Let’s Begin Ending War Again

Recently I noticed a post on a social media site honoring Rosa Parks for her refusal to move out of her seat on a segregated bus.  Someone commented underneath, that in fact another individual deserved credit for having done the same thing first.  What happened next was entirely predictable. Post after post by various people brought out the names of all kinds of forerunners of Parks, pushing the date of the first brave resister to segregated buses back further and further — many decades — into the past.

What we understand as the civil rights movement was successfully started after a great many failed attempts — by organizations as well as individuals.  The same goes for the suffragette movement or the labor movement or the abolition of slavery.  Even the Occupy movement was the umpteenth time a lot of activists had attempted such a thing, and chances are that eventually the Occupy movement will be seen as one in a long line of failed predecessors to something more successful.

I’ve been discussing with people whom I consider key organizers of such a project the possibility of a newly energized movement to abolish war.  One thing we’re looking at, of course, is failed past attempts to do the same.  Some of those attempts have been quite recent.  Some are ongoing.  How, we must ask ourselves, can we strengthen what’s already underway, learn from what’s been tried before, and create the spark that this time, at long last, after over a century’s preliminaries, catches fire?

Momentum for the abolition of war began to grow in the late 19th century, and then again, much more strongly, after World War I, in a different manner after World War II, again after the Cold War, and — just maybe — again right now.  Arguably the 1920s and 1930s have seen the strongest popular sentiment for war abolition in the United States.  We’re not at that level now.  But we do have the advantage of being able to study the past 80 years of struggle.  Of course, anti-war efforts have had great successes as well as failures, but war remains.  And it doesn’t remain on the margins, like slavery.  It remains, front and center, as the United States’ principal public program.  Standing armies are so well accepted that most people aren’t sure what the phrase means.  Wars are so common that most Americans cannot name all the nations their own is at war with.

A proposal on “Abolishing the War System” that I’ve just been reading (from Marcus Raskin at the Institute for Policy Studies) takes us back to 1992 and provides much useful material to draw on.  Raskin’s preface and Brian D’Agostino’s introduction suggest that the moment in which they were writing was a particularly opportune moment for a campaign to abolish war.  I’m sure they honestly believed it was.  And I’m sure that it, in fact, was — even if there’s a tendency to find such a remark comical in retrospect.  Strategic-minded people want to know why 2013 is such a moment, and they can be pointed toward many indicators: opinion polls, the rejection of the proposed missile attack on Syria, increased awareness of war propaganda, the diminishment of drone attacks, the ever-so-slight reduction in military spending, the possibility of peace in Colombia, the growing success of nonviolent conflict resolution, the growing and improving use of nonviolent movements for change, the existentially urgent need for a shifting of resources from destroying the planet to protecting it, the economic need to stop wasting trillions of dollars, the arrival of technologies that allow for instant international collaboration among war resisters, etc. But just as many indicators were available in 1992, albeit different ones, and nobody has developed the means for quantifying such things.  However, here’s the key question, I think: If all of those predecessors to Rosa Parks hadn’t acted, would Rosa Parks have ever been Rosa Parks?  If not, then isn’t the strategic time for a moral and necessary campaign always right now?

Raskin’s “Abolishing the War System” is not an argument to persuade anyone against war, not a plan for organizing a mass movement, not a system for reaching out to new constituencies or creating economic or political pressure against war.  Raskin’s book is primarily a draft treaty that should be, but never has been, enacted.  The treaty aims to take the United States and the world to an important part-way step, most of the way perhaps, toward war abolition.  In compliance with this treaty, nations would maintain only “nonoffensive defense,” which is to say: air defense and border and coast guard forces, but not offensive weapons aimed at attacking other nations far from one’s own.  Foreign bases would be gone.  Aircraft carriers would be gone.  Nuclear and chemical and biological weapons would be gone.  Drones over distant lands would have been gone before they appeared.  Cluster bombs would be done away with.

The argument for nonoffensive defense is, I think, fairly straightforward.  Many wealthy nations spend under $100 billion each year on military defense — some of which nations fit major offensive weapons systems into that budget.  The United States spends $1 trillion each year on military defense and (mostly) offense.  The result is a broken budget, missed opportunities, and lots of catastrophic foreign wars.  So, the case for cutting $900 billion from war spending each year in the U.S. is the case for fully funding schools, parks, green energy, and actual humanitarian aid. It is not the case for completely abolishing the military.  If the United States were to be attacked it could defend itself in any manner it chose, including militarily.

