You Can’t Have a Progressive Movement Without Peace

By David Swanson
Remarks at People’s Convergence Conference, Sept. 8, 2017

Here’s my five-minute case for why you can’t have an effective progressive movement in the United States that doesn’t include working for peace. War and militarism and bases and ships and missiles and sanctions and nuclear threats and hostility make up the filter through which much of the other 96% of humanity experiences this 4%. The U.S. Congress chooses how to spend a great deal of money each year, and chooses to put 54% of it into war and preparations for war. The wars demonstrably increase rather than reduce or eliminate anti-U.S. sentiment and violence. They endanger us rather than protect us. The wars are a top cause of death and injury in the world, and a top cause of famines and disease epidemics and refugee crises that cause massive additional suffering. But war kills most by diverting resources. Small fractions of U.S. military spending could end starvation, provide clean water, end diseases, even end the use of fossil fuels worldwide. Military spending also reduces jobs in comparison to other spending or not taxing working people in the first place.

The U.S. military consumes more petroleum than most entire countries and has a bigger budget than most governments and about the size of all other militaries combined. The U.S. military destroys areas of the earth on an unfathomable scale, including back home where it is responsible for 69% of environmental disaster superfund sites. Yes, the top destroyer of the U.S. natural environment is the U.S. military.

And while Trump threatens nuclear war, scientists say that a single nuclear bomb could cause climate catastrophe, and a small number of them could block out the sun, kill crops, and starve us to death. There is no such thing as threatening nuclear war on someone other than yourself. The erosion we are seeing in our civil liberties, the mass surveillance, the militarized police: these are symptoms of a criminal enterprise called war. It fuels and is fueled by racism, bigotry, hatred, and violence. The excuses made for it are so weak and its horrors so inexcusable that the top killer of U.S. participants in war is suicide.

And yet, Trump proposes to move another $50 billion from just about everything good and decent into war, and the Democrats run around denouncing the supposed cuts without mentioning the existence of the military or the fact that it’s not cuts at all, but moving the money into war. The Democratic Congressional candidates that have lost all their special elections this year to warmongering Republicans have in each case presented platforms that did not mention any foreign policy whatsoever. The same goes for their new hero Randy Bryce. The Progressive Caucus’s dream budget increases military spending. And of course a certain former Senator from New York who seems to still be running for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination never met a war she didn’t love.

But I think it behooves all of us to confront our own shortcomings a little more honestly than Hillary Clinton does. A Senator from Vermont just went on Stephen Colbert’s show and rattled off his list of progressive goals three different times without ever mentioning war or peace. Even the question of whether to end or continue current wars just doesn’t come up. During the campaign, Senator Sanders said that he thought Saudi Arabia should “get its hands dirty” and pay for more of the wars, as if Saudi Arabia’s hands weren’t drenched in blood, as if it weren’t funding wars on the same and opposite side as the U.S. already, and as if wars were some sort of philanthropy the world depends upon. Senator Sanders falsely as well as immorally defends the murderous F-35 airplane as a jobs program for Vermont where it will damage the hearing and the brains of the children in the school it takes off over. And when Senator Sanders was asked “How will you pay for all your ponies?” (Ponies is Hillary Clinton’s word for basic human rights) he didn’t reply “I’m going to make a slight reduction in military spending.” Instead he gave a complex answer that produced endless media screaming about tax increases. Contrast that with the popular performance of the next prime minister of the United Kingdom Jeremy Corbyn who explains that the wars are illegal and counterproductive.

So, we have to move the best and the worst of the politicians in the U.S., and we have to do so with a popular movement that changes the culture. If you go to WorldBeyondWar.org you can get involved and see a couple of events coming up here in DC, one being a flotilla of hundreds of kayaks to the Pentagon to oppose any more oil for wars as well as wars for oil, and the other being a conference bringing the peace and environmental movements together. That’s at WorldBeyondWar.org. Thank you.

One Reply to “You Can’t Have a Progressive Movement Without Peace”

  1. The decontextualization of reality is rejected by the dialectics of reality itself. The war/peace unity contradiction taken outside of its various contexts falls inevitably into metaphysical nonsense.

    Although progressivists must have as one of their objectives peace, they cannot, without loosing relevance, throw all wars into the same categorical basket. But more importantly, It seams that too many critical minds do not take the time to scrutinize the underlying causes of effects such as wars (which are causes of other effects, indubitably). The fundamental question: “what is behind this or that war?” remains to be answered by too many progressivists, i.e., are wars the real problem, or is the root something else? It is in the objectivity of reality itself that this question is rationally answered. Social life cannot be fully understood outside of long chains of processes enabling the formation of societies. These operate within concrete internal and external logics, modes of operation, systems.

    Systems based on class exploitation necessarily resort to wars. Not only inward wars, class wars (itself interrelated with racial, gender, etc., wars), but also outward wars, wars with other cities, regions, nations, etc.. Capitalism is such a system. It is the prevalent system around our the planet. Although, underlying factors of capitalism have suffered inevitable transformations, its fundamental contradiction remains. This antagonism can only be solved with a radical replacement of the mode of production and distribution of wealth. A society where class exploitation is banished. An endeavor which no “purely pacifist movement” has ever been able to attain.

    War is a tactical moment within a strategy. In the strategy of profit to unsure the organic survival of capital war is a systemic necessity. It is the system who is inadequate, therefore a personification of evil is counterproductive. I would argue that in one way or another it facilitates the counter-process of consciousness (false consciousness) by those to whom the system hurts most, therefore breathing more life into the system. If indeed the US population amounts to 4% of the world total, not all 4% count as active vectors of the world’s suffering causes. Neither do all 96% of the “would be sufferers” (experiencing the effects of war) can be exempt of responsibilities in the process. The question is much more complex and tied to a pyramid of “must resort to war” exploitative countries (to which the US is placed at the summit) and the interrelations of a broad range political positions on the class exploitation question at the international and national levels.

    Ever-since the nuclear arms race, inevitable advancements in science and technology have given wars an exterministic dimension. Examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, etc., pale in comparison with what the world could become after such a deranged pathological decision be taken. It is nevertheless a distinct criminal apocalyptic possibility. Like a wounded beast pushed against the wall the hegemons of capital could react with irrational suicidal annihilation. Yet, to the “soldiers” fighting against class exploitation, or defending the international rights to sovereignty of their countries (and ours), the beasts’ claws have already left wounded marks in their realities. War is unmistakably there, and must be won!

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