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Danielle Yaor is 19, Israeli, and refusing to take part in the Israeli military. She is one of 150 who have committed themselves, thus far, to this position:
We, citizens of the state of Israel, are designated for army service. We appeal to the readers of this letter to set aside what has always been taken for granted and to reconsider the implications of military service.
We, the undersigned, intend to refuse to serve in the army and the main reason for this refusal is our opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories. Palestinians in the occupied territories live under Israeli rule though they did not choose to do so, and have no legal recourse to influence this regime or its decision-making processes. This is neither egalitarian nor just. In these territories, human rights are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis. These include assassinations (extrajudicial killings), the construction of settlements on occupied lands, administrative detentions, torture, collective punishment and the unequal allocation of resources such as electricity and water. Any form of military service reinforces this status quo, and, therefore, in accordance with our conscience, we cannot take part in a system that perpetrates the above-mentioned acts.
The problem with the army does not begin or end with the damage it inflicts on Palestinian society. It infiltrates everyday life in Israeli society too: it shapes the educational system, our workforce opportunities, while fostering racism, violence and ethnic, national and gender-based discrimination.
We refuse to aid the military system in promoting and perpetuating male dominance. In our opinion, the army encourages a violent and militaristic masculine ideal whereby ‘might is right’. This ideal is detrimental to everyone, especially those who do not fit it. Furthermore, we oppose the oppressive, discriminatory, and heavily gendered power structures within the army itself.
We refuse to forsake our principles as a condition to being accepted in our society. We have thought about our refusal deeply and we stand by our decisions.
We appeal to our peers, to those currently serving in the army and/or reserve duty, and to the Israeli public at large, to reconsider their stance on the occupation, the army, and the role of the military in civil society. We believe in the power and ability of civilians to change reality for the better by creating a more fair and just society. Our refusal expresses this belief.
Only a few of the 150 or so resisters are in prison. Danielle says that going to prison helps to make a statement. In fact, here’s one of her fellow refuseniks on CNN because he went to prison. But going to prison is essentially optional, Danielle says, because the military (IDF) has to pay 250 Shekels a day ($66, cheap by U.S. standards) to keep someone in prison and has little interest in doing so. Instead, many claim mental illness, says Yaor, with the military well-aware that what they’re really claiming is an unwillingness to be part of the military. The IDF gives men more trouble than women, she says, and mostly uses men in the occupation of Gaza. To go to prison, you need a supportive family, and Danielle says her own family does not support her decision to refuse.
Why refuse something your family and society expect of you? Danielle Yaor says that most Israelis do not know about the suffering of Palestinians. She knows and chooses not to be a part of it. “I have to refuse to take part in the war crimes that my country does,” she says. “Israel has become a very fascist country that doesn’t accept others. Since I was young we’ve been trained to be these masculine soldiers who solve problems by violence. I want to use peace to make the world better.”
Yaor is touring the United States, speaking at events together with a Palestinian. She describes the events thus far as “amazing” and says that people “are very supportive.” Stopping the hatred and violence is “everyone’s responsibility,” she says — “all the people of the world.”
In November she’ll be back in Israel, speaking and demonstrating. With what goal?
One state, not two. “There’s not enough space anymore for two states. There can be one state of Israel-Palestine, based on peace and love and people living together.” How can we get there?
As people become aware of Palestinians’ suffering, says Danielle, they should support BDS (boycotts, divestments, and sanctions). The U.S. government should end its financial support for Israel and its occupation.
Since the latest attacks on Gaza, Israel has moved further to the right, she says, and it has become harder to “encourage youth not to be part of the brainwashing that is part of the education system.” The letter above was published “everywhere possible” and was the first many had ever heard that there was a choice available other than the military.
“We want the occupation to end,” says Danielle Yaor, “so that we can all live an honorable life in which all of our rights will be respected.”
Angels by the River: A Memoir by James Gustave Speth is pleasantly written but painful to read. Speth knew about the dangers of global warming before the majority of today's climate change deniers were born. He was an advisor to President Jimmy Carter and advised him and the public to address the matter before it became a crisis.
Carter and the U.S. capital of his day weren't about to take the sort of action needed. Remember, Carter was despised for a speech promoting green energy and celebrated for a speech declaring that the United States would always go to war over Middle Eastern oil. Ronald Reagan and his followers (in every sense) Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama wouldn't come within 10 miles of a reasonable approach to climate. But Speth has spent the decades since the Carter administration trying to maintain a career within the system, a choice that he acknowledges has required compromises. Now he's pushing for radical change and takes himself to be a radical because he was arrested at the White House opposing a tar sands pipeline.
Here's a photo of Speth at the White House wearing the campaign symbol of the man at whose house he was protesting (Speth doesn't discuss the uniqueness of this form of opposition).
Speth writes as if President Obama were trying to protect the planet from Republicans, in contrast to the real-life Obama who has sabotaged climate talks in Copenhagen and at other summits over the years. Speth gives Democrats a pass, promotes electoral work, pushes nationalism, and believes the world needs U.S. leadership to address climate change. I think the evidence is clear that the world would be fairly well along if the United States would just stay out of the way and stop leading the destruction.
This image is from a recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies.
Speth's book tells a story of racist and sexist Agrarians who wanted to resist corporatism but didn't really do so; of "moderates" who blandly hinted at opposing segregation but didn't; of a Carter White House that didn't act; of a Clinton Administration that decided against even pretending to act; of a statement Speth wrote immediately after September 11, 2001, in which he took a both-and position, supporting both insane war and sane peaceful policies; and of the age of Obama in which one admits that the facts demand swift radical change while embracing lesser-evilism, not in voting but in activism and speech (that inevitable tendency being the main reason some of us oppose it in voting).
Of course I'm being unfair and Speth won't necessarily have any idea what I'm talking about. He doesn't have a chapter dedicated to nationalism, he just frames all of his proposals in terms of being a good patriot and fixing one's country -- even though the problem facing us is global. And when he worked in the Carter Administration he actually did good work and got things done. We celebrate -- hell, we practically worship -- whistleblowers who spent decades doing bad work, murderous work, before speaking out. Here's a man who did good work, who nudged things in a better direction for decades, before speaking out in the way he does now. With most people contributing little or nothing to the sustainability of the planet, and with radicals living through decades of failure just the same as moderates, Speth is not someone to criticize. And his book is quite valuable. I just want to nudge him a bit further.
Speth's account of his childhood in South Carolina is charming and wise. His account of unfulfilled dreams for the South and of undesirable Southern influence on the rest of the country is powerful. Instead of losing its bigotry, the South took on the North's consumerism. Instead of losing its consumerism, the North took on the South's reactionary politics, including what Speth calls "antipathy toward the federal government" -- I would add: except for that 53% of it that's dedicated to killing foreigners. Speth's account of the Nashville Agrarians' opposition to corporate consumerism is valuable. It's not that nobody knew; it's that not enough people acted. Of course, with my focus on the problem of war (which somehow, at best, squeezes into the last item on each of Speth's lists of issues) I'm brought back to wondering where we would be if slavery had been ended differently. I know that we're supposed to cheer for the Civil War even though other nations (and Washington D.C.) used compensated emancipation and skipped war. I know we're supposed to repeat to ourselves over and over "It's not Lincoln's fault, the slave owners wanted war." Well, indeed they did, but what if they hadn't? Or what if the recruits had refused to fight it for them? Or what if the North had let the South leave? It's difficult to bring up such questions while simultaneously convincing the reader that you know none of this actually happened. So, for what it's worth: I'm aware that's not how it happened; hence the need to bring it up. As it is, Vietnam has gotten over the war of the 1960s, and the U.S. South can, at long last, get over the war of the 1860s if it chooses to.
Speth was a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council which helped win important struggles to halt a major expansion of nuclear power, to implement the Clean Water Act, and to protect wetlands. He also did great work at the World Resources Institute. Yet, he writes, there have been countless victories during an ongoing major defeat. "Our environmental organizations have grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to go downhill. The prospect of a ruined planet is now very real. We have won many victories, but we are losing the planet." Speth recounts the perils of working as a D.C. insider: "Once there, inside the system, we were compelled to a certain tameness by the need to succeed there. We opted to work within the system of political economy that we found, and we neglected to seek transformation of the system itself." And of being a global insider: "Thus far, the climate convention is not protecting climate, the biodiversity convention is not protecting biodiversity, the desertification convention is not preventing desertification, and even the older and stronger Convention on the Law of the Sea is not protecting fisheries."
Speth's conclusion is not entirely unlike Naomi Klein's. Speth writes in this book: "In short, most environmental deterioration is a result of systemic failures of the capitalism that we have today, and long-term solutions must seek transformative change in the key features of this contemporary capitalism." Klein quotes Speth in her book: "We didn't adjust with Reagan. We kept working within a system but we should have tried to change the system and root causes."
According to a book by George Williston called This Tribe of Mine: A Story of Anglo Saxon Viking Culture in America, the United States wages eternal war because of its cultural roots in the Germanic tribes that invaded, conquered, ethnically cleansed, or -- if you prefer -- liberated England before moving on to the slaughter of the Native Americans and then the Filipinos and Vietnamese and on down to the Iraqis. War advocate, former senator, and current presidential hopeful Jim Webb himself blames Scots-Irish American culture.
But most of medieval and ancient Europe engaged in war. How did Europe end up less violent than a place made violent by Europe? Williston points out that England spends dramatically less per capita on war than the United States does, yet he blames U.S. warmaking on English roots. And, of course, Scotland and Ireland are even further from U.S. militarism despite being closer to England and presumably to Scots-Irishness.
"We view the world through Viking eyes," writes Williston, "viewing those cultures that do not hoard wealth in the same fashion or make fine iron weapons as child-like and ripe for exploitation." Williston describes the passage of this culture down to us through the pilgrims, who came to Massachusetts and began killing -- and, quite frequently, beheading -- those less violent, acquisitive, or competitive than they.
Germans and French demonstrated greater respect for native peoples, Williston claims. But is that true? Including in Africa? Including in Auschwitz? Williston goes on to describe the United States taking over Spanish colonialism in the Philippines and French colonialism in Vietnam, without worrying too much about how Spain and France got there.
I'm convinced that a culture that favors war is necessary but not sufficient to make a population as warlike as the United States is now. All sorts of circumstances and opportunities are also necessary. And the culture is constantly evolving. Perhaps Williston would agree with me. His book doesn't make a clear argument and could really have been reduced to an essay if he'd left out the religion, the biology metaphors, the experiments proving telepathy or prayer, the long quotes of others, etc. Regardless, I think it's important to be clear that we can't blame our culture in the way that some choose to blame our genes. We have to blame the U.S. government, identify ourselves with humanity rather than a tribe, and work to abolish warmaking.
In this regard, it can only help that people like Williston and Webb are asking what's wrong with U.S. culture. It can be shocking to an Israeli to learn that their day of independence is referred to by Palestinians as The Catastrophe (Nakba), and to learn why. Similarly, many U.S. school children might be startled to know that some native Americans referred to George Washington as The Destroyer of Villages (Caunotaucarius). It can be difficult to appreciate how peaceful native Americans were, how many tribes did not wage war, and how many waged war in a manner more properly thought of as "war games" considering the minimal level of killing. As Williston points out, there was nothing in the Americas to compare with the Hundred Years War or the Thirty Years War or any of the endless string of wars in Europe -- which of course are themselves significantly removed in level of killing from wars of more recent years.
Williston describes various cooperative and peaceful cultures: the Hopi, the Kogi, the Amish, the Ladakh. Indeed, we should be looking for inspiration wherever we can find it. But we shouldn't imagine that changing our cultural practices in our homes will stop the Pentagon being the Pentagon. Telepathy and prayer are as likely to work out as levitating the Pentagon in protest. What we need is a culture dedicated to the vigorous nonviolent pursuit of the abolition of war.
Arun Gandhi discusses his new children's book about his grandfather, applies its lessons to the world, and warns that we are currently on a path toward a third world war.
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I would not have guessed that people cared so much and so well about U.S. prisoners. The Governor of Pennsylvania is expected to sign into law a dangerous precedent that we all need to speak out against and put a quick stop to. In the first day since posting the following petition, over 10,000 people have signed it and added quite eloquent reasons why. It can be signed here.
We stand against the passage, in Pennsylvania, of the so-called "Revictimization Relief Act," which affords virtually unlimited discretion to District Attorneys and the state Attorney General to silence prisoner speech, by claiming that such speech causes victims' families "mental anguish." Politicians are claiming a power that if granted to them will be difficult if not impossible for citizens to check.
In seeking to silence the legally protected speech of prisoners, the state also damages citizens' right and freedom to know -- in this case, to better understand an area of U.S. life physically removed from public scrutiny.
This legislation emerged following the failure of the Fraternal Order of Police and its allies to stop prisoner and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal from delivering an October 5, 2014, commencement address. This bill sacrifices the rights of all prisoners in Pennsylvania in order to silence Abu-Jamal -- an unethical deployment of collective punishment by those in power.
Victim relief is not served by denying fundamental rights to those convicted, especially because prisoner freedom of speech is crucial for redressing wrongful convictions and the current crisis of harsh sentencing that is often disproportionate to alleged crimes. Our society is currently engaged in a full-scale debate on the problems of mass incarceration that could not have developed without prisoners' voices.
Here's a PDF of the names and comments of the first 10,000 plus people to sign this. Flipping through the first few pages, these comments jump out at me:
Lawrence Fine NY This is an ill-conceived bill.
Christopher Scerbo ME Democracy is never served by silence.
Robert Post NJ The only proper answer to bad speech is good speech!
Ellen Kirshbaum NY Why does speech frighten these corrupt politicians? Let all prisoners SPEAK!
Jenefer Ellingston DC Why is our local or national gov't afraid of Free Speech?
Allan Carlson NJ This is a FASCIST law. It represents that antithesis of the intent of the Founding Fathers who penned the U.S. Constitution.
Jesse Reyes NJ This bill only makes sense if it is known, beyond all shadow of doubt, that the incarcerated person is actually "guilty." The Innocence Project and several other high profile cases ("The Central Park Jogger" case) has proven that far too many incarcerated people are not guilty of the crimes they were sent to prison for. I would not want to deny anyone their rights on that basis alone. This bill is wrong and should not be signed by anyone who actually cares about our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.
Jan Clausen NY This bill threatens to make Pennsylvania a poster child for the unconstitutional curtailment of the free speech rights that are known around the world as one of the great strengths of U.S. system. Pennsylvanians and all U.S. citizens need to wake up and soundly reject this ill-conceived measure that threatens the freedoms of all.
