David Swanson

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If ISIS Were Really a Movie

By: David Swanson Wednesday September 17, 2014 8:13 am

Rewrite!

ISIS has created a movie preview for the coming war, a war it eagerly wants Washington to take part in. The White House and Congress would like to oblige, as long as the movie can be a short one, on the model of Libya. Here’s the plot: Evil force arises out of nowhere; United States destroys it; credits roll. If Libya-The-Movie had begun with years of support for Gadaffi or ended with the disaster left behind, the critics would have hated it. Framing is everything.

Kathy Kelly published an article on Wednesday describing her visit some years back to a U.S. prison camp in Iraq where Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai spent four years under the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before becoming the leader of ISIS.

Imagine a Hollywood-like movie that began in that camp. An opening scene might show Baghdadi and his fellow prisoners paraded naked in front of female soldiers and forced to say “I love George Bush” before they could get their food rations. We’d see them sleeping on the ground in the cold, cursing their captors and swearing every last drop of energy and instant of remaining life to that highest of all Hollywood values: violent revenge.

Cut to the present and a scene in a small house in Iraq with 500-pound U.S. bombs exploding just outside. Baghdadi and his gang of loveable heroes look horrified, but — with a twinkle in his eye — Baghdadi gathers the others to him and begins to smile. Then he begins to laugh. His comrades look bewildered. Then they start to catch on. “You wanted this, didn’t you?” exclaims Sexy Female Rebel. “This was your plan, wasn’t it!”

“Hand me the ultimate weapon,” Baghdadi says, turning to a future nominee for best male supporting actor. BMSA grins and pulls out a video camera. Baghdadi raises the camera over his head with one hand. Turning to Sexy Female Rebel he says “Go on the roof and look north. Tell me what you see coming.”

Cut to view through binoculars as music swells to high enthusiasm. Countless oceans of people on foot are making their way over the land with burning U.S. flags on sticks leading the way.

Of course, even Hollywood, which made Avatar, wouldn’t make exactly THIS movie. The White House is going to have to make it. But who’s directing? President Obama is hunting around for a name for this war, while ISIS has already released one in its video preview. Even the U.S. public seems increasingly interested in the full-length feature. “How does this end?” they want to know. “This was begun by Bush” they say, depending on their partisanship.

What if the script were flipped, not to portray the Iraqi as protagonist, but to abandon the religion of violent revenge?  What if Washington were to say to ISIS this:

We see that you want a war with us. We understand that you would gain local support because of how deeply we are hated. We’re tired of being hated. We’re tired of taking direction from criminals like you. We’re not going to play along. We’re going to make ourselves loved rather than hated. We’re going to apologize for our occupations and bombings and prisons and torture. We’re going to make restitution. We’re going to provide aid to the entire region. It’ll cost us a lot less to do that than to keep dropping bombs on you, so you can forget the plan to bankrupt us. We’re going to save trillions of dollars in fact by ceasing to arm ourselves and the rest of the world to the teeth. We’re going to announce a ban on shipping weapons to the Middle East. And since we ship 80% of them, not even counting our own military’s, we’re already off to a huge start. We’re going to prosecute any oil company or country that does business with your organization. But we’re going to hold no grudges against anyone who abandons your organization and seeks peace, just as we ask you to do what you can toward overcoming grudges against our past barbarity.

What would happen? You might be surprised. Gandhi-The-Movie brought in over $50 million in 1982.

 

43 Million People Kicked Out of Their Homes

By: David Swanson Tuesday September 16, 2014 10:04 am
A soldier hands supplies to Afghan child refugees.

“Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem.”

War, our leaders tell us, is needed to make the world a better place.

Well, maybe not so much for the 43 million people who’ve been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes.

The U.N.’s figures for the end of 2013 (found here) list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. The cost of escalating the war in Syria is often treated as a financial cost or — in rare cases — as a human cost in injury and death. There is also the human cost of ruining homes, neighborhoods, villages, and cities as places in which to live.

Just ask Colombia which comes in second place following years of war — a place where peace talks are underway and desperately needed with — among other catastrophes — nearly 6 million people deprived of their homes.

