[Remarks on March 19, 2009, in a park in which people are living in Richmond, Va., in front of offices of the Federal Reserve]
From outside the United States it’s easy to imagine that everyone inside the United States is doing well. If you live in a country occupied by U.S. soldiers, as over 150 countries are around the world, if you live with extreme poverty and disease, if the United States provides your country’s government with shiny expensive weapons, if the Americans you come into contact with treat you with contempt, and if the images you have of the United States come from Hollywood, it would be understandable to think that everyone in the homeland of the empire is doing well.
But it would make no sense. A nation that invests in empire is a nation with no respect for human life. A nation that invests in empire is a nation ruled by a small group of power mad officials and oligarchs. A nation controlled by the majority of its people would not invest in empire. The Roman Empire spread far and wide, but the eternal city itself was full of slaves. And since nothing is truly eternal, the madness of empire progressed until it destroyed itself.
So, in reality, while we possess more weapons and bases and soldiers than the rest of the world combined, we trail many other nations in basic measures of health and well-being. We have more people struggling to find jobs, working long hours, and suffering unnecessary illnesses, all of which makes it harder for people to be active and engaged citizens. But it’s at least as important to state this in the other direction too. It is because we are not active and engaged citizens and have permitted the development of a system of government of, by, and for the corporations that we end up jobless, homeless, and without healthcare.
But it is NOT too late to turn this thing around and revolutionize our values.
Say yes if you want to shift our funding from war to healthcare, from banker bailouts to affordable housing, from corporate tax cuts to mass transit, from nuclear weapons to green energy.
Now, somebody might say: Wait a minute. Why do we have to shift funding from one place to another? When the bankers want a few trillion dollars here or there, the people in charge just borrow it from China, or the Federal Reserve just invents it out of thin air. Why can’t we do that for useful things like schools and family farms? Why do you have to work on Wall Street to get free money? And what if we do cut the military spending and end all the wars, how do we know any of that money will be redirected to something more useful than tax cuts for corporations and billionaires?
The first answer is this: If we organize a movement powerful enough to stop the spending of our hard earned money on killing people we will be in charge of what our money does get spent on. And if we do not organize that movement, our money will continue to go to both bankers and wars, and the Federal Reserve, which is no more federal than Federal Express, is not going to invent any money for you or me.
The second answer is this: If we create awareness that a war economy is no economy at all, that investment only in killing does not stimulate the rest of the economy as needed, then shifting to a peace economy in which the same dollars create more and better paying jobs will take away the power that weapons lobbyists have over our so-called representatives. If government investment in human needs becomes a normal means of job creation, then job creation will no longer be a decisive political argument for investment in death and destruction.
The third answer is this: The benefits of beginning to relate to the world through non-military aid, diplomacy, cooperation, and friendship, rather than bombs and bases will have transforming benefits for us as well as them, as will elimination of our corporate trade agreements. While empires come and go, the people in the home nation often do better when they go than when they came.
The fourth answer is this: No matter how bad things become in the United States, we have a responsibility to recognize the horrors our government is imposing on others around the world and to end them.
We’re now at 6 years of bloody and horrific occupation in Iraq, and 7.5 years in Afghanistan. Little children in Iraq and Afghanistan have grown up with these wars and been scarred by them in ways it’s hard to think about very long. While we don’t provide housing to our own people, we also don’t provide it to the people of Iraq, 5 million of whom have been displaced from their homes, over a million killed, many millions injured, everyone’s family impacted in a way that’s not familiar to most parts of America outside of New Orleans.
And while the Iraqi people want us out, we stay in the name of democracy. That should be a clear signal to the world of the state of our democracy at home. We’ve killed, displaced, isolated, bribed, terrified, so many Iraqis, and made so many promises to leave, that violence has decreased. And that is supposed to be a reason to stay, just as violence increasing was always supposed to be a reason to stay.
Have we learned anything in the past 6 years? Many Americans have learned that the war in Iraq was based on lies and have learned to be suspicious of similar lies about Iran. But some have not yet learned to oppose all aggressive wars, because the occupation of Afghanistan is not yet as unpopular as the one in Iraq.
What HAS been learned has in large part been taught by the peace movement. We knew 6 years ago and a year before that, that this war would be fraudulent, illegal, and disastrous. Many of you knew it and opposed it.
Yesterday there were hearings in Congress on suicides in the US military. The people we recruit to commit our crimes now end up killing themselves at an alarming rate. We will lose more Americans to slow deaths from injuries and to suicides than to deaths in combat. If that finally wakes some people up, it won’t be a moment too soon. But it has to be asked: Where are the hearings for Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Palestinians? A victim of US torture testified last year via satellite to a nearly empty committee room, after which Congressman Rohrabacher explained to him that in a war mistakes must be tolerated. And our senators now talk about truth and reconciliation, oblivious to the fact that involving the people with whom we need reconciliation is literally unthinkable. The idea, instead, is for us to get reconciled with ourselves. Tell me this: will you ever be reconciled with your nation committing war crimes? Will you?
A solid majority of Americans has opposed the occupation of Iraq for years. And about half and rising now oppose the occupation of Afghanistan as well.
The primary reason that we do not have a democracy is not the corruption of Congress, although that comes in a close second. The primary reason is that Congress has no power, having given it all to the president. A democratic society cannot coexist with the presidential powers seized by Bush and now being maintained and expanded by Obama. A democratic society does not have secret government agencies, secret laws, laws rewritten by the executive, one man with the power of war, one man with the power of the purse, one man with the power of treaty. Yet President Obama, who to his credit has said he will end torture and close one of the many places where we detain people outside the law, last week wrote a signing statement telling Congress not to interfere in his Constitutional power to make treaties, despite the fact that the Constitution says two-thirds of the senate must approve any treaty.
We are being sold changiness when we asked for transformational change. We’re done with extraordinary rendition, but rendition will now be ordinary. We have no more enemy combatants, but we are detaining hundreds of combative nemeses. We’re going to use non-combat troops to do our combat. We’ll get healthcare reform in which a public option means private insurance mandated by the government. Blackwater won’t have to leave Iraq because it’s changed its name. Is this what you voted for?
Yesterday I got an Email from Amnesty International asking me to object to Obama reviving Bush’s policies. Well, they never died and they are not policies. They are what we used to call crimes. Also yesterday, the ACLU finally, finally, finally — FINALLY! — came to its senses and asked the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor and enforce the law.
And yet too many in the peace movement don¹t want to talk about the law, even the laws against aggressive war. Many don’t even want to talk about wars, preferring to talk about military spending. And we must talk about military spending. We must. But doing that alone will not end wars. And the wars are just as bloody no matter who is sleeping in the White House.
We may even end up halting some weapons programs, especially weapons that don’t work or are designed to fight the Soviet Union or the Japanese fleet. But this Congress and president want to increase the overall budget for killing. This will be a victory against corruption on behalf of the greatest moral corruption known to our species. We’ll end up recruiting more troops and buying better weapons that kill more people. This will miss President Eisenhower’s point when he said that
"EVERY gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
For what we’re giving to bankers we could give tens of thousands of dollars to every American, but for what we’re spending — including indirect economic costs — on the occupation of Iraq, we could give $100,000 to every Iraqi.
Let’s get our priorities straight — including ending wars not just because they are badly fought or corruptly managed, or even because they cost money, but because they kill human beings.
End the occupations.
End the missile strikes.
Close the bases.
Bring our brothers and sisters home.
Prosecute the war criminals.
And create a truth and reconciliation commission that reconciles the United States with the other 95 percent of humanity.
Power to the people.