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The Habit of Thought That Made U.S. #1 in Prisons and Wars

By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune
Remarks prepared for April 12 event in Baltimore.

I'm going to start with a few brief opening remarks about what I think is the habit of thought that has made the United States #1 in the world in prisons and wars. And then I'll be glad to try to answer as many questions as you think of. These remarks will be published online at American Herald Tribune.

No matter how long I debunk and refute and mock and condemn arguments for wars, I continue over and over again to conclude that I'm still giving advocates for war too much credit. How ever little I take seriously as rational ideas the notions that U.S. wars can be defensive or humanitarian or peace-keeping, it's always too much. Wars' supporters, in large part, do not themselves actually hold such beliefs. Rather they have a lust for war that must be examined outside of any question of utilitarian impact.

I'm referring here to the mental processes of both top officials deciding to wage war, and ordinary members of the U.S. public expressing their approval. Of course, the two are not identical. Motives of profit are hushed up, while phony motives such as waging wars in order to "support the troops" are manufactured for public consumption but never ever mentioned in the private emails of war makers. Nonetheless, there is great overlap in the thinking of all members of a culture, including the thinking of cynical politicians in a corrupt regime, and there are points on which virtually all politicians, from best to worst, agree without giving the matter any thought.

One part of the common lust for war is the desire to punish wrongdoers. This motivation overlaps with revenge when depicted as a response to some wrong done to "us." It overlaps with defensiveness when depicted as punishing some person, force, or group that constitutes a dangerous threat. It overlaps with the drives for power and domination when presented as punishing a challenger to the authority of the U.S. government, or of the U.S. government and the handful of oligarchs who constitute "the international community." But this drive to punish can be distinguished as an important motivation that often seems to underpin more superficial rationalizations.

Look at a typical "humanitarian" war, such as the war to rescue Libyan civilians from imminent slaughter in 2011 or the war to rescue mountaintop dwellers from ISIS in 2013 which is ongoing and escalating. In both cases, the humanitarian rationale was essentially false. Gadaffi did not threaten to massacre civilians. The U.S. did not try to rescue civilians from ISIS; some were rescued by Kurds, some had no interest in being rescued. In both the case of Libya and that of ISIS, war supporters piled all sorts of other rationales on top of the humanitarian one, many of these related to punishment, including punishment of ISIS for beheading U.S. citizens with knives. Old grievances, some of them based on dubious claims themselves, were dredged up against Qadaffi. TV host Ed Schultz, for example, suddenly developed a passion for punishing Qadaffi for crimes that as far as I know hadn't disturbed Schultz's sleep for years prior if ever. Americans who could have all fit on a single and readily available airplane supposedly needed to be saved from the ISIS menace by a bombing campaign that focused on an oil-rich area, not on the threatened mountaintop.

In both cases, also, the humanitarian excuse was quickly abandoned. The rescues were quickly forgotten as the U.S. entered into a war to quickly overthrow the Libyan government and a war to slowly "destroy ISIS." In both cases, few questions were raised about this switch, and to many it was not perceived as a switch. Once you rescue helpless innocents from an evil menace, punishing the evil menace is just a normal follow through like completing a golf swing over your shoulder. In this way of thinking, the humanitarian argument isn't seen as a deceitful way to get a war started but as a justification for continuing the war until the wrongdoers are properly punished.

Look at a typical "defensive" war by the United States, like the vicious aggression against Iraq in 2003. Mixed in with all the lies about the supposed threat from Iraq was plenty of talk about punishing Iraq for violating UN resolutions and for that common reason given for bombing the people of a foreign nation: the tyrant of Iraq had "killed his own people" -- using, as is common, U.S. weapons. Similarly, the Gulf War had been punishment for the invasion of Kuwait, and the war on Afghanistan has been 15 years and counting of punishment for 9/11 of people who for the most part had never heard of 9/11.

What makes me turn from factually correcting a rational belief that these wars are somehow defensive to lamenting an irrational desire to punish somebody regardless of the consequences is the fact that when the wars are exposed as counterproductive, many of their supporters go right on supporting them and talking about the need to punish those who do evil -- even if the punishment itself constitutes a greater evil. Numerous top officials in the U.S. military and so-called intelligence so-called community admit the day after they retire that the drone wars and occupations are counterproductive, that they are generating more enemies than they are killing. This fact is casually referred to as self-evident in editorials by the biggest U.S. newspapers and in reports by U.N. rapporteurs, but never ever as an argument for ending these policies.

The global war on terrorism is predictably and admittedly generating more terrorism, and its supporters just don't care. The world's most expensive military, with troops in the most places and engagement in the most wars, creates for itself the most resentment and blowback, and the solution of the true believers is even more militarism.

What is the purpose of a war that brings more war? One answer can be found in listening to ordinary war supporters who ask whether war opponents want to just "let them get away with it," and in the remarks of President Obama who claims to be murdering with drones only individuals who could not possibly be apprehended and prosecuted. But, in fact, none of his victims has even been indicted, many if not most of them could easily have been apprehended, and most have not even been identified by name. The point of throwing around the word "prosecution" in discussing the new kill policy, as in discussing the old imprison-without-trial-and-torture policy is to convey the idea that what is being done is punishment.

We find, in fact, the drive to punish in arguments for wars going back for centuries. The Mexicans had to be punished for invading the United States, whether they did so or not. The Spanish had to be punished for blowing up the Maine, whether they did so or not. King George had to be punished for his crimes, the South had to be punished for seceding, the Vietnamese had to be punished for Tonkin whether it happened or not, etc. An especially curious thing about the drive to punish, as we see in foreign and domestic policy alike, is that it seems to be largely satisfied entirely regardless of whether the correct person is punished. And if the right person is punished, that person's background is of little concern.

Was ISIS created by the invasion of Iraq and the arming of fighters in Syria? Who cares? Does the bombing of ISIS kill innocents and boost ISIS recruiting? Who cares? Was a murderer and rapist brutally abused as a child? Who cares? Does DNA prove that he didn't do it at all? As long as that evidence can be kept from the judge or jury, who really cares? The important thing is to punish somebody.

There are probably more innocent men and women in prison in the United States now than there were people in prison here total -- innocent and guilty -- 30 years ago, or than there are total people in prison (proportionately or as an absolute number) in most nations on earth.

I don't mean that people are locked up for actions that shouldn't be considered crimes, although they are. I don't mean that people are policed and indicted and prosecuted by a racist system that makes some people far more likely to end up in prison than other people guilty of the same actions, although that is true, just as it's also true that the justice system works better for the wealthy than for the poor. I am referring rather to men and women who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they simply did not commit. I'm not even counting Guantanamo or Bagram or immigrants' prisons. I'm talking about the prisons just up the road, full of people from just down the road.

I don't know whether wrongful convictions have increased as a percentage of convictions. What has indisputably increased is the number of convictions and the lengths of sentences. The prison population has skyrocketed. It's multiplied several fold. And it's done so during a political climate that has rewarded legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police for locking people up -- and not for preventing the conviction of innocents. This growth does not correlate in any way with an underlying growth in crime. Nor have U.S. wars multiplied as the result of greater lawlessness among dictators who've fallen out of favor in Washington.

At the same time, evidence has emerged of a pattern of wrongful convictions. This emerging evidence is largely the result of prosecutions during the 1980s, primarily for rape but also for murder, before DNA testing had come into its own, but when evidence (including semen and blood) was sometimes preserved. Other factors have contributed: messy murderers, rapists who didn't use condoms, advances in DNA science that helps to convict the guilty as well as to free the innocent, avenues for appeal that were in some ways wider before the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the heroic work of a relative handful of people.

An examination of the plea bargains and trials that put people behind bars ought to make clear to anyone that many of those convicted are innocent. But DNA exonerations have opened a lot of eyes to that fact. The trouble is that most convicts do not have anything that can be tested for DNA to prove their guilt or innocence. There are very likely hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the U.S. prison system. Are they innocent of everything? Are they saints? Of course not. They are innocent of the crimes for which they were punished. In the minds of many that doesn't matter. After all, they are poor, they are black, they have bad friends, they were in bad places. This is the thinking that supports bombing foreign nations. Did everyone in that foreign nation supposedly blow up an airplane decades ago? Of course not, but they are Muslim, they have dark skin, they hate us for our freedoms. If we're punishing them for the wrong crime, it all evens out because we're punishing them for some other crime or for their general criminal evilness.

Peter Enns has just published a book called Incarceration Nation that makes the case that punitiveness in U.S. public attitudes has played a huge role in the growth of mass incarceration. It may also have played a huge role in the growth of the permanent state of war. In absolute numbers and per-capita the United States dwarfs the rest of the world in war making and incarceration, and has seen huge growth in both in recent years. Enns cites studies finding that U.S. mass incarceration may actually increase rather than reduce crime. That finding has impacted U.S. debates on criminal punishment like a massive oak falling in a deserted forest. Nobody cares. What does it matter if mass incarceration increases crime? That's not the point. The point is to punish. And many are willing to be treated as criminals in airports, in banks, in schools, in their own neighborhoods, if it means that criminals are being severely punished. Many are willing to give the police the benefit of every doubt if racial and religious groups demonized by war propaganda are alleged to be a threat nearby.

Ending the U.S. system of counterproductive criminal punishment is as unthinkable in U.S. politics as ending the counterproductive "destroying of ISIS."

These ideas have to be unthinkable, because thinking about them could lead to radical change. Militarism and incarceration drain incredible resources from actually beneficial projects, they do horrendous damage to their victims and those victims' families, but also to prison guards, police, and members of the U.S. military. They increase racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence. They erode civil liberties. They destroy communities. They spread hatred and violence. They ruin lives. Their damage spreads for generations. Why is the United States tops in both of these evils? Are they connected?

Public opinion matters in any society. The United States is very far from democratic, but a cheap and easy way to gain electoral support while simultaneously pleasing ones funders has been to press policies labeled tough on crime and tough on terrorism. That these policies may increase crime and terrorism in comparison with other available and unconsidered options doesn't change this fact as long as people cry out for punishment at all costs. Careers in Washington, D.C., are not typically advanced by opposing wars. Prosecutors are not typically celebrated or rewarded for refraining from prosecuting the innocent. This problem is so universal as to go almost unnoticed.

I recently noticed a study by U.S. academics in the Journal of Peace Research, a study of whether the loss of lives or dollars increased or decreased U.S. public support for wars. The study only considered the loss of U.S. lives, even though the single biggest result of U.S. wars is the killing of foreigners. The possibility that the loss of non-U.S. lives could have any impact on U.S. support for wars was not deemed worthy even of consideration. The same could be said in many contexts for the prosecution of innocents in U.S. courts.

Scientists at Yale University who run experiments observing babies and toddlers claim that very, very young U.S. citizens exhibit a desire to see wrongdoers punished, even at a cost to themselves or others. These are, however, very young people who have been rapidly inhaling U.S. culture for months or years. And if we accept the unproven and perhaps unprovable claim that babies are somehow born with such desires, we still have to accept that 96% of humanity seems to set them aside in ways that people in the United States, when they grow older, do not.

Still, the author of the book Just Babies is onto something. He cites the phenomenon of internet lynch mobs. A video of a woman putting a cat in a dumpster can result in death threats. The exoneration of a man who witnessed a vicious crime and did not prevent it has led to widespread efforts to ruin his life. People not involved in these incidents in any way, hear about them and organize ways to cause punishment. That inclination to punish, to lynch, to "bring to justice," is also an inclination that has helped kill millions of people in the Middle East in recent decades and helped ruin millions of lives at the hands of the U.S. police and prison system.

If I'm right about this, then we could help reduce and end wars and reduce and eliminate incarceration by eliminating or radically reducing and reforming the desire to punish wrongdoers for the sake of that punishment, for the Schadenfreude, the punishment for punishment's sake. And we might be able to advance that cause by developing restorative justice at home and abroad.

I recommend Rebecca Gordon's new book, American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. But I don't want to see Bush or Obama or Rumsfeld or Hillary Clinton suffer. I want to see understanding of their crimes developed, repetition of their crimes deterred, restitution for their crimes attempted, remorse and reconciliation advanced. In urging yet another people's tribunal without the power to punish, Gordon urges the importance of making reparations and accomplishing public acknowledgment. The first such tribunal I testified at regarding Bush-Cheney war crimes was in January 2006, over a decade ago. The trick will clearly be to do one and simultaneously purchase a television network. The important point here, however, is that the desire for truth and reconciliation without punishment is not uncommon. Even in the United States there are many cases of murder victims' families opposing excessive punishment of those convicted of the murder. And there are families of 9/11 victims who have opposed from the start using 9/11 as an excuse for wars.

