Some things I just do not understand. OK, I don’t understand a lot these days. I try, I really do. But it takes so much effort to understand why people cannot see what is perfectly clear to me.
On Wednesday, for example, GOP senators unveiled their new tax plan. They’ve dropped their objection to the payroll tax cut extension, but they’re still holding firm on their opposition to taxing the people who can actually afford it. But they’ve got a plan, they do, to pay for that extension, and here it is:
New “class war” battlefield: instead of taxing millionaires, Senate GOP would strip their eligibility for unemployment comp, food stamps
Whoa. Now that’s just a terrific plan. The other part of the plan is to “allow” the filthy rich to “voluntarily” give some of their hard earned cash to the government.
Yeah, that’s gonna happen.
Just makes me want to pull out my hair. And then I remember that I’m not going to understand it because I just don’t think like that. I think that as human beings we should be in the business of helping each other, not making a profit. I think that if one of us is oppressed or bullied or stigmatized or ostracized or hated or hunted or killed then we all are. I think that money is an artificial construct that causes more problems than it solves, especially the way we handle it — treating it as if it has value in and of itself instead of its original intent, to make exchange and barter a little easier. And I think that excessive amounts of money in the hands of a tiny few is insane.
Call me crazy. You won’t be the first.
But here’s something I’m not crazy about. War is illegal. It’s true. The United States and several other countries made it illegal in 1929. Seriously. I kid you not. Of course, since then, we and those other countries have worked hard to make it only “aggressive” war that’s illegal, but that’s not what the Kellog-Briand Pact says. Also known as the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War and the World Peace Act, here’s what it says:
The High Contracting Parties solemly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.
The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.
The present Treaty shall be ratified by the High Contracting Parties named in the Preamble in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements, and shall take effect as between them as soon as all their several instruments of ratification shall have been deposited at Washington.
This Treaty shall, when it has come into effect as prescribed in the preceding paragraph, remain open as long as may be necessary for adherence by all the other Powers of the world. Every instrument evidencing the adherence of a Power shall be deposited at Washington and the Treaty shall immediately upon such deposit become effective as; between the Power thus adhering and the other Powers parties hereto.
It shall be the duty of the Government of the United States to furnish each Government named in the Preamble and every Government subsequently adhering to this Treaty with a certified copy of the Treaty and of every instrument of ratification or adherence. It shall also be the duty of the Government of the United States telegraphically to notify such Governments immediately upon the deposit with it of each instrument of ratification or adherence.
IN FAITH WHEREOF the respective Plenipotentiaries have signed this Treaty in the French and English languages both texts having equal force, and hereunto affix their seals.
DONE at Paris, the twenty seventh day of August in the year one thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight.
The signatories “agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.” They “solemly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.”
Sounds pretty clear to me, but then, as we’ve already established, I don’t seem to think like an awful lot of people. I do seem to think like David Swanson, whose latest book is When the World Outlawed War.
The thinking of the peace movement of the 1920s comes out of a different world, and getting back into it may be difficult for a lot of people. One doorway in, I am hoping, is through realization that a law still on the books outlaws war. While banning war may be unimaginable, war is in fact already banned. Every war since 1929 has been illegal. Every act of war has been illegal.
Laws are, of course, what we make of them. Some laws are forgotten, others expanded to completely alter their meanings. The Bill of Rights now applies to corporations, while the Kellogg-Briand Pact is considered archaic — but that is purely for cultural reasons; the Pact has actually never been repealed.
Creating awareness of a law will not lead to its immediate enforcement, of course, but the Outlawrists of the 1920s didn’t believe they would end war in their lifetimes. They believed that Kellogg-Briand would begin to delegitimize war, to stigmatize it. In fact, after Kellogg-Briand, territorial gains through war were no longer recognized, and following World War II the act of making war was prosecuted as a crime for those on the losing side. But the process of delegitimization of war has stalled and back-tracked. The body of law and the world court that the Outlawrists envisioned have never been attempted. It is time we picked up where they left off.
Back then war could be seen as something that backward Europeans had dragged the United States into, albeit with help from greatly resented propaganda that had been produced by President Woodrow Wilson’s PR team. If you ask someone in the United States if they are for peace today, they may tell you that they like peace but wouldn’t want to oppose wars. Even in the 1920s, the United States was making war in Nicaragua and threatening it in Mexico, but peace was still considered the norm. Then wars were imperialistic or humanitarian or racist, and conceivably avoidable. Now wars are necessary to protect us from evil. In other words, they are defensive. This is a result of the twisted interpretation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact that was used to prosecute Nazis. A treaty intentionally created to avoid banning “aggressive war,” in order to ban all war, was transformed into a ban on aggressive war at Nuremberg. Every war since has had to be “defensive.”
Pro-war attitudes today are not insurmountable. Popular opinion turned against the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars fairly quickly and never got behind the Libyan War nor our various drone wars. But there is a more important difference that you mentioned between the 1920s and today: the rise of the military-industrial complex. It had been around since the Civil War. The Navy was being built up at the same time that the U.S. Senate was ratifying Kellogg-Briand. But the weapons companies were not pulling Congress’s strings in the 1920s. Farmers, who wanted Europeans to buy more corn and less weaponry, had more influence than arms merchants. In addition, congressional districts were smaller, bribery was illegal, newspapers were fairly diverse and credible, television didn’t exist, gerrymandering had not been perfected, and it was common for members of the House and Senate to oppose the positions of their political parties. Women got the vote in 1920. Jim Crow laws prevented many African-Americans from voting, and eighteen to twenty-year-olds still couldn’t vote, but the robber barons didn’t run the whole show — and some of them invested heavily in peace activism.
The deck is stacked against us today, and we know it. Outlawrists in the 1920s didn’t imagine they’d live to see success, but they did believe success would likely come in a future generation, step by step. They believed that outlawing blood feuds and dueling and slavery pointed the way toward outlawing war. They believed in cultural progress, even if it came slowly. So, they happily worked for what they believed to be a just cause, for what William James called “the moral equivalent of war,” and they seemed in my reading to go through fewer cycles of optimism and pessimism than do most activists today. They seemed to exhibit, in fact, less interest in what their cause could do for them than in what they could do for the cause.
Read the rest of what Swanson has to say here, in an interview conducted by Bruce Levine. And think about it.
What if we cut through the bullshit fearmongering of the right and the left, of frightened people who believe that someone, somehow, from somewhere is out to get us and we have to be prepared to stop that from happening? What if we turned the other cheek to those who were out to get us? What if we made it clear that violence of any sort is shameful and wrong?
What if the rich didn’t feel they had to amass huge amounts of money to protect themselves from the rest of us? What if they felt all that excess would create a world in which they didn’t need it to feel good about themselves?
What if, indeed.