Remarks at the New Hampshire Peace Action 30th Anniversary Celebration in Concord, NH, October 5, 2012.
First of all, congratulations on 30 years! Give yourselves some applause.
I should tell you now that I don’t trust anyone over 30, so your time is running out quickly here.
Actually, when it comes to organizations and the principles they’ve been founded on, I am more likely to trust organizations over 30. New Hampshire Peace Action’s website says that you envision a world committed to disarmament, peace, and nonviolent conflict resolution. More organizations used to be founded on that vision in the past, I think, than are today. The Center for American Progress favors “national security” in its mission statement, and the Campaign for America’s Future wants to move “away from Middle East occupation” while warning us about terrorism, and the only warfare mentioned in Moveon.org’s mission statement is that very worst and most intolerably evil form of warfare: “partisan warfare.” If the two political party’s could only agree on such basics as corporate trade agreements, drug policies, prison policies, basic budgetary priorities, immunity for U.S. war criminals, the need to support for-profit health insurance companies if it kills us, the appropriateness of denying basic human needs while funding banks and bombs, and the president’s prerogative to select winners in a murder lottery from a list of nominees every Tuesday, what a wonderful world it would be. Or is. Or something.
The typically greater wisdom of older groups (even when they contain younger people) is indicative of certain negative trends, but there have been positive trends as well, some of them as a direct result of the kind of work you do.
During these past 30 years, we’ve seen dents put in the culture of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. We’ve seen violence decline around the world and in our own society, in our treatment of our personal acquaintances, sexual partners, children, pets, and other animals. And we’ve seen nonviolence really come into its own as a force for change. The same year New Hampshire Peace Action began, an International Day of Peace was created. We’ve seen the Cold War ended. We’ve seen the death penalty retreat abroad and even in some U.S. states. We’ve reduced the number of nuclear weapons on earth. We’ve seen most of the world ban chemical weapons and land mines. We’ve prevented the launching or escalation of numerous wars desired by members of our government, as well as slowly and not-always-completely bringing other wars to an end.
It’s important, in fact, to remember that when the war planners don’t get to have a war that they want, they don’t hold an annual press conference to announce that the peace movement has won again. And the peace movement doesn’t do so either. So for those of you who are a little bit success-dependent you have to remember to hold a little celebration inside your head. We didn’t go to war with Iran or China or Russia this year. Say it to yourself. We didn’t go to war with Iran or China or Russia this year. At least not yet. And if you think that has had nothing to do with the peace movement, you aren’t paying attention to the slips that people like George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton make in revealing, after the fact, the degree to which they’ve been moved by the peace movement’s pressure. There are powerful people in the U.S. government who want more wars now. And almost all powerful people in Washington have learned the highly refined skill of convincing protesters that protest has no influence. It’s the most ludicrous and dangerous lie they tell. Even Barack Obama would quite easily be moved by public pressure for peace if it were ever applied to him.
We’ve also seen occasional incidents of accountability imposed on war makers, from the World Court’s sanctioning of the United States for its war crimes in Nicaragua, just two years into the life of New Hampshire Peace Action, to Italy’s upholding last month the convictions of 22 CIA agents and 1 U.S. military official for kidnapping a man in Italy and shipping him off to be tortured in Egypt, as well as numerous prosecutions of non-Western war makers. And then there’s the accountability of the polling place, even in our nearly completely corrupted election system. The more war-hungry candidates were more likely to be thrown out of office in Washington in 2006 and 2008. U.S. public understanding has moved against war, and remarkably toward awareness of the lies that support war. The lies that the Bush-Cheney gang told about Iraq were not unusual as war lies go, except in one respect. Those men were incompetent liars, just as they were incompetent at so much else. The lies were doomed to be undeniably exposed as falsehoods very quickly, and so they were. The weapons that they knew weren’t there turned out not to be there. The result has been a big boost for public resistance to similar lies about Iran, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, etc.
