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I was part of a debate on Tuesday that involved a larger disagreement than any exhibited at the Democratic presidential candidates debate that evening. A group of peace activists met with the president, a board member, some vice presidents, and a senior fellow of the so-called U.S. Institute of Peace, a U.S. government institution that spends tens of millions of public dollars every year on things tangentially related to peace (including promoting wars) but has yet to oppose a single U.S. war in its 30-year history.
(Photo of David Swanson and Nancy Lindborg by Alli McCracken.)
Without CNN’s Anderson Cooper there to steer us away from the issues into name calling and triviality, we dove right into the substance. The gap between the culture of peace activists and that of the U.S. Institute of “Peace” (USIP) is immense.
We had created and took the occasion to deliver a petition which you should sign if you haven’t, urging USIP to remove from its board prominent war mongers and members of the boards of weapons companies. The petition also recommends numerous ideas for useful projects USIP could work on. I blogged about this earlier here and here.
We showed up Tuesday at USIP’s fancy new building next to the Lincoln Memorial. Carved in the marble are the names of USIP’s sponsors, from Lockheed Martin on down through many of the major weapons and oil corporations.
At the meeting from the peace movement were Medea Benjamin, Kevin Zeese, Michaela Anang, Alli McCracken, and me. Representing USIP were President Nancy Lindborg, Acting Vice President Middle East and Africa Center Manal Omar, Director of Peace Funders Collaborative Steve Riskin, Board Member Joseph Eldridge, and Senior Policy Fellow Maria Stephan. They took 90 minutes or so to talk with us but seemed to have no interest in meeting any of our requests.
They claimed the Board was no impediment to anything they wanted to do, so there was no point in changing board members. They claimed to have already done some of the projects we proposed (and we look forward to seeing those details), yet they were uninterested in pursuing any of them.
When we proposed that they advocate against U.S. militarism in any number of possible ways, they replied with a couple of main justifications for not doing so. First, they claimed that if they did anything that displeased Congress, their funding would dry up. That’s likely true. Second, they claimed they could not advocate for or against anything at all. But that isn’t true. They’ve advocated for a no-fly zone in Syria, regime change in Syria, arming and training killers in Iraq and Syria, and (more peacefully) for upholding the nuclear agreement with Iran. They testify before Congress and in the media all the time, advocating for things left and right. I don’t care if they call such activities something other than advocacy, I’d just like to see them do more of what they’ve done on Iran and less of what they’ve done on Syria. And by law they are perfectly free to advocate even on legislation as long as a member of Congress asks them to.
When I had first communicated about our petition with USIP they had expressed interest in possibly working on one or more of the projects we proposed, possibly including reports we suggest in the petition that they write. When I asked about those report ideas on Tuesday, the reply was that they just didn’t have the staff. They have hundreds of staff, they said, but they’re all busy. They’ve made thousands of grants, they said, but couldn’t make one for anything like that.
What may help explain the array of excuses we were offered is another factor I haven’t yet touched on. USIP seems to actually believe in war. The president of USIP Nancy Lindborg had an odd response when I suggested that inviting Senator Tom Cotton to come speak at USIP on the need for a longer war on Afghanistan was a problem. She said USIP had to please Congress. OK, fine. Then she added that she believed there was room to disagree about exactly how we were going to make peace in Afghanistan, that there was more than one possible path to peace. Of course I didn’t think “we” were going to make peace in Afghanistan, I wanted “us” to get out of there and allow Afghans to start working on that problem. But I asked Lindborg if one of her possible paths to peace was through war. She asked me to define war. I said that war was the use of the U.S. military to kill people. She said that “non-combat troops” could be the answer. (I note that for all their non-combatting, people still just burned to death in a hospital.)
Syria brought out a similar perspective. While Lindborg claimed that USIP’s promotion of war on Syria had all been the unofficial work of one staffer, she described the war in Syria in a completely one-sided manner and asked what could be done about a brutal dictator like Assad killing people with “barrel bombs,” lamenting the lack of “action.” She believed the hospital bombing in Afghanistan would make President Obama even more reluctant to use force. (If this is reluctance, I’d hate to see eagerness!)
So what does USIP do if it doesn’t do war opposition? If it won’t oppose military spending? If it won’t encourage transition to peaceful industries? If there’s nothing it will risk its funding for, what is the good work it is protecting? Lindborg said that USIP spent its first decade creating the field of peace studies by developing the curriculum for it. I’m pretty sure that’s a bit anachronistic and exaggerated, but it would help explain the lack of war opposition in peace studies programs.
Since then, USIP has worked on the sorts of things taught in peace studies programs by funding groups on the ground in troubled countries. Somehow the troubled countries that get the greatest attention tend to be those like Syria that the U.S. government wants to overthrow, rather than those like Bahrain that the U.S. government wants to prop up. Still, there is plenty of good work funded. It’s just work that doesn’t too directly oppose U.S. militarism. And because the U.S. is the top arms supplier to the world and the top investor in and user of war in the world, and because it’s impossible to build peace under U.S. bombs, this work is severely limited.
The constraints that USIP is under or believes it is under or doesn’t mind being under (and enthusiasts for creating a “Department of Peace” should pay attention) are those created by a corrupt and militaristic Congress and White House. USIP openly said in our meeting that the root problem is corrupt elections. But when some section of the government does something less militaristic than some other section, such as negotiating the agreement with Iran, USIP can play a role. So our role, perhaps, is to nudge them toward playing that role as much as possible, as well as away from such outrages as promoting war in Syria (which it sounds like they may leave largely to their board members now).
When we discussed USIP’s board members and got nowhere, we suggested an advisory board that could include peace activists. That went nowhere. So we suggested that they create a liaison to the peace movement. USIP liked that idea. So, be prepared to liaise with the Institute. Please start by signing the petition.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.
Grossman discusses a proposed change in policy by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would permit nuclear radiation on the grounds that it is safe or even good for us. Submit your comment here:
Or write to Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, Attention:Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff. Docket ID. Needed to be noted on any letter is the code NRC-2015-0057.
Some articles by Grossman:
Radiation Is Good for You, and Other Tall Tales of the Nuclear Industry
The Nuclear Cult
Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission
Nuclear Power/Nuclear Weapons
Embracing Nuclear Power Like a Religion
Money is the Real Green Power: The Hoax of Eco-Friendly Nuclear Energy
Nuclear Power Through the Fukushima Perspective
Nuclear Power Can Never Be Made Safe
The Perils of Nuclear-Powered Space Flights
Total run time: 29:00
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The "senior digital organizer" of Bernie Sanders for President volunteers Aidan King, has this to say:
"I was so excited about Obama. And I still think he's done amazing things. But I wanted more follow-through," says King, listing "drone strikes, kill lists, NSA spying on Americans, the expansion of Bush-administration policies, a failed drug war, failed foreign policy," and the increasing influence of money in politics as his main concerns. "I put a lot of stake in authenticity," he says. "And I've been exposed to Bernie's politics and his honesty since I was in diapers."
Was this last week? Was Senator Vitter there?
Because here's Senator Sanders announcing yet again this week, as he's done before, that as president he would murder people with drones. (Yes, he only favors the good drone murders, not the bad ones, exactly what Obama says too.)
There's actually no knock on Sanders' honesty here. There's no indication of inconsistency, no reason to imagine he's lying. He may be 100% USDOD-grade authentic. But what about his staff and volunteers? And what about journalists? Is it responsible journalism to publish an article on people working for Bernie in order to end drone murders and not include any mention of the fact that Sanders is in favor of them? Is it responsible, for that matter, to be reporting on candidates' volunteers prior to and instead of ever reporting on what those candidates would do if elected? The Nation does lots of great reporting, but its interview of Sanders pretended 96% of humanity and 54% of the federal budget didn't exist, and the magazine has never made up for that by reporting on Sanders' foreign policy. So all a Nation reader gets is the golly gee report on the dude just out of diapers who is putting in long hours to end drone strikes by electing Bernie.
"I was so excited about Obama." There's an opening remark that reveals a similar level of misguided ignorance in the past. "And I still think he's done amazing things." One has a heck of a time imagining what those are and how they outweigh what comes next. "But I wanted more follow-through." More follow through? On what? He then lists drone strikes, kill lists, NSA spying on Americans, the expansion of Bush-administration policies, a failed drug war, failed foreign policy, and the increasing influence of money in politics." He surely doesn't want more follow through on any of these crimes and abuses and outrages. He wants them halted.
And so do I. So why should I give the poor guy a hard time? Millions and millions of people aren't doing a damn thing for the world. They're sitting on their butts watching TV while Rome burns. Several political candidates openly want to radically enlarge the military (yet again) and launch any number of wars. Why pick on Bernie?
I'm not picking on anyone. I'm well aware of such obvious facts and numerous others. I think such facts are good things to know, no matter what you decide to do about them. I'd just add a few more. You want to spend the next many months calling people on the phone and telling them Bernie is against drone murders, knock yourself out. I just think you should do it with open eyes. You shouldn't actually believe what you're saying.
I'm also of course, as we all are, painfully familiar with the argument that Bernie simply must secretly agree with the progressive views of his volunteers, but that in order to get elected he has to put on a pretense of sucking a good bit, whether it's to please the public or the media or the military industrial complex depending on the variation. We were told the exact same thing about Obama. It didn't work then and it won't work now. You can't pretend someone secretly agrees with you and then expect him to keep the promises you fantasized.
If you look at the facts and adopt for just the moment the crazy hypothesis that you're more or less right about Bernie's authenticity but wrong about his closet anti-militarism, you'll find that he's nowhere near as bad as Obama was, is, and shall continue to be for well over a year more. No mere human is going to out warmonger Hillary Clinton, though Jim Webb and a whole crowd of Republicans will try. You can make more or less the same argument you make to yourself to justify volunteering for Bernie, after facing the facts, as you made before.
So why do I care?
Because there are activists working night and day, strategically, courageously, with pure principles and endless dedication to actually end drone murders, and they need your help, and they need it now. They have built the awareness of these horrors that has led to volunteers wanting to end them. But volunteers volunteer in the wrong places. Instead of joining the peace movement and educating, organizing, lobbying, protesting, reporting, suing, artistically moving, and nonviolently resisting drone murders and the militarism that is risking war with Russia prior to the next corporate-bought election in the U.S. -- instead of following the path that has tended to effect change over recent centuries and needs to do so in Paris next month if the climate is to have any hope, they instead dedicate themselves to one candidate or another, start making apologies for them, start living out fantasies about them, and start arguing with other peace activists who are working their fingers to the bone for some other candidate, or with activists who haven't gone all election yet in a year that has no election in it.
If we ever have real elections we'll need people to work on them, and there's always a chance working on them now will help bring that about, and if you'd asked me months ago I'd have said the media would never let Sanders get this far. So, if you want to do the election thing, go ahead. Do it with Sanders who disagrees with you. Do it with Jill Stein who agrees with you. Do it with one of the others. But do it with a bit of honesty and with awareness that it's not the only thing you could be doing.
