War Is a Lie: Peace Activist David Swanson Tells the Truth
June 13, 2016 Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
At a Memorial Day book signing at Diesel Books, David Swanson, the founder of World Beyond War and author of "War Is a Lie" said he hopes his book will be used as a how-to manual to help citizens "spot and call out the lies early." Despite bellicose speech echoing through the halls of many capitals, pacifism is becoming increasingly mainstream. "Pope Francis has gone on record saying 'There is no such thing as a just war' and who am I to argue with the Pope?"
BERKELEY, Calif. (June 11, 2016) -- At a Memorial Day book signing at Diesel Books on May 29, peace activist Cindy Sheehan moderated a Q&A with David Swanson, the founder of World Beyond War and author of War Is a Lie (now in its second edition). Swanson said he hopes his book will be used as a how-to manual to help citizens "spot and call out the lies early."
Despite the bellicose rhetoric echoing through the halls of many world capitals, being anti-war is becoming increasingly mainstream. "Pope Francis has gone on record saying 'There is no such thing as a just war' and who am I to argue with the Pope?" Swanson grinned.
With a bow to local sport fans, Swanson added: "The only warriors I support are the Golden State Warriors. I just want to get them to change their name to something more peaceful."
American Culture Is a War Culture
"Every war is an imperial war," Swanson told the packed house. "World War II never ended. Buried bombs are still being uncovered across Europe. Sometimes they explode, causing additional casualties decades after the war in which they were deployed. And the US still has troops garrisoned throughout the former European Theater.
"Wars are about dominating the globe," Swanson continued. "That is why war didn't end with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It was necessary to find a new threat in order to perpetuate US imperialism."
And while we no longer have an active Selective Service System, Swanson conceded, we still have the Internal Revenue Service -- another institutional legacy of World War II.
In previous wars, Swanson explained, war taxes had been paid by the richest Americans (which was only fair, given that it was the wealthy industrial class that inevitably benefited from the outbreak of wars). When the new war tax on American workers' salaries was initiated to finance a second global war, it was advertised as a temporary lien on working-class salaries. But instead of vanishing after the end of hostilities, the tax became permanent.
The campaign toward universal taxation was led by none other than Donald Duck. Swanson referenced a Disney-produced war-tax commercial in which a reluctant Donald is successfully persuaded to cough up "victory taxes to fight the Axis."
Hollywood Beats the Drums for War
Addressing the modern US propaganda apparatus, Swanson criticized the role of Hollywood and its promotion of films like Zero Dark Thirty, a Pentagon-vetted version of the murder of Osama bin Laden. The military establishment, along with the intelligence community, played a key role in informing and guiding the narrative of the film.
Sheehan mentioned that Peace Mom, one of the seven books she has written, had been auctioned to be made into a movie by Brad Pitt. After two years, however, the project was canceled, apparently out of concern that antiwar movies wouldn't find an audience. Sheehan suddenly grew emotional. She paused to explain that her son Casey, who died in George W. Bush's illegal Iraq war on May 29, 2004, "would have been 37 years old today."
Swanson drew attention to the recent pro-drone movie Eye in the Sky as another example of pro-war messaging. While attempting to explore the moral quandary of collateral damage (in this case, in the form of an innocent girl playing next to a targeted building), the polished production ultimately served to justify the murder of a roomful of enemy jihadists who were shown in the process of donning explosive vests in preparation for martyrdom.
Swanson provided some startling context. "The same week that Eye in the Sky made is theatrical debut in United States," he said, "150 people in Somalia were blown to bits by US drones."
As American as Napalm Pie
"We need to take war out of our culture," Swanson counseled. Americans have been tutored to accept war as necessary and inevitable when history shows that most wars were stage-managed into existence by powerful commercial interests and cold-blooded geopolitical gamesters. Remember the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution? Remember Weapons of Mass Destruction? Remember the Maine?
Swanson reminded the audience that the modern justification for military intervention typically boils down to a single word, "Rwanda." The idea is that there was genocide in the Congo and other African States because of a lack of early military intervention in Rwanda. To prevent future atrocities, the reasoning goes, it must be necessary to rely on early, armed intervention. Left unquestioned, is the assumption that foreign troops storming into Rwanda and blasting the terrain with bombs and rockets would have ended the killing on the ground or led to fewer deaths and greater stability.
"The US is a rogue criminal enterprise," Swanson charged before targeting another justification favored by militarists worldwide: the concept of "disproportionate" warfare. Swanson rejects the argument because the use of that word suggests there must be "appropriate" levels of military violence. Killing is still killing, Swanson noted. The word "disproportionate" merely serves to justify "a lesser scale of mass murder." Same thing with the incongruous concept of a "humanitarian armed intervention."
