Remarks at the New Hampshire Peace Action 30th Anniversary Celebration in Concord, NH, October 5, 2012.
First of all, congratulations on 30 years! Give yourselves some applause.
I should tell you now that I don't trust anyone over 30, so your time is running out quickly here.
Actually, when it comes to organizations and the principles they've been founded on, I am more likely to trust organizations over 30. New Hampshire Peace Action's website says that you envision a world committed to disarmament, peace, and nonviolent conflict resolution. More organizations used to be founded on that vision in the past, I think, than are today. The Center for American Progress favors "national security" in its mission statement, and the Campaign for America's Future wants to move "away from Middle East occupation" while warning us about terrorism, and the only warfare mentioned in Moveon.org's mission statement is that very worst and most intolerably evil form of warfare: "partisan warfare." If the two political party's could only agree on such basics as corporate trade agreements, drug policies, prison policies, basic budgetary priorities, immunity for U.S. war criminals, the need to support for-profit health insurance companies if it kills us, the appropriateness of denying basic human needs while funding banks and bombs, and the president's prerogative to select winners in a murder lottery from a list of nominees every Tuesday, what a wonderful world it would be. Or is. Or something.
The typically greater wisdom of older groups (even when they contain younger people) is indicative of certain negative trends, but there have been positive trends as well, some of them as a direct result of the kind of work you do.
During these past 30 years, we've seen dents put in the culture of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. We've seen violence decline around the world and in our own society, in our treatment of our personal acquaintances, sexual partners, children, pets, and other animals. And we've seen nonviolence really come into its own as a force for change. The same year New Hampshire Peace Action began, an International Day of Peace was created. We've seen the Cold War ended. We've seen the death penalty retreat abroad and even in some U.S. states. We've reduced the number of nuclear weapons on earth. We've seen most of the world ban chemical weapons and land mines. We've prevented the launching or escalation of numerous wars desired by members of our government, as well as slowly and not-always-completely bringing other wars to an end.
It's important, in fact, to remember that when the war planners don't get to have a war that they want, they don't hold an annual press conference to announce that the peace movement has won again. And the peace movement doesn't do so either. So for those of you who are a little bit success-dependent you have to remember to hold a little celebration inside your head. We didn't go to war with Iran or China or Russia this year. Say it to yourself. We didn't go to war with Iran or China or Russia this year. At least not yet. And if you think that has had nothing to do with the peace movement, you aren't paying attention to the slips that people like George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton make in revealing, after the fact, the degree to which they've been moved by the peace movement's pressure. There are powerful people in the U.S. government who want more wars now. And almost all powerful people in Washington have learned the highly refined skill of convincing protesters that protest has no influence. It's the most ludicrous and dangerous lie they tell. Even Barack Obama would quite easily be moved by public pressure for peace if it were ever applied to him.
We've also seen occasional incidents of accountability imposed on war makers, from the World Court's sanctioning of the United States for its war crimes in Nicaragua, just two years into the life of New Hampshire Peace Action, to Italy's upholding last month the convictions of 22 CIA agents and 1 U.S. military official for kidnapping a man in Italy and shipping him off to be tortured in Egypt, as well as numerous prosecutions of non-Western war makers. And then there's the accountability of the polling place, even in our nearly completely corrupted election system. The more war-hungry candidates were more likely to be thrown out of office in Washington in 2006 and 2008. U.S. public understanding has moved against war, and remarkably toward awareness of the lies that support war. The lies that the Bush-Cheney gang told about Iraq were not unusual as war lies go, except in one respect. Those men were incompetent liars, just as they were incompetent at so much else. The lies were doomed to be undeniably exposed as falsehoods very quickly, and so they were. The weapons that they knew weren't there turned out not to be there. The result has been a big boost for public resistance to similar lies about Iran, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, etc.
That list, by no means complete, indicates that the full picture of the past 30 years is not all pleasant. The glass is certainly half empty as well as half full. In fact, the glass is flowing over with blood, and too many are eagerly drinking from it. We may be kinder to our dogs and horses, but our fossil fuel consumption is killing off species faster than Mitt Romney changes his opinions. Racism and religious bigotry are alive and well in U.S. foreign policy, and consequently in domestic policies as well. We treat non-white, non-Christian, non-NATO nations in a manner in which we would never want to be treated ourselves. At a Republican presidential primary last year, Ron Paul proposed applying the Golden Rule to U.S. foreign policy, and the crowd booed him. In fairness, he proposed ending our wars, in the next breath, and they cheered, just as they cheered in Tampa when Clint Eastwood proposed immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan to an empty chair. What too many Americans, including millions who've sworn their souls away to both big political parties, want is not so much bloodshed as superiority, exceptionalism, and the ability to keep anything unpleasant out of their heads. So, wars on others are either genocidal or humanitarian, depending on how one prefers to imagine them, but as long as not many Americans die, and as long as the deaths of others are not pointed out or dwelled on or displayed visually, well, we do what must be done as the one nation that must live up to the sacred indispensible responsibility of using its brute force to . . . well, to do whatever it damn well pleases.
