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Waking Up in Tehran

According to one theory, U.S.-Iranian relations began around November 1979 when a crowd of irrational religious nutcases violently seized the U.S. embassy in Iran, took the employees hostage, tortured them, and held them until scared into freeing them by the arrival of a new sheriff in Washington, a man named Ronald Reagan.  From that day to this, according to this popular theory, Iran has been run by a bunch of subhuman lunatics with whom rational people couldn't really talk if they wanted to.  These monsters only understand force.  And they have been moments away from developing and using nuclear weapons against us for decades now.  Moments away, I tell you!

According to another theory -- a quaint little notion that I like to refer to as "verifiable history" -- the CIA, operating out of that U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1953, maliciously and illegally overthrew a relatively democratic and liberal parliamentary government, and with it the 1951 Time magazine man of the year Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, because Mossadegh insisted that Iran's oil wealth enrich Iranians rather than foreign corporations.  The CIA installed a dictatorship run by the Shah of Iran who quickly became a major source of profits for U.S. weapons makers, and his nation a testing ground for surveillance techniques and human rights abuses.  The U.S. government encouraged the Shah's development of a nuclear energy program.  But the Shah impoverished and alienated the people of Iran, including hundreds of thousands educated abroad.  A secular pro-democracy revolution nonviolently overthrew the Shah in January 1979, but it was a revolution without a leader or a plan for governing.  It was co-opted by rightwing religious forces led by a man who pretended briefly to favor democratic reform.  The U.S. government, operating out of the same embassy despised by many in Iran since 1953, explored possible means of keeping the Shah in power, but some in the CIA worked to facilitate what they saw as the second best option: a theocracy that would substitute religious fanaticism and oppression for populist and nationalist demands.  When the U.S. embassy was taken over by an unarmed crowd the next November, immediately following the public announcement of the Shah's arrival in the United States, and with fears of another U.S.-led coup widespread in Tehran, a sit-in planned for two or three days was co-opted, as the whole revolution had been, by mullahs with connections to the CIA and an extremely anti-democratic agenda.  They later made a deal with U.S. Republicans, as Robert Parry and others have well documented, to keep the hostage crisis going until Carter lost the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan.  Reagan's government secretly renewed weapons sales to the new Iranian dictatorship despite its public anti-American stance and with no more concern for its religious fervor than for that of future al Qaeda leaders who would spend the 1980s fighting the Soviets with U.S. weapons in Afghanistan.  At the same time, the Reagan administration made similarly profitable deals with Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq, which had launched a war on Iran and continued it with U.S. support through the length of the Reagan presidency.  The mad military investment in the United States that took off with Reagan and again with George W. Bush, and which continues to this day, has made the nation of Iran -- which asserts its serious independence from U.S. rule -- a target of threatened war and actual sanctions and terrorism.

Ben Affleck was asked by Rolling Stone magazine, "What do you think the Iranians' reaction is gonna be?" to Affleck's movie Argo, which depicts a side-story about six embassy employees who, in 1979, avoided being taken hostage.  Affleck, mixing bits of truth and mythology, just as in the movie itself, replied:

"Who the FUCK knows – who knows if their reaction is going to be anything? This is still the same Stalinist, oppressive regime that was in place when the hostages were taken. There was no rhyme or reason to this action. What's interesting is that people later figured out that Khomeini just used the hostages to consolidate power internally and marginalize the moderates and everyone in America was going, 'What the fuck's wrong with these people?' You know, 'What do they want from us?' It was because it wasn't about us. It was about Khomeini holding on to power and being able to say to his political opponents, of which he had many, 'You're either with us or you're with the Americans' – which is, of course, a tactic that works really well. That revolution was a students' revolution. There were students and communists and secularists and merchants and Islamists, it's just that Khomeini fucking slowly took it for himself."

The takeover of the embassy is an action virtually no one would advocate in retrospect, but asserting that it lacked rhyme or reason requires willful ignorance of Iranian-U.S. relations.  Claiming that nobody knew what the hostage-takers wanted requires erasing from history their very clear demands for the Shah to be returned to stand trial, for Iranian money in U.S. banks to be returned to Iran, and for the United States to commit to never again interfering in Iranian politics.  In fact, not only were those demands clearly made, but they are almost indisputably reasonable demands.  A dictator guilty of murder, torture, and countless other abuses should have stood trial, and should have been extradited to do so, as required by treaty.  Money belonging to the Iranian government under a dictatorship should have been returned to a new Iranian government, not pocketed by a U.S. bank.  And for one nation to agree not to interfere in another's politics is merely to agree to compliance with the most fundamental requirement of legal international relations.

Argo devotes its first 2 minutes or so to the 1953 background of the 1979 drama.  Blink and you'll miss it, as I'm betting most viewers do.  For a richer understanding of what was happening in Iran in the late 1970s and early 1980s I have a better recommendation than watching Argo.  For a truly magnificent modern epic I strongly encourage getting ahold of the forthcoming masterpiece by M. Lachlan White, titled Waking Up in Tehran: Love and Intrigue in Revolutionary Iran, due to be published this spring.  Weighing in at well over 300,000 words, or about 100,000 more than Moby Dick, Waking Up in Tehran is the memoir of Margot White, an American human rights activist who became an ally of pro-democracy Iranian student groups in 1977, traveled to Iran, supported the revolution, met with the hostage-takers in the embassy, became a public figure, worked with the Kurdish resistance when the new regime attacked the Kurds for being infidels, married an Iranian, and was at home with her husband in Tehran when armed representatives of the government finally banged on the door.  I'm not going to give away what happened next.  This book will transport you into the world of a gripping novel, but you'll emerge with a political, cultural, and even linguistic education.  This is an action-adventure that would, in fact, make an excellent movie -- or even a film trilogy.  It's also an historical document.

There are sections in which White relates conversations with her friends and colleagues in Iran, including their speculations as to who was behind what government intrigue.  A few of these speculations strike me as in need of more serious support.  They also strike me as helpful in understanding the viewpoints of Iranians at the time.  Had I edited this book I might have framed them a little differently, but I wouldn't have left them out.  I wouldn't have left anything out.  This is a several-hundred-page love letter from a woman to her husband and from an activist to humanity.  It is intensely romantic and as honest as cold steel.  It starts in 1977.

On November 15, 1977, at the White House, our human rights president, Jimmy Carter, was holding an outdoor press conference with his good friend the Shah.  The police used pepper spray tear gas on the protesters, including Margot White, in front of the White House.  But then the wind shifted.  Carter and the Shah ended up in tears as their wives fled indoors.  Later that day, White and an Iranian friend were attacked with a knife, chased by spies, and occupied with hiding the wallets of anti-Shah protesters in a D.C. hospital from pro-Shah forces eager to identify them.  In December, White was off to Iran to meet with the opposition, including those who had backed Mossadegh a quarter century before.  She learned the size and strength of the movement and came to understand its power to overthrow the Shah better than did the U.S. government or the U.S. media.  White was followed by the Shah's secret police, SAVAK, during her stay.

Talk Nation Radio: Shahid Buttar on Spying, Detention, Torture, and Zero Dark Thirty

Shahid Buttar is the executive director the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the People’s Campaign for the Constitution which works to defend civil liberties, constitutional rights, and rule of law principles threatened within the United States by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. He is a constitutional lawyer, grassroots organizer, independent columnist, musician, and poet. He discusses President Obama's signing of two new pieces of legislation permitting warrantless spying and indefinite detention.  He also discusses rendition, torture, and the new film "Zero Dark Thirty."

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

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Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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Audio: Abdul Malik Mujahid Interviews David Swanson About Events of 2012

http://radioislam.com

Friday, December 21, 2012
Listen

Topic: Review of 2012: Highlights for Peace & Justice
Guest: David Swanson, Anti-War Activist & Author
Host: Abdul Malik Mujahid

Talk Nation Radio: Sam Pizzigati: What Serious Progressive Taxes Would Look Like

Sam Pizzigati provides perspective on what serious progressive taxation (and labor organizing and populist activism) would look like via the lessons of his new book "The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy That Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970."  Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and editor of http://toomuchonline.org

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Engineer: Christiane Brown.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download or get embed code from Archive or  AudioPort or LetsTryDemocracy.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Embed on your own site with this code:

<object autostart="false" data="http://davidswanson.org/sites/davidswanson.org/files/talknationradio/talknationradio_20130102.mp3" height="100px" width="400px"></object>

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at http://davidswanson.org/talknationradio

Resisting Racism and Militarism in 2013

January 21st will be an odd day in the United States.  We'll honor Martin Luther King Jr. and bestow another 4-year regime on the man who, in his Nobel peace prize acceptance speech said that Martin Luther King Jr. had been wrong -- that those who follow his example "stand idle in the face of threats."

I plan to begin the day by refusing to stand idle in the face of the threat that is President Barack Obama's military.  An event honoring Dr. King and protesting drone wars will include a rally at Malcolm X Park and a parade named for a bit of Kingian rhetoric. 

That evening I plan to attend the launch of a new book called We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America.

The Martin King I choose to celebrate is not the mythical man, beloved and accepted by all during his life, interested exclusively in ending racial segregation, and not attracted to activism -- since only through electoral work, as we've all been told, can one be a serious activist. 

The Martin King I choose to celebrate is the man who resorted to the most powerful activist tools available, the tools of creative nonviolent resistance and noncooperation, in order to resist what he called the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism. 

Taking that seriously means ending right now the past five-year-long ban on protesting the president.  At Obama's first inauguration we held Good Riddance to Bush rallies because pressuring Obama to mend his militaristic ways was not deemed "strategic." 

