Should We Keep Wasting Money on Missile Defense―or Invest in Something Useful?

By Lawrence Wittner

When Americans criticize wasteful government spending, they often fail to realize that the biggest sinkhole for public funds is what’s described as “national defense”―a program that, all too often, does little or nothing to defend them.

Take national missile defense, a program begun with much fanfare during the mid-1980s, when President Ronald Reagan realized that U.S. nuclear weapons could not prevent a nuclear attack upon the United States. According to the President, his Strategic Defense Initiative (lampooned as “Star Wars” by Senator Edward Kennedy) would safeguard Americans by developing a space-based anti-missile system to destroy incoming nuclear missiles. Most scientists doubted its technical feasibility, comparing it to using one speeding bullet to destroy another speeding bullet. Critics also pointed out that development of such a system would simply end up encouraging hostile nations to build more missiles to overwhelm it or, if they wanted to avoid the additional cost, to use decoys to confuse it. In addition, it would create a false sense of security.

Although “Star Wars” was never built, the fantastic dream of a missile shield took hold in Congress, which began to pour billions of dollars into variants of this program. And, today, more than thirty years later, the United States still lacks an effective missile defense system. The U.S. government, however, ignoring this dismal record, continues to lavish vast resources on this unworkable program, which has already cost American taxpayers over $180 billion.

One of the major components of the missile defense program is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. Better known as GMD, it is designed to use ground-based “kill-vehicles” to destroy incoming nuclear missiles by colliding with them. In 2004, before any indication that GMD would work, President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of its interceptors. Today, there are four located at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and 26 at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and the Obama administration has given orders to increase the total to 44 by the end of 2017. The GMD cost thus far is $40 billion.

All of this might be viewed as water under the bridge―or perhaps water down the drain―were it not for the fact that a third GMD site is now being considered. Military contractors are ferociously lobbying for it, communities in New York, Ohio, and Michigan are actively competing for it and, given long-time Republican enthusiasm for missile defense, this expansion seems very likely to be implemented by the Trump administration. The cost? An additional $4 billion.

Is this a good investment? GMD, it should be noted, was designed to defend against a nuclear attack by Iran or North Korea. But, thanks to the Iran nuclear agreement, its nuclear program is frozen until 2030 or later. North Korea is also not a nuclear threat to the United States, for it does not possess long-range missiles. Of 14 North Korean missiles tested during 2016, some failed to clear the launch pad while others traveled distances ranging from 19 miles to 620 miles. Naturally, as a small-scale system, GMD would be of no value against Russia’s enormous nuclear arsenal.

In fact, at this point GMD is of no value against anything. Thus far, the Pentagon has conducted 17 tests of GMD interceptors since 1999―all in conditions that should produce success. In a situation quite unlike armed combat, the people conducting the tests knew the speed, location, and trajectory of the mock enemy missiles ahead of time, as well as when they would be launched. Nevertheless, the GMD system failed the tests eight times―a 47 percent failure rate.

Nor has the GMD test record been improving in recent years. Quite the contrary. GMD has failed six of its last 10 tests and three of its last four. In mid-2016, a report written by three physicists and released by the Union of Concerned Scientists declared that the GMD system is “simply unable to protect the U.S. public.” Indeed, they concluded, “the system is not even on a path to achieve a useful ability” to do so.

Why, then, despite the enormous cost and the lack of useful results over many years, is this project continuing? One factor is clearly the U.S. fear of hostile governments. Beyond this, however, as David Willman―a journalist who has done extensive investigations of GMD―has reported, lies “the muscle wielded in Washington by major defense contractors, which have billions of dollars of revenue at stake.” Three of them, in fact―Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman―donated $40.5 million to congressional campaign funds from 2003 through October 2016.

GMD “will not work,” U.S. Representative John Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Willman. “Nevertheless, the momentum of the fear, the momentum of the investments, the momentum of the industry” carry it forward.

A key factor keeping billions of U.S. tax dollars flowing to this ill-conceived project is the desperation of declining American communities, anxious to attract the jobs a GMD installation would provide. The three communities vying to house the third GMD site are all in the hard-hit Rust Belt, and their public officials are eager to secure it. “Our community has been dying a little bit at a time,” an Ohio mayor explained. “So we’re hoping that the [local] site is selected.”

But if the only good reason for missile defense is that it provides a jobs program, why not invest those billions of dollars in jobs doing useful things? Why not invest in factories turning out solar and wind power components, high-speed rail cars, and inexpensive medicines? Why not invest in health care clinics, day care centers, libraries, schools, job-training facilities, community centers, concert halls, bridges, roads, inexpensive housing, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes?

This country has made useful investments before. With the political will, it could do so again.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark? An earlier version of this article was posted to the History News Network.

The Great American “Welcoming” Break-Out: What’s Not to Like?

By Jerry Lembcke

My hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts is dealing with the sanctuary city issue. Officially, Worcester is not a sanctuary city but its Mayor, Joe Petty, has declared that it will not cooperate with federal law enforcement efforts to identify undocumented residents. One disgruntled city counselor, aching for a fight, is demanding that the city either formalize the Mayor’s position or get in step with federal practice; other council members, some openly supportive of the Mayor, seem content to leave the matter as is.

