How About a Peace Race Instead of an Arms Race?

by Lawrence Wittner

In late April, the highly-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that, in 2018, world military expenditures rose to a record $1.82 trillion.  The biggest military spender by far was the United States, which increased its military budget by nearly 5 percent to $649 billion (36 percent of the global total). But most other nations also joined the race for bigger and better ways to destroy one another through war.

This situation represents a double tragedy.  First, in a world bristling with weapons of vast destructive power, it threatens the annihilation of the human race.  Second, as vast resources are poured into war and preparations for it, a host of other problems―poverty, environmental catastrophe, access to education and healthcare, and more―fail to be adequately addressed.

But these circumstances can be changed, as shown by past efforts to challenge runaway militarism.

During the late 1950s, the spiraling nuclear arms race, poverty in economically underdeveloped nations, and underfunded public services in the United States inspired considerable thought among socially-conscious Americans.  Seymour Melman, a professor of industrial engineering at Columbia University and a peace activist, responded by writing The Peace Race, a mass market paperback published in 1961.  The book argued that military spending was undermining the U.S. economy and other key aspects of American life, and that it should be replaced by a combination of economic aid abroad and increased public spending at home.

Melman’s popular book, and particularly its rhetoric about a “peace race,” quickly came to the attention of the new U.S. President, John F. Kennedy.  On September 25, 1961, dismayed by the Soviet Union’s recent revival of nuclear weapons testing, Kennedy used the occasion of his address to the United Nations to challenge the Russians “not to an arms race, but to a peace race.”  Warning that “mankind must put an end to war―or war will put an end to mankind,” he invited nations to “join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war.”

Kennedy’s “peace race” speech praised obliquely, but powerfully, what was the most ambitious plan for disarmament of the Cold War era:  the McCloy-Zorin Accords.  This historic US-USSR agreement, presented to the UN only five days before, outlined a detailed plan for “general and complete disarmament.” It provided for the abolition of national armed forces, the elimination of weapons stockpiles, and the discontinuance of military expenditures in a sequence of stages, each verified by an international disarmament organization before the next stage began.  During this process, disarmament progress would “be accompanied by measures to strengthen institutions for maintaining peace and the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.”  In December 1961, the McCloy-Zorin Accords were adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly.

Although the accelerating nuclear arms race―symbolized by Soviet and American nuclear testing―slowed the momentum toward disarmament provided by the McCloy-Zorin Accords and Kennedy’s “peace race” address, disarmament continued as a very live issue.  The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), America’s largest peace organization, publicly lauded Kennedy’s “peace race” speech and called for “the launching of a Peace Race” in which the two Cold War blocs joined “to end the arms race, contain their power within constructive bounds, and encourage peaceful social change.”

For its part, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, created by the Kennedy administration to address disarmament issues, drafted an official U.S. government proposal, Blueprint for the Peace Race, which Kennedy submitted to the United Nations on April 18, 1962.  Leading off with Kennedy’s challenge “not to an arms race, but to a peace race,” the proposal called for general and complete disarmament and proposed moving in verifiable steps toward that goal.

Nothing as sweeping as this followed, at least in part because much of the subsequent public attention and government energy went into curbing the nuclear arms race.  A central concern along these lines was nuclear weapons testing, an issue dealt with in 1963 by the Partial Test Ban Treaty, signed that August by the U.S., Soviet, and British governments.  In setting the stage for this treaty, Kennedy drew upon Norman Cousins, the co-chair of SANE, to serve as his intermediary with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.  Progress in containing the nuclear arms race continued with subsequent great power agreements, particularly the signing of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968.

As is often the case, modest reform measures undermine the drive for more thoroughgoing alternatives.  Certainly, this was true with respect to general and complete disarmament.  Peace activists, of course, continued to champion stronger measures.  Thus, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the occasion of his Nobel Peace Prize lecture in Oslo, on December 11, 1964, to declare:  “We must shift the arms race into a ‘peace race.’”  But, with important curbs on the nuclear arms race in place, much of the public and most government leaders turned to other issues.

Today, of course, we face not only an increasingly militarized world, but even a resumption of the nuclear arms race, as nuclear powers brazenly scrap nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties and threaten one another, as well as non-nuclear nations, with nuclear war.