It turns out that refusing to push people toward peace does something worse than offending them.  It ignores them and abandons them to their fate. 

But pushing is not exactly the verb we should be looking for as we strive to build an inclusive peace movement.  Nor is peace exactly the adjective.  What we need is a movement against racism, materialism, and militarism.

To build that, those working to reduce spending on the Pentagon's pet corporations need to also work against the prison industrial complex.  And those working against police violence need to work for higher taxes on billionaires.  And those working to protect Social Security and Medicare need to oppose the murdering of human beings with missiles and drones.

We need to do these things not just because they will unite a larger number of people.  We would need to do them all even if nobody were already working in any of these areas.  We need to do them because we are taking on a culture, not just a policy.  We are taking on the mental habits that allow racism, materialism, and militarism.  We cannot do so with a movement that is segregated by policy area any more than we can with a movement that is segregated by race.

The torture techniques are shared between our foreign and domestic prisons.  Local police are being militarized.  The latest insanity would have us arm our teachers so that when our children are shot up by failed applicants to the U.S. Marine Corps there will be, as at Fort Hood, more guns nearby.  Violence at home and abroad exists through our acceptance of violence.  Plutocratic greed drives both war and racism.  Racism facilitates and is facilitated by war.

We Have Not Been Moved is a book with many lessons to teach.  King spoke against the war on Vietnam despite being strongly advised to stick to the area of civil rights.  Julian Bond did the same, losing his seat in the Georgia state legislature.  African Americans marched against that war by the thousands in Harlem and elsewhere, including with posters carrying the words attributed to Mohammad Ali: "No Vietcong ever called me nigger!"  So did Asian Americans and Chicanos.  SNCC risked considerable support and funding by supporting the rights of Palestinians as well as Vietnamese, urging draft resistance, and stating its disbelief that the U.S. government's goals included free elections either at home or abroad.

Immigrants rights groups (to a great extent more accurately: refugee rights groups) are sometimes reluctant to challenge the war machine, despite deeper understanding than the rest of us of how U.S. war making creates the need for immigration in the first place.  But, then, how many peace activists are working for immigrants' rights?  Civil rights groups strive to resist rendition and torture and indefinite detention, warrentless spying and murder by drone.  Unless they are brought more fully into a larger coalition that challenges military spending (at well over $1 trillion per year both before and after the "fiscal cliff") the struggle against the symptoms will continue indefinitely.  Environmental groups are often reluctant to oppose the military industrial complex, its wars for oil, or its oil for wars.  But this past year the threat that South Korean base construction and the U.S. Navy pose to Jeju Island brought these movements together -- a process our survival depends on our continuing.

Our movement must be inclusive and international.  The movement to close the School of the Americas has not closed it, but has persuaded several nations to stop sending any would-be torturers or assassins to train there.  The movement to shut down U.S. military bases abroad has not shut them down en masse through Congress, but has shut them down in particular places through the work of the people protesting in their countries.  Where do we find media coverage that sympathizes with domestic struggles for justice within the United States?  In foreign media, of course, in the media of Iran and Russia and Qatar.  Those governments have their own motives, but support for justice corresponds with the sentiments of their people and all people.

Our movement should not oppose attacking Iran purely as outsiders, but working with Iranians.  We should not oppose attacking Iran because all of our own problems have been solved, or because the dollars that will be spent attacking Iran could fund U.S. schools and green energy, or because attacking Iran could lead to attacks on the United States.  We should oppose attacking Iran because we oppose militarism and materialism and racism everywhere. 

We sometimes worry about having too many issues on our plate.  How, we wonder, can new people be attracted to our rally against another war if we unreasonably also oppose murderous sanctions?  How can we welcome new activists who doubt the wisdom of the next war if we unrealistically oppose all militarism?  How can we not turn people off if our speeches demand rights for women and immigrants and workers?  Do people who've never heard of Mumia need to hear about his imprisonment?  Don't we want homophobes to feel they can join our campaign without loving those people?

I think this is the wrong worry.  I think we need more issues, not fewer.  I think that's the genius of Occupy.  The issues are all connected.  They are issues of greed, racism, and war.  We can work with Libertarians on things we agree on.  We need be hostile to no one.  But we need to prioritize building a holistic movement for fundamental change.  Taxing the rich to pay for more wars is not the answer.  Opposing all cuts to public spending, even though more than half of it goes to the war machine is not the answer.  Insisting that banks stop discriminating, while drone pilots do is not the answer.

This is going to take work, huge amounts of work, great reservoirs of patience and humility, tremendous efforts at inclusion, understanding, and willingness to see changed what it is people become included in.  But we can afford to turn off racists.  We can afford to not appear welcoming to bigots.  We are many.  They are few.

The war machine has set its sights on Africa.  Its new name is AFRICOM, and it means business, the business of exploitation and cruelty.  We can better understand 9-11 and everything that has followed from it if we understand the long history of terrorism on U.S. soil.  We need the wisdom of Native Americans, Japanese Americans, Muslim Americans, and everybody else here and abroad who has been paying attention.  We need to move from making war to making reparations, at home and abroad.  We will have less reparations to make the sooner we stop making war.

We Have Not Been Moved includes a never before published speech by Bayard Rustin in which Rustin quotes Ossie Davis saying to the President: "If you want us to be nonviolent in Selma, why can't you be nonviolent in Saigon?"

"All the weapons of military power," says Rustin, "chemical and biological warfare, cannot prevail against the desire of the people.  We know the Wagner Act, which gave labor the right to organize and bargain collectively was empty until workers went into the streets.  The unions got off the ground because of sit-down strikes and social dislocation.  When women wanted to vote, Congress ignored them until they went into the streets and into the White House, and created disorder of a nonviolent nature.  I assure you that those women did things that, if the Negro movement had done them, they would have been sent back to Africa!  The civil rights movement begged and begged for change, but finally learned this lesson -- going into the streets.  The time is so late, the danger so great, that I call upon all the forces which believe in peace to take a lesson from the labor movement, the women's movement, and the civil rights movement and stop staying indoors.  Go into these streets until we get peace!"

Peace on Earth Should Include Afghanistan

Let there be peace on earth, and let it include Afghanistan.

We cannot be for peace without being against war.

We cannot be satisfied with inner peace while wars are being waged with our money and in our names.

The largest of those wars remains Afghanistan.  It is larger now than when Barack Obama first became president.

There is no strategic, legal, or -- above all -- moral justification for continuing this war for another year, or for another day.

Please take a moment to click here and tell our government that we want peace on earth.

Catch up on a forgotten war:

$500 For Desecration: 'US Marine fined, demoted for urinating on Afghan bodies'

US Military Needs to Leave Afghanistan and Stop Widening Drone Strikes

Why not warmth in Afghan duvets?

Afghanistan War Without End -- Or Wisdom, Understanding, and Peace

The Compassion of Women of Afghanistan for the Women of Gaza

Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire Goes to Afghanistan to Join Afghan Peace Volunteers' Demand for Cease Fire and Negotiation

Eid "Sensations"

Children under Attack in Pakistan and Afghanistan

What to Do after 11 Years of War? How About Occupying Your City Council?!

US / NATO OUT OF AFGHANISTAN NOW!

Video: Recruiting Soldiers to Refuse to Go

Resolution passed by U.S. Senate:

"It is the sense of Congress that the President should, as previously announced by the President, continue to draw down United States troop levels at a steady pace through the end of 2014; and end all regular combat operations by United States troops by not later than December 31, 2014, and take all possible steps to end such operations at the earliest date consistent with a safe and orderly draw down of United States troops in Afghanistan."

Letter sent to President Obama by 94 Congress Members (PDF):

Dear President Obama:
Your military advisors will soon be providing you with a set of military options in Afghanistan. We are writing to urge you to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that best serves the interests of the American people and our brave troops on the ground. That strategy is simple: an accelerated withdrawal to bring to an end the decade-long war as soon as can safely and responsibly be accomplished.
After 10 years and almost $600 billion spent, over 2,000 American lives lost, and 18,000 wounded - it is time to accelerate the transition to full Afghan control. While NATO and Afghan National Security Forces have made considerable strides, no military strategy exists and morale has been undermined by the proliferation of “Green on Blue” attacks. Sixty coalition soldiers have been killed this year alone by their Afghan allies. To quote a former Commandant of the Marine Corps, “When our friends turn out to be our enemy, it is time to pull the plug.”
This is one issue that overwhelmingly unifies Americans: the desire to bring the war in Afghanistan to an accelerated close. Polls show over two-thirds of Americans, on a bipartisan basis, believe it is past time to end our combat role and bring the troops home.
We write to request that you respond to the consensus amongst military experts, diplomats, and the American people. It is time to announce an accelerated transition of security responsibility to the Afghan government and to bring our troops home as soon as can be safely and responsibly accomplished.
Al Qaeda’s presence has been greatly diminished and Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to the United States. There can be no military solution in Afghanistan. It is past time for the United States to allow the Afghanistan government to assume responsibility for its own security.
While many of us would prefer an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan starting today, there is broad recognition that the primary objectives have been completed. We also would like to remind you that any long term security agreement committing U.S. troops to the defense of Afghanistan must have congressional approval to be binding. In addition, we would like to request a meeting to discuss these issues directly with you and your staff.
We look forward to working with you.

