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A Way to Stop the Violence

11:16 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson


Gun Cultue 2012

The troubled souls (generally known in the media as “monsters” and “lunatics”) who keep shooting up schools and shopping centers, believe they are solving deeper problems.  We all know, of course, that in reality they are making things dramatically worse.

This is not an easy problem for us to solve.  We could make it harder to obtain guns, and especially guns designed specifically for mass killings.  We could take on the problem with our entertainment: we have movies, television shows, video games, books, and toys promoting killing as the way to fix what ails us.  We could take on the problem of our news media: we have newspapers and broadcast chatterers promoting killing as a necessary tool of public policy.  We could reverse the past 40 years of rising inequality, poverty, and plutocracy — a trend that correlates with violence in whatever country it’s found.

What we can’t do is stop arming, training, funding, and supporting the mass murderers in our towns and cities, because of course we haven’t been supporting them.  They aren’t acting in our name as our representatives.  When our children run in horror from classrooms strewn with their classmates’ bloody corpses, they are running from killers never authorized by us or elected by us.

This situation changes when we look abroad.

Picture a family in a house in Pakistan.  There’s a little dot very high up in the sky above.  It’s making a buzzing noise.  The dot is an unmanned airplane, a drone.  It’s being flown from a desk in Nevada.  The family knows what it is.  The children know what it is.  They know their lives may be ended at any moment.  And they are traumatized.  They are in a constant state of terror.  And then, one bright clear morning, they are torn limb from limb, bleeding, screaming, groaning out their last breaths as their home collapses into smoking rubble.

Picture a family in a house in Afghanistan.  They’re asleep in their beds.  A door is kicked in. Incomprehensible words are shouted.  Bullets fly.  Loved ones are grabbed and dragged away, kicking and screaming with horror — never to be seen again.

The troubled souls (generally known in the media as “tax-payers”) who keep this far greater volume of violence going, believe they are solving deeper problems.  But when we look closely, we see that in reality we are making things dramatically worse.

That is the good news.  There is violence that we can much more easily stop, because it is our violence.  The U.S. Army last week said that targeting children in Afghanistan was perfectly acceptable.  The U.S. President maintains a list of men, women, and children to be killed, and he kills them — but the vast majority of the people killed through that program are people not on the list, people in the wrong place at the wrong time (just like the people in our shopping malls and schools).

In fact, the vast majority of the people killed in our foreign wars are simply bystanders.  And they are killed in their homes, their stores, their schools, their weddings.  The violence that we can easily end looks very much like the violence we find so difficult to address at home.  It doesn’t take place between a pair of armies on a battlefield.  It happens where its victims live.

Were we to stop pouring $1.2 trillion each year into war preparations, we would also be stopping the public funding of the manufacturers of the weapons that rip open our loved ones and neighbors in our schools and parking lots.  We would be altering dramatically the context in which we generate public policy, public entertainment, and public myths about how problems can be solved.  We would be saving lives every bit as precious as any other lives, while learning how to go on to saving more.

One place to start, I believe, would be in withdrawing U.S. troops from over 1,000 bases in other people’s countries — an imperial presence that costs us $170 billion each year while building hostility and tensions, not peace.  There’s a reason why, at this time of year, we don’t sing about “Peace in My Backyard.”  If we want peace on Earth, we must stop and consider how to get it.

David Swanson’s books include “War Is A Lie.” He blogs at and and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.
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In Four Minutes Thom Hartmann Explains What’s Wrong With War and Violence

5:48 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson


Listen to this four-minute clip from the Thom Hartmann Show:

Thom tells his caller to read War Is A Lie:

But Thom uses brilliant arguments and facts that are not even in the book, which is really the best result an author can hope for: inspiring further thought.

There’s also a video of Thom Hartmann and David Swanson discussing this topic at

The Thom Hartmann Show is at

What Osama bin Laden, Troy Davis, and You Have in Common

11:00 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

So, the United States invaded Mexico, lied about it, killed, raped, pillaged, and stole half the country for the cause of expanding slavery in our growing continental empire. Then a devastated rump Mexico was invaded by the French who wanted their debts repaid, but the Mexicans won a big battle against the French on the Fifth of May, leading Americans to buy several tons of tacos and thousands of gallons of beer every Cinco de Mayo. Viva international solidarity in the land of Might-Makes-Right!

Secularists and Congressman Pete Stark have declared May 5th the Day of Reason, but how many people know that, how many television stations will stand for it, and how many Americans are even pretending to be reasonable?

