Social and Ecological Imperatives of War Abolition

Remarks Given at Kateri Peace Conference, Fonda, NY
by Greta Zarro, Organizing Director of World BEYOND War

  • Hi, my name is Greta Zarro and I’m an organic farmer in West Edmeston in Otsego County, about an hour and an half from here, and I’m the Organizing Director for World BEYOND War.
  • Thank you to Maureen & John for inviting World BEYOND War to participate in this special 20th anniversary of the Kateri Conference.
  • Founded in 2014, World BEYOND War is a decentralized, global grassroots network of volunteers, activists, and allied organizations advocating for the abolition of the very institution of war and its replacement with a culture of peace.
  • Our work follows a two-pronged approach of peace education and nonviolent direct action organizing campaigns.
  • Over 75,000 people from 173 countries have signed our declaration of peace, pledging to work nonviolently for a world beyond war.
  • Our work tackles the myths of war by illustrating that war is NOT necessary, NOT beneficial, and NOT inevitable.
  • Our book, online courses, webinars, articles, and other resources make the case for an alternative global security system – a framework for global governance – based on peace and demilitarization.
  • This year’s Kateri conference theme – MLK’s harbinger about the fierce urgency of now – really resonated with me and I think it is a very timely message.
  • Building off of the theme, today, I am tasked with discussing the social and ecological imperatives of war abolition.
  • This fits well with World BEYOND War’s work, because, what is unique about our approach is the way in which we illustrate how the war system is truly the nexus of the issues that we’re facing as a society and planet.
  • War, and ongoing preparations for war, tie up trillions of dollars that could be reallocated to social and ecological initiatives, such as health care, education, clean water, infrastructure improvements, the just transition to renewable energy, providing livable wages, and more.
  • In fact, only 3% of U.S. military spending could end starvation on earth.
  • With the U.S. government spending a combined $1 trillion annually on war and preparations for war, including the stationing of troops at over 800 bases worldwide, there is little left of the public purse to spend on domestic necessities.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers ranks U.S. infrastructure as a D+.
  • The U.S. ranks 4th in the world for wealth inequality, according to the OECD.
  • S. infant mortality rates are the highest in the developed world, according to UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston.
  • Communities across the nation lack access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation, a UN human right that the U.S. fails to recognize.
  • Forty million Americans live in poverty.
  • Given this lack of a basic social safety net, is it any wonder that people enlist in the armed forces for economic relief and a supposed sense of purpose, grounded in our nation’s history of associating military service with heroism?
  • So if we want to make progress on any of the “progressive” issues that we as activists are advocating for, the elephant in the room is the war system.
  • A system that is perpetuated at this massive scale because of the very fact that it is profitable for corporations, governments, and elected officials who receive bribes from the weapons industry.
  • Dollar for dollar, studies show that we can produce more jobs and better-paying jobs in any other industry, besides the war industry.
  • And while our society remains based on a war economy, government military spending actually increases economic inequality.
  • It diverts public funds into privatized industries, concentrating the wealth in a small number of hands, from which a portion of it can be used to pay off elected officials, to perpetuate the cycle.
  • Beyond the issue of profitability and reallocation of funds, the connections between the war system and social and ecological issues go much deeper.
  • Let’s start with how war threatens the environment:
    • The U.S. Department of Energy’s own estimates reveal that in 2016, the Department of Defense emitted more than 66.2 million metric tons of CO2, which is more than the emissions of 160 other nations worldwide combined.
  • One of the world’s top consumers of oil is the U.S. military.
  • The U.S. military is the third-largest polluter of U.S. waterways.
  • Current or former military related installations, such as military bases, form a high proportion of the 1,300 sites on the EPA’s Superfund list (sites that the U.S. government designates as hazardous).
  • Despite the well-documented harms that militarism causes to the environment, the Pentagon, related agencies, and many military industries have been granted special exemptions from the environmental regulations that govern all other activities in the United States.
