February 24, 2014

Here’s an easy quiz for you. According to an article in the Washington Post over the weekend , the Obama Administration is considering four options regarding leaving U.S.  troops in Afghanistan after the end of this year. What do you think the number should be?

A.      10,000 (favored by U.S. military commanders, unsurprisingly)
B.      A somewhat smaller number, unspecified
C.      3,000
D.      Zero

Tell the president you want all our troops home, with none left behind in Afghanistan.

It’s long past time to end America’s longest war. In the words of the late, great Pete Seeger (a longtime Peace Action member):

“If you love this land of the free,
Bring ‘em home, bring ‘em home,
Bring ‘em back from overseas,
Bring ‘em home, bring ‘em home!”

Peacefully Yours,


Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. After you email the president, please click here and tell your friends to do the same.

When Will They Ever Learn?

January 9, 2014
Peace Action board member, professor, activist and author Larry Wittner’s article published yesterday on CounterPunch 
JANUARY 08, 2014
When Will They Ever Learn?
The American People and Support for War

When it comes to war, the American public is remarkably fickle.

The responses of Americans to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars provide telling examples.  In 2003, according to opinion polls, 72 percent of Americans thought going to war in Iraq was the right decision.  By early 2013, support for that decision had declined to 41 percent.  Similarly, in October 2001, when U.S. military action began in Afghanistan, it was backed by 90 percent of the American public.  By December 2013, public approval of the Afghanistan war had dropped to only 17 percent.

In fact, this collapse of public support for once-popular wars is a long-term phenomenon.  Although World War I preceded public opinion polling, observers reported considerable enthusiasm for U.S. entry into that conflict in April 1917.  But, after the war, the enthusiasm melted away.  In 1937, when pollsters asked Americans whether the United States should participate in another war like the World War, 95 percent of the respondents said “No.”

And so it went.  When President Truman dispatched U.S. troops to Korea in June 1950, 78 percent of Americans polled expressed their approval.  By February 1952, according to polls, 50 percent of Americans believed that U.S. entry into the Korean War had been a mistake.  The same phenomenon occurred in connection with the Vietnam War.  In August 1965, when Americans were asked if the U.S. government had made “a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam,” 61 percent of them said “No.”  But by August 1968, support for the war had fallen to 35 percent, and by May 1971 it had dropped to 28 percent.

Of all America’s wars over the past century, only World War II has retained mass public approval.  And this was a very unusual war – one involving a devastating military attack upon American soil, fiendish foes determined to conquer and enslave the world, and a clear-cut, total victory.

In almost all cases, though, Americans turned against wars they once supported.  How should one explain this pattern of disillusionment?

The major reason appears to be the immense cost of war — in lives and resources.  During the Korean and Vietnam wars, as the body bags and crippled veterans began coming back to the United States in large numbers, public support for the wars dwindled considerably.  Although the Afghanistan and Iraq wars produced fewer American casualties, the economic costs have been immense.  Two recent scholarly studies have estimated that these two wars will ultimately cost American taxpayers from $4 trillion to $6 trillion.  As a result, most of the U.S. government’s spending no longer goes for education, health care, parks, and infrastructure, but to cover the costs of war.  It is hardly surprising that many Americans have turned sour on these conflicts.

But if the heavy burden of wars has disillusioned many Americans, why are they so easily suckered into supporting new ones?

A key reason seems to be that that powerful, opinion-molding institutions – the mass communications media, government, political parties, and even education – are controlled, more or less, by what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”  And, at the outset of a conflict, these institutions are usually capable of getting flags waving, bands playing, and crowds cheering for war.

But it is also true that much of the American public is very gullible and, at least initially, quite ready to rally ‘round the flag.  Certainly, many Americans are very nationalistic and resonate to super-patriotic appeals.  A mainstay of U.S. political rhetoric is the sacrosanct claim that America is “the greatest nation in the world” – a very useful motivator of U.S. military action against other countries.  And this heady brew is topped off with considerable reverence for guns and U.S. soldiers.  (“Let’s hear the applause for Our Heroes!”)