Perhaps it’s time to revive the demand for more thoroughgoing global disarmament.  Why not wage a peace race instead of an arms race―one bringing an end to the immense dangers and vast waste of resources caused by massive preparations for war?  In the initial stage of this race, how about an immediate cut of 10 percent in every nation’s military budget, thus retaining the current military balance while freeing up $182 billion for the things that make life worth living?  As the past agreements of the U.S. and Soviet governments show us, it’s not at all hard to draw up a reasonable, acceptable plan providing for verification and enforcement.

All that’s lacking, it seems, is the will to act.

 

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This article was originally posted to History News Network

Reflections on International Peace: An Essay Series in Three Parts

by Sandra Simić

 

Part III – Common Heritage

 “Since wars begin in the minds of men (and women), it is in the minds of men (and women) that the defenses of peace must be constructed”, the UNESCO Constitution says.

Four centuries ago, in the heart of various beliefs – Hindu, Persian, Muslim, Christian – the emperor Akbar the Great gathered in his palace in Delhi philosophers, scholars, and mystics, in order to find together the core in which religions unite. (2) We may be inspired by such a noble initiative.

The vision of building instead of destroying the future together, by all members of the human family, must not be limited to rational science. Focusing on material globalization only is like building a house on sand. Spiritual globalization is needed as well, through a search for the common origin and a sense of shared humanity.

Opinions on whether religion is a cause of international conflicts vary. Some thinkers believe that religion is one of the interrelated factors causing conflict, while others believe that it is never the cause of the conflict. (3) Religion might also be hijacked for political purposes, presenting it erroneously as the primary reason for war, instead of economic or other interests.

Spiritual leaders are continually calling for peace. The Second Vatican Council renewed the Roman Catholic Church, a part of the process being the support for the international order, UN and human rights. (4) This support is most evident from the Pacem in Terris, a famous encyclical of His Holiness Pope John XXIII, which emphasizes in the point 61 that “any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force”. Further, it is noted in point 88 that some nations may have attained a superior degree of development, but this does not “entitle them to exert unjust political domination over other nations. It means that they have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress.”

When leaders focus on the relevant issues and create a positive context, things are starting to change. Sincerely positive global spirit uniting all cultures and religions together may be witnessed at the General Audience with His Holiness Pope Francis, who interestingly, took the name of the saint of peace.

In spite of dogmatic differences, we should seek to find the source which is the same for everyone and build togetherness from there. For example, The Golden Rule is worldwide accepted by all religions. (6) Reading its narrative through various religious traditions is illuminating, as the same idea is repeated over and over in different literary styles. Basically, it says that you should not do to others what you do not wish others do to yourself.

Focusing on shared values and common heritage might be further developed by establishing an organization which would serve the following purposes: connecting people and cultures physically and virtually, serve as a place where people could get accurate information about all religions, provide grants for artists promoting these values through books, movies, music, and visual arts, provide grants and resources for scientific research aimed at finding shared values and other noble ideas leading to this aim. A digital church might also be created, meaning a digital place where people from all over the globe can meet, discuss and share directly and in real time. Creating an appropriate setting for the expression of such ideas would make all the difference. Publishing and producing is a commercially driven business, meaning that it adapts itself to the market and follows trends. The prevailing themes are negative. This is why it is necessary to create a space where freedom of expression is not restricted to market trends, but it also opens possibilities for artists with an optimistic and positive vision of the future. Building relationships on shared values, while keeping cultural and religious differences as they enrich us. We are all on the same path of discovering life in its sophistication and beauty and every path is valuable.

Creating peace is possible. The positive context, organization and focus on shared values are necessary. It is also important being continually aware of the fine line between those who divide and those who connect people, especially when electing leaders. The old Latin phrase Acta, non verba (Actions, not words) teaches us that we should focus more on concrete results such as making peace deals which last or deciding not to send armed forces to war, instead of endorsing the elegant pacifistic rhetoric only.