A February 1 rally at city hall turned out one of the largest public demonstrations I’ve seen here in twenty-five years. Despite the 6:00 pm darkness, 20 degree temperature, and falling wet snow, a thousand-plus people voiced their support for the mayor, loudly and stridently announcing that Worcester welcomes immigrants, refugees, and Muslims—Worcester is a “Welcoming City” shouted speaker after speaker.

Placards reading “Welcome Immigrants”; “We are all Immigrants”; “No Hate, No Fear, Everyone is Welcome Here”; and “Who would Jesus Deport” speckled City Hall Plaza. Many of the signs had American flag images or phrases associating Worcester with the best of America’s tradition of being a “welcoming” nation.

I went to the rally generally supportive of the Mayor trying to do the right thing, and in solidarity with my immigrant friends. My mood began souring when the first speaker invoked Worcester’s revolutionary legacy as the site of a first-reading of the Declaration of Independence. Wait a minute, I wondered, what’s that connection? Before I sorted through the issues of conquest and the genocide of indigenous people underway in the 18th century, that he seemed to have glossed over, he confected something about the first Thanksgiving that seemed (at my distance from the podium) to imply that it’s a holiday celebrating a great American tradition: welcoming immigrants.

As it progressed, much else in the rally was discordant with my sense of history, politics and political culture. There were numerous invocations of Christian religion—as in “welcoming” is the Christian way-to-be—with no recognition of the thirteenth-century Crusades against Islam as a legacy in the politics of the present. One speaker feared the besmirching of Worcester’s reputation as a City on the Hill were it not to welcome all who come. Another, channeling the old IWW slogan that an-injury-to-one-is-an- injury-to- all, declared that “A Ban on One Religion is a Ban on All Religions.” Hmm, I thought, banning all religions—how about that?

With the weekly city council meeting set to begin at 7:00, the assembly pressed into the building to pack the hallways in support of the Mayor who would uphold Worcester’s reputation as a city that welcomes everyone. My sense of their being something off-key about the event was additionally confirmed when a trumpet player standing high on the stone abutment to the City Hall entrance began playing the Star Spangled Banner—and then repeated it as the crowd moved slowly into the building. Standing now with toes and fingers that felt like icicles, I commented to the man next to me that I usually did not stand for the national anthem—with no sign from him that he got the sarcasm.

Something off-key, but what was it? It wasn’t until thawing-out that I remembered Yen Le Espiritu’s 2014 book Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees in which she calls-out the narcissism threading ways that Americans remember their wars. Using the war in Vietnam as a case study, she reassessed the “refugee” narrative of migrants’ resettlement in the United States. Viewing them as refugees, she argues, extends into the present the mythology that the ten-year U.S. military presence in Vietnam was a response to the fledgling nation’s request of assistance in repelling the foreign aggression of communism. In that narrative, the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 was a noble “rescue” mission by Americans to “save” helpless South Vietnamese from the communists. Framed that way, she says, the story of Vietnamese Americans is really code for the heroic altruism of Americans—a story-line she rejects.

Body Counts provides a template to help interpret events like that in Worcester that are being staged throughout the country. We are cast in these demonstrations as the principle actors, the welcoming good-people, hierarchically positioned as the providers and protectors for refugeed-subordinates subject to our discretionary goodwill. The script elides our previous role as participants—and it is a democracy in which we participate, a fact the same narrative proclaims—in the foreign and military policies that created the refugees in the first place. Most gratingly, the good-democrats, as cast in the performance as refugee-friendly humanitarians, are often the very politicians who marched lockstep with their party’s neoliberal regime-change policies that tossed millions of people into the streams of global migration. Can we really not see through their theatrics?

And ala the Vietnam case, the present story-line makes no distinction between the migrants displaced by the U.S. invasion, and the local mercenaries who served the occupation forces as flunky translators and informants. When the helicopters lifted off for the last time from Saigon in 1975, they carried mostly the comprador South Vietnamese who had sold themselves to the Americans—a fact obscured in the popular 2015 film Last Days in Vietnam. Now, we see the crocodile tears of liberal democrats attacking the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee character of the Trump administration as it, sniff, sniff, abandons the Iraqis and Afghanis who were bribed, err, promised eventual passage to the U.S. in return for their services.

The “militarized refugees” in Espiritu’s title refers to their use as props in pro-war propaganda, which is to say that even mere immigrants imaged as refugees help demonize the parties said to be responsible for their displacement making them targets of additional U.S. military strikes—a course leading to more refugees, of course. More perniciously, the sympathy for refugees that often translates into a righteous anger for their mistreatment that gets redirected from the Euro-American centers of power—which are, after all, viewed as refugee-rescuers in Espiritu’s decoding of the refugee narrative—to the post-colonial settings where it can only inflame the conflicts.

