“On the Morning, April 4, Shots Ring Out in the Memphis Sky…” MLK Jr. on this date in 1967 and 1968

April 4, 2013

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Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A sad anniversary for sure, but also an occasion to recall and be inspired anew by one of the most ardent champions of nonviolence, social justice and peace this profoundly violent, warmongering, unjust country has ever known.

Exactly one year before his death, at Riverside Church in New York City, King delivered one of his greatest speeches, “Beyond Vietnam: A time to Break the Silence,” which remains for me one of the strongest clarion calls against war I’ve ever encountered. You can read the speech or listen to the audio here.

There are so many highlights of the speech for me, but two always stick in my mind, King’s accurate depiction of the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” (still true) and his assertion that the Vietnamese must view Americans as “strange liberators.” Were he alive today he would surely say the same of the Iraqi and Afghan people, no?

And perhaps the most enduring message for me is King’s denunciation of the “giant triplets” – racism, extreme materialism and militarism – which continue, 46 years hence, to plague on our society.

King’s impact is immeasurable, and touches so many people in so many fields, including not just politics or organizing but culture and especially music, which has a unique ability to stir peoples’ emotions (as King himself knew as a preacher!) Here are some moving musical tributes to King:

Nina Simone’s “Why (The King of Love is Dead)” (from a King tribute concert)

Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Motel in Memphis”

Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain”

U2′s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

If you want to stoke your anger or righteous indignation at King’s murder, here are two articles in the independent media today on the subject of the conspiracy to kill King:

How the Government Killed Martin Luther King, Jr. by Carl Gibson

The Conspiracy to Kill to Kill MLK: Not a Theory but a Fact by Ira Chernus


A Decade Ago, The World Said No to “Pre-emptive” War and Yes to Peace

February 15, 2013

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Ten years ago, in the largest demonstration in history, over 15 million people worldwide hit the streets to call for peace instead of George Bush’s “pre-emptive” war of aggression against Iraq. While we didn’t stop the war, that day remains an inspiration for many who marched. The New York Times called us “the other world superpower,” and veteran columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote a moving article calling the demonstrators the nicest people he’d ever met.

I was in New York City, freezing my tuchus off with our Japanese friends and colleagues from our sister peace group Gensuikin, who arranged to come all the way from Japan to stand in solidarity with the U.S. peace movement. The heavy handed, menacing (near snarling, to be truthful) police presence in Manhattan that day was overwhelmed by the power of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent peacemongers!

Were you there in New York, or in another city in the United States or another country? Have any stories, photos or videos to share?

Soon, a documentary film We Are Many about that beautiful day will be released (see the website and a teaser for the film). We’ll keep you posted as to the premiere and ways to promote and distribute the film as we get the details.


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.


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


Thanks to Veterans Who Struggle for Peace – Please Add Your Favorite Veterans to This List

November 9, 2012

 

Veterans Day, also Remembrance Day and Armistice Day, is this Sunday, with the Monday holiday observance. The mainstream message we usually hear is thanks to veterans and to troops serving now for “protecting our freedoms” or something along those lines, which as a peace activist gives me pause. Of course I respect and honor the sacrifice of those who serve in the military, but “protecting our freedoms” is, and has often been, more honestly “projecting U.S. power abroad” or “overthrowing governments we don’t like in favor of corporate interests” or “killing an awful lot of people for absolutely no good reason.”

 

So, when I think of the veterans I cherish and respect, it is mostly those who have dedicated themselves to the struggle for peace and social justice because they’ve seen firsthand the horror, futility, waste and stupidity of war. Here are some of my favorite vets, please add yours to the list:

 

My Dad, Paul Martin (Air Force, radio technician, lucky for him and for me, he served in between the Korean and Vietnam Wars)

 

My Uncle, Randall Quinn, who just passed away two weeks ago. His time as a pilot in the Air Force led to his career as a commercial airline pilot and a lifelong love of flying. Neither my Dad nor my Uncle ever romanticized their time in the service, and they never tried to recruit my brothers or me to the military, for which I was and am grateful.

