What We’re Supposed to Think

We’re supposed to think that the United States is threatened for no reason by irrational subhuman monsters arising out of the less important bits of the earth found beyond U.S. borders.

We’re supposed to think that the bigger the U.S. military is, and the more places it’s based in around the world, the better it can counter those monsters.

We’re supposed to think that other nations don’t have this sort of problem or depend on this sort of solution because the United States does it for them.

We’re supposed to think that selling and giving weapons to the rest of the world makes the world safer.

We’re supposed to think that arms dealing and militarism are economically beneficial.

We’re supposed to think that helping people would cost more, economically, than killing them.

We’re supposed to think that U.S. wars kill few people, most of them soldiers.

We’re supposed to think that wars happen on things called battlefields.

We’re supposed to think that genocide is something different from war and can be prevented with war.

We’re supposed to think that war has always been present in human existence and always must be.

We’re supposed to think that we have almost no power to change anything.

We’re supposed to think that the one power we have is through voting.

We’re supposed to think that the U.S. government behaves rationally.

We’re supposed to think that neither climate change nor nuclear weaponry presents any real danger.

We’re supposed to think that war is legal.

We’re supposed to think that Iraq has benefitted from U.S. wars.

We’re supposed to think that missiles harm fewer civilians than do chemical weapons.

We’re supposed to think that Gadaffi was about to massacre civilians and hand out Viagra for mass rape.

We’re supposed to think that the experience of destroying Iraq and Libya has no bearing on the question of whether to destroy Syria.

We’re supposed to think that ISIS emerged full-grown and by magic from Satan’s anus while we weren’t looking.

We’re supposed to think that one can support both war and environmentalism.

We’re supposed to think that human rights groups are more credible when they refuse to take any position on any wars.

We’re supposed to think that we would have fewer, not more, civil liberties if not for all the wars.

We’re supposed to think that refugees aren’t fleeing anything the U.S. government did.

We’re supposed to think that local police simply wanted and needed to start looking like warriors, the surplus weaponry available from the federal government being simply serendipitous.

We’re supposed to think that troops participating in wars always want those wars continued.

We’re supposed to think that when a Russian plane flies near a U.S. plane off the coast of Russia, that’s an act of aggression toward the United States.

We’re supposed to think that Bashar al Assad was good when he tortured people for the CIA but bad when he tortured people on his own.

We’re supposed to think that expanding NATO to Russia’s border and installing missile bases there is a means of protecting the United States from Iran.

We’re supposed to think that corporate media outlets just report the news disinterestedly.

We’re supposed to think that government officials mean well.

We’re supposed to think Iraqis took babies out of incubators in Kuwait, the people of Afghanistan were responsible for the crimes of September 11, 2001, Russia invaded Ukraine after a peaceful democratic election, China is a threat to the United States when it sails in the South China Sea, the Vietnamese attacked the United States in the Gulf on Tonkin, the United States brought civilization to the Philippines, Spain blew up the U.S.S. Maine, Wilson didn’t know the Lusitania had troops and guns on it, Roosevelt had no idea Japan was about to attack, World War II was fought to save the Jews, no country has gained its independence or ended slavery without a war, Mexico attacked us, and the Native Americans started it.

We’re supposed to think those and many other things. But I’ve never been a fan of blindly accepting what I’m supposed to think. I believe we should think what the evidence suggests to us, namely that U.S. wars generate more enemies and dangers rather than reducing them. Those enemies are usually armed with U.S. weapons. Militarism is an economic drain. Global starvation, unclean water, and numerous other problems could be completely solved for a tiny fraction of military spending. U.S. war victims are at least 95% on the other side and most of them civilian by any definition. The wars are fought in and from above people’s homes. War has been sporadic in our human past, requires intense conditioning, and sees many participants never recover. Stopping the bombing of Syria in 2013 and the push for war on Iran in 2015 were successes typical of popular and largely untapped power, as was the nonviolent Tunisian overthrow of a dictator in 2011. War is a crime driven by irrational urges and marketed on the basis of lies.