Where the U.S. public is:

 

  Stay until
stabilized
Remove
troops ASAP
Unsure    
   % % %      
 10/4-7/12

35

60 5      
4/4-15/12

32

60 8      
 3/7-11/12

35

57 7      
 1/11-16/12

38

56 6      
6/15-19/11

39

56 4  
  Doing the
right thing
Should not
be involved
Unsure    
   % % %      
 ALL

31

60 9    

 

"Do you favor or oppose the war in Afghanistan?"

 
    Favor Oppose Unsure Refused  
    % % % %  
 

5/3-7/12

27 66 6 1

"Do you approve or disapprove of the U.S. withdrawing military troops in Afghanistan?"

 
    Approve Disapprove Unsure    
    % % %    
 

4/22-24/12

78 16 6

 

  Worth
fighting
Not worth
fighting
Unsure    
   % % %      
 4/5-8/12

30

66 4    

 

Reasons for the U.S. military to stay in Afghanistan for two more years, and for 10 more years beyond that:

______________________.

 

U.S. Troops and Drones Headed to 35 African Nations: Let There Be War on Earth

Source:

Policy experts and scholars familiar with Africa have a single cautionary word for the planned military expansion that would see deployment of US soldiers and drones in as many as 35 nations dotted across the continent in the coming year: Don't.

Source:

The sharper focus on Africa by the U.S. comes against a backdrop of widespread insurgent violence across North Africa, and as the African Union and other nations discuss military intervention in northern Mali.

Doing Time for Peace

Hundreds of Americans, young and old, are regularly going to prison, sometimes for months or years or decades, for nonviolently resisting U.S. militarism

They block ports, ships, submarines, trains full of weapons, trucks full of weapons, and gates to military bases.  They take hammers to weapons of mass destruction, cause millions of dollars worth of damage, hang up banners, and wait to be arrested.  They cause weapons systems to be canceled, facilities to be closed, and Pentagon policies to be changed.  They educate and inspire greater resistance.

The people who do this take great risks.  U.S. courts are extremely unpredictable, and the same action can easily result in no jail time or years behind bars.  Many of these people have families, and the separation is usually painful.  But many say they could not do this without their families or without their close-knit communities of like-thinking resisters.  A support network of several people is generally needed for each resister.

More often than not, a great sacrifice is made with no apparent success in terms of governmental behavior, either immediately or even after a lengthy passage of time.

Police are becoming more violent.  Sentences are growing longer, and prisons are becoming more awful.

Increasingly, the corporate media ignores such actions, dramatically reducing the educational and inspirational benefits.  When Steve Downs was arrested for wearing a "give peace a chance" t-shirt in a shopping mall, a reporter called up a local peace group and tried to get them to admit they'd prompted Downs' action.  When they said they'd never heard of him, the reporter replied, "Oh, then it's a legitimate story!"  "In other words," says Downs, "if a group protests in support of their constitutional rights, it's not a legitimate story.  If one hapless individual blunders into an arrest, then it is!"

And yet, people who devote themselves to nonviolently resisting war can know that they are part of a movement that does result in improved policies.  And they can know that if more people joined them their chances of success would increase without limit.  That is to say, if enough people joined in, complete success would be guaranteed.  That is to say, peace on earth.

Rosalie Riegle has just published a wonderful collection called "Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, and Community," in which she transcribes her interviews of 68 peace resisters, friends, and family members -- selected from 173 whom Riegle interviewed between 2004 and 2007.  The book is not in the least polemical, more sociological.  The speakers struggle with their memories and goals, and with questions about whether what they do is worth it.

The question of whether a sacrifice has been worth the effort often remains an open question for a very long time.  This book collects heroic, inspiring, and eye-opening actions and presents them with undeniable honesty and humility.  Imagine if millions of people were to read this book.  Suddenly countless actions done quietly or with little notice would be having a whole new kind of impact, and actions engaged in decades back would be revived -- perhaps in a more illuminating manner than before, as a result of the insights gained by the participants.

One resister quoted in "Doing Time for Peace," Kathleen Rumpf, recalled an action she was part of in 1983:

"[W]e went [into the hangar] and saw the B-52 and began hammering.  My little hammer would ping and then almost fly in my face without even leaving a mark.  I painted on the plane: 'This is our cry, this is our prayer of peace in the world.'  And the symbols we brought with us -- the pictures of the children, the indictment that we put on the plane, the blood we poured . . . . I hung paper peace cranes on the different engines.  (The FBI kept calling the cranes 'paper airplanes' like they called blood 'red substance.')

"We had decided we'd do twenty minutes of hammering and putting our stuff around, no more.  In reality, we were there for about two and a half hours.  We didn't want to do more destruction, and we kept wondering what to do next.  We phoned the press from their top security lines.  We sang and prayed out on the tarmac.  We went back in to go to the bathroom.  We went up into a B-52 and looked around.  Now, we were charged with sabotage.  Had we been about that, we certainly would have had time to do it.  Anyway, finally we were able to wave somebody down to arrest us.  They were going to take us to the Burger King and drop us off, like they usually do for protests at Griffiss.  I said, 'Well, gee!  You might want to check Hangar 101 before you release us.'

"So they go to the hangar and then they get on the walkie-talkies, and then we had about sixteen or eighteen guys with forty-inch necks, marching double time with M-16 rifles.  They made us kneel in the sand, holding rifles on us.

"Then sitting on that bus . . . for eight, nine hours . . . with my hands behind my back and hearing this constant 'Shut up! Shut up!' We'd say, 'Well, we didn't join the military, you did.'"

The heroes -- and I use the term intentionally -- in this book include atheists and members of various religions, but they are disproportionately Catholic and part of the Catholic Worker movement.  This raises all sorts of questions for an atheist like myself who believes both that the world would be better off without religion and that the world would be better off if more people behaved as do these religiously motivated Catholics.

The primary problem with activists is their insistence on knowing that success is likely before they act.  This results in a tremendous amount of inaction.  So, when these religious activists say they do not care about success, or they are acting in order to suffer, or they are seeking personal transformation, I'm not eager to reject their position.  I believe we are facing a crisis of militarism and environmental destruction that threatens human survival.  I believe we have a moral duty to act, regardless of the chances of success.  These peace resisters speak of opposing militarism in appropriately moral terms, I think.  But I believe our duty is to act in the manner most likely to succeed, as far as we can identify it.  Sometimes I think that is this sort of nonviolent resistance, but not always.

The resisters do not agree on everything.  Some go limp when arrested.  Some plead guilty.  Some request the harshest sentence.  Some view their defense in court and their attempt to achieve acquittal to be a central part of the action. 

And some have moved toward a type of action unlikely to result in prison time, namely travel to nations threatened by or under attack by the U.S. government or its allies.  Sending peace teams into zones threatened with war or facing ongoing war and occupation can involve great risk and sacrifice.  It can employ the hands-on, face-to-face interactions that peace resisters value.  Friendships and alliances can be built across borders that help to educate the people of both nations and influence their governments.  And all without the months behind bars.

Peace resisters are my kind of Catholics.  Compare them to the Pope, a former Nazi-youth whose Christmas message this week was, first, hatred for gay people, and, second, interaction between the world's religions -- not disarmament, not a cease-fire.  Outgrowing the need for religion, and in the process losing a cause of deadly division, wasn't mentioned, of course.  But the resisters in Riegle's collection often include their disbelief in death as part of what motivates them, what takes away their fear.  And why would I want to take that away from them? 

Albert Camus, generally identified as an atheist, is a frequent source of inspiration for religious resisters.  Camus was very much a mournful ex-theist ever in the process of very-regretfully losing his religion and proclaiming the world absurd without it.  These resisters manage to erase that absurdity.  They eliminate their worries over risks of horrible fates, through their willingness to put everything on the line.  Perhaps to some extent they believe they're fully insured.  They clearly feel a sense of freedom when they set all worry behind them and declare their willingness to accept any suffering whatsoever in order to promote peace and resist war making. 

More of us, all of us, should be moving in that direction.

How Democratic-Party "Activism" Is Done

Daily Kos sent an email on December 6 promoting a strategy  to eliminate the "Bush" tax cuts on the wealthy:

What Reponse to Chuck Hagel Says About Us

I've been grumbling to peace activists that they should stop presenting Chuck Hagel as a force for peace and an "Iraq war critic" or an "Iraq war skeptic."  It makes it sound as if he opposed a war that he voted for, voted repeatedly to fund, and never took any radical action to end.  "Iraq war opponents" in the U.S. Senate routinely voted to fund what they opposed.  Funding war is not what comes to mind when one first hears "war opponent."

The Wait-Just-A-Goddam-Second Amendment

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

George Mason's original draft reads:

"That the People have a Right to keep and to bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free State; that Standing Armies in Time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided as far as the Circumstances and Protection of the Community will admit; and that in all Cases, the military should be under strict Subordination to, and governed by the Civil Power."

Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights had put it this way 12 years earlier:

"That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."

The Right-To-Bring-Assault-Weapons-to-School Second Amendment turns out to have its origins in an attempt to avoid maintaining standing armies.  In place of standing armies, the states of the new United States were to create well-regulated militias.  The first half of the Second Amendment explains why people should have a right to bear arms:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ... "

Bearing arms in a well-regulated militia did not mean bearing guns that can reliably shoot well, since such didn't exist.  It certainly didn't mean bearing guns that can kill entire crowds of people without reloading.  It didn't mean bearing arms outside of the well regulated militia.  Much less did it mean bearing arms in school and church and Wal-Mart. 

By "free state" many supporters of this bill of rights meant, of course, slave state.  And by "people" they meant, of course, white male people -- specifically people who would be taking part in well regulated militias.

