Beginning the Ending of War

This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition, published in October 2013.

As I write this, in September 2013, something extraordinary has just happened. Public pressure has led the British Parliament to refuse a prime minister’s demand for war for the first time since the surrender at Yorktown, and the U.S. Congress has followed suit by making clear to the U.S. president that his proposed authorization for war on Syria would not pass through either the Senate or the House.

Now, this may all fall apart in a week or a month or a year or a decade. The forces pressing for a war on Syria have not gone away. The civil war and the humanitarian crisis in Syria are not over. The partisan makeup of the Parliament and the Congress played a role in their actions (although the leaders of both major parties in Congress favored attacking Syria). Foreign nations’ intervention played a role. But the decisive force driving governments around the world and U.S. government (and military) insiders to resist this war was public opinion. We heard the stories of children suffering and dying in Syria, but we rejected the idea that killing more Syrians with U.S. weapons would make Syria better off.

Those of us who believe that we should always have the right to reject our government’s arguments for war should feel empowered. Now that it’s been done, we cannot be told it’s impossible to do it again … and again, and again.

In the space of a day, discussions in Washington, D.C., shifted from the supposed necessity of war to the clear desirability of avoiding war. If that can happen once, even if only momentarily, why can it not happen every time? Why cannot our government’s eagerness for war be permanently done away with? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the unsuccessful marketing campaign for an attack on Syria, had famously asked, many years earlier, during what the Vietnamese call the American War, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” We have it within our power to make war a thing of the past and to leave Secretary Kerry the last man to have tried to sell us a dead idea.

(An argument will be made that the threat of war aided diplomatic efforts to disarm the Syrian government. It should not be forgotten that when Kerry suggested that Syria could avoid a war by handing over its chemical weapons, everyone knew he didn’t mean it. In fact, when Russia called his bluff and Syria immediately agreed, Kerry’s staff put out this statement: “Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.” In other words: stop getting in the way of our war! By the next day, however, with Congress rejecting war, Kerry was claiming to have meant his remark quite seriously and to believe the process had a good chance of succeeding.)

In this book I make the case outlined in the four section titles: War can be ended; War should be ended; War is not going to end on its own; We have to end war. 

Others have made the case that war can be ended, but they have tended to look for the source of war in poor nations, overlooking the nation that builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars. By these and other measures, the United States government is the world’s leading war-maker, and—in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.—the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Ending U.S. war-making wouldn’t eliminate all war from the world, but ending war-making only by poor countries wouldn’t come close.

This should not come as a shock or an offense to most people in the United States, some 80 percent of whom consistently tell pollsters that our government is broken. It’s been over half a century since President Dwight Eisenhower warned that a military industrial complex would corrupt the United States. Military spending is roughly half of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending every year, dwarfing any other expense. The United States is closely tied with the European Union as the wealthiest place on earth. Surely that money must be going somewhere. Surely a broken government is bound to be at least a little broken in the primary thing it does—in this case, the making of war.

By “war” I mean roughly: the use of a nation’s military abroad. The use of a military at home to establish a police state or attack a sub-population is related to war and sometimes hard to distinguish from war, but usually distinct (the exceptions being called civil wars). The use of military-like tactics by a non-nation group or individual may sometimes be morally or visually indistinguishable from war, but it differs from war in terms of responsibility and appropriate response. The use of a nation’s military abroad for purely non-war purposes, such as humanitarian relief, is not what I mean by war, and also not easy to find actual examples of. By the term “military,” I mean to include uniformed and non-uniformed, official troops and contractors, acknowledged and clandestine—anyone (or any robot) engaged in military activity for a government.

I intend this book for people everywhere, but especially in the United States and the West. Most people in the United States do not believe that war can be ended. And I suspect that most are aware of the significant role the United States plays in war-making, because most also believe that war should not be ended. Few actually view war as desirable—once a widespread belief, but one heard less and less since about the time of World War I. Rather, people tend to believe that war is necessary to protect them or to prevent something worse than war.