In an online discussion I asked Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, a fairly straightforward question:
"Will Amnesty International recognize the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact and oppose war and militarism and military spending? Admirable as it is to go after many of the symptoms of militarism, your avoidance of addressing the central problem seems bizarre. The idea that you can more credibly offer opinions on the legality of constituent elements of a crime if you avoid acknowledging the criminality of the whole seems wrong. Your acceptance of drone murders as possibly legal if they are part of wars immorally and, again, bizarrely avoids the blatant illegality of the wars themselves."
Shetty replied without so much as hinting at whether or not Amnesty International would recognize the UN Charter or the Kellogg Briand Pact. In fairness, probably eight people on earth recognize the Kellogg Briand Pact, but the UN Charter is almost universally considered worthy of at least pretended respect and manipulation. And Shetty's last job before this one was for the United Nations. He did not address in any way my suggestion that many human rights abuses are symptoms of militarism. He did not explain how Amnesty can have more credibility speaking on the illegality of war's constituent parts by avoiding speaking to the illegality of war itself (a common contention of his colleagues when I've questioned them). I pointed fairly directly, in the limited number of characters permitted for the above question, to Amnesty's recent report on drones, but rather than answering my question about it, Shetty just pointed out the report's existence. Here is his full "response" to the question above:
"As a human rights organization, Amnesty International's main goal will always be to take that course of action which practically does the most to ensure protection for human rights and respect for international law. We strongly condemn opportunities which have been missed to take effective measures to protect human rights and civilians. We treat the fundamental human right to life with utmost importance -- hence the importance and status we give to our global death penalty campaign. We also believe that governments must not be allowed to use 'security' as an excuse to carry out human rights violations against their citizens. We know, for example, that the humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Syria did not develop overnight. For the last few years, the states involved and the international community as a whole have manifestly failed to take effective action to stem the crisis, protect civilians, and hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes to account. For several years now, Amnesty International's calls for targeted sanctions, an arms embargo and a referral of the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court have gone largely unheeded despite the mounting toll on civilians. On drones: we find the use of drone aircraft deeply troubling, and we have published reports on the terrible suffering they have caused, for example in Pakistan, where the title speaks for itself 'Pakistan: Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan'. amnesty.org/en/documents/...13/en/ The current status quo is absolutely unacceptable, as is the handwashing of the US administration on this theme."
Needless to say, Amnesty's proposal to refer "the situation in Syria" to the ICC is not actually anything of the sort. You can't refer a situation to the ICC. You refer an individual to the ICC. In this case, the individual whom Amnesty wants prosecuted is the individual whom the United States wants overthrown: Bashar al Assad. In other words, in replying to a demand to start opposing war, Shetty offers an example of one of the ways in which his and other human rights groups commonly facilitate wars in places like Syria and Libya, namely by giving war the aura of law enforcement by demanding international accountability for the crimes of one party, the party targeted by the West.
This doesn't mean Amnesty International is pro-war. This doesn't mean Amnesty International does more harm than good. An arms embargo is exactly what's needed. It does mean that Amnesty International falls far short of the role of good global citizen and maintains a radically different relationship to war than many of its supporters imagine.
There is video and audio. It exists. The Pentagon says it's critically important. Congress has asked for it and been refused. WikiLeaks is offering $50,000 to the next brave soul willing to be punished for a good deed in the manner of Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, and so many others. You can petition the White House to hand it over here.
The entire world thinks the U.S. military intentionally attacked a hospital because it considered some of the patients enemies, didn't give a damn about the others, and has zero respect for the rule of law in the course of waging an illegal war. Even Congress members think this. All the Pentagon would have to do to exonerate itself would be to hand over the audio and video of the pilots talking with each other and with their co-conspirators on the ground during the commission of the crime -- that is, if there is something exculpatory on the tapes, such as, "Hey, John, you're sure they evacuated all the patients last week, right?"
All Congress would have to do to settle the matter would be to take the following steps one-at-a-time until one of them succeeds: publicly demand the recordings; send a subpoena for the recordings and the appearance of the Secretary of "Defense" from any committee or subcommittee in either house; exercise the long dormant power of inherent contempt by locking up said Secretary until he complies; open impeachment hearings against both the same Secretary and his Commander in Chief; impeach them; try them; convict them. A serious threat of this series of steps would make most or all of the steps unnecessary.
Since the Pentagon won't act and Congress won't act and the President won't act (except by apologizing for having attacked a location containing white people with access to means of communication), and since we have numerous similar past incidents to base our analysis on, we are left to assume that it is highly unlikely that the hidden recordings include any exculpatory comments, but more likely conversation resembling that recorded in the collateral murder video ("Well it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.")
There isn't actually any question that the U.S. military intentionally targeted what it knew to be a hospital. The only mystery is really how colorful, blood-thirsty, and racist the language was in the cockpit. Left in the dark, we will tend to assume the worst, since past revelations have usually measured up to that standard.
For those of you working to compel police officers in the United States to wear body cameras, it's worth noting that the U.S. military already has them. The planes record their acts of murder. Even the unmanned planes, the drones, record video of their victims before, during, and after murdering them. These videos are not turned over to any grand juries or legislators or the people of the "democracy" for which so many people and places are being blown into little bits.
Law professors that measure up to the standards of Congressional hearings on kill lists never seem to ask for the videos; they always ask for the legal memos that make the drone murders around the world part of a war and therefore acceptable. Because in wars, they imply, all is fair. Doctors Without Borders, on the other hand, declares that even in wars there are rules. Actually, in life there are rules, and one of them is that war is a crime. It's a crime under the U.N. Charter and under the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and when one mass-murder out of millions makes the news, we ought to seize that opportunity to draw attention, outrage, and criminal prosecution to all the others.
I don't want the video and audio recordings of the hospital bombing. I want the video and audio recordings of every bombing of the past 14 years. I want Youtube and Facebook and Twitter full, not just of racist cops murdering black men for walking or chewing gum, but also of racist pilots (and drone "pilots") murdering dark-skinned men, women, and children for living in the wrong countries. Exposing that material would be a healing act beyond national prejudice and truly worthy of honoring Doctors Without Borders.
Columbus was not a particularly evil person. He was a murderer, a robber, an enslaver, and a torturer, whose crimes led to possibly the most massive conglomeration of crimes and horrific accidents on record. But Columbus was a product of his time, a time that has not exactly ended. If Columbus spoke today's English he'd say he was "just following orders." Those orders, stemming from the Catholic "doctrine of discovery," find parallels through Western history right down to today's "responsibility to protect," decreed by the high priests of the United Nations.
A sense of where Columbus was coming from can be found in a series of, aptly named, papal bull(s). These decrees make clear that the church owns the earth, bestows privileges on Christians, hopes to plunder riches, hopes to convert non-Christians, and considers non-Christians devoid of any rights worthy of any respect -- including any non-Christians yet to be encountered in lands completely unknown to the church. Native Americans were literally pre-judged before the church (and its kings and captains) knew they existed.
The Dum Diversas Bull of 1452 gives the King of Portugal permission to attack Muslims in North Africa and begins by declaring them to be full of "the rage of the enemies of the name of Christ, always aggressive in contempt of the orthodox faith," and hopes that they can "be restrained by the faithful of Christ and be subjugated to the Christian religion." Attacking North Africa was "defensive" even then, as the king would "eagerly defend the faith itself and with powerful arm fight its enemies. We also look attentively to labor at the defense and growing of the said Religion."
The Pope adds other unnamed people can be attacked too: "[W]e grant to you full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, . . . and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude."
In 2011, the U.S Department of Justice submitted to Congress a written defense of attacking North Africa claiming the war on Libya served the U.S. national interest in regional stability and in maintaining the credibility of the United Nations. But are Libya and the United States in the same region? What region is that, earth? And isn’t a revolution the opposite of stability? And does the United Nations gain credibility when wars are waged in its name?
The Romanus Pontifex Bull of 1455 was, if anything, even more full of bull, as it pontificated on places as yet unknown but fully worthy of judgment and condemnation. The church's goal was "to cause the most glorious name of the said Creator to be published, extolled, and revered throughout the whole world, even in the most remote and undiscovered places, and also to bring into the bosom of his faith the perfidious enemies of him and of the life-giving Cross by which we have been redeemed, namely the Saracens and all other infidels whatsoever." How could someone unknown be an enemy? Easy! People unknown by the church were, by definition, people who did not know the church. They were, therefore, perfidious enemies of the life-giving Cross.
When Columbus sailed, he knew beforehand that he could not possibly enounter any people worthy of any respect. The Inter Caetera Bull of 1493 tells us that Columbus "discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands that hitherto had not been discovered by others; wherein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh." Those very many peoples had not discovered the place they were living, because they did not count as being anyone able to discover anything for Christianity. "You purpose also," wrote the pope, "as is your duty, to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion."
Or else what? The Requerimiento of 1514 that conquistadores read to the people they "discovered" told them to "accept the Church and Superior Organization of the whole world and recognize the Supreme Pontiff, called the Pope, and that in his name, you acknowledge the King and Queen, as the lords and superior authorities of these islands and Mainlands by virtue of the said donation. If you do not do this, however, or resort maliciously to delay, we warn you that, with the aid of God, we will enter your land against you with force and will make war in every place and by every means we can and are able, and we will then subject you to the yoke and authority of the Church and Their Highnesses. We will take you and your wives and children and make them slaves, and as such we will sell them, and will dispose of you and them as Their Highnesses order. And we will take your property and will do to you all the harm and evil we can, as is done to vassals who will not obey their lord or who do not wish to accept him, or who resist and defy him. We avow that the deaths and harm which you will receive thereby will be your own blame, and not that of Their Highnesses, nor ours, nor of the gentlemen who come with us."
But otherwise it's great to see you, beautiful land you have here, and we hope not to be too much inconvenience!
All people have to do to save themselves is bow down, obey, and allow the destruction of the natural world around them. If they won't do that, why, then a war on them is their own fault. Not ours. We're pre-absolved, we've got an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, we're packing U.N. resolutions.
In 1823 Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall cited the "doctrine of discovery" to justify stealing land from Native Americans in the case Johnson v. M'Intosh that has ever since been seen as the foundation of land ownership and property law in the United States. Marshall ruled for a unanimous court, uncontroversially, that Native Americans could not own or sell land, except when selling it to the federal government which had taken over the role of conqueror from the British. Natives could not possess sovereignty.
"The Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) is a proposed norm that sovereignty is not an absolute right," according to Wikipedia, which is as authoritative a source as any, since R2P is not a law at all, more of a bull. It continues: ". . . and that states forfeit aspects of their sovereignty when they fail to protect their populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations (namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing). . . . [T]he international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort."
If we understand "sovereignty" to mean the right not to be attacked by foreigners, the high church on the East River does not recognize it among the pagans. Saudi Arabia may murder many innocents, but the church chooses to bestow grace and weapons shipments. The same for Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, etc. The church, under the influence of Cardinal Obama, does not recognize sovereignty but bestows mercy. In Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Ukraine, Honduras, and other troubled lands of Saracens and infidels, they bring righteous rape and pillage on themselves. It's not the fault of the armies performing their duty to attack and enlighten.
