The No More War Movement

Remarks at UNAC Conference, May 8, 2015.

This week I read an article by someone I have a lot of respect for and who I know to mean well, and who wrote about being a part of something called “the Less War Movement.”

Now, in my analysis, war murders, it injures, it traumatizes, and it harms huge numbers of people, fuels hostility, makes the aggressor less safe, drains away wealth for both victim and aggressor, wastes resources that could have saved many more lives than war kills, devastates the natural environment, erodes civil liberties, turns police officers into occupying armies, destroys the rule of law, and corrupts morality beyond recognition. So I consider myself part of something I call the No More War Movement.

If I wanted only less war but still some war, that would mean that I believed some wars were good. But, then, wouldn’t I want to make sure to keep the good wars and get rid of the bad ones? I mean, if I just demanded less war, and the wars were reduced or eliminated at random, we might get stuck with all the bad ones and none of the good ones. Wouldn’t it make more sense to start an Only The Good Wars Movement?

But then you’d have to find some good ones, a crusade that carries most of its participants back 70 years in search of their most recent example — an example that transforms into a nightmare monster once examined. An Only the Good Wars Movement ends up making as much sense as an Only the Good Rapes Movement or an Only the Good Child Abuse Movement. There are no good wars.

I suspect the reasoning behind proposing a so-called Less War Movement is actually that all wars are bad but it’s more strategic to pretend otherwise. Of course if this were so and it could get us fewer wars, who would complain? But, in reality, once you’ve proposed that some wars are good, you’re trapped inside the logic of the war machine. If even a single potential war is going to be good, why not make 110% sure — indeed, why not make 1,000% sure — of winning it? And that means weapons, and troops, and mercenaries, and flying killer robots, and personnel in 175 countries, and surveillance of the planet, and emergency authoritarian secrecy and power that generates more wars — all of which, incidentally, are lost, not won.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, recall Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870 which said, “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession.”

There’s logic. There’s passion. There’s something to build a movement around. You can’t build a movement around less war. You can’t create a coherent agenda around “Hey Hey LBJ Please kill somewhat less kids today.” Nobody’s moved by “No justice, no peace. U.S. partially out of the Middle East.”

It isn’t the bad wars, whichever ones they may be, that do the major damage. It’s the routine preparation in case of a future good war. The routine so-called non-war military spending is 10 times the war spending. It kills more by how it’s not spent than by how it’s spent. It’s not spent on food, water, medicine, agriculture, and clean energy.

Baltimore City Schools spends $5,336 per student, while Maryland spends $38,383 per prisoner, and every man, woman, and child in Maryland and in the rest of the United States on average each, EACH spends $4,063 per year on the U.S. military — except those who refuse to pay. That the prisons and military do harm, rather than good, compounds the damage.

The routine weapons business, buying by the U.S. government, and marketing to dictatorships abroad is what ends up providing local police with the equipment, training, conditioning, and attitude of war. You can’t sell all the weapons to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, with the latter blowing up the former’s. You have to unload some of them on police ($12 million worth to Maryland), who then figure out what to do with them when you explain that protesters are low-level terrorists, and terrorists are by definition protesters. Many of the police who rioted in Baltimore were trained in Israel, and as Medea just noted in U.S. wars.

This weekend in 1944, in El Salvador, a nonviolent movement overthrew a dictator. The victory did not last, but on average such nonviolent victories last far longer than violent ones, and nonviolent action is more likely to result in a victory to begin with. Notice that I said nonviolent ACTION, not nonviolent inaction, which we have way more than enough of.

Nonviolent action is the answer to the question “What do you replace war with?” You replace it with tools that work better: economic, legal, and political structures that facilitate peace and disarmament, actions of resistance and constructive replacement that disrupt business as usual.

You know, I have to confess that I feel bad for the Baltimore Police. The Pentagon would have immediately announced that it broke its victim’s spine for women’s rights and the spread of democracy. The Baltimore Police had to get the Washington Post to claim that Freddie Gray broke his own spine. It’s hard to have to claim something you yourself cannot believe. Like a drone pilot driving home for dinner, the Baltimore Police have been thrust from participation in a war on poor black people into trying to defend murder in a civilian world. In war you don’t have to defend murder.

