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I thought Deepa Iyer's new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, would be about positive and jarring cultural contributions from immigrants, how their literature, music, myths, cooking, clothing, and cultural practices are merging with and influencing wider U.S. culture. I think that would be a good book. Maybe someone's written it.
This, too, is a good book, and I recommend it. But it is mostly about the all-too-familiar story of post-911 prejudice, racism, violence, and police profiling and abuse, with a particular focus on South Asians. As an opponent of murder in any form, my first response to this topic is usually: Take the guns away! Hatred doesn't kill people -- hatred in people with guns kills people! But of course I'd love to take the hatred away as well and get the gun deaths down to accidents, suicides, and non-hate crimes.
I admit some uncertainty as to how we can identify a gun murder as free of hate. Here's how Iyer describes hate crimes:
"Hate violence affects everyone in America. A hate crime affects not only the person being targeted but the entire community to which that person belongs. Acts of hate violence can disrupt and affect even those who do not belong [to] the community being directly targeted, as we witnessed in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where non-Sikhs also experienced fear and anxiety in the wake of the massacre."
Of course, that sounds almost identical to the effects of a non-hate school shooting. A value to be found in distinguishing crimes motivated by, for example, hatred of Muslims, lies in the consequent ability to report on and know how widespread that phenomenon is. Does badmouthing Muslims encourage shooting them? Does shooting them encourage discriminating against them? We cannot study and address these matters if we don't identify them. And of course, fearing being shot for living in a country whose government has been purchased by the NRA, is not exactly the same as fearing being shot for being a Muslim and living in a country whose government has been purchased by the NRA. Hatred of part of your identity can make you want to hide that identity and/or resent the suggestion that you should do so and/or internalize the idea of inferiority, etc.
On the other hand, hate crimes laws don't just produce data. Neither do they do anything to reduce racism or other bigotry or to address underlying insecurities and grievances. What they do, as Iyer points out, is increase long sentences in the U.S. mass incarceration system.
Much of the work that Iyer describes being undertaken by community groups in support of abused minorities and crime victims involves attempting to tweak the flood of sewage spewing forth from the corporate media. She urges reporters not to talk about non-Muslim people having been mistaken for Muslims when they've been attacked. Her reason is that this could be taken to imply that it's all right to attack Muslims. That sounds crazy, but of course she is right that that could happen. Why, then, does locking people up for additional years or decades because they killed while racist not risk implying that it's OK to kill while not racist? It seems no more crazy.
The permanent U.S. war on the Middle East has fed the streams of both private and police hate crimes, and that war has trained many to believe that, in fact, it is OK to kill only while believing in racism and bigotry. Members of the military cannot avoid thinking that, while killing was wrong all through their childhood, something has suddenly made it acceptable when they are ordered to engage in it. For many the dehumanizing tactic that allows them to obey their orders is racism. Such racism at home, Iyer argues, enables the United States to keep going to war.
And what about the endless FBI frame-ups, the profiling, the deportations, and all the racist abuse by "law enforcement" -- why aren't these hate crimes? Don't they set examples and influence the broader culture? If someone in Germany proposes immigration policies resembling those of the United States they are immediately denounced for racism and hatred.
Iyer's book is full of heart-wrenching stories of raging racist hatred and violence, and the suffering it creates. She also proposes some good ideas rarely heard about in the corporate media, including reparations for the victims of post-911 state bigotry, on the model of reparations for the victims of the Japanese-American internment camps.
What really breaks my heart in reading so many accounts of the sort of nastiness that has just helped lead that young man whose school clock project was labeled a bomb to leave the United States for someplace less hostile, is the focus of the corrective work on trying to influence the corporate media. We all know how awful the corporate media is, how little it is turned into a force for good, and what minor partial tweaks are proclaimed as victories by activists.
We need a communications system that ceases to condone hatred or violence, that includes all voices in its communications, and that condemns cruelty -- whether public or private -- without exception.
Andrew Bard Schmookler's new book is called What We're Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World -- And How We Can Defeat It. I'll spare you some suspense; the evil force he has in mind is the Republican Party. Here's a video of a speech the author gave when he was running for Congress as a Democrat in a district gerrymandered Republican. As in the book, Schmookler calls out Republicans in the speech as promoting an unprecedented evil force in U.S. culture.
He has in mind wars, torture, environmental destruction, racism, sexism, promotion of plutocracy, defense of gun proliferation, widespread dishonesty, and the valuing of partisanship above all else. Republican cap-and-trade is denounced by Republicans as socialism. Corporate healthcare schemes developed by Republicans are attacked as death panels, once they're advanced by a Democrat.
Schmookler traces the problem to the joining of racism and corporatism in a single political party since the civil rights movement, to the growth of corporatism, and to the ability of affluent people working short hours to get into trouble. I find the last point unconvincing, as so many countries have greater economic security, shorter working hours, and less crazed rightwing politics than the United States.
In fact, I'm unconvinced by much of the book, including the conflation of general cultural trends with a political party. I don't accept the author's contention that the United States is more important than the rest of the world. I'm not persuaded by his demand for a "war" against the evil Republican force (even as his complaints with Republicans include their having turned politics into a "war" and their having waged actual wars). I find little value in all the mythologizing of the "founding fathers" and past actual wars. As for the endless Good-versus-Evil talk, if it gets some people off their butts I'm fine with it, but I'm more interested in the case for the evil of the Republicans that motivated this book than in the 90% of the book that consists of pondering the nature of "good" and "evil."
Are U.S. politics, culture, and the Republican party more evil than ever before? Or just more passionately partisan? Well, I don't know about ever before. This is a country built on slavery and genocide as mainstream acceptable institutions. But certainly the Republican Party has moved rightward in the past 40 years, and many have said, like Lincoln Chafee in the recent debate, that they didn't leave the party, it left them. Others have stuck with the party and left behind basic standards of decency, integrity, fairness, and toleration.
I give a lot more blame to major media outlets, which get the barest mention by Schmookler. I don't think blaming propagandized people is exactly blaming the victims, and Schmookler does point out that people choose to consume the worst media. But the Republican Party would be nothing without the media, the educational institutions, and the wider cultural trends that overlap with its agenda. Neither would the Democratic Party.
I also think Schmookler misses some major trends that have very little to do with partisanship. One is the planet's destruction as a process that has advanced over the decades and centuries. We haven't become more destructive so much as we have become more numerous and -- even more so -- we're simply living in a time that must face up to many years of past destructive behavior. Similarly, many white Americans have not exactly become more racist, they're simply living in an age in which the demographics of the United States are turning them into a minority -- something their pre-existing racism views as a problem.