The Third Amendment reads:

"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

The Second and Third amendments originated as restrictions on what we would later create and come to call a Military Industrial Complex, a permanent war machine, a federal tool of abusive power.

The militias of the Second Amendment are meant to protect against federal coercion, popular rebellions, slave revolts, and -- no doubt -- lunatics who try to mass-murder children. 

The descendants of those militias that we call the National Guard are meant, in contrast, to recruit ill-informed young people who imagine they'll be rescuing hurricane victims into endless occupations of oil-rich lands far from our shores.

To comply with the Second Amendment we must end federal control over the National Guard, regulate such state militias and police forces well, regulate their weapons well, and deny such weapons to all others and for any other use.

The Second Amendment has been made to mean something very different from what was originally intended or what any sane person writing a Constitution would intend today.  This means that we must either reinterpret it, re-write it, or both.

Talk Nation Radio: Roy Hange on Struggle for Peace in Syria and Iran

Roy Hange is a Mennonite pastor in Charlottesville, Va., who has spent 30 years studying Western Asia (the Middle East).  He has lived for 3 years in Egypt, 6 in Syria, and 1 in Iran.  Hange has taught peace building at Eastern Mennonite University and the University of Virginia.  Hange discusses prospects for peace in Syria and Iran.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Engineer: Christiane Brown.
Music by Duke Ellington.

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Spelunker in Chief

Will Obama cave? How deeply will Obama cave?  Why did Obama cave again?  Were you hoping Obama would change his caving ways?  President Barack Obama, one begins to understand, must be our spelunker in chief.

What the Soldiers Did on Christmas 98 Years Ago

Frank Richards recalled:

"On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with 'A Merry Christmas' on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one. Platoons would sometimes go out for twenty-four hours' rest -- it was a day at least out of the trench and relieved the monotony a bit -- and my platoon had gone out in this way the night before, but a few of us stayed behind to see what would happen. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench.

"Buffalo Bill [the Company Commander] rushed into the trench and endeavoured to prevent it, but he was too late: the whole of the Company were now out, and so were the Germans. He had to accept the situation, so soon he and the other company officers climbed out too. We and the Germans met in the middle of no-man's-land. Their officers was also now out. Our officers exchanged greetings with them. One of the German officers said that he wished he had a camera to take a snapshot, but they were not allowed to carry cameras. Neither were our officers.

How to Criticize the Israeli Government

The other day I tweeted an article that reported on a rather horrible story.  It seems that the Israeli government gives African women drugs that keep them from reproducing. 

I think if this story had been about Canada, Korea, France, or Brazil people would have read it.  The conversation would not have immediately shifted to my alleged hatred of all Canadians. 

Since it was about Israel, some people chose to announce that I hated Jews.  Such a response is not only baseless and nonsensical, but it shifts attention to me and away from the story, which in the end isn't seen. 

Now, I don't know any more about that story than what I've read at that website (the website of a Jewish organization, as it happens).  The report may be accurate or not.  Israeli newspapers seem to report it as fully established, neither doubted nor challenged.  The story at least seems to merit investigation.  The point is that nobody told me it was inaccurate (news that would have delighted me).  Instead, they told me that I was anti-Semitic. 

This happens with the United States too, of course.  If I criticize the U.S. government a few thousand times, and if the president is a Republican, I'll hear from some disturbed individual who wants to recommend that I leave the country since I hate it so much.  Why one would try so hard to reform the government of a country he hated is never really explained. 

With Israel, such nonsense is triggered much more swiftly.  I haven't made a career of trying to reform Israel's government.  All I had to do was tweet a link to an article.  Those who have gone to greater lengths to criticize the crimes of the government of Israel have, in some cases, seen themselves censored, vilified, and their careers derailed.  Many persevere despite this climate.

There is, however, a way to speak openly and honestly about Israel.  Not everyone can do it.  The trick is to be a veteran of the Israeli military.  This approach helps people whose "service" was years ago.  And it helps those whose memories of what they did "for their country" are very fresh.  Not only does such status shield one from a great deal of criticism, but it provides a substantive advantage in being able to report first-hand on what the Israeli military has been doing.  Just as Veterans For Peace are able to speak with some legitimate authority in the United States against the use of war (see Winter Soldier now if you haven't), members of the Israeli military, and those who recently were Israeli soldiers, command attention.

A new book called "Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies from the Occupied Territories 2000-2010," collects the accounts of numerous Israeli soldiers, although withholding their names.  Videos of some of the soldiers telling their stories can be seen online.  The online database sorts the stories into categories: › AbuseAssassinationsBriberyCheckpointsConfirmation of killingCurfews/closuresDeathsDestruction of propertyHuman shieldsHumiliationLootingLoss of livelihoodRoutineRules of engagementSettlementsSettler violence.

"Supporting the troops" is usually understood to exclude listening to the troops.  But these troops should be listened to.  Their experiences are very similar to those of the U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq.  But their war has lasted much, much longer, and with no end in sight.  Their testimonies make clear that their tactics do not serve the supposed purpose of reducing violence, and are in fact not intended to do any such thing.  The bizarre ordeals imposed on the soldiers outdo Kafka and pale in comparison to the nightmares imposed on Palestinians.  The driving forces are quite clearly racism, sadism, imperialism, and excessive obedience.

A very few of the many samples I was tempted to provide:

"They  called us to some location, they found [rockets] in the minaret of a mosque.  What do you do?  You look for someone to go up to the mosque and take down the [rockets] because it's dangerous for us.  So they knocked on doors in the area.  There's always someone with us who speaks Arabic. . . .  So they knocked on the doors and found someone.  He was retarded.  They said, 'Go up to the mosque.  There are pipes in the minaret.  Bring them down.'  They didn't even tell him it was explosives."

"There was an operation in the company next to mine where they told me that a woman was blown up by [an explosive used to break through doors], her limbs were smeared on the wall, but it wasn't on purpose.  They knocked and knocked on the door and there was no answer, so they decided to open it [with live ammunition] . . . .  and just at that moment the woman decided to open the door.  And then her kids came over and saw her. . . . someone said it was funny, and everyone cracked up, that the kids saw their mother smeared on the wall."

"[T]he brigade commander . . . briefs us, 'Any kid you see with a stone, you can shoot at him.' Like, shoot to kill. A stone!"

"[I]t's unbelievable how in the end the report on the radio was, 'In an operation in Tul Karem the IDF captured,' like, you know, 'twenty suspects, ten weapons, and fertilizer suspected for use in manufacturing [explosives], a ton and a half of fertilizer.'  So it's a success, because you hear it on the radio, and you say, 'Hey, look, like we went there, this is what we got, we did what we were supposed to do.'  And what we did was just the opposite.  Because what did we do?  We committed crimes.  We destroyed homes.  No house that we went into was the same when we left."

"There was this house we captured in Hebron . . . we took this house.  You know the procedure: the family moves down a floor.  Now, what did we do?  We were . . . on the third floor, the guys set up a pipe, a pipe to pee, so they could pee outside.  They put the pipe, we put the pipe exactly so that all the piss would flow into the courtyard of the house below us.  There were a few chicken coops just there, it all poured out there.  That was the joke every day, waiting for the father or one of the kids to go to the coop, and then everyone stands and pisses." 

"Apparently, that captain had gone to Takua, which is a pretty hostile village -- they were throwing stones at the jeep.  So, he just stopped a Palestinian guy who was passing, forty-something years old, and tied him to the hood of the jeep, a guy just lying on the hood, and they drove into the village."

"The Palestinians didn't know there were soldiers behind them, and the soldiers would just spray their legs. . . . His one goal was to lure Palestinian children, just to cut off their legs."

"We had a commander in the unit who would just say in these words, . . . 'I want bodies.  That's what I want.'"

"You're not ranked by arrests -- you're ranked by the number of people you kill."

"[The company commander] taught us about rubber bullets, and they showed us how it comes in what's called a 'tampon,' which is a kind of plastic bag that contains the bullets.  So they said, 'You need to separate them, meaning you tear open the package and put them in one by one so you cause damage.'  And they actually explained it to us, in this really pornographic way, 'Aim for the eyes so you take out an eye, or at the stomach so it goes into the stomach.'"

"Try to imagine it: I see my officers with their backs to me, laughing, falling about, and below I see the Border Police beating people up, guys being choked, one guy bleeding.  And I think, 'This is just like the books I read.' . . . Whenever people get shot, I have this image in my head, I must've seen it in a movie, of Nazis shooting Jews in pits, and officers standing at the side, laughing."

A Way to Stop the Violence

The troubled souls (generally known in the media as "monsters" and "lunatics") who keep shooting up schools and shopping centers, believe they are solving deeper problems.  We all know, of course, that in reality they are making things dramatically worse.

This is not an easy problem for us to solve.  We could make it harder to obtain guns, and especially guns designed specifically for mass killings.  We could take on the problem with our entertainment: we have movies, television shows, video games, books, and toys promoting killing as the way to fix what ails us.  We could take on the problem of our news media: we have newspapers and broadcast chatterers promoting killing as a necessary tool of public policy.  We could reverse the past 40 years of rising inequality, poverty, and plutocracy -- a trend that correlates with violence in whatever country it's found. 

What we can't do is stop arming, training, funding, and supporting the mass murderers in our towns and cities, because of course we haven't been supporting them.  They aren't acting in our name as our representatives.  When our children run in horror from classrooms strewn with their classmates' bloody corpses, they are running from killers never authorized by us or elected by us.