The instinct to welcome immigrants and refugees is a good one but the welcomings now underway across the land fit perfectly into the pattern of easily-exploited humanism described by Espiritu. The anti-war movement needs to approach the immigration issue more politically with a tactical approach designed to enhance its capacity to end U.S. wars of expansion and occupation that generate refugees—how does that rethinking begin?

Jerry Lembcke is Associate Professor of Sociology at College of Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of VietnamCNN’s Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth and more recently Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. He can be reached at jlembcke@holycross.edu

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams.

A Peace Agenda for the New Administration

By Lawrence Wittner

The looming advent of the Trump administration in Washington threatens to worsen an already deeply troubling international situation. Bitter wars are raging, tens of millions of refugees have taken flight, relations among the great powers are deteriorating, and a new nuclear arms race is underway. Resources that could be used to fight unemployment, poverty, and climate change are being lavished on the military might of nations around the world―$1.7 trillion in 2015 alone. The United States accounts for 36 percent of that global total.

Given this grim reality, let us consider an alternative agenda for the new administration―an agenda for peace.

One key ingredient is improving U.S. relations with Russia and China. This is not an easy task, for these countries are governed by brutal regimes that seem to believe (much like many politicians in the United States) that a display of military force remains a useful way to deal with other nations. Even so, the U.S. government has managed to work out live-and-let-live relationships with their Soviet and Chinese predecessors―some of which were considerably more bellicose―and should be able to do so again. After all, the three countries have a good deal to gain by improving their relations. This includes not only avoiding a catastrophic nuclear war, but reducing their spending on useless, vastly expensive weapons systems and cooperating on issues in which they have a common interest: countering terrorism; halting the international drug trade; and battling climate change.

It is not hard to imagine compromise settlements of their recent conflicts. Behind the hard line Russia has taken in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea and military meddling in what’s left of that country, lies NATO’s expansion eastward to Russia’s borders. Why not show a willingness to halt that expansion in exchange for a Russian agreement to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and other nations in Russia’s vicinity? Similarly, when dealing with the issue of war-torn Syria, why not abandon the U.S. government’s demand for the ouster of Assad and back a UN-negotiated peace settlement for that country? The U.S. government’s growing dispute with China over the future of islands in the South China Sea also seems soluble, perhaps within a regional security framework.

The three nations could avoid a very dangerous arms race and, at the same time, cut their military costs substantially by agreeing to reduce their military expenditures by a fixed percentage (for example, 10 percent) per year for a fixed period. This “peace race” would allow them to retain their current military balance and devote the savings to more useful items in their budgets.

A second key ingredient in a peace agenda is moving forward with nuclear arms control and disarmament. With over 15,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of nine nations, including 7,300 held by Russia and 7,100 by the United States, the world is living on the edge of nuclear annihilation.

Although the Kremlin does not seem interested right now in signing further nuclear disarmament agreements, progress could be made in other ways. The President could use his executive authority to halt the current $1 trillion nuclear “modernization” program, take U.S. nuclear weapons off alert, declare a “no first use” policy for U.S. nuclear weapons, and make significant reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. An estimated 2,000 U.S. nuclear warheads are currently deployed and ready for action around the world, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff have concluded that only 1,000 are necessary. Why not cut back to that level?

The new administration could even engage in international negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Peace and disarmament organizations have pushed for the opening of such treaty negotiations for years and, this October, the UN General Assembly rewarded their efforts by passing a resolution to begin negotiations in 2017. Why not participate in them?

A third key ingredient in a peace agenda is drawing upon the United Nations to handle international conflicts. The United Nations was founded in 1945 in the hope of ending the practice of powerful countries using their military might to bludgeon other countries into accepting what the powerful regarded as their national interests. National security was to be replaced by international security, thereby reducing aggression and military intervention by individual nations. Critics of the United Nations have argued that it is weak and ineffectual along these lines and, therefore, should be abandoned―except, perhaps, for its humanitarian programs. But, instead of abandoning the United Nations, how about strengthening it?

There are numerous ways to accomplish this. These include eliminating the veto in the Security Council, establishing a weighted voting system in the General Assembly, and giving General Assembly decisions the force of international law. Two other mechanisms, often discussed but not yet implemented, are creating an independent funding mechanism (such as an international financial transactions tax) for UN operations and establishing a permanent, all-volunteer UN rapid deployment force under UN jurisdiction that could act to prevent crimes against humanity.

Of course, at the moment, little, if any, of this peace agenda seems likely to become U.S. government policy. Donald Trump has promised a substantial increase in U.S. military spending, and his new administration will be heavily stocked with officials who take a hardline approach to world affairs.

Even so, when it comes to peace, the American public has sometimes been remarkably active―and effective. In January 1981, when the Reagan administration arrived in Washington, it championed an ultra-hawkish agenda, highlighted by a major nuclear weapons buildup and loose talk of waging and winning a nuclear war. Ultimately, though, an upsurge of popular opposition forced a complete turnabout in administration policy, with Reagan joining the march toward a nuclear-free world and an end to the Cold War. Change is always possible―if enough people demand it.

[Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). A different version of this article appeared recently in the magazine Democratic Left.]