 

My Cousin, Ted Lyon, US Army (luckily he never saw combat)

 

Howard Zinn, WW II

 

Kurt Vonnegut, WW II

 

Lester Schlossberg, WW II, decorated in the European theater and devout opponent of war thereafter

 

Bob Cleland, WW II, decorated in Pacific theater. Bob was on a troop ship to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He didn’t take the position that “the A-Bomb saved his life,” he dedicated his life to peace and nuclear disarmament.

 

Lane Evans, former US Congress Member from Illinois and one of the most pro-peace members of Congress when he served from 1983-2007. Vietnam era vet (never saw combat, was a Marine supply sergeant in the Pacific)

 

David Cortright, Vietnam era vet and rabble rouser – his book, Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance in the Vietnam War is a must read regarding the anti-war movement of soldiers in the ‘60s, which he helped lead

 

Barry Romo, Vietnam vet and leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a smart and tireless advocate for peace and for veterans, and an awfully sweet man

 

Ray Parrish, Vietnam vet who dedicated himself to “counter-recruitment” and counseling vets and prospective recruits on conscientious objection and other issues

 

Admiral Eugene Carroll, one of the nicest men one could ever hope to meet, and a terrific analyst of US military policy

 

General Robert Gard, one of the best retired military leaders we have today in terms of advocating more peaceful and sane policies

 

Eric Swanson, our Database Manager here at Peace Action since the mid-90’s

 

Gregory McDonald, Iraq vet (Marine) who volunteered at Peace Action in 2002 before the war started. He was against the war but thought he had to go, that he couldn’t let down the others in his unit. He wanted to learn Arabic, gain some experience in the region, and help bring peace to the Middle East. I and others tried to counsel him to declare conscientious objector status, but he couldn’t see his way clear to do that. He died in Iraq in a vehicle accident.

 

Michael McPhearson, first Iraq War, formerly of Veterans for Peace, now with United for Peace and Justice, a steadfast, patient, wise and gentle leader, a healer, a builder

 

Erik Gustafson, first Iraq War, tireless advocate for peace and reconciliation with and for the people of Iraq

 

Will Hopkins, Iraq vet, Director of New Hampshire Peace Action, who speaks so clearly and convincingly of the horrors he saw and participated in in Fallujah, Iraq, and how peace activism became his calling and his home

 

John Heuer of North Carolina Peace Action, a great movement builder

 

Maggie Martin, Iraq vet, a leader of Veterans for Peace and for the movement on the right to heal for returning soldiers

 

Aaron Hughes, Iraq vet, a strong leader in Iraq Veterans Against the War, one of the main organizers of the moving and powerful veterans demonstration at last May’s NATO Summit in Chicago, where dozens of veterans of the “Global War on Terror” threw away their service medals

 

Ellen Barfield, a veteran with a tireless commitment to nonviolence and alliance building

 

Matt Southworth, Iraq vet, now with the Friends Committee on National Legislation

 

Bradley Manning, in prison for trying to help tell the truth about our awful wars

 

And lastly, a non-veteran but someone who works to help heal veterans, my brother, Kris Martin, a psychologist at the VA hospital in the Bronx (meaning unfortunately he has a job for life, with all of the psychological trauma we’ve inflicted on our veterans from our endless war-making)

 

I’m sure I’ve left some folks out, for which I’m sorry.

 

Who are your favorite veterans you are thankful for? We’ll need to do another list of those who went to jail to resist war, won’t we? They deserve our thanks every bit as much.


Cuban Missile Crisis + 50 Years – please share your memories or lessons learned

October 25, 2012

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

For me, the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis has a very personal angle. On this day fifty years ago, I was still in my mother’s womb, and she, like many people at the time, thought a nuclear war might well be imminent. She was afraid she’d never get to see her first child be born. Luckily, the crisis passed (and many government officials do in fact attribute luck, as much or more than any smart decisions by Kruschev or Kennedy, with averting catastrophe).

I was born several weeks later (a month premature, but stress about possible nuclear war didn’t cause that, according to my mom, Linn Martin), and, perhaps fittingly or ironically, I grew up to be a peace and disarmament activist. (Maybe my Mennonite and Quaker heritage, and outrage at Ronald Reagan’s sabre-rattling foreign policy, had as much to do with my career choice as did my being born after the missile crisis.)