Dallas C. GalvinNY Censorship for the state that promotes itself as the site of the U.S. Constitution and home of Benjamin Franklin and William Penn? Deeply troubling behavior. Rethink, then reject. Mr. Jamal (let's be clear about motivation here) has been able to show the corruption and disingenuousness of the D.A., the state senate, and police. Clean up your own acts, then you need no longer fear free and unfettered speech.
David Drukaroff NJ I have tried to win exoneration for a wrongfully convicted inmate for the last 25 years. People have a right to know how this inmate feels.
Chad Sell PA Does anyone care about the constitution anymore?
Katharine Rylaarsdam MD Public officials are servants of the law, not demigods who should be granted unlimited arbitrary power.
Edward Costello CA This is outrageous.
Julimar CastroMN Wrongful and disproportionate convictions exist. To prevent these people from speaking is outrageous. I suspect those proposing this law care more about silencing convicts and preventing them from telling the truth regarding the system, than about the families themselves.
Robert Belknap NC This is theft of rights, pure and simple.
Paul Palla PA Have you heard of the Constitution? You know, that thing that guarantees everybody FREEDOM OF SPEECH??!?
NancyNorton NY I used to visit prisoners in our local jail. It is too easy to forget these people, members of our community and citizens of our county. The right of free speech should not be abridged because a person is serving a sentence in prison or jail. We need to remember these people and not dismiss them as a group we can ignore.
J. R. Jarvis WA I believe in justice, human rights and the constitution - this ain't it!
ralph Calabrese NY Too many of our freedoms are being taken from us.
Sean Murphy FL These abuses of power must be stopped and we must resist the 1% from using criminals and other hot topics to pass laws that ultimately will affect us all.
Sharyn Diaz OR prisons have replaced the poorhouses in America and now you want to silence the common folk...shame on you...all of you who support just another try at control.
r. tippens MA This is a law straight from Stalin's text book. Please...do not embarrass this democracy.
BetseyPiette PA Once again Corbett & Co. will waste millions of tax dollars to defend their criminal violation of citizens' Constitutional Rights but can't find money for public education?
Dave JeckerTX Being a prisoner is bad enough and their punishment is that given to them for their actions. Words should never be silenced and that is a human right. We have seen how governments silent individuals and groups and it leads to nothing except rebellion. Right to speech is everyone's human right, it is not something you can take away.
Samuel Perry NJ Prisoners are on the front line of our civil liberties battles. The rights that oppressive governments first strip from prisoners are the rights the same regimes will later strip from "non-citizens" and finally "citizens" themselves. Free speech doesn't come from Government and cannot be taken away by government. Philadelphia should know that.
DonnaFriedman FL So many in prison for drug use, mental illness and even falsely accused. They should have the right to say what goes on there.
Joanne Snyder CA No lessons learned about corrupt Pennsylvania judges who sentence juvenile offenders in exchange for money? Who is paying for this?
Rev. Jake Harrison TX Freedom of speechdoes not exclude inmates - and some of the most poignant voices in history were those of inmates.
Casey Lyon VT Let us not forget the insightful words of Dostoyevsky: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
JG Tentler NY This dangerous precedent must not be allowed to be established.It's implications are chilling and are clearly designed to muzzle the free speech of one Political Prisoner,at the expense of every wrongly incarcerated petitioner who is stifled by it.
Carol Stanton NC We must not become a gulag state.
This Wednesday is a day of action that some are calling a national day of action against police brutality, with others adding "and mass incarceration," and I'd like to add "and war" and make it global rather than national. This Tuesday, the Governor of Pennsylvania is expected to sign a bill that will silence prisoners' speech, and people are pushing back. A movement is coalescing around reforming police procedures and taking away their military weapons. And a powerful book has just been published called Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.
Saving Trayvon Martin would have required systemic reforms or cultural reforms beyond putting cameras on police officers. This young man walking back from a store with candy was spotted by an armed man in an SUV who got out of his vehicle to pursue Trayvon despite having been told not to when he called the police. George Zimmerman was not a police officer, though he wanted to be one. He'd lost a job as a security guard for being too aggressive. He'd been arrested for battery on a police officer. He had left Manassas, Va., and its climate of hatred for Latinos in which he participated, for Florida, where he was a one-man volunteer neighborhood watch group in a gated neighborhood. He'd phoned the police on 46 previous occasions. He apparently expressed his contempt for Trayvon Martin in racist terms. When the police arrived, they let Zimmerman ride in the front seat (no handcuffs, of course) and never tested him for drugs, testing instead the dead black boy he'd murdered. When public outrage finally put Zimmerman on trial, his defense displayed a photo of a white woman living in the neighborhood who had nothing to do with the incident but who was used to represent what Zimmerman had been "defending." He was found innocent.
Killing Trayvons is a rich anthology, including police records, trial transcripts, statements by President Obama, accounts of numerous similar cases, essays, poetry, and history and analysis of how we got here . . . and how we might get the hell out of here.
Recently I was playing a game with my little boy that must have looked to any observer like I was secretly spying on people. I found myself thinking that it was a good thing I wasn't black or I'd risk someone reporting me to the police, and I'd find myself struggling to explain the situation to them rather than yelling at them, and they wouldn't listen. "What do I tell my son," wrote Talib Kweli, "He's 5 years old and he's still thinking cops are cool / How do I break the news that when he gets some size / He'll be perceived as a threat and see the fear in their eyes." I remember a character of James Baldwin's explaining to a younger brother on the streets of New York that when walking in the rich part of town you must always keep your hands in your pockets so as not to be accused of touching a white woman. But a set of rules devised by Etan Thomas in Killing Trayvons includes: "Keep your hands visible. Avoid putting them in your pockets." Opposite advice, same injustice. I can recall how offended I was when, as a young white man, I became old enough for a strange woman in a deserted place to hurry away from me in panic. Maybe if I'd been black someone would have prepared me for that. Maybe I'd have experienced it a lot earlier. Maybe I'd have experienced it as racist. Maybe it would have been. But would I have come around to the conclusion, as I have, that there's nothing I have a right to be indignant about, that people's fear -- wherever it comes from -- is more important to reduce than other people's annoyance?
But what about fear that leads to murder? What about white fear of black violence that leads to the killing of so many African Americans -- and many of them women, suggesting that fear isn't all there is to it? Police and security guards kill hundreds of African Americans each year, most of them unarmed. In most cases, the killers claim to have felt threatened. In most cases they escape any accountability. Clearly this is a case of fear to be doubted and treated with appropriate skepticism, fear to be understood and sympathized with where real, but fear never to be respected as reasonable or justified.
We need a combination of addressing the fear through enlightenment and impeding the violence with application of the rule of law in a manner that does not treat murdering black kids as what any reasonable person would do. We need to rein in and hold accountable individuals and institutions -- groups like the NRA and ALEC that push racist policies on us. Police and neighbors should not see a black boy as an intruder in his own house when his foster parents are white. They also shouldn't spray chemical weapons in someone's face before asking him questions.
The editors of Killing Trayvons, Kevin Alexander Gray, Jeffrey St. Clair, and JoAnn Wypijewski put killing in context. What if Trayvon actually got into a fight with his stalker superhero? Would that have been a good reason to kill him? "It takes a jacked-up disdain for proportionality to conclude the execution is a reasonable response to a fistfight. And yet . . . high or low, power teaches such disdain every day. Lose two towers; destroy two countries. Lose three Israelis; kill a couple thousand Palestinians. Sell some dope; three strikes, you're out. Sell a loosey; choke, you're dead. Reach for your wallet; bang, you're dead. Got a beef; bang, you're dead."
This is exactly the problem. High and low includes supreme courts that kill black men like Troy Davis, and presidents who kill dark-skinned Muslim foreigners (some of them U.S. citizens) with drones, leading Vijay Prashad to call Zimmerman a domestic drone and Cornel West to call President Obama a global Zimmerman. Two bizarre varieties of murder have been legalized at the same time in the United States. One is Stand-Your-Ground killing justified by fear and applied on a consistently racist basis. The other is drone missile killing justified by fear and applied on a consistently racist basis. Both types of murder are much more obviously murder than other instances that have not been given blanket legalization.
Stand-your-ground murders are facilitated by racism; and racist propaganda that blames the victims protects the killers after the fact. Drone murders are driven by profit, politics, power lust, and racism; and the guilt of President Obama is sheltered by the prevalence of racist hatred for him -- which comes from generally the same group of people who support stand-your-ground laws. (How can Obama be guilty of any wrong in overseeing a global kill list, when racists hate him?) Millions of Americans think of themselves as above the ignorant whites who fear every black person they see, and yet have swallowed such a fear of ISIS that even giving ISIS a war it wants and benefits from seems justified. After all, ISIS is barbaric. If it were civilized, ISIS wouldn't behead people; it would have its hostages commit suicide while handcuffed in the backseat of police cars.
Tom Engelhardt keeps churning out great books by collecting his posts from TomDispatch.com. His latest book, Shadow Government, is essential reading. Of the ten essays included, eight are on basically the same topic, resulting in some repetition and even some contradiction. But when things that need repeating are repeated this well, one mostly wants other people to read them -- or perhaps to have them involuntarily spoken aloud by everybody's iPhones.
We live in an age in which the most important facts are not seriously disputed and also not seriously known or responded to.
The United States' biggest public program of the past 75 years, now outstripping the rest of the world combined, is war preparations. The routine "base" military spending, not counting spending on particular wars, is at least 10 times the war spending, or enough to totally transform the world for the better. Instead it's used to kill huge numbers of people, to make the United States less safe, and to prepare for wars that are -- without exception -- lost disastrously. Since the justification of the Soviet Union vanished, U.S. militarism has only increased. Its enemies are small, yet it does its best to enlarge them. U.S. Special Operations forces are actively, if "secretly," engaged in war or war preparations in over two-thirds of the nations on earth. U.S. troops are openly stationed in 90 percent of the nations on earth, and 100 percent of the oceans. A majority of the people in most nations on earth consider the United States the greatest threat to world peace.
The U.S. military has brought death, terror, destruction, and lasting damage to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya -- and spilling out of Libya into Mali, sparked a Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq that has spread to Syria, rendered Pakistan and Yemen more violent and insecure with drone strikes, and fueled violence in Somalia that has spilled across borders.
These facts are well-established, yet virtually incomprehensible to a typical U.S. news consumer. So, if they can be repeated brilliantly and convincingly, I say: the more times the better.
We're rendering the earth uninhabitable, and the October 27, 2014, issue of Time magazine includes a section headlined "Why the Price of Oil Is Falling -- And What It Means for the World." In reality, of course, it means devastation for the world. In Time it means a happy American oil boom, more sales for Saudi Arabia, and a good reason for Russia to rein in its military. Yes, the same Russia that spends 7% of what the United States does on its military. To get a sense of how Russia could rein in that military, here is a video of a Pentagon official claiming that Russia has physically moved closer to NATO (and put little green men into Ukraine).
Years ago I wrote an article for TomDispatch called "Bush's Third Term." Now of course we're into Bush's fourth term, or Clinton's sixth. The point is that presidential power abuses and war-making expand when a president gets away with them, not when a particular party or individual wins an election. Engelhardt explains how Dick Cheney's 1 percent doctrine (justifying war when anything that has a 1% chance of being a danger) has now become a zero percent doctrine (no justification is needed). Along with war today comes secrecy, which encompasses complete removal of your privacy, but also -- Engelhardt notes -- the abandonment of actual secrecy for "covert" operations that the government wants to have known but not to have held to any legal standard.
The White House went to the New York Times prior to President Obama's reelection and promoted the story that Obama personally goes through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays and carefully picks which ones to have murdered. There's no evidence that this hurt Obama's reelection.
The Bush White House went to the New York Times and censored until after Bush's reelection, the story that the government was massively and illegally spying on Americans. The Obama White House has pursued a vendetta against whistleblower Edward Snowden for making public the global extent of the spying. While Engelhardt tells this story with the usual suggestion that Snowden let us in on a big secret, I always assumed the U.S. government was doing what people now know it is. Engelhardt points out that these revelations have moved European and Latin American governments against the U.S. and put the fear of major financial losses into Silicon Valley companies known to be involved in the spying.
Engelhardt writes that with the NSA and gang having eliminated our privacy, we can now eliminate theirs by publicizing leaked information. At the same time, Engelhardt writes that dozens of Snowdens would be needed for us to begin to find out what the U.S. war machine is doing. Perhaps the point is that the dozens of Snowdens are inevitable. I hope so, although Engelhardt explicitly says that the shadow government is an "irreversible way of life." I certainly hope not, or what's the point of opposing it?
Engelhardt notes that the U.S. government has turned against massive ground wars, but not against wars, so that we will be entering an era of "tiny wars." But the tiny wars may kill in significant numbers compared with wars of centuries gone by, and may spark wars by others that rage on indefinitely. Or, I would add, we might choose to stop every war as we stopped the Syrian missile crisis of 2013.
Engelhardt pinpoints a moment when a turning point almost came. On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter proposed a massive investment in renewable energy. The media denounced his speech as "the malaise speech." "In the end, the president's energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades." Six months later, on January 23, 1980, Carter announced that "an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." The media took this speech quite seriously and respectfully, labeling it the Carter Doctrine. We've been having increasing trouble with people whose sand lies over our oil ever since.
It seems like we just got through dealing with the argument that war is good for us because it brings peace. And along comes a very different twist, combined with some interesting insights. Here's a blog post by Joshua Holland on Bill Moyers' website.
"War has long been seen as an endeavor urged on by the elites who stood the most to gain from conflict – whether to protect overseas assets, create more favorable conditions for international trade or by selling materiel for the conflict – and paid for with the blood of the poor, the cannon fodder who serve their country but have little direct stake in the outcome.
". . . MIT political scientist Jonathan Caverley, author of Democratic Militarism Voting, Wealth, and War, and himself a US Navy veteran, argues that increasingly high-tech militaries, with all-volunteer armies that sustain fewer casualties in smaller conflicts, combine with rising economic inequality to create perverse incentives that turn the conventional view of war on its head. . . .
"Joshua Holland: Your research leads to a somewhat counterintuitive conclusion. Can you give me your thesis in a nutshell?
"Jonathan Caverley: My argument is that in a heavily industrialized democracy like the United States, we have developed a very capital intensive form of warfare. We no longer send millions of combat troops overseas – or see massive numbers of casualties coming home. Once you start going to war with lots of airplanes, satellites, communications – and a few very highly trained special operations forces — going to war becomes a check writing exercise rather than a social mobilization. And once you turn war into a check writing exercise, the incentives for and against going to war change.
