Video of a Workshop I Just Did in Santa Cruz on Abolishing War:

Video of a Workshop I Just Did in Santa Cruz on Abolishing War:

Workshop first half:

Workshop second half:

Speech the night before:

Speech and Q&A second half:

Speech text

We Need a New Armistice Day

Speech and Q&A in another video:

Speech later that day in Berkeley text:

Making the World Great for the First Time

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How Many Households Qualify as Middle Class?

What does it take to be middle class nowadays? Defining the middle class is a parlor game, with most of the punditry referring to income brackets as the defining factor.

People tend to self-report that they belong to the middle class based on income, but income is not the key metric: 12 other factors are more telling measures of middle class membership than income.

In Why the Middle Class Is Doomed (April 17, 2012) I listed five minimum threshold characteristics of membership in the middle class:

1. Meaningful healthcare insurance (i.e. not phantom insurance with $5,000 deductibles, etc.) and life insurance.

2. Significant equity (25%-50%) in a home or equivalent real estate

3. Income/expenses that enable the household to save at least 6% of its income

4. Significant retirement funds: 401Ks, IRAs, etc.

5. The ability to service all debt and expenses over the medium-term if one of the primary household wage-earners lose their job

I then added a taken-for-granted sixth:

6. Reliable vehicles for each wage-earner

Author Chris Sullins suggested adding these additional thresholds:

7. If a household requires government assistance to maintain the family lifestyle, their Middle Class status is in doubt.

8. A percentage of non-paper, non-family home hard assets such as family heirlooms, precious metals, tools, etc. that can be transferred to the next generation, i.e. generational wealth.

9. Ability to invest in offspring (education, extracurricular clubs/training, etc.).

10. Leisure time devoted to the maintenance of physical/spiritual/mental fitness.

Correspondent Mark G. recently suggested two more:

11. Continual accumulation of human and social capital (new skills, networks of collaborators, markets for one’s services, etc.)

And the money shot:

12. Family ownership of income-producing assets such as rental properties, bonds, etc.

The key point of these thresholds is that propping up a precarious illusion of consumption and status signifiers does not qualify as middle class. To qualify as middle class (that is, what was considered middle class a generation or two ago), the household must actually own/control wealth that won’t vanish if the investment bubble du jour pops, and won’t be wiped out by a medical emergency.

In Chris’s phrase, “They should be focusing resources on the next generation and passing on Generational Wealth” as opposed to “keeping up appearances” via aspirational consumption financed with debt.

What does it take in the real world to qualify as middle class?

Here are my calculations based on our own expenses and those of our friends in urban America. We can quibble about details endlessly, so these are mid-range estimates. These reflect urban costs; rural towns/cities will naturally have significantly lower cost structures. Please make adjustments as suits your area or experience, but please recall that tens of millions of people live in high-cost left and right-coast cities, and millions more have high heating/cooling/commuting costs.

The wages of those employed by Corporate America or the government do not reflect the total cost of benefits such as healthcare insurance. Self-employed people like myself pay the full costs of benefits, so we have to realize there is no ideal average of household expenses. Some households pay very little of their actual healthcare expenses, other pay for part of these costs and still others pay most or all of their healthcare insurance and co-pays.

1. Healthcare. Let’s budget $15,000 annually for healthcare insurance. Yes, if you’re 23 years old and single, you will pay less, so this is an average. If you’re older (I’m 64), $15,000 a year only buys you and your spouse stripped down coverage: no eyewear, medication or dental coverage–and that’s if your existing plan is grandfathered in. (If you want non-phantom ObamaCare coverage, the cost zooms up to $2,000/month or $24,000 annually.)

Add in co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses, and the realistic annual total is between $15,000 and $20,000 annually: Your family’s health care costs: $19,393 (this was before ACA).

Let’s say $15,000 annually is about as low as you can reasonably expect to maintain middle class healthcare.

2. Home equity. Building home equity requires paying meaningful principal. Let’s say a household has a 15-year mortgage so the principal payments are actually meaningfully adding to equity, unlike a 30-year mortgage. Let’s say $5-$10,000 of $25,000 in annual mortgage payments is interest (deductible) and $15-$20,000 goes to principal reduction.

3. Savings. Anything less than $5,000 in annual savings is not very meaningful if college costs, co-pays for medical emergencies, etc. are being anticipated, and $10,000 is a more realistic number given the need to stockpile cash in the event of job loss or reduced hours/pay. So let’s go with a minimum of $5,000 in cash savings annually.

4. Retirement. Let’s assume $6,000 per wage earner per year, or $12,000 per household. That won’t buy much of a retirement unless you start at age 25, and even then the return at current rates is so abysmal the nestegg won’t grow faster than inflation unless you take horrendous risks (and win).

5. Vehicles. The AAA pegs the cost of each compact car at $7,000 annually, so $14K per year assumes two compacts each driven 15,000 miles. The cost declines for two paid-for, well-maintained clunkers and increases for sedans and trucks. Let’s assume a scrimp-and-save household who manages to operate and insure two vehicles for $10,000 annually.

6. Social Security and Medicare Taxes. Self-employed people pay full freight Social Security and Medicare taxes: 15.3% of all net income, starting with dollar one and going up to $127,200 for SSA. But let’s take a household of two employed wage-earners and put in $8,000.

Property taxes: These are low in many parts of the country, but let’s assume a level between New Jersey/New York/California level of property tax and very low property tax rates: $10,000 annually.

Income tax: There are too many complexities, so let’s assume $2,000 in state and local taxes and $5,000 in federal taxes for a total of $7,000.

7. Living expenses: Some people spend hundreds of dollars on food each week, others considerably less. Let’s assume a two-adult household will need at least $12,000 annually for food, utilities, phone service, Internet, home maintenance, clothing, furnishings, books, films, etc., while those who like to dine out often, take week-ends away for skiing or equivalent will need more like $20,000.

8. Donations, church tithes, community organizations, adult education, hobbies, etc.: Let’s say $2,000 annually at a minimum.

Note that this does not include the cost of maintaining boats, RVs, pools, etc., or the cost of an annual vacation.

Here’s the annual summary:

Healthcare: $15,000 
Mortgage: $25,000 
Savings: $5,000 
Retirement: $12,000 
Vehicles: $10,000 
Property taxes: $10,000 
Income and Social Security/Medicare taxes: $15,000 
Living expenses: $12,000 
Other: $2,000

Minimum Total: $106,000

Vacations, travel, unexpected expenses, etc: $5,000.

Realistic Total: $111,000

That’s almost double the median household income of $59,000. Note that this $111,000 household income has no budget for lavish vacations, luxury vehicles, large pickup trucks, boats, second homes, college expenses, etc. There is no budget for private schooling. Most of the family income goes to the mortgage, taxes and healthcare. Savings are modest, along with living expenses and retirement contributions. This is a barebones budget.

$111,000 household income is right about the cut-off point for the top 20% of household income. How close are you to the top 1%?

Toss in a jumbo mortgage, college tuition paid in cash, an aging parent to care for or any of a dozen other major expenses and the minimum quickly rises to $155,000, which puts the household in the top 10% of household income.