That list, by no means complete, indicates that the full picture of the past 30 years is not all pleasant. The glass is certainly half empty as well as half full. In fact, the glass is flowing over with blood, and too many are eagerly drinking from it. We may be kinder to our dogs and horses, but our fossil fuel consumption is killing off species faster than Mitt Romney changes his opinions. Racism and religious bigotry are alive and well in U.S. foreign policy, and consequently in domestic policies as well. We treat non-white, non-Christian, non-NATO nations in a manner in which we would never want to be treated ourselves. At a Republican presidential primary last year, Ron Paul proposed applying the Golden Rule to U.S. foreign policy, and the crowd booed him. In fairness, he proposed ending our wars, in the next breath, and they cheered, just as they cheered in Tampa when Clint Eastwood proposed immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan to an empty chair. What too many Americans, including millions who’ve sworn their souls away to both big political parties, want is not so much bloodshed as superiority, exceptionalism, and the ability to keep anything unpleasant out of their heads. So, wars on others are either genocidal or humanitarian, depending on how one prefers to imagine them, but as long as not many Americans die, and as long as the deaths of others are not pointed out or dwelled on or displayed visually, well, we do what must be done as the one nation that must live up to the sacred indispensible responsibility of using its brute force to . . . well, to do whatever it damn well pleases.
The Cold War may have ended, but the U.S. government is hard on the trail of possible enemies, building bases, and positioning missiles around all possible borders of Iran, China, and Russia. The United States now dumps a greater percentage of discretionary spending, and of global military spending into its military, shortchanging everything else. And, while this is beginning to fuel military spending elsewhere, the United States also accounts for over 85 percent of international weapons sales. We arm the dictatorships and so-called democracies of the world. We go to war against our own weapons to protect those we’ve sold weapons to from others we’ve sold weapons to. And our corporate media almost universally discusses war preparations as a socialistic jobs program — saved from the “Socialist” label purely by virtue of its ability to kill lots of people. Humanitarian war justifications, purely hypocritical though they are for those in power, indicate a certain progress as well as a tragic and embarrassing weakness. Propagandists can’t take us to war anymore without pretending it’s philanthropy — or pretending it isn’t war. The downside is that this works. At least as long as the president is a Democrat, the peace movement collapses, and millions of otherwise mentally healthy people decide that war is not such a bad idea after all.
The awareness of war lies still has a long way to go, which is why I wrote “War Is A Lie” as a manual to help everyone recognize them. We then also have the problem of wars not based on lies but begun and carried out in secret. We now have a secret agency, the CIA, conducting wars halfway around the world with robotic planes. The United States has been at war throughout the history of New Hampshire Peace Action, which was just a 19-year-old kid when the current war on Afghanistan began. An eleven-year-old today, and effectively most teenagers today, have learned a great deal since they were born, but they’ve had no chance to learn to live in a world in which the United States was not at war in Afghanistan. And, of course, among Afghans there is virtually no one alive with any experience of peace. Permanent war is now considered the societal and legal norm here, and it’s becoming as hard for Americans to imagine their government at peace abroad as it is for Afghans to imagine peace at home.
The Bush-Obama tag team has bestowed on all future presidents the ability to openly spy on anyone without a warrant, imprison anyone without a trial, torture anyone using Army Field Manual approved methods or indeed with any methods at all, ship anyone abroad to be tortured, test drugs on prisoners in foreign death camps, and assassinate anyone — man, woman, child, American, non-American — as long as the killing is done abroad. And future presidents will have the undisputed bipartisan-approved power to do these things in secret, announcing bits and pieces of them, as they see fit, while punishing whistleblowers to the full extent of … I can’t say the law exactly … to the full extent of a government without legal limits. This gloomy and socio-suicidal future will be possible without any of that nasty partisan warfare at all.
