We are a nation permanently at war. Our intervention policies lead us into one quagmire after the next, one failure exploded upon another, yet we relentlessly push onward, forever seeking the next territory where to lay our bombs and mass destruction.
Our drone strikes strengthen the terrorists we purportedly seek to annihilate. Our bloated military budget sucks our national funds away from the desperate needs of our people, leaving us with a third-world infrastructure and gutted middle class.
As Ralph Nader said at Wednesday’s session of Breaking Through Power entitled “Breaking Through War,” “Empires devour themselves. They expend the energy of their young people and drain the national budget. They consume themselves economically and spiritually.”
Or, as Dennis Kucinich said, “Our national budget reflects our national priorities, and with military spending at close to 60% of our total budget, our priority is war and imperialism.”
Look at all of our foreign intervention throughout the 20th Century. It would have been far better for everyone if we had just stayed away. We make a mess in the countries we invade. We create terrorists and obliterate lives. We lay waste to a nation’s infrastructure, kill its men, women and children, often topple its democratically elected government, install puppet totalitarians, and then expect the people to embrace us as liberators. The jihadists who do aim to harm us could not have asked for a better recruiting tool.
“The US keeps coming back for more,” said Paul Pillar, who retired in 2005 from a 28-year career in the U.S. intelligence community, in which his last position was National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia. “More war despite no need and a poor record. The impulse to do more war goes deeply. Terrorism doesn’t justify it. Terrorism has been around for centuries. All this war has nothing to do with terrorism. Our leaders are just capitalizing on the national mood. What should have been sobering lessons from our failures tend to get swept aside by the historically based optimism of the use of force.”
And rather than de-esculate the nuclear threat, we are launching a new arms race. Obama seeks $1 trillion over the next 30 years to revamp our nuclear arsenal. The other eight nuclear states will have no choice but to do the same. What a colossal waste of our tax dollars, yet Congress seems willing to go along with it.
Wouldn’t it be far better to announce $1 trillion for revamping our energy sources and converting to renewable energies? Wouldn’t that serve our national security interests far better than continuing nuclear programs that put the whole world at risk? Imagine the outcry you would hear in opposition. The money doesn’t exit! You will destroy the economy, many congressmen would cry, yet it doesn’t bother them that $1 trillion for nukes will go out of the economic cycle and into the coffers of a small clique of defense contractors and their lackeys in government.
As Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson is known to say – and I recommend seeing this video bearing the same phrase – “This Ship is Sinking.” So why do we allow it to continue?
One major is reason is that we lack any serious debate about going into these wars. Our founders in their wisdom only granted Congress the power to declare war, yet December 8, 1941 marks the last time Congress used its Constitutional power formally to declare war. President Harry Truman set the precedent in 1950 for presidents to violate the US Constitution when he invaded Korea. He also presided over the greatest increase in defense spending from 13 to 59 billion dollars while the country was in great need of universal health care, housing for the poor and other social initiatives.
“There exists a presidential predilection for power,” said Mr. Pillar. “Our presidents, however, are usually so encumbered with so many agencies and advisors that they can hardly get anything done – except war. I know it. I’ve seen three presidents up close. They are subservient to so many forces that the one sure way they show they are king of the hill is through war. War is the predilection of presidents. War is the playbook.”
Indeed, since WWII the US has launched 201 of the 248 armed conflicts around the globe. Millions have been maimed and murdered. From Guatemala to Nicaragua, Syria to Libya, Afghanistan to Iraq, Honduras to Haiti, Somalia to Sudan, we have cast our imperialist shadow across the whole globe.
Congress allows it, too timid to take a stand, too cowardly to even provide a serious debate before we send young men and women off to get maimed and die. Phil Donahue related his life-changing experience of producing the film, “Body of War,” which is about Iraq War veteran Tomas Young who returns from duty with a severed spine and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film provides a very personal look at how war rips apart lives.
Mr. Donahue screened one part of the film showing the “debate” that occurred in Congress before the invasion of Iraq. One after another, congressmen and congresswomen took to the podium to rattle off the administration’s talking points, blathering on about the evil Saddam Hussein, the threat of terrorism, the fear of a mushroom cloud rising over us, and the smoking gun of weapons of mass destruction. It was the same exact hype that played on television 24/7. There was no debate about the consequences of invading Iraq, how power may shift in the region, what it would do to our international standing, or how many lives might be lost. They did not seriously consider if it was worth maiming so many like Tomas for such a war, or killing hundreds of thousands of others.
“Who are we?” Phil Donahue asked. “We spend $2 billion a day on things that go boom. One hundred thousand have security clearance. Spying agencies are farmed out. If peace broke out, these people would not be able to feed their families – we’ve made peace impossible. What about these drone strikes killing children and eliminating wedding parties. They are not the ones attacking with drones. We are. Drones with incendiary devices should be a war crime.”
“Is this who we want to be?”
Apparently so. Our corporate-run media is more than happy to provide the cheerleading for these perpetual invasions into foreign lands. As Ralph Nader said, “Mass commercial media squanders the public trust and the public interest. Nothing reflects what’s going on on the ground. Over 300 retired generals and high officials spoke out against Bush’s war. The war in Iraq would have been averted if our complicit media did its job – we would have avoided so many further incursions into places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen.”