One year ago today Baltimore police murdered Freddie Gray, and many believed that because the police had done it, it was punishment -- for something. When people protested, police were brought in from all over the area, including police who had been trained in occupying enemy territory in Israel, police with weapons given them by the U.S. military, police trained by the federal government to think of themselves as at war with the public rather than serving the public.

The people of the city of Baltimore gave the federal government in taxes last year $606 million just for the Department of so-called Defense, not counting wars, not counting so-called Homeland Security, not counting nukes in the Department of Energy or Mercenaries in the Department of State or veterans care or debt on past spending. The people of Baltimore handed over further millions to pay for those things, possibly $1 billion in all. And another billion this year, and another the next. It's not clear what the people of Baltimore get for that beyond chaos, disaster and hatred of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, a militarized police force, the damage to U.S. troops from Baltimore, the erosion of our civil rights, the destruction of our natural environment, and the lack of funding for human needs.

Activist groups seem to be making these connections with events titled things like "From Ferguson to Palestine." A group in Los Angeles called Fight for the Soul of Our Cities is planning a march and rally on April 22nd against the militarization of police. There's a huge opportunity available if opponents of war and incarceration recognize that they are up against the same forces, the same mental habits, the same propaganda, the same corruption. If we can build a bigger movement, we can achieve bigger goals. But if we build that movement around the desire to punish the latest warmonger or police chief we may be shooting ourselves in the foot. We may get farther in the long run if we build a movement around a vision of a world without wars, prisons, or poverty -- and without the desire to punish people.

Why Do Ethics Classes Fantasize About Murder So Much?

At a post-screening discussion where I questioned the director of Eye in the Sky about the disconnect between his drone-kill movie and reality, he launched into a bunch of thought-experiment stuff of the sort I've tried to avoid since finishing my master's in philosophy. Mostly I've avoided hanging out with torture supporters.

If this were a philosophy paper I would now tell you that I am going to show that consequentialism is the most useful ethical framework. Then I would show you that. Then I would tell you I'd just shown you that. And the annoyingness would be only beginning. Luckily, I'm out of school and have told you my central concern in the headline.

Consequentialism, the idea that we should base our actions on the good or bad of the expected consequences, has always been very troubling to philosophy professors, possibly because of some of these reasons:

> It leaves ethics up to humans without any sort of pseudo-divine guidance.

> It means otherwise brilliant people like Immanuel Kant were quite wrong.

> Concluding that consequentialism is the way to go would eliminate the entire academic discipline of debating what is the way to go.

Talk Nation Radio: Gregory Shupak on the Case Against Bombing ISIS

Dr. Gregory Shupak has a PhD in Literary Studies and teaches Media Studies at the University of Guelph in Toronto. He is an activist and a fiction writer and his political analysis appears regularly on Jacobin, Middle East Eye, and elsewhere.He discusses these topics:

"The Case Against Bombing ISIS"


"Abolish the Military"

Total run time: 29:00

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

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Ten Revealing War Lies

Read the initial remarks as an article at teleSUR.

No More Nukes

Israeli War Lies Fall As Corporate Media Falls

A new film narrated by Roger Waters, The Occupation of the American Mind, traces the rise of Israeli war propaganda in the United States. This propaganda, which has skillfully swayed U.S. public opinion in support of Israeli wars and occupations, has in fact been not so much a matter of skill as a matter of control.

The U.S. corporate media has obeyed the Israeli propaganda office, because the U.S. government has done so, and the U.S. corporate media generally obeys the U.S. government. How much the U.S. government's stance is shaped by its own independent, albeit perverse, interests, and how much by Israeli propagandizing and corruption is one question. But the U.S. corporate media's lockdown on criticism of Israeli wars is only a slight variation on its coverage of U.S. wars.

What happens when you take the control away? When young people in the United States get their news from the internet and foreign media, their support for Israeli wars and occupations plummets. Backers of Israeli wars find it necessary to start trying to ban criticism on U.S. college campuses. Just as young people have overwhelmingly backed Bernie Sanders despite corporate media opposition, those who avoid the corporate media are able to back justice for Palestinians (and often to a much greater extent than Sanders does).

When informed people in the United States hear about international opposition to Israeli crimes, they are hardly shocked, and might just yawn. But Fox News reports shock, outrage, and disbelief in its staff:

"You can't make it up. UN names democratic Israel as world's top human rights violator"!

Fox wants enemies, and thus reports in this way on a story that much of the U.S. media will likely ignore or downplay. If most corporate media consumers in the United States learned that Israel was viewed by the world as a top abuser of human rights, they would react approximately like Fox News.

One of the great services that The Occupation of the American Mind provides is that it shows us footage of news coverage of Israeli wars in the United States and, in great contrast, in Europe. In Europe we see Palestinian voices included, and we see false claims questioned by tough grilling of Israeli officials. In the United States we see top U.S. officials of both political parties, and top media figures parroting over and over again the same exact words dictated by Israeli propagandists or their U.S. advisers.

This film is good for beginners who've never escaped their televisions before, in that it provides a basic history of Zionism and the Nakba. But it quickly turns to a particular subject that should intrigue the better informed as well, namely the rise of Israeli propaganda since 1982. We see footage of U.S. network TV news readers reporting honestly and straightforwardly on Israeli bombing of Lebanon, and on Israeli facilitated massacres in refugee camps -- and showing footage of the carnage.

In 1984 the American Jewish Congress held a meeting in Jerusalem on "hasbara" (propaganda, war lies) chaired by a U.S. advertiser who had made "tastes great / less filling" ads for Miller Light beer. In 2009 Frank Luntz produced the Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary. These efforts are not kept secret. In fact, a television show in Israel similar to Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" is called "The Ambassador," and it challenges contestants to do the best job of selling Israeli war crimes as being justified or admirable. The acceptance of such a show is itself terrific hasbara, of course, as it suggests that concocting excuses for killing people is justifiable and admirable.

The central lie of Israeli war propaganda is also the most effective lie in the United States and the focus of the first chapter of my book War Is A Lie, namely the lie that wars are defensive. Just as the U.S. corporate media engages in blowback denial with September 11 or Brussels, it tells us that Palestinian resistance is spontaneous irrational aggression, unprovoked and inexplicable except by understanding Palestinians as less than human. In the U.S. corporate media, the Palestinians always started it, and Israel is always acting in defense, even when it's aggressively bombing civilians as it was doing in 1982 when U.S. media voices had not yet been properly trained.

The undercurrent to the "defense" lies is the justification of revenge, which threads through all war propaganda, even that for U.S. wars, which has often tended in recent years to emphasize a lie of "humanitarianism" in which a war that is also supposedly defensive and a last resort is somehow also a benefit to people it is rescuing. Israel has not used that line, and it's worth noting that the U.S. government has found it ineffective in reaching more than a sliver of the U.S. population.

It would be humorous if it weren't so blood-soaked to watch U.S. politicians and pundits parrot specific Israeli military talking points over and over. The 1988 Hamas Charter, long since disavowed by the Hamas leadership, is quoted over and over again, like the mistranslation of then-Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and with identical words in both cases, while the actual platform of the Likud Party is never mentioned. The lie that Israel freed Gaza in 2005 is repeated so many times a Gazan might start to believe it.

When Israel broke a ceasefire on the day of the 2008 U.S. elections and then claimed the Palestinians had done so, the facts were available, but the lie was endlessly repeated on U.S. television. We see footage in The Occupation of the American Mind of a European journalist confronting an Israeli official with an Israeli report acknowledging the truth, but nothing like that on U.S. corporate newsertainment networks.

Phrases like "rockets raining down" and "what would you do?" and "what would the U.S. do?" are chanted like mantras. Sadly, we know what the U.S. would do in response to blowback. We know what it has been doing for the past 15 years.

The chief difference in U.S. discourse between propaganda for Israeli wars and for U.S. wars (other than awareness of where the weapons came from -- the United States in both cases) is the difference between "anti-American" and "anti-Semitic." In the film we see Ted Cruz object to criticizing Israel because of the holocaust. Any criticism of Israel is defined as anti-Semitic.

There have been times in U.S. history when any war criticism earned one the title "anti-American." Currently it is far more likely to earn you the title of "peacenik who would have opposed World War II" -- with World War II falsely understood as having been fought for the Jews who in fact the U.S. government refused to allow in and certainly didn't give a damn about. Thus, advocating civilized conflict resolution in the United States circles back to a charge of "anti-Semitism" as well.

As the corporate media's dominance crumbles, so potentially does all of this nonsense. And the first to fall may be U.S. support for Israeli wars. That opposition to U.S. wars lags behind among U.S. youth may suggest a certain power to the label of "anti-American" after all, or rather an internalized nationalism that hardly needs name-calling to prop it up. But any failure of war propaganda advances the total failure of war propaganda, if we can keep organizing, keep educating, keep BDSing, keep the internet open, and go watch The Occupation of the American Mind.

David Swanson's book War Is A Lie: Second Edition will be published April 5, 2016.

U.S. State Department: Don't Hurt ISIS

So Many Enemies, So Little Logic
By David Swanson, teleSUR

Islamic State Group fighters

The U.S. State Department does not want the government of Syria to defeat or weaken ISIS, at least not if doing so means any sort of gain for the Syrian government. Watching a recent video of a State Department spokesperson speaking on that subject might confuse some U.S. war supporters. I doubt many residents of Palmyra, Virginia, or Palmyra, Pennsylvania, or Palmyra, New York could give a coherent account of the U.S. government's position on which enemy should control the ancient Palmyra in Syria.

The U.S. government has been arming Al Qaeda in Syria. I doubt many people in the United States, of whatever political extraction, could explain why. In my experience, having just begun a tour of speaking events, very few in the United States can even name the seven nations that President Barack Obama has bragged about bombing, much less explain which parties he is or is not bombing in those countries. No nation in the history of the world has had so many enemies to keep track of as the United States has now, and bothered so little about doing so.

The particular problem with Syria is that the U.S. government has prioritized one enemy, whom it has utterly failed to scare the U.S. public with, while the U.S. government has made a distant second priority of attacking another enemy that most people in the United States are so terrified of they can hardly think straight. Consider what changed between 2013 and 2014. In 2013, President Obama was prepared to heavily bomb the Syrian government. But he did not claim that the Syrian government wanted to attack the United States, or even to attack a handful of white people from the United States. Instead he argued, unpersuasively, that he knew who was responsible for killing Syrians with chemical weapons. This was in the midst of a war in which thousands were dying on all sides from all kinds of weapons. The outrage over a particular type of weapon, the dubious claims, and the eagerness to overthrow a government, were all too close to U.S. memories of the 2003 attack on Iraq.

Congress Members in 2013 found themselves at public events confronted with the question of why the U.S. would overthrow a government in a war on the same side as al Qaeda. Were they going to start another Iraq War? U.S. and British public pressure reversed Obama's decision. But U.S. opinion was even more against arming proxies, and a new CIA report said that doing so had never worked, yet that was the approach Obama went with. The overthrow, which Hillary Clinton still says should have happened, would have quickly created the chaos and terror that Obama set about developing slowly.

In 2014, Obama was able to step up direct U.S. military action in Syria and Iraq with virtually no resistance from the public. What had changed? People had heard about videos of ISIS killing white people with knives. It didn't seem to matter that jumping into the war against ISIS was the opposite side from what Obama had said in 2013 the U.S. needed to join. It didn't even seem to matter that the U.S. clearly intended to join in both sides. Nothing related to logic or sense mattered in the least. ISIS had done a little bit of what U.S. allies in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and elsewhere did routinely, and had done it to Americans. And a fictional group, even scarier, the Khorasan Group, was coming to get us, ISIS was slipping across the border from Mexico and Canada, if we didn't do something really big and brutal we were all going to die.

That being why the U.S. public finally said yes to open-ended war again -- after really not falling for the lies about a humanitarian rescue in Libya, or not caring -- the U.S. public naturally assumes that the U.S. government has prioritized destroying the evil dark force of Islamic Terror. It hasn't. The U.S. government says to itself, in its little-noticed reports, that ISIS is no threat to the United States. It knows perfectly well, and its top commanders blurt it out upon retirement, that attacking terrorists only strengthens their forces. The U.S. priority remains overthrowing the Syrian government, ruining that country, and creating chaos. Here's part of that project: U.S.-backed troops in Syria fighting other U.S. backed troops in Syria. That's not incompetence if the goal is to destroy a nation, as it seems to be in Hillary Clinton's emails - (the following is a draft of this article):

"The best way to help Israel deal with Iran's growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad. ... Iran's nuclear program and Syria's civil war may seem unconnected, but they are. For Israeli leaders, the real threat from a nuclear-armed Iran is not the prospect of an insane Iranian leader launching an unprovoked Iranian nuclear attack on Israel that would lead to the annihilation of both countries. What Israeli military leaders really worry about -- but cannot talk about -- is losing their nuclear monopoly. ... It is the strategic relationship between Iran and the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria that makes it possible for Iran to undermine Israel's security."