Swanson recalled the argument about voting for George W. Bush's second term. W's backers argued that it wasn't wise to "change horses in the middle of the stream." Swanson saw it more as a question of "don't change horses in the middle of an Apocalypse."
Standing in the Way of War
"Television tells us that we are consumers first and voters second. But the fact is, voting isn't the only -- nor is it even the best -- political act." Swanson observed. That's why it was important (revolutionary even) that "Bernie [Sanders] got millions of Americans to disobey their televisions."
Swanson lamented the decline of the anti-war movement in the United States, referencing the steady growth of a European peace movement that "puts the US to shame." He saluted the Netherlands, which has lodged a challenge to the continued presence of US nuclear weapons in Europe, and also mentioned a campaign to close the US airbase in Ramstein Germany (a key site in the controversial and illegal CIA/Pentagon "killer drone" program that continues to murder thousands of innocent civilians and drive the global recruitment for Washington's enemies). For more information on the Ramstein campaign, see rootsaction.org.
Like many on the left, Swanson is scornful of Hillary Clinton and her career as a Wall Street advocate and unapologetic Nouveau Cold Warrior. And, Swanson points out, Bernie Sanders is also lacking when it comes to non-violent solutions. Sanders has gone on record as supporting the Pentagon's foreign wars and the use of drones in the Bush/Obama/Military-Industrial alliance's unending and unwinnable War on Terror.
"Bernie ain't no Jeremy Corbin," is how Swanson put it, referencing the energetically anti-war rhetoric of the insurgent British Labour Party leader. (Speaking of the Brits, Swanson alerted his audience that there is a "big story" set to break on July 6. That's when Britain's Chilcot Inquiry is set to release the results of its long-brewing investigation into Britain's role in the political conspiracy that lead to the George W. Bush's and Tony Blair's illegitimate and unjustified Gulf War.)
Really Good at Killing Children
Reflecting on the role of a president who once confided, "It turns out I'm really good at killing people," Swanson envisioned the process of Oval-Office-orchestrated assassinations: "Every Tuesday Obama goes through a 'kill list' and wonders what Saint Thomas Aquinas would think of him." (Aquinas, of course, was the father of the "Just War" concept.)
While presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has taken heat for arguing that America's military must extend the War on Terror to include "killing the families" of targeted opponents, American presidents have already enshrined this "kill 'em all" strategy as official US policy. In 2011, American citizen, scholar and cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated by a drone strike in Yemen. Two weeks later, al-Awaki's 16-year-old son Abdulrahman (also an American citizen), was incinerated by a second US drone dispatched by order of Barack Obama.
When critics raised questions about the assassination of al-Alwaki's teenage son, the dismissive response (in the words of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) carried the cold undertone of a Mafia don: "He should have [had] a far more responsible father."
It is profoundly troubling to realize that we live in a society that is being conditioned to except the killing of children. Equally troubling: Swanson noted that United States is the only country on Earth that has refused to ratify United Nations Treaty on the Rights of Children.
According to Swanson, polls have repeatedly shown a majority of the public will agree to the statement: "We should not have started that war." However, fewer will go on record as saying: "We should have stopped that war from starting in the first place." But the fact is, Swanson says, there have been some wars that didn't happen because of grassroots opposition. Obama's baseless "Red Line" threat to take out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a recent example. (Of course, John Kerry and Vladimir Putin share major credit for heading off this calamity.) "We have stopped some wars," Swanson noted, "But you don't see this reported."
Signposts on the Warpath
Over the long Memorial Day weekend, the government and the people struggled to control the narrative of America's wars. (PS: In 2013, Obama marked the 60th anniversary of the Korean Armistice by declaring the bloody Korean conflict was something to celebrate. "That war was no tie," Obama insisted, "Korea was a victory.") This year, the Pentagon continued to promote propagandistic commemorations of the Vietnam War and, once again, these patriotic obfuscations were loudly challenged by Vietnam Vets against War.
Referring to Obama's recent state visits to Japan and Korea, Swanson faulted the president. Obama did not visit Hiroshima or Ho Chi Minh City to offer apologies, restitution or reparations, Swanson complained. Instead, he seemed more interested in presenting himself as an advance man for US weapons makers.
Swanson challenged the argument that America's sprawling empire of foreign bases and multi-billion dollar Pentagon budgets are designed to "keep Americans safe" from ISIS/Al Qaeda/The Taliban/Jihadists. The truth is that -- thanks to the power of the National Rifle Association and the resulting proliferation of guns across the country -- every year "US toddlers kill more Americans than terrorists." But toddlers are not seen as essentially evil, religiously motivated, geopolitically challenging entities.
