By David Swanson Remarks in Burlington, Vermont, April 22, 2017
Thank you all for inviting me. There is no place I’d rather be on earth day. And that includes marching for science at the March for Science in Washington. Although I certainly support marching for honesty, and I’d even march for the cause of getting more scientists to march — and any other group that hasn’t yet found the time to bother.
Unless resisting madness becomes mainstream, the madmen will decide our fate.
Thank you also for having started the first chapter of World Beyond War and for having given us the idea to have chapters. We now have people working on starting dozens of chapters in over a dozen countries. And we have staff to help them, and we have people in 151 countries who have signed the pledge that I’ll pass around here, pledging to work to end all war. We’re trying to get to 175 countries, because that’s how many the U.S. military admits to having troops in. So, 24 more to go. If you know anybody in Venezuela, Cuba, Honduras, Mongolia, Algeria, Lithuania, Ethiopia, or Papua New Guinea, please point them to WorldBeyondWar.org.
And thank you for having set up such a terrific program of workshops today, and — I hope — of work that will follow the workshops.
I hope my comments fit into the program, because I’m going to take a round about way of speaking in support of peace and environmentalism by praising garbage incinerators.
In the United States a garbage incinerator is mostly used to get rid of vast quantities of stuff nobody ever needed in the first place — not including, I’m sorry to say, presidential twitter accounts.
And a typical U.S. garbage incinerator produces vast quantities of pollution, horrible smells, dioxin, mercury, nitric oxide, lead, and particulate matter. If you live near such an incinerator, your chances of getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory problems shoot through the roof.
So, you want to locate such a thing as far as you can get it from any population that puts significant funding into election campaigns.
That’s why in recent years the students at Benjamin Franklin High School and Curtis Bay Elementary School in a poor and already heavily polluted section of Baltimore, Maryland, had to organize and — thus far — block the construction near their schools and homes of what would have been the biggest and nastiest incinerator yet. Baltimore is already the leading U.S. city for deaths caused by air pollution. And air pollution, like the stairs in your house, like toddlers who find guns, like unsafe workplaces, like local police forces, and like fast-food meals, is more likely to kill you than is ISIS or Al Qaeda.
The Baltimore incinerator, the construction of which has been stopped thus far, would have burned 4,000 tons of trash per day and emitted 1,240 pounds of lead and mercury per year. That’s not the kind of garbage incinerator that I want to praise.
There should be two pictures up on the screen. The one that’s not an airplane is an incinerator, or waste-to-power plant, now nearing completion in Copenhagen, Denmark.
If you have to have incinerators, because you have not yet reached zero waste, you might want one like this one. It emits none, zero, not a speck of all those nasty poisons and smells that an American simply assumes an incinerator must produce, as illness must produce health insurance companies, as robberies must produce gun sales, and as cable television must produce Wolf Blitzer.
Because this incinerator is not dangerous to those near it, it can be placed near a city. This will allow it to heat 160,000 homes while providing electricity to 62,000 homes, and generating a byproduct of water while burning something over 1,000 tons of waste a day, or a quarter of what was planned for Baltimore.
And because it’s placed safely near a city, this particular power plant has had ski slopes installed on the roof of it, with elevators used to bring skiers to the top. Trees will be planted along the ski slopes, as well as hiking trails, climbing walls, a restaurant and bar, etc. And when the incinerator is no longer needed, you’ll still have the ski resort.
None of this means that the incinerator is not still a problem. It still produces carbon dioxide. However, it produces much less of it than do other plants. And the architects’ goal is for it to publicly display exactly how much it is releasing in order to encourage reduction. It is supposed to do this by producing smoke rings rather than a stream of smoke. Each ring, if it works, will contain the same known amount of C02.
