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This November 11th at 11 a.m. will mark 95 years since World War I ended. Next July 28th will mark 100 years since it started. The world war, the great war, the war for no good reason, the war of poison gas, the war to end all wars, the war of mass stupidity, the war that went on for days after the Germans agreed to end it, the war that continued until 11 a.m. as that time had been set to end it, the war whose last man killed in action was a suicidal American who ran at the Germans at 10:59, the war that in fact was intentionally not ended but extended into mass-punishment of the German people until World War II could be commenced, this century-old piece of historical stupidity that shames our species is about to be commemorated on a serious scale -- so dust off your gas masks and get ready.
A hundred years. A hundred ever-loving years, and we've neither learned that wars don't end wars nor ever really ended World War II, ever brought the troops home from Japan and Germany, ever scaled back the taxation and military spending and foreign basing and war profiteering.
The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten War by Richard Rubin is 500 pages of excellent history of World War I but without the appropriate rejection of the decision to go to war or the embarrassment one should feel for those who thought they could find glory or goodness by joining in that mass murdering madness. We tend to look down on all sorts of aspects of early 20th century morality. Colonialism, sexism, racism, corporal punishment in schools, creationism -- you name it, we've moved on. Yet writers still recount wars as if the decision to take part in them were neutral or admirable.
In a way this makes sense, given what we're all taught about history. The Khan Academy is a wonderful website for kids (or anyone) to use in learning math. But if you click over to the section on history it's literally nothing but wars. Perhaps they plan to add in a few unimportant things that happened during the pauses in between wars, but they haven't done so yet. It's nothing but war after war after war. That's history. President Kennedy supposedly said Lincoln would have been nothing without the Civil War -- it takes war to make greatness. It takes war to be in the history books.
Richard Rubin found and interviewed the last remaining U.S. veterans of World War I before they died. As he spoke with them their average age was 107. Everything he learned and recorded is of great interest, but much of it is simply about what it's like to become 107. Such a study could have been done of non-veterans. A comparison could have been made of veterans and non-veterans. Or a study like this one could have looked at World War I resisters. That there's not a similar book about them, and now can never be, says little about them and a great deal about all of us. A comparison of the lifespans of veterans and refuseniks would have been an interesting test of the author's theory that going along to get along increases your life.
It is perhaps not too late to track down and interview the last remaining survivors of the strongest peace movement the United States has known -- that of the 1920s and 1930s -- but somebody would have to do it and do it soon.
Perhaps Richard Rubin will take up that idea, but I tend to doubt it. His fascination is with war, not wisdom. And not just his fascination, but most people's. The sad fact is that, in Rubin's telling, these World War I veterans didn't tend to develop an appropriate sense of regret over a period of 85 years. There are, no doubt, cases of slave owners who by 1950 were able to express some regret over slavery. But slavery was on its way out. War is ever on its way in.
Despite my lengthy caveat, The Last of the Doughboys really is an excellent book, for what it is. The discussions of World War I songs and World War I books, and so forth, are quite wonderful. And Doughboys is not blatantly dishonest war hype. It includes the facts about the Lusitania (that Germany had warned Americans not to get on a ship with arms and troops as it would be sunk). It doesn't look closely at the war propaganda, but it is straightforward enough on the clampdown on speech and civil liberties, and the vicious demonization of Germans and the Kaiser. It doesn't mention the Wall Street coup or the name Smedley Butler, but its coverage of the Bonus Army is otherwise good. It doesn't focus on opposition or alternatives, but it does convey the pointlessness of the horror, and it does recount the badly misguided way in which the war was ended.
Yet, ultimately, Rubin is striving to give more credit and honor to warriors unfairly overshadowed by the glorification of World War II. The heroes of the original world war saved the world in the snow and shoeless and uphill both ways. Rubin wants World War I to get its due -- unlike some wars. The war on the Philippines, for example, he calls "not much of" a war, despite the fact that it cost the population involved a greater percentage of its lives than any other U.S. war has inflicted on any other population, including the population of the U.S. -- including in the U.S. Civil War. Go to the Philippines and say it wasn't much of a war, I dare you. It was the model for the costly, pointless, racist, one-sided slaughters of the 21st century. World War I was a model only for its expansion into World War II. Otherwise it's obsolete.
My friend Sandy Davies, who knows this stuff, recently looked up what the costs have been of the ongoing warmaking by the United States since the pair of World Wars. I think it's relevant because every single time I speak about ending war and take questions on the topic I'm asked "What about Hitler?" In the days since Hitler's been gone, as the world has moved on from Hitler-like expansionism, as a great portion of the world has moved away from war, the United States, according to Davies, has spent $37-40 trillion (in 2013 dollars) on war and preparations for war.
There's $32 trillion since 1948 in Department of So-Called-Defense spending documented in http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2014/FY14_Green_Book.pdf plus $780 billion to the War Department in 1946-7 before it was rebranded. Extra funding to the Energy Department, the V.A. and other departments is harder to find, but can be estimated at:
Nuclear weapons (DOE): $1.7 - 3 trillion
V.A.: $1.3 to 2.5 trillion
Other departments: $1 to 2 trillion
Then there's the real cost: 10 to 20 million dead in wars the U.S. has been directly involved in, or 15 to 30 million if you count the DRC, Cambodia, the French War in Indochina, and the Iran-Iraq War. "These numbers are very conservative," says Davies, "based on publicly available estimates, generally ignoring Les Roberts' findings in Rwanda and the DRC that passive reporting methods generally only count 5-20% of deaths in war zones." These figures include:
Korea: 2.5 to 3.5 million
Vietnam: 2 to 4 million
Iraq: 400,000 to 1.5 million
Afghanistan (total): 1 to 2 million
China: 1.75 million
Indonesia: 500,000 to 2 million
Angola: 500,000 to 1 million
Somalia: 300,000 to 500,000
Guatemala: 200,000 to 300,000
East Timor: 100,000 to 220,000
El Salvador: 100,000 to 120,000
Syria: 90,000 to 130,000
Operation Condor: 60,000 to 100,000
Colombia: 50,000 - 200,000
Laos: 40,000 to 100,000
Nicaragua: 30,000 to 55,000
Libya: 25,000 to 50,000
plus smaller numbers in many other countries.
Either we're on a record streak of greatest generations after greatest generations, or we've caught a war addiction so badly that we've come to imagine it's normal, and that -- in fact -- it's all that ever has happened in the world.
"What, quite unmanned in folly?"--Lady MacBeth
The new film Unmanned: America's Drone Wars should be required viewing in all schools and homes in the United States, including the home of the U.S. president who could not be bothered to meet with the child victims of his drones who spoke in Congress this week.
One could even speculate what the appropriate fantasized outcome might be if, Clockwork Orange-style, Obama were compelled to view Unmanned. But fantasies are what got us into this. Former drone pilot Brandon Bryant opens this beautifully made, fast-moving film by describing his childhood comic-book-induced fantasies about "good guys" and bad guys" and how to become a hero. Bryant was up against student debt when a recruiter told him that he could work in a James Bond control center.
Bryant, who faced up to reality too late, comes and goes through the course of a film that shows the suffering of drone victims and drone operators, honestly and accurately, without trying to equate the two.
The testimony of drone victims in D.C. this week was far from the first such testimony anywhere. On October 28, 2011, drone victims testified in Islamabad, Pakistan, where their conference was followed by a huge rally protesting U.S. drone strikes. In this film, we watch 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attend the conference to describe the killing of his cousin. Three days later, Tariq and another cousin are murdered in their car by a U.S. drone.
We see numerous people, including law professor Mary Ellen O'Connell, point out that Aziz could quite easily have been questioned or arrested if he had been suspected of some crime. Obama has killed thousands and captured a handful, and in many cases we know that capture would have been perfectly possible but was not attempted. The U.N.'s special rapporteur last week admitted this is illegal, as are various other types of drone murders, including one that the film focuses in on: signature strikes.
(Why all drone murders are not illegal and immoral, and why we cannot all clearly say as much, is beyond me.)
We see a publicly announced, publicly held, community meeting hit with numerous missiles from drones. Pieces of flesh and debris lie everywhere. Innocents are slaughtered. Tribal elders are killed. People are made afraid to meet each other. Institutions are destroyed. Children are traumatized. Hatred of the United States is inflamed. And -- as always -- the New York Times prints that an anonymous U.S. official claims the victims were terrorists (never mind the lack of any evidence of that).
Pakistan's courts have ruled the drone strikes -- all of them -- illegal, and the CIA guilty of committing murder. Suits have been filed against the U.K. and the U.S. Protests have erupted all over the globe. And experts seem to agree that the drone murders are making Americans less safe, not protecting them. But drone profiteers are raking in the money.
Unmanned names names and shows faces. This film is what the nightly news would look like in a sane nation not addicted to war. You can watch the film and get a copy of it to screen locally. I highly recommend it. And then I recommend doing something about it. Here's a place to start.
By David Swanson and David Hartsough with input from George Lakey, Jan Passion, Mike Ferner, Colleen Kelly, Ruth Benn, Leah Bolger, Nathan Schneider, Hakim, Paul Chappell, Colin Archer, Kathy Kelly, et alia. (none of whom are to blame for shortcomings of this draft). Many groups and individuals are discussing a new project; if you have ideas, let us know.
If unnecessary suffering on an enormous scale is to be avoided, we must abolish war. Some 180 million people died in wars in the 20th century and, while we have not yet repeated a war on the scale of World War II, wars are not going away. Their enormous destruction continues, measured in terms of deaths, injuries, trauma, millions of people having to flee their homes, financial cost, environmental destruction, economic drain, and erosion of civil and political rights.
If humanity is going to survive, we must abolish war. Every war brings with it both massive destruction and the risk of uncontrolled escalation. We are facing a world of greater weapons proliferation, resource shortages, environmental pressures, and the largest human population the earth has seen. In such a turbulent world, we must abolish the organized violence by governments known as war, because its continuation risks our extinction.
If we abolish war, humanity can not only survive and better address the climate crisis and other dangers, but will find it far easier to prosper. The reallocation of resources away from war promises a world whose advantages are beyond easy imagination. Some $2 trillion a year, roughly half from the United States and half from the rest of the world, is devoted to war and war preparation. Those funds could transform global efforts to create sustainable energy, agricultural, economic, health, and education systems. Redirection of war funding could save many times the lives that are taken by spending it on war.
There is a need and an opportunity for a campaign/movement focused specifically on educating and organizing and developing momentum for the abolition of war. A great deal of organizing against particular wars, atrocities, weapons, tactics, and expenditures, could benefit from the existence of an abolition campaign, becoming seen as reasonable partial steps, and in the context of opposition to all war rather than as violations of proper norms of war. Some campaigns might, in fact, differ from what they would otherwise be; we might, for example, oppose the most effective weapons that kill most efficiently rather than the most defective weapons that expose the most corruption.
While abolition is a larger demand than partial disarmament, if the case for it is made convincingly it has the potential to create support for serious and even total disarmament among people who would otherwise favor the maintenance of a large military for defense -- something that we've learned generates pressure for offensive warmaking. The first step in such a campaign must be persuading people of the possibility of, and the urgent need for, abolishing war. Awareness of the effectiveness of nonviolent action, nonviolent movements, and peaceful resolution of conflicts is growing rapidly, creating the increased possibility of persuading people that there is an alternative to war. Anti-war sentiment, at least in some key parts of the world, is at a high point now, relative to other moments in recent decades. This sentiment should be channeled into an abolition movement that takes steps toward reduced warfare while creating an understanding of those steps, not as reforms to a flawed institution that will continue in an improved state, but as progress towards that institution's elimination.
The reduction and eventual elimination of war and of the military industrial complex could be of great benefit to sectors of the world economy and of public services to which that investment could be transferred. There exists the possibility of creating a broad coalition encompassing civilian industries and advocates for green energy, education, housing, healthcare, and other fields, including civil liberties, environmental protections, children's rights, and all over the world cities, counties, and states that have had to make major cuts in social programs for their people, and more. By making war's elimination imaginable, an abolition movement could develop the allies needed to make it a reality.