Then there's war, which has so permeated our culture that Schmookler praises real and metaphorical wars even while lamenting both real and metaphorical wars. He dislikes torture, not murder. He's upset by Republican wars, but Obama's drone murders don't cause any concern. The toxic impact of war on U.S. culture, including in a rise of mass-shootings, is not considered. We have a country very well trained in despising other groups, through its collective disvaluing of 96% of humanity (something Schmookler promotes in his Introduction). We have racism and violence and the erosion of civil liberties imported from distant U.S. wars, and we're not supposed to see that trend as contributing to current evil?
I think part of the trouble in seeing the evil of militarism is that it's bipartisan. It brings peace and harmony to the halls of Congress. When we imagine that bickering in Washington is a more serious problem than, say, the death of the oceans or the slaughter of Yemeni children, that little item known as military spending that eats up over half of Congressional spending every year, has to be set aside as an exception to the important trend of partisan conflict.
Are Schmookler and the millions who agree with him right that the Republicans are evil, while the Democrats are good but weak? Up to a point perhaps. I think the author's desire for the United States to "lead" the world is part of the problem. I think it's just dumb to claim that U.S. torture programs are unprecedented or a political party in the United States opposing science is unprecedented. I think it's simplistic to claim the Republicans are always wrong and the Democrats always right. What about when partisanship overcomes even militarism and Republicans oppose President Obama's proposed bombing of Syria (in 2013)? I think it's a straw man to argue that the two parties aren't working together in a pretense of opposing each other. Democrats don't pretend to more populist and progressive positions as part of a Republican plot, but in order to please voters (and themselves) while actually serving funders and insiders.
I think the danger, although Schmookler does not intend this, in literally urging us to think like Star Wars movies in terms of good and evil forces, and in claiming that an evil force started the war on Iraq, is that we miss individual agency. Bush started that war. Many helped. Chafee, for example, didn't. If we blame a force we may end up blaming millions of people who call themselves Republicans, many of whom could be talked out of supporting the next war in 30-minutes of television-free conversation.
I think the value in screaming at the top of one's voice for 250 pages that there is a serious goddamned threat, and it isn't coming from Iran or Russia but from the rightwing madness of Washington, D.C., can hardly be overstated. If calls to metaphorical arms to rise up and denounce Good Americanism before it's too late might move you to become active in working for peace, justice, and moral decency, then please read this book.
There are dozens of Hillary Clinton scandals that I have no wish to minimize. But how is it that her habits of secrecy themselves attract more interest than the secrets already exposed?
Here is someone who has allowed shipments of weapons to countries that effectively paid her bribes. Last May the International Business Times published an article by David Sirota and Andrew Perez with the headline "Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton's State Department."
As the article recounts, Clinton approved a massive weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, almost certainly involving weapons since used to bomb innocent families in Yemen, despite official State Department positions on Saudi Arabia and, I might add, in apparent violation of the Arms Export Control Act.
"In the years before Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contributed at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic enterprise she has overseen with her husband, former president Bill Clinton. Just two months before the deal was finalized, Boeing -- the defense contractor that manufactures one of the fighter jets the Saudis were especially keen to acquire, the F-15 -- contributed $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to a company press release.
"The Saudi deal was one of dozens of arms sales approved by Hillary Clinton's State Department that placed weapons in the hands of governments that had also donated money to the Clinton family philanthropic empire, an International Business Times investigation has found.
". . . American [military] contractors also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and in some cases made personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements."
Among the nations that the State Department itself criticized for abusive actions (and most of which Clinton herself criticized for funding terrorism) but which donated to the Clinton Foundation and gained clearance for U.S. weapons purchases from Clinton's State Department were: Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain. In 2010 the State Department criticized Algeria, Algeria donated to the Clinton Foundation, and . . .
"Clinton's State Department the next year approved a one-year 70 percent increase in military export authorizations to the country. The increase included authorizations of almost 50,000 items classified as 'toxicological agents, including chemical agents, biological agents and associated equipment' after the State Department did not authorize the export of any of such items to Algeria in the prior year."
Also, "The Clinton Foundation did not disclose Algeria's donation until this year -- a violation of the ethics agreement it entered into with the Obama administration."
Companies whose weapons sales Clinton's State Department approved to nations it had previously refused included these donors to the Clinton Foundation: Boeing, General Electric, Goldman Sachs (Hawker Beechcraft), Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and United Technologies.
Clinton's State Department, we can observe in the WikiLeaks cables, spent a great deal of time pushing foreign nations of all sorts to buy weapons from the above companies. Here's Fortune magazine in 2011:
"Perhaps the most striking account of arms advocacy . . . is a December 2008 cable from Oslo that recaps the embassy's push to persuade Norway to buy Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) instead of the Gripen, a fighter jet made by Sweden's Saab. The cable reads like a Lockheed sales manual. 'The country team has been living and breathing JSF for over a year, following a road to success that was full of heart-stopping ups and downs,' wrote the American official. He lists helpful suggestions for other diplomats looking to promote weapons: work 'with Lockheed Martin to determine which aspects of the purchase to highlight'; 'jointly develop a press strategy with Lockheed Martin'; 'create opportunities to talk about the aircraft.' 'Promoting economic security and prosperity at home and abroad is critical to America's national security, and thus central to the Department of State's mission,' the department spokesman wrote in an e-mail."
The Washington Post reported in April of last year:
"On a trip to Moscow early in her tenure as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton played the role of international saleswoman, pressing Russian government officials to sign a multibillion-dollar deal to buy dozens of aircraft from Boeing. A month later, Clinton was in China, where she jubilantly announced that the aerospace giant would be writing a generous check to help resuscitate floundering U.S. efforts to host a pavilion at the upcoming World's Fair. Boeing, she said, 'has just agreed to double its contribution to $2 million.' Clinton did not point out that, to secure the donation, the State Department had set aside ethics guidelines that first prohibited solicitations of Boeing and then later permitted only a $1 million gift from the company. Boeing had been included on a list of firms to be avoided because of its frequent reliance on the government for help negotiating overseas business and concern that a donation could be seen as an attempt to curry favor with U.S. officials."
Secretary of State Clinton dramatically increased U.S. weapons sales to the Middle East. Between 2008 and 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service, 79% of weapons shipments to the Middle East were from the United States.