Donald Trump campaigned for president with something of a mixed message on wars. He named wars he opposed and wars he pretended that he had opposed, even while proposing more war spending, a bigger military, the stealing of oil, and the killing of families. But he campaigned very clearly on infrastructure, promising $1 trillion in new spending on infrastructure — his most popular promise according to Gallup polling. And if you believe that one, I’ve got a rapidly collapsing bridge I’d like to sell you, with an Amtrak train creeping across it at 10 miles per hour, full of passengers cursing at the internet that doesn’t work and the food that could silence a lobbyist.
Trump’s budget proposal would invest in only one bit of infrastructure: a wall. And it would move $54 billion from nearly every other government program to the military, boosting military spending to over 60% of the spending that Congress decides how to spend each year. Of the gazillion items to be cut in order to build more weapons, Trump is proposing to cut any tests to verify whether the water at U.S. beaches contains fecal matter. The world we live in is determined by specific human actions. Shit doesn’t just happen.
Let’s look at the two pictures on the screen again. The one that is not a ski-slope power plant overlooking a harbor you can safely swim in is an F-22, an earlier version of your beloved F-35. The smoke in the picture is not produced by a power plant, or even by war planes defending your way of life by making lots of foreign people want to kill you. Nope, that smoke is produced by a re-enactment of Pearl Harbor, meant to convince you that the most costly military in the history of the world, the military to which belong 97% of the bases not located on the soil of the nation they belong to, a military costing nearly as much as all others — allied and otherwise — combined, a military whose private weapons makers are the leading suppliers to the world with their weapons used on multiple sides of most wars, a military that can drop a single bomb to destroy a 2-mile-diameter area of tunnels that it dug decades earlier, a military that now routinely keeps a half dozen aggressive foreign wars going at once, a military that has killed at least 20 million people since World War II ended, a military that in that time has overthrown 36 governments, interfered in at least 30 foreign elections, attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders, and dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries — this military, with its billion dollar advertising budget and football teams on contract to publicly pretend to revere it — this military, according to that smoke, is an innocent victim reluctantly compelled to defend itself. That message is the purpose of that smoke.
But that smoke represents something else as well. The U.S. military is the top consumer of petroleum we have, the top air polluter, the third greatest polluter of U.S. waterways, the biggest creator of superfund sites, et cetera, and it does as much damage preparing to fight wars over fossil fuels with which to destroy the earth as it does actually fighting those wars.
The F-35, the updated U.S. war plane, is — in some ways — the U.S. version of the ski slope power plant. It’s our (or our government’s, our society’s) dream, our investment, our vision of what the future should look like, the face we present to the rest of the world. And that rest of the world includes Denmark, where a corporation produces a few bits of the F-35, and the government can thus buy a couple dozen of them and, in good U.S. sociopathic form, depict that decision as a job-creation effort. At the same time, Denmark can, of course, please the U.S. State Department which is largely a marketing firm for U.S.-made weapons.
But Denmark spends about a half of one percent of what the U.S. does on war, and about 28% per capita of what the U.S. spends on war. (Denmark has slightly less money than the United States per capita, but a higher median income as a result of having done better in Kindergarten or otherwise somehow having learned how to share.) This means that, while Denmark gets fewer F-35s, it does get to be one of those countries that has fast clean trains, beautiful parks, top quality education preschool through college, healthcare, retirement, parental leave, vacation, higher life expectancy, greater happiness, and other things that Senator Bernie Sanders is far more likely to tell you about than he is to mention the difference in military spending. (And yes, Danish taxes are higher, if we pretend that what we shell out to fund our own healthcare and retirement and education and transportation and childcare and psychiatric therapy doesn’t count. If those things count, then Danish taxes are lower. The big difference between U.S. taxes and those in other countries is how much goes into war.)
I’m not going to tell you much about the F-35, because many of you know it better than I do, and you’ve got some real experts here today. I did help put together a petition opposing it at RootsAction.org that has over 30,000 signatures and can be used in lobbying efforts.