Resistance, including by those profiting financially from wars, will be intense. Such interests are, of course, not invincible. Raytheon's stock was soaring in the fall of 2013 as the White House planned to send missiles into Syria -- missiles that were not sent. But war abolition will require defeating the propaganda of war promoters and countering the economic interests of war promoters with alternative economic possibilities. A wide variety of support for "humanitarian" and other particular varieties, or imagined varieties, of war will have to be countered with persuasive arguments and alternatives. Creating a resource center that puts the best arguments against various types of war support at people's fingertips will itself be a significant contribution.
By organizing internationally, we can use progress made in one nation to encourage other nations to match or surpass it without fear. By educating people whose governments make war at a distance about the human costs of war (largely one-sided, civilian, and on a scale not widely understood) we can build a broad-based moral demand for an end to war. By presenting the case that militarism and wars make us all less safe and decrease our quality of life, we can strip war of much of its power. By creating awareness of the economic trade-offs, we can revive support for a peace dividend. By explaining the illegality, immorality, and terrible costs of war and the availability of legal, nonviolent and more effective means of defense and conflict resolution, we can build acceptance for what has only relatively recently been made into a radical proposal and ought to be viewed as a common sense initiative: the abolition of war.
While a global movement is needed, this movement cannot ignore or reverse the reality of where the greatest support for war originates. The United States builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars. By these and other measures, the U.S. government is the world's leading war-maker, and -- in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. -- the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Ending U.S. militarism wouldn't eliminate war globally, but it would eliminate the pressure that is driving many other nations to increase their military spending. It would deprive NATO of its leading advocate for and greatest participant in wars. It would cut off the largest supply of weapons to the Middle East and other regions. It would remove the major barrier to a reunification of Korea, and the major barrier to legal consequences for Israeli war-making. It would create U.S. willingness to support arms treaties, join the International Criminal Court, and allow the United Nations to move in the direction of its stated purpose of eliminating war. It would create a world free of nations threatening the first-use of nuclear weaponry, and a world in which nuclear disarmament might proceed more rapidly. Gone would be the last major nation using cluster bombs or refusing to ban land mines. If the United States kicked the war habit, war itself would suffer a major and possibly fatal set-back. For this reason, the war abolition movement around the world will need to be directed at U.S. military bases as well as local governments, and major U.S. wars as much as local militarism.
The structure and funding of this campaign to abolish war is yet to be determined. It could be independent or aligned with or under the auspices of an existing organization or group of organizations. We envision it establishing a decentralized network of various organizations following a common, coordinated strategy. In large part this would consist of adjusting and supporting work that groups are already engaged in to form part of a united front that advances war abolition while advancing smaller steps in war reduction or amelioration, economic conversion or counter-recruitment, nonviolent conflict resolution or the prevention or halting of particular wars.
The establishment of this campaign would begin by exploring possibilities with key people and organizations, a process that might include conference calls and possibly in-person gathering(s). The goal would be to begin the work of building this movement immediately, and to plan an international conference to publicly launch the campaign on or around August 27th, the anniversary of the Kellogg-Briand Pact's signing. There are major peace gatherings planned for Sarajevo in June and South Africa in July that this campaign might soon want to propose to take part in. There is also the date of July 28, 2014, marking 100 years since the launch of the war that was to end all wars and instead brought more of them, a date that this campaign might want to make use of in some way.
The campaign would need a name, a website, an international advisory board, staff, and -- in one manner or another -- organizational and individual members. Such members might agree to a pledge to work for the abolition of war and never to support the waging of war. In developing the name and slogans for the campaign, careful thought and marketing research will be required.
Online and off, the campaign would develop a resource center on war abolition -- meaning, not every aspect of war, but specifically the case (moral, legal, economic, environmental, etc.) for total abolition, including how partial steps in war reduction or amelioration can lead toward abolition and not away from it, including how past wars can be best understood, and including effective peaceful alternatives to war and a peaceful vision of a post-war world. This resource center would eventually also include tools for petition gathering, local and organizational resolutions, legislation, materials for educational events including books and films, a speakers bureau, coordinated days of action, flyers, brochures, posters, creative action ideas, etc.
The abolition movement would develop volunteer and training programs to train organizers to build and strengthen the campaign.
The movement would work on strategies for outreach to a wide variety of constituencies globally.*
The campaign would develop and coordinate with its allies and members a communications strategy including our own media production, efforts to gain coverage by media outlets, and possibly advertising, school text-book reform, and other means of communication and education. We would work to see our media productions used as educational tools. We would advance a vision of a transition to a renewable energy world in which there would be no "need" for wars over oil and in which we could end the danger of global warming and create a good life for every person on the planet.
The movement would work to coordinate with its members partial steps (and movement-building victories) toward abolition, including possibly such approaches as: economic conversion, disarmament, base closures, bans on particular weapons or tactics, promotion of diplomacy including possibly new structures such as Departments of Peace and reform and strengthening of the United Nations, expanding the development of peace teams and human shields into a global nonviolent peaceforce, promotion of nonmilitary foreign aid and crisis prevention, placing restrictions on military recruitment and providing potential soldiers with alternatives, legislation to redirect war taxes into peace work and meeting human needs, and/or promotion of international law. The campaign might work with key allies to develop concrete proposals for how to spend funding redirected from wars and militarism. All of these steps would be presented to the world, not as improvements in war or steps toward "smart wars" or "humanitarian wars" but as key steps in the direction of the end of all wars.
Steps in the direction of abolition that the movement might support include the development of a peace conversion taskforce to help communities make the transition from war making to working to meet human and environmental needs, and expanding the global nonviolent peaceforce of civilian, trained, international, nonviolent peacekeepers and peacemakers who could be available to protect civilians endangered by conflicts in all parts of the world and to help build peace where there is or has been violent conflict. These efforts would help the world to see that there are alternatives to war-making.
The movement would work with its allies or members to create a strategy for the legal abolition of war, possibly including the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Nuremberg Principles.
The movement would work with relevant members to develop direct action strategies, including vigils, blockades, demonstrations, etc., with global coordination.
Each step along the way cannot be foreseen in any detail, but progress will be somewhat measurable in victories against particular war proposals, in the creation of particular educational or counter-recruitment programs, in disarmament, etc., and in the extent to which these measures are presented and understood as steps toward abolition, as well is in any measurable shifts in public opinion, and in the growth of the campaign, the signers of its pledge or petition, the readers and viewers of its materials, etc. There are always victories and set-backs in the struggle against militarism. Viewing them as part of a process toward abolition may better allow us to see the forest for the trees and determine whether in fact the victories are outpacing the defeats.
*Such constituencies might include people in many parts of the world, key organizers, well-known leaders, peace groups, peace and justice groups, environmental groups, human rights groups, activist coalitions, lawyers, philosophers/moralists/ethicists, doctors, psychologists, religious groups, economists, labor unions, diplomats, towns and cities and states or provinces or regions, nations, international organizations, the United Nations, civil liberties groups, media reform groups, business groups and leaders, billionaires, teachers groups, student groups, education reform groups, government reform groups, journalists, historians, women's groups, senior citizens, immigrant and refugee rights groups, libertarians, socialists, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, veterans, student- and cultural-exchange groups, sister-cities groups, sports enthusiasts, and advocates for investment in children and healthcare and in human needs of every sort, as well as those working to oppose contributors to militarism in their societies, such as xenophobia, racism, machismo, extreme materialism, all forms of violence, lack of community, and war profiteering.
Ann Jones' new book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America's Wars -- The Untold Story, is devastating, and almost incomprehensibly so when one considers that virtually all of the death and destruction in U.S. wars is on the other side. Statistically, what happens to U.S. troops is almost nothing. In human terms, it's overwhelming.
Know a young person considering joining the military? Give them this book.
Know a person not working to end war? Give them this book.
Jones presents the choice before us in the clearest terms in the introduction:
"Contrary to common opinion in the United States, war is not inevitable. Nor has it always been with us. War is a human invention -- an organized, deliberate action of an anti-social kind -- and in the long span of human life on Earth, a fairly recent one. For more than 99 percent of the time that humans have lived on this planet, most of them have never made war. Many languages don't even have a word for it. Turn off CNN and read anthropology. You'll see.
"What's more, war is obsolete. Most nations don't make war anymore, except when coerced by the United States to join some spurious 'coalition.' The earth is so small, and our time here so short. No other nation on the planet makes war as often, as long, as forcefully, as expensively, as destructively, as wastefully, as senselessly, or as unsuccessfully as the United States. No other nation makes war its business."
Jones begins her book with that distinguishing feature of war: death. The U.S. military assigns specialists in "Mortuary Affairs" to dispose of the dead. They dispose of their own sanity in the process. And first they dispose of their appetite. "Broiled meat in the chow hall smells much the same as any charred Marine, and you may carry the smell of the dead on a stained cuff as you raise a fork to your mouth, only to quickly put it down." Much of the dead is -- like the slop at the chow hall -- unrecognizable meat. Once dumped in landfills, until a Washington Post story made that a scandal, now it's dumped at sea. Much of the dead is the result of suicides. Mortuary Affairs scrubs the brains out of the port-o-potty and removes the rifle, so other troops don't have to see.
Then come, in vastly greater numbers, the wounded -- Jones' chapter two. A surgeon tells her that in Iraq the U.S. troops "had severe injuries, but the injuries were still on the body." In Afghanistan, troops step on mines and IEDs while walking, not driving. Some are literally blown to bits. Others can be picked up in recognizable pieces. Others survive. But many survive without one or two legs, one or two testicles, a penis, an arm, both arms -- or with a brain injury, or a ruined face, or all of the above. A doctor describes the emotion for a surgical team the first time they have to remove a penis and "watch it go into the surgical waste container."
"By early 2012," Jones writes, "3,000 [U.S.] soldiers had been killed by IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 31,394 wounded. Among the wounded were more than 1,800 soldiers with severe damage to their genitals." Doctors treat an injured soldier's limbs first, later their genitals, later still their brains.
Back in the states, two young parents and "two pretty adolescent girls," step up "to sit on the padded platforms in the center of the room. They move with the tentative sobriety of shock. Aides wheel in a gurney that bears a bundle in a flannel sheet. They gather the edges of the sheet and swing the package over the platform into the very heart of the family. Carefully they lower it and then begin to peel away the wrapping. There, revealed, restored to the family, is the son, their boy, not dead, but missing both arms, both legs, and some part -- it's impossible to tell how much -- of his lower torso. The director calls out a cheery greeting, 'Hi Bobby! How are you doing today?' Bobby tries to answer but makes no sound. He flops on the platform, an emaciated head, eyes full of fear, his chest all bones under a damp grey ARMY tee shirt. . . . "
Be all that you can be.
In training you're ordered into a poison gas chamber and exposed to a bit of it. If Assad trained his troops that way, we'd murder a half million Syrians to get even. But U.S. military training is training in blind subservience, usually properly resented when it's too late. Up goes your chances of being dead, injured, guilt-ridden, traumatized, homicidal, and suicidal. Jones recounts the story of a soldier who murdered two Iraqi prisoners, came home convinced he was a murderer, laid out the two dead Iraqis' dog tags, wrapped a hose twice around his neck, and hung himself. Twenty-two a day: that's the count of U.S. veteran suicides according to the V.A. The rate is 4.7 times higher than normal, according to the Austin-American Statesmen's investigation of Texas veterans. That doesn't count recklessly crashed cars and motorcycles. And it doesn't count the epidemic of overdoses of the drugs meant to solve the problem.
How to help such suffering? Therapists used to ask people to talk and now ask them to take drugs. In either case, they don't ask them to honestly deal with their guilt. Between 2001 and 2007 homicides committed by active duty and veteran U.S. troops went up 90 percent. The military looks for problems in soldiers' family lives to explain such troubles, as if they all suddenly began marrying the wrong spouses just when their country deployed them into the stupidest war yet waged. Jones tells the story of one Marine who killed his wife but kept her body on the couch to watch TV with him for weeks. "I killed the only girl who ever loved me," he later lamented. Chances are good he had killed other people who were loved as well -- he'd just done so in a context in which some people praised him for it.