Call for Papers – Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance, and Civil Liberties in World War I through Today

During this year’s centennial of the U.S. entrance into World War I, the Peace History Society is cosponsoring a symposium dedicated to “the muted voices of those who resisted the Great War and the implications of these stories for today.” Entitled “Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance, and Civil Liberties in World War I through Today,” the symposium will be held from October 19-22 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Those interested in attending or participating can check out the full call for papers online or check out the following flyer.

Interested participants can send a 1-page proposal focused on the theme of the conference by March 20, 2017 to John D. Roth at johndr@goshen.edu. For more information, contact Andrew Bolton at abolton@cofchrist.org.

Teaching Peace and Ethical Memory with Voices of Vietnam

By Patrick Chura, University of Akron

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a black granite wall listing the names of all 58,286 American war dead, is 150 yards long; if a similar monument were built with the same density of names listing the three million Vietnamese who died in the same war, that wall would be four and a half miles long. The beautifully designed Veterans Memorial in Washington—a place of reflection and reckoning about a national atrocity—speaks profoundly to Americans, insisting that the United States search its conscience and confront the truth about itself. The fact that it does not acknowledge the Vietnamese is not surprising, but it reminds us that remembering only “one’s own” as narrowly defined by national borders leaves room for more cosmopolitan forms of memory.

During a five-week Fulbright lecturing grant at Ho Chi Minh City Open University in May-June 2016, I taught a course on American Literature of the Vietnam War for 22 Vietnamese undergraduates. In the first stage of our work, we read and discussed American literature and music. (The students loved Pete Seeger, by the way.) The second stage of the course shifted the focus, requiring the students to conduct oral history interviews with parents, grandparents or other Vietnamese who remembered the war, and to translate those interviews into English. These interviews were used immediately in the final stage of the class: the creation and performance of an oral history “memory play” about the conflict referred to in Vietnamese history books as The American War.

Realizing that this plan asked a lot of the students, I devised a short rationale to provide clarity and motivation (for them and for me), as we began. After holding up a copy of Viet Than Nguyen’s recent study, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of the War and explaining that Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American whose novel The Sympathizer had just won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I recited a statement I had silently rehearsed a few days earlier on the flight from Hong Kong to Saigon: “Nguyen says that Ethical Memory of war remembers one’s own, but does not fail to remember others as well,” I said. “This course asks you to remember others—Americans. It also asks you to remember your own—Vietnamese—in order to help Americans remember others.”

The play we made together, Voices of Vietnam, in War and Peace, is the product of their interviews and translations, and my editing and scripting. The play promotes Ethical Memory by speaking the truths of the Vietnamese people while evoking the humanity, and inhumanity, of soldiers and civilians on all sides of the conflict. It was performed in June 2016 in an on-campus auditorium at Ho Chi Minh City Open University, using a minimal set and simple staging, by student-actors who had been rehearsing for only a few days.

At the opening of the play, each student carried a single white flower onstage and placed it in a vase that remained in view throughout the performance. The six scenes that followed offered perspectives perhaps unfamiliar to Americans, describing viewpoints that have not been acknowledged by the English-speaking “memory industry” epitomized in American war films. Voices heard include those of a Vietnamese draft resister, a female doctor who worked for the Viet Cong, and a grandmother who kept books for the American military at the Saigon airport from 1956 until 1973. Voices of Vietnam explores striking cultural differences but also confirms that the prevailing American view of the war—a political and moral failure that left a young generation scarred and stripped of illusions—is largely shared by the Vietnamese.

At the end of the play, the students retrieved their flowers, presented them to an invited guest and led that guest forward. I gave this explanation of the play’s Epilogue: “You have been listening to the students speak your voices, the voices of Vietnamese who remember the war. Now you will speak the students’ voices. Please don’t be shy about coming up on stage.” As their own words became our text, I could see pride on the students’ faces. When they said, “This is my voice,” there was strong emotion, made stronger by the fact that speaking out is still closely monitored in Vietnam. Also lending power were the words themselves, the student-written “appeals to ethical memory.” Here is a sample of those appeals; words about war from Vietnamese 20-year-olds:

Thảo Quy: I did not comprehend the war until I talked to my parents about it. Its brutality is beyond imagination. There are still misunderstandings and untold stories. War has no heroes and no right side. War is wrong. War does not bring peace. The young must understand so as not to repeat. Silence explains nothing.

Le Thanh Tan: The husbands, wives, fathers, sons and daughters who lie beneath us can’t rise again to tell untold stories. But we can find them again in your voices, your stories. Some now want to go to war again; both the young and the old can be childish and naïve. So open your hearts and tell us your stories.

Hồng Loan: War is loss—friends, family, dream, and hopes. We are still affected after 41 years. Agent Orange victims suffer and leftover bombs have killed thousands. Teach the young the value of human life. Whether you are soldiers or farmers, from North or South, Vietnamese or American, we need to hear your voices, for a better future.

