Thursday, November 18, 2021

Can History Teach Us Anything About The Future Of War – And Peace?


Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) march in Beijing, China, 2019. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

A decade on from psychologist Steven Pinker’s declaration that violence is declining, historians show no sign of agreeing a truce

By Laura Spinney

The Guardian

Nov 7, 2021 - Ten years ago, the psychologist Steven Pinker published The Better Angels of Our Nature, in which he argued that violence in almost all its forms – including war – was declining. The book was ecstatically received in many quarters, but then came the backlash, which shows no signs of abating. In September, 17 historians published a riposte to Pinker, suitably entitled The Darker Angels of Our Nature, in which they attacked his “fake history” to “debunk the myth of nonviolent modernity”. Some may see this as a storm in an intellectual teacup, but the central question – can we learn anything about the future of warfare from the ancient past? – remains an important one.

Pinker thought we could and he supported his claim of a long decline with data stretching thousands of years back into prehistory. But among his critics are those who say that warfare between modern nation states, which are only a few hundred years old, has nothing in common with conflict before that time, and therefore it’s too soon to say if the supposed “long peace” we’ve been enjoying since the end of the second world war is a blip or a sustained trend.

In 2018, for example, computer scientist Aaron Clauset of the University of Colorado Boulder crunched data on wars fought between 1823 and 2003 and concluded that we’d have to wait at least another century to find out. Clauset doesn’t think it would help to add older data into the mix; indeed, he thinks it would muddy the picture.

“It’s up to researchers who study substate-level violence to substantiate their claims that the dynamics of such violence are relevant to the dynamics of war and, in my view, they haven’t done a great job there,” he says.

Most researchers accept that there is a difference between war and interpersonal violence – and that these two things are governed by different forces – but there is disagreement over where to draw the line between them. Historian and archaeologist Ian Morris of Stanford University, author of War! What Is it Good For? (2014), is among those who say that the nature of collective violence hasn’t changed much in millennia, it’s just that human groups were smaller in the past. For him, therefore, a massacre of a couple of dozen of hunter-gatherers in Sudan around about 13,000 years ago, the earliest known example of collective violence, is relevant to a discussion of modern warfare.

Archaeologist Detlef Gronenborn of the RömischGermanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz, Germany, agrees. In 2015, he and others described a massacre among Europe’s earliest farmers at a place called SchöneckKilianstädten in Germany, about 7,000 years ago. More than two dozen individuals were killed by blunt force instruments or arrows and dumped in a mass grave, their lower legs having been systematically broken either just before or just after death. The absence of young women from the group suggested that the attackers may have kidnapped them. Gronenborn says that massacres of entire communities were frequent occurrences in Europe at that time and that one of their hallmarks, judging by the human remains, was the desire to erase the victims’ identity. “The only difference between then and now is that of scale,” he says.

But while some researchers may agree with Pinker that prehistoric and modern warfare are essentially the same phenomenon, they don’t necessarily agree with him that the evidence points to a longterm decline. Pinker based his claim that prehistory was extremely violent on around 20 archaeological sites spanning 14,000 years. Those sites unequivocally attest to ancient violence, says historian Dag Lindström of Uppsala University in Sweden, “but they cannot be used for quantitative comparative conclusions”. We simply have no way of knowing how representative they were.

Collective violence has been one way in which societies have reorganized themselves to become more humane and prosperous

“The further you go back in time, the more difficult it becomes to have an accurate assessment of how many people died in battle,” says historian Philip Dwyer of the University of Newcastle in Australia, who coedited The Darker Angels of Our Nature. Civilian death counts are even less reliable, he says, and have likely been significantly underestimated throughout history. In Dwyer’s view, all war-related statistics are suspect, undermining attempts to identify long-term trends.

Others think the statistics can be informative. Gronenborn’s work is feeding into larger-scale efforts to identify and explain patterns in collective violence. One such effort is the Historical Peace Index (HPI), a collaboration between Oxford University and the group behind Seshat: Global History Databank – a scientific research project of the nonprofit Evolution Institute – to map warfare globally over the past 5,000 years. Their goal, as the name suggests, is to try to understand the causes and consequences of war, with a view to building more peaceful and stable societies.