The prolific author and writer Chris Hedges added, “As soon as our own nation goes to war, the press immediately signs on for the crusade. The first casualty is the truth. There is always a tension between commercial media and unencumbered journalists trying to report on the facts. The major media outlets don’t want to alienate those on whom they depend on for access and money.”
“Leading up to the Iraq War, out of 300 reports on war, 293 were pro-war. This from the four major networks. Then they all named their coverage of the war Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
War racketeering has become our national defense strategy and foreign policy all wrapped into one. Let’s not forget what Major General Smedley Butler said:
“I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.”
“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.”
“During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
As President Dwight Eisenhower lamented, “This is no way of life. This is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Fortunately, we have people fighting against permanent war from both within and without the system that perpetuates its existence. And the only thing that will stop war is for enough people to stand against it.
“The only solution is the American people” Colonel Wilkerson said. “They must grow so angry and so fatigued that they do something about it. The first step is to throw every bastard in the United States congress out. There are some good people, one or two, but if I had to choose, I’d throw them all out.”
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Codepink, has been a non-stop advocate of peace, speaking out loudly against warmongerers in government and throwing her body on the line in protest. She has written several books and continues to be a presence around the nation against social injustice.
“Focus on war is critical because it’s so rarely done these days.,” she said at the conference. “Nice to see the defeat of AIPAC with regards to Iran, Also, we had a victory with Cuba. We’ve been taking groups to Cuba. It was a fun place to go to defy US policy. The US froze our bank accounts and took our passports, but that didn’t stop us. Fidel Castro wanted to meet us – you are such creative revolutionaries, he told us. This defiance gave Obama confidence to do something – and these victories did not come from under the leadership of Hillary Clinton. They came after she left.”
“But Obama has continued a lot of Bush policies. Bombing of seven countries. His strategy has been drones. We at Codepink are very active exposing this drone program. We have organized protests at drone bases. People don’t see this war. People killing others thousands of miles away with a push of the button. We visited the victims. We brought victims here to testify before Congress. Now a lot more are coming out exposing the impact of drones. Our actions have had an impact. We must force the government to say they will be more transparent.”
“Our focus also is on Saudi Arabia – we can’t even get the 28 page report out (about Saudi involvement in 9/11). Give us those 28 pages the families have asked for – it’s about time. Saudi Arabia must be held accountable. Also, their internal suppression, prison for ten years and a 1,000 lashes for blogging, taking young people, arresting them for protesting and putting them on death row to await beheading. Is this a country we should be allied with?”
“We let our guard down when Obama came in. We need an anti-war movement not tied to any political party. We must connect with other parts of the social justice movement. If we got rid of one weapons system, we could have free college education for everyone the next 23 years. Cut the military budget and put those funds into health care. Show the environmental movement that we must cut the Pentagon budget for funds to transition to new energy. Cut budget by 50%.”
Jim Cason of FCNL added this:
“The solution is us. The good news is that a lot of people want to do something about ending war. Don’t just talk to your friends. Talk to people you may not agree with. Discuss why preventing war is better. Get involved. There is a public discussion. Unfortunately, that narrative is dominated by the idea that war is the answer. Ninety percent of our budget for foreign engagement is spent on war.”
“If we do the work, we can change this situation. New nuclear weapons systems have been defeated by people around the country contacting their reps. Diplomacy with Iran – whole groups of people who said no, don’t support that deal. Folks around the country went into offices and said, we want you to support diplomacy. Train others to engage.”
“It is the military that often wants to build on peacekeeping, which wants to promote peace, because they know the pain and destruction of war. Focus on the war five years from now and try to prevent it. Start from your values and then have a conversation. What’s the definition of insanity? Continuing to do war when we see war is not working. Go from the insane to the sane.”
Perhaps the best speaker of the day was Colman McCarthy, who describes himself as a pacifist, anarchist, vegetarian and commuter of more than 2,000 miles per year by bicycle (with a helmet). He founded the Center for Teaching Peace. He started with a moment of silence for all who suffer from violence:
“Let’s reflect on all the people on this planet who will be victimized by violence: military, emotional, environmental, prison, gun, drone, airplane, domestic. Let’s remember the homeless. Remember the people in our own lives. We are too busy in our lives to notice their pain.”
He interviewed all of these peace activists and questioned how do we increase peace and decrease violence. We need to go where the people are, he concluded, where people keep having conflicts – solved with violence or non-violence. He volunteered to teach a peace course at one of the poorest high schools in the nation and just blocks from the White House. He went to teach for free.
He read off a list of peace activists to his new students. Someone jumped up and asked why haven’t we ever heard of them. Because you go to a conventional school, he answered. He then asked us how many went to a school that taught conflict resolution. No one. How many had to study algebra and geometry. All of us.
Point made, Mr. McCarthy.
He told us that the leading cause of injury for women is being beaten up at home. A girl once came up to him and said I live in a war zone. At home. In the kitchen. In the living room. How do I stop that war?
“Maybe if they learned conflict resolution,” Mr. McCarthy said, “We’d know where to begin.”
He finally said something that my children would agree with enthusiastically. “Grades and homework are forms of academic violence. You can learn by fear or learn by desire. There are two types of teachers: teachers that want power over the students and those that share power with the students.”
“We may not always see eye to eye,” he said, “But we can always see heart to heart.”
The greatest threat that comes to this nation comes from within. We must end the impulse to wage war and wage love instead.
It will take a revolution of the spirit for this to happen – inside of each of us. Let that revolution begin.