I’ve been reflecting during this Cinco de Mayo on exactly how pervasive in my country is the idea that violence can solve all problems. I just watched a powerful documentary called American Holocaust about the war on Vietnam. Great footage and great narration by Martin Sheen. The mission of the U.S. military in Vietnam was to kill as many people as possible, and the currency became sliced-off ears. Bring back the ears and get your pay from the U.S. government. That’s how it worked. Watch an officer admit to it in this film. Nowadays we minimize death-counts instead of celebrating them, but in Afghanistan fingers seem to have become the most common trophy among those continuing the national tradition.

Almost every movie playing at any theater near me right now is heavily violent. And the front page story in the local newspaper is a nearby triple homicide. A Swedish movie that was recently a big hit here and around the United States called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” involved a scene remarkably similar to a sick and sadistic crime reported today from Oklahoma. And then there’s Troy Davis.

Here’s a good summary of the case of Troy Davis, an almost certainly innocent black man likely to be killed soon by the state of Georgia. Most of the world has abolished the death penalty, including Canada, Mexico, all of Central America, half of South America, all of Europe, Australia, and much of Africa and Asia. The big users of the death penalty are the United States, China, and the nations we call the Middle East.

What does Troy Davis have to do with Osama bin Laden? Davis is widely believed to be innocent. Bin Laden was widely believed to be guilty. Davis is an African American. Bin Laden was a foreigner, a Muslim, and a terrorist. Davis is poor. Bin Laden was rich. Democratic Party loyalists tolerate opposition to killing Davis but condemn as treasonous and racist those who object to the killing of bin Laden. Surely these cases have nothing in common.

An even more significant difference between the two cases would exist if the initial lies coming out of the White House had not been so swiftly retracted. That is, had bin Laden been killed in a fire fight with people attempting to arrest him, his killing might be legal and regretted. It appears, however, that he was killed unarmed in a swift action aimed at killing him. And one can understand why that was probably the plan.

Had bin Laden been given a trial as unfair as Troy Davis’s treatment by our judicial system, there would have been a huge uproar. Those who believe in the rule of law would have objected to the unfairness. Those who believe in the rule of violence would have objected to giving him any trial at all. Those obsessed with the symbolism of closing Guantanamo would have objected to holding him there. Holding him in another illegal prison would have called attention (and possible violence) to it. Holding him in the United States would have resulted in impeachment proceedings and any number of Americans dying of heart attacks. Instead bin Laden was killed.

Overturning Davis’ conviction would similarly expose a very flawed process. Proceeding with killing Davis, as with bin Laden, is viewed by those in power as a cleaner, less messy, solution. Put the matter behind us, they say, by murdering a human being. Caring for Davis comes easily to us; it involves the sort of effort that Jesus of Nazareth dismissed as unworthy of praise. Caring for bin Laden is not just difficult but almost universally condemned as malicious and disloyal. Yet that is what Jesus told us needed to be done.

Now, I oppose caring for anyone at the expense of others. Letting bin Laden off the hook would send the wrong message to potential future criminals. Prosecuting him in court would send the right one. But what about executing him in his Pakistani home? What message does that send? Primarily, the same one that killing Davis in a Georgia prison sends: might makes right. Murder makes justice. War is peace. Life is a superhero cartoon and your government is the superhero.

And what does this have to do with you and me? Well, we have to live in the most violent wealthy nation on earth. We have to live in close proximity to heavily armed people thrown out of work and out of house and home, people trained to believe that violence can solve their problems, people conditioned to use violence in our foreign wars and then never reconditioned afterwards. This puts us all at risk.

We will not solve this by picking which acts of violence to protest.

We will solve it by opposing violence.

Don’t You Know That You Can Count Me Out – In

9:25 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Ted Rall’s new book "The Anti-American Manifesto" advocates for violent revolution, even if we have to join with rightwingers and racists to do it, and even if we have no control over the outcome which could easily be something worse than what we’ve got. We have a moral duty, Rall argues, to kill some people.

Now, I much prefer a debate over what radical steps to take to a debate over whether it’s really appropriate for President Obama to whine about people’s lack of enthusiasm for voting. Should we try to pep people up for him or gently nudge him to appoint a new chief of staff who’s not a vicious warmongering corporatist? Decisions. Decisions.

Rall’s book is packed with great analysis of our current state and appropriate moral outrage. I highly recommend it for the clear-eyed survey of the tides in this giant pot of slowly boiling water where we float and kick about like frogs. To an Obama proposal to create 17,000 jobs, Rall replies:

"The U.S. economy needs to add one hundred thousand new jobs a month to keep up with population growth and keep the unemployment rate even. At this writing, in March 2010, it would require four hundred thousand new jobs each month for three years to get back to December 2007.

