War Is Over (If You Want It)
My interview with David Swanson
By Mickey Z.
If Dwight D. Eisenhower was correct when he declared, "Public opinion wins war," then public opinion can also end or prevent wars but this would require us, as a first step, to see past the superficial allure of wartime propaganda and make the entire system transparent. To do so requires rebuttal, e.g. information that challenges the myopia and amnesia cultivated by State and corporate misinformation.
David Swanson has a new book out called War Is A Lie. A thorough refutation of every major argument used to justify wars, Swanson calls it "a handbook of sorts, a manual to be used in debunking future lies before future wars have a chance to begin."
I recently spoke with David about his book and related issues. Our conversation follows below.
Mickey Z.: What is it about the way war is portrayed in mainstream culture that led you to write this book?
David Swanson: War is portrayed as good and glorious, as a crusade against the gravest dangers, as something that makes us safer rather than increasing our risk, as defensive rather than aggressive, as humanitarian and a question of our responsibility to the people we are terrorizing whether they want us in their countries or not, and as unavoidable. If war lies are exposed, they are treated as an exception. If one war is viewed as a mistake, it is as a mistake rather than a crime, and as an exception rather than the norm. I was tired of the Iraq War being treated as somehow unique when all wars are based on lies, and when authors like you have documented the lies told about World War II, the single most glorified and defended war.
MZ: Has anything substantial changed about war-related propaganda in this post-9/11 world?
DS: There are always variations on the themes that have supported wars for 10,000 years or so. The threat of the Soviet Union or communism was, within a dozen years of its elimination, replaced with the threat of al Qaeda or terrorism. I write in the book:
"Wars against an empire and an ideology would become wars against a small terrorist group and a tactic. The change had some advantages. While the Soviet Union could publicly collapse, a secretive and widely dispersed collection of terrorist cells to which we could apply the name al Qaeda could never be proven to have gone away. An ideology could fall out of favor, but anywhere we fought wars or imposed unwelcome control, people would fight back, and their fighting would be 'terrorism' because it was directed against us. This was a new justification for never-ending war. But the motivation was the war, not the crusade to eliminate terrorism which crusade would, of course, produce more terrorism. The motivation was U.S. control over areas of 'vital interest,' namely profitable natural resources and markets and strategic positions for military bases from which to extend power over yet more resources and markets, and from which to deny any imaginable 'rivals' anything resembling 'American self-confidence.' This is, of course, aided and abetted by the motivations of those who profit financially from the war making itself."
MZ: For many of the more mainstream readers, your Table of Contents alone is a wake-up call:
1. Wars Are Not Fought Against Evil
2. Wars Are Not Launched in Defense
3. Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity
4. Wars Are Not Unavoidable
5. Warriors Are Not Heroes
6. War Makers Do Not Have Noble Motives
7. Wars Are Not Prolonged for the Good of Soldiers
8. Wars Are Not Fought on Battlefields
9. Wars Are Not Won, and Are Not Ended By Enlarging Them
10. War News Does Not Come From Disinterested Observers
11. War Does Not Bring Security and Is Not Sustainable
12. Wars Are Not Legal
13. Wars Cannot Be Both Planned and Avoided
14. War Is Over If You Want It
DS: I intend through the course of this argument to demonstrate that all of the claims used to launch specific wars are false, and all of the beliefs that support the war economy and dangerous presidential war powers are based on fundamental lies. Not only were specific documented lies used to launch each war the United States has entered, but new lies have been told to keep them going and to defend them after the fact. And the lie that our nation and the world can survive the course we're on, environmentally, economically, or while maintaining representative government, is the largest lie there is. Through the argument of Chapter 4 against the inevitability of war, and through the proposals in Chapter 14 for a different approach to foreign relations, I intend to suggest that another world is possible and that seeing through deeply entrenched lies can help us get there--lies of the sort that allow us to utter such phrases as "military aid" or "department of defense" or "preemptive war."
MZ: Absolutely another world is possible - a world in which the War Department being renamed the Department of Defense would be greeted with derision and outrage. But - and here's the one million taxpayer dollars per minute question - how do we wean the public off its addiction to all things military?
DS: As much as I think the public needs enlightenment, I think the blame here goes first to our misrepresentatives in Congress. The public backs wars when they're new, but then turns against them and says they should never have been launched and should be ended. And Congress does not end them. When asked how they would alter the federal budget, a majority of Americans says we should significantly cut the military and invest in useful things. So, one answer is that we need the sort of reforms described in my earlier book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, reforms to restrain the corrupting influence of money and party as well as propaganda.
That being said, the goal of my new book is to move people to the point where we don't support wars even when they're new. A little consideration of the past suggests that we've been fooled more than enough times. It's not just the incidents invented, manufactured, or seized upon to initiate wars that are lies. The stories we are told to keep wars going once begun and to whitewash them once they're over, as well as the pretenses that they're over when they are not, are likewise based on lies. A web of long-accepted lies supports the destruction of our economy through diversion of our wealth into wars, into preparation for wars, and into a network of military bases around the globe. The idea that we can survive this war machine environmentally, economically, or with a representative government intact is built on pure lies. And the secret, unaccountable war-making powers established by deeply entrenched lies about what endangers us and what protects us enables the rising threat of small and secret and proxy and even unmanned wars, wars that can be launched without any specific lies required.
MZ: What would you like people to do immediately after reading your book?