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War Stories

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By David Swanson, World Beyond War

HUNTER OF STORIES

The late Eduardo Galeano's forthcoming book, Hunter of Stories, has five or ten sentences on each page -- each page a tiny story, their combination engaging and powerful. Galeano includes the story of a war resister who chose to die rather than kill, and that of an Iraqi who foretold and pre-grieved the 2003 looting of the National Museum, also the story of former drone pilot Brandon Bryant who quit after killing a child and being lied to that the child had been a dog, not to mention the story of the World War I Christmas truces. These are all true stories, some new and some familiar, all well documented elsewhere, but Galeano doesn't bother with the documentation here. He simply tells the stories -- extremely simply, he tells the stories. He inspires me to offer the following, and to search for more. If you have ideas for the very best incidents to recount that fit into the following pattern, please let me know. The stories below are meant, not to depict every aspect of war or peace, much less to cover the entire history of war and peace. There's no need to send me the full list of thousands and millions of stories not included here. The stories below are meant to encourage questioning of war-thinking. Send me the best anecdotes that further that project please.

HAVE SOME BLANKETS AND DIE

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Jeffrey Amherst, commanding general of British forces in North America, later a Lord, and man for whom Amherst, Massachusetts, is named, wrote this in a letter to a subordinate: "Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them." Beyond small pox, Amherst proposed "to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race." He asked that "Measures to be taken as would Bring about the Total Extirpation of those Indian Nations." He hoped to "put a most Effectual Stop to their very Being." His plans were acted upon using infected blankets and handkerchiefs. Total extirpation was not achieved. Hundreds of years later it remains common for members of the U.S. military to describe invaded lands as "Indian Country." In 2017, President Donald Trump proposed "total destruction" and Senator John McCain proposed "extermination" for North Korea.

NOBODY HAD YET THOUGHT OF A BETTER WAY, EXCEPT THOSE WHO HAD

From 1683 to 1755 Pennsylvania's European settlers had no major wars with the native nations, in stark contrasts with other British colonies. Pennsylvania had slavery, it had capital and other horrific punishments, it had individual violence. But it chose not to use war, not to take land without what was supposed to be just compensation, and not to push alcohol on the native people in the way that opium was later pushed on China and guns and planes are now pushed on nasty despots. In 1710, the Tuscaroras from North Carolina sent messengers to Pennsylvania asking for permission to settle there. All the money that would have been used for militias, forts, and armaments in Pennsylvania was available, for better or worse, to build Philadelphia (remember what its name means) and develop the colony. The colony had 4,000 people within 3 years, and by 1776 Philadelphia surpassed Boston and New York in size. So while the superpowers of the day were battling for control of the continent, one group of people rejected the idea that war is necessary, and prospered more rapidly than any of their neighbors who insisted it was. (Thank you to John Reuwer for this story.)

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LIGHTING A MATCH

It was March 23, 1775, and a wealthy, white man who owned many people as slaves was giving a speech in a church in Richmond, Virginia. What he said was not recorded, but we know that he spoke poorly of rule by England. An account just the next week by a man who had attended the speech tells us that the speaker called King George III, "a Tyrant, a fool, a puppet, and a tool." This orator may have merely hinted at revolution, as on other occasions, or he may have openly advocated it. He also probably spoke on this day, as he did on others before and after, of the need to militarily suppress slave revolts and to resist any British efforts to free people from slavery, as well as of the need to attack Native Americans to the west, where this man was making a fortune on land speculation. Forty-two years later, a supposed text of the speech was published, having been concocted from decades-old memories solicited second-hand, plus sheer invention. The original speaker had long since died. But now we learned that he had spoken against a metaphorical enslavement to England, and possibly even acted out liberating himself from invisible bondage. Words put into his mouth included these: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death." There is no record of Patrick Henry subsequently risking death; he saw no combat action. He did, however, campaign against ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His rallying cry popularizing a war theretofore desired mostly by elites, is sufficient, however, to rank him as a heroic Founding Father of a sort that people in Canada and Australia must deeply regret lacking. (Thank you to Ray Raphael for this story.)

WAS THAT THE RUBICON?

The native people of his country called him Conotocaurious, meaning Town Destroyer. He was the wealthiest man on his continent, and he ruled fiercely over his fighters. Those who misbehaved were often given 100 lashes with a whip. Conotocaurious tried to increase the punishment to 500 lashes. He led a desperate insurgency against the legitimate government, and a turning point came with the crossing of a river. It was Christmas night when he sneaked his fighters across a wide river and marched them on a sleepy camp of government mercenaries. The insurgents, or what the U.S. State Department would today call terrorists, killed 22, wounded 83, and took about 900 prisoners, as well as seizing their supplies. The attackers' own loses were 5 wounded and 0 dead in the battle, though two died from exposure to the cold during the march. Among the group of freedom fighters or terrorists (choose your term, but apply it also to resisters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Niger, Philippines, etc.) were James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, and their leader whose other name was George Washington. Two hundred and thirty-five years later a giant triumphalist phallic monument to Washington cracked in an earthquake, possibly caused by fracking, while the regime established in that Delaware-River-crossing war long ago, waged wars in several different places around the globe, maintaining a troop presence in 175 countries.

COMPENSATED EMANCIPATION

At the end of the 1700s the world was dominated by slavery. Slavery was the norm. The vast majority of people on earth were in slavery or serfdom. Before the end of the 1800s slavery had been outlawed almost everywhere, and drastically reduced in its actual presence. Most parts of the world that ended or took steps to virtually end slavery and the slave trade did so without civil wars, driven forward by a nonviolent abolitionist movement and some violent slave revolts. The United States dramatically reduced slavery at the cost of 750,000 dead, cities burned, militarism glorified, and seemingly eternal resentment fostered. To suggest that another course was possible is typically met with the facts of how dramatically differently people would have had to think and behave -- in other words, an underestimation of the term "possible." Incredibly difficult though it was to enact, there was someone who had an idea. From 1856 to 1860 Elihu Burritt promoted a plan to prevent civil war through compensated emancipation, or the purchase and liberation of enslaved people by the government, an example that the English had set in the West Indies, and an approach that would be used for Washington, D.C., but not the rest of the United States, in 1862. Burritt traveled constantly, all over the country, speaking. He organized a mass convention that was held in Cleveland. He lined up prominent supporters. He edited newsletters. On June 20, 2013, the Atlantic published an article called "No, Lincoln Could Not Have 'Bought the Slaves'." Why not? Well, the slave owners didn't want to sell. That's perfectly true. They didn't, not at all. But the Atlantic focuses on another argument, namely that it would have just been too expensive, costing as much as $3 billion (in 1860s money). Yet, if you read closely -- it's easy to miss it -- the author admits that the war cost over twice that much. The cost of freeing people was simply unaffordable. Yet the cost -- over twice as much -- of killing people, goes by almost unnoticed -- as if it were a current Pentagon budget.

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THE BROOKS BROTHERS ARYAN

A very popular and famous promoter of wars for the Aryan race had his war costume designed especially for him by Brooks Brothers. In his worldview, the Aryans had come from the Middle East to Germany and from there to England in the form of the Anglo-Saxons, who had moved westward across North America and on to the Pacific, from which they would come full-circle to the eventual (and still longed for) conquering of what is now called Iran. In a 1910 lecture at Oxford, this well-dressed Aryan argued in favor of "ethnic conquest," claiming that allowing members of conquered peoples to live was slowing the progress of the race. His name was Teddy Roosevelt.

THE YANKEES OF THE FAR EAST

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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 http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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