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Lawrence Wittner's blog
The accession of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency brings us face-to-face with a question that many have tried to avoid since 1945: Should anyone have the right to plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust?
When Americans criticize wasteful government spending, they often fail to realize that the biggest sinkhole for public funds is what’s described as “national defense”―a program that, all too often, does little or nothing to defend them.
The looming advent of the Trump administration in Washington threatens to worsen an already deeply troubling international situation. Bitter wars are raging, tens of millions of refugees have taken flight, relations among the great powers are deteriorating, and a new nuclear arms race is underway. Resources that could be used to fight unemployment, poverty, and climate change are being lavished on the military might of nations around the world―$1.7 trillion in 2015 alone. The United States accounts for 36 percent of that global total.
Given this grim reality, let us consider an alternative agenda for the new administration―an agenda for peace.
Cato the Elder, a Roman senator and historian, once remarked: “Cessation of work is not accompanied by cessation of expenses.” For centuries, retirees have been aware of this unfortunate fact, which led them to demand and, in many cases, secure old age pensions to help provide financial security during their “golden years.” But as indicated in a recently-released report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), the financial security of retiring corporate CEOs is far, far greater than the financial security of average Americans.
Recently, many commentators have expressed surprise at the romance between the incoming Trump administration and the hate-filled ranks of racial, religious, and nativist bigots.
At present, nuclear disarmament seems to have ground to a halt. Nine nations have a total of approximately 15,500 nuclear warheads in their arsenals, including 7,300 possessed by Russia and 7,100 possessed by the United States. A Russian-American treaty to further reduce their nuclear forces has been difficult to secure thanks to Russian disinterest and Republican resistance.
Yet nuclear disarmament remains vital, for, as long as nuclear weapons exist, it is likely that they will be used. Wars have been fought for thousands of years, with the most powerful weaponry often brought into play. Nuclear weapons were used with little hesitation by the U.S. government in 1945 and, although they have not been employed in war since then, how long can we expect to go on without their being pressed into service again by hostile governments?
In early September 2016, Donald Trump announced his plan for a vast expansion of the U.S. military, including 90,000 new soldiers for the Army, nearly 75 new ships for the Navy, and dozens of new fighter aircraft for the Air Force. Although the cost of this increase would be substantial―about $90 billion per year―it would be covered, the GOP presidential candidate said, by cutting wasteful government spending.
Although the mass media failed to report it, a landmark event occurred recently in connection with resolving the long-discussed problem of what to do about nuclear weapons. On August 19, 2016, a UN committee, the innocuously-named Open-Ended Working Group, voted to recommend to the UN General Assembly that it mandate the opening of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to ban them.
Shortly after the Democratic Party’s platform committee concluded its deliberations this July, Bernie Sanders announced: “Thanks to the millions of people across the country who got involved in the political process . . . we now have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.”
If asked to identify the world’s superpowers today, most people would name the United States, Russia, and China. Although many citizens of these countries maintain that this status is based on the superiority of their national way of life, the reality is that it rests upon their nations’ enormous capacity for violence.
Certainly none has a peaceful past. The United States, Russia, and China have a long history of expansion at the expense of neighboring countries and territories, often through military conquest. Those nations on their borders today, including some that have wrenched themselves free from their imperial control, continue to fear and distrust them. Just ask Latin Americans, East Europeans, or Asians what they think of their powerful neighbors.
At the present time, an increase in U.S. military spending seems as superfluous as a third leg. The United States, armed with the latest in advanced weaponry, has more military might than any other nation in world history. Moreover, it has begun a $1 trillion program to refurbish its entire nuclear weapons complex. America’s major military rivals, China and Russia, spend only a small fraction of what the United States does on its armed forces―in China’s case about a third and in Russia’s case about a ninth. Furthermore, the economic outlay necessary to maintain this vast U.S. military force constitutes a very significant burden. In fiscal 2015, U.S.
Democratic socialism used to be a vibrant force in American life. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Socialist Party of America, headed by the charismatic union leader, Eugene V. Debs, grew rapidly, much like its sister parties in Europe and elsewhere: the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Australian Labor Party, and dozens of similar parties that voters chose to govern their countries.
Ever since the foundation of the American Republic, there has been both praise for and suspicion of the role the press plays in U.S. political life. Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that, if it were left to him “to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And yet, Jefferson was also profoundly disturbed by the politically biased and inaccurate articles that he saw published in the press. As he told James Monroe: “My skepticism as to everything I see in a newspaper makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.”