Obama has not yet killed anything like the number of people Bush killed. But Obama has claimed and fixed in place for the future more abusive powers with more reach than anyone in the history of the earth. This was predictable and predicted. When we tried to get Bush and Cheney impeached we were told that we were vengeful and hateful and prejudiced and partisan. My response was that I carried no ill will toward Bush or Cheney. I simply wanted to deter the next president, who would be even worse if Bush wasn’t held accountable. Take just the example of trial-free imprisonment to see how this has worked. Bush began locking people up in secret foreign locations. Some of those secrets were gradually leaked. Debates raged in Congress. Supreme Court decisions pushed back against this new power. Democrats campaigned against it, but did nothing against it. Obama moved into the White House with a plan to move Guantanamo to Illinois, but didn’t try very hard to enact it. He closed some secret sites but not others. He enlarged his lawless prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. He stood in front of the Constitution and the Magna Carta in the National Archives and declared that he had the power to imprison people forever without a trial. He gave himself that power in an executive order. And then he wanted it in a piece of Congressional legislation as well.
What would Democrats in Congress say? They worked for him. He held many carrots and sticks and dollars with which to manipulate their votes.
What would Republicans say? If they didn’t legalize Bush’s crimes, what would become of Bush? And shouldn’t future Republican presidents have the powers of gods?
So last year’s National Defense Authorization Act included the presidential power to imprison anyone, including U.S. citizens, forever and ever, with no trial. This was at the insistence of President Obama, according the public testimony of Senator Carl Levin, as well as according to a careful study of what was proposed, what was vetoed, and what was signed. Then journalist Chris Hedges and others sued and won an injunction in federal court, but the U.S. Justice Department that does Obama’s bidding put up a furious appeal and is working hard to keep the power to imprison Americans without trial in place for all future presidents. That Dick Cheney still thinks George W. Bush was a better president than Obama simply shows how disloyal Cheney is to his own principles. But he’s got nothing on loyal liberals. I read an article a couple of weeks ago that went to great length to demonstrate that Obama had appointed the judge that overturned his law, because he secretly wanted it overturned, and he was struggling in court to keep it in place merely as an elaborate pretense that would intentionally fail in the end.
Oh, and he messed up the debate this week because of a bad format, bad camera angles, and bad coaches. Never mind that four years ago he could talk about closing Gitmo, ending the very mindset that gets us into wars, providing universal healthcare, restoring the rule of law, reforming NAFTA, creating the right to organize in the workplace, ending the Bush tax cuts, and so forth. Now, you can blame his failure to actually attempt any of those things on the Republicans or Rahm Emanuel or his dog Bo, but all the post-debate analysis ignores the real way in which Obama must now debate with one hand tied behind his back. If there were debate insurance, neither candidate could by it given their pre-existing positions.
OK, so I just meant to say congratulations on 30 years and ended up on a five-page-long tangent. Now what I really wanted to do was to go back further than 30 years.
One place to look for the origins of war, as well as religion and many other things, including goose bumps and the little muscles that make hair stand up on the back of your neck if you have any hair on the back of your neck, is in early foreign relations — that is, relations between tribes of humans and the ferocious wild beasts that liked to eat them. As Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out so well in her book “Blood Rites,” early humans were not so much hunters as hunted. The supposed weapons marks on early human bones turn out to be teeth marks. We were what’s for dinner. We lived in fear, and we still do. Fear still makes us do things that made sense then and no longer make any sense at all. We’re easily moved by dangers that resemble those our ancestors faced, and largely indifferent to greater dangers that kill more of us but don’t resemble predatory attacks. More of us die from unsafe workplaces, lack of healthcare, cigarettes, automobiles, too much McDonald’s, etc., than from terrorism. But which one scares us?
Bears and lions couldn’t be reasoned with, and so, preemptive war carried a certain logic that it lacks in intrahuman relations today. But when the wild beasts had been largely eliminated, war took on its true purpose, the purpose it has fulfilled right up through those taxes you earned yesterday to pay for nuclear submarines or that groping I got at the airport this morning. The purpose of war became the propagation of war itself.
