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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/14/12

Abolishing War: One Last Step

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Remarks delivered at Peacestock 2012

I want to thank Bill Habedank for inviting me here and everyone who's been involved in setting up this wonderful event, which ought to be replicated all over this country. Almost our entire population claims to favor peace. At least three quarters of us favor getting the U.S. military out of Afghanistan and ending that particular war, which by the way isn't ending. When carefully surveyed and shown what the federal budget is, a large majority of U.S. residents favors cutting huge amounts of money out of the military and putting it to better use.

But those doing anything about peace as part of a peace movement are a tiny fraction of a percent of the country. I have been lucky enough to see some of my cousins from this part of the country on this trip, and one of them referred to me as her famous cousin who speaks at events and writes books. There are others here much more famous than I within our little movement. But I'm willing to bet at least 99% of the country has never heard of any of us. Maybe the wonderful Coleen Rowley who made it onto the cover of Time Magazine. Maybe a few others.

Thank you also to Veterans For Peace for being the best peace organization I know of, and to its president Leah Bolger for being here. Leah and I and some others here were occupying Washington, D.C., last fall, and I've just now finally had criminal charges that were brought against me for speaking in a public hearing in the U.S. Senate dropped this week, just in time to hang out with the good people of Peacestock, which brings a certain risk of arrest in itself. Raise your hand if you're an undercover law enforcement officer.

That's all right. But please pay attention, because I'm going to be talking about some laws that are going unenforced. When I say our movement is small, I don't mean it's entirely without influence. And it was much bigger back in 2005 and 2006, when those who oppose wars had, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us, those who oppose Republican wars. There is a big gap, however, between those who oppose all wars, and those who oppose particular wars, be it for partisan or other reasons. President Obama used to oppose dumb wars. We came to find out he favors imbecilic wars, because there are more syllables involved. The thing is, people who oppose particular wars don't usually put as much energy into it as people who oppose all war. Perhaps they're hoping that a bad war will evolve into a good war, perhaps by escalating it, perhaps by electing a different president -- or maybe they just have other priorities.

The title for my remarks today is "Abolishing War: One Last Step." I'm willing to bet that even we in the peace movement are fairly unaware of some of the previous steps. In St. Paul, Minnesota, there's a house listed as a National Historic Landmark because Frank Kellogg lived there. There's also a Kellogg Boulevard in St. Paul. But Kellogg's grave is in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Frank Kellogg had a long career, but there is one thing he did, and only one thing he did that made his house historic, named a boulevard for him, and put his ashes in the National Cathedral. I'm willing to bet most people living near St. Paul don't have the slightest idea what it was. Do you? Raise your hand if you know. And please don't say he invented corn flakes.

Well, this is not a typical crowd. All the children are above average here. And yet, some of us don't know.

Frank Kellogg was a pudgy, five-foot-six, Republican lawyer with a glass eye and hands that shook. He was not one to turn down a drink, prohibition or no prohibition, and he was best known for his fiery temper and the use of language that the FCC would not have tolerated. Kellogg was 70 years old in 1927. He'd been a trust buster. He'd been president of the American Bar Association. He'd been a U.S. senator from the great state of Minnesota. He'd voted in favor of entering World War I and against the League of Nations, but in support of pulling U.S. troops out of Russia.

Come 1927, when Kellogg was 70 years old, he was the U.S. Secretary of State. During his tenure, the U.S. Marines went into Panama, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and Kellogg threatened Mexico with war in the interest of U.S. corporations. Kellogg lacked any big following of supporters among the people or the elites. H.L. Mencken called him --quote -- a "doddering political hack from the cow country." I apologize to all the cows around here. Kellogg himself had unkind words for others. In 1927, he called the French a bunch of bleep bleep fools. But Kellogg added that those he hated most were the bleepity bleep bleep pacifists.