Gia Hân: Why did the U.S. fight here? They killed many, including my grandfather, and the consequences of dioxin remain. My father’s house was burned 3 times by bombs. My grandparents had nowhere to turn, they were poor and hungry. History books are not enough. Talk to your elders. Sympathize with them. Problems aren’t solved by fighting but by talking.

Watching the students perform and seeing the audience captivated by how openly they were speaking remains my favorite Vietnam memory. I was grateful to the students for stepping out of their comfort zone to do something in an academic setting that went beyond what they thought was possible. I had told the Vietnamese students that their play would “help Americans remember others,” which meant that U.S. students would perform it also. When some of my Akron undergraduates came down with acute cases of stage fright, I used the bravery of the Vietnamese students as motivation.

We performed the play in Akron on November 9. In a discussion with the audience afterward, someone asked the cast how it felt to speak the voices of Vietnam. Several students said that the experience was “eye-opening.” One remarked thoughtfully, “When you have to present someone else’s story, someone else’s feeling, there is a seriousness to it.” Another said, “This — performing this play — has been a way for us to go back and trace a dark part in our nation’s history and also grow more empathy.” I shared these responses by email with a Vietnamese colleague I’d met during my stay in Ho Chi Minh City. He wrote back, “I’m very moved to learn that the U.S students found performing Voices of Vietnam ‘eye-opening’ and that is has developed a mutual understanding between seemingly old enemies.”

A key defining trait of oral history is how effectively it countermands state-sponsored narratives that glorify war. At our June 2 performance in Vietnam, an audience member stopped me during intermission. “Do you know what you’re doing is strictly forbidden in this country?” he asked. Then he said that the play wasn’t “true.” I said something like, “It’s the truth of the people affected by the war. All we’re claiming to do is to express what people said, so it’s automatically the truth. We’re speaking the words of people interviewed and the play is about what they said.” That automatic truth, I think, is what Viet Thanh Nguyen has in mind when he writes, “telling family war stories . . . is an important way to treat the disorder of our military-industrial complex.”

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Image courtesy of Patrick Chura

Perhaps projects of this type can help students see history from another angle and teach peace for the future. Fundamentally about words, oral history plays embrace simple staging and are adaptable to groups of almost any size and composition. Young people may speak the voices of the elderly, males may speak female voices and vice versa. In our production, a Vietnamese grandmother was played successfully by a young man of 19. By allowing students to imaginatively inhabit the Other—especially those of differing ethnicities, nationalities, gender identities and age groups—oral history readings foster social awareness and cultural sensitivity.

Educators who are interested in using Voices of Vietnam in the classroom may write me for a copy at jpc@uakron.edu.

The Future of Peace under Trump

Doug Rossinow

No one knows what the foreign policy of President Donald J. Trump holds in store for the world. Who could have predicted the course of US foreign policy under Barack Obama or George W. Bush? Obama, it is true, went far toward fulfilling his pledge to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq, and he has scaled down the US war in Afghanistan as well (something he did not promise to do in 2008). He has failed, however, to consistently press for a closure of the extra-constitutional Guantánamo Bay detention facility for accused terrorists. The persistence of the US military presence in Iraq is largely due to the rise of Daesh, which Obama did not anticipate and which, basically, is traceable to Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. That disaster, of course, was predicted by exactly no one in 2000, and it was only made possible by the shocking 9/11 attacks on America.

In light of this recent history, we can only expect the unexpected from foreign affairs during the coming four years.

From a peace perspective, the campaign of 2016 was rather dismal. The Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, was so hawkish — enamored of Henry Kissinger and proud of pressing President Obama toward armed intervention in Libya — that she allowed a right-wing nationalist, in the person of Trump, to campaign as the peace candidate. Trump cogently criticized the policy of armed overthrow of Middle Eastern dictatorships. Trump pledged to maintain Obama’s resistance to deeper US military intervention in the Syrian civil war. Trump astounded everyone by declaring, before the South Carolina Republican primary no less, that Bush had deceived the country by waging war against Iraq based on phony claims about weapons of mass destruction. He declared that the US would be better off with Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi still in power. The GOP voters of the Palmetto State rewarded Trump’s eerie echo of standard peace movement talking points with victory. Once he secured the Republican nomination, Trump had the antiwar lane all to himself. The corrosive effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the authority of America’s customary political elites have been more profound and widespread than many analysts understand. The collapse of confidence in US leadership has opened a path to power for a business tycoon who styles himself an outsider. Activists will mobilize to protest abuses of Americans’ rights and of the planet in the coming years. Whether they will need to protest new US wars is something we cannot know. If Trump turns his back on his antiwar campaign, he will spurn not only peace activists, but many who supported him as well. In that event, the peace movement will do well to reach out to disaffected Trump voters who inhabit the America where the wars of our century have taken a terrible toll.

