David Swanson - Remarks in London, England, July 2, 2014
Thank you to Bruce Kent and the Movement for the Abolition of War and to Veterans For Peace and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Thank you to the Stop the War Coalition and everyone else for helping spread the word.
In 8 days, on July 10th Mary Ann Grady-Flores, a grandmother from Ithaca, NY, is scheduled to be sentenced to up to one year in prison. Her crime is violating an order of protection, which is a legal tool to protect a particular person from the violence of another particular person. In this case, the commander of Hancock Air Base has been legally protected from dedicated nonviolent protesters, despite the protection of commanding his own military base, and despite the protesters having no idea who the guy is. That’s how badly the people in charge of the flying killer robots we call drones want to avoid any questioning of their activity entering the minds of the drone pilots.
Last Thursday a place in the U.S. called the Stimson Center released a report on the new U.S. habit of murdering people with missiles from drones. The Stimson Center is named for Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War who, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor wrote in his diary, following a meeting with President Roosevelt: “The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition.” (Four months earlier, Churchill had told his cabinet at 10 Downing Street that U.S. policy toward Japan consisted of this: “Everything was to be done to force an incident.”) This was the same Henry Stimson who later forbid dropping the first nuclear bomb on Kyoto, because he’d once been to Kyoto. He’d never visited Hiroshima, much to the misfortune of the people of Hiroshima.
I know there’s a big celebration of World War I going on over here (as well as big resistance to it), but in the United States there’s been an ongoing celebration of World War II for 70 years. In fact, one might even suggest that World War II has continued in a certain way and on a lesser scale for 70 years (and on a greater scale in particular times and places like Korea and Vietnam and Iraq). The United States has never returned to pre-World War II levels of taxes or military spending, never left Japan or Germany, has engaged in some 200 military actions abroad during the so-called post-war era, has never stopped expanding its military presence abroad, and now has troops permanently stationed in almost every country on earth. Two exceptions, Iran and Syria, are regularly threatened.
So it is altogether appropriate, I think, that it was the Stimson Center that released this report, by former military officials and military-friendly lawyers, a report that included this rather significant statement: “The increasing use of lethal UAVs may create a slippery slope leading to continual or wider wars.”
At least that sounds significant to me. Continual wars? That’s a pretty bad thing, right?
Also last week, the U.S. government made public a memo in which it claims the right to legally murder a U.S. citizen (never mind anybody else) as part of a war that has no limit in time or space. Call me crazy, but this seems serious. What if this war goes on long enough to generate significant enemies?
Last year the United Nations released a report that stated that drones were making war the norm rather than the exception. Wow. That could be a problem for a species of creatures who prefer not being bombed, don’t you think? The United Nations, created to rid the world of war, mentions in passing that war is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Surely the response to such a grave development should be equally significant.
We’ve grown habituated, I think, to reading reports that say things like “If we don’t leave 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground we’re all going to die, and lots of other species with us,” and then experts recommend that we use more efficient light bulbs and grow our own tomatoes. I mean we’ve become used to the response not remotely fitting the crisis at hand.
Such is the case with the UN, the Stimson Center, and a good crowd of humanitarian law experts, as far as I can tell.
The Stimson Center says of murders by drone, they should be “neither glorified not demonized.” Nor, apparently, should they be stopped. Instead, the Stimson Center recommends reviews and transparency and robust studies. I’m willing to bet that if you or I threatened massive continual or widening death and destruction we’d be demonized. I’m willing to bet the idea of our being glorified wouldn’t even come up for consideration.
The United Nations, too, thinks transparency is the answer. Just let us know whom you’re murdering and why. We’ll get you the forms to do a monthly report. As other nations get in on this game we’ll compile their reports and create some real international transparency.
That’s some people’s idea of progress.
Drones are, of course, not the only way or — thus far — the most deadly way the U.S. and its allies wage wars. But there is this minimal pretense of ethical discussion about drones because drone murders look like murders to a lot of people. The U.S. president goes through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays, picks whom to murder, and has them and anyone standing too close to them murdered — although he also often targets people without knowing their name. Bombing Libya or anywhere else looks less like murder to many people, especially if — like Stimson in Hiroshima — they’ve never been to Libya, and if numerous bombs are all supposedly aimed at one evil person whom the U.S. government has turned against. So, the United States goes through something like the 2011 war on Libya that has left that nation in such a fine state without it occurring to any military-friendly think tanks that there’s an ethical question to be pondered.
How, I wonder, would we talk about drones or bombs or so-called non-combat advisors if we were trying to eliminate war rather than ameliorate it? Well, I think that if we saw the complete abolition of war as even our very distant goal, we’d talk very differently about every type of war today. I think we’d stop encouraging the idea that any memo could possibly legalize murder, whether or not we’d seen the memo. I think we’d reject the human rights groups’ position that the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact should be ignored. Rather than considering the illegality of tactics during a war, we’d object to the illegality of the war itself. We wouldn’t speak positively of the United States and Iran possibly joining hands in friendship if the basis for such a proposed alliance was to be a joint effort to kill Iraqis.