Of course, there is also an important American peace constituency, which has formed long-term peace organizations, including Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and other antiwar groups.  This peace constituency, often driven by moral and political ideals, provides the key force behind the opposition to U.S. wars in their early stages.  But it is counterbalanced by staunch military enthusiasts, ready to applaud wars to the last surviving American.  The shifting force in U.S. public opinion is the large number of people who rally ‘round the flag at the beginning of a war and, then, gradually, become fed up with the conflict.

And so a cyclical process ensues.  Benjamin Franklin recognized it as early as the eighteenth century, when he penned a short poem for  A Pocket Almanack For the Year 1744:

War begets Poverty,

Poverty Peace;

Peace makes Riches flow,

(Fate ne’er doth cease.)

Riches produce Pride,

Pride is War’s Ground;

War begets Poverty &c.

The World goes round.

There would certainly be less disillusionment, as well as a great savings in lives and resources, if more Americans recognized the terrible costs of war before they rushed to embrace it.  But a clearer understanding of war and its consequences will probably be necessary to convince Americans to break out of the cycle in which they seem trapped.

Lawrence Wittner (, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” (Solidarity Press), a satirical novel about campus life.

Afghanistan — should we stay or should we go?

November 18, 2013

While Afghanistan has not been in the U.S. news much recently, key issues are now being debated regarding a possible enduring U.S. military presence past the end of 2014 deadline for “full withdrawal.”

The Reuters article below notes the two sticking point issues, immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts for any remaining U.S. troops and the right for U.S. troops to enter and search Afghan homes, with or without Afghan troops. Won’t hazard a guess as to how this plays out, but it may well be decided over the next week.

Exclusive: U.S.-Afghan security pact hits impasse as time runs out

Click for a zoom view


Monday, November 18, 2013 11:56 AM GMT


By Dylan Welch and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai has rejected a provision of a U.S.-Afghan security pact, putting the entire deal in jeopardy just days before the country’s elite gather to debate it, a senior Afghan official and a Western diplomat said.

The question of whether foreign troops will be able to search Afghan homes after NATO’s combat mission ends next year has long been a sticking point of an agreement setting out the terms under which remaining U.S. forces will operate there.

But in a series of meetings over the weekend the enter-and-search issue emerged as the biggest roadblock facing the security pact as Karzai dug his heels in, the Afghan official, who has been close to the talks, told Reuters.

Without an accord on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), Washington says it could pull out all of its troops at the end of 2014, leaving Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces on their own to fight the Taliban-led insurgency.

Two years ago, the United States ended its military mission in Iraq with a similar “zero option” outcome after the failure of talks with Baghdad, which refused to guarantee immunity to U.S. personnel serving there.

The United States is concerned that as campaigning intensifies for Afghanistan’s presidential election next April, it will be increasingly difficult to broker a security pact.

“They want a window left open to go into Afghan homes, but the president does not accept that – not unilaterally and not joint,” the Afghan official said, referring to house raids by U.S. troops either on their own or with Afghan forces.

The U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul declined to comment, but a Western diplomat in Kabul with knowledge of the talks confirmed the two sides had reached an impasse.

“It’s a very tense time,” the diplomat said.


On Thursday, a five-day national gathering of the country’s political, tribal and other elites, called a loya jirga, will begin to debate the BSA in Kabul.

If an agreement on the pact is not reached by then, Karzai may tell the meeting in his opening address that he does not agree with the article about house searches, the official said.

“If the jirga becomes about that one article then it risks seeing the entire document rejected,” the Afghan official said.

Talks stalled over the house-search issue during two meetings Karzai held at his palace with U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham and NATO’s commander, General Joseph Dunford.

“From our side there is no flexibility on this issue of allowing Americans to search Afghan homes, because this is more important than jurisdiction,” the Afghan official said.

Jurisdiction refers to giving all American service members in Afghanistan immunity from Afghan law, another U.S. demand that has been resisted by Karzai.

The issues of jurisdiction and unilateral military operations by U.S. forces have been the main bones of contention in the months-long negotiations over the security agreement.

The question of house searches, which have sometimes led to civilian deaths, is a highly charged one that has contributed to the rifts between Karzai and foreign forces in an increasingly fractious relationship.

