An Online Course in Getting to a World Beyond War

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8 Weeks

Week 1

Lecture: War Can Be Ended

Part I Of “War No More: The Case For Abolition” By David Swanson

I. WAR CAN BE ENDEDSlavery Was Abolished

In the late eighteenth century the majority of people alive on earth were held in slavery or serfdom (three-quarters of the earth’s population, in fact, according to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights from Oxford University Press). The idea of abolishing something so pervasive and long-lasting as slavery was widely considered ridiculous. Slavery had always been with us and always would be. One couldn’t wish it away with naive sentiments or ignore the mandates of our human nature, unpleasant though they might be. Religion and science and history and economics all purported to prove slavery’s permanence, acceptability, and even desirability. Slavery’s existence in the Christian Bible justified it in the eyes of many. In Ephesians 6:5 St. Paul instructed slaves to obey their earthly masters as they obeyed Christ.

Slavery’s prevalence also allowed the argument that if one country didn’t do it another country would: “Some gentlemen may, indeed, object to the slave trade as inhuman and evil,” said a member of the British Parliament on May 23, 1777, “but let us consider that, if our colonies are to be cultivated, which can only be done by African negroes, it is surely better to supply ourselves with those labourers in British ships, than buy them from French, Dutch or Danish traders.” On April 18, 1791, Banastre Tarleton declared in Parliament—and, no doubt, some even believed him—that “the Africans themselves have no objection to the trade.”

By the end of the nineteenth century, slavery was outlawed nearly everywhere and rapidly on the decline. In part, this was because a handful of activists in England in the 1780s began a movement advocating for abolition, a story well told in Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains. This was a movement that made ending the slave trade and slavery a moral cause, a cause to be sacrificed for on behalf of distant, unknown people very different from oneself. It was a movement of public pressure. It did not use violence and it did not use voting. Most people had no right to vote. Instead it used so-called naive sentiments and the active ignoring of the supposed mandates of our supposed human nature. It changed the culture, which is, of course, what regularly inflates and tries to preserve itself by calling itself “human nature.”

Other factors contributed to the demise of slavery, including the resistance of the people enslaved. But such resistance was not new in the world. Widespread condemnation of slavery—including by former slaves—and a commitment not to allow its return: that was new and decisive.

Those ideas spread by forms of communication we now consider primitive. There is some evidence that in this age of instant global communication we can spread worthy ideas much more quickly.

So, is slavery gone? Yes and no. While owning another human being is banned and in disrepute around the world, forms of bondage still exist in certain places. There is not a hereditary caste of people enslaved for life, transported and bred and whipped openly by their owners, what might be called “traditional slavery.” Sadly, however, debt slavery and sex slavery hide in various countries. There are pockets of slavery of various sorts in the United States. There is prison labor, with the laborers disproportionately being descendants of former slaves. There are more African-Americans behind bars or under supervision by the criminal justice system in the United States today than there were African-Americans enslaved in the United States in 1850.

But these modern evils don’t convince anybody that slavery, in any form, is a permanent fixture in our world, and they shouldn’t. Most African-Americans are not imprisoned. Most workers in the world are not enslaved in any type of slavery. In 1780, if you had proposed making slavery the exception to the rule, a scandal to be carried out in secret, hidden away and disguised where it still existed in any form, you would have been considered as naive and ignorant as someone proposing the complete elimination of slavery. If you were to propose bringing back slavery in a major way today, most people would denounce the idea as backward and barbaric.

All forms of slavery may not have been completely eliminated, and may never be. But they could be. Or, on the other hand, traditional slavery could be returned to popular acceptance and restored to prominence in a generation or two. Look at the rapid revival in acceptance of the use of torture in the early twenty-first century for an example of how a practice that some societies had begun to leave behind has been significantly restored. In this moment, however, it is clear to most people that slavery is a choice and that its abolition is an option—that, in fact, its abolition always was an option, even if a difficult one.

A Good Civil War?

In the United States some may have a tendency to doubt the abolition of slavery as a model for the abolition of war because war was used to end slavery. But did it have to be used? Would it have to be used today? Slavery was ended without war, through compensated emancipation, in the British colonies, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and most of South America and the Caribbean. That model worked also in Washington, D.C. Slave owning states in the United States rejected it, most of them choosing secession instead. That’s the way history went, and many people would have had to think very differently for it to have gone otherwise. But the cost of freeing the slaves by buying them would have been far less than the North spent on the war, not counting what the South spent, not counting the deaths and injuries, mutilations, trauma, destruction, and decades of bitterness to come, while slavery long remained nearly real in all but name. (See Costs of Major U.S. Wars, by the Congressional Research Service, June 29, 2010.)

On June 20, 2013, the Atlantic published an article called “No, Lincoln Could Not Have ‘Bought the Slaves’.” Why not? Well, the slave owners didn’t want to sell. That’s perfectly true. They didn’t, not at all. But the Atlantic focuses on another argument, namely that it would have just been too expensive, costing as much as $3 billion (in 1860s money). Yet, if you read closely—it’s easy to miss it—the author admits that the war cost over twice that much. The cost of freeing people was simply unaffordable. Yet the cost—over twice as much—of killing people, goes by almost unnoticed. As with well-fed people’s appetites for desserts, there seems to be a completely separate compartment for war spending, a compartment kept far away from criticism or even questioning.

The point is not so much that our ancestors could have made a different choice (they were nowhere near doing so), but that their choice looks foolish from our point of view. If tomorrow we were to wake up and discover everyone appropriately outraged over the horror of mass incarceration, would it help to find some large fields in which to kill each other off in large numbers? What would that have to do with abolishing prisons? And what did the Civil War have to do with abolishing slavery? If—radically contrary to actual history—U.S. slave owners had opted to end slavery without war, it’s hard to imagine that as a bad decision.

Let me try to really, really emphasize this point: what I am describing DID NOT happen and was not about to happen, was nowhere remotely close to happening; but its happening would have been a good thing. Had slave owners and politicians radically altered their thinking and chosen to end slavery without a war, they would have ended it with less suffering, and probably ended it more completely. In any case, to imagine slavery ending without war, we need only look at the actual history of various other countries. And to imagine big changes being made in our society today (whether it’s closing prisons, creating solar arrays, rewriting the Constitution, facilitating sustainable agriculture, publicly financing elections, developing democratic media outlets, or anything else—you may not like any of these ideas, but I’m sure you can think of a major change that you would like) we don’t tend to include as Step 1 “Find large fields in which to make our children kill each other in huge numbers.” Instead, we skip right by that to Step 2 “Do the thing that needs doing.” And so we should.

Existence Precedes Essence

To any philosopher sharing Jean Paul Sartre’s outlook on the world there is no need to demonstrate the virtual abolition of slavery in order to be convinced that slavery is optional. We’re human beings, and for Sartre that means we’re free. Even when enslaved, we’re free. We can choose not to speak, not to eat, not to drink, not to have sex. As I was writing this, large numbers of prisoners were engaged in a hunger strike in California and in Guantanamo Bay and in Palestine (and they were in touch with each other). Everything is optional, always has been, always will be. If we can choose not to eat, we can certainly choose not to engage in the extensive effort, requiring the collaboration of many people, to establish or maintain the institution of slavery. From this viewpoint it is simply obvious that we can choose not to enslave people. We can choose universal love or cannibalism or whatever we see fit. Parents tell their children, “You can be anything you choose to be,” and the same must also be true of the assembled collection of everyone’s children.

I think the above viewpoint, naive as it may sound, is essentially right. It doesn’t mean that future events are not physically determined by past ones. It means that, from the perspective of a non-omniscient human being, choices are available. This doesn’t mean you can choose to have physical abilities or talents you don’t have. It doesn’t mean you can choose how the rest of the world behaves. You can’t choose to have a billion dollars or win a gold medal or get elected president. But you can choose to be the sort of person who wouldn’t own a billion dollars while others starved, or the sort of person who would do just that and focus on owning two billion dollars. You can choose your own behavior. You can give winning a gold medal or getting rich or getting elected your best effort or a half-hearted effort or no effort at all. You can be the sort of person who obeys illegal or immoral orders, or the sort of person who defies them. You can be the sort of person who tolerates or encourages something like slavery or the sort of person who struggles to abolish it even as many others support it. And because we can each choose to abolish it, I will argue, we can collectively choose to abolish it.

There are a number of ways in which someone might disagree with this. Perhaps, they might suggest, some powerful force prevents us all from collectively choosing what we might each choose as an individual in a moment of calm clarity. This force could simply be a sort of social irrationality or the inevitable influence of sycophants on the powerful. Or it could be the pressure of economic competition or population density or resource shortages. Or perhaps some segment of our population is sick or damaged in a way that compels them to create the institution of slavery. These individuals could impose the institution of slavery on the rest of the world. Perhaps the slavery-inclined portion of the population includes all males, and women are unable to overcome the masculine drive toward slavery. Maybe the corruption of power, combined with the self-selection of those inclined to seek power makes destructive public policies inevitable. Maybe the influence of profiteers and the skill of propagandists render us helpless to resist. Or perhaps a large portion of the globe could be organized to end slavery, but some other society would always bring slavery back like a contagious disease, and ending it simultaneously everywhere would just not be feasible. Maybe capitalism inevitably produces slavery, and capitalism is itself inevitable. Maybe human destructiveness targeted toward the natural environment necessitates slavery. Maybe racism or nationalism or religion or xenophobia or patriotism or exceptionalism or fear or greed or a general lack of empathy is itself inevitable and guarantees slavery no matter how hard we try to think and act our way out of it.

These sorts of claims for inevitability sound less persuasive when addressed to an institution that has already been largely eliminated, like slavery. I’ll address them below with regard to the institution of war. Certain of these theories—population density, resource scarcity, etc.—are more popular among academics who look to non-Western nations as the primary source for war making. Other theories, such as the influence of what President Dwight Eisenhower called the military industrial complex, are more popular among discouraged peace activists in the United States. It’s not unusual, however, to hear supporters of U.S. wars cite the supposed need to fight for resources and “lifestyle” as a justification for wars that have been presented on television as having entirely different motivations. I will hope to make clear that claims for the inevitability of slavery or war have no basis in fact, whichever institution they are applied to. The plausibility of this argument will be helped if we first consider just how many venerable institutions we have already left behind.

Blood Feuds and Duels

Nobody in the United States is proposing to bring back blood feuds, revenge killings of members of one family by members of a different family. Such retaliatory slaughters were once a common and accepted practice in Europe and are still very much around in some parts of the world. The infamous Hatfields and McCoys have not drawn each other’s blood for over a century. In 2003, these two U.S. families finally signed a truce. Blood feuds in the United States had long since been effectively stigmatized and rejected by a society that believed it could do better and has done better.

Sadly, one of the McCoys involved in signing the truce made less than ideal comments, while the United States waged war in Iraq. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “Reo Hatfield of Waynesboro, Va., came up with the idea as a proclamation of peace. The broader message it sends to the world, he said, is that when national security is at risk, Americans put their differences aside and stand united.” According to CBS News, “Reo said after Sept. 11 he wanted to make an official statement of peace between the two families to show that if the most deep-seeded [sic] family feud can be mended, so can the nation unite to protect its freedom.” The nation. Not the world. “Protect freedom” in June 2003 was code for “fight war,” regardless of whether the war, like most wars, reduced our freedoms.
Have we remade family blood feuds as national blood feuds? Have we stopped killing the neighbors over stolen pigs or inherited grievances because a mysterious force that compels us to kill has been redirected into killing foreigners through war? Would Kentucky go to war with West Virginia, and Indiana with Illinois, if they couldn’t go to war with Afghanistan instead? Is Europe finally at peace with itself only because it’s constantly helping the United States attack places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya? Didn’t President George W. Bush justify a war on Iraq in some part by alleging that Iraq’s president had tried to kill Bush’s father? Doesn’t the United States treat Cuba as though the Cold War never ended largely because of sheer inertia? After he killed a U.S. citizen named Anwar al-Awlaki, didn’t President Barack Obama send another missile two weeks later that killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, against whom no accusations of wrong doing have ever been made? If—bizarre coincidence though it would be—the younger Awlaki was targeted without having been identified, or if he and the other young people with him were killed through pure recklessness, doesn’t the resemblance to blood feuds still hold?

Certainly, but a resemblance is not an equivalence. Blood feuds, as they were, are gone from U.S. culture and many other cultures around the world. Blood feuds were, at one point, considered normal, natural, admirable, and permanent. They were required by tradition and honor, by family and morality. But, in the United States and many other places, they are gone. Their vestiges remain. Blood feuds appear again in milder form, without the blood, sometimes with lawyers substituted for shotguns. Traces of blood feuds attach themselves to current practices, such as war, or gang violence, or criminal prosecutions and sentencings. But blood feuds are in no way central to existing wars, they don’t cause wars, the wars don’t follow their logic. Blood feuds have not been transformed into war or anything else. They’ve been abolished. War existed before and after the elimination of blood feuds, and had more similarities to blood feuds prior to their elimination than after. The governments that fight wars have internally imposed a ban on violence, but the ban has only succeeded where people have accepted its authority, where people have agreed that blood feuds must be left behind us. There are parts of the world where people have not accepted that.


Revival of dueling seems even less likely than a return to slavery or blood feuds. Duels were once commonplace in Europe and the United States. Militaries, including the U.S. Navy, used to lose more officers to dueling among themselves than to combat with a foreign enemy. Dueling was banned, stigmatized, mocked, and rejected during the nineteenth century as a barbaric practice. People collectively decided it could be left behind, and it was.

No one proposed to eliminate aggressive or unjust dueling while keeping defensive or humanitarian dueling in place. The same can be said of blood feuds and slavery. These practices were rejected as a whole, not modified or civilized. We don’t have Geneva Conventions to regulate proper slavery or civilized blood feuds. Slavery wasn’t maintained as an acceptable practice for some people. Blood feuds were not tolerated for certain special families who needed to be prepared to fend off the irrational or evil families who couldn’t be reasoned with. Dueling has not remained legal and acceptable for particular personages. The United Nations doesn’t authorize duels the way it authorizes wars. Dueling, in the countries that formerly engaged in it, is understood to be a destructive, backward, primitive, and ignorant way for individuals to try to settle their disputes. Whatever insult someone may hurl at you is almost certain to be milder—as we view things today—than an accusation of being so stupid and vicious as to participate in duels. Therefore dueling is no longer a means to protect one’s reputation from insult.

