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War and cancer are among our leading causes of human death around the world. They can't be strictly separated and compared since war is a major cause of cancer, as is war preparation. (And a small fraction of the U.S. budget for war preparations could fund cancer research well beyond all the money raised by public and private funding and by all the 5-K races for a cure and other activities we've become familiar with.) War and cancer, by their nature, also can't be addressed with the same sort of responses.
Cancer prevention, including possibly radical changes in industrial and energy policies, is fairly off-limits, whereas cancer treatment and the search for a cure is almost certainly our most widespread and publicly visible form of altruistic charity and advocacy. When you see athletes or celebrities marked with bright pink, or a public event packed with pink shirts or ribbons, or -- alongside a road -- a giant pink inflatable anything, you are now less likely to think "WTF is that?" than "We need to help cure breast cancer."
War prevention, including radical redirection of our resources and economy away from war, re-education away from the propaganda of beneficial violence, support for nonviolent conflict resolution, and promotion of international law and the prosecution of war makers, is likewise fairly off-limits. But war treatment and the search for a cure for war once begun, seems significantly less useful than the search for a cure for cancer. War is indisputably and entirely human-made. Most of its fatal victims die immediately. Halting a war once begun is immensely more difficult than refraining from starting it, as no one party can control a war's path, and support-the-troops propaganda convinces people that ending a war is more evil than continuing it. Once a war ends, undoing the resentment and hatred and habits of violence, and the environmental destruction (and the cancer epidemics), and the destruction to liberties and democracy, all adds up to an immense -- if not impossible -- task compared to that of avoiding wars before they're started.
So, when we compare a public demand to abolish cancer with one to abolish war, the latter seems to require halting our biggest public program, whereas the former allows us to go on driving our SUVs to Wal-Mart as long as we stick a pink ribbon on the back to indicate that doctors and scientists should continue the great march of progress. And of course they should. We should be investing vastly more in curing cancer, not to mention Alzheimer's which is as big a killer as cancer but opposed by far less funding (and not a particular threat to that favorite of all body parts: the breast).
But abolishing war may be the more pressing demand. Nuclear weapons could be used intentionally or accidentally and destroy us all. The resources dumped into war are badly needed for the work of averting environmental catastrophe (not to mention curing cancer). What if a campaign to abolish war were to learn a few tricks from the campaign to abolish breast cancer?
Following the lead of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Campaign Nonviolence, World Beyond War, and other peace groups are encouraging everyone to use sky blue scarves and bracelets as symbols of peace and support for ending all wars. What if sky blue symbols became as widespread as pink ones? What would that look like?
I started seeing graphics pop up on social media sites this past week that said about Gaza: "It's not war. It's murder." So I started asking people what exactly they think war is if it's distinct from murder. Well, war, some of them told me, takes place between armies. So I asked for anyone to name a war during the past century (that is, after World War I) where all or even most or even a majority of the dying was done by members of armies. There may have been such a war. There are enough scholars here today that somebody probably knows of one. But if so, it isn't the norm, and these people I was chatting with through social media couldn't think of any such war and yet insisted that that's just what war is. So, is war then over and nobody told us?
For whatever reasons, I then very soon began seeing a graphic sent around that said about Gaza: "It's not war. It's genocide." And the typical explanation I got when I questioned this one was that the wagers of war and the wagers of genocide have different attitudes. Are we sure about that? I've spoken to advocates for recent U.S. wars who wanted all or part of a population wiped out. Plenty of supporters of the latest attacks on Gaza see them as counter-terrorism. In wars between advanced militaries and poor peoples most of the death and injury is on one side and most of it -- by anyone's definition -- civilian. This is as true in Afghanistan, where war rolls on largely unchallenged, as in Gaza, about which we are newly outraged.
Well, what's wrong with outrage? Who cares what people call it? Why not criticize the war advocates rather than nitpicking the war opponents' choice of words? When people are outraged they will reach for whatever word their culture tells them is most powerful, be it murder or genocide or whatever. Why not encourage that and worry a little more about the lunatics who are calling it defense or policing or terrorist removal? (Eight-year-old terrorists!)
Yes, of course. I've been going after CNN news readers for claiming Palestinians want to die and NBC for yanking its best reporter and ABC for claiming scenes of destruction in Gaza that just don't exist in Israel are in fact in Israel -- and the U.S. government for providing the weapons and the criminal immunity. I've been promoting rallies and events aimed at swaying public opinion against what Israel has been doing, and against the sadistic bloodthirsty culture of those standing on hills cheering for the death and destruction below, quite regardless of what they call it. But, as you're probably aware, only the very most open-minded war advocates attend conventions of Veterans For Peace. So, I'm speaking here backstage, as it were, at the peace movement. Among those of us who want to stop the killing, are there better and worse ways to talk about it? And is anything revealed by the ways in which we tend to talk about it when we aren't hyper-focused on our language?
I think so. I think it's telling that the worst word anyone can think of isn't war. I think it's even more telling that we condemn things by contrasting them with war, framing war as relatively acceptable. I think this fact ought to be unsettling because a very good case can be made that war, in fact, is the worst thing we do, and that the distinctions between war and such evils as murder or genocide can require squinting very hard to discern.
We've all heard that guns don't kill people, people kill people. There is a parallel belief that wars don't kill people, people who misuse wars, who fight bad wars, who fight wars improperly, kill people. This is a big contrast with many other evil institutions. We don't oppose child abuse selectively, holding out the possibility of just and good incidents of child abuse while opposing the bad or dumb or non-strategic or excessive cases of child abuse. We don't have Geneva Conventions for proper conduct while abusing children. We don't have human rights groups writing reports on atrocities and possible law violations committed in the course of abusing children. We don't distinguish UN-sanctioned child abuse. The same goes for numerous behaviors generally understood as always evil: slavery or rape or blood feuds or duelling or dog fighting or sexual harassment or bullying or human experimentation or -- I don't know -- producing piles of I'm-Ready-for-Hillary posters. We don't imagine there are good, just, and defensible cases of such actions.
And this is the core problem: not support for bombing Gaza or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq or anywhere else that actually gets bombed, but support for an imaginary war in the near future between two armies with different colored jerseys and sponsors, competing on an isolated battlefield apart from any villages or towns, and suffering bravely and heroically for their non-murderous non-genocidal cause while complying with the whistles blown by the referees in the human rights organizations whenever any of the proper killing drifts into lawless imprisonment or torture or the use of improper weaponry. Support for specific possible wars in the United States right now is generally under 10 percent. More people believe in ghosts, angels, and the integrity of our electoral system than want a new U.S. war in Ukraine, Syria, Iran, or Iraq. The Washington Post found a little over 10 percent want a war in Ukraine but that the people who held that view were the people who placed Ukraine on the world map the furthest from its actual location, including people who placed it in the United States. These are the idiots who favor specific wars. Even Congress, speaking of idiots, on Friday told Obama no new war on Iraq.
The problem is the people, ranging across the population from morons right up to geniuses, who favor imaginary wars. Millions of people will tell you we need to be prepared for more wars in case there's another Adolf Hitler, failing to understand that the wars and militarism and weapons sales and weapons gifts -- the whole U.S. role as the arsenal of democracies and dictatorships alike -- increase rather than decrease dangers, that other wealthy countries spend less than 10 percent what the U.S. does on their militaries, and that 10 percent of what the U.S. spends on its military could end global starvation, provide the globe with clean water, and fund sustainable energy and agriculture programs that would go further toward preventing mass violence than any stockpiles of weaponry. Millions will tell you that the world needs a global policeman, even though polls of the world find the widespread belief that the United States is currently the greatest threat to peace on earth. In fact if you start asking people who have opposed every war in our lifetimes or in the past decade to work on opposing the entire institution of war, you'll be surprised by many of the people who say no.
I'm a big fan of a book called Addicted to War. I think it will probably be a powerful tool for war abolition right up until war is abolished. But its author told me this week that he can't work to oppose all wars because he favors some of them. Specifically, he said, he doesn't want to ask Palestinians to not defend themselves. Now, there's a really vicious cycle. If we can't shut down the institution of war because Palestinians need to use it, then it's harder to go after U.S. military spending, which is of course what funds much of the weaponry being used against Palestinians. I think we should get a little clarity about what a war abolition movement does and does not do. It does not tell people what they must do when attacked. It is not focused on advising, much less instructing, the victims of war, but on preventing their victimization. It does not advise the individual victim of a mugging to turn the other cheek. But it also does not accept the disproven notion that violence is a defensive strategy for a population. Nonviolence has proven far more effective and its victories longer lasting. If people in Gaza have done anything at all to assist in their own destruction, it is not the supposed offenses of staying in their homes or visiting hospitals or playing on beaches; it is the ridiculously counterproductive firing of rockets that only encourages and provides political cover for war/ genocide/ mass murder.
I'm a huge fan of Chris Hedges and find him one of the most useful and inspiring writers we have. But he thought attacking Libya was a good idea up until it quite predictably and obviously turned out not to be. He still thinks Bosnia was a just war. I could go on through dozens of names of people who contribute mightily to an anti-war movement who oppose abolishing war. The point is not that anyone who believes in 1 good war out of 100 is to blame for the trillion dollar U.S. military budget and all the destruction it brings. The point is that they are wrong about that 1 war out of 100, and that even if they were right, the side-effects of maintaining a culture accepting of war preparations would outweigh the benefits of getting 1 war right. The lives lost by not spending $1 trillion a year in the U.S. and another $1 trillion in the rest of the world on useful projects like environmental protection, sustainable agriculture, medicine and hygiene absolutely dwarf the number of lives that would be saved by halting our routine level of war making.
If you talk about abolishing war entirely, as many of us have begun focusing on through a new project called World Beyond War, you'll also find people who want to abolish war but believe it's impossible. War is natural, they say, inevitable, in our genes, decreed by our economy, the unavoidable result of racism or consumerism or capitalism or exceptionalism or carnivorism or nationalism. And of course many cultural patterns interact with and facilitate war, but the idea that it's in our genes is absurd, given how many cultures in our species have done and do without it. I don't know what -- if anything -- people usually mean when they call something "natural" but presumably it's not the provocation of suicide, which is such a common result of participating in war, while the first case of PTSD due to war deprivation has yet to be discovered. Most of our species' existence, as hunter-gatherers, did not know war, and only the last century -- a split-second in evolutionary terms -- has known war that at all resembles war today. War didn't used to kill like this. Soldiers weren't conditioned to kill. Most guns picked up at Gettysburg had been loaded more than once. The big killers were diseases, even in the U.S. Civil War, the war that the U.S. media calls the most deadly because Filipinos and Koreans and Vietnamese and Iraqis don't count. Now the big killer is a disease in our thinking, a combination of what Dr. King called self-guided missiles and misguided men.
Another hurdle for abolishing war is that the idea rose to popularity in the West in the 1920s and 1930s and then sank into a category of thought that is vaguely treasonous. War abolition was tried and failed, the thinking goes, like communism or labor unions and now we know better. While abolishing war is popular in much of the world, that fact is easily ignored by the 1% who misrepresent the 10% or 15% who live in the places that constitute the so-called International Community. Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come or weaker than an idea whose time has come and gone. Or so we think. But the Renaissance was, as its name suggests, an idea whose time came again, new and improved and victorious. The 1920s and 1930s are a resource for us. We have stockpiles of wisdom to draw upon. We have example of where things were headed and how they went of track.
