A crime does not sanction another crime. Whenever the U.S. government uses white phosphorus or cluster bombs, are other governments given the right to drop bombs on the United States?
- Important people we should trust know who used chemical weapons.
No, they do not. At least they do not know that the Syrian government did it. If they knew this, they would offer evidence. As on every past occasion, they have not done so. You can read an analysis of what they have claimed by a professor nearby here at MIT named Theodore Postol.
- The enemy is pure evil and will answer only to force.
The U.S. government and its proxies have sabotaged peace negotiations numerous times over the past several years, maintaining that Assad would have to step down or — preferably — be overthrown by violence before anything could be negotiated. This does not make the U.S. government pure inhuman evil, much less does it make the Syrian government that.
- If you don’t want to bomb Syria with one enemy’s name on your lips, you hold the firm belief that said enemy is actually a saint.
This piece of stupidity gets people accused of loving and holding blameless the Syrian government, the Russian government, the U.S. government, ISIS, and various other parties. In fact, the reasonable thing to do is to hold all killers responsible for their killing because of the crime, not because of who commits it.
- U.S. war-making in Syria is defensive.
This is the opposite of reality-based thinking as war-making endangers us rather than protects us. Someone should ask Donald Trump to remember the Maine. You may remember that Spain wanted the matter brought to a neutral arbiter, but the United States wanted war, regardless of any evidence. That’s been the typical move over the centuries: careful maneuvering into war, not away from it. Trump, by the way, is already up to his bloody elbows in several wars inherited from Obama — wars no less immoral and illegal slaughters because of their connection to either of those presidents. The question of who blew up the Maine is, at this point a truly dumb one. The important point is that the U.S. didn’t want to know, wanted instead to rush into a war before anyone could find out. Typically, the desire to avoid information, and not some other consideration, is the reason for the urgency in war-making.
- Peace was tried in 2013, and it failed.
No. What happened was that Obama and his administration tried to pull off the same stunt that Trump is trying now, and the public rose up and refused to allow it. So, instead of a massive bombing campaign, Syria got more weapons, more trainers, more troops, and a medium sized bombing campaign. That’s very different from actually shifting direction and offering Syria diplomacy, aid, and disarmament.
- The U.S. government’s goal is peace.
The long openly stated goal of powerful players in the U.S. government is to overthrow Assad.
- Syria is as boring and unconcerning as numerous other ongoing U.S. wars.
In reality, Syria is a war that risks fighting between the United States and Russia, while each is armed with far more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy all life on earth. Creating a profitable conflict between the U.S. and Russia is a likely actual motivation of some hawks on Syria.
- Making everything worse with yet more violence is the only option left.
That’s not an option at all, and it’s no more the only option left than beating up airline passengers is. But these are available options: aid, reparations, negotiations, disarmament, the rule of law, truth and reconciliation.
A lot of people fell for this package of lies who didn’t fall for a similar package 4 years ago. Or perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps what they did was cheer for a glorious bombing attack that was in the immediate past, that had already happened. The same people who told pollsters they were glad Trump bombed Syria also said they didn’t want any more of it. Whether they had any idea that Obama and Trump had already done a lot of bombing in Syria we don’t know. The point is that in 2013 the U.S. public was asked about a bombing campaign that hadn’t happened yet. If it had then happened, millions would have discovered that they approved of it after all.
But one person who did fall for the lies, we are told, was Ivanka Trump. According to her brother, it was Ivanka who asked her daddy for a bunch of dead bodies. Or maybe he wanted to impress the president of China. Or maybe he does whatever the military wants. Or maybe his chocolate cake was too good. In any case, the U.S. Constitution was intended to prevent any individual from being able to do such things — which are now forbidden by international law.