Back in the 1980s I lived in Italy and there was a funny movie called Non resta che piangere (Nothing left to do but cry) about a couple of buffoons who were magically transported back to 1492. They immediately decided to try to stop Columbus in order to save the Native Americans (and avoid U.S. culture). As I recall, they were too slow and failed to stop Columbus' departure. There was nothing left to do but cry. They might, however, have worked on altering the people who would welcome Columbus back with collectively sociopathic ideas. For that matter, they might have returned to the 1980s and worked on the same educational mission.
It's not too late for us to stop celebrating Columbus Day and every other war holiday, and focus instead on including among the human rights we care about, the right not to be bombed or conquered.
Alfred Nobel's will, written in 1895, left funding for a prize to be awarded to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
Most winners in recent years have either been people who did nice things that had nothing whatsoever to do with the relevant work (Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai for promoting education, Liu Xiaobo for protesting in China, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for opposing climate change, Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for economic development, etc.) or people who actually engaged in militarism and would have opposed the abolition or reduction of standing armies if asked, and one of whom said so in his acceptance speech (the European Union, Barack Obama, etc.).
The prize goes disproportionately, not to the leaders of organizations or movements for peace and disarmament, but to U.S. and European elected officials. Rumors swirled, prior to Friday's announcement, that Angela Merkel or John Kerry might win the prize. Thankfully, that did not happen. Another rumor suggested the prize could go to defenders of Article Nine, the section of the Japanese Constitution that bans war and has kept Japan out of war for 70 years. Sadly, that did not happen.
The 2015 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday morning to "the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011." The Nobel Committee's statement goes on to actually cite Nobel's will, which Nobel Peace Prize Watch (NobelWill.org) and other advocates have been insisting be followed (and which I'm a plaintiff in a lawsuit demanding compliance with, along with Mairead Maguire and Jan Oberg):
"The broad-based national dialogue that the Quartet succeeded in establishing countered the spread of violence in Tunisia and its function is therefore comparable to that of the peace congresses to which Alfred Nobel refers in his will."
This was not an award to a single individual or for work in a single year, but those are differences from the will that no one has really objected to. This was also not an award to a leading war maker or arms dealer. This was not a peace prize for a NATO member or a Western president or foreign secretary who did something less awful than usual. This is encouraging as far as that goes.
The award did not directly challenge the arms industry that is led by the United States and Europe along with Russia and China. The award did not go to international work at all but to work within a nation. And the leading reason offered was the building of a pluralistic democracy. This verges on the watered-down Nobel conception of peace as anything good or Western. However, the effort to claim strict compliance with one element of the will is quite useful. Even a domestic peace congress that prevents civil war is a worthy effort to replace war with peace. A nonviolent revolution in Tunisia did not directly challenge Western militarized imperialism, but neither was it in line with it. And its relative success, compared with the nations that have received the most "assistance" from the Pentagon (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc.) is worth highlighting. An honorable mention for Chelsea Manning for her role in inspiring the Arab Spring in Tunisia by releasing communications between the U.S. and Tunisian governments would not have been out of place.
So, I think the 2015 award could have been much worse. It could also have been much better. It could have gone to work opposing armaments and international warmongering. It could have gone to Article 9, or Abolition 2000, or the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, or the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, or the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Arms, or the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, all of which were nominated this year, or to any number of individuals nominated from around the world.
Nobel Peace Prize Watch is far from satisfied: "An encouragement to the Tunisian people is fine, but Nobel had a much greater perspective. Indisputable evidence shows that he intended his prize to support a visionary reorganization of international affairs. The language in his will is a clear confirmation of this," says Tomas Magnusson, Sweden, on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Watch. "The committee continues reading the expressions of the testament as they like, instead of studying what type of 'champions of peace' and what peace ideas Nobel had in mind signing his will on Nov. 27, 1895. In February the Nobel Peace Prize Watch lifted the secrecy around the selection process when it published a list of 25 qualified candidates with the full nomination letters. By its choice for 2015, the committee has rejected the list and, again, is clearly outside the circle of recipients Nobel had in mind. In addition to not understanding the least bit of Nobel's idea the committee in Oslo has not understood the new situation in the committee's relation to its principals in Stockholm," continues Tomas Magnusson. "We must understand that the whole world today is under occupation, even our brains have become militarized to a degree where it is hard for people to imagine the alternative, demilitarized world that Nobel wished his prize to promote as a mandatory urgency. Nobel was a man of the world, able to transcend the national perspective and think of what would be best for the world as a whole. We have plenty for everyone's needs on this green planet if the nations of the world could only learn to co-operate and stop wasting precious resources on the military. The members of the Board of the Nobel Foundation risk personal liability if a prize amount is paid over to the winner in violation of the purpose. As late as three weeks ago seven members of the Foundation's Board were hit by initial steps in a lawsuit demanding that they repay to the Foundation the prize paid to the EU in December 2012. Among the plaintiffs are Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, a Nobel laureate; David Swanson, USA; Jan Oberg, Sweden, and the Nobel Peace Prize Watch (nobelwill.org). The lawsuit follows after a Norwegian attempt to regain the ultimate control of the peace prize was finally turned down by the Swedish Chamber Court in May 2014."
A Press Release from the Nobel Peace Prize Watch
RE: Nobel Foundation - lawsuit against misappropriation of funds – violating intended antimilitarist purpose of the Nobel peace prize
The controversy over peace prizes disconnected from the specific peace vision of Alfred Nobel is now coming to a head in a lawsuit initiated by Mairead Maguire, a Nobel laureate; David Swanson, USA; Jan Oberg, Sweden; and the Nobel Peace Prize Watch. None of the members of the Board of the Nobel Foundation had responded when the time limit set in a notice of litigation expired on Tuesday. The plaintiffs have retained attorney Kenneth Lewis, Stockholm, to have the Stockholm City Court declare the prize to the EU an illegal use of the Foundation´s funds. In December 2012 the members of the Board of the Nobel Foundation did not heed protests from four Nobel laureates, Mairead Maguire, Perez Esquivel, Desmond Tutu, and the International Peace Bureau, who in a letter had warned that “The EU is clearly not 'the champion of peace' that Alfred Nobel had in mind when he wrote his will."
The University of California is seeking to ban criticism of Israel. This is a widespread phenomenon in the United States, as attested by two new reports and cases like that of Steven Salaita, author of Uncivil Rights: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom.
Salaita was fired by the University of Illinois for criticizing Israel on Twitter. Norman Finkelstein had been denied tenure by DePaul University for criticizing Israel. William Robinson was almost driven out at UC Santa Barbara for refusing to "repent" after criticizing Israel. Joseph Massad at Columbia had a similar experience.
Why, in a country that stretches "freedom of speech" to the point of covering the bribery of politicians, should it be acceptable to criticize the United States but not a tiny, distant country only just created in 1948? And why should such censorship reach even into institutions that usually pile "academic freedom" on top of "freedom of speech" as an argument against censorship?
First and foremost, I think, is the nature of Israel. It's a nation practicing apartheid and genocide in the twenty-first century using U.S. funding and weaponry. It can't persuade people of the acceptability of these policies in open debate. It can only continue its crimes by insisting that -- precisely as a government serving one ethnic group only -- any criticism amounts to the threat of apartheid and genocide known as "anti-Semitism."
Second, I think, is the subservience of the contemporary degenerate educational institution, which serves the wealthy donor, not the exploration of human intellect. When wealthy donors demand that "anti-Semitism" be stamped out, so it is. (And how can one object without being "anti-Semitic" or appearing to dispute that there actually is real anti-Semitism in the world and that it is as immoral as hatred of any other group.)
Third, the crackdown on criticizing Israel is a response to the success of such criticism and to the efforts of the BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) movement. Israeli author Manfred Gerstenfeld published openly in the Jerusalem Post a strategy for making an example of a few U.S. professors in order to "diminish the threat of boycotts."
Salaita called his book Uncivil Rights because the accusations of unacceptable speech typically take the form of proclaiming a need to protect civility. Salaita didn't tweet or otherwise communicate anything actually anti-Semitic. He tweeted and otherwise communicated many statements opposing anti-Semitism. But he criticized Israel and cursed at the same time. And to compound the sin, he used humor and sarcasm. Such practices are enough to get you convicted in a U.S. Court of Indignation without any careful examination of whether the sarcastic cursing actually expressed hatred or, on the contrary, expressed justifiable outrage. Reading Salaita's offending tweets in the context of all his other ones exonerates him of anti-Semitism while leaving him clearly guilty of "anti-Semitism," that is: criticizing the Israeli government.
This criticism can take the form of criticizing Israeli settlers. Salaita writes in his book:
"There are nearly half a million Jewish settlers on the West Bank. Their population currently grows at double the rate of other Israelis. They use 90 percent of the West Bank's water; the 3.5 million Palestinians of the territory make due with the remaining 10 percent. They travel on Jewish-only highways while Palestinians wait for hours at checkpoints (with no guarantee of passing through, even when they are injured or giving birth). They regularly assault women and children; some bury alive the natives. They vandalize homes and shops. They run over pedestrians with their cars. They restrict farmers from their land. They squat on hilltops that don't belong to them. They firebomb houses and kill babies. They bring with them a high-tech security force largely composed of conscripts to maintain this hideous apparatus."
One could read even such a longer-than-twitter criticism and imagine certain additions to it. But, reading the whole book from which I've quoted it, would eliminate the possibility of fantasizing that Salaita is, in this passage, advocating vengeance or violence or condemning settlers because of their religion or ethnicity or equating all settlers with each other except in so far as they are part of an operation of ethnic cleansing. Salaita does not excuse either side of the conflict but criticizes the idea that there is a conflict in Palestine with two equal sides:
"Since 2000, Israelis have killed 2,060 Palestinian children, while Palestinians have killed 130 Israeli children. The overall death count during this period is over 9,000 Palestinians and 1,190 Israelis. Israel has violated at least seventy-seven UN resolutions and numerous provisions of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. Israel has imposed hundreds of settlements on the West Bank, while Palestinians inside Israel increasingly are squeezed and continue to be internally displaced. Israel has demolished nearly thirty thousand Palestinian homes as a matter of policy. Palestinians have demolished zero Israeli homes. At present more than six thousand Palestinians languish in Israeli prisons, including children; no Israeli occupies a Palestinian prison."
Salaita wants Palestinian land given back to Palestinians, just as he wants at least some Native American land given back to Native Americans. Such demands, even when they amount to nothing but compliance with existing laws and treaties, seem unreasonable or vengeful to certain readers. But what people imagine education consists of if not the consideration of ideas that at first seem unreasonable is beyond me. And the notion that returning stolen land must involve violence is a notion added to the proposal by the reader.
However, there is at least one area in which Salaita is clearly and openly accepting of violence, and that is the United States military. Salaita wrote a column criticizing "support the troops" propaganda, in which he said, "My wife and I often discuss what our son might grow up to accomplish. A consistent area of disagreement is his possible career choice. She can think of few things worse than him one day joining the military (in any capacity), while I would not object to such a decision."