Andrew Carnegie took war profits and set up an endowment with the mandate to eliminate war and then to hold a board meeting, determine the second worst thing in the world, and begin eliminating that. This sounds unique or eccentric, but is I believe a basic understanding of ethics that ought to be understood and acted upon by all of us. When someone asks me why I'm a peace activist I ask them why in the hell anyone isn't. So, reminding the Carnegie Endowment for Peace what it's legally obligated to do, and dozens of other organizations along with it, may be part of the process of drawing inspiration from the past. And of course insisting that the Nobel Committee not bestow another peace prize on a war-thirsty presidential candidate or any other advocate of war is part of that.
The case against war that is laid out at WorldBeyondWar.orgincludes these topics:
I find the case to be overwhelming and suspect many of you would agree. In fact Veterans For Peace and numerous chapters and members of Veterans For Peace have been among the first to sign on and participate. And we've begun finding that thousands of people and organizations from around the world agree as people and groups from 68 countries and rising have added their names on the website in support of ending all war. And many of these people and organizations are not peace groups. These are environmental and civic groups of all sorts and people never involved in a peace movement before. Our hope is of course to greatly enlarge the peace movement by making war abolition as mainstream as cancer abolition. But we think enlargement is not the only alteration that could benefit the peace movement. We think a focus on each antiwar project as part of a broader campaign to end the whole institution of war will significantly change how specific wars and weapons and tactics are opposed.
How many of you have heard appeals to oppose Pentagon waste? I'm in favor of Pentagon waste and opposed to Pentagon efficiency. How can we not be, when what the Pentagon does is evil? How many of you have heard of opposition to unnecessary wars that leave the military ill-prepared? I'm in favor of leaving the military ill-prepared, but not of distinguishing unnecessary from supposedly necessary wars. Which are the necessary ones? When sending missiles into Syria is stopped, in large part by public pressure, war as last resort is replaced by all sorts of other options that were always available. That would be the case anytime any war is stopped. War is never a last resort any more than rape or child abuse is a last resort. How many of you have seen opposition to U.S. wars that focuses almost exclusively on the financial cost and the suffering endured by Americans? Did you know polls find Americans believing that Iraq benefitted and the United States suffered from the war that destroyed Iraq? What if the financial costs and the costs to the aggressor nation were in addition to moral objections to mass-slaughter rather than instead of? How many of you have seen antiwar organizations trumpet their love for troops and veterans and war holidays, or groups like the AARP that advocate for benefits for the elderly by focusing on elderly veterans, as though veterans are the most deserving? Is that good activism?
I want to celebrate those who resist and oppose war, not those who engage in it. I love Veterans For Peace because it's for peace. It's for peace in a certain powerful way, but it's the being for peace that I value. And being for peace in the straightforward meaning of being against war. Most organizations are afraid of being for peace; it always has to be peace and justice or peace and something else. Or it's peace in our hearts and peace in our homes and the world will take care of itself. Well, as Veterans For Peace know, the world doesn't take care of itself. The world is driving itself off a cliff. As Woody Allen said, I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen, I want to live on in my apartment. Well, I don't want to find peace in my heart or my garden, I want to find peace in the elimination of war. At WorldBeyondWar.org is a list of projects we think may help advance that, including, among others:
- Creating an easily recognizable and joinable mainstream international movement to end all war.
- Education about war, peace, and nonviolent action — including all that is to be gained by ending war.
- Improving access to accurate information about wars. Exposing falsehoods.
- Improving access to information about successful steps away from war in other parts of the world.
- Increased understanding of partial steps as movement in the direction of eliminating, not reforming, war.
- Partial and full disarmament.
- Conversion or transition to peaceful industries.
- Closing, converting or donating foreign military bases.
- Democratizing militaries while they exist and making them truly volunteer.
- Banning foreign weapons sales and gifts.
- Outlawing profiteering from war.
- Banning the use of mercenaries and private contractors.
- Abolishing the CIA and other secret agencies.
- Promoting diplomacy and international law, and consistent enforcement of laws against war, including prosecution of violators.
- Reforming or replacing the U.N. and the ICC.
- Expansion of peace teams and human shields.
- Promotion of nonmilitary foreign aid and crisis prevention.
- Placing restrictions on military recruitment and providing potential soldiers with alternatives.
- Thanking resisters for their service.
- Encouraging cultural exchange.
- Discouraging racism and nationalism.
- Developing less destructive and exploitative lifestyles.
- Expanding the use of public demonstrations and nonviolent civil resistance to enact all of these changes.
I would add learning from and working with organizations that have been, like Veterans For Peace, working toward war abolition for years now and inspiring others to do the same. And I would invite you all to work with WorldBeyondWartoward our common goal.
David Swanson is Director of World Beyond War, host of Talk Nation Radio, author of books including War No More: The Case for Abolition, War Is A Lie, and When the World Outlawed War.
Chris Hedges says that Palestinians have the right to self-defense in the form of rockets, without including any consideration of whether the rockets make the Palestinians more or less defended. There is, after all, a reasonable argument that the rockets are counter-productive and endangering, rather than protecting, Palestine.
Legally, if we ignore the Kellogg-Briand Pact and stick to the U.N. Charter, much less its frequent abuse by the powerful nations of the world, there is no doubt that Hedges is correct. If demolishing Iraqi or Afghan or Libyan or Pakistani or Yemeni homes is "defense" of the United States, then surely the people of Gaza, under actual attack, have the legal right to shoot rockets at Israel. That's just basic Western consensus with the hypocrisy removed.
"[M]any Palestinians, especially young men trapped in overcrowded hovels where they have no work and little dignity," writes Hedges, "will risk immediate death to defy the slow, humiliating death of occupation. I cannot blame them."
Here are the false choices framed: either we blame the victims of Israel's vicious and massive assault on a trapped population, blame them for reacting as virtually anyone else in the so-called developed world would, or we advocate for the right to fight defensive wars -- regardless of whether it helps or hurts the situation. Those are not the only options.
I'm not sure I can prove that the rockets hurt the situation, but to render the question inadmissible seems fatally flawed. The justification that the U.S. Congress and White House use for arming Israel and seeking to shelter Israel from legal consequences is always and exclusively the rockets. The justification that Israeli spokespeople use on television is likewise almost entirely the rockets. In a world without the rockets, would other excuses prove successful? It's hard to say for sure. But the rockets provide the public packaging for Israeli war-making, accomplish virtually nothing in military terms, and almost certainly do more to frighten and enrage the people of Israel than to bring Israelis around to sympathizing with the plight of their government's victims.
I've just spoken by phone with a smart writer in Gaza named Sarah Ali for an upcoming edition of Talk Nation Radio. She explained to me quite eloquently how Israeli attacks on Gaza were generating support for Hamas and violence against Israel. She described the emotional need to fight back. So, I asked her if rocket attacks on Israel weren't likewise counterproductive. No, she said, she imagined that Israelis saw the rockets and began to understand the point of view of Palestinians. In the absence of any evidence of that phenomenon, I can only say that I'll believe it when I see it. In every case I'm aware of in which one nation has militarily attacked another, it has done far more to enrage than to stimulate sympathy in the people coming under attack.
Of course, I have no right to tell the people of Gaza what to do or not do from the comfort of my home in the heart of the imperial monster that is funding their apocalypse. Of course I cannot know the situation as they know it. But it's not clear to me that every Gazan has as deep a familiarity with Israelis or every Israeli with Gazans as one might imagine from their geographic vicinity. The division between these two societies is extreme. How else could Israelis imagine children as their enemies? And how else could those children's parents imagine that firing rockets would win over hearts and minds?
Probably the biggest news story of 1928 was the war-making nations of the world coming together on August 27th and legally outlawing war. It's a story that's not told in our history books, but it's not secret CIA history. There was no CIA. There was virtually no weapons industry as we know it. There weren't two political parties in the United States uniting in support of war after war. In fact, the four biggest political parties in the United States all backed abolishing war.
Cue whining, polysyllabic screech: "But it didn't wooooooooork!"
I wouldn't be bothering with it if it had. In its defense, the Kellogg-Briand Pact (look it up or read my book) was used to prosecute the makers of war on the losing sides following World War II (an historic first), and -- for whatever combination of reasons (nukes? enlightenment? luck?) -- the armed nations of the world have not waged war on each other since, preferring to slaughter the world's poor instead. Significant compliance following the very first prosecution is a record that almost no other law can claim.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact has two chief values, as I see it. First, it's the law of the land in 85 nations including the United States, and it bans all war-making. For those who claim that the U.S. Constitution sanctions or requires wars regardless of treaty obligations, the Peace Pact is no more relevant than the U.N. Charter or the Geneva Conventions or the Anti-Torture Convention or any other treaty. But for those who read the laws as they are written, beginning to comply with the Kellogg-Briand Pact makes far more sense than legalizing drone murders or torture or bribery or corporate personhood or imprisonment without trial or any of the other lovely practices we've been "legalizing" on the flimsiest of legal arguments. I'm not against new national or international laws against war; ban it 1,000 times, by all means, if there's the slightest chance that one of them will stick. But there is, for what it's worth, already a law on the books if we care to acknowledge it.
Second, the movement that created the Pact of Paris grew out of a widespread mainstream international understanding that war must be abolished, as slavery and blood feuds and duelling and other institutions were being abolished. While advocates of outlawing war believed other steps would be required: a change in the culture, demilitarization, the establishment of international authorities and nonviolent forms of conflict resolution, prosecutions and targeted sanctions against war-makers; while most believed this would be the work of generations; while the forces leading toward World War II were understood and protested against for decades; the explicit and successful intention was to make a start of it by outlawing and formally renouncing and rendering illegitimate all war, not aggressive war or unsanctioned war or inappropriate war, but war.
In the never-ending aftermath of World War II, the U.N. Charter has formalized and popularized a very different conception of war's legality. I've just interviewed Ben Ferencz, aged 94, the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, for an upcoming edition of Talk Nation Radio. He describes the Nuremberg prosecutions as happening under the framework of the U.N. Charter, or something identical to it, despite the chronological problem. He believes that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal. But he claims not to know whether the U.S. invasion and ongoing over-12-year war on Afghanistan is legal or not. Why? Not because it fits either of the two gaping loopholes opened up by the U.N. Charter, that is: not because it is U.N.-authorized or defensive, but -- as far as I can make out -- just because those loopholes exist and therefore wars might be legal and it's unpleasant to acknowledge that the wars waged by one's own nation are not.
Of course, plenty of people thought more or less like that in the 1920s and 1930s, but plenty of people also did not. In the era of the United Nations, NATO, the CIA, and Lockheed Martin we have seen steady progress in the doomed attempt, not to eliminate war, but to civilize it. The United States leads the way in arming the rest of the world, maintaining a military presence in most of the world, and launching wars. Western allies and nations armed, free-of-charge, by the United States, including Israel, advance war-making and war-civilizing, not war-abolition. The notion that war can be eliminated using the tool of war, making war on war-makers in order to teach them not to make war, has had a far longer run than the Kellogg-Briand Pact had prior to its supposed failure and the Truman Administration's remaking of the U.S. government into a permanent war machine in the cause of progress.
Civilizing war for the benefit of the world has been an abysmal failure. We now have wars launched on unarmed defenseless people thousands of miles away in the name of "defense." We now have wars depicted as U.N.-authorized because the U.N. once passed a resolution related to the nation being destroyed. And just seconds before the Israeli military blows up your house in Gaza, they ring you up on the telephone to give you a proper warning.