The consequences of coming to think in this — what I take to be a fact-based — manner include the unpleasantness of recognizing that so-called leaders, top officials and authorities are engaged in evil and atrocious actions. But did anyone really not know that? Many who avoid that reality when it comes to foreign relations are nonetheless, to one degree or another, aware of it in the areas of environmental destruction or trade or banking or domestic gun control or education or favors for dispensers of juicy bribes. There’s some extra resistance to recognizing the painful truth when it comes to wars because fear and hatred come into play. Recognizing the lies of “your side” is equated with treasonously and dangerously taking the other side. This has to be overcome by recognizing the enemy to be war itself, not a group of people or a foreign leader.

The way to overcome the unpleasantness of facing reality, by transforming it into something enjoyable, is to work to change it. The work itself is quite fulfilling and rewarding. And that has nothing to do with its success or failure. It has, for me, everything to do with aiming as strategically as possible toward success and knowing that success is possible. But optimism and pessimism don’t enter into it.

What I work for is cultural change. As corporations now boycott states that discriminate against LGBTQ people, we need to achieve a society in which it is acceptable to boycott profiteering from mass murder. The particular legislative and judicial steps to end war will follow, and they matter less in their details — though we will have to work on them as strategically as possible.

Cultural change can be tricky. When you look at polling on support for wars and militarism, as on numerous other issues, people aged 18-30 often have significantly, sometimes dramatically, better opinions than their elders. The trouble is that they are not sufficiently active, not protesting, not lobbying, not organizing, not even voting in the necessary numbers. The other trouble is that they tend to age. And as they age, they have a tendency to form truly awful political opinions. With millions of exceptions, of course, the older people get the worse their politics becomes.

This, of course, bodes very ill for a peace movement made up disproportionately of old people who became peace activists in an earlier era when a great many young people were peace activists. Can we expect people who are young today and not engaged in opposing war to become active members of a peace movement when they get older? Or can we help facilitate a peace movement of young people today? The latter seems the more promising course. This is why I try to prioritize speaking at colleges and to groups of young people. This is why I think we need to work to expand movements where young people are somewhat active to include opposition to war. These include movements against the militarization of police, for the protection of the environment, and against the wars of Israel. And when there are moments of expansion in the peace movement, when partisan and personality and corporate media factors drive people to oppose a war, we need to support and encourage the youngest leaders of that wider movement.


I was invited to speak in Roanoke, Virginia, on June 24, 2016, the day after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU), and Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation. It was also just after a mass-shooting in Orlando, Florida, and not terribly long after a Roanoke television news reporter was shot to death live on the air. I began by trying to put the UK’s vote in context. I didn’t speak from a script but I said something like the following. I’ve filled it out here as I think it applies in any town one might speak in.

Raise your hands: How would you vote on leaving NAFTA?

How about on leaving NATO?

Yeah, me too.

Shout out what nation comes to mind first when I say this phrase? “Greatest democracy on earth.”

The United States? If it’s the United States, that must be because the United States wages wars in the name of democracy. Because we decide nothing by public vote here, and we have a majority opposed to the actions of our senators and misrepresentatives on many issues. We’ve had a recent academic study conclude that the United States is in fact an oligarchy.

What about if U.S. states could have more power in relation to the federal government, the sort of power that members of the EU have or provinces in Canada have — would you vote for that? Many might not. We’re taught to be afraid of democracy. Some U.S. states with more power would do bad things, but others would do wonderful things. I’m afraid that nobody in power in the U.S. thinks that allowing that to happen would be better than just sticking with Washington D.C. doing catastrophic things. Few even favor having Congress, rather than presidents, make the laws within the federal government. And, yes, it’s hard to blame them if you’ve seen Congress lately. But these are antidemocratic tendencies.

What if there had to be a public referendum before the United States could start a war? Would you favor that? You know that almost happened in the 1930s, but FDR stopped it. It was called the Ludlow Amendment. I’ve never seen a history text book mention it.