Does the occasional duel still happen? Probably, but so does the occasional (or not so occasional) murder, rape, and theft. No one is proposing to legalize those, and nobody is proposing to bring back dueling. We generally try to teach our children to settle their disputes with words, not fists or weapons. When we can’t work things out, we ask friends or a supervisor or the police or a court or some other authority to arbitrate or impose a ruling. We haven’t eliminated disputes between individuals, but we have learned that we’re all better off settling them nonviolently. At some level most of us understand that even the person who might have been victorious in a duel but who loses in a court ruling is still better off. That person does not have to live in as violent a world, does not have to suffer from his “victory,” does not have to witness the suffering of his adversary’s loved ones, does not have to seek satisfaction or “closure” in vain through the elusive sensation of vengeance, does not have to fear any loved one’s death or injury in a duel, and does not have to stay prepared for his own next duel to come.
International Duels:
Spain, Afghanistan, Iraq

What if war is as bad a way to settle international disputes as dueling is to settle interpersonal disputes? The similarities are perhaps sharper than we care to imagine. Duels were contests between pairs of men who had decided that their disagreements could not be settled by speaking. Of course, we know better. They could have resolved matters by speaking, but chose not to. No one was obliged to fight a duel because someone he was arguing with was irrational. Anyone who chose to fight a duel wanted to fight a duel, and was himself—therefore—impossible for the other person to talk to.

Wars are contests between nations (even when described as being fought against something like “terror”)—nations unable to settle their disagreements by speaking. We ought to know better. Nations could resolve their disputes by speaking, but choose not to. No nation is obliged to fight a war because another nation is irrational. Any nation that chooses to fight a war wanted to fight a war, and was itself—therefore—impossible for the other nation to talk to. This is the pattern we see in many U.S. wars.

The good side (our own side, of course) in a war, we like to believe, has been compelled into it because the other side understands only violence. You just can’t talk to Iranians, for example. It would be nice if you could, but this is the real world, and in the real world certain nations are run by mythical monsters incapable of rational thought!
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that governments make war because the other side won’t be reasonable and talk to them. Many of us don’t actually believe this is true. We see war-making as driven by irrational desires and greed, war justifications as packages of lies. I actually wrote a book called War Is A Lie surveying the most common types of lies about wars. But, for the sake of a comparison with dueling, let’s look at the case for war as a last resort when talking fails, and see how it holds up. And let’s look at cases involving the United States, as they are most familiar to many of us and somewhat familiar to many others, and as the United States (as I’ll discuss below) is the world’s leading maker of war.


The theory that war is a last resort used against those who cannot be reasoned with does not hold up well. The Spanish-American War (1898), for example, doesn’t quite fit. Spain was willing to submit to the judgment of any neutral arbiter, after the United States accused the Spanish of blowing up a ship called the U.S.S. Maine, but the United States was insistent upon going to war despite having no evidence to support its accusations against Spain, accusations that served as the war’s justification. To make sense of our theory of war we have to place Spain in the role of rational actor and the United States in the role of lunatic. That can’t be right.

Seriously: it can’t be right. The United States was not run by and was not inhabited by lunatics. Sometimes it can be hard to see in what way lunatics could do worse than our elected officials are doing, but the fact remains that Spain was not dealing with subhuman monsters, merely with Americans. And the United States was not dealing with subhuman monsters, merely with Spaniards. The matter could have been settled around a table, and one side even made that proposal. The fact is that the United States wanted war, and there was nothing the Spanish could say to prevent it. The United States chose war, just as a dueler chose to duel.


Examples spring to mind from more recent history too, not just from centuries gone by. The United States, for three years prior to September 11, 2001, had been asking the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden. The Taliban had asked for evidence of his guilt of any crimes and a commitment to try him in a neutral third country without the death penalty. This continued right into October, 2001. (See, for example “Bush Rejects Taliban Offer to Hand Bin Laden Over” in the Guardian, October 14, 2001.) The Taliban’s demands don’t seem irrational or crazy. They seem like the demands of someone with whom negotiations might be continued. The Taliban also warned the United States that bin Laden was planning an attack on U.S. soil (this according to the BBC). Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik told the BBC that senior U.S. officials told him at a U.N.-sponsored summit in Berlin in July 2001 that the United States would take action against the Taliban in mid-October. He said it was doubtful that surrendering bin Laden would change those plans. When the United States attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the Taliban asked again to negotiate handing over bin Laden to a third country to be tried. The United States rejected the offer and continued a war in Afghanistan for many years, not halting it when bin Laden was believed to have left that country, and not even halting it after announcing bin Laden’s death. (See Foreign Policy Journal, September 20, 2010.) Perhaps there were other reasons to keep the war going for a dozen years, but clearly the reason to begin it was not that no other means of resolving the dispute were available. Clearly the United States wanted war.

Why would someone want war? As I argue in War Is A Lie, the United States wasn’t so much seeking vengeance for Spain’s supposed destruction of the Maine as grabbing an opportunity to conquer territories. Invading Afghanistan had little or nothing to do with bin Laden or a government that had helped bin Laden. Rather, U.S. motivations were related to fossil fuel pipelines, the positioning of weaponry, political posturing, geo-political posturing, maneuvering toward an invasion of Iraq (Tony Blair told Bush Afghanistan had to come first), patriotic cover for power grabs and unpopular policies at home, and profiteering from war and its expected spoils. The United States wanted war.

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper. (See Scientific American, September 14, 2012.) That state of affairs cannot be indefinitely continued through diplomacy. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps,” says hidden hand enthusiast and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. But greed is not an argument for the other guy’s irrationality or viciousness. It’s just greed. We’ve all seen young children and even older people learn to be less greedy. There are also paths toward sustainable energies and local economies that lead away from wars of greed without leading to suffering or impoverishment. Most calculations of large-scale conversion to green energy don’t take into account the transfer of enormous resources from the military. We’ll discuss what ending war makes possible below. The point here is that war does not deserve to be considered more respectable than dueling.

Was war inevitable from the point of view of Afghans, who found the United States uninterested in negotiations? Certainly not. While violent resistance has failed to end the war for over a decade, it is possible that nonviolent resistance would have been more successful. We can benefit, as those in centuries past could not, from the history of nonviolent resistance in the Arab Spring, in Eastern Europe, in South Africa, in India, in Central America, in successful efforts by Filipinos and Puerto Ricans to close U.S. military bases, etc.

Lest this sound like I am just offering unwanted advice to Afghans while my government bombs them, I should point out that the same lesson can apply in my country as well. The U.S. public supports or tolerates the spending (through a variety of departments—consult the War Resisters League or the National Priorities Project) of over $1 trillion every year on war preparations precisely because of the fear (fantastical though it may be) of an invasion of the United States by a foreign power. Should that happen, the foreign power involved would likely be destroyed by U.S. weapons. But, were we to dismantle those weapons, we would not—contrary to popular opinion—be left defenseless. We would be able to refuse our cooperation with the occupation. We could recruit fellow resisters from the invading nation and human shields from around the world. We could pursue justice through public opinion, courts, and sanctions targeted at the individuals responsible.

In reality, it is the United States and NATO that invade others. The war on and occupation of Afghanistan, if we step back from it just a little, appears as barbaric as a duel. Punishing a government willing (on certain reasonable conditions) to turn over an accused criminal, by spending well over a decade bombing and killing that nation’s people (most of whom had never heard of the attacks of September 11, 2001, much less supported them, and most of whom hated the Taliban) doesn’t appear to be a significantly more civilized action than shooting a neighbor because his great-uncle stole your grandfather’s pig. In fact war kills a lot more people than blood feuds. Twelve years later, the U.S. government, as I write this, is trying to negotiate with the Taliban—a flawed process in that the people of Afghanistan are not well-represented by either party in the negotiations, but a process which could have better taken place 12 years earlier. If you can talk to them now, why couldn’t you talk to them then, prior to the elaborate mass-duel? If a war on Syria can be avoided, why couldn’t a war on Afghanistan?

Then there’s the case of Iraq in March 2003. The United Nations had refused to authorize an attack on Iraq, just as it had refused two years earlier with Afghanistan. Iraq was not threatening the United States. The United States possessed and was preparing to use against Iraq all sorts of internationally condemned weaponry: white phosphorous, new kinds of napalm, cluster bombs, depleted uranium. The U.S. plan was to attack infrastructure and densely populated areas with such fury that, contrary to all past experience, the people would be “shocked and awed”—another word would be terrorized—into submission. And the justification put forth for this was Iraq’s supposed possession of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately for these plans, a process of international inspections had rid Iraq of such weapons years before and confirmed their absence. Inspections were underway, re-confirming the complete absence of such weapons, when the United States announced that the war would begin and the inspectors must leave. The war was needed, the U.S. government claimed, to overthrow the government of Iraq—to remove Saddam Hussein from power. However, according to a transcript of a meeting in February 2003 between President George W. Bush and the Prime Minister of Spain, Bush said that Hussein had offered to leave Iraq, and to go into exile, if he could keep $1 billion. (See El Pais, September 26, 2007, or the Washington Post of the following day.) The Washington Post commented: “Although Bush’s public position at the time of the meeting was that the door remained open for a diplomatic solution, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops had already been deployed to Iraq’s border, and the White House had made its impatience clear. ‘Time is short,’ Bush said in a news conference with [Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria] Aznar the same day.”

Perhaps a dictator being allowed to flee with $1 billion is not an ideal outcome. But the offer was not revealed to the U.S. public. We were told that diplomacy was impossible. Negotiation was impossible, we were told. (Thus, there was no opportunity to make a counter offer of a half a billion dollars, for example.) Inspections hadn’t worked, they said. The weapons were there and could be used at any moment against us, they said. War, regretfully, tragically, sorrowfully was the last resort, they told us. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke at the White House on January 31, 2003, claiming that war would be avoided if at all possible, just after a private meeting in which Bush had suggested flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colors, and hoping Iraq would fire on them, as that would supposedly have been grounds to start the war. (See Lawless World by Phillipe Sands, and see the extensive media coverage collected at

Rather than losing a billion dollars, the people of Iraq lost an estimated 1.4 million lives, saw 4.5 million people made refugees, their nation’s infrastructure and education and health systems destroyed, civil liberties lost that had existed even under Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule, environmental destruction almost beyond imagining, epidemics of disease and birth defects as horrific as the world has known. The nation of Iraq was destroyed. The cost to Iraq or to the United States in dollars was far more than a billion (the United States paid over $800 billion, not counting trillions of dollars in increased fuel costs, future interest payments, veterans’ care, and lost opportunities). (See .) None of this was done because Iraq couldn’t be reasoned with.

The U.S. government, at the top level, wasn’t motivated by the fictional weapons at all. And it’s not actually the place of the U.S. government to decide for Iraq whether its dictator flees. The U.S. government should have worked on ending its support for dictators in many other countries before interfering with Iraq in a new way. The option existed of ending the economic sanctions and bombings and beginning to make reparations. But if the United States’ stated motivations had been its real ones, we could conclude that talking was an option that should have been chosen. Negotiating Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait had been an option at the time of the First Gulf War as well. Choosing not to support and empower Hussein had been an option earlier still. There is always an alternative to backing violence. This is true even from the Iraqi point of view. Resistance to oppression can be nonviolent or violent.

Examine any war you like, and it turns out that if the aggressors had wanted to state their desires openly, they could have entered into negotiations rather than into battle. Instead, they wanted war—war for its own sake, or war for completely indefensible reasons that no other nation would willingly agree to.

War Is Optional

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union actually shot at and, in fact, shot down a U2 plane, the very act that President Bush hoped would launch a war on Iraq, but the United States and the Soviet Union talked the matter over instead of going to war. That option always exists—even when the threat of mutual annihilation is not present. It existed with the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crises. When warmongers in President John F. Kennedy’s administration tried to trap him into a war, he chose instead to fire top officials and continue to talk to the Soviet Union, where a similar push for war was playing out and being resisted by Chairman Nikita Khrushchev. (Read James Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable.) In recent years, proposals to attack Iran or Syria have been repeatedly rejected. Those attacks may come, but they are optional.

In March 2011, the African Union had a plan for peace in Libya but was prevented by NATO, through the creation of a “no fly” zone and the initiation of bombing, to travel to Libya to discuss it. In April, the African Union was able to discuss its plan with Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi, and he expressed his agreement. NATO, which had obtained a U.N. authorization to protect Libyans alleged to be in danger but no authorization to continue bombing the country or to overthrow the government, continued bombing the country and overthrowing the government. One may believe that was a good thing to do. “We came. We saw. He died!” said a triumphant U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, laughing joyfully after the death of Gaddafi. (Watch the video at Similarly, duelists believed shooting the other guy was a good thing to do. The point here is that it was not the only available option. As with dueling, wars could be replaced with dialogue and arbitration. The aggressor might not always get out of diplomacy what the insiders behind the war-making secretly and shamefully want, but would that be such a bad thing?

This is true with the long-threatened possible U.S. war on Iran. The Iranian government’s attempts at negotiation have been rejected by the United States for the past decade. In 2003, Iran proposed negotiations with everything on the table, and the United States dismissed the offer. Iran has agreed to greater restrictions on its nuclear program than required by law. Iran has attempted to agree to U.S. demands, repeatedly agreeing to ship nuclear fuel out of the country. In 2010, Turkey and Brazil went to a great deal of trouble to get Iran to agree to just what the U.S. government said was needed, which resulted only in the U.S. government expressing its anger toward Turkey and Brazil.

If what the United States really wants is to dominate Iran and exploit its resources, Iran cannot be expected to compromise by accepting partial domination. That goal shouldn’t be pursued by diplomacy or war. If what the United States really wants is for other nations to abandon nuclear energy, it may find it difficult to impose that policy on them, with or without the use of war. The most likely path to success would be neither war nor negotiations, but example and aid. The United States could begin dismantling its nuclear weapons and power plants. It could invest in green energy. The financial resources available for green energy, or anything else, if the war machine were dismantled are almost unfathomable. The United States could offer green energy assistance to the world for a fraction of what it spends to offer military domination—not to mention lifting the sanctions that prevent Iran from acquiring parts for windmills.

