How much the country and I have changed since I was a senior at St. Thomas High School in 1962. I had grown up reading World War II comic books, seeing umpteen movies like Guadalcanal Diary and watching the Victory at Sea series several times. War was an adventure and a fight of good versus evil. The Nazis were truly evil while the Japanese were old-fashioned barbarians.
My civics textbook made a brief reference to pacificism. I had never met a pacifist nor ever read anything that they wrote. What noble deluded people! How could the Allies have beaten the Axis Powers if we had very many people like that around? How could we deal with the Soviet threat in 1962?
The civics textbook did not refer to protests of past wars. In the War of 1812, New England states seriously considered breaking away from the United States because the war demolished their trade. Abraham Lincoln and others protested the war with Mexico. A number of Senators and Congressmen voted against the US entry into World War I.
Later in the 1960s, I heard Blowing in the Wind, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and Joan Baez’s famous With God On Our Side. War seemed less adventurous, more frightful but still necessary. When the Vietnam War heated up in 1965, I would be for it one month and against it the next. In August 1966, I changed my mind for the last time.
The longer the war lasted, the more radical I became. As a history major, I started to realize that all wars were like Vietnam with the President of the country telling lies about how our security was threatened. Historians today cannot tell us conclusively what happened to the USS Maine in 1898. The least likely explanation is that the Spanish had nothing to do with the explosion. The Spanish government made compensation offers to the US government but the US declared war anyway. A few years later President McKinley told a group of Methodist ministers that a benefit of the war was bringing Christianity to the Philippines. What President McKinley did not know was that the Filipinos had been mostly Christian and mostly Catholic for many centuries.
President Johnson used what is known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify the war in Vietnam. Congressional hearings a few years later disclosed that the Maddox and Turner Joy were not on the high seas when they were attacked but in North Vietnamese territorial waters.
Some people like me feel the frustration of specific war protesting. In the 1960s, there was a movie, If This Is Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. If this is 1967, we must be protesting the Vietnam War. If this is 2007, we must be protesting the war in Iraq. It is time to abolish all war before war abolishes us. This is not just a feeling among hippies, Quakers and left wing college professors. Douglas MacArthur and other famous warriors have called for the abolition of war. See these excerpts from General MacArthur’s 1951 speech to the US Congress:
“I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.”…. "Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, our Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence, an improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh."
Under MacArthur’s guidance, the Japanese wrote their Constitution, which has a “no war” clause in article 9:
“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of the belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
Many individuals still think the United States needs a strong military. After all, there was Hitler. Now there are the Chinese and the terrorists. Haven’t peaceniks like me learned anything from the Munich Conference? I know because that is the way I felt until 1969.
The Second World War was a result of the first. Woodrow Wilson told the American people to be neutral in thought, word and deed. In fact, his policy favored the British and the French. By 1917, the American economy with tied to Allied victory. Between the wars, the Americans, British and French failed miserably to readjust the Versailles Treaty and erected tariff walls that exasperated the Great Depression. In the last year of German prosperity, 1928, the Nazis achieved only 3% of the vote. It was only after the beginning of the Great Depression that Hitler had a hypnotic gaze that enthralled the crowds. The lesson I offer is that a world of economic opportunity beats the perpetual war state. Those who look at the Nazis to justify the mightiest armed forces that the world has ever seen should look to the 1919-1932 period rather than start after the Nazis seized power or the Munich Conference.
The Chinese do not need military forces to do us in. All they have to do is stop buying our debt and require that all future contacts by paid in Euros.
As for the terrorists, military forces have not been a factor. If the United States had had twice as many aircraft carriers, tanks and fighter planes on September 10, 2001 as we actually did, the terrorists would have struck anyway. Since the Taliban government offered to turn over Osama bin Laden after the US furnished evidence of his criminal activity, I am puzzled why the Bush government refused to perform this simple act. Extradition procedures have been part of international law for a long time. I am puzzled by our war with Iraq that had no connection with the terrorists and no weapons of mass destruction.
On February 11, 2007, the Braeswood Democrats, an activist group in Houston, passed a resolution (the Braeswood Declaration) calling for the abolition of war saying that the road to peace can begin by:
1) starting a world wide anti-poverty program,
2) taxing international arms sales,
3) beginning a moratorium on weapons research,
4) reducing the bloated US military budget by 50%,
5) training our armed forces for disaster relief,
6) establishing a cabinet level Department of Peace,
7) reducing nuclear weapons to zero or nearly zero, and,
8) negotiating for all the world’s nuclear weapons to go off hair trigger alert.
Note that there is no mention of unilateral disarmament by Douglas MacArthur or the Braeswood Democrats resolution. There is a call for leadership from our government and our society. What is needed is courage not to let hardliners veto any progress. Thanks to Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, humankind eliminated an entire class of missiles. Serious efforts will take cooperation and transparency. In Ronald Reagan’s terms, “Trust but verify.”
Some are concerned that when news of the Braeswood Declaration hits the newspapers that the Braeswood Democrats may be labeled as extremists. This is possible. Any white American who wanted civic rights for all Americans was an extremist in Southern society and many parts of the country until the 1960s. Politicians like Dennis Kucinich and Jesse Jackson who take a position before it is popular are rare. The Solidarity Movement was not a fringe movement but pundits considered their efforts to be utopian. There was virtually no one who predicted that the Soviet Union would end the way it did. Sometimes in life, you have to stand up for what you believe and not just follow the crowd. After a while, the crowd will be following you.
Sixty-two countries signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which called for the renunciation of war. The Pact had no goals or means of getting there. It is important that groups or organizations endorsing the renunciation of war ask for specific steps.
The more likely path will be that different groups will add ideas to the Braeswood Declaration and take out others. Many groups and those seeking electoral office may wish to seen as non-extremist and call for a demilitarization of American policy rather than the abolition of war. The Braeswood Democrats are looking to refine the resolution. For example, a continuation of the weapons research moratorium is contingent upon enough other countries (mainly China and Russia) joining in. The moratorium would feature a type of welfare payment to defense contractors to keep them around if the moratorium does not endure. A worldwide anti-poverty program is contingent of on more oversight and better results than current foreign aid programs. There are other terms and conditions would expand the sparse statement.
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has not had a peace dividend. Some of our soldiers’ families are on food stamps. Something is wrong. The United States spends as much as the defense budget as the next 25 countries in line. Who are we afraid of?
Hopefully the national discussion will revolve around this and other important issues and not the superficial coverage of the glitter, polls and contributions of the presidential campaign.
Hopefully environmental groups will join the peace movement. If humankind is to save itself from global warming and environmental degradation, many habits will have to change. Since the armed forces consume plenty of resources even when people are not getting killed, war is a habit that humankind will have to throw overboard.
Remember the old Pogo cartoon, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Give peace a chance.
Isaiah said that without vision, the people perish. Many Americans have vision. May they be able to persuade the media and the politicians to pay attention.
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Copyright © 2005 Ed O'Rourke, P.C.
Last modified: 04/19/2007