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War and Peace in Trump Time: A World Beyond Arlington

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Remarks in Arlington, Va., January 29, 2017

Happy Year of the Rooster!

Thank you for inviting me. Thank you to Archer Heinzen for setting this up. Of course I wouldn't have come had I known UVA's basketball team would be playing Villanova at 1 o'clock. I'm kidding, but I'll catch it on the radio or watch the replay without the commercials. And when I do I can guarantee only this: the announcer will thank U.S. troops for watching from 175 countries, and nobody will wonder whether 174 wouldn't be just about enough.

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I wish I could also guarantee that UVA will win, but this is where sports monkeys around with rational thinking. I don't actually have any say over whether UVA wins. So I can turn my wish into a prediction "We will win" and then declare that "we" won as if I'd been involved. Or let's say that UVA blows it. Then I can remark that "we" decided to keep London Perrantes in the game even though he had a sprained wrist and the flu and had just lost one leg in a car accident, even though the obvious fact is that were I really the coach I would never have done that, just as -- if I fully controlled the U.S. government -- I wouldn't actually spend a trillion dollars a year on war preparations.

Nothing I could possibly say about sports could be as dumb as the sportslike ways in which people talk about politics. If you protest a war and the U.S. military starts it anyway, don't say "we started a war." We didn't. Perhaps somebody did it with money you paid in taxes. Perhaps you have a responsibility to persuade the House of Misrepresentatives to stop the war. But your "we" doesn't just distinguish you from people outside that responsibility, it distinguishes you from the people being bombed and from the people throughout that non-U.S. 96% of humanity who are part of the peace movement. We the peace movement succeed at or fail at stopping a war, and we do not have a nationality.

We are also not the Democratic or Republican Party. We don't need to "take back" the government from one party for the other party, because we never had it. And only a movement unwilling to dream of a better world requires that everything be a retaking or a taking back or a making great again. We don't need to decide which party or personality is evil and declare the other saintly. We should be able to denounce a president who threatens war with China and praise a president who proposes peace with Russia even if it's the same president, and even if the good moves are for bad reasons, and even if the vast majority of his actions fall on only one side of our ledger -- even if we already hope he's reelected or we are busy trying to get him impeached. (Yes, that would be me.) We should denounce the best politicians when they do wrong and praise the worst when they do right. That sounds like a deranged approach to friendship, but it's an appropriate approach to representative government which should not get involved in imaginary friendships.

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So, fair warning. If I criticize an action by a member of one party it is not because I adore and obey the other party. Politics is not watching a basketball game. In politics you're supposed to actually be on the court. The accuracy of what you predict is supposed to be impacted by what you do. A couple of weeks ago, many of us were demanding that President Obama give Chelsea Manning clemency. The usual prediction was that it wouldn't happen. Then it did. And the usual analysis was: well, of course it happened. But we weren't making a prediction, we were making a demand. We made many others that failed. Many whistleblowers are still in cages or otherwise suffering. The fact that Obama did something right doesn't change the fact that he helped lock Manning up in the first place. The question of whether he did more harm than good is not, I think, difficult to answer, but I think it's misguided to ask.

I'm going to talk a bit about where we are, and then where I'd like to be, and then how to get there. So, I hope to move from the bad to the good to the energizing and fulfilling. The general trend of the U.S. government is from bad to worse to miserable. And it proceeds along that course fairly steadily. Obama set records for military spending. He dropped more bombs on Iraq than Bush did. He created drone wars. He ended the idea that presidents need Congress for wars. He put more troops in more countries. He massively escalated the still-going war on Afghanistan. He bombed eight countries and bragged about it. He firmly established warrantless spying, baseless imprisonment, torture, and assassination as policy choices rather than crimes. He wrote secret and public so-called laws that his successor is picking and choosing from without input from the legislature. He created a new cold war with Russia. He did these things willingly or he permitted his subordinates to do them.