Which came first, the wars or the weapons? The answer is the weapons. They came for defense from animals. But when the animals had been killed off, the warrior class that didn’t feed itself or arm itself but lived as parasitically as Mitt’s vision of 47% of us, didn’t want to just give up the warrior status any more than a president would. A ready substitute for tigers and leopards was found in the warriors of other human tribes. By fighting each other, warriors could continue their accustomed lifestyle. Which is not to say that they sat down and planned it that way together, any more than Americans sat down and planned to waste 40% of their food each year. Small conflicts between tribes were no doubt more easily escalated without a common four-footed enemy to fight off. The substitution happened. The animals became gods. Animal killings of humans became intentional human sacrifices. And other humans took the place of the animal enemies.
These many years later, labor unions (with a few wonderful exceptions like the Chicago teachers) go on pointless one-day strikes as a vestigial reenactment of strikes that once halted production. And fathers give their daughters away to grooms who carry them over the threshold, even though daughters aren’t owned and brides aren’t kidnapped anymore. Similarly, we continue to glorify war, to speak of the war dead as making the ultimate sacrifice, to imagine that war is a means of keeping us safe, and to suppose that by funding war profiteers we hold off the menace of foreigners, who are still depicted as wild animals in editorial cartoons. We sanctify the troops even as the warrior class has been shifted from the wealthy to the poor and is in many ways treated as that would lead one to expect. Our homeless shelters are full of discarded warriors, revealing clearly which group is master and which servant. War as it was is no more. But old ways can hang on tenaciously.
The history of war is of a behavior that has been spotty and sporadic. War has only been around for a small fraction of human existence. And as long as it’s been around, it’s been a part of some cultures but not others. Nations have limited and eliminated war. China and Japan have had periods of peace. One in Japan lasted from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century as culture flourished until the United States came knocking. Costa Rica has thrown away its military — put it in a museum in fact. Numerous nations never go to war, or participate after a campaign of bribes and threats. Coalitions of the willing are not coalitions of the eager. Some tribes in pre-Columbian America, Australia, and elsewhere did not know war. During a lengthy cold war, two nations chose to avoid actual war. Western Europe has chosen not to go to war with itself for 65 years. Some cultures are so far removed from war that their people cannot even understand it. A Batek man in Malaysia was asked why his ancestors did not use their poison darts (which they had for hunting animals) to shoot slave-raiders. His shocked reply was “Because it would kill them!”
Now there’s opposition to the motto of “Live Free or Die” if I’ve ever heard it. These people’s motto must be “Be enslaved rather than kill.” Of course, both of those attitudes are easily conceived of in too-simplistic a manner, by neglected the power of nonviolent action to resist tyranny without killing — and often without prematurely dying either.
The idea that war is in our genes is an incoherent proposition because so many people have lived and do live without war. Taking part in it traumatizes us, whereas avoidance of war — war deprivation — has never given anyone post traumatic stress disorder. But war in the genes is an incoherent concept for another reason as well. Namely, humans are free, no matter how they behave or what they put on their license plates, they are free. We can choose not to eat or drink or have sex or even breathe. There is nothing we are compelled to do. The idea that we could be internally compelled to join together to construct such an elaborate activity as war is absurd. Many have inclinations that lead them willingly toward war when it’s offered in the absence of anything better, but that is a very different thing from having no choice in the matter.
Wars used to profit the victors with territory, slaves, and treasures. Now wars only profit specific war profiteers, not their whole nation. Wars and war preparation drain away the resources of a nation, and because one of those resources traded away for war is education, we aren’t able to recognize what is happening. We see people with jobs at BAE or in the military and we imagine that without war spending they’d have no jobs. In fact, military spending produces fewer jobs than most ways our government could spend that money, and even than tax cuts for working people. The choice is not war jobs or nothing. The choice is war jobs or peace jobs and more of them. In fact the choice is peace jobs and more of them or war jobs and economic collapse … and war. Beyond that, in fact, the choice is jobs in a massive emergency campaign to save our natural environment or war jobs and economic collapse and environmental collapse and civic and cultural collapse and war. This is not a difficult choice. The Senator Ayotte, McCain, Graham road show is right to finally say we need government spending, but is pushing the only kind that doesn’t help.