How can we even talk about a “middle class” when the minimum thresholdsput the household in the top 20%? And we haven’t even considered the ultimateminimum threshold of middle class membership: family ownership of income-producing assets such as businesses, rental properties, bonds, etc.

The key takeaway of this chart is the concentration of the household wealth of the bottom 90% in the family home. The wealthy and upper-middle class own income-producing assets, while the bottom 90% own some life insurance, cash and pensions, but their largest asset by far is the family home. (They also “own” a tremendous amount of debt.)

The problem is life insurance, cash and pensions don’t generate much income, and neither does the family home. Households counting on the equity in bubble-priced housing are not factoring in the unwelcome reality that all bubbles pop, even housing bubbles that can’t possibly pop.

To have the equivalent security and generational wealth enjoyed by the middle class two generations ago, households have to check off all 12 minimum thresholds. I’m not sure there is a “middle class” any more; if we use these 12 minimum thresholds, the U.S. now has a super-wealthy class (top .01%), a very wealthy class (top .5%), an upper class (top 9.5% below the wealthy) and the rest(bottom 90%), with varying levels of security and assets but at levels far below what median-income households enjoyed in bygone eras.

By the standards of previous generations, the middle class has been stripmined of income, assets and purchasing power. 

My new mystery The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake is $1.29 (Kindle) or $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

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Humanitarian Bombs

One should not sell bombs to a government that abuses human rights, which means murders a man without using one of the bombs.

If Saudi Arabia had murdered a man using a bomb, it would be fine to sell Saudi Arabia more bombs.

But Saudi Arabia murdered with a non-bomb weapon, and so shouldn’t have bombs anymore.

One should, in fact, bomb people whose government abuses human rights, which means murders children without using bombs.

Syria allegedly killed children using chemical weapons, and so Syrian men, women, and children should be bombed.

Killing millions of people in wars, year after year, as long as it’s with bombs, is justifiable because the Good War was justifiable because although the war killed some 80 million people, about 13 million of them were killed in German camps which doesn’t really count as war and is therefore not justifiable, especially for 6 to 9 million of them, although those are precisely the ones who could have been very easily spared by permitting Germany to expel them, something none of the governments whose warmaking justifies all future wars would agree to.

The warmaking that justified all further warmaking consisted largely of bombing people’s houses, which was therefore not a crime in the post war trials. Rather than a crime, bombing people’s houses is a form of law enforcement.

Saudi Arabia is not in need of law enforcement, because it buys lots of bombs. It does, however need to be cut off in its supply of bombs.

Or, rather, it would if it weren’t for the fact that it buys so many bombs. Because, although military spending reduces jobs in comparison with any other kind of spending or even not taxing money in the first place, the United States will not engage in any other kind of spending or stop taxing the people who can’t afford it, and so it’s a nation of war jobs or no jobs, and jobs justify mass murder as long as it’s with bombs.

And so, arming dictatorships around the globe is a national duty because the Homeland nation gets armed too, which creates jobs in a society that respects human rights apart from leading the world in locking people in cages, and also being a nation that executes prisoners, and which has police engaging in murder with near impunity, and the government joining only five of the United Nations’ 18 major human rights treaties, fewer than any other nation on earth, except Bhutan (4), and tied with Malaya, Myanmar, and South Sudan, a country torn by warfare since its creation in 2011.

But there’s a difference. When the United States government violates human rights, it is all part of protecting your security. In other words, it is done in the name of preventing the United States from being bombed, which would be the worst thing imaginable.

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Making the World Great for the First Time

Remarks at Fellowship Hall at Berkeley, Calif., October 13, 2018.

Video here.

Slogans and headlines and haikus and other short combinations of words are tricky things. I wrote a book looking at many of the themes in how people commonly talk about war, and I found them all without exception — and the marketing campaigns before, during, and after every past war without exception — to be dishonest. So I called the book War Is A Lie. And then people who misunderstood my meaning started insisting to me that I was wrong, that war really does exist.

We have t-shirts at World BEYOND War that read “I’m already against the next war.” But some protest that we shouldn’t assume there must be a next war. And I myself protest that in fact we’re eliding the little known reality that there are numerous wars underway already when we focus on “the next war,” especially in a society that rather grotesquely imagines itself at peace while bombing numerous parts of the globe.

One solution to this is to restrain ourselves in the placing of grand significance on slogans. If the proper slogan would save us, the contents of my email inbox, flooded with world-saving slogan ideas, would have established paradise long ago. If those who argue for peace and justice are really outmatched on television principally because they are not pithy and witty enough, as opposed to their general failure to own the television networks, we should immediately shut down everything except bumper sticker designing sessions.

On the other hand, if I write an article and post a link to it on social media, typically a discussion of the headline ensues among participants who have clearly not clicked and read the article and who in some cases, when asked, are quite put out by the idea that they should do so. I myself have lately begun clicking only on articles with boring headlines, because the ones with exciting headlines so often fail to live up to their billing. All of which is to say that headlines matter. But so do lengthy speeches. So I’m going to tell you the headline I came up with for this talk, even though it got scratched as being offensive, because I’m hoping you’ll allow me some additional sentences beyond just the headline. Here’s the headline: “Make the World Great for the First Time.”

Here are some things I don’t mean by that, and which I’ll come back to shortly:

–I myself or those of us in this room have super powers that will allow us to fix the whole world which will thank us for this godlike favor.

or

–No societies of the past or now existing, including non-Western and indigenous societies, have ever been great in any way, and the way to become great is a new creation that has no need for any ancient wisdom.

or

–Trumpism should engulf the whole globe.

Here’s a bit on what I do mean:

You may have heard somewhere the slogan “Make America Great Again” and the snappy comeback “America Already Is Great.” The latter has even evolved into “America Was Great Before You, Mr. Trump” which ends up almost equating to the original “Make America Great Again.” I object to the nationalism. This little planet is in crisis, and talk of making great the place where 4% of humanity lives, particularly without questioning a culture that exploits and destroys its own and others, seems misguided in the extreme. I also object to the vagueness of the slogan, which was not published with an article or a book, but rather a hat. While some may have in mind a past American greatness that I would support, whether factual or fictional, others clearly have in mind making the United States more evil again by undoing actual improvements. I object to the use of “America” to mean exclusively the United States, even if it does allow such rebuttals as “Make America Hate Again” and “Make America Mexico Again.” But it’s the “great again” part of the slogan that lends itself to fascistic thinking and politics.

In a way, worrying about the vagueness of a fascist slogan can lead us away from another way of opposing it, namely with facts. Taking “America” to mean the United States of recent decades, the simple truth is that it’s not now and has not been great, no matter how one defines greatness. While the U.S. public ranks at the top in believing that its nation is great, and in fact the greatest, and in fact so superior as to merit special privileges, this view has no basis in fact. U.S. exceptionalism, the idea that the United States of America is superior to other nations, is no more fact-based and no less harmful than racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry — although much of U.S. culture treats this particular type of bigotry as more acceptable.