  • In terms of the social impacts of the war machine, I want to focus in specifically about the ways in which war, and ongoing preparations for war, have deep, negative ramifications for the residents of the attacking, or warmongering, country, in this case, the U.S.
  • I think we can all agree that the societal impact of war on the victimized countries is enormous, horrendous, immoral, and, a clear violation of international law and human rights.
  • It is this secondary impact on the “home country” – i.e. the country that is waging war – that is less talked about and that, I think, has potential to broaden the reach of the war abolition movement.
  • What I’m referring to is the way in which our country’s perpetual state of warfare has led to:
    • (1) a permanent surveillance state at home, one in which U.S. citizens’ rights to privacy are brushed off in the name of national security.
  • (2) a highly militarized domestic police force that receives surplus military equipment, far beyond what is necessary for the role of the police to protect their communities.
  • (3) a culture of war and violence at home, which invades our lives through video games and Hollywood films, many of which are funded, censored and scripted by the U.S. military to portray violence and warfare in a heroic light.
  • (4) increased racism and xenophobia towards the “Other” – the “enemy” – which not only impacts our perceptions of foreigners abroad, but also of immigrants here.
  • (5) a normalization of military recruitment in our schools, in particular, the JROTC program, which teaches children as young as 13 how to shoot a gun in their high school gymnasium – fueling a culture of gun violence with potentially deadly consequences, as illustrated in the Parkland, FL high school shooting, which was committed by a JROTC student, who proudly wore his JROTC t-shirt on the day of the shooting.
  • What I have laid out illustrates how militarism is embedded in our social structure.
  • This culture of warfare is justified in the name of national security, which is used to excuse torture, imprisonments, and assassinations, at the expense of international law and human rights.
  • The facade of national security is especially ironic, given that, according to the Global Terrorism Index, there has been a steady increase in terrorist attacks since the beginning of our “war on terror.”
  • Federal intelligence analysts and retired military officers admit that U.S. occupations generate more hatred, resentment, and blowback than they prevent.
  • According to a declassified intelligence report on the war on Iraq, “despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaida, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in numbers and in geographic reach.”
  • As someone who was a former environmental community organizer, based in Brooklyn, I did not see the interconnections between the military industrial complex and social and ecological impacts being made between activist groups.
  • I think there can be tendency in the “movement” to stay within our issue silos – whether our passion is opposing fracking or advocating for health care or opposing war.
  • But by staying in these silos, we impede progress as a unified mass movement.
  • This echoes of the criticism of “identity politics” that played out in the 2016 election cycle, pitting groups against each other, rather than rallying around a shared need for social, economic, and environmental justice.
  • Because what we’re really talking about when we advocate for any of these issues is a restructuring of society, a paradigmatic shift away from corporate capitalism and empire-building.
  • A reorientation of government spending and priorities, which are currently focused on maintaining global economic and political hegemony, at the expense of the safety, human rights, and civil liberties of people abroad and at home, and to the detriment of the environment.
  • This year, the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination, we did witness a breaking down of the activism silos with the renewal of the Poor People’s Campaign, which is why this year’s conference theme is so relevant and ties into this revival of MLK’s work.
  • I think the Poor People’s Campaign signals a hopeful directional change in the movement towards fusion organizing, or intersectional activism.
  • We saw, with the 40 days of action this spring, all kinds of groups – from national environmental organizations to LGBT groups to social justice organizations and unions – coming together around MLK’s 3 evils – militarism, poverty, and racism.
  • What these cross-connections help to establish is that fact that war is not an issue to be opposed on a case-by-case basis – such as those who mobilized in opposition to the war in Iraq, but then ceased efforts as the issue was no longer trending.
  • Rather, what MLK’s framework of the 3 evils makes clear is my point about how war is the nexus of social and ecological ills – and that war is the foundation upon which U.S. policies are currently built.
  • Key to World BEYOND War’s work is this holistic opposition to the institution of war at large – not only all current wars and violent conflicts, but the industry of war itself, the ongoing preparations for war that feed the profitability of the system (arms manufacturing, weapons stockpiling, expansion of military bases, etc.).
