Remarks at Peace and Justice Studies Association Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, October 28, 2017.
Thank you for inviting me. Can everyone who thinks that war is never, and can never be, justified please raise your hand. Thank you. Now if you think every war is always justified. Thank you. And finally all the moderates holding the balanced subtle middle ground: some wars are justified. Thank you. You may not be surprised to hear that this room is not typical of this country. Typical is for absolutely everyone to pile into that last group.
The relationship between peace and war is clearly not understood by the U.S. public as along the lines of that between alive and dead. Peace and war are things people imagine can coexist.
In Virginia, where I live, a school board member once said he would support recognizing the international day of peace as long as nobody misunderstood and thought he was opposed to any wars.
In Washington, D.C., two years ago I visited the U.S. Institute of Peace along with some other peace activists. We met with some of the top people there and asked them if they would join us in opposing wars. Their president told me there was more than one way to get to peace. I asked her if one of those ways was through war. She asked me to define war. I said that war was the use of the U.S. military to kill people. She said that "non-combat troops" could be the answer. I think I may have been left with only nonverbal words at that point in the conversation. A non-combat troop is a person trained for combat, armed for combat, sent to an area of likely combat, and called a "non-combat troop."
Here's a project on which I could use a great deal of help from Peace Studies programs. I want to persuade the general public that a choice has to be made. On one side is peace, and on the other war.
I believe we have plenty of models to work from. I believe that not only at an early childhood education conference but even in a public square virtually every person would raise their hand to say that child abuse is never justified and can never be justified. And very few would propose using child abuse as a means to arrive at a state of respectful nurturing. There are many other things that one has to work to find open defenders of, things like slavery, dueling, trial by ordeal, or Jeff Sessions. And there are nasty things that most people support or accept: mass incarceration, fossil fuel consumption, animal slaughter, nuclear weapons, hedge funds, the United States Senate -- and yet, even with these, a proposal to abolish them is understood as squarely opposed to continuing them. Partial steps are good and necessary, but a plan to get to a green-energy world by burning off all the oil is not understood as actually being a green proposal -- not in the way that millions of people imagine bombing North Korea or Iran is the best way to make peace with North Korea or Iran.
Of course no two things are the same, and the arguments that most people believe support wars do not support slavery or fossil fuel use or child abuse. Yet, I believe that most of what makes war unique weighs in favor of abolishing it. And I believe peace studies can go very far toward persuading people that common defenses of war don't hold up.
I. Here's the first point that I believe is established by the facts but badly in need of being learned: War endangers those in whose name it is threatened and waged. Obviously we don't begin sporting events by thanking armed troops for endangering us, but we might be more in touch with reality if we did. Terrorism has predictably increased during the war on terrorism (as measured by the Global Terrorism Index). 99.5% of terrorist attacks occur in countries engaged in wars and/or engaged in abuses such as imprisonment without trial, torture, or lawless killing. The highest rates of terrorism are in "liberated" and "democratized" Iraq and Afghanistan. The terrorist groups responsible for the most terrorism (that is, non-state, politically motivated violence) around the world have grown out of U.S. wars against terrorism. Those wars themselves have left numerous just-retired top U.S. government officials and even a few U.S. government reports describing military violence as counterproductive, as creating more enemies than are killed. Every military action now seems to be launched by a chorus of cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, and senators chanting "There is no military solution. There is no military solution," as they try to solve yet another problem militarily. The violence that the new enemies they create engage in sometimes makes it into the category of terrorism. Then there are the non-terrorism (that is, non-politically motivated) mass-murders that have become an epidemic in a United States that has militarized its police, its entertainment, its economy, and its culture. Here are some facts from a wonderful publication called the Peace Science Digest: "Deployment of troops to another country increases the chance of attacks from terror organizations from that country. Weapons exports to another country increase the chance of attacks from terror organizations from that country. 95% of all suicide terrorist attacks are conducted to encourage foreign occupiers to leave the terrorist's home country." In fact, I'm not aware of a foreign terrorist threat, attempt, or action against the United States, in which a motivation was stated, where that motivation was anything other than opposition to U.S. military imperialism. I think we can safely draw three conclusions.
1) Foreign terrorism in the United States can be virtually eliminated by keeping the U.S. military out of any country that is not the United States.
2) If Canada or some other country wanted the weapons sales that could only come from generating anti-Canadian terrorist networks on a U.S. scale or just wanted more threats of terrorism, it would need to radically increase its bombing, occupying, and base construction around the world.
3) On the model of the war on terrorism, the war on drugs that produces more drugs, and the war on poverty that seems to increase poverty, we would be wise to consider launching a war on sustainable prosperity and happiness.
II. Here's the second big area where I think education is needed: We do not need wars to defend us. Given the number of people, and powerful people, and well-placed people who believe that we do need wars to defend us, and who view the renaming of the War Department as the Defense Department as essentially a question of accuracy, it's worth taking this belief very seriously. In fact, I would like to take it so seriously as to insist that its proponents create effective definitions of defensive and offensive actions, and of defensive and offensive weaponry, and make eliminating the offensive varieties a top priority.
Is massing troops on a border thousands of miles from your own country defensive or offensive? If it's defensive, should we demand that every country start routinely doing it? Is attacking seven countries that have not attacked yours offensive or defensive? Is an airplane designed to evade detection before dropping nuclear bombs or napalm defensive? Is installing missiles near a distant land that views them as offensive defensive if you call it "missile defense"? Is giving airplanes and pilots and trainers to China while blockading and threatening Japan until it attacks defensive or offensive? Is attacking territory where people attempt to secede from a country defensive or offensive? Is dropping white phosphorus on people because their ruler is alleged to have used chemical weapons on his own people offensive or defensive, or simply acceptable because you're killing somebody else's people? Is attacking first before someone else can attack you defensive, offensive, or does it depend on who is doing it -- and if it depends on who is doing it, how does one obtain that special privilege?
I don't think you can clearly define every action as defensive or offensive to everyone's satisfaction, much less stop all parties from proclaiming their status as defensive actors. But I do think you can get broad agreement on enough to identify three quarters of U.S. military expenditures, and an enormous percentage of U.S. weapons sales, as having no defensive purpose, and serving rather to endanger than to protect. I would include on that list: U.S. troop presence in 175 countries, U.S. "Special" Forces in 135 countries, U.S./Saudi war in Yemen, U.S. warmaking in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Syria, all nuclear weapons, all aircraft carriers, all vehicles not designed for guarding U.S. borders, all State Department and Pentagon personnel employed marketing U.S. weaponry to foreign governments, and all U.S. weapons sales (and gifts) to foreign governments and non-state fighters. So, if someone believes in military defense, we need have no argument. Instead we can work on scaling the U.S. military back in a manner that I guarantee will create a reverse arms race around the world, make us safer, and make total abolition seem dramatically more realistic to everyone than it does now.
Of course we are not taking partial steps toward establishing a defensive Defense Department, because the distinction between "defensive" and "offensive" war is a distinction of rhetoric and justification, not of action. The U.S. prepares for and engages in so-called "defensive" wars in a manner that the earth could never survive, environmentally or militarily, if even just two nations did it, and in a manner indistinguishable from preparation for offensive wars. Thus it becomes important to recognize necessary partial steps away from militarism not as ends in themselves or steps toward better wars, but as steps toward abolition.