It is unacceptable in the 21st century to judge someone on the basis of what she or he gained by birth, on the basis of something beyond their influence. It is particularly unacceptable to divide on the basis of religion. The path of every person towards spirituality merits respect. In Genesis 15:5, God promised Abraham/Ibrahim that He would give him as many children as there are stars in the sky. Looking at the sky, I believe Abraham/Ibrahim wanted to see that harmony and glow between his children. God made His promise. His descendants are Jewish, Christians and Muslims. It is upon us to build that harmony and not be misled by artificial worldly divisions.

By focusing on values we all share, instead of emphasizing differences, we shall build a more sophisticated and future-oriented culture.

References

  1. UNESCO Constitution.
  2. Mourad, Kenizé, „Tragom mrtve princeze“ (Croatian translation of the original title: „De la part de la princesse morte“), Znanje, 1989, p. 185. (vol.2.).
  3. Smock, David R. (eds.), “Interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding”, United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002, p. 127.
  4. O’Connell, Mary Ellen, “Belief in the Authority of International Law for Peace”, in: Justenhoven, Heinz-Gerhard, O’Connell, Mary Ellen (eds.), Peace through law: Reflections on Pacem in Terris from Philosophy, Law, Theology, and Political Science, 1. Edition 2016, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, p. 60.
  5. Pacem in terris, encyclical of Pope John XXIII on establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity, and liberty, April 11, 1963.
  6. Bowker, John, “World Religions”, Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2003 (revised edition published in 2003, first published in London in 1997), p. 208.

 

Sandra Simić, mag.iur., LLM, is a lawyer specialized in Public International Law and European Law (University of London, Queen Mary&University College London), with extensive professional experience in private (Attorney at Law) and public sector. This essay represents her personal opinion. She may be reached at: sandra_law@europe.com; SandraSimic©2018-2019.

The United States is First in War, But Trailing in Crucial Aspects of Modern Civilization

By Lawrence Wittner

Maybe those delirious crowds chanting “USA, USA” have got something.  When it comes to military power, the United States reigns supreme.  Newsweek reported in March 2018:  “The United States has the strongest military in the world,” with over 2 million military personnel and vast numbers of the most advanced nuclear missiles, military aircraft, warships, tanks, and other modern weapons of war.  Furthermore, as the New York Times noted, “the United States also has a global presence unlike any other nation, with about 200,000 active duty troops deployed in more than 170 countries.”  This presence includes some 800 overseas U.S. military bases.

In 2017 (the last year for which global figures are available), the U.S. government accounted for over a third of the world’s military expenditures―more than the next 7 highest-spending countries combined.  Not satisfied, however, President Trump and Congress pushed through a mammoth increase in the annual U.S. military budget in August 2018, raising it to $717 billion.  Maintaining the U.S. status as “No. 1” in war and war preparations comes at a very high price.

That price is not only paid in dollars—plus massive death and suffering in warfare―but in the impoverishment of other key sectors of American life.  After all, this lavish outlay on the military now constitutes about two-thirds of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending.  And these other sectors of American life are in big trouble.

Let’s consider education.  The gold standard for evaluation seems to be the Program for International Student Assessment of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which tests 15-year old students every few years.  The last test, which occurred in 2015 and involved 540,000 students in 72 nations and regions, found that U.S. students ranked 24th in reading, 25th in science, and 41st in mathematics.  When the scores in these three areas were combined, U.S. students ranked 31st―behind the students of Slovenia, Poland, Russia, and Vietnam.

The educational attainments among many other Americans are also dismal.  An estimated 30 million adult Americans cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level.  Literacy has different definitions and, for this reason among others, estimates vary about the level of illiteracy in the United States.  But one of the most favorable rankings of the United States for literacy places it in a tie with numerous other nations for 26th; the worst places it at 125th.

The U.S. healthcare system also fares poorly compared to that of other nations.  A 2017 study of healthcare systems in 11 advanced industrial countries by the Commonwealth Fund found that the United States ranked at the very bottom of the list.  Furthermore, numerous nations with far less “advanced” economies have superior healthcare systems to that of the United States.  According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. healthcare system ranks 37th among countries―behind that of Colombia, Cyprus, and Morocco.

Not surprisingly, American health is relatively poor.  The infant mortality rate in the United States is higher than in 54 other lands, including Belarus, Cuba, Greece, and French Polynesia.  According to the World Cancer Research Fund, the United States has the 5th highest cancer rate of the 50 countries it studied.  For the past few years, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, U.S. life expectancy has been declining and, today, the United States reportedly ranks 53rd among 100 nations in life expectancy.