Think about that. Here is someone making a moral argument for opposing violence in Palestine, and a book-length defense of the importance of this stand outweighing concerns of comfort or politeness. And he wouldn't so much as object to his son joining the United States military. Elsewhere in the book, he notes that U.S. academics "can travel to, say, Tel Aviv University and pal around with racists and war criminals." Think about that. This is an American academic writing this while David Petraeus, John Yoo, Condoleezza Rice, Harold Koh, and dozens of their fellow war criminals teach in U.S. academia, and not without huge controversy about which Salaita cannot have avoided hearing. In response to outrage at his criticism of "support the troops," his then-employer, Virginia Tech, loudly proclaimed its support for the U.S. military.
The U.S. military acts on the belief, as found in the names of its operations and weapons as well as in its extended discussions, that the world is "Indian territory," and that native lives don't matter. A West Point professor recently proposed targeting critics of U.S. militarism with death, not just denial of tenure. And why is such criticism dangerous? Because nothing the U.S. military does to the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, or anywhere else is any more defensible than what the Israeli military does with its help -- and I don't think it would take much consideration of the facts for someone like Steven Salaita to realize that.
The world’s two big nuclear militaries are in the same war now in Syria and, if not on opposite sides exactly, certainly not on the same side. A primary, if not the primary, goal of the United States in Syria is overthrowing the Syrian government. A primary, if not the primary, goal of Russia is maintaining the Syrian government. Hostilities are building in each nation toward the other. Republican candidates for president are trying to outdo a certain Democratic candidate for president in bellicosity toward Russia. Forces armed by the U.S. in Syria are eager to shoot down Russian planes. Russia and the U.S. and its allies are clearly unhappy about each other’s flights. Hillary Clinton wants a no-fly zone. Israeli and Russian planes have already come close to fighting. Israel has attacked the base Russia is using, or at least Russia says it has.
To my mind this is more dangerous that the Cuban missile crisis. This is the Cuban missile crisis with way more nukes, way crazier elected officials, numerous state and non-state actors in the mix, an unpredictable civil war underway, a propaganda machine of higher sophistication and extreme corruption, and the public too confused and deluded to impose any sort of positive influence at all.
And when I mock the public I include myself in that. Let me give you an idea of how out of touch I am. I would have thought that every peace activist in the United States would oppose the new development of Russia bombing Syria. We’ve always said, and some of us have even believed, that war was immoral and illegal and unacceptable no matter who did it. We’ve opposed primarily U.S. wars because the U.S. is the primary wager of wars and because we live in the U.S. We’ve always said that if some other nation were to begin adventuring around the world bombing countries we would oppose that too. And some of us meant it. We’ve always argued that bombs kill civilians along with ordinary soldiers stuck on the wrong side. We’ve always pointed to all the evidence that bombs generate more hatred, more violence, more enemies. U.S. bombs, we’ve said, don’t plant flowers of democracy; they plant seeds of violent blowback. Are we now to suppose that Russian bombs are different? Because I couldn’t have been more wrong about how people were going to react.
Many, it turns out, see Russian bombs as imposing law and order, bombing the proper people which the U.S. was failing to do, and resisting the evil warmaking efforts of the United States.
Of course, Russia is supporting a legal government, not a bunch of rebel groups. Of course the United States and every other party involved was on a years-long course of disaster and horror before Russia reached this stage of involvement. But how does supporting a legal government give you a blank check for dropping bombs on people? If Russia had supported the legal government of Egypt by bombing Tahrir Square in 2011 would all the same observers have cheered? Russia has been arming and supporting a brutal murderous government in Syria for years, fueling a proxy war. The United States and its gulf allies have been arming and training and assisting various sides in the war for years now. The constant flow of weapons has been worsening the situation for years. The steady escalation of the violence has been worsening the situation for years. Why wouldn’t it? It always does.
Of course those many “peace” activists who have supported U.S. efforts to overthrow the Syrian government for years might be expected to possibly denounce Russian bombing. But what about those of us who’ve opposed U.S. imperialism and rejected with indignation all the accusations of being big fans of Bashar al Assad?
I’ve been on Russia TV dozens of times in recent years to denounce U.S. actions in Iraq and Syria. Often RT creates a Youtube video and a text story about the interview afterwards. Last week I was on and they apparently expected me to cheer for the Russian bombs, but I denounced them as well, and the Syrian government as well, along with the United States and its many allies. The interviewer seemed shocked, but it was live — what could they do? I haven’t seen any Youtube. I haven’t had another call from RT yet. (In fairness, I opposed U.S. warmaking on MSNBC over a year ago and have yet to hear from them.)
I was so out of touch on Friday that, even though I expected that line of questioning and that response to my answers from RT, I assumed peace activists all agreed with me. It turns out that many clearly do not, and many others assume the same thing about me that RT did, namely that I must be thrilled that Russia is dropping bombs on Syrians.
When you engage in online activism, and you send out emails to hundreds of thousands of people, you get back quite a variety of responses. One type of response that often gets on my nerves is the why-didn’t-you-mention-my-cause-in-your-email response. It’s just not fun to receive outraged messages that your petition against a corporate trade agreement failed to mention the Citizens United decision, or your campaign to end the war on Afghanistan failed to mention the war on Yemen. These complaints are usually accompanied by accusations of evil intent and corrupt complicity. This phenomenon has been increasing as the wars have been proliferating. And it’s merged with the ages-old tradition of assuming that opposition to one side in a war equals support for the other side. If you don’t want Israelis killing Palestinians then you must want Palestinians killing Israelis. This line of thinking is ubiquitous. So, now I receive angry emails attacking me for supporting Russian bombs in Syria or Syrian bombs in Syria when I send out an email opposing a fracked gas pipeline or denouncing the bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan.
Some wise souls began, immediately upon the commencement of the Russian bombing of Syria, to declare that we must oppose bombing by all sides. I stupidly assumed this went without saying. I ignored constructive criticism that I shouldn’t say anything about anything without opposing the Russian bombing or everyone would conclude I favored it. Huh? Why in the world would they think that? I’ve been working on a set of arguments for the complete abolition of war. Why would I favor war all of a sudden — and the most dangerous development in war in the history of the planet? That’s crazy, I thought. But I was way out of touch.
The idea of opposing all war, though many thousands sign their names onto it, is really not understood by very many, I’m afraid. I think it’s taken as meaningless rhetoric, harmless simplification. Of course they don’t mean all war, they just mean the bad wars, I’ll go ahead and sign that. Deep in the minds of even some of the most dedicated and courageous and principled peace activists lies faith in the power of brute force, reliance on the strategy of a balance of powers, hope that war waged properly by the right parties in the right places can end the improper wars and bring about war’s absence.
I believe I am going to make a list of all active wars, and all parties in them, with the words “I oppose these:” at the top. Of course I oppose secret actions by “special” forces too. I oppose drone murders I’m never told about. And of course I’m holding out hope that drone war opponents will be saddened rather than encouraged when nations other than the United States begin to get caught committing drone murders. Come to think of it, there is no way to create a comprehensive list. You’re just going to have to believe I oppose all war, and I’m just going to have to keep saying so over and over and over. After all, I may not have long left to say it if U.S.-Russian relations continue on the course they’ve charted.
Maria Santelli is Executive Director of the Center on Conscience & War, a 75-year old organization founded to provide technical and community support to conscientious objectors to war. Based in Washington, D.C., Santelli has been working for peace and justice since 1996. She discusses conscientious objection and this week's attack on a hospital in Afghanistan.
Read her articles at http://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/51409
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Life is a very jumbled mixture. The pain of it, if you're awake and thinking, brings into your mind the happiest moments you can remember and transforms them into agony unless you resist bitterness with every drop of strength you have left, if not more. Physical pain makes clear-thinking and generous thinking more difficult, until death appears in front of you, and then the physical pain is as nothing.
I know that I'm not supposed to be bitter, and yet that somehow makes it harder not to be. When my father and sister and two cousins were blown into little pieces last year, it was the action of some distant office worker pushing a switch on a remote-controlled airplane. And I'm supposed to believe that they meant well. And this is supposed to make it better. But somehow it makes it worse.
The war that landed me in this hospital in Kunduz, along with all of the screaming men, women, and children around me whose voices have now faded into what I imagine the roar of the ocean must be, this war comes from a distant land that we are told means well. Yet it generates enemies through its horrors. It funds those enemies through its incompetence, corruption, and insistence on buying protection for its occupiers. It fights those enemies with such marvelous weaponry that it kills and kills and kills until many more enemies face it, and it goes on fighting from afar. I'm told the people in America believe the war ended, that it isn't even happening, that it isn't entering Year 15 in four days, while I will never enter Year 14.
I've only known war. I've only heard of peace. Now I will know only the peace of the dead. And I've been told that the dead go on with living somewhere else, but I'm told this by people whose other statements are nothing but lies, so I prefer to wait the endless moments of this hospital burning to the ground with me inside it, and then see for myself.
I understand that I am only an Afghan. I am not an American school student wrongly murdered. I am not an Israeli settler brutally blown up. I'm not a U.S. soldier or a Syrian or Ukrainian who was killed by the wrong side. But this is what makes my bitterness so hard to push back against. I'm an Afghan being bombed for women's rights that I will never ever have a chance to exercise, because I will never ever be a woman. So, I must focus on my gratitude to those who have been kind to me, including those who left this world ahead of me to guide the way.
When I focus on the good in my life intensely, I can shut out any echoes of the evil. I can almost even come back to the evil with a sense of forgiveness and the realization that really, truly, the people who do these things must not know what they are doing. I understand that no one could really begin to understand my experience who isn't me.
Americans may find Syria a bit confusing. David Petraeus, sainted hero, has proposed arming al Qaeda, organized devil. Vladimir Putin, reincarnated Hitler, is bombing either ISIS or al Qaeda or their friendly democratic allies, but he shouldn't be because he's against overthrowing the Syrian government, also run by Hitler living under the name Assad. Hillary Clinton, liberal socialist, wants to create a no-fly zone, but wouldn't that make it hard to bomb all the scary Muslims? Wait, are we against Assad or the scary Muslims or both? Aaaaaarrrrgghh! How does this make any sense?
Let's start over, shall we?
Some basic facts?
We'll start with the most uncomfortable fact, but one that helps begin to make sense of everything, OK?
The United States military wants to dominate the earth, has "special" forces active in 135 countries, and has troops stationed in some 180 countries. On a map of the world showing nations with no U.S. troops in them, Syria and Iran stand out like sore thumbs, as once-upon-a-time did Iraq and Libya. Syria not only has no U.S. troops; it has Russian troops, and it's friendly toward Iran, which has no U.S. troops. Overthrowing the Syrian government, like Iraq's and Libya's and Iran's, has been on the Pentagon's bucket list for the 21st century. As early as 2006, the U.S. government had people on the ground in Syria working to overthrow the government. With the 2011 Arab Spring, the U.S. thought it saw an opportunity, and helped turn the protests violent.
The Syrian government is awful and murderous. It used to torture people for the U.S. government. It, indeed, attacks "its own citizens" (which is always who governments attack that aren't escapading around the globe attacking other people's citizens, which in fact most governments never do). If every government that attacked its own citizens had to be overthrown, the list would be unending, and could begin with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, and various other governments just in that region that the U.S. -- far from overthrowing -- props up, funds, and arms with the weaponry used to commit the attacks. Overthrowing foreign governments and launching wars are in fact illegal acts, and rightly so, regardless of the nature of the governments.
