Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital

By David Swanson
Remarks at #NoWar2016

The United States government recently gave more than a million dollars to the family of one victim it had killed in one of its wars. The victim happened to be Italian. If you were to find all the Iraqi families with any surviving members who had loved ones killed by the United States it might be a million families. A million times a million dollars would be enough to treat those Iraqis in this respect as if they were Europeans. Who can tell me — raise your hand — how much is a million times a million?

That’s right, a trillion.

Now, can you count to a trillion starting from one. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Actually we won’t wait, because if you counted one number per second you would get to a trillion in 31,709 years. And we have other speakers to get to here.

A trillion is a number we can’t comprehend. For most purposes it’s useless. The greediest oligarch doesn’t dream of ever seeing a fraction of that many dollars. Teeny fractions of that many dollars would transform the world. Three percent of it per year would end starvation on earth. One percent per year would end the lack of clean drinking water. Ten percent per year would transform green energy or agriculture or education. Three percent per year for four years, in current dollars, was the Marshall Plan.

And yet the United States government through numerous departments dumps a trillion dollars per year into preparing for war. So that works out perfectly. Take one year off and compensate Iraqi victims. Take some additional months and begin compensating Afghans, Libyans, Syrians, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, etc. I’m well aware of not listing them all. Remember the 31,709 years problem.

Of course you can never fully compensate a destroyed country like Iraq or a family anywhere that has lost a loved one. But you could benefit millions and billions of people every year and save and improve millions and billions of lives for less than is spent on preparing for more wars. And this is the number one way in which war kills — by taking away the funding for anything else. Globally it’s $2 trillion per year plus trillions in damage and destruction.

When you try to weigh the good and the bad to decide whether starting or continuing a war is justified, on the bad side has to go the cost: financial, moral, human, environmental, etc., of war preparations. Even if you think you can imagine how there could be a justifiable war some day, you have to consider whether it’s justifiable in the way that a corporation that pollutes the earth and abuses its workers and customers is profitable — namely by writing off most of the costs.

Of course, people like to imagine that there have been a few justifiable wars, so that the chance of another one outweighs all the destruction of endless war preparation plus all the unjustifiable wars it produces. The United States simply had to fight a revolution against England although nonviolent corrections to injustices were working well, and the reason that Canada didn’t have to have a war with England is because there are no touchdowns in hockey, or something. The United States simply had to kill three quarters of a million people and then end slavery, even though slavery did not end, because all those other countries that ended slavery, and this city we’re in that ended slavery, without killing all those people first now lack the valuable heritage of Confederate flags and bitter racist resentment that we so cherish, or something.

World War II was totally justifiable because President Roosevelt was 6 days off in his prediction of the Japanese attack he’d worked to provoke, and the U.S. and England refused to evacuate Jewish refugees from Germany, the Coast Guard chased a ship of them away from Miami, the State Department denied Anne Frank’s visa request, all peace efforts to halt the war and liberate the camps were blocked, several times the number of people who died in the camps died outside them in the war, the all-out destruction of civilians and the permanent militarization of the United States have been disastrous precedents, the fantasy of Germany taking over the Western Hemisphere just as soon as it finished conquering the Soviet Union was based on forged documents of Karl Rovian quality, the United States gave syphilis to black troops during the war and to Guatemalans during the Nuremberg trials, and the U.S. military hired hundreds of top Nazis at the end of the war who fit right in, but this was a question of good versus evil.

The new trend of pitching wars as philanthropy picks up a sliver of U.S. public support, but each such war relies on greater support from those who thirst for blood. And because no humanitarian war has yet benefitted humanity, this propaganda leans heavily on wars that did not happen. Five years ago one simply had to bomb Libya because of Rwanda — where U.S.-backed militarism had created the disaster and never would bombing anybody have helped things. A few years later U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power openly and shamelessly wrote that we had a responsibility not to look at the disaster created in Libya in order to be properly willing to bomb Syria, and we had to bomb Syria because of Rwanda. Also because of Kosovo, where the propaganda had featured a photograph of a thin man behind a fence. In reality the photographer had been behind a fence and there had been a fat man next to the thin one. But the point was to bomb Serbia and fuel atrocities in order to stop the holocaust, which the U.S. government at the time of WWII had had absolutely zero interest in stopping.

So, let’s get this straight once and for all. It’s to our credit that wars have to be marketed as good for people. But we are well-meaning fools if we believe it. Wars must end, and the even more damaging institution of war preparation must be abolished.