This situation changes when we look abroad. 

Picture a family in a house in Pakistan.  There's a little dot very high up in the sky above.  It's making a buzzing noise.  The dot is an unmanned airplane, a drone.  It's being flown from a desk in Nevada.  The family knows what it is.  The children know what it is.  They know their lives may be ended at any moment.  And they are traumatized.  They are in a constant state of terror.  And then, one bright clear morning, they are torn limb from limb, bleeding, screaming, groaning out their last breaths as their home collapses into smoking rubble.

Picture a family in a house in Afghanistan.  They're asleep in their beds.  A door is kicked in. Incomprehensible words are shouted.  Bullets fly.  Loved ones are grabbed and dragged away, kicking and screaming with horror -- never to be seen again.

The troubled souls (generally known in the media as "tax-payers") who keep this far greater volume of violence going, believe they are solving deeper problems.  But when we look closely, we see that in reality we are making things dramatically worse. 

That is the good news.  There is violence that we can much more easily stop, because it is our violence.  The U.S. Army last week said that targeting children in Afghanistan was perfectly acceptable.  The U.S. President maintains a list of men, women, and children to be killed, and he kills them -- but the vast majority of the people killed through that program are people not on the list, people in the wrong place at the wrong time (just like the people in our shopping malls and schools). 

In fact, the vast majority of the people killed in our foreign wars are simply bystanders.  And they are killed in their homes, their stores, their schools, their weddings.  The violence that we can easily end looks very much like the violence we find so difficult to address at home.  It doesn't take place between a pair of armies on a battlefield.  It happens where its victims live.

Were we to stop pouring $1.2 trillion each year into war preparations, we would also be stopping the public funding of the manufacturers of the weapons that rip open our loved ones and neighbors in our schools and parking lots.  We would be altering dramatically the context in which we generate public policy, public entertainment, and public myths about how problems can be solved.  We would be saving lives every bit as precious as any other lives, while learning how to go on to saving more. 

One place to start, I believe, would be in withdrawing U.S. troops from over 1,000 bases in other people's countries -- an imperial presence that costs us $170 billion each year while building hostility and tensions, not peace.  There's a reason why, at this time of year, we don't sing about "Peace in My Backyard."  If we want peace on Earth, we must stop and consider how to get it.


--

David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.

The Original Abolitionists

If you're like me, there are some things you would like to abolish.  My list includes war, weapons, fossil fuel use, plutocracy, corporate personhood, health insurance corporations, poverty wages, poverty, homelessness, factory farming, prisons, the drug war, the death penalty, nuclear energy, the U.S. Senate, the electoral college, gerrymandering, electronic voting machines, murder, rape, child abuse, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and the Washington Post.  I could go on.  I bet you can think of at least one institution you believe we'd be better off without.

All of us, then, can almost certainly learn a thing or two from the men and women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England who abolished first the slave trade and then slavery within the British empire.  I highly recommend watching a film about them called "Amazing Grace."  If you like it, you'll love a book called "Bury the Chains."

You'll discover that this was in many ways the original activist movement.  It created activist committees, with chapters, newsletters, posters, speaking tours, book tours, petitioning, boycotts of products, theatrical props, and investigative journalism -- pioneering all of these now familiar tactics.  It achieved great success without voting, as only a tiny fraction of the population could vote.  That, in itself, should be a lesson to those who believe elections are the only tool available. 

The abolition movement had stamina.  Looking back, its gains appear stunningly swift.  At the end of the 1700s the world was dominated by slavery.  Slavery was the norm.  Before the end of the 1800s it had been outlawed almost everywhere.  Yet, those who worked night and day against the current of their times to create the abolition movement faced endless defeats.  Many of the hardest working activists didn't live to see the final success.  And yet they kept working.  That too may be a lesson for us.

A war between England and France halted progress, and could have stopped it cold.  But the war ended, and the movement was revived -- in large part with a new cast of characters, a younger generation of radicals.  Freezing all forward momentum for wars has been the rule over the ages.  It's a hard lesson for us to face, as we've now accepted that we live in an era of permanent war.  The difficult truth may be that we must escape that era if we are to make headway on numerous fronts.

When the abolition movement sprang into being in England, it was a moral movement demanding rights -- but, unlike most movements we've seen -- demanding rights for other people.  The Britons were not demanding their own freedom.  In fact, they were willing to make sacrifices, to risk a reduction in their own prosperity, and to boycott the use of slave-grown sugar.  This is a useful fact in an age when we are often told that people can only care about themselves.  Never mind the dead Afghans and Pakistanis, we're advised, just make sure that Americans know the financial cost of the wars.  Perhaps that advice can be questioned after all.

However, Adam Hochschild, the author of "Bury the Chains," believes that Britons were able to appreciate the evil of the slave trade because of their own experience with the practice of naval impressment.  That is to say, because they themselves lived in fear of being kidnapped and enslaved by the British Navy and forced to sail naval vessels around the world, and in fear of their loved ones meeting that fate, they were able to imagine the misery of Africans living in fear of being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the West Indies. 

Where might this insight lead us?  Americans do face random senseless gun violence.  Can we appreciate the evil of a drone buzzing over a village and then blowing up a family because we know that our shopping mall or school could soon be the scene of mass murder?  Americans have also been taught to fear foreign terrorism.  Can we appreciate the need to stop funding foreign terrorism in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, foreign terrorism carried out by the U.S. military? 

We do have another tool available to us.  We can make use of video, audio, and instantaneous reporting on the victims of war or other evils.  Perhaps, understanding that morality can move people, we will figure out a better way to communicate what needs to be abolished.  The original abolitionists did not have this ability.

The original abolitionists made great use of newspapers and books which -- unlike those in France and other nations that failed to develop a similar mass movement -- were completely uncensored.  (We come back to the need to abolish our corporate media cartel.)  The original abolitionists benefitted from the egalitarian organizing of the Quakers, at whose meeting any man or woman could speak -- although they were remarkably slow to make use of the voices of freed slaves who could have spoken of slavery first-hand, and who eventually did so to great effect.

The movement to abolish the slave trade was aimed at Parliament.  It did not demand freedom or rights for blacks.  It threatened the livelihood of ship captains but not of the wealthy whose investments were in the plantations across the sea.  The movement persuaded MPs of just enough to pass the legislation desired -- and even less, as abolitionists slipped through Parliament a bill designed to damage the slave trade but not advertised that way or understood by its opponents until the vote had been taken.

The movement was launched in 1787 and by 1807 had outlawed the slave trade.  By August 1, 1838, all slaves in the British empire were free. 

The slaves themselves heard of these efforts, of course, and their own struggles for freedom may have done more than anything else to win the day.  The rebellions in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Jamaica, and elsewhere had a significant impact on British thinking about slavery.  In fact, the first generation of abolitionists, now aging, failed to keep pace with public sentiment.  Their proposals for a slow and gradual end to slavery had to make way for the demand of immediate emancipation advanced by younger men and the now very active groups of women.  And ultimately a reform bill had to be passed to somewhat democratize the government before the popular demand for slavery's abolition could be answered.

 

Compensated Emancipation

Activists were somewhat disappointed when Parliament chose to compensate slave owners for the liberation of their slaves.  The slaves themselves were, of course, not compensated.  They had little but hard times ahead.

But the compensation of slave owners offered a model that might have served the United States better than bloody civil war.  During the American revolutionary war, the British had recruited slaves to fight on their side by promising them freedom.  After the war, slave owners, including George Washington, demanded their slaves back.  A British commander, General Sir Guy Carleton, refused.  Thousands of freed slaves were transported from New York to Nova Scotia to avoid their re-enslavement.  But Carleton did promise to compensate the slaves' owners, and Washington settled for that.

The original British abolitionists, including Thomas Clarkson, greatly influenced Americans like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas Douglass.  But few picked up on the idea of compensated emancipation, which had not originated with the abolitionists.

Elihu Burritt was an exception.  From 1856 to 1860 he promoted a plan to prevent a U.S. civil war through compensated emancipation, or the purchase and liberation of slaves by the government, following the example that the English had set in the West Indies.  Burritt traveled constantly, all over the country, speaking.  He organized a mass convention that was held in Cleveland.  He lined up prominent supporters.  He edited newsletters.  He behaved, in other words, like Clarkson and many an activist since.

And Burritt was right.  Britain had freed its slaves without a civil war or a slave rebellion on the scale that was possible.  Russia had freed its serfs without a war.  Slave owners in the U.S. South would almost certainly have preferred a pile of money to five years of hell, the deaths of loved ones, the burning and destruction of their property, and the uncompensated emancipation that followed, not to mention the century and a half of bitter resentment that followed that.  And not only the slave owners would have preferred the way of peace; it's not as if they did the killing and dying.

 

Virginia

When a former slave found his voice in London, told his story in a best-selling book, filled debating halls, and became a leader in the movement to free all others, he was a man who had been a slave in my home state of Virginia.  His name was Olaudah Equiano.  He was one of, if not the first, black to speak publicly in Britain.  He did as much to end the slave trade as anyone, and it might have gone on considerably longer without him.

I've never seen a monument or memorial in Virginia to Equiano.  In contrast, just down the street from my house in Charlottesville is a tree called Tarleton's Oak.  Next to it is a gas station by the same name.  The tree is not old, having been planted to replace an enormous aging oak that I recall seeing.  Under that one, supposedly, during the revolution, British troops camped.  They were led by a young officer named Banastre Tarleton.  He later got himself into Parliament, and there was no more obnoxious defender of the slave trade than he.  Africans themselves, he maintained, did not object in the least to being enslaved.  Tarleton lied at tremendous length without a hint of shame.  His memory we mark, not Equiano's.