The argument of those taking this kind of approach is that the more data you gather, the more you can identify meaningful patterns. Gronenborn, for example, says that it is beginning to look as if collective violence was cyclical in neolithic Europe. One hypothesis he and others are testing is that mounting internal social tensions fuelled explosions of violence, with external shocks such as climate fluctuations acting as triggers.

The awkward truth is that collective violence has been one way in which societies have reorganised themselves to become more humane and prosperous. But as societies changed, so did the reasons they went to war.

“People always want to know: what was the earliest war?” says bioarchaeologist Linda Fibiger of Edinburgh University. “But it would be more interesting to ask: how did neolithic people define violence? What was their concept of war?”

Any debate over the decline – or not – of war must take into account its changing nature, Dwyer says, adding that it didn’t stop changing 200 years ago. In the decades since the second world war, for example, major international conflicts have become less frequent, but small wars have proliferated. This has happened, argues Yale University historian Samuel Moyn in his new book, Humane, in part because over the 20th century the justification for war shifted to peacekeeping and the defence of human rights, ensuring that war shrank in scale but became “for ever”.

The trouble with small-scale wars, as Clauset and others have found, is that they have a strong tendency to escalate, especially if they go on for a long time. In 2019, political scientist Bear Braumoeller of Ohio State University published Only the Dead, in which he argued that the risk of escalation today was as high as it had been when European leaders sent their troops to war in the summer of 1914, believing they would be home by Christmas.

“When it comes to the propensity of war to spiral out of control and produce mindboggling death tolls, we live in the same world that they lived in,” he wrote.

Why war escalates so easily is not well understood, but Braumoeller says it’s a “good bet” that technology is a factor. Scientist Peter Turchin of the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna, one of Seshat’s cofounders, agrees. He says that stepwise advances in military technology – he calls them “military revolutions” – may have been major drivers of collective violence.

The military revolution, singular, is the term historians use to describe the period of rapid technological and social change that began in the 16th century with the advent of portable firearms. But Turchin says there were others. One of the most important got under way about 3,000 years ago, across a swath of Eurasia south of the steppes, when archers armed with irontipped arrows first mounted horses.

Each time, the technology handed an advantage to those who had it, stimulating a technological and eventually social arms race. And that technology wasn’t even necessarily devised for military ends. The farming revolution, which ushered in the neolithic period, was also a military revolution, because the advances that gave farmers new tools also gave them new weapons. And some have argued that war became more lethal in the early 1800s in part because of the newfound ease of moving troops and supplies by rail.

“The upshot was that, with more soldiers on a given battlefield, it took more deaths on both sides to win a battle and therefore more deaths to win a war,” Braumoeller says.

Many people perceive technological change to be accelerating. The 20th century saw at least one military revolution, as a result of which we have nuclear weapons and the capacity to wage war in space. The early nuclear weapons were so destructive and so bad at hitting targets that they acted as effective deterrents and helped usher in this current period of stability, Morris says, but counterintuitively, we may have more grounds to worry now that they are generally smaller and more precise.

Morris sees parallels between the period we’re living through now and the late 19th century when international conflicts were few, but small-scale insurgencies and civil wars proliferated, and some of them, such as the Boer war, spiraled out of control. That long peace was finally shattered in 1914 and this one will be eventually too, he thinks.

What the cause and who the belligerent parties will be in the war that breaks the peace is not yet possible to say of course, though there has been much speculation – for example that it may involve Chinese military action against Taiwan. Nevertheless, for those who believe that the past can be instructive about the present, just not in the way Pinker does, Better Angels recalls a slew of books published on the eve of the first world war that proclaimed that war between the great powers was a thing of the past.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

America Doomed? Or Huge Opening for the Progressive Agenda?


By Thom Hartmann
Independent Media Institute

Some Americans feel like we’re living through a “last days” biblical Revelation kind of scenario.

There’s a worldwide pandemic that is even killing our children; climate change has drowned the East Coast while the West Coast is on fire; emergency workers and firefighters are struggling with Covid; and a group of rightwing billionaires and religious freaks have seized control of one of our political parties and are hell-bent on pushing us back to the 19th century, crushing democracy and rolling back voting rights while taking ever-more control over women and minorities.

