We Have To End War: Part IV Of “War No More: The Case For Abolition” By David Swanson
We need a movement that differs from the past movements that have been against each successive war or against each offensive weapon. We need a movement, as Judith Hand and Paul Chappell and David Hartsough and many others have proposed, for the elimination of war in its entirety. We need education, organization, and activism. And we need structural changes to make these steps more powerful.
Ending war-making by the United States and its allies would go a very long way toward ending war globally. For those of us living in the United States, at least, the place to start ending war is within our own government. We may be able to work on this together with people living near U.S. military bases—which is a fairly large percentage of the people on earth.
Ending U.S. militarism wouldn’t eliminate war globally, but it would eliminate the pressure that is driving several other nations to increase their military spending. It would deprive NATO of its leading advocate for and greatest participant in wars. It would cut off the largest supply of weapons to Western Asia (a.k.a. the Middle East) and other regions. It would remove the major barrier to a reunification of Korea. It would create U.S. willingness to support arms treaties, join the International Criminal Court, and allow the United Nations to move in the direction of its stated purpose of eliminating war. It would create a world free of nations threatening first-use of nukes, and a world in which nuclear disarmament might proceed more rapidly. Gone would be the last major nation using cluster bombs or refusing to ban land mines. If the United States kicked the war habit, war itself would suffer a major and possibly fatal set-back.
So, how do we get there from here?
We need a shift in our culture away from acceptance of war, and we need supportive changes that help us get there. Resistance to a U.S. war on Syria at the time of this writing has seen smaller rallies than were held in 2003 against a U.S.-led war on Iraq, but greater support in the polls, greater support within the military and the government, and greater understanding by elected officials. This is in part the result of the past decade of organizing and educating. A lot of work that has seemed futile to people at the time has been paying off in terms of a shift in public attitude, almost a re-birth of the Vietnam Syndrome, if not quite the anti-war enlightenment of the 1920s.
Taking the profitability out of war, and the corruption out of elections, are separate steps from educating people in war abolition. But they are steps likely to make abolition easier. Creating a Department of Peace or otherwise making diplomatic options more prominent is another step. Improvements to our communications and education systems as a whole will be improvements to a movement for peace. The development of independent media, and steps to break up the corporate media cartel are critical for ending war. Student and cultural exchanges with people from nations on the Pentagon’s likely target list (Syria, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, etc.) will go a long way toward building resistance toward those potential future wars.
We need to remember to think, not in terms of forces that supposedly create war on their own directly, but in terms of factors that contribute to the social acceptability of war in our culture. One of our primary targets therefore is false beliefs, propaganda, a broken communications system. War does not necessarily produce racism, and racism does not necessarily produce war. But racist thinking makes some of our friends and neighbors more accepting of wars against different-looking people. Of course, we need to abolish racism anyway, apart from its contribution to militarism. But a campaign to abolish war needs to take on racism’s contribution to it without imagining that war simply follows from racism (a notion that could divert the entire anti-war campaign into an anti-racism campaign).
The same logic applies to many other factors. If evidence suggests that poor child raising and poor education contribute to people’s subservience to authority or support for violent public policies, then those factors need to be addressed, as they should be addressed anyway for numerous reasons. But in a campaign to abolish war no factor can take the place of advocacy for the abolition of war. Capitalism, in a certain form, may be a factor contributing to war-making, but war predates capitalism by millennia. Ideas about masculinity and heroism may be contributing to militarism, but ever since war ceased to involve hand-to-hand combat, there has been nothing intrinsically masculine about the duties of soldiers. Women and homosexuals have been integrated into the U.S. military much more smoothly than the military predicted. We don’t need to undo maleness, but altering certain ways of thinking about male respectability would almost certainly help. It sounds laughable, but the leading argument for attacking Syria in August-September 2013 amounted to a defense of President Obama’s manhood, in as much as he had previously threatened “consequences” if chemical weapons were used.
This may change somewhat as wars come to be fought by robots. We may stop thinking of the driving force behind war as the nature of the beings on the front lines. We would be right to go ahead and change our thinking now. The driving force behind wars lies with those at the top of the government, and with all of us who let them get away with their behavior.
With this understanding, we should target all or parts of xenophobia, nationalism, religion, extreme materialism, fear, greed, hatred, false-pride, blind obedience, environmental destructiveness, lack of empathy, lack of community, the praise of the military, the lack of praise for resisters and objectors, militaristic conceptions of masculinity, and every other factor that seems to be contributing to the acceptance of war. These efforts will only succeed in combination with a direct nonviolent assault on the acceptance of war—which is what this book is intended to be a part of. And success in eliminating the acceptance of war will go a great distance in the other direction, toward helping to reduce fear, xenophobia, environmental destructiveness, etc.
I can’t say for sure whether empowering women—I mean en masse, not tokenism—would discourage war. The United States yielded the vote to women long before Switzerland did, and we know which nation has been more bellicose. But clearly reforms that empower everyone equally and disempower any elite will help our efforts against the war machine. Empowering everyone equally will mean empowering women. And empowering women will move any society in the direction of empowering everyone equally.
Other reforms will benefit all kinds of activism, including anti-war activism. Moving money from big banks to cooperatives, encouraging worker ownership of workplaces, and developing local economic and political structures will help. While we need an international rule of law, we don’t need the transfer of most governmental functions further away from people, but rather the reverse. We need greater democracy from the local level on up, with greater local control over much of public policy.