The war on drugs is rivaled by the war on Africa, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo coming in third after years of the U.S.-backed deadliest war since World War II, but only because the war on “terror” has slipped. Afghanistan is in fourth place with 3.6 million desperate, suffering, dying, and in many cases understandably angry and resentful at losing a place to live.  (Remember that over 90% of Afghans not only didn’t participate in the events of 9-11 involving Saudis flying planes into buildings, but have never even heard of those events.) Post-liberation Iraq is at 1.5 million displaced and refugees. Other nations graced by regular U.S. missile strikes that make the top of the list include Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen — and, of course, with Israeli help: Palestine.

Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem.

Part of that problem finds its way to Western borders where the people involved should be greeted with restitution rather than resentment. Honduran children aren’t bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They’re fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers.  The “immigration problem” and “immigrants rights” debate should be replaced with a serious discussion of refugee rights, human rights, and the-right-to-peace.

Start here.

Laughing Our Way to Destruction

By: David Swanson Tuesday September 16, 2014 5:19 am

If members of the U.S. public were ever to wonder what the other 95% of humanity thinks about them, would it be better to break that harsh truth to them gently or just to blurt it out?

I’m going to go with the latter.

Here’s Frankie Boyle explaining the advantages of Scottish independence: “Scotland would no longer have to invade places like Afghanistan for American interests. . . . I don’t support America’s wars. I don’t even think they are wars. They’re one-way traffic, mass-murder. There’s never been a time when a shepherd has beaten a helicopter. You never switch on the news to see ‘A shock result in Afghanistan today when a missile was destroyed by a wedding.’ Because not only will America go into your country and kill all your people. But what’s worse I think is they’ll come back twenty years later and make a movie about how killing your people made their soldiers feel sad. Oh boo hoo hoo. Americans making a movie about what Vietnam did to the soldiers is like a serial killer telling you what stopping suddenly for hitchhikers did to his clutch.”

If you don’t think people find such remarks acceptable, listen to this laughter:

Living in the United States we’ve been trained to appreciate the fact that the wars do in fact make the soldiers feel sad. In fact they significantly increase rates of depression and violence and suicide. We tell each other not to blame the soldiers, rather to blame the top politicians. But then we don’t really do that, do we? Bush is off painting himself in the bathtub and otherwise doing his imitation of the original King George III during his blue urine period. Obama is cheered by his fans because his wars make him sad and he declares them with such heartfelt reluctance. But from the point of view of people who are told about non-American deaths in their newspapers and on their televisions and radios (that is, from the point of view of 95% of humanity) U.S. wars are mass-slaughter of innocents. Ninety percent of the deaths are on one side. Ninety percent of those deaths are civilians by every definition. When the U.S. says it’s going to launch another war because it opposes genocide, the rest of the world responds “We what the f%^$^! do you call your wars?”

Think the rest of the world is crazy? Think it’s just bad jokes that miss the serious complicated facts of the matter. Watch how an intelligent Englishman watches an Obama speech:

Or you can watch how an American views Lindsey Graham’s speeches:

Or how an American comedian views U.S. foreign policy:

When an American gets honest about U.S. warmongering it has to be a joke. It has to sneak in. We don’t want to hear it. But we shouldn’t keep imagining the rest of the world doesn’t know what’s going on.

 

After New York: Rally for Peace and Climate in DC

By: David Swanson Saturday September 13, 2014 8:35 pm

An interactive townhall discussion of how we get to peace

Speakers: Andy Shallal, Barbara Wien, David Swanson, and YOU

When: Monday, September 22, 11:30-1:30

Where: SIS Founders Room, American University
4400 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016

Food and drink provided!