Fun as it might be to watch long hours of Congress members asking Clinton why she destroyed emails or how an ambassador bringing peace, love, and happiness to Libya (and Syria) ended up dead, wouldn't it make more sense to ask her something like this:
Secretary Clinton, the Pope recently asked a joint session of this Congress to end the arms trade, and we gave him a standing ovation. Granted, we're a bunch of hypocritical creeps, but my God woman, look at your record! Is there any amount of human life you wouldn't sacrifice for a buck? Can you think of anything that could be found in anyone's secret emails that would be worse than what we already know about you? There is a precedent for impeaching high officials after retirement. They can be stripped of the Secret Service and of the right to run for any federal office. If an intern were to crawl under that table we'd impeach you by Friday. What in the world are we waiting for?
All right. All right! We're a bunch of partisan jack asses who will just get you elected if we try any such thing, and we'd gum it all up anyway. But we're going to keep you here until you answer us this question: how did you get THAT kind of money out of these nasty foreign dictatorships? I mean, seriously, can your people sit down with my staff one day next week? Also, what about drinks, just you, me, and a few of the top people at Boeing? Is that too much to ask?
The United States keeps nuclear weapons in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which bans the transfer of nuclear weapons from a nuclear weapon state to a non-nuclear weapon state. Now, the U.S. wants to upgrade its nukes in Europe, to make them "precision" and "guided," and therefore more likely to be used, even as tensions build between the United States and Russia.
The U.S. plans to deploy newly designed type B 61-12 nuclear bombs. Instead it should remove existing nuclear bombs. The NATO strategy of so-called "nuclear sharing" is a violation of Articles 1 and 2 of the NPT. Those provisions state that every party to the treaty promises "not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly" and also promises that every "non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons."
The policy of placing U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe also violates local laws. For example, the German Parliament (the Bundestag) voted in March 2010, by a large majority, that the German Government should "press for the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany."
People in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, the United States, and elsewhere have signed this petition:
To: The Governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey
Do not upgrade the U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. Remove them. People in the United States and around the world would support you in this.
The petition will be delivered in each country. Before it is, please add your name.
The same petition in German is here.
Only a non-patriot or someone with a bit of respect for the Bill of Rights would have opposed the Patriot Act.
Only a child-hater or someone with a bit of respect for public education would have opposed the No Child Left Behind Act.
And only a genocide-supporter or someone who's fed up with endless aggressive foreign wars would oppose the forthcoming Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act from Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).
Names can be deceiving, even when supporters of bills and of those bills' names have the best of intentions. Who wouldn't like to prevent genocide and atrocities, after all? I'm of the opinion that I support many measures that would help to do just that.
When the Pope told Congress to end the arms trade, and they gave him a standing ovation, I didn't begin holding my breath for them to actually act on those words. But I've long advocated it. The United States supplies more weapons to the world than anyone else, including three-quarters of the weapons to the Middle East and three-quarters of the weapons to poor countries (actually 79% in both cases in the most recent reports from the Congressional Research Service; it may be higher now). I'm in favor of cutting off the arms trade globally, and the United States could lead that effort by example and by treaty agreement.
Most genocides are the products of wars. The Rwandan genocide followed years of U.S.-supported war-making, and was permitted by President Bill Clinton because he favored the rise to power of Paul Kagame. Policies aimed at preventing that genocide would have included refraining from backing the Ugandan war, refraining from supporting the assassin of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, providing actual humanitarian aid, and -- in a crisis -- providing peaceworkers. Never was there a need for the bombs that have fallen in Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere on the grounds that we must not again fail to bomb Rwanda.
Genocidal actions, and similarly murderous actions that don't fit the genocide definition, occur around the world and are recognized by the United States as genocide or unacceptable, or not, based on the standing of the guilty party with the U.S. government. Saudi Arabia is, of course, not committing genocide in Yemen where it is bombing children with U.S. bombs. But the slightest pretext is sufficient to suggest that Gadaffi or Putin is threatening genocide. And, of course, the United States' own decades-long slaughter of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere cannot be genocide because the United States is doing it.
Global standards should be maintained by global bodies, but even I would not complain about the U.S. government appointing itself genocide preventer if it (1) ceased engaging in genocide, (2) ceased providing weapons of mass murder, and (3) engaged in only non-violent attempts to prevent genocide -- that is to say, genocide-free genocide prevention. What we know about Senator Cardin's bill, in addition to its sponsorship by a reliable war-supporter like Cardin, suggests that one of the tools to be used against "genocide" would be the tool that dominates the U.S. government's budget and bureaucracy whenever it is included, namely the military.
"The Act will make it national policy:
"1. to prevent mass atrocities and genocide as both a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility;"
Why both? Why isn't a moral responsibility good enough? Why did the Department of Justice argue for the legality of bombing Libya on the ridiculous grounds that the safety of the United States was endangered by not doing so? Why throw "national security" into a list of reasons to try to prevent mass-murder in some distant land? Why? Because it becomes an excuse, even a quasi-legal justification, for war.
"2. to mitigate the threats to United States security by preventing the root causes of insecurity, including masses of civilians being slaughtered, refugees flowing across borders, and violence wreaking havoc on regional stability and livelihood;"
But to do this, the United States would have to stop slaughtering masses of civilians and overthrowing governments, rather than use the disasters created by its own or others' war-making as a justification for more war-making. And what the hell happened to "moral responsibility"? By point #2 it's already so long forgotten that we're supposed to object to masses of civilians being slaughtered purely because that is somehow a "threat to United States security." Of course, in reality mass slaughter tends to generate anti-U.S. violence when the U.S. does the slaughtering, not otherwise.
"3. to enhance its capacity to prevent and address mass atrocities and violent conflict as part of its humanitarian and strategic interests;"
Terms begin to blur, edges fade. Now it's not just "genocide" that justifies more war-making, but even "violent conflict." And it's not just preventing it, but "addressing" it. And how does the world's greatest purveyor of violence tend to "address" "violent conflict"? If you don't know that one yet, Senator Cardin would like to invite you to move to Maryland and vote for him.
Something else snuck in here as well. In addition to "humanitarian interests," the United States can act on its "strategic interests," which are of course not the interests of the U.S. public but the interests of, for example, the oil companies that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was so concerned for when she pushed for bombing Libya, as seen in the emails that we're supposed to be upset about for something other than their content.
"4. to work to create a government-wide strategy to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities:
A. by strengthening diplomatic, early warning, and conflict prevention and mitigation capacities;
B. by improving the use of foreign assistance to respond early and effectively to address the root causes and drivers of violence;
C. by supporting international atrocities prevention, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding mechanisms; and
D. by supporting local civil society, including peacebuilders, human rights defenders, and others who are working to help prevent and respond to atrocities; and"
"Government-wide"? Let's recall which bit of the government sucks down 54% of federal discretionary spending. Sub-points A through D look excellent, of course, or would were this not the U.S. government and all of the U.S. government we're talking about.
