You are browsing the archive for war.

Mythological Basis of Foreign Policy

11:21 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare

Swanson calls a new book more evidence of war’s mythological justifications.

Is U.S. foreign policy based on myths?

Public pressure has helped push back against a bill in Congress that would have torn up the negotiated agreement with Iran by imposing yet more sanctions on the people of that country. The people of this country are not eager for another war, and have not accepted that sanctions lead away from war rather than into it.

But supporters and opponents of that bill tend to agree that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and that this program must be stopped by one means or another.  This underlying assumption is not supported by any evidence and never has been.  We’ve heard it propounded for over thirty years, and the repetition has had its intended effect, but any evidence at all has always been lacking. A belief without evidence is a myth.

Iran has a nuclear energy program because the U.S. and European governments wanted Iran to have a nuclear energy program. The U.S. nuclear industry took out full-page ads in U.S. publications bragging about Iran’s support for such an enlightened and progressive energy source. The U.S. was pushing for major expansion of Iran’s nuclear program just before the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Since the Iranian revolution, the U.S. government has opposed Iran’s nuclear energy program and misled the public about the existence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran.  This story is well-told in Gareth Porter’s new book, Manufactured Crisis, and by Porter is his upcoming interview this week on Talk Nation Radio.

The U.S. assisted Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in a war against Iran in the 1980s, in which Iraq attacked Iran with chemical weapons.  Iran’s religious leaders had declared that chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons must not be used, even in retaliation.  And they were not. Iran could have responded to Iraqi chemical attacks with chemical attacks of its own and chose not to.

Iran is committed to not using or possessing weapons of mass destruction. The results of inspections bear that out. Iran’s willingness to put restrictions on its legal nuclear energy program — a willingness present both before and after sanctions — bears that out. Inspections should continue. All steps should be taken to move the world toward safe and sustainable energy sources. But can we drop the idea that Iran wants to nuke us?

Selective Skepticism / Naiveté as National Duty

It’s odd how quick we are to spot government deception or ill will when it comes to new health insurance programs, taxes, environmental regulations, or any domestic policy, and how trusting and naive we are when it comes to war. One would think we’d have learned our lessons. Eisenhower warned us that preparing for war would bring war. When the Soviet enemy disappeared, new ones were quickly found. According to both former NATO commander Wesley Clark and former UK prime minister Tony Blair, the Pentagon has a list of several nations’ governments to be overthrown.

The vast stockpiles of weapons in Iraq weren’t there.  The claims about chemical weapons attacks in Syria have fallen apart.  The evidence that the Libyan government was planning to slaughter civilians has not held up — although plenty of civilians died under NATO’s bombing and are dying now in the chaos left behind.  Increased U.S. militarism in Asia is being followed by increased military spending by Asia (although we tend to reverse the chronology and the cause-and-effect in our minds).

We are supposed to learn from experience. It should matter to us that there was never any evidence that Mexico attacked the United States, that Spain blew up the Maine, that the Vietnamese fired in the Gulf of Tonkin, or that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program.  When you hear advocates for war and peace alike refer to “the Iranian nuclear weapons program,” ask them for some evidence.

Myth is the Foundation of War

War gains support and acceptance from widespread belief in false information, and the accumulation of false information into generally false concepts or myths about war. This is good news, because it means we are not intractably divided by ideology or worldview. Rather, we will find more widespread agreement about war if we can just achieve more widespread awareness of accurate information.

WorldBeyondWar.org has grouped myths about war into the following categories:

Read the rest of this entry →

Is a Policy a Law? Is Murder Murder?

10:15 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

A judge's gavel seen from above

Has the rule of law become meaningless to the Obama administration?

From the Associated Press:

An American citizen who is a member of al-Qaida is actively planning attacks against Americans overseas, U.S. officials say, and the Obama administration is wrestling with whether to kill him with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy issued last year.

Notice those words: “legally” and “policy.”  No longer does U.S. media make a distinction between the two.  Under George W. Bush, detention without trial, torture, murder, warrantless spying, and secret missile strikes were illegal.  Under Obama they are policy.  And policy makes them “legal” under the modified Nixonian understanding that if the President does it as a policy then it is legal.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the nations in which drone murders take place, treaties to which the U.S. is party, international law, and U.S. statutory law, murdering people remains illegal, despite being policy, just as it was illegal under the less strict policy of some months back.  The policy was made stricter in order to bring it into closer compliance with the law, of course — though it comes nowhere close — and yet the previous policy remains somehow “legal,” too, despite having not been strict enough.

Under that previous policy, thousands of people, including at least four U.S. citizens, have been blown to bits with missiles. President Obama gave a speech last year in which he attempted to justify one of those four U.S. deaths on the basis of evidence he claimed to have but would not reveal. He made no attempt to justify the other three.