One wounded warrior tells Jones he loves war and longs to get back into it. "Blowin' shit up. It's fucking fun. I fuckin' love it." She replies, "I believe you really mean that," and he says, "No shit. I'm trying to educate you." But an older Army officer has a different view: "I've been in the army 26 years," he says, "and I can tell you it's a con." War, he believes in rather Smedley Butlerish fashion, is a way to make a small number of people "monufuckinmentally rich." He says his two sons will not serve in the military. "Before that happens I'll shoot them myself." Why? "War is absurd," he says. "Boys don't know any better. But for a grown man to be trapped in stupid wars -- it's embarrassing, it's humiliating, it's absurd."
Remarks at New York University forum with http://NYACT.net
The primary problem with weaponized drones is that the weapons murder people. And they murder people in a way that looks more like murder to a lot of observers than other forms of military murder do -- such as murder by indiscriminate bombing or artillery or infantry or dropping white phosphorous on people. When President Obama looks through a list of men, women, and children at a Tuesday terror meeting, and picks which ones to murder, and has them murdered, you can call it a war or not call it a war, but it begins to look to a lot of people like murder.
Many of the victims are civilians, many are men suspected of or just of the age for combat -- and in fact the policy has been to define military aged males as combatants -- and other victims are alleged to be serious criminals; not indicted, not charged, not tried or convicted, just alleged. And they're blown up along with anyone too nearby. It begins to look like the killing spree of a disgruntled employee at a shopping mall. But there's a key difference. It's happening in a foreign place to people who don't all look or talk like we do. I've been asked, more than once: Aren't drones preferable to piloted planes or ground troops, since with drones nobody dies? This is what drones do to foreign policy: they create deceptively easy and deceptively cost-free solutions. The drone war on Yemen didn't replace some other kind of war that was worse. It added another war to the list.
Here is the real danger: We're making murder in its most recognizable form acceptable. And we're defining it out of existence when the victims belong to that 96% of humanity that's never been considered quite all the way human in this country. Which leaves only the slightest step to include certain traitorous Americans as well. President Obama jokes about sending drones after his daughter's boyfriends, and the press corpse laughs. Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden jokes about adding Edward Snowden to the kill list, and everybody laughs. If we can be at war with individual criminals, why not add whistleblowers to the list? They reveal the powerful secrets that give our high priests their prestige. They reveal crimes and abuses that outrage us but outrage foreign nations too. They open a door through which we can begin to question what the distinction really is between joking about murder by million dollar missile and joking about murder with an ax, such that we admire one and are horrified by the other. The fact is that the most realistic mass-murder costumes you'll see in a Halloween Parade will be on men and women who've wandered up from Wall Street in their stylish suits.
The drone industry seems quite pleased with our acceptance of their technology for murder, but frustrated that some of us are resistant in our backward superstitious ways to favoring the use of killer drones that are fully automated. That is, we've accepted drones as a good moral killing device when a human at a desk pulls the trigger, but we find something vaguely disturbing about the drone pulling the trigger itself. Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International says, "Right now, in human nature, its unacceptable for a machine to kill a human being," but he's confident that will change as we begin to wise up and see the advantages. In fact, there are those who would like to ban automated drones and automated killing robots of all types, and I agree with them in so far as they go. Any weapon we can ban, let's ban it. But let's not, in the process, make non-automated drone murder acceptable. If you listen to the accounts of some former drone pilots -- so-called pilots who dress up in flight suits to sit at a desk and who drive past a sign on their way home from work every day letting them know that driving on U.S. roads is the most dangerous thing they do, so they should buckle up -- if you listen to these people, there's just not significantly more moral consideration going into the human pulling of the trigger than there would be with the drone pulling the trigger.
The majority of volunteers in experiments are willing to inflict what they believe is severe pain or death on other human beings when a scientist tells them to do so for the good of science. These are usually known as Milgram experiments, and the pain or death is faked by actors. Drone pilots take part in Milgram experiments where the deaths are real, the injuries are real, the suffering is real. Drones don't just kill, of course. They traumatize children and adults. The buzzing overhead, threatening imminent death for weeks on end is a severe form of cruelty, and an extreme case of power over others at an extreme distance -- and as indiscriminate as poison gas. Mothers in Yemen teach neighbors' kids at home for fear of letting them go to school. In Gaza people refer to Israel's drones with a word that means buzz but can also mean a relentlessly nagging wife. The Living Under Drones report produced by NYU and Stanford, I think made a lot of people aware of what drones do in Pakistan. (By the way, Pakistan's prime minister told Obama today to stop the drone killings, and Obama slipped the Washington Post evidence that Pakistan's been in on it. Don't expect them to give Bob Woodward the Chelsea Manning treatment. And don't imagine the murders-by-drone are OK because some lying scheming Pakistani officials are sometimes in on it.) Whole societies are devastated by the ongoing threat and the sporadic murders. Israel has killed hundreds in Gaza with drones. But the drone "pilot" sits at his desk and follows the instructions of his authority figure.
On June 6th NBC News interviewed a former drone pilot named Brandon Bryant who was deeply depressed over his role in killing over 1,600 people. He described watching his victims bleed to death and wondering what if anything they were guilty of. It became clear why drone pilots suffer PTSD at higher rates than real pilots. They see everything, including the children they kill.
"After participating in hundreds of missions over the years, Bryant said he 'lost respect for life' and began to feel like a sociopath. ... When he told a woman he was seeing that he'd been a drone operator, and contributed to the deaths of a large number of people, she cut him off. 'She looked at me like I was a monster,' he said. 'And she never wanted to touch me again.'"
Somehow, members of the United States Congress, where drones have their own caucus to represent them, seem less turned off and more aroused. But what about the rest of us? Where do we come down? A majority in the U.S. -- a shrinking majority, but still as far as I know a majority -- favors using drones to kill non-Americans outside of the United States. Pew surveyed 39 countries this past summer and found three that supported this U.S. policy: Kenya, the United States itself, and Israel. And within the United States there's not a big partisan divide on the matter. There's more concern over killing U.S. citizens or killing anyone within the United States, but less if they're immigrants on the border, less in hostage situations, etc. The first place the wars come home is in our own minds.
The U.S. Congress recently gave the Capitol Police the longest standing-ovation since Osama bin Laden's Muslim sea burial for what quickly turned out to be the shooting of an unarmed mother trying to get away. Congress members are in the habit of cheering for senseless murder abroad in the form of wars. Drone victims are labeled militants after the fact, by virtue of being dead. Transfer those habits to the streets of Capitol Hill, and it's easy enough to imagine that a dead woman deserved to die -- after all: she's dead. Our police are beginning to look like the military. The public is the enemy. Murderers are cheered if they wear a uniform. Bloomberg claims absurdly to have the seventh largest army in the world. And small-town police departments with nothing worse than drunk driving to confront them are stocking up on weaponry, including weaponized drones (with tear gas, rubber bullets, and all kinds of anti-personnel devices). In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff showed off a drone to the media but crashed it into his armored vehicle (thereby, I guess, proving that he needed the armored vehicle). Also in Texas, when the Department of Homeland Security challenged the University of Texas-Austin to hack into a drone and take control of it, the response was "No problem," and it was quickly done. Is this a part of U.S. wars people are really going to sit back and watch come home?
Many of the drones going into U.S. skies are for surveillance. A drone can sit too high up in the sky to see it from the ground but record everything on the ground for hours and hours of video. A drone as small as a bird or a bug can listen to you and your cell phone inside your house. Drones can threaten and intimidate potential protesters, as well as racially and religiously profiled groups, with surveillance and with weaponry. The NSA has been a big part of the kill list program, the same NSA that tracks all of us in the land of the free. A Congressional Research Service report arrived at the obvious conclusion that drones are incompatible with the Fourth Amendment. I would add the First Amendment. I would add representative government. So the fact that the technology is exciting or that drones can perform lots of useful and harmless functions is all well and good. But figure out how they're compatible with Constitutional rights first, and then allow them in those ways if that's possible. And if it isn't, then instead of using drones to watch forest fires let's focus on halting climate change. I've survived this long without having my coffee delivered by drone, and I can survive a bit longer.
It's not the technology's fault, we're told, by those more offended by insults to technology than by assaults on humans. "Drones carrying hellfire missiles over houses on the other side of the world don't kill people, people kill people." But, as it happens, drones don't hunt deer, drones don't protect grandma, the second amendment right to have an eighteenth century musket when taking part in a state militia doesn't create a right to killer flying robots. This is a new technology and it needs to be dealt with as such. This is the technology of legalized murder.
It's always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot -- just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing? It isn't strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe. As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated. When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we're never asked.
The U.N., which has been looking at U.S., Israeli, and U.K. drone use, has just submitted a couple of reports on drones to the General Assembly ahead of a debate scheduled for this Friday. The reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can't legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say -- the determination will be political rather than empirical.
The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that's a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don't need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama's speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn't meet them even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward sometimes in certain countries depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech. And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? We don't need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. It might slow down the march of the drones -- which is in fact being led by the United States and Israel.
Israel developed drones in the 1970s. Medea Benjamin's book begins with the story of how an Israeli engineer who had worked for an Israeli military contractor, developed the prototype of the Predator drone in his garage in southern California in the 1980s with funding from DARPA and the CIA. And the first thing he came up with was called the Albatross -- not a bad name really. Israel is the world's top exporter of drones. Technion is a leading developer of drone technology, including drones that can fly 1,850 miles without refueling and carry two 1,100 lb. bombs, as well as miniature surveillance drones, bulldozers, and other weapons of fairly massive destruction used in illegally occupied lands, where Israel has used chemical and all other sorts of weapons while continuing to receive billions of dollars worth every year of what the U.S. Orwellianly calls "military aid."
Creating Drone Island in the East River no doubt appeals to those in the Israeli government who spy on the U.S. and those in the U.S. government who spy on Israel, but especially to those who want to legitimize and Americanize the U.S. image of Israel's militarism, to make it as unquestionable in the U.S. as U.S. militarism sometimes is. The U.S. media questions the cost of feeding the hungry, while treating militarism as a jobs program -- even though programs to feed the hungry would more efficiently produce jobs. The federal government's trillion dollars a year for wars and war preparations doesn't count contributions from state and local governments and universities. The plans of Cornell and Technion to advance the technology of death on Roosevelt Island were apparently approved because of the money involved. And in the process a hospital will be destroyed. That's a typical trade-off. For a fraction of what we spend on weaponry, we could provide food, water, and medicine to the world. Many, many more people are killed through what we don't do with our money than through how we do spend it on wars.
Of course, we could also choose to invest in education instead of militarization. It's no coincidence that the nation that spends $1 trillion every year on war has created $1 trillion in student loan debt, and no coincidence that universities corrupted by military contracts are holding forums promoting war in Syria.
An early supporter of Technion who would be outraged at its current practices is Albert Einstein, who said "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." He was right. We have to choose one or the other. A lot of people are doing so.
In September, the University of Edinburgh responded to student protests and withdrew its investment from Ultra Electronics, a company that produces navigation controls for U.S. killer drones.
Here in New York, the Granny Peace Brigade and Know Drones and the World Can't Wait and lots of other groups have been pressuring the U.N. and the City Council and Congress and educating the public. The Center for Constitutional Rights is doing legal work against drone murder, and it just may be that lawsuits turn out to be a major tool in stopping the drones. An organization I work for called RootsAction has set up a petition at BanWeaponizedDrones.org that now has 99,000 signatures in favor of banning weaponized drones. We're going to deliver it to the U.N. and governments when it gets to 100,000, so please go sign it at BanWeaponizedDrones.org
Where I live in Charlottesville, Va., we passed the first city resolution against drones -- weaponized or surveillance, since when three other cities have done the same. And eight states. But the state laws have dealt only with surveillance. They have not sought to limit the weaponization of domestic drones, including with non-lethal weaponry. Some of them have made exceptions to their surveillance restrictions for the U.S. military. Four cities is not a lot, and I think one reason why is the complexities of the surveillance issue. I think cities would more readily pass resolutions commiting not to use weaponized drones, and I'd love to see New York City asked to do that. Even a failure on that would wake a lot of people up to a new danger.