How about if you could vote for public funding of elections, no bribery, free air time for candidates, open debates and ballots, no gerrymandering, hand-counted paper ballots, international monitors, no electoral college, no delegates, no superdelegates, and a three-month election season with a bit of actual governing before the next one starts — would you vote for any of those things?

Greatest democracy on earth!

What if you could vote to take military spending back to 2001 levels, tax corporations and billionaires at 1960 levels, restore the minimum wage to its 1968 level, and guarantee everyone top-quality free education preschool through college, healthcare, job training as needed, vacation, family leave, retirement, transportation, childcare, clean energy, public parks, sustainable agriculture, and significant aid to the rest of the world?

OK, how about this one: would you vote for a ban on the sale of machine guns to individuals? How about a ban on the sale or gift of weapons of war to local police? Clearly many people recognize that murderers, like the man in Orlando, do far more damage when armed with weapons of war. Australia banned guns after a mass murder and has not had any since. Norway reacted to a mass murder with sanity and integrity and has not had any since.  In the United States, nobody even expects policy to follow science. What works isn’t even brought up as relevant. Does mass incarceration decrease or increase crime? Does a global war on terrorism decrease or increase terrorism? Does banning some guns or all guns reduce or increase gun deaths? The answers to these questions are fairly well established, and the opposite of what a U.S. news viewer might imagine, but the questions aren’t even asked with any expectation that the answers will be acted on.


Right. The National Rifle Association (NRA) spends $3 million on lobbyists and $600,000 on what other countries call bribes and we call campaign contributions.

The relationship between the Orlando killer and ISIS is a tricky one. He had no known contact with ISIS. He supposedly professed allegiance to ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hamas, which are in fact at war with each other. Media outlets love to hype stories of foreign enemies, even when someone is not actually foreign. But we shouldn’t be too hasty to ignore the fact that this deranged and hateful man claimed his motivation was revenge for U.S. bombing campaigns. He also reportedly told African Americans he was not attacking them and believed they had suffered enough. Both of these bits of information suggest to me that, regardless of what weight is placed on what motivations for this mass murder, including hatred or self-hatred of homosexuality, anger at humiliation, thirst for infamy, and of course the ready availability of weapons, this was a killer who wanted to see himself as acting on the side of historical justice.

In that regard it is worth noting that every actual foreign terrorist behind anti-U.S. terrorism in recent decades — I don’t know of a single exception — has claimed to be motivated by a desire to end U.S. bombing. That’s the last thing ISIS wants, of course. U.S. bombing is what allows ISIS to inspire more killers. Even poor souls set up and armed and encouraged toward terrorism by the FBI and then arrested for it have offered the same motivation. The FBI had tried unsuccessfully, by the way, to lure the Orlando killer into a terrorist act, and concluded from his refusal that he was no danger.

There are many steps that could be taken to make the United States safer. First, address the greatest dangers: diet, disease, lack of exercise, unsafe workplaces, unsafe roads, etc. But even in terms of mass killings by firearms, there are many possible steps. The first two, however, are obvious: get rid of the guns — or at least the guns that kill thousands of times as quickly as did the best guns when the Second Amendment was drafted — and stop bombing people.


It’s not just “stop bombing people,” though. The biggest step toward peace would be to stop selling and giving weapons to other countries. ISIS videos show ISIS with U.S. guns riding in U.S. Humvees. The majority of wars in the world are fought with U.S. weapons. The majority of weapons in what we call the Middle East were made in the United States. Many wars have U.S. weapons on both sides. In Syria, troops armed and trained by the Pentagon are fighting troops armed and trained by the CIA. The U.S. is the top supplier of weapons to other governments, to poor countries, to Middle Eastern countries, to dictatorships. And weapons rarely stay in one place for the life of the weapon. ISIS has many weapons that started out in Iraq or Libya. There are poor parts of the globe where you can buy an AK47 for $10 but can’t get a glass of clean water. A top U.S. Air Force official this spring said that the United States would never use a tool for accurately dropping food on starving people in Syria because it costs $60,000. Meanwhile, spending tens of billions on killing people is taken as an unquestioned norm.

