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The State of the Anti-War Movement


A magazine asked me this morning for my thoughts on Iraq and the peace movement. What did this war produce? I replied:

·      Over a million human beings killed plus extensive structural and cultural damage amounting to sociocide, which we could have prevented and didn't, which we could regret and make reparations for but instead are largely uninformed about.

·      A lesson taught to other nations that nuclear weapons are needed to prevent a U.S. invasion, a lesson also taught by the assault on Libya.

·      A lesson taught to other nations that might makes right and aggressive killing and torture are to be used when one can get away with it.

·      Entrenchment of a fossil fuel / war industry, environmental damage, economic damage, damage to international relations, and a huge rollback in civil liberties and the right to assemble and protest.

·      Enormous enlargement of the war industry, privatization of the military, and a strengthened ability to legally bribe politicians and control them.

 

In the peace movement, there's good and bad:

·      We exposed the lies on which the war was based and educated everyone else, but most still don't grasp that the lies are common to all wars; they think this one was unique.

·      We played a role in ending the war. But it was a larger role than we are aware of, so people don't take enough encouragement from it. 

·      We built international relations among peace activists in numerous nations, building an anti-bases movement and an anti-NATO movement, and building relations with activists in the nations attacked by ours as well.

·      We exposed the financial cost and the cost in U.S. military lives. But — again — few know about the far greater cost in Iraqi lives. And very few understand that the base military budget dwarfs the war budget and is equally misspent.

·      Coming out of that, we have a nation strongly opposed to massive ground wars. But we have a nation willing to accept air and drone wars. And why not?  They don't hurt anybody!

·      We should have been much stronger. And we should have pushed harder when the Democrats took power by pretending to listen to us. Instead, 3/4 of the U.S. peace movement went to sleep. So, we have to have Republicans in power to have a peace movement — a severe weakness.

 

What, I was asked, should be done to mark the 10-year anniversary of the invasion next March?

We should apologize, I said. We should make reparations to Iraq and much of the region, including Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen, etc., all of which our troops should immediately leave. We should launch cultural and student exchange programs instead. We should open prosecutions of those responsible, from Bush and Obama on down. We should move funding from the military to green energy. We should shut down all foreign bases. We should announce the dismantling of all nuclear weapons. We should end NATO. We should reaffirm the Kellogg-Briand Pact. We should reform and democratize the UN and the ICC. Or at least those of us willing to have a peace movement, either because Romney is president or because we're willing to confront Obama now that he's a lame duck and really really doesn't give a damn, should move things as far as we can in that direction.

In the meantime, we should build on what was built in Chicago protesting NATO. We should assist in opposing what look like false prosecutions of activists coming out of that event. We should learn the approach being developed by militarized police forces around the country, which includes huge numbers of undercover police and infiltrators, attempts at entrapment and provocation, and public relations scare tactics used to demonize activists and reduce participation. We should learn from what worked in terms of coalition building and turnout, and what arguably could have been done better — such as a public commitment to nonviolence by the organizers. 

We cannot reduce public organizing, education, and pressure to elections. We've just seen how that works in Wisconsin. I had the misfortune to catch a bit of Bill Maher last night, and he was denouncing Occupy Wall Street for not being as smart as the Tea Party, not being as serious, not devoting itself to electing people. As if the tea partiers who opposed bank bailouts have elected representatives. As if the tea partiers who opposed restrictions on civil liberties have elected people. As if tea partiers outraged by the concentration of power and wealth in a corrupt two-tiered system have had their concerns remotely answered. To the extent that the Tea Party has actually changed anything, it has done so primarily by pressuring the government from the outside, including by demanding that the Republicans become even worse than they were or be abandoned. This has produced walking-disasters of officials independent enough to sometimes get things right, as when Senator Rand Paul has blocked pro-war legislation.

