The Incomprehensible Idea: What Opposing All Wars Means by David Swanson

No War Collage

Image by Gary Lund via Flickr

by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
World Beyond War, October 5, 2015
October 7, 2015

The world’s two big nuclear militaries are in the same war now in Syria and, if not on opposite sides exactly, certainly not on the same side. A primary, if not the primary, goal of the United States in Syria is overthrowing the Syrian government. A primary, if not the primary, goal of Russia is maintaining the Syrian government. Hostilities are building in each nation toward the other. Republican candidates for president are trying to outdo a certain Democratic candidate for president in bellicosity toward Russia. Forces armed by the U.S. in Syria are eager to shoot down Russian planes. Russia and the U.S. and its allies are clearly unhappy about each other’s flights. Hillary Clinton wants a no-fly zone. Israeli and Russian planes have already come close to fighting. Israel has attacked the base Russia is using, or at least Russia says it has.

To my mind this is more dangerous that the Cuban missile crisis. This is the Cuban missile crisis with way more nukes, way crazier elected officials, numerous state and non-state actors in the mix, an unpredictable civil war underway, a propaganda machine of higher sophistication and extreme corruption, and the public too confused and deluded to impose any sort of positive influence at all.

And when I mock the public I include myself in that. Let me give you an idea of how out of touch I am. I would have thought that every peace activist in the United States would oppose the new development of Russia bombing Syria. We’ve always said, and some of us have even believed, that war was immoral and illegal and unacceptable no matter who did it. We’ve opposed primarily U.S. wars because the U.S. is the primary wager of wars and because we live in the U.S. We’ve always said that if some other nation were to begin adventuring around the world bombing countries we would oppose that too. And some of us meant it. We’ve always argued that bombs kill civilians along with ordinary soldiers stuck on the wrong side. We’ve always pointed to all the evidence that bombs generate more hatred, more violence, more enemies. U.S. bombs, we’ve said, don’t plant flowers of democracy; they plant seeds of violent blowback. Are we now to suppose that Russian bombs are different? Because I couldn’t have been more wrong about how people were going to react.

Many, it turns out, see Russian bombs as imposing law and order, bombing the proper people which the U.S. was failing to do, and resisting the evil warmaking efforts of the United States.

Of course, Russia is supporting a legal government, not a bunch of rebel groups. Of course the United States and every other party involved was on a years-long course of disaster and horror before Russia reached this stage of involvement. But how does supporting a legal government give you a blank check for dropping bombs on people? If Russia had supported the legal government of Egypt by bombing Tahrir Square in 2011 would all the same observers have cheered? Russia has been arming and supporting a brutal murderous government in Syria for years, fueling a proxy war. The United States and its gulf allies have been arming and training and assisting various sides in the war for years now. The constant flow of weapons has been worsening the situation for years. The steady escalation of the violence has been worsening the situation for years. Why wouldn’t it? It always does.

Of course those many “peace” activists who have supported U.S. efforts to overthrow the Syrian government for years might be expected to possibly denounce Russian bombing. But what about those of us who’ve opposed U.S. imperialism and rejected with indignation all the accusations of being big fans of Bashar al Assad?

I’ve been on Russia TV dozens of times in recent years to denounce U.S. actions in Iraq and Syria. Often RT creates a Youtube video and a text story about the interview afterwards. Last week I was on and they apparently expected me to cheer for the Russian bombs, but I denounced them as well, and the Syrian government as well, along with the United States and its many allies. The interviewer seemed shocked, but it was live — what could they do? I haven’t seen any Youtube. I haven’t had another call from RT yet. (In fairness, I opposed U.S. warmaking on MSNBC over a year ago and have yet to hear from them.)

I was so out of touch on Friday that, even though I expected that line of questioning and that response to my answers from RT, I assumed peace activists all agreed with me. It turns out that many clearly do not, and many others assume the same thing about me that RT did, namely that I must be thrilled that Russia is dropping bombs on Syrians.