I remember a comedy sketch from Steve Martin mocking the phony politeness of Los Angeles: a line of people waited their turn to withdraw cash from a bank machine, while a line of armed robbers waited their turn in a separate line to politely ask for and steal each person's money. War is past the point of such parody. There is no space left for satire. Governments are phoning families to tell them they're about to be slaughtered, and then bombing the shelters they flee to if they manage to flee.
Is mass-murder acceptable if done without rape or torture or excessive targeting of children or the use of particular types of chemical weapons, as long as the victims are telephoned first or the murderers are associated with a group of people harmed by war several decades back?
Here's a new initiative that says No, the abolition of the greatest evil needs a renaissance and completion: WorldBeyondWar.org.
Syed Wali Shah 7 years old, killed by an American Drone strike. Momina Bibi, mother and midwife, killed by an American drone strike. Tairk Aziz, 16, killed by an American drone strike… This Must Stop!
We, members of the Atlantic Life Community, come to Hancock Air Force Base, the national maintenance and control center of the MQ9 Reaper Drone, to protest these lethal drones, the latest weapon being used in endless war. We are a community of peacemakers who resist war, racism and greed. We stand here today in solidarity with the men, women and children being terrorized by US military aggression. Our witness mourns the senseless deaths of our brothers and sisters, victims of drone strikes from this base and adds our voice to all people of the world who cry for peace.
Today we deliver to the base two important documents central to our witness: a war crimes indictment addressed to President Obama, Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel, the full military chain of command, and the local police and Sheriffs Department of the Town of De Witt, NY. By continuing to protect the war crimes of drone warfare, these public officials perpetuate a legacy of violence and racism first imposed upon indigenous people on this land. The second document is a People’s Order of Protection, which asks the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard to stay away from the Children of the World and their families, including their homes, schools, places of play and work.
The terror and bloodshed caused by the Reaper drones lies on all of our shoulders. As Thomas Merton once wrote, “if you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” Therefore, we come to the gates today in atonement for our complicity in these crimes and to resist the atrocities of drones, to resist our nation’s endless wars and to cultivate a culture of love and not fear.
Bill Ofenloch NYC Catholic Worker
Liz McAlister Jonah House, MD
Felton Davis NYC Catholic Worker
Martha Hennessy NYC Catholic Worker
Clare Grady Ithaca Catholic Worker
Joan Pleune Granny Peace Brigade
Erica Brock NYC Catholic Worker
Mary Anne Grady Flores (pictured, far right) and Judy Bello have long been among those protesting drone murders in Afghanistan conducted at Hancock Air Base in Upstate New York. Grady Flores is out on bail and facing a year behind bars for allegedly violating an Order of Protection, a legal order normally used to protect someone from domestic violence but currently used to "protect" the commanders of an Air Force base from some 50 nonviolent demonstrators. Learn more:
Read this background:
Harassing the Drones, by Kathy Kelly.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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There's a chance to watch DRONES, the movie, online on July 30th and then to join a discussion with filmmakers and experts. There's a preview video below. The movie's website is at http://dronesthefilm.com and the free screening is at http://demandprogress.tv/drones
I saw a screening of this film back in November at the drone summit in DC. It's wonderful. I was a bit put-off and staggered, to be frank, at the time, because someone involved with the film bragged about how inexpensively it had been made, and yet the budget was so unfathomably huge that I knew that if an anti-war organization had that kind of money we could hire organizers all over the world and quite possibly make the abolition of war a major mainstream force.
And, of course, you can't simply ask if the money was well spent, because no one will say that it was spent to end the practice of drone murder. The director and the cast, of course, say they wanted to make a socially important film about a serious issue, but not what they wanted to accomplish, beyond raising questions and being entertaining. Everyone's always happy to say that a film opposes racism or cruelty to animals or bullying, but not war.
But, you hundreds of millions of odd-balls who, like me, happen to give a damn whether your government is murdering people in your name with your money will, in fact, want to make this film a huge viral success. I'm telling you, right now, it's a good one. It is indeed entertaining. It's not simple, predictable, pedantic, or preaching. But neither is the film itself reluctant to face head-on the banal, evil, arrogant mass-murder engaged in by these young people who dress up in pilots suits to sit at desks in trailers taking orders from military bureaucrats and private contractors, and ultimately from a president who reviews a list of potential men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays.
Drones look like a golden opportunity to war makers who don't want to ask Congress or the U.N. or the public, don't want to send in armies, just want to target people and groups for death anywhere in the world and obliterate them with the push of a button from an air-conditioned -- or, sometimes not so air-conditioned -- office.
But drones also look like a golden opportunity to those of us who have been trying to point out that murder and war are distinguished only by scale. I suspect that many who cannot see the bombing of a city as murder will see the drone-targeting of an individual as nothing else -- particularly if they watch this film.
If you can watch the film and not want to Ban Weaponized Drones, watch it again.
A few years back, prior to the International Day of Peace on September 21st, a school board member here in Virginia said that he would back a resolution marking that day as long as everyone understood that in doing so he was not opposing any wars.
Wars for peace, like sex for virginity, appear contradictory to some. But what about militarism for peace? What about war preparations and peace? A so-called "defense" department that arms the world; can that be compatible with peace?
We need our governments to begin planning for a day of peace. Instead of investing everything in planning for war, preparing for war, and proliferating enough weapons to fuel plenty of wars, governments could invest in alternatives to war, nonviolent means of conflict resolution, moves toward justice that reduce conflict, international standards of law that make negotiations and diplomacy effective.
One of the tools that we can use to move our cultures and our governments toward planning for a day of peace is to ourselves plan for a day celebrating peace -- peace understood precisely as the elimination of war. September 21st, the International Day of Peace, is one such day. WorldBeyondWar.org is organizing events here. And here is a list of events in the U.S. arranged on a map by Campaign Nonviolence.
Groups and individuals interested in planning events this September can work with Campaign Nonviolence and Global Movement for the Culture of Peace and Peace One Day and A Year Without War. Advocates of peace and environmental sanity who grasp the connections between the two may want to participate in a People's Climate March in New York City, September 20-21, and bring this flyer: PDF.
Some resources that can be used to create events of various types are here:
Screen and discuss the World Beyond War video.
Bring speakers from this Speakers Bureau.
Use these flyers, sign-up cards, sign-up sheets.
At some events already planned for September 21, 2014, people will begin marking 100 years since the Christmas Truces of World War I. You can find great information on World War I at 100 on NoGlory.org
You may want to screen Joyeux Noel: a film about the 1914 Christmas truce. Or use this script for reenactment of a Christmas Truce: PDF. Here's more Christmas Truce information and videos. And if you're in the Northeast U.S. or the U.K. you might be able to attend or even set up a production of The Great War Theatre Project: Messengers of a Bitter Truth: Info in PDF.
Peace deserves more than empty platitudes compatible with the preservation of war as our largest public project. Sometimes bringing truth back from propaganda is so jarring as to be humorous. "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work," said Woody Allen. "I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment." We should not want peace only in our hearts or in the press releases of the Pentagon; we should want peace through the ending of war and the abolition of the institutions that continue to plan and create more wars even while they pretend to a sight degree of outrage that each new war has been successfully created.
I was not sure I would like a book called Worth Fighting For by a former soldier who walked across the United States to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. The website of that foundation celebrates military "service" and the "higher calling" for which Tillman left professional football, namely participation in the U.S. war on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather than funding efforts to put an end to war, as Tillman actually might have wished by the end of his life, the foundation hypes war participation, funds veterans, and to this day presents Tillman's death thusly:
"On the evening of April 22, 2004, Pat's unit was ambushed as it traveled through the rugged, canyon terrain of eastern Afghanistan. His heroic efforts to provide cover for fellow soldiers as they escaped from the canyon led to his untimely and tragic death via fratricide."
Those heroic efforts happened, if they happened, in the context of an illegal and immoral operation that had Tillman defending foreign invaders from Afghans defending their homes. And the last two words above ("via fratricide") tell a different story from the rest of the paragraph, page, and entire website of the Pat Tillman Foundation. Tillman was shot by U.S. troops. And he may not have died a thorough-going supporter of what he was engaged in. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead.
Rory Fanning's book -- Worth Fighting For -- relates, however, that Tillman looked forward to getting out of the military and sympathized with the actions of Fanning, a member of his battalion who became a conscientious objector and refused to fight. According to Fanning, Tillman "knew his very public circumstances forced him to stick it out."
That's obviously a different use of the word "forced" from "gravity forced the weight to drop" or "the missile striking the house forced the people inside to split apart into fragments of flesh and gore." Imagine the benefits to the cause of peace if the one troop who had a name, face, and voice had shattered the bullshit choruses of "Support the Troops!" by doing what Fanning did, and thus living to tell the tale? Instead Tillman stuck it out and left many believing that military propagandists had either become quite fortunate or something worse, when Tillman did not live to quite possibly oppose -- better late than never -- what he had been doing.
When I worked with a number of talented people to draft articles of impeachment for George W. Bush that were introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, they included this:
"The White House and the Department of Defense (DOD) in 2004 promoted a false account of the death of Specialist Pat Tillman, reporting that he had died in a hostile exchange, delaying release of the information that he had died from friendly fire, shot in the forehead three times in a manner that led investigating doctors to believe he had been shot at close range.
"A 2005 report by Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones reported that in the days immediately following Specialist Tillman's death, U.S. Army investigators were aware that Specialist Tillman was killed by friendly fire, shot three times to the head, and that senior Army commanders, including Gen. John Abizaid, knew of this fact within days of the shooting but nevertheless approved the awarding of the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion.
"On April 24, 2007, Spc. Bryan O'Neal, the last soldier to see Specialist Pat Tillman alive, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he was warned by superiors not to divulge information that a fellow soldier killed Specialist Tillman, especially to the Tillman family. The White House refused to provide requested documents to the committee, citing 'executive branch confidentiality interests.'"
What made Pat Tillman a particular hero to many in the United States was that he had given up huge amounts of money to go to war. That he had passed up the evil of hoarding wealth in order to engage in something even more evil does not register with supporters of war. And had the U.S. Army not killed him, and had he not subsequently killed himself (the leading cause of U.S. military deaths now being suicide), Tillman might have lengthened his life by leaving the NFL, which abandons its players to an average lifespan in their 50s and in some cases dementia in their 40s -- an issue that arises in Fanning's book as he meets with former NFL greats to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.
Tillman was, by all accounts, kind, humble, intelligent, courageous, and well-intentioned. He clearly inspired many, many people whom he met, and whom he never met, to be better people. Fanning would, I think, include himself in that list. But when Fanning decided to walk across the country raising funds, and finding support and shelter for himself along the way, in the name of Pat Tillman, he was playing on the beliefs of a propagandized public, beliefs that he himself had ceased to fully share. A sheriff, in a typical example, takes Fanning's empty water bottles, drives 12 miles to refill them, and hands them back to Fanning with tears in his eyes, saying, "What Pat did for our country is one of the bravest, most admirable things I can remember anyone doing. Take this for your cause." And he handed Fanning $100.