Closing prisons—another institution in dire need of an abolition movement—would certainly help. Many potential activists are locked up, and many actual activists are threatened as though they were criminals. Ceasing to prescribe drugs to children who challenge authority couldn’t hurt. Less television, fewer video games, more time away from cell phones—all of that could make a difference. Greater economic security, if we can get it, could help as well—although desperation also has its advantages as a mobilizer of activism.
Reforms in our way of thinking about ourselves and our responsibilities are key. We should understand the extent to which our opinions are shared by others. Usually we are far less alone than we imagine. Often we are a majority depicted as a tiny minority by the media. (Most of us oppose U.S. war-making in Syria, but televised political shows suggest falsely that virtually everyone disagrees with us.) We should understand, also, how effective activism often has been. And we should learn to act from a non-partisan position of strength, without self-censorship or pre-compromise.
The Danger of Obedience
War support often consists largely of support for the idea of trusting and obeying presidents and other officials. Even people who routinely denounce the dishonesty and depravity of politicians, when it comes to war (and its aura of nationalism) insist that we accept outrageous policies on the basis of wildly implausible claims put forth on the basis of secret evidence kept from us supposedly for our own good. Obedience is seen as a virtue in the military, and people not in the military begin to talk as if it is their virtue as well. They begin referring to their “commander in chief” rather than their president. They begin believing that citizens should shut up and do as they’re told and think as they’re told to think, rather than running the country and compelling public servants to serve the public. “You’re with us or against us,” they say, forgetting that one can demand accountability from one’s government without necessarily supporting a violent invasion by a foreign power.
Obedience is a danger. If a two-year-old is about to run in front of a car, please do yell “stop!” and hope for as much obedience as possible. But when you grow up, your obedience should always be conditional. If a master chef appears to be instructing you to prepare a revoltingly bad dinner but wants you to obey his or her instructions on faith, you might very well choose to do so, considering the risk to be tolerable. If, however, the chef tells you to chop off your little finger, and you do it, that will be a sure sign that you’ve got an obedience problem.
This is not a trivial or comical danger. The majority of volunteers in experiments are willing to inflict what they believe is severe pain or death on other human beings when a scientist tells them to do so for the good of science. These are usually known as Milgram experiments, and the pain or death is faked by actors. Were an actor pretending to be a scientist to tell volunteers to cut off their little fingers, I bet they wouldn’t do it. But they are willing to do far worse to someone else. The good old Golden Rule is a counter to this deficiency, but so is resistance to blind obedience. Most suffering in the world is not created by independent individuals, but by large numbers of people obeying when they should be resisting.
Chelsea Manning’s legal defense team tried to explain her exposing of numerous crimes by the government as the result of her “post-adolescent idealism” almost as if that were a disease. But many thousands of people had access to the same information and failed to make it public. Surely we could, with more reason, diagnose them as suffering from Blind Obedience Disorder.
Remember the regretful drone pilot discussed above. His tragedy was not an experiment, but all too real. We should think about how not to put ourselves in positions in which we are expected to blindly obey. It is possible to find jobs that don’t include that unhealthy expectation. And we should prepare ourselves to refuse immoral instructions whenever we receive them, including above all the instruction to sit back and do nothing.
Governments Pretend to Ignore Activism
Several years ago a lot of people were protesting the U.S. war in Iraq. The president and most of Congress and most of the big media outlets were busy giving out the impression that such protests were ignored or even counter-productive. But former president George W. Bush’s memoirs recall a leading Republican senator secretly telling him the pressure was becoming too great and they’d need to end the war. Bush signed an agreement with the government of Iraq to leave in three years.
In 1961 the USSR was withdrawing from a moratorium on nuclear testing. A protest at the White House urged President Kennedy not to follow suit. Posters read “Kennedy, Don’t Mimic the Russians!” One protester recalled their action for decades as having been pointless and futile, until he found an oral history interview with Adrian Fisher, deputy director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Fisher said that Kennedy had delayed resuming testing because of the protest.
A delay in a policy we oppose is not as good as a permanent ban, but if those protesters had known they were being listened to they would have come back day after day and brought their friends and possibly achieved that permanent ban. That they imagined they weren’t being listened to appears ridiculous if you read enough history. People are always listened to, but those in power go to great lengths to give the impression of not paying any serious attention.
Lawrence Wittner interviewed Robert “Bud” McFarlane, President Ronald Reagan’s former national security advisor, asking him whether the White House had paid much attention to protests demanding a “freeze” in nuclear weapons building. “Other administration officials had claimed that they had barely noticed the nuclear freeze movement,” Wittner said. “But when I asked McFarlane about it, he lit up and began outlining a massive administration campaign to counter and discredit the freeze—one that he had directed. … A month later, I interviewed Edwin Meese, a top White House staffer and U.S. attorney general during the Reagan administration. When I asked him about the administration’s response to the freeze campaign, he followed the usual line by saying that there was little official notice taken of it. In response, I recounted what McFarlane had revealed. A sheepish grin now spread across this former government official’s face, and I knew that I had caught him. ‘If Bud says that,’ he remarked tactfully, ‘it must be true.’”