The new policy remains that the president can murder anyone, anywhere, along with whoever is near them, but must express angst if the person targeted is a U.S. citizen.

The idea that such lunacy can have anything to do with law is facilitated by human rights groups’ and the United Nations’ and international lawyers’ deference to the White House, which has been carried to the extreme of establishing a consensus that we cannot know whether a drone murder was legal or not unless the president reveals his reasoning, intention, motivation, and the details of the particular murder.

No other possible criminal receives this treatment. When the police read you your rights, you are not entitled to object: “Put those handcuffs away, sir! I have a written policy justifying everything I did, and I refuse to show it to you. Therefore you have no grounds to know for certain that my justification is as insane and twisted as you might imagine it to be based merely on what I’ve done! Away with you, sir!”

The loss of a coherent conception of law is a grievous one, but that’s not all that’s at stake here.

Numerous top U.S. officials routinely admit that our drone wars in the Middle East and Africa are creating more enemies than they kill.  General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said in June 2010 that “for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” Veterans of U.S. kill teams in Iraq and Afghanistan interviewed in Jeremy Scahill’s book and film Dirty Wars said that whenever they worked their way through a list of people to kill, they were handed a larger list; the list grew as a result of working their way through it.  The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the abuses of prisoners during them, became major recruiting tools for anti-U.S. terrorism. In 2006, U.S. intelligence agencies produced a National Intelligence Estimate that reached just that conclusion.

We are shredding the very concept of the rule of law in order to pursue a policy that endangers us, even as it helps to justify the erosion of our civil liberties, to damage the natural environment, and to impoverish us, as it kills many innocent people.  Maybe they’ve secretly got drones doing the thinking as well as the killing.

Read the rest of this entry →

Are We Done With War Now?

6:14 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

War may be becoming acceptable only as what its advocates have long claimed it was: a last resort.

Polls showed a large percentage of us in this country supporting the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and even — though somewhat reduced — the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But not long after, and ever since, a majority of us have said those were mistakes.

We’ve opposed attacking Iran whenever that idea has entered the news. We opposed bombing Libya in 2011 and were ignored, as was Congress. And, by the way, advocates of that happy little war are rather quiet about the chaos it created.

But last September, the word on our televisions was that missiles must be sent to strike Syria. President Barack Obama and the leaders of both big political parties said they favored it. Wall Street believed it would happen, judging by Raytheon’s stock. When U.S. intelligence agencies declined to make the president’s case, he released a “government” assessment without them.

Remarkably, we didn’t accept that choice. A majority of us favored humanitarian aid, but no missiles, and no arming of one side in the war. We had the benefit of many people within the government and the military agreeing with us. And when Congress was pressured to demand approval power, Obama granted it.

It helped more that members of Congress were in their districts with people getting in their faces. It was with Congress indicating its refusal to support a war that Obama and Kerry accepted the pre-existing Russian offer to negotiate. In fact, the day before they made that decision, the State Department had stressed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would never ever give up his chemical weapons, and Kerry’s remarks on that solution had been “rhetorical.”

The war in Syria goes on. Washington sent guns, but refrained from air strikes. Major humanitarian aid would cost far less than missiles and guns, but hasn’t materialized. The children we were supposed to care about enough to bomb their country are still suffering, and most of us still care.

But a U.S. war was prevented.

We’re seeing the same thing play out in Washington right now on the question of whether to impose yet more sanctions on Iran, shred a negotiated agreement with Iran, and commit the United States to joining in any war between Israel and Iran.

In January, a bill to do all of that looked likely to pass through the Senate. Public pressure has been one factor in, thus far, slowing it down.

Are we moving away from war?

The ongoing war in Afghanistan, and White House efforts to extend it beyond this year, might suggest otherwise. The military budget that still eats up, across various departments, roughly half of federal discretionary spending, and which is roughly the size of all other countries’ military spending combined, might suggest otherwise. The failure to repeal the authorizations for war from 2001 and 2003, and the establishment of permanent practices of surveillance and detention and secrecy justified by a permanent state of war, might suggest otherwise. As might the ongoing missile strikes from drones over a number of nations.

But you’ll notice that they don’t ask us before launching drone strikes, and that their assurances that no innocent people are harmed have proven highly misleading.

War may be becoming acceptable only as what its advocates have long claimed it was: a last resort. Of course if we can really make that true, we’ll never have a war again.