  • This brings me to the final section of my presentation – the “where do we go from here.”
  • If we want to undermine the institution of war, there are a number of needed action steps to cut off the war machine at its source – which I’ll call withdrawing “the people,” “the profits,” and “the infrastructure”:
  • By “withdrawing the people”, I mean countering military recruitment by advocating for increased transparency and expanded avenues for opting out of recruitment.
  • Parents legally have the right to opt their children out of recruitment – but most parents are not properly informed of this right – so the Pentagon automatically gets children’s names and contact information.
  • Only the state of Maryland has a good law on the books that informs parents of their right to opt out – and requires parents to annually waive it or not.
  • The counter-recruitment campaign is also targeted at passing state-level legislation to stop JROTC school marksmanship programs.
  • Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of NY championed legislation last session to ban JROTC school marksmanship programs – and we need to encourage her to reintroduce it next session and garner more support in the Assembly and in the State Senate.
  • Number #2 “withdraw the profits”: By this, I am referring to war divestment, i.e. divesting public pension funds, retirement savings and 401K plans, university endowments, and other state-owned, municipal, institutional, or personal funds from companies that invest in military contractors and weapons manufacturers.
  • Many of us, as individuals and communities, are unwittingly propping up the war economy, when personal, public, or institutional holdings are invested in asset management firms, like Vanguard, BlackRock, and Fidelity, which in turn reinvest that money in weapons manufacturers and military contractors.
  • Visit to use the Weapon Free Funds database to see if you’re unknowingly financing war – and find alternative, socially-responsibly investment options.
  • The third action step is withdrawing the infrastructure of war, and by this, I’m specifically referring to World BEYOND War’s campaign to close military bases.
  • World BEYOND War is a founding member of the Coalition Against U.S. Foreign Military Bases.
  • This campaign aims to raise public awareness and organize nonviolent mass resistance against military bases around the world, with particular emphasis on U.S. foreign military bases, which constitute 95% of all foreign military bases worldwide.
  • Foreign military bases are centers of warmongering and expansionism, causing severe environmental, economic, political, and health impacts on local populations.
  • While the network of U.S. foreign military bases exists, so too will the U.S. remain a threat to other countries, in turn prompting other nations to build up their weapons stockpiles and militaries.
  • It is no surprise that, in a 2013 Gallup poll, which asked people in 65 countries the question “Which country is the greatest threat to peace in the world?” the overwhelming winner, seen as the greatest threat, was the United States
  • I invite you to partner with World BEYOND War to work on any of the aforementioned campaigns!
  • As a hub for educational campaign materials, organizing training, and promotional assistance, World BEYOND War teams up with activists, volunteers, and allied groups to plan, promote, and amplify campaigns worldwide.
  • Please reach out if you want to affiliate an existing group with our network, or start your own World BEYOND War chapter!
  • I want to conclude with a couple of thoughts about organizing in general and tips for the work ahead.
    • Work in coalition across disciplines to emphasize the cross-connections between issues and use that intersectionality to build the strength of the movement.
    • Be strategic: a common pitfall of organizing campaigns is not having a clear campaign target – a decision-maker who has the power to enact the policy goal that we’re advocating for. So when starting out on a campaign, set your goals and do the research to determine who has the jurisdiction to enact the necessary policy change.
    • Provide concrete, tangible, positive action steps: As an organizer, I often hear feedback from people who are tired by negative language (Resist this! Fight that!) and who are eager for positive alternatives. I also hear feedback from activists worn out by endless petitions or symbolic protests that don’t seem strategic or effective. Choose tactics that allow for tangible change-making at the grassroots level – the example that comes to mind is divestment, which is actionable on a personal, institutional, municipal, or state level, which allows people to opt out of the negative and reinvest in the positive, while, piece by piece from the grassroots, community-level divestment campaigns contribute to a larger, system-wide policy shift.
  • Finally, I hope to see many of you at World BEYOND War’s upcoming annual conference, #NoWar2018, this Sept 21-22 in Toronto. Learn more and register at
  • Thank you!

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