War, Whistleblowing, and Independent Journalism

Join us for the powerful documentary Body of War (co-produced and co-directed by Phil Donahue), followed by a discussion with whistleblowers and journalists.
When: Monday, September 22
6:30 pm: Body of War film screening8 pm: Q&A with Phil Donahue

8:15 pm: Panel
*  William Binney, NSA whistleblower
*  Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, EPA whistleblower
*  Phil Donahue, journalist
*  Thomas Drake, NSA whistleblower
*  Peter Kuznick, professor of history
*  Jesselyn Radack, DOJ whistleblower
*  Kirk Wiebe, NSA whistleblower
Moderator: Norman Solomon

Where: American University — Butler Board Room (located on the 6th floor above the Bender arena sports complex)Optional: You can sign up on FaceBook here.

This event is sponsored by RootsAction.org and the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, and co-sponsored by ExposeFacts.org.

For more information on the speakers, click here
.

Nonviolent civil resistance for peace and climate at the White House

When: Tuesday, September 23, 10 a.m.

Where: Pennsylvania Ave. in front of White House.

More information.

James Foley Is Not a War Ad

By: David Swanson Friday September 12, 2014 10:29 am

To the extent that the U.S. public is newly, and probably momentarily, accepting of war — an extent that is wildly exaggerated, but still real — it is because of videos of beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

When 9-11 victims were used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9-11, some of the victims’ relatives pushed back.

Now James Foley is pushing back from the grave.

Here is video of Foley talking about the lies that are needed to launch wars, including the manipulation of people into thinking of foreigners as less than human. Foley’s killers may have thought of him as less than human. He may not have viewed them the same way.

The video shows Foley in Chicago helping Haskell Wexler with his film Four Days in Chicago — a film about the last NATO protest before the recent one in Wales.  I was there in Chicago for the march and rally against NATO and war. And I’ve met Wexler who has tried unsuccessfully to find funding for a film version of my book War Is A Lie.

Watch Foley in the video discussing the limitations of embedded reporting, the power of veteran resistance, veterans he met at Occupy, the absence of a good justification for the wars, the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage — watch all of that and then try to imagine James Foley cheering like a weapons-maker or a Congress member for President Obama’s announcement of more war. Try to imagine Foley accepting the use of his killing as propaganda for more fighting.

You can’t do it. He’s not an ad for war any more than the WMDs were a justification for war. His absence as a war justification has been exposed even faster than the absence of the WMDs was.

While ISIS may have purchased Sotloff, if not Foley, from another group, when Foley’s mother sought to ransom him, the U.S. government repeatedly threatened her with prosecution. So, instead of Foley’s mother paying a relatively small amount and possibly saving her son, ISIS goes on getting its funding from oil sales and supporters in the Gulf and free weapons from, among elsewhere, the United States and its allies. And we’re going to collectively spend millions, probably billions, and likely trillions of dollars furthering the cycle of violence that Foley risked his life to expose.

The Coalition of the Willing is already crumbling. What if people in the United States were to watch the video of Foley when he was alive and speaking and laughing, not the one when he was a prop in a piece of propaganda almost certainly aimed at provoking the violence that Obama has just obligingly announced?

Foley said he believed his responsibility was to the truth. It didn’t set him free. Is it perhaps not too late for the rest of us?

A Paradigm For Peace

By: David Swanson Friday September 12, 2014 8:26 am

Raise your hand if you weren’t surprised when fancy films of beheadings resulted in bombings?

PEACE

PEACE

Keep your hand up if you weren’t shocked when bombings resulted in more brutality and beheadings?

Is it possible we need a radically different way of thinking about how to solve violence?

Listen to this quote:

“Neither governments nor terrorists analyze the Defensive and Aggressive Roots of Violence within their enemies and themselves. Consequently, their policy solutions are imbalanced, hostile, and impractical. The habit of antagonistic debate further impedes the development of solutions, while threat-oriented psychological patterns and assumptions buttress a belief in war.”

Please don’t scream “What are we suppose to do, have a friendly discussion with the man with a knife on our throat?”

I actually know someone who did that and lived to tell the tale. But that’s not the idea. We don’t actually have a collective throat, and we aren’t actually engaged in debates or discussions of any sort with the people our government is bombing thousands of miles from home. The point, as I take it, is to alter how we are thinking about matters of war and peace. Kristin Christman, whose quote that is, has produced a remarkable project called Paradigm For Peace.

