Having been on the road, I have two brilliant insights to report.
1. No matter what sort of fascist state were ever established in this part of the world, Amtrak would never get the trains to run on time.
2. Respecting people and giving them credit for being smarter than the television depicts them is vastly easier when you stay home.
The well-known line is that people get the governments they deserve. Of course nobody should be abused the way the U.S. and many other governments abuse them, no matter what their intellectual deficiencies. If anything, stupid people should have better, kinder governments. But my common response to that well-known line is to point out the bribery and gerrymandering and limited choices and relentless propaganda. Surely the clown show in Washington is not the people’s fault. Some of my best friends are people and they often display signs of intelligence.
But the primary thing the U.S. government does is wage wars, and it wages them against other people who had no say in the matter. Of course I don’t want wars waged against Americans either, but the general impression one gets from traveling around and speaking and answering questions at public events in the United States is not so much that people are indifferent to the destruction of the globe as long as they don’t miss their favorite television show, as that people are unclear on what destruction means and can’t identify a globe when it’s placed in a lineup with six watermelons.
War and peace are concepts people have heard of, but ask them which they favor and you’ll get blank stares. “Do you support all wars, some wars, or no wars?” I ask to get a sense of the crowd, but a fourth answer takes the majority: “Uhhh, I dunno.”
A few people want to end war by having a bunch of anti-war wars, but they all work in the State Department and I haven’t been invited to speak there.
A few elderly people believe we simply must have wars, and every last one of them has the identical reason: Pearl Harbor. You can explain to them the stupid vindictive conclusion of World War I, the decades of militarization, of antagonization of Japan (protested for many years by U.S. peace activists), of Wall Street funding the Nazis. You can point out the madness of a rogue nation waging hundreds of disastrous wars all over the world for 70 years and getting people to support this project by finding a single example of a supposedly justifiable war 70 years ago. You can challenge them to find any other major public project that has to go back that far to justify itself. You can quote them the wisdom of peace activists from the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s. They’ll simply say that Pearl Harbor justified saving the Jews. You can show them how Pearl Harbor was intentionally provoked, how actions that might have saved the Jews were avoided, how the Jews became a justification for the war only long after it was over, and they’ll just grunt at you. You can recount successful nonviolent resistance to the Nazis and the growth and development of nonviolent resistance in the decades since, and they’ll drool, scratch their heads, or ask if you’re going to vote for Hillary.
A few young people believe we simply must have wars, and every last one of them has the identical reason: ISIS. Because ISIS is something evil, there must be war. “Should we attack ISIS or do nothing?” they all ask.
I imagine I’d laugh if I weren’t trembling for our future. Iraq III: The Return of the Decider is becoming the worst parody of a humanitarian war in history. First George W. Obama gave himself a waiver from his own dumb rules against killing unlimited civilians. Then he asked for a special waiver in order to arm lots of really good people who happen to torture some folks and murder some folks and rape some folks and genocide some folks. This after he asked the CIA if arming rebels has ever worked out, and the CIA said “No, but we do it as a matter of principle,” and he said “Let’s roll!”
Just as nobody supposes World War II the Just and Noble could have arisen without World War I the Futile and Pointless, no serious analysis of ISIS can explain its birth without Iraq II: The Liberation. ISIS is made up of people tortured in U.S. prison camps and thrown out of the Iraqi Army by U.S. occupiers and driven into desperation by the hell the U.S. and its allies created. ISIS brutally murders just like, but on a smaller scale than, the U.S. and its new allies in fighting ISIS. The helpless-people-on-a-mountaintop story remains permanently present outside of time for Americans, even though the U.S. is now killing so many civilians that it needs laws changed (or simply ignored; anyone remember the UN Charter?), even though the story was a gross distortion at the time, and even though the bombing protected the oil contractors in Erbil, not the mountain.
People nod their heads and ask, “So, should we attack ISIS or do nothing?”
You can explain to them that ISIS explicitly said it wanted to be attacked. You can show them how ISIS is growing as a result. You can explain to them how hated the United States is now in that region. You can read them a RAND Corporation report showing that most terrorist organizations are ended through negotiations, virtually none through war. You can fill them in on how 80 percent of the weapons shipped into the Middle-East, not counting U.S. weapons or weapons the U.S. gives to groups like ISIS and its allies, come from the United States. You can describe how the region could be demilitarized rather than further armed. You can discuss diplomatic possibilities, local cease-fires, aid and restitution. You can graphically make clear how a fraction of what’s spent on bombing Iraq to fix the disaster created by bombing Iraq could pay for transforming the whole region into a healthier happier place to live with food, water, agriculture, clean energy, etc. You can detail emergency measures that are available, including peaceworkers, aid workers, doctors, journalists — measures that risk fewer lives than war.
And they’ll blink their eyes and ask “So, should we attack ISIS or do nothing?”
Do you recall, you can say, that last year the White House wanted you to support attacking Syria, and wanted to attack the opposite side in that war? And people said no, remember? And now they want to attack the opposite side, while arming it, and this makes sense to you? They have no goal in mind, no plan, no estimated end-date or price-tag or body-count, and this makes sense to you?
Well, they’ll say, it’s that or do nothing.
But do you recall the year 2006 in which everybody said they’d elected Democrats in order to end the war, and the Democrats said they’d keep it going in order to run against it again in 2008? At that time, in 2006, as the big marches were just ending, having begun with the biggest marches ever on February 15, 2003, if you’d told anyone that in 2014 the war would be over and a new president would propose starting it up again, and nobody would protest, you’d have been laughed at. The America of 2006 would never have stood for this for a minute, at least not if the President were a Republican.
“Oh,” they’ll say, “I’ve heard of Republicans. They’re the ones who like war, right? Do you think the military is letting women participate enough?”
It happened that while I was touring and talking, NATO claimed for something like the 89th time this year that Russia had invaded Ukraine. If it were ever true, I asked, would anyone believe it? The answer I got: Nobody cares.
Nobody with the easy ability to do something about it cares. The people under the bombs care. The world gets the wars Americans deserve.