In my latest book, Curing Exceptionalism, I look at how the United States compares with other countries, how it thinks about that, what harm this thinking does, and how to think differently. In the first of those four sections, I try to find some measure by which the United States actually is the greatest, and I fail.

I tried freedom, but every ranking by every institute or academy, abroad, within the United States, privately funded, funded by the CIA, etc., failed to rank the United States at the top, whether for rightwing capitalist freedom to exploit, leftwing freedom to lead a fulfilling life, freedom in civil liberties, freedom to change one’s economic position, freedom by any definition under the sun. The United States where “at least I know I’m free” in the words of a country song contrasts with other countries where at least I know I’m freer.

So I looked harder. I looked at education at every level, and found the United States ranked first only in student debt. I looked at wealth and found the United States ranked first only in inequality of wealth distribution among wealthy nations. In fact, the United States ranks at the bottom of wealthy nations in a very long list of measures of quality of life. You live longer, healthier, and happier elsewhere. The United States ranks first among all nations in various measures one shouldn’t be proud of: incarceration, various sorts of environmental destruction, and most measures of militarism, as well as some dubious categories, such as — don’t sue me — lawyers per capita. And it ranks first in a number of items that I imagine those who shout “We’re Number 1!” to quiet down anybody working to improve things do not have in mind: most television viewing, most paved asphalt, at or near the top in most obesity, most wasted food, cosmetic surgery, pornography, consumption of cheese, etc.

In a rational world, nations that had found the best policies on healthcare, gun violence, education, environmental protection, peace, prosperity, and happiness would be most promoted as models worthy of consideration. In this world, the prevalence of the English language, the dominance of Hollywood, and other factors do in fact put the United States in the lead in one thing: in the promotion of all of its mediocre to disastrous policies.

My notion is not that people should leave the United States or swear their allegiance to some other place, or replace pride with shame. Nor does any general description or statistic cover any actual individual. There have always been subcultures including indigenous cultures within the United States that had and have much to teach. My point is that we have debates in the U.S. on whether single-payer healthcare could actually work in the real world that steadfastly ignore the fact that it is working in numerous countries. We even wear the same sort of blinders when it comes to peace, imagining that peace has never yet been figured out, and that we must look to the ponderings of Einstein, Freud, Russell, and Tolstoy to construct the means of finally evolving into the new world where peace will be first established.

The reality is that, while the brilliant thoughts of Western thinkers can be of great assistance, we go wrong if we don’t recognize some embarrassing secrets. It now seems likely that many hunter-gatherer groups of humans engaged in nothing resembling low-tech war at all, meaning that most of our species’ existence did not involve war. Even in recent millennia, much of Australia, the Arctic, Northeast Mexico, the Great Basin of North America, and even Europe before the rise of patriarchic warrior cultures did largely or entirely without war. Recent examples abound. In 1614 Japan cut itself off from the West and from major warfare until 1853 when the U.S. Navy forced its way in. During such periods of peace, culture flourishes. The colony of Pennsylvania for a time chose to respect the native peoples, at least in comparison with other colonies, and it knew peace and prospered. The notion held by celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson that because 17th century Europe invested in science by investing in warfare therefore only through militarism can any culture advance, and therefore — conveniently enough — astrophysicists are 100% justified in working for the Pentagon, is a view based on an absurd level of blinkered prejudice that few liberals would accept if duplicated in explicitly racist or sexist terms.

Nothing technologically resembling current war existed a split second ago in evolutionary terms. Calling the bombing of people’s houses in Yemen the same name as fighting with swords or muskets in an open field is dubious at best.

The nation most engaged in bombing people’s houses around the world, namely the United States, does not involve 99 percent of its people directly in the enterprise of war at all. If war is some sort of inevitable human behavior, why do most humans want somebody else to do it? While over 40 percent of the U.S. public tells pollsters that it would take part in a war, and NRA videos promote more wars apparently as a means to sell guns to fans of wars, virtually none of those people, including the staff of the NRA, have proven capable of actually finding a recruiting station.

Western militaries long excluded women and now work hard to include them without any worries about so-called human nature, without anyone wondering why, if women can start waging war, men can’t stop waging war.

Right now 96% of humanity lives under governments that invest radically less in war, and in most cases radically less per capita and per area of territory, than does the 4% of humanity in the United States. Yet people in the United States will tell you that slashing military spending and reining in U.S. imperialism would violate that mythical substance known as human nature. Presumably 17 years ago when the U.S. spent significantly less on militarism we weren’t then human.

While the top killer of U.S. participants in war is suicide, and the recorded cases of PTSD resulting from war deprivation sits steadily at zero, war is said to be normal. Yet the U.S. Congress would no more pass a bill restricting U.S. military spending to four times the next biggest spender on earth than it would limit Supreme Court Justices to no more than four sexual assaults.

When I say that we should make the world great for the first time, I mean that in this age of global communication, we should conceive of ourselves as world citizens and develop world systems of cooperation, collaboration, and dispute resolution and restoration and reconciliation that draw considerably on wisdom that long predates some of the recent ungreatness of various corners of the earth. And I mean this as a project that will require people from all over the world to work together, sharing widely divergent views, and accepting the need to respect and learn from dramatically different perspectives. While this has not previously existed in the way now needed, the alternative to creating it is that this troubled species and many others will perish — which seems to my mind even more inconvenient that trying something new, which — truth be told — is challenging and exciting and not a troublesome matter at all.

A global movement to abolish war, which is what World BEYOND War is working on, has to be a movement that takes on the greatest weapons dealers, war makers, and war justifiers, the rogue states that arm the most dictators, install the most foreign bases, tear down international laws and treaties and courts, and drop the most bombs. This means, of course, principally the United States government — which stands as worthy of a campaign of boycotts, divestments, sanctions, and moral pressure as would the Israeli government if the Israeli government were multiplied 100 fold.

Professors who tell you that war can be just and that war is quickly vanishing from the globe — and there is an odd overlap between these two groups, Ian Morris of Stanford is in both — are exclusively Western, heavily U.S.ian, and extremely prejudiced. Non-Western wars, provoked and armed by the West, are recategorized as genocides, while Western wars are understood as law-enforcement. But, in fact, war is usually genocidal, and genocide usually involves war. If the two of them, war and genocide, ran against each other in a U.S. election we would certainly be told we needed to vote for the lesser evil one, whichever that is, but the two are in reality inseparable. And neither enforces any law, as they constitute the supreme violation of law.

At World BEYOND War we’ve come up with a book called A Global Security System: An Alternative to War that tries to envision a world culture and structure that allows us to end all wars and armaments. I’ve written a number of books that address this. But today I feel like talking about activism, about what people can do for peace and for related causes — most good causes are related. Because I see a lot of potential and a lot of mistakes.

Here are some questions our culture asks us to respond to:

Does the U.S. government have too much money or too little?