Why should the logic of gun control stop at the water’s edge? If it’s damaging to flood the United States with guns, if killers in the United States do far more damage when heavily armed, why imagine those facts don’t hold true abroad? The corruption is the same, only much larger. Remember that $3 million and $600,000 from the NRA? The military contractors spend $127 million on lobbyists and $27 million on bribes — including $4,500 to your local Congressman Bob Goodlatte. And military contractors hold power over Congress members principally through the threat of job removal. Stop making this weapon and we’ll pull jobs out of your district.

The people of Roanoke spend about $66 million on the Department of so-called “Defense.” You have to nearly double that to cover all federal military spending through all departments. Let’s call it $100 million a year. These numbers can be looked up for any city on CostOfWar.com. In return you get the shame of mass killing, the generation of enemies, environmental destruction, the erosion of civil liberties, and the spread through our culture of violence, hatred, and bigotry. You also get some $79 million in local military contracts. That sounds like a positive thing perhaps, but it is an economic drain. The same dollars spent on education or infrastructure or even on tax cuts for ordinary people would create more jobs and better paying jobs. But what if it were true that military spending was good for the economy? Would that excuse it? How would that sound to you if you lived outside the United States? If you lived in one of the countries being bombed?

In the Politico newspaper some weeks back a top Pentagon official openly said that hostility toward Russia is driven by a desire for profits from weaponry. It’s hard to imagine a more shameful end for our species if that ends up being how we go out.

Wars happen in poor countries, and not on battlefields. They happen where poor people live, and mostly from the air. But poor countries don’t make weapons. The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany make most of the weapons, led chiefly by the United States. Many years ago, Franklin Roosevelt’s mother’s family got rich selling opium in China. A bit earlier trading alcohol to the Native people of North America was quite popular. What the rich now funnel to the poor are weapons of war. Small arms sales have tripled since 2001.

We should avoid getting cause and effect confused. Toddlers in the United States who find guns lying around kill more people than do foreign terrorists. But we immediately recognize the cause as the guns, the shootings being the effect of bad gun policy. ISIS is not toddlers. We treat responsibility differently with adults. And so we should. Just as we should hold responsible those adults who destroyed Iraq and Libya and took such awful steps in Syria, and who tortured future ISIS leaders in prison camps, and who flooded the area with weaponry, we should also hold ISIS responsible for its crimes. But its crimes would be less deadly with less weaponry.

There is a city council member in Durham, N.C., who has been criticized for saying that the military and police are the greatest dangers with guns. There are certainly points to be made on either side of that claim. But what if military killings were reported like other killings? Here’s something I wrote recently as an imagined news report:


In what’s being called the worst mass killing by the United States in the past six months, numerous mentally disturbed individuals, with the extensive backing of a well-financed terrorist organization, and support from a growing circle of allied gang members, have gruesomely slaughtered 1,110 to 1,558 innocent men, women, and children.

This incident, which has left shocked and speechless a handful of people who’ve heard and thought about it, took place between December 1, 2015, and May 31, 2016, during which interval the killers got off 4,087 airstrikes, including 3,010 over Iraq and 1,077 over Syria.

Aiding and abetting the slaughter, and now also being sought by law enforcement, are France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, and Canada. In what is widely understood as an appeal for judicial mercy, Canada has expressed remorse (well, actually, just pulled out without apology). None of the other alleged perpetrators has done so. Several have openly acknowledged their participation, including by displaying the gang symbol of a U.S. flag tattooed on their glutei maximi.

An offshoot terrorist group said to have been inspired by the United States and going by the name of “Russia,” during the same period has brutally murdered 2,792 to 3,451 innocents using similar techniques apparently copied from those of the U.S. gang.