Despite the fact that the United States is the world’s richest nation, it also has an unusually high level of poverty.  According to a 2017 UNICEF report, over 29 percent of American children live in impoverished circumstances, placing the United States 35th in childhood poverty among the 41 richest nations.  Indeed, the United States has a higher percentage of its people living in poverty (15.1 percent) than 41 other countries, including Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, and Sri Lanka.

Nor does the United States rate very well among nations on environmental issues.  According to the Environmental Performance Index, produced by Yale University and Columbia University in 2018, the United States placed 27th among the countries it ranked on environmental health and ecosystem vitality.  The Social Progress Index, another well-respected survey that rates countries on their environmental records, ranked the United States 36th in wastewater treatment, 39th in access to at least basic drinking water, and 73rd in greenhouse gas emissions.

Actually, the findings of the Social Progress Index are roughly the same as other evaluators in a broad range of areas.  Its 2018 report concluded that that the United States ranked 63rd in primary school enrollment, 61st in secondary school enrollment, 76th in access to quality education, 40th in child mortality rate, 62nd in maternity mortality rate, 36th in access to essential health services, 74th in access to quality healthcare, and 35th in life expectancy at age 60.  In addition, it rated the United States as 33rd in political killings and torture, 88th in homicide rate, 47th in political rights, and 67th in discrimination and violence against minorities.  All in all, there’s nothing here to cheer about.

Does the U.S. government’s priority for military spending explain, at least partially, the discrepancy between the worldwide preeminence of the U.S. armed forces and the feeble global standing of major American domestic institutions?  Back in April 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower pointed to their connection.  Addressing the American Society of Newspaper editors, he declared:  “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 not clothed.”  A militarized world “is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

People infatuated with military supremacy should give that some thought.

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)

This post originally appeared on Common Dreams

The Trump Administration Nuclear Weapons Policy Could Lead Us to Disaster

by Lawrence Wittner

In July 2017, by a vote of 122 to 1, with one abstention, nations from around the world attending a United Nations-sponsored conference in New York City voted to approve a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.  Although this Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons received little coverage in the mass media, its passage was a momentous event, capping decades of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements that, together, have reduced the world’s nuclear weapons arsenals by approximately 80 percent and have limited the danger of a catastrophic nuclear war.  The treaty prohibited all ratifying countries from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Curiously, though, despite official support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by almost two-thirds of the world’s nations, the Trump administration―like its counterparts in other nuclear-armed countries―regarded this historic measure as if it were being signed in a parallel, hostile universe.  As a result, the United States and the eight other nuclear powers boycotted the treaty negotiations, as well as the final vote.  Moreover, after the treaty was approved amid the tears, cheers, and applause of the UN delegates and observers, a joint statement issued by the UN ambassadors of the United States, Britain, and France declared that their countries would never become party to the international agreement.

One clear indication that the nuclear powers have no intention of dispensing with their nuclear arsenals is the nuclear weapons buildup that all of them are now engaged in, with the U.S. government in the lead.  Although the Trump administration inherited its nuclear weapons “modernization” program from its predecessor, that program―designed to provide new weapons for nuclear warfare, accompanied by upgraded or new facilities for their production―is constantly increasing in scope and cost. In October 2017, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the cost for the planned “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex over the next three decades had reached a staggering $1.2 trillion.  Thanks to the Trump administration’s plan to upgrade the three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad and build new cruise and ballistic missiles, the estimated cost of the U.S. nuclear buildup rose in February 2018 to $2 trillion.

In this context, the Trump administration has no interest in pursuing the nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, discussed or signed, that have characterized the administrations of all Democratic and Republican administrations since the dawn of the nuclear era.  Not only are no such agreements currently being negotiated, but in October 2018 the Trump administration, charging Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, announced a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from it.  Signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the treaty removed all medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe, established a cooperative relationship between the two nations that led to the end of the Cold War, and served subsequently as the cornerstone of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms controls.