"Seventeen thousand jobs? Was Obama still using drugs?"

I recommend Rall’s manifesto as a call to action. The only question is what action?

There, the book is much weaker. As people come to terms with the need for radical action, we need to provide them with a serious debate of the alternatives. Many will drift inevitably toward violence, unaware of any choice. To not present the alternatives, whether to argue for or against them, is less than helpful.

According to Rall, "no meaningful political change has ever taken place without violence or the credible threat of violence." And, "without violence, the powerful will never stop exploiting the weak." From these statements, scattered throughout the manifesto, one would have no idea that anyone else believed there was a third choice beyond violence or doing nothing. There is no indication here of the role of nonviolence in evicting the British from India or overthrowing the ruler of El Salvador in 1944, or even in ending Jim Crow in the United States and Apartheid in South Africa, in the popular removal of the ruler of the Philippines in 1986, in the largely nonviolent Iranian Revolution of 1979, in the dismantling of the Soviet Union in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany, in the resistance to a stolen election in the Ukraine in 2004-2005, and in hundreds of other examples from around the world.

Now, Rall could try to argue that many such movements have violent as well as nonviolent components. He could claim that nonviolent activism can constitute a threat of violence. That is, even though the actors themselves may prove their willingness to die rather than use violence, the understanding of those in power as well as of activists like Rall who think only in terms of violence could be that violence is being threatened. But Rall attempts no such arguments, so we don’t really know what he would say.

Rall does make the following claim about U.S. political struggles: "[P]acifism has been the state religion of the official Left since the end of the Vietnam War. Can it be a coincidence that progressives cannot point to a single significant political victory since the early 1970s?" It could be a coincidence, yes, or it could be that what we have lacked since the early 1970s has been serious resistance to power — which does not answer the question of which would have been more effective and which still could be, violent or nonviolent resistance.

The two points I found most persuasive in Rall’s case for violence were points he may not have intended as planks in that argument, an argument that — again — he does not so much make as assume. The first point is that, even as people are refraining from killing CEOs and politicians, they are not refraining from killing. In increasing numbers, they are killing themselves. They are losing their homes, their healthcare, their savings. They are being forced into debt-slavery, humiliating misery, and hopelessness, and — for lack of any other approach — are killing themselves. It’s not clear that assassinating the powerful wouldn’t make things even worse, but it is worth noting that people are killing the innocent and not the guilty.

The second point is that people are not just killing themselves. They are killing random innocents as well, former coworkers, family members, and strangers. We are perfectly capable of ending such violence. Redirecting it is not our only available option. But in contemplating violence, we are not starting from a nonviolent state.

And, of course, the impoverishment of millions of people has resulted in a shortened life expectancy in the wealthiest place on earth, a place where some are able to indulge in the greatest and most wasteful luxury ever seen. But Rall makes no argument for his root assumption that our choices are to kill people or "sit on our asses." Rall wants jobs created at a rate that approaches the actual need. He wants corporations nationalized and brought under control. He wants an end to eight-figure bonuses on Wall Street. His solution is "a hundred thousand angry New Yorkers armed with bricks (or guns)."

Now, I’m not suggesting you have to know something will go perfectly before you try it, but shouldn’t you try the approach most likely to work the best? And shouldn’t we know what has and has not worked before? Rall claims that the 1999 Battle of Seattle slowed corporate globalization because a few people broke a few windows. Yet, many people who were there and engaged in that struggle point to the nonviolent blocking of the streets that prevented the conference from being held, and the moral force of the broad coalition that took over the city and won allies even within the halls of corporate power. This was done despite, not because of, a few jerks smashing windows.

I share with Rall his concern that people think they have no choices and his conviction that something must be done. If it were impossible to organize committed, independent, uncorrupted nonviolent resistance with the dedication necessary to succeed, if violence were our only option, we’d certainly have to look into it. But I suspect organized violence would be even harder to bring forth than organized nonviolence. Rall attempts no argument to the contrary. He predicts a hellish nightmare with or without his violent revolution. I predict peace, sustainability, and justice if we nonviolently resist. A deeper debate is needed.

Our National Epidemic of Violence

1:32 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

By David Swanson

James Gilligan published a book 13 years ago called "Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic," in which he diagnosed the root cause of violence as deep shame and humiliation, a desperate need for respect and status (and, fundamentally love and care) so intense that only killing (oneself and/or others) could ease the pain — or, rather, the lack of feeling. When a person becomes so ashamed of his needs (and of being ashamed), Gilligan writes, and when he sees no nonviolent solutions, and when he lacks the ability to feel love or guilt or fear, the result can be violence.