"You can think of it as a redistribution exercise, where people who have less income generally pay a smaller share of the cost of war. This is especially important at the federal level. In the United States, the federal government tends to be funded largely from the top 20 percent. Most of the federal government, I’d say 60 percent, maybe even 65 percent, is financed by the wealthy.
"For most people, war now costs very little in terms of both blood and treasure. And it has a redistributive effect.
"So my methodology is pretty simple. If you think that your contribution to conflict will be minimal, and see potential benefits, then you should see an increased demand for defense spending and increased hawkishness in your foreign policy views, based on your income. And my study of Israeli public opinion found that the less wealthy a person was, the more aggressive they were in using the military."
Presumably Caverley would acknowledge that U.S. wars tend to be one-sided slaughters of people living in poor nations, and that some fraction of people in the United States are aware of that fact and oppose wars because of it. Presumably he is also aware that U.S. troops still die in U.S. wars and are still drawn disproportionately from the poor. Presumably he is also aware (and presumably he makes all of this clear in his book, which I have not read) that war remains extremely profitable for an extremely elite group at the top of the U.S. economy. Weapons stocks are at record heights right now. A financial advisor on NPR yesterday was recommending investing in weapons. War spending, in fact, takes public money and spends it in a way that very disproportionately benefits the extremely wealthy. And while public dollars are progressively raised, they are far less progressively raised than in the past. War-preparations spending is in fact part of what drives the inequality that Caverley says drives low-income support for wars. What Caverley means by his claim that war is (downwardly) redistributive is made a bit clearer further on in the interview:
"Holland: In the study you point out that most social scientists don’t see military spending as having a redistributive effect. I didn’t understand that. What some call “military Keynesianism” is a concept that’s been around for a long time. We located a ton of military investments in the Southern states, not only for defense purposes, but also as a means of regional economic development. Why don’t people see this as a massive redistribution program?
"Caverley: Well, I agree with that construction. If you watch any congressional campaign or you look at any representative’s communication with his or her constituents, you will see that they talk about getting their fair share of defense spending.
"But the larger point is that even if you don’t think about defense spending as a redistributive process, it is a classic example of the kind of public goods that a state provides. Everyone benefits from defense of the state – it’s not just rich people. And so national defense is probably one of the places you’re most likely to see redistributive politics, because if you’re not paying too much for it, you’re going to ask for more of it."
So, at least part of the idea seems to be that wealth is being moved from wealthy geographical sections of the United States to poorer ones. There is some truth to that. But the economics is quite clear that, as a whole, military spending produces fewer jobs and worse paying jobs, and has less overall economic benefit, than education spending, infrastructure spending, or various other types of public spending, or even tax cuts for working people -- which are by definition downwardly redistributive as well. Now, military spending can drain an economy and be perceived as boosting an economy, and the perception is what determines support for militarism. Similarly, routine "normal" military spending can carry on at a pace of over 10-times specific war spending, and the general perception on all sides of U.S. politics can be that it is the wars that cost large amounts of money. But we should acknowledge the reality even when discussing the impacts of the perception.
And then there's the notion that militarism benefits everyone, which conflicts with the reality that war endangers the nations that wage it, that "defense" through wars is in fact counter-productive. This, too, should be acknowledged. And perhaps -- though I doubt it -- that acknowledgement is made in the book.
Polls show generally diminishing support for wars except in particular moments of intense propaganda. If in those moments it can be shown that low-income U.S.ians are carrying a larger load of war support, that should indeed be examined -- but without assuming that war supporters have good reason for giving their support. Indeed, Caverley offers some additional reasons why they might be misguided:
"Holland: Let me ask you about a rival explanation for why poor people might be more supportive of military action. In the paper, you mention the idea that less wealthy citizens may be more prone to buy into what you call the “myths of empire.” Can you unpack that?
"Caverley: In order for us to go to war, we have to demonize the other side. It’s not a trivial thing for one group of people to advocate killing another group of people, no matter how callous you think humanity might be. So there is typically a lot of threat inflation and threat construction, and that just goes with the territory of war.
"So in my business, some people think that the problem is that elites get together and, for selfish reasons, they want to go to war. That’s true whether it’s to preserve their banana plantations in Central America or sell weapons or what have you.
"And they create these myths of empire — these inflated threats, these paper tigers, whatever you want to call it — and try to mobilize the rest of the country to fight a conflict that may not necessarily be in their interest.
"If they were right, then you would actually see that people’s foreign policy views – their idea of how great a threat is — would correlate with income. But once you control for education, I didn’t find that these views differed according to what your wealth or income is."
This seems a little off to me. There is no question that Raytheon executives and the elected officials they fund will see more sense in arming both sides of a war than the average person of any income or education level will tend to see. But those executives and politicians are not a statistically significant group when talking broadly about the rich and poor in the United States. Most war profiteers, moreover, are likely to believe their own myths, at least when speaking with pollsters. That low-income Americans are misguided is no reason to imagine that upper-income Americans are not misguided too. Caverley also says:
"What was interesting to me is that one of the best predictors of your desire to spend money on defense was your desire to spend money on education, your desire to spend money on healthcare, your desire to spend money on roads. I was really shocked by the fact that there is not much of a ‘guns and butter’ tradeoff in the minds of most respondents in these public opinion polls."
This seems exactly right. No large number of Americans has managed in recent years to make the connection between Germany spending 4% of U.S. levels on its military and offering free college, between the U.S. spending as much as the rest of the world combined on war preparations and leading the wealthy world in homelessness, food-insecurity, unemployment, imprisonment, and so on. This is in part, I think, because the two big political parties favor massive military spending, while one opposes and the other supports various smaller spending projects; so a debate develops between those for and against spending in general, without anyone ever asking "Spending on what?"
Speaking of myths, here's another one that keeps the bipartisan support for militarism rolling:
"Holland: The bumper sticker finding here is that your model predicts that as inequality increases, average citizens will be more supportive of military adventurism, and ultimately in democracies, this may lead to more aggressive foreign policies. How does this jibe with what’s known as “democratic peace theory” — the idea that democracies have a lower tolerance for conflict and are less likely to go to war than more authoritarian systems?
"Caverley: Well, it depends on what you think is driving democratic peace. If you think it’s a cost-avoidance mechanism, then this doesn’t bode well for the democratic peace. I’d say most people I talk to in my business, we’re pretty sure democracies like to fight lots of wars. They just tend not to fight with each other. And probably the better explanations for that are more normative. The public is just not willing to support a war against another public, so to speak.
"To put it more simply, when a democracy has the choice between diplomacy and violence to solve its foreign policy problems, if the cost of one of these goes down, it’s going to put more of that thing in its portfolio."
This is truly a lovely myth, but it collapses when put into contact with reality, at least if one treats nations like the United States as being "democracies." The United States has a long history of overthrowing democracies and engineering military coups, from 1953 Iran up through present day Honduras, Venezuela, Ukraine, etc. The idea that so-called democracies don't attack other democracies is often expanded, even further from reality, by imagining that this is because other democracies can be dealt with rationally, whereas the nations that ours attacks only understand the so-called language of violence. The United States government has too many dictators and kings as close allies for that to hold up. In fact it is resource-rich but economically poor countries that tend to be attacked whether or not they are democratic and whether or not the people back home are in favor of it. If any wealthy Americans are turning against this type of foreign policy, I urge them to fund advocacy that will replace it with a more effective and less murderous set of tools.
GLOCK donates $50,000 to the Young Marines at the 2014 AUSA Annual Meeting
[WASHINGTON D.C. – Oct. 15, 2014] The Young Marines received a $50,000 donation from GLOCK on Monday, Oct. 13, at the Association of United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting & Expo which was held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon PL, NW, Washington D.C.
The check was gratefully accepted by Lt. Col. Mike Kessler USMC (Ret), the national executive director and CEO of the Young Marines and Young Marine of the Year, YM Sergeant Major Blake DeWeese of Beaverton, OR.
“GLOCK has been a champion of the Young Marines since 2004,” Kessler said. “I have had the great pleasure of dining with Mr. Glock and can attest to the fact that he supports our mission, our vision and our ideals. He has had first-hand knowledge at the many successes enjoyed by our members and wishes to see that continue. We are forever grateful to Mr. Glock and GLOCK, USA, for their support of our program.”
While attending their National Leadership Academy, members of the Young Marines received a comprehensive gun safety class and then had the opportunity to shoot the Scholastic Pistol Program series of targets. GLOCK provided the handguns, and Tori Nonaka, GLOCK’s national junior champion, provided demonstrations and assisted with the challenge.
“We are proud to have the GLOCK name associated with our National Leadership Academy,” Kessler said.
“It’s important for the future of all of us that we have organizations that help foster and champion young people into leaders of strong character,” said Josh Dorsey, VP of GLOCK, Inc. and also a Marine veteran. “The Young Marines organization has a proven track record of doing so.”
The Young Marines is a national non-profit 501c(3) youth education and service program for boys and girls, age eight through the completion of high school. The Young Marines promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members. The program focuses on teaching the values of leadership, teamwork and self-discipline so its members can live and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
Since the Young Marines' humble beginnings in 1959 with one unit and a handful of boys, the organization has grown to over 300 units with 11,000 youth and 3,000 adult volunteers in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Germany, Japan and affiliates in a host of other countries.
For more information, visit the official website at: http://www.YoungMarines.com/.
Charles Lewis has been an investigative producer for ABC News and the CBS news program 60 Minutes. He founded The Center for Public Integrity. He is executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication. And he is the author of 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity. We discuss his book.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
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When New York Times reporter James Risen published his previous book, State of War, the Times ended its delay of over a year and published his article on warrantless spying rather than be scooped by the book. The Times claimed it hadn't wanted to influence the 2004 presidential election by informing the public of what the President was doing. But this week a Times editor said on 60 Minutes that the White House had warned him that a terrorist attack on the United States would be blamed on the Times if one followed publication -- so it may be that the Times' claim of contempt for democracy was a cover story for fear and patriotism. The Times never did report various other important stories in Risen's book.
One of those stories, found in the last chapter, was that of Operation Merlin -- possibly named because only reliance on magic could have made it work -- in which the CIA gave nuclear weapon plans to Iran with a few obvious changes in them. This was supposedly supposed to somehow slow down Iran's nonexistent efforts to build nuclear weapons. Risen explained Operation Merlin on Democracy Now this week and was interviewed about it by 60 Minutes which managed to leave out any explanation of what it was. The U.S. government is prosecuting Jeffrey Sterling for allegedly being the whistleblower who served as a source for Risen, and subpoenaing Risen to demand that he reveal his source(s).
The Risen media blitz this week accompanies the publication of his new book, Pay Any Price. Risen clearly will not back down. This time he's made his dumbest-thing-the-CIA-did-lately story the second chapter rather than the last, and even the New York Times has already mentioned it. We're talking about a "torture works," "Iraq has WMDs," "let's all stare at goats" level of dumbness here. We're talking about the sort of thing that would lead the Obama administration to try to put somebody in prison. But it's not clear there's a secret source to blame this time, and the Department of So-Called Justice is already after Sterling and Risen.
Sterling, by the way, is unheard of by comparison with Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden or the other whistleblowers Risen reports on in his new book. The public, it seems, doesn't make a hero of a whistleblower until after the corporate media has made the person famous as an alleged traitor. Sterling, interestingly, is a whistleblower who could only be called a "traitor" if it were treason to expose treason, since people who think in those terms almost universally will view handing nuclear plans to Iran as treason. In other words, he's immune from the usual attack, but stuck at the first-they-ignore-you stage because there's no corporate interest in telling the Merlin story.
So what's the new dumbness from Langley? Only this: a gambling-addicted computer hack named Dennis Montgomery who couldn't sell Hollywood or Las Vegas on his software scams, such as his ability to see content in videotape not visible to the naked eye, sold the CIA on the completely fraudulent claim that he could spot secret al Qaeda messages in broadcasts of the Al Jazeera television network. To be fair, Montgomery says the CIA pushed the idea on him and he ran with it. And not only did the CIA swallow his hooey, but so did the principals committee, the membership of which was, at least for a time: Vice President Dick Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, So-Called Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Tenet plays his usual role as dumber-than-a-post bureaucrat in Risen's account, but John Brennan is noted as having been involved in the Dennis Montgomery lunacy as well. The Bush White House grounded international flights as a result of Montgomery's secret warnings of doom, and seriously considered shooting planes out of the sky.
When France demanded to see the basis for grounding planes, it quickly spotted a steaming pile of crottin de cheval and let the U.S. know. So, the CIA moved on from Montgomery. And Montgomery moved on to other contracts working on other horse droppings for the Pentagon. And nothing shocking there. "A 2011 study by the Pentagon," Risen points out, "found that during the ten years after 9/11, the Defense Department had given more than $400 billion to contractors who had previously been sanctioned in cases involving $1 million or more in fraud." And Montgomery was not sanctioned. And we the people who enriched him with millions weren't told he existed. Nothing unusual there either. Secrecy and fraud are the new normal in the story Risen tells, detailing the fraudulent nature of drone murder profiteers, torture profiteers, mercenary profiteers, and even fear profiteers -- companies hired to generate hysteria. So forcefully has the dumping of money into militarism been divorced in public discourse from the financial burden it entails that Risen is able to quote Linden Blue, vice chairman of General Atomics, criticizing people who take money from the government. He means poor people who take tiny amounts of money for their basic needs, not drone makers who get filthy rich off the pretense that drones make the world safer.
The root of the problem, as Risen sees it, is that the military and the homeland security complex have been given more money than they can reasonably figure out what to do with. So, they unreasonably figure out what to do with it. This is compounded, Risen writes, by fear so extreme that people don't want to say no to anything that might possibly work even in their wildest dreams -- or what Dick Cheney called the obligation to invest in anything with a 1% chance. Risen told Democracy Now that military spending reminded him of the Wall Street banks. In his book he argues that the big war profiteers have been deemed too big to fail.
Risen tells several stories in Pay Any Price, including the story of the pallets of cash. Of $20 billion shipped to Iraq in $100 bills, he writes, $11.7 billion is unaccounted for -- lost, stolen, misused, or dumped into a failed attempt to buy an election for Ayad Allawi. Risen reports that some $2 billion of the missing money is actually known to be sitting in a pile in Lebanon, but the U.S. government has no interest in recovering it. After all, it's just $2 billion, and the military industrial complex is sucking down $1 trillion a year from the U.S. treasury.