And here comes Trump saying he'll torture, saying he'll steal oil, saying he'll kill families, and stepping right into more power than any human has ever held before, as ill prepared to handle it as perhaps any human to ever have reached the age of 70. As Barack Obama and John McCain pretended to ban torture, which was already a felony, Trump will pretend to un-ban it. Many would be shocked if they discovered that that can't legally be done -- which means that it can in fact effectively be done. Many would be shocked to learn that Trump and his subordinates target numerous people with missiles from flying robots, most of the people not identified, none of them indicted, few if any of them proven unavailable to arrest, and not a one of them a continuing and imminent threat to the United States of America. And, by the way, something that is imminent isn't continuing. I deeply hope that people are so shocked and that they grow outraged, even if I might have preferred that they had done so as Obama created this policy.

By the way, I recommend seeing a movie called National Bird because, among other things, it dramatizes the one transcript we have of drone pilots talking prior to, during, and after blowing a bunch of people up halfway around the globe. Or you can just read the transcript, thanks to the ACLU. It's the opposite of humanitarian soldiers doing the tough job that must be done to protect our bank accounts and laptops. It's vicious bloodthirsty eager sadism on display. It's not what most groups will choose to view on Patriotism Day. Did you know Trump is creating a new holiday? I haven't heard when it will be, but I think we should create a Peace Day on that day instead.

As you may have gathered, I'm going to touch on a lot of topics, and I hope to have lots of time for trying to answer questions about the ones that interest you. Some are topics I could go on for days about. Some are just topics on which I'm pretending to have some sort of a clue. So watch out for fake news.

I'm mostly kidding. But I'll go ahead and answer the question of "How does one distinguish real from fake news?" I think the best thing you can do is go to the source. If I describe a movie that dramatizes a transcript, don't believe me, and don't believe the movie. Go read the transcript, or the key bit of it. If the New York Times reports that a so-called intelligence so-called community so-called assessment on Russian hacking is damning, but then reports later in the article that the government report didn't contain any actual evidence, don't pull your hair out. Don't read that article in the first place. Read the report itself. It's not any lengthier or harder to find. And you can tell in two minutes that it doesn't even pretend to contain evidence. Don't listen to how someone is paid to describe a police killing. Watch the youtube video of it. Don't turn to CNN to find out what executive order the executive has ordered; read it on the White House website.

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Going to the source isn't a complete answer. You also have to read multiple sources, and you have to determine the relative credibility of them, even when they're far away and in other languages. But to the extent possible go to the source, and be your own judge. I think my articles have appeared in 11 publications that the Washington Post suggested are Russian propaganda. Yet every article appeared also on my own website. Every one was produced by this method: I sat in front of my computer, I figured out what I thought, and I typed it. Most articles earned me not a dime. None ever earned me a penny from Russia. And most of the publications involved have no ties to Russia, a government that I criticize often. A Russian Air Force official once asked me if I would publish stuff he gave me under my name, and I declined publicly on my blog, naming him in the process, and denouncing his offer.

So, I'm far from infallible, but if I'm fake Russian news, what do you call the so-called Homeland Security Department lie printed by the Washington Post that Russia hacked Vermont's energy system -- a claim immediately rejected by Vermont's energy system? And what should we make of the fact that the owner of the Washington Post gets paid a lot more by the CIA than by the Washington Post, a fact never revealed in Washington Post reports about the CIA? Earlier this week the New York Times for the first time in my memory called a presidential lie a lie. National Public Radio immediately announced that as a matter of principle it would never do that. In contrast, I've written a book that's a whole collection of presidential lies called War Is A Lie. So, what's fake and what's news?

The world reaction to Donald Trump, like the domestic reaction, is very mixed. Some are encouraged that the U.S. push toward war with Russia may ease off. The United States and Russia each possess enough nuclear weapons to destroy all life on earth many times over. Pentagon officials have told journalists that the cold war with Russia is for profit and bureaucracy. When there was danger of peace breaking out in Syria some months back, the U.S. military acted to prevent it by bombing Syrian troops, apparently against the will of President Obama. The U.S. facilitated a coup in Ukraine, characterized a secession vote in Crimea as an invasion and seizure by force (though never proposing a re-vote), made unsubstantiated claims about the shooting down of an airplane, opened a missile base in Romania, started building a missile base in Poland, moved more troops and equipment into Eastern Europe than seen since World War II, dropped all pretense that the enemy provoking all this was Iran, and spread the word through endless repetition that Russia was threatening Europe (even though Russia, for all its real crimes and offenses, including bombing Syria, was not threatening Europe).

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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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