The most important answer is no. The U.S. government spends its money overwhelmingly on the wrong things. Far more than it needs a different quantity of spending, it needs a different type of spending. In the United States, 60% or so of the money that Congress decides on each year (because Social Security and healthcare are treated separately) goes to militarism. That’s according to the National Priorities Project, which also says that, considering the whole budget, and not counting debt for past militarism, and not counting care for veterans, militarism is still 16%. Meanwhile, the War Resisters League says that 47% of U.S. income taxes goes to militarism, including debt for past militarism, veterans’ care, etc. I read books all the time about the U.S. public budget and the U.S. economy that never mention the existence of the military at all. The most recent example is the new book by British columnist George Monbiot. I had him on my radio show and asked him about this, and he said he had no idea how high military spending was. Shocked he was. We should set our own agenda even when it’s based on information generally avoided, as has in fact been done through city resolutions here in Berkeley.

Is Donald Trump good or bad, worthy of praise or condemnation?

The correct answer is yes. When regimes, as one is supposed to call non-U.S. governments, do good, one should praise them, and when they do bad one should condemn them. And when it’s 99 percent one of those two, the remaining 1 percent that’s the other should still be acknowledged. I want Trump impeached and removed and in some cases prosecuted for a long list of abuses. See the articles of impeachment ready to go at RootsAction.org. I want Nancy Pelosi, who has adamantly opposed impeachment for Bush, Cheney, Trump, Pence, and Kavanaugh, asked what if anything she would ever deem impeachable. But I also want Democrats who have been demanding that Trump become more hostile toward Russia and North Korea to have a seat and quietly consider whether there are any principles they could ever imagine placing above partisanship. We need to work on policies, not personalities. Let’s leave the focus on personalities to fascists.

Should Syria be bombed for using chemical weapons or spared because it didn’t really do so?

The proper response is no, nobody gets to bomb anybody, not legally, not practically, not morally. No crime of weapons use or weapons possession justifies any other crime, and certainly not the greatest crime there is. Spending months debating whether Iraq has weapons is not relevant to the question of whether to destroy Iraq. The answer to that question is an obvious and legal and moral one that should not await any illumination of irrelevant facts.

Are you beginning to see the pattern? We are generally asked to spend our time on the wrong questions, with heads-they-win and tails-we-lose answers available. Would you vote for cancer or heart disease? Take your pick. I won’t argue with lesser evil voting or with radical voting. Why would I? It’s 20 minutes out of your life. It’s lesser evil thinking year-in and year-out that I have a major complaint with. When people join a team led by half the elected officials in the government, self-censor, and claim to want what that half of a broken government wants, knowing it will be compromised down from there, representative government is inverted and perverted. Labor unions came to my town and told people they were forbidden to say “single-payer” and had to make posters about something called “the public option” because that was what Democrats in Washington wanted. That’s making of yourself a prop, a tool. What you say need not be, and must not be, limited in the way that who you vote for is.

This asking of the wrong questions is how we’re taught history, as well as current civic participation, and therefore how we’re led to understand the world.

Are you in support of the U.S. Civil War or in favor of slavery?

The answer should be no. The dramatic reduction in slavery and serfdom was a global movement, which succeeded in most places without a horrific civil war. If we were to decide to end mass-incarceration or meat consumption or fossil fuel use or reality tv shows, we wouldn’t benefit from the model that says to first find some fields and kill each other in huge numbers and then end incarceration. The proper model would be to simply proceed with ending incarceration, gradually or rapidly, but without the mass murder, the side-effects of which in the case of the U.S. Civil War, as in most cases, are still tragically with us.

Should a corrupt plutocratic racist sexist imperialist perjurer be kept off the U.S. Supreme Court because he likely committed sexual assault? Should we insist on a corrupt plutocratic racist sexist imperialist perjurer clearly innocent of any sexual assault? This was not anyone’s position, but this was the debate presented by the media and the Congress. So, this was largely the debate entered into by the petitions, the emails, the phone calls, the hearing disruptors, the protesters sitting in the Senate offices, and the media guests and callers and letters-to-the-editor writers. Had Kavanaugh been blocked and the woman behind him in line been nominated, it’s hard to see how stopping her would have been possible. Our opposition to him ought to have been based in all of the many reasons available that we found compelling.

Now of course he can be impeached and removed from office. In fact that is the only way, other than disastrously counterproductive violence, to remove him, short of revising the ancient U.S. Constitution. But Nancy Pelosi is against impeachment, and many Democratic loyalists believe that obedience and discipline are the highest virtues. Here’s what I think. Representatives are supposed to represent, not obey party orders. Representatives who do not commit to impeachment before an election are extremely unlikely to back it after one. And the theory that talking about impeachment will turn out voters for Republicans but not Democrats is based on nothing but speculation and ingrained habits of timidity. In 2006 the false belief that Democrats would impeach President Bush turned out Democratic voters, not Republicans. Every popular impeachment in history has boosted its advocates, while one unpopular impeachment — that of Bill Clinton — hurt its advocates very slightly. The conclusion one can draw from that is not that impeachment is always unpopular, but that cowards believe it more important to be wrong than to be victorious.

The same applies to the widespread malady of Pencedread, a fairly new and unstudied disease that consists of believing that a nation that could hold elected officials accountable and in fact toss them out on their ears but which had Mike Pence in the White House would be worse than a nation in which presidents can do virtually anything they like, and in which Congressional committees hold public hearings at which their members unanimously agree that they are simply powerless to prevent a president from launching a nuclear war but which has that model of wise statesmanship Donald Trump on the throne. I don’t buy it. I think it’s way too clever for its own good. And yet it’s hardly clever at all. If there’s one thing that almost everyone knows about U.S. politics, it’s that the vice president is next in line for the crown. Who does not know that? I think the more important question is not who wears the crown but whether we allow it to be a crown.

I don’t think recognizing that the whole system is deeply corrupted adds to or takes away from the cleverness of opposing holding those in it accountable. It just adds to the work that’s needed in terms of public education and structural reform. When the Democrats took the majority in 2006, Nancy Pelosi said she would not allow any impeachments, exactly as she had said before the election — though we’d wanted to imagine that either she was lying or that we would change her mind. And Rahm Emanuel said that the Democrats would keep the war on Iraq going — in fact escalate it — in order to run against it (whatever that means) again in 2008. As long as the Democrats are not credibly campaigning on anything more significant than not being Trump or Pence or Kavanaugh, they will want those people around to “run against.” Loyal Democrats will agree, and radical independents will declare impeachment to amount to naive counter-revolutionary surrender to the Democrats, even though the Democrats oppose it. And there we will be: royal powers without limit, temporary despots alternating between the party of the right and the party of the far right, until that last minute clicks off on the Doomsday Clock.

Activism in a corrupt world is an unfair uphill struggle, but we see bursts of possibility nonetheless. We saw popular resistance play the major role in stopping the massive bombing of Syria in 2013, for example. We have seen a certain segment of the U.S. population grow wise about war and militarism during the past 17 years. This year we’ve seen four candidates for Congress, all women and all Democrats, win primaries in districts gerrymandered to their party, none of whom emphasizes opposition to war, none of whom wants to abolish all war, but all of whom, when pressed, talk about war in a way that almost no current or recent Congress member has — including the four these women are replacing, and including Barbara Lee.

