We also talk a lot about peace without meaning it. We talk about peace in our hearts and in our personal lives. We don't mean the abolition of war and the elimination of standing armies. I'm all for peace in our hearts. And I'm all for peace in our personal lives. But I wouldn't kick out of the peace movement people who are unpleasant and acrimonious. We need all the people we can get. What I mean by peace is first and foremost and almost entirely the absence of war. It's popular to say "Peace must be more than just the absence of war," was if the mere absence of war is talk to be reserved for the speeches of beauty queens. But, you know, living is more than oxygen -- yet without reliable oxygen everything else falls apart. Without peace not much else matters.
Woody Allen said "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying." Well I don't want to achieve peace in my heart or in my little corner of a dying world. I want to achieve peace through putting an end to warfare.
Justice, including the redistribution of the military's trillion dollars a year, including the liberation of nations living under our threat, including the preservation of a natural world ravaged by war making and war preparation can follow.
Now how do we make that a national priority? I'm not sure we do. I think maybe we need to make it a human priority. We have more strength in numbers and in solidarity. We need to bring the stories of others here. We need to put pressure on foreign governments that still respond to it. If we can't close the School of the Americas, but we can help convince South American nations to stop sending students, let's start there. If we can't shut down our oil companies, but the people of Iraq can block their oil law, let's help. If we can't free Bradley Manning, but we can encourage Ecuador to protect Julian Assange, we should. We should be the U.S. arm of a global movement, with the establishment of representative government in our own country as one of our distant dreams, to be advanced perhaps by work at the state and local levels where we still have a chance.
One of our top priorities in the United States must be education, about the rest of the world, and about alternatives to war thinking. By war thinking I mean the sort of thinking that is currently asking "How can we oppose war in Syria without offering an alternative?" Now most people would oppose an individual murder even if they couldn't offer an alternative. What is the alternative to murder? First and foremost it is not murdering. What is the alternative to supporting fanatical terrorists in Syria? It's demilitarization. Stop arming these dictatorships for years and then turning against them. Support nonviolent uprisings like that in Bahrain rather than assisting in the brutal crackdown. Reject violent uprisings like the one our nation has helped produce in Syria. Send in nonviolent forces. Send in independent media. Not to generate propaganda for war but to generate pressure for peace. Send aid. Not weapons that are called aid.
While there may be global trends against war, our nation has empowered presidents to make wars, guaranteeing that they will, and built up a military industrial complex that generates wars at will. The top priority of civil libertarians, of opponents of poverty, of advocates for education, or environmentalists, and of everyone working for a better world ought to be the dismantlement of the military industrial complex, and if we merged these movements we could do it. Less than 10 percent of what it swallows each year could make state college free. Imagine what the other 90% could do. Imagine what all those college-educated people could imagine that other 90% could do.
What Are We Up Against?
We're up against ignorance, including willful ignorance. We're up against apathy, which can benefit from the fantasy that all will magically work out, that the universe has a moral arc. Things may work out or we may all die horribly. That's why we do what we have to do. We're up against partisanship and the widespread poisonous idea that rather than demanding representation from our government we should be cheering for one political party within our government and forgiving all its sins. But most of all we're up against disempowerment and the ridiculous but nearly universal belief that we can't change things.
George W. Bush's memoirs recall top Republicans in 2006 secretly demanding withdrawal from Iraq under public and electoral pressure. Imagine how the peace movement would have grown if such responses to it had been public. But why shouldn't it have grown exactly the same in the face of the pretence that we were having no impact? Why should we believe such a pretense? Why should we care if it's a pretense or not? Shouldn't we push ahead as our morality requires regardless?
I recently read some memoirs by a peace activist from this part of the country named Lawrence Wittner. He participated in his first political demonstration in 1961. The USSR was withdrawing from a moratorium on nuclear testing. A protest at the White House urged President Kennedy not to follow suit. "For decades I looked back on this venture as a trifle ridiculous," Wittner wrote. "After all, we and other small bands of protesters couldn't have had any impact on U.S. policy, could we? Then in the mid-1990s, while doing research at the Kennedy Library on the history of the world nuclear disarmament movement, I stumbled onto an oral history interview with Adrian Fisher, deputy director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He was explaining why Kennedy delayed resuming atmospheric nuclear tests until April 1962. Kennedy personally wanted to resume such tests, Fisher recalled, 'but he also recognized that there were a lot of people that were going to be deeply offended by the United States resuming atmospheric testing. We had people picketing the White House, and there was a lot of excitement about it.'" End quote. If the picketers in 1961 had had the slightest notion that Kennedy was being influenced by them, their numbers would have multiplied 10-fold.
If you work for an online activist group you discover that people will take 10 minutes to write you letters explaining why taking 10 seconds to email their lousy bum of a Congress member would be a waste of time. We've advanced to the point of actively working to disempower each other.
In 1973-1974, Wittner visited GI coffee houses in Japan including in Yokusaka, where the Midway aircraft carrier was in port. The Japanese were protesting the ship's carrying of nuclear weapons, which was illegal in Japan, and which the U.S. military, of course, lied about. But U.S. soldiers with whom Wittner and other activists had talked, brought them onto the ship and showed them the nukes. The following summer, when Wittner read in a newspaper that, "a substantial number of American GIs had refused to board the Midway for a mission to South Korea, then swept by popular protest against the U.S.-backed dictatorship, it occurred to me," writes Wittner, "that I might have played some small role in inspiring their mutiny."
In the late 1990s, Wittner interviewed Robert "Bud" McFarlane, President Ronald Reagan's former national security advisor: "Other administration officials had claimed that they had barely noticed the nuclear freeze movement. But when I asked McFarlane about it, he lit up and began outlining a massive administration campaign to counter and discredit the freeze -- one that he had directed. . . . A month later, I interviewed Edwin Meese, a top White House staffer and U.S. attorney general during the Reagan administration. When I asked him about the administration's response to the freeze campaign, he followed the usual line by saying that there was little official notice taken of it. In response, I recounted what McFarlane had revealed. A sheepish grin now spread across this former government official's face, and I knew that I had caught him."
Let's not wait to catch them. Let's know they're lying. Why do you think they're spying on us? When someone tells you to stop imagining that you're having an impact, ask them to please redirect their energy into getting 10 friends to join you in doing what needs to be done. If it has no impact, you'll have gone down trying. If it has an impact, nobody will tell you for many years.