The choice to engage in violence is not a rational one, and often involves magical thinking, as Gilligan explains by analyzing the meaning of crimes in which murderers have mutilated their victims’ bodies or their own.

"I am convinced," he writes, "that violent behavior, even at its most apparently senseless, incomprehensible, and psychotic, is an understandable response to an identifiable, specifiable set of conditions; and that even when it seems motivated by ‘rational’ self-interest, it is the end product of a series of irrational, self-destructive, and unconscious motives that can be studied, identified, and understood."

Gilligan’s understanding of what motivates violence comes from working in prisons and mental health institutions, not from watching the news. He suggests that the obvious explanation is usually wrong:

"Some people think that armed robbers commit their crimes in order to get money. And of course, sometimes, that is how they rationalize their behavior. But when you sit down and talk with people who repeatedly commit such crimes, what you hear is, ‘I never got so much respect before in my life as I did when I first pointed a gun at somebody,’ or, ‘You wouldn’t believe how much respect you get when you have a gun pointed at some dude’s face.’ For men who have lived for a lifetime on a diet of contempt and disdain, the temptation to gain instant respect in this way can be worth far more than the cost of going to prison, or even of dying."

While violence may be irrational, Gilligan suggests clear ways in which it can be prevented or encouraged. If you wanted to increase violence, he writes, you would take the following steps that the United States has taken: Punish more and more people more and more harshly; ban drugs that inhibit violence and legalize and advertise those that stimulate it; use taxes and economic policies to widen disparities in wealth and income; deny the poor education; perpetuate racism; produce entertainment that glorifies violence; make lethal weapons readily available; maximize the polarization of social roles of men and women; encourage prejudice against homosexuality; use violence to punish children in school and at home; and keep unemployment sufficiently high. And why would you do that? Possibly because most victims of violence are poor, and the poor can organize in rebellion against the rich when they aren’t terrorized by crime.

Gilligan looks at violent crimes, especially murder, and then turns his attention to our system of violent punishment, including the death penalty, prison rape, and solitary confinement. He views retributive punishment as the same sort of irrational violence as the crimes it is punishing. He sees structural violence and poverty as doing the most damage, however. No summary would do this brilliant book justice. So, instead let me complain about what it’s missing: war.

In scattered references Gilligan makes clear that he lumps war into his theory of violence, and yet in one place he opposes ending wars, and nowhere does he explain how his theory can be coherently applied. Do soldiers and mercenaries and contractors and bureaucrats feel shame and humiliation? Do war propaganda and military training produce the idea that the enemy has disrespected the warrior who must now kill to recover his honor? Or is the humiliation of the drill sergeant intended to produce a reaction redirected against the enemy? What about the congress members and presidents, the generals and weapons corporation CEOs, and the corporate media, those who actually decide to have a war and make it happen? Don’t they have a high degree of status and respect already, even if they may have gone into politics because of their exceptional desire for such attention? Aren’t there more mundane motivations, like financial profit, campaign financing, and vote winning at work here, even if the writings of the Project for the New American Century have a lot to say about boldness and dominance and control?

Where I’m most interested in applying Gilligan’s theory to war, in fact, is in the area of public opinion, the routine American public opinion that ranges from cheering for wars to failing to adequately resist them. What explains this? Common slogans and bumper stickers suggest some value in looking down this particular sewer: "These colors don’t run," "Proud to be an American," "Never back down," "Don’t cut and run." Nothing could be more irrational or symbolic than a war on a tactic or an emotion, as in the Global War on Terror, which was launched as revenge, even though the primary people against whom the revenge was desired were already dead.

Do people think their pride and self-worth depends on the vengeance to be found in bombing Afghanistan until there’s nobody left resisting U.S. dominance? If so, it will do not a bit of good to explain to them that such actions actually make them less safe and more likely to be attacked. Facts just get in the way here. But if we could persuade such people that such behavior makes the United States a laughingstock, they might be reachable. Or if we could persuade them that the US government is playing them for fools and using their money for folly, we might get somewhere. Or if Americans knew that they had all become second-class citizens in comparison with the well-off people of Europe who don’t waste all their money on wars, maybe that rivalry could be turned toward peace.

If teabagging wakes us up to the realization that our approach to war is based on a bunch of glaze-eyed drooling madmen in search of elusive self-worth, perhaps it will have done us an important service. If Americans will stop killing Afghans because they now think it makes them Karzai’s punks, then let’s stop the killing and work on thinking clearly later.