Ayanna Pressley wants to slash the military by 25%. Rashida Tlaib calls the military “a cesspool for corporations to make money” and she proposes moving the money to human and environmental needs. Ilhan Omar denounces U.S. wars as counterproductive for endangering the United States, wants to close foreign bases, and names six current U.S. wars she would end. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, when asked where she would find the money to pay for things, does not follow Bernie Sanders down the dead-end path of raising taxes, but rather declares that she would cut a bit of the gargantuan military budget — which stops those “where would you get the money” questions cold.

Now, none of these four may actually act on their statements, and some silent surprise like Congressman Ro Khanna may become an advocate for peace without ever having promised to be, but statistically that’s unlikely. The most likely people to be willing to act for peace in public office are the ones who are publicly talking as though they do not want any weapons profits in their campaign bribes, er excuse me campaign contributions.

Should Donald Trump have gone to Congress in accordance with the law before sending missiles into Syria? No. I went to an event where Senator Tim Kaine made this claim. I disagree. Congress should have forbidden, cut off any funding for, and threatened impeachment over that war, the war on Yemen, and every other war. But Trump going to Congress for legal permission to blow up people in Syria is a dangerous delusion. Congress has no power to make crimes legal. I asked Senator Kaine about this. You can watch it on my Youtube page. I asked him how Congress can legalize a violation of the UN Charter and of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. He admitted that it could not, and then immediately and nonsensically went right back to claiming that Trump should come to Congress to get his crimes legalized. If Canada bombed Berkeley raise your hand if you would care whether the parliament or the prime minister did it. There is nothing gained by claiming that Congress can legalize a treaty violation. It’s not necessary in order for Congress to prevent or end a war; in fact it works against that goal.

It matters how we talk. When we oppose a weapon because it doesn’t work well enough, or a war because it leaves a military too unprepared for other wars, we don’t advance the cause of ending all war. And it’s not in any way helpful toward our immediate ends. It’s gratuitously shooting ourselves in the foot.

We also miss out when we censor and maim various activist movements so as to avoid opposing war. The U.S. war machine kills primarily through the diversion of funds. Tiny fractions of U.S. military spending could end starvation or the lack of clean drinking water on earth or invest more in environmental protection than environmental groups dream of. Meanwhile the military is one of the greatest destroyers of the earth, and it’s given a pass by treaties and by activists. Free college would cost no more than the Pentagon regularly “misplaces.” The abuses that civil liberties groups oppose are driven by the militarism they won’t mention. We would have a dramatically stronger multi-issue coalition if most organizations working on good causes were not utterly intimidated by flags and national anthems. That, in addition to opposing racist murders, is why some of us cheer when athletes take a knee. We’d like to see the Sierra Club or the ACLU find the same courage and decency as a football player.

Some of the most encouraging activism in recent years has been the people turning out at airports and elsewhere to oppose the Muslim ban and protect refugees. It’s a shame that the same sort of concern has not been generated to protect the victims of bombings — even when we have video of little children on a bus — and to prevent the destruction that turns people into refugees.

We’ve been inspired by high school students denouncing the gun lobby following a mass shooting in Florida. But their absolutely disciplined restraint in never ever mentioning that the killer was trained by the U.S. Army in the school cafeteria and was wearing his ROTC shirt when he committed mass murder is given little thought. Their promotion of videos that suggest that soldiers and police officers ought to have guns while others ought not to results in little criticism that I’m aware of.

It was gratifying three years ago to see an agreement between the United States and other nations with Iran win out over cries for a war on Iran. But one side falsely claimed that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons and should therefore be bombed, while the other side falsely claimed that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons and should therefore not be bombed but inspected. Now that the inspections have demonstrated what was already knowable, namely that Iran has not been pursuing nuclear weapons, there are few people capable of hearing that. And Israel, which has nuclear weapons but no inspections, and its allies in the U.S. government have a U.S. public in a better place for Iran war propaganda than before the agreement was reached. And I say give the military credit for its green policies: it is going to recycle 100% of its Iraq propaganda for Iran.

When Trump was threatening to nuke Korea, many objected vociferously. But when he made any movement in the direction of peace, most of the same people objected just as strongly. Despite the fact that the United States arms and trains most of the world’s dictators, merely speaking with one in North Korea is such a sin that the great resistance will likely pursue charges of treason if Trump allows the Koreans to finally make peace or they go ahead and make it without him.

And please — I know I ask in vain — but don’t get me started on Russiagate. What is it that I’m supposed to imagine Putin has that could embarrass Donald Trump, a man who intentionally embarrasses himself daily in whatever manner he calculates will most boost the ratings on the reality show he imagines he is living in? Which part of a completely bought and paid for, racistly purged, corporately communicated, primary-rigged, voter ID’d, violence openly incited by a candidate, unverifiable black box election system am I supposed to think has been corrupted by Facebook ads that almost nobody saw but the prevention of which is closing down the internet to viewpoints that challenge power? Now see, you went and got me started.

OK, so we’re doing some things wrong. What should we be doing? We should be working locally and globally, with less activism as well as less identification of ourselves at the national level.

World BEYOND War is working on a couple of projects in addition to education. One is closing bases, which allows people around the world to combine our efforts for a single goal. Another is divestment from weapons, which can bring people together for relatively achievable victories — including in Berkeley — and at the same time educate society and stigmatize profiting from murder.

We should be strictly nonviolent and publicly commit to being strictly nonviolent in everything we do. The power that could come from doing that on a large scale may be greater than we imagine.

And we should replace our concern over hope or despair with a concern over whether we are working together wisely enough and hard enough. The work itself, as Camus’ Sisyphus said, is our enjoyment. It is fulfilling when we do it together as well as we are able, aimed as directly at success as we can get it. Whether we predict success or failure is irrelevant, and the worse things get, the more reason we have to work, not the less. Great changes have often come to the world surprisingly swiftly, but always because people had dedicated themselves to working for that change so intensely that they did not have time to be bothered with hope or despair. Those are luxuries we cannot afford right now. If that doesn’t motivate you, maybe reading Joanna Macy will help! But one way or another we need everybody in this room and millions more outside it on deck and active from here on out. Let’s end all war together.

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We Need a New Armistice Day

Remarks at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, Calif., on October 12, 2018.

Video slowly uploading will be at https://youtu.be/jKhnteeo4k8

Exactly at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, 100 years ago this coming November 11th, people across Europe suddenly stopped shooting guns at each other. Up until that moment, they were killing and taking bullets, falling and screaming, moaning and dying, from bullets and from poison gas.

Wilfred Owen put it this way:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Sweet and proper it is to die for a nation. So they have said for centuries. It may be proper, never sweet. Also never beneficial. Also never to be appreciated or thanked or imagined to be some sort of service or honored, only mourned and regretted. The largest number of those who do it today in the United States die for their nation through suicide. The Veterans Administration has said for decades that the single best predictor of suicide is combat guilt. You won’t see that advertised in many Veterans Day Parades. Bitter truth is never as proper as sweet lies. There are very few parades on Conscientious Objectors Day, but in a wise society headed in the right direction there would be.