When Risen, like everyone else, cites the cost of recent U.S. wars ($4 trillion over a decade, he says), I'm always surprised that nobody notices that it is the wars that justify the "regular" "base" military spending of another $10 trillion each decade at the current pace. I also can't believe Risen actually writes that "to most of America, war has become not only tolerable but profitable." What? Of course it's extremely profitable for certain people who exert inordinate influence on the government. But "most of America"? Many (not most) people in the U.S. have jobs in the war industry, so it's common to imagine that spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs -- with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work. Military spending radically increases inequality and diverts funding from services that people in many less-militarized nations have. I also wish that Risen had managed to include a story or two from that group making up 95% of U.S. war victims: the people of the places where the wars are waged.
But Risen does a great job on veterans of U.S. torture suffering moral injury, on the extensiveness of waterboarding's use, and on a sometimes comical tale of the U.S. government's infiltration of a lawsuit by 9/11 families against possible Saudi funders of 9/11 -- a story, part of which is given more context in terms of its impact in Afghanistan in Anand Gopal's recent book. There's even a story with some similarity to Merlin regarding the possible sale of U.S.-made drones to U.S. enemies abroad.
These SNAFU collection books have to be read with an eye on the complete forest, of course, to avoid the conclusion that what we need is war done right or -- for that matter -- Wall Street done right. We don't need a better CIA but a government free of the CIA. That the problems described are not essentially new is brought to mind, for me, in reading Risen's book, by the repeated references to Dulles Airport. Still, it is beginning to look as if the Dulles brothers aren't just a secretive corner of the government anymore, but the patron saints of all Good Americans. And that's frightening. Secrecy is allowing insanity, and greater secrecy is being employed to keep the insanity secret. How can it be a "State Secret" that the CIA fell for a scam artist who pretended to see magical messages on Al Jazeera? If Obama's prosecution of whistleblowers doesn't alert people to the danger, at least it is helping sell Jim Risen's books, which in turn ought to wake people up better than a middle-of-the-night visit in the hospital from Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card.
There's still a thin facade of decency to be found in U.S. political culture. Corrupt Iraqi politicians, in Risen's book, excuse themselves by saying that the early days of the occupation in 2003 were difficult. A New York Times editor told 60 Minutes that the first few years after 9/11 were just not a good time for U.S. journalism. These should not be treated as acceptable excuses for misconduct. As the earth's climate begins more and more to resemble a CIA operation, we're going to have nothing but difficult moments. Already the U.S. military is preparing to address climate change with the same thing it uses to address Ebola or terrorism or outbreaks of democracy. If we don't find people able to think on their feet, as Risen does while staring down the barrel of a U.S. prison sentence, we're going to be in for some real ugliness.
The Nobel Peace Prize is required by Alfred Nobel's will, which created it, to go to "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 Nobel Committee insists on awarding the prize to either a leading maker of war or a person who has done some good work in an area other than peace.
The 2014 prize has been awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay, which is not a person but two people, and they have not worked for fraternity between nations or the abolition or reduction of standing armies but for the rights of children. If the peace prize is to be a prize for random good works, then there is no reason not to give it to leading advocates for the rights of children. This is a big step up from giving it to leading makers of war. But then what of the prize for peace and the mission of ending war that Nobel included in his will in fulfillment of a promise to Bertha von Suttner?
Malala Yousafzay became a celebrity in Western media because she was a victim of designated enemies of Western empire. Had she been a victim of the governments of Saudi Arabia or Israel or any other kingdom or dictatorship being used by Western governments, we would not have heard so much about her suffering and her noble work. Were she primarily an advocate for the children being traumatized by drone strikes in Yemen or Pakistan, she'd be virtually unknown to U.S. television audiences.
But Malala recounted her meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama a year ago and said, "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." So, she actually advocated pursuing education rather than war, and yet the Nobel Committee had not a word to say about that in announcing its selection, focusing on eliminating child labor rather than on eliminating war. The possibility exists then that either of this year's recipients might give an antiwar acceptance speech. There has, after all, only been one pro-war acceptance speech, and that was from President Obama. But many speeches have been unrelated to abolishing war.
Fredrik S. Heffermehl, who has led efforts to compel the Nobel Committee to give the peace prize for peace, said on Friday, "Malala Yousafzay is a courageous, bright and impressive person. Education for girls is important and child labor a horrible problem. Worthy causes, but the committee once again makes a false pretense of loyalty to Nobel and confuses and conceals the plan for world peace that Nobel intended to support.
"If they had wished to be loyal to Nobel they would have stressed that Malala often has spoken out against weapons and military with a fine understanding of how ordinary people suffer from militarism. Young people see this more clearly than the grown ups."
The leading contenders for this year's prize, as speculated in the media, included the Pope who has in fact spoken against all war, abandoning the "just war" idea; and some advocate or other for Japan's Article Nine which forbids war and ought to be a model for other nations but is being threatened in Japan instead. These recipients would at least have bordered on Nobel's ideal, as perhaps might be said for last year's recipient, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Also on the list was a Russian newspaper supportive of Western aggression, the President of Uruguay for legalizing marijuana, Edward Snowden for leaking evidence of U.S. spying, Denis Mukwege for helping victims of sexual violence, and Chelsea Manning for exposing U.S. war crimes. Manning would have made a certain amount of sense, and her work has probably gone some way toward discouraging war. The same might be said, to a lesser degree, of Snowden. But none of these fit the description in Nobel's will. If the peace prize were actually awarded to a leading peace activist, at this point the world would be rather scandalized and scratch its collective head in wonderment at what the significance could be in that person's work.
Look at this list of recent recipients of a prize meant for peace:
The European Union
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman
Barack H. Obama
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr.
Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank
There you have the two leading makers of war in the world: Obama and the E.U. You have advocates for green energy and small loans and women's rights and human rights. Martti Ahtisaari's prize announcement actually quoted from Nobel's will, but he himself supported NATO and Western militarism.
While good work in other areas can in fact contribute to peace, it is unlikely to do so in the absence of recognition of the goal of peace and of work directly aimed at abolishing war.
The National Priorities Project, a U.S. organization that actually works against militarism, was nominated this year, as no doubt were others relevant to the purpose for which the peace prize was created.
By David Swanson, originally published by Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity
Last year, public pressure played a big role in stopping US missile strikes on Syria. The biggest difference between then and now was that televisions weren't telling people that ISIS might be coming to their neighborhood to behead them. There were other, smaller differences as well: Britain's opposition, Russia's opposition, and the difficulty of explaining to Americans that it now made sense to join a war on the same side as al Qaeda.
But there's another big difference between last year and this year. Last year was not a Congressional election year. With elections coming this November, Congress declared an early vacation in September and fled town in order to avoid voting a new war up or down. It did this while fully aware that the President would proceed with the war illegally. Most Congress members, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Leader Harry Reid, believe that by allowing a war to happen without explicitly voting for or against it they can best win our votes for re-election without offending their funders.
Congress members have good reason to think that way. Numerous organizations and individuals are dumping endless energy and resources into trying to elect either Democrats or Republicans, regardless of their policies. Big groups on the left have told me that they will not have any time for opposing war until the elections are over, at which point they'll be happy to "hold accountable" any of the Democrats they've just reelected. There are organizations who do the same thing for Republicans.
When war was made the top election issue in exit polls in 2006, Democrats took power and their leader in the House, Rahm Emanuel, openly told the Washington Post that they would keep the war in Iraq going in order to campaign against it again in 2008. And so they did. Republicans elected opposing war in 2010 have been more rhetorical than substantive in their "opposition."
The current war, and the endless war it is part of, must be opposed by people across the political spectrum who put peace ahead of party. ISIS has a one-hour video asking for this war. Giving it to them, and boosting their recruitment, is insanity. Ending insane policies is not a left or right position. This is a war that involves bombing the opposite side in Syria from the side we were told we had to bomb a year ago, and simultaneously arming the same side that the U.S. government is bombing. This is madness. To allow this to continue while mumbling the obvious truth that "there is no military solution" is too great an evil to fit into any lesser-evil electoral calculation.
This war is killing civilians in such large numbers that the White House has announced that restrictions on killing civilians will not be followed. This war is being used to strip away our rights at home. It's draining our economy. It's impoverishing us -- primarily by justifying the routine annual spending of roughly $1 trillion on war preparations. It's endangering us by generating further hatred. And all of this destruction, with no up-side to be found, is driven by irrational fear that has people telling pollsters they believe this war will endanger them and they're in favor of it.
According to the Congressional Research Service 79% of weapons shipments to Middle Eastern countries are from the United States, not counting arms given to allies of ISIS or used by the US military. Rather than arming this region to the teeth and joining in wars with US weapons on both sides, the United States could arrange for and lead an arms embargo. It could also provide restitution for what it has done in recent years, including the destruction of Iraq that allowed the creation of ISIS. Making restitution in the form of actual aid (as opposed to "military aid") would cost a lot less than lobbing $2 million missiles at people who view them as recruitment posters and tickets to martyrdom. That shift would also begin to make the United States liked rather than hated.
We won't get there unless people whose souls are un-owned by political parties take over town hall meetings and let Congress members know that they must work to end this war if they want to earn our votes.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org.
Dostoievski once had a character imagine what a head would think if for some seconds it were aware of having been cut off by an executioner's guillotine, or if somehow it were aware for a full minute, or even for five minutes.
I should think such a head would think thoughts entirely dependent on the circumstances and that the type of blade that committed the murder wouldn't affect the thoughts too greatly.
I loved you, it might think, thinking of its loved ones. I did well there, if might think, thinking of its accomplishments. I'm sorry, it might think, dwelling momentarily on its deepest regrets -- as likely as not relatively trivial incidents in which the head together with its body had hurt someone's feelings.
I've died in a war, the head might think, despite opposing wars. I took the risk and enjoyed the thrill, yet the injustice remains. I didn't launch the war. I didn't make millions off it. I didn't win votes from it. I tried to tell people what it was, and here I am no better than a soccer ball about to cease existing as a consciousness.
As the beheaded head's remaining seconds stretched into what seemed to it a long period of time, it might be struck by the absurdity of the situation, and it might be horrified by the barbarism. I was supposed to not be the news, the head might think, and now I am the news. After pretending not to be human, my humanity -- once ended -- will now be used as a reason to escalate the war. No one will ask me. How could they?
But no one ever asked me, did they, even when I was connected to a neck and arms and legs? I reported on this battle or that atrocity. But did anyone ever ask whether the entire enterprise made me ashamed of my species? Did anyone ever ask whether the justifications used were any better than lunacy? My country decided 100 years ago that it would dominate the Middle East for oil -- oil that will destroy the world itself if the wars don't.
In recent years my country destroyed Iraq, killing a half-million to a million-and-a-half people, leaving behind a hell on earth, including a government that both beheads people and bombs them, as well as handing over weaponry to this gang that beheaded my body -- a gang that could only have arisen in the hell on earth that Washington created and which will never match Washington's scale of killing if it keeps beheading and crucifying for decades.
So what does the government of the people who read my reports do? It sends in more weapons to the close allies of ISIS and simultaneously starts bombing ISIS just one year after screaming that it must bomb the Syrian government that ISIS is fighting. And ISIS makes a movie demanding heavier U.S. attacks, and the U.S. obliges and launches heavier attacks. And ISIS recruitment soars, the weapons companies stocks soar, and I get my body cut off.
And because my body is gone from me, and because the war is begun, and because it is guaranteed to get worse rather than better, brave drone pilots will be told that they must continue the war so as not to offend themselves, and as they commit suicide after murdering people with joysticks, still more pilots will be called on so that the first ones will not have killed themselves in vain.
Why when we're alive do we act as if the whole thing isn't insane? Is it a function of our habit of acting as if our existence isn't insane? We puff ourselves up, don't we? We talk solemnly of strategy, energetically ignoring the intentional absurdity of the whole doomed project, just as we eat and eat and eat without ever once wondering what the junk we are eating will do to the worms who will dine on our flesh.
What if the world comes to its senses next week, the head might think as the world grows blurry around it. How will I feel to have missed it by so little? Well, I'll feel nothing of course, and so I do hope that it will happen. I really do. This man who's cut off my body has a loud laugh. He was sad yesterday morning and I could not ask him why. I wonder if people back home know that he thinks Americans can only understand the language of violence, so there's no sense talking to them.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He writes columns for Al Jazeera and the Guardian. We discuss the leftward movement of Latin American governments, and the unsuccessful efforts of the U.S. government to overthrow those governments. Read Mark's columns at http://www.cepr.net/index.php/clips/mark-weisbrots-op-eds
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Wednesday, Oct 15 at 7:15 p.m. at Naro Cinema in Norfolk, Va.
LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM
Award-winning independent filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s new film chronicles a story few of us have heard before. During the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance crumbles. The prospect of an official evacuation of the remaining Americans and their South Vietnamese allies becomes hopelessly delayed by Congressional gridlock and a delusional U.S. Ambassador. With the clock ticking and the city under fire, a number of Americans take matters into their own hands, engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations in a desperate effort to save as many South Vietnamese lives as possible. (98 mins)
David Swanson, RootsAction campaign coordinator and WorldBeyondWar director, will return to speak at the Naro from his home in Charlottesville. He is a nationally renowned journalist, teacher, peace activist, and author of War Is A Lie, When The World Outlawed War, and War No More: The Case For Abolition.
The phrase "war myths" these days is generally taken to mean such nonsense as that war will make us safe, or civilians won't be killed, or surgical strikes will kill more enemies than they produce, or prosperity and freedom will follow war-making, etc. But I wonder whether "war myths" shouldn't be taken more literally, whether we don't in fact have a bunch of warmakers believing that they are Odysseus.
Remember Odysseus, the great Greek hero who went on lots of thrilling adventures on his way home from Troy and kicked a bunch of interloping suitors of his lonely wife out of his house in Ithaca when he got home?
Well, Odysseus didn't actually kick them out, did he? Do you remember what actually happened? Odysseus could have ordered them out upon his return. He could have announced his approach and had them gone before he arrived. Instead, he disguised himself and entered his house unannounced. He secretly hid all the weapons except those for himself and his son and loyal servants. He secretly blocked every door. The suitors were unarmed and trapped when Odysseus revealed who he was and started murdering them.
The suitors offered to more than repay him for what they had stolen from his house, to apologize, to try to make things right. Odysseus, who had a goddess making sure he succeeded in every detail, declined all offers and murdered every man but those his son said were loyal. He beheaded. He tortured. He dismembered. He cut off faces and cut out organs and fed bits of people to dogs. And then, seeing as how he was on such a glorious killing spree, he asked his wife's head servant whether any of the servant women had been disrespectful or misbehaved in any way. Those who had were quickly identified, and Odysseus murdered them immediately.
And there was a cute reunion scene with his wife, and everyone lived happily ever after, right?