But, someone might protest, why is it sufficient to shoot down planes when they reach our border? Isn’t it better to blow them up in their own country just before they head our way?

The direct answer to that question is that we’ve been trying that approach for three-quarters of a century and it hasn’t been working.  It’s been generating enemies, not removing them.  It’s been killing innocents, not imminent threats.  We’ve become so open about this that the White House has redefined “imminent” to mean eventual and theoretical.

The indirect answer is that, I believe, Raskin’s treaty could benefit from a better vision of success, assuming such a vision can be added without losing the practical part-way step created by the treaty.  The treaty is excellent on the establishment of a structure for disarmament, inspections, verification.  It bans exports and imports of weapons.  The treaty and accompanying text are also excellent on the need to abolish the CIA, NSA, and all secret agencies of war.  “Intelligence” agencies should be internationalized and opened to the public, Raskin wrote, as if the internet already existed but with Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden hired by the government to do as ordinary labor what they in reality ended up doing as heroic acts of defiance.  The National Security Act of 1947 must go, Raskin writes.  The U.N. Charter must be upheld.

Here’s where it starts to get dicey.  Raskin wants to reform the membership, structure, and veto powers of members in the U.N. Security Council.  But his treaty is written as if that reform has been accomplished.  Power all flows to the United Nations, reformed or otherwise.  A “nonlethal” (but not nonviolent) U.N. Peace Force is strengthened by the treaty.  Raskin also supports the creation of an international criminal court; of course it has since been created, but under the shadow of an unreformed United Nations.

Raskin explicitly traces the lineage of war abolition movements back to Salmon Oliver Levinson who led the organizing that created the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  Raskin faults the Pact for lacking a “collective security arrangement.” Levinson, and his allies, in Congress and without, would have objected that this lack was an advantage, not a flaw.  A “collective security arrangement” along the lines of the United Nations is a sanction to use war-making as a tool with which to eliminate war-making.  This approach, as Raskin acknowledges, has been a failure.  But Raskin begins his draft treaty by recommitting nations to the U.N. Charter, not the Kellogg-Briand Pact, that is to say: to an agreement that sanctions certain wars, and not to an agreement that bans all war.

Now the Kellogg-Briand Pact is widely ignored and violated.  But then, as Raskin notes, so is the U.N. Charter.  Why ask nations to recommit to it, except because they are violating it?  Through the course of this book, Raskin happens to note various other laws that are routinely ignored: the Humphrey Hawkins Act, the Nuremberg Principles, the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty in which the U.S. committed to general and complete disarmament, etc.  Yet, Raskin wants to create a new law, hoping it will be complied with as well as being formally established.

There’s no reason the Kellogg-Briand Pact and/or the vision of its creators shouldn’t be a part of our work, and there are many reasons why it should be.  When those dreaded mythical bombers approach our shores, defended purely by every possible defensive weapon known to humankind, what if bombing the land from which those planes departed was not what came to mind?  What if other actions were the focus of our thoughts in contemplating such scenarios?  The imaginary government that sent the planes (or drones or boats or whatever) could be prosecuted in a court.  Arbitration could be taken to a court.  Sanctions could be imposed on the government responsible.  International legal, trade, political, and moral pressure could be organized.  Nonviolent protesters could be sent to the nation responsible.  Nonviolent flotillas of boats and hot air balloons could interfere.  Video of any suffering created could be immediately made visible in public spaces in the nation responsible and around the world.  And, of course, if the attack planes came from no nation at all, then all the nations of the world could be pressured to cooperate in criminal apprehension and prosecution of those responsible — an idea we might have done well to think of some 12 years ago, some 9 years after Raskin’s drafting of his treaty.  But, but, but, what if all of that failed?  Well then, we could add to it in our handicapped imaginations the use of every defensive weapon available to any department of what we actually call, but don’t think of as, Defense.

I find it hard to imagine that if the United States took a chunk of that $900 billion and gave the world schools and medicine there would be a lot of attacks planned against it.  Others find it hard to imagine anything could stop such attacks from inexplicably materializing.  How do we shift such a perspective?  I think it has to be by pointing to a first step in combination with outlining an image of the final goal.  That means thinking beyond the idea of using war to prevent war.  That idea leads straight to the question “Which nation(s) will dominate the United Nations?”  Waiting to transform the United Nations into a fair, democratic, and yet universally respected, institution before dramatically reducing the military and beginning a virtuous cycle of further disarmament, may be a roadblock.  The United Nations is in the process of legalizing drone wars.  The U.N. just might be a bigger hurdle than the U.S. Senate in the cause of peace — although, admittedly, these are all chicken-and-egg dilemmas.