It’s funny: even when protesting government lies or government secrecy, people tend to fall for the lie that the government is ignoring you. Yet, in 2011, when a relatively tiny movement began to take to the streets under the banner of “Occupy,” the government rolled out a massive effort of infiltration, eavesdropping, harassment, brutality, and propaganda—while, of course, claiming to have noticed nothing and done nothing about something so unworthy of notice.
Large companies and government contractors take activism just as seriously. Reporter Steve Horn recently reported on fracking (gas extraction) companies studying the U.S. military’s “counterinsurgency manual” for purposes of developing psychological operations (“psy-ops”) against environmental activists. Horn also reported on documents from the Stratfor corporation outlining its extensive efforts to counter nonviolent activism. A number of corporations exist just for that purpose.
Those in power don’t restrict themselves to directing you toward inaction. They also work on moving you toward doing lots of things that seem effective but aren’t. The way to keep the nation safe, they say, is to go shopping! Or lobby for this watered-down pathetic piece of legislation! Or devote all your activist energy to election campaigning, and then go home and collapse in exhaustion as soon as the election is over—exactly when you should be gearing up to demand actions out of whoever won the election. These activities that have little impact are depicted as serious and effective, while activities that historically have had tremendous real impact (organizing, educating, demonstrating, protesting, lobbying, heckling, shaming, nonviolently resisting, producing art and entertainment, creating alternative structures) are depicted as disreputable and ineffective and lacking in seriousness. Don’t be fooled!
Of course, being active is much more fun than not. Of course, the influence you have is always possible even if undetected (you might inspire a child who goes on to do great things years later, or slightly win over an opponent who takes a few more years to fully see the light). Of course, we have a moral duty to do everything we can regardless of the ease of success. But I’m convinced we’d see a lot more activism if people knew how much they are listened to. So tell them! And let’s remember to keep telling ourselves.
Doing Nothing Is Obeying
A Deadly Order
Imagine writing a story about a village that faces possible destruction, and the people don’t do anything to prevent it.
That’s not how stories are written.
But that’s the world we live in and fail to recognize.
We are being instructed to sit at a desk and zap the earth to death, and we’re compliantly zapping away. Only the zapping doesn’t look like zapping; it looks like living. We work and eat and sleep and play and garden and buy junk at the store and watch movies and go to baseball games and read books and make love, and we don’t imagine we can possibly be destroying a planet. What are we, the Death Star?
But a sin of omission is morally and effectively equivalent to a sin of commission. We need to be saving the earth and we’re not doing so. We’re allowing global warming and other major environmental destruction to roll ahead. We’re allowing militarization and war-making to advance. We’re watching the concentration of wealth. We see the division of society into castes. We know we’re building prisons and drones and highways and pipelines and missiles while closing schools and condemning our grandparents to poverty. We are aware that we’re funding military bases and multi-billionaires with our hard work while fueling mass suffering, bitterness, rage, frustration, and violence.
We see these worsening cycles and we sit still. Don’t sit still. Sitting still is mass-murder. Don’t obey anyone who tells you to sit still. Don’t search for or wait for a leader. Don’t sell your conscience to a group or a slogan or a political party.
What Then Must We Do?
We must create a moral movement against mass-murder, even when the mass-murder is accompanied by flags or music or assertions of authority and promotion of irrational fear. We must not oppose one war on the grounds that it isn’t being run well or isn’t as proper as some other war. We must not focus entirely on the harm wars do to the aggressors. We must acknowledge the victims. We must see one-sided slaughters for what they are and grow appropriately outraged. A “good war” must sound to all of us, like it sounds to me, as no more possible than a benevolent rape or philanthropic slavery or virtuous child abuse. “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake,” said Jeanette Rankin, the heroic congresswoman who voted against U.S. entry into both world wars.
A new film called The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age shows a survivor of Nagasaki meeting a survivor of Auschwitz. It is hard in watching them meeting and speaking together to remember or care which nation committed which horror. We should get to the point where we can see all war with that same clarity. War is a crime not because of who commits it but because of what it is.
We must make war abolition the sort of cause that slavery abolition was. We must work around or undo the corporate media. We must develop faith in ourselves and our power. We must be fearless. We must mock war as dueling was mocked. We must abandon the idea that we can be for peace without opposing wars. We must abandon the idea that we can oppose wars without opposing the entire machinery and worldview of war-making. We must hold up resisters, conscientious objectors, peace advocates, diplomats, whistleblowers, journalists, and activists as our heroes. We must thank them for their service. We must honor them. We must cease honoring those who participate in war or war industries.
We must develop alternative avenues for heroism and glory, including nonviolent activism, and including serving as peace workers and human shields in places of conflict. Little is more important than advancing common understanding of nonviolence as an alternative form of conflict to violence, and ending the habit of thinking that one can ever be faced with only the choices of engaging in violence or doing nothing.
We must stop trying to discover a good patriotism, and begin thinking beyond borders. We must abandon nationalism without supposing that we are then somehow obliged to hate our nation any more than we hate our state or city when we fail to encourage our state or city to engage in warfare. We must make a concerted effort to remove nationalism, xenophobia, racism, religious bigotry, and U.S. exceptionalism (the idea that what we would condemn if another nation did it is acceptable when the U.S. government does it) from our thinking.