Well, actually, there's a bit of the story we tend to overlook. Odysseus realized that the giant pile of corpses in his house had friends and relatives who would seek revenge exactly as barbarically as he had. So his goddess friend cast a spell of forgiveness on all of them, and by that means there was peace.
Now, in the world of the myth one might well wonder why Athena didn't just cast that spell on Odysseus the day before, let the suitors repay him, and skip the blood bath. But in the world of reality, one must ask whether our masters of war believe Athena is going to help them too.
They revenge themselves with righteous brutality on various dictators who have lapsed in their loyalty or death squads that have lost their utility, and the blowback is predictable, predicted, and tragic. No goddess ever shows up to cast a spell of forgiveness on victims' friends and family.
War supporters know there's no goddess in their fight, but often they begin to imagine that the other side will find forgiveness by seeing the justness of the war against them -- although I don't believe there are any examples of this actually happening.
War propaganda maintains that the other side only speaks the language of violence, so violence will communicate to that other side our grievances, our suffering, our justifiable outrage, and our desire for peace. But of course, violence is not a language, not even when dressed up in Homer's art. A language is a substance that can be thought in. Violence cannot embody thought, only fantasy.
The happy little war that turned Libya into hell three years ago was called Operation Odyssey Dawn.
There have been many admirable suggestions put forward to name Obama's latest war:
Operation Enduring Confusion
Operation Rolling Blunder
Operation Iraqi Liberation
Operation We're Indispensable - Guess What That Makes You
Operation Unchanging Hopelessness
But I think the appropriate tag for a mission based on the idea of special holy goodness and power, the idea that mass killing of civilians is justified by outrage at killing of civilians, and the notion that everyone will forgive it afterwards so it won't just make matters worse, is Operation Odysseus' Butcher Shop.
Charles Lewis' book, 935 Lies, would make a fine introduction to reality for anyone who believes the U.S. government usually means well or corporations tend to tell the truth in the free market. And it would make an excellent introduction to the decline and fall of the corporate media. Even if these topics aren't new to you, this book has something to add and retells the familiar quite well.
The familiar topics include the Gulf of Tonkin, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the civil rights movement, U.S. aggression and CIA overthrows, Pinochet, Iran-Contra, lying tobacco companies, and Edward R. Murrow. Lewis brings insight to these and other topics, and if he doesn't document that things were better before the 1960s, he does establish that horrible things have been getting worse since, and are now much more poorly reported on.
The New York Times and Washington Post were afraid not to print the Pentagon Papers. Nowadays a typical decision was that of the New York Times to bury its story on warrentless spying in 2004, with the explanation that printing it might have impacted an election. TV news today would not show you the civil rights movement or the war on Vietnam as it did at the time.
Lewis has hope for new media, including the Center for Public Integrity, which he founded in 1989, and which has produced numerous excellent reports, including on war profiteering, and which Lewis says is the largest nonprofit investigative reporting organization in the world.
Points I quibble with:
1. Human Rights Watch as a model media organization? Really?
2. The New America Foundation as a model media organization? Really?
3. Think tanks as a great hope for integrity in public life? Really?
4. After making 935 of the George W. Bush gang's lies a book title, you aren't sure he "knowingly" lied? Seriously?
This is the guy who wanted an excuse to attack Iraq before he had one. He told Tony Blair they could perhaps paint a U.S. plane in U.N. colors, fly it low, and hope for it to get shot at -- after which conversation the two men spoke to the media about how they were trying to avoid war. This was January 31, 2003, and is quite well documented, but I don't think a single reporter who was lied to that day has taken any offense or asked for an apology. This is the president who rushed the war to prevent completion of inspections. This is the president who made dozens of wild claims about weapons without evidence -- in fact with evidence to the contrary.
Not only does overwhelming evidence show us that Bush knew his claims about WMDs to be false, but the former president has shown us that he considers the question of truth or falsehood to be laughably irrelevant. When Diane Sawyer asked Bush why he had claimed with such certainty that there were so many weapons in Iraq, he replied: "What's the difference? The possibility that [Saddam] could acquire weapons, If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger." What's the difference? It's the difference between lying and meaning well. This interview is available on video.
5. Why not bring the trend of lying about wars up to date, I wonder. Since I wrote War Is A Lie we've had all the lies about drone wars, the lies about Gadaffi threatening to slaughter civilians, the lies about Iranian nukes and Iranian terrorism, the lies about Russian invasions and attacks in Ukraine, the lies about chemical weapons use in Syria, the lies about humanitarian and barbaric justifications for attacking Iraq yet again. It's hard to even keep up with the pace of the lies. But we ought to be able to properly identify the mother of all lies, and I don't think it was the Gulf of Tonkin.
6. Lewis's model of integrity is Edward R. Murrow. Among Murrow's independent and heroic credentials, according to Lewis, is that he met with President Roosevelt hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Now, I take nothing away from Murrow's reporting and the stand he later took for a free press. But why did Lewis bring up this meeting? And once he'd brought it up why did he not mention that Murrow told his wife that night that FDR had given him the "biggest story of my life, but I don't know if it's my duty to tell it or forget it." The Murrow depicted by Lewis would have known what his duty was. Murrow later told John Gunther that the story would put his kid through college if he told it. He never did.
That many people will not immediately know what the story was is testimony to a pattern that Lewis documents. Some lies take many, many years to fall apart. The biggest ones sometimes take the longest.
Here comes another October 7th, time once again for celebrating the International Day of Wars-Start-Easy-But-They’re-a-Bitch-to-End. That is, if we can spare a few moments away from celebrating the new wars we’re starting.
On this date 13 years ago, the United States attacked Afghanistan, which the U.S. President saw primarily as a step toward attacking Iraq, although — in fairness — God had told him to attack both countries. I asked God about that recently and he said, “You want to see regrets. Oh my God, you should talk to the Nobel Committee about that peace laureate.” I didn’t have to ask which one, and I didn’t ask who his God was, fearing an endless discussion loop.
Way back yonder in 2001 before presidents openly spied on everything, launched wars without a pretense of legality, imprisoned without charge, assassinated at will, and kept enough secrets to have outraged Richard Nixon, the general public wasn’t given quite all the information by its beloved televisions. We weren’t told the Taliban was willing to turn bin Laden over to a neutral nation to stand trial. We weren’t told the Taliban was a reluctant tolerator of al Qaeda, and a completely distinct group. We weren’t told the 911 attacks had also been planned in Germany and Maryland and various other places not marked for bombing. We weren’t told that most of the people who would die in Afghanistan, many more than died on 911, not only didn’t support 911 but never heard of it. We weren’t told our government would kill large numbers of civilians, imprison people without trial, hang people by their feet and whip them until they were dead.
We weren’t told how this illegal war would advance the acceptability of illegal wars or how it would make the United States hated in much of the world. We weren’t given the background of how the U.S. interfered in Afghanistan and provoked a Soviet invasion and armed resistance to the Soviets and left the people to the tender mercies of that armed resistance once the Soviets left. We weren’t told that Tony Blair wanted Afghanistan first before he’d get the UK to help destroy Iraq. We certainly weren’t told that bin Laden had been an ally of the U.S. government, that the 911 hijackers were mostly Saudi, or that there might be anything at all amiss with the government of Saudi Arabia. And nobody mentioned the trillions of dollars we’d waste or the civil liberties we’d have to lose at home or the severe damage that would be inflicted on the natural environment. Even birds don’t go to Afghanistan anymore.
The Taliban was very swiftly destroyed in 2001 through a combination of overwhelming killing power and desertion. The U.S. then began hunting for anyone who had once been a member of the Taliban. But these included many of the people now leading the support of the U.S. regime — and many such allied leaders were killed and captured despite not having been Taliban as well, through sheer stupidity and corruption. Dangling $5,000 rewards in front of poor people produced false-accusations that landed their rivals in Bagram or Guantanamo, and the removal of these often key figures devastated communities, and turned communities against the United States that had previously been inclined to support it. Add to this the vicious and insulting abuse of whole families, including women and children captured and harassed by U.S. troops, and the revival of the Taliban under the U.S. occupation begins to become clear. The lie we’ve been told to explain it is that the U.S. became distracted by Iraq, but the Taliban revived precisely where U.S. troops were imposing a rule of violence and not where other internationals were negotiating compromises using, you know, words.
This has been a bumbling oblivious and uncomprehending foreign occupation (as they always are) torturing and murdering a lot of its own strongest allies, shipping some of them off to Gitmo — even shipping to Gitmo young boys whose only offense had been being the sexual assault victims of U.S. allies
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors, and has been celebrated for ending the war ever since. Five years have been spent discussing the “drawdown.” The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible” for years and years. Endless speeches have bragged about ending wars that Obama supposedly “inherited.” And yet, there are now 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, more than when Obama became president. Several NATO allies have wisely departed, but that’s the extent of the “drawdown.” Measured death and destruction or financial cost, Afghanistan is much more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s.
Now, Obama has managed to get a new Afghan president to agree to U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan with immunity from any criminal prosecution, until “2024 and beyond.” Obama claims he’ll reduce troop levels to 9,800 this year, 6,000 next year, and 1,000 the following year — at which point he’ll still be guarding Afghanistan’s new president better than he guards the White House.
This has been Obama’s plan from Day 1. He’s never actually said he would ever end the war; he’s just been given endless credit for doing so. But there’s a bit of rightwing nonsense in the air these days that, combined with the sheer number of U.S. wars, distracts people from the outrageousness of keeping the war on Afghanistan going for another decade “and beyond.” The bit of nonsense is the idea that Iraq has gone to hell because U.S. troops left. In fact, Iraq was a worse hell when U.S. troops were there, and it was the hard work of the U.S. troops and their allies over several years that put Iraq on the path to the hell it now is. Even Obama, who tried desperately to get criminal immunity for U.S. troops in order to leave them in Iraq three years ago, admits that having left them there would have done no good. But surely this bit of counterfactual lunacy — the idea that the troops leaving broke Iraq — helps to stifle our protests and outrage at the latest news from Vietghanistan.
Obama used to be a proud member of the Let’s Stop Killing Iraqis and Kill More Afghans Club. Now he’s back in Iraq plus Syria killing so many civilians that he’s announced that rules for minimizing civilian deaths don’t apply. I’ve got a scheme to help him bamboozle his antiwar supporters back into adoring him. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s an unexpected reversal. And at least half the country already thinks he’s done it anyway: Get the U.S. Military Out of Afghanistan. Now. Entirely. No Strings Attached.
October 3, 2014 — A statement on the current and enduring crisis, by the coordinating committee of WorldBeyondWar.org
The following is an assessment of the current ISIS crisis. The statement examines: (1) the social context of the destructive violence in Syria and Iraq — where we are; (2) viable nonviolent alternatives — what should be done; and (3) opportunities for civil society to advocate and push for those alternatives — how we can make it happen. The alternatives and pathways toward achieving those are not only preferable from a perspective of humanity, but proven to be more effective.
Graphic beheadings and other quite real stories of horrors committed by a new enemy — ISIS — have led to increased support for U.S. involvement. But a war on ISIS will make things worse for all concerned, following, as it does, a pattern of counterproductive action. Through the course of the so-called global war on terrorism, terrorism has been on the rise.
Nonviolent alternatives to war are abundant, morally superior, and strategically more effective. Some but not all are: apologies for past actions; arms embargoes; a Marshall Plan of restitution for the Middle East; meaningful diplomacy; appropriate conflict resolution responses to terrorism; addressing the immediate crisis with humanitarian intervention; redirecting our energies at home; supporting peace journalism; working through the United Nations; and de-authorizing the war on terror.
No solution by itself will bring peace to the region. Many solutions together can create a strong web of peacebuilding fabric superior to continued war. We cannot expect to make all of the above happen immediately. But by working toward those ends we can achieve the best results as quickly and as lastingly as possible.
We need teach-ins, communications, and education of all sorts. People should know enough facts to give their positions context. We need demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, town forums, disruptions, and media productions. And if we make this a part of ending the whole institution of war, rather than just a particular war, we may move closer to not having to keep opposing new wars all the time.
WHERE WE ARE
Public opinion on wars in the United States follows a tragic pattern, soaring — sometimes to over a majority — in support of a war when it’s new, and then predictably sinking. During most of the 2003-2011 U.S. war on Iraq, a majority in the U.S. said the war should never have been begun. In 2013, public opinion and pressure played a prominent role in preventing the launching of a new U.S. war on Syria. In February 2014, the U.S. Senate rejected legislation that would have moved the United States closer to war with Iran. On July 25, 2014, with the U.S. public against a new U.S. war in Iraq, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that would have required the President to obtain authorization before launching a war (just as the Constitution already requires) had the Senate passed the resolution too. At that distant date of a few months back, it was still possible to talk about an “antiwar mood,” to applaud the Catholic peace group Pax Christi for its historic decision to reject “just war” theory, to celebrate the state of Connecticut’s creation of a commission to transition to peaceful industries, to point to public support for taxing the rich and cutting the military as the top two solutions whenever the U.S. government and media discussed a debt crisis, and to envision a less-militarized future approaching.
But support for U.S. drone strikes remained relatively high, opposition to Israel’s war on Gaza with U.S. weapons remained weak (and in Congress and the White House virtually nonexistent), the CIA was arming Syrian rebels against the overwhelming preference of the U.S. public, and the proposed missile strikes into Syria had not been replaced with any significant effort to create an arms embargo, negotiate a ceasefire, provide major humanitarian aid, or otherwise reject a war-focused foreign policy and economic agenda that had merely been put on hold. Moreover, public opposition to war was weak and ill-informed. Most Americans lacked even a roughly accurate idea of the destruction their government had caused in Iraq, could not name the nations their government was striking with drones, didn’t study the evidence that their government had lied about chemical weapons attacks in Syria and threats to civilians in Libya, didn’t pay much attention to the human rights abuses or support for terrorism by U.S.-backed kings and dictators, and had been long trained to believe that violence arises out of the irrationality of foreigners and can be cured with greater violence.
Support for a new war was driven by graphic beheadings and other quite real stories of horrors committed by a new enemy: ISIS. This support is as likely to be short-lived as support for other wars has been, barring some dramatic new motivation. And this support has been exaggerated. Pollsters ask whether something should be done and then simply assume that the something is violence. Or they ask whether this type of violence should be employed or that type of violence, never offering any nonviolent alternatives. So, other questions could produce other answers right now; time is likely to change the answers for the better; and education would accelerate that changing.