If we can get people understanding what a world without militaries will look like and show them a partial step in that direction — one that makes sense to them because they see where we’re headed — it just might be that this time beginning the ending of war will have been an idea whose time had come.

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  • Tonto

    This article is an example of completely immature, altruist and delusional namby-pamby thinking.

    “I find it hard to imagine that if the United States took a chunk of that $900 billion and gave the world schools and medicine there would be a lot of attacks planned against it.”

    America is supposed to buy its friends? This sounds like the sequel to the 1958 political novel, The Ugly American, by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer upon which a 1963 movie starring Marlon Brando was made. Why not buy everyone cotton candy and pocket knives instead?

    GMAB. (Give me a break.)

    There’s nothing that replaces military preparedness for preventing an attack. And there’s no solution other than military preparedness, when an attack does come.

    David Swanson is only arguing for America to surrender to the forces of evil in this world. Some countries are significantly increasing their defense budgets, David Swanson.

    • gozounlimited

      #1 Killers are mostly male….. the FBI reported in 2005 that 89% of killers are MALE!
      #2 Males usually attack when the ratio is 3:1….. This is the minimum number that can safely overpower a single victim.

      from the other human directly affects how easy it is to kill him. Bomber pilots don’t have trouble laying waste to kilometers of land and killing hundreds or thousands because they don’t see or hear the dead or dying. For infantry units, this takes on a different aspect, they see the fear in the other person’s eyes, the sweat on his brow, the pain in his face, the blood spurting from the wound, the desperate cries for help or mercy. The enemy becomes very real and vivid, the enemy becomes someone with hopes, dreams, fears, a mother, a father, maybe a wife, just like the shooter. In a way the shooter can see the enemy as little different than himself and killing that enemy soldier is like killing oneself. This is why infantrymen are more traumatized by war than any other field.

      Emotional distance allows a person to kill at closer
      ranges and allows him to justify it more easily. Cultural distance is
      defined as viewing the enemy as an inferior life form. The enemy is
      dehumanized and considered inferior. Like the Nazi’s classified Jews and
      blacks as inferior and subhuman, putting them outside the human species
      and thus little more than an animal to be killed.

      Moral distance
      is classifying the enemy as morally wrong. US troops fighting the
      Nazi’s or Japanese had moral distance to help them kill. The Nazi’s were
      butchers, cruel and vicious. The Nazi’s were guilty and had to be
      punished by those who were right and just.

      Social Distance is a
      form of classifying others as lesser beings. For instance, in the
      medieval ages of Knights and men-at-arms, the Knights, the nobility were
      the primary killers. A soldier could look across the line at another
      soldier just like him, terrified and unwilling to kill. A Knight would
      look down at the serf/soldiers as lesser beings who simply could not
      compare to himself and their loss was not important because they were
      not as great as he was.

      Mechanical distance is viewing the enemy through some device like a scope or on a screen. It allows the
      killer to dehumanize the target. Ships shoot at and destroy ships, and
      although they are killing other people, they don’t see it that way.
      Naval crews are more unlikely to suffer the psychological trauma of war
      for this reason. This is not to say they may not suffer however but they
      will not be reluctant to fire their weapon. Snipers see their target
      through a scope and this can make the enemy less human to the shooter.
      In Desert Storm, the use of night sights made the war seem more like a
      Nintendo game…. http://www.military-sf.com/Killing.htm

  • WrenchMonkey

    War, in the context of this long winded and basically useless article, is a product of “civilisation”.

    Prior to the Neolithic Revolution humans practiced gathering and hunting in small groups. Any conflict that might have arisen between two such bands that happened by chance to cross paths could hardly qualify as “war” as we understand it.

    Archaeological evidence from locations such as Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey, indicates that, around eleven thousand years ago, Neolithic humans started building large structures, temples, places for ritualistic gatherings. At the same time, most significantly and most damning, we began to think of ourselves as separate from and superior to all the other Life of Earth.

    “Anthropologists have assumed that organized religion began as a way of salving the tensions that inevitably arose when hunter-gatherers settled down, became farmers, and developed large societies.
    Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt’s way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it”
    (emphasis added). (source)

    We were thus set upon the path of ecocide.

    We allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by pathological anthropocentricity. We built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations. We became “civilised”.