Wars Against Individuals

Examining wars fought against individuals and small bands of alleged terrorists also shows that talking has been an available, albeit rejected, option. In fact, it’s hard to find a case in which killing appears to have been the last resort. In May 2013 President Obama gave a speech in which he claimed that of all the people he’d killed with drone strikes only four had been U.S. citizens, and in one out of those four cases he had met certain criteria he’d created for himself prior to authorizing the killing. All publicly available information contradicts that claim, and in fact the U.S. government was trying to kill Anwar al-Awlaki before the incidents occurred in which President Obama later claimed Awlaki played a part that justified his killing. But Awlaki was never charged with a crime, never indicted, and his extradition never sought. On June 7, 2013, Yemeni tribal leader Saleh Bin Fareed told Democracy Now that Awlaki could have been turned over and put on trial, but “they never asked us.” In numerous other cases it is evident that drone strike victims could have been arrested if that avenue had ever been attempted. (A memorable example was the November 2011 drone killing in Pakistan of 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, days after he’d attended an anti-drone meeting in the capital, where he might easily have been arrested—had he been charged with some crime.) Perhaps there are reasons for the preference of killing over capturing. But, then again, perhaps there were reasons why people preferred fighting duels to filing law suits.

The idea of enforcing laws against individuals by shooting missiles at them was transferred to nations in the August-September 2013 push for an attack on Syria—which was to be attacked as punishment for the alleged use of a banned weapon. But, of course, any ruler evil enough to have gassed hundreds to death would be unlikely to feel punished when hundreds more were killed, as he remained unhurt and unindicted.

The Really Good War in the Future

Of course, cataloging the wars that might have been replaced with dialogue or by altering policy goals can hardly persuade everyone that a war won’t be needed in the future. The central belief in the minds of millions of people is this: One could not speak with Hitler. And its corollary: One cannot speak with the next Hitler. That the U.S. government has been misidentifying new Hitlers for three-quarters of a century—during which time many other nations have found the United States to be the nation you can’t talk to—hardly addresses the notion that a Hitler might return some day. This theoretical danger is answered with incredible investment and energy, while dangers like global warming must, apparently, be proven to have already entered an unstoppable cycle of worsening catastrophe before we act.

I will address the great albatross of World War II in Section II of this book. It is, however, worth noting for now that three-quarters of a century is a long time. Much has changed. There has been no World War III. Wealthy armed nations of the world have not gone to war with each other again. Wars are fought among poor nations, with poor nations as proxies, or by wealthy nations against poor ones. Empires of the old variety have gone out of fashion, replaced by the new U.S. variation (military troops in 175 countries, but no colonies established). Small-time dictators may be very unpleasant, but none of them are planning world conquest. The United States has had an extremely difficult time occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S.-backed rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have had a hard time suppressing nonviolent resistance by their people. Empires and tyrannies fail, and they fail more quickly than ever. The people of Eastern Europe who nonviolently got rid of the Soviet Union and their communist rulers will never be traded away to a new Hitler, and neither will any other nations’ populations. The power of nonviolent resistance has become too well known. The idea of colonialism and empire has become too disreputable. The new Hitler will be more of a grotesque anachronism than an existential threat.

Small-Scale State Killing

Another venerable institution is going the way of the dodo. In the mid-eighteenth century proposing to eliminate the death penalty was widely considered dangerous and foolish. But most of the world’s governments no longer use the death penalty. Among wealthy nations there is one exception remaining. The United States uses the death penalty and is, in fact, among the top five killers in the world—which isn’t saying much in historical terms, the killing has dropped off so dramatically. Also in the top five: the recently “liberated” Iraq. But most of the United States’ 50 states no longer use the death penalty. There are 18 states that have abolished it, including 6 thus far in the twenty-first century. Thirty-one states haven’t used the death penalty in the past 5 years, 26 in the past 10 years, 17 in the past 40 years or more. A handful of Southern states—with Texas in the lead—do most of the killing. And all the killings combined amount to a small fraction of the rate at which the death penalty was used in the United States, adjusted for population, in previous centuries. Arguments for the death penalty are still easy to find, but they almost never claim that it can’t be eliminated, only that it shouldn’t be. Once considered critical to our security, the death penalty is now universally considered optional and widely considered archaic, counter-productive, and shameful. What if that were to happen to war?

Other Types of Violence Declining

Gone in some parts of the world, along with the death penalty, are all sorts of horrific public punishments and forms of torture and cruelty. Gone or reduced is a great deal of violence that was part of everyday life in centuries and decades gone by. Murder rates, in the long view, are declining dramatically. So are fist fights and beatings, violence toward spouses, violence toward children (by teachers and parents), violence toward animals, and public acceptance of all such violence. As anyone knows who tries to read to their children their own favorite books from childhood, it’s not just the ancient fairy tales that are violent. Fist fights are as common as air in the books of our youth, not to mention classic movies. When Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart tries the filibuster only after punching everyone in sight fails to solve his problems. Magazine advertisements and television sit-coms in the 1950s joked about domestic violence. Such violence isn’t gone, but its public acceptance is gone, and its reality is on the decline.

How can this be? Our underlying violence is supposed to be a justification for institutions like war. If our violence (at least in some forms) can be left behind us, along with sentiment about our alleged “human nature,” why should an institution founded on belief in that violence remain?

What, after all, is “natural” about the violence of war? Most human or primate or mammalian conflicts within a species involve threats and bluffs and restraint. War involves an all-out attack on people you’ve never seen before. (Read Paul Chappell’s books for excellent further discussion.) Those who cheer for war from a distance can romanticize its naturalness. But most people have nothing to do with it and want nothing to do with it. Are they unnatural? Are the majority of humans living outside “human nature”? Are you yourself an “unnatural” human because you don’t fight wars?

Nobody has ever suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from war deprivation. Participation in war requires, for most people, intense training and conditioning. Killing others and facing others trying to kill you are both extremely difficult tasks that often leave one deeply damaged. In recent years, the U.S. military has been losing more soldiers to suicide in or after return from Afghanistan than to any other cause in that war. An estimated 20,000 members of the U.S. military have deserted during the first decade of the “global war on terror” (this according to Robert Fantina, author of Desertion and the American Soldier). We tell each other that the military is “voluntary.” It was made “voluntary,” not because so many people wanted to join, but because so many people hated the draft and wanted to avoid joining, and because propaganda and promises of financial reward could induce people to “volunteer.” The volunteers are disproportionately people who had few other options available. And no volunteer in the U.S. military is permitted to quit volunteering.

Ideas Whose Time Has Come

In 1977 a campaign called the Hunger Project sought to eliminate world hunger. Success remains elusive. But most people today are convinced that hunger and starvation could be eliminated. In 1977, the Hunger Project felt obliged to argue against the widespread belief that hunger was inevitable. This was the text of a flyer they used:

Hunger is not inevitable.
Everyone knows that people will always starve, the way everyone knew that man would never fly.
At one time in human history, everyone knew that …
The world was flat,
The sun revolved around the earth,
Slavery was an economic necessity,
A four-minute mile was impossible,
Polio and smallpox would always be with us,
And no one would ever set foot on the moon.
Until courageous people challenged old beliefs and a new idea’s time had come.
All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

That last line is of course borrowed from Victor Hugo. He imagined a united Europe, but the time hadn’t yet come. It later came. He imagined the abolition of war, but the time hadn’t yet come. Perhaps now it has. Many didn’t think land mines could be eliminated, yet that’s well underway. Many thought nuclear war was inevitable and nuclear abolition impossible (for a long time the most radical demand was for a freeze in the creation of new weapons, not their elimination). Now nuclear abolition remains a distant goal, but most people admit that it can be done. The first step in abolishing war will be to recognize that it, too, is possible.

War Less Venerable Than Imagined

War is alleged to be “natural” (whatever that means) because it has supposedly always been around. The trouble is that it hasn’t. In 200,000 years of human history and prehistory there is no evidence of war over 13,000 years old, and virtually none over 10,000 years old. (For those of you who believe the earth is only 6,500 years old, let me just say this: I’ve just spoken with God and he instructed us all to work for the abolition of war. He did, however, also recommend reading the rest of this book and purchasing many more copies.)
War is not common among nomads or hunters and gatherers. (See “Lethal Aggression in Mobile Forager Bands and Implications for the Origins of War,” in Science, July 19, 2013.) Our species did not evolve with war. War belongs to complex sedentary societies—but only to some of them, and only some of the time. Belligerent societies grow peaceful and vice versa. In Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace, Douglas Fry lists non-warring societies from all over the globe. Australia for some time before the Europeans came, the Arctic, Northeast Mexico, the Great Basin of North America—in these places people lived without war.

In 1614 Japan cut itself off from the West, and experienced peace, prosperity, and the blossoming of Japanese art and culture. In 1853 the U.S. Navy forced Japan open to U.S. merchants, missionaries, and militarism. Japan has done well with a peaceful Constitution since the end of World War II (although the United States is pushing hard for its repeal), as has Germany—apart from assisting NATO with its wars. Iceland and Sweden and Switzerland haven’t fought their own wars in centuries, although they have assisted NATO in occupying Afghanistan. And NATO is busy now militarizing the north of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948 and put it in a museum. Costa Rica has lived without war or military coups, in stark contrast to its neighbors, ever since—although it has assisted the United States’ military, and although the militarism and weaponry of Nicaragua have spilled over. Costa Rica, far from perfect, is often ranked as the happiest or one of the happiest places to live on earth. In 2003 various nations had to be bribed or threatened to join in a “coalition” war on Iraq, and with many those efforts were unsuccessful.
In The End of War, John Horgan describes efforts to abolish war undertaken by members of an Amazonian tribe in the 1950s. Waorani villagers had been warring for years. A group of Waorani women and two missionaries decided to fly a small plane over hostile camps and deliver conciliatory messages from a loud speaker. Then there were face-to-face meetings. Then the wars ceased, to the great satisfaction of all concerned. The villagers did not return to war.

Who Fights the Most

As far as I know, nobody ranks nations based on their predilection to launch or participate in war. Fry’s list of 70 or 80 peaceful nations includes nations that participate in NATO wars. The Global Peace Index (see ranks countries based on 22 factors including violent crime within the nation, political instability, etc. The United States ends up ranked in the middle, and European countries toward the top—that is, among the most “peaceful.”

But the Global Peace Index website allows you to change the rankings by clicking only on the single factor of “conflicts fought.” When you do this the United States ends up near the top—that is, among the nations engaged in the most conflicts. Why is it not at the very top, the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it? Because the United States is ranked based on the idea that it has engaged in only three conflicts during the past 5 years—this despite drone wars in several nations, military operations in dozens, and troops stationed in some 175 and climbing. Thus the United States is outranked by three nations with four conflicts each: India, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Even by this crude measurement, however, what jumps out at you is that the vast majority of nations—virtually every nation on earth—is less involved in war making than the United States is, and many nations have not known war the past five years, while many nations’ only conflict has been a coalition war led by the United States and in which other nations played or are playing small parts.

Follow the Money

The Global Peace Index (GPI) ranks the United States near the peaceful end of the scale on the factor of military spending. It accomplishes this feat through two tricks. First, the GPI lumps the majority of the world’s nations all the way at the extreme peaceful end of the spectrum rather than distributing them evenly.

Second, the GPI treats military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) or the size of an economy. This suggests that a rich country with a huge military can be more peaceful than a poor country with a small military. Perhaps that is so in terms of intentions, but it is not so in terms of results. Is it necessarily even so in terms of intentions? One country desires a certain level of killing machinery and is willing to forego more to get it. The other country desires that same level of military plus much more, although the sacrifice is in a certain sense less. If that wealthier country becomes even wealthier but refrains from building an even bigger military purely because it can afford to, has it become less militaristic or remained the same? This is not just an academic question, as think tanks in Washington urge spending a higher percentage of GDP on the military, exactly as if one should invest more in warfare whenever possible, without waiting for a defensive need.

In contrast to the GPI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) lists the United States as the top military spender in the world, measured in dollars spent. In fact, according to SIPRI, the United States spends as much on war and war preparation as most of the rest of the world combined. The truth may be more dramatic still. SIPRI says U.S. military spending in 2011 was $711 billion. Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project says it was $1,200 billion, or $1.2 trillion. The difference comes from including military spending found in every department of the government, not just “Defense,” but also Homeland Security, State, Energy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Veterans Administration, interest on war debts, etc. There’s no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison to other nations without accurate credible information on each nation’s total military spending, but it is extremely safe to assume that no other nation on earth is spending $500 billion more than is listed for it in the SIPRI rankings. Moreover, some of the biggest military spenders after the United States are U.S. allies and NATO members. And many of the big and small spenders are actively encouraged to spend, and to spend on U.S. weaponry, by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. military.

While North Korea almost certainly spends a much higher percentage of its gross domestic product on war preparations than the United States does, it almost certainly spends less than 1 percent what the United States spends. Who is therefore more violent is one question, perhaps unanswerable. Who is more of a threat to whom is no question at all. With no nation threatening the United States, the Directors of National Intelligence in recent years have had a hard time telling Congress who the enemy is and have identified the enemy in various reports merely as “extremists.”

The point of comparing levels of military spending is not that we should be ashamed of how evil the United States is, or proud of how exceptional. Rather, the point is that decreased militarism is not only humanly possible; it is being practiced right now by every other nation on earth, that is to say: nations containing 96 percent of humanity. The United States spends the most on its military, keeps the most troops stationed in the most countries, engages in the most conflicts, sells the most weaponry to others, and thumbs its nose most blatantly at the use of courts to restrain its war-making or even, any more, to put individuals on trial who can just as easily be hit with a hellfire missile. Lessening U.S. militarism would not violate some law of “human nature,” but bring the United States more closely into line with most of humanity.

Public Opinion v. War

Militarism is not nearly as popular in the United States as the behavior of the U.S. government would suggest to someone who believed the government followed the will of the people. In 2011, the media made a lot of noise about a budget crisis and did a lot of polling on how to solve it. Almost nobody (single-digit percentages in some polls) was interested in the solutions the government was interested in: cutting Social Security and Medicare. But the second most popular solution, after taxing the rich, was consistently cutting the military. According to Gallup polling, a plurality has believed the U.S. government is spending too much on the military since 2003. And, according to polling, including by Rasmussen, as well as according to my own experience, virtually everyone underestimates how much the United States is spending. Only a small minority in the United States believes the U.S. government should spend three times as much as any other nation on its military. Yet the United States has spent well over that level for years, even as measured by SIPRI. The Program for Public Consultation (PPC), affiliated with the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, has tried to correct for ignorance. First PPC shows people what the actual public budget looks like. Then it asks what they would change. A majority favors major cuts to the military.