Drone bases around the country are facing endless protests, as I'm sure a Drone Island in the East River will if created. If New Yorkers can chase David Petraeus away, I'm sure they can chase Technion away!
Nowhere has seen more or better nonviolent resistance to drones that Hancock air base in upstate, New York. But people have been risking and serving serious jail sentences to call attention and build resistance to these operations all over the country, including in Niagara Falls this past weekend, where activists are advancing a plan to turn the military airport into an array of solar panels that could power half the state.
This November, like this past April, will be a time of drone protests everywhere, and of Code Pink's drone summit in D.C.
Next Tuesday Congressman Grayson will hear testimony from two kids injured in Pakistan by a U.S. drone, although the U.S. won't let their lawyer come. And yesterday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports on drones full of great information, but still maintaining that some drone murders are legal and some aren't. They and the UN special rapporteur will be at NYU Law School on Tuesday and you have to RSVP at the Open Society Foundation. And on Wednesday Brave New Films will release its film on drone killing.
As we take on the drones, I think we should bear a few key points in mind. Foreign lives are not worth less than local ones. Killing with one kind of weapon is not worse than killing with another kind. Killing is evil and illegal whether or not you call it a war. The killing is multiplied by the spending of funds on it that could have been spent saving lives. A war is not an activity marred by atrocities and war crimes. War is the crime. We shouldn't oppose waste at the Pentagon more fervently than we oppose efficiency at the Pentagon. If we can stop believing in just torture or humane rape or good slavery, we can stop believing in acceptable war. If the government of Israel makes war we should employ every nonviolent tool to resist it -- and the very same goes for the government of the United States of America.
ADDENDUM: I mentioned and there was discussion of at this event Amnesty Intl.'s recommendations to the world:
"To the international community including the UN, other states and intergovernmental organizations:
It seems that a U.S./Israeli university on Roosevelt Island would be constantly transfering drone technology either to the U.S. or to Israel, either of which would be a violation of the law.
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, is in stores now. His 2009 book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.
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There's a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law. On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.
Which are which? Even their best researchers can't tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn't come up.
Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can't tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and -- remarkably -- recommends this: "Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty." However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes "judicial review of drone strikes," but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn't reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.
The UN special rapporteurs' reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won't let their lawyer come). Attention is being brought to the issue, and that's mostly to the good. The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike's victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can't legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and -- most powerfully -- threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say -- the determination will be political rather than empirical.
The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that's a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don't need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama's speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn't meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.
(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)
We don't need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. But let's stop for a minute and consider. The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it's not a case where they could have been captured, it's not "disproportionate," it's not too "collateral," it's not too "indiscriminate," etc., -- the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it. We're not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let's be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it's done properly, and it's giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.
I hate to be a wet blanket, but that's stunning. Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria. And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.
What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning? Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)? Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else? Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be "proportionate" and "necessary"? If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can't always tell which is which, won't drone killing continue? The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?
For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don't we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill? Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org Maybe we can push that over 100,000 ... or 200,000.
It's always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot -- just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?
It isn't strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe. As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated. When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we're never asked.
We're going to have to speak up for ourselves.
I'll be part of a panel discussing this at NYU on Wednesday. See http://NYACT.net
There has never been any evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Iran has always denied having such a thing.
The U.S. Department of Defense has admitted that currently Iran has no such program. All of the U.S. so-called intelligence agencies believe Iran has no nuclear weapons program. The New York Times (January 2012) and the Washington Post (December 2011) were compelled to issue corrections after referring to Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program.
Yet here comes Donald Nuechterlein in the Oct. 13 Daily Progress referring repeatedly to this mythical nuclear weapons program and claiming, for instance, that “Iran can be induced to suspend nuclear weapons development.”
Gee, what a diplomatic accomplishment that would be! You cannot suspend nuclear weapons development unless you are engaged in nuclear weapons development.
The comments come from Malala and the U.N. respectively.
President Obama invited Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for girls' education, to meet with his family. And she promptly explained that what he is doing works against her agenda and fuels terrorism.
Malala is a victim of violence in Pakistan, having been attacked by religious fanatics opposed to her work. But Obama may not have expected her to speak up against other forms of violence in her country.
Malala recounted: "I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact."
President Obama may also have not expected most people to notice or care. The corporate media have virtually ignored this part of a widely-reported meeting.
It's up to us to surprise everyone with the depth of our interest and concern. Almost 100,000 have thus far signed a petition to ban weaponized drones, soon to be delivered to the U.N., the I.C.C., the State Department, the White House, Congress, and embassies.
The United Nations has released a report on "armed drones and the right to life" (PDF). The report begins by noting that, as of now, weaponized drones are legal:
"Although drones are not illegal weapons, they can make it easier for States to deploy deadly and targeted force on the territories of other States. As such, they risk undermining the protection of life in the immediate and longer terms. If the right to life is to be secured, it is imperative that the limitations posed by international law on the use of force are not weakened by broad justifications of drone strikes."
Drones, the U.N. Special Rapporteur reports, risk making war the normal state of affairs:
"Peace should be the norm, yet such scenarios risk making its derogation the rule by privileging force over long-term peaceful alternatives. . . . Given that drones greatly reduce or eliminate the number of casualties on the side using them, the domestic constraints — political and otherwise — may be less restrictive than with the deployment of other types of armed force. This effect is enhanced by the relative ease with which the details about drone targeting can be withheld from the public eye and the potentially restraining influence of public concern. Such dynamics call for a heightened level of vigilance by the international community concerning the use of drones."
The U.N. Charter and this report seek to make war an exceptional state of affairs. This is a very difficult, and a morally depraved thing to attempt with an institution that deserves total abolition. War does not work as a tool with which to eliminate war. But, even within that framework, the U.N. finds that drones create extra-legal war:
"An outer layer of protection for the right to life is the prohibition on the resort to force by one State against another, again subject to a narrowly construed set of exceptions. The protection of State sovereignty and of territorial integrity, which onoccasion presents a barrier to the protection of human rights, here can constitute an important component of the protection of people against deadly force, especially with the advent of armed drones."
The strongest excuse for war is the claim of defense against an actual attack. The next best thing is to pretend an attack is imminent. The Obama Administration has famously redefined "imminent" to mean eventual or theoretical -- that is, they've stripped the word of all meaning. (See the "white paper" PDF.) The U.N. doesn't buy it:
"The view that mere past involvement in planning attacks is sufficient to render an individual targetable even where there is no evidence of a specific and immediate attack distorts the requirements established in international human rights law."
U.S. lawyers at Congressional hearings have tended to maintain that drone killing is legal if and only if it's part of a war. The U.N. report also distinguishes between two supposedly different standards of law depending on whether a drone murder is separate from or part of a war. Disappointingly, the U.N. believes that some drone strikes can be legal and others not:
"Insofar as the term 'signature strikes' refers to targeting without sufficient information to make the necessary determination, it is clearly unlawful. . . . Where one drone attack is followed up by another in order to target those who are wounded and hors de combat or medical personnel, it constitutes a war crime in armed conflict and a violation of the right to life, whether or not in armed conflict. Strikes on others confirmed to be civilians who are directly participating in hostilities or having a continuous combat function at the time of the follow-up strike could be lawful if the other international humanitarian law rules are respected."
The complex mumbo-jumbo of multiple legal standards for multiple scenarios, complete with calculations of necessity and distinction and proportionality and collateral damage, mars this report and any attempt to create enforceable action out of it. But the report does, tentatively, find one little category of drone murders illegal that encompasses many, if not all, U.S. drone murders -- namely, those where the victim might have been captured rather than killed:
"Recent debates have asked whether international humanitarian law requires that a party to an armed conflict under certain circumstances consider the capture of an otherwise lawful target (i.e. a combatant in the traditional sense or a civilian directly participating in hostilities) rather than targeting with force. In its Interpretive Guidance, ICRC states that it would defy basic notions of humanity to kill an adversary or to refrain from giving him or her an opportunity to surrender where there manifestly is no necessity for the use of lethal force."
Pathetically, the report finds that if a government is going to pretend that murdering someone abroad is "self-defense" the action must be reported to the U.N. -- thereby making it sooooo much better.
A second UN report (PDF) goes further, citing findings that U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians, but failing to call for prosecutions of these crimes. That is to say, the first report, above, which does not list specific U.S. drone murders of civilians, discusses the need for prosecutions. But this second report just asks for "a detailed public explanation."
The fact that an insane killing spree is counter-productive, as pointed out to Obama by Malala, in case he hadn't heard all his own experts, is not enough to end the madness. Ultimately we must recognize the illegality of all killing and all war. In the meantime, prior to the U.N.'s debate on this on the 25th, we can add our names to the growing movement to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org
A rally will be held on Sunday, October 20th, from 4-5PM at the main entrance to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station on Lockport Road by No Drones Niagara (nodronesniagara.org). The rally will support “Jobs for Life and Not for Death,” standing up against the military use of drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs) that looms over the Base’s future. At 3pm, many participants will meet at the UB South Park and Ride, Main St, to carpool to the Base.
The rally will also feature courageous nonviolent civil resisters – both local (Bonny Mahoney, Valerie Niederhoffer, and Vicki Ross) and from Syracuse (Ed Kinane and Ann Tiffany) and Rochester (Judy Bello). They have worked to stop the illegal extrajudicial assassination by drone that is being perpetrated at Hancock Air Reserve National Guard Base outside of Syracuse, one of the three biggest drone centers in the US. The government’s effort to shut down the civil resistance at Hancock has become so extreme that Orders of Protection have been egregiously mis-used against nonviolent peace activists by the Hancock Base Commander, and approved by Town of DeWitt judges. This pre-empts the activists’ civil right to free speech and debases an important legal tool for victims of domestic violence and stalking. It sets a dangerous precedent.
Sunday's rally will emphasize concern for the many ways people are hurt by weaponized drones: victims killed or maimed, and their grief-stricken families and friends; populations terrorized by the threatening presence of the drones; and drone operators who suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at a higher rate than those serving in combat. Life-sustaining jobs are what’s needed. Charley Bowman, Former Interim Director of the WNY Peace Center, will discuss other options for the base, especially converting the base into a solar energy farm (see wnypeace.org).
No Drones Niagara was formed in the greater Buffalo-Niagara area in 2012 after concerned citizens learned that the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station was being considered for hosting drone missions as a means of retaining jobs at the base and preventing its closure. It is the opinion of the members of No Drones Niagara that jobs which facilitate the killing of civilians and international lawbreaking (as testified by former Attorney General international law expert Ramsey Clark) are not jobs worth having. No Drones Niagara, an affiliate of the Upstate NY Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars (upstatedroneaction.org), is a collaboration of local groups including the Western New York Peace Center, the International Action Center(iacenter.org), the Interfaith Peace Network, Burning Books, and others. No Drones Niagara can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Facebook at facebook.com/NoDronesNiagara.
Earthwise - American David Swanson, journalist, author, blogger, peace activist discusses threats to Pagan Island
- Episode title: American David Swanson, journalist, author, blogger, peace activist discusses threats to Pagan Island, Northern Marianas from the US military
- Description:Vieques Island, part of Puerto Rico, has been ravished and poisoned by incessant US military bombing and other practices, including using Depleted Uranium. Will the same happen to Pagan Island?
- Duration:0 hour(s) 26 minute(s)
- Release date: October 16 2013
- Download: mp3 version
Pagan Island is known for its beauty and rich biological diversity. As David has said, "let's take this opportunity to build a bridge between peace activism and environmental activism." By the way, the Northern Marianas have observer status in the Pacific Islands Forum, in which New Zealand plays a leading role.