Let’s look at the incinerating ski slope and the incinerating airplane from a few different angles. The one that incinerates garbage costs about $670 million or somewhere between three to six F-35s, if you were able to produce so few. If the local airport here hosts 18 F-35s, that’s three to six ski slope power plants you could have had instead. A cost estimate for the United States alone for the whole F-35 program, a plane that incinerates human beings when it works and itself when it doesn’t, is $1.4 trillion. Let’s be generous and assume that either recent reductions in that cost are real or that this will be the first U.S. military project that does not go over budget. You still could have had 2,089 ski slope power plants instead of the F-35s. They could have heated 334 million households, although the United States only has about half that many households, and a growing number of them do not need heating. The same 2,089 ski slope power plants could have provided electricity to 130 million homes — again, more homes than exist in the U.S., though perhaps not if we gave homes to the homeless. Obviously I am not proposing we build that many ski slope power plants. For the majority of them we should substitute solar and wind production and efficiency standards, at likely a lower cost. And we should give such things to the whole world, not just to this one wealthy country. The point is just that you could essentially switch the residential United States over to sustainable energy for the cost of this airplane. And while that cost is spread over many years, the cost of the U.S. military as a whole approaches $1 trillion in a single year, each and every year, over and over again wasting on our most environmentally destructive, not to mention murderous, enterprise a pile of money that dwarfs what the billionaires have hoarded, which could only be taxed away from them once, and a pile of money that could save the world rather than toy with its destruction.
In fairness to the F-35 and its price tag, I should note that you can now get a helmet to wear while piloting an F-35 for a mere $400,000, more of course than the pilot will be paid in a year or anybody he or she is likely to kill would have made in a lifetime.
The ski slope power plant could be built by a defense department. It helps to defend against the real and deadly danger of climate chaos. The F-35 is not defensive. The F-35 is a first-strike stealth weapon designed to penetrate air space undetected. Its weapons can include nuclear bombs. Its likely missions will include massive bombing of poor nations, creating devastation, death, injury, trauma, starvation and homelessness, while endangering the United States through the hostility it generates. The F-35 lacks any capacity to protect against angry airline hijackers, killing sprees in public places, car bombs, nuclear missiles, non-nuclear missiles, cyber attacks, economic sanctions, or climate change.
Ski slope power plants are not only not designed to commit mass murder. They also have no established pattern of blowing up or otherwise harming those around them through the release of poisons or noise. The F-35, on the other hand, is more dangerous than the incinerator proposed for Baltimore. The F-35, as I’ve learned from Jimmy Leas and many others, has both a high crash risk and high crash consequences which I can perhaps sum up in one word, just one word, are you listening?
When this moronic, murderous monster crashes it sends all kinds of toxic chemicals into the air. And even when it doesn’t, it makes levels of noise that it’s unsafe to live near. I understand the F-35 requires thousands of people around here to leave their homes without even having to bomb them.
I don’t think we should lump ski instruction and training for mass murder into a single amoral category called jobs. But if we do, the ski slope power plant wins. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts report that each billion dollars spent on military preparations costs the United States between 4 and 16 thousand jobs as compared with tax cuts for working people or identical spending on clean energy, healthcare, or education. The F-35 is a job destroyer as well as a life destroyer.
And then there’s the democratic comparison. The U.S. public on average wants $41 billion cut from the military, while Trump wants $54 billion added. Trump wants environmental protection cut; the public doesn’t. The U.S. public would oppose subsidies for fossil fuels and support moving them to clean energy, if a pollster were to ask that question. The ski slope power plant is not a foreign idea to the U.S. public. The architect works in New York and builds in the U.S. — including having designed a park to protect lower Manhattan from flooding until the flooding gets higher — a park that may or may not be built. The idea is simply foreign to the U.S. government.
The name of today’s conference is “Building A World Beyond War: What Will It Take?” Let me try very briefly to sketch the state of war madness today and what I think is needed instead.