DAVID SWANSON will be speaking at 3 p.m. Feb. 15 at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. Read the rest of this entry →

Building a Global Movement to End All War

9:16 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

I’ve been involved in starting enough activist campaigns and coalitions to know when one has more potential than any other I’ve seen. When hundreds of people and organizations are signing up on the website before you’ve announced it anywhere, and nine months before you plan to officially launch, and when a large percentage of the people signing on ask how they can donate funding, and when people from other countries volunteer to translate your declaration into other languages, and when committees form of volunteer women and men to work on a dozen different aspects of the planning — and they actually get to work in a serious way, and when none of this is due to anything in the news or any statement from anyone in government or any contrast between one political party and another, then it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to help build as a movement.

In this case I’m talking about a movement to end, not this war or that war, but the institution of war as an acceptable enterprise for the human species. The declaration of peace that people and groups are signing reads, in its entirety:

I understand that wars and militarism make us less safe rather than protect us, that they kill, injure and traumatize adults, children and infants, severely damage the natural environment, erode civil liberties, and drain our economies, siphoning resources from life-affirming activities. I commit to engage in and support nonviolent efforts to end all war and preparations for war and to create a sustainable and just peace.

This can be signed at http://WorldBeyondWar.org — and we fully expect a million people to sign it in short order. There’s a great weariness in resisting militarism piecemeal, in reforming or refining war, in banning a weapon or exposing a tactic. All of that is a necessary part of the work. This will be a campaign of numerous partial victories, and we’ll be directing our efforts toward various strategic weaknesses in the military-industrial complex. But there is enthusiasm right now for stopping not just missile strikes into Syria, not just deadly sanctions and threats to Iran, but stopping also — as part of these actions — the thinking that assumes war must always be with us, the casual discussions of how “the next war” will be fought.

So, we’ve set up an online center for addressing the concerns of the anyone who thinks we might need to keep war around or who thinks war will stay around regardless of what we do. We address a number of myths, including the myths that war is inevitable, and war is necessary, and war is beneficial.  Then we provide a number of reasons for ending war, including these:

War is immoral.

War endangers us.

War threatens our environment.

War erodes our liberties.

War impoverishes us.

We need $2 trillion/year for other things.

We’ve also provided an explanation of how nonviolent tools are more effective in resisting tyranny and oppression and resolving conflicts and achieving security than violence is, in other words how we can be more secure without war and without preparations for war.

This movement to abolish war, will be a movement to create a better world in which we are better able to address real crises, such as those in the earth’s natural environment, rather than manufactured crises, such as the urgent need to drop missiles on Syria — which vanishes the moment we block that proposal.

Our plan is to announce on the International Day of Peace, September 21, 2014, a broader, wider, more mainstream and more international movement for peace and nonviolence than we’ve seen in a while, and a coalition capable of better uniting those doing good work toward that end in various corners of the globe and of our societies.

But we’ve only just begun to work out our plans, and we’d like everyone’s input. If you go to http://WorldBeyondWar.org and sign the declaration, it will ask you to indicate how you might like to be involved beyond that. You can check any of a number of ways or invent your own.  You can get involved in shaping our thinking and our plans and activities.  You can also enter a brief statement of your own.  Here are a few of the many entered already:

Read the rest of this entry →

The War on Marriage on Christmas

1:16 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Very rarely does our government ask us what to have a war on. The proposal for missile strikes into Syria was a rare occasion when public pressure and other factors compelled Congress to demand a say. Public pressure then compelled Congress to say No.

A peace protest. Sign: Another Mother for Peace

What if We The People actually got to vote for peace or war?

But daily drone buzzings over various nations aren’t occasions for public debate. We aren’t being asked about another decade in Afghanistan or cooking up a future war on Iran. And our current president and his predecessor combined have wiped out eight wedding parties (six in Afghanistan, one in Iraq, and one in Yemen earlier this month) without our having ever been asked about any of them.

What if we were?

There are various ways a debate over whether to launch a war could go. In a highly-informed debate, we might investigate whether a war would violate the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the U.N. Charter, and the U.S. Constitution. We might ask how many adults, children, and infants would likely be killed, injured, and traumatized, how many refugees created, what sort of environmental damage, what economic cost, what erosion of our civil liberties, what heightened secrecy in government, what increase in violence throughout our culture and the country attacked, what likely blowback for decades to come, and what obvious alternatives are available to violence. But, of course, if we asked all that, then we’d never have any wars.

In a more plausible scenario, we might expect a debate to squeeze its way onto our televisions that would ask questions like: How many U.S. troops will die? How much will it cost? Why are we on the same side as al Qaeda this time?  How will it end once begun?  How does bombing more people express our support for suffering people? Or, depending on the circumstances, maybe even this: Haven’t we been arming that dictator for decades — why the urgency to overthrow him now?

But how would a debate over whether to send hellfire missiles screaming into a wedding party look? What if such a debate were to develop in our news media this Christmas season?

