David Swanson VS Pete Kilner: Is War Ever Justifiable?

End-War

Image by Kevin Wong via Flickr

by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
World Beyond War
February 14, 2018

On February 12, 2018, I debated Pete Kilner on the topic of “Is War Ever Justifiable?” (Location: Radford University; Moderator Glen Martin; videographer Zachary Lyman). Here is the video:

The two speakers’ bios:

Pete Kilner is a writer and military ethicist who served more than 28 years in the Army as an infantryman and professor at the U.S. Military Academy. He deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct research on combat leadership. A graduate of West Point, he holds an MA in Philosophy from Virginia Tech and a Ph.D. in Education from Penn State.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie and War Is Never Just. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. He holds an MA in philosophy from UVA.

Who won?

Prior to the debate, people in the room were asked to indicate in an online system that displayed the results on a screen whether they thought the answer to “Is War Ever Justifiable?” was yes, no, or they were not sure. Twenty-five people voted: 68% yes, 20% no, 12% not sure. After the debate the question was posed again. Twenty people voted: 40% yes, 45% no, 15% not sure. Please use the comments below to indicate whether this debate moved you in one direction or the other.

These were my prepared remarks for the debate:

Thank you for hosting this debate. Everything I say in this quick overview will unavoidably raise more questions than it answers, many of which I’ve tried to answer at length in books and much of which is documented at davidswanson.org.

Let’s begin with the fact that war is optional. It’s not dictated to us by genes or outside forces. Our species has been around at least 200,000 years, and anything that could be called war no more than 12,000. To the extent that people mostly shouting at each other and waving sticks and swords can be called the same thing as a person at a desk with a joystick sending missiles into villages halfway around the world, this thing we call war has been far more absent than present in human existence. Many societies have done without it.

The notion that war is natural is, frankly, ridiculous. A great deal of conditioning is needed to prepare most people to take part in war, and a great deal of mental suffering, including higher suicide rates, is common among those who have taken part. In contrast, not a single person is known to have suffered deep moral regret or post-traumatic stress disorder from war deprivation.

War does not correlate with population density or resource shortages. It is quite simply most used by societies most accepting of it. The United States is high on, and by some measures, dominates the top of that list. Surveys have found the U.S. public, among wealthy nations, the most supportive of –quote– “preemptively” attacking other countries. Polls have also found that in the U.S. 44% of people claim they would fight in a war for their country, while in many countries with equal or higher quality of life that response is under 20%.

U.S. culture is saturated with militarism, and the U.S. government is uniquely devoted to it, spending almost the same as the rest of the world combined, despite most of the other big spenders being close allies whom the U.S. pushes to spend more. In fact, every other nation on earth spends closer to the $0 per year spent by nations like Costa Rica or Iceland than to the over $1 trillion spent by the U.S. The United States maintains some 800 bases in other people’s countries, while all other nations on earth combined maintain a few dozen foreign bases. Since World War II, the United States has killed or helped kill some 20 million people, overthrown at least 36 governments, interfered in at least 84 foreign elections, attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders, and dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries. For the past 16 years, the United States has been systematically damaging a region of the globe, bombing Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria. The United States has so-called “special forces” operating in two-thirds of the world’s countries.

When I watch a basketball game on television, two things are ALMOST guaranteed. UVA will win. And the announcers will thank U.S. troops for watching from 175 countries. That’s uniquely American. In 2016 a presidential primary debate question was “Would you be willing to kill hundreds and thousands of innocent children?” That’s uniquely American. That doesn’t happen in election debates where the other 96% of humanity live. U.S. foreign policy journals discuss whether to attack North Korea or Iran. That, too, is uniquely American. The publics of most countries polled in 2013 by Gallup called the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world. Pew found that viewpoint increased in 2017.

So, this country has an unusually strong investment in war, though it is far from the only warmaker. But what would it take to have a justifiable war? According to just war theory, a war must meet several criteria, which I find fall into these three categories: the non-empirical, the amoral, and the impossible. By non-empirical, I mean things like “right intention,” “a just cause,” and “proportionality.” When your government says bombing a building where ISIS stashes money justifies killing up to 50 people, there’s no agreed upon, empirical means to reply No, only 49, or only 6, or up to 4,097 people can be justly killed.

Attaching some just cause to a war, such as ending slavery, never explains all the actual causes of a war, and does nothing to justify the war. During a time when much of the globe ended slavery and serfdom without war, for example, claiming that cause as the justification for a war holds no weight.

By amoral criteria, I mean things like being publicly declared and being waged by legitimate and competent authorities. These are not moral concerns. Even in a world where we actually had legitimate and competent authorities, they wouldn’t make a war any more or less just. Does anyone really picture a family in Yemen hiding from a constantly buzzing drone and expressing gratitude that the drone has been sent to them by a competent authority?

By impossible, I mean things like “be a last resort,” “have a reasonable prospect of success”, “keep noncombatants immune from attack,” “respect enemy soldiers as human beings,” and “treat prisoners of war as noncombatants.” To call something a “last resort” is in reality merely to claim it is the best idea you have, not the only idea you have. There are always other ideas that anyone can think of, even if you’re in the role of the Afghans or Iraqis actually being attacked. Studies like those of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan have found nonviolent resistance to domestic and even foreign tyranny to be twice as likely to succeed, and those successes to be far longer lasting. We can look to successes, some partial, some complete, against foreign invasions, over the years in Nazi-occupied Denmark and Norway, in India, Palestine, Western Sahara, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, etc., and dozens of successes against regimes that in many cases have had foreign support.