So, in Part II, I make the case that war endangers, rather than protecting us, and that there isn’t something worse than war that war can be used to prevent. I argue that war is not justified by evil forces it opposes or by false claims to humanitarian purposes. War is not benefitting us at home or the people in the nations where our wars are fought, out of sight and sometimes out of mind. War kills huge numbers of innocent people, ruins nations, devastates the natural environment, drains the economy, breeds hostility, and strips away civil liberties at home no matter how many times we say “freedom.”

This case is not so much philosophical as factual. The most significant cause of war, I believe and argue in the book, is bad information about past wars. A majority in the United States believes Iraq benefitted from the 2003-2011 war that destroyed Iraq. If I believed that, I’d favor launching another one right away. A majority in Iraq believes the war left them even worse off than they were before it. (See, for example, the Zogby poll of December 20, 2011.) Extensive evidence, discussed below, as well as basic common sense, suggests that Iraqis, like anyone else, actually know best what their own situation is. Therefore, I want to prevent a repeat.

I wish I could have written a theoretical case against war, without mentioning any wars. But, everyone would have agreed with it and then made exceptions, like the school board member where I live who said he wanted to support a celebration of peace as long as everyone was clear he wasn’t opposing any wars. As it is, I had to include actual wars, and facts about them. Where I’ve suspected someone will object to a piece of information, I’ve included a source for it right in the text. I discuss in this book the wars launched when George W. Bush was president and the wars launched or escalated since Barack Obama became president, as well as some of the most cherished “good wars” in U.S. culture, such as World War II and the U.S. Civil War. I also recommend reading this book in combination with a previous book of mine called War Is A Lie.

I don’t recommend taking my word for anything. I encourage independent research. And a few other points may help with keeping an open-mind while reading this book: There’s no partisan agenda here. The Democrats and Republicans are partners in war, and I have no loyalty to either of them. There’s no national agenda here. I’m not interested in defending or attacking the U.S. government, or any other government. I’m interested in the facts about war and peace and what we should do about them. There’s no political agenda here on the spectrum from libertarian to socialist. I certainly place myself on the socialist side of that spectrum, but on the question of war it’s not particularly relevant. I think Switzerland has had a pretty good foreign policy. I admire Costa Rica’s elimination of its military. Sure, I think useful and essential things should be done with the money that’s now dumped into war and war preparations, but I’d favor ending war if the money were never collected or even if it were collected and burned.

Disturbing as it is to run into countless people who believe war can’t and/or shouldn’t be ended (including quite a few who say it can’t be ended but should be ended, presumably meaning that they wish it could be ended but are sure it can’t be), I’ve begun running into people who tell me—even more disturbingly—that war is in the process of ending, so there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to be done. The arguments that have set people on this path distort and minimize death counts in recent wars, define large portions of wars as civil wars (and thus not wars), measure casualties in isolated wars against the entire population of the globe, and conflate downward trends in other types of violence with trends in war-making. Part III, therefore, makes the case that war is not, in fact, going away.

Part IV addresses how we should go about causing war to go away. Largely, I believe that we need to take steps to improve our production, distribution, and consumption of information, including by adjusting our worldviews to make ourselves more open to learning and understanding unpleasant facts about the world—and acting on them. More difficult tasks than the abolition of war have been accomplished before. The first step has usually been recognizing that we have a problem.

This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition.

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  • Carl_Herman

    Yeah, we have to end war; our 1% “leaders” refuse to stop their obviously unlawful wars. The best solution is for those with arrest authority to enact it for the most important law we have: to prevent organized murders in the millions to steal and control resource/people.

  • Call me stupid but how exactly does one end war ? By saying “Peace or we’ll kick your ass.”?

    • Carl_Herman

      Arrest US “leaders” for their unlawful Wars of Aggression ends the current US wars.