What yanked those killers out of a war and into a society under the rule of law? People in Baltimore standing up and acting.

Young people in Baltimore are as trapped in poverty as almost anywhere on earth. Yet we’re told to look for the causes of anger in skin color or culture. In a parallel manner we’re told that Western Asia, the so-called Middle East, is violent because of a religion. Yet it is as heavily armed as anywhere on earth, and armed principally by the United States weapons industry.

We’re told to debate which type of violence to add to the mix, when the answer right in front of us is Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Stop arming people and beating people and denouncing them as violent.

When we push for disarmament with the logic of reality, that armaments bring wars, and wars bring enemies, and enemies bring the propaganda that brings more armaments, we break a vicious cycle. And perhaps we begin to get somewhere. Of course we won’t achieve an instant result of zero armaments. The government will at best give us less armaments. But that is no reason to pre-compromise. Our job is to speak truth to power, not because it makes us feel better, but because it is believable.

Don’t put your time, energy, or money into a less war movement, much less a less war candidate for president and for kill list decider in chief. Put it into disarmament, disarmament of Israel, disarmament of Egypt, disarmament of Saudi Arabia, of Bahrain, of Washington D.C., of police departments across this country, of secret agencies, of immigration patrols, disarmament of our households, disarmament of our minds.

We have more powerful tools. We just need to stand up and use them.

Peace.

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  • arekexcelsior

    Of course, the response to this is simple: “Less war” is politically achievable. It’s like a movement to back cutting carbon and other GHG emissions by 15%. Wouldn’t it be great if we could cut carbon emissions by 30%, or 40%, or 60%? Of course. But that’s not possible in the short term.

    “No war” is less war. But talking about “less war” lets us move through the process of gaining achievable goals until the ultimate trajectory of disarmament.

    • CO2 makes up .036% of the atmosphere. Tiny, miniscule, practically unnoticeable. Got to be a Religion if you believe it makes the other 99.964% warmer.

      Carbon and Life

      It is hard to overstate the importance of carbon; its unique capacity for forming multiple bonds and chains at low energies makes life as we know it possible, and justifies an entire major branch of chemistry – organic chemistry – dedicated to its compounds. In fact, most of the compounds known to science are carbon compounds, often called organic compounds because it was in the context of biochemistry that they were first studied in depth.

      What makes carbon so special is that every carbon atom is eager to bond with as many as four other atoms. This makes it possible for long chains and rings to be formed out of them, together with other atoms – almost always hydrogen, often oxygen, sometimes nitrogen, sulfur or halides. The study of these is the basis of organic chemistry; the compounds carbon forms with metals are generally considered inorganic. Chains and rings are fundamental to the way carbon-based life forms – that is, all known life-forms – build themselves.

      • colinjames71

        in case you don’t know of Suspicious Observers or Thunderbolts Project they have some epic videos on climate on their respective YouTube channels. S.O. has a climate playlist, Thunderbolts look under the 2014 conference playlist if you’re so inclined.

      • arekexcelsior

        So you cite from the wonderfully authoritative “Climate Depot”, when just this year we had a host of great studies indicating that our climate problem is actually getting very bad. Here’s an analysis from NASA (you know, an actual source): http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2221/ . What’s really remarkable is that the warming in 2014 occurred even with the absence of an El Nino effect: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2015/01/16/scientists-react-to-warmest-year-2014-underscores-undeniable-fact-of-human-caused-climate-change/ .What that means is that we’re hitting the point where carbon dioxide and other GHGs are causing greenhouse effects that actually eclipse natural variation, which is actually one of the most worrisome developments yet. Sounds like you’re the one who’s embraced a religion, one dominated by petroleum-shill researchers against the vast consensus of climate scientists (pop quiz: how many climate scientists believe that global warming is real and anthropogenic?)

