Remarks for conference on Building Bridges and Creating the Beloved Community, April 13, 2013 Sponsored by Maryland United for Peace and Justice, http://www.mupj.org
By David Swanson
Several years ago a bunch of peace activists were eating in a restaurant in Crawford, Texas, and we noticed George W. Bush. He was actually a cardboard version of George W. Bush like you might get your photo with in front of the White House, but he was almost as lifelike as the real thing. We picked him up and stood him in the corner of the restaurant, facing the corner. We asked him to stay there until he understood what he'd done wrong. For all I know he's still standing there.
Of course, a piece of cardboard wasn't going to really understand what it had done wrong, and the real president probably wouldn't have either. The benefit of standing him in the corner, if there was one, was for everybody else in the restaurant. And the benefit of impeaching or prosecuting Bush for his crimes and abuses would have been, and still would be, for the world -- not for him and not for those who are angry at him. We shouldn't imagine that vengeance would be very satisfying. Not when you punish a man. And not when that man destroys the nation of Iraq. Wishing others ill does ill to yourself. It cannot be truly satisfying.
Twelve days from now I'll be down in Dallas for the dedication of the Bush Library, or rather the Bush Lie Bury, a half-billion-dollar project aimed at burying lies. We'll be there to unearth what should not be forgotten.
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Now, I'm not so simple-minded as to believe that Bush ran the entire country on his own. I know how Dick Cheney manipulated him. I know that if people wanted to protest Cheney's disastrous role they could find him living near here at 1126 Chain Bridge Road in McLean, Virginia, as well as 7879 Fuller Road in St. Michael's, Maryland. Not that I would ever, ever recommend holding massive noisy protests at either of those homes.
I also realize that there's a permanent military-industrial-corporate-bankster complex. I know the Democrats controlled the Senate that voted for the war on Iraq. I know the corporate media spoon-fed the war lies to my friends and neighbors. But we should be holding all of these parties accountable, not excusing the man who was seated in virtually a royal throne just because he had a lot of help and encountered a massive outpouring of obedience.
When we tried to impeach Bush, people accused us of being cruel and vengeful. I denied it. I said that I was concerned about precedents being set for the future. But the fact is that a lot of people in the movement enjoyed being cruel and vengeful, and at moments I did too. It's great fun to point to a leader as the embodiment of evil policies. It humanizes structural wrongs.
We are actually up against the very same interlocking evils that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said we were up against when he spoke at Riverside Church 46 years ago last week. We're facing militarism, racism, and extreme materialism. But how do you take those and stand them in the corner? How do you mock their funny accent or their bad grammar? How do you throw your shoes at them?
We had a lot of fun denouncing Bush as an idiot and a liar. We had so much fun that we forgot he was an idiot when we were calling him a liar. Don't get me wrong: he knew perfectly well that he was lying. That's been completely established. This is a man who told Tony Blair he'd like to paint an airplane with a U.N. logo, fly it low over Iraq, get it shot at, and thereby start a war. This is a man who moments later walked out, together with Tony Blair, to the White House Press Corpse and declared his intention to avoid war if at all possible. This is a man who was asked after the invasion why he'd made the claims he made about weapons, and who replied, "What's the difference?"
But here's what I do mean to say: every leader who launches or continues a war does so using lies. Always. Without exception. But some of them tell their lies better than an idiot. Some of them don't pick obvious lies or lies that can be swiftly exposed by events.
Not everyone caught onto this. Some opposed the war on Iraq without opposing the war machine that generates new wars. Some even started calling Iraq the bad war and Afghanistan the good war, as if there can be a good war. Some imagined that because Iraq was based on lies and launched against the will of the United Nations, Afghanistan must have been based on truth and launched with a U.N. authorization. That was not the case. The U.N. approved of the occupation of Afghanistan two-months into it. That's how conquest has worked for millennia. Treaties and courts had been in place to pursue the prosecution of alleged 9-11 terrorists, and the Afghan government was open to such arrangements. Attacking the people of Afghanistan was not self-defense or moral or legal in any way, not even under the U.N. Charter, much less some of the stronger laws that we generally choose to ignore.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, for example, bans all war. It is the product of a peace movement of our great grandparents that sought the elimination of war and has much to teach us.
We ought to have opposed the war on Iraq because it killed people. There's no better reason. But then we would have had to oppose all wars. They all kill people. It sounds so much more REASONABLE to oppose particular wars. Half of our neighbors work in the war industry. What about their jobs? North Korea may attack us at any moment. There are evil people in the world who want to kill us. Our government is pursuing economic and military policies that are sure to make them really, really want to kill us. Surely we can't oppose all war.
Well then, we needed to find a different reason to oppose the war on Iraq. And we found lots. And they were all bad ones. I'll give you four examples.
1. The war on Iraq was bad because Iraq had no weapons. What's wrong with that? Well, it implies that nations that do have weapons should be bombed. That would include our nation, by the way, above all others. But -- more immediately -- it would include Iran, which is being falsely accused of having weapons exactly as if that is grounds for bombing that country.
2. The war on Iraq was bad because Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11. This implies that if the government of Afghanistan had anything to do with even indirectly supporting anyone involved in 9-11, then the people of Afghanistan -- most of whom had never heard of 9-11 and still haven't -- should be bombed. The same logic is costing drone strike victims their lives by the thousands.