When you engage in online activism, and you send out emails to hundreds of thousands of people, you get back quite a variety of responses. One type of response that often gets on my nerves is the why-didn’t-you-mention-my-cause-in-your-email response. It’s just not fun to receive outraged messages that your petition against a corporate trade agreement failed to mention the Citizens United decision, or your campaign to end the war on Afghanistan failed to mention the war on Yemen. These complaints are usually accompanied by accusations of evil intent and corrupt complicity. This phenomenon has been increasing as the wars have been proliferating. And it’s merged with the ages-old tradition of assuming that opposition to one side in a war equals support for the other side. If you don’t want Israelis killing Palestinians then you must want Palestinians killing Israelis. This line of thinking is ubiquitous. So, now I receive angry emails attacking me for supporting Russian bombs in Syria or Syrian bombs in Syria when I send out an email opposing a fracked gas pipeline or denouncing the bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan.

Some wise souls began, immediately upon the commencement of the Russian bombing of Syria, to declare that we must oppose bombing by all sides. I stupidly assumed this went without saying. I ignored constructive criticism that I shouldn’t say anything about anything without opposing the Russian bombing or everyone would conclude I favored it. Huh? Why in the world would they think that? I’ve been working on a set of arguments for the complete abolition of war. Why would I favor war all of a sudden — and the most dangerous development in war in the history of the planet? That’s crazy, I thought. But I was way out of touch.

The idea of opposing all war, though many thousands sign their names onto it, is really not understood by very many, I’m afraid. I think it’s taken as meaningless rhetoric, harmless simplification. Of course they don’t mean all war, they just mean the bad wars, I’ll go ahead and sign that. Deep in the minds of even some of the most dedicated and courageous and principled peace activists lies faith in the power of brute force, reliance on the strategy of a balance of powers, hope that war waged properly by the right parties in the right places can end the improper wars and bring about war’s absence.

I believe I am going to make a list of all active wars, and all parties in them, with the words “I oppose these:” at the top. Of course I oppose secret actions by “special” forces too. I oppose drone murders I’m never told about. And of course I’m holding out hope that drone war opponents will be saddened rather than encouraged when nations other than the United States begin to get caught committing drone murders. Come to think of it, there is no way to create a comprehensive list. You’re just going to have to believe I oppose all war, and I’m just going to have to keep saying so over and over and over. After all, I may not have long left to say it if U.S.-Russian relations continue on the course they’ve charted.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of and campaign coordinator for Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at and He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.

from the archives:

Chris Hedges and Sabah Alnasseri: ISIS, The New Israel + Hedges: Europe’s Refugees and American Elections, Part 1

Chris Hedges and Sabah Alnasseri: The Revolutionary Age, Part 2

Julian Assange on The US Empire, Plans on Overthrowing Assad, The WikiLeaks Files

World War III – Who Will Be Blamed?

Bernie Sanders Again Insists That Saudi Arabia Should Kill More People by David Swanson

The Anglo-American Insanity by Finian Cunningham

16 thoughts on “The Incomprehensible Idea: What Opposing All Wars Means by David Swanson

  1. Pingback: Why Does the Government of The United States Hate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad With Such Passion? | Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: US Special Forces Deployed as Human Shields to Salvage Terror Assets in Syria | Dandelion Salad

  3. That’s an unusual but interesting analogy, David,equating war to permaculture. “Maximum yields from minimum inputs” is capitalism’s dream come true, but I understand your point.

    And what were formerly called “mercenaries,” or “soldiers of fortune,” an odd moniker, are now called “contractors” by the Democratic/Republican war makers of Imperial America, who fight for the “big bucks” (Blackwater, et al) under the guise of stopping the “bad guys.”

    Sunzi is definitely worthy of dutifully reverence, maybe now more than ever, with thermo-nuclear weapons in the hands of the U.S.and our NATO stooges.

    On the US/Saudi reactionary association, I read two good articles today, in conjunction to David Swanson’s article above, which I will comment on later.

    They are:

      • Thanks, Lo. I’ve been so busy of late, I hardly have time for the computer.