        As for GHGs: We know full well that the runaway greenhouse effect in Venus is why the temperatures are as massive as it is now. And yes, CO2 is a trace gas, just like the genetic difference between us and primates may be “trace” (a small percent), but it happens to be important. Please do your very basic homework: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_atmosphere . This is really elementary science at this point. If you still don’t get it, I’d suggest you look up Bill Nye’s demonstration where he shows water that has ink in it that represents CO2 concentrations over various years. A little bit of a particular contaminant can go a long way: How many parts per million of cyanide do you want in your water?

        What you and other climate change denying morons don’t seem to get is that a tiny temperature raise by the standards of the whole globe, a few degrees Fahrenheit, that happens over a few generations just has colossal impacts. Even much bigger swings that happened in the past occurred over a much longer time period, allowing species time to adapt. But now we’re turning up the thermostat, maybe just a little in absolute terms but a huge amount in relative terms, so rapidly that the ecosystem just doesn’t have time to adapt. Human institutions have inertia too, so these changes occur fast enough that we can’t easily redesign our whole urban planning, economic systems, industrial systems, etc. when crises begin to hit.

        The other amazingly stupid thing that you and other climate change deniers don’t get is that it’s not just carbon reduction that is a good reason to embrace cutting our addiction to carbon. Whether it’s the fact that we want to conserve a finite resource and thereby delay the pernicious impact of peak oil, avoid local pollution like smog that has huge health effects, avoid giving petrodollars to corrupt regimes and terrorists, or avoid global warming, there are just zero reasons to not have something like a carbon tax. This is something that there should be bipartisan consensus on because it just benefits virtually no one, but we do not have such consensus because our value systems of perpetual consumption and our need to protect entrenched corporate interests are so huge. You seem like someone who is concerned about government overreach: Maybe you might be concerned about the domination of our government by corporate elites and the rich (not as a matter of conspiracy but just as a matter of the regular operation of institutions in an era where “winner-take-all politics”, as Hacker and Piersen put it, has dominated). Supporting the development of alternative energy, for example, isn’t just good science, it’s also good government policy encouraging new technology and business.

  • nick quinlan
  • Lynn Walker

    No more war is a stupid movement by people with little to no understanding of reality. First, God loves war, so it will always be with us. Second, war is the only viable method of removing our oligarchic criminal class of leaders. Some would more accurately call it revolution, but it is war technically. Third, not wanting war and preaching against it is useless while maintaining a culture of killing, slaughtering animals, killing animals for testing, and a host of other examples of how people, even the very same people calling for no more war demonstrate their inexplicable lack of respect for other living entities. In fact, the killing of animals is the number one reason why war, or human on human violence exists. It has been predicted in the Vedas that the slaughter of animals will result in the end of western civilization (western barbarism).

    It would be nice if these preachers of peace would complete their education and understand the real causes of violence and the true path to peace.

    • arekexcelsior

      I love how your argument includes a statement about God. I seem to recall the idea that speaking for God, especially implying that God loves suffering and death, is blasphemy. Jesus had quite a lot to say about war and violence, the vast majority of it bad. (And don’t mention that Jesus claimed he was here to bring the sword, not peace. That was him, not you). If you mean to say that people who speak for God love war, then that’s bad religion that should be and can be opposed. Dr. King was just as Christian as anyone else.

      Whether a revolution would need to be violent, or even could be, is an open question. The imbalance of military power in an era of nuclear weaponry may mean that violent revolution is just going to be impossible. Even if it isn’t, though, the goal would be to create new political and economic institutions that are free of peace.

      I suspect strongly that David would agree entirely with you about the multifaceted sources of war and violence. David’s article was distributed for Z Sustainers, for example. Z Net readers won’t need an introduction to the idea that everything from capitalism to consumerism to racism and white privilege to gender and male privilege to nationalism are all part of militarism. Again, Dr. King characterized poverty (implicitly in the context of industrial capitalism), militarism and racism as the three interconnected evils keeping back humanity’s moral development.