In 1928, Kellogg worked night and day to do exactly what the pacifists told him to do. He brought most of the powerful nations of the world together and created a treaty banning all use of war. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, known as the Kellogg-Briand pact. (The vote was 85-1, with the 1 being a senator from Wisconsin who apparently wanted a stronger treaty, but who was censured by the Wisconsin legislature for his vote.) Briand was the French foreign minister, with whom Kellogg had worked on the treaty.

Frank Kellogg was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Briand already had one. This was in the pre-World War II days when the Nobel Committee still paid some attention to the requirements of Alfred Nobel's will, including that recipients of the prize have worked for the abolition or reduction of standing armies. Quick, can you name the last Nobel Peace Prize recipient who had worked to abolish standing armies? I think there have only been a handful in recent years who would have even stood for the idea, even in theory, much less have worked to advance it in reality.

Most groups, clubs, projects, etc., that promote peace today propose finding peace in our hearts. I'm reminded of Woody Allen's remark: 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 through my heart. I want to achieve peace through ending war and abolishing armies.

Left to his own devices, Frank Kellogg would have had nothing to do with peace. But in 1927 there was a major peace movement in this country, united around an idea pushed by a Chicago lawyer named Salmon Oliver Levinson. The movement was called the Outlawry Movement, and the goal was to outlaw war. As slavery and blood feuds and dueling had been abolished, so would war be. And the first step would be stigmatizing war as no longer legal. Remember, war was not against the law. Nobody was prosecuted for World War I or any other war, because war making was not a crime. Particular atrocities could be crimes, but not war itself. Levinson opposed what we might call anachronistically the NATO model of banning war, in which the primary tool for preventing war is, of course, war. There were isolationist strains in the U.S. peace movement after the disaster of World War I that echo in some of today's libertarians. Agreeing with various allies to all go to war if one of them went to war was not a recipe for peace. The Outlawrists' plan was to make war illegal, to establish written international law and courts for settling international disputes, and to move world culture beyond acceptance of war.

Duelling had been done away with, said Levinson, and not just aggressive duelling. We didn't keep defensive duelling around. We set the whole barbaric procedure behind us. Thus must it be with war. The Outlawrists did not distinguish good or just wars from bad or unjust wars, any more than we distinguish just cases of rape, good uses of slavery, or humanitarian cases of genocide. War was the most evil thing created, and arranging to end war by means of war left everyone preparing for more war. So, the Kellogg-Briand Pact renounced all war.

There's a song from 1950 -- maybe we can sing it later -- that begins "Last night I had the strangest dream I'd ever dreamed before. I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war. I dreamed I saw a mighty room, and the room was filled with men"." That scene had actually happened on August 27, 1928, with the signing of the Peace Pact. It was probably the biggest news story that year. This is not secret CIA history I'm describing. Raise your hand if you're with the CIA. Well, thank you for coming anyway. No, this is forgotten history, intentionally buried history. Frank Goetz, who may be here, and others are pushing to have August 27th made a holiday.

After the Pact was signed, nations stopped recognizing claims of war, gains of territory made through war. Wars were prevented and halted. The world turned against the horror of war, at least war among wealthy nations. Colonizing poor nations was still very much acceptable. And when World War II happened, Roosevelt directed that the Kellogg Briand Pact be used to prosecute the Germans and the Japanese for the brand new crime of making war. And they were thus prosecuted. And the rich nations never went to war with each other again, at least not yet. Europe, amazingly, finally stopped attacking itself. But the common interpretation became the bizarre notion that Kellogg-Briand had been erased by its failure to prevent World War II. Imagine setting up a legal ban on anything else, and then tossing it into the trash the first time it was violated, and while simultaneously enforcing it. I suppose the Ten Commandments, by that logic, must have been erased by being violated quite some time back now. After World War II the Peace Pact was twisted to prosecute aggressive war, rather than simply war, and it was imposed as victor's justice. But the Kellogg-Briand Pact, as written, remained on the books, as it remains on the U.S. State Department's website. Ssh. Don't tell Hillary.

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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 and and works for the online (more...)
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