        Glad you liked the articles. Yes, they are informative.

        Check out Majorie Cohn’s article on She’s terrific!

        • In a real way, I’m addicted to the computer – reading articles and looking up information. My emails are backing up – almost to the point of embarrassment – unanswered and many unread – I’m working on my own writing/editing, plus editing a cousin’s novel in between everything else.

          In fact, I haven’t rode my bicycle in over three months and will have to start “from scratch” again, building leg & lung stamina.

          Otherwise, I’m fine. I do regret not adding input or replying to the fine comments/analysis on the various DS articles.

        • You sound very busy, Frank. Always appreciate you taking the time to discuss issues/topics on Dandelion Salad’s posts!

          Hope you make the time to get back on your bike.

    • Frank, I really appreciate your feedback ~ I’m going to read both of these. I agree, it may be counter intuitive, but I think what Sunzi teaches us is that war is fundamentally about the mastery of the self, not the destruction of our surroundings or slaughtering humanity.

      What I love about permaculture, or agroecology, whichever term fits best, is that it externalises this essentially spiritual ecology; and so it expresses this very ancient “jihad” in terms of total engagement with the whole system of life.

      As I understand it, this is what authentic theurgy means, or in traditional esoteric language, pure magick ~ when understood as the rational spiritual expression of the integrity of the whole being, by all means, both mystical and literal.

      I do not wish to be patronising in any way, but I’m sure you really get this ~ so surely the challenge for those of us who aspire to exercise real change, must be to meditate how we translate such a profoundly holistic insight into pragmatic political consciousness?

      There are truly remarkable developments in original & progressive science that seem to be eluding the mainstream party pundits altogether, like the emergent psychosomatic microbiome (key to health,) the electric-plasma universe and our astonishing data on the heliosphere; but we are fixated or trapped, epistemologically, politically and economically, in this retrograde nuclear demolition mindset, the “hard, objective” so-called realism of the atomic bind ~ he-she-or-it-ism…

      It is the mesmeric inscrutability of this knotty existential quantum calculus that daunts us; it blinds us with the brilliance of dominant corporate wizardry & the flashy allure of ever more powerful cybernetic ordnance, delivered on cue by anonymous & unaccountable made-to-measure sophist PR mandarins.

      So I think we have to be prepared to completely rethink our powers of mind, of discretion and our notion of intelligence (on all planes….) not only to bring into the sphere of coherent discourse (and action) the entire sentient universe of earthly life, but this extraordinary cosmic, galactic and supra-galactic orientation that now exists. These are the empirical (advanced) navigational aids that we so desperately need, to gain a sane perspective on where we are, how we got here and where to take ourselves next….

      • David, I’m not so sure about the premise that war is fundamentally about the mastery of the self, not the destruction of our surroundings or slaughtering humanity. If we have mastery over ourselves – which, in my
        understanding of metaphysics or Universal Law, then we are beyond the concept of war and the very destructive nature of it and able to see past the false reasoning in justifying man’s inhumanity to man which is orchestrated by the ruling-class which controls “national thought” in promoting their agenda to the uninformed and unfortunately – with ALL the info available, especially in this day and age – the willfully ignorant, ready to do the biding and sacrifice themselves on the battlefield for the enrichment of the robber barons. The same ruse has been used over and over again since antiquity, in one form or another, under different “isms.”

        But you are onto something rewarding and life-affirming, which is permaculture or agroecology, which is part of the symbiotic process in creating sustainable balance and harmony between humanity and nature as we progress on the Path to Enlightenment. Many thanks for your input on this constructive and illuminating method in creating a better society resulting in a happier world and true brotherhood of cooperation rather than cutthroat competitiveness.

        Again, you addressed the problem so profoundly, and also stating what needs to be done in such an eloquent way, I can only add that I’m in total agreement with you!

        Still, I shudder to think that the “showdown” between the forces of the imperial West and the rest of the world may destroy this planet as we are in the final stages of the Kali, the most destructive of the Yugas. The insatiable greed of capitalists and the banksters have no bounds or loyalties to anybody or anything, and may risk it all for their gross selfishness. Hubris? The “pivot to Asia?” Maybe the “pivot to hell!”