"5. to employ a variety of unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral means to respond to international conflicts and mass atrocities, by placing a high priority on timely, preventive diplomatic efforts and exercising a leadership role in promoting international efforts to end crises peacefully."
If that sort of language were sincere, Cardin could demonstrate it and win me over by simply adding:
6. This will all be done nonviolently.
6. Nothing in this act is intended to suggest the privilege to violate either the United Nations Charter or the Kellogg-Briand Pact as these treaties are part of the Supreme Law of the Land under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.
A harmless little addition like that would win me right over.
Laurence H. Shoup has taught U.S. history at the university level and has been a historical consultant on California history for over 30 years, authoring or co-authoring over 200 reports for a variety of clients. His new book which we discuss is Wall Street's Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014. Among his past books is Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy. Find Shoup at http://rulersandrebels.com
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To the genre of war abolition treatises that everyone should read add A New Era of Nonviolence: The Power of Civil Society Over War by Tom Hastings. This is a peace studies book that truly crosses over into the perspective of peace activism. The author addresses positive trends with neither rose- nor red-white-and-blue-colored glasses. Hastings isn’t just after peace in his heart or peace in his neighborhood or bringing the good word of peace to the Africans. He actually wants to end war, and thus includes an appropriate — by no means exclusive — emphasis on the United States and its unprecedented militarism. For example:
“In a positive feedback loop of negative consequence, the race for the world’s remaining fossil fuels will produce more conflict and require ever more fuel to win the race . . . ‘[T]he U.S. Air Force, the world’s single largest consumer of petroleum, recently announced a plan to substitute 50 percent of its fuel use with alternative fuels, with particular emphasis on biofuels. Yet, biofuels will be able to supply no more than roughly 25 percent of motor fuel [and that’s with stealing land needed for food crops –DS] . . . so other regions where oil supplies are available will likely see greater military investment and intervention.’ . . . With the growing scarcity of oil reserves the U.S. military has entered an Orwellian era of permanent war, with hot conflict in multiple countries constantly. It may be thought of as a giant raptor, fueled by oil, constantly circling the Earth, seeking its next meal.”
A lot of people in favor of “peace,” just like a lot of people in favor of protecting the environment, do not want to hear that. The U.S. Institute of Peace, for example, may be thought of as a wart on the beak of the giant raptor, and would — I think — see itself sufficiently in those terms to object to the preceding paragraph. Hastings, in fact, illustrates well how Washington, D.C., thinks of itself by quoting a fairly typical comment, but one already proven flawed by well-known events. This was Michael Barone of US News and World Report in 2003 before the attack on Iraq:
“Few in Washington doubt that we can occupy Iraq within a few weeks’ time. Then comes the difficult task of moving Iraq toward a government that is democratic, peaceful, and respectful of the rule of law. Fortunately, smart officials in both the Defense and State departments have been doing serious work planning for that eventuality for over a year now.”
So, not to worry! This was an open public statement in 2003, like many others, yet the fact that the U.S. government was planning to attack Iraq for over a year before that continues to be “breaking news!” right up through this week.
That wars can be prevented even in the United States is clear to Hastings who would agree with Robert Naiman’s recent objection when CNN suggested that having opposed the Contra war on the government of Nicaragua should disqualify someone from running for U.S. president (particularly someone standing next to a shameless warmonger who voted for the war on Iraq). In fact, Hastings points out, huge efforts by the peace movement in the United States at the time very likely prevented a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. “[H]igh ranking U.S. officials with access to [President Ronald] Reagan and his cabinet were speculating that invading Nicaragua was almost inevitable — and . . . it never occurred.”
Hastings examines causes of war outside of the Pentagon as well, tracing, for example, infectious disease back to the common cause of poverty, and noting that infectious disease can lead to xenophobic and ethnocentric hostility that leads to war. Working to eliminate disease can therefore help to eliminate war. And of course a small fraction of the cost of war could go a long way toward eliminating diseases.
That war need not be the result of conflict is clear to Hastings who recounts excellent models such as the popular resistance in the Philippines from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. In February 1986 a civil war began. “The people interposed between two armies of tanks in a remarkable four-day nonviolent mass action. They stopped an emerging civil war, rescued their democracy, and did all this with zero mortalities.”
A danger lurks in the growing recognition of the power of nonviolence that I think is illustrated by a quote from Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall that I’m afraid Hastings might have included without any sense of irony. Ackerman and Duvall, I should mention, are not Iraqi and at the time of making this statement had not been deputized by the people of Iraq to decide their fate:
“Saddam Hussein has brutalized and repressed the Iraqi people for more than 20 years and more recently has sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction that would never be useful to him inside Iraq. So President Bush is right to call him an international threat. Given these realities, anyone who opposes U.S. military action to dethrone him has a responsibility to suggest how he might otherwise be ushered out the back door of Baghdad. Fortunately there is an answer: Civilian-based, nonviolent resistance by the Iraqi people, developed and applied with a strategy to undermine Saddam’s basis of power.”
By this standard, any nation possessing weaponry of use only for foreign wars should by default be attacked by the United States as an international threat, or anyone opposing such action must demonstrate an alternative means of overthrowing that government. This thinking brings us CIA-NED-USAID “democracy promotion” and “color revolutions” and the general acceptance of provoking coups and uprisings “nonviolently” from Washington. But are Washington’s nuclear weapons useful to President Obama inside the United States? Would he be right then in calling himself an international threat and attacking himself unless we could show an alternative means of overthrowing himself?
If the United States were to stop arming and funding some of the worst governments on earth, its “regime change” operations elsewhere would lose that hypocrisy. They would remain hopelessly flawed as undemocratic, foreign-influenced democracy-creation. A truly nonviolent foreign policy, in contrast, would neither collaborate with Bashar al Assad on torturing people nor later arm Syrians to attack him nor organize protesters to resist him nonviolently. Rather, it would lead the world be example toward disarmament, civil liberties, environmental sustainability, international justice, fair distribution of resources, and acts of humility. A world dominated by a peace maker rather than a war maker would be far less welcoming for the crimes of the Assads of the world.
The accepted story in the United States of what's happened in Syria is just that, a story told to make narrative sense of something completely un-understood.