ISIS, Al Qaeda, and terrorism are far better tools for marketing wars than communism ever was, because they can be imagined using knives rather than nukes, and because terrorism can never collapse and vanish. If (counterproductively) attacking groups like al Qaeda were what motivated the wars, the United States would not be aiding Saudi Arabia in slaughtering the people of Yemen and increasing the power of Al Qaeda there. If peace were the goal, the U.S. would not be sending troops back into Iraq to use the same actions that destroyed that country to supposedly fix it. If winning particular sides of wars were the main objective, the United States would not have served as the primary funding for both sides in Afghanistan for all these years, with decades more planned.

Why did Senator Harry Truman say the United States should help either the Germans or the Russians, whichever side was losing? Why did President Ronald Reagan back Iraq against Iran and also Iran against Iraq? Why could fighters on both sides in Libya exchange parts for their weapons? Because two goals that outweigh all others for the U.S. government often align in the cause of sheer destruction and death. One is U.S. domination of the globe, and all other peoples be damned. The second is arms sales. No matter who's winning and who's dying, the weapons makers profit, and the majority of weapons in the Middle East have been shipped there from the United States. Peace would cut into those profits horribly.

Blowback Denial, Climate Denial, and Apocalypse

By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune

Sanders Trump 6f237

Last week Donald Trump suggested something Bernie Sanders would never dare: getting rid of NATO. I took some time to read people's comments and tweets online about it, and a huge number seemed to believe that NATO and the U.S. military have been performing a service for Europe, and that it's time for Europe to pay its own bills. But will someone explain to me what the service is?

The United States dragged NATO into a -- thus far -- over-14-year-long war on the people of Afghanistan that has turned a country in poor shape into hell on earth, compounding the damage inflicted by U.S. (and Soviet) policies since the 1970s.

The United States dragged European nations into a disastrous war in Iraq in 2003, without NATO. But when Belgium allowed a prosecution of U.S. commander in Iraq Tommy Franks to move forward, Donald Rumsfeld threatened to move NATO headquarters out of Brussels. Franks' apparent crimes suddenly became part of a noble and legal humanitarian effort.

The United States and France used NATO to destroy Libya in 2011 and proliferate weapons across the region. The United States and Turkey have been compounding the chaos by generating reasons for NATO to exist in Syria. And perhaps NATO headquarters views the wars that created ISIS, and the U.S. support for Al Qaeda in Syria in just those terms. But to an ordinary observer, a war on terrorism that continues to increase terrorism has a fundamental flaw.

Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer says the more the U.S. fights terrorism the more it creates terrorism. U.S. Lt. General Michael Flynn, who quit as head of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, says blowing people up with missiles is generating more blowback, not less. The CIA's own report says drone killing is counterproductive. Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence, says the same. Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says drone strikes could be undermining long-term efforts: "We're seeing that blowback. If you're trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you're going to upset people even if they're not targeted." Dozens of just retired top officials agree.

So, it seems, does much of the public in Europe, which turns out protests of NATO meetings, as well as wars, of a size rarely seen in the United States. When the U.S. military builds new bases in Italy, the protests are so huge they've toppled local and national governments. It was a vote of the House of Commons in London not to bomb Syria in 2013 that helped reverse President Obama's decision to do so. To tell the people of Europe that they must start taking responsibility to pay a greater share of the bill for killing Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, and Syrians, and for generating the blowback that sets off bombs in their train stations and airports, and for creating the refugee crises they face might prove just a step too far into the realm of delusion.

Thinking this way requires blowback denial, the Trumpian belief that Muslims do evil things because they are Muslims. The U.S. government knows better. George W. Bush's own Pentagon concluded that nobody hated us "for our freedoms" but rather they hated bombs and occupying armies, and free weapons and support for Israel's wars. One wishes it were needless to say that such motivations don't excuse acts of murder, but knowledge of such motivations puts additional blood on the hands of those continuing to generate them while engaging in blowback denial.

Climate denial is not so very different. Just as every anti-western terrorist says they're outraged by the bombs and bases and armies and buzzing drones, every scientific study says unnecessary and wasteful human activities (first among them: war making) are pushing the earth's ecosystem toward collapse. Yet billions of people fail to shut every thing down until basic policies are altered. And many fail to do anything at all to resist environmental devastation, by means of denying to themselves that it is real.

Clearly, the human species evolved to favor relatively short-term localized thinking. While more Americans are killed by dumb accidents, pollution, or toddlers with guns than by foreign terrorists with knives, the latter danger dominates all public policy thinking. While the earth is at severe risk of environmental or nuclear holocaust, the weather looks nice outside today and all the bears and leopards seem to have long since been killed off, so what's your worry?

When humans killed off those animals millennia ago, they replaced them with gods. Now humans pray to those gods rather than thinking. Now they wish for what they'd like and call it a prediction. Now they vote for hope and change and call it progress. And this habit of wishful thinking may be at the root of the greatest threats to end us all.

Talk Nation Radio: Erin Aubry Kaplan on Loving Obama No Matter What

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a Los Angeles journalist and columnist. She discusses her book I Heart Obama.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.

Pacifica stations can also download from Audioport.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

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Talk Nation Radio: Paul Engler on THIS IS AN UPRISING

Paul Engler is founding director of the Center for the Working Poor and one of the founders of Momentum Training. He is co-author of the new book: This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.

Pacifica stations can also download from Audioport.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

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U.S. Air Force's Ability to Deliver Death But Not Food Is A Choice

By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune

aircraft drops pallets of water and food 959ae

According to news reports, there are areas of Syria where people are literally starving to death, and where the United Nations is attempting to drop food from the air but missing its target so wildly that the food is damaged or simply cannot be found.

A U.S. Air Force expert on dropping food from great heights in high winds has given what most people will take for a technical comment but which is actually a devastating moral condemnation of U.S. and Western governments' priorities:

"For high-altitude, high-accuracy drops, the U.S. military uses a technology known as the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS), which has been deployed for only about a decade. The system includes a dropsonde, a sort of probe that's dropped prior to the cargo to take readings of wind speed and direction, which it sends to the mission planning software. That data helps planners determine their Computed Air Release Point, or CARP. Once the payload is dropped, onboard actuators and a steerable parafoil canopy help guide the pallet to its target. That's critical, Al says, because a pallet dropped from 20,000 feet will take five or six minutes to reach the ground, and will be subject to wind that entire time. 'It's always windy up high,' Al says. JPADS systems cost about $60,000 apiece and usually must be recovered on the ground after a drop. 'You wouldn't use it for a purely humanitarian drop.'"

Read that last bit again. Because this technology costs $60,000, you would not use it merely to save the lives of human beings. If you were using it to take the lives of human beings, then it would of course be a drop in the bucket of cash you'd be willing to blow, as long as "you" were the U.S. Air Force.

I asked dedicated peace activist Kathy Kelly what she makes of the contrast between the Air Force's claimed ability to blow up a particular individual with a missile from a drone, and its claimed inability to drop food within a mile of a target -- at least without spending money that can't be justified by something as trivial as saving human lives.

"Northrop Grumman spends billions to design spy blimps, drones, persistent threat detection systems and a dizzying array of high-tech surveillance equipment," she said. "Many of these airships hover over , one of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan, where the UN reports that 'food insecurity' afflicts over one third of the people. Northrop Grumman executives profit wildly, yet a U.S. government watchdog reported in January of 2016 that 'the Taliban controls more of the country than at any time since U.S. troops invaded in 2001.' Why should U.S. people bamboozle themselves into thinking that funding the so-called defense industry ethically trumps efforts to feed starving people?  

"The 2017 DOD budget request also will contain $71.4 billion for military research. On February 2, 2016, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Economic Club of Washington that the Department of Defense budget requests '$7.5 billion for weapons like GPS-guided smart bombs and laser-guided rockets.' One research initiative involves creating 'an arsenal plane that turns one of the military's older planes into a flying launch pad for a range of conventional payloads.' Yes, what if deliveries of food pallets topped the list of 'conventional payloads?' The U.S. could become a beloved country, known for extending a generous hand of friendship and care."

What about unmanned planes, also known as drones? Aren't they supposed to serve some useful purpose while avoiding getting pilots shot down? But don't they mostly buzz so high up they can't be shot, and mostly send missiles screaming into people's houses generating ever more hatred and blowback?

"Drone helicopters could be used to bring food," peace activist Nick Mottern tells me, pointing in particular to the pilotless cargo helicopters from Lockheed Martin being tested in Afghanistan. This approach to saving, rather than "bugsplatting" or "pink misting," human lives, could avoid the problems of high wind altogether by landing the drone helicopters on the ground, full of food.

"Using the drone helicopter for food delivery seems to be a very good idea," says Mottern, "and tactics would have to be developed for situations in which the drone would be under fire. Possibly it could be flown at maximum altitude to over the drop zone and then descend rapidly through the column of air over the zone. Or the helicopter might descend to several hundred feet over the drop zone to reduce exposure to ground fire, drop a specially packaged load and then rise again. The point of maximum vulnerability to ground fire would likely be when the helicopter comes for an instant to a dead stop to drop its load, but there might be a tactic that would enable the machine to keep forward motion while flinging its payload on release. There would probably have to be some special balancing controls installed to let this happen, but it should be possible. The Marines were using the K-Max at night, which might be a good tactic for relief operations."

This would mean risking the expense of significantly more than $60,000, as Mottern recognizes: "Of course the use of the drone helicopter would mean that the owner(s) of the helicopter would be willing to risk having it shot down. Ideally world relief organizations would have fleets of them to be able to make adequate relief drops recognizing that some drone helicopters would be lost."

U.S. television advertisement viewers could be forgiven if they imagine the U.S. military to be a world relief organization. Sadly, the trillion dollars a year that the U.S. government puts into militarism may be famously wasteful and unaudited, but it is very tightly controlled in one particular sense: never shall too big a crumb be expended merely on saving human lives.

Obama's Seven Slaughters: It's a Disease, Not a Doctrine

By David Swanson, Telesur


Former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg's "The Obama Doctrine" in The Atlantic presents President Barack Obama's view of his own foreign policy (with input from a few of his close subordinates). Obama views himself as a radical leader in military restraint, in brave resistance to war mongers, and in scaling back excessive fear mongering in U.S. culture.

The U.S. President who has overseen the highest Pentagon budget in history, created drone wars, launched wars against the will of Congress, dramatically expanded foreign arms sales and special operations and the arming of proxies, claimed to be "really good at killing people," and openly bragged about having bombed seven nations that are inhabited largely by dark-skinned Muslims, bolsters his "doctrine" by offering accurate antiwar assessments of Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush's wars. (He essentially admits to Reagan's October Surprise negotiations with Iran that sabotaged the 1980 U.S. elections.) Obama's and Goldberg's discussion of Obama's own wars does not display the same accuracy or wisdom.

The Goldberg / Obama portrait is shaped largely by the choice of what to include. The primary focus is on Obama's 2013 reversal of his plan to bomb Syria, with a minor emphasis on his negotiation of the Iran nuclear agreement. Much of his more militaristic behavior is completely ignored or brushed aside in passing reference. And even in those cases that come into focus, myths go unquestioned -- even when they are debunked later in this same book-length article.

Goldberg writes as unquestioned fact that "Assad's army had murdered more than 1,400 civilians with Sarin gas" many paragraphs prior to stating that one of Obama's reasons for reversing course on bombing Syria was the CIA's warning that this claim was "not a slam dunk." Goldberg writes that "the strong sentiment inside the Obama administration was that Assad had earned dire punishment." Thus a proposal to drop 500-pound bombs all over Syria, killing countless people, is made respectable in Washington by depicting it as revenge, and nowhere does Goldberg mention oil pipelines, a Russian rivalry, the overthrow of Assad as a step toward Iranian overthrow, or other factors actually at work for which the dubious chemical weapons claims served as an excuse to bomb.

Of course, not bombing was the right thing to do, and Obama deserves praise for it, while Hillary Clinton's publicly stated belief that this was the wrong decision, and John Kerry's continued private advocacy for bombing, are reprehensible. It's also quite valuable that Obama does something rare in this article when he admits that public and Congressional and British opposition to bombing Syria helped prevent him from committing that crime. This is clearly not a false claim but the admission of what is generally denied by U.S. politicians whom even the public cheers for their usual pretense of ignoring polls and protests.