Despite being well documented, these murders have gone largely unreported in U.S. media outlets working overtime to focus on a smaller slaughter in Orlando, Florida. The death counts are imprecise but highly selective, as they intentionally exclude all casualties deemed to be those of combatants.

In a coincidental connection, the Orlando killer blamed the U.S. bombings in Iraq and Syria for his own murderous rampage.

Adding to the bizarre connections, members of the U.S. public and presidential candidates from both major parties have been heard blaming the Orlando slaughter for additional airstrikes to come.

Commented an alien in a ship approaching the planet earth: “Reverse engines! Get us out of here! Let’s try back in 10 years and see if anyone is left.”

End of news report.


The National Rifle Association recently compared Democrats to terrorists, not because of drone strikes or other wars, but for holding a sit-in in the U.S. Capitol in favor of gun control. We should not imagine the NRA’s position to be separate from foreign policy. The purpose of terrorism scares, for the NRA, is to sell guns. And it doesn’t matter where the terrorists are.

A recent NRA video features a singer named Charlie Daniels. Do you remember the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”? I always wonder where the devil started if Georgia was down. Anyway, the video threatens an attack on Iran and warns Iranians to be scared. How does that help sell guns? Well, in contrast to many less militaristic nations, the United States has 44% of its people who will tell pollsters that they “would fight in a war.” The United States always has wars going. Always. Almost none of these people actually want to fight in a war. But they do want to shoot guns and fantasize about it. The trouble with fantasies is that they all too often become real.

The current U.S. president has bragged about bombing seven countries where the United States is currently at war, and in five of which there are U.S. troops on the ground. Raise your hand if you can name them.

They are Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, and without significant troops on the ground yet: Somalia and Pakistan. Of course, the United States has recently bombed other countries, and has so-called special forces and permanent troops in most countries on earth. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that had a U.S. flag and the words “There is only one.” Yes, I thought, because the world could never survive two.


At the event in Roanoke I spoke briefly about two of my books, War Is A Lie and When the World Outlawed War, as well as about their local Congress member, and about things we could work on.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I noted, has put corporate sponsors or “supporters” of laws on the House Judiciary Committee website, including the NRA. He has sat by while the Department of so-called Justice has claimed to legalize murder by drone missile. He has allowed drone wars and other wars to proceed without Congress, the United Nations, or any other legal fig leaf. He has stood silent as the Department of so-called Justice has viciously prosecuted whistleblowers like Jeffrey Sterling, while giving a pass to Hillary Clinton and a slap on the wrist to David Petraeus. He has not halted the so-called Homeland Security Department’s participation in arming and training local police as if for war. And he pushes the rhetoric of budget cuts while over half of discretionary spending is dumped with his approval into militarism each year, but the National Park Service, with less than 1/1000th the budget, has been reduced to seeking corporate sponsors for its attractions. I think any corporation that gets to put its name on a mountain or geyser should have to put it on a war too.

You know it’s not just Congress members who can do sit-ins. You can take the sit-ins to Congress members’ offices. You can sit down and call the media and broadcast your own video from the floor of Congressman Goodlatte’s office, just like House members did from the floor of Congress.

All those things I started by asking you if you’d vote for cannot be gotten by voting. But they can be gotten by organizing nonviolent actions and educating and inspiring cultural change. You can push for city resolutions. You can advocate new sister city relationships. You can propose the creation of a peace pole in a public place — something done in many cities, essentially a post with the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in a different language on each side. You can create a study of local transition from war to peace industries. You can educate in civic groups and schools. You can stage colorful events that attract the media, call talk shows, write letters to editors. You can get military tests out of schools, bring veterans for peace into schools, and advance the cause of the Pentagon’s most feared enemy on earth: free college. You can lobby elected officials but also lobby human rights and environmental and immigrants rights and other organizations to join in taking on the institution of war. You can promote the bill in Congress that would end the Selective Service, and oppose the pseudo-progressivism of the bill that would force young women to join young men in registering for the draft. You can boycott, divest, and sanction Israel for its crimes but extend that movement to all militarism, including that of the United States.

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