In Southern Sweden a giant round rock lies on flat farmland, and the lovely story my ancestors used to tell to explain how it got there came down to this: a troll threw it there. As evidence, in a nearby castle, one can find a horn and a pipe that come into the story. The horn contained what today would be called chemical weapons, which burned the back of a horse when the hero of the story was smart enough to dump it over his shoulder rather than drinking it. Man and horse got away by riding across the furrows of a field, because everyone knows that trolls must run back and forth the full length of each furrow, which slows them down tremendously. The facts all fit. Some fringe conspiracy theorists may question the very existence of trolls, but such arguments need not be taken seriously.
A peace activist recently sent this video link to a listserve with a note stating that this video got the Syria story pretty much right. I had a number of objections:
That the United States got involved in Syria in 2006 is revealed in WikiLeaks. That the Pentagon was intent on overthrowing the Syrian government in 2001 is revealed by the Donald Rumsfeld memo shown to Wesley Clark, and by Tony Blair in 2010. So the story in this video of the U.S. taking an interest -- purely humanitarian of course -- only in 2013 is highly misleading.
That misdirection also facilitates leaving out of the story the U.S. brushing aside of a peace process proposed by Russia in 2012.
The statement, presented in the video as fact, that Assad used chemical weapons in that attack in 2013 is outrageous, as that has never been established. What ought to have been said was that someone used chemical weapons and Obama claimed falsely to have incontrovertible evidence that it was Assad.
Quoting Obama on a 2013 proposal for a "targeted military strike" blatantly avoids Seymour Hersh's report on the massive bombing campaign Obama had planned.
The video's conclusion that because the war is complicated there is therefore "just no end in sight" is reckless, as an end could be achieved if some effort were put into it, beginning with an honest assessment of the facts, and a retelling of 2013 as something other than "the United States backing down."
What would an honest account about the same length as this video look like? Perhaps like this:
Sad to say, the global policeman of humanitarian intent is no more real than a troll or a "Khorasan Group."
At least as early as 2001, the United States had the Syrian government on a list of governments targeted for overthrow.
In 2003, the United States threw the Middle East into a whole new sort of turmoil with its invasion of Iraq. It created sectarian divisions, and fueled and armed and facilitated the organization of violent groups.
At least as early as 2006, the United States had people in Syria working for the overthrow of the government.
The U.S. response to the Arab Spring, and the U.S.-led overthrow of the Libyan government made matters worse. ISIS was developing long before it burst into the news, its leaders organizing in U.S. prison camps in Iraq. The region was heavily armed with weapons from outside the region, primarily from the United States. Three-quarters of weapons shipped to Middle-Eastern governments were and are from the U.S. The weapons of the U.S. military itself and of its allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, were intentionally and accidentally supplied to new violent groups.
The Arab Spring in Syria was made violent almost immediately, with support for violence from one side coming from the United States and its Gulf dictatorship allies, and from the other side from Iran and Hezbollah and Russia. The Free Syrian Army became one player in a civil and proxy and regional war, recruiting fighters from around the region of "liberated" disaster states. Al Qaeda became another player, as did the Kurds. The U.S. government, however, remained focused on overthrowing the Syrian government, and took no serious steps to halt support for al Qaeda and other groups from U.S. Gulf allies or Turkey or Jordan (steps such as cutting off the flow of weapons from the United States, imposing sanctions, negotiating a cease-fire or arms embargo).
In 2012, Russia proposed a peace-process that would have included President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, but the U.S. brushed the idea aside without any serious consideration, suffering under the delusion that Assad would be violently overthrown very soon, and preferring a violent solution as more likely to remove the Russian influence and military -- and perhaps also due to the general U.S. preference for violence driven by its weapons industry corruption. Meanwhile the Iraqi government was bombing its own citizens with weapons rushed to it by the U.S., violently fueling the coming ISIS assault. And the U.S. had "ended" its military occupation of Iraq without ending it.
In 2013, the White House went public with plans to lob some unspecified number of missiles into Syria, which was in the midst of a horrible civil war already fueled in part by U.S. arms and training camps, as well as by wealthy U.S. allies in the region and fighters emerging from other U.S.-created disasters in the region. The excuse for the missiles was an alleged killing of civilians, including children, with chemical weapons -- a crime that President Barack Obama claimed to have certain proof had been committed by the Syrian government. He never produced so much as a horn or a pipe or a pleasant story as evidence.
Seymour Hersh would later reveal that the U.S. plan had been for a massive bombing campaign. And Robert Parry, among others, would report on the debunking of White House lies about the chemical weapons attack. While Syria might have been guilty, the White House almost certainly did not know that, and the U.S. public seemed to recognize that even such guilt would not justify entering the war. A Russian proposal to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons had already been known to the White House and been rejected. What compelled Obama to accept diplomacy as the last resort in 2013 was the public's and Congress's refusal to allow war. But Obama went right on arming and training fighters in the Syrian war, and sending more troops back into Iraq.
When ISIS burst onto the scene it openly begged the United States to attack it, viewing this as a huge recruitment opportunity. The United States obliged, attacking ISIS from the air in Iraq and Syria (and getting numerous allies to do so as well), in addition to continuing its arming and training operations -- now supposedly aimed at both ISIS and Assad. ISIS thrived, as did various anti-Asad groups. Turkey joined in by attacking Kurds rather than ISIS or Assad. Russia joined in by bombing ISIS and anti-government groups in Syria. This dangerously increased already high tension between Russia and the United States, as Russia intends to keep the Syrian government from being overthrown, and the United States intends to overthrow it -- and to bring in more allies, with the UK planning a vote on adding their bombs to the mix.
Of course, a ceasefire, an arms embargo, actual aid and reparations, regional disarmament and diplomacy, and the departure from the region of foreign powers all remain possible if pursued.
Signers of this statement are listed below.
“The U.S. and NATO occupy my country under the name of all the beautiful banners of democracy, women’s rights, human rights. And for this long time, they shed the blood of our people under the name of the war on terror…” —Malalai Joya
President Obama’s decision to leave actually ending, as opposed to officially “ending,” the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan to his successor (barring Congress developing the nerve and the decency to act) illustrates our collective and his personal failure to overcome what candidate Obama once called the mindset that gets us into wars. The idea that year 15 or year 16 is going to go better in Afghanistan than the first 14 years have gone is based on no evidence whatsoever, but merely the hope that something will change combined with a misguided and arrogant sense of responsibility to control someone else’s country. As numerous Afghans have been saying for nearly 14 years, Afghanistan will be a disaster when the U.S. occupation ends, but it will be a larger disaster the longer it takes to do so.