The criminal acts of overthrowing the horrible governments of Iraq and Libya resulted in millions of people being killed, injured, traumatized, and turned into refugees, and the creation of not only worse governments but deadly chaos in those nations and spilling out into the rest of the region. This cannot be a model for what to do to Syria.
Russia should not be arming Syria or bombing Syria. We're so well trained to think in terms of war, that when we hear that one side of a war is in the wrong, we imagine that must be an argument for backing the other side. "You don't want the United States bombing Syria? Then you must want Russia bombing Syria! You must want Assad using his deadly 'barrel bombs'!" In fact, nobody should be arming or bombing anyone in Syria. The United States and numerous allies that have been bombing Syria need to stop. Russia, which has just started, needs to stop. The U.S. media says Russia is bombing where there's no ISIS, although it said ISIS was there a week ago and seems to have forgotten. Russia shouldn't stop bombing because it's bombing the wrong people. There are no right people to bomb. The majority of people who die from bombs are civilians. The majority of people involved with any of the many opposition groups in Syria are opportunists and misguided desperate souls. Every single person in Syria is a person deserving better than a crude "barrel bomb" from a helicopter they hear coming or a far more deadly missile from a foreign jet or drone.
A no fly zone is not a zone in which nobody can fly. It's a zone in which the United States claims the exclusive right to fly and to shoot out of the sky anyone else who tries it, and to bomb out of existence any weaponry that could threaten U.S. planes, along with any people who happen to be anywhere near any suspected weaponry or near any locations accidentally hit in the process. The history of human catastrophes facilitated by humanitarian "no fly" zones includes Iraq and Libya. Hillary Clinton, motivated by interest in Libya's oil, wanted a no fly zone in Libya, urged that it be used to overthrow the government, laughed gleefully about killing Gadaffi, and would prefer that you now not look at Libya too closely. A no fly zone for Syria is a declaration of war on Syria.
Hillary Clinton, just to be clear, is not an office holder. She is a private citizen who ought to be shunned from all public discourse. As Secretary of State, she waived restrictions on shipping weapons to brutal governments if they made large "donations" to her foundation. For that, she should be in prison. Nothing worse will be found, no matter how many of her emails are read in a mad pursuit of more minor but colorful offenses.
In 2013, the Obama Administration demanded the right to send missiles into Syria. The plan, kept private, was a massive bombing campaign that would have leveled Syria and set it on a more rapid course toward utter chaos. Obama made claims about chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government that have never yet been documented, and alleged proof for which fell apart.
The U.S. public helped prevent that attack in 2013 and was, according to polls, even more strongly against arming and training Syrians. So, the CIA and the Pentagon went right ahead with arming and training Syrians. They have had a very hard time recruiting, and have seen their trained and armed troops desert and join other groups, including al Qaeda and ISIS. The U.S. dismissed out of hand a Russian proposal for peace, including Assad stepping down, in 2012, under the delusion that Assad would be quickly overthrown by violence in a manner less advantageous to Russia. That hasn't happened. U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia keep funding and arming ISIS and allied groups. The U.S. keeps arming supposedly "moderate" murderers who supposedly oppose both ISIS and Assad. The various opposition groups keep fighting Assad and each other. And Assad gets support from Russia, and has begun working with Russia, Iran, and Iraq against its opposition / ISIS.
The United States still dreams of overthrowing Assad on the cheap without a massive U.S. occupation, and without bombing quite the whole country. The U.S. keeps fueling the fires that sooner or later could escalate into the kind of war that could overthrow Assad, generate lots more hatred of the United States, empower ISIS, and kill millions.
Russia hopes to keep Assad or a Russia-friendly government in power without a massive Russian occupation, and without bombing quite the whole country. Russia keeps fueling the fires that sooner or later could escalate into the kind of war that could put an end to major opposition in the short term, generate hatred of Russia, empower ISIS, and kill millions.
The global threat is, of course, that this could escalate into a war between Russia and the United States.
What can be done? From the U.S. side that's not hard to answer, though it may be hard to accept.
1. Apologize to the people of Iraq and Libya, abandon the overthrow of Syria, apologize to the United Nations for promoting war at the General Assembly.
2. Cease all weapons shipments to the Middle East and pull all U.S. troops out of the Middle East.
3. Launch a massive campaign of no-strings-attached aid as restitution to the region, costing of course many times less than the ongoing militarism.
4. Work to negotiate an arms embargo and a weapons-of-mass-destruction free Middle East, including Israel.
5. Work to cut off the funding to armed groups.
6. Ask the United Nations to convene peace talks with all parties, including the Syrian opposition, including Iraq, including Iran, including Russia, including Turkey, including the Syrian government, but not including nations that are not even located in the region, such as the United States.
When I wrote War Is A Lie in 2010 (second edition coming April 5th!) it was a condemnation of war, but not exactly a manifesto for abolishing it. I wrote that in War No More: The Case for Abolition in 2013. But John Horgan wrote The End of War in 2012. Douglas Fry wrote Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace in 2009. Russell Faure-Brac wrote Transition to Peace in 2012. Winslow Myers wrote Living Beyond War in 2009. Judith Hand wrote Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War in 2013. Colleagues of mine at WorldBeyondWar.org and I wrote A Global Security System: An Alternative to War in 2015. And I’ve just picked up a copy of Roberto Vivo’s War: A Crime Against Humanity (2014). There are others out there, and others in the works. Some readers may point to Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (2012), although it’s not so much a rallying cry to end war as a misleading claim that war is ending itself. There are other books as well that are more straightforwardly responses to the growth of war abolitionism, such as War: What Is It Good For? by Ian Morris in 2015, which, yes, argues that wars are good for us and shouldn’t be abolished.
There were a lot more war abolition books in the 1920s and 1930s, and of course there was a much bigger peace movement in the 1960s than now, but I think it can safely be argued that a new trend is emerging in opposition to the institution of war, a trend possibly brought on in part by the end of the Cold War and by the 8-year reign of a Republican U.S. President (or was it Vice President?) who engaged in aggressive war with unapologetic rhetoric and extremely careless propaganda. Certainly the end of the (Bill) Clinton years was not greeted by the publication of a pile of books seeking to rid the world of war. Some of the books above are quite explicitly reactions to the George W. Bush wars, some include misguided apologies for the Barack Obama wars, some claim weapons companies can coexist with peace, some suggest that women must end the male scourge of war, some condemn capitalism as a root problem, some are religious, some focus on scientific studies. No two agree with each other on every point. They all — certainly including mine — have flaws.
But the cumulative effect of these books is bound to be more persuasive than any one of them. They all or virtually all point to the current understanding of pre-history as a time free of war, slavery, major agriculture, cities, and other accouterments of “civilization,” although not, of course, free of violence or anger. All of these books recognize war and these other developments as relatively new in human existence and argue that if some can be ended (such as slavery, which few now dispute can be ended) then war can be ended too. All make the case that war since World War II has killed primarily civilians and cannot be morally defended. All make the case that war while nuclear weapons exist risks human annihilation. All argue that developments in peace studies and nonviolent action render war obsolete as a tool for political change. All point to examples of “primitive” and “civilized” cultures choosing to live without war for centuries on end. All point to examples of particular wars being prevented, and ask “If that war could be stopped, why not every war?” All strive to identify some of the factors facilitating war (cultural attitudes, profiteering, corruption, propaganda, etc.) and to propose courses of action that will move us toward abolition.
Roberto Vivo’s book is no exception. Its initial sections are among the best I’ve read on the evitability of war, the evil of war, and the unjustness of war. The whole book is full of intriguing nuggets for further exploration of other authors, ancient Chinese philosophers, and anecdotes from centuries gone by. The third of the four sections of Vivo’s book seemed rather irrelevant to me. We read about George Soros’ late-in-life discovery that self-identified “democracies” use propaganda; yet we read page after page about the development and politics of democracy — always credited ultimately to the ancient Greeks, never the Iroquois. And I think the short section in which Vivo claims that weapons industries can coexist with peace while generating economic benefits ought to address the serious arguments that the weapons industries are actually an economic drain, that restraining them is not easy, that they want their weapons tested and demonstrated, and that they want their weapons eliminated and replaced.
Vivo’s final chapter looks at slavery, torture, and racism as practices that are being ended — or at least we hope so, and I think the arguments used are good ones despite the significant comeback for torture in recent years. Vivo sees part of the solution to war as resting in criminalizing it. He’d like to transform the International Criminal Court into an independent and effective institution with the ability to prosecute what he calls “aggressive war” and what I would call “war.” Vivo accurately identifies the United States government as the major force working against such application of the rule of law. But he writes about the idea of criminalizing war as if it’s never been done, and claims that the effort to prosecute the crime of starting World War I failed because it has always been believed that no single individual could be held accountable for something so enormous.
But in fact roughly half the world is represented by governments that are parties to a treaty banning all war, and it was the existence of this treaty that allowed the United States to claim that war was a crime when it was committed by Germany and Japan (though, for some reason, not when it was committed by the victors of World War II). This treaty, which did not exist when World War I was launched, is called the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and I wrote about it in When the World Outlawed War. Vivo’s nation of Uruguay is not a party to the Pact, but its current president seems just the person to change that. Were Uruguay to send a letter to the U.S. State Department joining the Kellogg-Briand Pact, it would then be a party to it. That’s all that is required. Uruguay might then send a note the following week respectfully urging the United States to comply with the treaty.
Of course, bringing the nations of the world together to create something like the Kellogg-Briand Pact from scratch would work just as well, but no single country could do that alone, and no group of countries could do it in this day and age without some sort of magical powers. The victors of World War II, also known as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, think they have got a good thing going. Why would they choose to put themselves on an equal level with others and ban all war when they can maintain impunity and choose which wars are “defensive” and which are “authorized”?
The secret of Kellogg-Briand is that four of the big five are already on board with banning all war and just need to be reminded of it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Uruguay were to play that role?
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if war abolition literature were read, studied, discussed, refined, and acted on?
That little smoke-filled room where our despair and paranoia incline us to imagine a small number of evil people run the world clearly forgot to keep an eye on the Republican Party.
A popular movement has struggled to stop such looming disasters as the NAFTA-on-steroids Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but the ouster of John Boehner as Speaker of the House puts stopping anything into play. While scholarly studies deem the U.S. government to be an oligarchy, based on whom it actually serves, petty partisan squabbling just might come riding to the rescue of democracy -- accidentally of course.
Boehner wasn't insufficiently right-wing for the other Republicans in the House of Representatives, he was just insufficiently obstinate and insufficiently anti-Obama. The new Speaker's mandate will be to oppose to the death anything Obama supports. Obama could publicly throw himself behind keeping Guantanamo open, and the place would be shut by Thursday.
See, from way out yonder beyond the Beltway we sometimes have to squint to see the difference between the two parties. But from their perspective, one party is on a holy mission while the other is evil incarnate. And the minority of Americans who still bother to vote tend to be disproportionately those who also manage to see a big difference between the two parties. So, candidates get elected with the rather stupid mission of first and foremost opposing anything the other party does.