Talk Nation Radio: Erica Chenoweth on the Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict

Erica Chenoweth is co-author with Maria J. Stephan of "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict."  Their research finds that nonviolent action works against tyrannical rule with a higher success rate than violence and with longer-lasting results.  Their book has received the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, as well as the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, which the American Political Science Association gives annually to the best book on government, politics, or international affairs published in the U.S. during the previous calendar year.  Listeners to Talk Nation Radio can pick up the newly-released paperback at a 30% discount from http://www.cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-15682-0/why-civil-resistance-works by using the discount code WHYCHE. Learn more at http://ericachenoweth.com

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Engineer: Christiane Brown.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download or get embed code from Archive or  AudioPort or LetsTryDemocracy.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Embed on your own site with this code:

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UN Development Goals Could Be Met With a Few Percent of Military Spending

Here's a useful new report from the International Peace Bureau.  Globally, the report finds, spending on war preparations is higher than ever as an absolute amount and as a percentage of public spending (if not as a percentage of GDP).  This spending is led and dominated by the United States, which of course pressures other nations to try to keep pace.  The United States also dominates the manufacture and sale of weapons to other nations. 

The figures that the IPB uses admittedly leave out many types of military spending.  In fact, they capture less than 60% of U.S. military spending.  So, the conclusions are all extremely "conservative" -- that is to say: dramatically wrong.  Without knowing how much of other nations' war preparations spending is missing, one cannot do the calculations correctly.  Nonetheless, IPB's conclusions are stunning and include these:

--the world's military spending is 12.7 times higher than its official development assistance, and

--604 times higher than UN budgets for peace, security, development, human rights, humanitarian affairs, and international law, and

--2,508 times higher than the combined expenditures of the UN's International Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Organizations.

--the war preparations spending of the world is $249 per day per person on earth. [UPDATE: This cannot be correct.]

--about 5% of that would meet the UN's Millenium Development Goals by 2015.

In other words, war spending does not just generate the well-known Military Industrial Complex's pressure for more war, which takes more lives, but the failure to use a little of that money for something useful means the failure to save and improve countless lives as well.  Our budgets are at once sins of commission and omission.  The millenium goals are goals for ending poverty and hunger, providing education, and protecting health, sustainability, and human rights.

There may not be a war on Christmas, but if our "leaders" have their way there will be several wars on Christmas, and we're paying for them in several senses of the word.

Peace on Earth. Pass the ammunition.

The Normalization of Treason

How did right-wing politics in the United States survive the 1960s and 1970s and thrive beyond?  Not only did the wealthy invest in the corruption of politics, but the politicians invested in the normalization of treason.

When presidential candidate Richard Nixon sabotaged the peace process in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson privately called it treason and publicly kept his mouth shut. 

By the time Bush the Elder, also involved in that earlier treason, worked with Robert Gates and William Casey to sabotage President Carter's efforts to free hostages in Iran, the normalization was well underway.

The corruption of Watergate involved not only no-holds-barred political thievery, but also Nixon's fear that Daniel Ellsberg or the Brookings Institution or someone else had possession of a file detailing Nixon's successful 1968 efforts to prevent the war on Vietnam from ending.

The Iran-Contra scandal that grew out of the U.S.-Israeli-Iranian plot to replace Carter with Reagan, and the Iraq-gate scandal that followed, witnessed a last fling of half-hearted pushback in Congress and the corporate media.  Today such non-sexual scandals no longer end in -gate.  In fact, they are no longer scandals.

Piling George W. Bush's blatantly stolen elections onto the history of recent U.S. politics calls into question the ability of Republicans to get elected to national office without cheating.  But the normalization of treason has been very much a bi-partisan affair.

Robert Parry, who runs the invaluable website ConsortiumNews.com, has a new book out called "America's Stolen Narrative."  My recommendation is to immediately read this book from Chapter 2 through to the end.  The introduction and chapter 1 depict President Barack Obama as having nothing but the best intentions, glorify the American Revolution, argue in favor of a strong federal government, and defend the practice of requiring people to purchase private health insurance (a Republican idea in its origins, of course, although Parry has adopted it as Democratic and good).  Also, Chapter 3 takes a detour into arguing unpersuasively for lesser-evilism.  If you're into that sort of thing, knock yourselves out.  But in my view such discussions muddle and belittle the significance of the rest of this tremendously important book.

The "stolen narratives" referred to in the title are the accurate accounts that Parry presents of the treasonous acts I've mentioned above.  Parry is an investigative journalist who has unearthed powerful evidence of the crimes of Nixon, Reagan, and others.  Parry not only details the evidence but recounts the processes of coverup and distortion that the U.S. media has made its second nature.  The result of this history is, I'm afraid, far worse than Parry's opening pages let on.  Not only do Americans imagine that their politicians mean well when they do not, particularly in the area of foreign policy, but the United States has fundamentally accepted unlimited presidential powers.  Nixon's crimes during his famous coverup, and the far worse underlying crimes as well, have now been legalized and accepted.  Presidents do not answer to Congress or the public or the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.  To a great extent, the people of our country have accepted temporary despots, and to a great extent our people falsely believe themselves powerless to act.  They imagine the left did something wrong through acting.  This is part of how history must be explained when leaving out the fact that the right has been cheating.

Parry's account of Nixon's undoing of peace in Vietnam, allowing for another four years of slaughter in Southeast Asia, is the best I've seen and alone worth the purchase of "America's Stolen Narrative."  Parry imagines what it might have meant, not only for peace in the world, but also for social justice and the "war on poverty" in the United States had Hubert Humphrey defeated Nixon.  To the extent that Nixon's successful electoral sabotage in 1968 opened the door to dirtier politics ever since, the damage can be multiplied. 

Needless to say, that door was always somewhat opened.  The Business Plot of 1933 was hardly less treasonous than anything Nixon did.  Nixon's go-between with the Vietnamese in 1968 was the widow of Claire Lee Chennault who had worked to provide China with U.S. planes, pilots, and training, to plan the firebombing of Japan and provoke Japan into the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Our false narratives still require the acceptance or glorification of all things related to World War II, but in fact one can see a bit of the husband in the widow Chennault.  And then there's the assassination of President Kennedy, which evidence suggests George H.W. Bush played a role in as in most of Parry's post-1960's narrative.

But Parry's case that we turned a corner toward a nastier political world with the Nixon presidency is a strong one.

The account of the Carter-Reagan October Surprise is also the best I've seen, in terms of the evidence presented and the background provided, including on the central role of the Israeli government.  The same gang that hung President Carter out to dry for failing to free the hostages had earlier pressured him to bring the Shah of Iran to the United States, thereby provoking the fears of Iranians and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy.  The weapons shipments to Iran later grew into the Iran-Contra scandal, but common understanding of that scandal fails to trace it to its roots in the treasonous bargain that kept the hostages prisoners until the day of Reagan's inauguration.

Parry devotes whole chapters to the history of corrupt manipulation by a couple of the dirtiest individuals in Washington: Colin Powell and Robert Gates.  These two manage their heights of corruption and influence, in part, through their cross-partisanship.  Democrats in Parry's worldview seem to be largely battered wives failing to push back, failing to speak out, refusing to investigate or prosecute or impeach. True enough, as far as it goes.  But I think there is a great measure of complicity and outright expansion of bipartisan abuses that must be credited to the Democrats as well.  An accurate understanding of exactly how evil some of our Republicans have been need not turn us into cheerleaders for the party of the current president, his record classifications, his groundbreaking secrecy claims, his record whistleblower prosecutions, his record levels of warrantless spying, his imprisonments without trial, his wars without Congress, his war-making CIA, or his "kill list" murder program.  Instead, an accurate understanding of how evil some of our politicians have been should move us to become, like Robert Parry, dogged pursuers of the facts that those in power seek to bury or beautify.

Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities

PREAMBLE

Whereas the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not self-enforcing,

Whereas statement of the inherent dignity and of the equal and supposedly inalienable rights of all members of the human family achieves little without a struggle against greed, injustice, tyranny, and war,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights could not have resulted in the barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humankind without the cowardice, laziness, apathy, and blind obedience of well-meaning but unengaged spectators,

Whereas proclaiming as the highest aspiration of the common people the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want doesn't actually produce such a world,

Whereas nonviolent rebellion against tyranny and oppression must be a first resort rather than a last, and must be our constant companion into the future if justice and peace are to be achieved and maintained,

Whereas governments do not reliably conduct themselves humanely toward other nations' governments or peoples unless compelled to do so by their own people and the people of the world,

Whereas a common understanding of human rights and freedoms is false if it omits the eternal vigilance, struggle, and sacrifice necessary to create and maintain them,

Now, Therefore we proclaim THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RESPONSIBILITIES as a common standard of practice for all people, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by energetic use of creative nonviolence to promote the actual observance of what have never been but indeed should be made universal, equal, and inalienable rights and freedoms,

Article 1.

  • Human beings are born into every variety and degree of freedom and oppression, privilege and poverty, peace and war.  All have a responsibility to work for the betterment of the condition of those around them and those less well off.

Article 2.

  • Everyone is obligated to work at building understanding and equality across lines of race, color, sex, ethnicity, sexual-orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, and birth or other status.  Everyone is obligated to actively reject the privileging of or discriminating against any such group, whether their own or others', with no exceptions created by the presence of or participation in war.