Many Americans are being crushed by this. People losing their homes to wildfire or floods; losing their jobs to an economy battered by recession, pandemic and environmental crisis; facing huge medical bills simply because they got sick in America. Others are caught in doom-scrolling loops, obsessing on all the bad news that fills our airwaves.

For some it’s so overwhelming they simply give up or check out. They retreat altogether from reading the news and participating in politics, immersing themselves instead in alcohol, yoga or Netflix.

Some will give up and walk away from political activism, giving the billionaires, trolls and the GOP what they want; others realize the importance of doubling down now on our activism.

But, as the old cliché goes, times of great crisis are also truly moments of great opportunity, and, while some will give up and walk away from political activism, giving the billionaires, trolls and the GOP what they want, others realize the importance of doubling down now on our activism.

My SiriusXM colleague Joe Madison has taught me the difference between “movements” and “moments.”

In 1872, Susan B Anthony voted in the presidential election; she was immediately arrested and convicted the following year for voting while female. It was a moment that seemed like a setback, but it was also a turning point that reinvigorated a movement.

When Reconstruction failed in 1876, it was a terrible moment for African-Americans, but it didn’t stop the broad and growing movement to create a true multiracial, multiethnic democracy in this country. Examples from that time to today number in the thousands, and thankfully activists never gave up.

We have a Republican Party entirely captured by rightwing billionaires and polluting industries; members of the GOP are now calling for “bloodshed“ as a way of solving political conflict. Some participated in an attempt to seize the US Capitol and assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

The so-far-successful effort to use vigilantes to intimidate low-income women in Texas is poised to spread across the United States through newly energized Republican-controlled legislatures. Five hardcore rightwingers on the Supreme Court have given it their stamp of approval.

Republicans, again with SCOTUS approval, have changed voting laws in 19 states now so they can rig elections to maintain their power in defiance of the majority of American voters.

This is a true moment of crisis on so many different levels, which is why it’s not only critical that we seize this moment to throw ourselves into meaningful political activism, but also to take care of ourselves at deep emotional and spiritual levels.

Louise and I have been going in “awe walks” where we take a walk for a mile or two and go out of our way to look for things that strike us with “moments of awe.” 

Clouds, trees, a particularly extraordinary plant, a squirrel preparing for winter, a group of enthusiastic young people: life is such an extraordinary miracle and it’s so easy to take for granted. We go out of our way to look for the awe-inspiring and miraculous every day, and then to be thankful for and appreciative of it.

We’ve been reaching out more to old friends, too, and reestablishing regular family Zoom meetings and other ways of maintaining human contact. There’s some fascinating new research that shows that maintaining meaningful human connections through life extends both the quality and length of life more effectively than even a good diet!

However we do it, we need to keep ourselves well-charged, inspired and enthusiastic during this time of multiple and seemingly an ending crisis.

Throughout most of our 20s, Louise and I had a poster on our bedroom wall with a saying that has been attributed to many over the years but most often to Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

thom hartmann

As Bernie Sanders loves to say, and I echo every day on my show, “Despair is not an option.” We must persist.

There is work to do, and, as a wonderful bonus, it gives life meaning and keeps us deeply connected with great allies! 

Tag, you’re it!

Thom Hartmann
Independent Media Institute

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Biden Must Stop Bombing Afghan Cities


American flag is lowered as U.S. soldiers leave Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, May 2, 2021. Photo: Afghan Ministry of Defense Press Office.

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies

CODEPINK via LA Progressive

Nine provincial capitals in Afghanistan have fallen to the Taliban in six days – Zaranj, Sheberghan, Sar-e-Pul, Kunduz, Taloqan, Aybak, Farah, Pul-e-Khumri and Faizabad – while fighting continues in four more – Lashkargah, Kandahar, Herat & Mazar-i-Sharif. U.S. military officials now believe Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, could fall in one to three months. 

It is horrific to watch the death, destruction and mass displacement of thousands of terrified Afghans and the triumph of the misogynist Taliban that ruled the nation 20 years ago. But the fall of the centralized, corrupt government propped up by the Western powers was inevitable, whether this year, next year or ten years from now.  