In areas of frequent drone strikes, people are often afraid to get together in large numbers. In Yemen, parents resort to home schooling for fear of letting their children out of the house.  Few and far between are the events deemed important enough to risk violating that rule. One such event is a wedding.

How much, we might hear our pundits ask, could be saved by killing 15 people at a wedding as opposed to killing them each separately? (If the missiles alone cost $1 million each, the answer is well over $14 million.) What element of surprise might be gained in obliterating people whose minds are distracted by love and friendship and an important right rite of passage? What fear and respect might be placed into the minds of the survivors? Let’s say one of the wedding couple survives and the other doesn’t; which one would it be most desirable to let live? Does it matter what kind of dress the bride is wearing? Should fashion consultants be brought in by the Pentagon, or should morning talk shows contribute that analysis as part of their patriotic duty? Should the missiles hit just as little kids bearing flowers enter the scene?

The debate may sound absurd, but its creation would actually be a significant step toward sound government. We ought to vote on or be represented by officials who vote on important decisions for us. We ought to be informed, engaged, and consulted. Therefore, a debate before the next wedding strike is a perfectly reasonable proposal — unless of course we’re going to unilaterally stop blowing up weddings. Far be it from me to suggest anything that rash.

Read the rest of this entry →

Let’s Begin Ending War Again

9:00 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Recently I noticed a post on a social media site honoring Rosa Parks for her refusal to move out of her seat on a segregated bus.  Someone commented underneath, that in fact another individual deserved credit for having done the same thing first.  What happened next was entirely predictable. Post after post by various people brought out the names of all kinds of forerunners of Parks, pushing the date of the first brave resister to segregated buses back further and further — many decades — into the past.

Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s Knotted Gun Sculpture iat the UN

What we understand as the civil rights movement was successfully started after a great many failed attempts — by organizations as well as individuals.  The same goes for the suffragette movement or the labor movement or the abolition of slavery.  Even the Occupy movement was the umpteenth time a lot of activists had attempted such a thing, and chances are that eventually the Occupy movement will be seen as one in a long line of failed predecessors to something more successful.

I’ve been discussing with people whom I consider key organizers of such a project the possibility of a newly energized movement to abolish war.  One thing we’re looking at, of course, is failed past attempts to do the same.  Some of those attempts have been quite recent.  Some are ongoing.  How, we must ask ourselves, can we strengthen what’s already underway, learn from what’s been tried before, and create the spark that this time, at long last, after over a century’s preliminaries, catches fire?

Momentum for the abolition of war began to grow in the late 19th century, and then again, much more strongly, after World War I, in a different manner after World War II, again after the Cold War, and — just maybe — again right now.  Arguably the 1920s and 1930s have seen the strongest popular sentiment for war abolition in the United States.  We’re not at that level now.  But we do have the advantage of being able to study the past 80 years of struggle.  Of course, anti-war efforts have had great successes as well as failures, but war remains.  And it doesn’t remain on the margins, like slavery.  It remains, front and center, as the United States’ principal public program.  Standing armies are so well accepted that most people aren’t sure what the phrase means.  Wars are so common that most Americans cannot name all the nations their own is at war with.

A proposal on “Abolishing the War System” that I’ve just been reading (from Marcus Raskin at the Institute for Policy Studies) takes us back to 1992 and provides much useful material to draw on.  Raskin’s preface and Brian D’Agostino’s introduction suggest that the moment in which they were writing was a particularly opportune moment for a campaign to abolish war.  I’m sure they honestly believed it was.  And I’m sure that it, in fact, was — even if there’s a tendency to find such a remark comical in retrospect.  Strategic-minded people want to know why 2013 is such a moment, and they can be pointed toward many indicators: opinion polls, the rejection of the proposed missile attack on Syria, increased awareness of war propaganda, the diminishment of drone attacks, the ever-so-slight reduction in military spending, the possibility of peace in Colombia, the growing success of nonviolent conflict resolution, the growing and improving use of nonviolent movements for change, the existentially urgent need for a shifting of resources from destroying the planet to protecting it, the economic need to stop wasting trillions of dollars, the arrival of technologies that allow for instant international collaboration among war resisters, etc. But just as many indicators were available in 1992, albeit different ones, and nobody has developed the means for quantifying such things.  However, here’s the key question, I think: If all of those predecessors to Rosa Parks hadn’t acted, would Rosa Parks have ever been Rosa Parks?  If not, then isn’t the strategic time for a moral and necessary campaign always right now?