Even when it comes to specific wars, the U.S. public is not as supportive as sometimes thought by U.S. people themselves or by citizens of other countries, especially countries invaded by the United States. The Vietnam Syndrome much lamented in Washington for decades was not an illness caused by Agent Orange but rather a name for popular opposition to wars—as if that opposition were a disease. In 2012, President Obama announced a 13-year, $65-million project to commemorate (and rehabilitate the reputation of) the war on Vietnam. The U.S. public has opposed U.S. wars on Syria or Iran for years. Of course that could change the minute such a war is launched. There was significant public support at first for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But fairly quickly that opinion shifted. For years, a strong majority favored ending those wars and believed it had been a mistake to begin them—while the wars rolled “successfully” along in the supposed cause of “spreading democracy.” The 2011 war on Libya was opposed by the United Nations (whose resolution did not authorize a war to overthrow the government), by the U.S. Congress (but why worry over that technicality!), and by the U.S. public (see ). In September 2013, the public and the Congress rejected a major push by the president for an attack on Syria.

Human Hunting

When we say that war goes back 10,000 years it’s not clear that we’re talking about a single thing, as opposed to two or more different things going by the same name. Picture a family in Yemen or Pakistan living under a constant buzz produced by a drone overhead. One day their home and everyone in it is shattered by a missile. Were they at war? Where was the battlefield? Where were their weapons? Who declared the war? What was contested in the war? How would it end?

Let’s take the case of someone actually engaged in anti-U.S. terrorism. He’s struck by a missile from an unseen unmanned airplane and killed. Was he at war in a sense that a Greek or Roman warrior would recognize? How about a warrior in an early modern war? Would someone who thinks of a war as requiring a battlefield and combat between two armies recognize a drone warrior seated at his desk manipulating his computer joystick as a warrior at all?

Like dueling, war has formerly been thought of as an agreed upon contest between two rational actors. Two groups agreed, or at least their rulers agreed, to go to war. Now war is always marketed as a last resort. Wars are always fought for “peace,” while nobody ever makes peace for the sake of war. War is presented as an undesired means toward some nobler end, an unfortunate responsibility required by the irrationality of the other side. Now that other side is not fighting on a literal battlefield; rather the side equipped with satellite technology is hunting the supposed fighters.

The drive behind this transformation has not been the technology itself or military strategy, but public opposition to putting U.S. troops on a battlefield. That same repulsion toward losing “our own boys” was largely what led to the Vietnam Syndrome. Such repulsion fueled opposition to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Most Americans had and still have no idea about the extent of the death and suffering borne by people on the other sides of the wars. (The government is disinclined to inform people, who have been known to respond very appropriately.) It’s true that U.S. people haven’t consistently insisted that their government present them with information on the suffering caused by U.S. wars. Many, to the extent that they do know, have been more tolerant of the pain of foreigners. But the deaths and injuries to U.S. troops have become largely intolerable. This partially accounts for the recent U.S. move toward air wars and drone wars.
The question is whether a drone war is a war at all. If it’s fought by robots against which the other side has no ability to respond, how closely does it resemble most of what we categorize in human history as war-making? Is it not perhaps the case that we have already ended war and now must end something else as well (a name for it might be: the hunting of humans, or if you prefer assassination, although that tends to suggest the killing of a public figure)? And then, wouldn’t the task of ending that other thing present us with a much less venerable institution to dismantle?

Both institutions, war and human hunting, involve the killing of foreigners. The new one involves the intentional killing of U.S. citizens as well, but the old one involved the killing of U.S. traitors or deserters. Still, if we can change our manner of killing foreigners to render it almost unrecognizable, who’s to say we can’t eliminate the practice altogether?

Do We Have No Choice?

Although we might each individually be free to choose to end war (a different question from whether you do at the moment choose to) is there some inevitability that prevents us from making that choice together collectively? There wasn’t when it came to chattel slavery, blood feuds, duels, capital punishment, child labor, tar and feathering, the stocks and pillory, wives as chattel, the punishment of homosexuality, or countless other institutions past or quickly passing—although for many years in each case it seemed impossible to dismantle the practice. It is certainly true that people often collectively act in a manner opposed to how a majority of them each individually claim they would like to act. (I’ve even seen a poll in which a majority of CEOs claim they’d like to be taxed more.) But there is no evidence that collective failure is inevitable. The suggestion that war is different from other institutions that have been eliminated is an empty suggestion unless some concrete claim is made as to how we are prevented from ending it.

John Horgan’s The End of War is well worth reading. A writer for Scientific American, Horgan approaches the question of whether war can be ended as a scientist. After extensive research, he concludes that war can be ended globally and has in various times and places been ended. Before reaching that conclusion, Horgan examines claims to the contrary.

While our wars are advertised as humanitarian expeditions or defenses against evil threats, and not as competition for resources, such as fossil fuels, some scientists who argue for war’s inevitability tend to assume that war is in fact competition for fossil fuels. Many citizens agree with that analysis and support or oppose the wars on that basis. Such an explanation for our wars is clearly incomplete, as they always have numerous motivations. But if we accept the claim for the sake of argument that current wars are for oil and gas, what can we make of the argument that they are inevitable?

The argument holds that humans have always competed, and that when resources are scarce war results. But even proponents of this theory admit that they are not really claiming inevitability. If we were to control population growth and/or shift to green energy and/or alter our consumption habits, the supposedly necessary resources of oil and gas and coal would no longer be in scarce supply, and our violent competition for them would no longer be inevitable.

Looking through history we see examples of wars that seem to fit the model of resource pressure and others that don’t. We see societies burdened by resource scarcity that turn to war and others that do not. We also see cases of war as a cause of scarcity, rather than the reverse. Horgan cites examples of peoples who fought most when resources were most plentiful. Horgan also cites the work of anthropologists Carol and Melvin Ember whose study of over 360 societies over the past two centuries turned up no correlation between resource scarcity or population density and war. Lewis Fry Richardson’s similarly massive study also found no such correlation.

In other words, the story that population growth or resource scarcity causes war is a just-so story. It makes a certain logical sense. Elements of the story have in fact been part of the narrative of many wars. But the evidence indicates that there is nothing there in the way of a necessary or sufficient cause. These factors do not make war inevitable. If a particular society decides that it will fight for scarce resources, then the depletion of those resources makes that society more likely to go to war. That is indeed a real danger for us. But there is nothing inevitable about the society’s making the decision that some type of event will justify a war in the first place, or acting on that decision when the time arrives.
Puppets of Sociopaths?

What about the idea that certain individuals dedicated to war will inevitably drag the rest of us into it? I’ve argued above that our government is more eager for war than our population. Do those who favor war overlap heavily with those who hold positions of power? And does this condemn us all to war-making whether we want it or not?

Let’s be clear, first of all, that there is nothing strictly inevitable about such a claim. Those war-prone individuals could be identified and altered or controlled. Our system of government, including our system of funding elections and our system of communications, could be altered. Our system of government, in fact, originally planned for no standing armies and gave war powers to Congress for fear that any president would abuse them. In the 1930s Congress almost gave war powers to the public by requiring a referendum before a war. Congress has now given war powers to presidents, but that need not be permanently so. Indeed, in September 2013, Congress stood up to the president on Syria.

In addition, let’s keep in mind that war is not unique as an issue on which our government diverges from majority opinion. On many other topics the divergence is at least as pronounced, if not more so: the bailing out of banks, the surveillance of the public, the subsidies for billionaires and corporations, the corporate trade agreements, the secret laws, the failure to protect the environment. There are not dozens of urges overpowering the public will through the power-grabbing of sociopaths. Rather, there are sociopaths and non-sociopaths falling under the influence of good old-fashioned corruption.

The 2 percent of the population who, studies suggest, fully enjoy killing in war and do not suffer from it, do not move from euphoria to remorse (see Dave Grossman’s On Killing), probably do not overlap much with those in power making decisions to fight wars. Our political leaders do not take part in wars themselves anymore and in many cases evaded wars in their youth. Their drive to power may lead them to attempt greater domination through warfare fought by subordinates, but it wouldn’t do so in a culture in which peace-making increased one’s power more than war-making did.

In my book, When the World Outlawed War, I told the story of the creation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which banned war in 1928 (it’s still on the books!). Frank Kellogg, the U.S. Secretary of State, was as supportive of war as anyone else until it became clear to him that peace was the direction for career advancement. He began telling his wife he might win the Nobel Peace Prize, which he did. He began thinking he might become a judge on the International Court of Justice, which he did. He began responding to the demands of peace activists he had earlier denounced. A generation earlier or later, Kellogg would probably have pursued war-making as the path to power. In the anti-war climate of his day he saw a different route.

The All-Powerful
Military Industrial Complex

When war is viewed as something done exclusively by non-Americans or non-Westerners, the alleged causes of war include theories about genetics, population density, resource scarcity, etc. John Horgan is right to point out that these alleged causes don’t make war inevitable and don’t in fact correlate with the likelihood of war.

When war is understood as also, if not primarily, something done by “developed” nations, then other causes emerge that Horgan never looked at. These causes also bring no inevitability with them. But they can make war more likely in a culture that has made certain choices. It’s critical that we recognize and understand these factors, because a movement to abolish war will have to address itself to war making by the United States and its allies in a manner different from what would seem appropriate if war were exclusively a product of the poor nations in Africa where the International Criminal Court manages to find virtually all of its cases.

In addition to being immersed in a false world view of war’s inevitability, people in the United States are up against corrupt elections, complicit media, shoddy education, slick propaganda, insidious entertainment, and a gargantuan permanent war machine falsely presented as a necessary economic program that cannot be dismantled. But none of this is unalterable. We’re dealing here with forces that make war more likely in our time and place, not insurmountable obstacles that guarantee war forevermore. No one believes the military industrial complex has always been with us. And with a little reflection no one would believe that, like global warming, it could create a feedback loop outside of human control. On the contrary, the MIC exists through its influence on humans. It didn’t always exist. It expands and contracts. It lasts as long as we allow it to. The military industrial complex is, in short, optional, just as the chattel slavery complex was optional.

In later sections of this book we’ll discuss what can be done about a cultural acceptance of war that draws less on population growth or resource scarcity than on patriotism, xenophobia, the sad state of journalism, and the political influence of companies like Lockheed Martin. Understanding this will allow us to shape an anti-war movement more likely to succeed. Its success is not guaranteed, but it is without any doubt possible.

“We Can’t End War
If They Don’t End War”

There is an important difference between slavery (and many other institutions) on the one hand, and war on the other. If one group of people makes war on another, then both are at war. If Canada developed slave plantations, the United States wouldn’t have to do so. If Canada invaded the United States, the two nations would be at war. This would seem to suggest that war must be eliminated everywhere simultaneously. Otherwise, the need for defense against others must keep war alive forever.

This argument ultimately fails on several grounds. For one thing, the contrast between war and slavery is not as simple as suggested. If Canada were using slavery, guess where Wal-Mart would start importing our stuff from! If Canada were using slavery, guess what Congress would be setting up commissions to study the benefits of reestablishing! Any institution can be contagious, even if perhaps less so than war.

Also, the argument above is not for war so much as for defense against war. If Canada attacked the United States, the world could sanction the Canadian government, put its leaders on trial, and shame the entire nation. Canadians could refuse to participate in their government’s war-making. Americans could refuse to recognize the authority of the foreign occupation. Others could travel to the United States to aid the nonviolent resistance. Like the Danes under the Nazis, we could refuse to cooperate. So, there are tools of defense other than the military.

(I apologize to Canada for this hypothetical example. I am, in fact, aware which of our two countries has a history of invading the other [See].)

But let’s suppose some military defense was still believed necessary. Would it have to be $1 trillion worth each year? Wouldn’t U.S. defense needs be similar to the defense needs of other nations? Let’s suppose the enemy is not Canada, but a band of international terrorists. Would this change the needs for military defense? Perhaps, but not in a manner to justify $1 trillion per year. The nuclear arsenal of the United States did nothing to dissuade the 9/11 terrorists. The permanent stationing of a million soldiers in some 175 nations doesn’t help prevent terrorism. Rather, as discussed below, it provokes it. It may help us to ask ourselves this question: Why is Canada not the target of terrorism that the United States is?

Ending militarism need not take many years, but it also need not be instantaneous or globally coordinated. The United States is the leading exporter of weapons to other nations. That can’t be very easily justified in terms of national defense. (An obvious actual motive is money making.) Ending U.S. weapon exportation could be accomplished without impacting the United States’ own defenses. Advances in international law, justice, and arbitration could combine with advances in disarmament and foreign aid, and with a growing global cultural revulsion against war. Terrorism could be treated as the crime that it is, its provocation reduced, and its commission prosecuted in court with greater international cooperation. A reduction in terrorism and in war (a.k.a. state terrorism) could lead to further disarmament, and the limiting and ultimate elimination of the profit motive from war. Successful nonviolent arbitration of disputes could lead to greater reliance on and compliance with the law. As we’ll see in Section IV of this book, a process could be begun that would move the world away from war, the world’s nations away from militarism, and the world’s enraged individuals away from terrorism. It is simply not the case that we must prepare for war out of fear that someone else might attack us. Nor must we abolish all tools of war by next Thursday in order to commit to never fighting a war again.

It’s in Our Heads

Here in the United States, war is in our heads, and our books, our movies, our toys, our games, our historical markers, our monuments, our sporting events, our wardrobes, our television advertisements. When he searched for a correlation between war and some other factor, Horgan only found one factor. Wars are made by cultures that celebrate or tolerate war. War is an idea that spreads itself. It is indeed contagious. And it serves its own ends, not those of its hosts (outside of certain profiteers).