Was generating hatred and resentment in Afghanistan by killing helpless people a service to the United States? Was the environmental destruction and economic cost and eroded civil liberties a benefit to us all? In the minds of the people whom the Pat Tillman Foundation is still trying to milk for funding, perhaps so. Such a foundation not only saves the government from providing for veterans (or anyone else) while investing more in weaponry, but it also generates public support for and identification with supposed military heroism. It's a double-victory for the makers of war in Washington, most of whom are far more misguided than Pat Tillman ever was, but most of whom are more remarkable for cowardice than bravery.
As I say, I wasn't 100% sure I would like Fanning's book. I believe things are worth working for, struggling for, suffering for, and dying for, but not fighting for. What could he mean? I was very pleasantly surprised, and recommend the book enthusiastically. It recounts an adventure worth having that contained no fighting at all. It's a tale told with wisdom, erudition, kindness, humor, humility, and generosity of which I think Tillman might have been proud.
Like the guy in that Craig's List movie, Fanning finds people going out of their way to help him as he very publicly walks across the country, doing interviews along the way, speaking at events, and chronicling his progress on a website (now gone). This does not, of course, prove that anyone without a public cause or celebrity label, or anyone of any race or sex or appearance, could safely and successfully find the same sort of selfless support from so many Americans. It is heartening and encouraging, nonetheless, to read. And these accounts come interspersed with descriptions and historical background on the places Fanning walks through that suggest he has a future as a travel writer if he wants it. Intermingled as well quite seamlessly is an account of how Fanning himself moved from being "a devout Christian to an atheist and from a conservative Republican to a socialist." He later adds that he ceased opposing environmentalists and became one. As this world needs such transformations on a large scale, a smart account by someone who's been through one has great value.
One aspect of Fanning's own drama that sheds light on the notion that Tillman was "forced" to "support the troops" even while being one (that is, support a war he may have disagreed with), is the description of how hard it was for Fanning to turn against the military (a process that may perhaps remain incomplete for him even now). Fanning had joined after 9-11 for similar reasons to Tillman, believing it his duty. He then found he "did not have it in him" to kill. And he saw the injustice and absurdity of capturing people falsely ratted out by rivals to an ignorant foreign occupier eager to punish (and torture) anyone it could. He came to see himself as an imperialist pawn rather than a rescuer on a mission for humanity. When he refused to go along to get along, he was ostracized and abused by everyone around him except Pat Tillman and his brother Kevin Tillman. Despite his refusal to fight, Fanning was sent to Afghanistan again, made to do chores, labeled "bitch" by his commander, and forced to sleep outside alone in the snow. And Fanning supported his own abuse, attempting to make himself ill, afraid of the shame of his own behavior rather than wishing to expose the shame of the evil behavior of those around him.
Fanning recounts a conversation with a military chaplain. Fanning made the case that the whole war was unjust. The chaplain made the case that God wanted him to do it anyway. The loser in that contest was apparently Fanning's use for the concept of "God."
But Fanning's struggle continued within himself even after getting home and getting out. "After I left the military," he writes, "the hardest thing I had to do was look someone in the eyes. I was afraid I would be exposed for breaking my oath." Not for having been part of an operation of mass-murder, but for having abandoned it. That's how Fanning thought even after getting out, so one can imagine how Tillman thought while still in -- and while in with a world telling him he was a god himself for being there. Fanning sees the contradiction. "I knew U.S. imperialism was destroying the planet," he writes, "but I still felt guilty for leaving."
Through Fanning's walk he gives talks that avoid mentioning what he (and perhaps Tillman) actually thought, until -- three-quarters of the way along -- a boy asks him which branch of the military to join, and he answers "I don't think you should join any of them." He then gives the $100 from the sheriff to a homeless man under an overpass.
By Robert C. Koehler
“At the same time, values and ideas which were considered universal, such as cooperation, mutual aid, international social justice and peace as an encompassing paradigm are also becoming irrelevant.”
Maybe this piercing observation by Roberto Savio, founder of the news agency Inter Press Service, is the cruelest cut of all. Geopolitically speaking, hope — the official kind, represented, say, by the United Nations in 1945 — feels fainter than I can remember. “We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . .”
I mean, it was never real. Five centuries of European colonialism and global culture-trashing, and the remaking of the world in the economic interests of competing empires, cannot be undone by a single institution and a cluster of lofty ideals.
As Savio notes in an essay called “Ever Wondered Why the World Is a Mess?,”: “The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities.”
And after the colonial era collapsed, these carved-out political entities, defining swatches of territory without any history of national identity, suddenly became the Third World and floundered in disarray. “. . . it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions.”
Whatever noble attempts at eliminating war the powers that be made in the wake of World War II — Europe’s near self-annihilation — didn’t cut nearly deep enough. These attempts didn’t set about undoing five centuries of colonial conquest and genocide. They didn’t cut deeper than national interest.
And global peace built on a foundation of nation-states is an oxymoron. As historian Michael Howard noted in his book The Lessons of History (quoted by Barbara Ehrenreich in Blood Rites): “From the very beginning, the principle of nationalism was almost indissolubly linked, both in theory and practice, with the idea of war.”
All of which leads me to the $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive warplane ever built, or not quite built. The aircraft, designed by Lockheed, is now seven years behind schedule, but the Pentagon had planned to display its new baby this week at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Airshow in the U.K. This debut has now been called off because the engine of one of the planes caught fire on a runway in Florida in June, and officials feared the problem was systemic.
In other words, it could happen again. It could happen at the airshow, with the jet’s prospective customers — Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan and eight other U.S. allies — in attendance. Grounding it was a business decision. Indeed, it was a decision made at the delicate intersection of business and war.
“The setbacks follow a series of technical problems and development delays that have affected the F-35, one of the world’s most ambitious weapons programs, with estimated development costs of around $400 billion,” Nicola Clark and Christopher Drew wrote this week in the New YorkTimes. “Analysts said the timing of the problems, just as Lockheed Martin was hoping to demonstrate the plane to prospective export buyers here, could not have been worse.”
What I found interesting — well, overwhelmingly depressing, actually — was the fact that this story ran in the Times’ International Business section. When Savio writes, “Attempts to create regional or international alliances to bring stability have always been stymied by national interests,” this may be what he’s talking about. National interests are business interests. In the mainstream media, this is simply a given.
And the ongoing setbacks and escalating cost don’t matter. The F-35 project is still going forward, even though, as Kate Brannen wrote recently in Foreign Policy, “over the course of the aircrafts’ lifetimes, operating costs are expected to exceed $1 trillion.”
The warplane’s supply of funding is inexhaustible, apparently. Congress is behind it all the way. And it’s hardly news. “Lockheed has carefully hired suppliers and subcontractors in almost every state to ensure that virtually all senators and members of Congress have a stake in keeping the program — and the jobs it has created — in place,” Brannen wrote.
Austerity is for losers. There’s always money to wage war and build weapons, indeed, to continue developing weapons, generation after generation after generation. The contractors are adept at playing the game. Jobs link arms with fear and patriotism and the next war is always inevitable. And it’s always necessary, because we’ve created a world of perpetual — and well-armed — instability.
The problem with the United Nations is that it’s a unity of entities defined by their hatred of one another and committed to the perpetuation of “the scourge of war.” We won’t begin creating global peace until we learn how to bypass nationalism and the single, unacknowledged agreement binding nation-states to each other: the inevitability of war.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.
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Just as in discussions of bombing nations for women's rights it's hard to bring up the subject of the right not to be bombed, in discussions of shipping so-called illegal children away from the border where you've been terrorizing them in reenactments of Freedom Ride buses it's hard to bring up the subject of not having your government overthrown and your nation turned into a living hell.
Imagine, however, if Iraq were in Central America. Most people in the United States don't realize how convenient it has been to have millions of Iraqis made homeless so far away from the United States, fleeing to places like Syria, and then fleeing Syria when it's Syria's turn to be destroyed.
If, during the past decades of war and sanctions and war on Iraq, Iraq had been located closer to Miami and San Antonio than New York or Seattle is, wouldn't it have been a bit harder for people to tell pollsters that Iraq was benefitting from the war? Wouldn't it have been a bit harder to continue pretending immigrants are something different from refugees? Wouldn't immigrants rights groups have been compelled to notice the military and the wars that create the justification for abuses in the United States but also the motivations for fleeing homes where the wars happen?
If Gaza were in Maryland, would the United States still provide the weapons for bombing the homes there? Would CNN still blame Gazans who remain in their homes? Or would it, rather, scream at them to get back home where they belong?
Well, Honduras is closer to Florida and Texas than much of the United States is. The U.S. government facilitated the overthrow of the government of Honduras with a military coup in 2009 and has supported, funded, armed, and trained the military and the police that have turned Honduras into the most violent and dangerous place on earth, beating out Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, and other top contenders in the World Cup of Hell Holes. The President of Honduras was yanked out of bed and flown to a U.S. military base and out of the country. The military that replaced him has been trained in torture and assassination at the School of the Americas in Georgia.
And now President Obama is ordering Honduran toddlers flown home from the United States where they are disturbing good democratic citizens of the land of liberty. Perhaps this is a moment, after all, in which to unite the movement for the rights of immigrants with the movement for peace and the rule of law in foreign relations.
Imagine the strength of those two movements combined. Words like Hope and Change might actually mean something.
Until then, forgive me if I'm simply disgusted with the level of evil imposed on the world by those in power and the failure of those abused to unite against it.
"If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged," said Noam Chomsky prior to the last few presidencies, none of which is likely to have changed his analysis.
But what if you applied such principles retroactively back to George Washington and every U.S. president since? What if you graded presidents, not on personality or style or popularity, but on how many deaths they caused or prevented?
Al Carroll's new book is called Presidents' Body Counts: The Twelve Worst and Four Best American Presidents: Based on How Many Lived or Died Because of Their Actions.
I think this is a model for how history ought to be examined, despite serious flaws. Carroll's project may ultimately be impossible. How do you score presidents on the areas of criminal enterprise they opened up for their successors? Could you have really had a Nixon without a Truman? Carroll is aware of these difficulties, and also of the overarching lesson that giving single individuals such royal powers as presidents have been given inevitably leads to disaster. But I think he still falls short.
Carroll attempts to step outside his own biases and look at the facts. But how does one include sins of omission? How does one score numbers of deaths across centuries, given dramatic growth in populations? And what about the deaths that Carroll happens to approve of? He gives Lincoln and FDR credit for the Civil War and World War II while marking all other presidents down for their wars (although marking FDR down for certain atrocities during his war); he has swallowed the humanitarian war advocates' mythology about Bosnia; and he omits dozens of smaller military operations from any mention at all. And Carroll's current day partisanship seems to be showing as he credits Obama with ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that the war in Afghanistan has not been ended and the war in Iraq, which Obama was forced to end, he has now found a way of restarting.
I said this book was a model, not the ultimate achievement of the genre. Carroll is of course right to denounce historians who examine "leadership" and "presidential caliber" as little better than celebrity tabloid writers. And his book, whether one agrees with his selections and rankings, makes illuminating reading that would benefit any classroom. Simplistic, it is not. Much of each section is devoted to who else gets the blame for particular horrors. To pretend that in blaming a president for something Carroll has asserted that nobody else is to blame for it would require cutting out a large percentage of the book. Carroll also devotes space to what plausibly could have been done by each president rather than what that president did.