Raskin’s “Abolishing the War System” is not an argument to persuade anyone against war, not a plan for organizing a mass movement, not a system for reaching out to new constituencies or creating economic or political pressure against war.  Raskin’s book is primarily a draft treaty that should be, but never has been, enacted.  The treaty aims to take the United States and the world to an important part-way step, most of the way perhaps, toward war abolition.  In compliance with this treaty, nations would maintain only “nonoffensive defense,” which is to say: air defense and border and coast guard forces, but not offensive weapons aimed at attacking other nations far from one’s own.  Foreign bases would be gone.  Aircraft carriers would be gone.  Nuclear and chemical and biological weapons would be gone.  Drones over distant lands would have been gone before they appeared.  Cluster bombs would be done away with.

The argument for nonoffensive defense is, I think, fairly straightforward.  Many wealthy nations spend under $100 billion each year on military defense — some of which nations fit major offensive weapons systems into that budget.  The United States spends $1 trillion each year on military defense and (mostly) offense.  The result is a broken budget, missed opportunities, and lots of catastrophic foreign wars.  So, the case for cutting $900 billion from war spending each year in the U.S. is the case for fully funding schools, parks, green energy, and actual humanitarian aid. It is not the case for completely abolishing the military.  If the United States were to be attacked it could defend itself in any manner it chose, including militarily.

But, someone might protest, why is it sufficient to shoot down planes when they reach our border? Isn’t it better to blow them up in their own country just before they head our way?

The direct answer to that question is that we’ve been trying that approach for three-quarters of a century and it hasn’t been working.  It’s been generating enemies, not removing them.  It’s been killing innocents, not imminent threats.  We’ve become so open about this that the White House has redefined “imminent” to mean eventual and theoretical. Read the rest of this entry →

Got His Gun — Lost His Legs, Arms, Penis

6:56 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Ann Jones’ new book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story, is devastating, and almost incomprehensibly so when one considers that virtually all of the death and destruction in U.S. wars is on the other side. Statistically, what happens to U.S. troops is almost nothing.  In human terms, it’s overwhelming.

Know a young person considering joining the military?  Give them this book.

Know a person not working to end war?  Give them this book.
104th Med. Co. Annual Training
Jones presents the choice before us in the clearest terms in the introduction:

“Contrary to common opinion in the United States, war is not inevitable.  Nor has it always been with us.  War is a human invention — an organized, deliberate action of an anti-social kind — and in the long span of human life on Earth, a fairly recent one.  For more than 99 percent of the time that humans have lived on this planet, most of them have never made war.  Many languages don’t even have a word for it.  Turn off CNN and read anthropology.  You’ll see.

“What’s more, war is obsolete.  Most nations don’t make war anymore, except when coerced by the United States to join some spurious ‘coalition.’  The earth is so small, and our time here so short.  No other nation on the planet makes war as often, as long, as forcefully, as expensively, as destructively, as wastefully, as senselessly, or as unsuccessfully as the United States.  No other nation makes war its business.”

Jones begins her book with that distinguishing feature of war: death.  The U.S. military assigns specialists in “Mortuary Affairs” to dispose of the dead.  They dispose of their own sanity in the process.  And first they dispose of their appetite.  “Broiled meat in the chow hall smells much the same as any charred Marine, and you may carry the smell of the dead on a stained cuff as you raise a fork to your mouth, only to quickly put it down.”  Much of the dead is — like the slop at the chow hall — unrecognizable meat.  Once dumped in landfills, until a Washington Post story made that a scandal, now it’s dumped at sea.  Much of the dead is the result of suicides.  Mortuary Affairs scrubs the brains out of the port-o-potty and removes the rifle, so other troops don’t have to see.

Then come, in vastly greater numbers, the wounded — Jones’ chapter two.  A surgeon tells her that in Iraq the U.S. troops “had severe injuries, but the injuries were still on the body.”  In Afghanistan, troops step on mines and IEDs while walking, not driving.  Some are literally blown to bits.  Others can be picked up in recognizable pieces.  Others survive.  But many survive without one or two legs, one or two testicles, a penis, an arm, both arms — or with a brain injury, or a ruined face, or all of the above.  A doctor describes the emotion for a surgical team the first time they have to remove a penis and “watch it go into the surgical waste container.”

“By early 2012,” Jones writes, “3,000 [U.S.] soldiers had been killed by IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 31,394 wounded.  Among the wounded were more than 1,800 soldiers with severe damage to their genitals.”  Doctors treat an injured soldier’s limbs first, later their genitals, later still their brains.
Read the rest of this entry →

Beginning the Ending of War

5:07 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition, published in October 2013.

As I write this, in September 2013, something extraordinary has just happened. Public pressure has led the British Parliament to refuse a prime minister’s demand for war for the first time since the surrender at Yorktown, and the U.S. Congress has followed suit by making clear to the U.S. president that his proposed authorization for war on Syria would not pass through either the Senate or the House.

