This is a series of essays published by George Haeseler to the [PEACENET] email list over the last few months. I have republished the entire series here verbatum -- ed.
Essay series. An Argument about Peace and War
By George (Haeseler)
Premise 1: The Rule of Law
I believe in the rule of law; laws which are fair and uniformly applied and enforced. I believe that without the rule of law, there is chaos, that might makes right, and “he who has the gold gets to rule.” This is our world today. Because there is no mechanism to enforce international laws and treaties, they are ignored by strong nations, mostly by the United States. The UN was ostensibly created to provide this mechanism but because it was structured to allow any of the five victorious nations of WWII to negate the will of the majority, it has lost its credibility. Indeed, it is doubtful that these five countries would ever have agreed to the formation of the UN had it been structured more democratically. There are regional multinational organizations but their interests are self-centered and their jurisdiction too confined for them to represent the world and enforce its law.
The strong nations today are unwilling to surrender any of their sovereignty to an international body, even though, in my opinion, it would be to their advantage. However this could change as they have encountered an enemy which they otherwise cannot defeat…the ever growing numbers of people who have suffered directly or indirectly from their overt and covert interventions. The human and natural resources of these people’s homelands have been exploited by these powerful countries, especially by the United States. These people have lost any faith they may have had in the rule of law. In retaliation they use tactics against which the huge sophisticated arsenal of the world’s only remaining superpower is ineffective. It is only a matter of time before some obtain nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and employ them without constraint. (290)
Premise 2 Wealth
All wealth comes from human and natural resources, directly or indirectly. Ownership of resources and distribution of wealth is determined by governments and their laws. America broke with the past when it ignored nobility and the “divine right of kings,” and opened up ownership and wealth accumulation to all. However, it never was and is not now a classless society. The statement that “all men are created equal” and the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” made great verbiage but it was never a reality, and is less so now. Ownership and wealth today is more concentrated than ever among the small number of the elite.
This great disparity in wealth is also evident between countries, with the wealthier ones the most militarily and economically powerful. They use this power to exploit the human and natural resources of weaker countries. The days of colonialism are over, but not those of imperialism. Colonialism has just taken on a new form. The victors no longer directly govern their conquests; instead they install sympathetic puppet governments which for personal gain allow their country’s resources to be exploited. This makes these nations even weaker, as resources needed for their future are squandered.
As the disparity between the haves and the have-nots becomes greater, more and more “terrorists,” “insurgents,” “militants,” “extremists,” or whatever are created. They use the tactics of suicide and roadside bombing, kidnapping and assassination, as the only effective weapons available to them. The targeted governments complain bitterly, probably because their expensive, sophisticated arsenals are useless and ineffective as a deterrent. The unequal distribution of wealth is one but not the only factor which motivates terrorist groups.
Who really “owns” the wealth the earth provides? Why should so few have so much and others have so little? (298)
Premise 3: We Are Not a Democracy
In a democracy, the power to govern is derived from the people, either directly or through their representatives. The representatives are chosen by the public in elections which are free and fair. Ours is neither. Because of the ability of the media to influence the minds of voters, those with almost unlimited access to it have an overwhelming advantage. Money buys access. With the recent Supreme Court ruling removing all limits on corporate campaign contributions, the candidates receiving them now have a greater edge than ever. The higher up the political office, the more expensive is the campaign. We have the most expensive government that money can buy.
There have been many calls for removing money from the electoral process. However, this is empty rhetoric since the only people who can are those in office, who like things just the way they are. Candidates who advocate electoral reform are unlikely to get elected as they have neither corporate funding nor the advantages of incumbency. With few exceptions, politicians vote the wishes of those whose money got them elected and upon whom they will need to get reelected.
As if this were not enough to disqualify us as a democracy, there is the secretive unelected government headed by the CIA, which makes and carries out very important decisions, such as who to assassinate (including Americans), which country to infiltrate and support or overthrow its government, and where drones are to fly or special forces are to operate. This is all done in the name of national security, usually with the consent of Congress or the President, but not always.