The little-known-fact that usually makes this look like a silly charade but which, if it's taken far enough, could just be our salvation, is that the two parties agree on most of the big stuff. They both want major job-and-environment-destroying corporate trade agreements, for example. They'll scream at each other about abortion but ram those plutocratic deals right through, against any amount of public opposition. Unless, perhaps, they've sworn an oath on what passes for their honor to oppose anything the other party supports.
Now here's where this could get really really good. The majority of what Congress spends money on each year (some 54% of discretionary spending now) is a single item in multiple departments: the military. The global celebration if a U.S. military spending bill were ever blocked would top probably all past human festivals. But how to stop one? A speech by the Pope clearly won't do it. Protesters getting thrown out of committee hearings hasn't done it. Public opinion polls barely register. After 14 years of a particularly disastrous military campaign, Congress seems perfectly content to roll right along. Unless, perhaps, a partisan disagreement can be introduced into the debate. (I'm thinking a Democratic commitment to passing no military spending without full rights for trans-gender soldiers.)
Gridlock is generally lamented by the U.S. media, but when most of what's being done is damaging, we really ought to work to facilitate gridlock. Bailout a bank? No thanks. Subsidize a coal company? I'll pass. Cut taxes on a billionaire? Maybe later.
Of course, this gets us only so far. You can't fantasize about passing good and necessary legislation under gridlock. Congress won't be able to invest in a radical emergency project to save the earth's climate, for example. But if you think that was about to happen, you may want to roll over and stop snoring. Once in a blue moon some smaller piece of desirable legislation comes to a vote. Those would suffer under Congressional gridlock or shutdown. We'd have to work at the state, local, and global levels instead.
But wouldn't it be worth it to be rid of Congress? C-Span could then switch over to live video feeds of police brutality 24-7.
Mike Ferner is a candidate for mayor of Toledo, Ohio.
Mike Ferner grew up in rural Ohio, working on farms much of his youth. After 12 years of Catholic education and a head full of John Wayne movies, he enlisted in the Navy right out of high school in 1969.
During three years as a hospital corpsman he nursed hundreds of wounded soldiers returning from Viet Nam, an experience that radicalized him for life starting with his discharge as a conscientious objector.
Mike has been an independent member of Toledo City Council and a candidate for mayor of his city; an organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Communications Director for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy and has served as national president of Veterans For Peace.
Just prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he lived there for a month with a Voices in the Wilderness delegation, returning in 2004 for another two months as an independent journalist and wrote "Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq" (Prager 2006). His activism includes several arrests for “disturbing the war,” including disrupting a session of Congress.
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Letter to The Guardian signed by Mark Rylance, Charlotte Church, Len McCluskey, Caroline Lucas MP, Brian Eno, Mairead Maguire, Michael Rosen, Tariq Ali, Clive Lewis MP, many more.
We are gravely concerned at the possibility of a parliamentary decision to bomb Syria. David Cameron is planning such a vote in the House of Commons in the near future. He is doing so in the face of much evidence that such an action would exacerbate the situation it is supposed to solve. Already we have seen the killing of civilians and the exacerbation of a refugee crisis which is largely the product of wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.
The US and its allies have dropped 20,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria in the past year, with little effect. We fear that this latest extension of war will only worsen the threat of terrorism, as have the previous wars involving the British government. Cameron is cynically using the refugee crisis to urge more war. He should not be allowed to.
Mairead Maguire Nobel peace laureate
Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite the Union
Christine Shawcroft Labour NEC
Diane Abbott MP
Clive Lewis MP
Caroline Lucas MP
Andrew Murray Chair, Stop the War Campaign
Lindsey German Convenor, STWC
Kate Hudson CND
Andy de la Tour
Gerry Grehan Peace People Belfast
The United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals don't just ignore the fact that development isn't sustainable; they revel in it. One of the goals is spreading energy use. Another is economic growth. Another is preparation for climate chaos (not preventing it, but dealing with it). And how does the United Nations deal with problems? Generally through wars and sanctions.
This institution was set up 70 years ago to keep nations, rather than a global body, in charge, and to keep the victors of World War II in a permanent position of dominating the rest of the globe. The UN legalized "defensive" wars and any wars it "authorizes" for whatever reason. It now says drones have made war "the norm," but addressing that problem is not among the 17 goals now being considered. Ending war is not among the goals. Disarmament isn't mentioned. The Arms Trade Treaty put through last year still lacks the United States, China, and Russia, but that's not among the 17 concerns of "sustainable development."
Saudi Arabia's "responsibility to protect" Yemen by murdering its people with U.S. weapons isn't at issue. Saudi Arabia is busy crucifying children and heading up the UN's Human Rights Council. Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Foreign Minister of Turkey have declared that they will start addressing the full "lifecycle" of young people who become "terrorists." Of course, they'll do so without mentioning the U.S.-led wars that have traumatized the region or the by now long established record of the global war on terrorism producing terrorism.
I'm happy to have signed this letter, which you, too, can sign below:
To: U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon
The U.N. Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945. Its potential is still unfulfilled. It has been used to advance and misused to impede the cause of peace. We urge a rededication to its original goal of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
Whereas the Kellogg-Briand Pact forbids all war, the U.N. Charter opens up the possibility of a "legal war." While most wars do not meet the narrow qualifications of being defensive or U.N.-authorized, many wars are marketed as if they meet those qualifications, and many people are fooled. After 70 years isn't it time for the United Nations to cease authorizing wars and to make clear to the world that attacks on distant nations are not defensive?
The danger lurking in the "responsibility to protect" doctrine must be addressed. Acceptance of murder by armed drone as either non-war or legal war must be decisively rejected. To fulfill its promise, the United Nations must rededicate itself to these words from the U.N. Charter: "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered."
To advance, the United Nations must be democratized so that all people of the world have an equal voice, and no single or small number of wealthy, war-oriented nations dominate the UN's decisions. We urge you to pursue this path.
World Beyond War has outlined specific reforms that would democratize the United Nations, and make nonviolent actions the primary activity engaged in. Please read them here.
Sandra Osei Twumasi
He did not, as his spoken comments heretofore might have suggested, make this statement entirely or at all about fraud and waste in the military. He did not even mention Saudi Arabia, much less declare that it should "take the lead" or "get its hands dirty" as he had been doing in interviews, even as Saudi Arabia bombs Yemeni families with U.S. cluster bombs. While he mentioned veterans and called them brave, he also did not turn the focus of his statement toward glorification of troops, as he very well might have.
All that to the good, the statement does lack some key ingredients. Should the United States be spending a trillion dollars a year and over half of discretionary spending on militarism? Should it cut that by 50%, increase it by 30%, trim it by 3%? We really can't tell from this statement insisting on the need for major military spending while admitting the harm it does:
"And while there is no question our military must be fully prepared and have the resources it needs to fight international terrorism, it is imperative that we take a hard look at the Pentagon's budget and the priorities it has established. The U.S. military must be equipped to fight today's battles, not those of the last war, much less the Cold War. Our defense budget must represent our national security interests and the needs of our military, not the reelection of members of Congress or the profits of defense contractors. The warning that President Dwight David Eisenhower gave us about the influence of the Military-Industrial Complex in 1961 is truer today than it was then."
That warning, of course, might be interpreted by some as suggesting that investing in preparation for "today's battles" is what produces today's battles.
And which of today's battles would Sanders like to end? Drones are not mentioned. Special forces are not mentioned. Foreign bases are not mentioned. The only hint he gives about future action in Iraq or Syria suggests that he would continue to use the military to make things worse while simultaneously trying other approaches to make things better:
"We live in a dangerous world full of serious threats, perhaps none more so than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. Senator Sanders is committed to keeping America safe, and pursuing those who would do Americans harm. But we cannot combat international terrorism alone. We must work with our allies to root out terrorist funding networks, provide logistical support in the region, disrupt online radicalization, provide humanitarian relief, and support and defend religious freedom. Moreover, we must begin to address the root causes of radicalization, instead of focusing solely on military responses to those who have already become radicalized."
Would he end the U.S. war on Afghanistan?
"Sen. Sanders called on both Presidents Bush and Obama to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible and for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for their own security. After visiting Afghanistan, Sen. Sanders spoke-out against the rampant corruption he saw, particularly in regards to elections, security and the banking system."
From that, an American suffering under the delusion that the war had already been ended would be enlightened not at all, and one really can't tell whether Sanders would choose to take any sort of action to end it in reality. Of course, he is a U.S. Senator and is not attempting to cut off the funding.
Sanders' statement is a very mixed bag. He supports the Iran agreement while pushing false claims about "Iran developing nuclear weapons." He criticizes "both sides" in Palestine, but says not one word about cutting off free weaponry or international legal protection for Israel -- or for any other governments. The Pope's call to end the arms trade, which the United States leads, goes unmentioned. He mentions nuclear weapons, but only the nonexistent ones belonging to Iran, not those of the United States or Israel or any other nation. Disarmament is not an agenda item here. And how could it be when he declares, in violation of the U.N. Charter, in his first paragraph that "force must always be an option"?
Sanders offers no details on a shift away from serving as weapons supplier to the world, to serious investment in aid and diplomacy. But he does say this:
"However, after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the Middle East, it is time for a new approach. We must move away from policies that favor unilateral military action and preemptive war, and that make the United States the de facto policeman of the world. Senator Sanders believes that foreign policy is not just deciding how to react to conflict around the world, but also includes redefining America’s role in the increasingly global economy. Along with our allies throughout the world, we should be vigorous in attempting to prevent international conflict, not just responding to problems. For example, the international trade agreements we enter into, and our energy and climate change policies not only have enormous consequences for Americans here at home, but greatly affect our relations with countries around the world. Senator Sanders has the experience, the record and the vision not just to lead on these critically important issues, but to take our country in a very different direction."
Sanders claims, however, absurdly, that he has only supported wars that were a "last resort." He includes among those, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, despite neither having been remotely a last resort. Sanders admits as much, saying, "I supported the use of force to stop the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans." Set aside the fact that it increased the ethnic cleansing and that diplomacy was not really attempted, what he is claiming is a philanthropic mission, not a "last resort." Sanders also says, "And, in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, I supported the use of force in Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists who attacked us." Set aside the Taliban's offer to transfer Osama bin Laden to a third country to be tried, what Sanders is describing is hunting and murdering people in a distant land, not a "last resort" -- and also not what he voted for, and Rep. Barbara Lee voted against, which was a blank check for endless war at presidential discretion.
All of this obviously leaves open the possibility of endless global war but suggests a desire not to eagerly seek it out. Also obviously it is far better than Hillary Clinton would say, less than Jill Stein would say ("Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights. End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases that are turning our republic into a bankrupt empire. Stop U.S. support and arms sales to human rights abusers, and lead on global nuclear disarmament."), and a bit different from what Lincoln Chafee would say (the latter actually admits the U.S. wars created ISIS and are making us less safe, says he'd end drone strikes, etc.). And of course the whole lot of them are a distraction from the struggle to reduce and end militarism and prevent wars in 2015, a year with no election in it. Still, it's encouraging that a leading "socialist" candidate for U.S. president finally has a foreign policy, even if it hardly resembles Jeremy Corbyn's.