President Biden has reacted to America’s snowballing humiliation in the graveyard of empires by once again dispatching U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to Doha to urge the government and the Taliban to seek a political solution, while at the same time dispatching  B-52 bombers to attack at least two of these provincial capitals.

In Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, the bombing has already reportedly destroyed a high school and a health clinic. Another B-52 bombed Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan province and the home of the infamous warlord and accused war criminal Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is now the military commander of the U.S.-backed government’s armed forces. 

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that U.S. Reaper drones and AC-130 gunships are also still operating in Afghanistan. 

The rapid disintegration of the Afghan forces that the U.S. and its Western allies have recruited, armed and trained for 20 years at a cost of about $90 billion should come as no surprise.

The rapid disintegration of the Afghan forces that the U.S. and its Western allies have recruited, armed and trained for 20 years at a cost of about $90 billion should come as no surprise. On paper, the Afghan National Army has 180,000 troops, but in reality most are unemployed Afghans desperate to earn some money to support their families but not eager to fight their fellow Afghans. The Afghan Army is also notorious for its corruption and mismanagement. 

The army and the even more beleaguered and vulnerable police forces that man isolated outposts and checkpoints around the country are plagued by high casualties, rapid turnover and desertion. Most troops feel no loyalty to the corrupt U.S.-backed government and routinely abandon their posts, either to join the Taliban or just to go home. 

When the BBC asked General Khoshal Sadat, the national police chief, about the impact of high casualties on police recruitment in February 2020, he cynically replied, “When you look at recruitment, I always think about the Afghan families and how many children they have. The good thing is there is never a shortage of fighting-age males who will be able to join the force.” (Continued)

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The First Atomic Bombs: The End of WWII or the Start of the Cold War


Invitation to an online talk

Monday, August 9, 2021 - 1:00pm

Gar Alperovitz

Following on his August 8 talk at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on the moral aspects of the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 76 years ago, Gar Alperovitz will look at the geopolitical implications of that fateful decision. Was it the opening shot in the Cold War, designed to send a message to the Soviet Union? It established U.S. dominance in the Pacific and put the U.S. in a powerful position to shape post-war Europe. A nuclear arms race was soon to follow as tensions grew between the two former allies. Some have argued that the existence of nuclear weapons and the fear of nuclear annihilation helped prevent military conflict between the US and USSR during the Cold War. But smaller proxy wars killed millions in the global South and wasted trillions of dollars of resources, leaving us all less secure.

In recent years the public has become aware of the existential threat climate change presents for humanity. But how about the threat of nuclear war and the nuclear winter that will surely follow? Billions of people will either be annihilated instantly or face slow starvation as agriculture collapses. Today humanity urgently needs nuclear disarmament. Yet most of the treaties that had limited nuclear weapons have been cast aside by President Trump and the Biden Administration is increasing our nuclear arsenal, threatening a new arms race. With a new Cold War developing with China and maybe Russia, the importance of treaties limiting nuclear weapons becomes clearer. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has now set their doomsday clock at 100 seconds before midnight. The need for citizen action is urgent.

Gar Alperovitz is a distinguished historian, political economist, activist, writer, and government official. For fifteen years, he served as the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, and is a former Fellow of Kings College, Cambridge University; Harvard’s Institute of Politics; the Institute for Policy Studies; and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution. He is a co-founder of The Democracy Collaborative, a research institution developing practical, policy-focused, and systematic paths towards ecologically sustainable, community-oriented change and the democratization of wealth. He is also the co-chair of The Next System Project, a project of The Democracy Collaborative. He was the architect of the first modern steel industry attempt at worker ownership in Youngstown, Ohio. Among his many books are The Next American Revolution: Beyond Corporate Capitalism and State Socialism and Principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth. His earlier books include Atomic Diplomacy and The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Make Normalization With Cuba A Priority


If Biden doesn’t lift Trump’s harsh restrictions on the island, it may well cause the next migration crisis.

By Medea Benjamin

Florida Global Star
Silvia from Miami, Eduardo from Hialeah, Abel from Lakeland. The names pour in on the donations page for “Syringes to Cuba” as Carlos Lazo promotes the campaign on his popular Facebook livestream.