We have specific and systemic failures, and they interlock. A key specific failure was foreshadowed when H.L. Mencken wrote these words:
“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
I’ve heard that Donald Trump has bombed people because his daughter asked him to, because he owns stock in Raytheon, because he was eating chocolate cake with the president of China, because the person he most recently spoke with advised him to, because it was the surest way to get the U.S. corporate media to praise him, because half the country wouldn’t shut up about its unproven Russia theories until he risked World War III, because he does anything the Pentagon asks, and numerous other possible motivations, all of which have in common being decidedly stupid. I have yet to hear anybody suggest that Trump is bombing and threatening various countries because he has some sort of intelligent plan to solve some problem. The closest I’ve heard to that has been the Nixonian theory that it’s good for foreign relations to make the world’s governments believe you are a nuclear armed lunatic. But exactly how that is good has not been explained to my satisfaction.
Of course people did claim that Barack Obama had some sort of intelligent and even benevolent plan while he bombed the same countries. And he didn’t. And he created or exacerbated ever worsening crises that landed in Trump’s lap. But there was reason to believe that Obama might hesitate to start a nuclear holocaust because of what kind of cake he was eating. And that’s gone, whisked off in a hurricane of dumbness and delusion that defies understanding. It shouldn’t matter, except that one of the systemic problems we have is that we’ve allowed presidents greater powers than kings, while Congress seems to believe it’s sworn an oath not to protect the Constitution but to refrain from impeaching anyone at all costs.
We also have the systemic problem of the nearly universal acceptance of war. A peace activist organization this week sent out an email with this headline: “Hate has no place in the Army.”
The idea was to reject a racist, sexist bigot to lead the U.S. Army, because he might deny some people the opportunity to “serve.” Similar thinking drives the Democrats’ push to require that 18-year-old women register for the draft like their male counterparts, so as to end the discrimination that denies women the right to be forced against their will to participate in mass slaughter.
But imagine believing, not only that you can have an Army and no wars, but also that you can have an Army without hate. You can’t properly condition members of the military to kill without hate. Here’s a chant from U.S. military training:
We went to the market where all the hadji shop, pulled out our machetes and we began to chop, We went to the playground where all the hadji play, pulled out our machine guns and we began to spray, We went to the mosque where all the hadji pray, threw in a hand grenade and blew them all away.
There are countless more just as hateful. You can, of course, make a military better or worse. You can put solar panels on a humvee or a pleasant face in a high office. And we’re only going to get rid of militaries by gradual stages. But we shouldn’t keep imagining that our ultimate goal is a better military.
According to Human Rights Watch this week, the United States failed to take “necessary precautions to avoid bombing a mosque.” But there is nothing whatsoever legal or moral about bombing a town, and the only precaution you need in order to avoid bombing a mosque is to refrain from bombing.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposal advocates increased military spending throughout the next decade, only increased at a slower pace than in Trump’s proposal.
This is the state of the normalization of war, as numerous wars are escalated and new ones threatened.
Sony, with input from the U.S. government, made a truly moronic movie called The Interview about the CIA murdering the president of North Korea. One of the actors in that movie, Seth Rogen, a proud new member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at the University of Vermont this week tweeted: “I think we did more research for our movie about killing Kim Jong Un than trump is in to actually killing him.” Apparently we have standards. You shouldn’t murder people without doing research first. I’d love to know what research went into a movie that North Korea called an act of war and viewers called things I won’t repeat to a family audience.
I’d have recommended researching the origins of the term “brainwashing.”
Did you know that people cannot actually be programed like the Manchurian candidate, which was a work of fiction? There was never the slightest evidence that China or North Korea had done any such thing. And the CIA spent decades trying to do such a thing, and finally gave up.
Do you know what it was that the U.S. government promoted the myth of “brainwashing” to cover up? During the Korean War, the United States bombed virtually all of North Korea and a good bit of the South, killing millions of people. It dropped massive quantities of Napalm. It bombed dams, bridges, villages, houses. This was all-out mass-slaughter. But there was something the U.S. government didn’t want known, something deemed unethical in this genocidal killing spree.