This is the “democracy” our government is exporting, often without the knowledge or consent of the governed. (290)
Premise 4: The Nuclear Danger
No one can dispute Noam Chomsky’s claim that the two greatest threats to the planet are nuclear and environmental. He also stated that both could be eliminated if only there was sufficient political will. When one considers that the use of just one relatively small nuclear weapon by a country or terrorist could trigger a nuclear exchange that could make our planet uninhabitable, why has not this matter been given a higher priority? There seems to be a real lack of urgency, as if this is something which time will take care of. Perhaps what is needed is for just one small nuclear weapon to be used without triggering more with the hope this will wake up everyone to the danger! It might not. Look at how our President, and subsequently the public, reacted to 9/11. It should have been a wake-up call to our disastrous foreign policy. Instead, it caused retaliation against those not responsible…a month later with the bombing of northern Afghanistan and 18 months later with the invasion of Iraq. Is the horror of nuclear war so unthinkable that we are in a state of denial? Or, is the public so enamored with our military strength that it believes we would never be targeted. (The public never seems to get aroused by what we do to others.)
The Cuban Missile Crisis drove me to the UU church, where the minister had that as the topic for his sermon. I can recall the public’s fear at the time. I subsequently became active in the Nuclear Freeze movement and have not lost my dread of nuclear war since. There are others who share my concern, some in high places, but peace organizations have yet to give this threat the priority it deserves. (296)
Premise 5: The Subverting of Peace
I recently heard a sermon, which I have heard many times before, always with praise and no objection. It is about loving and forgiveness. It can be summarized by the well-known hymn which starts, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” The implication is that it is our fault, each one of us, that the world is in its current bad state of affairs and that if only we were more loving and less inclined to retaliate, things would get better. The problem is in the word “we.” The truth is that the reason there is so much cruelty and injustice in the world has nothing to do with “us” or how we treat our neighbors. Those truly responsible are very few in number. They make the big decisions, such as when to go to war, how to divide wealth, and who shall govern. They get away with this because they control the media (not all, but enough of it), and that to a great extent molds public thought.
When the clergy (and others) blame those sitting in the pews for the world’s problems, they are off the hook to name the real culprits (which could jeopardize their jobs and their employer’s tax status.) Also, by failing to identify them, they prevent any meaningful discussion of solutions. The preached-to leave church with guilt feelings, promises to atone, and without a clue as to who they should really blame. Those at fault love this charade. It’s a diversion, almost as ineffective as praying for peace.
For many years I attended a weekly vigil holding a sign that read, “Honk for Peace.” There were many honkers but on Election Day, probably all but a very few vote for war. (296)
Premise 6: The Myths of Capitalism
I am not going to use my 300 words to once again rail against an economic system which is exploitive, wasteful, imperialistic, cruel, polluting, and destructive of moral values. Instead, I will challenge the advantages its proponents claim. The first is that capitalism is necessary to promote efficiency and productivity. If it was, we had better stop praising the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, the postal workers who deliver our mail no matter what the weather, or those who find cures for our ills at the National Institute of Health. The second is that capitalism creates jobs. I would argue that jobs create capitalists. In my opinion, the more important jobs are those paid for by the government and it could pay for even more if it did not waste so much money on military spending to promote the interests of capitalism’s elite. The third is that private capital is needed to stimulate ingenuity. There is no reason why public capital raised from taxes can not do the same and even better, since it could then concentrate on social needs. The fourth is that capitalism is responsible for this country’s high standard of living. That is probably true but that is not to say that some other economic system could not have done the same. In addition, one has to question at what price. Undoubtedly, our high standard of living is partially due to the natural wealth of our land, which by the way capitalism has recklessly destroyed. It is also due to our exploitation of the human and natural resources of other countries.
Contrary to a common quip, better alternatives to capitalism do exist. Without continuous U.S. subverting, they would have been even better. (293)
Premise 7: The Job Market
We are told we are coming out of the recession, but unemployment numbers remain high. Most if not all major employers in this country are multinational corporations. Some have their corporate headquarters based in this country, but that does not mean they produce all or any of their products or services here. After NAFTA and other trade treaties, most import and export taxes were removed between the signatories. As predicted by Ross Perot, there was the giant sucking sound of jobs leaving our country. Here is the reason. Profit is what drives corporations, and the more, the better. Wages have always been their biggest overhead. A close second is the increasing cost of complying with environmental regulations. Countries which provide cheap labor and low environmental standards are too tempting for corporations to ignore, especially when they can sell their products and services back here tax free. Corporations which elect to remain can not compete for long. They either fold or leave for greener pastures. The only businesses which can afford to stay are those supplying services that can not be moved, such as restaurants, transportation, construction, merchandisers, and educational institutions, etc. However, even they will outsource whatever portion of their operation they can. With the advent of agribusiness and disappearance of small farms, the production of food, with some exceptions, is no longer labor intensive. The exceptions are filled by illegal migrant workers, many of whom come here because of the adverse affect of trade treaties on their homeland.