The vast majority of Americans want the war on Afghanistan ended, and this Sunday it will enter its 12th year. Some may be convinced that the 12th year is really going to be the charm. But President Obama wants to continue this war for over two more years beyond that, and then at a smaller scale for 10 years beyond that. Two years is longer than entire wars used to take, but Obama calls this the “winding down” process.
Of course the so-called surge ended, or so we were recently told. But let’s remember what happened to troop levels in Afghanistan. Obama promised to escalate them if elected, and we elected him. So, early in 2009, selecting this as the promise he would keep, Obama sent 21,000 so-called combat troops and 13,000 support troops and at least 5,000 mercenaries, plus other contractors. There was no major media debate or Congressional debate. And the fact that this had happened was erased from all memory. Obama had sent the first 17,000 prior to holding his first meeting to try to develop any plan or purpose for them to serve. Sending the troops was an end in itself. It was war for war’s sake. Not only did it go unquestioned, but it no longer exists in recent U.S. history. It’s gone, vanished from all reporting.
Then, in the fall of 2009, there was a big media debate over whether Obama should escalate the war, as if he hadn’t already done so. It was largely a public debate between the commander-in-chief and his generals (who should probably have been dismissed for insubordination, as we are supposed to have civilian control over the military), but members of Congress popped up in cameo roles. In fact, it began to look like a Congressional vote on funding a so-called surge might not be easily passed. So, what happened?
Congress passed a standard massive military bill and put off the surge funding vote until 2010, while Obama went ahead with the surge unfunded, sending another 30,000 troops plus support troops plus mercenaries and contractors. Once Obama had more-or-less agreed with his generals, the media reporting and polling ended. The story was complete, the debate over.
The surge funding was relabeled war funding, and Congress — now with the choice to fund or not fund something that had already happened — passed it easily. Obama then continued to send more troops with less fanfare, raising troop levels from about 34,000 when he took over from Bush to about 100,000 plus an even larger number of contractors, etc. The so-called “surge” troops were the only ones that counted in the corporate media because they had been a news story.
So a week and a half ago, the media told us that the surge was finally over. There were then 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, or twice as many as when Obama had taken office, and somewhere around 100,000 contractors, who are rarely mentioned and about a quarter of whom are from the United States, plus of course that new favorite form of Washington warrior: drones. Drones fit nicely into a policy of never talking to people. Bush not only bothered to lie to Congress before his wars, but he negotiated an end to one of them. Iraq is still a disaster. Afghanistan is worse and could remain worse following the departure of the last U.S. helicopter from the roof. But it would look weak for our government to talk to Afghans or Iranians . . . or to Osama bin Laden in a court of law.
Yet they may have to talk to Afghans, and they may have to leave faster than planned, and there are events everywhere this weekend to demand it — including in Boston.
Drones are taking war into new nations where we had no war before, killing large numbers of civilians, building hostility, creating chaos, and predictably enough resulting in ground troops being sent in as well. Did you know that drones have their own caucus in the U.S. Congress? Homeless people don’t have a caucus, poor people, old people. No caucus. Why do Congress members gather together to discuss the needs of their robotic killer airplane constituents, and not the needs of the rest of us?
Thirty-two U.S. peace activists are in Pakistan right now meeting with elected officials, tribal leaders, and the family members of drone victims. Code Pink organized the trip. At a meeting with the U.S. ambassador, Veterans For Peace president Leah Bolger got him to promise not to attack their planned march, and then asked if spreading Americans across the region could get him to promise no attacks on Pakistanis at all. However there is not concern that the Taliban will attack the march. Bolger told me that there was no question the march would go ahead nonetheless.