In the U.S. it's not unusual for peace groups to focus on 4,000 dead Americans and the financial costs of the war on Iraq, and to steadfastly refuse to mention a half-million to a million and a half Iraqis killed, which silence has contributed to most Americans not knowing what happened. But that's the strategy of opponents of some wars, not opponents of all wars. Depicting a particular war as costly to the aggressor doesn't move people against war preparations or rid them of the fantasy that there could be a good and just war in the days ahead.
It's common in Washington to argue against military waste, such as weapons that don't work or that the Pentagon didn't even ask Congress for, or to argue against bad wars that leave the military less prepared for other possible wars. If our project was aimed ultimately at war's elimination, we'd be against military efficiency more than military waste and in favor of an ill-prepared military unable to launch more wars. We'd also be as focused on keeping young people out of the military and militarism out of school books as we are on preventing a particular batch of missiles from flying. It's routine to profess loyalty to soldiers while opposing their commanders' policies, but once you've praised soldiers for their supposed service, you've accepted that they must have provided one. Celebrating World War I resisters, as I know some of you have been doing recently, is the sort of thing that ought to replace honoring war participants.
We may need to not just change our conversation from opposing specific war after specific war to discussing the ending of the whole institution. We may also need to alter at least subtly every part of the conversation along the way.
Instead of proposing that veterans in particular have earned our gratitude and should receive healthcare and retirement (which one hears all the time in the U.S.), we may want to propose that all people -- including veterans -- have human rights, and that one of our chief duties is to cease creating any more veterans.
Instead of objecting to troops urinating on corpses, we may want to object to the creation of the corpses. Instead of trying to eliminate torture and rape and lawless imprisonment from an operation of mass-murder, we may want to focus on the cause. We can't go on putting $2 trillion a year globally, and half of that just in the United States, into getting ready for wars and not expect wars to result.
With other addictions we're told to go after the biggest dealers of the drug or to go after the demand by the users. The dealers of the drug of war are those funding the military with our grandchildren's unearned pay and dumping buckets of money into propaganda about Vietnam and World War I. They know the lies about past wars are even more important than the lies about new wars. And we know that the institution of war could not survive people learning the truth about it to such an extent that some people begin to act on that knowledge.
U.S. public opinion has moved against wars. When Parliament and Congress said no to missiles into Syria, public pressure of the past decade played a big role. The same is true of stopping a horrible bill on Iran in Congress earlier this year, and of resistance to a new war on Iraq. Congress members are worried about voting for another war like Iraq, whether in Iraq or elsewhere. Her vote to attack Iraq 12 years ago is the only thing that has kept us thus far from seeing Hillary Clinton in the White House. People don't want to vote for someone who voted for that. And, let's get this said early to our dear friends at the Nobel Committee: another peace prize will not help things. The United States doesn't need another peace prize for a war maker, it needs what Bruce and so many of you have been working on over here: a popular movement for the abolition of war!
A number of peace activists have started up a new effort called World Beyond War at WorldBeyondWar.org aimed at bringing more people into peace activism. People and organizations in at least 58 countries so far have signed the Declaration of Peace at WorldBeyondWar.org. Our hope is that, by bringing more people and groups into the movement, we can strengthen and enlarge, rather than compete against, existing peace organizations. We hope that we can support the work of groups like the Movement for the Abolition of War, and that we can, as groups and individuals, work globally.
The website at WorldBeyondWar.org is intended to provide educational tools: videos, maps, reports, talking points. We make the case against the idea that war protects us -- an outrageous idea, given that the nations that engage in the most war face the most hostility as a result. A poll at the start of this year of people in 65 nations found the U.S. in a huge lead as the nation considered the greatest threat to peace in the world. U.S. veterans are killing themselves in record numbers, in part over what they've done to Iraq and Afghanistan. Our humanitarian wars are a leading cause of suffering and death for humanity. And so we also refute the idea that war can benefit the people where it is waged.
We also lay out the arguments that war is deeply immoral, a first-cousin of and frequent cause of, not alternative to, genocide; that war destroys our natural environment, that war erodes our civil liberties, and that just transferring a bit of what we spend on war to something useful would make us beloved rather than feared around the world. One and a half percent of what the world spends on war could be spent to end starvation on earth. War has taken 200 million lives over the past century, but the good that could be done with the resources dumped into war far outstrips the evil that could be avoided by ending war. For one thing, if we quickly redirected war's resources we'd have our best shot at doing something to protect the climate of the planet. That our concept of "defense" doesn't include that illustrates how far we've gone toward accepting the inevitability of what is after all the perfectly avoidable and perfectly horrible and completely indefensible institution of war.
Having accepted war, we try for cheaper wars, better wars, even more one-sided wars, and what do we get? We get warnings from respectable war supporters that we're beginning to make war the norm and risking continual warfare.
On the one hand this is a case of unintended consequences to rival those who sought the truth about god's creation and ended up with the guy who's on the money around here, Charles Darwin. On the other hand it's not unintended at all. A professor at Stanford University has just put out a book arguing that war is so good for us that we must always keep it going. That strain of thought courses through the veins of our military funded academia and activism.
But that kind of thinking is increasingly unpopular, and this may be the moment in which to expose it, denounce it, and crystallize into action the growing popular sentiment against war, and the realization into which we've stumbled that particular wars can be prevented, and if particular wars can be prevented then each and every one of them can be prevented. I look forward to working on that project, with the urgency it demands, and together with all of you.
David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org - http://davidswanson.org