Some, perhaps most, believe the lack of jobs is cyclical, that recovery will come sooner or later. I do not. How can it, with corporations unwilling to accept smaller profits and Congress unwilling to cut military spending or tax the rich to fund job programs? (297)
Premise 8: Capitalism’s Imperialism Is Changing
The goal of capitalism’s imperialism has not changed – only its methods. The goal continues to be the exploitation of foreign human and natural resources for profit at the victim’s expense. In the days of colonialism, the conquered country was governed by officials from the invading one. This has been replaced with the installation of puppet governments, using cooperating natives. Once installed, sham elections are sometimes held to add legitimacy. Having found that occupying troops and contractors are sitting ducks, the imperialists are replacing them with the unemployed of the occupied country. They train and arm them, but they are unreliable because their allegiance can not be trusted. Foreign military bases and oversized embassies are kept in place, should they be needed if a puppet government is threatened,
The tools of capitalist war are also changing to reduce invader casualties. Factions within the country are encouraged to overthrow non-cooperating regimes, using coups or armed rebellion. Arms and logistical support are supplied by the imperialists. Robot planes and Special Forces are employed to carry out assassinations, killing many innocent civilians in the process. The use of robots has the additional benefit of profiting the arms industry and funding its development of new, more lethal and efficient devices.
Resistance in our country to drones is growing, but I doubt this will halt their use; the alternative of putting American pilots at risk is even less appealing. The American public just does not realize the blowback; that many victimized by drones will want to retaliate by joining terrorist organizations. Can the peace movement educate the public to this or will government propaganda be too persuasive and pervasive to surmount? Does focusing on drones siphon off resistance to the basic underlying issue of capitalism’s imperialism? (294)
Premise 9: Ownership
I am about to address a subject about which I am ill-informed. However, it has to be addressed as it is central to these essays on political-economic issues. We can settle disputes of ownership in our courts, perhaps not fairly, but at least the mechanism exists. Nation states rarely have that option. When two nations or groups within them lay claim to the same property, the matter is sometimes resolved diplomatically but more often by using violence. Traditionally, each side declares that God and justice are on its side. But, justice is subjective. Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder.
With borders of countries changing throughout history, it is difficult if not impossible to ascertain who the rightful owner is. A good example is Palestine. While it was a mandate of Britain and prior, Palestinians who lived there thought they owned their property. They had a deed and it may have been in their family for generations, but when the UN sanctioned the partitioning of Palestine, Israelis took much of it, and then even more as battles to get it back were lost.
Legal ownership is a matter of law, but which law? Very often the tribal law of indigenous societies conflicts with that of their country, with the latter prevailing. There is all that ineffectual international law. It is based upon the “sovereignty of nations”, which means each country owns the land within its borders, the skies above it, and its surrounding seas. The US has routinely violated all three with the UN never having interceded. The US also ignores international courts, as when the ICJ ruled against its mining of Nicaragua’s harbor in 1984. It would seem that when possession or enforcement is lacking, claims of ownership mean little. (295)
Premise 10: Social Liberals
Social liberals are those individuals who give a high priority to social issues, issues which can be divided into two categories. There are those which advocate certain individual freedoms, such as abortion, marijuana, gay marriage, and flag desecration; and those which protect the common good, such as reduced military spending, socialized medicine, immigration rights, and a livable minimum wage. In general, Democrats are more supportive of the first than Republicans. On the second, there is not much difference between them. This is understandable since the first has little impact on corporate profits. Both major parties are beholden to corporate interests, though Republicans are reputed to be more so. I doubt this. In fact, I consider the Democrats to be the more odious because their support is less open.
Social liberals also can be divided into two categories. There are those who give social issues such a high priority that they will never vote for a progressive third party candidate because they fear that could elect a Republican. The others put the importance of peace and the environment above everything else; they may sometimes help a third party grow rather than vote for a major party candidate who supports neither.
I was a Democrat until 1998 when I switched my registration to the Green Party. While I believe the Green Party’s is correct in stating that both major parties are equally corporate, militaristic, and imperialistic, there is this difference on some social issues, which prevents most social liberals from voting Green. The Democratic Party does have a few notable mavericks who endorse most Green Party issues. They have my support. At some point, my socially liberal Democratic friends may decide they have had enough. So far, my record at gaining converts has been abysmal. (295)
Premise 11: Blame the System
I have a wealthy friend who since his retirement has become a day-trader. He sits in front of his computer each day for five hours buying and selling for quick small gains. He is good at it, as he was with several businesses he started. He doesn’t need the money but he loves it. He says it is addicting. He is a very likable fellow. He treated his employees fairly, was community minded, and has always been very generous. He came from a middle class family. He made his fortune by becoming an entrepreneur, making good business decisions, and investing wisely. In his words, he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, deserves everything he got, and thinks that if he can do it, so can anyone else. He thinks his employees should be grateful to him for their jobs, rather than that he should be grateful to them for making him rich. He is a great believer in the trickle down theory and the myth that a rising tide raises all boats. He is a success story for the capitalist system.
