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When the World Outlawed War

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Headlined to H3 9/26/11

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Remarks at Lynchburg College on September 26, 2011

I'd like to thank Dave Freier for inviting me, and all of you for being here.   I think I was invited to speak about my most recent book, War Is A Lie, but I asked Professor Freier if it would be all right to speak about my next book, not yet finished, and he agreed.   So, the following is a relatively very short summary of a forthcoming book that is not yet finished, and which I need your help with.   It would be very helpful to me if you let me know when I've finished these opening remarks what was unclear, what didn't make sense, or what didn't persuade you, as well as what -- if anything -- seemed useful or inspiring.

It would also help me a lot if you would raise your hands to show your views on a few questions.   First, raise your hand if you believe that war is illegal.   I don't mean particular atrocities or particular types of wars, but war.   And I don't mean bad or regrettable, but illegal.   If you're not sure or think it's not a good question don't raise your hand.   OK, thank you.   Now, raise your hand if you think war should be illegal.   OK, thank you.   And now raise your hand if you know what the Kellogg-Briand Pact is.   All right, that was very helpful.   Now, let me tell you a little story, or at least a few pieces of it.

In 1927 and 1928 a hot-tempered Republican from Minnesota named Frank, who privately cursed pacifists, managed to persuade nearly every country on earth to ban war.   He had been moved to do so, against his will, by a global demand for peace and a U.S. partnership with France created through illegal diplomacy by peace activists.   The driving force in achieving this historic breakthrough was a remarkably unified, strategic, and relentless U.S. peace movement with its strongest support in the Midwest; its strongest leaders professors, lawyers, and university presidents; its voices in Washington, D.C., those of Republican senators from Idaho and Kansas; its views welcomed and promoted by newspapers, churches, and women's groups all over the country; and its determination unaltered by a decade of defeats and divisions.  

The movement depended in large part on the new political power of female voters.   The effort might have failed had Charles Lindbergh not flown an airplane across an ocean, or Henry Cabot Lodge not died, or had other efforts toward peace and disarmament not been dismal failures.   But public pressure made this step, or something like it, almost inevitable.   And when it succeeded -- although the outlawing of war was never fully implemented in accordance with the plans of its visionaries -- much of the world believed war had been made illegal.   Wars were, in fact, halted and prevented.   And when, nonetheless, wars continued and a second world war engulfed the globe, that catastrophe was followed by the trials of men accused of the brand new crime of making war, as well as by global adoption of the United Nations Charter, a document owing much to its pre-war predecessor while still falling short of the ideals of what in the 1920s was called the Outlawry movement.

"Last night I had the strangest dream I'd ever dreamed before," wrote Ed McCurdy in 1950 in what became a popular folk song.   "I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war.   I dreamed I saw a mighty room, and the room was filled with men.   And the paper they were signing said they'd never fight again."   But that scene had already happened in reality on August 27, 1928, in Paris, France.   The treaty that was signed that day, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, was subsequently ratified by the United States Senate in a vote of 85 to 1 and remains on the books to this day as part of what Article VI of the U.S. Constitution calls "the supreme Law of the Land."

Frank Kellogg, the U.S. Secretary of State who made this treaty happen, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and saw his public reputation soar -- so much so that the United States named a ship after him, one of the "liberty ships" that carried war supplies to Europe during World War II.   Kellogg was dead at the time.   So, many believed, were prospects for world peace.   But the Kellogg-Briand Pact and its renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy is something we might want to revive.   This treaty gathered the adherence of the world's nations swiftly and publicly, driven by fervent public demand.   We might think about how public opinion of that sort might be created anew, what insights it possessed that have yet to be realized, and what systems of communication, education, and elections would allow the public again to influence government policy, as the ongoing campaign to eliminate war -- understood by its originators to be an undertaking of generations -- continues to develop.

One way to revive a treaty that in fact remains law would, of course, be to begin complying with it.   When lawyers, politicians, and judges want to bestow human rights on corporations, they do so largely on the basis of a footnote added by a clerk to a Supreme Court ruling from over a century back.   When the Department of Justice wants to "legalize" torture or, for that matter, war, it reaches back to a twisted reading of one of the Federalist Papers or a court decision from some long forgotten era.   If anyone in power today favored peace, there would be every justification for recalling and making use of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.   It is actually law.   And it is far more recent law than the U.S. Constitution itself, which our elected officials still claim, mostly unconvincingly, to support.   The Pact, excluding formalities and procedural matters, reads, in full:

"The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.

"The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means."

The French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand, whose initiative had led to the Pact and whose previous work for peace had already earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, remarked at the signing ceremony:

"For the first time, on a scale as absolute as it is vast, a treaty has been truly devoted to the very establishment of peace, and has laid down laws that are new and free from all political considerations.   Such a treaty means a beginning and not an end."

The peace movement that made the Kellogg-Briand Pact happen, just like the militarism against which it competed, was given a huge boost by World War I, by the scale of that war and its impact on civilians, but also by the rhetoric through which the United States had been brought into the war in 1917.   According to U.S. Socialist Victor Berger, all the United States had gained from participation in World War I was the flu and prohibition.   It was not an uncommon view.   Millions of Americans who had supported World War I, came during the years following its completion on November 11, 1918, to reject the idea that anything could ever be gained through warfare.

The propaganda machinery invented by President Woodrow Wilson and his Committee on Public Information had drawn Americans into the war with exaggerated and fictional tales of German atrocities in Belgium, posters depicting Jesus Christ in khaki sighting down a gun barrel, and promises of selfless devotion to making the world safe for democracy.   The extent of the casualties was hidden from the public as much as possible during the course of the war, but by the time it was over many had learned something of war's reality.   And many had come to resent the manipulation of noble emotions that had pulled an independent nation into overseas barbarity.  

However, the propaganda that motivated the fighting was not immediately erased from people's minds.   A war to end wars and make the world safe for democracy cannot end without some lingering demand for peace and justice, or at least for something more valuable than the flu and prohibition.   Even those rejecting the idea that any war could in any way help advance the cause of peace aligned with those wanting to avoid all future wars -- a group that probably encompassed most of the U.S. population.

Some of the blame for the start of the World War was placed on secretly made treaties and alliances.   President Wilson backed the ideal of public treaties, if not necessarily publicly negotiated treaties.   He made this the first of his famous 14 points in his January 8, 1918, speech to Congress.

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http://davidswanson.org

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 (more...)
 
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