We must oppose wars for rational, fact-based reasons, as opposed to fictions and misperceptions. Opposing a war because of the party a president belongs to, or because we’d rather not be so generous to the war’s potential victims (“I don’t want to bomb Syria. After everything we did for Iraq, the Iraqis still aren’t grateful”) is good as far as it goes. But this attitude promotes falsehoods about the actual effects of U.S. war and sanctions on Iraq and strengthens the belief that some other war will be worth supporting.
Lies: The Worst Ones Come After a War
Lies are told before, during, and after wars, and it is those told after the wars that teach future generations that wars are acceptable. Without lies about past wars, future wars would never be contemplated at all, not even as “a last resort.” Without lies about World War II and its predecessors, there would have been no war on Korea or Vietnam. Without lies about those conflicts, there would have been no U.S. wars since.
Not to minimize the importance of exposing the lies told just prior to a new war, we need to recognize that those lies stand on the shoulders of all the accumulated myths and disinformation about previous wars. When President Obama escalated the war on Afghanistan, he claimed that an escalation in Iraq had been a “success”. The Pentagon is investing $65 million right now in a “Vietnam Commemoration Project” to transform that catastrophe into a noble cause. On the 60th anniversary of the armistice in Korea, President Obama declared that war a “victory.” Millions of people were killed in Korea to accomplish exactly nothing, and 60 years later the commander in chief feels obliged to redefine that as a victory. The Iraq War is also being beautified, even as you read these words.
Former speech writer for President George W. Bush, David Frum said on March 5, 2013: “The Iraq war has led to a huge shift in regional oil production. Iraq is returning to world oil markets, massively. Last year Iraq produced more oil than in any year since the first Gulf War. By some estimates, Iraq will soon overtake Russia as the world’s number-two oil exporter. Iran meanwhile has dropped out of the top 10 oil-exporting countries. Iraq’s return to world oil markets has enabled the sanctions that have pushed Iran out. If Iraq were still ruled by Saddam Hussein, it’s hard to imagine that the western world would dare take its present hard line against Iran. And of course, if Saddam Hussein had remained in power after 2003, he too would have had the benefit of $100/barrel with which to finance his regime’s military ambitions.”
The war on Iraq is here justified because it has facilitated threatening war on Iran and sanctioning Iran, as well as because a failure to remove Saddam Hussein would mean that he would still be around, unless perhaps the United States had never supported him in the first place.
Having established that the war was good, Frum tries to gain credibility by gently critiquing the way it was “managed”: “The war was expensive and badly managed. It did real damage to the international credibility of the United States. … It left 4,000 Americans dead and many thousands more seriously wounded. Had we known all this in advance, the war would not have been fought. But it would be wrong to say the war achieved nothing. And it’s wrong to shut our eyes to the ugly consequences of leaving Saddam in power.”
Doing so might distract us from shutting our eyes to the ugly consequences of our sociocide, our utter destruction of Iraqi society. From Frum’s comments you’d imagine the war killed 4,000 people, not 1.4 million.
Bill Bigelow, curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools, which has just released a book called Teaching About the Wars, wrote in March 2013:
Now, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, our wars in the Middle East have moved from the front pages of our newspapers to the insides of our textbooks. The huge corporations that produce those texts have no interest in nurturing the kind of critical thought that might generate questions about today’s vast inequalities of wealth and power—or, for that matter, about the interventionist policies of our government. Exhibit A is Holt McDougal’s Modern World History on the U.S. war with Iraq, which might as well have been written by Pentagon propagandists. Maybe it was. In an imitation of Fox News, the very first sentence of the Iraq war section mentions the 9/11 attacks and Saddam Hussein side by side. The book presents the march to invasion as reasonable and inevitable, while acknowledging: ‘Some countries, France and Germany, called for letting the inspectors continue searching for weapons.’ That’s the only hint of any opposition to war, despite the fact that there was enormous popular opposition to the war, culminating on February 15, 2003, the date which saw millions of people around the world demand that the United States not invade Iraq—if you’re keeping track, this was the largest protest in human history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
This, of course, is a pattern in corporate textbooks: Conflate governments with the people; ignore social movements. After a quick and bloodless description of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the textbook’s final section is headlined ‘The Struggle Continues.’ It begins: ‘Despite the coalition victory, much work remained in Iraq.’ The only thing missing from this rah-rah section is the confetti: ‘With the help of U.S. officials, Iraqis began rebuilding their nation.’ Oh, is that how it happened? Significantly, there is no Iraqi quoted in the entire section—itself one of the most powerful lessons here. It’s a primer in legitimating imperialism: the violent and squabbling Third World others get no say; we will decide what’s good for them. In a mockery of the term ‘critical,’ the chapter closes with four ‘Critical Thinking & Writing’ exercises. Here is the sole ‘critical writing’ activity: ‘Imagine you are a speechwriter for President Bush. Write the introductory paragraph of a speech to coalition forces after their victory in Iraq.’
We’re turning our children into David Frum. We need activism in our schools to reverse this trend.