And then they stopped, at 11:00 in the morning, one century ago. They stopped, on schedule. It wasn’t that they’d gotten tired or come to their senses. Both before and after 11 o’clock they were simply following orders. The Armistice agreement that ended World War I had set 11 o’clock as quitting time.

Henry Nicholas John Gunther had been born in Baltimore, Maryland, to parents who had immigrated from Germany. In September 1917 he had been drafted to help kill Germans. When he had written home from Europe to describe how horrible the war was and to encourage others to avoid being drafted, he had been demoted (and his letter censored).

After that, he had told his buddies that he would prove himself. As the deadline of 11:00 a.m. approached on that final day in November, Henry got up, against orders, and bravely charged with his bayonet toward two German machine guns. The Germans were aware of the Armistice and tried to wave him off. He kept approaching and shooting. When he got close, a short burst of machine gun fire ended his life at 10:59 a.m.

Henry was the last of the 11,000 men to be killed or wounded between the signing of the Armistice six hours earlier and its taking effect. Henry Gunther was given his rank back, but not his life.

The physically and mentally wounded, and the impoverished, would continue to die for some time. The flu spread by the war would take even more victims, and the disastrous manner of eventually negotiating the peace would predictably — by facilitating a sequel, Mass Insanity Part II, the Return of the Sociopaths — take more lives than the war and the flu combined. The great war (which I take to have been great in approximately the Make America Great Again sense) would be the last war in which some of the ways people still talk and think about war would be true. The dead outnumbered the wounded. The military casualties outnumbered the civilians. The killing took place largely on battlefields. The two sides were not, for the most part, armed by the very same weapons companies. War was legal. And lots of really smart people believed the war lies sincerely and then changed their minds. All of that is gone with the wind, whether we care to admit it or not.

But I want to back up a couple of months to September 28, 1918. That was the day of the stupidest parade I’ve ever heard of. And, let’s be frank, this is a world awash in stupidity. Donald Trump wanted to hold a weapons parade in Washington this November. That was not exactly a genius idea. It was not as insidious as renaming a holiday for veterans but barring Veterans For Peace chapters from participating in parades, as some cities do every November. Trump’s proposal was more vulgar, and also embarrassing. Vulgar because it would have advertised the mass murder machinery of an operation the U.S. public is supposed to think of as philanthropic. Vulgar because it would have promoted some of the biggest campaign bribers, excuse me – contributors, who operate within the pristine U.S. election system that is already under threat from nefarious if bewildering Facebook ads bought by the dastardly commies, I mean Russians. And embarrassing because traditionally the weapons parades have been used when there was a pretense of a victory, as during the Gulf War. Boy did that victory work out well for everyone, huh? To hold a weapons parade just because it’s been so many years since anyone could pretend a victory for longer than it takes to stand on an aircraft carrier in San Diego might be, as someone might tweet about it, sad.

Why was this shindig cancelled? That it would have cost millions of dollars seems like a sensible reason except that that’s a rounding error in a subcontract entirely susceptible to getting misplaced entirely by the accountant gurus at the Pentagon. Part of the reason, though it’s the last thing they’d tell us, is probably that the public, the media, and the military showed very little interest in the thing, and many adamantly opposed it, including many of us who publicly promised to turn out everyone we could to block it, denounce it, and instead celebrate Armistice Day. We also committed to going ahead with that celebration, and all the more so, if the parade was cancelled. But when it was cancelled, a number of groups lost all their enthusiasm for moving forward. That I consider a shame and a strategic error. But some scaled back events are planned for DC, and some good models are available for promoting Armistice Day everywhere on earth. More on that shortly.

Let’s not overlook the point, though, that public sentiment contributed to cancelling the Trumparade. If Trump launches a big new war it will be in part because he believes the public will cheer for it. This is why it is so critical that we make clear right now that we will condemn it — and worse, we won’t watch it. It will get bad ratings. If we can communicate that to Donald Trump we may have peace evermore.

I want to get back to the parade that was even dumber. Recall that Woodrow Wilson had been reelected on the slogan “he kept us out of war,” although he’d been trying for a long time to get the U.S. into the war. He’d hoped to get the British and the French to agree to his terms for a postwar world with a peace without victor, and his 14 points drafted by Walter Lippmann and others and including a League of Nations meant to preserve peace, plus disarmament and free trade and an end to colonialism. Despite their refusal, Wilson went ahead and pushed the U.S. into the war using all sorts of lies about sunken U.S. ships and a brutal propaganda campaign that let virtually everyone know what to think and locked up those who didn’t think correctly.

Recall that the Great War was the worst, most concentrated violence that white people had ever imposed on themselves, and that they were not used to it. On top of the dramatic death toll, the United States shipped soldiers and sailors with the flu off to the trenches of Europe from which the deadly disease spread around the world, killing perhaps 2 or 3 times the number of people killed directly in the war. Ignorance about the flu was encouraged by policies that forbid newspapers to report anything less than cheerful during a war. Spain didn’t have those restrictions. So news of the epidemic was first reported in Spain, and people began calling the disease the Spanish Flu.

Now, the U.S. government wanted to hold a parade in Philadelphia with more weapons than even Trump might have demanded plus crowds of flu-infected veterans just returned from the trenches. Numerous health experts pointed out that this was about as smart as machine gunning and poison gassing millions of young men in the name of ending war — or as a popular poster at more recent protests has put it: fornicating for virginity. But Philly’s health director Wilmer Krusen had about as much respect for the general public as a Philadelphia Eagles fan has for an opposing team. Krusen announced that the flu was fake news. He proposed that people just stop coughing, spitting, and sneezing. Seriously. The Christian Scientists or the pray the gay away people were in charge. Stop sneezing. That will fix everything.

One purpose of the parade was to sell bonds to pay for the war, and each city wanted to sell the most, including Philadelphia. Instead, what Philadelphia grabbed the record for was spreading the most influenza. A massive outbreak was predicted and occurred.

One man who may have come down with the flu as a result of the epidemic that was hugely increased by the parade was Woodrow Wilson. When Wilson travelled to Versailles to negotiate the peaceful paradise he had promised the world, he found, as expected, that the British and the French wanted no part in it. Instead they wanted to punish the Germans as viciously as possible. One reason that Wilson put up hardly any fight for what he had sworn he would fight for was almost certainly the amount of time he spent sick in bed in France. And one reason he was sick in bed may very well have been the dumbest parade in history — a parade that helped kill on the scale of the war and perhaps a much larger scale.

Smart observers predicted World War II the moment they saw the nasty terms of the peace agreement that Wilson had seen roll over his sick bed. That second fit of collective lunacy would, as I’ve said, kill more than the first one and its flu combined. And the legacy of World War II would be the endless ongoing slaughter of millions of civilians in a normalized permawar that has ended all peace. And that has included permanent WWII propaganda rendering it impossible to question WWII and therefore much more convenient never to think about WWI. So, the moral of the story is: plan your parades carefully.