This longest-ever U.S. war since the destruction of the Native American nations is, when measured in deaths, dollars, destruction, and numbers of troops and weapons, far more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s. Yet President Obama has been given credit for “ending” it, without actually ending it, for nearly seven years, including while he was more than tripling the U.S. troop presence. The idea that escalating a war helps to end it, built on myths and distortions about past wars (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Iraq “surge”), has to be set aside after these many years of failure. The pretense that a military can both end and not end the occupation of another people’s country by shifting to “non-combat” troops (even while bombing a hospital) must be abandoned.
The view that further war, in particular with drones, is counterproductive on its own terms is shared with us by
—U.S. Lt. General Michael Flynn, who quit as head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in August 2014: “The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict.”
—Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer, who says the more the United States fights terrorism the more it creates terrorism.
—The CIA, which finds its own drone program “counterproductive.”
—Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence: While “drone attacks did help reduce the Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” he wrote, “they also increased hatred of America.”
—Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “We’re seeing that blowback. If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”
—Sherard Cowper-Coles, Former U.K. Special Representative To Afghanistan: “For every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge.”
—Matthew Hoh, Former Marine Officer (Iraq), Former US Embassy Officer (Iraq and Afghanistan): “I believe it’s [the escalation of the war/military action] only going to fuel the insurgency. It’s only going to reinforce claims by our enemies that we are an occupying power, because we are an occupying power. And that will only fuel the insurgency. And that will only cause more people to fight us or those fighting us already to continue to fight us.” — Interview with PBS on Oct 29, 2009
—General Stanley McChrystal: “For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.”
Afghanistan need not be “abandoned.” The United States owes Afghanistan reparations in the form of significant actual aid, the cost of which would of course be less than that of continuing the war.
The U.S. air strikes on the Kunduz hospital have generated more attention than many other U.S. atrocities committed in Afghanistan. Yet horrific attacks have been the mainstay of this war which was begun illegally and without U.N. authorization. The motivation of revenge for 9-11 is not a legal justification for war, and also ignores the Taliban’s offer to have bin Laden face trial in a third country. This war has killed many thousands of Afghans, tortured and imprisoned, wounded and traumatized many more. The top cause of death among members of the U.S. military who have gone to Afghanistan is suicide. We shouldn’t allow continuation of this madness to be depicted as reasonable and cautious. It is criminal and murderous. A third U.S. president should be given no opportunity to continue “ending” this war for additional years.
End it now.
David Swanson, director of World Beyond War
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
Medea Benjamin, Co-founder, Code Pink
Ret. Col. AnnWright, former U.S. diplomat, including in Afghanistan
Mike Ferner, former Navy Hospital Corpsman and president of Veterans For Peace
Matthew Hoh, Former Marine Officer (Iraq), Former US Embassy Officer (Iraq and Afghanistan)
Elliott Adams, former National President, Veterans for Peace, FRO
Brian Terrell, co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Ed Kinane, Steering committee, Syracuse Peace Council
Victoria Ross, Interim Director, Western New York Peace Council
Brian Willson, Esq., Veterans for Peace
Imam Abdulmalik Mujahid, Chairperson, World Parliament of Religions
David Smith-Ferri, Co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Dayne Goodwin, secretary Wasatch Coalition for Peace and Justice, Salt Lake City
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Randolph Shannon, Progressive Democrats of America – PA Coordinator
David Hartsough, Peaceworkers
Jan Hartsough, San Francisco Friends Meeting
Judith Sandoval, Veterans for Peace, San Francisco
Jim Dorenkott, Veterans for Peace
Thea Paneth, Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Arlington United for Justice With Peace
Rivera Sun, author
Michael Wong, Veterans for Peace
Sherri Maurin, Global Days of Listening co-coordinator
Mary Dean, Witness Against Torture
Dahlia Wasfi MD, Iraqi-American activist
Jodie Evans, Co-Founder, Code Pink
By David Swanson, originally published at teleSUR
There's a view of Syria, common even among peace activists in the United States, that holds that because the United States has been making everything worse in Syria and the entire Middle East for years, Russian bombs will make things better. While the actions of the United States and its allies will lead to victory for ISIS, horror for millions of people, and chronic chaos in Syria along the lines of post-liberation Iraq and Libya, Russian bombs -- this view maintains -- will destroy ISIS, restore order, uphold the rule of law, and establish peace.
I've been informed repeatedly that because I'm opposed to Russian bombing I'm opposed to peace, I'm in favor of war, I want ISIS to win, I lack any concern for the suffering Syrian people, and my mind is either overly simplistic or somehow diseased. This line of thinking is a mirror image of the many self-identified peace activists in the United States who for years now have been insisting that the United States must violently overthrow the government of Syria. That crowd has even found itself alligned with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who in 2013 told the U.S. public that if we didn't support bombing Syria we were in favor of Syria murdering children with chemical weapons. To our credit, we rejected that logic.
Advocates for U.S. bombs and advocates for Russian bombs each see a particular evil and wish to remedy it. The evil of the Syrian government, while often exaggerated and embellished, is real enough. The evil of the U.S. government, and what it has done to Iraq and Libya and Syria, can hardly be overstated. Both groups, however, place their faith in violence as the tool for remedying violence, revealing deep beliefs in the power of force, clearly at odds with professed commitments to peace.
Dropping bombs kills and injures civilians, traumatizes children who survive, harms infrastructure, destroys housing, poisons the environment, creates refugees, fuels bitter commitments to violence, and wastes massive resources that could have gone into aid and rebuilding. These are all well documented facts about every past bombing campaign in the history of the earth. In theory, peace activists agree with these facts. In practice, they are not outweighed by other concerns of realpolitik; rather, they are avoided entirely.
When the U.S. bombs a hospital in Afghanistan we're outraged. When Russia is accused of bombing a hospital in Syria, we avoid knowing about it. (Or, if we're from another camp, we put on our outrage for Syrian bombs but imagine U.S. bombs planting little flowers of democracy.) In wars that we oppose, we debunk claims to precision from the bombers. But good bombs are imagined has hitting just the right spots. After so many endlessly drawn-out U.S. wars that were advertised as quick and easy, we've begun to recognize the unpredictability of campaigns of mass murder -- and yet awareness of war's unpredictability doesn't seem to play at all into praise for Russian bombers joining in an already chaotic civil/proxy war.
The United States is accusing Russia of murdering people it armed and trained to murder different people. Some of those people are now asking for missiles with which to shoot down Russian planes. Russian planes have nearly come into conflict with Israeli and U.S. planes. A major figure in the Ukrainian government wants to help ISIS attack Russians. Congress members and pundits in the United States are urging conflict directly with Russia. Warmongers in Washington have been working hard to stir up conflict with Russia in Ukraine; now their hope lies in Syria. Russian bombs only heighten U.S.-Russian tensions.