This all sounds good until we remember that he is not your average American. He is among the elite few who have prospered at the expense of the many in our country, as well as those who reside in foreign lands. I do not blame him for his success, but I do blame the system that made it possible. The believers and promoters of this system are the ones who govern our country, who enact the laws which perpetuate it, and who fund the militarism and imperialism necessary to secure it. We should not expect to change their mindset. And, it is futile to replace them with those who think the same. (297)
Premise 12: The Taste of Power
We have all heard the saying about how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. While this seems a little dogmatic, I am sure it is true a large percentage of the time. What is not discussed is the corrupting influence of the taste of power. It is akin to Jesse Jackson’s mantra of keeping hope alive (settle for hope.) It is also related to choosing between the lesser of two evils (settle for evil.)
Every so often, the Democratic Party throws a scrap to peaceniks. Nothing big you understand, just some votes against The Surge or perhaps ratification of an arms reduction treaty, which still leaves the US as a superpower throwing its weight around. Now, even some Republicans are considering minor cuts in the defense budget, but that is because we are switching to cheaper, leaner, meaner tools of aggression.
I have known a lot of liberals in my time, some of whom have gained the ear of their Congressman or even got elected or appointed to a low level political office. They have tasted power, but not really gotten much of it. This taste gives them hope, even makes them more willing to compromise their principals as a matter of political expediency. Their access to power has falsely made them think that elected politicians can change; that they might vote against the moneyed interests they depend upon to get elected.
We look to those who have tasted power to advance our agenda, and they will try and occasionally succeed. But, in exchange, they want us to be patient and practical. They want us to support what is “doable.” However, all too often what is doable is inadequate, and rather than being a step forward, is a final destination not worth supporting. (298)
Premise 13: Who Are We?
As Americans, who are we? We are citizens of the most powerful nation the world has ever known and, in my opinion, the most arrogant and aggressive. The fact that we call ourselves “Americans” when we occupy only one portion of two continents that bear that name demonstrates our egocentricity. We are constantly reminded by our government of our noble and freedom-loving forefathers, who were neither. We are led to believe that our aggressions are to spread democracy, a democracy we no longer have, if we ever did. We are told our attributes are superior to those in other countries and that this entitles us to our high standard of living. And, that it also entitles us to decide what political-economic systems other cultures should have. We are told we are the victims of crimes against us rather than the cause of them. When we were attacked on 9/11, our president said it was because others were jealous of our democracy. It was as if this attack was unrelated to the much more lethal ones we had conducted. Since all the hijackers were from countries with significant Moslem populations, the attack was probably retaliatory against our military, political, and economic Islamic interventions. The people inside the buildings were not the targets; they were just collateral damage. (I am not ruling out CIA complicity.)
While we have been responsible, directly or indirectly, for the killing of at least seven million people since the end of WWII, we have always been violent. We have been killing, displacing, and exploiting people ever since the fine words in our Declaration of Independence were written by one who did not practice them.
So, who are we? To use the vernacular, “Just who the hell do we think we are!” (297)
Conclusions 1: About Conclusions
Before starting this next series of essays entitled “Conclusions” and ending the series on Premises, I want to make clear that this new series will not be limited to just addressing the issues in Premises. That would be too restrictive. However, they will all be relevant to the proposition that the peace movement is not and can not be effective without changing its focus and tactics.
The conclusions will be my own, but they will not be original. Over the years, I have been exposed to the ideas of many smart and not-so-smart people. They all planted seeds in my brain, which are now sprouting, perhaps connected by different synapses. The Premises essays were not very controversial. They just stated what was obvious, at least to those on Peacenet. This new series, however, will be more opinionated and should elicit some interesting responses.
I am a member of Veterans for Peace and subscribe to its listserv. The appropriateness of an obscenity on a banner displayed by VFP at a DC rally caused a lot of heated discussion. Passions ran high and the issue became divisive. I doubt this will occur with us just as long as we keep in mind that these essays will be partly philosophical; that several valid conclusions can be reached from the same set of facts. So, as responses are stimulated, there is no need to pit one against another. I know some of the subscribers to Peacenet and if they are typical of the rest, there should be no shortage of provocative opinions.
One final note about opinions…expressing them does not imply that they are true, only that the author thinks they are true. By definition, opinions are not absolute and should not be held to that standard. Onwards! (296)
Conclusion 2: The War on Terrorism
Terrorism has replaced Communism as justification for US aggressions. Both are too nebulous to be real targets; they are just demonizing words used to generate a patriotic and paranoiac reaction from the public. Marx’s utopian Communism has never existed, but it’s more practical version, Socialism, is common, even within Capitalist countries. The only threat so-called Communist countries ever posed to our government was that, if successful, they might serve as a model more appealing to Americans than Capitalism. With the Berlin Wall gone, the attack on the WTC provided a more timely excuse for U.S. aggressions. Color alerts boosted the public’s fear of terrorism. The peace movement never challenged their authenticity. Just as it had cringed from debunking the Communist threat, it never exposed the War on Terrorism as a hoax. The proponents of this ruse found the perfect cover for US aggression. The “war” would never end since it could not be won and it created terrorists faster than they could be killed. It was also a great tool to stifle decent, justify secrecy, by-pass the judicial process, and shred the Bill of Rights.
If peace organizations can convince the public that the War on Terrorism is not a war, all that has been done in its name would come under scrutiny. Terrorist attacks would be seen for what they really are, not an act of war, but retaliation by individuals who, rightly or wrongly, have been victims of U.S. foreign policy.
In my opinion, the peace movement can never succeed in ending U.S. militarism just as long as the public perceives the War on Terrorism as a real war. Changing that perception would be no easy task, but it is one we can no longer afford to avoid. (297)
Conclusion 3: Capitalism Promotes War
Capitalism’s requirement for new markets and natural resources is the main reason for US military interventions and regime change. Regime change is accomplished either overtly after an invasion and occupation or covertly by supporting coups and civil unrest. Capitalists often single out governments which are socialistic because they consider them to be a threat by example, especially when they have had some modicum of success. They support insurgency and economic strangulation (i.e. Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia) by urging Congress to pass legislation or the administration to issue orders. The fact that so many socialist countries survive in spite of this and that new ones continue to emerge is testimony to the popularity of this economic system. I believe that if ever a truly democratic socialist government was allowed to mature without outside intervention, that model would be so successful in supplying the public’s needs that capitalism would be unable to compete; that it would be replaced by either election, general strike, coup, assassination, or revolution…preferably in that order.
Capitalism also promotes the militarism needed to threaten or attack a government which refuses to allow the exploitation of its resources. The fact that there are US troops stationed in two-thirds of the world’s nations demonstrates the global extent of this militarism and the vast influence of US corporations.
Lastly, there is one part of the US economy which is flourishing…the arms industry and everything related. We are the world’s largest supplier of arms and have a military budget equal to that of all other countries combined. Nothing could be more wasteful. Peace organizations have never indicted capitalism as a cause of war. Why? Don’t they understand the relationship or are they afraid of losing membership and funding because of being too radical? (294)
Conclusion 4: Out of the Loop
All the decisions we peaceniks care about are made by relatively very few people. Our issues include: war, sovereignty of nations, military spending, nuclear disarmament, civil liberties, torture, UN reform, treaties, international law, covert operations, etc. The deciders are either those we have elected or their appointees. Peace organizations spend a lot of time, money, and energy lobbying on these issues, hoping to persuade those elected to vote the way we want them to. Compared to the effort invested, the outcome over the years has been dismal. Peace organizations claim success when a minority of Congress votes our way, but the amount of legislation actually passed because of this lobbying is very small. Indeed, I cannot recall any. Nor can I recall a time when a President issued an order at our insistence.
When peace organizations become involved in the electoral process, it is usually to urge support for a moderate conventional Democrat. Progressive third party candidates who support our issues, almost without exception, are ignored because they are considered unelectable. Nor, have peace organizations ever considered running candidates of their own. Lacking any serious threat to their election from the peace community, the corporately-owned, militaristic, major party members of Congress vote their allegiances, and reward us only with cordiality and access to their staff. As hopeless as most believe it is for third party peace candidates or maverick Democrats to get elected, I think it is even more hopeless to convert elected corporate hawks into doves. As long as we keep choosing between the lesser of two evils, our vote will continue to be taken for granted by the Democrats. When their election is close, they just move further to the right, for they correctly conclude our vote has no place else to go? (299)