The United States wants to be able to conduct such searches to continue targeting al Qaeda and other militants in Afghanistan. Karzai is concerned that the hated searches could sap support for the government and foreign troops who stay on.

Another meeting between Karzai, the U.S. envoy and the NATO commander was expected on Monday, though the official said there was little hope of a breakthrough.

(Editing by John Chalmers and Robert Birsel)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013. Check for restrictions at:

A bit more on military and foreign policy in the State of the Union

February 13, 2013

Just a few points to add to Brother Matt Rothschild’s comprehensive commentary on the speech:

It took the president almost 45 minutes to mention foreign policy. Understandably, he still wants to focus on the economy, but this seemed extreme, especially since there is no good reason to “silo” domestic and foreign policy when there are great opportunities to connect the dots. For instance, the president’s mention of rebuilding our infrastructure, and specifically repairing 70,000 bridges in this country – great! Why not connect that with the need to drastically cut Pentagon spending in order to reinvest in community needs, stimulate the economy and create jobs? Why not bring the troops home from Afghanistan sooner, some of them can surely help rebuild bridges? The answer of course is the president is far too timid and afraid to take on the military-industrial complex (or by this point he is just “one of them”).

On Afghanistan, the “No drama Obama, I got this, we’re ending two wars” act is wearing thin. The president seems to want kudos for announcing that 34,000 troops will come home from Afghanistan in a year (meaning about that many would remain until the end of 2014, and then the Pentagon wants 8,000 or more to stay after the “end of the war.”).

Sorry, but I think it’s incumbent on the president to make the case why U.S. troops should continue to fight, kill and die in this pointless war for almost another two years. Polls show a solid majority of the public want all the troops, not half of them, home in a year. The president needs to listen to the public, not the generals and their talk of “fighting seasons” and foot-dragging on troop withdrawal.

The president’s quick “you can trust me” justification on drones, kill lists and targeted assassinations was abominable. This issue is moving rapidly at the grassroots, in the media and even in Congress, and the administration surely knows it is on very shaky moral and legal ground.

There was nothing new on any olive branch or changed policy on Iran in advance of the next round of negotiations later this month. Maybe that’s okay, the negotiating stance will be more important than anything he could have announced in the speech.

On nuclear disarmament, the administration evidently decided to back off earlier plans to specify a modest proposal to cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons by about one-third, to 1,000 – 1,100 warheads, instead only mentioning pursuing further reductions with Russia. This was likely a political choice not to raise Republican hackles, but once again shows timidity. Going deeper with nuclear weapons reductions, initiating negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention to eliminate nukes worldwide, scrapping plans to “modernize” the entire nuclear weapons production complex and arsenal (with a projected price tag of over $200 billion over the next decade) – all of these should be on the table and need U.S. leadership, and would be wildly popular in the U.S. and around the world.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but think that when the president said, “we’ll maintain the best military the world has ever known,” the world must have said, “uh oh!”


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.

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.


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.

Fighting (Nonviolently of course!) for Peace at the Local Level

October 17, 2012

By Lawrence S. Wittner, October 17, 2012

(Larry Wittner is a member of the national Peace Action national board of directors. This article was first published by our friends at Foreign Policy in Focus.)

On October 9, 2012, the legislature of Albany County, New York approved a proclamation calling upon Congress to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, cut the U.S. military budget, and use the savings to fund vital public programs at home.

This official demand for new national priorities—by a county of 304,000 people—was not entirely novel. Within the past year or so, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a similar resolution, as did the governments of numerous cities, including Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Hartford, and Portland. Even so, the idea of “moving the money” from war to peace had largely fallen off the political radar screen. The Albany County Peace Dividend Proclamation, as it was soon dubbed, has helped bring it back to public attention.

The Albany campaign began this past July, when—in my capacity as a national board member of Peace Action, America’s largest peace organization—I learned that the city of Philadelphia had just passed a “move the money” resolution. As Doug Bullock, a long-time friend of mine in Albany’s peace and social justice community, was a member of the Albany county legislature, I passed along this news to him, suggesting rather casually that he might want to promote a similar resolution on the Albany county level. He replied that he’d be happy to try it, but needed a public campaign to back him up. Could we put one together?