The anthropologist Margaret Mead called war a cultural invention. It is a kind of cultural contagion. Wars happen because of cultural acceptance, and they can be avoided by cultural rejection. The anthropologist Douglas Fry, in his first book on this subject, The Human Potential for Peace, describes societies that reject war. Wars are not created by genes or avoided by eugenics or oxytocin. Wars are not driven by an ever-present minority of sociopaths or avoided by controlling them. Wars are not made inevitable by resource scarcity or inequality or prevented by prosperity and shared wealth. Wars are not determined by the weaponry available or the influence of the profiteers. All such factors play parts in wars, but none of them can make wars inevitable. The decisive factor is a militaristic culture, a culture that glorifies war or even just accepts it (and you can accept something even while telling a pollster you oppose it; real opposition takes work). War spreads as other memes spread, culturally. The abolition of war can do the same.

A Sartrean thinker arrives at more or less this same conclusion (not that war should be abolished but that it could be) without Fry’s or Horgan’s research. I think the research is helpful for those who need it. But there is a weakness. As long as we rely on such research, we must remain concerned that some new scientific or anthropological study could come along to prove that war is in fact in our genes. We should not get into the habit of imagining that we must wait for authorities to prove to us that something has been done in the past before we attempt to do it. Other authorities could come along and disprove it.

Instead, we should come to a clear understanding that even if no society had ever existed without war, ours could be the first. People invest great effort in creating wars. They could choose not to do so. Transforming this glaringly obvious observation into a scientific study of whether enough people have rejected war in the past to reject it in the future is both helpful and harmful to the cause. It helps those who need to see that what they want to do has been done before. It hurts collective development of innovative imagining.

Mistaken theories about the causes of war create the self-fulfilling expectation that war will always be with us. Predicting that climate change will produce world war may actually fail to inspire people to demand a sane public energy policy, inspiring them instead to support military spending and to stock up on guns and emergency supplies. Up until a war is launched it is not inevitable, but preparing for wars does indeed make them more likely. (See Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence by Christian Parenti.)

Studies have found that when people are exposed to the idea that they have no “free will” they behave less morally. (See “The Value of Believing in Free Will: Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating,” by Kathleen D. Vohs and Jonathan W. Schooler in Psychological Science, Volume 19, Number 1.) Who could blame them? They “had no free will.” But the fact that all physical behavior may be predetermined doesn’t change the fact that from my perspective I will always appear free, and choosing to behave badly will remain just as inexcusable even if a philosopher or scientist confuses me into thinking I have no choice. If we are misled into believing that war is inevitable, we will think we can hardly be blamed for launching wars. But we will be wrong. Choosing evil behavior always deserves blame.

But Why Is It in Our Heads?

If the cause of war is the cultural acceptance of war, what are the causes of that acceptance? There are possible rational causes, such as misinformation and ignorance produced by schools and news media and entertainment, including ignorance of the harm wars do and ignorance regarding nonviolence as an alternative form of conflict. There are possible non-rational causes, such as poor care of infants and young children, insecurity, xenophobia, racism, subservience, ideas about masculinity, greed, lack of community, apathy, etc. There may, therefore, be root contributors (not strictly necessary or sufficient causes) of war to be addressed. There may be more to do than making a rational argument against war. That does not mean, however, that any of the contributors is itself inevitable, or that it is a sufficient cause for war-making.

After reading the week’s lecture, please complete one of the following three things by the end of week one.

1. State in 500 to 1500 words why you believe war can or cannot be ended, or why the question is unanswerable — either by anyone, or by you on the basis of your current state of knowledge.

2. Write in 500 to 1500 words a dialogue between an advocate and an opponent of developing a global movement to abolish war.

3. Write in 500 to 1500 words a review (that speaks to the question of war abolition) of one of the following list of films, audio recordings, articles, and books:

John Horgan on Talk Nation Radio.

Doug Fry on Talk Nation Radio.

Book Discussion with Paul Chappell on The Art of Waging Peace.

Joyeux Noel: a film about the 1914 Christmas truce.

Fry, Douglas P. & Souillac, Geneviéve (2013). The Relevance of Nomadic Forager Studies to Moral Foundations Theory: Moral Education and Global Ethics in the Twenty-First Century. Journal of Moral Education, (July) vol:xx-xx.

Henri Parens (2013) War Is Not Inevitable, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 25:2, 187-194.
Main arguments: Human civilization is at its best with universal education, affordable communication, and international travel as human connectors. War prevention is possible through support and fostering of human rights, securing of governments and institutions against abuses and exploitations by others, internationalization of children’s education, compulsory parenting education, and countering extremism of all kinds.

Brooks, Allan Laurence. “Must war be inevitable? A general semantics essay.”  ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 63.1 (2006): 86+. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Dec. 2013.
Main arguments: Warns against two-valued positions: we are not either aggressive or non-aggressive. Points to the predominant mode of human cooperation throughout history. Arguments in line with many social and behavioral scientists who state that we have the potential to be aggressive and fight wars, but we also have the potential to be non-aggressive and peaceful.

Zur, Ofer. (1989). War Myths: Exploration of the Dominant Collective Beliefs about Warfare. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 29(3), 297-327. doi: 10.1177/0022167889293002.
Main arguments: Author critically examines three myths about war: (1) war is part of human nature; (2) decent people are peaceful and seek to avoid war; (3) war is a male institution. Good point made: Disqualifying myths scientifically does not reduce their importance to the people and cultures subscribing to them. “Exposing the erroneous nature of these beliefs can be the first step out of the vicious cycle of destructive, unconscious self-fulfilling prophecies”.

Zur, Ofer. (1987). The Psychohistory of Warfare: The Co-Evolution of Culture, Psyche and Enemy. Journal of Peace Research, 24(2), 125-134. doi: 10.1177/002234338702400203.
Main arguments: Humans have had the technical and physical ability to create and use weapons against each other for the last 200,000 years, but only created and used weapons against each other in the last 13,000 years. Wars have been waged only one percent of human evolutionary time.

The Seville Statement on Violence: PDF.
World’s leading behavior scientists refute the notion that organized human violence [e.g. war] is biologically determined. The statement was adopted by the UNESCO.

War Can Be Ended: Part I of “War No More: The Case for Abolition” by David Swanson

Wars Are Not Unavoidable: Chapter 4 of “War Is A Lie” by David Swanson

On Ending War by E. Douglas Kihn

Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Doug Fry

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman

Peaceful Revolution by Paul K. Chappell

The End of War by John Horgan

War Is A Lie by David Swanson

When the World Outlawed War by David Swanson

War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson

A Future Without War: The Strategy of a Warfare Transition by Judith Hand

American Wars: Illusions and Realities by Paul Buchheit

The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild

Fry, Douglas. P. (2013). War, peace, and human nature : the convergence of evolutionary and cultural views. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kemp, Graham, & Fry, Douglas P. (2004). Keeping the peace : conflict resolution and peaceful societies around the world. New York: Routledge.


another film, audio, article, or book, if first approved for your assignment by David Swanson.


Week 2 War Is Immoral

Having considered in Week 1 the idea that war is optional, we can better consider whether it is acceptable. A full consideration of whether war is acceptable (and why it isn’t, and how to persuade people to help end it) will need to await the lessons of future weeks. If war protects people from war or something worse (what would that be?), then perhaps war is horrible but necessary; but if war endangers people rather than protecting them (Week 3) that argument fails. If war enriches people (all people, or some at the expense of others), then perhaps there is an upside to war that has to be weighed against the downsides; but if war impoverishes and wastes (Week 6) that argument also fails.

Without jumping ahead of ourselves, we ought to try to grasp in Week 2 what the downside to war is. In a recent presidential debate a “moderator” asked a candidate to express a willingness to kill thousands of innocent children. (VIDEO here: Child Killer in Chief Debate)

This is what the U.S. political world accurately understands as the job requirement for a U.S. president who will continue wars along the lines of those waged by current and past U.S. presidents. Is there anything worse? Is there anything that can outwiegh or justify this?

I recently put down my thoughts this way:

Do Mass Killings Bother You?

We now know this. A young man who had successfully killed on a large scale went to his religious leader with doubts and was told that mass killing was part of God’s plan. The young man continued killing until he had participated in killing sprees that took 1,626 lives — men, women, and children.

I repeat: his death count was not the 16 or 9 or 22 lives that make top news stories, but 1,626 dead and mutilated bodies.

Do such things bother you?

What if you learned that this young man’s name was Brandon Bryant, and that he killed as a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force, and that he was presented with a certificate for his 1,626 kills and congratulated on a job well done by the United States of America? What if you learned that his religious leader was a Christian chaplain?

Do such things still bother you?

What if you learned that most of the people killed by U.S. drones are civilians? That the pilots “double-tap,” meaning that they send a missile into a wedding party or a house and then wait for people to try to help the injured and send a second missile into them? That as a result one hears the injured screaming for hours until they die, as no one comes to help? That a drone pilot sent a missile into a group of children from which three children survived who recognized their dead brothers but had no idea that various pieces of flesh were what was left of their Mom and Dad and consequently cried out for those now gone-forever individuals?

Is this troubling?

What if President Obama’s claim of few or no civilian deaths was proven false by well-documented reporting? And by the fact that most victims are targeted without even knowing their names?

What if a leading candidate for president in the past week [this was a few weeks ago now] were to both declare that the way to win a war is to start killing whole families, and stage a public Christian prayer session

in order to win over a certain demographic of voters?

Is that bothering?

What if it became clear that police officers in the United States have been murdering people at a higher rate than drone pilots? Would you want to see police videos of their killings? Would you want to see drone videos of their killings? We have thus far gained limited access to the former and none to the latter.

What if it were discovered that gun murders in San Bernardino are almost routine. Would they all be equally tragic?

My point is not to cease caring about the tragedy that the television stations tell you to care about. I wish everyone would care 1,000 times more, and even better do something to take away the guns and the hatred and the culture of violence and the economic injustice and the alienation.

My point is that there are other tragedies that go unmentioned, including larger ones. And exploiting one tragedy to fuel hatred toward a large segment of the human population of earth is madness.


When I wrote that, a tragic shooting in San Bernardino, California, was all over the news.

Is there a moral argument for the much greater level of killing that constitutes war?

Is there any basis for dredging up that medieval fiction of the “just war”?

Or is there, rather, something twisted and unacceptable about allowing a loop hole for large-scale murder in our morality?

Murder is the one crime that we’re taught to excuse if it’s done on a large enough scale. Morality demands that we not so excuse it. War is nothing other than murder on a large scale.

Over the centuries and decades, death counts in wars have grown dramatically, shifted heavily onto civilians rather than combatants, and been overtaken by injury counts as even greater numbers have been injured but medicine has allowed them to survive. Deaths are now due primarily to violence rather than to disease, formerly the biggest killer in wars. Death and injury counts have also shifted very heavily toward one side in each war, rather than being evenly divided between two parties. Those traumatized, rendered homeless, and otherwise damaged far outnumber the injured and the dead.

One explanation for the diminishment in government announcments and media coverage of death counts on the other side of wars is that wars by wealthy nations against poor ones have become one-sided slaughters of men, women, children, the elderly, and infants. The idea of a “good war” or a “just war” sounds obscene when one looks honestly at independent reporting on wars. We don’t speak of humanitarian rape or philanthropic slavery or virtuous child abuse.  War is in the category of things so immoral they can never be justified.“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake,” said Jeanette Rankin, the heroic congresswoman who voted against U.S. entry into both world wars.

In the film The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age, a survivor of Nagasaki meets a survivor of Auschwitz. It is hard in watching them meeting and speaking together to remember or care which nation committed which horror. War is a crime not because of who commits it but because of what it is.

When we say that war goes back 10,000 years it’s not clear that we’re talking about a single thing, as opposed to two or more different things going by the same name. Picture a family in Yemen or Pakistan living under a constant buzz produced by a drone overhead. One day their home and everyone in it is shattered by a missile. Were they at war? Where was the battlefield? Where were their weapons? Who declared the war? What was contested in the war? How would it end?

Let’s take the case of someone actually engaged in anti-U.S. terrorism. He’s struck by a missile from an unseen unmanned airplane and killed. Was he at war in a sense that a Greek or Roman warrior would recognize? How about a warrior in an early modern war? Would someone who thinks of a war as requiring a battlefield and combat between two armies recognize a drone warrior seated at his desk manipulating his computer joystick as a warrior at all?

Like dueling, war has formerly been thought of as an agreed upon contest between two rational actors. Two groups agreed, or at least their rulers agreed, to go to war. Now war is always marketed as a last resort. Wars are always fought for “peace,” while nobody ever makes peace for the sake of war. War is presented as an undesired means toward some nobler end, an unfortunate responsibility required by the irrationality of the other side. Now that other side is not fighting on a literal battlefield; rather the side equipped with satellite technology is hunting the supposed fighters.

The drive behind this transformation has not been the technology itself or military strategy, but public opposition to putting U.S. troops on a battlefield. That same repulsion toward losing “our own boys” was largely what led to the Vietnam Syndrome. Such repulsion fueled U.S. opposition to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Most Americans had and still have no idea about the extent of the death and suffering borne by people on the other sides of the wars. (The government is disinclined to inform people, who have been known to respond very appropriately.) It’s true that U.S. people haven’t consistently insisted that their government present them with information on the suffering caused by U.S. wars. Many, to the extent that they do know, have been more tolerant of the pain of foreigners. But the deaths and injuries to U.S. troops have become largely intolerable. This partially accounts for the recent U.S. move toward air wars and drone wars.

The question is whether a drone war is a war at all. If it’s fought by robots against which the other side has no ability to respond, how closely does it resemble most of what we categorize in human history as war-making? Is it not perhaps the case that we have already ended war and now must end something else as well (a name for it might be: the hunting of humans, or if you prefer assassination, although that tends to suggest the killing of a public figure)? And then, wouldn’t the task of ending that other thing present us with a much less venerable institution to dismantle?

Both institutions, war and human hunting, involve the killing of foreigners. The new one involves the intentional killing of U.S. citizens as well, but the old one involved the killing of U.S. traitors or deserters. Still, if we can change our manner of killing foreigners to render it almost unrecognizable, who’s to say we can’t eliminate the practice altogether?

To begin to put into perspective the extent of the death and suffering inflicted in recent wars, I recommend going to

Here’s a bit of information from there:

The 2003 invasion included 29,200 air strikes, followed by another 3,900 over the next eight years. The U.S. military targeted civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances  It also made use of what some might call “weapons of mass destruction,” using cluster bombs, white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and a new kind of napalm in densely settled urban areas.