An energetic Cuban American high school teacher in Seattle, Lazo created a group called Puentes de Amor, Bridges of Love, to unite Cuban Americans who want to lift the searing U.S. blockade that is immiserating their loved ones on the island.

The Syringes to Cuba initiative was started by the Saving Lives Campaign and Global Health Partners to help Cuba vaccinate its people against COVID-19. The campaign has raised over $350,000 and ordered 4 million syringes.

Cuba’s economic situation is dire. The economy shrank by 11 percent last year — a result of the pandemic and the tightening of the embargo under former President Trump. Trump added over 200 restrictive measures, including limiting remittances Cuban Americans can send to their families, restricting U.S. flights, and prohibiting cruise ships from docking in Cuban ports.

As a final stab, Trump took the completely bogus step of adding Cuba to the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” which discourages investments and limits the entry of foreign currency.

As a candidate, Joe Biden pledged to “promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” Since then, however, Biden has not moved an inch.

In April, Press Secretary Jen Psaki callously claimed that changing U.S. policy towards Cuba was not a priority. On May 25, the State Department even announced that it would continue Trump’s determination that Cuba does not cooperate with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.

On June 23, the UN General Assembly will hold its yearly vote calling for the U.S. to lift its embargo on Cuba. Every year since 1992, the world’s nations overwhelmingly reject the embargo.

In 2016, the Obama administration broke with 25 years of U.S. opposition to the UN resolution by abstaining. A new lobby group, ACERE (Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect), with the support of over 100 organizations, is calling on Biden not to oppose this year’s resolution.

Instead, they say, Biden should announce measures to provide relief and a return to diplomacy.

A push for action has also come from the grassroots, through creative and growing anti-blockade car and bicycle caravans held on the last Sunday of every month. The largest of the nation’s caravans winds through the heart of the pro-blockade world: Miami.

In the May 30 Miami caravan, over 200 people participated, most of them Cuban Americans. “We’ve had 10 of these caravans so far,” said organizer Jorge Medina. “Each one is bigger than the last and the energy is fantastic.”

Congress has been pushing Biden as well. This March, 80 representatives, led by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), sent Biden a letter urging him to reverse Trump’s draconian policies and return to the diplomatic path.

On May 21, Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the bipartisan Freedom to Export to Cuba Act that would eliminate legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba, a popular idea with farm and business groups interested in trade and export opportunities.

Biden ignores the crisis in Cuba at his own peril.

The dire food and medicine shortages caused by the pandemic and the blockade may well spark a migration crisis. Cuba expert Bill LeoGrande predicts “a mass exodus of desperate people” if Biden doesn’t act soon.

Biden would do well to heed the warning and, with the stroke of a pen, lift trade and travel restrictions and allow unrestricted remittances. This would infuse money into Cuba’s economy, alleviate needless suffering, and fulfill Biden’s promise to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy.

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba. This op-ed was adapted from Foreign Policy In Focus ( and distributed by

Monday, June 14, 2021

Rural Teacher Pedro Castillo Poised to Write a New Chapter in Peru’s History

Castillo, the son of illiterate peasants, overcame vicious media attacks and is on the verge of defeating Keiko Fujimori, the scion of a Peruvian political dynasty.

By Medea Benjamin and Leonardo Flores  


June 8, 2021 - With his wide-brimmed peasant hat and oversized teacher’s pencil held high, Peru’s Pedro Castillo traveled the country ahead of the June 6 election exhorting voters to get behind a call that has been particularly urgent during this devastating pandemic: “No más pobres en un país rico”— No more poor people in a rich country. In a cliff-hanger election with a huge urban-rural and class divide, it appears that the rural teacher, farmer, and union leader is about to make history by defeating powerful far-right candidate Keiko Fujimori, scion of the country’s political “Fujimori dynasty.”

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Castillo led with 50.3 percent over Fujimori’s 49.7 percent. With her opponent in the lead by a narrow margin, now Fujimori is challenging the results, alleging widespread fraud. Her campaign has only presented evidence of isolated irregularities, and so far there is nothing to suggest a tainted vote. However, she can challenge some of the votes to delay the final results, and much like in the United States, even an allegation of fraud by the losing candidate will cause uncertainty and raise tensions.