But the public was even more opposed in polls (if less engaged as activists) to arming proxies in Syria. Obama commissioned a CIA report on the past success or failure of such operations, and the CIA admitted there had been no successes (except in 1980s Afghanistan, which involved a bit of well-known blowback). So, Obama chose not, as he puts it, to "do stupid shit," opting instead to do halfway stupid shit, which proved quite predictably to make matters worse, and to make cries for even stupider shit shriller.

In a similar manner, though it goes virtually unmentioned in Goldberg's tome, Obama has launched wars with drones that he has viewed as the exercise of great restraint in comparison to the launching of ground wars. But the drone wars kill large numbers and do so just as indiscriminately, and they contribute to the destabilization of nations just as disastrously. When Obama was holding up Yemen as a model success, some of us were pointing out that the drone war had not replaced some other kind of war but would probably lead to one. Now, Obama, whose "doctrine" claims to have discovered the unimportance of the Middle East (in comparison with the supposed need to build up for wars in the Far East), is dealing unprecedented levels of weapons to Middle Eastern nations, first and foremost to Saudi Arabia. And Obama's military is collaborating in the Saudi bombing of Yemen, which is killing thousands and fueling al Qaeda. Obama, through Goldberg, blames his Saudi policy on "foreign-policy orthodoxy," which somehow "compels" him to do this particular stupid shit -- if that's a sufficiently harsh term for mass murder.

Obama's Only-Do-Halfway-Stupid-Shit doctrine has proven most disastrous where it has succeeded in overthrowing governments, as in Libya. Obama now says that illegally overthrowing the Libyan government "didn't work." But the President pretends, and Goldberg lets him, that the United Nations authorized that action, that the best laid plans were made for after the regime change (in fact, none were), and that Gadaffi was threatening to slaughter civilians in Benghazi. Obama even seems to claim that things would have been even worse somehow without his criminal action. That he's resumed bombing Libya in an effort to fix what he broke by bombing Libya gets the barest mention.

Obama's doctrine has also included tripling down on the stupidest of stupid shit. Through Goldberg he blames the Pentagon for imposing an escalation of troops in Afghanistan on him, though the escalation he has in mind is clearly the second one he oversaw, not the first, the one that tripled the war he'd inherited, not the one that doubled it and which he'd promised as a candidate for the presidency. When military commanders publicly insisted on that escalation, Obama said nothing. When one of them made some minor rude comments to Rolling Stone, in contrast, Obama fired him.

Obama laughably claims to be an internationalist (in part, he brags, because he's forced other countries to buy more weapons). This is the same Obama whose abuse of the U.N. in attacking Libya finally moved China and Russia to block a similar attempt on Syria. Obama even claims that he backed off bombing Syria in 2013 because the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power of war. This is the same Obama who has since been bombing Syria and who told Congress in his final State of the Union speech that he'd wage wars with or without them -- as he's done in Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. Goldberg even quotes an "expert" characterizing the Obama doctrine as "spending less" despite Obama's increases in military spending.

Goldberg's Obama uses the military primarily for human rights, supported the uprising of the Arab Spring, and has developed a very sage and serious approach to ISIS based on his analysis of a Batman movie. ISIS, in Goldberg's telling, was created by the Saudis and Gulf states plus Assad, with no mention of the U.S. role in destroying Iraq or arming Syrian rebels. In fact, Obama, through Goldberg, restates the imperial view that backward Middle Easterners suffer from millennia-old tribalism, while the United States brings humanitarian services to all it touches. In Obama-Goldberg history, Russia invaded Crimea, only the threat of war made Syria give up its chemical weapons, and Rwanda was a missed opportunity for war, not the result of U.S.-backed war and assassination.

"Sometimes you have to take a life to save even more lives," says Obama confidant John Brennan, pushing the drone propaganda also found in the film, Eye in the Sky. Facts are apparently irrelevant to a portrait of a president. Obama, who signed an executive order last year ridiculously declaring Venezuela to be a national security threat tells Goldberg that he wisely came into office in 2009 and squashed any silly idea that Venezuela was any kind of threat. Goldberg's Obama is a peacemaker with Russia whose weapons build-up on Russia's border goes unmentioned, as does the coup in Ukraine, even as Obama packs insults of Vladimir Putin into this article.

The fact is that Barack Obama has slaughtered human beings with missiles and bombs in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia -- and every one of those places is worse off for it. He's passing his successor greater war-making powers than ever possessed by any previous member of the human species. The unquestioned assumptions of his doctrine look more like a disease. There's little an American president could do to make things better in the Middle East, he says, never stopping to consider the possibility of halting arms shipments, stopping the bombings, grounding the drones, ceasing the overthrows, dropping support for dictators, withdrawing troops, paying reparations, giving aid, shifting to green energy, and treating others with respectful cooperation. Those sorts of things just don't qualify as a doctrine in Washington, D.C.

Hillary Is A Neocon

She has the record and the vision

"For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be." —Robert Kagan

"I have a sense that she's one of the more competent members of the current administration and it would be interesting to speculate about how she might perform were she to be president." —Dick Cheney

"I've known her for many years now, and I respect her intellect. And she ran the State Department in the most effective way that I've ever seen." —Henry Kissinger

Nobody Beats This Record

  • She says President Obama was wrong not to launch missile strikes on Syria in 2013.
  • She pushed hard for the overthrow of Qadaffi in 2011.
  • She supported the coup government in Honduras in 2009.
  • She has backed escalation and prolongation of war in Afghanistan.
  • She voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
  • She skillfully promoted the White House justification for the war on Iraq.
  • She does not hesitate to back the use of drones for targeted killing.
  • She has consistently backed the military initiatives of Israel.
  • She was not ashamed to laugh at the killing of Qadaffi.
  • She has not hesitated to warn that she could obliterate Iran.
  • She is not afraid to antagonize Russia.
  • She helped facilitate a military coup in Ukraine.
  • She has the financial support of the arms makers and many of their foreign customers.
  • She waived restrictions at the State Department on selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar, all states wise enough to donate to the Clinton Foundation.
  • She supported President Bill Clinton's wars and the power of the president to make war without Congress.
  • She has advocated for arming fighters in Syria.
  • She supported a surge in Iraq even before President Bush did.

Further Reading




Promote Democracy Without Bombs

Demand Democratic Superdelegates Represent Their Constituents at the National Convention.

Kick the War Habit

Pledge to Work to End War.

Know anybody who just doesn't get it? Forward this to them!


What No One in the Media Has Asked the Candidates About War

If you can get presidential candidates in the Democratic or Republican parties to answer any of these, please let me know.

1. President Obama's 2017 budget proposal, according to the National Priorities Project, devotes 54% of discretionary spending (or $622.6 billion) to militarism. This figure does not include care for veterans or debt payments on past military spending. Is the percentage of discretionary spending now devoted to militarism, as compared to what you would propose for 2018,
_______too high,
_______too low,
_______just right.
Approximately what level would you propose? ______________________.

2. The United States budgets approximately $25 billion per year for non-military foreign aid, which is less per capita or in relation to the nation's economy than many other countries. Is the percentage of discretionary spending now devoted to non-military foreign aid, as compared to what you would propose for 2018,
_______too high,
_______too low,
_______just right.
Approximately what level would you propose? ______________________.

3. Does the Kellogg-Briand Pact forbid war? _____________________.

4. Does the United Nations Charter forbid war that is neither actually defensive nor authorized by the United Nations Security Council? _________________.

5. Does the U.S. Constitution require a Congressional declaration of war? __________________.

6. Do the anti-torture and war crimes statutes in the U.S. code ban torture? _________________.

7. Does the U.S. Constitution forbid imprisoning people without charge or trial? ________________.

8. The United States is the leading weapons supplier, through sales and gifts, to the Middle East, as to the world. In what ways would you reduce this arms trade?_______________________ _________________ ______________________ _________________________ _________________________ ___________________ _________________ _________________ ____________________.

9. Does the U.S. president have the legal authority to kill people with missiles from drones or manned airplanes or by any other means? Where does that legal authority originate? _____________ ____________ __________ ___________________ _________________ ______________ ___________________ __________________.

10. The United States military has troops in at least 175 countries. Some 800 bases house hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops in some 70 foreign nations, not including numerous "trainers" and participants in "non-permanent" exercises that last indefinitely, at a cost over $100 billion a year. Is this,
_____ too many,
_____ too few,
_____ just right.
What level would be appropriate? ___________ ________________ ________________ _______________ ____________.

11. Would you end U.S. war making in
_____ Afghanistan
_____ Iraq
_____ Syria
_____ Libya
_____ Somalia
_____ Pakistan
_____ Yemen

12. Does the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty require the United States to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control? ________.

13. Would you sign and encourage ratification of,
________ the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
________ the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction
________ the Convention on Cluster Munitions
________ the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
________ the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture
________ the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
________ the proposed treaty on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space

14. Should the U.S. government continue to subsidize
______ fossil fuels
______ nuclear energy

15. How, and how much, would you propose to invest in bringing renewable, green, non-nuclear energy to the United States and the world? ______________ _______________ _____________ ________________ _____________ ________________ ____________ ______________ ___________________ _________________.

Secession, Trump, and the Avoidability of Civil War

The Governor of California has joked about building a wall all the way around his state if Donald Trump becomes president of the other 49. Secession would not be a joke had it not been given an undeserved bad name. It would not have that bad name but for our universal acceptance of imperialism and of an overly simplistic history of the U.S. Civil War.

Slavery in the U.S. South was widespread through World War II, Jim Crow through the 1960s, mass incarceration through the current day, and bitterness over the Civil War for the foreseeable future. Had the U.S. avoided civil war through a compromise that restricted slavery to existing slave states, or even through a compromise that allowed its possible expansion, or through simply allowing states to secede without war, the net result might have been good or bad. A few things are certain. The bitterness over the war would not exist, the 700,000 killed and many more injured and the incredible destruction of burned cities and fields would not have happened, and war would not have been glorified during the childhoods of the generation that would launch global U.S. imperialism at the dawn of the 20th century.

Very likely, in addition, slavery would have ended more quickly and more thoroughly than it did. Of course, that cannot be stated with certainty. But a nation half-slave, half-free that sought to work through problems without war would have very likely ended slavery through some form of compensated emancipation fairly quickly, bringing up the rear in a global process of liberation. Two or more smaller nations that sought to avoid war would have very likely also put an end to slavery in the one or more nations maintaining it, in part because of international and economic forces and the absence of a fugitive slave law, but also because smaller nations, all else equal, have an easier time achieving democracy. If we had smaller nations on this continent now, or if we were to choose to in the future, we would see the ability of people to bring popular pressure to bear on the governments soar.

Of course, it's anything but an easy moral question whether 4 million people should be left enslaved another moment, or whether a nation should launch a war that might benefit them, though in the end it actually brought very limited and short-lived gains along with 700,000 killed and numerous disastrous results for decades to come. Not only are the results known only after the war, but the moral question has been invented after the war. Many in the North did not want a war to free slaves. A draft had to finally be created, as in the South as well, to compel people to kill and die. And those in power in Washington, including President-elect Lincoln, did not want war to free the slaves, only to prevent the expansion of slavery westward. When the South would not agree to restricting slavery to its current boundaries, Northern decision makers chose to launch a war over "union" -- preferring slaughter to permitting the South, or some part of it, to leave.

Mark Tooley has published a book called The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War. It may remain a forgotten story for at least four reasons that leap out at me. First, Tooley adds in so much gossip-column fluff on clothes and parties and families and churches that it's almost physically impossible to make it through his book if you're looking only for what happened at the conference; this is truly a shame in a culture that already considers peace boring and war exciting. Second, Tooley concludes that the war was "inevitable" anyway, so why should you care? (And why did he give his book the title he did?) Third, Tooley almost completely overlooks the possibility that was most open to the North, namely allowing the South to leave in peace. Fourth, if you look into the details and consider how easily peace might have been chosen instead of war, you may feel a bit of discomfort in your mind. You may come up against the fact that many nations did end slavery without a civil war, and then have to start questioning whether in fact lots of other wars have also been "inevitable."

A strong case could be made that the peace conference was begun too late. Seven states had already seceded. A conference on peaceful secession before secession, or a conference on a slavery compromise before secession, would have been easier. Oh and, by the way, the entire topic of the conference was slavery, not some other vague cause of "states rights" or anything of the sort. Nonetheless, the conference had numerous chances to reach an agreement, and in the end did reach an agreement -- which Congress tossed aside in favor of war, and which Congress was assisted in tossing aside by some members of the peace conference who quickly badmouthed what they had done and opted for war. Among the latter was former U.S. President John Tyler who had chaired the peace conference before returning to Virginia and denouncing it.