Birth defects, cancer rates, and infant mortality are through the roof. Water supplies, sewage treatment plants, hospitals, bridges, and electricity supplies have been devastated, and not repaired. Healthcare and nutrition and education are nothing like they were before the war. And we should remember that healthcare and nutrition had already deteriorated during years of economic warfare waged through the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever imposed in modern history.

Money spent by the United States to “reconstruct” Iraq was always less than 10% of what was being spent adding to the damage, and most of it was never actually put to any useful purpose. At least a third was spent on “security,” while much of the rest was spent on corruption in the U.S. military and its contractors.

The educated who might have best helped rebuild Iraq fled the country.  Iraq had the best universities in Western Asia in the early 1990s, and now leads in illiteracy, with the population of teachers in Baghdad reduced by 80%.

For years, the occupying forces broke the society of Iraq down, encouraging ethnic and sectarian division and violence, resulting in a segregated country and the repression of rights that Iraqis used to enjoy, even under Saddam Hussein’s brutal police state.

While the dramatic escalation of violence that for several years was predicted would accompany any U.S. withdrawal did not materialize, Iraq is not at peace. The war destabilized Iraq internally, created regional tensions, and — of course — generated widespread resentment for the United States. That was the opposite result of the stated one of making the United States safer.

If the United States had taken five trillion dollars, and — instead of spending it destroying Iraq — had chosen to do good with it, at home or abroad, just imagine the possibilities. The United Nations thinks $30 billion a year would end world hunger.For $5 trillion, why not end world hunger for 167 years? The lives not saved are even more than the lives taken away by war spending.


This is an important point that is a focus for World Beyond War: the number one way in which war kills is by taking funding away from life-saving activities.

Those who defend war as moral usually appear not just mistaken but false, to me, because they don’t try to examine the facts and make an argument. If overthrowing a certain dictator who’s no longer doing the Pentagon’s bidding is a moral act, one ought to put in one column the good it will do, and in another the harm. Would you kill 100,000 people to overthrow a ruler who might in the next decade kill 10,000 people? Would you do so if it was likely to lead to chaos and violence around a whole region of the globe? Promoters of war avoid the calculation, avoid the death counts, and simply proclaim their side of the matter passionately — or dishonestly.

Worse, the whole enterprise of death is often openly — if sociopathically — defended as providing jobs. We will be discussing the error here in Week 6. But what if war did provide jobs? How many jobs would justify how many deaths and injuries and refugees and trauma?

Many grow upset about particular war crimes, such as torture, yet manage to accept murder as proper and appropriate if it’s in war. Is this morality or crazy custom?

Law professors argue that drone kills are murder if not “in a war” but fine if “in a war”? Is this morality or legalized barbarity?

Saudi Arabia just sent missiles into another hospital in Yemen. When Secretary of State Clinton waived restrictions on selling weapons to Saudi Arabia after Saudi Arabia gave her personal foundation tens of millions of dollars, was that moral?

Many in the United States think of war as helpful in addressing violent places like the Middle East without realizing that the United States has pushed and marketed and sold the Middle East three-quarters of its weapons. Is this moral?

Andrew Carnegie (nasty union buster that he was) funded an endowment that has long since abandoned its mission but which he instructed to work on elimintating war and then identify the second most evil thing in the world and work on eliminating it. Some might now put environmental destruction as high or higher than war in the evil ranking — interlocking as they are (Week 4). But this remains a basic understanding of morality that many in the United States are incapable of understanding any more.

Can we bring people to understand it?

Please read what most interests you here:

Scientific American: Where Is Outcry Over Children Killed by U.S.-Led Forces?

More Articles:

Mark Twain’s War Prayer

War Makers Do Not Have Noble Motives: Chapter 6 of “War Is A Lie” by David Swanson

Wars Are Not Prolonged for the Good of Soldiers: Chapter 7 of “War Is A Lie” by David Swanson

Wars Are Not Fought on Battlefields: Chapter 8 of “War Is A Lie” by David Swanson


The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars
 by John Tirman

Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth Century History by Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn Young

Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse

War? What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We Can Do Now by Kathy Beckwith

What Every Person Should Know About War by Chris Hedges

War Is A Lie by David Swanson

When the World Outlawed War by David Swanson

War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson

Peaceful Revolution
 by Paul K. Chappell

Bloody Hell: The Price Soldiers Pay by Dan Hallock

Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel by Max Blumenthal

War Is Not Over When It’s Over by Ann Jones

War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges

Iraq War Among World’s Worst Events by David Swanson

War Is A Racket by Smedley Butler

Video and Audio:

Ann Jones on Talk Nation Radio

Max Blumenthal on Talk Nation Radio

Stephen Canty on Talk Nation Radio

Nick Turse on Talk Nation Radio



We must ask people to look at the horrific images of war and be horrified.


Here’s a collection of images.


In 1,000 words or less, please make the logical case that war is immoral or moral, or present some nonfiction or fiction or poetic detail regarding war that you believe will help to persuade people of war’s immorality or morality. Despite the use of the word “immoral” this is not necessarily a question about religion or a mandate to produce a definition of morality. It’s really an attempt to ask a question focused on the topic of war, namely: Should war be abolished or waged?


Week 3 War Endangers

War and preparations for war are often depicted as protective measures to keep us safe. The U.S. War Department was renamed the Defense Department in 1947 although it had never fought a defensive war and never would. Japan was provoked, Hawaii was not part of the United States, there was no threat to the United States from either front in WWII, and as with all wars between wealthy nations, that war was a war of choice.

Most U.S. wars are fought against poor countries that have little choice in the U.S. decision to attack them. This has been the case since the creation of the United States. These wars are generally depicted as defensive wars by Washington. This week some U.S. ships sailed into Iranian waters, were captured, and were quickly released. The U.S. military at first lied that the ships had experienced mechanical failure, and then changed the story to claim that they must have experienced accidental navigational failure. The incident was depicted as aggression by Iran.

In 1935, the most decorated U.S. marine in history at the time, Brigadier Gen. Smedley D. Butler, published with enormous success a short book called War Is a Racket. He saw perfectly well what was coming and warned the nation:

“At each session of Congress the question of further naval appropriations comes up. The swivel-chair admirals…don’t shout that ‘We need lots of battleships to war on this nation or that nation.’ Oh, no. First of all, they let it be known that America is menaced by a great naval power. Almost any day, these admirals will tell you, the great fleet of this supposed enemy will strike suddenly and annihilate our 125,000,000 people. Just like that. Then they begin to cry for a larger navy. For what? To fight the enemy? Oh my, no. Oh, no. For defense purposes only. Then, incidentally, they announce maneuvers in the Pacific. For defense. Uh, huh. The Pacific is a great big ocean. We have a tremendous coastline in the Pacific. Will the maneuvers be off the coast, two or three hundred miles? Oh, no. The maneuvers will be two thousand, yes, perhaps even thirty-five hundred miles, off the coast. The Japanese, a proud people, of course will be pleased beyond expression to see the United States fleet so close to Nippon’s shores. Even as pleased as would be the residents of California were they to dimly discern, through the morning mist, the Japanese fleet playing at war games off Los Angeles.”

Imagine how pleased the United States would be if Iranian ships “accidentally” sailed up the Potomac.

Butler proposed that the U.S. military stay within 100 miles of the United States. The U.S. military is now permanently in 175 nations. And much of the weaponry of the “Defense Department” has no possible defensive purpose. If the United States were to cut back to only defensive military along its coasts and borders, rather than maintaining an empire of bases from which to provoke and “preempt,” the bulk of the militayr budget would be gone.

Most countries spend dramatically less on militarism than the United States. In fact they all spend closer to Costa Rica or Iceland’s $0 than to the United States’ $1,000,000,000,000. Why aren’t they in danger, occupied, destroyed. If the United States spends the most to defend itself, why is that required? Is it to protect us from tiny groups of angry militants? Do nuclear weapons deter al qaeda terrorists? And why don’t other countries with as many freedoms and similar cultures not have groups of angry militants targeting them to the same degree? Why doesn’t ISIS hate the Netherlands’ freedom? Why isn’t al Qaeda directing its hatred at Canada?

The answer is that not only does U.S. military spending not serve to protect people, but it endangers them. Anti-U.S. terrorists make no secret of their motivation. They are responding to U.S. bombs and occupations, and to U.S. support for Israel’s wars. I recently read this:

“What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon and the West Bank in the 80s and 90s, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and up through the Paris suicide attacks we’ve just experienced in the last days, military intervention—and specifically when the military intervention is occupying territory—that’s what prompts suicide terrorism more than anything else.”

For Canada to generate anti-Canadian terrorist groups on the U.S. scale, it would have to put in years of bombing and occupying foreign countries. If it then used those anti-Canadian groups as justification for more bombs, it would truly have arrived in the vicious cycle of the madness of militarism. The more you invest in fighting terrorism (with larger scale terrorism), the more blowback you produce. When Donald Trump started badmouthing Muslims, people started moving out of his buildings for fear of attack. Yet badmouhting Muslims is understood as a means of REDUCING violence.

That war is counterproductive on its own terms is blurted out by numerous top war officials the moment they retire. Read these quotes.

Here are some additional points to consider from World Beyond War:

War planning leads to wars.

In arming, many factors must be considered: weapon-related accidents, malicious testing on human beings, theft, sales to allies who become enemies, and the distraction from efforts to reduce the causes of terrorism and war must all be taken into account. So, of course, must the tendency to use weapons once you have them.  And a nation’s stockpiling of weapons for war puts pressure on other nations to do the same. Even a nation that intends to fight only in defense, may understand “defense” to be the ability to retaliate against other nations. This makes it necessary to create the weaponry and strategies for aggressive war. When you put a lot of people to work planning something, when that project is in fact your largest public investment and proudest cause, it can be difficult to keep those people from finding opportunities to execute their plans. Read more.

War making provokes danger.

While the best defense in many sports may be a good offense, an offense in war is not defensive, not when it generates hatred, resentment, and blowback, not when the alternative is no war at all. Through the course of the so-called global war on terrorism, terrorism has been on the rise. This was predictable and predicted. The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the abuses of prisoners during them, became major recruiting tools for anti-U.S. terrorism. In 2006, U.S. intelligence agencies produced a National Intelligence Estimate that reached just that conclusion.  Read More.

War’s weapons risk intentional or accidental apocalypse.

We can either eliminate all nuclear weapons or we can watch them proliferate. There’s no middle way. We can either have no nuclear weapons states, or we can have many. As long as some states have nuclear weapons others will desire them, and the more that have them the more easily they will spread to others still. If nuclear weapons continue to exist, there will very likely be a nuclear catastrophe, and the more the weapons have proliferated, the sooner it will come. Hundreds of incidents have nearly destroyed our world through accident, confusion, misunderstanding, and extremely irrational machismo. And possessing nuclear weapons does absolutely nothing to keep us safe, so that there is really no trade-off involved in eliminating them. They do not deter terrorist attacks by non-state actors in any way. Nor do they add an iota to a military’s ability to deter nations from attacking, given the United States’ ability to destroy anything anywhere at any time with non-nuclear weapons. The United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China have all lost wars against non-nuclear powers while possessing nukes.

Read more.

Here’s more on the nuclear danger:

Public health experts have identified militarism, not the lack of militarism, as a public health threat.

Militarism should be understood as national war making, but also as weapons sales. The United States leads the arms trade, arms the world, arms the Middle East, and then points to a region it has armed as justification for arming the world.

Check out these maps:

If you have my book War Is A Lie, see Chapter 2: Wars Are Not Launched in Defense.


Find a real person or book, article, talking head on a news show, professor, poem, song, speech or other source arguing that war protects us from evil or keeps us safe. Send me that source and your response.


Week 4

War Destroys Nature

envirodestructionThe banished thrush, the homeless rook
Share now the human exile’s woe.
Mourns not that forest felled, which took
Three hundred years to grow?
—S. Gertrude Ford

A major motivation behind some wars is the desire to control resources that poison the earth, especially oil and gas.

Oil can be leaked or burned off, as in the Gulf War, but primarily it is put to use in all kinds of machines polluting the earth’s atmosphere, placing us all at risk. Some associate the consumption of oil with the supposed glory and heroism of war, so that renewable energies that do not risk global catastrophe are viewed as cowardly and unpatriotic ways to fuel our machines. The interplay of war with oil goes beyond that, however. The wars themselves, whether or not fought for oil, consume huge quantities of it. One of the world’s top consumer of oil, in fact, is the U.S. military.

The notion that one can choose to care about the environment or war and not the other is incoherent. They are interlocked.  And that goes for war preparations as well. We pollute the air in the process of poisoning the earth with all variety of weaponry. The U.S. military burns through about 340,000 barrels of oil each day. If the Pentagon were a country, it would rank 38th out of 196 in oil consumption. If you removed the Pentagon from the total oil consumption by the United States, then the United States would still rank first with nobody else anywhere close. But you would have spared the atmosphere the burning of more oil than most countries consume, and would have spared the planet all the mischief the U.S. military manages to fuel with it.  No other institution in the United States consumes nearly as much oil as the military.

Each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spends $622 million trying to figure out how to produce power without oil, while the military spends hundreds of billions of dollars burning oil in wars fought to control the oil supplies. The million dollars spent to keep each soldier in a foreign occupation for a year could create 20 green energy jobs at $50,000 each.

In October 2010, the Pentagon announced plans to try a small shift in the direction of renewable energy. The military’s concern did not seem to be continued life on the planet or financial expense, but rather the fact that people kept blowing up its fuel tankers in Pakistan and Afghanistan before they could reach their destinations.

The environment as we know it will not survive nuclear war. It also may not survive “conventional” war, understood to mean the sorts of wars now waged. Intense damage has already been done by wars and by the research, testing, and production done in preparation for wars. At least since the Romans sowed salt on Carthaginian fields during the Third Punic War, wars have damaged the earth, both intentionally and — more often — as a reckless side-effect.

General Philip Sheridan, having destroyed farmland in Virginia during the Civil War, proceeded to destroy bison herds as a means of restricting Native Americans to reservations. World War I saw European land destroyed with trenches and poison gas. During World War II, the Norwegians started landslides in their valleys, while the Dutch flooded a third of their farmland, the Germans destroyed Czech forests, and the British burned forests in Germany and France.