Opposition to the horrors of ISIS makes perfect sense, but opposition to ISIS as a motivation for war lacks context in every way. U.S. allies in that region, including the Iraqi government and the so-called Syrian rebels, behead people, as do U.S. missiles. And ISIS isn’t such a new enemy after all, including as it does Iraqis thrown out of work by the U.S. disbanding of the Iraqi military, and Iraqis brutalized for years in U.S. prison camps. The United States and its junior partners destroyed Iraq, leaving behind sectarian division, poverty, desperation, and an illegitimate government in Baghdad that did not represent Sunnis or other groups. Then the U.S. armed and trained ISIS and allied groups in Syria, while continuing to prop up the Baghdad government, providing Hellfire missiles with which to attack Iraqis in Fallujah and elsewhere. Even opponents of the Saddam Hussein government (which was also put into power by the United States) say there could have been no ISIS had the United States not attacked and destroyed Iraq.
Additional context is provided by the manner in which the U.S. occupation of Iraq temporarily ended in 2011. President Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq when he couldn’t get the Iraqi government to give them immunity for any crimes they might commit. He has now obtained that immunity and sent troops back in.
ISIS has religious adherents but also opportunistic supporters who see it as the force resisting an unwanted rule from Baghdad and who increasingly see it as resisting the United States. That’s how ISIS wants to be seen. U.S. wars have made the United States so hated in that part of the world, that ISIS openly encouraged U.S. attacks in an hour-long film, provoked them with the beheading videos, and has seen huge recruitment gains since the U.S. began attacking it.
ISIS is in possession of U.S. weaponry provided directly to it in Syria and seized from, and even provided by the Iraqi government. At last count by the U.S. government, 79% of weapons transferred to Middle Eastern governments come from the United States, not counting transfers to groups like ISIS, and not counting weapons in the possession of the United States.
So, the first thing to do differently going forward: stop bombing nations into ruins, and stop shipping weapons into the area you’ve left in chaos. Libya is of course another example of the disasters that U.S. wars leave behind them — a war in which U.S. weapons were used on both sides, and a war launched on the pretext of a claim well documented to have been false that Gadaffi was threatening to massacre civilians.
So, here’s the next thing to do: be very skeptical of humanitarian claims. The U.S. bombing around Erbil to protect Kurdish and U.S. oil interests was initially justified as bombing to protect people on a mountain. But most of those people on the mountain were in no need of rescue, and that justification has now been set aside, just as Benghazi was.
A war on ISIS isn’t a bad idea because the suffering of ISIS’s victims is not our problem. Of course it’s our problem. We are human beings who care about each other. A war on ISIS is a bad idea because it is not only counterproductive, but will make things worse. Through the course of the so-called global war on terrorism, terrorism has been on the rise. This was predictable and predicted. The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the abuses of prisoners during them, became major recruiting tools for anti-U.S. terrorism. In 2006, U.S. intelligence agencies produced a National Intelligence Estimate that reached just that conclusion. Drone strikes have increased terrorism and anti-Americanism in places like Yemen. The new U.S. attacks on ISIS have already killed many civilians. “For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies,” according to General Stanley McChrystal. The White House has announced that strict standards for avoiding large numbers of civilian deaths do not apply to its latest war.
ISIS is fighting against the government of Syria, the same government that President Obama wanted to bomb last year. The United States is arming close allies of ISIS in Syria, while bombing ISIS and other groups (and civilians) in Syria. But the U.S. State Department has not changed its position on the Syrian government. It is entirely possible that the United States will attack both sides of the Syrian war. Even the fact of already attacking the opposite side from a year ago, and the same side you’re arming ought to be enough to make anyone ask whether the point is largely to bomb somebody for the sake of bombing somebody. Bombing people is one of the best known methods by which the U.S. government convinces the U.S. media that it is “doing something.”
It is tearing down the rule of law, among other things. Without Congressional authorization, President Obama is violating the U.S. Constitution, and his earlier professed belief. “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” said Senator Barack Obama quite accurately.
With a Congressional authorization, this war would still violate the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which are the supreme law of the land under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. The British Parliament voted to approve assistance in attacking Iraq, but not Syria — the latter being too clearly illegal for their taste.
The White House has refused to estimate the duration or the cost of this war. There is every reason to assume that conditions on the ground will worsen. So only public pressure, not some sort of victory, will end the war. In fact, military victories are almost unheard of in this era. The RAND corporation studied how terrorist groups come to an end, and found that 83% are ended through politics or policing, only 7% through war. This may be why President Obama keeps saying, quite accurately, “There is no military solution,” while pursuing a military solution.
So what should be done and how can we make it happen?
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
Adopt a new approach toward the world: Apologize for brutalizing the leader of ISIS in a prison camp and to every other prisoner victimized under U.S. occupation. Apologize for destroying the nation of Iraq and to every family there. Apologize for arming the region and its kings and dictators, for past support for the Syrian government, and for the U.S. role in the Syrian war. Cease to support abusive governments in Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc.
Pursue an arms embargo: Announce a commitment not to provide weapons to Iraq or Syria or Israel or Jordan or Egypt or Bahrain or any other nation or ISIS or any other group, and to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from foreign territories and seas, including Afghanistan. (The U.S. Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf has clearly forgotten where the coast of the U.S. is!) Cut off the 79% of weapons that flow to the Middle East from the United States. Urge Russia, China, European nations, and others to cease shipping any weapons to the Middle East. Open negotiations for a nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons free region, to include the elimination of those weapons by Israel.
Create a Marshall Plan of restitution to the entire Middle East. Deliver aid (not “military aid” but actual aid, food, medicine) to the entire nations of Iraq and Syria and their neighbors. This can generate sympathy in the population supportive of terrorists. This can be done on a massive scale for less cost than continuing to shoot $2 million missiles at the problem. Announce a commitment to invest heavily in solar, wind, and other green energy and to provide the same to democratic representative governments. Begin providing Iran with free wind and solar technologies — at much lower cost, of course, than what it is costing the U.S. and Israel to threaten Iran over a nonexistent nuclear weapons program. End economic sanctions.
Give real diplomacy a chance: Send diplomats to Baghdad and Damascus to negotiate aid and to encourage serious reforms. Open negotiations that include Iran and Russia. Use the mechanisms provided by the United Nations constructively. The political problems in the region require political solutions. Employ peaceful means to pursue representative governments respectful of human rights, regardless of the consequences for U.S. oil corporations or any other influential profiteers. Propose the creation of truth and reconciliation commissions. Allow for citizen diplomacy efforts.
Apply an appropriate conflict resolution response to terrorism by creating a multi-layered policy framework. (1) Prevention by reducing proneness to terrorism; (2) persuasion by reducing motivation and recruitment; (3) denial by reducing vulnerability and defeating hardliners; (4) coordination by maximizing international efforts.
Dissolve terrorism at its roots. It is proven that civilian-based nonviolent forces can produce decisive change in societies, consequently reducing the demand for terrorism as a form of struggle, even driving a wedge between militants and their sympathizers. We need engagement through strategic contact, consultation and dialog rather than military force. Sustainable peacebuilding processes require the engagement of multiple stakeholders from multiple sectors of societies affected by violent conflict. Strengthening the civil society in the conflict zone will diminish the support base for terrorist groups. Responding with more violence is the victory which extremists seek. Deliberative dialogue inclusive of all views assists in understanding the sources of violence; addressing them through nonviolent strategies and creating conditions for sustainable peace will drive a wedge between militants and their sympathizers.
Address the immediate crisis with a firm but caring humanitarian intervention: Send journalists, aid workers, international nonviolent peaceworkers, human shields, and negotiators into crisis zones, understanding that this means risking lives, but fewer lives than further militarization risks. Empower people with agricultural assistance, education, cameras, and internet access.
Redirect our energies at home: Launch a communications campaign in the United States to replace military recruitment campaigns, focused on building sympathy and desire to serve as critical aid workers, persuading doctors and engineers to volunteer their time to travel to and visit these areas of crisis. At the same time, make economic transition from war to peace industries in the United States a collective public project of top priority.
Support peace journalism: “Peace journalism is when editors and reporters make choices — about what to report, and how to report it — that create opportunities for society at large to consider and to value non-violent responses to conflict.”
Stop going rogue: Work through the United Nations on all of the above. Adhere to international law, more specifically the UN Charter and Kellogg-Briand Pact. Sign the United States on to the International Criminal Court and voluntarily propose the prosecution of top U.S. officials of this and the preceding regimes for their crimes.
De-authorize the war on terror (Authorization For Use of Military Force) as a “forever war authorization” — The AUMF can be challenged by taking partial but important steps. Those include reining in the drone warfare program and increasing government accountability. These steps have broad support among human rights and legal rights groups.
HOW WE CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN
We cannot expect to make all of the above happen immediately. But we can move in that direction as quickly as possible. The government will come further toward meeting us the more persuasive and powerful our demand. So, determining Congress members’ current position and asking them for just that or a little better is unlikely to produce better results and could produce worse ones — both in the short and long term. A compromise is usually made between two sides of a debate, so it matters where the side of peace is established. And if we demand a limited war, we eliminate the opportunity to inform anyone about the advantages of avoiding war altogether. Thus, people will lack that information when the next war is proposed. We also cannot expect to organize large numbers of people to demonstrate, protest, or lobby for “a war of no more than 12 months.” It lacks the poetry and the morality of “No War.”
Once a war is well underway and a debate is framed around how many more months it should go on, and the reality on the ground is predictably worsening, and “support the troops” propaganda is insisting that the war go on for the supposed benefit of the troops killing, dying, and committing suicide in it, the problem of how to end it is likely to loom much larger than if the popular position of “No War, Nonviolence Instead” has been well-articulated and defended.
A demand is going to be heard for “no ground troops.” This should not be the focus of a peace movement. For one thing there already are some 1,600 U.S. ground troops in Iraq. They’re labeled “advisors” as are the 26 Canadians who just joined them. But nobody actually believes 1,626 people are giving advice. Another 2,300 troops will be deployed as a Middle East Marine Corps task force. By demanding “No Ground Troops” while accepting the pretense that they aren’t there now, we can actually give our stamp of approval to any ground troop labeled something else. In addition, a war dominated by air strikes is likely to kill more people, not fewer people, than a ground war. This is an opportunity to inform our neighbors who may be unaware that these wars are one-sided slaughters killing mostly people who live where they’re fought, and killing mostly civilians. Once we’ve acknowledged that reality, how can we continue with cries of “No ground troops” rather than “No war”?
We need teach-ins, communications, and education of all sorts. People should know that beheading victim James Foley was opposed to war. People should know that ISIS gives George W. Bush credit in their film for being right about the need for war and pushes for greater warmaking against them by the United States. People should understand that ISIS promotes martyrdom as the highest goal, and that bombing ISIS strengthens it.
We need demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, town forums, disruptions, and media productions.
Our message to people is: get active and engaged in what we’re doing; you’ll be surprised how this can be turned around. And if we make this a part of ending the whole institution of war, rather than just a particular war, we may move closer to not having to keep opposing new wars all the time.
Our message to Congress members is: publicly pressure Speaker Boehner and Senator Reid to get back to work and vote to halt this war, or do not expect our votes to keep you in office for another term.
Our message to the President is: now would be a good time to end the mind-set that gets us into wars, as you said you wanted to do. Is this really what you want to be remembered for?
Our message to the United Nations is: the U.S. government is in blatant violation of the U.N. Charter. You must hold the United States accountable.
Our message to all parties is: war has no justification and no benefit, now or ever. It is immoral, makes us less safe, threatens our environment, erodes liberties, impoverishes us, and takes $2 trillion a year away from where it could do a world of good.
World Beyond War has a bureau of speakers who can address these topics. Find them here: http://worldbeyondwar.org/
 The Kellogg–Briand Pact is a 1928 international agreement in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.” For an in-depth exploration see David Swanson’s When the World Outlawed War (2011).
 Political apologies are considered part of a complex peacebuilding process in conjunction with other conflict transformation techniques. See a summary of Apologia Politica: States and their apologies by proxy.
 UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, for example, urged the Security Council to impose an arms embargo into Syria.
 As discussed by peace and conflict studies experts John Paul Lederach in Addressing terrorism: a theory of change approach (2011) and David Cortright in Gandhi and Beyond. Nonviolence for a new political age (2009)
Brad Friedman is the investigative blogger, journalist, broadcaster, trouble-maker and muckraker from BradBlog.com. He is a regular contributor to Salon.com and elsewhere; host of KPFK/Pacifica Radio's BradCast and the nationally-syndicated Green News Report with co-host Desi Doyen. We discuss war and peace, the environment and its destruction, and voting and everything done to prevent it. As Michael Moore says: It's a comedy!
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A serious case has been made repeatedly by unknown scholars and globally celebrated geniuses for well over a century that a likely step toward abolishing war would be instituting some form of global government. Yet the peace movement barely mentions the idea, and its advocates as often as not appear rather naive about Western imperialism; certainly they are not central to or well integrated into the peace movement or even, as far as I can tell, into peace studies academia. (Here's a link to one of the main advocacy groups for world government promoting a U.S. war on ISIS.)
All too often the case for world government is even made in this way: Global government would guarantee peace, while its absence guarantees war. The silliness of such assertions, I suspect, damages what may be an absolutely critical cause. Nobody knows what global government guarantees, because it's never been tried. And if national and local governments and every other large human institution are any guide, global government could bring a million different things depending on how it's done. The serious question should be whether there's a way to do it that would make peace more likely, without serious risk of backfiring, and whether pursuing such a course is a more likely path to peace than others.
Does the absence of world government guarantee war? I haven't seen any proof. Of 200 nations, 199 invest far less in war than the United States. Some have eliminated their militaries entirely. Costa Rica is not attacked because it lacks a military. The United States is attacked because of what its military does. Some nations go centuries without war, while others seemingly can't go more than half an election cycle. In their book One World Democracy, Jerry Tetalman and Byron Belitsos write that nations do not go to war because they are armed or inclined toward violence but because "they are hopelessly frustrated by the fact that they have no legislative or judicial forum in which their grievances can be heard and adjudicated."
Can you, dear reader, recall a time when the U.S. public had a grievance with a foreign country, lamented the absence of a global court to adjudicate it, and demanded that Congress declare and the Pentagon wage a war? How many pro-war marches have you been on, you lover of justice? When the Taliban offered to let a third country put Bin Laden on trial, was it the U.S. public that replied, "No way, we want a war," or was it the President? When the U.S. Vice President met with oil company executives to plan the occupation of Iraq, do you think any of them mentioned their frustration at the weakness of international law and arbitration? When the U.S. President in 2013 could not get Congress or the public to accept a new war on Syria and finally agreed to negotiate the removal of chemical weapons without war, why was war the first choice rather than the second? When advocates of world government claim that democracies don't wage war, or heavily armed nations are not more likely to wage war, or nations with cultures that celebrate war are not more likely to wage war, I think they hurt their cause.