Actually, there are some other morals of the story. If you read Sigmund Freud’s biography of Woodrow Wilson, he cites the fact that following the disaster at Versailles, Wilson could blatantly contradict himself in a matter of days as evidence that Wilson had lost his mind. Of course we have now progressed so far beyond Freudian mythology as to recognize that a U.S. president really ought to blatantly contradict himself in a matter of minutes.

A more serious moral of the story is one that Freud and most everyone else ignores, namely that — as usual — there were some people who got things right very early on and were not listened to: the peace activists. We shouldn’t excuse World War I on the grounds that nobody knew. It’s not as if wars have to be fought in order to learn each time that war is hell. It’s not as if each new type of weaponry suddenly makes war evil. It’s not as if war wasn’t already the worst thing ever created. It’s not as if people didn’t say so, didn’t resist, didn’t propose alternatives, didn’t go to prison for their convictions.

In 1915, Jane Addams met with President Wilson and urged him to offer mediation to Europe. Wilson praised the peace terms drafted by a conference of women for peace held in the Hague. He received 10,000 telegrams from women asking him to act. Some historians believe that had he acted in 1915 or early in 1916 he might very well have helped bring the Great War to an end under circumstances that would have furthered a far more durable peace than the one made eventually at Versailles. Wilson did act on the advice of Addams, and of his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, but not until it was too late. By the time he acted, the Germans did not trust a mediator who had been aiding the British war effort. Wilson was left to campaign for reelection on a platform of peace and then quickly propagandize and plunge the United States into Europe’s war. And the number of progressives Wilson brought, at least briefly, to the side of loving war makes Barack Obama look like an amateur.

Not only were peace activists right about why and how to try to end World War I, but some of them immediately predicted World War II after Versailles. Some of them marched and protested against the build up to a war with Japan for many years leading up to Pearl Harbor, which was as much a surprise as Lindsey Graham voting for Brett Kavanaugh. And some of them made every effort to get Jews and other targeted people out of Germany for years, with the only government interested in helping them being that of Adolf Hitler.

World War II was not humanitarian and was not even marketed as such until after it was over. The United States led global conferences at which the decision was made not to accept Jewish refugees, and for explicitly racist reasons, and despite Hitler’s claim that he would send them anywhere on luxury cruise ships. There was no poster asking you to help Uncle Sam save the Jews. A ship of Jewish refugees from Germany was chased away from Miami by the Coast Guard. The U.S. and other nations refused to accept Jewish refugees, and the majority of the U.S. public supported that position. Peace groups that questioned Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his foreign secretary about shipping Jews out of Germany to save them were told that, while Hitler might very well agree to the plan, it would be too much trouble and require too many ships. The U.S. engaged in no diplomatic or military effort to save the victims in the Nazi concentration camps. Anne Frank was denied a U.S. visa. Although this point has nothing to do with a serious historian’s case for WWII as a Just War, it is so central to U.S. mythology that I’ll quote here a key passage from Nicholson Baker:

“Anthony Eden, Britain’s foreign secretary, who’d been tasked by Churchill with handling queries about refugees, dealt coldly with one of many important delegations, saying that any diplomatic effort to obtain the release of the Jews from Hitler was ‘fantastically impossible.’ On a trip to the United States, Eden candidly told Cordell Hull, the secretary of state, that the real difficulty with asking Hitler for the Jews was that ‘Hitler might well take us up on any such offer, and there simply are not enough ships and means of transportation in the world to handle them.’ Churchill agreed. ‘Even were we to obtain permission to withdraw all the Jews,’ he wrote in reply to one pleading letter, ‘transport alone presents a problem which will be difficult of solution.’ Not enough shipping and transport? Two years earlier, the British had evacuated nearly 340,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk in just nine days. The U.S. Air Force had many thousands of new planes. During even a brief armistice, the Allies could have airlifted and transported refugees in very large numbers out of the German sphere.”

One reason peace advocates have not been and still are not listened to is the system of propaganda first created for World War I. The propaganda machinery invented by President Woodrow Wilson and his Committee on Public Information had drawn Americans into the war with exaggerated and fictional tales of German atrocities in Belgium, posters depicting Jesus Christ in khaki sighting down a gun barrel, and promises of selfless devotion to making the world safe for democracy. The extent of the casualties was hidden from the public as much as possible during the course of the war, but by the time it was over many had learned something of war’s reality. And many had come to resent the manipulation of noble emotions that had pulled an independent nation into overseas barbarity.

However, the propaganda that motivated the fighting was not immediately erased from people’s minds. A war to end wars and make the world safe for democracy cannot end without some lingering demand for peace and justice, or at least for something more valuable than the flu and prohibition. Even those rejecting the idea that the war could in any way help advance the cause of peace aligned with all those wanting to avoid all future wars — a group that probably encompassed most of the U.S. population. As Wilson had talked up peace as the official reason for going to war, countless souls had taken him extremely seriously. “It is no exaggeration to say that where there had been relatively few peace schemes before the World War,” writes Robert Ferrell, “there now were hundreds and even thousands” in Europe and the United States. The decade following the war was a decade of searching for peace: “Peace echoed through so many sermons, speeches, and state papers that it drove itself into the consciousness of everyone. Never in world history was peace so great a desideratum, so much talked about, looked toward, and planned for, as in the decade after the 1918 Armistice.”

That remains true today. The peace movement of the 1960s was huge. That of the 1920s was all-encompassing.

Congress passed an Armistice Day resolution calling for “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding … inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” Later, Congress added that November 11th was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.”

That is the tradition we need to restore. It lasted in the United States up through the 1950s and even longer in some other countries under the name Remembrance Day. It was only after the United States had nuked Japan, destroyed Korea, begun a Cold War, created the CIA, and established a permanent military industrial complex with major permanent bases around the globe, that the U.S. government renamed Armistice Day as Veterans Day on June 1, 1954.

Veterans Day is no longer, for most people, a day to cheer the ending of war or even to aspire to its abolition. Veterans Day is not even a day on which to mourn or to question why suicide is the top killer of U.S. troops or why so many veterans have no houses.

In the years following World War I, war was something to be lamented, exactly as if it were not desirable. World War I had cost, as one author calculated it at the time, enough money to have given a $2,500 home with $1,000 worth of furniture and five acres of land to every family in Russia, most of the European nations, Canada, the United States, and Australia, plus enough to give every city of over 20,000 a $2 million library, a $3 million hospital, a $20 million college, and still enough left over to buy every piece of property in Germany and Belgium. And it was all legal. Incredibly stupid, but totally legal. Particular atrocities violated laws, but war was not criminal. It never had been, but it soon would be.

The Outlawry Movement of the 1920s—the movement to outlaw war—sought to replace war with arbitration, by first banning war and then developing a code of international law and a court with the authority to settle disputes. The first step was taken in 1928 with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which banned all war. Today 81 nations are party to that treaty, including the United States, and many of them comply with it. I’d like to see additional nations, poorer nations that were left out of the treaty, join it (which they can do simply by stating that intention to the U.S. State Department) and then urge the greatest purveyors of violence in the world to comply.

