While Trump threatens nuclear war, scientists say that a single nuclear bomb could cause climate catastrophe, and a small number of them could block out the sun, kill crops, and starve us to death. There is no such thing as threatening nuclear war on someone other than yourself, and no the nukes are not less damaging if Congress authorizes their use.
The erosion we are seeing in our civil liberties, the mass surveillance, the militarized police: these are symptoms of a criminal enterprise called war. It fuels and is fueled by racism, bigotry, hatred, and violence. The excuses made for it are so weak and its horrors so inexcusable that the top killer of U.S. participants in war is suicide.
And yet, Trump proposes to move another $50 billion from just about everything good and decent into war, and the Democrats run around denouncing the supposed cuts without mentioning the existence of the military or the fact that it's not cuts at all, but moving the money into war. The Democratic Congressional candidates that have lost all their special elections this year to warmongering Republicans have in each case presented platforms that did not mention any foreign policy whatsoever. The same goes for their new hero Randy Bryce. The Progressive Caucus's dream budget increases military spending. And of course a certain former Senator from New York who seems to still be running for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination never met a war she didn't love.
Even Bernie Sanders, just went on Stephen Colbert's show and rattled off his list of progressive goals three different times without ever mentioning war or peace, just as he has done thousands of times. Even the question of whether to end or continue current wars just doesn't come up. During the campaign, Senator Sanders said that he thought Saudi Arabia should "get its hands dirty" and pay for more of the wars, as if Saudi Arabia's hands weren't drenched in blood, as if it weren't funding wars on the same and opposite side as the U.S. already, and as if wars were some sort of philanthropy the world depends upon. Senator Sanders falsely as well as immorally defends the murderous F-35 airplane as a jobs program for Vermont where it will damage the hearing and the brains of the children in the school it takes off over. And when Senator Sanders was asked "How will you pay for all your ponies?" (Ponies is Hillary Clinton's word for basic human rights) he didn't reply "I'm going to make a slight reduction in military spending." Instead he gave a complex answer that produced endless media screaming about tax increases. Contrast that with the popular performance of the next prime minister of the United Kingdom Jeremy Corbyn who explains that the wars are illegal and counterproductive.
So, we have to move the best and the worst of the politicians in the U.S., and we have to do so with a popular movement that changes the culture.
But, someone will object, there is a big difference between ending war and ending racism. You can end racism one person at a time. War you have to end in the whole world all at once, or somebody else will wage war on you when you're not ready. Or as someone recently emailed me: if I'm not willing to nuke North Korea I'd better get ready to learn to speak North Korean.
That's a statement that would still be nonsense yet have a lot more sense to it if spoken outside the United States. The United States so dominates the field of war that the notion that it must wait for someone else to end war doesn't fit the facts. The U.S. not only leads the sale of war weapons to the world, including to the regions of the world with most of the wars and where weapons are not manufactured at all, but also leads the world in its own spending on wars and primarily on war preparations, spending about as much as the rest of the world put together. The U.S. spends close to $1 trillion per year across numerous departments. Other countries that spend $10 billion or more -- that is, 1 percent of U.S. spending -- may number 19 or 20. Of those, eight are NATO members, eight more are U.S. allies with U.S. troops stationed in them. The U.S. actively lobbies these nations to spend more on war, not less. Were the U.S. to take a lead in scaling back military spending it would certainly spark a reverse arms race.
The United States could also further that agenda by scaling back its wars and its permanent basing. At least 95% of the military bases in the world that are on foreign soil are U.S. bases. Nobody else installs bases in other countries.
Since World War II, the U.S. military has directly killed some 20 million people, overthrown at least 36 governments, interfered in at least 82 foreign elections (but obviously not in the bad Russian way), attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders, and dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries. The United States is responsible for the deaths of 5 million people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and over 1 million just since 2003 in Iraq. For the past almost 16 years, the United States has been systematically destroying a region of the globe, bombing Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria, not to mention the Philippines. The United States has "special forces" operating in two-thirds of the world's countries and non-special forces in three-quarters of them. For the U.S. to make a move toward scaling back the war making would have a major impact. 122 countries are trying to ban nuclear weapons. Only one nuclear country voted to start that treaty process and it was not the U.S., and you wouldn't believe me if I told you who it was. Were the U.S. to scale all the way back to a military resembling those of other countries, were it to do away with offensive weapons, were it to guard its borders rather than the globe, others would respond accordingly. And going the rest of the way would look more and more realistic.
Doing so would look even more realistic if we understood that war is not needed for defense. Studies like Erica Chenoweth's have established that nonviolent resistance to tyranny is far more likely to succeed, and the success far more likely to be lasting, than with violent resistance. So if we look at something like the nonviolent revolution in Tunisia in 2011, we might find that it meets as many criteria as any other situation for a so-called Just War, except that it wasn't a war at all. One wouldn't go back in time and argue for a strategy less likely to succeed but likely to cause a lot more pain and death. Perhaps doing so might constitute a Just War argument. Perhaps a Just War argument could even be made, anachronistically, for a 2011 U.S. "intervention" to bring democracy to Tunisia (apart from the United States' obvious inability to do such a thing, and the guaranteed catastrophe that would have resulted). But once you've done a revolution without all the killing and dying, it can no longer makes sense to propose all the killing and dying--not if a thousand new Geneva Conventions were created, and no matter the imperfections of the nonviolent success.
Despite the relative scarcity of examples thus far of nonviolent resistance to foreign occupation, there are those already beginning to claim a pattern of success. Here's Stephen Zunes:
"Nonviolent resistance has also successfully challenged foreign military occupation. During the first Palestinian intifada in the 1980s, much of the subjugated population effectively became self-governing entities through massive noncooperation and the creation of alternative institutions, forcing Israel to allow for the creation of the Palestine Authority and self-governance for most of the urban areas of the West Bank. Nonviolent resistance in the occupied Western Sahara has forced Morocco to offer an autonomy proposal which--while still falling well short of Morocco's obligation to grant the Sahrawis their right of self-determination--at least acknowledges that the territory is not simply another part of Morocco.
"In the final years of German occupation of Denmark and Norway during WWII, the Nazis effectively no longer controlled the population. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia freed themselves from Soviet occupation through nonviolent resistance prior to the USSR's collapse. In Lebanon, a nation ravaged by war for decades, thirty years of Syrian domination was ended through a large-scale, nonviolent uprising in 2005. And . . . Mariupol became the largest city to be liberated from control by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine, not by bombings and artillery strikes by the Ukrainian military, but when thousands of unarmed steelworkers marched peacefully into occupied sections of its downtown area and drove out the armed separatists."
One might look for potential in numerous examples of resistance to the Nazis, and in German resistance to the French invasion of the Ruhr in 1923, or perhaps in the one-time success of the Philippines and the ongoing success of Ecuador in evicting U.S. military bases, and of course the Gandhian example of booting the British out of India. But the far more numerous examples of nonviolent success over domestic tyranny also provide a guide toward future action.
What about claims that we need, not just defensive wars, but humanitarian wars? Well, we have yet to see one that benefited humanity. And supporters of humanitarian wars are still far outnumbered by supporters of racist wars. The fact that both groups support the same wars should worry both groups, by the way.
Well, if not war, then what? Diplomacy, cooperation, aid, the rule of law, arbitration, mediation, truth and reconciliation, conversion to prosperous peaceful economies. We've started building the needed institutions and practices. Much more is needed.