Actually, we could. I was well connected within the Albany region’s peace community, serving on the steering committee of Upper Hudson Peace Action and dealing frequently with the leaders of other local peace groups. In addition, I had strong credentials in the local labor movement, serving as executive secretary of the Albany County Central Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), as a member of the executive committee of the Albany chapter of United University Professions, and as a long-time activist in the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District (an independent organization rooted in the local labor movement).

Moreover, in recent decades, Albany’s peace and social justice community had grown ever more intertwined, amassing a good deal of overlap in membership and a strong “movement culture” among the region’s various progressive organizations. And with national polls showing the general public fed up with the Afghanistan War and preferring military cuts to cuts in social spending, the peace movement was more in tune with popular sentiment than ever.

Yet significant factors weighed against the possibility of success. Although Albany County is heavily Democratic, much of the local Democratic Party is controlled by machine politicians who might just as well have been Republicans. Doug’s strong antiwar stance has not been the norm. Indeed, in 2008, when he tried to get the legislature to pass a resolution opposing the Iraq War, the legislators not only strongly rejected it, but banned all future resolutions!

Corralling Allies

Despite the obstacles, we decided to move forward with a Peace Dividend Proclamation campaign—one that would involve getting a majority of Albany County’s 39 legislators to sign an official statement on behalf of the county. After securing volunteers from Upper Hudson Peace Action and the Solidarity Committee, we conferred with staff members from Peace Action of New York State and national Peace Action, who helped us pull together the relevant statistics and wording for the proclamation. Once the proclamation was in final form, Doug circulated it to potentially sympathetic legislators and—to our delight—secured six additional co-sponsors.

The next step was to recruit friendly organizations to join the campaign. We divided up a list of peace, labor, religious, environmental, political, student, tenants’ rights, and other organizations among ourselves. We approached them about not only endorsing the proclamation, but also sending a speaker and turning out supporters for the September 10 meeting of the county legislature.

In Albany County, immediately preceding the official meeting of the legislature, there is a public forum during which citizens are free to speak to the assembled legislators on any issue. We used this opportunity to good effect, presenting 10 speakers from well-known labor organizations, peace groups, and constituencies. To offset possible charges that the proclamation “disrespected the troops,” we drew upon two veterans as speakers—one of whom identified himself as coming from “Vietnam – Class of 1968.” We also distributed the proclamation and a list of 19 local organizations that had endorsed it.

Even if we hadn’t secured any signatures that evening, it would have been a useful exercise, for the assembled legislators were forced to sit through 50 minutes’ worth of lectures on the costs of war—both economic and human—and the need to fund social programs.

But in fact we came away that evening with 18 signatures out of the 20 that we needed for a majority. That gave us until October 9, the next meeting of the legislature and our self-imposed deadline, to gather just two more signatures. And that wouldn’t be difficult, would it?

Unfortunately, it proved very difficult. In the following weeks, Doug brought the proclamation to legislative committee meetings for additional signatures, but no one else was willing to sign it. Among the Democratic holdouts, some said that they did not believe that issues of war and peace should be addressed by a county legislature. One Democrat angrily denounced the proclamation as “unpatriotic,” claiming that she had been told that by the county executive. Another said that it would undermine President Obama’s reelection. A few said they were thinking about it.

Among the 10 Republican legislators—none of whom had signed the proclamation—there was even stiffer resistance. Some simply dismissed the proclamation as the Democratic presidential campaign platform. Others said that they would be willing to sign it if the savings on military programs were not rechanneled to domestic social programs.

Eventually we picked up an additional Democratic signature, bringing us to 19 out of the 20 we needed, but we began to feel a bit desperate as the October 9 deadline neared. Would we ultimately fail, just one signature short of our goal?