      The Vedas are not a source of valid argumentation for those who are not Hindu. Plenty of people who eat meat are pacifistic or non-violent to other humans. The merit of vegetarianism and veganism is a complex debate, I personally argue (and will write an article about this claim) that a good society would likely include some amount of red and white meat due to everything from the differences in arable land to consumer choice, but it’s largely immaterial here, vegetarian and vegan claims that border on the religous aside. Your claim is just religious: It has no argumentative reasoning, and is empirically just not very true.

      John Lennon’s arguable faults are immaterial to the idea that we should seek, insofar as is possible, to no longer have organized violence. This isn’t a weird idea.

      • Lynn Walker

        I am too busy writing books to spend time commenting and responding to comments, but the spectacular ignorance exemplified in this response demands attention.

        The Vedas are the source of Absolute Truth for all persons of all times and places and while the Vedas do contain religious content, only the most unqualified of commentators would label the Vedas as religion. Ascribing them to Hindus is so blatantly ignorant as to have you banned from intellectual discourse. Please understand, despite my heavy language, I am not attacking you personally, but all persons with your brand of ignorance, of which there are far too many. For the record, Hinduism is a term created by the Persians, to describe the people on the other side of the Indus River, in other words, a geographic designation. As the persons of that region are home to the most diverse collection of world religions found anywhere on the planet, considering it to be a religious designation reveals considerable lack of knowledge on the subject.

        Nor will I participate in any of the phony debate over the evils of religion that are the favorites of atheists. One comment alone shuts down that line of bull: atheistic USSR and communist China killed more than 100 million of their own civilians in less than 70 years, a number greater than all of those killed at the hands of religion (fake or authentic) for the last many hundreds of years. The evils of atheism are undeniable.

        A meat-eater who claims to be a pacifist or non-violent is equally full of nonsense. You failed to even comprehend my primary statement on this matter, which is that killing any other form of life results in wars between men. There is a very simple and unavoidable law of the universe called karma that you can’t dodge simply by saying you don’t believe in it. Fire burns whether you believe it will or not.

        My comment about God loving war was intentionally provocative and I expected some response, although I hoped for intelligent response. People from countries immersed in the Judeo-Christian worldview recoil at such a thought, but this is simply because they have no true understanding of reality. For those who understand that none of us ever die, that only the body undergoes death but that the conscious self simply enters another body again, and again, can understand that death is not the horrible event they imagine it to be. God has no problem with dispatching evil people to their next
        body, in fact He finds the fighting of battles between chivalrous warriors to
        be highly entertaining. Todays barbaric form of warfare, not very much.

        I do concede that violent revolution is not absolutely necessary, but it is hard to imagine our greed-crazed leaders ever dissolving their massive criminal enterprise unless we pry it from their cold, dead fingers. It has been suggested that they can be re-educated, but I’m skeptical. In either case, I would assert that the people will have to rise up in rebellion and either annihilate our leaders or at least arrest, try and
        possibly execute them. Only such deserving handling of our leader’s crimes
        against humanity can hope to serve as sufficient warning to the next generation
        of leaders that replaces them.

        That being said, I attest to a life-long commitment to non-violence. I’m just not so absurd as to think that violence does not have its place nor do I stomach those frauds who describe themselves as non-violent because they don’t kill humans. If you kill, directly or indirectly, it makes no difference which race, nationality or species you kill. You are violent and your violence promotes further violence. Compassion is dead in you and it is debatable whether you can truly be considered a civilized human. You act like an animal and given your own logic there would be no reason humans shouldn’t kill you.

        There are no valid arguments for meat. Meat deadens empathy and compassion, promotes violence, destroys morality, pollutes the body, and is the single greatest contributor to global warming, deforestation, ecological crises and defies God’s first and most basic instruction to humans.

        David is an opportunistic profiteer, no-more war is his market niche. At least Martin Luther King was a relevant spokesperson for non-violence. John Lennon is one of the reasons there is such a strong no-war movement, and his moronic views explain why the movement is so divorced from rational thinking.