She takes on the policy of war and the propaganda of war. She rethinks it all in her own language, very much the autodidact but very much dedicated to seeing the perspectives of others. Her writing could help war supporters begin to question their beliefs, which she sees as often noble, if often also shameful, if always misguided, in motivation. Christman applies the same generosity and insight to an analysis of war supporters on both sides. That is, she asks both why someone would support bombing Iraq and why someone would support anti-U.S. terrorism.

Another excerpt:

“Since its first foreign policies towards Native Americans, the U.S. has perceived the opponent as two-dimensional and deficient in qualities worth respecting and perspectives worth understanding. It is similar to the faulty way in which some have perceived slaves, children, animals, trees, rocks, rivers, and land itself: to be much less than they really are. Yet trying to obliterate the enemy does not resolve the threat; it does not address why the enemy became a threat. And if motivations are not discussed, solutions to motivations will be omitted. Foreign policy must be based upon a Science of Peace.”

And one more, just to get a proper taste:

“We wouldn’t kick a car to make it go. If something were wrong with it, we would figure out which system wasn’t working and why: How is it not working? Does it turn on a little? Are the wheels spinning in mud? Does the battery need recharging? Are gas and air getting through? Like kicking the car, an approach to conflict that relies on military solutions does not figure things out: It does not distinguish between the causes of violence and does not address aggressive and defensive motivations.”

Christman has organized her ideas into a system of categories that can be a bit intimidating, but often extremely valuable. I’ve sometimes struggled with the concept of the “roots of war” because I recognize factors that facilitate war, while recognizing that they are neither necessary nor sufficient to actually cause war. Christman makes use of a very helpful category that she calls “The Escalators of Violence.” These are broken up into mental, legal, and physical varieties — that is to say, mental habits that make war a first resort, legal structures that permit war, and physical facts like the presence of weapons and troops that make war the easiest option.

The “Roots of Violence” is another piece of Christman’s analysis, itself divided into defensive, aggressive, and accidental roots. Christman is not using “defensive” as a legal justification for war, but rather as a category to facilitate understanding of what is motivating the actions of one’s government or its declared enemies.

Continuing her mission of categorization, Christman creates a “Taxonomny of Peace” including an in-depth and specific look at roots and escalators of violence, and at solutions — with a focus in particular on the United States and Western Asia (the “Middle East”). In fact, Christman lists 650 Solutions for Peace.

That’s quite a leap from the currently common U.S. wisdom that one must choose between bombing and nothing, to a menu of 651 choices (including bombing as 1).  But the 650 are not all concrete and discrete steps.  Many are guides to better thinking.  Many are rules for what not to do. For example: “Do Not Determine Solutions Based Merely upon Snapshots of a Conflict” is the heading of one of the 650 sections.

I spoke at an event along with Christman some weeks back (video), and recognized that she was a brilliant independent thinker. It then took me weeks to get around to reading her work, which I still haven’t finished. Why? Because it’s too big, too disorganized, needs an editor, needs a web designer, and ought to be published in a hardcopy book for us old-fashioned types who like those. I mean all of that as constructive criticism, and I really very much do hope those steps are taken.

In the meantime, take any amount of time you have (such as time you might have wasted watching TV news) and check this out.

Warning to War Supporters

By: David Swanson Wednesday September 10, 2014 7:21 am

I know you mean well. I know you think you’ve found a bargain that nobody else noticed hidden in a back corner of the used car lot. Let me warn you: it’s a clunker. Here, I’ll list the defects. You can have your own mechanic check them out:

1. If you want to bomb a country every time an evil group murders people in a gruesome manner, you’ll have to bomb a lot of countries including our own.  ISIS draws its strength in Iraq from resentment of the Iraqi government, which bombs its own cities using U.S. weapons, and which beheads people, albeit in grainier footage with lower production values.  Allies in the region, including allies that support ISIS, including allies armed by the United States (some of which arms end up in the hands of ISIS), themselves behead people regularly. But is that worse than other types of killing? When President Barack Obama blew up a 16 year old American boy whom nobody had ever accused of so much as jaywalking, and blew up six other kids who were too close to him at the time, do you imagine his head remained on his body?