When you unscramble the chaos of forces, and questionable claims about those forces, on the ground in Syria, some facts stand out. The United States wants to overthrow the government of Syria. Russia wants to maintain the government of Syria, or at least protect it from violent overthrow. (Russia in 2012 was open to a peace process that would have removed President Bashar al Assad from power, and the United States dismissed it out of hand in favor of his imminent violent overthrow.) The United States and Russia are the world's major nuclear powers. Their relations have been deteriorating rapidly, as NATO has expanded and the U.S. has orchestrated a coup in Ukraine.
A war with Russia and the United States on different sides, and all sorts of opportunities for incidents, accidents, and misunderstandings, risks everything. Russian bombs solve nothing. When the dust clears, how will the war be ended? Will Russian bombs leave behind generous good-willed people eager to negotiate, unlike U.S. bombs which leave behind anger and hostility? We've learned to ask the U.S. government to spell out its "exit strategy" as it dives into each new war. What is Russia's?
Here's my position. Murder is not moderate. You cannot find "moderate" murderers and engage them to kill extremist murderers. You cannot bomb the extremist murderers without producing more murderers than you kill. What's needed now, as in 2012 when the United States brushed it aside, is a peace process. First a cease fire. Then an arms embargo. And a halt to training and providing fighters and funding by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States, and all other parties. Then major aid and restitution, and a negotiated settlement in which, in fact, Russia should be included as it is located in that region of the world, and the United States should not as it has no legitimate business being there.
This is what has been needed for years and will continue to be needed as long as it is avoided. More bombs make this more difficult, no matter who's dropping them.
It is entirely possible that President Al Gore would not have attacked Afghanistan or Iraq. President Henry Wallace might very well not have nuked Hiroshima or Nagasaki. President William Jennings Bryan almost certainly would not have attacked the Philippines.
Presidents are pushed into war and held back from war all the time, but they also do some pushing and pulling of their own. Within days of Germany's surrender in World War II, Winston Churchill proposed recruiting German troops into a new UK/US war on the Soviet Union. The idea went nowhere with his own government or allies, except to become the Cold War. But every crazed idea he'd had for years prior to that moment had been deemed acceptable and acted upon, and someone else might not have had the same ideas.
Do the sorts of powerful insiders epitomized by the Council on Foreign Relations usually get their way? Is the United States an oligarchy? Are small differences between electoral candidates magnified and exaggerated? Do both major political parties in the United States back essentially the same sort of militarism? Does a quasi-permanent shadow government within the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, etc., sometimes circumvent and overrule presidents? Yes, of course, all of those things are true. But individuals also matter.
They would matter less in a democracy. If Congress decided on war as the U.S. Constitution requires, or if the public voted on war as the Ludlow Amendment would have required, or if the United States gave up war as the Kellogg-Briand Pact mandates, then the militarism in the mind of one individual would not decide the fate of so many lives and deaths. But that's not reality now.
A President Lincoln Chafee or a President Bernie Sanders or a President Jill Stein, rather than a President Hillary Clinton or a President Donald Trump, would be one factor among many weighing to some degree against the likelihood of more and larger and more dangerous wars. Whether the chance and possible benefit of electing a better president is worth diverting resources from other anti-war work into the national circus of election obsession is a separate and much more complex question.
This point, that individuals matter, is made in the new book Why Leaders Fight by Michael Horowitz, Allan Stam, and Cali Ellis. They go up against the academic tradition of attempting to explain war decisions through whatever process can most resemble the physical sciences. That tradition has steered far clear of anything as messy as a human being, preferring to ponder game theory or to hunt for non-existent correlations between war and population density, resource scarcity, or anything else that can be quantified.
Having brought the individual back into consideration, the authors of Why Leaders Fight immediately attempt to make that resemble as closely as possible a mathematical equation. Was this national ruler someone who had been in the military, and was he or she in combat? What was their first experience with war? What is their education level? What is their age? What previous job did they hold? Were they raised by good parents? Were they raised wealthy or poor? What was their birth order? Et cetera.
Will all such data ever allow a calculation to reliably predict war mongering or peacefulness? Of course not. Will examinations of enough past leaders along these lines open our eyes to some areas for concern or reassurance? Perhaps. But can such scientistic studies reach the level of being a better guide to what a political candidate might do than is an examination of what that candidate has done and said? I doubt it.
A careful reading of candidates' platforms, speeches, and casual remarks, including what is given prominence and what is omitted, and weighed against what they've actually done in the past, takes one quite far. Add in who's funding them, what party they've sworn allegiance to, how they relate to government and media insiders, how they relate to foreign leaders, how they handle mistakes, how they deal with crises, and one can -- I think -- predict fairly accurately which candidate is going to be a minor or major weight against a war that powerful interests demand, and which candidate is going to be easily pushed into war or, in fact, rush to create one at the earliest opportunity. It's not as though George W. Bush and Harry Truman and William McKinley hadn't advertised what sort of things they planned to do.
Academics bent on making the social sciences into real by-god sciences left out more than the individual politician after all. They left out the wider culture. An older politician eager to make his or her mark before their time is up won't create wars in a culture that honors making peace. An official whose childhood and background statistics suggest they will take great risks would have to take none at all to go along with the routine militarism of the current U.S. government, but would challenge the whole military industry and the whole communications industry by attempting nonviolent solutions to crises. Disarmament is considered risky in U.S. culture, making questionable the expectation that risk-taking personalities will promote militarism. In other words, the interpretation and weighting of the data has to change so drastically with the culture that one is better off just looking at the culture.
President Obama would have heavily bombed Syria in 2013 if not for the weight of U.S. culture against it. President John McCain would not have been free to develop a kill list and a drone murder program without the sort of intense public opposition that meets Republicans who do such things. There can be no question that individuals matter, especially large numbers of individuals actively demanding something. Nor can there be any question that one of those individuals who matter is you.
When the United States is identified as an empire, albeit of a different sort than some others, it's common to point to the fate of ancient Rome or the empires of Britain, Spain, Holland, etc., as a warning to the Pentagon or even to CNN debate moderators.
But a closer analogy to the current United States than ancient Rome, in a certain regard, might be the Vikings. The United States doesn't create colonies in the places it wages war or wields influence. It raids. It pillages. It plunders resources. It manufactures smart phones. It fracks. It sets up isolated settlements, heavily fortified, also known as military bases, embassies, green zones, safe zones, and moderate rebel training camps. It sails for home.
What ever happened to the Vikings anyway?
I'd like to see a survey done on that question. I'm afraid many people would answer that the Vikings died out or got themselves slaughtered or slaughtered each other. That would certainly be an anti-imperial moral for the Viking story. It would also fit with the idea that violence controls people rather than the other way around.