Wars in recent years have rendered large areas uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War “rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality,” according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School.  Leaning divides war’s environmental impact into four areas: “production and testing of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment of terrain, dispersal and persistence of land mines and buried ordnance, and use or storage of military despoliants, toxins, and waste.”

At least 33,480 U.S. nuclear weapons workers who have received compensation for health damage are now dead.

Nuclear weapons testing by the United States and the Soviet Union involved at least 423 atmospheric tests between 1945 and 1957 and 1,400 underground tests between 1957 and 1989. The damage from that radiation is still not fully known, but it is still spreading, as is our knowledge of the past. New research in 2009 suggested that Chinese nuclear tests between 1964 and 1996 killed more people directly than the nuclear testing of any other nation. Jun Takada, a Japanese physicist, calculated that up to 1.48 million people were exposed to fallout and 190,000 of them may have died from diseases linked to radiation from those Chinese tests.  In the United States, testing in the 1950s led to untold thousands of deaths from cancer in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, the areas most downwind from the testing.

In 1955, movie star John Wayne, who avoided participating in World War II by opting instead to make movies glorifying war, decided that he had to play Genghis Khan. The Conqueror was filmed in Utah, and the conqueror was conquered. Of the 220 people who worked on the film, by the early 1980s 91 of them had contracted cancer and 46 had died of it, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Statistics suggest that 30 of the 220 might ordinarily have gotten cancer, not 91. In 1953 the military had tested 11 atomic bombs nearby in Nevada, and by the 1980s half the residents of St. George, Utah, where the film was shot, had cancer.  You can run from war, but you can’t hide.

sunlightThe military knew its nuclear detonations would impact those downwind, and monitored the results, effectively engaging in human experimentation. In numerous other studies during and in the decades following World War II, in violation of the Nuremberg Code of 1947, the military and the CIA have subjected veterans, prisoners, the poor, the mentally disabled, and other populations to unwitting human experimentation for the purpose of testing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as drugs like LSD, which the United States went so far as to put into the air and food of an entire French village in 1951, with horrific and deadly results.

A report prepared in 1994 for the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs begins:

“During the last 50 years, hundreds of thousands of military personnel have been involved in human experimentation and other intentional exposures conducted by the Department of Defense (DOD), often without a servicemember’s knowledge or consent. In some cases, soldiers who consented to serve as human subjects found themselves participating in experiments quite different from those described at the time they volunteered. For example, thousands of World War II veterans who originally volunteered to ‘test summer clothing’ in exchange for extra leave time, found themselves in gas chambers testing the effects of mustard gas and lewisite. Additionally, soldiers were sometimes ordered by commanding officers to ‘volunteer’ to participate in research or face dire consequences. For example, several Persian Gulf War veterans interviewed by Committee staff reported that they were ordered to take experimental vaccines during Operation Desert Shield or face prison.”

oilThe full report contains numerous complaints about the secrecy of the military and suggests that its findings may be only scraping the surface of what has been hidden.

In 1993, the U.S. Secretary of Energy released records of U.S. testing of plutonium on unwitting U.S. victims immediately following World War II. Newsweek commented reassuringly, on December 27, 1993:

“The scientists who had conducted those tests so long ago surely had rational reasons: the struggle with the Soviet Union, the fear of imminent nuclear war, the urgent need to unlock all the secrets of the atom, for purposes both military and medical.”

Oh, well that’s all right then.

Nuclear weapons production sites in Washington, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, and elsewhere have poisoned the surrounding environment as well as their employees, over 3,000 of whom were awarded compensation in 2000. Many peace groups around the United States are focused on stopping the damage that local weapons factories are doing to the environment and their workers with subsidies from local governments. Sometimes this work ends up taking priority over protesting the next war.

In Kansas City, activists have tried to block the relocation and expansion of a major weapons factory. It seems that President Harry Truman, who had made his name by opposing waste on weaponry, planted a factory back home that polluted the land and water for over 60 years while manufacturing parts for instruments of death thus far used only by Truman. The private, but tax-break-subsidized factory will likely continue to produce, but on a larger scale, 85 percent of the components of nuclear weapons.

Weapons production is the least of it. Non-nuclear bombs in World War II destroyed cities, farms, and irrigation systems, producing 50 million refugees and displaced people. The U.S. bombing of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia produced 17 million refugees, and as of the end of 2008 there were 13.5 million refugees and asylum seekers around the world.  A long civil war in Sudan led to a famine there in 1988. Rwanda’s brutal civil war pushed people into areas inhabited by endangered species, including gorillas. The displacement of populations around the world to less habitable areas has damaged ecosystems severely.

Wars leave a lot behind. Between 1944 and 1970 the U.S. military dumped huge quantities of chemical weapons into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1943 German bombs had sunk a U.S. ship at Bari, Italy, that was secretly carrying a million pounds of mustard gas. Many of the U.S. sailors died from the poison, which the United States dishonestly claimed to have been using as a “deterrent,” despite keeping it secret. The ship is expected to keep leaking the gas into the sea for centuries. Meanwhile the United States and Japan left over 1,000 ships on the floor of the Pacific, including fuel tankers. In 2001, one such ship, the USS Mississinewa was found to be leaking oil. In 2003 the military removed what oil it could from the wreck.

Perhaps the most deadly weapons left behind by wars are land mines and cluster bombs. Tens of millions of them are estimated to be lying around on the earth, oblivious to any announcements that peace has been declared. Most of their victims are civilians, a large percentage of them children. A 1993 U.S. State Department report called land mines “the most toxic and widespread pollution facing mankind.” Land mines damage the environment in four ways, writes Jennifer Leaning:

“fear of mines denies access to abundant natural resources and arable land; populations are forced to move preferentially into marginal and fragile environments in order to avoid minefields; this migration speeds depletion of biological diversity; and land-mine explosions disrupt essential soil and water processes.”

The amount of the earth’s surface impacted is not minor. Millions of hectares in Europe, North Africa, and Asia are under interdiction. One-third of the land in Libya conceals land mines and unexploded World War II munitions. Many of the world’s nations have agreed to ban land mines and cluster bombs.

viequesFrom 1965 to 1971, the United States developed new ways of destroying plant and animal (including human) life; it sprayed 14 percent of South Vietnam’s forests with herbicides, burned farm land, and shot livestock. One of the worst chemical herbicides, Agent Orange, still threatens the health of the Vietnamese and has caused some half million birth defects. During the Gulf War, Iraq released 10 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf and set 732 oil wells on fire, causing extensive damage to wildlife and poisoning ground water with oil spills. In its wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq, the United States has left behind depleted uranium. A 1994 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs survey of Gulf War veterans in Mississippi found 67 percent of their children conceived since the war had severe illnesses or birth defects.  Wars in Angola eliminated 90 percent of the wildlife between 1975 and 1991. A civil war in Sri Lanka felled five million trees.

The Soviet and U.S. occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. U.S. bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan’s forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants.

Ethiopia could have reversed its desertification for $50 million in reforestation, but chose to spend $275 million on its military instead — each year between 1975 and 1985.

In understanding all of this (and much more) environmental damage done by war, and the ways in which war and environmental destruction interlock, I should try to avoid numerous potential misunderstandings:

1. Ending war could be done while continuing to destroy the environment in other ways.

2. Protecting the environment could be advanced significantly, though far from completely, while continuing with war.

3. People trying to work on either peace or the environment in isolation are doing wonderful work. Our main concern should be with people doing nothing in these or other areas of worthy activism.

4. Many environmentalists are much more interested in peace than are the big environmental organizations. My local Sierra Club signs onto statements against militarism. The larger Sierra Club has declined to join in an environmental effort with an organization I worked for because that organization was also opposing drone murders.

5. Some peace/antiwar groups and individuals are also closed to environmentalism or will tell you climate change is a hoax — but most peace/antiwar groups tend to be much more open to multi-issue coalitions and environmentalism.

6. If we can work together we’ll be stronger.

I say all of that because of two early responses in the forum to the following original lecture posted here. Perhaps I should not have posted here a sarcastic column responding to someone promoting the U.S. Navy as a force for good in the world. But I did, and I’ll leave it below for you to make of it what you will. All feedback, pro and con, is encouraged. But please do try to understand that I object to the writer’s promotion of the military as a tool for saving lives. I don’t object to his promotion of environmental protection.*****

Jeremy Deaton seems to be a fine writer on the subject of climate change right up until he stumbles across the propaganda of the U.S. military. I highlight this as the latest example of something that is so typical as to be nearly universal. This is a pattern across major environmental groups, environmental books, and environmentalists by the thousands. In fact, it’s in no way limited to environmentalists, it’s just that in the case of environmentalism, blindness to the damage done by the U.S. military is particularly dramatic in its impact.

“Forget About Saving Energy. This Is About Saving Lives.” That’s a fine title for an article about anything other than the military, which is of course designed to destroy lives, or as Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee honestly put it in a recent debate: “to kill people and break things.” In fact, this is brought out by Deaton’s sub-headline: “Energy efficiency is making the Navy a leaner, meaner fighting machine.” What does a meaner fighting machine do better? Kill people and break things.

But Deaton, who as a good environmentalist is supposed to care about the earth, reveals that, as is typical, under the spell of military propaganda, he only actually cares about 4% of the humans on the earth. The other 96% can be damned:

“Fossil fuels are a huge liability for American soldiers. Marine convoys loaded down with gas are sitting ducks for enemy bullets and roadside bombs. Using less energy means shorter supply lines: fewer targets, fewer casualties, more American soldiers making it home to their families.”

What do those supply lines supply exactly? The instruments of mass killing, of course. The idea that a killing machine is “saving lives” turns out to be the idea that while engaged in massive killing it hopes to lose fewer of its own: “It’s about tightening the gears on the war machine.” Of course if it ceased occupying the world’s oceans and shores, stirring up trouble, and fighting wars, it would save every single one of its sailors (or soldiers or Marines). An agressive global military with a few windmills save lives in the same way that buying an enormous ice cream sunday that you didn’t want saves money when it’s on sale.

Deaton quotes the Secretary of the Navy, whether copied and pasted straight off a press release or not, as saying, “Sailors and Marines come to grips with the fact that these programs help them become better warfighters.” And what do war fighters do? They fight wars. They kill huge numbers of people and create huger numbers of injuries and trauma-victims and refugees. Deaton repeatedly stresses that energy efficiency improves the ability to commit mass murder, because he clearly sees this as preferable to actually giving a shit about the planet. He quotes a Wilson Center think tanker (n., one who thinks tanks): “Their desire for energy efficiency is completely mission driven. There’s nothing ideological about it, and it’s very, very practical.” Right. God forbid they should ideologically care whether the planet maintains an inhabitable climate.

Even if you love or tolerate wars, an environmental military is like a diet coke. As World Beyond War points out, the military fights its wars for fossil fuels and consumes more of them in the process than anyone else does doing anything else. Oil can be leaked or burned off, as in the Gulf War, but primarily it is put to use in all kinds of machines polluting the earth’s atmosphere, placing us all at risk. Some even associate the consumption of oil with the supposed glory and heroism of war, so that renewable energies that do not risk global catastrophe are viewed as cowardly and unpatriotic ways to fuel our machines.

The interplay of war with oil goes beyond that, however. The wars themselves, whether or not fought for oil, consume huge quantities of it. One of the world’s top consumers of oil, in fact, is the U.S. military. The U.S. military burns through about 340,000 barrels of oil each day. If the Pentagon were a country, it would rank 38th out of 196 in oil consumption.

The environment as we know it will not survive nuclear war. It also may not survive “conventional” war, understood to mean the sorts of wars now waged. Intense damage has already been done by wars and by the research, testing, and production done in preparation for wars. Wars in recent years have rendered large areas uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War “rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality,” according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School.

Perhaps the most deadly weapons left behind by wars are land mines and cluster bombs. Tens of millions of them are estimated to be lying around on the earth, oblivious to any announcements that peace has been declared. Most of their victims are civilians, a large percentage of them children.

The Soviet and U.S. occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. U.S. bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan’s forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants. A few solar panels will not fix this.

If militaries were made green in terms of their operations, they would lose one of their main reasons for war. (Nobody can own the sun or the wind.) And we would still have a long list of … More reasons to end war.

*****More you can read:

Environmental Effects of Warfare

Peace Dividend Would Be an Enormous Carbon Footprint Dividend

Demilitarization for Deep DeCarbonization: A paper from the International Peace Bureau: PDF.

The Failure of War by Wendell Berry

What do the World’s Two Biggest Dangers Have in Common?

Environmental Collapse: Excerpt from “War Is A Lie” by David Swanson

Sustainable Energy Will Bring Peace on Earth by Alice Slater (PDF)

Sardinia: Militarization, Contamination and Cancer in Paradise

War on the Earth: Atomic Appalachia and the Militarized Southeast

A Nonviolent Insurgency for Climate Protection? By Jeremy Brecher

War Destroys Environment by Costs of War


Peace Ecology by Randall Amster

The Militarization of Indian Country by Winona LaDuke

The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry — and What We Must Do to Stop It by Antonia Juhasz

War Is A Lie by David Swanson

War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson



You and whole movement of activists have been protesting and picketing and demanding that major environmental organizations end their silence on militarism and begin opposing militarism as environmentally destructive. Now the leaders of the three biggest and wealthiest environmental organizations have agreed to meet with you. The president of the biggest one looks at you across a table and says “So, why should we oppose war?” What do you say?
Week 5
War Destroys Freedom

leaders_start_wars_people_stop_warsWe’re often told that wars are fought for “freedom.” But when a wealthy nation fights a war against a poor (if often resource-rich) nation halfway around the globe, among the goals is not actually to prevent that poor nation from taking over the wealthy one, after which it might restrict people’s rights and liberties. The fears used to build support for the wars don’t involve such an incredible scenario at all; rather the threat is depicted as one to safety, not liberty.  Those people are going to blow us up, not limit our rights in court or restrict our public demonstrations to fenced in pens where they can’t be seen. (We’re going to have to do those things to ourselves!)