While the Cold War never should have justified the insane nuclear weapons buildup between the U.S. and Soviet Union, people at the time (and now, looking back) would have said there was a substantive reason for it, namely the global competition of idealogies and geo-strategic interests between the two superpowers. Yet it was, in large measure, the mere existence of the weapons themselves (and their placement, by both the U.S. and Soviet Union, dangerously and provocatively close to the other’s territory) that caused the crisis.

Today, that fact is even worse. While we have far fewer nuclear weapons in the world, the U.S. and Russia still have thousands of warheads poised to be launched against the other, or some other country, on a moment’s notice. Why? There is no good reason to continue to hold humanity hostage with these grotesque weapons, other than the other side has them. So there is no “strategy” behind our nuclear arsenals, they have become, through inertia and apathy, self-justifying. Why do we have ‘em? Because they do. Why do they have ‘em? Because we do.

Peace Action, of course, does not accept this situation, and will initiate some exciting new campaigns early in the new year to press the case for the global abolition of nuclear weapons. For now, I’d love to hear your reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, both remembrances and lessons learned, or not, and their applicability for today. (So one need not to have been born at the time to share your comments.)


Suggested Actions for the International Day of Peace – Today!

September 21, 2012

Did you know today is celebrated as the International Day of Peace? No? Don’t be embarrassed, it’s not a real big deal in the U.S., maybe because our country is nearly always making war. Anyway September 21 was established as the International Day of Peace by the United Nations in 1981. On September 7, 2001 (four days before 9/11), the UN General Assembly unanimously declared September 21 should also be observed as a global day of cease-fire and nonviolence.

Here are four completely subjective suggestions for actions you can take to honor this day:

1. Contact your Members of Congress and tell them no war on Iran! See our blog post and action alert on this from yesterday.

2. Support the civil society initiative led by young Afghans, 2 Million Friends for Peace in Afghanistan, in their call for a cease-fire and negotiated end to the war there. The 2 million refers to the approximate number of Afghans killed in nearly forty years of war. They aim to deliver a petition to the United Nations on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

3. Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the end of U.S. nuclear weapons testing! The U.S. conducted 1,030 nuclear weapons test explosions (will the Earth ever forgive us for this violence against her?), the last was September 23, 1992. But with our continued vigilance and hard work, not only will the U.S. never test again, we’ll abolish nuclear weapons worldwide! Please sign onto a letter to President Obama encouraging further nuclear weapons reductions, and for him to push for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

4. Give as generous a gift as you can to Peace Action!


Kev’s Summer Reading List

July 9, 2012

Here are four books on Peace Action related issues I’ve read recently, all written by colleagues (okay maybe I need to balance these now with some non-political books!). What are you reading this summer? Please share your favorites, whether political or peace-related or not.

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink: Women for Peace and Global Exchange

Medea Benjamin, an indefatigable drum major for peace and justice, provides a real eye opener to how U.S. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or “drones” are not only killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries (most of whom the U.S. is not at war against), but how drones are lowering the bar for warmaking and spying on Americans. Clear, concise, well-argued and passionate, featuring interviews with drone victims and activists working to limit the proliferation of drones and other robotic warfare technology, this book is a must-read for peace activists wanting to learn more about this pernicious threat to peace and our civil liberties and how to stop it.

Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual by Lawrence Wittner, Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Albany and a member of the Peace Action national board of directors

Perhaps because I admire and like Larry Wittner so much,  I really enjoyed this coming of age story of a shy, intellectual boy from Brooklyn who went on to become a civil rights, labor and peace activist, and the authoritative scholar of the global nuclear disarmament movement. While I enjoyed that “political” part of the book, Larry’s personal journey is very compelling too, as he overcame numerous serious personal and professional obstacles to become a much-respected and well-liked stalwart in the fields of academia and activism.

Here is the blurb I wrote for the book:

Larry Wittner’s life and work are inspiring on their own, but he recounts them in such a frank, open manner that he has crafted a real page-turner. Working for Peace and Justice takes you along on a joyful ride of discovery through the life of a model citizen/scholar/activist.”

The Peacekeeping Economy:  Using Economic Relationships to Build a More Peaceful, Prosperous, and Secure World by Lloyd “Jeff” Dumas, Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas

If you are looking for a Marxist screed about war and capitalism, Jeff Dumas’s latest work is not the one for you. But if you like practical ideas on how a more just U.S. and global economy could work better for everyone, and how a more peaceful world is possible with more equitable economic policies, then you will dig into this book, part of “an unintended trilogy” by Dumas. For good measure, he throws in a fascinating chapter on nonviolence. It’s a bit of a serious, somewhat academic read, but very rewarding, even to someone who was not very strong on Economics in my academic career! Dumas’s aim is true, and he aims to make a difference, not wow you with economics wizardry.

 Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military Industrial Complex by William Hartung

Okay I only got to read part of this book, but it was great, as everything Bill Hartung writes always is. It’s a fascinating history of how Lockheed began as a small airplane company and then metastasized into the largest merchant of death on the planet. As anti-corporate organizing grows, we need to sharpen the focus on some of the worst corporations, those who profit from and lobby for endless wars, bottomless weapons contracts and gargantuan military budgets. This book is an invaluable resource for doing just that!


From our archives – Peace Action statement from September 12, 2001

September 9, 2011
With Sunday’s 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, many colleagues have written trenchant essays about that awful day and its aftermath, and the era of endless war that has ensued. I had intended to compile some of them, until I read our statement from September 12, 2001. I must say I’m proud of what we said, and did, back then, and all that we’ve done since to try to bring about a more peaceful world.

Peace Action Statement on the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks

 

 

September 12, 2001

 

 

Peace Action, an organization that promotes peaceful, non-violent solutions to conflict, abhors the horrible attacks committed yesterday, and mourns the tragic loss of so many lives. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

 

President Bush has said that the United States “will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them.” However, such indiscriminate attacks by the U.S. military against ill-defined targets will make ordinary Americans less secure, rather than more, by spilling the innocent blood that feeds already existing fanaticism. Such violence will produce the fear and hate in the terrorists’ homelands that they need to prosper – it enables them to bring ever more violence against those they see as their enemies.

 

We must bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice, but we must do so through international and national legal systems. A great nation does not punish the innocent in order to assuage its anguish.

 

Further, as a nation, it is in our absolute interest to ensure that no terrorist ever gain a nuclear capability. We must take the lead in building international cooperation for the safeguarding of all nuclear materials, and then for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

 

Lastly, we must not allow these horrifying acts of violence to curtail the civil liberties which are at the heart of democracy. Of particular concern is the protection of all Americans who are Muslim or are of Arab or Middle Eastern descent from racist attacks.

 

Now, in the face of this lawless act, we must act to end the cycle of violence. We must use restraint, prudence and the rule of law, as we—as a nation—seek justice for the crimes committed on September 11th.

 


Essay on Pacifism in NY Times

August 29, 2011
Peace Action is not an explicitly pacifist organization as some colleagues are, on the other hand I don’t believe we’ve ever supported any US war or use of force in our 54 year history, and our efforts are to dismantle the war machine and make war obsolete.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/28/opinion/sunday/what-is-pacifism-good-for.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

OPINION

Give Pacifism a Chance

By LOUISA THOMAS
Published: August 27, 2011

Louisa Thomas is the author of “Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War I.”

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Two London children display a peace banner in Regent’s Park in 1898.

Bob Adelman/Magnum Photos

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

DURING World War I, a conscientious objector named Evan Thomas faced a court-martial for refusing an order to eat during a hunger strike. The prosecutor’s real attack, though, was on Thomas’s refusal to serve in the Army.

“The very foundation of every civilized government from the first beginning of history down to the present time has been based absolutely upon force of arms,” the prosecutor argued. “Gentlemen, if we don’t punish these cowards who appear in this land like the sore spots on our bodies to the fullest limit of the law, this government cannot survive.” Then he asked for Thomas to be given the death penalty.

Such a scene would seem preposterous today, and not only because it is hard to imagine such a prosecutor. It is also hard now to picture a man like Thomas, who was my great-great-uncle: an Ohio-born Princeton graduate, a son of a middle-class minister — and a strict pacifist.