When you start up a campaign to abolish the institution of war, you hear from all kinds of people who have the solution for you. And almost all of them have great ideas, but almost all of them think every other idea but their own is useless. So the solution is world government and nothing else, or a culture of peace and nothing else, or disarmament and nothing else, or ending racism and nothing else, or destroying capitalism and nothing else, or counter-recruitment and nothing else, or media reform and nothing else, or election campaign funding reform and nothing else, or creating peace in our hearts and radiating it outward and nothing else, etc. So those of us who find value in all of the above, have to encourage people to pick their favorite and get busy on it. But we also have to try to prioritize. So, again, the serious question is whether world government should be pursued and whether it should be a top priority or something that waits at the bottom of the list.
There are, of course, serious arguments that world government would make everything worse, that large government is inevitably dysfunctional and an absolutely large government would be dysfunctional absolutely. Serious, if vague, arguments have been made in favor of making our goal "anarcracy" rather than world democracy. These arguments are overwhelmed in volume by paranoid pronouncements like the ones in this typical email I received:
"War is a crime, yes agreed totally, but Man-made Global Warming is a complete scam. I know this to be a fact. Aurelio Peccei, co-founder of the Club of Rome, offered me a job as one of his PAs (my uncle, Sir Harry, later Lord Pilkington went to the first ever Bilderberg Conference in 1954, a year before he came a Director of the Bank of England and was a loyal member of the global corporate elite) and he told me that this was all a scheme to help frighten the world into accepting global governance on their terms. Be very careful, you are unwittingly playing their game.
One of the huge advantages of global government would seem to be that it might globally address global warming. Yet the horror of global government is so great that people believe the droughts and tornados destroying the earth all around them are somehow a secret plot to trick us into setting up a world government.
A half-century ago the idea of world government was acceptable and popular. Now, when we hear about those days it's often in sinister tones focused on the worst motivations of the worst players at the time. Less common are accounts reminding us of a hopeful, well-meant, but unfinished project.
I think advocates for a world federation and global rule of law are onto an important idea that ought to be pursued immediately. Global warming leaves us little time for taking on other projects, but this is a project critical to addressing that crisis. And it's a project that I think can coexist with moving more power to provinces, localities, and individuals.
The bigger the Leviathan, claims Ian Morris, the less war there will be, as long as the Leviathan is the United States and it never stops waging wars. Advocates of world government tend to agree with the first part of that, and I think they're partially right. The rule of law helps to regulate behavior. But so do other factors. I think Scotland could leave the UK or Catalonia leave Spain, Quebec leave Canada, Vermont leave the United States without the chance of war increasing. On the contrary, I think some of these new countries would be advocates for peace. Were Texas to secede, that might be a different story. That is to say, habits of peace and cultures of peace necessary to allow a world federation might render such a federation less necessary -- still perhaps necessary, but less so. If the U.S. public demanded peace and cooperation and participation in the International Criminal Court, it would be ready to demand participation in a world federation, but peace might already have -- at least in great measure -- arrived.
Extreme national exceptionalism, which is not required by nationalism, is clearly a driver of war, hostility, and exploitation. President Obama recently said that he only wakes up in the morning because the United States is the one indispensible nation (don't ask what that makes the others). The theme of his speech was the need to start another war. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was once booed at a primary debate, not for opposing war, but for suggesting that the golden rule be applied to relations with foreign countries. Clearly we need to become world citizens in our minds as well as in written law.
Rudolf Gelsey recently sent me his book, Mending Our Broken World: A Path to Perpetual Peace, which led me on to Tetalman and Belitsos's book. I think these authors would benefit from the wisdom of the 1920s Outlawry movement, but I think they do an excellent job of recognizing the successes and failures of the United Nations, and proposing reforms or replacement. Should we be scared of an international rule of law? Tetalman and Belitsos reply:
"In truth, living under a system of war and anarchy with WMDs readily available for use on the field of battle -- that is the really frightening choice when it is compared with tyranny."
This is the key, I think. Continuing with the war system and with environmental destruction threaten the world. Far better to try a world with a government than to lose the world. Far better a system that tries to punish individual war makers than one that bombs entire nations.
How do we get there? Tetalman and Belitsos recommend abolishing the veto at the United Nations, expanding Security Council membership, creating a tax base for a U.N. that currently receives about 0.5 percent what the world invests in war, and giving up war powers in favor of U.N. policing. They also propose kicking out of the United Nations any nations not holding free elections, or violating international laws. Clearly that would have to be a requirement going forward and not enforced retroactively or you'd lose too many big members and spoil the whole plan.
The authors envision some transition period in which the U.N. uses war to prevent war, before arriving at the golden age of using only police. I'm inclined to believe that imagined step would have to be leapt over for this to work. The U.S./NATO/U.N. have been using war to rid the world of war for three-quarters of a century with a dismal record of failure. I suspect the authors are also wrong to propose expansion of the European Union as one way to get to a global federation. The European Union is the second greatest purveyor of violence on earth right now. Perhaps the BRICS or other non-aligned nations could begin this process better, which after all is going to require the United States either rising or sinking to humility unimaginable today.
Perhaps a federation can be established only on the question of war, or only on the question of nuclear disarmament, or climate preservation. The trouble, of course, is that the willingness of the dominant bullies to engage in one is as unlikely as, and intimately connected to, each of the others. What would make all of this more likely would be if we began talking about it, thinking about it, planning for it, dreaming it, or even just hearing the words when we sing John Lennon songs. The U.S. peace movement is currently drenched in nationalism, uses "we" to mean the U.S. military, and thinks of "global citizen" as a bit of silly childishness. That needs to change. And fast.
What I've seen of public events, demonstrations, and protests of the latest U.S. war -- just like the larger and more immediately effective public resistance 12 months ago -- has been aimed, remarkably enough, at ending the war and opposing the policies of those engaging in it, and first among them the U.S. President.
What I've seen of inside-the-Beltway-style peace lobby groups' strategy has been aimed, predictably enough, at setting a good end date for the new war and barring the use of U.S. ground troops.
Both approaches are represented by voluminous discussions on listserves, so I feel like I know a good sample of each far more intimately than I might ideally wish. They parallel rejection and support of lesser-evil voting, and are largely made by those who reject and accept the importance of lesser-evil voting. However, many who accept lesser-evilism in the polling booth do not accept it here. And I think they have a point.
If you vote for a decent candidate and he or she loses, an argument can be made that you've "wasted" your vote. But if you advocate for an immediate end to a war, and a Congress that is hearing from the President that the war should last three years, bans continuation of the war beyond a year-and-a-half, then an argument can be made that you helped frame the compromise. In any case, it would be difficult to make a persuasive case that your activism was wasted. If, on the other hand, you found out that some Congress members were interested in a 1-year limit, and you lobbied for just that, and then Congress enacted a 2-year limit, what could you be said to have accomplished?
Here's my basic contention: Congress knows how to compromise. We don't have to pre-compromise for them. (How'd that work out on healthcare?) (How'd that ever work out?) And when we do pre-compromise for them (such as the time AFSCME banned "single-payer" signs from "public option" rallies, so as to simulate public demand for what "progressive" Congress members were pretending to already want) we give significant support and respectability to some serious outrages (such as privatized for-profit health insurance, but also such as bombing Iraq yet again and bombing the opposite side in Syria that was to be bombed a year ago and while arming that same side, which -- if we're honest about it -- is madness.
How many years of madness will be best, is an insane question. It's not a question around which to organize protests, demonstrations, nonviolent actions, lobbying, education, communication, or any other sort of movement building.
But isn't 2 years of war better than 3? And how are you going to get Congress members to limit it to 2 years if you've called them lunatics?
Of course 2 years is better than 3. But less than 2 is even better, and Congress is going to compromise as far as it dares, and knows perfectly well how to do so without help from us. Is there really evidence to imagine that Senators and Congress members shape their policies around who's most polite to them? Certainly they determine who's invited to meetings on Capitol Hill on that basis, but is being in those meetings our top priority? Does it do the most for us? And can't we still get some people into those meetings by calling mass murder "mass murder" while keeping open every opportunity for the funders and sanctioners of mass murder to oppose and stop it?
We need sit-ins in Congressional offices and protests on Capitol Hill. To a much lesser extent, we need discussions with Congress members and staffers. To the extent that different people must pursue those two tactics, the question will always remain whether mass public organizing should be guided by people who think like the former group or like the latter.
My position comes from the expectation that "support the troops" propaganda and the inevitably worsened situation after a year or two will make the struggle to then end a previously time-limited war harder, rather than easier -- easier only if the public has come to its sense in the meantime. My position comes from the fact that there are already U.S. troops in Iraq and the belief that we're going to get them home sooner if we don't play along with the pretense that they aren't there or aren't there for combat. My concern is for human life, and when you prioritize an air war over a ground war -- and when the "anti-war" movement does that -- you risk creating a great, rather than a smaller, number of deaths, albeit non-U.S. deaths.
Now, the lobbyists' need to be polite to Congress can be a helpful guide to all protesters. While moral condemnation and humorous mockery can be useful tools, so can Gandhian respect for those who must be won over. But the demand of a peace movement must be for peace and alternatives to war. When the missile strikes were stopped a year ago, the arming of ISIS-and-friends proceeded anyway, and no useful policy was pursued instead of the missiles. The U.S. had decided to do nothing, as if that were the only other option. Effectively we'd put an end date on the U.S. staying out, as doing nothing was guaranteed not to resolve the problem.
A good end-date for this war is today. A good date to begin useful aid and diplomacy and arms embargoes and reparations is tomorrow. We have to change the conversation to those topics, instead of focusing on the question of how much mass-murdering madness is the appropriate amount. Not because we want it to continue for eternity if it can't be ended now, but because it will end sooner and be less likely to be repeated if we confront it for what it is.
We've been so strategic over the past decade that everybody in the United States knows the war on Iraq cost U.S. lives and money, but most have only the vaguest idea of how it destroyed Iraq and how many people it killed. As a direct result, nobody knows where ISIS came from, and not enough people are fully aware of the high probability that the bombing will strengthen ISIS -- which may be why ISIS openly asks for it in its 1-hour film.
How much insanity should we demand on our posters and signs and online petitions and letters to editors: not another drop.
We won't necessarily know what a Musteite is, but I'm inclined to think it would help if we did. I'm using the word to mean "having a certain affinity for the politics of A.J. Muste."
I had people tell me I was a Musteite when I had at best the vaguest notion of who A.J. Muste had been. I could tell it was a compliment, and from the context I took it to mean that I was someone who wanted to end war. I guess I sort of brushed that off as not much of a compliment. Why should it be considered either particularly praiseworthy or outlandishly radical to want to end war? When someone wants to utterly and completely end rape or child abuse or slavery or some other evil, we don't call them extremist radicals or praise them as saints. Why is war different?
The possibility that war might not be different, that it might be wholly abolished, could very well be a thought that I picked up third-hand from A.J. Muste, as so many of us have picked up so much from him, whether we know it or not. His influence is all over our notions of labor and organizing and civil rights and peace activism. His new biography, American Gandhi: A.J. Muste and the History of Radicalism in the Twentieth Century by Leilah Danielson is well worth reading, and has given me a new affection for Muste despite the book's own rather affection-free approach.
Martin Luther King Jr. told an earlier Muste biographer, Nat Hentoff, "The current emphasis on nonviolent direct action in the race relations field is due more to A.J. than to anyone else in the country." It is also widely acknowledged that without Muste there would not have been formed such a broad coalition against the war on Vietnam. Activists in India have called him "the American Gandhi."
The American Gandhi was born in 1885 and immigrated with his family at age 6 from Holland to Michigan. He studied in Holland, Michigan, the same town that we read about in the first few pages of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, and at a college later heavily funded by the Prince Family, from which Blackwater sprang. The stories of both Muste and Prince begin with Dutch Calvinism and end up as wildly apart as imaginable. At the risk of offending Christian admirers of either man, I think neither story -- and neither life -- would have suffered had the religion been left out.
Muste would have disagreed with me, of course, as some form of religion was central to his thinking during much of his life. By the time of World War I he was a preacher and a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). He opposed war in 1916 when opposing war was acceptable. And when most of the rest of the country fell in line behind Woodrow Wilson and obediently loved war in 1917, Muste didn't change. He opposed war and conscription. He supported the struggle for civil liberties, always under attack during wars. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was formed by Muste's FOR colleagues in 1917 to treat symptoms of war, just as it does today. Muste refused to preach in support of war and was obliged to resigned from his church, stating in his resignation letter that the church should be focused on creating "the spiritual conditions that should stop the war and render all wars unthinkable." Muste became a volunteer with the ACLU advocating for conscientious objectors and others persecuted for war opposition in New England. He also became a Quaker.
In 1919 Muste found himself the leader of a strike of 30,000 textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, learning on the job -- and on the picket line, where he was arrested and assaulted by police, but returned immediately to the line. By the time the struggle was won, Muste was general secretary of the newly formed Amalgamated Textile Workers of America. Two years later, he was directing Brookwood Labor College outside of Katonah, New York. By the mid-1920s, as Brookwood succeeded, Muste had become a leader of the progressive labor movement nationwide. At the same time, he served on the executive committee of the national FOR from 1926-1929 as well as on the national committee of the ACLU. Brookwood struggled to bridge many divides until the American Federation of Labor destroyed it with attacks from the right, aided a bit with attacks from the left by the Communists. Muste labored on for labor, forming the Conference for Progressive Labor Action, and organizing in the South, but "if we are to have morale in the labor movement," he said, "we must have a degree of unity, and, if we are to have that, it follows, for one thing, that we cannot spend all our time in controversy and fighting with each other -- maybe 99 per cent of the time, but not quite 100 per cent."
Muste's biographer follows that same 99 percent formula for a number of chapters, covering the infighting of the activists, the organizing of the unemployed, the forming of the American Workers Party in 1933, and in 1934 the Auto-Lite strike in Toledo, Ohio, that led to the formation of the United Auto Workers. The unemployed, joining in the strike on behalf of the workers, were critical to success, and their commitment to do so may have helped the workers decide to strike in the first place. Muste was central to all of this and to progressive opposition to fascism during these years. The sit-down strike at Goodyear in Akron was led by former students of Muste.