Sometimes we’re told that evil people are going to blow us up because they hate our freedoms. But then, that would still mean we were fighting a war for survival, not for freedom — if there were any truth to this absurd propaganda, which there is not. People can be motivated to fight by all kinds of means, including religion, racism, or hatred of a culture, but the underlying motivation for anti-U.S. violence from nations where the U.S. funds and arms dictators or maintains a large troop presence or imposes deadly economic sanctions or bombs houses or occupies towns or buzzes drones overhead … is those actions. Many nations equal or surpass the United States in civil liberties without making themselves targets.

What happens, predictably and consistently, is just the reverse of wars protecting freedoms. In close proportion to levels of military spending, liberties are restricted in the name of war — even while wars may simultaneously be waged in the name of liberty.  We try to resist the erosion of liberties, the warrantless surveillance, the drones in the skies, the lawless imprisonment, the torture, the assassinations, the denial of a lawyer, the denial of access to information on the government, etc.  But these are symptoms.  The disease is war and the preparation for war.

It is the idea of the enemy that allows government secrecy. It is the idea of war that most effectively concentrates government power in fewer hands and expands that power at the expense of the people.  Only by restricting, reducing, and eliminating military spending can we restrict, reduce, or eliminate war; and only by restricting, reducing, or eliminating war can we do the same to this erosion of rights and liberties.

The nature of war, as fought between valued and devalued people, facilitates the erosion of liberties in another way, in addition to the fear for safety.  That is, it allows liberties to first be taken away from devalued people.  But the programs developed to accomplish that are later predictably expanded to include valued people as well.  First foreigners are imprisoned, tortured, assassinated, or hunted by drone.  Then people in one’s own country are targeted as well, accused of having joined the enemy.  They may be stripped of their citizenship (in the UK version) or their citizenship stripped of all rights or privileges (in the US version) but come home to roost the abuses of wartime will.  And there they will remain, even beyond the termination of wartime, should that termination ever arrive.

Militarism erodes not just particular rights but the very basis of self-governance. It privatizes public goods, it corrupts public servants, it creates momentum for war by making people’s careers dependent on it.  Over a half century ago, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower warned:

“We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. … In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

War not only shifts power to the government and the few, and away from the people, but it also shifts power to a president or prime minister and away from a legislature or judiciary. James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution, warned:

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

“The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.”

One way in which war erodes public trust and morals is by its predictable generation of public lies. Makers of war hide every merit in their enemies and every flaw in themselves. They disguise the aim of profit or vengeance or lust for power as the aim of defense or philanthropy. And these lies may last long enough to start a war but often do not last much beyond that, the truth of the matter tending to be very clearly exposed.

Also eroded, of course, is the very idea of the rule of law — replaced with the practice of might-makes-right. Laws against war and other laws and rules and standards are brushed aside in the madness of war, which sets an example of lawlessness for all to follow.

It’s possible to make a similar complaint to civil liberties organizations as that made to environmental organizations last week. It would go something like this: Thank you for working against lawless imprisonment and torture and various other symptoms of militarism. We’re happy to help you with that. But will you also join us in going after the root problem, the wars, the military spending? To accept war while opposing “war crimes” is to promote the false idea that war is legal. Let’s uphold the law together and oppose war and all of its constitutent parts. We’ll be stronger together.

Some audio to listen to:

Robert Parry on Talk Nation Radio

John Whitehead on Talk Nation Radio

Gregory D. Foster on Talk Nation Radio

Shahid Buttar on Talk Nation Radio


Do nations that wage more war provide those within their borders with more freedoms?


Do nations that wage more war provide other people in the world with more freedoms?



Week 6

War Impoverishes and Wastes

Here are some basic facts from World Beyond War:


War and other violence cost the world $9.46 trillion in 2012.

Direct Expenses:

War has a huge direct financial cost, the vast majority of which is in funds spent on the preparation for war — or what’s thought of as ordinary, non-war military spending. Very roughly, the world spends $2 trillion every year on militarism, of which the United States spends about half, or $1 trillion. This U.S. spending also accounts for roughly half of the U.S. government’s discretionary budget each year and is distributed through several departments and agencies. Much of the rest of world spending is by members of NATO and other allies of the United States, although China ranks (a distant) second in the world.

Indirect Expenses:

Wars can cost even an aggressor nation that fights wars far from its shores twice as much in indirect expenses as in direct expenditures.

The costs to the aggressor, enormous as they are, can be small in comparison to those of the nation attacked.

War Spending Drains an Economy:

It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs — with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.

War Spending Increases Inequality:

Military spending diverts public funds into increasingly privatized industries through the least accountable public enterprise and one that is hugely profitable for the owners and directors of the corporations involved.

War Spending Is Unsustainable, As Is Exploitation it Facilitates:

While war impoverishes the war making nation, can it nonetheless enrich that nation more substantially by facilitating the exploitation of other nations? Not in a manner that can be sustained.

Green energy and infrastructure would surpass their advocates’ wildest fantasies if the funds now invested in war were transferred there.


Some of these basic facts are very hard for people to believe and remember. War kills primarily by diverting resources away from useful efforts (like food, clean water, medicine, agriculture, sustainable energy, education).

Most of those resources are not spent on a particular war but on preparation for wars and maintenance of empire. Sometimes U.S. politicians even mention the cost of a war. Virtually never do they propose that there is a problem with annual military spending levels. And they’re not asked. Find a U.S. presidential candidate (other than Jill Stein) taking a position on how high U.S. military spending should be, and get 1,000 points extra credit!

War preparation in the United States costs about as much as everything else Congress decides on each year combined.

We’d have more jobs and better paying jobs if that money were spent on energy or infrastructure or education or even tax cuts for ordinary non-multi-billionaires.

War is wasteful.

But what about this notion that it is war that allows the United States to exploit foreign lands and maintain “our lifestyle”? Is that true? And does it outweigh the huge economic loss that war itself is? Even if it were true we couldn’t survive the environmental destruction involved in the exploitation of reources. We have to shift to renewable energy and/or less energy to survive, and we can only do that with the money being dumped into war.

But where is the evidence that it’s true? Does Saudi Arabia sell the United States oil because the United States threatens to attack it or to defend it? Or because it wants the money? Do Chinese workers work so cheaply because the U.S. threatens to bomb China or because their rights are denied them and they lack better options?

I know some of you believe war maintains a high lifestyle. Explain how. Make your best case. I’m willing to be persuaded.




National Priorities Project: Discretionary Spending 2014


Tomgram: Chris Hellman, $1.2 Trillion for National Security

The Telegraph: Cost to US of Iraq and Afghan Wars Could Hit $6 Trillion 

The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities By Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier 

Economic Implosion: Excerpt from “War Is A Lie” by David Swanson

Strike Against War, by Helen Keller


Is war necessary or helpful in maintaining the most enjoyable and fulfilling and sustainable lifestyles in the United States and/or other wealthy nations?


Week 7

There Are Alternatives to War

This may be risky, based on when I tried it once before, but I’m going to begin this lecture with something other than basic facts. Or rather, I’m going to put the facts into a comparison with alcoholism. Recognizing alcoholism is not usually taken as an outrageous act of cruelty, in fact it’s often the first step in helping someone.

Imagine an alcoholic who managed every night to get ahold of and consume huge quantities of whiskey and who every morning swore that drinking whiskey had been his very last resort, he’d had no choice at all.

Easy to imagine, no doubt. An addict will always justify himself, how ever nonsensically it has to be done.

But imagine a world in which everyone believed him and solemnly said to each other “He really had no other choice. He truly had tried everything else.”

Not so plausible, is it? Almost unimaginable, in fact. And yet:

Everyone says the United States is at war in Syria as a last resort, even though:

  • The United States spent years sabotaging UN attempts at peace in Syria.
  • The United States dismissed out of hand a Russian peace proposal for Syria in 2012.
  • And when the United States claimed a bombing campaign was needed immediately as a “last resort” in 2013 but the U.S. public was wildly opposed, other options were pursued.

Numerous U.S. Congress Members said this past  year that the nuclear deal with Iran needed to be rejected and Iran attacked as a last resort, until the deal wasn’t rejected. No mention was made in 2015 of Iran’s 2003 offer to negotiate away its nuclear program, an offer that had been quickly scorned by the United States.

Everyone says the United States is killing people with drones as a last resort, even though in that minority of cases in which the United States knows the names of the people it is aiming for, many (if not all) of them indisputably could have been easily arrested.

Everyone said the United States killed Osama bin Laden as a last resort, until those involved admitted that the “kill or capture” policy didn’t actually include any capture option and that bin Laden had been unarmed when he was killed.

332715-protests-1328926570-980-640x480Everyone says the United States attacked Libya in 2011, overthrew its government, and fueled regional violence as a last resort, even though in March 2011 the African Union had a plan for peace in Libya but was prevented by NATO, through the creation of a “no fly zone” and the initiation of bombing, to travel to Libya to discuss it. In April, the African Union was able to discuss its plan with Ghadafi, and he expressed his agreement. NATO, which had obtained UN authorization to protect Libyans alleged to be in danger but no authorization to continue bombing the country or to overthrow the government, continued bombing the country and overthrowing the government.

Everyone who works for, and wishes to continue working for, a major U.S. media outlet says the United States attacked Iraq in 2003 as a last resort or sort of meant to, or something, even though:

  • The U.S. president had been concocting cockamamie schemes to get a war started.
  • The Iraqi government had approached the CIA’s Vincent Cannistrato to offer to let U.S. troops search the entire country.
  • The Iraqi government had offered to hold internationally monitored elections within two years.
  • The Iraqi government offered Bush official Richard Perle to open the whole country to inspections, to turn over a suspect in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, to help fight terrorism, and to favor U.S. oil companies.
  • The Iraqi president offered, in the account that the president of Spain was given by the U.S. president, to simply leave Iraq if he could keep $1 billion.

Everyone supposes that the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and has stayed there ever since as a series of “last resorts,” even though the Taliban repeatedly offered to turn bin Laden over to a third country to stand trial, al Qaeda has had no significant presence in Afghanistan for most of the duration of the war, and withdrawal has been an option at any time.

Everyone maintains that the United States went to war with Iraq in 1990-1991 as a “last resort,” even though the Iraqi government was willing to negotiate withdrawal from Kuwait without war and ultimately offered to simply withdraw from Kuwait within three weeks without conditions. The King of Jordan, the Pope, the President of France, the President of the Soviet Union, and many others urged such a peaceful settlement, but the White House insisted upon its “last resort.”

Even setting aside general practices that increase hostility, provide weaponry, and empower militaristic governments, as well as fake negotiations intended to facilitate rather than avoid war, the history of U.S. war-making can be traced back through the centuries as a story of an endless series of opportunities for peace carefully avoided at all costs.

Mexico was willing to negotiate the sale of its northern half, but the United States wanted to take it through an act of mass killing. Spain wanted the matter of the Maine to go to international arbitration, but the U.S. wanted war and empire. The Soviet Union proposed peace negotiations before the Korean War. The United States sabotaged peace proposals for Vietnam from the Vietnamese, the Soviets, and the French, relentlessly insisting on its “last resort” over any other option, from the day the Gulf of Tonkin incident mandated war despite never having occurred.

Hidden in the mystery of the ludicrous “last resort” claims, taken oh so seriously by commentators on war, may lie an explanation of current bigotry toward Muslims in the United States. Should Muslims in your neighborhood turn out to be decent people, perhaps Muslims far away are decent people with whom one might speak instead of dropping bombs on their children. Muslims must be hated here so as to justify killing them there as an unavoidable “last resort.”

A presidential election campaign in the era of presidential war and permawar is also revealing of the dishonesty of “last resort” claims, because various candidates are promising various wars, and all you have to do to avoid those wars is not elect those candidates.

OK, here are some basic facts:

Militarism has made us less safe, and continues to do so.  It is not a useful tool for protection. Other tools are.

Studies over the past century have found that nonviolent tools are more effective in resisting tyranny and oppression and resolving conflicts and achieving security than violence is.

Wealthy militarist nations like the United States think of their militaries as global police, protecting the world. The world disagrees. By a large margin people all over the world consider the United States the greatest threat to peace.

The United States could easily make itself the most beloved nation on earth with much less expense and effort, by ceasing its “military aid” and providing a bit of non-military aid instead.

The momentum of the military-industrial complex works through the hammer-nail effect (if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail).  What’s needed is a combination of disarmament and investment in alternatives (diplomacy, arbitration, international law enforcement, cultural exchange, cooperation with other countries and people).

The most heavily armed nations can help disarmament in three ways. First, disarm — partially or fully. Second, stop selling weapons to so many other countries that don’t manufacture them themselves. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, at least 50 corporations supplied weapons, at least 20 of them to both sides. Third, negotiate disarmament agreements with other countries and arrange for inspections that will verify disarmament by all parties.

The first step in handling crises is to stop creating them in the first place. Threats and sanctions and false accusations over a period of years can build momentum for war that is triggered by a relatively small act, even an accident.  By taking steps to avoid provoking crises, much effort can be saved.

When conflicts inevitably do arise, they can be better addressed if investments have been made in diplomacy and arbitration.

A fair and democratic international system of law is needed.  The United Nations needs to be reformed or replaced with an international body that forbids war and allows equal representation to every nation.  The same goes for the International Criminal Court.  The idea behind it is exactly right. But if it only prosecutes tactics, not the launching, of wars, and if it only prosecutes Africans, and only Africans not cooperating with the United States, then it weakens the rule of law rather than expanding it.  Reform or replacement, not abandonment, is needed.

World Beyond War has written a book on alternatives to war and will be working on revisions to it at a big conference in Washington DC (not yet announced) on Sept 23-25, 2016. You can read the book at and I encourage you to do so and to submit proposals for improvements. If anyone can come up with good ideas for this it’s you guys.
Also, please watch this


Elected officials and news media suddenly declare that there must be a war on a poor country thousands of miles away. The alternative of doing nothing is unacceptable, they say. How do you make the public aware of another alternative? What is it? And how do you pressure those in power to act on it?


Week 8

War Will Not Go Away Unless We Make It

Please read this argument that war is not going to end on its own and is not ending.

Please read this call for us to end war.

Please consider these approaches to ending war.


What is your best advice for the World Beyond War organization? See (Sign the pledge if you are so inclined: ) What can it do better or do more of or do differently to best advance the cause of ending all war?

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