Now, this may all fall apart in a week or a month or a year or a decade. The forces pressing for a war on Syria have not gone away. The civil war and the humanitarian crisis in Syria are not over. The partisan makeup of the Parliament and the Congress played a role in their actions (although the leaders of both major parties in Congress favored attacking Syria). Foreign nations’ intervention played a role. But the decisive force driving governments around the world and U.S. government (and military) insiders to resist this war was public opinion. We heard the stories of children suffering and dying in Syria, but we rejected the idea that killing more Syrians with U.S. weapons would make Syria better off.

Those of us who believe that we should always have the right to reject our government’s arguments for war should feel empowered. Now that it’s been done, we cannot be told it’s impossible to do it again … and again, and again.

In the space of a day, discussions in Washington, D.C., shifted from the supposed necessity of war to the clear desirability of avoiding war. If that can happen once, even if only momentarily, why can it not happen every time? Why cannot our government’s eagerness for war be permanently done away with? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the unsuccessful marketing campaign for an attack on Syria, had famously asked, many years earlier, during what the Vietnamese call the American War, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” We have it within our power to make war a thing of the past and to leave Secretary Kerry the last man to have tried to sell us a dead idea.

(An argument will be made that the threat of war aided diplomatic efforts to disarm the Syrian government. It should not be forgotten that when Kerry suggested that Syria could avoid a war by handing over its chemical weapons, everyone knew he didn’t mean it. In fact, when Russia called his bluff and Syria immediately agreed, Kerry’s staff put out this statement: “Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.” In other words: stop getting in the way of our war! By the next day, however, with Congress rejecting war, Kerry was claiming to have meant his remark quite seriously and to believe the process had a good chance of succeeding.)

In this book I make the case outlined in the four section titles: War can be ended; War should be ended; War is not going to end on its own; We have to end war. 

Others have made the case that war can be ended, but they have tended to look for the source of war in poor nations, overlooking the nation that builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars. By these and other measures, the United States government is the world’s leading war-maker, and—in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.—the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Ending U.S. war-making wouldn’t eliminate all war from the world, but ending war-making only by poor countries wouldn’t come close.

This should not come as a shock or an offense to most people in the United States, some 80 percent of whom consistently tell pollsters that our government is broken. It’s been over half a century since President Dwight Eisenhower warned that a military industrial complex would corrupt the United States. Military spending is roughly half of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending every year, dwarfing any other expense. The United States is closely tied with the European Union as the wealthiest place on earth. Surely that money must be going somewhere. Surely a broken government is bound to be at least a little broken in the primary thing it does—in this case, the making of war.

By “war” I mean roughly: the use of a nation’s military abroad. The use of a military at home to establish a police state or attack a sub-population is related to war and sometimes hard to distinguish from war, but usually distinct (the exceptions being called civil wars). The use of military-like tactics by a non-nation group or individual may sometimes be morally or visually indistinguishable from war, but it differs from war in terms of responsibility and appropriate response. The use of a nation’s military abroad for purely non-war purposes, such as humanitarian relief, is not what I mean by war, and also not easy to find actual examples of. By the term “military,” I mean to include uniformed and non-uniformed, official troops and contractors, acknowledged and clandestine—anyone (or any robot) engaged in military activity for a government.

I intend this book for people everywhere, but especially in the United States and the West. Most people in the United States do not believe that war can be ended. And I suspect that most are aware of the significant role the United States plays in war-making, because most also believe that war should not be ended. Few actually view war as desirable—once a widespread belief, but one heard less and less since about the time of World War I. Rather, people tend to believe that war is necessary to protect them or to prevent something worse than war.

So, in Part II, I make the case that war endangers, rather than protecting us, and that there isn’t something worse than war that war can be used to prevent. I argue that war is not justified by evil forces it opposes or by false claims to humanitarian purposes. War is not benefitting us at home or the people in the nations where our wars are fought, out of sight and sometimes out of mind. War kills huge numbers of innocent people, ruins nations, devastates the natural environment, drains the economy, breeds hostility, and strips away civil liberties at home no matter how many times we say “freedom.”

This case is not so much philosophical as factual. The most significant cause of war, I believe and argue in the book, is bad information about past wars. A majority in the United States believes Iraq benefitted from the 2003-2011 war that destroyed Iraq. If I believed that, I’d favor launching another one right away. A majority in Iraq believes the war left them even worse off than they were before it. (See, for example, the Zogby poll of December 20, 2011.) Extensive evidence, discussed below, as well as basic common sense, suggests that Iraqis, like anyone else, actually know best what their own situation is. Therefore, I want to prevent a repeat.