Closing the Gap

In the final days, we mobilized some of our most powerful organizational endorsers—the AFL-CIO, the Interfaith Alliance of New York State, the Working Families Party (which, under New York law, can and does make cross-party endorsements, often of Democrats), Veterans for Peace, and United University Professions—to send letters to holdout legislators. We pored over the mailing lists of key groups, identified the constituents of targeted legislators, and called upon them to phone these legislators and urge them to sign the proclamation. We asked other groups (such as the Albany Friends Meeting and Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace) to mobilize their members for the same purpose. We drew upon other legislators and people with political connections to pressure key holdouts to sign. Finally, we scheduled a press conference and rally outside the doors of the legislature in the half hour just before the legislature was to meet.

Then, on the evening of October 8, Doug phoned to tell me that he had just spoken with a legislator who said he was going to sign on October 9. And on the afternoon of that final day, he did.

Our rally turned into a victory celebration. At the legislature’s Public Forum, we distributed a list of 29 endorsing organizations (ranging from the RFK Democratic Club to Women Against War and the Peace and Justice Commission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany) and brought in another battery of speakers lauding the proclamation. By the end of the night, the proclamation had 22 signers (all of them Democrats), a solid majority. On October 10, in accordance with the terms of the proclamation, the Albany County Clerk mailed off copies to President Obama, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York congressional delegation, the New York State Legislature, and all government departments in Albany County.

Afghanistan – the Who Cares War?

October 9, 2012

Not Exactly, But it Fails the Real Definition of a Just War

–Kevin Martin 

Amid all the grim news in Afghanistan as the war enters its 12th year, a new initiative by the youth-led Afghan civil society organization Afghan Peace Volunteers called 2 Million Friends for Peace in Afghanistan ( looks like a ray of hope. The two million refers to the approximate number of Afghans killed in forty years of war. The campaign aims to find two million friends or supporters worldwide, and to deliver its call for a cease fire and negotiated end to the war to the United Nations on December 10, International Human Rights Day. 


Here in the U.S., the war in Afghanistan is hardly mentioned by the presidential or congressional candidates (Mitt Romney completely omitted it from his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention). With only about one percent of the population directly involved in the war, with a family member in the service, the war is so low on the public radar screen that Council on Foreign Relations analyst Max Boot dubbed it the “Who Cares?” war, and many in the military fret about the seeming indifference to the sacrifice and hardships of our troops and returning veterans. This angle was prominent in 9/11 anniversary news coverage.


Such a narrative is too shallow, as there are many ironies and contradictions regarding public support, or lack thereof, for the Afghanistan war, and as to how the public feels about the troops and veterans.  


As a peace activist, invariably opposed to this country’s many, many wars, I do care about the troops and returning vets (my brother is a psychologist at the Veterans Administration hospital in the Bronx, meaning unfortunately he has a job for life dealing with the trauma our endless war making inflicts on those who fight them), as do all the peace activists I know.


I knew a wonderful young man, a Marine reservist who died in Iraq. He was opposed to the war, but felt he had to go, that he couldn’t have claimed conscientious objector status (as I and others counseled him to do, and I believe he had a pretty good case). He felt he couldn’t let the others in his unit down, though he vehemently opposed the war. The military counts on that type of coercion or guilt to keep troops in line and returning to combat time and again.


In terms of nobody “caring about the war,” there are many dynamics at play. Polls consistently show a solid majority of the US populace is now against the war, but there are neither widespread protests nor large-scale organized war tax resistance (although I was proud to march in Chicago last May at the NATO protest with veterans returning their medals to protest the wars). Certainly there is some partisan politics at play here, with anti-war liberals not wanting to criticize President Obama, or feeling “okay” with his promise to end the war by the end of 2014 (though a Foreign Policy article recently speculated up to 25,000 U.S. troops may remain for a decade as part of an agreement with the Afghan govt.).


The Pentagon can’t have it both ways. Military brass and civilian leaders don’t want a draft, understandably, as they don’t want to deal with hassles from soldiers who don’t want to be in the service (that is a lesson the Pentagon learned from the Vietnam War and the rampant resistance and anti-war organizing by conscripts). The poverty draft, whereby urban and rural youth with poor job and educational prospects in their communities see the military as an attractive career option, especially in a week economy, suits the Pentagon just fine.


