War Abolition – The Medellin Declaration – YouTube
[Ed O’Rourke, retired certified public accountant from Houston, gave this speech at the Colombo Americano in Medellin, Colombia on September 4, 2013. The Colombo is an institution dedicated to teaching Medellin residents to speak, read and write English. Students in an advanced class and Ed’s wife, Silvia, are the audience. The speech will be on YouTube.]
People in the military industrial complex tell us that:
1) War is necessary,
2) War is fought for the common good,
3) War is glorious, and,
4) A more just world will emerge after the current war.
None of this is true.
I did not start my life as a war abolitionist. Born in Houston in 1944 my generation saw the Second World War as an adventure. It is not too often that you could defeat Absolute Evil. The comic books, movies and television shows showed American soldiers as heroes. Sometimes, as a child and a young teenager, I felt that I missed the action.
The movies always showed the dead soldiers with entire bodies as if they were asleep. There were no missing limbs and usually no blood.
I looked forward to the time when I could enlist. Being a soldier was part of being a man. Of course, I realized that this was a dangerous activity. After all, a fellow could get killed. This danger was part of the anticipated adventure. Since the Soviet Union was rattling the sword over Berlin and other places, I favored a reckless aggressive foreign policy and regarded Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy the same way as I regard Neville Chamberlin. It was only in later years that I realized that this was bluster to hide the fact that their economy measured in gross domestic product was tiny. The CIA inflated the figures for the Soviet economy. If they presented an honest assessment, our defense budget would take a sizable hit.
During the early 1960s, when I heard the songs, “Blowing in the Wind,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “With God on Our Side,” I realized that war was not glorious but was still necessary.
In 1965 and 1966, I favored our military involvement in Vietnam one month and was against it the next. In late August, 1966, I changed my mind for the last time.
In January, 1969, I was teaching at the American school in Barranquiila, Colombia when the Vietnam War was hot and heavy. One day after school, I was walking from the elementary school building to the high school building when I realized that all the wars were wrong.
Since I was a history major, I wondered why I did not realize this before. Historians are still trying to figure out why the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812. President Tyler started the 1848 war with Mexico by sending US troops into Mexican territory. Most historians think the USS Maine had a boiler explosion and that the Spanish had nothing to do with the explosion. The Spanish government offered compensation for the deaths, injuries and damages but the US government was not interested. In 2003, President George Bush the son declared war on Iraq, a country with no mass destruction weapons, no connection with al-Qaeda and no involvement with 9/11.
Educators like to think that they offer intriguing thoughts to their students. In fact, the discussion range is narrow. They praise that people like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Urban II, Christopher Columbus and Bismarck who made things happen. In fact, they are all war criminals and should be treated as such. A Nuremberg type tribunal would convict every one for war crimes.
Those who write history books and texts belong at the same Nuremberg type trials as accomplices. A specific case is Samuel Eliot Morison in his classic, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: a Life of Christopher Columbus. He never mentioned the genocide that Christopher Columbus carried out on the Indians who welcomed them.
Exploiters give the idea that they are doing the exploited a favor by bringing telegraphs, telephones, better roads, better ports, banks, Christianity, public health and civilization to the underdeveloped world. Remembering Ruyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden, it is a tough job but someone has to do it. Karl Marx had it right. He said that the class struggle explained history better than any other theory.
The surprise is that there has been only some detailed research showing how the military industrial complex pulls the big con in history: telling us that war is glorious and necessary.
Hans Zinnser in his book, Rats, Lice and History, cites peacetime boredom as a reason for men to support war. He gave a hypothetical example showing a man who worked 10 years in the same job selling shoes. There was nothing for him to look forward to. War would mean a break in the routine, adventure and glory. Front line soldiers have comradeship found nowhere else in life. If you get killed, the country will honor your family with some benefits.
Progressives must recognize the awesome sales job made by government propaganda that war is necessary and glorious, like a football game. The war sport is like mountain climbing or deep sea diving, far more dangerous than everyday life. As in a football game, we root for our side to win because a defeat would bring catastrophic consequences. In World War Two, a victory by the Axis Powers would have brought slavery for all and extermination for many.
Those who make the movies, songs and poems do a top-notch job showing war as a contest between good and evil. This has all the drama involved in a closely fought sports event. I remember the 1991 season for the Houston Oilers reading something like this every Sunday morning in the Houston Post:
This afternoon’s game against the Jets will be a dogfight. The lead will change five times. The winning team will be the one that scores last, probably in the last minute.
The sports writer was correct. With excellent plays on offense and defense on both sides, the fans see a nail-biting game. In the last four minutes and 22 seconds in the fourth quarter, the Oilers are down by five on their own 23 yard line. At this stage, a field goal will not help. However, they do have some advantages. The whole field is four down territory. They must march down field and march they do. With some time on the clock, they do not have to throw on every down. With seven seconds left on the clock, the Oilers cross the goal line with the game’s final touchdown.
The best war propaganda ever made was the 1952 NBC series Victory at Sea. The editors reviewed 11,000 miles of film, prepared a stirring musical score and narrative making 26 episodes lasting about 26 minutes each. Television reviewers wondered who would want to watch war documentaries on a Sunday afternoon. By the second week, they got their answer: just about everybody.