Meanwhile the U.S. government claims there are no civilian victims, and does so without officially acknowledging that our drone wars exist at all. One reason is that it’s really hard to explain how they’re legal. This past May the Congressional Research Service wrote a 23 page paper in which they tried to guess at ways in which the White House might try to argue that killing people all over the world with drones could be considered legal, were the White House to bother. Think about that. The legislative branch of our government, the people created by the first and longest article of our Constitution, the men and women given most of the power in that Constitution, including exclusive power to make laws, have now been reduced to trying to concoct twisted convoluted explanations of how, as Richard Nixon might have put it, whatever a president does must be legal.
What our friends are doing in Pakistan right now, building friendship and understanding is immensely important. A number of us are hoping to travel to Iran soon to do the same. Finding ways in which Americans can come to know Iranians, and Russians, and Chinese as friends is one of the most valuable things we can do right now. Amy Goodman spoke in my town, Charlottesville, Va., last week and reminded us that Secretary of War Henry Stimson took Kyoto off the list of targets for nuclear bombs because he and his wife had been there. If only they had also visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Stimson was the same guy who four years earlier had met with President Roosevelt and top officials in the Oval Office, where Roosevelt predicted the Japanese attack might come on December 1st — off by six days. “The question,” Stimson wrote in his diary, “was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition.”
I’d say it was more difficult for the sailors stationed at Pearl Harbor than it was for Stimson. Which brings us to the question of how things are looking for the people of Iran. A lobbyist in D.C. who favors war on Iran blurted out a whole string of open secrets recently, and did so on video, which is always helpful.
We know that in the past so-called “defensive” wars have been intentionally launched by fraud or provocation. We know that many in our government want a war with Iran. We know that several years ago then-Vice President Dick Cheney proposed disguising U.S. ships as Iranian and attacking other U.S. ships with them. We know that then-President George W. Bush proposed disguising a plane as belonging to the United Nations, flying it low, and trying to get Iraq to shoot at it. We know that there was no Gulf of Tonkin incident, no evidence that Spain attacked the Maine, no doubt that the weapons and troops on board the Lusitania were public knowledge, no question that FDR worked hard to provoke an attack by Japan, no question that the U.S. invaded Mexico and not the reverse, and so on. And we know that Iran has not attacked another nation in centuries. So, it almost goes without saying that Washington warmongers are contemplating ways to get Iran to make the so-called “first move.”
Assassinating scientists hasn’t worked, blowing up buildings doesn’t seem to do it, cyber-war isn’t blossoming into real war, sanctions are not sanctioning armed resistance, and dubious accusations of Iranian terrorism aren’t sticking. Exactly what do we have to do to get ourselves innocently attacked by the forces of evil?
The Israel Lobby to the rescue! Patrick Clawson, Director of Research at the Washington Institute Of Near East Policy, a group founded by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said this:
“Crisis initiation is really tough. And it’s very hard for me to see how the United States president can get us to war with Iran. . . . The traditional way America gets to war is what would be best for U.S. interests. Some people might think that Mr. Roosevelt wanted to get us into World War II . . . . You may recall, we had to wait for Pearl Harbor. Some people might think Mr. Wilson wanted to get us into World War I. You may recall that he had to wait for the Lusitania episode. Some people might think that Mr. Johnson wanted to send troops to Vietnam. You may recall he had to wait for the Gulf of Tonkin episode. We didn’t go to war with Spain until the Maine exploded. And Mr. Lincoln did not feel he could call out the federal army until Fort Sumter was attacked, which is why he ordered the commander at Fort Sumter to do exactly that thing which the South Carolinians had said would cause an attack. So, if in fact the Iranians aren’t going to compromise, it would be best if somebody else started the war. . . . I mentioned that explosion on August 17th. We could step up the pressure. I mean, look people, Iranian submarines periodically go down. Someday one of them might not come up. Who would know why? [LAUGHTER FROM AUDIENCE] . . . . We are in the game of using covert means against the Iranians. We could get nastier.”