Article 3.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to help organize and take part in resistance to any violation of anyone's right to life, liberty or security of person, whether that violation impacts a single individual or a large number, but in particular including resistance to war of any kind.

Article 4.

  • Everyone has a responsibility to work for the swift elimination of slavery and servitude in all their forms.

Article 5.

  • Everyone has a responsibility to expose any instance of torture or of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or of any conspiracy to facilitate such acts, and a responsibility to work to end these practices and to prosecute those responsible in a fair and open court of law.

Article 6.

  • Everyone has a responsibility to work and to sacrifice something of their own comfort to ensure that every other human being is afforded equal recognition as a person before the law.

Article 7.

  • All are obliged to actively oppose any discrimination in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to insist upon, for themselves and all others, an effective remedy by the competent local, national, or international tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 9.

  • Everyone has a responsibility to treat the arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, of anyone else as though it were that of themselves or a loved one.

Article 10.

  • Everyone has a responsibility to understand and require for every human being the right to full equality and to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of their rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against them.

Article 11.

  • (1) Everyone is obligated to ensure for anyone charged with a penal offense the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defense.
  • (2) Everyone is obligated to ensure that no one shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed, and that no heavier penalty shall be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed.

Article 12.

  • All are responsible for not taking part in and for working to eliminate and to legally prohibit any arbitrary interference with anyone's privacy, family, home or correspondence, or attacks upon their honor and reputation.

Article 13.

  • (1) Everyone has the responsibility to protect everyone's freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  • (2) Everyone has the responsibility to protect everyone's right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.

Article 14.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to protect for all the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution but not from prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes.

Article 15.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to protect for all the right to a nationality and the right to change that nationality.

Article 16.

  • All are obliged to protect the right of free and fully consenting adults to marry.

Article 17.

  • All are obliged to defend the right of all others to own property.

Article 18.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to protect freedom of thought for all.

Article 19.

  • Every human being has a duty to help communicate to others to the greatest extent possible information about injustice and war, and information about nonviolent efforts to achieve justice and peace.  This duty includes a responsibility to work for the creation of meaningful freedom of the press in which the communication of neither current events nor history is dominated or controlled by any privileged group within a society.

Article 20.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to frequently exercise or attempt nonviolently to exercise the right to peaceful assembly and association in opposition to injustice or war, and in support of the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 21.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to work for the creation and maintenance of democratic and/or representative government uncorrupted by bribery of any form, by an unfree press, or by arbitrary restrictions on participation as electoral candidates or voters.

Article 22.

  • Everyone has a responsibility to struggle nonviolently to alter the political and economic world so as to increase the opportunity for every human being to live, learn, and work in dignity with security from fear and want.

Article 23.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to work with others to ensure the protection of one and all to a free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to the freedom to join a trade union and to strike, to equal pay for equal work, and to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for themselves and their family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

Article 24.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to work not only at their primary career but also for the betterment of society and the establishment of the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 25.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to work for a more just and less wasteful distribution of resources to ensure that one's own and all future generations can provide every single human being, including every child, a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood.

Article 26.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to assist in the education of themselves and others and to work toward the provision of free, high-quality education, including education in civil responsibilities and the history of social change through people's movements, education directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, education that promotes understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and education that furthers the creation and maintenance of peace.

Article 27.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to defend and exercise the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits, and the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which they are the author.

Article 28.

  • Everyone has the responsibility to organize, agitate, sacrifice, and struggle nonviolently and strategically for sustainable environmental practices, demilitarization, the development of democratic and representative structures of government, and the realization of the rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

About People Who Are Wrong

Don't people who are wrong annoy you?  I just read a very interesting book called "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error," by Kathryn Schulz.  Of course I read it with an eye toward figuring out how better to correct those other people who are so dangerously and aggravatingly wrong.  And of course the book ended up telling me that I myself am essentially a creature of wrongness.

But if we're all wrong, I can live with that.  It's being more wrong than other people that's intolerable.  However, statistics show that most of us believe we're more right than average, suggesting a significant if not downright dominant wrongness in our very idea of wrongness.

Even worse, we're clearly not wrong by accident or despite the best of intentions.  We go wrong for the most embarrassing of reasons -- albeit reasons that might serve unrelated purposes, or which perhaps did so for distant ancestors of ours.  For example, when asked to solve simple and obvious problems that a control group of similar people has no trouble solving, a disturbing number of humans will give the wrong answer if stooges planted in the room confidently give that wrong answer first. 

Even more disturbingly, measurements of brain activity during this process suggest that those giving such wrong answers actually perceive them as correct following careful consideration of the question with no particular energy expended on consideration of peer relationships.  In other words, people believe their own obvious B.S., even though its been blatantly placed in their minds by a bunch of fraudsters.  (I am aware of the redundancy in making this observation during what has been an election year in the United States.)

A lone dissenter in the room can change the dynamic (which perhaps explains why Fox News quickly cuts off the microphone of any guest straying from the script, why a sports announcer who denounces our gun culture must be punished, why a commentator who questions Israel's crimes must be silenced, etc.), but why should we need someone else to dissent before we can? 

Well we don't all or always.  But a disturbing amount of the time a lot of us do.

Even more disturbingly, few of us are often inclined to say we are undecided between possibilities.  We are inclined toward certainty, even if we have just switched from being certain of an opposing proposition.  As we are confronted with reasons to doubt, it is not uncommon for our certainty to grow more adamant.  And we are inclined to greater certainty if others share it.  Many of us often admire, and all too often obey, those who are certain -- even about things they could not possibly be certain about, even about things there is no great value in being certain about, and even about things these "leaders" have been wrong about before. 

Now, I think Schulz is wrong in her book on wrongness not to place greater emphasis on the issue of why politicians change their positions.  If they do so for corrupt reasons, to please their funders, we have corruption as well as indecisiveness to dislike.  But if they do so in response to public pressure and we still condemn them for indecisiveness, we are condemning representative government along with it.  But there is no doubt that many people -- sometimes disastrously -- can be inclined to prefer the certain and wrong to the hesitant and ultimately right.  A baseball umpire who's wrong but adamant is the norm, because one who corrects himself is soon out of a job. 

We begin our careers of wrongness early.  If you show a toddler a candy box and ask what's in it, they'll say candy, completely free of doubt.  If you then show them that it's actually full of pencils, and ask them what they had thought -- five seconds earlier -- would be in the box, they will tell you they thought it was full of pencils.  They will tell you that they said it was full of pencils.  Schulz says this is because young children believe that all beliefs are true.  It could also be a result of the same desire to be right and not wrong that we find prevalent in adults, minus adults' ability to recognize when the evidence of their wrongness is overwhelming.  A psychologist in 1973 asked 3,000 people to rank their stances on a scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree" with positions on a range of social issues like affirmative action, marijuana legalization, etc.  Ten years later he asked them to do so again and to recall how they thought they had answered 10 years prior.  The what-I-used-to-think answers were far closer to the people's current positions than to their actual positions of a decade back.

A decade back I would have told you that it might be valuable to work for progressive change within the Democratic Party.  Now I'd tell you that's counterproductive.  Never mind if I was wrong then or am wrong now, or perhaps there's not enough information in such brief statements to know whether I'm not perhaps wrong in both positions.  The point is that I only know how misguided I used to be because my blog doesn't edit itself, and I go back and read it.  Not so with my brain.  It edits itself quite efficiently.  We have no idea how wrong we are, and much less idea how wrong we used to be.  And we absolutely do not want to know.

"It isn't that we care so fiercely about the substance of our claims," writes Schulz.  "It is that we care about feeling affirmed, respected, and loved."  This helps explain why a common response to being wrong is to make the situation significantly worse and facilitate new cases of being wrong in the future.  Medical mistakes in our hospitals kill a great many more Americans than any of the commonly thought of but statistically trivial causes of death (like terrorism) or even the truly major causes of death (like automobiles).  And hospitals typically respond with evasion, defensiveness, and denial.

We see this across the field of public policy. Alan Greenspan may admit the error of his ways on the way out the door.  So may President Eisenhower, albeit without calling it a confession.  Even Secretary McNamara may recant his love for warfare before he dies.  But those vigorously pursuing careers usually avoid admitting wrongness.  And those proven wrong are typically replaced with new people willing to push the identical mistaken policies. 

Members of the public who support wrongheaded policies (the markets will take care of themselves; weapons spending makes us safer; global warming doesn't hurt; the wealth will trickle down; etc.) often manage to continue with those policies despite their glaring debunking in particular instances or their recantation by particular officials.  This is what I hoped to get some insight on in reading this book (as in reading a lot of books), and I don't think I failed.  (I wouldn't, would I?)

Believers in Iraqi WMDs, when confronted with the facts, have in many cases nonsensically doubled down on their beliefs or, at the very least, continued to imagine the best intentions on the part of those who pushed the propaganda.  Of course, a proper understanding of wrongness must lead us to accept the possibility that many who appear to be lying actually believe what they say.  And the well-documented dishonesty, intentional fraud, and pressure on others to lie in the case of the Iraq War marketing campaign doesn't change the fact that many who helped spread the lies believed them to one degree or another.

Dropping the WMD belief would mean accepting that respected leaders were either mistaken or lying.  It would also mean admitting that hostile opponents in a very public and long-lasting debate were right.  Hence the tenaciousness of those still believing that Saddam Hussein hid his massive stockpiles in a magical land somewhere.