Under consideration at the conference was not primarily slavery in the slave states, and certainly not ending it through compensated emancipation, as would be done in Washington, D.C., and numerous foreign countries. At issue was principally the expansion of slavery into the expanding western empire. Both sides insisted on imperial expansion to such an extent that it was truly beyond debate. If they'd been somehow made content with the current size of the country, that too could have resolved the dispute and averted war. So, in that peculiar sense, the Civil War was a war of empire. Delegates from both Northern and Southern states (quite a crowd of former senators and justices and the like) tended also to assume that their choices were either union or war, not peaceful division. A greater willingness to accept peaceful separation could also have averted war.

Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin sent no delegates. William Lloyd Garrison urged the desirability of war. Peace conference delegate Roger Baldwin of Connecticut advocated no compromise with slavery. Some Southern delegates urged no compromise with freedom, even while whining about threats to their own rights and comforts without a thought for those of the people enslaved in their states. The peace conference dragged on unpeacefully for 19 days, with Congress and the states holding their breath and holding off on actions.

Delegate Reverdy Johnson of Maryland made a case for compromise to both sides, urging the North to accept the deal of the old Missouri Compromise as preferable to the Dred Scott decision's ruling that slavery could spread north of latitude 36°30'. Southern delegates were intent on not just preserving slavery but expanding it westward. President-elect Lincoln met with the peace conference and made clear that he would never stand for that and would prefer war; he would leave slavery alone where it existed but never allow it to expand.

After all variety of proposals were heard and rejected, ultimately a compromise was reached by the peace conference that reinstated the Missouri Compromise, required a majority of slave-state senators to approve of new territory, prohibited Congressional interference with slavery, banned the importation of enslaved people from abroad, and affirmed fugitive slave laws but also allowed for compensation paid to an owner to make an escaped slave free. Arguably this final agreement and other proposals that were rejected all propped up slavery more than simply allowing secession would have. The Senate and House quickly took up the peace conference agreement and rejected it. This was a Congress now missing any representatives from eight states, another reason why acting sooner might have succeeded.

During the course of the conference, some hints at another possible course were heard. General Winfield Scott said that dividing the country into four countries would be a "lesser evil" than war. Senator Salmon Chase of Ohio said, "The thing to be done is to let the South go." Former Massachusetts Governor George Boutwell said that the union should be kept free of slavery or not kept. (But he warned ominously that the South could try to annex Mexico and other land, and block the North's expansion to the Pacific. Again, it was all about empire.) Former New York Congressman Francis Granger raised the example of letting the South go as an act too cruel to be considered (so beneficial, apparently, was union with the North). George Summers of Virginia proposed a new nation of the border states, letting the Deep South and New England do their own things.

Victory, and thereby top praise in the history books, went to those who wanted war, including those who opposed slavery, those who demanded "union," and those who insisted on expanding slavery far and wide.

But when secession is proposed in the future, we should not be rash in rejecting it. If the North had let the South go way back when, both countries might be much better off today. If, after the Civil War, someone had been able to turn the clock back four years, the North might have been very willing to let the South go. The South might also have been very willing to give up slavery, or at least its expansion westward, without the insanity and horror of a war. Secession may be an improvement on what we've got now. There are only so many immigrants Canada is going to take.

Talk Nation Radio: David Cochran on the Abolition of War

David Carroll Cochran is the author of Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War. He teaches politics and directs the Archbishop Kucera Center for Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Life at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. He discusses how war might be abolished and what sorts of institutions have been abolished already.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.

Pacifica stations can also download from Audioport.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

and at

Two Upcoming Events on Drones in Charlottesville

Marjorie Cohn will discuss her thought-provoking book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, about the use and impact of drone warfare in today’s world.

”This book provides much-needed analysis of why America’s targeted killing program is illegal, immoral and unwise.” —Archbishop Desmond Tutu


Sat. March 19, 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm, City Council Chambers, 605 E Main St, Charlottesville, VA 22902
Hosted by: Amnesty International-Charlottesville

Sunday, March 20, 6:30 pm, Friends Meeting House, 1104 Forest St, Charlottesville, VA 22903,

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law (San Diego, Calif.) and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. A legal scholar, political analyst and social critic, she writes books and articles, makes media appearances and lectures throughout the world on human rights and U.S. foreign policy and the contradiction between the two.


Judge's Iran Ignorance Is Widespread and Dangerous

By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune

U.S. District Judge George Daniels of New York has struck again, ruling that Iran must pay $10 billion to compensate for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. If you have read this story in the United States, it probably came from Bloomberg News, which uniquely failed to note that in fact nobody has ever produced the slightest evidence that Iran had anything to do with the September 11 attacks.

If you read the story in Russian or British or Venezuelan or Iranian media or on sites that used the Bloomberg story but added a tiny bit of context, then you learned that Iran had, as far as anyone knows, nothing at all to do with 9/11 (a point on which the 9/11 Commission, President Obama, and pretty much everyone else are in agreement), that none of the al Qaeda hijackers were Iranian, that most of them were Saudi, that the same judge has exonerated Saudi Arabia and declared that nation to have sovereign immunity, that the ideology of al Qaeda puts it at odds with the Iranian government, that the $10 billion is very unlikely to ever change hands, and that -- in short -- this is a story about a crackpot judge operating within a crackpot culture, not a story about criminal justice.

Criminal justice is actually a much better response to 9/11 than endless war, but first you have to properly identify the criminals!

The same judge has done this before, and has based his decisions each time on the claims of ludicrous "experts" that go unanswered by any defense, as Iran declines to dignify such proceedings by showing up to defend itself. Five years ago, Gareth Porter, preeminent debunker of war lies about Iran, noted that in that year's proceedings, "at least two of the Iranian defectors [appearing as witnesses, had] long been dismissed by U.S. intelligence as 'fabricators' and ... the two 'expert witnesses' who were supposed to determine the credibility of those defectors' claims [were] both avowed advocates of crackpot conspiracy theories about Muslims and Shariah law who believe the United States is at war with Islam."

The power of U.S. judges has packed U.S. prisons with innocents, come down far more heavily on dark-skinned defendants, made money into speech, made corporations people, disenfranchised voters, and made George W. Bush president. It's a bit too generous to suggest that Judge George Daniels' actions are simply a matter of proper procedure. That he has other options than making a laughingstock of his country is illustrated by his very different treatment of Saudi Arabia. Daniels operates within a system that gives judges the powers of gods, and within a culture that demonizes Iran at every level.

The United States government has been promoting anti-Iranian propaganda for decades. This poison takes multiple and contradictory forms. Opponents of the recent nuclear agreement falsely claimed that Iran was building nuclear weapons. And many defenders of the agreement also falsely claimed that Iran was building nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, numerous false claims have in recent years been made about alleged Iranian terrorism, while the United States has in fact been sponsoring terrorism in Iran and openly committing the crime of threatening war on Iran. The recent elections in Iran show positive results of the agreement. The U.S. public, on the other hand, is in a worse place in terms of the credence it gives to anti-Iranian lies than it was prior to the nuclear negotiations. This is a grave danger, because many in Washington have not ceased pushing for war.

We're going to see efforts in Congress to tear up the nuclear agreement, to impose new sanctions, and conceivably even to steal the billions of dollars to pay off this court settlement by "freezing" Iranian assets. Reports Bloomberg: "While it is difficult to collect damages from an unwilling foreign nation, the plaintiffs may try to collect part of the judgments using a law that permits parties to tap terrorists' assets frozen by the government."

Who is a "terrorist" of course is defined in the eye of the government official. The history of U.S. trouble with Iran dates significantly to the 1953 overthrow by the CIA of Iran's democratic president, and the U.S. installation of a brutal dictator. The popular revolution that overthrew that dictator was hijacked by theocrats, and today's Iranian government can be severely criticized in many ways. But Iran has spent decades opposing the use of weapons of mass destruction. When Iraq attacked Iran with U.S.-supplied chemical weapons, Iran refused on principle to respond in kind. Iran has not pursued nuclear weapons, and has repeatedly, prior to this agreement, including in 2003, offered to give up its nuclear energy program. It now subjects its energy program to greater inspections than any other country ever has or the United States ever would, going above and beyond compliance with the nonproliferation treaty that the United States flagrantly violates.

In 2000, as revealed by Jeffrey Sterling, the CIA tried to plant nuclear weapons evidence on Iran. Even as Iran offered to assist the United States, post 9/11, the United States labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil," despite its lack of ties with the other two nations in the "axis" and its lack of "evil." The United States then designated part of Iran's military a terrorist organization, very likely murdered Iranian scientists, certainly funded opposition groups in Iran (including some the U.S. also designated as terrorist), flew drones over Iran, launched major cyber attacks on Iranian computers, and built up military forces all around Iran's borders, while imposing cruel sanctions on the country. Washington neocons have also spoken openly about their intentions to overthrow the government of Syria as a step toward overthrowing the government of Iran. It may be worth reminding U.S. audiences that it is illegal to overthrow governments.

The roots of a Washington push for a new war on Iran can be found in the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, the 1996 paper called A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, the 2000 Rebuilding America's Defenses, and in a 2001 Pentagon memo described by Wesley Clark as listing these nations for attack: Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. In 2010, Tony Blair included Iran on a similar list of countries that he said Dick Cheney had aimed to overthrow.

One common type of war lie about Iran that has helped move the U.S. to the brink of war a number of times in the past 15 years is the lie about Iranian terrorism abroad. These tales have grown more and more outlandish. For the record, Iran did not try to blow up a Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., an action which President Obama would consider perfectly praiseworthy if the roles were reversed, but a lie that even Fox News had a hard time stomaching. And that's saying something.

Why do some in the U.S. government think the rest of us will find outlandish war plots believable? Because they in fact engage in them. Here is Seymour Hersh describing a meeting held in then-Vice President Dick Cheney's office:

"There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don't we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives. And it was rejected because you can't have Americans killing Americans. That's the kind of — that's the level of stuff we're talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected."

Years later, a U.S. ship was apprehended by Iran in Iranian waters. Iran did not retaliate or escalate, but simply let the ship depart. The U.S. media treated the incident as an act of Iranian aggression.

Let all of this be a lesson -- not of course to reject war lies -- but to make proper accusations. If you're caught robbing a house, accuse the homeowner of attacking your territory. Hope your case if brought before Judge Daniels. And send your legal bills to the Iranian government -- they owe you!

Talk Nation Radio: Seth Kershner on the Campaign to Demilitarize U.S. Schools

Seth Kershner is a writer and researcher whose work has appeared in such outlets as In These Times, Sojourners, and Rethinking Schools. He is the co-author (with Scott Harding) of Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). This is the first book to analyze the grassroots counter-recruitment movement which has been around for more than four decades. He has recently been using the Freedom of Information Act to gain a better understanding of the extent of militarism in U.S. schools, obtaining hundreds of pages of documents in the process. Last fall he and Scott Harding shared some of these findings in an op-ed for Education Week.

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How Would Knowing the Truth Change U.S. Policy on ISIS?

By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune

Scholars have documented the consistent pattern. What makes a country far more likely to be invaded, attacked, "intervened in," or in other words, bombed, is not its lack of democracy or its government's crimes and abuses, or the crimes and abuses of some non-governmental group, but its possession of oil. Yet, with each new war, we are told to imagine that this one is different.

Fight War Not Wars ddf9e

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., is to be applauded for publishing an article headlined "Syria: Another Pipeline War." The very idea that "doing something" about ISIS (which, let's face it, at this point in the imperialization of the U.S. republic means bombing) could be driven by oil might strike many as outrageous. I'm not suggesting that it's rational. U.S. corporations could buy Middle Eastern oil for about the same price without all the wars. The United States would save trillions of dollars and millions of lives that way. It could also avoid some destruction of the earth's climate by, instead, leaving that oil in the ground. I'm also not suggesting that because the real driver of U.S. militarism is an insane passion for oil, the crimes and abuses of ISIS or of Assad or Russia or Iran or Saudi Arabia or Israel or Turkey or anyone else are not real, or are of less concern or more concern than they actually merit, or that well-justified nonviolent opposition to Assad in Syria has never existed, or any similar inanity. Nor am I denying that there are employees of the U.S. government who are actually driven by humanitarian concerns, only that they aren't the employees who have risen to such heights that anyone's ever heard of them.

Senator Bernie Sanders is to be applauded for repeatedly bringing up the CIA's disastrous 1953 overthrow of democracy in Iran, 1954 in Guatemala, etc. But why is that the beginning? What about 1949 Syria? Does that not count because the U.S. president was a Democrat? Like Iran and Vietnam and so many other nations that the United States has attacked, Syria had worked to establish a democracy in line with U.S. rhetoric. But its democracy wasn't supporting a U.S.-proposed oil pipeline between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. So, the CIA overthrew the president of Syria and installed a dictator.