I wrote a book about the movement that created that treaty, not just because we need to continue its work, but also because we can learn from its methods. Here was a movement that united people across the political spectrum, those for and against alcohol, those for and against the League of Nations, with a proposal to criminalize war. It was an uncomfortably large coalition. There were negotiations and peace pacts between rival factions of the peace movement. There was a moral case made that expected the best of people. War wasn’t opposed merely on economic grounds or because it might kill people from one’s own country. It was opposed as mass murder, as no less barbaric than duelling as a means of settling individuals’ disputes. Here was a movement with a long-term vision based on educating and organizing. There was an endless hurricane of lobbying, but no endorsing of politicians, no aligning of a movement behind a party. On the contrary, all four — yes, four — major parties were compelled to line up behind the movement. Instead of Clint Eastwood talking to a chair or Donald Trump’s 4th-grade vocabulary, the Republican National Convention of 1924 saw President Coolidge promising to outlaw war if reelected.

And on August 27, 1928, in Paris, France, that scene happened that made it into a 1950s folk song as a mighty room filled with men, and the papers they were signing said they’d never fight again. And it was men, women were outside protesting. And it was a pact among wealthy nations that nonetheless would continue making war on and colonizing the poor. But it was a pact for peace that ended wars and ended the acceptance of territorial gains made through wars, except in Palestine, the Sahara, Diego Garcia, and other exceptions. It was a treaty that still required a body of law and an international court that we still do not have. But it was a treaty that in 90 years those wealthy nations would, in relation to each other, violate only once. Following World War II, the Kellogg-Briand Pact was used to prosecute victor’s justice. And the big armed nations never went to war with each other again, yet. And so, the pact is generally considered to have failed.

What has failed is the idea of the United States as a law abiding citizen. The U.S. National Security Advisory, who poses a threat to actual security, not only holds the United States to be above the law, but publicly threatens any nation that supports the rule of law, even while violating the U.N. Charter by threatening war on others under the guise of law enforcement. And while most people in the United States are not eager for more wars, and there would be no rebellion if we were given peace, there is broad consensus across the political spectrum in the United States that the United States is special, so special as to merit its own standards and privileges properly denied to ever other nation.

I might add here that there is bad as well as good in people shunning Saudi Arabia over the murder of one U.S. corporate journalist but not over the murder of thousands of non-Americans. There’s also something very disturbing in the accepted notion that one should sell bombs only to governments that do not abuse human rights, meaning kill anyone without bombs. There is also something both evil and incompetent in Trump arguing that you sell them weapons anyway to create jobs, since military spending is in fact a drain on jobs and the reverse arms race that the United States could easily lead could be made to economically benefit everyone.

In my latest book, Curing Exceptionalism, I look at how the United States compares with other countries, how people think about that, what harm this thinking does, and how to think differently. In the first of those four sections, I try to find some measure by which the United States actually is the greatest, number one, the only indispensible nation, and I fail.

I tried freedom, but every ranking by every institute or academy, abroad, within the United States, privately funded, funded by the CIA, etc., failed to rank the United States at the top, whether for rightwing capitalist freedom to exploit, leftwing freedom to lead a fulfilling life, freedom in civil liberties, freedom to change one’s economic position, freedom by any definition under the sun. The United States where “at least I know I’m free” in the words of a country song contrasts with other countries where at least I know I’m freer.

So I looked harder. I looked at education at every level, and found the United States ranked first only in student debt. I looked at wealth and found the United States ranked first only in inequality of wealth distribution among wealthy nations. In fact, the United States ranks at the bottom of wealthy nations in a very long list of measures of quality of life. You live longer, healthier, and happier elsewhere. The United States ranks first among all nations in various measures one shouldn’t be proud of: incarceration, various sorts of environmental destruction, and most measures of militarism, as well as some dubious categories, such as — don’t sue me — lawyers per capita. And it ranks first in a number of items that I imagine those who shout “We’re Number 1!” to quiet down anybody working to improve things do not have in mind: most television viewing, most paved asphalt, at or near the top in most obesity, most wasted food, cosmetic surgery, pornography, consumption of cheese, etc.

In a rational world, nations that had found the best policies on healthcare, gun violence, education, environmental protection, peace, prosperity, and happiness would be most promoted as models worthy of consideration. In this world, the prevalence of the English language, the dominance of Hollywood, and other factors do in fact put the United States in the lead in one thing: in the promotion of all of its mediocre to disastrous policies.

What we need is not shame in place of pride, or some new version of patriotism. What we need is to stop identifying ourselves so much with a national government and a military. We need to identify more with our actual smaller communities, and with the wider human and natural community of this little planet. We need a new Armistice Day conceived of by people who view the world and each other in those terms.

At the website WorldBEYONDWar.org/ArmisticeDay you’ll find a list of events around the world and the opportunity to add an event not yet listed. You’ll also find resources that include speakers, videos, activities, articles, information, posters and flyers to help with your event. One activity promoted by Veterans For Peace is the ringing of bells at that moment of 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month. Groups can contact us at World BEYOND War for help planning any activities. But I think they might also want to contact the Santa Cruz peace community as you have really taken the lead in restoring this peace holiday by marking it and the date one month before it and two months before it, etc. It’s wonderful what you’ve done. Wonderful also is the Collateral Damage monument in Santa Cruz — a model for a culture of peace.

I also want to plant another future activity idea in your heads that I just learned about this week. It seems that next April 4th is not just 51 years since the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 52 years since his best known speech against war, but it’s also the 70th birthday of that wonderfully benevolent institution called NATO. So, there’s going to be a big NATO Summit in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 2019, and we at World BEYOND War believe there should be a peace summit there too. We’re starting to build a coalition, to plan speaking events and more festival-like big-art public demonstration events at that time and the previous weekend.

Now, I know that Trump said NATO should be abolished, just before he backed continuing and expanding NATO and badgered NATO members to put more money into NATO and weaponry. So, therefore, NATO is anti-Trump. And therefore NATO is good and noble. And so I have no business saying No to NATO / Yes to Peace. On the other hand, NATO has pushed the weaponry and the hostility and the massive so-called war games right up to the border of Russia. NATO has waged aggressive wars far from the North Atlantic. NATO has added Colombia, abandoning all pretense of serving some purpose in the North Atlantic. NATO is used to free the U.S. Congress from the responsibility and the right to oversee the atrocities of U.S. wars. NATO is used as cover by NATO member governments to join U.S. wars under the pretense that they are somehow more legal or acceptable. NATO is used as cover to illegally and recklessly share nuclear weapons with supposedly non-nuclear nations. NATO is used, just as the alliances that created World War I, to assign nations the responsibility to go to war if other nations go to war, and therefore to be prepared for war. NATO should be buried in Arlington Cemetery and the rest of us put out of our misery. The turn out against NATO in Chicago five years before this coming summit was encouraging. I plan to be out in the streets again this time to say No to NATO, Yes to peace, Yes to prosperity, Yes to a sustainable environment, Yes to civil liberties, Yes to education, Yes to a culture of nonviolence and kindness and decency, Yes to remembering April 4th as a day associated with the work for peace of Martin Luther King Jr. I hope you’ll join us in the swamp in the springtime.

Thank you for everything you’re doing for peace! Let’s do more!

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