A few lessons can be gathered, I think.  One is that when we're speaking with those who disagree, we should not refer to magical lands as I've just done, not mock, not gloat, not set up a hostile competition over who was right and who was wrong.  Recounting previous instances of war supporters being wrong to illustrate the universality of the phenomenon could help or backfire depending on how it's done.  Ultimately it must be done if the same mistakes are not to be repeated forever.  It's certainly appropriate to demand that television networks stop limiting their crews of experts to those who have always been wrong before.  Ultimately there must be accountability for the leaders of wrongness (regardless of the degree of honesty or good-intention involved).  But there are those who will simply believe that Spain blew up the Maine even if they had never heard of that incident before in their lives, if you -- their opponent -- bring it up, even if you intend it as a comforting example of how others have screwed up too.

Clearly, focusing on the numerous times someone has themself been wrong is unlikely to help, but conveying the fact that we have been wrong too might.  People should feel that they can remain or become secure, safe, respected, and loved while dropping their misguided belief, and without substituting a new zealotry in favor of another belief (even ours!) -- that they can become more cautious, more willing to remain in doubt, and more willing to continue that way in the face of the certainty of others.  Ideally, people should be urged toward better beliefs by a friendly and welcoming and large group of others.  There's no reason peer pressure can't be put to good use, even while seeking to reduce its power.

More importantly perhaps, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If we can prevent people developing attachments to lies about Syria or Iran, we will save ourselves endless headaches trying to rid them of those lies later.  If we can establish not just that Iraq was unarmed but also that Iraq's being armed would have been no justification for bombing its people, we will shift the conversation onto favorable ground.  If Syria killing Syrians with the wrong kind of weapons is understood not to justify the United States killing more Syrians with the right kind of weapons, we won't have to engage in a fast-break competition to determine and then prove whether Syria is using weapons that the United States claims it is using. 

The preceding paragraph is the theme of a book I wrote called "War Is A Lie," which I intended for war preparedness in the sense of preparation to resist common types of lies about wars.  In that book, I did not follow all of the advice above.  People in fact have complained to me (a small minority of readers I should say) that the book is at times sarcastic or mocking or contemptuous.  In my defense, I see a value in entertaining as well as educating those already in large agreement, as well as in reaching through as powerful a manner as possible those without ossified views on the subject.  But then again, there is always and forever the possibility that I'm horrendously wrong.

Pearl Harbor Day Is a Day to Cherish the $1.3 Trillion We Blow on War Preparation Every Year

It warms one's heart to recall in the depths of winter that over half the taxes we labor to submit to our government each year go into war preparations.  Such bountiful spending is required, because one never knows when the Japs or the Serbians or the Iranians may attack.  To appreciate the need for creating so many weapons-producing billionaires and millionaires, we must recall with fondness the glory days of the war that three-quarters of a century back gave us the military industrial complex, the Air Force, the CIA, nuclear weapons, witch hunts, intense environmental destruction, and some 70 million dead bodies.

Ah, who can forget . . .

Nazi Germany, we actually tend to overlook sometimes, could not have existed or waged war without the support for decades past and ongoing through the war of U.S. corporations like GM, Ford, IBM, and ITT.  U.S. corporate interests prefered Nazi Germany to the communist Soviet Union, were happy to see those two nations' peoples slaughter each other, and favored the United States entering the oh-so-good-and-necessary World War II on the side of England only once the U.S. government had made that very profitable.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's fervent hope for years was that Japan would attack the United States. This would permit the United States (not legally, but politically) to fully enter World War II in Europe, as its president wanted to do, as opposed to merely providing weaponry and assisting in the targeting of submarines as it had been doing. Of course, Germany's declaration of war, which followed Pearl Harbor and the immediate U.S. declaration of war on Japan, helped as well, but it was Pearl Harbor that radically converted the American people from opposition to support for war.

On December 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt drew up a declaration of war on both Japan and Germany, but decided it wouldn't work and went with Japan alone.  Germany quickly declared war on the United States, possibly in hopes that Japan would declare war on the Soviet Union.

Getting into the war was not a new idea in the Rosevelt White House.  FDR had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked. Roosevelt also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism. This map was of the quality of the Associated Press's recent "Iranian bomb graph," or Karl Rove's "proof" that Iraq was buying uranium in Niger.

And yet, the people of the United States didn't buy the idea of going into another war until Pearl Harbor, by which point Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and — just 11 days before the "unexpected" attack — he had secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.

On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet:

Backward Ho!

A few thoughts in praise of backwardness.

"We don't look backward," says President Obama in reference to imposing justice on powerful large-scale criminal suspects.  Of course, as we don't prosecute future crimes but only crimes of the past, "not looking backward" is a euphemism for immunity -- an immunity not granted to those accused of small-scale crimes or crimes with no victims at all.

"Forward!" says President Obama, making that seemingly vacuous word his slogan.  But the word has meaning; it means continuing thoughtlessly in the current direction, without seeking guidance from the mistakes or accomplishments or untested inspirations of the past.

The secrecy of the Obama White House, including record levels of classification, ground-breaking legal claims to secrecy, and record-level prosecutions of whistleblowers, moves us in practice to the position of rolling "forward" without a clear idea where we are or where we've just been.  This is nearly as fatal to good public policy as "looking forward" is to law enforcement.

We need to know our immediate history, but equally we need to know the history of distant times and places, for otherwise we can be greatly deceived by those in power -- including with that greatest deception of all: the idea that we are powerless.  Only history shows us what works and what doesn't in attempting to improve the world.

Only history reveals, as well, how dramatically different patterns of life and thought and notions of "human nature" can be in cultures separated by time and/or space.  It is always easier to imagine radical changes for the better after examining how radically different people have already been.

In 1888 Edward Bellamy wrote a book called "Looking Backward," which told the story of a man put into a trance in 1887 and awakened in the year 2000.  In 1888 people bought as many copies of this book as could be printed, created clubs and organizations inspired by it, and developed a political movement the lasting (though indirect) benefits of which are no doubt tremendous. 

Bellamy was, of course, looking forward, but we must look backward to recall an age in which anyone looked forward in a terribly useful or inspiring way.  In 1888, people imagined the world could be made a much more pleasant place to live.  In 2012 we are lucky if we can muster any confidence that the world will not collapse into an environmental or military or plutocratic hell on earth.

Bellamy got his prediction of the year 2000 largely wrong, but of course he was prescribing more than predicting.  He got his prescription wrong as well.  That is to say, what he prescribed was probably to some extent unworkable and undesirable.  But it is tempting for us to confuse these questions, to imagine that whatever hasn't happened couldn't have or shouldn't have.

Bellamy had no accurate notion of what technology would look like in the year 2000.  He idealized large and centralized bureaucracy.  He valued military-like discipline rather than cooperation in the workplace.  He imagined, absurdly I think, that a perfect society need not contain a mechanism for additional major changes.  He believed -- and I have doubts on the point -- that religion and superstition could persist harmoniously with extreme ethical enlightenment. 

In questionable moves, Bellamy bestowed greater power on the old than the young, built elitism into systems of governance and justice, and condoned the use of solitary imprisonment.  In notable silences, Bellamy's vision did not address the question of environmental sustainability or the problem of outsourcing -- which is not to say that his utopia could not have incorporated solutions to such concerns.

But Bellamy advocated nonviolent change over violent in a manner suggesting an understanding of history he had not lived through.  He argued plausibly for the elimination of debt, interest, and -- in fact -- money (which is not to say all forms of compensation).  He laid out plans for peace, relative equality of wealth, security for all, an elimination of (most) prisons and virtually all crime, and the serious and nonviolent elimination of something all men and women have longed for since at least the age of Shakespeare: lawyers and law schools. 

Bellamy's world would be prosperous and wealthy despite a retirement age of 45, in part through the elimination of debt, of militaries, of prisons, of tax assessors, of crime, of advertisements, of wasted or duplicated efforts (think of how much our "health insurance" system costs us compared to those of other nations), and -- here's the bit our current president would like, at least for the rich and powerful -- of a criminal justice system.  (I'm afraid the steps that could conceivably bring us closer to Bellamy's world would need to come in a proper order, with the elimination of accountability for those in power evolving late in the process). 

Bellamy may have been deluding himself if he imagined a world free of dangerous levels of selfishness.  But he was certainly on the right track in envisioning a world that did not promote selfishness as a virtue, that valued instead one's responsibility to society, to children, and to future generations.  Bellamy imagined huge advances for women's rights, many of which have in fact materialized.  But other dreams of "Looking Backward" remain dreams.

Can we have competition, checks, and balances, but no advertising or systemic motivations to deceive?  Can we have media outlets democratically managed by their consumers?  Can we put one umbrella over a sidewalk when it rains instead of each carrying our own?

Dare I say it?  Yes, we can.

But not until we abandon our affection for cries of "Forward!"

Talk Nation Radio: Michael McPhearson and Michael Eisenscher on Jobs Not Wars

A coalition of groups has launched a new campaign at http://jobs-not-wars.org

Talk Nation Radio speaks with national coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War Michael Eisenscher and national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice Michael McPhearson, who is also a board member of Veterans For Peace.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Engineer: Christiane Brown.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download or get embed code from Archive or  AudioPort or LetsTryDemocracy.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Embed on your own site with this code:

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Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at http://davidswanson.org/talknationradio

Audio: Scott Harris' Counterpoint with John Quigley, Alex Lawson, Kevin Gosztola, David Swanson

Here's audio of a great show discussing "fiscal cliff," Bradley Manning, Palestine, and drone wars:
http://archives.wpkn.org/bookmarks/listen/45419

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