Our airports, cities, and states are named for butchers, Carroll writes, and correcting that does not require that we get the butchers into the perfect ranking. Yet, for what it's worth, here is Carroll's ranking of the worst of the worst, beginning with the very worst of them all: Nixon, Reagan, Jackson, Buchanan, Polk, Filmore, Clinton, Ford, Truman, McKinley, Bush II, Andrew Johnson. And here's his ranking of the best, beginning with number 1: Lincoln, Van Buren, Carter, Grant. Carroll includes positive deeds by Nixon, and negative deeds by Carter, etc. But this is where he comes out..
In fact, Carroll includes enough information on these and other presidents, that he may end up reinforcing your disagreement with him on the rankings. I've always considered Truman the worst of the worst, and when Carroll lays the Cold War -- and all the actual wars it included -- at Truman's feet, he seems to make the case (although U.S. policy did not exactly transform when the Cold War ended).
The book, I think, works best if read straight through and then re-arranged or collated in your head. Carroll treats presidential horrors in terms of categories that don't make the most sense. First come genocides, then the allowance of or provocation of genocides, then slavery as a subcategory of genocide, then atrocities during wars, then something called "mass death by incompetence or ideological blindness" (which ends up including, in order from greatest to fewest deaths: "deregulation," the Cold War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the U.S. Civil War [blaming Buchanan for it, while giving Lincoln credit for it], the "war" on drugs, the War of 1812, the Panama Canal, Hurricane Katrina, and the Branch Davidians), then "Other American Wars of Aggression," etc. Wars of nonaggression (or something?) never make the lists. I'd have preferred one list that combined all the sections and included all the wars, as well as all other acts of commission and omission causing or alleviating mass suffering.
Carroll also includes good deeds by presidents, including instances of war avoidance, and including disarmament successes. I think this section could be significantly expanded and truly is a model for the sort of history books we need. And we need them with something else in precisely this section: heroism. Gore Vidal recounted JFK saying "What would Lincoln have been without a war? Just a railroad lawyer." Indeed, without his "good war," Lincoln might have been as thoroughly ignored as Coolidge by Carroll, despite the creation by the latter's administration of a treaty banning war, and the avoidance by his administration of any major war making. But what if future Kennedys saw the later JFK who turned against wars, and paid a price for it, as a model of greatness, as well as viewing the rogues gallery of past butchers as just what they were?
Kill Team is not just a video game anymore, not just the inevitable pairing of two of the most popular words in American English. "Kill Team" is now a movie, and against the odds it's not a celebration of killing, but a particular take on an actual series of events made widely known by Rolling Stone.
U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan developed the practice of killing civilians for sport, placing weapons beside the bodies or otherwise pretending to have been attacked, keeping body parts as trophies, and celebrating their "kills" in photographs with the corpses.
For months, according to Rolling Stone, the whole platoon knew what was going on. Officers dismissed complaints from the relatives of victims, accepted completely implausible accounts, and failed to help victims who might still be alive (instead ordering a soldier to "Make sure he's dead.")
A key instigator, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, arrived in Afghanistan recounting a successful murder of a family in Iraq and bearing tattoos recording his kills. "Get me a kill" soldiers asked who wanted to participate in the kill team. Killers were treated as heroes, and the widespread understanding that they were killing civilians who'd never threatened them didn't seem to damage that treatment.
"Drop-weapon" has been a common term among vets returning to the United States from Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade, referring to a weapon used to frame a victim. "We're just the ones who got caught," says Pfc. Justin Stoner in the film. He also raises an important question that the film does not seriously pursue, remarking: "We're training you from the day you join to the day you're out to kill. Your job is to kill. You're infantry. Your job is to kill everything that gets in your way. Well, then why the hell are you pissed off when we do it?"
Eleven soldiers have been convicted of crimes as part of the kill team, including Gibbs who has been sentenced to life in prison. Why were these kills crimes and others not, wonders Stoner. It's a question worthy of consideration. The cover stories for the kills, including claims that people made some threatening movement, don't seem enough to justify these murders even if they had been true. What were the soldiers doing in these people's villages to begin with?
That's the question the movie opens with the soldiers asking themselves. They'd been trained for exciting combat and then sent to Afghanistan to be bored, hungry for action, eager to test out their training. This is a point often missed by those who advocate turning the U.S. military into a force for good, an emergency rescue squad for natural disasters, or a humanitarian aid operation. You would have to train and equip people for those jobs first. These young men were trained to kill, armed to kill, prepped to kill, and left to kick sand around.
They began premeditating the worst sort of premeditated murder. They openly recount their conversations in the film. They had weapons to drop, grenades that weren't "tracked," they'd pretend someone had a grenade and kill him. Who? Anyone. They saw everyone as fair game.
And they did as planned. And they were welcomed back to the "FOB" as heroes. And they did it again. And again.
The film does not tell the whole story. It focuses on Spc. Adam Winfield, his parents, and his court proceedings back in the United States. Winfield told his father on a Facebook chat, early on, what was happening. Winfield was afraid to talk to anyone in his chain of command, and in fact the mere possibility that he might resulted in death threats to him. His father, however, tried every way he could to get anyone in the U.S. Army to listen. No one would.
And then Winfield was present for another set-up and murder. He says he fired his gun away from the victim. He says that if he had shot the two U.S. soldiers, Gibbs and Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, the Army would have shown him "no mercy."
Then Stoner (was it his name that tipped the balance?) turned in Gibbs and others for smoking hash in his room. So they beat him and threatened to kill him. Then he told about the body parts being passed around. The Army locked up Gibbs and Morlock. Stoner was labeled a whistleblower, which he says is worse than a murderer. If he had the chance again, he says, he would say nothing.
Winfield found he could breathe, after months of fearing murder from his own "side."
And then Winfield was, himself, charged with first-degree murder. We see his horror. We see his parents' heartbreak. We go back to see his childhood. He read history books about American war heroes, his dad says. The possibility of changing those books is not explicitly raised. He ends up with a plea bargain and a sentence of three years in prison, for supposedly having done nothing to stop a murder. At one point he's offered the option of pleading guilty to "cowardice," despite every other member of his unit and chain of command right up to the President having outdone him in that regard.
"War is dirty," says Winfield. "It's not how they portray it in movies." It is, however, more or less, from a certain angle, how they've portrayed it in this movie, which ought to be shown in U.S. schools as a warning.
But not by itself. This movie does not give us the stories of the murder victims and their families. Imagine the power of a movie that included what this one does plus that! The opportunity is repeatedly and intentionally lost by Western film makers over and over again. Nor does the film give us the stories of the victims and families of supposedly legitimate murders. Imagine the drama of trying to distinguish the suffering of those killed fighting a foreign occupation from the suffering of those killed not fighting a foreign occupation, and the power of the inevitable failure of that effort! Imagine a movie that accurately conveyed the immense scale of the killing in these one-sided slaughters of the poor by the most technologically advanced killing machine ever devised!
From the angle that this film takes, however, critical questions are thrust upon us, including: Why imprison the killers? Will it deter others? Will atrocity-free-war finally be created before we've destroyed the earth as a habitable place? Would it not be easier to shut down the military and end the wars? The deterrence I'm most interested in is that of people like Winfield's parents who allowed him to join the military before he was 18, to demonstrate their confidence in him. I think this movie might deter some parents from making that same choice.
I'd heard of such horror stories and assumed they were mostly fictional or concocted as the bases for lawsuits, and then I was actually served a bowl of soup that had a finger in it.
I'm not going to name the well-known chain restaurant where I was dining, but I am going to tell you how its staff reacted when I complained. I mean, once I'd determined that there really was a fucking finger in my bowl of soup, and once I'd fished it out with a fork and a spoon, and splattered it on the table so that Joseph, my dining companion, could see it, and once the people at the surrounding tables were staring and remarking rather loudly, and in one case I think beginning to vomit, well, it wasn't hard to get the waiter's attention.
He came rushing over when I waived. "There's a finger in my soup," I said.
"There's one on your table, too," he pointed out.
"That's the one," I said.
"And it's not your finger?"
"No, it's not my fucking finger. Let me talk to your manager."
He smiled. He actually smiled and pointed to a little tag on his uniform that read "Manager."
Joseph spoke up: "How did the finger get in his soup?"
"The cooks must have put it there," said the manager.
"And are you going to do anything about it?" I yelled.
"Well," he replied, calmly, but a bit as if I were the one who'd done something wrong, "if the cooks put it there, they had a reason. I support the cooks, don't you?"
"Support the cooks?" I gasped. "I'll tell you what I will do is I'll take down your name and each of their names, and the names of each of the witnesses in this room, and you'll be hearing from me."
From the waiter's reaction to that statement, I at first imagined I was beginning to get through to him. He looked shocked. But he turned from side to side and addressed the whole room. "He's against the cooks!" he said with great outrage. "He doesn't support the cooks!"
And I swear to god the people in this place seemed to be with him. The rather menacing reaction of several people led Joseph to grab my arm and pull me out of my seat and toward the door.
Thirty seconds later we were sitting in Joseph's cheap used car, which he was trying in vain to start, turning the key, pumping the gas, and cursing.
"Where did you get this piece of junk?" I asked.
"I bought it," he said, as he punched the dashboard and tried again. "I bought it yesterday at Victory Vehicles."
"I wonder who's declaring victory," I remarked.
"What's that supposed to mean? Ugh! Damn this thing!"
"Did you give them more than $10?" I asked.
Joseph gave me a look eerily similar to the look the waiter had just given me in the restaurant. "Are you doubting the salesmen?" he asked.
"Doubting them?" I said. "I'm not fucking doubting them. I'm doubting you. They ripped you off, and . . . "
"Don't you SUPPORT the salesmen?" Joseph screamed at me. He seemed possessed.
I opened my door and got out of the car. It wasn't going anywhere anyway. People were inching their way cautiously out of the restaurant, but they weren't looking at me. They were looking past me.
I turned and saw the flashing lights of countless police cars, plus all kinds of vans, trucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles. They appeared to be surrounding the restaurant and its parking lot and to be erecting almost permanent looking barriers. In fact there was an effort underway to construct a wall around the area.
I looked back, and Joseph had gotten out of the car as well and was staring, horror-struck at a pair of people in something resembling astronaut suits walking swiftly and directly toward us.
They halted a few feet away, and one of them spoke, her voice amplified by something in her space suit. "This area is quarantined," she said. "Some or all of you have been infected by a curable but highly contagious and highly destructive virus. We'll need to determine the state of the infection and administer a remedy. Please speak with one of our emergency personnel."
Tables were being set up in neat rows through the parking lot, with pairs of chairs at each table, and a person in an astronaut suit in one of each pair of chairs.
"Where have you been during the last 48 hours?" asked a quite polite and friendly gentleman across a metal table from me, as we both sat in folding chairs in the parking lot of a restaurant that I will still leave unnamed. I was not feeling as friendly as he.
"Why?" I demanded, rather aggressively.
"Hmm." He studied me. "Have you been near any military bases?"
"I mean, not that I know of."
"What about a television? Have you been near a television?"
"Hmm." He thought for a while, and then asked, "Have you noticed anyone demanding that you support people?"
That question just about knocked my chair over backwards. When I recovered, I told him everything I've just told you.
"Come with me," he said, getting up.
A half-hour later, my interviewer had persuaded his colleagues that I was not infected, and had set me up with a chair and some actually edible food, in a position to watch what he called the administering of remedies.
One of the astronaut-suited workers was seated at a table across from a young woman wearing an American flag dress. The astronaut was asking questions:
"If someone's dog bit you, would you be upset?"
"And what if I questioned your loyalty and willingness to support the dog trainers?"