One explanation for the silence surrounding this incident is how quickly it failed. The Syrian people tossed out their U.S. puppet in 14 weeks. The U.S. government then spent 65 years learning absolutely nothing from the experience. It has spent those years arming and supporting Middle Eastern dictators and religious fighters, while rejecting out of hand all Soviet proposals to leave the region free to govern itself. In 1956, the CIA tried another coup in Syria, arming and funding Islamic militants, but without success. For years, the CIA kept trying -- perhaps less comically than with its efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro, but certainly with greater consequences.

This history is relevant not only as a guide to what not to do, but also because the people of Syria and the region know this history, so it illuminates how they view current events.

Wesley Clark says Syria was on a Pentagon list of governments to overthrow in 2001. Tony Blair says it was on Dick Cheney's list around that time. But Syria had already been on that list for decades.  WikiLeaks has let us know that in 2006, the U.S. government was working to create a civil war in Syria. And we hardly need WikiLeaks when people like Senator John McCain have been openly and repeatedly saying on television that Syria must be overthrown to weaken Iran which must be overthrown. But WikiLeaks does confirm that the U.S. strategy was to incite Assad into a brutal crackdown that would inflame opposition to his rule, and that the U.S. has been arming Islamists in Syria since 2009 when Assad rejected a pipeline from Qatar that would have supplied Europe with Middle Eastern rather than Russian climate-destroying poisons.

At the root of the new U.S. priority for overthrowing Syria is then, once again, the desire to run an oil pipeline through Syria. The heart of the U.S. plan has been, again, arming and training Islamic militants. Two years before any of us heard about ISIS, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) noted that "the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (now ISIS), are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria. . . . If the situation continues unravelling, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want in order to isolate the Syrian regime." This is why the United States spent years thwarting U.N. efforts for peace in Syria, and dismissed out of hand a 2012 proposal from Russia for peace in Syria. The U.S. government had dreams of a violent overthrow of the Syrian government, and viewed the rise of ISIS as a price worth paying.

There were glitches in the plan. First the British, and U.S., and world populations said no to bombing Syria in 2013 on the same side as al Qaeda. Then al Qaeda (ISIS) released beheading videos that, as intended, motivated U.S. Americans to back war -- against them rather than with them. ISIS saw its potential for growth in appearing to be the leading enemy of the United States, not a U.S. tool for another overthrow. It produced videos imploring the United States to attack it. But in so doing, it didn't isolate the Syrian government; rather it united the world with the Syrian government. The U.S. government began denying it had ever met ISIS, or blaming Saudi Arabia and Turkey for supporting ISIS (while doing little to cut off that support).

But the origins of ISIS are not really in dispute. "ISI[S] is a direct outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion," admitted President Obama. The U.S. military destroyed Iraq and disbanded without disarming its military. Then it divided Iraq along sectrarian lines and brutalized people for years in prison camps where they were able to organize and plot vengeance. The U.S. armed Iraq, and al Qaeda/ISIS seized those weapons. The U.S. overthrew the government of Libya, and its weapons spread all over the region. And the U.S. armed and trained fighters for Syria, playing into Saudi Arabia's desire for overthrow and now its newfound desire to fight more wars, as well as Turkey's desire to attack Kurds. Secretary of State John Kerry admitted to Congress on September 3, 2013, that Saudi Arabia had offered to foot the bill for a U.S. invasion of Syria -- which sounds a lot like the foreign policy vision of candidate Bernie Sanders when he's compelled to present one. In fact, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar financed the U.S. arming of Syrian fighters including ISIS (Sanders dreams of Saudi Arabia financing a war against ISIS). The Pentagon dumped a half billion dollars into arming and training fighters, something the CIA had long been doing at a cost of billions. "Four or five" loyal fighters were the Pentagon's result. The rest had apparently ceased to be "moderate" murderers and become "extremist" murderers. How many got themselves armed and "trained" more than once, as Afghans have had a habit of doing, we don't know.

Why was the U.S. public willing to tolerate new U.S. war-making in Iraq and Syria in 2014–2015, after having opposed it in 2013? This time the advertised enemy was not the Syrian government, but terrorists scarier than al Qaeda, and supposedly unrelated to al Qaeda, called ISIS. And ISIS was shown to be cutting the throats of Americans on videos. And something switched off in people's brains and they stopped thinking—with a few exceptions. A few journalists pointed out that the Iraqi government bombing Iraqi Sunnis was in fact driving the latter to support ISIS. Even Newsweek published a clear-eyed warning that ISIS would not last long unless the United States saved it by bombing it. Matthew Hoh warned that the beheadings were bait not to be taken.

The public and the media swallowed it whole, and the U.S. government almost choked. It had wanted to enter the war on the same side as ISIS. Now it had an opportunity to enter against ISIS. It viewed this as a means of entering on both sides by making a case for arming fighters who would oppose both ISIS and Assad, even if such fighters didn't exist.

To make the new war more respectable, along came the supposed need to rescue civilians trapped on a mountaintop and awaiting death at the hands of ISIS. The story wasn't completely false, but its details were murky. Many of the people left the mountain or refused to leave the mountain where they preferred to stay, before a U.S. rescue mission could actually be created. And the U.S. seemed to drop bombs more with a goal of protecting oil than protecting people (four air strikes near the mountain, many more near oil-rich Erbil). But, whether it helped those people or not, a U.S. war was created, and the war planners never looked back.

The world, as represented at the United Nations, didn't completely fall for it and didn't authorize this war any more than the proposed attack a year earlier, in large part because the UN had authorized a supposed humanitarian rescue in Libya in 2011 and seen that authorization predictably and swiftly misused to justify a wider war and the overthrow of a government.

In addition to the dubious claims about people needing to be rescued on a mountain, the United States also pulled out that old standby of saving U.S. lives, namely the lives of Americans in the oil-rush town of Erbil, all of whom could have been put onto a single airplane and flown out of there had there been a real need to rescue them.

Completely false, on the other hand, was another story about evil. Just in case people were not sufficiently scared, the White House and Pentagon actually invented a non-existent terrorist organization, which they named the Khorasan Group, and which CBS News called "a more immediate threat to the U.S. Homeland." While ISIS was worse than al Qaeda and al Qaeda worse than the Taliban, this new monster was depicted as worse than ISIS and plotting the immediate blowing up of U.S. airplanes. No evidence of this was offered, or apparently required by "journalists." One U.S. war makers were safely into a new war, all mention of the Khorosan Group ended.

If you weren't frightened enough, and if you didn't care enough about people on a mountain to drop bombs on people in a valley, there was also your patriotic duty to overcome "intervention fatigue," of which U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power began writing and speaking, actually warning that if we paid too much attention to what bombing places like Libya had done to them we'd fail in our obligation to support the bombing of new places like Syria. Soon enough, the U.S. corporate media was hosting debates that ranged from advocacy for launching one type of war all the way to advocacy for launching a little bit different type of war. A study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that inclusion of antiwar guests in the major U.S. media was even more lacking in the 2014 buildup to war than it had been in the 2003 run-up to the Iraq invasion.

U.S. interest in war in Syria and Iraq since 2014 has taken on this new guise of unavoidable opposition to Evil. But U.S. interest in overthrowing the government of Syria has remained front and center, despite the disasters created in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other "liberated" nations. As in each of those other wars, this one has U.S. weapons on both sides, and U.S. interests on both sides. As in the "war on terror" as a whole, this war is creating more terrorism and fueling more anti-U.S. hatred, not protecting the United States, to which ISIS is not a serious threat. More people have been hurt at Donald Trump rallies and far more killed by cigarettes or automobiles than by ISIS in the United States. What attracts disturbed people in the United States and the world to ISIS is, in large part the counterproductive U.S. attacks on ISIS.

If U.S. motives were humanitarian, it would cease fueling the violence, and it would not be arming wars and crackdowns by vicious governments around the globe including in the Middle East, perhaps most prominently right now Saudi Arabia, the leading purchaser of U.S. weapons which bombs civilians in Yemen using those weapons, murders far more individuals at home than ISIS has, and which has actually sponsored significant terrorism in the United States.

Tim Clemente told Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that he saw a major difference between the 2003- war on Iraq and the more recent war on Syria: "the millions of military aged men who are fleeing the battlefield for Europe rather than staying to fight for their communities. 'You have this formidable fighting force and they are all running away. I don't understand how you can have millions of military aged men running away from the battlefield. In Iraq, the bravery was heartbreaking—I had friends who refused to leave the country even though they knew they would die. They'd just tell you it's my country, I need to stay and fight,' Clemente said. The obvious explanation is that the nation's moderates are fleeing a war that is not their war. They simply want to escape being crushed between the anvil of Assad's Russian backed tyranny and the vicious Jihadi Sunni hammer that [the U.S. government] had a hand in wielding in a global battle over competing pipelines. You can't blame the Syrian people for not widely embracing a blueprint for their nation minted in either Washington or Moscow. The super powers have left no options for an idealistic future that moderate Syrians might consider fighting for. And no one wants to die for a pipeline."

Kennedy proposes as a first U.S. step to resolve the crisis: cease consuming oil from the Middle East. I would simplify that to: cease consuming oil. Putting Europe onto Middle Eastern oil instead of Russian oil is not just about U.S. energy use. It's about rivalry with Russia. The United States needs to go renewable and sustainable in its energy use and its thinking. It owes the Middle East reparations and aid on a massive scale. It owes the world assistance in the greening of energy on a massive scale. Such projects would, of course, cost less financially and in every other way than continued counterproductive militarism.

This will not happen unless people learn history, including the history of the leadup to World War II, the myths about which sustain every U.S. loyalty to the institution of war. That means taking huge leaps beyond the discussions of this past Sunday's presidential debate regarding schools with mold and rats and mass shootings. It means a system of communication in which there is just no place for something like CNN. We will remake our media and our schools, or we will destroy ourselves and have no idea how we did it.

David Swanson is the author of War Is A Lie: Second Edition, to be published by Just World Books on April 5, 2016.

War Is A Total Lie!

The Killer Drone Lovers Have Their Movie

If the recent spate of anti-drone movies and plays was making you feel warm thoughts about U.S. culture, you'll want to avoid seeing "Eye in the Sky," starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul. This is what "Zero Dark Thirty" was for torture lies. This is what "The Interview" was for hatred of North Korea. The Director of "Eye in the Sky," Gavin Hood, openly brags about having had military advisors on this film, just as those films had their government advisors. And it shows.

"I'll bet the military loves this film," I told Hood after a screening in Washington, D.C., on Monday. He claimed that some loved it, some liked it, both in the military and in some human rights groups that I won't name because I doubt very much Hood's implication that at least one of them didn't condemn this piece of propaganda.

Let's be clear, this film is the best quality drone film yet made and has the coolest technology in it, including drones the size and shape of birds and beetles. But it is the furthest presentation of drone use from reality. Following the film screening, the director and General Eaton (no last name, like Cher) and Patrick Tucker, a technology writer from Defense One, gave a little presentation that included flying a tiny drone in the theater. Said Tucker, as if he had proved this: "So everything you saw in this movie is very close to reality."

I asked the director roughly this: We know of actual cases where the target was not identified, where the target could have been captured, and where the target was not actually about to commit mass murder. In fact the Justice Department has redefined "imminent threat" to be virtually meaningless, and I don't know of a single case in reality that matches this fictional fantasy. Do you?

Gavin Hood hemmed and hawed but said that No, he was unaware of a single case in reality that matched what he had produced in his slick propaganda. Then it was his turn to question me: Do I oppose the whole drone program?

I replied that it is counterproductive and that every time a top official retires they point that out, that it creates more enemies than it kills. Remarkably, Hood said that he agreed entirely and that in fact this point (which showed up nowhere at all in his movie) was the very point of his movie.

Then Hood strayed back into his own fantasy, recounting as if we hadn't just seen it that in the film one politician comments that it might be better politically to allow foreign terrorists to kill lots of people than for the politician's own government to be exposed as having killed one person.

Well, yes, this proves that in a fantastic scenario that hasn't ever happened a fictional politician could cynically discard human lives. It proves nothing else. But it creates the sick pretense that murdering is wise and not murdering is a form of propaganda. And, for the record, the "one person" was actually one unknown innocent plus several other people understood to be complicit in planning mass murder.

The cherry on top of this movie's feat of manipulation is Hood's making one of the drone victims white. Thus the drone program is not racist, is not killing people who haven't been identified, is not killing people who could have been captured, and is only killing people who are literally in the act of arming themselves to kills lots of other people momentarily.