Public Opinion, Without Action,
Cannot Prevent Another War
We need improved schools and improved news reporting, because we need better informed opinions. Then we need to turn those opinions into effective action. The polls were very useful in August-September 2013 in holding off, at least temporarily, an attack on Syria. But they would have done us no good without the hard work of thousands of people and hundreds of groups. Countless rallies, demonstrations, protests, lobby visits, public forums, interviews, and a flood of emails and phone calls made the will of the public visible and pinned Congress members down on a position for peace.
We need, and we are building, a movement that is international. We need allies around the world. We need their help, and they need ours, in eliminating nuclear weapons, weaponized drones, cluster bombs, and other instruments of death, as well as in closing military bases, and shutting down the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., where so many assassins and torturers have been trained. These partial steps toward war abolition should be understood as just that. We should use them to build the abolition movement. We should measure our progress in terms of how many people say Yes, we can end war, and Yes, we should end war.
We must build a coalition that can accomplish serious steps: defunding military advertising campaigns, restoring war powers to the legislative branch, cutting off weapons sales to dictatorships, etc. To do this, we’ll want to bring together all those sectors that rightfully ought to be opposing the military industrial complex: moralists, ethicists, preachers of morality and ethics, doctors, psychologists, and protectors of human health, economists, labor unions, workers, civil libertarians, advocates for democratic reforms, journalists, historians, promoters of transparency in public decision-making, internationalists, those hoping to travel and be liked abroad, environmentalists, and proponents of everything worthwhile on which war dollars could be spent instead: education, housing, arts, science, etc. That’s a pretty big group.
But most activist organizations want to stay focused in their niches. Many are reluctant to risk being called unpatriotic. Some are tied up in profits from military contracts. We must work our way around these barriers.
We have, in recent years, begun to see some environmentalist organizations oppose some military base construction (such as on Jeju Island, South Korea), some civil liberties groups object to an entire mode of warfare (drone wars), some labor unions back a process of conversion from war industries to peace industries, and various cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors demand a reduction in military spending. These are the tiny pebbles from which we must start building a massive wall of opposition to war-making. We must move organizations away from exclusively treating the symptoms—as when civil liberties groups oppose torture or indefinite imprisonment—and toward also attempting to cure the root cause: militarism.
Green energy has far greater potential to handle our energy needs (and wants) than is commonly supposed, because the massive transfer of money that would be possible with the abolition of war isn’t usually considered. We should encourage environmentalists to begin thinking in those terms. War making is not good for the economy as a whole. There are wealthy interests not profiting from weaponry or other war spending, and not profiting from a militarily enforced exploitation of foreign peoples. A U.S.-based green energy company ought to be able to back a process of conversion from war spending to green-energy spending. As should the rest of us. In 2013, the state of Connecticut created a commission to work on converting manufacturing in Connecticut from a war to a peace basis. This effort was backed by and has the involvement of workers and owners, as well as peace advocates. If it does well, it should be closely observed by the other 49 states and the nation as a whole.
Celebrity War Games
In 2012, if you watched the Olympics on NBC, you saw advertisements promoting a war-o-tainment reality show cohosted by retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, co-starring Todd Palin, and with no apparent role for reality. The ads bragged about the use of real bullets, but the chances that any of the celebrities engaged in “war competition” on NBC’s “Stars Earn Stripes” were going to be shot and killed was essentially what it was for John Wayne as he promoted war while dodging it (even if nuclear weapons testing got him in the end). RootsAction.org set up a website at StarsEarnStripes.org to pressure NBC (and its war-profiteering owner, General Electric) to show the real costs of war. During the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia commanded by Gen. Wesley Clark, civilians and a TV station were bombed, while cluster bombs and depleted uranium were used.
A coalition formed to denounce “Stars Earn Stripes.” Activists protested at NBC’s studios in New York. Nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates spoke out against the program. The show became an embarrassment and was quickly canceled (or, as NBC put it, not produced beyond its “pilot” episodes). We need that sort of public response to every new outrage, and to outrages that have been around so long we barely notice them anymore.
A Process Toward Peace
Just as people often believe that we have to choose between bombing the hell out of a country or doing nothing, people often believe we have to choose between continuing to routinely bomb the hell out of countries or dismantling the entire military by Wednesday. Instead, we should envision a disarmament process that can proceed over a period of months and years. Disarmament will encourage further disarmament. Foreign aid (not the weaponry we call “foreign aid”) and cooperation will discourage hostility. Compliance with the rule of law will encourage the development of international law enforcement. I use the term “enforcement” not to suggest the use of war but rather the prosecution of individual war makers.
Partial steps along the way may prove useful. A campaign to ban weaponized drones could take advantage of the fact that drone strikes look more like murder to many people than do other forms of murder in war. But such campaigns should be used to advance the larger goal of war abolition, and not to encourage the idea of improving or sanitizing war. A campaign to ban military bases in foreign nations might also be a good place to gain a foothold.
As we begin to imagine a war-free world, what will we see? Virginia and West Virginia don’t go to war because they are both the United States. France and Germany don’t go to war because they are both Europe. One is tempted to say that nations would not go to war if they were united by an earth-wide government. But, in fact, a global government as corrupt and unaccountable—or more so—than our national governments would not help us. We need to build healthy democratic representation from the local level up to an international federation. Getting there may actually mean distributing more power to localities, states, and regions, rather than concentrating more power at higher levels.