It is well documented that the United States dropped on China and North Korea insects and feathers carrying anthrax, cholera, encephalitis, and bubonic plague. This was supposed to be a secret at the time, and the Chinese response of mass vaccinations and insect eradication probably contributed to the project’s general failure (hundreds were killed, but not millions). But members of the U.S. military taken prisoner by the Chinese confessed to what they had been a part of, and confessed publicly when they got back to the United States.
Some of them had felt guilty to begin with. Some had been shocked at China’s decent treatment of prisoners after U.S. depictions of the Chinese as savages. For whatever reasons, they confessed, and their confessions were highly credible, were borne out by independent scientific reviews, and have stood the test of time.
How to counter reports of the confessions? The answer for the CIA and the U.S. military and their allies in the corporate media was “brainwashing,” which conveniently explained away whatever former prisoners said as false narratives implanted in their brains by brainwashers.
Did you know that the Korean war has never officially ended? That the U.S. military has never relinquished wartime command of the South Korean military? That the U.S. military has been building big new bases in South Korea opposed by serious popular protests? That people have been coming from around the world for years now to join those protests? That the U.S. and South Korea annually fly practice missions over North Korea practicing to bomb it? That the U.S. is building what it calls a missile defense system in South Korea that North Korea and China consider offensive and part of an offensive first-strike policy? That South Korean activists are seeking to stop this U.S. military madness and now have a chance following the successful impeachment of their president? Did you know that North Korea has abided by past agreements until the U.S. violated them? That North Korea is the only nuclear nation that supports the creation of a treaty banning nukes? That in testing missiles North Korea violates no law? That the U.S. tests missiles all the time? That in threatening war on North Korea the United States commits a grave violation of the law as well as risking getting us all killed?
Similar missing context can be given for each of several wars and threats we hear bits and snippets about. The United States has been attempting to overthrow Syrian governments since the 1950s, including an effort of at least the past decade, during which the United States has fended off various possibilities for peace. There are three answers we should make when presented with supposed causes for war, in the case of Syria as in any other. Our corporate media fails on the first, and we all fail on the other two.
First, we should seek out verifiable facts. Will the March For Science demand scientific investigations of claims made about chemical weapons attacks in Syria? Or will it demand more funding for military research? Either one is equally scientific, but the two are not morally equivalent.
Second, we should recognize that the first question is the wrong one, that no matter how it is answered, nothing can justify launching a war, not legally, morally, or practically. A crime must be prosecuted, not be followed by another crime.
Third, we should make ourselves aware that the war for which justification is sought has been long underway, and the specific response to the chosen atrocity is a very small piece of it. As Nicolas Davies has been diligently pointing out, during the week after the chemical weapons incident of April 4th, U.S.-led air strikes killed at least 296 civilians in Syria and Iraq, those being identified victims of a fraction of U.S.-led strikes, the actual total likely falling between 1,500 and 6,000 civilians, to which I would add an unknown number of other human beings on whom we don’t bestow any value as they are not labeled civilians. That level of killing, Davies points out, drawing on the reporting of the British organization called Airwars, is typical of the past two-and-a-half years. President Obama dropped more bombs than President Bush the Lesser did. Trump seems unlikely to voluntarily leave Obama’s record standing.
The idea that killing great numbers of people is all well and good unless it is done with chemical weapons, or that killing someone else’s people is practically philanthropic whereas killing your own people is the work of Satan is all rather curious. Saddam Hussein famously killed his own people with chemical weapons. They might not have admitted to being his people. The weapons used may have come in great part from the United States. It doesn’t matter. Chemical weapons have been so stigmatized that, even while lethal injections are considered the only progressive way to murder prisoners, chemical weapons are deemed the only unforgivable way to kill in war. Of course, Napalm is alright, and other fire bombs, and white phosphorous, and depleted uranium, and cluster bombs. It’s not melting the flesh off children that’s immoral, it’s using a weapon that the United States has declared uncivilized that is immoral.