During this year's competition for Miss Italy, contestants were asked what historical epoch they might like to have lived in and why. The first young woman to answer said 1942. She had heard so much about World War II, she said, that she'd like to actually live it -- plus, she added, women didn't have to be in the military anyway.
A number of people over 18, including to all appearances the judges, deemed this idiotic. And yet that contestant won and is now Miss Italy, whose job seems to be giving sadly laughable interviews in which she says that her favorite Italian historical figure is Michael Jordan, and she can understand why refugees flee horrors but that they should really go somewhere else other than Italy. Maybe she would have fit into 1942 better than most people imagine.
There is a World War II problem in the United States and in more of Europe than one might expect, and -- in fact -- in a good bit of the Hollywood-viewing world. World War II is our origin myth, our hero myth, our tragedy, our locus of meaning and justification for how we live.
Reality still registers with many to a great extent. Some realize at times that World War II was the worst thing ever to happen on earth in a relatively brief space of time -- the greatest quantity of death, injury, suffering, and destruction, and also the most dramatic degeneration of morality. This was the war that moved the whole institution of war from something that killed primarily soldiers to something that has ever since killed primarily civilians. This was the acceptance and then the glorification of all-out war, tied to technological innovation, and transformed into a project of the entire community and an imagined economic good.
Without the World War II myth of "good war" one could not justify 70 years of militarism, materialism, and mad exploitation of planet and people ever since. Without the World War II myth, the Pope's request that the United States end the wars and the arms trade could actually be heard and comprehended. An enormous percentage of stories in film, tv, books, magazines, etc., are set in or somehow connected to World War II. An 18-year-old in Italy (or the United States, for that matter) attempting in a moment of panic to think of an historical era in which something exciting occurred, could hardly answer other than World War II.
That the excitement was no greater than excitement easily obtainable today is incomprehensible to people raised on the myth. That it was overwhelmed by horrific suffering gets lost in the mythologizing. That the region Miss Italy is from was bombed, and that the bombs didn't kill only males, has been buried in a mountain of cultural rubble. That moral clarity was most notable during World War II for its absence sounds like crazy talk to a young television viewer or reader of history text books.
World War II is glorified in Hollywood because the United States was on the Russian, and therefore winning, side, having entered the European war once the Germans and Russians had killed each other for years, as Harry Truman openly advocated allowing. World War II is held up as a justification for dozens of unrelated wars that lack their own justifications, because of the particular evil of the losing side -- the side that, perhaps unbeknownst to Miss Italy, Italy was on.
But of course the evil of the death camps had nothing to do with the U.S. refusal to aid Jewish refugees or stop the war short of absolute devastation. The evils of eugenics and human experimentation and biological weapons and so forth were on both sides and continued by the United States using former Nazi and Japanese scientists after the war. The creation of the war was foreseen in 1918 by many wise observers, and yet the policies that led to it were never halted. The German people were not assisted until after the second war. But the Nazis were assisted by Wall Street for years and years.
A war is a human-made disaster, just like climate chaos, just like the Miss Italy competition -- only just a little bit worse. A war is not an ennobling adventure. Watching lies about it on television is not the same as "living" it would be. War is, in fact, what those unwanted refugees are fleeing. They're fleeing the wreckage of completely unromantic war, created by governments in Washington, Rome, London, and Paris that pretty much view history the way Miss Italy views it.
I lack patience. I admit it.
There's my confession.
I couldn't sit through the Pope's slow and plodding and polite speech to Congress, waiting for him to say something against the primary thing that body does and spends our money on. But finally he got there:
"Being at the service of dialogue and peace," he said, "also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade."
No, he didn't list the wars that must be ended or the bases that must be closed or the resources that Congress itself must stop investing in militarism. But he told the world's top arms dealers to end the arms dealing.
Perhaps they heard his words as a mandate to end the arms trade by everyone other than the United States, since the United States of course only sells and gives away weapons for the sake of peace and progress. But the Pope explicitly rejected those justifications.
Perhaps, instead, Congress members heard a condemnation of the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, which is using them to slaughter innocents. Perhaps they heard a warning not to promise $45 billion in new free weapons to Israel. Perhaps they heard a verbal slap in the face to a body that often debates the violence of the Middle East without acknowledging that the majority of the weapons of war in the region originate in the United States. Perhaps Secretary of State John Kerry, whose hand the Pope shook on his way to the podium, heard a suggestion to transform the State Department into something other than a marketing firm for weaponry.
Perhaps in combination with the Pope's comments on aiding refugees some listeners heard the responsibility of those fueling the violence to address the results, and to cease making matters worse.
Perhaps they even heard the shout of honesty in the line: "Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood."
We do all know that, don't we? But we're told that it's good for the world for weapons to be shipped to dozens of nasty governments. It's for a balance of power. It's for U.S. jobs distributed across unnecessarily large numbers of Congressional districts. It's to counter terrorism with greater terrorism.
The Pope brushed aside such logic and spoke the truth. Weapons of war -- which are sold and shipped by the United States far more than any other nation -- are sold for profit. They encourage, initiate, escalate, elongate, and exacerbate wars for profit.
But in the end, I'm not sure such a remark was hearable by members of Congress. I'm not sure they weren't secretly thinking of something else. Because they gave those lines in the Pope's speech a standing ovation.
Did they mean it? Will the U.S. corporate media ask them if they meant it, if they'll act on it? Of course not, but perhaps we can.
As documented in Douglas Blackmon's book, Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, the institution of slavery in the U.S. South largely ended for as long as 20 years in some places upon completion of the U.S. civil war. And then it was back again, in a slightly different form, widespread, controlling, publicly known and accepted -- right up to World War II. In fact, in other forms, it remains today. But it does not remain today in the overpowering form that prevented a civil rights movement for nearly a century. It exists today in ways that we are free to oppose and resist, and we fail to do so only to our own shame.
During widely publicized trials of slave owners for the crime of slavery in 1903 -- trials that did virtually nothing to end the pervasive practice -- the Montgomery Advertiser editorialized: "Forgiveness is a Christian virtue and forgetfulness is often a relief, but some of us will never forgive nor forget the damnable and brutal excesses that were committed all over the South by negroes and their white allies, many of whom were federal officials, against whose acts our people were practically powerless."
This was a publicly acceptable position in Alabama in 1903: slavery should be tolerated because of the evils committed by the North during the war and during the occupation that followed. It's worth considering whether slavery might have ended more quickly had it been ended without a war. To say that is not, of course, to assert that in reality the pre-war United States was radically different than it was, that slave owners were willing to sell out, or that either side was open to a non-violent solution. But most nations that ended slavery did so without a civil war. Some did it in the way that Washington, D.C., did it, through compensated emancipation.
Had the United States ended slavery without the war and without division, it would have been, by definition, a very different and less violent place. But, beyond that, it would have avoided the bitter war resentment that has yet to die down. Ending racism would have been a very lengthy process, regardless. But it might have been given a head start rather than having one arm tied behind our backs. Our stubborn refusal to recognize the U.S. civil war as a hindrance to freedom rather than the path to it, allows us to devastate places like Iraq and then marvel at the duration of the resulting animosity.
Wars acquire new victims for many years after they end, even if all the cluster bombs are picked up. Just try to imagine the justifications that would be made for Israel's attacks on Palestinians had World War II not happened.
Had the Northern U.S. allowed the South to secede, ended the returning of "fugitive slaves," and used diplomatic and economic means to urge the South to abolish slavery, it seems reasonable to suppose that slavery might have lasted in the South beyond 1865, but very likely not until 1945. To say this is, once again, not to imagine that it actually happened, or that there weren't Northerners who wanted it to happen and who really didn't care about the fate of enslaved African Americans. It is just to put into proper context the traditional defense of the civil war as having murdered hundreds of thousands of people on both sides in order to accomplish the greater good of ending slavery. Slavery did not end.
Across most of the South, a system of petty, even meaningless, crimes, such as "vagrancy," created the threat of arrest for any black person. Upon arrest, a black man would be presented with a debt to pay through years of hard labor. The way to protect oneself from being put into one of the hundreds of forced labor camps was to put oneself in debt to and under the protection of a white owner. The 13th Amendment sanctions slavery for convicts, and no statute prohibited slavery until the 1950s. All that was needed for the pretense of legality was the equivalent of today's plea bargain.
Not only did slavery not end. For many thousands it was dramatically worsened. The antebellum slave owner typically had a financial interest in keeping an enslaved person alive and healthy enough to work. A mine or mill that purchased the work of hundreds of convicts had no interest in their futures beyond the term of their sentences. In fact, local governments would replace a convict who died with another, so there was no economic reason not to work them to death. Mortality rates for leased-out convicts in Alabama were as high as 45 percent per year. Some who died in mines were tossed into coke ovens rather than going to the trouble to bury them.
Enslaved Americans after the "ending of slavery" were bought and sold, chained by the ankles and necks at night, whipped to death, waterboarded, and murdered at the discretion of their owners, such as U.S. Steel Corporation which purchased mines near Birmingham where generations of "free" people were worked to death underground.
The threat of that fate hung over every black man not enduring it, as well as the threat of lynching that escalated in the early 20th century along with newly pseudo-scientific justifications for racism. "God ordained the southern white man to teach the lessons of Aryan supremacy," declared Woodrow Wilson's friend Thomas Dixon, author of the book and play The Clansman, which became the film Birth of a Nation.
Five days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government decided to take prosecuting slavery seriously, to counter possible criticism from Germany or Japan.
Five years after World War II, a group of former Nazis, some of whom had used slave labor in caves in Germany, set up shop in Alabama to work on creating new instruments of death and space travel. They found the people of Alabama extremely forgiving of their past deeds.
Prison labor continues in the United States. Mass incarceration continues as a tool of racial oppression. Slave farm labor continues as well. So does the use of fines and debt to create convicts. And of course, companies that swear they would never do what their earlier versions did, profit from slave labor on distant shores.
But what ended mass-slavery in the United States for good was not the idiotic mass-slaughter of the civil war. It was the nonviolent educational and moral force of the civil rights movement a full century later.
The Pope will speak to Congress on Thursday. No other institution on earth does more to destroy the habitability of the planet for future generations. Will the Pope raise his concerns with them or only when he's thousands of miles away?
No other institution sells and gives as many weapons to the world, participates in as many wars, or invests remotely as much in planning, provoking, and pursuing war after war. Will the Pope speak up for abolishing war in the U.S. Capitol or only when he's nowhere near the leading maker of war on earth?
As Nicolas Davies documents in a forthcoming article, when the U.S. has reduced military spending, the world has followed. When it has increased, the world has followed. The Pope wants nuclear weapons eliminated. Will he mention that to the leading investor in nuclear weapons?
Occasionally a particular variety of horror serves to catch people's attention. The boy in the photo at right has been sentenced to be crucified. His crime was participation in a pro-democracy rally. Now he will have done to him what the Pope's religion says was done to Jesus Christ. He won't be smiling blissfully like a Christ on a crucifix either. He will suffer immense pain and torment, and then die.