The United Nations should be reformed or replaced. It should be made democratic, stripping away the special privileges for a handful of nations. It should be made into a complete opponent of war. Acceptance of defensive or U.N.-authorized wars should be undone. One way to do this would be to revive understanding of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which pre-dates the U.N. Charter and remains on the books of over 80 nations, with others free to sign on.
When people propose banning war by law, including by Constitutional amendment, I have mixed reactions. While banning war is just what the world ordered, it has about it something of the whole Bush-Cheney ordeal during which we spent years trying to persuade Congress to ban torture. By no means do I want to be counted among those opposed to banning torture. But it is relevant, I want to suggest, that torture had already been banned. Torture had been banned by treaty and been made a felony, under two different statutes, before George W. Bush was made president. In fact, the pre-existing ban on torture was stronger and more comprehensive than any of the loophole-ridden efforts to re-criminalize it. Had the debate over “banning torture” been entirely replaced with a stronger demand to prosecute torture, we might be better off today. (As I was writing this, on July 24, 2013, Congressman Alan Grayson passed an amendment to a military spending bill once again “banning torture.”)
We are in that same situation with regard to war. War was banned 85 years ago, making talk of banning war problematic. We were in that same situation, in fact, even before the U.N. Charter was drafted 69 years ago. By any reasonable interpretation of the U.N. Charter, most—if not all—U.S. wars are forbidden. The United Nations did not authorize the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, the overthrow of the Libyan government, or the drone wars in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia. And by only the wildest stretch of the imagination are these wars defensive from the U.S. side. But the two loopholes created by the U.N. Charter (for defensive and U.N.-authorized wars) are severe weaknesses. There will always be those who claim that a current war is in compliance with the U.N. Charter or that a future war might be. So, when I say that war is illegal, I don’t have the U.N. Charter in mind.
Nor am I thinking that every war inevitably violates the so-called laws of war, involving countless atrocities that don’t stand up under a defense of “necessity” or “distinction” or “proportionality,” although this is certainly true. Banning improper war, while useful as far as it goes, actually supports the barbaric notion that one can conduct a proper war. The situation in which a war would be a “just war” is as mythical as the much-imagined situation in which torture would be justified.
Nor do I mean that U.S. Constitutional war powers are violated or fraud is perpetrated in making the case for war, although these and other violations of law are frequent companions of U.S. wars.
I also do not want to dispute the advantages of banning war in the highest U.S. law, the Constitution. There is a common misconception that holds up lesser, statutory law as more serious than the Constitution or the treaties that it makes “supreme law of the land.” This is a dangerous inversion. The whistleblower Edward Snowden is right to expose violations of the Fourth Amendment. Senator Dianne Feinstein is wrong to insist that those violations have been legalized by statutes—which is debatable even if one accepts unconstitutional statutes. Amending the Constitution to ban war would (if the Constitution were complied with) prevent any lesser law from legalizing war.
But a treaty would do that too. And we already have one.
It is little known and even less appreciated that the United States is party to a treaty that bans all war. This treaty, known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, or the Peace Pact of Paris, or the Renunciation of War, is listed on the U.S. State Department’s website. The Pact reads:
The High Contracting Parties solemly [sic] declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.
The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.
Pacific means only. No martial means. No war. No targeted murder. No surgical strikes.
The story of how this treaty, to which over 80 nations are party, came to be is inspiring. (See my book, When the World Outlawed War.) The peace movement of the 1920s is a model of dedication, patience, strategy, integrity, and struggle. Playing a leading role was the movement for “outlawry,” for the outlawing of war. War had been legal until that point, as people falsely imagine it to be today.
Eliminating war, the outlawrists believed, would not be easy. A first step would be to ban it, to stigmatize it, to render it unrespectable. A second step would be to establish accepted laws for international relations. A third would be to create courts with the power to settle international disputes. The outlawrists took the first big step in 1928, with the treaty taking effect in 1929. We haven’t followed through. In fact we’ve collectively buried what was probably the single biggest news story of 1928: the creation of this treaty.
With the creation of the peace pact, wars were avoided and ended. But armament and hostility continued. The mentality that accepts war as an instrument of national policy would not vanish swiftly. World War II came. And, following World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt used the Kellogg-Briand Pact to prosecute the losers of the war, not just for “war crimes,” but also for the brand new crime of war. Despite an endless plague of war on and among the poor nations of the world, the wealthy armed nations have yet to launch a third world war among themselves.
When not simply ignored or unknown, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is dismissed because World War II happened. But what other legal ban on undesired behavior have we ever tossed out following the very first violation and what appears to have been a quite effective prosecution? An argument can also be made that the U.N. Charter undoes the earlier pact simply by coming later in time. But this is by no means an easy argument, and it requires understanding the U.N. Charter as the re-legalization of war rather than the ban on war that most people imagine it to be.
In fact, the Kellogg-Briand Pact has been used in cases of international law long after the adoption of the U.N. Charter, including a case at the World Court in 1998 that arguably prevented a U.S. war against Libya. (See Francis Boyle’s Destroying Libya and World Order.)
In the two years since I published an account of the activism that created the Pact, I have found a great deal of interest in reviving awareness of it. People may not be as sick of war now as they were following World War I, or at least not as open to the possibility of abolition, but many are pretty far down that road. Groups and individuals have launched petitions. The St. Paul, Minnesota, City Council (where Frank Kellogg lived) has voted to create a peace holiday on August 27th, the day the treaty was signed in 1928 in a scene well described in the song Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.