Muste sought to prioritize the struggle for racial justice and to apply Gandhian techniques, insisting on changes in culture, not just government. "If we are to have a new world," he said, "we must have new men; if you want a revolution, you must be revolutionized." In 1940, Muste became national secretary of FOR and launched a Gandhian campaign against segregation, bringing on new staff including James Farmer and Bayard Rustin, and helping to found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The nonviolent actions that many associate with the 1950s and 1960s began in the 1940s. A Journey of Reconciliation predated the Freedom Rides by 14 years.
Muste predicted the rise of the Military Industrial Complex and the militarized adventurism of the post-World War II United States in 1941. Somewhere beyond the comprehension of most Americans, and even his biographer, Muste found the wisdom to continue opposing war during a second world war, advocating instead for nonviolent defense and a peaceful, cooperative, and generous foreign policy, defending the rights of Japanese Americans, and once again opposing a widespread assault on civil liberties. "If I can't love Hitler, I can't love at all," said Muste, articulating the widespread commonsense that one should love one's enemies, but doing so in the primary case in which virtually everyone else, to this day, advocates for the goodness of all-out vicious violence and hatred.
Of course, those who had opposed World War I and the horrible settlement that concluded it, and the fueling of fascism for years -- and who could see what the end of World War II would bring, and who saw the potential in Gandhian techniques -- must have had a harder time than most in accepting that war was inevitable and World War II justified.
Muste, I am sure, took no satisfaction in watching the U.S. government create a cold war and a global empire in line with his own prediction. Muste continued to push back against the entire institution of war, remarking that, "the very means nations use to provide themselves with apparent or temporary 'defense' and 'security' constitute the greatest obstacle to the attainment of genuine or permanent collective security. They want international machinery so that the atomic armaments race may cease; but the atomic armaments race has to stop or the goal of the world order recedes beyond human reach."
It was in this period, 1948-1951 that MLK Jr. was attending Crozer Theological Seminary, attending speeches by, and reading books by, Muste, who would later advise him in his own work, and who would play a key role in urging civil rights leaders to oppose the war on Vietnam. Muste worked with the American Friends Service Committee, and many other organizations, including the Committee to Stop the H-Bomb Tests, which would become the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE); and the World Peace Brigade.
Muste warned against a U.S. war on Vietnam in 1954. He led opposition to it in 1964. He struggled with great success to broaden the anti-war coalition in 1965. At the same time, he struggled against the strategy of watering down war opposition in an attempt to find broader appeal. He believed that "polarization" brought "contradictions and differences" to the surface and allowed for the possibility of greater success. Muste chaired the November 8 Mobilization Committee (MOBE) in 1966, planning a massive action in April 1967. But upon returning from a trip to Vietnam in February, giving talks about the trip, and staying up all night drafting the announcement of the April demonstration, he began to complain of back pain and did not live much longer.
He did not see King's speech at Riverside Church on April 4. He did not see the mass mobilization or the numerous funerals and memorials to himself. He did not see the war ended. He did not see the war machine and war planning continue as if little had been learned. He did not see the retreat from economic fairness and progressive activism during the decades to come. But A.J. Muste had been there before. He'd seen the upsurges of the 1920s and 1930s and lived to help bring about the peace movement of the 1960s. When, in 2013, public pressure helped stop a missile attack on Syria, but nothing positive took its place, and a missile attack was launched a year later against the opposite side in the Syrian war, Muste would not have been shocked. His cause was not the prevention of a particular war but the elimination of the institution of war, the cause also of the new campaign in 2014 World Beyond War.
What can we learn from someone like Muste who persevered long enough to see some, but not all, of his radical ideas go mainstream? He didn't bother with elections or even voting. He prioritized nonviolent direct action. He sought to form the broadest possible coalition, including with people who disagreed with him and with each other on fundamental questions but who agreed on the important matter at hand. Yet he sought to keep those coalitions uncompromising on matters of the greatest importance. He sought to advance their goals as a moral cause and to win over opponents by intellect and emotion, not force. He worked to change world views. He worked to build global movements, not just local or national. And, of course, he sought to end war, not just to replace one war with a different one. That meant struggling against a particular war, but doing so in the manner best aimed at reducing or abolishing the machinery behind it.
I'm not, after all, a very good Musteite. I agree with much, but not all. I reject his religious motivations. And of course I'm not much like A.J. Muste, lacking his skills, interests, abilities, and accomplishments. But I do feel close to him and appreciate more than ever being called a Musteite. And I appreciate that A.J. Muste and millions of people who appreciated his work in one way or another passed it on to me. Muste's influence on people everyone knows, like Martin Luther King, Jr., and people who influenced people everyone knows, like Bayard Rustin, was significant. He worked with people still active in the peace movement like David McReynolds and Tom Hayden. He worked with James Rorty, father of one of my college professors, Richard Rorty. He spent time at Union Theological Seminary, where my parents studied. He lived on the same block, if not building, where I lived for a while at 103rd Street and West End Avenue in New York, and Muste was apparently married to a wonderful woman named Anne who went by Anna, as am I. So, I like the guy. But what gives me hope is the extent to which Musteism exists in our culture as a whole, and the possibility that someday we will all be Musteites.
Congress has fled town to avoid voting for or against a new war. Many of the big donors to Congressional campaigns would want Yes votes. Many voters would want No votes, if not immediately, then as soon as the panic induced by the beheading videos wears off, which could be within the next month. Better to just avoid displeasing anyone -- other than people who notice you running away.
The standard for legal-ish cosmopolitan respectability in the U.S. now has become getting five kings and dictators to say their on your side as you start bombing a new country.
But the British Parliament is still at the level of believing an actual vote by a legislature is appropriate. Do Americans remember that their beloved founding fathers put war powers in the hands of the legislature because of the ugly history of royal wars in Britain? Times have changed.
But if we want to actually comply with the law, we have to admit that neither Parliament nor Congress has the power to legalize attacking Syria. This is because both the U.S. and the U.K. are parties to the United Nations Charter, which bans war with very narrow exceptions -- exceptions that have not been in any way met.
And if you want to get really serious about laws, the Kellogg-Briand Pact has never been repealed, the U.S. and U.K. are parties to it, and it bans all war without exception.
Now, you can interpret the Kellogg-Briand Pact to allow self-defense because the right to military self-defense, even when it's unlikely to actually work, is just so obvious to your way of thinking. And the U.N. Charter explicitly allows military self-defense. But here's the problem: There's nothing defensive about attacking Syria, and President Obama himself described it as "offense" in an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC.
Another word for "offense" is aggression, which the Nuremberg tribunal called "essentially an evil thing . . . the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
Asked about Congress's responsibilities on Tuesday, Senator Tim Kaine (D., Va.) claimed that presidents could fight defensive wars without Congress but needed Congressional authorizations for offensive ones. In fact, offensive wars are not legal by any common understanding. Asked, then, about international law, at an event at the Center for American Progress, Kaine reportedly said that bombing Syria, as distinct from Iraq, was "complicated" and that he was not sure "how they would do that, perhaps using principles of self-defense or defending Iraq against other threats. I think we'll find out more about what the administration says about that after the UN General Assembly," he said.
Only in America. Only the White House gets to invent legal rationale for blatant crimes, with the law makers and enforcers prepared to accept the rationale before they hear it.
Prior to the U.N. meeting, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power wrote to the U.N. arguing that it is legal for the United States to attack Syria because it is legal for Iraq to defend itself. By this logic, if Canada experienced a violent rebellion, it would be legal for China to attack the United States.
It's fun to pretend that the rule of law doesn't matter to you because you have all the weapons. It's fun to take two-month vacations from Washington. Just don't count on everyone voting you back next year.
Signers listed at bottom
Over the last several decades, the Pentagon,conservative forces, and corporations have been systematically working to expand their presence in the K-12 learning environment and in public universities. The combined impact of the military, conservative think tanks and foundations, and of corporatization of our public educational systems has eroded the basic democratic concept of civilian public education. It is a trend that, if allowed to continue, will weaken the primacy of civilian rule and, ultimately, our country’s commitment to democratic ideals.
The signers of this statement believe it is urgent for all advocates of social justice, peace and the environment to recognize the dangerous nature of this problem and confront it with deliberate action.
THE THREAT TO CIVILIAN EDUCATION
The most aggressive outside effort to use the school system to teach an ideology with ominous long-term implications for society comes from the military establishment. Over the last two decades, with relatively little media coverage or public outcry, the Pentagon’s involvement in schools and students’ lives has grown exponentially. Now, for example:
- Every school day, at least half a million high school students attend Junior ROTC classes to receive instruction from retired officers who are handpicked by the Pentagon to teach its own version of history and civics. These students are assigned “ranks” and conditioned to believe that military and civilian values are similar, with the implication that unquestioning obedience to authority is therefore a feature of good citizenship.
- Armed forces academies are being established in some public schools (Chicago now has eight), where all students are given a heavy dose of military culture and values.
- A network of military-related programs is spreading in hundreds of elementary and middle schools. Examples are the Young Marines and Starbase programs, and military programs that sneak into schools under the cloak of Science / Technology / Engineering / Math (STEM) education.
- Military recruiters are trained to pursue “school ownership” as their goal (see: “Army School Recruiting Program Handbook”). Their frequent presence in classrooms, lunch areas and at assemblies has the effect of popularizing military values, soldiering and, ultimately, war.
- Since 2001, federal law has overridden civilian school autonomy and family privacy when it comes to releasing student contact information to the military. Additionally, each year thousands of schools allow the military to administer its entrance exam — the ASVAB — to 10th-12th graders, allowing recruiters to bypass laws protecting parental rights and the privacy of minors and gain access to personal information on hundreds of thousands of students.
THE THREAT TO PUBLIC EDUCATION
Efforts by groups outside the school system to inject conservatism and corporate values into the learning process have been going on for a number of years. In a recent example of right-wing educational intervention, The New York Times reported that tea party groups, using lesson plans and coloring books, have been pushing schools to “teach a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, where the federal government is a creeping and unwelcome presence in the lives of freedom-loving Americans.” (See:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/us/constitution-has-its-day-amid-a-struggle-for-its-spirit.html )
Corporations have been projecting their influence in schools with devices like Channel One, a closed-circuit TV program that broadcasts commercial content daily to captive student audiences in 8,000 schools. Some companies have succeeded in convincing schools to sign exclusive contracts for pizza, soft drinks and other products, with the goal of teaching early brand loyalty to children. A National Education Policy Center report issued in November 2011 documents the various ways in which business/school partnerships are harming children educationally by channeling student thinking “into a corporate-friendly track” and stunting their ability to think critically. (See: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schoolhouse-commercialism-2011 )
The development of this corporate-friendly track dovetails with a radical corporate agenda to dismantle America’s public education system. States across the country are slashing educational spending, outsourcing public teacher jobs, curbing collective-bargaining rights, and marginalizing teachers’ unions. There is a proliferation of charter and “cyber” schools that promote private sector involvement and a push toward for-profit schools where the compensation paid to private management companies is tied directly to student performance on standardized assessments. The cumulative effect is the creation of institutions that cultivate a simplistic ideology that merges consumerism with subservience. (See: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/michigan-privatize-public-education )
The corporatization of education via charter schools and the administration sector growth at universities is another troubling trend for public education. Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error ( http://www.npr.org/2013/09/27/225748846/diane-ravitch-rebukes-education-activists-reign-of-error ) and Henry A. Giroux’s newest book, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education, ( http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22548-henry-giroux-beyond-neoliberal-miseducation ) give pointers to the doubtful role of corporate values in public education.
Why is this happening? Giroux notes that “Chris Hedges, the former New York Times correspondent, appeared on Democracy Now! in 2012 and told host Amy Goodman the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education—“and the corporations want it.”
There are also some organizations supporting efforts to introduce history and civics lessons from a progressive perspective, such as the Howard Zinn Education Project (https://zinnedproject.org ) and Rethinking Schools ( http://www.rethinkingschools.org ). And a small movement is working against Channel One and the commercialization of the school environment (e.g., http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education and ( http://www.obligation.org ).
STOPPING THESE THREATS
There is reason to be hopeful about reversing this trend if we look, for example, at some of the successes in grassroots efforts to curb militarism in schools. In 2009, a coalition of high school students, parents and teachers in the very conservative, military-dominated city of San Diego succeeded in getting their elected school board to shut down JROTC firing ranges at eleven high schools. Two years later, the same coalition got the school board to pass a policy significantly limiting military recruiting in all of its schools. Though such initiatives are relatively few in number, similar victories have been won in other school districts and on the state level in Hawaii and Maryland.
There are also some organizations supporting efforts to introduce history and civics lessons from a progressive perspective, such as the Zinn Education Project (www.zinnedproject.org) and Rethinking Schools (www.rethinkingschools.org). And a small movement is working against Channel One and the commercialization of the school environment (e.g., http://www.commercialalert.org/issues/education/ and http://www.obligation.org/ ).
As promising and effective as these efforts are, they pale in comparison to the massive scale of what groups on the other side of the political spectrum are proactively doing in the educational environment to preserve the influence of conservatism, militarism and corporate power.
It is time for progressive organizations, foundations and media to confront this and become equally involved in the educational system. It is especially important that more organizations unite to oppose the growing intrusion of the Pentagon in K-12 schools and universities. Restoring the primacy of critical thinking and democratic values in our culture cannot be done without stopping the militarization and corporate takeover of public education.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO)
Historians Against the War
Faculty in political economy,
Evergreen State College
VVAW National Office
Professor, Retired, MIT
Project Great Futures,
Los Angeles, CA
Pax Christi USA Ambassador
of Peace, Naperville, IL
National Coalition to
Protect Student Privacy
It’s Our Economy
Northwest Suburban Peace
& Education Project,
Arlington Hts., IL
National Lawyers Guild
Military Law Task Force
Henry Armand Giroux
Director, West Surburban
Faith Based Peace Coalition,
Treasurer, United Teachers
of Los Angeles
Iraq Veterans Against
the War (IVAW)
New York City
Project on Youth and
Holy Cross College
Professor, Univ. of
California San Diego
National VFP President,
Montgomery County (MD)
UC Berkeley Ethnic
President, Metta Center
Against the War
Professor, San Diego
American Friends Service
AFSC 67 Sueños
Michael Parenti, Ph.D.
Author & lecturer
of On Earth Peace,
Stop Recruiting Kids
Peace and Social
New England Regional
War Resisters League
Chair, Fox Valley Citizens
for Peace & Justice,
World Beyond War
San Pedro Neighbors for
Peace & Justice,
San Pedro, CA
Veterans for Peace
St. Louis, MO
Veterans for Peace
Against the War
Allies), New York City
Colonel Ann Wright,
Retired U.S. Army/
Author of Occupy
this Book: Mickey Z.
It’s Our Economy