The woman's reaction was so swift and violent that I suspect it even surprised her questioner: "How dare you?" she hissed. "I support the dog trainers and would never question a dog killing and devouring me. Maybe you don't support the dog trainers! Eh? How could you suggest such a thing to me?"
The questioner moved on. "And what if someone proposed that the government of your nation destroy a poor nation, kill a million people, create millions of refugees, poison the natural environment, waste several trillion dollars, leave behind a violent hell of traumatized resentment, and take away a lot of your rights and liberties in the name of prosecuting this horrendous war that will endanger you by making your nation hated?"
The woman seemed unsure what to say.
"Would you favor that policy?"
She snorted in indignation. "Of course, not! Why would anyone . . . "
"Don't you support the troops?"
"How dare you . . . " And she was off on a rant about her love for the troops and her absolute support for anything they might be ordered to do.
"The troops want you to."
"Give it to me."
The woman took the large bottle of greenish liquid and downed it in about 10 seconds.
Her questioner tried some of the same questions again, making notes all the time.
"Would you support slaughtering hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, to enrich a few corporations and give some politicians a thrill of power?"
"Of course, not."
"Do you favor ending current wars?"
"Yes, of course."
"But don't you support the troops?"
She paused and stared, and then blurted out: "Support the. . . . what? What does that even mean? If I oppose a policy I oppose people enacting that policy. That says nothing about whether I like those people or not, most of whom I've never met of course. What the hell?"
Moments later, the questioner was leading the woman in the American flag dress over to join me in the viewing section. "Wait," she said, addressing the space-suited emergency worker, "why am I wearing this dress?"
"He'll explain," the worker said, gesturing toward me.
In this latest assault on Gaza, Israel had by Thursday already killed 69 Palestinians including 22 children and 13 women, plus 469 wounded including 166 children and 85 women, and 70 houses destroyed. These numbers have since increased significantly.
In this video from Thursday on CNN, Jake Tapper interviews Diana Buttu, a former advisor to the PLO. After failing to persuade her of Israel's complete innocence, he tells her that Hamas is instructing women and children to remain in their homes to die as Israel bombs them. She responds by expressing doubt that people want to die. Oh no, says Tapper, Palestinians live in a culture of martyrdom; they want to die.
William Westmoreland once remarked on Vietnam, where the United States killed 4 million men, women, children, and infants: "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."
Banastre Tarleton stood up in Parliament and defended the slave trade on the grounds that Africans did not object to being slaves.
President William McKinley said little brown Filipinos appreciated being conquered and dominated.
The view that the people you are abusing don't mind it has a long history of being employed to distract from the evil being done.
Just as powerful, if not more so, is the view that no evil is being done at all.
ABC News' Diane Sawyer told her viewers that scenes of destruction in Gaza were actually in Israel, and was later forced to apologize, but did not note that scenes like those she'd shown do not exist in Israel, rather leaving the impression that a simple mistake had swapped out similar scenes from one country for the other.
Polls have found that people in the United States believe Iraq benefitted from the war that destroyed it and that Iraqis are grateful, while the United States itself suffered.
If people cannot be depicted as evil, because we see images of them, and they are 3 years old and have their limbs ripped off, and if our cruelty cannot be depicted as for their own good, then the cruelty must itself be denied. We must completely avert our eyes or invert the facts. Or we must blame someone else for it. Blame Israel for getting a bit carried away after so many years of innocent suffering.
But it is with billions of dollars of weaponry provided free of cost courtesy of U.S. taxpayers that the Israeli military is bombing civilian neighborhoods in occupied Gaza. The ongoing occupation is at the root of the crisis, but this new turn to large-scale violence was produced by fraud. The Israeli government learned that three Israelis had been killed, falsely blamed Hamas, and falsely claimed to believe the young men might still be alive. This fraud was used to justify a search-and-rescue operation that left numerous dead and hundreds under arrest.
Small-scale violence by Palestinians is not justified by Israel's ongoing brutality. It is deeply immoral as well as absurdly counterproductive. But if individual murders justified the mass killing of war, the United States would have to launch a full-scale war on itself every day of the year. And it is the United States' weaponry, provided under the euphemism of "aid," that is pounding the homes of the people of Gaza.
Jewish Voice for Peace says, in an open letter that you too can sign:
"In this time of tremendous suffering and fear, from Jerusalem to Gaza, and from Hebron to Be’er Sheva, we reaffirm that all Israelis and Palestinians deserve security, justice, and equality, and we mourn all those who have died.
"Our unshakeable commitment to freedom and justice for all compels us to acknowledge that this violence has fallen overwhelmingly on Palestinians. And it compels us to affirm that this violence has a root cause: Israel's illegal occupation.
"We are united in our belief that:
"The denial of Palestinian human rights must end.
Illegal settlements must end.
Bombing civilians must end.
Killing children must end.
Valuing Jewish lives at the expense of others must end.
"Only by embracing equality for all peoples can this terrible bloodshed end."
If Germany hasn't had enough, we in the United States sure have.
Despite the supposed ending of World War II, the U.S. still keeps over 40,000 armed soldiers permanently in Germany.
Germany has kicked out the latest CIA "station chief" -- a job title that seems to give one's career the longevity and utility of a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts.
Does Germany need a better CIA station chief? A reformed NSA? A properly reviewed and vetted U.S. occupation?
What does Germany get out of this deal?
Protection from Russia? If the Russian government weren't demonstrating a level of restraint that dwarfs even that of the Brazilian soccer team's defense there would be full-scale war in Ukraine right now. Russia is no more threatening Germany than Iran is preparing to nuke Washington or the U.N. is confiscating guns in Montana.
Germany must gain something, surely? Perhaps protection from evil Muslims dehumanized in the manner that U.S. war marketers first developed for the dehumanization of Germans 100 years ago? Surely Germans are smart enough to have noticed that violent resistance to foreign aggression targets the nations responsible, not those declining to take part. Hosting bases of the military that gives Israel the weapons with which it slaughters the people of Gaza, whatever else it may be, is decidedly not a security strategy.
So what does Germany gain? The warm feeling that comes with knowing that all those acres and facilities with which so much good could be accomplished are being donated to the wealthiest nation on earth which refuses to care for its own people, chip in its share for the poor of the world, or slow its push for the destruction of the globe's climate even as Germany leads in the other direction?
Come on. Germany is a battered wife, a victim of Stockholm syndrome, a schizophrenic accomplice unwilling to relinquish its gang membership. Germany should know better. Germany should throw out the rest of the CIA and 40,000 members of the U.S. military and their families.
What does the United States get out of this codependent criminality?
A launching area closer to numerous nations it wishes to attack? That's a desire of the Pentagon, and of Chuck Hagel who claims that ISIS is a threat to the United States because he no doubt conceives of the United States as existing wherever it maintains troops (which is just about everywhere). That is not a desire of the U.S. public.
An unaccountable recklessly funded institution that makes enemies of allies, prevents cooperation across borders, destroys the rule of law and diplomatic initiatives, and erodes the rights of people at home and abroad in order to spy on governments, corporations, and those first to beginning murmuring their displeasure (and for all we know, soccer coaches as well)? Many of us are willing to forego this benefit.
The U.S. war machine does not, in fact, benefit the nations it occupies or the nation in whose name it occupies. It endangers both, strips away the rights of both, damages the natural environment of both, impoverishes both, and devotes the energies of both to destructive enterprises or mutual disagreements that distract from the necessary work of actual defense from actual dangers, such as the industrial destruction of our air, land, and oceans.
Pulling U.S. troops out of Germany would be the clearest signal that the United States, which has engaged in 200 military actions during the "post-war period," is ready at long last to actually end the war.
Talk Nation Radio: Paul Findley, 93, Key Author of the War Powers Resolution on How It Might Be Complied With
Paul Findley served as a Republican member of United States House of Representatives from Illinois for 22 years. He was a key author of the War Powers Resolution and a leader in securing its enactment by overriding the veto of President Richard Nixon. The federal building in Springfield, Ill. is named for him. He discusses the legality, or lack thereof, of recent wars and proposals for wars, including in Syria and Iraq.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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By Kathy Kelly
During my recent visit to Gangjeong, on Jeju Island, South Korea, where a protest community has struggled for years to block construction of a U.S. military base, conversations over delicious meals in the community kitchen were a delightful daily event. At lunchtime on my first day there I met Emily and Dongwon, a young and recently married couple, both protesters, who had met each other in Gangjeong. Emily recalled that when her parents finally travelled from Taiwan to meet her partner, they had to visit him in prison.
Dongwon, who is from a rural area of South Korea, had visited Gangjeong and gotten to know the small protest community living on the Gureombi Rock. Drawn by their tenacity and commitment, he had decided to join them. When a barge crane was dredgingthe sea in front of Gureombi Rock, Dongwon had climbed up to its tip and declined to come down. On February 18, 2013, a judge had sentenced him to one year in prison for the nonviolent action.
Emily laughs happily as she recalls how muscular she became while she was learning to become a sailor. She had wanted to be able to transport herself and others to and around the islands that in this region tend disproportionately to be affected by militarization, such as Taiwan, Okinawa, and Jeju Island. Boats have factored significantly into civil disobedience against the construction of Jeju’s naval base. Emily had recently returned from an international meeting with Okinawan islanders. Participants were eager to develop flotilla actions, defending peace in Asian seas, where the U.S. military, as part of its “Asia Pivot,” plans to create a ring of militarized islands in order to contain (even at the cost of provoking) emerging superpower rival China and other nations of concern.
Meanwhile, Dongwon was arranging a conference at Jeju University to explore conscientious objection to war. He and his friend Mark do not want to be conscripted into military service, but failure to comply with the Republic of Korea’s mandatory service could result in extremely severe punishments. Worldwide fully 90 per cent of those presently incarcerated for conscientious objection to military service are to be found in South Korean prisons.
It’s a privilege and a challenge to confer with new, young friends in places like Jeju Island and Kabul, Afghanistan.
Today, as I write these thoughts, Bowe Bergdahl is adjusting to life in the United States. While serving with the U.S. military in Afghanistan he experienced a crisis of conscience. His experiences in Afghanistan suggested that his platoon was as ready to massacre the local population as to serve it. His youth had been filled with an aspiration to courageous and fierce independence in the pursuit of integrity, and in response to a letter home his father had instructed: “follow your conscience.” Unarmed, he had walked away from his base with the apparent intention to continue walking in the mountains. Picked up by a militant group, he was held as a prisoner of war for half a decade before his release in exchange for five of the 149 prisoners of war held by the U.S. government at its Guantanamo base. While some of these prisoners are military fighters, others are acknowledged civilians suffering their second decade of detention without trial or promise of eventual release.
This exchange, and seemingly the very prospect of Bowe Bergdahl’s release under any conditions, enraged some U.S. critics who blamed Bergdahl for daring to place the dictates of conscience before those of the United States Government.
Some also blamed Bergdahl for casualties among the troops which the U.S. had sent into battle. These soldiers were required to defend the prestige of a U.S. government that takes prisoners of war by the hundreds, shackling them for decades with no prospect of release, even when it’s proven that they are civilians who never took up arms, who were uninvolved in any militia, and who were caught “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Meanwhile, speaking of the five prisoners of war exchanged for Bergdahl (as one of a series of halting but desperately needed steps towards a peace treaty and withdrawal from Afghanistan) Senator John McCain, himself a former prisoner of war, raged, “"They're the five biggest murderers in world history! … They killed Americans!" (http://www.rollingstone.com/
Bergdahl listened to conscience; listened to the best he knew of the United States; and, heedless of the danger to himself, walked away from war. His military superiors knew that he was troubled, that his platoon was barely functional, and that he needed to find a way out, but they weren’t listening to the voice of compassion. They were listening to the voice of war.