A fan of the story has created an essay contest that’s received thousands of entries. Drone protesters have educated judges about the Peace Pact when they’ve been hauled into court for making use of the First Amendment. A Congress member has put into the Congressional Record his recognition that the Kellogg-Briand Pact made war illegal. I just saw an op-ed in the New York Times by some law professors mentioning the pact. And I’ve been in touch with other nations not party to the treaty and not party to any wars, encouraging them to both sign on to the Pact and then urge certain other parties to begin complying with it.
When someone wants to legalize torture or campaign bribery they point to court proceedings marginalia, overridden vetoes, speeches, and tangentially related ancient precedents. When we want to de-legalize war, why not point to the Kellogg-Briand Pact? It is a treaty to which the United States is party. It is the Supreme Law of the Land. It not only does what we want. It does more than most people dare to dream. I’ve found that some people are inspired by the Pact’s existence and by the fact that our great-grandparents were able to create a public movement that brought it into existence.
War the Crime, not “War Crimes”
It is common to think of “war crimes” as improper conduct during a war, but not to think of the war itself as a crime. This needs to change. When presidents and other leaders of nations get away with launching wars, their successors repeat their crimes.
Many of us pushed hard for the impeachment or prosecution of George W. Bush, predicting that without that accountability his crimes would be continued and repeated. Lately I’ve been, somewhat bitterly, remarking, “Wow, not impeaching Bush has sure paid off!” His successor has continued and expanded upon many of his war powers and policies.
Many loyal Republicans opposed impeaching George W. Bush. So did most liberal and progressive activist groups, labor unions, peace organizations, churches, media outlets, journalists, pundits, organizers, and bloggers, not to mention most Democratic members of Congress, most Democrats dreaming of someday being in Congress, and—toward the end of the Bush presidency—most supporters of candidate Barack Obama or candidate Hillary Clinton.
Remarkably in the face of this opposition, a large percentage and sometimes a majority of Americans told pollsters that Bush should be impeached. It’s not clear, however, that everyone understood why impeachment was needed. Some might have supported a successful impeachment of Bush and then turned around and tolerated identical crimes and abuses by a Democrat.
But this is the point: whoever followed Bush’s impeachment would have been far less likely to repeat and expand on his high crimes and misdemeanors. And the reason many of us wanted Bush impeached—as we said at the time—was to prevent that repetition and expansion, which we said was virtually inevitable if impeachment was not pursued.
“You just hate Republicans” was the most common argument against impeachment, but there were others. “It’s more important to elect someone different.” “Why do you want President Cheney?” “Why do you want President Pelosi?” “Why distract from good work?” “Why put the country through trauma?” “Why not focus on ending war?” “Why not do investigations?” “Why divide the Democrats?” “Why start a process that can’t succeed?” “Why destroy the Democratic Party the way impeaching Clinton destroyed the Republican Party?” We answered these questions as patiently as possible at great length and enormous repetition for years and years (See WarIsACrime.org/ImpeachFAQ).
People pursued alternatives to impeachment, from spreading the word about how bad the crimes and abuses were, to pushing legislation to redundantly re-criminalize Bush’s criminal behavior, to promoting supposedly lesser-evil candidates, to promoting truly good candidates, to constructing ways to drop out of society and wash one’s hands of it. The trouble was that when you let a president make war, and everything that comes with war—spying without warrant, imprisoning without charge, torture, lying, secrecy, rewriting laws, persecuting whistleblowers—you can predict, as we predicted for years, that the next president will adopt and build on the same policies. Nothing short of punishing the offender will deter the successor.
In fact, the new president, working with Congress and all of his other facilitators, has turned abuses into policies. The scandal and secretiveness have been replaced with executive orders and legislation. Crimes are now policy choices. Checking off lists of murder victims is official open policy. (See “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” New York Times, May 29, 2012.) Secret laws are normal. Secretly rewritten laws are established practice. Spying in violation of the Fourth Amendment is openly defended and “legalized,” with sporadic bursts of public outrage and establishment excusing, following new detailed revelations. Whistleblowing is being transformed into treason.
What failure to impeach Bush has done to legitimize his crimes is nothing compared to what it has done to delegitimize impeachment. If a tyrannical president who liberals hated and who talked funny and who didn’t even pretend to be killing for some higher benevolent purpose can’t be impeached, then who can? Surely not an intelligent, articulate African American who pretends to agree with us and gives speeches denouncing his own policies!
But this is the same problem as before. Making speeches against Bush’s abuses was not enough. Clapping for speeches against Obama’s abuses—even speeches by Obama—is not enough. There is a reason why people abuse power. Power corrupts them. And absolute power corrupts them absolutely. Telling a handful of Congress members who are forbidden to speak about it, and most of whom don’t really give a damn, what sort of outrages you are up to is not a system of checks and balances or the rule of law.
Refusal to impeach pulls the foundation out from under representative government. Congress won’t impeach for violation of subpoenas, so it avoids issuing subpoenas, and it therefore can’t compel production of witnesses or documents, so it doesn’t take a position on an important matter, so the unofficial U.S. state media takes no position either, and people follow the media.