I don’t expect that we can and am not sure that we should abolish the U.S. military by next Thursday, but it’s important that we understand the necessity and desirability of abolishing it, so that we can begin taking steps that will move us in that direction. A series of steps might look like this:

1) Stop arming other countries and groups.
2) Create US support for and participation in institutions of law, nonviolence, diplomacy, and aid, as developed in the book in your packets, A Global Security System: An Alternative to War.
3) End ongoing wars.
4) Take the U.S. down to no more than twice the next leading military spender — investing in transition to a peaceful sustainable economy.
5) Close foreign bases.
6) Eliminate weapons that lack a defensive purpose.
7) Take the U.S. down to no more than the next leading military spender, and continue to keep pace with a reverse arms race. It is almost a certainty that the United States could trigger a universal reverse arms race if it chose to lead it.
8) Eliminate nuclear and other worst weapons from the earth. A nice step would be for the U.S. to join the convention on cluster bombs now that the U.S. has momentarily stopped producing them.
9) Establish a plan for the complete abolition of war.

Even the necessary wars? The just wars? The good and glorious wars? Yes, but if it’s any consolation, they do not exist.

There is no need to be arming the world to the teeth. It’s not economically beneficial or morally justifiable in any way. Wars today have U.S. weapons on both sides. ISIS videos have U.S. guns and U.S. vehicles. That’s not just or glorious. It’s merely greedy and stupid.

Studies like Erica Chenoweth’s have established that nonviolent resistance to tyranny is far more likely to succeed, and the success far more likely to be lasting, than with violent resistance. So if we look at something like the nonviolent revolution in Tunisia in 2011, we might find that it meets as many criteria as any other situation for a supposedly Just War, except that it wasn’t a war at all. One wouldn’t go back in time and argue for a strategy less likely to succeed but likely to cause a lot more pain and death.

Despite the relative scarcity of examples thus far of nonviolent resistance to foreign occupation, there are those already beginning to claim a pattern of success there too. I’ll quote Stephen Zunes:

“During the first Palestinian intifada in the 1980s, much of the subjugated population effectively became self-governing entities through massive noncooperation and the creation of alternative institutions, forcing Israel to allow for the creation of the Palestine Authority and self-governance for most of the urban areas of the West Bank. Nonviolent resistance in the occupied Western Sahara has forced Morocco to offer an autonomy proposal …. In the final years of German occupation of Denmark and Norway during WWII, the Nazis effectively no longer controlled the population. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia freed themselves from Soviet occupation through nonviolent resistance prior to the USSR’s collapse. In Lebanon … thirty years of Syrian domination was ended through a large-scale, nonviolent uprising in 2005.”

End quote. He has more examples. And one might, I think, look at numerous examples of resistance to the Nazis, and in German resistance to the French invasion of the Ruhr in 1923, or perhaps in the one-time success of the Philippines and the ongoing success of Ecuador in evicting U.S. military bases, and of course the Gandhian example of booting the British out of India. But the far more numerous examples of nonviolent success over domestic tyranny also provide a guide toward future action.

On the side of choosing a nonviolent response to an attack is its greater likelihood of succeeding and of that success lasting longer, as well as less damage being done in the process. Sometimes we get so busy pointing out that anti-U.S. terrorism is fueled by U.S. aggression — as it is — that we forget to point out that the terrorism fails in its objectives just as the larger U.S. terrorism fails in its objectives. Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation is not a model for U.S. resistance to some fantasized invasion of the United States by Vladimir Putin and Edward Snowden leading a wild band of Muslim Hondurans to come and take our guns away.

The right model is nonviolent noncooperation, the rule of law, and diplomacy. And that can begin now. The chance of violent conflicts can be greatly minimized.

In the absence of an attack, however, while claims are being made that a war should be launched as a supposed “last resort,” nonviolent solutions are available in infinite variety and can be tried over and over again. The United States has never actually reached the point of attacking another country as an actual and literal last resort. And it never can.

If you could achieve that, then a moral decision would still require that the imagined benefits of your war outweigh all the damage done by maintaining the institution of war, and that’s an incredibly high hurdle.

What we need, in order to bring nonviolent pressure to bear on whoever occupies the White House and the Capitol four months from now is a larger, more energized movement for the abolition of war, with a vision of what we could have instead.

During World War II, before the United States maintained a permanent state of war, a Congressman from Maryland suggested that after the war the Pentagon could be turned into a hospital and thereby put to some useful purpose. I still think that’s a good idea. I may try to mention it to the Pentagon staff when we visit there at 9 a.m. on Monday.

This is the vision we need to advance, one in which a new and valuable purpose must be found, as in these necklaces made from recycled nuclear weapons, for everything that used to be part of the immoral criminal enterprise that was known as war.

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