Doug Rossinow is a former president of the Peace History Society and author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s. He currently writes from Oslo, Norway

Peace in the Trump Era

With Donald Trump poised to assume the presidency of the United States, the editors of Peace & Change have decided to inaugurate a series dedicated to examining the implications of a Trump presidency. To aid us in this task, we have asked influential scholars to weigh in with their reactions, reflections, and analysis of the impending Trump era. These experts, from their unique scholarly and personal perspectives, will help to illuminate the multiple ways in which a Trump presidency might influence the prospects for peace. This series of guest posts will also raise new questions, point to emerging areas of inquiry, and suggest possibilities for scholars and activists to influence the discourse in the coming years. Ultimately, it is important that we dialogue about the future of peace, peace scholarship, activism, and the uncertainties of a Trump presidency.

We will kick off the series tomorrow morning with a post from Doug Rossinow, former president of the Peace History Society and author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s.

Call for Papers – “Peace Initiatives and the Urban Space”

By Susanne Schregel, University of Cologne

There are many answers to why studying the history of peace and conflict resolution is so rewarding, and one of them is the diversity of actions and strategies that have been employed to foster peace, disarmament and reconciliation. In my scholarly work, I have been particularly interested in the history of micro-political strategies and grassroots actions, above all the spatial strategies that were used to mobilise for peace and achieve conflict resolution. So I am enthusiastic that the upcoming Annual Conference of the German Society for Historical Research on Peace and Conflict will be devoted to “Peace Initiatives and the Urban Space in the long 20th century.” The event, which will take place in Berlin in September 2017, will explore the past and present of initiatives campaigning for nonviolence, disarmament, and peace from an urban point of view.

With this conference, the Society for Historical Peace and Conflict Research aims to strengthen the argument that cities and towns operate as more than just places where activities for peace and disarmament can take place. Concrete urban settings, rather, serve as objects of reflection and become sources for negotiations concerning peace, reconciliation, and nonviolence in people’s everyday lives.

The conference will investigate the dynamic between urban space and initiatives for peace and disarmament that has emerged throughout the long 20th century and continues into the present. It will explore how towns and cities have assumed the role of a counterforce against tendencies towards militarisation, destruction, and violence, thereby aiming to widen and enlarge our perspective on creating peace in relation to urban life and urban space.

We invite contributions from scholars across a broad range of disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, peace and conflict studies, geography, urban studies, architecture, religious studies, anthropology, and media studies.

Topics for papers include, but are not limited to:

Grassroots Urban Peace Activism and Its Local/Global Interconnections. As a first analytical focus, we invite contributions discussing the rich history of grassroots urban peace initiatives and peace activism in towns and cities. When, where, and how did urban grassroots peace initiatives emerge and evolve, and in which spatial interrelations and broader organisational frameworks did these activities develop? In which ways were such activities backed by cities’ ‘peace’ traditions, and how did these traditions contribute to interpretations of both local and national history?

Peace and Disarmament in Official City Policies. As a second analytical focus, we encourage contributions exploring how local municipal officials and elected bodies have been involved in urban actions for peace – for instance via town twinning and city networks, through adopting peace resolutions, or in local nuclear-free zone initiatives. Where, when, and why did urban representatives and urban elected bodies engage in ‘local foreign policy’ initiatives? Which roles did prominent local elected officials assume in such endeavours, for instance in groups as ‘Mayors for Peace’? How was promoting peace and disarmament localized via initiatives such as the establishment of peace awards?

Peace and the Symbolism of Urban Geographies. As a further strand of discussion, we suggest investigating interconnections between the design of concrete urban spaces, and discussions about peace, nonviolence, antimilitarism, and disarmament. How did debates about peace, reconciliation, and nonviolence engage with the symbolism of urban geographies – for instance in discussions about street naming or monument erection and in practices such as peace garden design or tree planting ceremonies? How did material interventions into the urban space negotiate local cultures of remembrance, and how did they draw on and engage relics and memories of urban violence and wartime destructions? How did and how does architecture reflect themes of peace and reconciliation in concrete urban settings – be it with famous buildings such as the Peace Palace in The Hague or more mundane settings that serve everyday purposes?

Cultures, Imagination, and Aesthetics of Peace. How did initiatives try to foster a local culture for peace, for instance via the organisation of cultural events or the establishment of local peace museums? How do imaginations and aesthetics of peace look when viewed through the lens of urban studies? Which kinds of media were used in urban initiatives for peace and disarmament, and how did specific media approaches shape the relation between peace and the city? How do predominantly visual media such as photography and film reflect on the interconnections between peace and the city? How are relations among cities, peace, and conflict discussed in art, literature, poetry, and music?

‘Peace Cities.’ Finally, we invite presenters to offer general and theoretical reflections on notions and concepts of the relation between towns and cities, peace and conflict. Is there such a thing as ‘peace cities’ or ‘cities of peace’, and if so, in what sense? How can we relate this mode of characterising cities and towns to modes of describing the urban that focus on war and conflict (for instance the ‘postmortem city’, the ‘post-catastrophic city’, or the ‘Cold War city’)?

These questions are meant to be interpreted broadly, and applicants are encouraged to submit brief proposals for papers addressing the conference’s title themes. If you are interested in participating, please send an abstract of 200–300 words and a short biographical note to akhf@mail.de by January 15, 2017.