Pacifism is a curiosity. Even those few who call themselves pacifists are usually quick to qualify the word; they’re “realistic” or “pragmatic” pacifists. Rarely does anyone question the tragic view of human nature: man is aggressive, violence is a fact and some wars are necessary. It is tempting to say this is knowledge learned of experience. Fascism, communism, nuclear bombs, genocide and terrorism seem to confirm the futility of strict nonviolence. As President Obama said while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, recognition of the moral and practical necessity of force “is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

A recognition of history, however, also compels us to remember that many Americans — as disparate as Andrew Carnegie and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — have held another view. These pacifists (an imperfect, but useful, term) rejected organized violence on principle. They had different and contradictory motives and tactics, but their repudiation of war challenged the idea that man’s imperfections, and reason’s limits, made war acceptable. They were often naïve — but so were leaders who pursued policies that made armed conflict more likely, or who assumed that violence could be governed by good intentions and expertise.

Few people today openly espouse pacifist beliefs, even as the impact of 20th-century pacifism — from the United Nations to the Civil Rights Act — is everywhere apparent. In part that’s because some of the movement’s goals have come to pass: war is now usually less lethal and involves only professional soldiers, who take pains to minimize civilian casualties. Meanwhile, pacifists’ emphasis on the moral issues surrounding violence could be turned against them, especially during humanitarian crises or acts of foreign belligerence. War, in other words, has become harder to object to. But that doesn’t mean it’s not objectionable, or that pacifists don’t have a point.

BOTH pacific and martial currents run through American culture, and pacifism has struggled as much with its own principles as it has with the nation’s abiding militaristic streak. Seventeenth-century Anabaptists believed that nonresistance was purifying in a corrupted world. Colonial Quakers thought their refusal to fight would serve as a witness to God’s kingdom of peace and the sacred quality of individual life.

Early pacifists — long before they called themselves “pacifists,” a 20th-century word — were sectarian, but the winners of the Revolution also dreamed of lasting peace. Most were suspicious of standing armies and concentrated power, and they respected not only equality before the law but also the unruly demands of the individual conscience.

In the 19th century, faith in the rational, moral improvement of mankind, along with a revival of religious enthusiasm, spurred the peace movement. After the unpopular War of 1812, nonsectarian peace movements sprang up across the North, mostly appealing to well-educated white Protestants.

As the threat of war with the South grew, though, peace advocates struggled to define the limits of their stand. Were defensive wars permissible? Was peace that allowed terrible injustice worth keeping? And here the movement splintered. “O, yes — war is better than slavery,” wrote Angelina Grimké Weld, a political activist and strident peace advocate. The movement could not easily overcome the conflict between justice and peace — not then, and not a century later. Slavery had been abolished, but some 620,000 men in uniform had died.

The end of the war and the years of peace that followed, however, allowed many to put off the question. Late-19th-century Americans placed their faith in the progress of history. After the carnage of the Civil War and, in Europe, the Napoleonic wars, many believed that humanity had learned its lesson, and that world peace was a real possibility. Peace societies flourished. Activists formed international networks. A Swiss businessman established the Red Cross in 1863. At peace conferences at The Hague in 1899 and 1907, delegations established rules for neutrals and treatment of prisoners of war, and even an international arbitration court, in the hope of restraining warfare. (The most urgent reforms, like arms limitations and enforcement mechanisms — anything that might really limit state power — were off the table, but the conferences seemed a start.)

Money fueled the hope. In 1896 the inventor of dynamite died and left a will establishing the Nobel prizes, including one for peace. In 1910 Carnegie gave $10 million to found the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Business pacifism” became a first principle of the Gilded Age. “Dead men buy no clothes,” said one industrialist in 1907.

But the difficulties of reconciling pacifist ideals with the reality of global politics remained. When world war came, most of the peace advocates in Europe and, eventually, the United States joined the fight, not because they were rejecting their own beliefs but because they were told repeatedly that it would be a war to end war. Only a tiny minority, including Evan Thomas (whose lifetime prison sentence was reduced to 25 years before he was released on a technicality), refused to fight.

Many would come to regret their support. Some retreated into isolationism. But others redoubled their efforts. International peace movements revived. Governments tried outlawing war (the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact is still on the books). Students held antiwar protests and signed pledges to refuse to fight. Peace advocates and statesmen wrestled to build the League of Nations. Time magazine chose Mohandas K. Gandhi man of the year in 1931. For a brief moment, pacifism seemed to be a driving force in international politics.