        The entire anti-war crowd feels that something is wrong in the world, but instead of recognizing their own complicity in what is wrong and fixing it, they prefer to insist others should change themselves. So typical of the ignorant and immature pseudo-intellectual phony. Let me ask the theoretical question, if you saw one million children were about to be killed by one hundred bad people, would you remain non-violent and allow those deaths, or would you take action to kill the one hundred would-be murderers? Violence has its place. We all know modern wars are a total sham concocted by profiteers, but the solution is not the end of wars. The solution is the end of those profiteers. Stop being sentimental and stupid and stay on point. Bad people
        should be killed to protect the good and innocent.

        • arekexcelsior

          You mean the text that contains discredited medicine from millennia ago, the idea of invisible life particles from the sun, and stories of demons and gods meant to be taken literally? No, it is absolutely one of the core texts of a set of closely related faiths that we call “Hinduism”, utterly distinct from the Buddhist sutras (as much as the Buddhist doctrine might initially have been informed by Hinduism), Jain ideas, Confucianism, the Bible, Zoroastrianism, the Koran, the beliefs of the Greeks and the Sumerians and… It’s a text of faith, and the idea that you think it is revealed truth means that you are just unable to discuss them rationally, sorry. I love the Buddhist texts, but I don’t view them as some special infallible truth.

          It’s also wonderful that you impute to me views that I absolutely hate. I am a theist. I believe in a non-interventionist God of pure love and reason. On top of that, however, even from an atheistic perspective, blaming religion per se for problems is sociologically naive. The Crusades weren’t about religion any more than Japan invading Manchuria was about prosperity: It was power politics, with religion as the rallying cry.

          But your arguments about the USSR and Communist China not only ignore the equally massive crimes of Christian states (you basically cite the Black Book statistic of 100 million which is already the upper plausible end of the crimes of Communism and includes famines which it is highly ideologically problematic to liken to deliberate “killing” but ignore as many unfamiliar with Amartya Sen’s work do that India by failing to have a health care system actually killed more than that many people alone) but ignore the way religion was involved even in those atheistic societies. Meanwhile, Nazism embraced Teutonic faiths and was also accommodating for political reasons to Christianity. The slaughter of Native Americans and most of European colonialism was motivated, in part, by religious doctrines that declared those people to be inhuman because they weren’t Christian, indicating that forced conversion was actually good for them because it saved them from an eternity in hell. Yes, religion is never the sole factor to blame, but the idea that religion is not often one of the major causes of social conflicts and death is absurd, and the fact that secular states can do a huge amount of harm without religion is an equally stupid argument. It excoriates atheism but it does not redeem religion.

          The idea that God has an idea of “evil”, then wants those who share that idea of “evil” to die, is one of the most amazing acts of psychological projection I’ve ever seen. My experiences with the divine are utterly inconsistent with your worldview. I think you are allowing anger, judgment, arrogance and hate to occlude reason and faith alike. This is why the great moral teachers, from Jesus to Mohammed to the Buddha to Dr. King, all strongly criticized the idea of seeking out justice and vengeance as a religious motivation, even if they sometimes did admit that violence in specific circumstances might be a regrettable and necessary evil. There are people in this life who don’t want war and who are hurt whenever even a bad person passes because it is the end of a life. You imagine a God with less empathy, less perspective, less ability to forgive and love, than people. No wonder religious people are willing to embrace Armageddon. Your faith isn’t big; your heart is small.

          There’s no valid arguments for meat? Here’s one: Most animals can be viewed as selfish and evil. Pigs are violent animals just like us. Know how brutal boars can be? Cows, chickens… they all hurt and kill. So why is it that you view animals as being inherently sacred but human beings not? It’s insidious anthropocentric values in disguise. People view animals as cute and cuddly, so they’re unable to see just how much violence is inherent in nature. Dogs and cats eat living things too. It’s in our nature to eat meat. Can we be vegetarian as a choice? Yes, and I applaud those who do for standing up to convictions. But it is just not empirically defensible that those who eat meat are routinely less moral in any other respect, nor is it empirically defensible that there is no place for meat production in an economy.

