This week Ralph Nader published a list of 11 books that he thinks everyone should read, and one of them was my book "When the World Outlawed War," which tells this story. It's probably the shortest on the list, too, so you can read it tonight and only have 10 books left to go.
World War II was the worst event that has occurred on planet earth, but trends away from war and violence observable in recent centuries continued. New institutions and cultural habits reinforced this. But legally, the U.N. Charter took a step back from Kellogg-Briand by sanctioning wars if they are defensive or U.N.-approved. An example of a defensive war would be the 2003 attack on the impoverished unarmed nation of Iraq thousands of miles from our shores. An example of a UN-approved war would be the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya and overthrow of its government. The UN had authorized a cease-fire, and NATO decided that was the same thing as authorizing bombing of the capital until the president was killed. In other words, the two loopholes opened up by the UN Charter have permitted unlimited warmaking and erased from our culture the idea that war is a crime.
The Geneva Conventions played their part as well, by establishing the idea that wars could be legal if conducted in a particular manner. The Conventions of 1949 look absurd today, as they distinguish participants in war from civilians. Wars today are not fought on distant battlefields, but in inhabited towns. Should those who fight back really lose legal protection? The Conventions do outline permissible conduct for occupying armies, but they require that the occupiers care for the occupied population much better than our governments care for their own populations back home. Of course, nobody takes seriously the idea of complying with this. Governments are permitted to kill huge numbers of civilians, but the killing has to be an accidental, even though foreseeable, byproduct of an effort to kill even bigger numbers of non-civilians or to accomplish some other military objective, such as gaining control over the civilians and non-civilians alike, should they manage to remain alive. Under this rigorous legal standard, Jose' Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecutor for the ICC -- or what I like to call the ICCA, the International Criminal Court for Africans -- found the U.S. slaughter of Iraqis to be legal, regardless of the fact that the United Nations had found the invasion of Iraq itself, the greater purpose at stake, to be illegal. The Catholic Church no longer sells indulgences, I suspect because it just can't compete with the United Nations.
And if the Geneva Conventions weren't bad enough, we created the CIA and NATO. While the world has turned against war, the United States has created a war-based economy with huge permanent standing armies standing in our own and most other countries around the globe. We've empowered a military industrial complex beyond Eisenhower's worst nightmares. In the 1920s war could be blamed on Europe. Now opposing war is almost treasonous. We've given presidents such powers that the Declaration of Independence would have to be three times as long if we were to attempt a new overthrow of tyranny. We've legalized election bribery, concentrated almost all our wealth in a very few hands, and in most cases swallowed whole the obvious lie that activism can have no impact. We face collapse of representative government, of civil liberties, of our natural environment, of our culture. We face nuclear apocalypse, weapons proliferation, and a vicious cycle of countering terrorism with precisely the policies that produce terrorism.
Last fall I helped organize a conference of experts on various areas of damage being done by the military industrial complex, resulting in the book, "The Military Industrial Complex at 50." We concluded that this monster, guarded by patriotism, McCarthyism, and financial corruption, is the number one opponent of most campaigns for things decent and good, certainly of campaigns against poverty, for education, against homelessness, for civil rights, against environmental destruction, for peace and prosperity. It's not a coincidence that the United States spends several times the next approaching country on the military while trailing a great many countries in measures of education, health, security, and happiness. If every movement that should rightfully be targeting the military industrial complex were to do so, it would fall. We would convert, retrain, retool, and prosper. But it's difficult for narrow interests to act on the big picture. Why should the ACLU oppose the military funding that produces the drone strikes and torture cells, when it can oppose the drone strikes and torture cells indefinitely? Why should the Sierra Club oppose the single largest consumer of oil when it can oppose institutions completely lacking flags and hero-worship?
When we tried to impeach or prosecute Bush or Cheney, well, two things. First, one of the best activists we had was Daniel Fearn who is now doing poorly in a hospital in Minneapolis. I bet a bunch of you know him. I hope you'll visit him. Can we all applaud the great work that Daniel Fearn did?