There is no demand to impeach Obama alive among the public as I write this. There are murmurs about impeaching him for minor or fictional crimes, but not for war. In an ideal world, we would compel Congress to truly drop the partisanship and proceed with a double-impeachment of Obama and Bush for identical crimes. (Impeachments after leaving office are possible and have been done; do a web search for “William Belknap”.)
We should aim to bring about that ideal world, in which top officials are held accountable for crimes, and the most serious crime on the list is the crime of war.
A Global Rescue Plan
People ask: Well, what do we do about the terrorists?
We begin learning history. We stop encouraging terrorism. We prosecute suspected criminals in courts of law. We encourage other nations to use the rule of law. We stop arming the world. And we take a little fraction of what we spend killing people and use it to make ourselves the most beloved people on the planet.
The United States alone is perfectly capable, if it chooses, of enacting a global marshall plan, or—better—a global rescue plan. Every year the United States spends, through various governmental departments, roughly $1.2 trillion on war preparations and war. Every year the United States foregoes well over $1 trillion in taxes that billionaires and centimillionaires and corporations should be paying.
If we understand that out-of-control military spending is making us less safe, rather than more—just as Eisenhower warned and so many current experts agree—it is clear that reducing military spending is a critical end in itself. If we add to that the understanding that military spending hurts, rather than helping, economic well-being, the imperative to reduce it is that much clearer.
If we understand that wealth in the United States is concentrated beyond medieval levels and that this concentration is destroying representative government, social cohesion, morality in our culture, and the pursuit of happiness for millions of people, it is clear that taxing extreme wealth and income are critical ends in themselves.
Still missing from our calculation is the unimaginably huge consideration of what we are not now doing but easily could do. It would cost us $30 billion per year to end hunger around the world. We just, as I was writing this, spent nearly $90 billion for another year of the “winding down” war on Afghanistan. Which would you rather have: three years of children not dying of hunger all over the earth, or year #13 of killing people in the mountains of central Asia? Which do you think would make the United States better liked around the world?
It would cost us $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. We’re spending $20 billion per year on just one of the well-known useless weapons systems that the military doesn’t really want but which serves to make someone rich who controls Congress members and the White House with legalized campaign bribery and the threat of job elimination in key districts. Of course, such weapons begin to look justified once their manufacturers begin selling them to other countries too. Raise your hand if you think giving the world clean water would make us better liked abroad and safer at home.
For similar affordable amounts, the United States, with or without its wealthy allies, could provide the earth with education, programs of environmental sustainability, encouragement to empower women with rights and responsibilities, the elimination of major diseases, etc. The Worldwatch Institute has proposed spending $187 billion annually for 10 years on everything from preserving topsoil ($24 billion per year) to protecting biodiversity ($31 billion per year) to renewable energy, birth control, and stabilizing water tables. For those who recognize the environmental crisis as another critical demand as urgent in its own right as the war-making crisis, the plutocracy crisis, or the unmet human needs crisis, a global rescue plan that invests in green energy and sustainable practices appears even more powerfully to be the moral demand of our time.
War-ending, earth-saving projects could be made profitable, just as prisons and coal mines and predatory lending are made profitable now by public policy. War-profiteering could be banned or rendered impractical. We have the resources, knowledge, and ability. We don’t have the political will. The chicken-and-egg problem traps us. We can’t take steps to advance democracy in the absence of democracy. A female face on an elite ruling class won’t solve this. We can’t compel our nation’s government to treat other nations with respect when it has no respect even for us. A program of foreign aid imposed by imperial-minded arrogance won’t work. Spreading subservience under the banner of “democracy” won’t save us. Imposing peace through armed “peace-keepers” prepared to kill won’t work. Disarming only so-much, while continuing to suppose that a “good war” might be needed, won’t get us far. We need a better view of the world and a way to impose it on officials who can be made to actually represent us.
Such a project is possible, and understanding how easy it would be for powerful officials to enact a global rescue plan is part of how we can motivate ourselves to demand it. The money is available several times over. The globe we have to rescue will include our own country as well. We don’t have to suffer more than we are suffering now in order to greatly benefit others. We can invest in health and education and green infrastructure in our own towns as well as others’ for less than we now dump into bombs and billionaires.
Such a project would do well to consider programs of public service that involve us directly in the work to be done, and in the decisions to be made. Priority could be given to worker-owned and worker-run businesses. Such projects could avoid an unnecessary nationalistic focus. Public service, whether mandatory or voluntary, could include options to work for foreign and internationally run programs as well as those based in the United States. The service, after all, is to the world, not just one corner of it. Such service could include peace work, human shield work, and citizen diplomacy. Student exchange and public-servant exchange programs could add travel, adventure, and cross-cultural understanding. Nationalism, a phenomenon younger than and just as eliminable as war, would not be missed.
You may say I’m a dreamer. We number in the hundreds of millions.
Educate, Organize, Get Active
Give this book to a friend or relative who doesn’t agree with it.
Give it to your Congress member, your library, and your crazy uncle.
Invite me to come talk with your group about it.
Don’t have a group? Join or create one. I recommend checking out and getting involved with the groups found on the following websites. These groups do not necessarily recommend this book or have anything to do with it, but I recommend them: