Action Alert – Tell the President to Leave No Troops Behind in Afghanistan!

January 30, 2013

Earlier this month Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund launched a call-in campaign to the White House comment line, calling on the President to choose the zero troops option once the U.S. ends military operations in Afghanistan.

We timed it just right, in conjunction with a visit to Washington from Afghanistan’s President Karzai.

Apparently we made our point.  In his meeting with President Obama, Karzai went out of his way to reject the very notion that the U.S. would even consider the “zero troops”option.  Our message was received.

Peace Action members renew our demand for a safe and complete pullout at the earliest possible date, but, in the interim, we are encouraged that the 10,000 to 20,000 troops the Pentagon was hoping for appears to have fallen from favor.

Let’s remind the President that U.S. military operations in Afghanistan are more likely to destabilize the government than achieve a political outcome favorable to the real interests of the American people.

After you write President Obama you can help a great deal more by getting your friends involved.  You can click here or watch for the ‘Tell a Friend’ page to appear after you send the President your personalized message.

Let’s keep up the pressure and demand an end to this terrible war.

Thank you for keeping up this important work.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S.Thank you for your actions to end this war.  We have turned public opinion around over the last few years and it’s time to be heard again.  Tell your friends to join in and write President Obama. Tell him its time to end this war and bring all our troops home.


On Inauguration/MLK Holiday, thoughts on our society’s “Triple Evils”

January 21, 2013

Lead article today on Foreign Policy in Focus. Would love your comments regarding our nation’s progress on Dr. King’s triple evils of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.

–Kevin

What Would King Say of the Obama Era?

By Kevin Martin, January 21, 2013

martin-luther-king-barack-obamaThe coincidence that the presidential inauguration should fall on Martin Luther King Day provides much food for thought. Certainly, Barack Obama’s decision to use King’s Bible for his swearing-in ceremony invites progressives to make an unflattering comparison between the two—Norman Solomon did it quite well with his piece “King: I Have a Dream. Obama: I Have a Drone.”

But beyond simply castigating the years behind us or prognosticating about the years to come, there is a broader, riper opportunity in this coincidence. Let’s challenge our society to look at how well we are addressing what King called the “giant triplets,” or the “triple evils,” of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism, which he enunciated most notably in his April 4, 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, exactly one year before his murder. “When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people,” he thundered, “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Were King alive today, he would be astonished to see how much more exploitative our capitalist system has become. Witness the demise of American labor unions, the offshoring of middle-class jobs to low-wage countries to maximize corporate profits, the worst income inequality since the rober baron heyday of the 1920s, and our ongoing addiction to planet-destroying, unsustainable, and finite energy sources. Not coincidentally, the corporate takeover of our government—accelerated by the Supreme Court’s disastrous “Citizens United” ruling—would likely outrage King, as it ought to all Americans.

And while there certainly are some positive, glass-half-full indicators of racial harmony that we can be proud of—much higher rates of interracial marriage being a significant one, to say nothing of the reelection of America’s first black president—there are many more devastating facts that can’t be ignored. There are more black men in prison than in college, surely one of our country’s greatest shames. Wealth inequality, a more comprehensive measurement of economic health for an individual or family, is even worse for people of color than income inequality, which itself remains sky-high. Our failed policies on immigration, the war on drugs, persistent racial profiling—one could go on and on about the challenges of our deeply rooted sickness of racism.

Even President Obama’s two election victories and the visceral reaction to them are instructive. In 2012 Obama got less than 40 percent of the white vote, and in 2008 just a little more—meaning John McCain and Mitt Romney, two of the worst major party nominees in recent memory (and that’s saying something!) got a lot of votes just for being white. And the hysterical right-wing “We want our country back…” often means “…from that black guy in the White House.”

Meanwhile, most Americans remain in deep denial about the evil of militarism. By any measure, the United States is still, as King termed it in 1967, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and to further quote and appropriate King’s terrific phrase, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan must doubtless see U.S. troops as “strange liberators,” just as the Vietnamese did.

The United States is military colossus unmatched in history, spending almost as much on war and weapons as the rest of the world’s countries combined. We’re far and away the globe’s number-one arms dealer, and maintain somewhere close to 1,000 foreign military bases (even the Pentagon can’t give a precise number). For comparison’s sake, China just recently opened its first foreign base in the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles.

War has become normalized; ask anyone under the age of 20 if they can remember a time we weren’t at war.

Then there is our domestic culture of violence, which has too many manifestations to name. Our out-of-control gun violence, violence against women and LGBT persons and children, our startlingly violent movies and video games, and our incessant use of war and battle metaphors is just a start.

An extreme example of our country’s delusion about guns and violence was provided recently by Larry Ward, chairman of the “Gun Rights Appreciation Day” planned for inaugural weekend. When challenged about the irony of holding such an event on the MLK holiday weekend, Ward said he thought the event would “honor the legacy of Dr. King,” adding that if African-Americans had had guns, slavery might not have existed in this country. Brevity prevents a full deconstruction of these absurdities, but Ward evidently forgot that King was murdered with a gun.

Clearly the triple evils run deep in our society and don’t just stand alone. They are interlocking and mutually reinforcing.  U.S. military and foreign policy is manifestly racist (dating at least to the genocide of First Nations peoples), and mostly driven by corporate interests bound up in economic exploitation. Economic exploitation obviously has a strong racial component as well.

But the point of all this is not to concede defeat to King’s giant triplets—the point is to stimulate analysis, reflection, and ideas for action to address and overcome them. Racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all human constructs, after all. We are not powerless before any of them.

For example, the Pentagon budget, while gargantuan, will soon begin to decline due to budgetary pressures and the end of the disastrous Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We can begin to rebuild by pushing for deeper cuts to Pentagon pork and putting the savings to work by investing in our communities. Moreover, creating a U.S. foreign and military policy based on widely held values of democracy, diplomacy, human rights, justice, sustainability, peace, and international cooperation—in short, a foreign policy for the global 99 percent—is not only possible; it’s the only antidote to our disease of militarism.

So as we celebrate Dr. King’s 84th birthday, let’s rededicate ourselves to building the Beloved Community he so clearly envisioned. Dismantling the triple evils and replacing them with positive structures and policies would be a great start.

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Kevin Martin has served as Executive Director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund since September 4, 2001, and has worked with the organization in various capacities since 1985. Peace Action is the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 90,000 members nationwide.


Dr King on Peace, Militarism and Internationalism

January 19, 2013

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.

By Judith Le Blanc – Field Director, Peace Action - A sermon delivered on January 13, 2013 to the Transcontinental Baptist Church and Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts on the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King. Every year, I enjoy the celebration of Dr King’s birthday because it reminds me of being young and militant and inspired.

Back in the day, we were mindful of having been too young to be involved in the Civil Rights movement. We were anxious for a way to continue the struggle. So we joined the struggle to make his birthday a national holiday: marching, petitioning, and pressing Congress and the Reagan administration.

The rhythm and blues artist, Stevie Wonder led the charge along with civil rights leaders He wrote a song about the struggle for a national holiday to honor Dr King.

We knew when we danced to Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday song in the clubs that we were dancing for justice and honoring the legacy of a movement that fundamentally changed the course of US history.

Nothing like it, to be out dancing in a club and reminded of what Dr King called the “beautiful struggle!” For me and many other young people of color, the fight for his birthday national holiday was really a search for way to carry on the struggle for racial justice. Then as now, we are so painfully aware of how far we must go to realize the dream of racial equity, economic justice and a world without wars.

In 1966, Dr King delivered the Ware Lecture at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, not too far from here, in Hollywood, FL.

Every year someone is chosen to deliver this address at the general assembly as a call to witness, a signaling of the most pressing issues of the day.

In Dr King’s Ware lecture, he said, “One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. “

There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution!

And today we are in such a moment when the militarization of the federal budget is the greatest obstacle to justice at home and global peace. Fifty eight percent of yearly discretionary spending goes to the Pentagon.

We are in a moment when Dr King’s prophetic voice can fortify our resolve to break the cycle of weapons and wars being prioritized over jobs, education and diplomacy.

We, in the peace and justice movement, have come to a moment as Dr King and the Civil Rights movement did. We must break the silence on the impact of US militarism and how it holds back a more just and peaceful world.

In his Beyond Vietnam speech delivered at Riverside Church in 1967, Dr King outlined a rationale for why our country must end the war in Vietnam in order to change the US relationship to the rest of the world and address the urgent needs of our communities.

He spoke about those who had asked, “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?”

He believed those questions revealed a ”tragic misunderstanding”. He had led a movement dedicated to ending legalized segregation and won, yet he and the movement were confronted with continuing obstacles to realizing “The Dream”.

He began to confront the main obstacle to true equality: the economic system. President Johnson began to turn back the war on poverty and build up of the war in Vietnam.

Dr King knew that as long as resources were being sucked into the conflict in Vietnam that there would be no investment in our communities. He said, “I am compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

He began to speak out in the face of, what he called “such cruel manipulation of the poor, the cruel irony of watching Black and white young people on TV as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.”

He said, “ I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

In his Beyond Vietnam speech, he spoke at length about the need to see human kind, other countries, not as enemies but as people with needs that mirror our own. He argued that demonizing the Communists could not rationalize our country’s war and occupation of Vietnam.

He began to develop a deeper analysis of the role of militarism in shaping US foreign policy. He called upon all those who believed in justice to question the fairness of our past and present foreign policies.

He said, “ Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady. If we don’t understand that reality, we will be attending rallies and marching without end.”

Why did his organizing and speaking out against the connection between poverty and war stir such controversy? Because he was pinpointing the root causes of injustice at home and abroad, he connected foreign policy and its impact at home.

He said,” When the bombs are dropped in Vietnam, they explode in our communities.” Dr King said the triple evils of militarism, poverty and inequality; cause our people and the peoples around the world to suffer needlessly. His prophetic teachings resonate today because it continues to be even truer now, than ever.

The bombs dropped in Afghanistan and Pakistan do explode in our communities.

US history has been consistently marked by wars and occupations. Constant wars or threats of wars.

Across the political spectrum a new awareness is growing that wars cannot solve the world’s most complicated problems. In fact wars and occupations worsen the crisis problems: climate change, hunger or democracy as examples.

Our country spends more on the military than any other country on the world, yet honestly and objectively: the US can no longer control the global economy nor politics with war. And can no longer afford to do so. It is the beginning of the end of US world domination.

Many of the realists on the Right are beginning to take note and are searching for ways to promote US interests through other means.

Realists among former generals and even neoconservatives and libertarians are calling for closing US bases, negotiating reductions in nuclear arsenals and ending the war in Afghanistan sooner than 2014. They are realists, not believers in Dr King’s vision, realists.

The Rand Corporation released a report in 2006 on the study of 648 terrorist groups and armed conflicts between the years 1968-2006. They found a majority ended the armed struggles by entering into the political process, and only 7% of those conflicts ended through military action. A majority of armed conflicts were ended through negotiations and a political process not military action.

Military action, as the leading edge of US foreign must, should and could come to an end. Democracy, economic development and protection of civilians cannot be achieved at the end of the barrel of a gun or with drones.

2013 is the moment for a national debate that starts club by club, church, synagogue and mosque, classroom by classroom, editorial page by editorial pages and talk radio shows. A national debate on the need for a fundamental change in US foreign policy.

The bombs are exploding in our neighborhoods, because the crisis problems faced globally cannot be solved through militarism, only worsened. War as Dr King said is the enemy of the poor of all countries.

In the next 2 months we have a call to action to carry forward the legacy of Dr King. We cannot afford to sleep through a moment where great changes, revolutionary changes are necessary and possible.

The stage has been set in Washington for a tough battle over the federal budget. Every dollar given to the Pentagon will be taken from food stamps, student loans and healthcare.

Some say that we should make the cuts 50% from domestic spending and 50% from the Pentagon.  But what they do not say is that over 1 trillion has been cut in the last 4 years from domestic programs while the Pentagon has grown.

The truth is that military corporations are making mega profits. They are in the mass media and on Capitol Hill driving the budget debate with fear mongering.

While they push for weapons systems such as the F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, which even the Pentagon, doesn’t want. There is waste, fraud, and abuse, which is where the cutting can and should start.

A consensus is building on sensible cuts to the waste in the Pentagon budget. It is a start. We must move the money from wars and weapons to fund jobs, human services and diplomacy.

When economic and racial inequality is growing dramatically isn’t that a very serious national security problem? When we hear from some the call for militarizing our communities, our public schools. Armed guards in our public schools?

More guns will not address the crisis needs of the poor, communities of color, immigrants and the middle class or the despair and mental illness that grows when opportunities or public services are denied.

Just as war will not solve the world’s most pressing problems neither will more guns in our communities.

The 21st century struggle for racial justice is for more equity, inclusion and dignity, a more loving society and world. Don’t we all need a little more love? 

It is time to change national spending priorities and move the money from wars and weapons to fund jobs, education and diplomacy.

We can deal with the debt by expanding the economy, helping the people in our communities to get on their feet and fund the diplomacy that can change the US relationship with countries around the world.

It will be no easy path in the next two months. Military corporations have nearly two lobbyists for every Congressional representative.

Some in Congress have pledged to cut essential human needs programs, put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block and protect the Pentagon from cuts.

We should do now as Dr King did and raise up the necessity that our government must, “Go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism as the path to a better world.”

Given the situation in our world: real danger of acts of terror or nuclear war, climate crisis, scarce resources. The truth is national security is no longer possible. Only collective global security is. Collective global security is achievable through international cooperation, respect for international laws and national sovereignty.

Our world needs more diplomacy, negotiations, and engagement, not threats of war. 

As Dr. King said ”Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to humankind as a whole, in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”

Let’s mark Dr King’s birthday this year with some promises.

First, I hope you will do as I do. And every time you hear Stevie Wonder’s Birthday Song on the radio, you will get up and shake your tail feathers. And celebrate what Dr King called the long and beautiful struggle.

And I hope you will remember Dr King’s keen insight into social change when he said: “Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”

In the next two months, we must meet the challenge of engaging in the fierce struggle to change national spending priorities and move the money from wars and weapons to fund jobs, education and diplomacy.

Because there is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution! 


Action Alert: Sign and Circulate the Jobs Not Wars Petition!

January 17, 2013

One of the best ways to reduce the deficit is to put people back to work.  It’s time to invest in our people, and our communities. Let’s create stable jobs at living wages, rehabilitate our nation’s infrastructure and invest in programs that serve the needs of people and communities, and develop a sustainable economy that protects the planet.

That’s why I’m asking you to sign the Jobs not Wars Petition.

The extreme right has used the fiscal crisis over the last four years to force deep cuts in discretionary spending on programs that make up the social safety net.  Now, they have their sights set on Social Security and Medicare.

I need your help to make a clear statement to those in Congress, and the administration, to Move the Money from wars and weapons to fund jobs and human services.

Peace Action’s Move the Money Campaign has been all about building common cause with unions, environmental advocates and anti-poverty and civil rights activists.

When I told you about our petition campaign last month there were just over 80 groups gathering signatures.  There are now 135 endorsing organizations working to remind Congress and the Obama administration we need to fundamentally change federal budget priorities from wars and ever more deadly weapons to jobs and meeting the needs of our communities.

So please sign the Jobs not Wars Petition.  Once you have, please forward this email. Ask your friends and family to join you in signing the Jobs Not Wars Petition.  Post this link http://bit.ly/jobs-not-wars-PA on your Facebook page and tweet it to your social network.  There is strength in numbers.

In November, we voted to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and end the wars in order to reinvest in our communities.

The pressure we are building is having a real impact on the debate on federal spending priorities.  With decisions on the debt ceiling and sequestration and votes ahead on both the 2013 and 2014 budgets, it’s critical we keep pressing.

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action


“The Ultimate Weakness of Violence…”

January 15, 2013

“… is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.

Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.

Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

How have we as a human species not learned this profoundly simple wisdom yet?

Happy Birthday MLK! May your words and deeds continue to inspire us to create peace with justice!


The Endless War Machine’s Toll On Our Troops – Suicides Exceeded Combat Deaths Last Year

January 15, 2013

The Associated Press reported yesterday the Pentagon’s internal statistics show more U.S. troops committed suicide last year than died in combat in Afghanistan. The Pentagon noted the rate of suicides in the military is below the civilian population – is that supposed to be somehow comforting?

In addition to ending the war now, leaving no residual troops in Afghanistan, not starting any new wars against Iran or anyone else and ceasing drone strikes in countries we are not at war with, the troops need real support, not the platitudes one hears constantly on NFL telecasts. Our sisters and brothers at Iraq Veterans Against the War are providing leadership with their “Right to Heal” Operation Recovery campaign, to stop sending troops on repeated combat tours and get them the treatment and support they need and deserve. Help IVAW out, and spread the word to those you think really want to support the troops.

 


Action Alert – Tell the President Zero is the Number

January 10, 2013

I read in The Washingtion Post this morning President Obama is considering residual troop levels “significantly lower than what some in the military have advocated,” and that the administration is considering “leaving no troops at all when the U.N. security mandate sanctioning the international coalition expires.”

Zero is the number we support and now it’s time– again– to call President Obama.

202.456.1111

President Obama needs to hear from the peace movement on how quickly and completely we need to end US military involvement in Afghanistan and withdraw our troops.

By now, it should be clear to all Americans, even those elected to office, that no residual troop levels can guarantee a political outcome in Afghanistan that will be to our liking.  That’s up to the people of Afghanistan.

If anything, the more troops we leave behind after the planned withdrawal in 2014, the greater our destabilizing impact will be.  Zero is the right number.

Tell President Obama – 202.456.1111.

Right now, the administration is considering a residual force somewhere between 2,500 and 6,000 troops instead of the 10,000 to 20,000 level the military is insisting on.   If that’s true, then it’s only because you, me, and the peace movement as a whole, have acted these many years.  You want impact – there it is.  Our persistence is exactly what is needed.

The President will be meeting with Afghan President Karzai on Friday and a decision will be reached soon, so please call today.

202.456.111

It’s time to end this war.  Presidents Obama and Karzai should be promoting a ceasefire and political settlement,  the surest path to ending the nightmare of terrorist attacks, night raids, drone strikes and daily carnage that has tormented the people of Afghanistan for far, far too long.

Thank you for keeping up this important work.

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. Thank you for your actions to end this war.  We have turned public opinion around over the last few years and it’s time to be heard again.  Call President Obama at 202.456.1111 and tell him to bring all our troops home.


The De-Mythologized History of the United States

January 7, 2013

Review of the Showtime television series “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States”

(Note, this review was written after five of the ten episodes in the series had aired. Tonight’s episode, at 8 pm eastern time on Showtime is the 9th in the series.)

–Kevin Martin

What if, in the summer of 1945, former progressive prairie populist Vice President Henry Wallace had been president instead of Harry Truman?  Wallace likely would have continued as Vice President, and thus succeeded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon his death, if not for some serious chicanery by party bosses, taking advantage of the gravely ill Roosevelt’s absence, at the Democratic Convention in Chicago which installed Truman as the Vice Presidential candidate over the incumbent Wallace.

Would Wallace, a noted “dove” and advocate of global governance and peaceful policies, have ordered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had he been president?  Maybe so, as there was so much investment and momentum behind the Manhattan Project.  But perhaps President Roosevelt, who held Wallace in higher regard than he did Truman, would have told Wallace about the Bomb sooner, as opposed to the way Truman was kept in the dark about the existence of the Manhattan Project (he knew nothing of it until he became president after Roosevelt’s death). Regardless, Wallace, as president, might have rallied support from the scientists and generals who did not support dropping the Bomb on Japan. Wallace might have been more patient about the clear but halting signals that Japan was about to surrender, and would likely have rejected the idea of “demonstrating” the Bomb’s unprecedented lethality in order to impress our Soviet ally of our military superiority, which many historians agree was the “real reason” behind the bombings.

Is this idle parlor game historical “what-ifing?” Oliver Stone doesn’t think so. The three-time Oscar winner wants you to think about these paths not taken, while also revealing some little known or underemphasized paths that were taken as he deconstructs U.S. post-War mythology in his ten part television series on Showtime, “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.” The series, narrated by Stone, airs one hour episodes on Monday nights at 8:00 pm eastern, with several rebroadcasts on Showtime channels during the week. The first five episodes have taken us from World War II through the early Cold War period of the fifties and early sixties, with five more shows to go. The next episode will focus on John F. Kennedy’s presidency.

The Showtime series is accompanied by a 750 page book co-authored by Stone and American University Professor of History Peter Kuznick, who also shares a writing credit on the TV series with Stone and Matt Graham. (Disclosure – Peter Kuznick, who also founded and directs the University’s Nuclear Studies Institute, is a colleague and friend of this reviewer.)

While it is certainly interesting and stimulating, Oliver Stone is not primarily interested in thought experiments about history. He’s a great story teller, and he aims to peel back the fascinating layers of history from a perspective that deconstructs or refutes many American myths. Such a project will no doubt challenge some viewers (and I’m sure it’s meant to!).

Take for instance the Soviet peoples’ role in defeating Nazi Germany, in which the over 20 million people died. Why is this undisputed fact so neglected in the West in favor of mostly uncritical worship of Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and MacArthur? Neither Soviet dictator Jozef Stalin’s atrocities nor the Cold War that ensued can diminish the centrality of the Soviet peoples’ sacrifice and heroism in absorbing, outlasting and ultimately defeating Adolf Hitler’s relentless, massive assault. This is especially true as the Western allies did so little throughout most of the war to help the Soviet Union.

Or the decision to drop the Bomb (that and the ensuing, mad nuclear arms race receive a lot of attention in the series). Why is this issue still so divisive and why does it provoke such defensiveness when the historical record is clear? The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were unnecessary; an exhausted and thoroughly fire-bombed Japan, fearing imminent Soviet entry into the Pacific war, would have surrendered under terms nearly identical to those obtained after the bombs were dropped. If the U.S. had been more patient and more interested in diplomacy rather than intimidating Stalin with this horrific new weapon, the atomic threshold needn’t have been crossed and over 200,000 Japanese lives would have been spared.

The most recent episode of “Untold History,” covering Dwight D. Eisenhower’s two terms in the White House, was quite the whirlwind. Despite the image of the 1950s as ho hum, a lot was going on! The civil rights movement, the assault on the Bill of Rights by J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy and friends, the U.S. support of or participation in overthrowing the governments of Iran, Guatemala and Congo (and later Indonesia), the rise of the Non-Aligned Movement and the targeting of many of its leaders by the CIA, and the absurd build-up of nuclear weapons in “peacetime” all rocked the 50s and early 60s. The episode reminded me of books I’ve read on many of these events, and stimulated me to go deeper into some I dimly recall or know very little about.

Stone certainly wants to tell an alternative, “peoples history” in the proud tradition of Howard Zinn and Studs Terkel, but he doesn’t completely abjure the “great man” theory of history. The series paints rich portraits of some of the era’s seminal and neglected figures, such as Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Wallace, Truman, Eisenhower and George C. Marshall. Stone and Kuznick were particularly interested in fleshing out Ike, exploring much more complex contradictions than the aloof, reluctant politician caricature which is too often the norm in his biographical treatments.

While the ’50s are remembered by many (and here I believe this refers to the dominant, white, Anglo-Saxon cultural view) as a time of peace and prosperity, with the huge expansion of the American middle class, the seemingly immovable foundations of the cancerous U.S. national security state were laid, or certainly cemented. Stone notes the irony of Ike’s “military industrial complex” warning in his farewell address, as he had done more than anyone to enable the growth of the MIC and the spying on Americans. Eisenhower himself said he left a “legacy of ashes” to his successor.

Under Ike, the nuclear weapons enterprise expanded from 1000 to 22,000 nuclear warheads (most far more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb) as well as the “triad” of delivery systems (bombers, land-based missiles and submarine-based missiles) and a sprawling, secretive, environmentally devastating nuclear weapons production complex. He also made it common US policy to  threaten nuclear attacks (on at least four occasions in his presidency, over Korea, the Formosa Straits, the Suez Crisis and the escalation of tensions over the Chinese islands of Quemoy/Matsu).

All Ike’s successors have considered or threatened to use nuclear weapons (including our Nobel Peace Prize winning incumbent, who continues to insist “all options are on the table” regarding concerns over Iran’s nuclear program).  Further, Eisenhower delegated authority to launch nukes to field commanders, who in turn did so to lower level officers, resulting in dozens of “fingers on the trigger.” Ike authorized a the development of a plan to nuke China and the USSR, which would have killed an estimated 600 million people and initiated a nuclear winter that might have ended life on the planet.

Again in the “roads not taken” department, Stone persuasively argues Ike could have put the world on a different path, as his popularity and military bona fides were so strong that nobody could have questioned his patriotism or devotion to national security, and the Soviet leadership was undergoing reforms and was ready, even eager, for a more peaceful relationship with the U.S. and the West. While Eisenhower is credited with avoiding war with the Soviet Union, he put the world on a dangerous path to possible annihilation, and presided over the “most gargantuan expansion of military power in human history.”

The series and the book, coming as they do at an important time politically (in the short run, Obama’s second term, in the broader view, the beginning of the end of the American Empire), also stimulate thinking as to what might be the “Future Untold History of the United States.” Fortunately, independent media now dig up a lot of dirt on the national security state, but we really don’t know what we don’t know, do we, regarding military actions being carried out in secret (but with our tax dollars)?  And then there’s the reality that most Americans pay scant attention to military and foreign policy.  

Of course, what we do know about the continuing accumulation of imperial presidential power under the allegedly “liberal” Barack Obama (drone strikes, kill lists, spying on U.S. citizens and other threats to our civil liberties under the guise of “national security”) is bad enough.

My guess is Oliver Stone, Peter Kuznick and company will be glad if their book and series stimulate critical thinking, and action, about the present, putting to good use lessons learned (at least partly thanks to their work) from our past.

Kevin Martin has served as Executive Director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund since September 4, 2001, and has worked with the organization in various capacities since 1985. Peace Action is the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 90,000 members nationwide. www.peace-action.org


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