Moreover, the Department of War gets an endless supply of our tax dollars to fight its wars and maintain the largest military in human history. They want us to “care” more? Even with multiple “support the troops” programs and manifestations all over society (Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are constantly stressing this, as do many others)? Which is not to disparage such efforts, we do need to support the troops, and the best way to do that is to get them home to their families as soon as possible. Even longtime hawk U.S. Rep. Bill Young, Republican from Florida who chairs the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and is Congress’s longest serving member, now advocates this.


If there were a draft, the war would be over in a month if not sooner. The public wouldn’t stand for it, because this war fails miserably in meeting the real definition of a just war (the horse sense definition, not the Catholic Church’s official Just War theory regarding using force as a last resort, with proportionality and protection for noncombatants and other criteria).


The real definition of a just war is one you’d send your kid to.


So mark me down as caring about the troops, and about getting them the best possible medical, psychological, financial and career services we can provide when they get home. I don’t see how Pentagon brass can ask for more than that, unless their real goal is to continue the war indefinitely.

Kevin Martin is the Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with approximately 90,000 members and 70,000 online supporters nationwide.

Afghanistan – The “Who Cares?” War

September 18, 2012

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Last week, veteran AP reporter Robert Burns wrote an interesting article on the 9/11 anniversary  titled “War Weary US is Numbed to Drumbeat of Troop Deaths.” Burns told moving stories of a few troops who recently died in Afghanistan, and interviewed some military brass about the supposed problem of the public “not caring” about the war. He quoted think tanker Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations calling Afghanistan the “Who Cares?” war.

The article got me to thinkin’, which was good, but I was troubled by some ironies and contradictions in this so-called problem of Americans “not caring” about the war. So I wrote a letter to Burns (he didn’t reply) raising some issues and questions that went beyond the scope of his article. Here it is, and I’m working on shaping this into an op-ed.

Dear Mr. Burns,

Thank you for your article about the “Who Cares?” war, as you quoted Max Boot on his moniker for it. I’ve enjoyed your reporting for some time now. I appreciate your focus on the cost of war in the human lives of our soldiers, but of course the toll for the people of Afghanistan is much, much worse.

I do think there are some ironies and contradictions re the Afghanistan war that go beyond the scope of your article, which I may well write about, and that I assume you have some views on.

I’m a peace activist, invariably opposed to this country’s many, many wars, but I care about the troops and returning vets (my brother is a psychologist at the VA hospital in the Bronx, meaning unfortunately he has a job for life dealing with the trauma our wars inflict on those who fight them), as do all the peace activists I know. I knew a wonderful young man, a Marine reservist named Gregory McDonald who died in Iraq. He was opposed to the war, but felt he had to go, that he couldn’t have claimed conscientious objector status (as I and others counseled him, and I believe he had a pretty good case). He felt he couldn’t let the others in his unit down, though he vehemently opposed the war. The military counts on that type of coercion or guilt to keep troops in line.

In terms of nobody “caring about the war,” there are many dynamics at play there. Polls show a solid majority of the US populace is now against the war, but there are no widespread or large protests (although I was proud to march in Chicago last May at the NATO protest with GWOT vets returning their medals to protest the wars). Certainly there is some partisan politics at play here, liberals not wanting to criticize Obama, or being “okay” with his promise to end the war by the end of 2014 (though a Foreign Policy article today speculates up to 25K troops may remain for a decade as part of an agreement with the Afghan govt.).

Additionally, it seems to me the Pentagon can’t have it both ways – they don’t want a draft, understandably, as they don’t want to deal with the hassles from soldiers who don’t want to be in the service. The poverty draft, especially in a week economy, suits them just fine. They get an endless supply of our tax dollars to fight their wars and maintain the largest military in human history. They want us to “care” more? Even with multiple “support the troops” programs and manifestations all over society (Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are constantly stressing this, as do many others)? (Which is not to disparage such efforts, we do need to support the troops, and the best way would be to get them home to their families ASAP and provide them the absolute best care we can).

And if there were a draft, the war would be over in a month, the public wouldn’t stand for it, because this war fails the definition of a just war miserably (the horse sense definition, not the Catholic Church’s official Just War theory). The real definition of a just war is one you’d send your kid to.

Thanks and Peace,

Kevin Martin

Executive Director

Peace Action



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