The Cold War may have ended, but the U.S. government is hard on the trail of possible enemies, building bases, and positioning missiles around all possible borders of Iran, China, and Russia. The United States now dumps a greater percentage of discretionary spending, and of global military spending into its military, shortchanging everything else. And, while this is beginning to fuel military spending elsewhere, the United States also accounts for over 85 percent of international weapons sales. We arm the dictatorships and so-called democracies of the world. We go to war against our own weapons to protect those we've sold weapons to from others we've sold weapons to. And our corporate media almost universally discusses war preparations as a socialistic jobs program -- saved from the "Socialist" label purely by virtue of its ability to kill lots of people. Humanitarian war justifications, purely hypocritical though they are for those in power, indicate a certain progress as well as a tragic and embarrassing weakness. Propagandists can't take us to war anymore without pretending it's philanthropy -- or pretending it isn't war. The downside is that this works. At least as long as the president is a Democrat, the peace movement collapses, and millions of otherwise mentally healthy people decide that war is not such a bad idea after all.
The awareness of war lies still has a long way to go, which is why I wrote "War Is A Lie" as a manual to help everyone recognize them. We then also have the problem of wars not based on lies but begun and carried out in secret. We now have a secret agency, the CIA, conducting wars halfway around the world with robotic planes. The United States has been at war throughout the history of New Hampshire Peace Action, which was just a 19-year-old kid when the current war on Afghanistan began. An eleven-year-old today, and effectively most teenagers today, have learned a great deal since they were born, but they've had no chance to learn to live in a world in which the United States was not at war in Afghanistan. And, of course, among Afghans there is virtually no one alive with any experience of peace. Permanent war is now considered the societal and legal norm here, and it's becoming as hard for Americans to imagine their government at peace abroad as it is for Afghans to imagine peace at home.
The Bush-Obama tag team has bestowed on all future presidents the ability to openly spy on anyone without a warrant, imprison anyone without a trial, torture anyone using Army Field Manual approved methods or indeed with any methods at all, ship anyone abroad to be tortured, test drugs on prisoners in foreign death camps, and assassinate anyone -- man, woman, child, American, non-American -- as long as the killing is done abroad. And future presidents will have the undisputed bipartisan-approved power to do these things in secret, announcing bits and pieces of them, as they see fit, while punishing whistleblowers to the full extent of " I can't say the law exactly " to the full extent of a government without legal limits. This gloomy and socio-suicidal future will be possible without any of that nasty partisan warfare at all.
Obama has not yet killed anything like the number of people Bush killed. But Obama has claimed and fixed in place for the future more abusive powers with more reach than anyone in the history of the earth. This was predictable and predicted. When we tried to get Bush and Cheney impeached we were told that we were vengeful and hateful and prejudiced and partisan. My response was that I carried no ill will toward Bush or Cheney. I simply wanted to deter the next president, who would be even worse if Bush wasn't held accountable. Take just the example of trial-free imprisonment to see how this has worked. Bush began locking people up in secret foreign locations. Some of those secrets were gradually leaked. Debates raged in Congress. Supreme Court decisions pushed back against this new power. Democrats campaigned against it, but did nothing against it. Obama moved into the White House with a plan to move Guantanamo to Illinois, but didn't try very hard to enact it. He closed some secret sites but not others. He enlarged his lawless prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. He stood in front of the Constitution and the Magna Carta in the National Archives and declared that he had the power to imprison people forever without a trial. He gave himself that power in an executive order. And then he wanted it in a piece of Congressional legislation as well.
What would Democrats in Congress say? They worked for him. He held many carrots and sticks and dollars with which to manipulate their votes.
What would Republicans say? If they didn't legalize Bush's crimes, what would become of Bush? And shouldn't future Republican presidents have the powers of gods?
So last year's National Defense Authorization Act included the presidential power to imprison anyone, including U.S. citizens, forever and ever, with no trial. This was at the insistence of President Obama, according the public testimony of Senator Carl Levin, as well as according to a careful study of what was proposed, what was vetoed, and what was signed. Then journalist Chris Hedges and others sued and won an injunction in federal court, but the U.S. Justice Department that does Obama's bidding put up a furious appeal and is working hard to keep the power to imprison Americans without trial in place for all future presidents. That Dick Cheney still thinks George W. Bush was a better president than Obama simply shows how disloyal Cheney is to his own principles. But he's got nothing on loyal liberals. I read an article a couple of weeks ago that went to great length to demonstrate that Obama had appointed the judge that overturned his law, because he secretly wanted it overturned, and he was struggling in court to keep it in place merely as an elaborate pretense that would intentionally fail in the end.