During World War I the United States was a big fan of chemical weapons. Winston Churchill is essentially a saint in U.S. war mythology, and he was a huge supporter of chemical weapons, presumably forgiven by those who don’t manage to avoid knowing that by the fact that he lived some years back. I point this out because it suggests a certain recognition that time and morality change. In my home town people forgive Thomas Jefferson for enslaving more people even as the Quakers were freeing their enslaved Virginians, because he lived so many years ago.
But Adolf Hitler is not just the character who the White House press secretary thinks was above using chemical weapons or who somehow used them more humanely by locking people in a closed space first. Hitler is also the nearly universal U.S. excuse for the institution of war. Yet he lived in the same era as Churchill. We admit that times have dramatically changed since Churchill. Can we admit that times have dramatically changed since Hitler? That warfare has changed dramatically, that nukes have been invented, that global law has been developed, that colonialism has been in many ways defeated, that evil dictators foreign and domestic do not resemble Hitler, that Hitler himself does not resemble the Hitler threatening to invade the United States in so many nightmares, that the power of nonviolent resistance to tyranny and even occupation has been advanced in major new ways? Can we bring the troops home from Germany and Japan, declare peace, and scale back the permanent war footing?
Of course the top Hitler today, and that’s a name that Hillary Clinton called him, is Vladimir Putin. I don’t know if the Russia obsession of the past five months is going to go away now that Trump’s been persuaded to be properly hostile. That doesn’t satisfy the other motivation, of showing that Hillary Clinton would have won the election if not for foreign interference. And that motivation is key to distracting us from the fact that the election system is totally broken, a popular vote winner can lose, the whole thing is bought and paid for, the communications system is unfair, people are blocked from voting by ID rules and by the purging of voter roles, Trump openly intimidated voters and opposed the counting of ballots in the few places they existed, and the Democratic Party is a miserable excuse for a political institution.
The wars, hot and cold, are also a great diversion, not only of resources, but also of attention from domestic devastation and resistance — a purpose war has served for centuries.
What we need instead are structures and habits that avoid and resolve conflicts without war. The architect of the ski slope power plant has designed a series of parks to protect lower Manhattan from some level of storms. Build that. But then make the changes needed actually to minimize the further exacerbation of climate change. Go to the climate march in Washington or locally on April 29. There will be a peace rally as part of it in DC. See peace.peoplesclimate.org
We also need to eliminate nuclear weapons, and to support the 132 nations working on the treaty to ban them. There’s a Women’s March to Ban the Bomb on June 17 in New York. Bring the scientists. Bring the climate defenders.
We need to organize locally and globally, not just nationally. We need to organize around principled policy demands, not political partisanship. We need to take on the entire institution of war and its replacement with reformed and reworked structures of government, including global government. We need to combine movements for peace, the environment, human rights, economic rights, sustainability, and an end to racism, sexism, mass incarceration, the death penalty, television advertising, and other forms of barbarism.
We need to develop the rule of law, the use of nonviolent civilian peaceworkers in danger zones, and the use of nonviolent activism in every zone. We need to protest Congress members until they quit, as a Congressman from Utah did earlier this week, as long as we can replace them with some that will be better. Congress members are home until the 24th. Make sure they hear from you.
We should go over to Hancock Air Base in New York State and help protest drone murders.
We should bring large numbers here to protest the F-35.
We should build up our fledgling institutions, such as World Beyond War chapters.
And at some point, if it becomes impossible for a state, as a member of the United States, to sever its ties to the military industrial complex or to create single payer healthcare or to invest in human and environmental needs, then that state should dissolve the political bands which have connected it with 49 others and assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of its own and the world’s creation entitle it. I think a decent respect to the opinions of humankind renders it entirely unnecessary to declare the causes which impel such a state to the separation. Everybody gets it.
If at first you don’t secede, try try again.
I’ll take any questions, and then there’s time for visiting exhibit tables, and I’ll sign books at one of them, and then the workshops will begin.