I wish I could have written a theoretical case against war, without mentioning any wars. But, everyone would have agreed with it and then made exceptions, like the school board member where I live who said he wanted to support a celebration of peace as long as everyone was clear he wasn’t opposing any wars. As it is, I had to include actual wars, and facts about them. Where I’ve suspected someone will object to a piece of information, I’ve included a source for it right in the text. I discuss in this book the wars launched when George W. Bush was president and the wars launched or escalated since Barack Obama became president, as well as some of the most cherished “good wars” in U.S. culture, such as World War II and the U.S. Civil War. I also recommend reading this book in combination with a previous book of mine called War Is A Lie.

I don’t recommend taking my word for anything. I encourage independent research. And a few other points may help with keeping an open-mind while reading this book: There’s no partisan agenda here. The Democrats and Republicans are partners in war, and I have no loyalty to either of them. There’s no national agenda here. I’m not interested in defending or attacking the U.S. government, or any other government. I’m interested in the facts about war and peace and what we should do about them. There’s no political agenda here on the spectrum from libertarian to socialist. I certainly place myself on the socialist side of that spectrum, but on the question of war it’s not particularly relevant. I think Switzerland has had a pretty good foreign policy. I admire Costa Rica’s elimination of its military. Sure, I think useful and essential things should be done with the money that’s now dumped into war and war preparations, but I’d favor ending war if the money were never collected or even if it were collected and burned.

Disturbing as it is to run into countless people who believe war can’t and/or shouldn’t be ended (including quite a few who say it can’t be ended but should be ended, presumably meaning that they wish it could be ended but are sure it can’t be), I’ve begun running into people who tell me—even more disturbingly—that war is in the process of ending, so there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to be done. The arguments that have set people on this path distort and minimize death counts in recent wars, define large portions of wars as civil wars (and thus not wars), measure casualties in isolated wars against the entire population of the globe, and conflate downward trends in other types of violence with trends in war-making. Part III, therefore, makes the case that war is not, in fact, going away.

Part IV addresses how we should go about causing war to go away. Largely, I believe that we need to take steps to improve our production, distribution, and consumption of information, including by adjusting our worldviews to make ourselves more open to learning and understanding unpleasant facts about the world—and acting on them. More difficult tasks than the abolition of war have been accomplished before. The first step has usually been recognizing that we have a problem.

This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition.

College Professors Protest Absence of War

7:42 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Come gather round people wherever you roam. And admit that the bullshit around you has grown.

University of Virginia's Rotunda

David Swanson on the pro-war agenda of some University of Virginia professors.

Students used to get out of tests and assignments by explaining to sympathetic professors that they had been busy protesting the war on Vietnam. The times they are a changin.

Today college professors lead teach-ins to protest the absence of an all-out U.S. war on Syria. Back then, the public and the government trailed behind the activists. Now the public has grown enlightened, and in a significant but limited way won over the government, blocking the missile strikes, but it’s not just the U.S. President who looks mad enough to spit over the casus belli interruptus. Professors are pissed.

The University of Virginia’s law school has another law school next door belonging to the U.S. Army. The University has built a research “park” next door to the Army’s “Ground Intelligence Center.” State funds are drying up, and the Pentagon’s tap has been left all the way open. This Central Virginian military industrial academic complex is where Washington finally had to turn to find anyone willing to pretend the famous aluminum tubes in Iraq might be for scary, scary nukes. In defense of that record, this week is Iraq War Beautification Week at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, always a gung-ho proponent of militarism.

Much of this is expected and typical of U.S. academia these days. But the promotions of attacks on Syria have become slicker and more insidious.  Here’s an announcement of an event held on Thursday:

Teach-In on Syria & Fundraiser for Refugees
Thursday, Sept 26, 6:00pm – 7:00pm
University of Virginia: Nau 101
Moderator: Joshua M. White, History
Panelists: Ahmed H. al-Rahim, Religious Studies, “Islamist Ideologies in Syria”
Hanadi al-Samman, MESALC, “The Syrian Revolution and the Plight of Refugees Today”
Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl, Politics, “Civil War in Syria”
Elizabeth Thompson, History, “Religion and War since 1913″
David Waldner, Politics, “Syria, Before: Dictatorship and the Growth of Public Opposition to the Regime”
And a film presentation on the refugee experience
Co-sponsored by the Arab Student Organization

This announcement doesn’t advertise a pro-war event aimed at promoting the deaths of large numbers of people. Peace groups sent around this announcement. I sent it around. I attended. And here’s what happened:

Thompson spoke well about World War I and sat silently as her colleagues promoted a new war as barbaric as what she described from a hundred years earlier.

Waldner described the early, non-violent Arab Spring in Syria, breaking into tears, and then sat silently as his colleagues pushed for greater violence, using his stories of early nonviolence to justify it. (Somehow the opposite never happens: we never have to justify nonviolent activism on the grounds that its participants once killed a lot of people.)