War – this war and the many others like it – has changed us. It demands that a young man brutalized in captivity, that over a hundred of his counterparts brutalized daily in Guantanamo, never meet with any compassion from us ever again. And from Iraq to Syria, Afghanistan to the Ukraine, U.S. war makers will demand newer wars of us, more rage, and more fear cloaked in expressions of our exceptional humanitarian concern for others. We are absolutely forbidden ever to walk away from war.
That is the voice of war. South Korea’s own ongoing war is screaming at it to destroy young conscientious objectors with punitive jail sentences. Dissenting island communities face ever-increasing militarization in service of future U.S. superpower clashes. Worldwide the rage screaming in our ears wherever our power is blocked and our instructions defied drives us further and further into destructive madness in the clutches of which we should be pitied almost as much as feared. But we each do have a choice: We can choose not to listen to war, and act on this choice. For me, it was a saving grace to be able to listen to young people exchanging stories of hope, humor, dedication, and courage over lunches in the Gangjeong community kitchen.
This article will appear on its source site, the new Telesur English, in the third week of July, when that new site goes online.
By David Swanson
Remarks at Independence from America event outside Menwith Hill "RFA" (NSA) base in Yorkshire.
First of all, thank you to Lindis Percy and everyone else involved in bringing me here, and letting me bring my son Wesley along.
And thank you to the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases. I know you share my view that accountability of American bases would lead to elimination of American bases.
And thank you to Lindis for sending me her accounts of refusing to be arrested unless the police disarmed themselves. In the United States, refusing any sort of direction from a police officer will get you charged with the crime of refusing a lawful order, even when the order is unlawful. In fact, that's often the only charge levied against people ordered to cease protests and demonstrations that in theory are completely legal. And, of course, telling a U.S. police officer to disarm could quite easily get you locked up for insanity if it didn't get you shot.
Can I just say how wonderful it is to be outside of the United States on the Fourth of July? There are many wonderful and beautiful things in the United States, including my family and friends, including thousands of truly dedicated peace activists, including people bravely going to prison to protest the murders by drone of others they've never met in distant lands whose loved ones will probably never hear about the sacrifices protesters are making. (Did you know the commander of a military base in New York State has court orders of protection to keep specific nonviolent peace activists away from his base to ensure his physical safety -- or is it his peace of mind?) And, of course, millions of Americans who tolerate or celebrate wars or climate destruction are wonderful and even heroic in their families and neighborhoods and towns -- and that's valuable too.
I've been cheering during U.S. World Cup games. But I cheer for neighborhood, city, and regional teams too. And I don't talk about the teams as if I'm them. I don't say "We scored!" as I sit in a chair opening a beer. And I don't say "We won!" when the U.S. military destroys a nation, kills huge numbers of people, poisons the earth, water, and air, creates new enemies, wastes trillions of dollars, and passes its old weapons to the local police who restrict our rights in the name of wars fought in the name of freedom. I don't say "We lost!" either. We who resist have a responsibility to resist harder, but not to identify with the killers, and certainly not to imagine that the men, women, children, and infants being murdered by the hundreds of thousands constitute an opposing team wearing a different uniform, a team whose defeat by hellfire missile I should cheer for.
Identifying with my street or my town or my continent doesn't lead the same places that identifying with the military-plus-some-minor-side-services that calls itself my national government leads. And it's very hard to identify with my street; I have such little control over what my neighbors do. And I can't manage to identify with my state because I've never even seen most of it. So, once I start identifying abstractly with people I don't know, I see no sensible argument for stopping anywhere short of identifying with everybody, rather than leaving out 95% and identifying with the United States, or leaving out 90% and identifying with the so-called "International Community" that cooperates with U.S. wars. Why not just identify with all humans everywhere? On those rare occasions when we learn the personal stories of distant or disparaged people, we're supposed to remark, "Wow, that really humanizes them!" Well, I'd like to know, what were they before those details made them humanized?
In the U.S. there are U.S. flags everywhere all the time now, and there's a military holiday for every day of the year. But the Fourth of July is the highest holiday of holy nationalism. More than any other day, you're likely to see children being taught to pledge allegiance to a flag, regurgitating a psalm to obedience like little fascist robots. You're more likely to hear the U.S. national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner. Who knows which war the words of that song come from?
That's right, the War of Canadian Liberation, in which the United States tried to liberate Canadians (not for the first or last time) who welcomed them much as the Iraqis would later do, and the British burned Washington. Also known as the War of 1812, the bicentennial was celebrated in the U.S. two years ago. During that war, which killed thousands of Americans and Brits, mostly through disease, during one pointless bloody battle among others, plenty of people died, but a flag survived. And so we celebrate the survival of that flag by singing about the land of the free that imprisons more people than anywhere else on earth and the home of the brave that strip-searches airplane passengers and launches wars if three Muslims shout "boo!"
Did you know the U.S. flag was recalled? You know how a car will be recalled by the manufacturer if the brakes don't work? A satirical paper called the Onion reported that the U.S. flag had been recalled after resulting in 143 million deaths. Better late than never.
There are many wonderful and rapidly improving elements in U.S. culture. It has become widely and increasingly unacceptable to be bigoted or prejudiced against people, at least nearby people, because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, and other factors. It still goes on, of course, but it's frowned upon. I had a conversation last year with a man sitting in the shadow of a carving of confederate generals on a spot that used to be sacred to the Ku Klux Klan, and I realized that he would never, even if he thought it, say something racist about blacks in the United States to a stranger he'd just met. And then he told me he'd like to see the entire Middle East wiped out with nuclear bombs.
We've had comedians' and columnists' careers ended over racist or sexist remarks, but weapons CEOs joke on the radio about wanting big new occupations of certain countries, and nobody blinks. We have antiwar groups that push for celebration of the military on Memorial Day and other days like this one. We have so-called progressive politicians who describe the military as a jobs program, even though it actually produces fewer jobs per dollar than education or energy or infrastructure or never taxing those dollars at all. We have peace groups that argue against wars on the grounds that the military needs to be kept ready for other, possibly more important wars. We have peace groups that oppose military waste, when the alternative of military efficiency is not what's needed. We have libertarians who oppose wars because they cost money, exactly as they oppose schools or parks. We have humanitarian warriors who argue for wars because of their compassion for the people they want bombed. We have peace groups that side with the libertarians and urge selfishness, arguing for schools at home instead of bombs for Syrians, without explaining that we could give actual aid to Syrians and ourselves for a fraction of the cost of the bombs.
We have liberal lawyers who say they can't tell whether blowing children up with drones is legal or not, because President Obama has a secret memo (now only partially secret) in which he legalizes it by making it part of a war, and they haven't seen the memo, and as a matter of principle they, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, ignore the U.N. Charter, the Kellogg Briand Pact, and the illegality of war. We have people arguing that bombing Iraq is now a good thing because it finally gets the U.S. and Iran talking to each other. We have steadfast refusals to mention a half-million to a million-and-a-half Iraqis based on the belief that Americans can only possibly care about 4,000 Americans killed in Iraq. We have earnest crusades to turn the U.S. military into a force for good, and the inevitable demand of those who begin to turn against war, that the United States must lead the way to peace -- when of course the world would be thrilled if it just brought up the rear.
And yet, we also have tremendous progress. A hundred years ago Americans were listening to snappy tunes about how hunting Huns was a fun game to play, and professors were teaching that war builds national character. Now war has to be sold as necessary and humanitarian because nobody believes it's fun or good for you anymore. Polls in the United States put support for possible new wars below 20 percent and sometimes below 10 percent. After the House of Commons over here said No to missile strikes on Syria, Congress listened to an enormous public uproar in the U.S. and said No as well. In February, public pressure led to Congress backing off a new sanctions bill on Iran that became widely understood as a step toward war rather than away from it. A new war on Iraq is having to be sold and developed slowly in the face of huge public resistance that has even resulted in some prominent advocates of war in 2003 recently recanting.
This shift in attitude toward wars is largely the result of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq and the exposure of the lies and horrors involved. We shouldn't underestimate this trend or imagine that it's unique to the question of Syria or Ukraine. People are turning against war. For some it may be all about the money. For others it may be a question of which political party owns the White House. The Washington Post has a poll showing that almost nobody in the U.S. can find Ukraine on a map, and those who place it furthest from where it really lies are most likely to want a U.S. war there, including those who place it in the United States. One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. Yet the larger trend is this: from geniuses right down to morons, we are, most of us, turning against war. The Americans who want Ukraine attacked are fewer than those believing in ghosts, U.F.O.s, or the benefits of climate change.
Now, the question is whether we can shake off the idea that after hundreds of bad wars there just might be a good one around the corner. To do that we have to recognize that wars and militaries make us less safe, not safer. We have to understand that Iraqis aren't ungrateful because they're stupid but because the U.S. and allies destroyed their home.
We can pile even more weight on the argument for ending the institution of war. These U.S. spy bases are used for targeting missiles but also for spying on governments and companies and activists. And what justifies the secrecy? What allows treating everyone as an enemy? Well, one necessary component is the concept of an enemy. Without wars nations lose enemies. Without enemies, nations lose excuses to abuse people. Britain was the first enemy manufactured by the would-be rulers of the United States on July 4, 1776. And yet King George's abuses don't measure up to the abuses our governments now engage in, justified by their traditions of war making and enabled by the sort of technologies housed here.
War is our worst destroyer of the natural environment, the worst generator of human rights abuses, a leading cause of death and creator of refugee crises. It swallows some $2 trillion a year globally, while tens of billions could alleviate incredible suffering, and hundreds of billions could pay for a massive shift to renewable energies that might help protect us from an actual danger.
What we need now is a movement of education and lobbying and nonviolent resistance that doesn't try to civilize war but to take steps in the direction of abolishing it -- which begins by realizing that we can abolish it. If we can stop missiles into Syria, there's no magical force that prevents our stopping missiles into every other country. War is not a primal urge of nations that must burst out a little later if once suppressed. Nations aren't real like that. War is a decision made by people, and one that we can make utterly unacceptable.
People in dozens of countries are now working on a campaign for the elimination of all war called World Beyond War. Please check out WorldBeyondWar.org or talk to me about getting involved. Our goal is to bring many more people and organizations into a movement not aimed at a specific war proposal from a specific government, but at the entire institution of war everywhere. We'll have to work globally to do this. We'll have to throw our support behind the work being done by groups like the Campaign for Accountability of American Bases and the Movement for the Abolition of War and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Veterans For Peace and so many more.
Some friends of ours in Afghanistan, the Afghan Peace Volunteers, have proposed that everyone living under the same blue sky who wants to move the world beyond war wear a sky blue scarf. You can make your own or find them at TheBlueScarf.org. I hope by wearing this to communicate my sense of connection to those back in the United States working for actual freedom and bravery, and my same sense of connection to those in the rest of the world who have had enough of war. Happy Fourth of July!
By David Swanson, Remarks in London, England, July 2, 2014.
Thank you to Bruce Kent and the Movement for the Abolition of War and to Veterans For Peace and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Thank you to the Stop the War Coalition and everyone else for helping spread the word.
In 8 days, on July 10th Mary Ann Grady-Flores, a grandmother from Ithaca, NY, is scheduled to be sentenced to up to one year in prison. Her crime is violating an order of protection, which is a legal tool to protect a particular person from the violence of another particular person. In this case, the commander of Hancock Air Base has been legally protected from dedicated nonviolent protesters, despite the protection of commanding his own military base, and despite the protesters having no idea who the guy is. That's how badly the people in charge of the flying killer robots we call drones want to avoid any questioning of their activity entering the minds of the drone pilots.
Last Thursday a place in the U.S. called the Stimson Center released a report on the new U.S. habit of murdering people with missiles from drones. The Stimson Center is named for Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War who, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor wrote in his diary, following a meeting with President Roosevelt: "The question 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." (Four months earlier, Churchill had told his cabinet at 10 Downing Street that U.S. policy toward Japan consisted of this: "Everything was to be done to force an incident.") This was the same Henry Stimson who later forbid dropping the first nuclear bomb on Kyoto, because he'd once been to Kyoto. He'd never visited Hiroshima, much to the misfortune of the people of Hiroshima.
I know there's a big celebration of World War I going on over here (as well as big resistance to it), but in the United States there's been an ongoing celebration of World War II for 70 years. In fact, one might even suggest that World War II has continued in a certain way and on a lesser scale for 70 years (and on a greater scale in particular times and places like Korea and Vietnam and Iraq). The United States has never returned to pre-World War II levels of taxes or military spending, never left Japan or Germany, has engaged in some 200 military actions abroad during the so-called post-war era, has never stopped expanding its military presence abroad, and now has troops permanently stationed in almost every country on earth. Two exceptions, Iran and Syria, are regularly threatened.
So it is altogether appropriate, I think, that it was the Stimson Center that released this report, by former military officials and military-friendly lawyers, a report that included this rather significant statement: "The increasing use of lethal UAVs may create a slippery slope leading to continual or wider wars."
At least that sounds significant to me. Continual wars? That's a pretty bad thing, right?
Also last week, the U.S. government made public a memo in which it claims the right to legally murder a U.S. citizen (never mind anybody else) as part of a war that has no limit in time or space. Call me crazy, but this seems serious. What if this war goes on long enough to generate significant enemies?
Last year the United Nations released a report that stated that drones were making war the norm rather than the exception. Wow. That could be a problem for a species of creatures who prefer not being bombed, don't you think? The United Nations, created to rid the world of war, mentions in passing that war is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Surely the response to such a grave development should be equally significant.
We've grown habituated, I think, to reading reports that say things like "If we don't leave 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground we're all going to die, and lots of other species with us," and then experts recommend that we use more efficient light bulbs and grow our own tomatoes. I mean we've become used to the response not remotely fitting the crisis at hand.
Such is the case with the UN, the Stimson Center, and a good crowd of humanitarian law experts, as far as I can tell.
The Stimson Center says of murders by drone, they should be "neither glorified not demonized." Nor, apparently, should they be stopped. Instead, the Stimson Center recommends reviews and transparency and robust studies. I'm willing to bet that if you or I threatened massive continual or widening death and destruction we'd be demonized. I'm willing to bet the idea of our being glorified wouldn't even come up for consideration.
The United Nations, too, thinks transparency is the answer. Just let us know whom you're murdering and why. We'll get you the forms to do a monthly report. As other nations get in on this game we'll compile their reports and create some real international transparency.
That's some people's idea of progress.
Drones are, of course, not the only way or -- thus far -- the most deadly way the U.S. and its allies wage wars. But there is this minimal pretense of ethical discussion about drones because drone murders look like murders to a lot of people. The U.S. president goes through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays, picks whom to murder, and has them and anyone standing too close to them murdered -- although he also often targets people without knowing their name. Bombing Libya or anywhere else looks less like murder to many people, especially if -- like Stimson in Hiroshima -- they've never been to Libya, and if numerous bombs are all supposedly aimed at one evil person whom the U.S. government has turned against. So, the United States goes through something like the 2011 war on Libya that has left that nation in such a fine state without it occurring to any military-friendly think tanks that there's an ethical question to be pondered.
How, I wonder, would we talk about drones or bombs or so-called non-combat advisors if we were trying to eliminate war rather than ameliorate it? Well, I think that if we saw the complete abolition of war as even our very distant goal, we'd talk very differently about every type of war today. I think we'd stop encouraging the idea that any memo could possibly legalize murder, whether or not we'd seen the memo. I think we'd reject the human rights groups' position that the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact should be ignored. Rather than considering the illegality of tactics during a war, we'd object to the illegality of the war itself. We wouldn't speak positively of the United States and Iran possibly joining hands in friendship if the basis for such a proposed alliance was to be a joint effort to kill Iraqis.
In the U.S. it's not unusual for peace groups to focus on 4,000 dead Americans and the financial costs of the war on Iraq, and to steadfastly refuse to mention a half-million to a million and a half Iraqis killed, which silence has contributed to most Americans not knowing what happened. But that's the strategy of opponents of some wars, not opponents of all wars. Depicting a particular war as costly to the aggressor doesn't move people against war preparations or rid them of the fantasy that there could be a good and just war in the days ahead.
It's common in Washington to argue against military waste, such as weapons that don't work or that the Pentagon didn't even ask Congress for, or to argue against bad wars that leave the military less prepared for other possible wars. If our project was aimed ultimately at war's elimination, we'd be against military efficiency more than military waste and in favor of an ill-prepared military unable to launch more wars. We'd also be as focused on keeping young people out of the military and militarism out of school books as we are on preventing a particular batch of missiles from flying. It's routine to profess loyalty to soldiers while opposing their commanders' policies, but once you've praised soldiers for their supposed service, you've accepted that they must have provided one. Celebrating World War I resisters, as I know some of you have been doing recently, is the sort of thing that ought to replace honoring war participants.
We may need to not just change our conversation from opposing specific war after specific war to discussing the ending of the whole institution. We may also need to alter at least subtly every part of the conversation along the way.
Instead of proposing that veterans in particular have earned our gratitude and should receive healthcare and retirement (which one hears all the time in the U.S.), we may want to propose that all people -- including veterans -- have human rights, and that one of our chief duties is to cease creating any more veterans.
Instead of objecting to troops urinating on corpses, we may want to object to the creation of the corpses. Instead of trying to eliminate torture and rape and lawless imprisonment from an operation of mass-murder, we may want to focus on the cause. We can't go on putting $2 trillion a year globally, and half of that just in the United States, into getting ready for wars and not expect wars to result.
With other addictions we're told to go after the biggest dealers of the drug or to go after the demand by the users. The dealers of the drug of war are those funding the military with our grandchildren's unearned pay and dumping buckets of money into propaganda about Vietnam and World War I. They know the lies about past wars are even more important than the lies about new wars. And we know that the institution of war could not survive people learning the truth about it to such an extent that some people begin to act on that knowledge.
U.S. public opinion has moved against wars. When Parliament and Congress said no to missiles into Syria, public pressure of the past decade played a big role. The same is true of stopping a horrible bill on Iran in Congress earlier this year, and of resistance to a new war on Iraq. Congress members are worried about voting for another war like Iraq, whether in Iraq or elsewhere. Her vote to attack Iraq 12 years ago is the only thing that has kept us thus far from seeing Hillary Clinton in the White House. People don't want to vote for someone who voted for that. And, let's get this said early to our dear friends at the Nobel Committee: another peace prize will not help things. The United States doesn't need another peace prize for a war maker, it needs what Bruce and so many of you have been working on over here: a popular movement for the abolition of war!
A number of peace activists have started up a new effort called World Beyond War at http://WorldBeyondWar.org aimed at bringing more people into peace activism. People and organizations in at least 58 countries so far have signed the Declaration of Peace at WorldBeyondWar.org. Our hope is that, by bringing more people and groups into the movement, we can strengthen and enlarge, rather than compete against, existing peace organizations. We hope that we can support the work of groups like the Movement for the Abolition of War, and that we can, as groups and individuals, work globally.
The website at WorldBeyondWar.org is intended to provide educational tools: videos, maps, reports, talking points. We make the case against the idea that war protects us -- an outrageous idea, given that the nations that engage in the most war face the most hostility as a result. A poll at the start of this year of people in 65 nations found the U.S. in a huge lead as the nation considered the greatest threat to peace in the world. U.S. veterans are killing themselves in record numbers, in part over what they've done to Iraq and Afghanistan. Our humanitarian wars are a leading cause of suffering and death for humanity. And so we also refute the idea that war can benefit the people where it is waged.
We also lay out the arguments that war is deeply immoral, a first-cousin of and frequent cause of, not alternative to, genocide; that war destroys our natural environment, that war erodes our civil liberties, and that just transferring a bit of what we spend on war to something useful would make us beloved rather than feared around the world. One and a half percent of what the world spends on war could be spent to end starvation on earth. War has taken 200 million lives over the past century, but the good that could be done with the resources dumped into war far outstrips the evil that could be avoided by ending war. For one thing, if we quickly redirected war's resources we'd have our best shot at doing something to protect the climate of the planet. That our concept of "defense" doesn't include that illustrates how far we've gone toward accepting the inevitability of what is after all the perfectly avoidable and perfectly horrible and completely indefensible institution of war.
Having accepted war, we try for cheaper wars, better wars, even more one-sided wars, and what do we get? We get warnings from respectable war supporters that we're beginning to make war the norm and risking continual warfare.
On the one hand this is a case of unintended consequences to rival those who sought the truth about god's creation and ended up with the guy who's on the money around here, Charles Darwin. On the other hand it's not unintended at all. A professor at Stanford University has just put out a book arguing that war is so good for us that we must always keep it going. That strain of thought courses through the veins of our military funded academia and activism.
But that kind of thinking is increasingly unpopular, and this may be the moment in which to expose it, denounce it, and crystallize into action the growing popular sentiment against war, and the realization into which we've stumbled that particular wars can be prevented, and if particular wars can be prevented then each and every one of them can be prevented. I look forward to working on that project, with the urgency it demands, and together with all of you.
David Swanson from the Coordinating Committee of WorldBeyondWar.org will be visiting London from the United States on July 2nd before heading up to speak in Northern England with CAAB.org.uk on the Fourth of July. Swanson is an author whose books include: War No More: The Case for Abolition (2013), War Is A Lie (2010), When the World Outlawed War (2011), and The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (2012). See http://davidswanson.org
July 2, 2014, 8:00 p.m., Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holburn.
David Swanson from WorldBeyondWar.org
Also speaking: Ben Griffin of Veterans For Peace UK (http://veteransforpeace.org.uk) Ben is a former SAS soldier who refused to return to Iraq in 2005. He is now the coordinator of Veterans For Peace UK.
Hosted by London Region Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (http://cnduk.org) Chair: Jim Brann
Organized by Movement for the Abolition of War (http://abolishwar.org.uk)
RSVP to Bruce Kent firstname.lastname@example.org
NSA MENWITH HILL BASE:
July 4, 2014, from 5 to 9 p.m.
Annual Independence FROM America Demonstration at the main entrance to NSA Menwith Hill HG1 4QZ.
Speakers: Caroline Hughes, David Swanson, Annie Machon
Learn more: http://caab.org.uk
As a Syrian rebel, I think the word or phrase that best describes me is:
B) Very moderate
C) Crazy moderate
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