Castillo’s victory will be remarkable not only because he is a leftist teacher who is the son of illiterate peasants and whose campaign was grossly outspent by Fujimori. But also, there was a relentless propaganda attack against him that touched on historical fears of Peru’s middle class and elites. This campaign was similar to what happened recently to progressive candidate Andrés Arauz, who narrowly lost Ecuador’s presidential elections in April, but even more intense. Continued

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Moral Questioning and the American War Machine


Members of the US Army 1st Division 9th Regiment 1st Battalion unload heavy combat equipment including Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles at the railway station near the Pabrade military base in Lithuania, on October 21, 2019. PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Marianne Williamson

Newsweek Columnist

April 29, 2021 - In the 1960s, the war on poverty, the civil rights movement and anti-war movements made strides against what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism." None of the three was eradicated, of course, but they were certainly hit hard. President Lyndon B. Johnson built a federal framework for poverty eradication, legalized segregation was abolished and the Vietnam War came to an end in the face of massive protest. While no one at the time thought America's problems had all been solved, those struggles for justice were real and in many ways successful.

Today, a similar era of protest has erupted as a new generation of Americans—representing even greater numbers—struggles to tackle existential threats and injustices in our midst. Desire to end poverty is expressed in calls for a higher minimum wage, union protections, a tax system that doesn't favor the rich and the removal of college loan debt. Desire to end systemic racism is expressed in Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, and increased calls for police and criminal justice reform. Americans are pushing back passionately in the face of economic and racial injustice.

Yet the "third evil" decried by Dr. King—militarism—does not get the passionate protest today that it got in the 1960s. Perhaps this is due to the fact that during the Vietnam War, it was everyone's son, brother, husband, lover or friend constantly threatened by the specter of a low draft number, whereas today there is no draft at all. Today's armed forces are manned by a volunteer army, making their deployment here or there far easier to ignore. The military is so much a part of the way we function that those born since 9/11 have grown up never having known an America not at war. They never knew a time when we didn't have over 800 military bases in over 150 countries, and on every continent in the world except Antarctica. To them, a sign that says "Ban the Bomb" would be seen as a quaint reminder of a time gone by. The system has succeeded in distracting and exhausting people to the point of acquiescence. All they have to do is tell us we're leaving Afghanistan, and we're too distracted to ask then why they're still spending all that money.

What a tragedy that is. For American militarism today is no less dangerous, and no less a threat to our democracy and to our world, than it has ever been. In fact, it is more so. It is a budgetary behemoth that pollutes our planet, defines our economy, undermines our moral authority around the world and recklessly increases the risk of nuclear tensions all in the name of our "security."

In no area has the wool been pulled over the eyes of the modern American than in the area of our perpetual war machine. Every year—unchallenged and under-investigated by our mainstream media—in slavish devotion to defense contractors who fuel their campaigns, both political parties pass an increasingly gargantuan National Defense Authorization Act in easy breezy lockstep. Our military budget, almost twice the size of the military expenditures of every other country on Earth, is like a sacred edict handed down from on high, treated with some weird political reverence as though to question it is to suggest that our safety and security do not matter.

But this has little to do with our safety and security, and everything to do with how things work in Washington. Our current secretary of Defense is a former general and Raytheon board member, in defiance not only of Congress' own injunction against military leadership at the DOD (they simply waived their rule for Secretary Jim Mattis under Donald Trump, then did the same for Lloyd Austin), and seemingly with no concern that someone who had just been a board member at one of America's major defense contractors just might have a teensy bit of proclivity for seeing our defense through the eyes of those for whom the most money is to be made.

President Joe Biden's $715 billion proposed defense budget this year has less to do with our security than with our economy, as 54 cents of every dollar of discretionary spending in America is spent on defense related activity. Politicians tout how many jobs are created by the defense industry, in clear absence of any moral consideration of what all that equipment is used for and whether it serves humanity that the United States is the world's biggest supplier of arms as well as the biggest perpetrator of military misadventures. While it's been proven that investment in education and infrastructure actually provides more return on investment in terms of job creation, there is very little serious talk of how to move us from a war economy to a peace economy. MSNBC and CNN aren't going to touch that any more than Fox will.