There is no conference fee, and we intend to cover all accommodation costs and most meals, pending the availability of funds. We also offer travel grants to participating scholars, particularly to those without institutional resources to cover travel expenses.

Susanne Schregel is the chairperson of the German Society for Historical Research on Peace and Conflict. She is fascinated by the diversity of grassroots mobilisation for peace and disarmament and particularly interested in aspects of place, space and scale in contemporary history. Her newest articles include ‘Nuclear War and the City. Perspectives on Municipal Interventions in Defence (Great Britain, New Zealand, West Germany, USA, 1980–1985),’ in: Urban History 42 (2015) n. 4, p. 564–583; ‘Global Micropolitics. Toward a Transnational History of Nuclear Free Zones,’ in: Eckart Conze/Martin Klimke/Jeremy Varon (eds.), Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear and the Cold War of the 1980s (Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 206–226. Contact at s.schregel@uni-koeln.de; http://www.akhf.de

Photo: Daniel Gerster, “Berlin Alexanderplatz”

Where is Standing Rock?

By Shelley E. Rose

It’s not where you think it is.

Like many, I have been following the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the establishment of the Sacred Stone Camp in April 2016. (see this helpful timeline from Mother Jones) When I signed into Facebook this morning, my feed was flooded with friends and colleagues checking in at Standing Rock, ND.

My first thought: I’ve definitely missed something big.

It soon became clear that my contacts had not all traveled to North Dakota overnight. So what changed in the movement? The exact origins of this virtual campaign remain unclear, but Kim LaCapria of Snopes.com reports that it did not originate with the Sacred Stone Camp. Regardless of the campaign’s origins, No-DAPL supporters checking-in on Facebook occupy the growing virtual space of Standing Rock: harnessing the power of social media and bringing the physical confrontation to the digital realm. Here I again ask the question: Where is Standing Rock?

The Standing Rock movement is intricately tied to both the physical location of the Sacred Stone Camp and virtual locations for protest on social media, including the Standing Rock Facebook page and #NoDAPL tag. As a historian interested in space as a lens into protest movement histories (ok, borderline obsessed), this is an excellent example of how protests and the spaces they occupy are intimately linked, and most often, deliberately chosen. While a single blog post cannot provide a thorough analysis of protest spaces, here I offer three reasons why the Standing Rock locations matter.

1. Location-based Protest and Communities of Practice

Shared physical spaces bring individuals together around a common issue and establish common narratives in ways that cannot be discounted in the study of protest movements. Spatial proximity fosters a heightened sense of community, profoundly impacting individual activists long after they leave the protest site. Huffington Post’s Katie Scarlett Brandt describes this feeling well in her recent article “I am a White Person Who Went to Standing Rock. This is What I Learned.” Brandt’s thick description of sleeping outside at the camp, waking up to the mundane sounds of her fellow activists starting their day, and being embedded in the routine of the movement all supports the role of shared space in the creation of activist communities of practice. As a scholar, I rely on Sally McConnell-Ginet and Penelope Eckert’s definition of communities of practice as “an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in an endeavor. Ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, values and power relations- in short, practices- emerge in the course of this mutual endeavor.” [1] What is most important about communities of practice, is that their boundaries remain undefined, limited only by the scope of interaction and the spaces occupied by individual members. Transferred as a lens into the No DAPL protests, the physical space of the Sacred Stone Camp brings individuals together around a common issue and establishes common narratives for protest. This type of space-based solidarity can also be seen in the #NoTAV movement as documented by political scientists Donatella della Porta, Maria Fabbri and Gianni Piazza.[2]

2. Isn’t this just hashtag activism?

Not exactly. Standing Rock is a critical moment for reexamining the role of social media in protest movements. As in the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring protests, social media outlets provide a key means of communication for activists to find the physical locations of the movement. In fact, social media posts were among the first catalysts for such a diverse group of Native Americans and their supporters to gather in North Dakota. (See this September 2016 article by Jack Healy). Yet even earlier today I read social media posts questioning the real-world impact of checking-in at Standing Rock. The general conclusion seems to be that it helps just to “do something” to raise awareness.

These place-based solidarity posts on Facebook beginning on October 30 are what make the Standing Rock case different, and marks a new direction in the relationship between social media and protest events. Each “check- in” at Standing Rock represents an exercise of power from a growing activist community of practice in the social media world. This is not a standalone hashtag, social media activists checked-in with the belief that they could disrupt the perceived “geo-targeting” power of law enforcement and security forces over No-DAPL activists. In short, virtual interventions might physically protect activists. Those occupying “virtual” Standing Rock, regardless of the actual impact on law enforcement, are expanding the community of practice, drawn to a sense of solidarity fostered by Standing Rock as a physical protest space, and compelling networks of virtual activists to create a digital extension of that location.