Rose Braz is the Climate Campaign Director for the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. The Clean Air Cities campaign has thus far organized 72 cities, large and small, across the United States, to pass resolutions demanding that the EPA make full use of the Clean Air Act to cut the greenhouse gas pollution that is drastically changing the earth's climate. See http://CleanAirCities.org
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
When video of the October 14th edition of Thom Hartmann's TV show appears online (here) it will include him asking me to justify not attacking Hitler. Thom has asked me this repeatedly during multiple appearances on his show, each time a little differently, and each time provocatively. He's right to ask it, and he's been right in some of the answers he's helped provide in the asking.
Without Hitler, the U.S. military would collapse.
For 68 years, wars on poor countries have been justified by the pretended discovery of Hitler's reincarnation. Each time it has turned out to be a false alarm. Every post-WWII war looks disastrous or at least dubious in retrospect to most people. And yet, the justification of the next war is always ready to hand, because the real, original Hitler remains alive in our memories, and he just might come back -- who's to say?
Actually, I think anyone vaguely aware of basic facts about the current world ought to be able to say that Hitler is gone for good.
How do I justify not going to war with Hitler, beyond explaining that Assad isn't Hitler, Gadaffi isn't Hitler, Hussein isn't Hitler, and so on?
Increasingly, I believe we must start with the fact that we live in a different world. Colonization is gone. Empires of the old model are gone. No powerful nation is plotting that sort of global conquest. In fact, no powerful nation is seriously considering war with other powerful nations.
During these past 68 years of misidentifying new Hitler after new Hitler, there has in fact been no World War III. We haven't just made it 25 years. We'll hit the 75-year mark during the next U.S. presidency. Nuclear weapons, awareness of the costs, understanding of the lack of benefits, established norms against the seizure of territory, the utter unacceptability of colonialism, and the vast increase in understanding of the power of nonviolent action all work against the waging of wars among the wealthy, armed nations. Instead, we have proxy wars, wars of exploitation, and poor-on-poor warfare. And even those wars fail miserably on their own terms. Occupations collapse. Puppets grow legs and wander off.
When World War II happened, war had never been prosecuted as a crime. The prosecutions that followed the war were the first. The seizure of territory was only beginning to be delegitimized. Colonialism was still understood as the route to riches, power, and prestige. War was imagined as a contest between armies on a battlefield, rather than what World War II transformed it into: the slaughter of civilians in their homes.
When World War II happened, there were no nukes, no satellites, no drones. There was no (or little) television, no internet, no WikiLeaks. There was no understanding of the tools of nonviolence. History contained no nonviolent overthrows of dictatorships, few examples of creative nonviolent resistance to tyranny, no teams of human shields, no Arab Spring, no Civil Rights movement, no overcoming of Apartheid, no bloodless revolutions in Eastern Europe, no peace studies programs, no expertise in conflict resolution, and no viable alternatives to war -- much less the thousands of tools since devised, tested, and refined.
When we look back at Thomas Jefferson's slavery, we like to excuse it because he lived in an age in which lots of other people engaged in slavery. He didn't know better, we like to say. He didn't have an easy way out that would be equally profitable with so many side benefits. I think we're a bit generous in this act of forgiving, but I think there's also a grain of truth there. Times do change, and actions are taken in contexts.
When we look back at Franklin Roosevelt's war-making, perhaps we should remember that it took place in an era when nothing else was imagined by many people. Punishing the entire nation of Germany following World War I was not recognized as the time bomb it was, not by most people. Funding fascism as preferable to the horror of communism was not recognized as the Frankenstein experiment it was, not by most people. Hyping the danger of a Nazi takeover of the world and jumping into a war, and then escalating that war into the very worst thing the world has ever seen, was not viewed as a barbaric choice, was not viewed as a choice at all -- not by many people.
We live in a different era. When our President claims he simply must send missiles into Syria, we tell him to think harder. We can forgive FDR for war-making as we forgive those who engaged in slavery or dueling or blood feuds or witch hunts. They were products of their times. But we need not go on acting as if it is forever 1945 -- no matter how much that pretense profits certain people.
If we were to recognize that Hitler isn't coming back, and that we could resist him without war if he did, we might suddenly begin demanding the things that other nations have and the U.S. could easily afford: healthcare, education, a secure and adequate income, parental leave, vacation leave, retirement, public transit, sustainable energy, etc. Lockheed and Raytheon and Northrop Grumman would start making solar panels or start departing this world for the pages of history. In other words, we might shut down the other half of the government from the half that's shut down right now.
The following is an excerpt from my book, War No More: The Case for Abolition:
"There Never Was a Good War or a Bad Peace" or How to Be Against Both Hitler and War
Benjamin Franklin, who said that bit inside the quotation marks, lived before Hitler and so may not be qualified—in the minds of many—to speak on the matter. But World War II happened in a very different world from today's, didn't need to happen, and could have been dealt with differently when it did happen. It also happened differently from how we are usually taught. For one thing, the U.S. government was eager to enter the war, and to a great extent did enter the war, in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, prior to Pearl Harbor.
Pre-WWII Germany might have looked very different without the harsh settlement that followed World War I which punished an entire people rather than the war makers, and without the significant monetary support provided for decades past and ongoing through World War II by U.S. corporations like GM, Ford, IBM, and ITT (see Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler by Anthony Sutton).
(Let me insert a parenthetical remark here that I hope many will find quite silly, but that I know others will need to hear. We are talking about World War II, and I've just criticized someone other than Hitler—namely U.S. corporations—so let me hasten to point out that Hitler still gets to be responsible for every hideous crime he committed. Blame is more like sunshine than like fossil fuels; we can give some to Henry Ford for his support of Hitler without taking the slightest bit away from Adolph Hitler himself and without comparing or equating the two.)
Nonviolent resistance to the Nazis in Denmark, Holland, and Norway, as well as the successful protests in Berlin by the non-Jewish wives of imprisoned Jewish husbands suggested a potential that was never fully realized—not even close. The notion that Germany could have maintained a lasting occupation of the rest of Europe and the Soviet Union, and proceeded to attack in the Americas, is extremely unlikely, even given the 1940s' relatively limited knowledge of nonviolent activism. Militarily, Germany was primarily defeated by the Soviet Union, its other enemies playing relatively minor parts.
The important point is not that massive, organized nonviolence should have been used against the Nazis in the 1940s. It wasn't, and many people would have had to see the world very differently in order for that to have happened. Rather the point is that tools of nonviolence are much more widely understood today and can be, and typically will be, used against rising tyrants. We should not imagine returning to an age in which that wasn't so, even if doing so helps to justify outrageous levels of military spending! We should, rather, strengthen our efforts to nonviolently resist the growth of tyrannical powers before they reach a crisis point, and to simultaneously resist efforts to lay the ground work for future wars against them.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was not then part of the United States, President Franklin Roosevelt had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kearny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been wrongly attacked. Roosevelt also tried to create support for entering the war by lying that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism. However, the people of the United States rejected the idea of going into another war until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, by which point Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created and begun using a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
When President Roosevelt visited Pearl Harbor seven years before the Japanese attack, the Japanese military (which, just like Hitler or anyone else in the world, gets full blame for all of its inexcusable crimes) expressed apprehension. In March 1935, Roosevelt bestowed Wake Island on the U.S. Navy and gave Pan Am Airways a permit to build runways on Wake Island, Midway Island, and Guam. Japanese military commanders announced that they were disturbed and viewed these runways as a threat. So did peace activists in the United States.
In November 1940, Roosevelt loaned China $100m for war with Japan, and after consulting with the British, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau made plans to send the Chinese bombers with U.S. crews to use in bombing Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
For years prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy worked on plans for war with Japan, the March 8, 1939, version of which described "an offensive war of long duration" that would destroy the military and disrupt the economic life of Japan. In January 1941, the Japan Advertiser expressed its outrage over Pearl Harbor in an editorial, and the U.S. ambassador to Japan wrote in his diary: "There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course I informed my government."
On May 24, 1941, the New York Times reported on U.S. training of the Chinese air force, and the provision of "numerous fighting and bombing planes" to China by the United States. "Bombing of Japanese Cities is Expected" read the subheadline.
On July 24, 1941, President Roosevelt remarked, "If we cut the oil off, [the Japanese] probably would have gone down to the Dutch East Indies a year ago, and you would have had a war. It was very essential from our own selfish point of view of defense to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was trying to stop a war from breaking out there." Reporters noticed that Roosevelt said "was" rather than "is." The next day, Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing Japanese assets. The United States and Britain cut off oil and scrap metal to Japan. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist who served on the war crimes tribunal in Tokyo after the war, called the embargoes a "clear and potent threat to Japan's very existence," and concluded the United States had provoked Japan.
The U.S. government is imposing what it proudly calls "crippling sanctions" on Iran as I write.
On November 15, 1941, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall briefed the media on something we do not remember as "the Marshall Plan." In fact we don't remember it at all. "We are preparing an offensive war against Japan," Marshall said, asking the journalists to keep it a secret.
Ten days later Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in his diary that he'd met in the Oval Office with Marshall, President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Admiral Harold Stark, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Roosevelt had told them the Japanese were likely to attack soon, possibly next Monday. It has been well documented that the United States had broken the Japanese' codes and that Roosevelt had access to them.
What did not bring the United States into the war or keep it going was a desire to save Jews from persecution. For years Roosevelt blocked legislation that would have allowed Jewish refugees from Germany into the United States. The notion of a war to save the Jews is found on none of the war propaganda posters and essentially arose after the war was over, just as the idea of the "good war" took hold decades later as a comparison to the Vietnam War.
"Disturbed in 1942," wrote Lawrence S. Wittner, "by rumors of Nazi extermination plans, Jessie Wallace Hughan, an educator, a politician, and a founder of the War Resisters League, worried that such a policy, which appeared 'natural, from their pathological point of view,' might be carried out if World War II continued. 'It seems that the only way to save thousands and perhaps millions of European Jews from destruction,' she wrote, 'would be for our government to broadcast the promise' of an 'armistice on condition that the European minorities are not molested any further. ... It would be very terrible if six months from now we should find that this threat has literally come to pass without our making even a gesture to prevent it.' When her predictions were fulfilled only too well by 1943, she wrote to the State Department and the New York Times, decrying the fact that 'two million [Jews] have already died' and that 'two million more will be killed by the end of the war.' Once again she pleaded for the cessation of hostilities, arguing that German military defeats would in turn exact reprisals upon the Jewish scapegoat. 'Victory will not save them,' she insisted, 'for dead men cannot be liberated.'"
In the end some prisoners were rescued, but many more had been killed. Not only did the war not prevent the genocide, but the war itself was worse. The war established that civilians were fair game for mass slaughter and slaughtered them by the tens of millions. Attempts to shock and awe through mass slaughter failed. Fire-bombing cities served no higher purpose. Dropping one, and then a second, nuclear bomb was in no way justified as a way to end a war that was already ending. German and Japanese imperialism were halted, but the U.S. global empire of bases and wars was born—bad news for the Middle East, Latin America, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and elsewhere. The Nazi ideology was not defeated by violence. Many Nazi scientists were brought over to work for the Pentagon, the results of their influence apparent.
But much of what we think of as particularly Nazi evils (eugenics, human experimentation, etc.) could be found in the United States as well, before, during, and after the war. A recent book called Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America collects much of what is known. Eugenics was taught in hundreds of medical schools in the United States by the 1920s and by one estimate in three-quarters of U.S. colleges by the mid 1930s. Non-consensual experimentation on institutionalized children and adults was common in the United States before, during, and especially after the U.S. and its allies prosecuted Nazis for the practice in 1947, sentencing many to prison and seven to be hanged. The tribunal created the Nuremberg Code, standards for medical practice that were immediately ignored back home. American doctors considered it "a good code for barbarians." Thus, we had the Tuskegee syphilis study, and the experimentation at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn, the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island, Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, and so many others, including U.S. experiments on Guatemalans during the Nuremberg proceedings. Also during the Nuremberg trial, children at the Pennhurst school in southeastern Pennsylvania were given hepatitis-laced feces to eat. Human experimentation increased in the decades that followed. As each story has leaked out we've seen it as an aberration. Against Their Will suggests otherwise. As I write, there are protests of recent forced sterilizations of women in California prisons.