The killer drone has its movie and it also has its argument. This piece of fiction is what the ticking time bomb nonsense is for torture. This is what every reincarnation of Hitler is for war as a whole. This is Obama's dream eulogy when the first drone warrior king is finally laid to rest.

All sins have been absolved.

Relax. Get some popcorn.

Or wake up, get outraged and join the next protest at Creech Air Base. Please. We're better than this.

Everybody Turn Out for a Day of Peace and Solidarity in New York

What happens when there are endless wars accompanied by militarized policing, spreading racism, erosion of civil rights, and concentration of wealth, but the only news is election news, and none of the candidates wants to talk about shrinking the world's largest military?

We happen. That's what. We turn out for a Day of Solidarity and Peace in New York City on Sunday, March 13th. We start by signing up at and inviting all of our friends to do so. If we can't come, we invite all of our friends anywhere near New York to sign up and be there. We sit down and think of every person we remember hearing ask "But what can we do?" and we tell them: You can do this.

We stopped the war mongers who wanted to rip up the agreement with Iran last year, and the political progress in Iran reflects the wisdom of diplomacy as an alternative to yet more war. We stopped a massive bombing campaign of Syria in 2013. Our brothers and sisters just this month stopped the construction of a U.S. military base in Okinawa.

But U.S. weapons and bases are spreading across the globe, ships are sailing provocatively toward China, drones are murdering in numerous nations with a new base just opened in Cameroon. The U.S. military is assisting Saudi Arabia in bombing Yemeni families with U.S. weapons. The U.S. war in Afghanistan is being accepted as permanent. And the U.S. wars in Iraq and Libya left behind such hell that the U.S. government is hoping to use more war to "fix" it -- and to add another overthrow in Syria.

Why will no candidate (in the two-party system) propose a serious reduction in military spending and war making, foreswear the use of killer drones, commit to making reparations to the nations recently attacked, or agree to join the International Criminal Court and to sign onto the many treaties limiting warfare on which the United States is a holdout? Because not enough of us have turned out and made noise, and brought new people into the movement.

Will you join us in New York City on March 13th to say "Money for Jobs and People's Needs, not War! Rebuild Flint! Rebuild our Cities! End the wars! Defend the Black Lives Matter movement! Aid the world, stop bombing it!"

Peace Poets, Raymond Nat Turner, Lynne Stewart, Ramsey Clark, and other speakers will be there.

Will your organization help spread the word? Please let us know and get listed as part of this effort by emailing UNACpeace [at] Can you help in other ways? Have ideas for how to make this stronger? Please write to that same address.

In a presidential debate in December a moderator asked one of the candidates: "Could you order air strikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores, but the hundreds and the thousands? Could you wage war as a commander-in-chief? . . . You are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians?"

The candidate mumbled something in response instead of shouting Hell No, as any decent person was obliged to do and as we will do on the Day of Peace and Solidarity. How are your lungs? Ready to make some noise? Join us!

Are We Willing to Pay the Price for Peace?

BrianPointing3Premiering around the end of March will be one of the best films I’ve ever seen on peace activism: Paying the Price for Peace produced by Bo Boudart and others. The film focuses on S. Brian Willson while also informing the viewer on the state of U.S. warmaking and what can be done about it.

This is a story of courageous sacrifice, dedication, excitement, adventure, solidarity, and a service truly worthy of thanking the story’s hero for. If you’re imagining that war will give your life meaning, take a look at this film and see what trying to end war could do for you.

If you dislike war or poverty or environmental destruction, take a look at this film for examples of how we can all do more to make the world better. The film inspires, rather than shaming. But it inspires with examples that many find difficult to emulate.

“You have to be willing to risk life, limb, and prison,” Willson says in the film. “Then you’re free.”

There are things I myself don’t risk because I have a family to take care of. There are things I don’t risk because I believe I can do more good writing. And then there are things I don’t risk for really no good reason at all.

I recently read a comment from someone urging others not to protest at Trump rallies, for fear someone would be killed. History does not repeat, and comparisons are always strained, but would it have been good advice not to protest Adolf Hitler’s first rally? Because someone might get killed? Doesn’t that now sound ridiculous? Don’t we have a moral duty to protest all of these candidates who support the bombing of human beings in distant lands?

If that sounds outrageous, you should really, really see Paying the Price for Peace.

Brian Willson “served” in the U.S. military in Vietnam. His job was to assess the success or failure of bombing missions. He was literally sent to examine the damage. Frequently, what he found were undefended fishing villages that had been bombed with 500 lb. bombs from not very high up, and then napalmed. He found burned bodies, sometimes in such heaps he couldn’t get over them.

Here was a good kid, star athlete, high school valedictorian, doing what he’d been told, thinking as he’d been carefully taught to think. And he concluded that war and a great many other things were fundamentally lies. He came back to the United States ready to search for and promote other ways of living. He’s been doing so ever since and will likely keep doing so for years to come, much to our benefit.

In the movie, we see Willson’s decades of travels, protests, talks, demonstrations, fastings, and bicycling tours. We see him leading by example in his personal life, living peacefully and in an environmentally sustainable manner. We also see how passionately he and others have risked everything.

During protests of the war on Vietnam shown in the film, a veteran says, “If the American people sit down and just hold their fingers up and say ‘peace,’ they don’t deserve any better than Agnew or Nixon or the rest of the people they’ve got here, because they’re doing nothing and they’re as guilty as anyone who pulled the trigger in Vietnam.”

Well, what should we do? The film is packed with ideas, and shows them to us in action. When Ronald Reagan’s Contras were massacring civilians, Brian Willson and many others from the United States, at serious risk to themselves, went to Nicaragua and walked through the war zone observing and recording — and speaking against U.S. policy.

blood on the tracks s brian willsonMost famously, Willson and others sat on train tracks in California to prevent the shipment of weapons bound for Latin America. The military train intentionally sped up and ran Willson over. It was a risk he’d been aware of and been willing to take. He lost the lower portion of both of his legs. Others, during the protests of those weapons shipments, had limbs broken by police or were locked up for months. Willson’s injury didn’t slow him down.

When he traveled abroad after that horrific crime, people in places like Nicaragua saw him as a Yankee who had paid the price that they pay when they challenge abusive powers. Willson’s actions were actions of solidarity as well as resistance, and were understood as such.

The film shows us others who have risked or paid similar prices, and others who have done small bits in the same direction (I’m in the film briefly). Included are Occupy activists facing (militarized) police violence, and whistleblowers facing prison. Daniel Ellsberg says in the film that we also need people who will risk their reelections. Indeed.

And we need more Brian Willsons. But we are quite fortunate to have the one we have. Here’s a veteran who cares about veterans but keeps matters in proper perspective, caring also about the vast majority of victims of U.S. wars. If the victims of the Vietnam War were all listed on the memorial in Washington, D.C., Willson says, it would stretch at least as far as from its current location to the base of the Washington Monument.

“If we were willing to risk our lives for a war,” says veteran Leah Bolger in the movie, “surely we can risk some discomfort for peace.”

Here’s a service that would lead me to sincerely thank you for your service: spread the word about Paying the Price for Peace.


The Congressional Progressive Caucus Believes in War

Each year the Congressional Progressive Caucus releases a weaker and weaker budget proposal. This year they asked for input first. I sent them this and communicated with them about it, so I know they read it. An excerpt:

"Last year's Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by, in my calculation, 1%. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut. This was not the case in other recent years, when the CPC prominently proposed to end wars and cut particular weapons. With all due respect, how is this censoring of any mention of the military evidence of progressing, rather than regressing?"

I should clarify that when the Progressive Caucus prominently proposed serious cuts to militarism, George W. Bush was president, and that the CPC will no doubt discover a distaste for mass murder if Trump is inaugurated.

But what about now?

This year's initial press release and email from the CPC again pretends that the majority of the budget (which goes to militarism) just doesn't exist. Its slightly longer summary includes, near the bottom:

"Sustainable Defense: Promoting peace And Security

  • Modernizes our defense system to create sustainable Pentagon spending
  • Ends funding for unsustainable wars
  • Increases funding for diplomacy and strategic humanitarian aid
  • Adds robust funding for refugee resettlement programs"

That's (relative) progress. But what does it mean exactly? What does a budget pie chart look like? Does 50 to 60 percent still go into war preparations? The "full budget" tells us this:


"Pentagon spending has doubled over the last decade at the expense of investments in working families. But as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, we need a leaner, more agile force to combat realistic twenty-first century threats."

[Note that the latest plan is to keep the war on Afghanistan going for decades, and that the CPC has not lifted a finger to end it. So, if that war doesn't "draw to a close," do we still get the "leaner force"? And what does "agile" mean? And who gets killed in the "realistic" "agile" wars? The same war in Afghanistan was "drawing to a close" in identical language in last year's CPC budget.]

"The People's Budget responsibly [is there some other way?] ends operations in Afghanistan, brings our troops home, focuses Pentagon spending on modern security threats instead of Cold War - era weapons and contracts, and invests in a massive job creation program that will help workers transition into civilian jobs."

[In fact, Congress has to actually end that war, but it's right for a decent budget proposal to assume it's ended. However, what about the war in Iraq and Syria? The drone wars in several nations? The bases spreading like a virus across the globe? The U.S. role in the Saudi slaughter in Yemen? The new war in Libya? Why only end the one war that people are already pretending has "ended"? That said, transition to a peace economy is exactly the right idea, which is why it's a shame that, despite there supposedly being a progressive caucus, only three Congress members have signed onto this bill. And where are the numbers in this budget? How much is "massive"?]

"The People's Budget also increases investments in diplomacy, sustainable development, and humanitarian assistance to address the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq. The Congressional Progressive Caucus does not support Pentagon cuts mandated by sequestration and believes there are more responsible savings achievable that will not harm service members and veterans."

[Whoa. If you have actually thought through the advantages to the so-called "service members" of the "massive" job creation program, what can you possibly mean by suggesting that cutting the military would "harm" them? Clearly, the CPC has not actually thought that through or given any moral reflection at all to its proposal to fund the most expensive military in the history of the earth in order to benefit its troops. This comes naturally to Congress members, of course, as they've been conditioned to think of military spending as justified by the jobs it provides in their districts. They should pause for a moment, though, and think about how they would explain that benefit to children whose parents were killed by a missile from a U.S. drone.]

"End Emergency War Funding Beginning in FY2017 – Our budget limits Overseas Contingency (OCO) funding to redeployment out of Afghanistan in FY2017 and zeroes out OCO thereafter, saving $761 billion compared to current law."

[This is clearly following the misleading practice of multiplying everything by 10 and then hiding in some footnote that all "savings" will be "over 10 years." So let's say this is actually $76.1 billion. That's still (relative) progress and a good beginning. Now, surely we'll hear about the serious cuts....]

"It is time to swiftly and safely end the war in Afghanistan and end the policy of funding endless war. An expedited withdrawal from Afghanistan would save billions. Further, the use of emergency funding via the OCO account masks the true impact of war spending and should be discontinued."

[True enough.]

"Reduce Base Pentagon Spending – We reduce baseline military spending to ensure Pentagon spending does not continue to contribute significantly to our fiscal burden, and establishes a responsible targeted approach towards a sustainable defense budget."

[Hey, pick your favorite reasons. But where did the numbers go, all of a sudden? How much do you reduce it?]

"The People's Budget would repeal the damaging across-the-board cuts and caps proposed by the Budget Control Act, while providing significant savings through the enactment of reforms, endorsed in bipartisan fiscal reform proposals. It redirects funding to priorities such as caring for our veterans, Congressional Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), smart diplomacy, and environmental cleanup and climate change mitigation programs within the DOD Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan."

[This is where one has to start worrying. The numbers have disappeared. The cuts currently required by law are "damaging" (and too large?). The CPC wants people who are trained and armed to kill and destroy to work on programs that help us better survive climate change. Is the CPC aware that the military is our top creator of climate change, that significant military cuts would not just "mitigate" climate change but actually reduce it?]

"Adjusting to Pentagon Downsizing and Investing in Non-Defense Manufacturing – The People’s Budget increases investments in DOD's Office of Economic Adjustment to assist state and local governments to respond to major defense program shifts by helping communities adjust to defense contract losses.

"Fully funding initiatives like the DOT’s Federal Ship Financing Program and significantly increasing federal agency procurement of sustainable technology from communities impacted by Pentagon cuts will help provide a just transition for defense manufacturing workers and ensure that the U.S. manufacturing base remains vibrant."

[Great! How much is "fully"?]