Read the rest of this entry →

Admit It: Things Are Going Well

6:59 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Photo by ilovememphis

Photo by ilovememphis

When something goes right
Oh, it’s likely to lose me
It’s apt to confuse me
It’s such an unusual sight
—Paul Simon

Larry Summers has proven unacceptable to oversee the continued destruction of the U.S. economy. The U.S. public has successfully rejected proposed missile strikes on Syria. My Congressman was among the majority who listened. Today was beautiful. The Orioles won. The Cowboys lost. The University of Virginia avoided losing by not playing. My family is expecting a new baby. I’ve finished a new book, which Kathy Kelly has written a beautiful foreword for. I have a sense that if the universe were right now campaigning on “hope and change” I might seriously consider voting for it.

I’m also pretty sure that if everything in my personal life were going slightly to hell and Larry Summers were crowned king of Wall Street, and the Dallas Cowboys were to win (darn them!), my sense of this moment in the movement against U.S. militarism would remain essentially the same. A major victory has been won, and we need to claim it and celebrate it.

Imagine the euphoria — or don’t imagine it, just remember it — when this country elects a new president whose main redeeming feature is that he isn’t the previous president. For personality fanatics that’s big stuff. And there are big parties. For policy fanatics — for those of us interested in seeing policies change rather than personalities — that kind of moment is right now. We need some parties, and if spontaneity is beyond us, perhaps we can use the International Day of Peace on September 21st for a combination celebration / discussion during which we explain to ourselves that it really is OK to celebrate.

Yes, many people in this country and around the world are suffering horrible tragedies in their personal lives and as a result of public events.  Yes, the horrors in Syria, as in many other places, continue. Yes, the CIA is arming terrorists in Syria. Yes, the president whose missile strikes we prevented is taking credit for that restraint, just as he would have taken credit for the carnage had we not stopped him — and he’s threatening to bring the missile strikes back. Yes, if we let down our guard for a moment, the president and Congress and the CIA will do their worst. Yes, the danger for Iraq and Libya really loomed large after they had given up nuclear and chemical weapons, not before. Yes, lots of people opposed bombing Syria because they didn’t think Syrians deserved such favors. (No, I’m not making that up.) Yes, the corporate media is pretending that the threat of war brought peace, ignoring the successful insistence on peace by the people of the world.

But that’s why we have to celebrate what really happened. We have to announce it. The point is not to take credit. No one person or group did this.  People espousing a variety of ideologies did it. And they did it over many years. Millions contributed. The point is that war was popularly rejected.

Why does this matter? It’s not a case for optimism, or for pessimism. I continue to have very little use for either bit of self-indulgence. The forces that press for more wars have not gone away. Neither have they been empowered. The point is that those who nonsensically proclaim that stopping wars is impossible cannot get away with saying that anymore.

You know the types. They show up at meetings, wait for the question-and-answer period, and then give a speech on how everything is utterly hopeless. Those speeches should be laughed away within the first five seconds now. And the many, many people who had begun ever so slightly to take that defeatist nonsense seriously can now be relieved of that weight. The danger now is not of being a sucker who proclaimed good news just before a genocide. The danger is of joining in the foolish campaign of the war propagandists by pushing the lie of powerlessness on people just after they prevented a war.

Do we still have to prevent a war again this week? Of course, we do.  o we have to take on the larger task of organizing peace and preventing crises? We do. Do we need to build a movement for the abolition of war that reaches beyond opposition to each immediate war proposal? You’d better believe it. But this is what we wanted in 2001 and 2003. Well, some of us did — that’s the point. We’re larger now, even if it’s not made visible. As long as we went on failing to prevent wars, people could say we’d never prevent them. There’s no science or logic behind such an assertion, but it still has power in it. Or it did, until now. Now we can claim with equal validity that we’ll stop every single war proposed from here on out. Of course we might or we might not, but we know that it’s up to us, that it depends on what we do, that little steps that appear useless at the time can help, and that changes to our culture can outweigh changes to the Pentagon budget, the global climate, crises in capitalism, or any other supposedly unstoppable force.

After World War I, people in the United States understood the need to eliminate war. Again, after Vietnam, many understood it almost that much. They developed the Vietnam Syndrome, a level of healthy resistance to more wars lamented as a disease by Washington. Now we’re moving back in that direction. War resistance is the health of the people. We’re not developing a syndrome. We’re developing an immunity. We’ve been vaccinated against war. We’re not as allergic to the propaganda as we once were. We’re war resistant, and our task is to compel those in power not to lament our syndrome this time, but to share in our contagious good health.