Although some Allied leaders joined Trump in questioning Russian compliance with the treaty, most criticized the U.S. pullout, claiming that treaty problems could be solved through U.S.-Russian negotiations. Assailing the U.S. action, which portended a nuclear weapons buildup by both nations, a spokesperson for the European Union declared:  “The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability.”  Nevertheless, Trump, in his usual insouciant style, immediately announced that the U.S. government planned to increase its nuclear arsenal until other nations “come to their senses.”

Of course, as Daniel Ellsberg has noted in his book, The Doomsday Machine, nuclear weapons are meant to be used―either to bully other nations into submission or to wage a nuclear war.  Certainly, that is President Trump’s view of them, as indicated by his startling nuclear threats.  In August 2017, angered by North Korea’s nuclear missile progress and the belligerent statements of its leaders, Trump warned that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States” or “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  In January 2018, referring to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, Trump boasted provocatively that “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his.” Fortunately, largely thanks to the skillful diplomatic maneuvers of South Korean President Moon Jae-in―Trump’s threats of nuclear war against North Korea have recently ground to a halt, at least temporarily.

But they are now being redirected against Iran.  In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement with Iran that had been negotiated by the governments of the United States and other major nations. Designed to ensure that Iran did not develop nuclear weapons, the agreement, as UN inspectors reported, had been strictly complied with by that nation.  Even so, Trump, angered by other actions of the Iranian regime, pulled out of the agreement and, in its place, instituted punitive economic sanctions on Iran, accompanied by calls to overthrow its government.  When, in July, the Iranian president cautioned Trump about pursuing policies hostile to his nation, the U.S. president tweeted, in bold capitals: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”  Just in case Iranians missed the implications of this extraordinary statement, Trump’s hawkish national security advisor, John Bolton, followed up by declaring:  “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.”

This obsession of the Trump administration with building nuclear weapons and threatening nuclear war underscores its unwillingness to join other governments in developing a sane nuclear policy.  Indeed, it seems determined to continue lurching toward unparalleled catastrophe.

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). This article originally appeared on History News Network.

Bibliographic Guide to Conventional and Nuclear Armaments

by David Lincove

Readers of the Peace and Change blog who are interested in data sources of conventional and nuclear armaments will be interested in the bibliographic guide to key sources linked in this blog post.  In the guide, I link to the most extensive, systematic publications with statistical information compiled from publicly available sources.  Most are freely available on the internet.  The data sources are used to cite numerical information, often illustrated over a period of time, as evidence in research.  In addition, the sources generated studies assessing and comparing quantitative methodologies in armaments.  For example, after  UN Register of Conventional Arms became operational in 1992, researchers, such as Malcolm Chalmers, Siemon Wezeman, and Paul Holtom, studied its development and effectiveness to achieve its purpose of reducing secrecy and building confidence among nations to help maintain peace.  The internet has enhanced the public exposure of arms data, although the complications assessing and comparing the raw data from different countries limits its impact except for experts on armaments.

 

See “Key Sources of Multinational Data on Conventional and Nuclear ArmamentsReference and User Services Quarterly 58, 1(Fall 2018): 11-15 at 

 

Welcoming Martha and the Slave Catchers — Harriet Hyman Alonso’s Books

My new book, Martha and the Slave Catchers will be published on November 7, 2017, by Seven Stories Press. It is available for pre-ordering at several on-line stores. I know that it has been quite a while since I’ve written anything for this blog, but I’ve been hard at work preparing my first children’s novel […]

via Welcoming Martha and the Slave Catchers — Harriet Hyman Alonso’s Books

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.

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.

RMCLAS 2016

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This past week I attended the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Rocky Mountain Conference for Latin American Studies hosted by the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies (RMCLAS) in Santa Fe, NM. While at the conference, I attended a number of panels and roundtables that presented scholarship and teaching practices that might prove interesting to peace and activist scholars.