This brings me, briefly, to the topic of impeachment. I’m a big fan of impeachment as a highly desirable alternative to a violent overthrow or waiting for another corrupt election. Naomi Klein says don’t bother protesting, just do stuff to annoy Donald and damage his corporate brand, and that will make him likely to lose an election in 4 years. By all means, boycott his businesses. But we have neither 4 years to wait for environmental protection, peace, or justice, nor any reason to imagine that some unknown presidential candidate in 2020 wouldn’t be even worse than Trump. The Democrats are all in a rage because with a bit of effort they could have just elected a gun nut who brags about participating in war to Congress in Kansas. A broken election system cannot be the main ingredient in any real solution. Neither can impeachment be the main solution. But it can be part of it if done right. That means: no imagining that the problem is really just one person, and on the other hand no obsessing over what an unpleasant person the vice president is, and no impeaching for false or unproven or non-serious or actually laudable actions. For impeachment to work — and an impeachment process can bring about reforms or resignations without even getting to impeachment — it has to be part of a popular movement that creates a climate of accountability such that whoever replaces a dethroned president is subject to the public will — a far more radical change than swapping out one personality for another.
Following the model of ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org, Cambridge has urged impeachment for violation of the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses which forbid any appearance of financial interests benefitting from state, federal, or foreign governments. Trump has been blatantly violating these sections of the U.S. Constitution since day one as governments give him loans, permits, tax breaks, rent, etc. This is an unprecedented sort of corruption. But it’s just scratching the surface of the indisputable outrages, if we include offenses that Trump’s predecessors also committed at least in a lesser degree.
As of a 2015 disclosure to the Federal Elections Commission, Trump owns stock in the maker of the missiles he sent into Syria, Raytheon, as well as numerous other weapons makers, Canadian tar sands, etc.
Trump has continued, escalated, and threatened numerous illegal and immoral wars. That he may be personally profiting from them just adds to the crime.
Trump has unconstitutionally discriminated against refugees, been stopped by the judiciary, and immediately done it again.
Trump has pushed policies that will aggravate climate change, a crime against humanity that can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court even against a non-member. On December 6, 2009, Trump signed a public letter to President Obama urging action to protect the earth from climate change. “If we fail to act now,” the letter read, “it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.”
Pre-presidency but still available grounds for impeachment, Trump violated, according to the list in Alan Lichtman’s book on Trump impeachment, the Fair Housing Act, New York charity law, tax laws, the Cuban embargo, casino regulations, the RICO statute, laws against employing undocumented immigrants, and of course laws against sexual assault.
Of course there is one charge against Trump that has not been proven, risks confrontation with a nuclear armed government, and needlessly adds a xenophobic excuse to the dozens of solid reasons that last year’s U.S. election was illegitimate. So of course this is the one everybody wants to focus on: blaming Russia for exposing the Democratic Party’s slanting of its own primary against its strongest candidate. Just remember that the people choosing this approach are the same people who nominated the only candidate who could have lost to Donald Trump.
And remember that, while we need to remove the most egregious politicians from the highest offices, we also need to reform the whole system they are part of. At World Beyond War dot org you can sign up to help with campaigns on divestment from weapons makers, closing military bases, and supporting global justice — or propose something new.
You can also help us develop the next edition of our book A Global Security System: An Alternative to War which presents a vision of non-violent government and conflict resolution without war. You can also help us get such resources into schools. And you can work to get military tests and recruiters out of schools and to let parents opt out of sending their kids information to recruiters.
A few other things you may want to plan to take part in:
April 22nd is a march for science. I confess to having mixed feelings about this one. I’m delighted to see a new group of people beginning to act a little bit like responsible citizens. But science is used for good and ill. It’s like a march for wrenches. Sure, it’s great to reject the view that wrenches are a Chinese fraud. But if someone uses a wrench to hit you in the head, how good will that be? The U.S. government’s biggest investments in science are through the military. Love of science leads to mad professors at Harvard trying to solve climate change through geo-engineering, and to space imperialism — dreams of finding other planets to destroy.
April 29th is the climate march. We pushed hard and got them to include peace in their agenda. And we will have a peace contingent and rally there in Washington, as others will at local events that day.
June 16-18 is the UNAC conference in Richmond, Va.
And World Beyond War will have big conferences in August in Minneapolis and October in Washington, DC. Details on the website.