"Modernizing our Defense Posture – Our budget achieves a smaller force structure with fewer personnel through attrition. A modern defense strategy must focus our armed forces on their strengths of crisis response, smart security, and deterrence. Our military needs to adapt to current threats and challenges, particularly cyberwarfare, nuclear proliferation, and combatting non-state actors. No savings are obtained by reducing military personnel wages or benefits, including TRICARE and pensions. The proportion of private contractor personnel would be significantly reduced and their work transitioned to civilian personnel, curbing needles "outsourcing" that creates excessive cost overruns. Additional reforms include the decommissioning of our Cold War-era nuclear weapons infrastructure, as outlined by the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act, and reducing procurement and research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) spending by making smarter procurement choices."

Attrition? Do they, then, defund recruitment? They don't say. Cyberwarfare? Combatting non-state actors? Aren't these jobs for police? Not reducing personnel except through attrition, in order to not "harm" the personnel? Yet an investment in a "massive" non-military jobs program that none of the military personnel will have time to find employment in? The SANE Act does not, in fact, "decommission ... nuclear weapons infrastructure." It blocks the creation of certain types of insane new additions to the "nuclear weapons infrastructure," presumably allowing the existing "infrastructure" to phase out through the "attrition" of either being shut down as too old or killing us all.

"Audit the Pentagon – As the only federal agency that cannot be audited, the Pentagon loses tens of billions of dollars annually to waste, fraud, and abuse. It is past time to check the wasteful practices with little oversight that weaken our financial outlook and ultimately, our national security."

[Get it? When the Pentagon wastes money instead of buying more weapons, our national security is weakened. So, any money saved by eliminating the waste will have to go into more weapons. Putting it into education or housing would endanger us. Or are we willing to run that risk? In that case, if we know that the Pentagon wastes tens of billions, why not back at least a cut of $20 billion now?]

"Diplomacy and Development – The People's Budget increases investment in diplomacy and development to stabilize key regions of the world through supporting the United States' leadership in the United Nations, smart security, providing vital governance, development and humanitarian assistance, and increasing the tools to combat the horrors of drug and human trafficking and nuclear proliferation. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of people forcibly displaced throughout the world has reached the highest level ever recorded at a staggering 59.5 million people. The People's Budget recognizes this and provides robust funding for refugee resettlement programs. Our plan rebalances goals and risks to achieve a more effective mix of defense, diplomacy, and development aid. By adopting this new global security posture, investing in domestic priorities and creating a cost-effective military aligned with 21st century threats, the U.S. can achieve significant deficit reduction goals while simultaneously enhancing global security."

[Never mind what created the refugees! O.K., yes, this is needed, but where are the numbers?]

At the end of the CPC budget, just like last year's, are a few pages of actual numbers, where you can find, just like last year, a $6 billion, or roughly 1%, cut to the "base" spending of the Department of so-called Defense. You also find $104 billion investment in infrastructure, and $68 billion in additional job creation, plus $94 billion to make college, not free, but "affordable." There's no single-payer healthcare here, but the godforsaken "public option." There's also $1 billion for public financing of election campaigns.

The vast difference between the modest expenditures on public goods and the tiny military cuts is made up by taxing financial transactions, carbon, capital gains, etc. All such taxes are goods in and of themselves. But the sort of investment in transition to sustainable energy that we actually need, plus the restraint in murdering large numbers of people that those large numbers of people need, can only come from serious cuts to the military. The $76.1 billion cut to the slush fund is a good start. But much more serious cuts are needed to so-called Defense, to Energy, to so-called Homeland Security, to the CIA and NSA and so on. The habit of refusing to imagine serious change didn't begin with Hillary Clinton for President. It's deeply ingrained in Washington.

The War Monument to End All War Monuments

“Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” –Orwell

The U.S. government has reached the bottom of the barrel. Having packed every square inch of the National Mall with monuments to every war they wanted to admit to, including the wars on Vietnam and Korea, and including the two world wars, our dear leaders have decided that another World War I monument is needed, and that it will be built in Pershing Park (named in 1981 for a World War I general by then already sufficiently forgotten).

War Memorial.indd

That’s presumably not a reincarnated WWI vet on the bench above, but a young soldier inhaling the glory of past noble slaughters.

This new glorification of mass killing is supposed to be finished by Armistice Day 2018, or what we now know as the opposite of Armistice Day, namely Veterans Day. The symbolism is stark. At the century mark of the conclusion of the war to end all wars, a peace holiday that was transformed into a war holiday during the war on Korea will be celebrated by an empire intent on glorifying all past wars in order to keep having new ones.

A WWI memorial is the reductio ad absurdum of the argument for glorifying all wars. When Victor Berger pointed out that all WWI gave the United States was the flu and prohibition, it was too early to add WWII and the military industrial complex and the oppression of the Middle East that would be resented to this day to that list. But the U.S. public resoundingly agreed with him. Public disgust created the most peaceful period in U.S. history following the armistice. The U.S. government was compelled by popular action to take the lead in legally banning all war with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which is still on the books. Public demand also almost created a requirement for a public referendum before the United States could (illegally) launch a war — a step that might have radically changed the past 100 years.


Where’s a memorial to those who went to prison for speaking against the madness of the “Great War”? Where’s even the most basic information on how the war was sold, and how it was understood once it ended? Nothing of the sort is to be found on the website of the monument makers. Woodrow Wilson’s lies about the Lusitania and German atrocities in Belgium created the modern field of war propaganda and led to widespread doubt, misplaced as it turned out, of later tales of Nazi atrocities. But the people intent on memorializing wars once the wars are old enough to not mean anything mention none of that. In fact, they simply quote Wilson’s malarkey without comment, as if it bore some relationship to what actually happened. This would be like carving Colin Powell’s U.N. Speech onto an Iraq War memorial in 2103, which I’m sure has already been planned. Quoth Wilson:

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them…. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”

This was just after Wilson had won an election falsely promising peace, and immediately after the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, Walter Hines Page, sent a cable to Wilson on March 5, 1917, reading in part:

“The pressure of this approaching crisis, I am certain, has gone beyond the ability of the Morgan financial agency for the British and French governments. The financial necessities of the Allies are too great and urgent for any private agency to handle, for every such agency has to encounter business rivalries and sectional antagonism. It is not improbable that the only way of maintaining our present preeminent trade position and averting a panic is by declaring war on Germany.”

When peace had been made with Germany ending World War I, President Wilson and his allies punished the entire population of Germany, leading numerous wise observers to accurately predict World War II. Jane Addams, E.D. Morel, John Maynard Keynes, and others predicted that the harsh vindictiveness of the treaty would lead to a new war. They seem to have been right. Combined with other factors, including Western preference for Nazism over Communism, and a growing arms race, bitter resentment in Germany did lead to a new war. Ferdinand Foch claimed the treaty was too lenient on Germany and would therefore create a new war, which is of course also true if one considers the possibility of having completely destroyed Germany or something close to that. Woodrow Wilson predicted that failure of the United States to join the League of Nations would lead to a new war, but it is far from clear that joining the League would have prevented the war.

Oblivious, and honoring Wilson as the Obama of his day, our monument makers just quote what Wilson said rather than what he did: “It must be a peace without victory…Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last.” As devotees of our current president would say: at least he knew what he should have done, and that’s what matters.

When peace came, Wilson kept U.S. troops in Russia to fight the Soviets, despite earlier claims that U.S. troops were in Russia in order to defeat Germany and intercept supplies bound for Germany. Senator Hiram Johnson (P-CA) had famously said of the launching of the war: “The first casualty when war comes, is truth.” He now had something to say about the failure to end the war when the peace treaty had been signed. Johnson denounced the ongoing fighting in Russia and quoted from the Chicago Tribune when it claimed that the goal was to help Europe collect Russia’s debt.

The monument website displays a tasteful selection of WWI posters. No “mad brute” depiction of Germans as apes. No Jesus siting down his rifle for God. And the role of WWI in generating the permanent propaganda of patriotic war normalization is thoughtlessly hyped: The “Star Spangled Banner” became a national song to be played at sporting events during World War I, thus reviving, a century after the War of 1812, another pointless war that got the United States nothing but death, disease, and a burned capital.

I need to thank Sam Husseini to alerting me to the fact that the WWI monument people held a press conference, which he attended, at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Here’s audio of what they told him when he raised concerns. Rather than discuss what in the world the point of the war could have been, it seems that the monument makers predictably enough talked about the “brotherhood” of the troops. But when Sam asked whether that brotherhood extended across nationalities, as it did during the Christmas Truce, they responded by talking about the greatness of the United States. Here’s an excerpt:

“And looking at photographs from Vietnam and there’s themes that you see … from WWI of the way people support each other and the way conflict changes everybody. But this is a really interesting opportunity because it is that starting point for the United States. . . .

“Does that sense of brotherhood transcend nationality?”

“Well, yeah, I mean you ask me what’s the factor here . It’s not a glorification of war that we’re dealing with here, it’s ultimately a glorification of humanity and the coming together of all these different races for the United States. So, in the compositions there’s not a single figure that’s alienated, every single figure is interconnected with the rest. These are touching the other figures or they’re looking at each other. There’s no sense of isolationism or aloneness. That’s much more of a modern concept. So going back to the idea that there’s this sense of unity in the universe, this sense of order. And that’s what the relief was about….”

“My question was is this brotherhood constrained by nationality and you seem to be saying that it is.”

“No, I’m not saying that.”

So, apparently in the new version of World War I the military and the nation had already been integrated, and the civil rights movement wouldn’t be needed, and nobody was being lynched? I actually wouldn’t object to a historically accurate monument to racial harmony and diversity. If that’s what these guys think they’re building, I say: build it! Just leave out World War I, OK?

The winning monument design was apparently called “The Weight of Sacrifice.” It’s a temple to human sacrifice. The trick will be to get people in the 21st century to believe that the human sacrifice was for some good purpose — and that it could be again.  Never underestimate the power of propaganda.

Bring Pink Mist to Army Recruitment Offices

Bring spray bottles of pink liquid to military recruitment offices and displays.
Spray them.
Tell potential recruits: Be all that you can be. And this could be you.

“Pink mist. That’s what they call it.
“When one of your mates hasn’t just bought it,
“but goes in a flash, from being there to not.
“A direct hit. An I.E.D. An R.P.G. stuck in the gut.”

Those are lines from a play called Pink Mist written in verse by Owen Sheers about three young lads from Bristol who sign up for war in Afghanistan.
Read it. Perform it. It begins like this:

“Three boys went to Catterick.
“It was January,
“snow pitchen on the Severn,
“turning the brown mud white,
“fishermen blowing on their fingerless gloves,
“the current pulling their fishing lines tight.
“That’s how it was the morning when
“the three of us did what boys always have
“And left our homes for war.”

It’s a lie, of course. Boys haven’t always. Most boys don’t now in the most war mad nations on earth. And boys in many nations don’t at all. And that has always been so, especially before there were nations.

The boys are recruited by more lies:

“I wanted something else — him.
“The man looking back at me,
“the one with the uniform, the gun.
“The one going somewhere, getting something done.”

What about staying somewhere and getting something done? What about going somewhere and getting something other than killing people done?

They joined also for pay and a better future, the chance to support a family. A society in which you cannot support a family without signing up to go and kill people in a distant land is clearly the least civilized sort of society imaginable, and yet it motivates itself to kill those people in large part from its sense of superiority.

They joined for the same reason some people join the groups Westerners go off to fight against: nobody respected them until a recruiter did.

Off at war in Afghanistan, the first time one of their buddies is killed, they become motivated by revenge:
“It wasn’t just doing a job any more.
“It was about killing them.”

Think about a culture in which killing large numbers of people you know nothing about, people who barely even show up in your antiwar plays based on the remembrances of your troops, is “just a job.” It’s society-wide sociopathy. The boys in this book speak of the pride of doing the “job you trained for.” They also speak of it as a game, as the realization of their childhood playing at war.

These three end up, respectively, dead, legless, and traumatized. Their horrors are the story. Their victims, the people of Afghanistan, barely register, and never achieve the level of names or speaking roles. That they are being killed is clear, but they are only specified at all in one incident that involves killing a man, his wife, and a two-year-old girl.

Of course the pain that war brings to the aggressors and their loved ones back home is more than enough to end this monstrosity called war. The stupidity of friendly-fire deaths is prominent in the play. The notion of any higher purpose or of any purpose at all for the war is missing.

One of the soldiers hopes for an end to war:
“and well, I guess I hope it’ll change, somehow.
“Till then, if people knew what it is,
“that would be enough.
“How the loss becomes the reason,
“and how the reason’s an abuse of love.”

Speaking Events

David Swanson in Fairbanks, Alaska, October 22, 2016.


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