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Ending the Mindset That Gets Us into War

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What are we so afraid of?

Bombing Libya was never popular.   Liberal backers of humanitarian bombing hold it up as a model, but for many years to come the war that keeps war spending and war waging acceptable in the greatest number of minds will continue to be World War II.  

This is quite a paradox, because World War II was among the worst events the earth has witnessed.   It killed 60 or 70 million people.   It's hard to imagine an alternative that would have been worse.  

The killing of 6 million Jews?   For a decade leading up to the war, the United States and other western nations refused to accept Jewish refugees from Germany or to allow Germany to send them to Africa.   Only peace could have stopped the killing once begun, whereas the war fueled it.   World War II only became about saving the Jews in retrospect.

The takeover of the world by Nazism?   The West had armed and funded the Nazis' rise, doing nothing to build civil resistance within Germany.   But resistance within Germany would have eventually overthrown Hitler.   A German war on the Soviet Union was almost certainly doomed, with or without the Western front.   And exactly which part of Nazism was held off by slaughtering tens of millions on both sides?   The United States had Japanese Americans, not to mention Native Americans, in camps, African Americans under apartheid and used for medical experiments and sterilizations, a military industrial complex put in charge of our government, Nazi scientists imported to the United States to help develop weapons of mass destruction and torture.   The United States now embraces preemptive wars, targeted killings, and the militarization of the police.   Nazism didn't win, but it may be an oversimplification to say that Nazism lost.

Roosevelt lied repeatedly about German attacks on allegedly innocent U.S. ships, just as Wilson had done before him.   Roosevelt lied about forged Nazi documents.   But the U.S. public remained opposed to war until Pearl Harbor.   The United States had left Napoleon and other war-crazed conquerors to their fate in Europe up until World War I's Wilsonian propaganda campaign and crackdown on civil liberties.   It would have done so again without Pearl Harbor.

By December 7, 1941, Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and -- just 11 days before the supposedly unexpected attack   -- he had secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.  

Wars, as opposed to occupations, are not defensive.   Nor are they waged defensively.   Wars between militarized nations cannot be begun by one party alone.   It takes two to tango.   Such wars have ended now.   World War II was the last one.   We don't bomb white families anymore. Wealthy nations don't go to war with each other anymore.   They meet at Camp David or in Chicago to plot the exploitation of the poor nations of the world. Although, on Thursday the prime minister of Russia, the borders of whose nation NATO is building bases on, said the result could be all-out nuclear war.  

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But there was something positive about how World War II ended.   Although it was very one-sided, there was justice.   For the first time ever, people were put on trial for the crime of making war.   The United Nations was established.   The Geneva Conventions were put in place.   The United States claimed to be on the side of international law.  

Now, one objection is that the United States has really been on the side of international law for everyone else.   In recent years the pretense of anything more than that has become completely implausible to most observers, and U.S. backing for torture, assassination, and aggressive military strikes is influencing the world in the direction of anarchy rather than order.

Another objection is that we had the story wrong to begin with.   War was only prosecuted as a crime after World War II because of the Kellogg Briand Pact which had banned war in 1928.   Only, the Kellogg-Briand Pact had very intentionally banned all war, not merely aggressive war, which was the charge employed against the Nazis and Japanese.   All war was illegal when the U.N. Charter was created opening up two loopholes for wars.   Under the U.N. Charter war is legal if defensive or U.N. authorized.   What's not to love, for a nation positioned both to dominate the U.N. and to portray anything it chooses as an act of defense?   The Geneva Conventions further legitimized war by detailing how it could be properly waged.   Abolishing war ceases to be necessary, if regulated civilized wars are the new order of the day.   And another institution was created to ensure more war-making, a little club called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.   Not to mention the war-making secret agency so misleadingly called Central Intelligence.

But what was the Kellogg-Briand Pact?   Where did it come from?   Raise your hand if you know who Salmon Oliver Levinson was.   This is the topic of my book "When the World Outlawed War," whereas the lies used in the service of war are the topic of "War Is A Lie," and the machinery they've produced and what it's doing to us is the subject of "The Military Industrial Complex at 50."

Levinson was a lawyer in Chicago who decided that war should be illegal.   It should be stigmatized.   It should not have the approval and sanction of the law.   Instead international laws should be developed in writing, and disputes should be settled in court.   There was a trend that could be followed.   Slavery had been done away with, as had torture, blood feuds, and duelling.   And not only aggressive duelling was outlawed, but defensive duelling as well.   Violence was banned as a means of settling individual disputes.   The same could be done with disputes between nations, Levinson believed.  

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In fact, such trends have continued.   Violence is down across our culture and the world, in our treatment of children, pets, farm animals, wild animals, spouses, and rivals, in our entertainment, and in our foreign relations.   War kills a smaller percentage of humanity now than ever.   It is less acceptable.   Truman told the Senate to help the Soviets or the Nazis, whichever side was losing, so that more people would die.   Obama, in contrast, must sell his wars as life-saving.   On the other hand, our weapons have advanced to apocalyptic levels, environmental destruction and economic injustice end lives whether or not we call them violent, and the United States has become a war economy with presidents given the powers of kings.   Which trends will win out is up to us.

Levinson and his friends in Chicago -- Jane Addams among them -- launched a movement to outlaw war, a movement for Outlawry.   It united a peace movement that was split between isolationism and involvement.   It was, however, a peace movement the likes of which we haven't seen since.   The peace movement of the 1920s sought to eliminate war, not reform it.   Robber barons provided the funding.   The Carnegie Endowment for Peace was still loyal to the mission Carnegie gave it of eliminating war.   That institution still exists, but it openly forswears the mission for which it was created and works on other things.   Similarly, Nobel prizes still sometimes went, as required by Nobel's will, to those working to abolish standing armies.   Women's groups, many of them having sold out during World War I, pushed hard for the abolition of war in the 20s.   So did the National League of Women Voters, the Young Women's Christian Association, the National Association of Parents and Teachers, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, and the American Legion.   These groups, which would never back the outlawing of war today, did so in the past and succeeded.   The U.S. State Department's website lists the Kellogg-Briand Pact as in force with 67 nations committed to it, including the United States and Iran.

It was easier to oppose war when it wasn't the main business of the U.S. government.   Farmers wanted Europeans to buy fewer weapons and more grain.   Imagine trying to persuade the State Department to that position today!   But the Peace Pact happened because of a great deal of work by dedicated activists willing to sacrifice for a multi-generational project aimed at eliminating an instrument of public policy older than the United States itself.   They built an uncomfortably large coalition, combining Europhiles and advocates for legal alcohol with isolationists and prohibitionists.   They avoided tying their movement to an elected official or a party.   They focused on education and organizing.   They focused on the moral case against war as mass murder.   They lobbied the Senate endlessly to guarantee ratification.  

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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 and and works for the online (more...)

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  David Swanson's statement, "Although we ne... by Spider53 on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 11:58:03 AM
Starting with the American Revolution every US war... by Hugh Jones on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 1:33:16 PM
we did not choose this, these,  or any war; w... by molly cruz on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 6:13:17 PM
"Recognize that there is no 'way to peace,' but th... by Daniel Geery on Monday, May 21, 2012 at 3:19:31 PM
I used to think pollution might worry us enough to... by Frank Legge on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 10:53:26 PM
we don't matter; life matters. We are here to stop... by molly cruz on Monday, May 21, 2012 at 4:09:09 AM