Who would do this? Why, Saudi Arabia, of course. And who is Saudi Arabia's chief ally, weapons provider, and oil customer? Why, the United States Congress.
Is it possible that this particular murder can arouse action among all of those moral leaders in the United States so desirous of being followers that they're focusing all attention on the Pope?
And if this murder can attract attention, what about all the others? During the course of a brutal civil war in Syria in which all sides have slaughtered numerous innocents with all variety of weaponry, we've been advised at certain points to be indignant over the use of chemical weapons or beheadings. But we don't seem to have managed to carry that over to the full range of murder going on.
Saudi Arabia is dropping bombs, including U.S.-made cluster bombs, on Yemen, slaughtering children by the hundreds. Saudi Arabia is brutalizing the people of Bahrain, not to mention the people of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabians are funding ISIS and other murderers in the region. Are all of these murders acceptable even if the crucifixion isn't? Or can we seize this opportunity to build opposition to all murder? Or might we if the Pope mentions it to Congress?
On Tuesday the Senate Armed Services Committee brought in David Petraeus to testify yet again on how to escalate more wars. Petraeus recently proposed arming al Qaeda. Senator John McCain gave Petraeus credit on Tuesday for extending the Iraq war from 2007 to 2011. Petraeus noted that the whole region is in horrible turmoil. Nobody made any connection between the U.S. wars on Iraq and Libya that have created that turmoil and the results. Nobody questioned the wisdom of using more war to try to repair the damage of war.
Well, a few of us did. The wonderful CodePink was there as always. I was there with a sign that said "Arm al Qaeda? Reagan tried that."
The mad men who run the U.S. government have reached the point of re-arming the enemies of enemies whose blowback first drove them to radically escalate the global murder of innocent people in the name of opposing terrorism while increasing it.
The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance had an answer to this on Tuesday, taking a protest of endless war and environmental destruction to the gate of the White House.
The Secret Service arrested the people in the photo below rather than accept a letter from them articulating their opposition to policies of massive cruelty to the earth and its inhabitants.
The Pope has the opportunity to speak that same message to Congress and to the U.S. corporate media. Will he use it?
As the world celebrates the International Day of Peace and marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Peace Boat and the Global Article 9 Campaign strongly condemn the forceful passage in the Diet of security legislation that breaches Japan’s peace constitution and allows its Self-Defense Forces to use force overseas.
Article 9 is the famous peace clause by which the Japanese people aspires to an international peace based on justice and order, renounces war and prohibits the use of force as means of settling international disputes. Adopted following WWII, Article 9 is a pledge to Japan itself and to the world, particularly to neighboring countries that suffered under Japanese invasions and colonial rule, to never repeat its mistakes. Since then, Article 9 has been widely recognized as a regional and international peace mechanism that has contributed to maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia and served as a legal framework to promote peace, disarmament and sustainability.
The adoption of new security legislation is the latest of a long series of initiatives that challenge Japan’s longstanding peace policies. Such measures include re-interpreting Article 9, increasing the country’s military budget and relaxing the long-held arms export ban. Indeed, the bills codifies the Cabinet’s contentious decision to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and expand Japan’s security role around the world, under Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s pet-doctrine of “pro-active pacifism”. It also puts the newly revised guidelines on Japan-U.S. defense cooperation into effect, granting the U.S. increased Japanese support in its military strategy not only in Asia but also in other parts of the world.
In Japan, the bills face broad opposition in the Diet and amongst the public, as shown by successive opinion polls and massive public protests, many of which organized by students and youth throughout Japan. Most of Japan’s constitutional scholars (including former Prime Ministers, high-rank Cabinet officials and Supreme Court judges) deem the bills unconstitutional and the way they have been pushed through a worrisome deviation from the rule of law. At the regional level, the legislation has been met with anxiety from Japan’s neighbors that consider the move a threat to regional peace and security in Asia.
On this International Day of Peace, Peace Boat and the Global Article 9 Campaign
- Condemn in strongest terms the adoption of the security bills that fundamentally violate the principles and letter of war-renouncing Article 9;
- Decry the way by which the legislation was passed, in disregard for Japan’s legal procedure and democratic process;
- Express utmost concerns at the possible repercussions the legislation will have on the region, and ask Japan and other countries in the region to refrain from any actions that would accelerate arms race and destabilize peace and stability in Northeast Asia;
- Support Japan’s civil society efforts to prevent the legislation from being implemented and Article 9 to be further eroded;
- And call on people around the world to support Japan’s vibrant mobilization towards the revocation of the bills, the preservation of Japan’s democracy and pacific values, and the safeguard of Article 9 as a regional and global peace mechanism.
Download the full statement at goo.gl/zFqZgO
** Please sign our petition "Save Japan Peace Constitution"
Global Article 9 Campaign
Khury Petersen-Smith is an activist who lives in Boston. He traveled to Gaza in 2009 as part of the Viva Palestina medical relief delegation. He also traveled to Iraq on a peace delegation in 2004. His organizing and writing focus particularly on Black liberation, Palestine solidarity, and U.S. empire. He was an organizer of a new statement of black solidarity with Palestine: www.blackforpalestine.com
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SOWING THE SEEDS OF HOPE: FROM CONGRESS TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Join us at an event organized by the National Campaign of Nonviolent Resistance in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Part of a week of actions with Campaign Nonviolence.
Meet in cafeteria in Longworth House Office Building at 9:00 am.
Together we will go to Paul Ryan's office at about 10:00 am.
Bring packets of seeds and photos or news articles of issues you would like to address i.e. war, climate crisis, poverty, institutionalized violence etc.
Leave Ryan's office around 11:00 or 11:15.
Take public transportation to Edward R. Murrow Park – 1800 block of Pennsylvania Ave. NW
12:00 Noon RALLY AT THE PARK
We will proceed together from the park to the White House.
We'll hear speakers at the White House, read a letter sent to Obama, and some will protest even at risk of arrest but others need not do so.
Sign up here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1681885392045454/
In the United States it's hard to imagine admiring an attorney general. The words call to mind people like Eric Holder, Michael Mukasey, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Janet Reno, and Edwin Meese. There were those who fantasized that Barack Obama would not prevent an attorney general from prosecuting top officials for torture, but the idea of a U.S. attorney general prosecuting a U.S. president for war/genocide doesn't even enter the realm of fantasy (in part, because Americans don't even think of what the U.S. military does in the Middle East in those terms).
For a lesson in daring to imagine equality before the law, we can turn our eyes toward Guatemala. Here's a country suffering under the Monroe Doctrine since the dawn of time, a place where the United States engaged in human experimentation giving syphilis to unwitting victims during the time that U.S. lawyers were prosecuting Nazis in Nuremberg. Guatemala had a relatively decent government in 1954 when the CIA overthrew it. U.S. destruction has been unremitting in Guatemala, with the U.S. government backing dictators, killers, and torturers, including during the 1980s and 1990s, a period from which Guatemala is still trying to recover.
A new film called Burden of Peace tells the story of Claudia Paz y Paz, Attorney General of Guatemala from December 9, 2010 to May 17, 2014. Paz y Paz had a poster of Robert Kennedy on her wall during her time as attorney general, herself finding something admirable in a U.S. holder of that same office. Kennedy's actual record was quite mixed, of course. Paz y Paz became attorney general following a long period of unaccountable crime, understood impunity, and rampant corruption.
"Where there were massacres there are now power plants," says one voice in the film. "Where there were massacres there are now mines." People had been killed in large numbers for money, and those responsible would be protected from prosecution as well.
A 1996 peace agreement did not end violence in Guatemala. The government remained corrupt, with killers still holding positions of power.
It's interesting to imagine what would happen if a true reformer were made president or attorney general in the United States, while their staff and colleagues and Congress and the courts and the system of bribery and lobbying remained unchanged. It will be fun to watch Jeremy Corbyn try to take on the British Parliament. We have an example of how this works from Guatemala.
In Burden of Peace we see Claudia Paz y Paz meeting with an office of attorneys in a northen province that had solved zero murder cases and prosecuted almost no one. She insists on change. And she gets it. For over three years she achieves big increases in prosecutions and convictions, including of gang members, including of police officers.
This law-and-order heroism should appeal to Americans if they can overlook the fact that the United States helped cause the problem. I have a mixed reaction. I can't be totally thrilled watching a SWAT team arrest gang members. This is not truth and reconciliation, but force and degradation. And yet I recognize that in a state of lawless violence it will be difficult to address other problems and solutions unless the violence is addressed first. Paz y Paz, in fact, reduced crime rates as solved murdered cases increased from 5% to 30%.
She had previously worked on the first big investigation of crimes committed during the civil war in Guatemala, which accused top military and political leaders, inlcuding the head of state, of genocide. Bishop Juan José Gerardi presented the report to the public and was murdered the next day. You see a big crowd taking part in his funeral in footage included in the film.
In her second year as AG, Paz y Paz reopened the investigation of war crimes. Soon she would issue warrants for the arrest of Oscar Mejia Victores, former Secretary of "Defense," for genocide. But because of his age and health, he was not tried.
Paz y Paz continued to increase law enforcement, as Otto Perez Molina, a former military official, was elected president. Business elites wanted Paz y Paz not to prosecute military members. In fact they wanted her removed from office. But she held a four-year term and refused to leave early.
During the dictatorship of Rios Montt, Mayans had been murdered in large numbers. He was not held accountable. He enjoyed immunity as president of Congress until 2012. Then Paz y Paz prosecuted him for genocide. In Burden of Peace we see the trial, including survivors recounting the horrors of soldiers killing and raping, as the accused sits and listens.
His lawyers declare the trial illegal and rise and leave, leaving him sitting there alone. The trial is suspended, then reconvened with new lawyers. The elderly Montt is convicted and sentenced to decades in prison. We see the people of Guatemala celebrating.
And then a higher court overturns the sentence, and people protest to no avail. But Montt spends only one day in prison, and the rightwingers acquire a taste for blood. They pursue Paz y Paz. Seeking to block her from completing her fourth year in office, they charge her with abuse of power (although they publicly focus on accusing her of being a Marxist). The same court that overturned the sentence for Montt removes Paz y Paz from office.
She appeals, and we see a crowd cheering her at the appeal. She tries to run for reelection, and a court denies her that right. It's over. She is out of office, and we see her staff as well as the public cheer for her, tearfully, as she departs, fleeing the country with her husband and son because she will no longer have security guards.
This is a true story that ends in May of 2014, crying out for a sequel. But earlier this month, Molina was forced to resign as president, after prosecutors accused him of running a scheme to defraud the customs service of millions of dollars, and Congress stripped him of immunity from prosecution. This was a first in Central America, as was much of what Claudia Paz y Paz did. It begins to appear that she was part of a change in the culture of Guatemalan governance, that the idea of holding the powerful to account has actually caught on.
Perhaps she will return to Guatemala one day. Perhaps peace will return to Guatemala one day.
Imagine if the United States were to leave Guatemala alone and try following its example in the U.S. Justice Department.