      • Tonto

        So, uh, Carl… Try going to your local police station and reporting your fellow teachers who are doing dope, and even doing dope with the kids they’re supposed to be teaching… Just try it, and see what happens to you.

        My point is, this notion of arresting the one percent is about at realistic as flying to Jupiter.

        • gozounlimited

          If the 1% ‘would’ start blowing dope (weed) we could save a fortune on their breast and prostate cancers….. Good for the teachers educating children about cancer prevention while the ignorant order the removal of their breasts and balls before their up and personal fukushima experience topped off with chemo.

          • …and if that doesn’t suck all your remaining money off you, the NURSING HOME INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX will !

            Or get one of those “reverse mortgages” pimped by Robert Wagner, Fred Thomspson, & Henry Winkler.

  • Tonto

    We have war because it is profitable. And we will always have war as long as the empirical measure of the world stands unchallenged. Legions of empirical soothsayers can point to reams of studies about how profitable war is, and how war encourages growth in the economy.

    Empirically, everyone knows just how profitable war is. War helps create growth in the economy. Debt grows! Public debt grows! Hooray! And that debt growth in the economy lets all the humanitarian dunderheads continue to spend public money trying to prevent “the children” of the world from suffering.

    War induced growth in the economy provides the tax money for the empirical education all the poor, suffering children get. The humanitarians are always screaming about wanting more money to prevent human suffering and to educate the impoverished children of all the world’s soldiers.

    Well, war creates that growth in the economy, so the humanitarians can have their humanitarian pecuniary pittance. So, take your blood money. And go spend it on the children. Let them grow up to be good soldiers, so we can have more debt growth in the economy.

    Empirically, it all works wonderfully. Categorically, it is a suicidal humanitarian farce.

  • Casper

    Its a bit hard to get excited over this incident where the security state backed down for a change. The nerve gas event was supposed to shock and awe public opinion enough to create a positive reaction to a missile splurge and escalation in arms supply to its favored side. Obimbo the puppet was ordered to put on a face, Camoron the lapdog was ordered to get the allies on side. Unfortunately Camoron had to get parliamentary approval and lost by only a few votes. A few more votes the other way, the UK would have said yes and Congress would have followed tout de suite. Even the security state knows that the propaganda has to be in place before moving into a new theatre of action, its in all the manuals. Another 1000 or so gassing deaths would have done it. Missed by that much.

  • Will ANY “news reporter” today ask ANY politician: “If we’re in a shutdown and shutting down national parks, etc…and we’re BROKE to boot, why did you just raid Libya?”

    Libya demands answers after US raid captures prominent Al Qaeda militant

    Militant linked to deadly embassy bombings captured in US raid

    The Libyan government is demanding an explanation from Washington after the capture and abduction of a long-sought Al Qaeda leader by US special forces in Tripoli.

    • gozounlimited

      He was ready to whistle-blow on his American government benefactors……

  • gozounlimited

    The only real war being waged by the Federalies right now, is the war on the American people. Like Syria, our modern, domestic war is not a civil war but rather aggression perpetrated by terrorist factions who have infiltrated our government. Domestic war mongers like Barbara bitch-slap Boxer take pleasure in the profitable machinations of geoengineered storms, systemic poisoning of mind and body, propaganda, lies and misinformation, theft, abuse, neglect, and endangerment. State push-back appears to be gaining steam…. and may be our best organized defense from criminal terrorists in DC.

    • gozounlimited

      Open letter to my Chemtrail Cowboy Stalker…..

      You know I see you every morning at 8:00 AM. You see me on the ground with my middle finger pointing in the direction of your creepy ascent. You spray out a good dose of poison at low altitude right over my head before screaming through the clouds in a diagonal direction. Somehow you are finding pleasure n your ritual ….. like a nine year old, giddy with excitement from getting away with being a bad boy. You like it even more because I fight back ….. just like a psycho rapist who gets off on the abuse not the sex. CREEP!!!!