Romantic views of the U.S. military as a purveyor of freedom have withered away, the coattails of World War II having long given way to the cynical truth of our post-war military involvements. The people of the world no longer see America as a champion of democracy, and rightfully so. The U.S. military has become less a purveyor of freedom and more a purveyor of protection for the corporate forces they represent, from the military defense industry to the fossil fuel industry and more. No less powerful a person than the vice president of the United States said recently that, "For years and generations, wars have been fought over oil"—she said she had learned this from "attending a lot of meetings on foreign policy"— and it hardly made a headline. My God, how cynically accepting we are of people in other parts of the world dying so we can keep the lights on in every room of the house.

I guess it's good we're not even pretending anymore. But perhaps we could drink in what that means. The perverse size of our military budget does not simply represent money that could have been used to help people in the United States; it also represents a lot of harm done to people in other parts of the world for reasons that are neither altruistic nor even honest. What a moral void exists in the center of the American psyche now, that the murderous mistakes of Vietnam, Iraq and Libya have earned little more reaction from political officialdom than, "Oops. Yeah, we probably shouldn't have done that."

There are people raging at the machine, to be sure. The People over Pentagon campaign has called for a $200 billion reduction, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus has proposed a 10 percent reduction in annual defense spending. The Friends Committee on National Legislation and others have argued vigorously for an end to U.S. support of Saudi Arabia's blockade of Yemen. But it's the people ourselves who need to rise up now against the military madness in our midst.

It's important we understand how aberrational is this chapter in our history. At the outset of World War II, the United States didn't have a standing army. By the end of that war, our triumphant military machinery was not dismantled but rather repurposed for the post-war era. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander during World War II turned president seven years later, warned us in his 1961 Farewell Address of the dangers of the "military industrial complex." Interestingly enough, he originally called it the "military-congressional-industrial complex," and he was right. This isn't just an unholy alliance between the military and industry; it's a corrupt, murderous and immoral three-way.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," said Eisenhower. "This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

Those words would mean so much less were they not spoken by the man who had himself led America's military through World War II, a man who knew as few ever did what it means to fight a necessary, even a moral war. The man who led the D-Day invasion was hardly soft on the military. But he was strong on the moral questioning of war, and that is what we are lacking today.

Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign. She is the author of 13 books, among them Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Progressives in Congress Should Unite to Slash Biden’s Military Budget


Rep. Barbara Lee speaks as Rep. Pramila Jayapal looks on during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on November 19, 2019.OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Medea Benjamin & Marcy Winograd, 

Salon via Truthout

May 4, 2021 - Imagine this scenario: A month before the vote on the federal budget, progressives in Congress declare, “We’ve studied President Biden’s proposed $753 billion military budget, an increase of $13 billion from Trump’s already inflated budget, and we can’t, in good conscience, support this.”

Now that would be a show-stopper, particularly if they added, “So we have decided to stand united, arm in arm, as a block of ‘no’ votes on any federal budget resolution that fails to reduce military spending by 10 to 30 percent. We stand united against a federal budget resolution that includes upwards of $30 billion for new nuclear weapons — slated to ultimately cost nearly $2 trillion. We stand united in demanding the $50 billion earmarked to maintain all 800 overseas bases, including the new one under construction on Okinawa, be reduced by at least one-third, because it’s time we scaled back on plans for global domination.”

“Ditto,” they say, “for the billions the president wants for the arms-escalating Space Force, one of Trump’s worst ideas, right up there with hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19. And, no, we don’t want to escalate our troop deployments for a military confrontation with China in the South China Sea. It’s time to ‘right-size’ the military budget and demilitarize our foreign policy.”

Progressives uniting as a block to resist out-of-control military spending would be a no-nonsense exercise of raw power, reminiscent of the way the right-wing Freedom Caucus challenged the traditional Republicans in the House in 2015. Without progressives on board, President Biden might not be able to secure enough votes to pass a federal budget that would then greenlight the reconciliation process needed for his broad domestic agenda.

For years, progressives in Congress have complained about the bloated military budget. In 2020, 93 members in the House and 23 in the Senate voted to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest those funds instead in critical human needs. A House Spending Reduction Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, emerged with 22 members on board, including all four members of the “Squad” but also quite a few more moderate or mainstream Democrats.