Swanson praised the G.I. Bill of Rights, but followed up with a rarely heard observation: "You don't need a war to have a G.I. Bill of Rights." The country has the means and the ability to provide a free education to everyone and could accomplish this without a legacy of crippling student debt. One of the historic impulses behind the passage of the G.I. Bill, Swanson recalled, was Washington's uncomfortable memory of the massive "Bonus Army" of disaffected vets that occupied Washington in the wake of World War I. The vets -- and their families -- were demanding just payment for their service and care for their lasting wounds. (The occupation was eventually broken up with a barrage of teargas, bullets, and bayonets wielded by troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.)
Is There A 'Just War'?
The Q&A revealed a difference of opinion about whether there was such a thing as a "legitimate" use of force -- for political independence or in the cause of self-defense. A member of the audience rose to proclaim that he would have been proud to serve in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
Swanson -- who is fairly absolutist when it comes to matters martial -- responded to the challenge by asking: "Why not take pride in participating in nonviolent revolutions?" He cited the "Peoples Power" revolutions in the Philippines, Poland, and Tunisia.
But how about the American Revolution? another audience member asked. Swanson theorized that a nonviolent separation from England might have been possible. "You can't fault George Washington for not knowing about Gandhi," he suggested.
Reflecting on Washington's time (an era marked by the first of the young country's "Indian Wars") Swanson addressed the British practice of scavenging "trophies" -- scalps and other body parts -- from slaughtered "Indians." Some history books claim these barbaric practices were picked up from the Native Americans themselves. But, according to Swanson, these nasty habits were already ingrained in the British imperial subculture. The historical record shows that these practices began in the Old Country, when the British were fighting, killing -- and, yes, scalping -- the red-headed "savages" of Ireland.
Responding to a challenge that the Civil War was necessary to retain the union, Swanson offered a different scenario that is seldom, if ever, entertained. Instead of launching a war against the secessionist states, Swanson proposed, Lincoln might have simply said: "Let 'em leave."
Instead of wasting so many lives, the US would have simply become a smaller country, more in line with the size of countries in Europe and, as Swanson noted, smaller countries tend to be more manageable -- and more compatible with democratic rule.
But surely World War II was a "good war," another audience member suggested. Wasn't World War II was justifiable given the horror of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews? Swanson pointed out that the so-called "Good War" wound up killing many times more civilians then the six million who died in Germany's death camps. Swanson also reminded the audience that, prior to the outbreak of World War II, American industrialists had enthusiastically thrown their support -- both political and financial -- to the German Nazi regime and to the fascist government in Italy.
When Hitler approached England with an offer to cooperate in expelling Germany's Jews for resettlement abroad, Churchill rejected the idea, claiming that the logistics -- i.e., the potential number of ships involved -- would have been too burdensome. Meanwhile, in the US, Washington was busy dispatching Coast Guard vessels to drive a shipload of would-be Jewish refugees away from the Florida coast, where they had hoped to find sanctuary. Swanson revealed another little-known story: Anne Frank's family had requested asylum in the United States but their visa application was denied by the US Department of State.
And, as far as justifying the use of nuclear weapons against Japan "to save lives," Swanson noted that it was Washington's insistence on "unconditional surrender" that unnecessarily extended the war -- and its mounting death toll.
Swanson asked if people didn't find it "ironic" that in order to defend the "necessity" of war, you have to go back 75 years to find a single example of a so-called "good war" to justify the continuing resort to military force in world affairs.
And then there is the matter of Constitutional law. The last time Congress approved a war was in 1941. Every war since has been unconstitutional. Every war since has also been illegal under the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the United Nations Charter, both of which outlawed international wars of aggression.
In closing, Swanson recalled how, at one of his San Francisco readings the day before, a Vietnam veteran had stood up in the audience and, with tears in his eyes, begged people to "remember the 58,000 who died in that war."
"I agree with you, brother," Swanson replied sympathetically. Then, reflecting on the devastation the US war had spread across Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, he added: "I think it also is important to remember all six million and 58,000 people who died in that war."
The 13 Truths about War (Chapters from War Is a Lie)
* Wars are not fought against evil * Wars are not launched in self-defense * Wars are not waged out of generosity * Wars are not unavoidable * Warriors are not heroes * War makers do not have noble motives * Wars are not prolonged for the good of soldiers * Wars are not fought on battlefields * Wars are not one, and are not ended by enlarging them * War news does not come from disinterested observers * War does not bring security and is not sustainable * Wars are not illegal * Wars cannot be both planned and avoided
NB: This article was based on extensive hand-written notes and was not transcribed from a recording.