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War: Legal to Criminal and Back Again

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And the people who made Kellogg-Briand happen, who were not named Kellogg or Briand, were far from naive. They expected a generations-long struggle and would be amazed, bewildered, and heartbroken by our failure to continue the struggle and by our rejection of their work on the grounds that it hasn't succeeded yet.

There is also, by the way, a new and insidious rejection of peace work that pokes its way into the responses to the essays and into most events like this one these days, and I fear that it may be growing rapidly. This is the phenomenon that I call Pinkerism, the rejection of peace activism on the basis of the belief that war is going away on its own. There are two problems with this idea. One is that if war were going away, that would almost certainly be in large part because of the work of people opposing it and striving to replace it with peaceful institutions. Second, war isn't going away. U.S. academics make a case for war vanishing that rests on a foundation of fraud. They redefine U.S. wars as something other than wars. They measure casualties against global population, thus avoiding the fact that recent wars have been as bad for the populations involved as any wars of the past. They shift the topic to the decline of other types of violence.

Those declines of other types of violence, including the death penalty in U.S. states, should be celebrated and held up as models for what can be done with war. But it's not yet being done with war, and war is not going to do it by itself without a great deal of effort and sacrifice by us and by many other people.

I'm glad that people in St. Paul are remembering Frank Kellogg, but the story of late 1920s peace activism is a great model for activism precisely because Kellogg was opposed to the whole idea such a short time before he was enthusiastically working for it. He was brought around by a public campaign initiated by a Chicago lawyer and activist named Salmon Oliver Levinson, whose grave rests unnoticed in Oak Woods Cemetery, and whose 100,000 papers sit unread at the University of Chicago.

I sent an op-ed on Levinson to the Tribune which declined to print it, as did the Sun. The Daily Herald ended up printing it. The Tribune did find room a couple of weeks ago to print a column wishing that a hurricane like Katrina would hit Chicago, creating enough chaos and devastation to allow the swift destruction of Chicago's public school system. An easier method of wrecking the school system might be just to force all the students to read the Chicago Tribune.

This is part of what I wrote: S.O. Levinson was a lawyer who believed that courts handled interpersonal disputes better than dueling had done before it was banned. He wanted to outlaw war as a means of handling international disputes. Until 1928, launching a war had always been perfectly legal. Levinson wanted to outlaw all war. "Suppose," he wrote, "it had then been urged that only 'aggressive dueling' should be outlawed and that 'defensive dueling' be left intact."

I should add that the analogy may be imperfect in an important way. National governments banned dueling and handed out punishments for it. There's no global government punishing nations that make war. But dueling didn't die out until the culture rejected it. The law was not enough. And part of the cultural shift against war certainly needs to include the creation and reformation of global institutions that reward peacemaking and punish war-making, as in fact such institutions already do punish war-making by poor nations acting against the agenda of the West.

Levinson and the movement of Outlawrists whom he gathered around him, including well-known Chicagoan Jane Addams, believed that making war a crime would begin to stigmatize it and facilitate demilitarization. They pursued as well the creation of international laws and systems of arbitration and alternative means of handling conflicts. Outlawing war was to be the first step in a lengthy process of actually ending that peculiar institution.

The Outlawry movement was launched with Levinson's article proposing it in The New Republic magazine on March 7, 1918, and took a decade to achieve the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The task of ending war is ongoing, and the Pact is a tool that might still help. This treaty commits nations to resolving their disputes through peaceful means alone. The U.S. State Department's website lists it as still in effect, as does the Department of Defense Law of War Manual published in June 2015.

The frenzy of organizing and activism that created the peace pact was massive. Find me an organization that's been around since the 1920s and I'll find you an organization on record in support of abolishing war. That includes the American Legion, the National League of Women Voters, and the National Association of Parents and Teachers. By 1928 the demand to outlaw war was irresistible, and Kellogg who had recently mocked and cursed peace activists, began following their lead and telling his wife he might be in for a Nobel Peace Prize.

On August 27, 1928, in Paris, the flags of Germany and the Soviet Union newly flew along many others, as the scene played out that is described in the song "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream." The papers the men were signing really did say they would never fight again. The Outlawrists persuaded the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty without any formal reservations.

The U.N. Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945, so its 70th anniversary is approaching. Its potential is still unfulfilled. It has been used to advance and to impede the cause of peace. We need a rededication to its goal of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war. But we should be clear about how much weaker the U.N. Charter is than the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Whereas the Kellogg-Briand Pact forbids all war, the U.N. Charter opens up the possibility of a legal war. While most wars do not meet the narrow qualifications of being defensive or U.N.-authorized, many wars are marketed as if they meet those qualifications, and many people are fooled. After 70 years isn't it time for the United Nations to cease authorizing wars and to make clear to the world that attacks on distant nations are not defensive?

The U.N. Charter echoes the Kellogg-Briand Pact with these words: "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered." But the Charter also creates those loopholes for war, and we are supposed to imagine that because the Charter authorizes the use of war to prevent war it is better than a total ban on war, it is more serious, it is enforceable, it has -- in a revealing phrase -- teeth. The fact that the U.N. Charter has been failing to eliminate war for 70 years isn't held up as grounds for rejecting the U.N. Charter. Rather, the U.N. project of opposing bad wars with good wars is imagined as an eternal on-going project that only the naive would suppose might be completed some day. As long as the grass grows or water runs, as long as the Israeli Palestinian peace process holds conferences, as long as the Non-proliferation Treaty is pushed in the faces of non-nuclear nations by permanent nuclear powers that violate it, the United Nations will go on authorizing the protection of Libyans or others by the world's dominant war makers who will go on immediately creating hell on earth in Libya or elsewhere. This is how people think of the United Nations.

There are two relatively recent twists on this on-going disaster, I think. One is the looming catastrophe of climate change that sets a time limit that we may have already surpassed but that certainly isn't lengthy on our on-going waste of resources on war and its intense environmental destruction. Eliminating war has to have an end date and it has to be fairly soon, or war and the earth on which we wage it will eliminate us. We cannot go into the climate-induced crisis we are headed into with war on the shelf as an avialable option. We'll never survive it.

The second is that the logic of the United Nations as permanent maker of war to end all war has been stretched far beyond the norm by both the evolution of the doctrine of "responsibility to protect" and by the creation of the so-called global war on terror and the commission of drone wars by President Obama.

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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 http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 
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