It wasn’t to last. And while some peace activists quickly recognized the danger of fascism, others wanted to wish the threat away. Isolationists and pacifists formed awkward alliances, until even the most ardent of them admitted that war had become unavoidable. In the United States, for the most part only absolute pacifists resisted the war after Pearl Harbor. In the eyes of most Americans, including erstwhile pacifists, the war seemed to disprove for good the belief that all violence was bad. There was, it appeared, such a thing as not only a just war but a “good” war.

But the good war was also a total war. The Nazis were defeated and the concentration camps liberated, but mankind had also figured out how to destroy itself. Aerial bombing killed indiscriminately and atomic bombs incinerated two cities.

One result was a contradictory postwar world. On one hand, global peace seemed all the more pressing. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took the United States to war, recognized the need for permanent peace from the start: one of his 1941 Four Freedoms was that from fear, which meant, he said, “a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.”

The international community built on that dream, trying to redistribute power so that no nation would attack any other. Statesmen established the United Nations in 1945 and worked out strict international laws, greater democratic freedoms and social justice, and enforcement mechanisms for collective security.

Still, the hope was damaged. Visions of permanent conflict, not harmony, prevailed. The peace movement itself spent the early cold war years in the wilderness. The global spread of the bomb would help revive it, but in some important ways it became more strategic than pacifist in its principles. Nuclear deterrence and test bans drew some of the broadest support, appealing to mothers who worried about nuclear contamination in milk rather than nuclear weapons outright. The coalitions were fractured as different groups had their own aims and ambitions, some narrowly antiwar, others for broader social justice. They did not easily coexist. Pacifists were often a minority, and absolute pacifists fewer still.

Indeed, the 20th century not only shattered the hopes of turn-of-the-century pacifists, but its carnage seemed to disprove the possibility of abolishing war. American peace movements could not stop war in Korea, nor keep the nation out of Vietnam. That war, of course, would spur the largest network of antiwar movements in American history. But it succeeded in part by riding a countercultural tide — and, already weakened by internal tensions, it was subsequently hammered in the post-60s backlash. Chastened, many antiwar activists kept their attention on nuclear weapons.

Pacifists had their real success when they focused on organized violence at home — and nowhere more so than in the civil rights movement. Inspired by Tolstoy and Gandhi, pacifists like Dr. King, James Farmer and Bayard Rustin demonstrated the power of nonviolent protest in forcing social and political change, developing techniques still used today in groups as diverse as the National Organization for Women and the Tea Party.

Nonviolent movements continue abroad, most recently in parts of the Middle East. It is not just idealism that drives them to reject force; they also know it works. A study conducted by Erica Chenoweth of Wesleyan University and Maria J. Stephan of American University found that of hundreds of insurgencies from 1900 to 2006, more than 50 percent of nonviolent campaigns worked, while only about 25 percent of violent ones did.

FOR the most part, though, nonviolence and pacifism in the United States are today discredited as utopian, hippieish or narrowly religious, more anti-American than anti-war. There are still people who say that force only destroys, that its consequences are uncontrollable, that it is unethical — but those critiques trouble us on the margins, or in books or movies. There are still a few antiwar groups (not all of them pacifist) — the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Albert Einstein Institution — but hardly any serious public figures take the stage to defend their views.

Some of what the American peace movement fought for has come to pass: there is no draft, there are no special taxes raised to pay for war, the threat of nuclear Armageddon has receded and the country plays a leading, if controversial, role in multilateral institutions. Rooting out terrorists and intervening in civil conflicts, soldiers often do more police work than conventional combat.

The results have been mixed, though, and in some ways at odds with pacifism’s longer-term goals. Most people don’t want to think of war, and thanks to the lack of a draft, most don’t have to. Huge worldwide protests against sending soldiers into Iraq in 2003 were a sideshow for many people. Significant antiwar sentiment over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has mostly challenged the time, the place, the conduct and the costs of deployment, not the use of force itself. Those who are on active duty — less than one percent of the population — and their families bear most of the burdens.

Such complacency has allowed for the possibility of unending war. Because of the nature of intelligence gathering and weapons technology like drones, the government can use deadly force without popular support or approval. The president has claimed — and we have given him — extraordinary powers.

We should respect the sacrifices of soldiers and the complexity of governing in a dangerous world. But war has a way of coming home, eroding our democratic culture as well as our safety. American pacifists of the past knew that, and we need people like them today: people who don’t believe war is inevitable, who will challenge what we assume and accept, and who will work to end it.


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