Transnationalism proved a popular topic at the conference with three panels and a roundtable discussion dedicated to the theme. It is also not surprising that I attended these panels considering that I examine transnational networks. One particular panel, titled “Without Passports: International Solidarity in the Cold War,” presented a different views on international cooperation between North American and Latin American activists. In “International Agents: Locating Transnationalism in the Chicano Movement,” University of New Mexico graduate student Victor Andrew Oneschuck detailed the connections between the Chicano movement and political movements in Cuba and Nicaragua. Taylor Perk, also a graduate student at the University of New Mexico examined the often contested relationship between U.S. and Chilean Maoists with his paper titled “A World to Win: Chile, the United States, and the Formation of Maoism.” Finally, Griselda Jarquin, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, discussed the transnational activism of The Berkeley-Leon Sister City Association during the Nicaraguan Revolution.

Sprinkled among the various panels were a number of other papers that addressed activism in Latin America. Claudia Rueda, a professor at Texas A&M at Corpus Cristi, detailed the relationship between Nicaraguan students and U.S. diplomats in the 1960s with her paper, “Unlikely Bedfellows: Nicaraguan Students and their Allies in the 1960s.” In a look at more contemporary Latin American protest, Cheryl Jiménez Frei, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, examined monuments and memorials as sites of political protest and contestation in modern Buenos Aires in her paper, “Public Protest, Performance, and Participation: Shaping Historical Memory and the Monumental Landscape in Buenos Aires.”a. In the same panel, Sarah Cline, a professor of history at University of California, Santa Barbara, highlighted the importance of Wikipedia as a space for academics to participate in public history, arguing that creating content for the digital encyclopedia would reach far more readers than is possible with traditional scholarly publications.

One panel that might be particularly interesting to the readership of Peace and Change addressed the current legal struggles of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. Elizabeth Hutchison (ehutch@unm.edu) and Kimberly Gauderman (kgaud@unm.edu), both faculty at the University of New Mexico, joined Maria Baldini-Poterman and Natalie Hansen (natalie@hansentaylor.com), both lawyers specializing in asylum cases, to discuss the experiences of and difficulties faced by those fleeing Central America out of fear for their own safety. For many fleeing Central American violence, their experience in the United States is little better than the one the left, with many being held for months, and sometimes years, in squalid detention centers along the border. If denied asylum, many refugees are deported back to their home country where a majority fall victim to the violence they fled. In response, the presenters highlighted the need for scholars as “expert witnesses” and issued a call to action, asking that those interested provide their emails in order to join a growing database of academics and other experts willing to help those seeking asylum. Although the database itself is still being created, the panelists advised those interested in joining the list of expert witnesses to contact them and to visit the University of California, Hastings College of Law’s Center for Gender and Refugee Studies or the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Finally, in a roundtable discussion of gaming and history education, of which the author was a participant, participants engaged in a discussion of various interactive teaching methods. A subject of significant discussion was Reacting to the Past (RTTP), a role-playing experience in which students assume the role of a historical figure in a historical scenario. Scenarios can be found at the RTTP website, along with guides for instructors. Many of participants in the discussion had used Reacting to the Past in their classrooms and had significant praise for the gamified learning experience.

In sum, RMCLAS 2016 was once again a fantastic experience. There is a significant and growing study of Latin American activism, particularly in the transnational twentieth century, and significant spaces for scholars to engage in public discourses on pedagogy and politics. Ultimately, it was encouraging to find the places where are others are engaging the intersections between peace history and Latin American Studies.

HathiTrust

In the world of digital collections and archives, few organizations compare to the HathiTrust. The multi-institutional library brings together the individual collection of its more than 100 partner institutions to create a digital clearinghouse of nearly 14 million total volumes, including books, journals, magazines and other print material. For scholars of interested in peace research, HathiTrust includes documents from a number of peace organizations, including the American Peace Society and the National Council for Prevention of War. It also includes numerous documents related to the U.S. government and a large catalog of digital books. In fact, roughly 39% of the works hosted by HathiTrust are in the public domain.

Below is an example of the type of documentation that can be found in HathiTrust. It is a program for the Fourth Annual American Peace Congress held in St. Louis, Missouri between May 1 and 3, 1913.

HathiTrust also creates digital tools and software designed to facilitate researchers’ navigation through the library’s massive amounts of digital text. HathiTrust is a valuable resource for educators and researchers, housing numerous documents while generating better tools to access them with.

EDIT – An earlier version of this article claimed that HathiTrust houses 39% of the works in the public domain. This is incorrect. The accurate claim is that 39% of the materials held HathiTrust are in the public domain.