The Great Evasion

Two related events—the 75th anniversary of the January 24, 1946 UN General Assembly Resolution 1 (which established a commission to plan for the abolition of nuclear weapons) and the January 22, 2021 entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (designed to finally implement that goal)—should be a cause for worldwide celebration.

In fact, however, they are a cause for shame.  The nine nuclear powers have read more

Is the Nationalist Tide Receding?

Nationalism—placing the interests of one’s own nation above the interests of other nations—has been a powerful force in world affairs for centuries.

But it seemed on the wane after 1945, when the vast devastation of World War II—a conflict fostered by rightwing, nationalist demagogues—convinced people around the globe of the necessity to transcend nationalism and encourage international cooperation.  Indeed, the widespread recognition of the interdependence of nations led to the creation read more

Trump’s Broken Promises to U.S. Factory Workers

Back in 2016, while campaigning for president, Donald Trump discovered a useful tactic for drawing the votes of disgruntled blue-collar workers: denouncing the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and promising to restore them.  At a rally in hard-hit Ohio, he assailed the Democrats and assured his listeners that he would turn the state into a “manufacturing behemoth.”  read more

Let Them Eat Weapons: Trump’s Bizarre Arms Race

In late May of this year, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for arms control bragged before a Washington think tank that the U.S. government was prepared to outspend Russia and China to win a new nuclear arms race.  “The president has made clear that we have a tried and true practice here,” he remarked.  “We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion.”

This comment was not out of line for a Trump administration official.  Indeed, back in December read more

Trump’s Budget Proposal Reveals His Values

It is often said that government budgets are “an expression of values.”  Those values are clear in the Trump administration’s $4.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2021, unveiled early this February.

The budget calls for deep cuts in major U.S. government programs, especially those protecting public health.  The Department of Health and Human Services would be slashed by 10 read more

Trump Betrays His Promise to Protect and Fight for American Workers

Campaigning for the presidency in 2016, Donald Trump promised that, if he was elected, “American worker[s] will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”

Has he kept this promise?

When it comes to protecting workers’ health and safety, his administration has been a disaster.  Once in office, Trump packed the leadership of U.S. regulatory agencies with pro-corporate zealots, read more

A Historian Reflects on the Rise of Fascism

Back in 1941, the year of my birth, fascism stood on the brink of conquering the world.  During the preceding decades, movements of the Radical Right―mobilized by demagogues into a cult of virulent nationalism, racial and religious hatred, and militarism―had made great strides in nations around the globe.  By the end of 1941, fascist Germany, Italy, and Japan, having launched massive military invasions of other lands, where they were assisted by local rightwing collaborators, had conquered read more

Which Would You Prefer–Nuclear War or Climate Catastrophe?

To:      The people of the world

From:  The Joint Public Relations Department of the Great Powers

The world owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, Boris Johnson, and other heroic rulers of our glorious nations.  Not only are they hard at work making their respective countries great again, but they are providing you, the people of the world, with a choice between two opportunities for mass death and destruction.

Throughout the broad sweep read more

Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib and the Rise of Extremism in Iraq

October 28, 2019

Yesterday morning, President Trump announced the death of Abu Bakr Al- Baghdadi and three of his children.

President Trump said Al-Baghdadi, the founder of ISIS, was fleeing U.S. military forces, in a tunnel, and then killed himself by detonating a suicide vest he wore.

In 2004, Al-Baghdadi had been captured by U.S. forces and, for ten months, imprisoned in both Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca.

I visited Camp Bucca in January, 2004 when, still under construction, the Camp was a network read more

The Two Internationalisms

In recent years, internationalism―cooperation among nations for promotion of the common good―has acquired a bad reputation.

Of course, internationalism has long been anathema to the political Right, where a primitive tribalism and its successor, nationalism, have flourished for many years.  Focusing on their nation’s supposed superiority to others, a long line of rightwing demagogues, including Adolf Hitler (“Deutschland Über Alles”) and Donald Trump (“America First”), have stirred up xenophobia, racism, and militarism, often with some success in public opinion and at the polls.  Numerous nationalist imitators have either secured public office or are hungering for it in many parts of the world.

But what is new in recent years is the critique of internationalism on the political Left.  For centuries, internationalism was a staple of the progressive, avant garde outlook.  Enlightenment thinkers promoted ideas of cosmopolitanism and the unity of humanity, critics of war and imperialism championed the development of international law, and socialists campaigned for replacing chauvinism with international working class solidarity.  In the aftermath of two devastating world wars, liberal reformers roundly condemned the narrow nationalist policies of the past and placed their hopes for a peaceful and humane future in two world organizations:  the League of Nations and the United Nations.

A key reason for the decline of support for this internationalist vision on the political Left is the belief that internationalism has served as a cloak for great power militarism and imperialism.  In fact, there is some justification for this belief, as the U.S. government, while professing support for “democracy” and other noble aims, has all too often used its immense military, economic, and political power in world affairs with less laudatory motives, especially economic gain and control of foreign lands.

And much the same can be said about other powerful nations.  In their global operations during much of the twentieth century, were the British and French really concerned about advancing human rights and “civilization,” the Germans about spreading “kultur,” and the Russians about liberating the working class?  Or were they merely continuing the pattern―though not the rhetoric―of their nationalist predecessors?

To continue this subterfuge, starting in 1945 they all publicly pledged to follow the guidelines of a different kind of global approach, cooperative internationalism, as championed by the United Nations.  But, when it came to the crunch, they proved more interested in advancing their economies and political holdings than in developing international law and a cooperative world order.  As a result, while pretending to honor the lofty aims of the United Nations, they provided it with very limited power and resources.  In this fashion, they not only used the United Nations as a fig leaf behind which their overseas military intervention and imperialism continued, but ended up convincing many people, all across the political spectrum, that the United Nations was ineffectual and, more broadly, that cooperative internationalism didn’t work.

But, of course, cooperative internationalism could work, if the governments of the major powers―and, at the grassroots level, their populations―demanded it.  A fully empowered United Nations could prevent international aggression, as well as enforce disarmament agreements and sharp cutbacks in the outrageous level of world military spending.  It could also address the climate catastrophe, the refugee crisis, the destructive policies of multinational corporations, and worldwide violations of human rights.  Does anyone, aside from the most zealous nationalist, really believe that these problems can be solved by any individual nation or even by a small group of nations?

Fortunately, there are organizations that recognize that, in dealing with these and other global problems, the world need not be limited to a choice between overheated nationalism and hypocritical internationalism.  In the United States, these include the United Nations Association (which works to strengthen that global organization so that it can do the job for which it was created) and Citizens for Global Solutions (which champions the transformation of the United Nations into a democratic federation of nations).  Numerous small countries, religions, and humanitarian organizations also promote the development of a more cooperative international order.

If the people of the world are to stave off the global catastrophes that now loom before them, they are going to have to break loose from the limitations of their nations’ traditional policies in world affairs.  Above all, they need to cast off their lingering tribalism, recognize their common humanity, and begin working for the good of all.

Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/ ) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).