Second, when we tried to impeach Bush and Cheney, we were often told we hated those men or acted on partisan interests, and I always replied that if Bush was not punished for his crimes, the next president would do worse. It wouldn't matter whether the next president was black or white, male or female, Republican or Democratic. It would only matter whether power still corrupted and whether absolute power still corrupted absolutely. As it turns out, nothing has happened to change that rule. The illicit abuses of Bush are now open and official policy. We're spied on without warrants and can be locked up without charges, tortured without consequences, and sent to war without Congress. Our president keeps a list of nominees for being murdered. It includes Americans and non-Americans, children and adults. He works his way down the list. He says it costs him not a moment's worry. He jokes about it to the White House Press Corpse, and they laugh it up. And we run around like chickens with our heads cut off and our souls ripped out registering voters for him because we don't want to risk having a racist put in charge of our national program of murdering dark skinned Muslims. Even while peace activists have their homes raided by the FBI. Sometimes when we speak out we're told that we must be in the pay of the Mitt Romney campaign. The irony of the you're-trying-to-help-Romney-win response to criticism of our current government is that if Romney does win then the people using that line will themselves start objecting to presidential abuses, but it will be too late.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is bigger than ever, in more nations than ever, more privatized than ever, more profitable than ever, more secretive than ever, more at odds with more of the world than ever, and more recklessly than we've seen in decades antagonizing both Russia and China for no good reason whatsoever. I don't consider the fact that Russian fossil fuels with which to destroy our atmosphere will become more readily available as our destroyed atmosphere melts the ice a good reason. Nor do I consider the fact that China owns our grandchildren's unearned wages a good reason. We just discovered how large a part the U.S. is playing in destroying the nation of Mali when three U.S. Special Forces troops drove off a bridge, killing themselves and three prostitutes. Have you ever wondered what makes special forces special? The only thing I can see that makes them special is that someone whispers in their ears: "You don't have to obey any laws." But that's becoming less and less special in Washington these days.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was just over in Laos helping to expand the U.S. Asian presence, but -- as Fred Branfman pointed out -- not seriously attempting to pick up the 80 million cluster bombs the U.S. left in Laos where they continue to kill and maim. Clinton opposes signing the Cluster Bomb Treaty, even though 111 countries have signed it, and cluster bombs serve very little humanitarian purpose, unless you count blowing the legs off children as humanitarian.
Alliant Tech Systems, which as moved to Virginia but is also still here in Minnesota, makes money off cluster bombs. It could make that money off something decent if it chose.
Clinton met a young man in Laos whose hand she couldn't shake. Phongsavath Souliyalat lost both his hands and his eyesight when a friend handed him a cluster bomb on his 16th birthday while walking home from school. These bombs have killed 20,000 farmers and their children since the bombing ended in 1973. Clinton is lobbying other nations against the treaty banning cluster bombs. The United States has used cluster bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and as recently as June 7, 2010, when we used them to kill 35 women and children in Yemen. A journalist reported on that horror, and Obama ordered the president of Yemen to lock him up, calling into question why Obama doesn't order other people in Yemen locked up rather than killing them and whoever's too close to them with missiles.
In Laos this week Clinton said, "We have to do more. That's one of the reasons I wanted to come here today, so that we can tell more people about the work that we should be doing together." But she's not investing a fraction in bomb clean up of what she's putting into a new embassy in Laos. The lesson of 1927 is that what she does next was not determined by the genes she was born with. Clinton could be Kissinger or she could be Kellogg, depending on what we do. Kellogg, after all, would never have been Kellogg if peace activists hadn't forced him to.
We have a harder task today, I admit. We're up against the military industrial complex, and we're up against the idea of humanitarian war.
Humanitarian war makes as much sense as a benevolent hurricane or a
charitable looting. Humanitarian war is based on the following
1. There are evil things happening in the world.
2. We can do nothing or we can bomb people. There are no other options.
The conclusion, of course, is that we must bomb people. But the second premise is faulty. Nonviolent assaults on tyranny are far more successful and long-lasting than violent ones. Even more effective is refraining from funding and empowering the tyrants for decades prior to switching sides, or what is called "intervening." Turning to violence amounts to deciding that the times have gotten tough and we must therefore resort to a less effective tool much less likely to succeed. That many want to do so suggests other motivations, some of them not very flattering. The same is suggested by blatant inconsistency. In Bahrain we send over our top cops to lead the skull-cracking. In Syria we aid murderous terrorists and child soldiers in the name of human rights, working with such models of democracy as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. By "we" I mean, of course, the regime in Washington. Governments are beyond reproach, and regimes can be overthrown, so we should probably call them all regimes. Washington is quite open about wanting to overthrow the Syrian government or regime because of its ties to the Iranian government or regime. It is much less forthcoming, however, about how doing so would work out any better than Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Panama, Grenada, Cambodia, South Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Philippines, and so on.
That wars must be marketed as humanitarian is a sign of progress. That we fall for it is a sign of embarrassing weakness. The war propagandist is the world's second oldest profession, and the humanitarian lie is not entirely new. But it works in concert with other common war lies, some of which used to be more dominant. I tried to collect them all in my book "War Is A Lie." A few major themes are:
First, that only war will address the incredible evil of the chosen enemy, almost always an enemy made more evil by racism and other forms or bigotry and distancing.
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