As with most drone strikes, that boy could have been arrested and questioned. Had he been, though, gruesome death would have remained a possibility. In April, the United States injected a man with chemicals that made him writhe in excruciating pain for 43 minutes and die. Last week in the United States a man facing a similar fate on death row was proven innocent and freed. The prosecutor who had put him there 30 years earlier showed zero remorse. Now I’m not proposing that we bomb North Carolina because I’m angry at that prosecutor. I’m not even angry at that prosecutor. I am suggesting that there are evil killers all over the place, some wearing Western suits and ties, some wearing military uniforms. Bombs, which mostly kill innocent people who had nothing to do with it, won’t help.

2. The bombs will mostly kill innocent people who had nothing to do with it, and will only make the crisis worse. Most people who die in wars are civilians by everyone’s definition. People still use words like “battlefield” as if wars were waged in a field the way a football game is played. They couldn’t play football on our streets and sidewalks because grandparents and baby strollers would end up tackled and crushed. Well, wars are waged on people’s streets and sidewalks, even when one side is only present in the sky above in the form of unmanned robot death planes. The slow-moving die first: the very old and the very young. And when anyone dies, according to top U.S. officials, more enemies are created in greater numbers. Thus, the operation is counterproductive on its own terms, making us less safe rather than safer. This is why President Obama is always saying “There is no military solution” just before proposing to use the military to seek a solution. When he proposes bombing Iraq for three more years, that number has no basis in military calculation whatsoever. I challenge you to find a general who says otherwise. It is a number almost certainly based on the U.S. election schedule, aimed at convincing us to accept a war without question until a date after the next presidential election. When Obama says he’s going to get a good government in place in Iraq this week and then make a speech, he’s delusional or enjoying toying with your gullibility, but he’s also pointing to the actual problem: a nation destroyed by 24 years of wars and sanctions and lacking a legitimate governing system.

3. Bombing is crazy, and bombing for three years is certifiable. Bombing strengthens ISIS. Three years is longer than most U.S. wars have taken from beginning to end.  The U.S. Constitution, which did not foresee a permanent standing army, much less one permanently standing in most other nations on earth, did not permit — and does not permit — creating and funding one for a longer period than two years at a time (Article I. Section 8.). But of course nothing guarantees that the bombing will stop after three years and not go on for thirty more. And nothing guarantees that this war will involve only bombing. Already Obama has sent over 1,100 troops, and is promising to send some number less than 100,000. Read that twice please, slowly. Obama wants Congress to debate his war plans but not vote on them. Why not? Because Congress might be compelled by you and me to vote no, if not on this war then on the next one. Obama wants himself and all future presidents free to launch wars without Congress, exactly what he campaigned for office opposing.

Video: Russell Brand Reads My Article on ISIS Out Loud

By: David Swanson Saturday September 6, 2014 12:17 pm

Russell Brand Reads My Article on ISIS Out Loud (11:40).

What to do about ISIS.

John Horgan asked me for a paragraph on what to do about ISIS. I sent him this:

I’d say start by recognizing where ISIS came from. The U.S. and its junior partners destroyed Iraq, left a sectarian division, poverty, desperation, and an illegitimate government in Baghdad that did not represent Sunnis or other groups. Then the U.S. armed and trained ISIS and allied groups in Syria, while continuing to prop up the Baghdad government, providing Hellfire missiles with which to attack Iraqis in Fallujah and elsewhere. ISIS has religious adherents but also opportunistic supporters who see it as the force resisting an unwanted rule from Baghdad and who increasingly see it as resisting the United States. It is in possession of U.S. weaponry provided directly to it in Syria and siezed from the Iraqi government. At last count by the U.S. government, 79% of weapons transfered to Middle Eastern governments come from the United States, not counting transfers to groups like ISIS, and not counting weapons in the possession of the United States. So, the first thing to do differently going forward: stop bombing nations into ruins, and stop shipping weapons into the area you’ve left in chaos. [...]