The point is not to compare the relative levels of evilness of individuals or people. The Nazis' concentration camps are very hard to match in that regard. The point is that no side in a war is good, and evil behavior is no justification for war. American Curtis LeMay, who oversaw the fire bombing of Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, said that if the other side had won he'd have been prosecuted as a war criminal. That scenario wouldn't have rendered the disgusting war crimes of the Japanese or the Germans acceptable or praiseworthy. But it would have led to the world giving them less thought, or at least less exclusive thought. Instead, the crimes of the allies would be the focus, or at least one focus, of outrage.
You need not think that U.S. entry into World War II was a bad idea in order to oppose all future wars. You can recognize the misguided policies of decades that led to World War II. And you can recognize the imperialism of both sides as a product of their time. There are those who, by this means, excuse Thomas Jefferson's slavery. If we can do that, perhaps we can also excuse Franklin Roosevelt's war. But that doesn't mean we should be making plans to repeat either one of those things.
The above is excerpted from War No More: The Case for Abolition.
This article is excerpted from the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition.
In the late eighteenth century the majority of people alive on earth were held in slavery or serfdom (three-quarters of the earth's population, in fact, according to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights from Oxford University Press). The idea of abolishing something so pervasive and long-lasting as slavery was widely considered ridiculous. Slavery had always been with us and always would be. One couldn't wish it away with naive sentiments or ignore the mandates of our human nature, unpleasant though they might be. Religion and science and history and economics all purported to prove slavery's permanence, acceptability, and even desirability. Slavery's existence in the Christian Bible justified it in the eyes of many. In Ephesians 6:5 St. Paul instructed slaves to obey their earthly masters as they obeyed Christ.
Slavery's prevalence also allowed the argument that if one country didn't do it another country would: "Some gentlemen may, indeed, object to the slave trade as inhuman and evil," said a member of the British Parliament on May 23, 1777, "but let us consider that, if our colonies are to be cultivated, which can only be done by African negroes, it is surely better to supply ourselves with those labourers in British ships, than buy them from French, Dutch or Danish traders." On April 18, 1791, Banastre Tarleton declared in Parliament—and, no doubt, some even believed him—that "the Africans themselves have no objection to the trade."
By the end of the nineteenth century, slavery was outlawed nearly everywhere and rapidly on the decline. In part, this was because a handful of activists in England in the 1780s began a movement advocating for abolition, a story well told in Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains. This was a movement that made ending the slave trade and slavery a moral cause, a cause to be sacrificed for on behalf of distant, unknown people very different from oneself. It was a movement of public pressure. It did not use violence and it did not use voting. Most people had no right to vote. Instead it used so-called naive sentiments and the active ignoring of the supposed mandates of our supposed human nature. It changed the culture, which is, of course, what regularly inflates and tries to preserve itself by calling itself "human nature."
Other factors contributed to the demise of slavery, including the resistance of the people enslaved. But such resistance was not new in the world. Widespread condemnation of slavery—including by former slaves—and a commitment not to allow its return: that was new and decisive.
Those ideas spread by forms of communication we now consider primitive. There is some evidence that in this age of instant global communication we can spread worthy ideas much more quickly.
So, is slavery gone? Yes and no. While owning another human being is banned and in disrepute around the world, forms of bondage still exist in certain places. There is not a hereditary caste of people enslaved for life, transported and bred and whipped openly by their owners, what might be called "traditional slavery." Sadly, however, debt slavery and sex slavery hide in various countries. There are pockets of slavery of various sorts in the United States. There is prison labor, with the laborers disproportionately being descendants of former slaves. There are more African-Americans behind bars or under supervision by the criminal justice system in the United States today than there were African-Americans enslaved in the United States in 1850.
But these modern evils don't convince anybody that slavery, in any form, is a permanent fixture in our world, and they shouldn't. Most African-Americans are not imprisoned. Most workers in the world are not enslaved in any type of slavery. In 1780, if you had proposed making slavery the exception to the rule, a scandal to be carried out in secret, hidden away and disguised where it still existed in any form, you would have been considered as naive and ignorant as someone proposing the complete elimination of slavery. If you were to propose bringing back slavery in a major way today, most people would denounce the idea as backward and barbaric.
All forms of slavery may not have been completely eliminated, and may never be. But they could be. Or, on the other hand, traditional slavery could be returned to popular acceptance and restored to prominence in a generation or two. Look at the rapid revival in acceptance of the use of torture in the early twenty-first century for an example of how a practice that some societies had begun to leave behind has been significantly restored. In this moment, however, it is clear to most people that slavery is a choice and that its abolition is an option—that, in fact, its abolition always was an option, even if a difficult one.
In the United States some may have a tendency to doubt the abolition of slavery as a model for the abolition of war because war was used to end slavery. But did it have to be used? Would it have to be used today? Slavery was ended without war, through compensated emancipation, in the British colonies, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and most of South America and the Caribbean. That model worked also in Washington, D.C. Slave owning states in the United States rejected it, most of them choosing secession instead. That's the way history went, and many people would have had to think very differently for it to have gone otherwise. But the cost of freeing the slaves by buying them would have been far less than the North spent on the war, not counting what the South spent, not counting the deaths and injuries, mutilations, trauma, destruction, and decades of bitterness to come, while slavery long remained nearly real in all but name. (See Costs of Major U.S. Wars, by the Congressional Research Service, June 29, 2010.)
On June 20, 2013, the Atlantic published an article called "No, Lincoln Could Not Have 'Bought the Slaves'." Why not? Well, the slave owners didn't want to sell. That's perfectly true. They didn't, not at all. But the Atlantic focuses on another argument, namely that it would have just been too expensive, costing as much as $3 billion (in 1860s money). Yet, if you read closely—it's easy to miss it—the author admits that the war cost over twice that much. The cost of freeing people was simply unaffordable. Yet the cost—over twice as much—of killing people, goes by almost unnoticed. As with well-fed people's appetites for desserts, there seems to be a completely separate compartment for war spending, a compartment kept far away from criticism or even questioning.
The point is not so much that our ancestors could have made a different choice (they were nowhere near doing so), but that their choice looks foolish from our point of view. If tomorrow we were to wake up and discover everyone appropriately outraged over the horror of mass incarceration, would it help to find some large fields in which to kill each other off in large numbers? What would that have to do with abolishing prisons? And what did the Civil War have to do with abolishing slavery? If—radically contrary to actual history—U.S. slave owners had opted to end slavery without war, it's hard to imagine that as a bad decision.
Let me try to really, really emphasize this point: what I am describing DID NOT happen and was not about to happen, was nowhere remotely close to happening; but its happening would have been a good thing. Had slave owners and politicians radically altered their thinking and chosen to end slavery without a war, they would have ended it with less suffering, and probably ended it more completely. In any case, to imagine slavery ending without war, we need only look at the actual history of various other countries. And to imagine big changes being made in our society today (whether it's closing prisons, creating solar arrays, rewriting the Constitution, facilitating sustainable agriculture, publicly financing elections, developing democratic media outlets, or anything else—you may not like any of these ideas, but I'm sure you can think of a major change that you would like) we don't tend to include as Step 1 "Find large fields in which to make our children kill each other in huge numbers." Instead, we skip right by that to Step 2 "Do the thing that needs doing." And so we should.
This article is excerpted from the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition.
There are two kinds of countries or societies or places to live. In the first kind, decent, fair, kind, and respectful treatment of every person takes precedent over anyone's preferences for how a culture changes or how much effort is expended trying to slow the change of a culture, or which cultures mix with each other, or which groups intermarry. In this first type of society — admittedly a nonexistent ideal — people identify with humanity and welcome any member of humanity into their group of associates, their neighborhood, and their family. Desire to keep some corner of the globe inhabited by people with a particular skin color or language isn't just slightly outweighed by diligent observance of individuals' rights. Instead, such sectarian or tribal desire doesn't exist. And its absence leaves room for concern over war, environmental destruction, hunger, poor healthcare, illiteracy, and all sorts of problems not involving the exclusion of some people from a group.
In the second kind of society, importance is placed on creating or maintaining a population that is exclusively or predominantly of a particular appearance or background, religion or ethnicity. Such a society strays, mildly or moderately or extremely, from democracy, as its demographic project conflicts with people's rights to immigrate, marry, practice or abandon religion, and speak and behave as they choose. Valuing some types of people over others leads toward anti-democratic positions and leaves a society open to easy manipulation through fear and prejudice, distracting energy away from real problems that might appear harder to solve. In extreme cases, this type of society becomes fascist. Hatred and violence become admirable. Lynchings and apartheid and Jim Crow and mass incarceration and sadistic punishment follow.
The nation of Israel claims to be both a democracy and a Jewish state. It can't be. Similarly, the United States cannot be a Christian nation or a white nation and a democracy. A poll in Israel in 2012 asked, "Israel is defined as both a Jewish and democratic state. Which is more important to you?" 34% said Jewish, while 22% said democratic, but 42% said that both were equally important. People in that 42% misunderstand the necessity to choose, as they no doubt do choose every day. The same poll asked, "Speakers should be prohibited from harshly criticizing the State of Israel in public ... ," and 20% agreed, while another 29% strongly agreed. Hmmm, is that the democracy or the Jewish state talking?
Max Blumenthal's new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, is 400 pages of fascistic horrors, a dystopian vision of where the United States or most any other country could go and where Israel has gone. Of course, Israel uses World War II to justify its outrages, just as the United States uses World War II to justify its military presence in 177 other nations. The United States arms Israel and protects it from legal consequences for crimes. U.S. companies and individuals and universities and churches fund and take part in Israel's brutality. U.S. Congress members listen to Israeli war propaganda as attentively as do Knesset members. So, there are perhaps extra reasons for those of us in the U.S. to pay particular attention to Israel's fascistic tendencies.
And what do these consist of? Well, permanent war, permanent crisis, fear-mongering, racism, legal and popularly imposed segregation and harassment. False beliefs about past and current crimes of the Israeli military are so openly willful that Israel has a contest show on television for amateur propagandists. Crimes by soldiers or civilians go unpunished or lightly punished when the victims are non-Jews. These crimes include lynchings, assaults, torture, harassment, humiliation, eviction, home destruction, job discrimination, and constant traumatization. Soldiers always nearby. Drones always buzzing overhead. Artificial sewage called Skunk sprayed through open windows of homes. The star of David painted on homes and businesses destroyed to intimidate non-Jews. Crowds gathered on a hill to watch and cheer for the bombing of Gaza like Washingtonians picnicking in Manassas to watch a civil war slaughter. Israeli soldiers openly describing themselves as fascists. Trials with pre-determined outcomes. Incarceration of masses of people in concentration camps.
Blumenthal's portrait of Israel is a partial one to be sure, but a terrifying one nonetheless. He contrasts the relentless hatred and abuse he documents with brief moments of imagining something else. At a restaurant in Haifa, writes Blumenthal, "seated at a long table in Fatoush's outdoor garden, listening to a mélange of English, Arabic, and Hebrew amid a crowd of Palestinians, Jews, and internationals, it is sometimes possible to imagine the kind of place Israel could be if it ever managed to shed its settler-colonial armor."
That place is not a Jewish democracy or a white democracy or a European democracy. That place is a democracy, and a democracy is a place where you're happy for your son or daughter to get married because they're in love, not because of the ethnicity of their beloved.
Stephen Canty, once a Marine deployed to Afghanistan, now a filmmaker, is creating a film -- called Once a Marine. -- about the struggles of war veterans coming home. You can see a preview and fund the film's production on Kickstarter at
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
You laugh, but that could be a side-effect. Consider:
The Capitol Police just murdered an unarmed mother fleeing her car on foot, declared her child "unharmed," and received the longest standing-ovation in Congress since Osama bin Laden's Muslim sea burial. Try holding your breath until Congress takes the standing ovation back, and you'll wish your were in the "Holy Land" having your house sprayed with "Skunk" artificial sewage by the Israeli military or in Old Town Alexandria tasting the air of the authentic raw sewage across the river until it's "treated" and spread on farms in the exurbs for the benefit of we the people.
Why? Because freedom.
Who would give all of this up in exchange for a reduced military costing less than $1 trillion per year? Well, maybe the dude who just cremated himself alive on the National Mall, it's hard to know. Or possibly me the next time a tourist asks me why they named it the National Mall knowing fully damn well that they'd confuse everyone who arrived expecting department stores and food courts.
This weekend, government programs aimed at slowing the starvation or other premature death of the least well off among us were closed, out of business, gone fishing. But the fucking football game between the Navy and the Air Force was an essential government service proudly played for the honor of "everyone fighting for this country" as one brainwashed midshipman put it. Did you know the top paid people in the U.S. military are all football coaches, and essential public servants?
President after president of countries 8% of us could find on a map are going to the United Nations to compare U.S. "exceptionalism" to Nazi Ubermenschen. Can you imagine the anti-American idiocy involved? But the last living prosecutor at Nuremberg, an American, has been saying the same thing. What'shis problem? And how could he dare if this weren't all hallucinatory?
President Obama was praised for his speech at the United Nations because he didn't threaten a first nuclear strike. That's the standard. Now he's getting credit for locking people up on ships outside of any system of law, because he can't have murdered them if he locked them up on ships. That's progress! If you squeeze down the passages of this psychedelic rabbit hole and peer out a window, you see a radically different world outside.
Switzerland is working on a maximum wage and a guaranteed basic income. But how many wars are they going to be able to join in after that colossal waste of funding? Their entire population is already suffering war deprivation. The Swiss can't expect the U.S. to pick up the tab for their wars while they make chocolate and don't even have the decency to spray sewage on anyone.
I once heard a likely lunatic propose that instead of paying farmers not to farm (and dumping sludge on their land) the U.S. government could pay weapons makers not to make weapons, stop giving and selling weapons to everybody else's governments, and ban U.S. troops and mercenaries from any distance greater than 500 miles from the United States. I say lunatic, because in this particular hallucination that we're all living through money multiplies itself if it's spent on killing people. A half a billion dollars for Solyndra is an outrageous waste that kills nobody and is lost forever. But a half billion dollars for two days -- give or take a speech by Congressman Cruz -- of blowing stuff up in Afghanistan is cost-free since the half billion dollars reproduces itself at the Federal Reserve which not only grows laboratory hamburgers but sells them to foreigners for national security resources misplaced beneath the wrong nations.
The winding down drawdown ending of the gradual scaling back of the wrapping up completed war on Afghanistan has eaten the wrong sort of size pill somehow. There are now almost twice as many U.S. troops in Afghanistan as when Barack Obama became president.
We're still spending over $10 million every hour (even during a government shutdown) for a war in Afghanistan that has now completed its 12th year and begins its 13th today. This spending drains rather than fueling the U.S. economy. Inflicting more war on Afghanistan has involved the killing of thousands of civilians. Experts in the U.S., British, and Afghan governments agree that this is making us less safe, not protecting us.
Why? Because Obama.
Captain Peace Prize is attempting what he failed at in Iraq: an agreement with a puppet to continue an "ended" war indefinitely. President Obama is trying to negotiate a deal with corrupt lame-duck President Hamid Karzai to keep some U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with immunity from prosecution for crimes and the right to continue attacking Afghans including with raids on their homes at night. This could mean nine major U.S. military bases remaining in Afghanistan at a huge cost in dollars, lives, safety, and environmental destruction for decades to come.
Oh, and the good, smart, humanitarian, not-Iraq war on Afghanistan is as illegal as whatever we consumed to induce this bizarre hallucination.
There's a place to scream I'm Not Going to Take It Anymore right here.
Al Jolson wrote a note to President Harding some years back now:
"The weary world is waiting for
So take away the gun
From every mother's son
And put an end to war."
And still, 86 new Adolf Hitler misidentifications later, they do not listen. Except that they listened on missiles into Syria. The two parties wanted the missiles. Raytheon's stock was through the roof. And we said no, no, and hell no, and go Dick Cheney yourselves. And the bipartisan agreement was stopped by our 90% opposition and 0.5% actively expressed outrage. And within a couple of weeks the zombie of pretended partisanship was back in the form of a shutdown dispute that, through a perfectly harmonious bipartisan agreement, didn't shut down the military or the NSA or the Navy v. Air Force football game.
Everything useful is shut down. Everything deadly is up and running. And a gang of truckers is on its way to DC to shut down the government. Make sense of any of this if you dare, and I'm willing to bet you've worn a Redskins shirt to the Holocaust museum.
This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition, published in October 2013.
As I write this, in September 2013, something extraordinary has just happened. Public pressure has led the British Parliament to refuse a prime minister's demand for war for the first time since the surrender at Yorktown, and the U.S. Congress has followed suit by making clear to the U.S. president that his proposed authorization for war on Syria would not pass through either the Senate or the House.
Now, this may all fall apart in a week or a month or a year or a decade. The forces pressing for a war on Syria have not gone away. The civil war and the humanitarian crisis in Syria are not over. The partisan makeup of the Parliament and the Congress played a role in their actions (although the leaders of both major parties in Congress favored attacking Syria). Foreign nations' intervention played a role. But the decisive force driving governments around the world and U.S. government (and military) insiders to resist this war was public opinion. We heard the stories of children suffering and dying in Syria, but we rejected the idea that killing more Syrians with U.S. weapons would make Syria better off.
Those of us who believe that we should always have the right to reject our government's arguments for war should feel empowered. Now that it's been done, we cannot be told it's impossible to do it again ... and again, and again.
In the space of a day, discussions in Washington, D.C., shifted from the supposed necessity of war to the clear desirability of avoiding war. If that can happen once, even if only momentarily, why can it not happen every time? Why cannot our government's eagerness for war be permanently done away with? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the unsuccessful marketing campaign for an attack on Syria, had famously asked, many years earlier, during what the Vietnamese call the American War, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" We have it within our power to make war a thing of the past and to leave Secretary Kerry the last man to have tried to sell us a dead idea.
(An argument will be made that the threat of war aided diplomatic efforts to disarm the Syrian government. It should not be forgotten that when Kerry suggested that Syria could avoid a war by handing over its chemical weapons, everyone knew he didn't mean it. In fact, when Russia called his bluff and Syria immediately agreed, Kerry's staff put out this statement: "Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment." In other words: stop getting in the way of our war! By the next day, however, with Congress rejecting war, Kerry was claiming to have meant his remark quite seriously and to believe the process had a good chance of succeeding.)
In this book I make the case outlined in the four section titles: War can be ended; War should be ended; War is not going to end on its own; We have to end war.
Others have made the case that war can be ended, but they have tended to look for the source of war in poor nations, overlooking the nation that builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars. By these and other measures, the United States government is the world's leading war-maker, and—in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.—the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Ending U.S. war-making wouldn't eliminate all war from the world, but ending war-making only by poor countries wouldn't come close.
This should not come as a shock or an offense to most people in the United States, some 80 percent of whom consistently tell pollsters that our government is broken. It's been over half a century since President Dwight Eisenhower warned that a military industrial complex would corrupt the United States. Military spending is roughly half of the U.S. government's discretionary spending every year, dwarfing any other expense. The United States is closely tied with the European Union as the wealthiest place on earth. Surely that money must be going somewhere. Surely a broken government is bound to be at least a little broken in the primary thing it does—in this case, the making of war.
By "war" I mean roughly: the use of a nation's military abroad. The use of a military at home to establish a police state or attack a sub-population is related to war and sometimes hard to distinguish from war, but usually distinct (the exceptions being called civil wars). The use of military-like tactics by a non-nation group or individual may sometimes be morally or visually indistinguishable from war, but it differs from war in terms of responsibility and appropriate response. The use of a nation's military abroad for purely non-war purposes, such as humanitarian relief, is not what I mean by war, and also not easy to find actual examples of. By the term "military," I mean to include uniformed and non-uniformed, official troops and contractors, acknowledged and clandestine—anyone (or any robot) engaged in military activity for a government.
I intend this book for people everywhere, but especially in the United States and the West. Most people in the United States do not believe that war can be ended. And I suspect that most are aware of the significant role the United States plays in war-making, because most also believe that war should not be ended. Few actually view war as desirable—once a widespread belief, but one heard less and less since about the time of World War I. Rather, people tend to believe that war is necessary to protect them or to prevent something worse than war.
So, in Part II, I make the case that war endangers, rather than protecting us, and that there isn't something worse than war that war can be used to prevent. I argue that war is not justified by evil forces it opposes or by false claims to humanitarian purposes. War is not benefitting us at home or the people in the nations where our wars are fought, out of sight and sometimes out of mind. War kills huge numbers of innocent people, ruins nations, devastates the natural environment, drains the economy, breeds hostility, and strips away civil liberties at home no matter how many times we say "freedom."
This case is not so much philosophical as factual. The most significant cause of war, I believe and argue in the book, is bad information about past wars. A majority in the United States believes Iraq benefitted from the 2003-2011 war that destroyed Iraq. If I believed that, I'd favor launching another one right away. A majority in Iraq believes the war left them even worse off than they were before it. (See, for example, the Zogby poll of December 20, 2011.) Extensive evidence, discussed below, as well as basic common sense, suggests that Iraqis, like anyone else, actually know best what their own situation is. Therefore, I want to prevent a repeat.
I wish I could have written a theoretical case against war, without mentioning any wars. But, everyone would have agreed with it and then made exceptions, like the school board member where I live who said he wanted to support a celebration of peace as long as everyone was clear he wasn't opposing any wars. As it is, I had to include actual wars, and facts about them. Where I've suspected someone will object to a piece of information, I've included a source for it right in the text. I discuss in this book the wars launched when George W. Bush was president and the wars launched or escalated since Barack Obama became president, as well as some of the most cherished "good wars" in U.S. culture, such as World War II and the U.S. Civil War. I also recommend reading this book in combination with a previous book of mine called War Is A Lie.
I don't recommend taking my word for anything. I encourage independent research. And a few other points may help with keeping an open-mind while reading this book: There's no partisan agenda here. The Democrats and Republicans are partners in war, and I have no loyalty to either of them. There's no national agenda here. I'm not interested in defending or attacking the U.S. government, or any other government. I'm interested in the facts about war and peace and what we should do about them. There's no political agenda here on the spectrum from libertarian to socialist. I certainly place myself on the socialist side of that spectrum, but on the question of war it's not particularly relevant. I think Switzerland has had a pretty good foreign policy. I admire Costa Rica's elimination of its military. Sure, I think useful and essential things should be done with the money that's now dumped into war and war preparations, but I'd favor ending war if the money were never collected or even if it were collected and burned.
Disturbing as it is to run into countless people who believe war can't and/or shouldn't be ended (including quite a few who say it can't be ended but should be ended, presumably meaning that they wish it could be ended but are sure it can't be), I've begun running into people who tell me—even more disturbingly—that war is in the process of ending, so there's nothing to worry about and nothing to be done. The arguments that have set people on this path distort and minimize death counts in recent wars, define large portions of wars as civil wars (and thus not wars), measure casualties in isolated wars against the entire population of the globe, and conflate downward trends in other types of violence with trends in war-making. Part III, therefore, makes the case that war is not, in fact, going away.
Part IV addresses how we should go about causing war to go away. Largely, I believe that we need to take steps to improve our production, distribution, and consumption of information, including by adjusting our worldviews to make ourselves more open to learning and understanding unpleasant facts about the world—and acting on them. More difficult tasks than the abolition of war have been accomplished before. The first step has usually been recognizing that we have a problem.
This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition.
Nathan Schneider is an editor of the websites Waging Nonviolence and Killing the Buddah. He reported on / participated in Occupy Wall Street from before Day 1. He has now published Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse.
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David Swanson will answer questions about his new book War No More: The Case for Abolition in an online chat hosted by Medea Benjamin. To take part, just be at Firedoglake.com at 5:00pm ET / 2:00pm PT, Saturday, October 5th, for the FDL Book Salon discussion, which will run for 2 hours. To participate and comment, stop by a few minutes early to register and get a password. To just read along, no registration is required.