On YouTube see the finale for the episode, Beneath the Southern Cross, which described the successful efforts by the American and Brazilian navies to protect convoys in the South Atlantic.
Find this episode on Youtube by going to:
Victory at Sea Beneath the Southern Cross
Start playing at 19:20.
This is the ending narrative:
And the convoys come through,
Bearing the wealth of the Southern Hemisphere,
Refusing to pay one cent for tribute but willing to spend millions for defense,
The American republics have swept from the ocean highways of the South Atlantic their common foe.
Spread wide across the sea
Guarded by the might of nations that can fight side by side because they have learned to live side by side.
The ships stream toward their goal – Allied victory.
Progressives must offer a peace vision through songs, poems, short stories, movies and plays. Offer contests with some prize money and much recognition. My favorite peace vision comes from the 1969 hit, Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells:
You can find this song by going to Youtube by inserting;
Crystal Blue Persuasion
For those who are old enough to remember hearing the song, I invite you to play it for the first time.
Snoppy’s adventures as a fighter pilot and his Sopwith Camel are well known. Since there are no depictions showing the dead or wounded, people see war as an adventure, a break from everyday humdrum life. I ask the cartoonists, the television writer and movie producers to show the peacenik, the social worker, the homeless person, the teacher, the alternative energy executive, the neighborhood organizer, the priest and the environmental activist.
I have only encountered two peace web sites (A Future Without War http://www.afww.org/ and Movement for the Abolition of War, http://www.abolishwar.org.uk/) and that reaches out to those who are currently outside the movement. This will mean hiring Madison Avenue firms for recommendations. After all, they are good at appealing to emotions to make people buy items that they can easily do without. Coming up with appeals will be a challenge for them since this would mean that people will be buying fewer goods from their regular clients.
Peacemakers must offer specifics. Otherwise, war criminals like George W. Bush and Barack Obama will talk about peace until the cows come home. Here are some specifics that constitute the Medellin Declaration:
1) reduce the bloated US military budget by 90%,
2) tax international arms sales,
3) begin a moratorium on weapons research,
4) start a world-wide anti-poverty program,
5) train our troops for disaster relief,
6) establishing a cabinet level Department of Peace,
7) reduce nuclear weapons to zero, and,
8) negotiate to take all the world’s nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert.
Note that each proposal can become a bumper sticker. I invite progressives to copy the excellent communication skills demonstrated our right-winger friends, who have done well with simple slogans. People can instantly understand what right-wingers want.
Make no mistake. Humans must end war or war will end us and all life on our planet. This is not just an idea from hippies and Quakers. See this plea from General Douglas MacArthur when he spoke to the US Congress on April 19, 1951:
“I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes…
“Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, our Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence, an improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”
Environmentalists may be the first major group to accept war abolition although, up to now, they have been indifferent to military spending. I hope they wake up for two reasons: 1) a nuclear war will end our civilization in an afternoon and 2) the resources devoted to the military means crumbs off the table for everything else. We all want cleaner energy and to reverse global warming but all these efforts achieve little as long as the military goes full speed ahead.
Our human society is committing collective suicide in continuing global warming and contamination with war and other sociopathic responses to social, economic and spiritual struggles. Our possessions in their extraction, manufacture, distribution and use are killing the planet. Human beings are at the greatest risk since spring, 1942, when the Axis Powers were on the move on every front. Our reaction to global warming and industrial contamination must be similar to US mobilization effort in 1941-1945 that churned out aircraft carriers, tanks, fighter aircraft, machine guns, jeeps and everything else for our armed forces and for our allies. (Hermann Goering thought that the US could only generate refrigerators and razor blades.) There was no business as usual attitude such as, ”We think we can improve fighter aircraft production by 10 to 15 percent in the next twelve months.” Our human society must respond to threats not easily recognizable such as the Axis Powers were. Americans must abolish war by massively investing in peace.
Up to now, sociopaths like Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-tung, George W. Bush and many others could commit murder and humankind could keep going. Not anymore. If there is a nuclear war between Pakistan and India, we will have nuclear winter. Grass and cockroaches are supposed to survive such a catastrophe but I doubt it.
Before now, sociopaths could ignore the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, the 620 mitzvah, Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, the Rotary Four Way Test and other moral imperatives and most humans would survive. Not any more. Modest reforms are not enough. There have to be truly revolutionary changes in our behavior and our institutions to survive.
Since Lloyd George remarked at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 that making peace was more complicated than making war, correcting this charade will not be easy. However, it must be done. With courage and vision, humans can follow Isaiah by turning swords into plowshares saving ourselves and all life on our planet.
Ed O’Rourke is a retired certified public accountant currently living in Medellin, Colombia. This article is material for a book that he is writing, World Peace – The Roadmap: You Can Get to There from Here.
I am deeply moved by the views expressed here so eloquently and actually was in the Basilian novitiate with Ed in 1963-64. Please pass along my admiration and inspiration from his work. I would love to have him email me to continue this timely discussion.