Occupy Wall Street has the Net Roots Obamanation and the Take Back the American Dried Up Raisin in the Sun conferences, with their support for war and anything else if its Democratic. It's to the credit of every activist who has avoided falling into that trap. We should be lobbying Congress for good bills and for better bills that don't exist yet. There are bills to end the Authorization to Use Military Force, to ban the sale of weapons to abusive countries (does that include our own?), and to require diplomacy with Iran. There should be bills to begin a process of conversion from a military to a civilian economy. But primarily we should be educating, organizing, and building a movement to resist the bipartisan pro-war consensus. We should not be dumping our energies into lesser-evil electioneering. Here are some upcoming events:

June 17, 2012, New York, N.Y., Protest NYPD Abuse and Targeting of Muslims

June 24, 2012, Washington, D.C., March Against Torture

June 22-26, 2012, everywhere, Actions Against Torture

July 14, 2012, Wisconsin, Peacestock

August 8-12, 2012, Miami, Fla., Veterans for Peace Convention

August 27-30, Tampa, Fla., Protest the RNC

Sept. 1-6. 2012, Charlotte, N.C., Protest the DNC

On Afghanistan, I think we need to insist that staying is not the best way of leaving. We have three-quarters of the United States with us on wanting to end the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. There is no need to worry about being too radical. There is no need to frame our position so as to appeal to patriotic entrepreneurs, and so forth. Three-quarters of the country agrees with us. Can we get them active?  Can we get them talking, writing letters, calling shows, blogging, marching, attending events, pushing their organizations and the media and Congress?  Obama wants to keep a large number of troops in Afghanistan for another two and a half years, reducing them at an unspecified rate to an unspecified number, and then keeping them there 10 more years, after which it will be time to step back and consider the situation. The House, but apparently not the Senate, wants to require a minimum of 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but Obama already wants the funding at that level and is committed to considering after the election whether to take the Pentagon's advice and keep 68,000 or defy the Pentagon. Betting on what that actually means largely comes down to whether you imagine that, contrary to all established trends, a politician gets better by becoming a lame duck rather than worse. We need to demand all troops home now, to expose the horror of the war, to amplify the voices of Afghans opposing the occupation, to encourage resistance in the military, to escalate our protests, and to build understanding of the numerous tradeoffs, financial and otherwise.

We need to resist the cries for U.S. war in Syria. There are remarkably few stories in our corporate media about the healthy state of democracy in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else the United States has built a nation by destroying one. There is little outrage over killing and torture by U.S. allies in Bahrain. Many supporters of war in Syria are open about their motivation of overthrowing a government that is friendlier to Iran than Israel. But Tunisia and Egypt have brighter futures because of the tools of nonviolence. Violence is not quick. When the U.S. armed fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the damage was not easily contained. Pouring gasoline on a fire in Syria could be worse.

We need to expose the lies about Iran and to remind people constantly of the lies that they knew were lies about Iraq. Possessing weapons is not grounds for war. Iran is not working on any nuclear weapons. An Israeli war will be understood by Iran and the world as U.S.-authorized, as of course it will be. Iran has not violated the non-proliferation treaty, while the United States has. War and threats of war are crimes. Sanctions that starve people, not to mention "cyber-war," are properly considered acts of war. Iran has threatened no one and has sought to agree to inspections and control of uranium not required by any law or treaty. But the U.S. President and most Congress members are pretending that the onus is on Iran to cease doing what we know it is not doing.

Meanwhile, Obama, not content with having enlarged the military, its global presence, its budget, its privatization, its power to operate within the United States as a police force, and its capacity to act in secrecy, has given himself the power to murder anyone, anywhere, picking the names of the nominees from his secret kill list. RootsAction.org is launching a petition aimed at banning weaponized drones and undoing the kill-list program. Numerous organizations are taking part, and the petition will be sent to every possible national and international authority. Your organization is invited to sign on.

Part of what drives all of this madness is the money poured into it. The military budget has grown every year that Bush or Obama has been president thus far — and even more so if one looks at all the departments that get military spending. Obama is proposing to cut Iraq and Afghanistan war spending in the military budget from $88 billion to $44 billion. Quite a halfway measure for wars he claims are over or ending. And the budget control act requires, unless Congress undoes it, that $55 billion more be cut. But it could be cut from veterans care, from non-military diplomacy, or from other non-military areas. Even if it is cut from the military, we're talking about $55 billion out of a budget that is well over $1 trillion. We ought to be insisting on much larger cuts and building a major coalition of groups that want the spending for useful purposes, want their civil liberties, want our natural environment, and want to stop killing people.

David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.  

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