We also have the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest in Congress, now with almost 100 members in the House and Senate. Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., is all for cutting military spending. “We’re in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to afford food, rent and bills,” she told The Nation. “But at the same time, we’re dumping billions of dollars into a bloated Pentagon budget. Don’t increase defense spending. Cut it — and invest that money into our communities.”

Now is the time for these congresspeople to turn their talk into action.

Consider the context. Biden urgently wants to move forward on his American Families Plan rolled out in his recent address to Congress. The plan would tax the rich to invest $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years in universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, expanded health care coverage and paid family medical leave.

In the spirit of FDR, Biden also wants to put America back to work with a $2 trillion infrastructure program that will begin to fix our decades-old broken bridges, crumbling sewer systems and rusting water pipes. This could be his legacy, a Green New Deal-lite to transition workers out of the dying fossil fuel industry.

But Biden won’t get his infrastructure program and American Families Plan with higher taxes on the rich, almost 40% on income for corporations and those earning $400,000 or more a year, unless Congress first passes a budget resolution that includes a top line for military and non-military spending. Both the budget resolution and the reconciliation bill that would follow are filibuster-proof and only require a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass.


Maybe not.

To flex their muscles, Republicans may refuse to vote for a budget resolution crafted by the Democratic Party that would open the door to big spending on public goods, such as pre-kindergarten and expanded health care coverage. That means Biden would need every Democrat in the House and Senate on board to approve his budget resolution for military and non-military spending.

So how’s it looking?

In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state that went for Trump over Biden more than two to one, wants to scale back Biden’s infrastructure proposal, but hasn’t sworn to vote down a budget resolution. As for Sen. Bernie Sanders, the much-loved progressive, ordinarily he might balk at a record high military budget. But if the budget resolution ushers in a reconciliation bill that lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 or 55, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee might feel compelled to hold his fire.

That leaves antiwar activists wondering if Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a critic of the Pentagon budget and “nuclear modernization,” would consider stepping up as the lone holdout in the Senate, refusing to vote for a budget that includes billions for new nuclear weapons. Perhaps with a push from outraged constituents in Massachusetts, Warren could be convinced to take this bold stand. Another potential holdout could be California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the committee that oversees budgeting for nuclear weapons. In 2014, Feinstein described the U.S. nuclear arsenal program as “unnecessarily and unsustainably large.”

Over in the House, Biden needs at least 218 of the 222 Democrats to vote for the budget resolution expected to hit the floor in June or July. But what if he can’t get to 218? What if at least five members of the House voted no — or even just threatened to — because the top line for military spending was too high and the budget included new “money pit” land-based nuclear missiles to replace 450 Minuteman III ICBMs, deployed since the 1970s.

Polls show that most Democrats oppose “nuclear modernization” — a euphemism for a plan that is anything but modern, given that 50 countries have signed onto the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which would make nuclear weapons illegal, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the U.S. to pursue nuclear disarmament to avoid a catastrophic accident or intentional nuclear holocaust.

Now is the time for progressive congressional luminaries such as the Squad’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Presley to unite with Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Jayapal, as well as Lee, Pocan and others in the House Spending Reduction Caucus to stand as a block against a bloated military budget.

Will they have the courage to unite behind such a cause? Would they be willing to play hardball and gum up the works on the way to Biden’s progressive domestic agenda? Odds will improve if constituents barrage them with phone calls, emails and visible protests. In a time of pandemic, it makes no sense to approve a military budget that is 90 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The billions saved from “right-sizing” the Pentagon could provide critical funds for addressing the climate crisis. Just as we support putting an end to our endless wars, we also support putting an end to our endless cycle of exponential military spending. This is the moment to demand a substantial cut in the Pentagon budget — and to defund new nuclear weapons.

Medea Benjamin is a co-founder of CODEPINK and the fair trade advocacy group Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare (OR Books, 2012) and has played an active role in the Green Party. She has a master’s degree in both public health and economics. In 2012, she was awarded the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation’s Peace Prize. She is also recipient of the 2014 Gandhi Peace Award and the 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 Democratic delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. As coordinator of CODEPINK Congress, she spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for peace and foreign policy legislation.