Jefferson’s ambivalence about the press becomes understandable when one considers the distorted reporting that has characterized the current campaign for the U.S. Presidency.
Isn’t it rather odd that America’s largest single public expenditure scheduled for the coming decades has received no attention in the 2015-2016 presidential debates?
A fight now underway over newly-designed U.S. nuclear weapons highlights how far the Obama administration has strayed from its commitment to build a nuclear-free world.
When Americans think about nuclear weapons, they comfort themselves with the thought that these weapons’ vast destruction of human life has not taken place since 1945—at least not yet. But, in reality, it has taken place, with shocking levels of U.S. casualties.
A study released at the beginning of December by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) reported that America’s 20 wealthiest individuals own more wealth than roughly half the American population combined—152 million people. The startling level of economic inequality in the United States is also highlighted by Forbes, which recently observed that the richest 400 Americans possess more wealth than 62 percent of the American public—192 million people. Furthermore, these studies apparently underestimate the concentration of wealth in the United States, for the use of offshore tax havens and legal trusts conceals trillions of dollars that the richest Americans have amassed for themselves and their families.
Almost a Century Ago, another Democratic Socialist Ran for President of the United States—from His Prison Cell
In the early twentieth century, roughly a century before Bernie Sanders’s long-shot run for the White House, another prominent democratic socialist, Eugene V. Debs, waged his own campaigns for the presidency.
The issue of making college tuition-free has recently come to the fore in American politics, largely because the two leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, have each championed it. Sanders has called for free undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities, to be financed by a tax on Wall Street speculation, while Clinton has done the same, although with some qualifications and a different funding mechanism.
When all is said and done, what the recently-approved Iran nuclear agreement is all about is ensuring that Iran honors its commitment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) not to develop nuclear weapons.
But the NPT—which was ratified in 1968 and which went into force in 1970—has two kinds of provisions. The first is that non-nuclear powers forswear developing a nuclear weapons capability. The second is that nuclear-armed nations divest themselves of their own nuclear weapons. Article VI of the treaty is quite explicit on this second point, stating: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
In 1915, a mother’s protest against funneling children into war became the theme of a new American song, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” Although the ballad attained great popularity, not everyone liked it. Theodore Roosevelt, a leading militarist of the era, retorted that the proper place for such women was “in a harem―and not in the United States.”
Roosevelt would be happy to learn that, a century later, preparing children for war continues unabated.
The recent announcement of a nuclear deal between the governments of Iran and other major nations, including the United States, naturally draws our attention to the history of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements. What accounts for their advent on the world scene and what have they accomplished?
Ever since 1945, when the atomic bomb was built and used by the U.S. government in a devastating attack upon Japanese cities, the world has lived on the brink of catastrophe, for nuclear weapons, if integrated into war, could cause the total destruction of civilization.
Are Americans disturbed about growing economic inequality in the United States?
Where do American Christians stand on guns and gun-related violence?
The recent announcement by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed “democratic socialist,” that he is running for the Democratic nomination for President raises the question of whether Americans will vote for a candidate with that political orientation.
For several decades, state and local governments have been showering private businesses with tax breaks and direct subsidies based on the theory that this practice fosters economic development and, therefore, job growth. But does it? New York State’s experience indicates that, when it comes to producing jobs, corporate welfare programs are a bad investment.
Today, 40 years after the American war in Vietnam ended in ignominious defeat, the traces of that terrible conflict are disappearing.
Given all the frothing by hawkish U.S. Senators about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, one might think that Iran was violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But it’s not. The NPT, signed by 190 nations and in effect since 1970, is a treaty in which the non-nuclear nations agreed to forgo developing nuclear weapons and the nuclear nations agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear weapons. It also granted nations the right to develop peaceful nuclear power. The current negotiations in which Iran is engaged with other nations are merely designed to guarantee that Iran, which signed the NPT, does not cross the line from developing nuclear power to developing nuclear weapons.
David Krieger’s new book of poems―Wake Up!―shows us that poetry engaged with world affairs can be very powerful.
In a brief introduction to the book, Krieger―the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the author of several previous volumes of poetry―remarks that people who write poetry after Auschwitz, as well as after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, wars, and threats of universal death, must not only “confront the ugliness of human brutality,” but “express the heart’s longing for peace and reveal its grief at our loss of decency.” He adds: “They must uncover the truth of who we are . . . and who we could become.” In this slender volume, Krieger succeeds brilliantly at this task.