This is serious advocacy for manufacturing a “defensive” and “humanitarian” war. This is not a war critic or a Yes Men prankster. The position of most elected officials in Washington, including the President, fits well with this. That position includes the ultimatum that Iran must cease doing what U.S. National Intelligence Estimates say it is not doing, namely building nuclear weapons. The goal at the bottom of all of this is war. The purpose of the war is not related to any of the excuses for it. The purpose is profit, control, domination, image, machismo, and the irrationality that continues to allow war to control people rather than the other way around.
Most war planners are not longing for a new long-term occupation with lots of deaths among that 5 percent of humanity they know they have to pretend to care about. But war is still in charge, not its planners. When you launch small-scale wars, they don’t always stay that way. Even when you fund proxy wars or impose sanctions as collective punishment or engage in major naval exercises off the coast of a nation you’re threatening, the result can be war beyond all control, even if not fully intended. Current U.S. backing of terrorists in Syria is certain to have blowback if it doesn’t quickly develop into wider war.
As long as we keep war as an acceptable tool, and as long as we keep nuclear weapons and power plants, our future is likely fairly short. Survival requires not proper civilized war that complies with Geneva Conventions and serves humanitarian goals. Survival requires the elimination of war. If the danger is not immediate enough to make anti-war work as thrilling as war to young adventurers, well then try nonviolent activism. Madison – Tahrir Square – Madrid – Occupy: that’s the moral superior to war, outdoing William James’ search for a moral equivalent. My book “When the World Outlawed War” looks at the movement to abolish war that existed in this country in the 1920s and the huge steps forward that it made, some of which we take for granted. One lesson from the 1920s is that they did not tie peace to a political party, but made it such a powerful movement that all four, yes four, political parties came running to them.
This is what we need to do, even when there’s an election soon. Vote for a good candidate or vote for your lesser evil choice. But before and after election day, work for peace and justice, educate, organize, mobilize, resist, change our entire culture, rather than making yourselves cheerleaders and apologists for one war-making party over another. Too many are not just apologists, but selective collectors of information. Some friends and I recently handed out information on Obama’s kill list outside an Obama event. The kill list had been a big New York Times story and would have been the source of much outrage were Obama a Republican. His supporters did not defend it. They did not know about it. They are pouring their energies into cheering for a man who has claimed the power to murder anyone, and they’ve avoided knowing about it. I posted online an offer to help the Obama campaign find more voters if Obama supporters would join me in protesting wars this weekend. You join me in protesting these wars, and I’ll canvas for your guy. That was my offer. That’s how little I think it matters who I vote for and how much I think it matters whether we are building a movement around policy changes rather than personality changes. I got no takers.
I have two other books here today. One is actually the first test copy of a children’s book I’ll be publishing this month. I’ll sign it for whoever gives New Hampshire Peace Action the most money for it. The other is a collection from many great writers called “The Military Industrial Complex at 50” and this is where I think we should focus, because I think Eisenhower was right. If civil liberties groups would turn against the military funding that produces the abuses, if environmental groups would turn against our top polluter, if groups favoring education and healthcare and housing would turn against the black hole that we’re dumping all the money into, we could turn this thing around.
I actually like the motto “Live free or die,” when spoken by those committed to nonviolence. Of course, you know it was plagiarized from a Virginian warmonger named Patrick Henry, but his words can also be put to better use. He said: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
I think however that both of those statements have been improved upon by the reggae singer/musician Jimmy Cliff, who said of those abusing this earth and its people, and this is for Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen:
“I’d rather be a free man in my grave.
“Than living as a puppet or a slave.
“The harder they come, the harder they’ll fall one and all.”
“And these words shall then become,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley,
“Like Oppression’s thundered doom
“Ringing through each heart and brain,
“Heard again – again – again –
“Rise like Lions after slumber
“In unvanquishable number –
“Shake your chains to earth like dew
“Which in sleep had fallen on you –
“Ye are many – they are few.”