3. Is “virtual” Standing Rock still Standing Rock?

Standing Rock is not just a space for protest, it is a place. Geographers understand place as space inscribed with meaning. Standing Rock has a long place history, grounded in the struggles between the Native Americans and the US government. As of 2016, it also has a place history as a site of protest against the DAPL. In the last 24 hours, I argue, “virtual” Standing Rock has also become a place. It is intimately tied to the physical space in North Dakota, and yet stands on its own as a virtual space, occupied for a specific purpose by a diverse group of people coming together around a common cause. It is not sponsored by any established organization, but formed organically and has had 198,267 visits by the time of this writing. Historian David Glassberg argues that spaces anchor individuals in their “sense of history” and a common past. [3] In this case, the occupation of both physical and virtual Standing Rock has engaged individuals in an activist community of practice and the creation of place through protest.

 
Shelley E. Rose (@shelleyerose) is Assistant Professor of History and Director of Social Studies at Cleveland State University. She is currently working on her book, Gender and the Politics of Peace: Cooperative Activism and Transnational Networks on the German Left, 1921-1983, and is a director of the Protest Spaces digital humanities project.

 
References:
1. Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet, “Think Practically and Look Locally: Language and Gender as Community-Based Practice” Annual Review of Anthropology 21 (1992): 464.
2. Donatella della Porta, Maria Fabbri and Gianni Piazza, “Putting Protest in Place: Contested and Liberated Spaces in Three Campaigns,” in Nicholls, et al., Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013).
3. David Glassberg, Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 6.

Peace History and U.S. Foreign Policy

Image courtesy of Roger Peace

Is it possible to cultivate a peace perspective while studying American wars? I think it is, if value-based questions are asked and a corresponding framework for analysis is offered.

The peacehistory-usfp.org website, which I am developing with the support of the Peace History Society and Historians Against the War, asks whether each foreign war fought by the United States was just and necessary. This is the entry point for critically evaluating U.S. wars and foreign policies.

The standards for evaluating wars are situated outside of Washington but within the real world. They are rooted in the developing moral architecture of international norms, including prohibitions against national aggression written into the Charter of the United Nations (1945), human rights guidelines as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and subsequent human rights treaties, and humanitarian laws governing the conduct of war as set forth in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Having taught many U.S. history survey courses at the community college level, including 35 “U.S. in the World” courses, I have struggled to find appropriate resources that offer alternative perspectives to the dominant nationalistic viewpoints that infuse undergraduate textbooks and popular websites. Wars are typically evaluated on the basis of whether American power and interests were advanced, with little concern for “just war” principles or the harm done to others.

The goal of the website is to fully examine every U.S. war and major foreign policy orientation over the course of 240 years. Thus far, four of the eighteen planned entries have been completed: War of 1812, U.S.-Mexican War, War of 1898 and U.S.-Filipino War, and Korean War. Each entry comprises a short book of 28,000-32,000 words (roughly 85-95 pages), supplemented with images.

I invite educators to utilize the website by assigning sections for student reading. Feedback is welcome. I also invite scholars to participate in developing new entries, whether by suggesting resources, creating outlines, writing sections, or reading drafts.
The website does not purport to reveal an “untold story,” but rather to parlay critical perspectives commonly found at higher levels of academia into accessible narratives for non-history majors and the general public (history majors will benefit as well). In the War of 1812 entry, for example, I relied on the authoritative accounts of historians Donald R. Hickey, Carl Benn, and Alan Taylor, experts on the subject, among others. The perspective put forth is “new” only in the sense that U.S. textbooks and popular history have privileged the official (Madison) administration viewpoint, minimizing or excluding British, Canadian, and Native American views, and treating dissenting Federalists and peace advocates as losers. It will nonetheless appear new to many.

Peace scholars have added much to our understanding of the role of peace movements and antiwar voices in policy debates and protests. The intent of the website is not to fashion the story around these movements and individuals, but to give them more prominence and highlight their critiques. Readers and students should become thoroughly familiar with the idea that the prospect of war has typically engendered intense debate and opposition, that U.S. leaders have often resorted to underhanded methods to push the nation into war, and that militant patriotism has been used to intimidate and silence antiwar voices.

Apart from historical entries, there are two other parts of the website that have yet to be developed. One is a subsection in “Resources” to be titled “For Educators,” which might include lesson plans and curricula/syllabi for courses. Another is the “Connections” section, which I envision as highlighting recent newspaper and website articles connecting past and present.

To take one example, the New York Times (9/7/16), in covering President Obama’s visit to Laos, reported that “the United States had dropped more than two million tons of bombs on this country during the height of the Vietnam War, more than it dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II.” Obama offered $30 million to help clean up the still-unexploded bombs, which “lie buried under fields and forests, killing and maiming thousands of children, farmers, and others who stumble on them.” The war has not ended for Laotians.

In the end, I hope that the website leads students and citizens to intelligently question both current and past U.S. foreign policies, and to consider alternative international arrangements that build on international cooperation, mutual security, and common problem-solving. More immediately, I hope it serves as an outreach vehicle for the Peace History Society and Historians Against the War.

 


Roger Peace earned his doctorate in American Foreign Relations from Florida State University and taught U.S. and world history courses for 17 years. Prior to teaching, he worked as a local peace organizer and foundation director for nearly two decades. He is the author of A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). Contact him at rcpeace3@embarqmail.com.