Others might respond that the Vikings mysteriously disappeared, but they actually did nothing of the sort.
Much of what we know about the Vikings comes from literate people in other cultures attacked and raided by the Vikings. Just as people around the world told Gallup in a recent poll that the United States is the greatest threat to peace on earth, people impacted by Viking raids viewed Vikings as warrior beasts. No doubt this produced exaggerations, but there can be no question that the Vikings routinely practiced what we today would call aggressive war or targeted humanitarian regime change, depending on who was paying us to label the acts.
There can also be no question that the Vikings never died out. Current understanding of DNA suggests that a significant percentage of people in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are descendants of Vikings, as are many people in other parts of Europe and Britain (including over half the older families in Liverpool, for example -- Viking Beatles?!).
Well, if they didn't die out, what happened? Surely, common U.S. wisdom holds that if an evil violent people like, say, the Iranians were to continue to exist, they would continue to launch all the wars they keep launching all over the world. Surely, somewhat better informed opinion holds that the United States wages all the wars it wages because of tragic but unavoidable tendencies buried in our genes. In fact, I'm pretty sure that "Our Genes May Be Violent, But We Can Make a Buck Off That" was once the slogan of Lockheed Martin, or it may have been Raytheon. Surely, if the Vikings were warriors, their descendants must still be warriors.
Annoyingly, the facts are otherwise. The Vikings kept right on living and radically reduced their killing. "The transformation of the Northmen, the 'scourge of Europe,' into the architects of the most peaceful region of Europe, Scandinavia, and the designers of strategies and institutions to replace war is an intriguing story," wrote Elise Boulding. As she tells that story, the Vikings gradually found consensus more useful than conquering, and negotiated trade more profitable than pillaging. They shifted from raiding to building settlements. They adopted some of the more peaceful ideas of Christianity. They began to farm more and sail less.
Other sources expand on this theme. The Vikings had profited by enslaving people where they raided. As the Christian church was established in Scandinavia, it insisted on enslaving only non-Christians, which badly damaged the profitability of European raiding. Viking (or former Viking) violence was redirected into the Crusades against Muslims and Jews. But, make no mistake, the quantity of violence was on a steep downward slope. The peaceful separation of Norway and Sweden in 1905 was a model for other nations that have a hard time accomplishing such feats without wars. The relative resistance of Scandinavia to militarism in recent times, including Sweden's choice not to fully join NATO -- as well as its choice to stay out of the two world wars -- is a model as well.
But the real lesson is that the Vikings stopped being Vikings. And so can we.
I know what you're thinking. There is no draft. There hasn't been a draft in decades. They'd let entire Central American nations immigrate, pay recruits six-figure salaries, and let robots fly the drones before they'd create a draft. Crackpot Congress members only bring up a draft as a supposed bank-shot maneuver for ending all the damn wars. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Your government has nonetheless decided that registering men for a possible draft (whether they like it or not, and even though nobody believes there will ever be a draft) is far more important than allowing them to register to vote.
And not just the U.S. government, but most of the 50 state governments have chosen this priority.
Don't take it from me, look at the numbers. If you're male and you get a driver's license in any of these places, you're signed up automatically with, or you're given the option to sign up automatically with, or -- in most cases -- you're required to sign up with the Selective Service System: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.
Also Maryland enacted driver's license legislation in 2002, but has not yet implemented it.
This is a work in progress. Some states have yet to climb on board. It's a bit of extra work for state and federal governments, but the technology is pretty simple, and they clearly consider it worth the effort to spread awareness that all men might have to kill on behalf of some war crazed president or Congress, and that -- as the SSS website says -- "It's What a Man's Got to Do. It's quick, it's easy, it's the Law."
Actually it's against any number of laws, including protections of conscientious objectors (you're not offered any choice of that when the process is automated), and including obviously the laws against war -- the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the U.N. Charter.
But what does this have to do with voting? Ruining Iraq or Libya or Afghanistan or Yemen in the name of "democracy" isn't exactly about voting in the United States, is it?
Well here's the deal. Two states -- two (2), count 'em, TWO -- have just made voter registration as easy as 39 states make draft registration. Those two states make it optional. If you don't want to register to vote when you get a driver's license, you can opt out. So, that's different. And it works for women as well as men. So, that's different, and simpler. And there's no need to interact with the federal government, so that, too, is different and easier. But otherwise it's the same deal. The state division of motor vehicles is identifying you for a driver's license or ID through a more rigorous process than is usually used to register voters. After doing that, it's hardly any extra work to simply consider you registered to vote as well.
Only two states have done this. If you'd like to see which two they are, or if you'd like to click a button to email your state legislators and governor about doing the same, click here.
Now, the federal government doesn't do driver's licenses, but it does do Social Security numbers, and it and many other institutions rely on Social Security numbers as a reliable means of identification. There is no reason that a person possessing a Social Security number cannot be considered eligible to vote. (Making sure that the 8 people who try to drive around voting in more than one state get caught would be identical to how that's done now.) The federal government chooses not to do this. Forty-eight state governments plus various occupied territories choose not to do this, even though it would be far easier than draft registration and even though its connection to actual democracy is much more straightforward.
At least half the country is pretty well disgusted with both of the two big political parties and all of their elected members. And most members of the U.S. House of Representatives are gerrymandered and sponsored into their seats more or less for life or until promotion to the lobbying league. But the general theory holds, nonetheless, that higher voter turnout is better for Democrats than Republicans. The two states that have acted so far have done so with Democratic legislatures and governors. But many Democratic states have not acted yet, and the benefits of acting would be very much to small-d democracy.
With more voters, candidates would have to appeal to more people, including more poor people. More candidates might gain traction. The range of debate would be widened. It would also become easier to place public initiatives on the ballot through the process of gathering the signatures of registered voters. Political polling would more accurately reflect public sentiments, because pollsters would have more registered voters to poll.
In addition, each state government would save the expense of the existing ridiculous system of "registering" people it already knows and has identified. This would free up time and energy and money for other things. "Let's get [people] on the rolls automatically and put all the resources and energy we've put into voter registration into voter education," says California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
It wouldn't be just state governments doing that. Every election season, thousands of volunteers for political parties and candidates across the country spend endless hours registering people to vote. They think of this as useful work. Many even think of it as "activism." Let's imagine that work were eliminated. What could those thousands of volunteers do instead? They could educate and organize around the issues and policies they care about. What a gift to democracy that would be! Better than any bloody foreign quagmire I can imagine!
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?