On October 11, we'll learn whether the Norwegian Nobel Committee is interested in reviving the Nobel Peace Prize or putting another nail in its coffin.
Alfred Nobel's vision for the Nobel Peace Prize created in his will was a good one and, one might have thought, a legally binding one as well.
The peace prize is not supposed to be awarded to proponents of war, such as Barack Obama or the European Union.
It is not supposed to be awarded to good humanitarians whose work has little or nothing to do with peace, such as most other recent recipients. As with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace which works for almost anything but, in violation of its creator's will, and as with many a "peace and justice" group focused on all sorts of good causes that aren't the elimination of militarism, the Nobel has become a "peace" prize, rather than a peace prize.
The peace prize was not supposed to be given even to war reformers or war civilizers. The peace prize is for: "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." The prize is not a lifetime award, but goes, along with the other Nobel prizes, "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind."
Nobel laureates are not even asked whether they support the abolition of standing armies. Few have taken the approach of Barack Obama, who praised wars and militarism in his acceptance speech, but many others would almost certainly have to respond in the negative; they do not support and have not worked for the abolition of standing armies. Nor do they plan to put the prize money to work for that goal.
Norwegian author and lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl has for years now been leading an effort to enforce Alfred Nobel's will. "Letters Nobel wrote confirm," says Heffermehl, "that he established his prize to fulfill a promise to Bertha von Suttner," a promise to create a prize to fund work toward war abolition. In March 2012 the Swedish Foundations Authority ordered the Nobel Foundation to examine the will and ensure compliance. When the next award was given to the European Union in blatant violation of the will, former recipients -- including Adolfo Esquivel, Mairead Maguire, and Desmond Tutu -- protested. The Nobel Foundation has defied the order to comply with the will and applied for a permanent exception from such oversight.
This year there are 259 nominees, 50 of which are organizations. (Even Heffermehl does not object to the practice of giving the prize meant for a "person" to an organization.) The list of nominees is kept secret, but some are known. In Heffermehl's view, none of the favorites for this year's prize legally qualifies. That includes Malala Yousafzai, whose work for education certainly deserves a prize, just not this one. And it includes Denis Mukwege, whose work to aid victims of sexual violence should be honored, just not with the prize intended for those working to abolish armies. Civil rights in Russia, freedom of the press in Burma, and many other great causes could end up being awarded with a prize for opposition to war next week.
The name Steve Pinker has been mentioned along with the proposal that he be given the peace prize as reward for having written a grossly misleading and deceptive book falsely arguing that war is going away on its own. That would at least be a new twist on the abuse and degradation of this prize, although with Bill Clinton on the nominees list the options for truly disgusting outcomes are not exactly limited.
Heffermehl has found some names on the list that do actually qualify. They include American professor Richard Falk, Norwegian ambassador Gunnar Garbo, American David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the former director general of UNESCO Federico Mayor of Spain, Swedish peace scientist and organizer Jan Oberg, and American professor of peace education Betty Reardon. "These clearly are," says Heffermehl, "the kind of 'champions of peace' described in Nobel's will, working for global disarmament based on global law." I would include Gene Sharp, from among the list of nominees, as someone who probably qualifies, although there are certainly arguments against it. Among qualified organizations nominated for 2013, in Heffermehl's view, are the International Peace Bureau, the Transnational Foundation, UNESCO, and the Womens' International League for Peace and Freedom.
Other indivuals and organizations on the list, Heffermehl thinks, are "dedicated peacemakers or have courageously exposed the dangers of militarism, but they may not pursue the vision of general and complete disarmament that Nobel saw as essential for world peace." These include Norwegian Steinar Bryn, Americans Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden (the latter not nominated by the 2013 deadline), Israeli Mordechai Vanunu, and Abolition 2000.
Many of us have urged that Manning be given the prize, arguing with Norman Solomon that "the Nobel Peace Prize needs Bradley Manning more than Bradley Manning needs the Nobel Peace Prize." There are, however, many options for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to begin to redeem itself, and many options for its continued desecration of a noble ideal.
By David Swanson, with foreword by Kathy Kelly. Get it here.
By Kathy Kelly
This article is the foreword to David Swanson's new book, War No More: The Case for Abolition.
I lived in Iraq during the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing. On April 1st, about two weeks into the aerial bombardment, a medical doctor who was one of my fellow peace team members urged me to go with her to the Al Kindi Hospital in Baghdad, where she knew she could be of some help. With no medical training, I tried to be unobtrusive, as families raced into the hospital carrying wounded loved ones. At one point, a woman sitting next to me began to weep uncontrollably. “How I tell him?” she asked, in broken English. “What I say?” She was Jamela Abbas, the aunt of a young man, named Ali. Early in the morning on March 31st, U.S. war planes had fired on her family home, while she alone of all her family was outside. Jamela wept as she searched for words to tell Ali that surgeons had amputated both of his badly damaged arms, close to his shoulders. What’s more, she would have to tell him that she was now his sole surviving relative.
Returning to the Al Fanar hotel, I hid in my room. Furious tears flowed. I remember pounding my pillow and asking “Will we always be this way?”
David Swanson reminds me to look to humanity’s incredible achievements in resisting war, in choosing the alternatives which we have yet to show our full power to realize.
A hundred years ago, Eugene Debs campaigned tirelessly in the U.S. to build a better society, where justice and equality would prevail and ordinary people would no longer be sent to fight wars on behalf of tyrannical elites. From 1900 to 1920 Debs ran for president in each of five elections. He waged his 1920 campaign from inside the Atlanta prison to which he’d been sentenced for sedition for having spoken vigorously against U.S. entry into World War I. Insisting that wars throughout history have always been fought for purposes of conquest and plunder, Debs had distinguished between the master class that declares wars and the subjugated who fight the battles. “The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose,” said Debs in the speech for which he was imprisoned, “while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives.”
Debs hoped to create a mindset throughout the American electorate that withstood propaganda and rejected war. It was no easy process. As a labor historian writes, “With no radio and television spots, and with little sympathetic coverage of progressive, third party causes, there was no alternative but to travel incessantly, one city or whistle-stop at a time, in searing heat or numbing cold, before crowds large or small, in whatever hall, park or train station where a crowd could be assembled.”
He didn’t prevent U.S. entry into World War I, but Swanson tells us in his 2011 book, When the World Outlawed War, there came a point in U.S. history, in 1928, when wealthy elites decided that it was in their enlightened self-interest to negotiate the Kellogg-Briand Pact, intended to avert future wars, and to prevent future U.S. governments from seeking war. Swanson encourages us to study and build on moments in history when war was rejected, and to refuse to tell ourselves that warfare is inevitable.
Surely we must join Swanson in acknowledging the enormous challenges we face in campaigning to avoid war, or to abolish it. He writes: “In addition to being immersed in a false world view of war’s inevitability, people in the United States are up against corrupt elections, complicit media, shoddy education, slick propaganda, insidious entertainment, and a gargantuan permanent war machine falsely presented as a necessary economic program that cannot be dismantled.” Swanson refuses to be deterred by large challenges. An ethical life is an extraordinary challenge, and encompasses lesser challenges, such as democratizing our societies. Part of the challenge is to honestly acknowledge its difficulty: to clear-sightedly witness the forces that make war more likely in our time and place, but Swanson refuses to categorize these forces as insurmountable obstacles.
A few years ago, I heard once more about Jamela Abbas’ nephew, Ali. Now he was 16 years old, living in London where a BBC reporter had interviewed him. Ali had become an accomplished artist, using his toes to hold a paint brush. He had also learned to feed himself using his feet. “Ali,” asked the interviewer, “what would you like to be when you grow up?” In perfect English, Ali had answered, “I’m not sure. But I would like to work for peace.” David Swanson reminds us that we will not always be this way. We will transcend in ways that we cannot yet properly imagine, through the determination to rise above our incapacities and achieve our purposes on earth. Obviously Ali’s story is not a feel-good story. Humanity has lost so much to war and what so often seems its incapacity for peace is like the most grievous of disfigurements. We don’t know the ways we will discover in which to work to rise above these disfigurements. We learn from the past, we keep our eyes on our goal, we fully grieve our losses, and we expect to be surprised by the fruits of diligent labor and a passion to keep humanity alive, and to help it create again.
If David is right, if humanity survives, war itself will go the route of death-duels and infanticide, child labor and institutionalized slavery. Perhaps someday, beyond being made illegal, it will even be eliminated. Our other struggles for justice, against the slow grinding war of rich against poor, against the human sacrifice of capital punishment, against the tyranny that the fear of war so emboldens, feed into this one. Our organized movements working for these and countless other causes often are themselves models of peace, of coordination, a dissolution of isolation and of conflict in creative fellowship, the end of war made, in patches, already visible.
In Chicago, where I live, an annual summer extravaganza has been held on the lakefront for as long as I can remember. Called “The Air and Water Show,” it grew in the past decade into a huge display of military force and a significant recruiting event. Prior to the big show, the Air Force would practice military maneuvers and we’d hear sonic booms throughout a week of preparation. The event would attract millions of people, and amid a picnic atmosphere the U.S. military potential to destroy and maim other people was presented as a set of heroic, triumphant adventures.
In the summer of 2013, word reached me in Afghanistan that the air and water show had occurred but that the U.S. military was a “no show.”
My friend Sean had staked out a park entrance for the previous few yearly events in a solo protest, cheerily encouraging attendees to “enjoy the show” all the more for its incredible cost to them in tax dollars, in lives and global stability and political freedom lost to imperial militarization. Eager to acknowledge the human impulse to marvel at the impressive spectacle and technical achievement on display, he would insist of the planes, and in as friendly a tone as possible, “They look a lot cooler when they’re not bombing you!” This year he was expecting smaller crowds, having heard (although apparently too busy assembling his several thousand fliers to closely research this year’s particular event) that several military acts had cancelled. “Two hundred flyers later, I found out that this was because THE MILITARY HAD BACKED OUT!” he wrote me on the day itself: “They weren’t there _at all_ save for some desultory Air Force tents that I did find when I biked through looking for recruitment stations. I suddenly understood why I hadn’t heard any sonic booms leading up to the weekend.” (I had always complained to Sean of the yearly agony of listening to those planes rehearse for the show) “Too pleased to be mortified by my own idiocy, I put away my fliers and biked happily through the event. It was a lovely morning, and the skies of Chicago had been healed!”
Our incapacities are never the whole story; our victories come in small cumulative ways that surprise us. A movement of millions arises to protest a war, whose onset is delayed, its impact lessened, by how many months or years, by how many lives never lost, by how many limbs never torn from the bodies of children? How completely are the cruel imaginations of the war-makers distracted by having to defend their current lethal plans, how many new outrages, thanks to our resistance, will they never so much as conceive? By how many factors as the years proceed will our demonstrations against war continue, with setbacks, to grow? How acutely will the humanity of our neighbors be aroused, to what level will their awareness be raised, how much more tightly knit in community will they learn to be in our shared efforts to challenge and resist war? Of course we can’t know.
What we know is that we won’t always be this way. War may exterminate us utterly, and if unchecked, unchallenged, it shows every potential for doing so. But David Swanson’s War No More imagines a time where the Ali Abbases of the world exhibit their tremendous courage in a world that has abolished warfare, where no-one has to relive their tragedies at the hands of rampaging nations, where we celebrate the demise of war. Beyond this it envisions a time when humanity has found the true purpose, meaning, and community of its calling to end warfare together, to live the challenge that is replacing war with peace, discovering lives of resistance, and of truly human activity. Rather than glorify armed soldiers as heroes, let us appreciate a child rendered armless by a U.S. bomb who must know that few incapacities are an excuse for inaction, that what is or isn’t possible changes, and who, despite all we’ve done to him, still resolutely intends to work for peace.
War No More: The Case for Abolition is available on Powells, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and available for $2 as PDF, ePub, kindle, audio, or iTunes, or at discount when buying 10 or more, all at http://davidswanson.org/warnomore