        As I see it.

        • Thanks Frank for your welcome insight. I guess I’m trying to rescue some quality of realism in the face of the state’s colossal mismanagement of life’s priorities.

          As I see it, “profane” as opposed to sacred war is so endemic and utterly programmed into us by ignoble interests, that we need to restore some kind of symbolic value to the virtue of courage and valour in this dark time of corruption. I mean what is the point of resistance, or “conquest” or anything that invokes strength and commitment, unless we allow for some higher intent that can express itself through virile and intelligent self-control?

          So what I am trying to suggest, very imperfectly, is that the warrior mind should be a path to spiritual redemption, by the exaltation of pure purpose as a rigorous discipline, rather than just base, grossly self-interested, mercenary pimping ~ being a hired gun to whomever pays the most ~ as that is Putin’s depiction of the “terrorist” brigades (altho’ I rather strongly disagree with his sweeping “Russian Orthodox” generalisation….)

          It is a difficult philosophy to square satisfactorily in a few brief paragraphs, but I think the basic notion is that the warrior ideal, if that is an allowable concept, should mean far more than just being a violent “patriotic” brute or robotic tool of indiscriminate masters. After all, the bravest among us are those who nobly resist tyranny, and take initiative, like whistleblowers in the US; rather than mindless individuals who display an enthusiastic willingness to comply with militarist agendas over which they have no conscious control, moral responsibility for, or even minimal awareness of….

        • David, sorry for the time lapse in replying to your very important comments on this crucial issue of war and the prevailing “cure-all” for resolving differences between nation-states.

          I believe you did sum up and “square satisfactorily” that portion ,of a “difficult philosophy in a few brief paragraphs,” and again, phrased it in an illuminating way, unraveling the outer core of man’s calamitous and destructive folly in the perpetual cycle of glorified warfare as a means to an end for achieving whatever results the ruling-classes hope to achieve for themselves and their cronies using a different guise for rallying the gullible masses to commit murder and mayhem and total strangers who’ve done nothing to them. Hermann Goering famously summed up that type of modus operandi quite well during his incarceration at Nuremburg.

          George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Barak Obama, and the NATO “death squads” set the tone and justification for mass murder even calling it “humanitarian intervention” (sic) in order to justify their earnest desire to “reshape the world” and impose on others, their “new world order.”

          “After all, the bravest among us” … the rest of that sentence is, I firmly believe is and will be the new “battle cry” for this Aquarian Dispensation, as Truth (the whistleblowers) will overcome Deceit (the black magicians) and militarism will be frowned upon for resolving differences. Having said that, I’m still pessimistic as the “Empire of Chaos” is out of control, and I still think Putin and Russia are the “hope of the world” in “neutralizing” the U.S. and the NATO barbarians willing to do Uncle Sam’s bidding.Time will tell.

        • Please don’t apologise Frank ~ I think I know what busy means!! Bravo to you.

          Thank you for this excellent response, I totally concur with your summary. We are at the most critical cusp, on all fronts. You have great depth and insight. You’d be a terrific candidate for political office. I’d vote for you!

  4. War is like permaculture. We want maximum yield from minimum inputs. So what we must face up to, is that war is a state of mind. A disorderly mind cannot conduct a coherent campaign. Mr Putin however, may not be as sure of the present outcomes as he might suppose. It rather depends on the way that US Saudi reactionary clients conduct their despicable Yemeni massacre.

    Those who would fight merely for profit, must lose the moral argument, and therefore the war. Those who uphold moral argument however, but refuse to acknowledge that resistance is futile without courage and commitment, lose the tactical advantage.

    Sunzi is worthy of dutiful reverence. The greatest victory is that which is achieved without violence or bloodshed. Study the Dao De Jing. It furnishes us with all the advice we need. Of course, wisdom may not necessarily be the fount of action, but is always the fruit of experience.

    Each to their own.

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