    We created exploitative consumer societies that became too demanding for the carrying capacities of their landbases. The settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably consumed more than their landbase could provide.

    When any given society or culture can no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase it must, of necessity, seek more resources elsewhere. This usually means taking them from the nearest neighbour. So we invented colonisation, occupation and wars of conquest.

    We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and then technologies to support it and today the cancer of civilisation has spread around the world.

    By now it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?

    It seems likely that the Anthropocene Epoch will not be discussed in any future history books or scientific journals for the simple reason that there will be no such books or journals nor historians or scientists to fill them. But for now, every day there are thousands of “articles” to be read online regarding the multitude of catastrophic issues facing the human species.

    A mob of “pundits”, who make a lot of effort to sound like they know what they’re talking about, write lengthy and often mind-numbing disquisitions about a plethora of these “issues”. The expert commentators, more often than not, treat these incidental problems as if they were of the utmost importance and their resolution vital to the general welfare of humanity. In fact, nearly all these “issues” are nothing but distractions and many are kept in the public focus for that very reason.

    These issues are merely branches of a poisonous tree. Everyone is hacking at the branches but ignoring the root. Even if you cut down the tree and grind away the stump, any root allowed to remain below the surface will continue to send up new shoots. You cannot kill the tree by hacking at the branches; you must destroy the root. The root of this tree is industrial civilisation.

    This is not to say that the human race must be destroyed. But, after many years in denial, during which time I clung desperately to a utopian illusion of a sustainable, enlightened, techno-industrial society, I have finally reached the conclusion that industrial civilisation must be brought to an end or the human race will effectively destroy itself and quite possibly all Life on Earth.

    The single “issue” that must be resolved above all others is the destruction of the ecosystem, the murder of the planet. The only resolution is the end of civilisation as we know it. All the other issues only exist as effects of civilisation. Putting an end to civilisation will, in due course, automatically and naturally resolve them all.

    It won’t be pretty or pleasant, easy or even bearable, but nothing less will suffice.

    What is the big picture?

    Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable. Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.

    Only when humans have completed the transformation of Earth from a luxuriant, verdant, bountiful and nurturing home into something akin to their own sterile, barren and lifeless inner landscape will they finally understand the horror they have visited upon themselves; and then it will be too late.

    Just my opinion

    Consummatum est

  • theblues77

    Abolishing war is noble. Can’t do it on the backs of globalism
    though, or really do this at all. With globalism comes centralized power
    which means total control of the people.

    When talking utopia there are certain hard realities. These include that humans as a
    species are inately evil. Some more acute than others but evil
    nonetheless. So there will always be people that want to control the
    masses, start wars, steal, murder, etc. Always has been, always will be.

    I would rather be free and have to defend this freedom than in a world
    where everyone is beaten into submission for the sake of peace. This is
    what it all boils down to. Only in heaven will there be true peace with freedom. Never in this world.

  • zeev kirsh

    ive been reading your blog for so many years already. some of your articles are great and you generally avoid topics covered by yves smith at nakedcapitalism. she is a hippy fucking moron. this post and the links that it lead to are so incompetently filled with the type of hippy idiocy that never achieves its outspoken goals, that i’m either led to believe it is written by military counter psychological operations as propoganda used to create noise or distraction in the debate about fiscal responsibility OR I am led to believe that even relatively conservative soapbox’s like this blog can be virally infected with the assinine stupidity of the left.

    the best argument for allowing military spending to go unchecked , is the banal platonism drivel written in these ‘signed’ letters. ‘moratorium’ on military spending. are you fucking kidding me???!??!?!?!?!?!? youre endorsement of this absolute stuipdity angers me enough to write on your oh so amazing blog ( thank you for writing for years!)——because I have liked this blog enough to keep coming back and then you dump this stupid shit.

    Please do not reply and engage me in debating financial responsibility. that topic is too sacred to even poison it with a discussion of HOW COMPLETELY STUPID PACIFISTS ARE AND HOW VERY MUCH THEY ARE SHEEPLE THAT PREVENT SOLVING OF REAL PROBLEMS VIA DEBATE DILUTION. please, just take this entire endorsement off your blog for fuck sake. i’m not even asking you to recant and declaim the stupidity of the ‘peace-niks’, who never in a thousand years will be able to have 1% the chance of stopping a war as a well reasoned citizen who votes and is involved in the real world around them. a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. these peace prove that it is easy to suck other willing useful idiots into their own cause by sparkling a few truths amidst a general outlook of total lunacy.