          I absolutely engaged with your argument that killing any other form of life leads to wars with men by saying that it is empirically denied gibberish. There have been pacifists throughout history who eat meat. Not even all of the Buddhist sects have restrictions on eating meat. It’s just a false argument. Can vegetarianism and veganism tend to lead us to think more carefully about our ethical choices and thereby lead to more ethical people? Sure, I can see that. It can also lead to wonderfully closed-minded and sanctimonious people who then advocate war and view God as a warmonger. I’ll call that a wash.

          Of course we have to force the social changes. However, your idea of “pry[ing]” I think shows one of the huge problems that we have. If we forced elites to give up power by, say, ideologically reaching a huge portion of the police and army such that they refused to honor unconstitutional commands and instead stood with workers, that would actually be “pry[ing]” too. And one of the big problems we have to face is that it’s just very difficult to imagine that a movement that embraced violence would be psychologically and philosophically able to create institutions that have to be based on solidarity, peace and equality. It’s just not been the trajectory that we’ve ever seen. In general, the guys who are part of the revolution tend to be the guys in power.

          I believe violence is sometimes a necessary evil too. The problem is when people like you start to think about the death of people as anything but the end to a sacred life. Reincarnation or heaven or any other fate after life aside, we have to start realizing that people are beings with intrinsic value, souls that have to protected, something of an infinite and sacred nature. There’s plenty about that in the Rig Vedas too, but you can’t see that meaning, only the meanings that justify being dismissive of others. I’m not a pacifist so I do not even have to respond to your final question (and, again, it’s really awful how you impute views to people they do not state and have publicly rejected). But I would note that even if we had to kill one hundred “bad people”, we would still mourn those people, because they still had mothers and fathers, still probably had favorite TV shows and favorite meals. The fact that you think you have the ability to judge the infinite complexity of any person and put them into categories of “good” and “bad”, never realizing how dehumanizing that is at its most basic level, is the problem, not violence per se.

          And, by the by: I write plenty of books too. I just think engaging with people who have lost their moral compass for whatever reason, insane ideology too, is worth it, due to my own code of ethics and chivalry. Your worldview is inconsistent and your arrogance which you state it with (and I know that I have some arrogance here too but come on, I am not telling you that the books that I happen to like are fucking infallible holy revelation and the only such form of truth) is grotesque.

  • colinjames71

    Great piece David. Those of you arguing the pragmatic path might want to consider how well starting closer to the “center” on legislation has worked for democrats in congress.

    • arekexcelsior

      How well has the extreme worked in Congress or anywhere else? The vast majority of people are likely to believe that total disarmament is impossible.

      • colinjames71

        My point really was you need people pushing the extreme to get any compromise at all. Starting from the position of the compromise you hope to get gets you nowhere. It’s not that I totally disagree with you, just expanding on the point I was trying to make.

        • arekexcelsior

          You also need people pushing the compromise to get any compromise at all. People can’t come to the bargaining table and say, “We won’t accept anything else besides total disarmament”. That’s especially true when disarmament has to be a collective, and therefore likely an iterative, process: Everyone has to do it or no one will.

          But I’m also talking about raising mass consciousness. It’s not just the policies we win, but proving to people that those policies can be won at all. As Tim Wise has pointed out, if you go into a black community and talk about the end to war or capitalism, you’d get a lot of nods and excitement, and after two months people start going away because they don’t have the time or means to throw into a movement with no concrete end-game and no starting moves. A movement has to start showing people what change is possible before they commit to the most extreme change; otherwise, right or wrong, most people will ignore you as hopelessly naive.

          So we on the Left are in the exact same position as those trying to work with individuals who want to change their lives: Articulating a better path and a better goal, while also noting the importance of perpetual and daily improvement. We have to articulate a policy trajectory that includes more than the end point or the start point. “Less war” is that policy trajectory: You get less, and less, and then you get zero. Zero is by definition less.