My hope is that the more that people learn the tools of nonviolence and their power, the more they will believe in and choose to make use of that power, which will increase the power of nonviolence in a virtuous cycle. At some point I can imagine people laughing at the idea that some foreign dictatorship is going to invade and occupy a nation ten times its size, full of people dedicated to nonviolent noncooperation with occupiers. Already, I get a laugh on a frequent basis when people email me with the threat that if I do not support war I had better be prepared to start speaking North Korean or what they call “the ISIS language.” Apart from the nonexistence of these languages, the idea that anybody is going to get 300 million Americans to learn any foreign language, much less do so at gun point, almost makes me cry. I can’t help imagining how much weaker war propaganda might be if all Americans did know multiple languages.

Continuing with the impossible criteria, what about respecting a person while trying to kill her or him? There are lots of ways to respect a person, but none of them can exist simultaneously with trying to kill that person. In fact, I would rank right at the bottom of people who respect me those who were trying to kill me. Remember that just war theory began with people who believed killing someone was doing them a favor. And noncombatants are the majority of casualties in modern wars, so they cannot be kept safe. And there’s no reasonable prospect of success available — the U.S. military is on a record losing streak.

But the biggest reason that no war can ever be justified is not that no war can ever meet all the criteria of just war theory, but rather that war is not an incident, it is an institution.

Many people in the U.S. will concede that many U.S. wars have been unjust, but claim justness for World War II and in some cases one or two since. Others claim no just wars yet, but join the masses in supposing that there might be a justifiable war any day now. It is that supposition that kills far more people than all of the wars. The U.S. government spends over $1 trillion on war and war preparations each year, while 3% of that could end starvation, and 1% could end the lack of clean drinking water globally. The military budget is the only place with the resources needed to try to save the earth’s climate. Far more lives are lost and damaged through the failure to spend money well than through the violence of war. And more are lost or put at risk through side-effects of that violence than directly. War and war preparations are the biggest destroyer of the natural environment. Most countries on earth burn less fossil fuel than does the U.S. military. Most superfund disaster sites even within the U.S. are at military bases. The institution of war is the biggest eroder of our liberties even when the wars are marketed under the word “freedom.” This institution impoverishes us, threatens the rule of law, and degrades our culture by fueling violence, bigotry, the militarization of police, and mass surveillance. This institution puts us all at risk of nuclear disaster. And it endangers, rather than protects, those societies that engage in it.

According to the Washington Post, President Trump asked Secretary of so-called Defense James Mattis why he should send troops to Afghanistan, and Mattis replied that it was to prevent a bombing in Times Square. Yet the man who tried to blow up Times Square in 2010 said he was trying to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

For North Korea to try to occupy the U.S. would require a force many times larger than the North Korean military. For North Korea to attack the U.S., were it actually capable, would be suicide. Could it happen? Well, look at what the CIA said before the U.S. attacked Iraq: Iraq would be most likely to use its weapons only if attacked. Apart from the weapons not existing, that was accurate.

Terrorism has predictably increased during the war on terrorism (as measured by the Global Terrorism Index). 99.5% of terrorist attacks occur in countries engaged in wars and/or engaged in abuses such as imprisonment without trial, torture, or lawless killing. The highest rates of terrorism are in so-called “liberated” and “democratized” Iraq and Afghanistan. The terrorist groups responsible for the most terrorism (that is, non-state, politically motivated violence) around the world have grown out of U.S. wars against terrorism. Those wars themselves have caused numerous just-retired top U.S. government officials and a few U.S. government reports to describe military violence as counterproductive, as creating more enemies than are killed. 95% of all suicide terrorist attacks are conducted to encourage foreign occupiers to leave the terrorist’s home country. And an FBI study in 2012 said that anger over U.S. military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of so-called homegrown terrorism in the United States.

The facts lead me to these three conclusions:

1) Foreign terrorism in the United States can be virtually eliminated by keeping the U.S. military out of any country that is not the United States.

2) If Canada wanted anti-Canadian terrorist networks on a U.S. scale or just wanted to be threatened by North Korea, it would need to radically increase its bombing, occupying, and base construction around the world.

3) On the model of the war on terrorism, the war on drugs that produces more drugs, and the war on poverty that seems to increase poverty, we would be wise to consider launching a war on sustainable prosperity and happiness.

Seriously, for a war on North Korea, for example, to be justifiable, the U.S. would have to have not gone to such efforts over the years to avoid peace and provoke conflict, it would have to be innocently attacked, it would have to lose the ability to think so that no alternatives could be considered, it would have to redefine “success” to include a scenario in which a nuclear winter might cause much of the earth to lose the ability to grow crops or eat (by the way, Keith Payne, a drafter of the new Nuclear Posture Review, in 1980, parroting Dr. Strangelove, defined success to allow up to 20 million dead Americans and unlimited non-Americans), it would have to invent bombs that spare noncombatants, it would have to devise a means of respecting people while killing them, and in addition, this remarkable war would have to do so much good as to outweigh all the damage done by decades of preparing for such a war, all the economic damage, all the political damage, all the damage to the earth’s land, water, and climate, all the deaths by starvation and disease that could have been so easily spared, plus all the horrors of all the unjust wars facilitated by the preparations for the dreamed-of just war, plus the risk of nuclear apocalypse created by the institution of war. No war can meet such standards.

So called “humanitarian wars,” which is what Hitler called his invasion of Poland and NATO called its invasion of Libya, do not, of course, measure up to just war theory. Nor do they benefit humanity. What the U.S. and Saudi militaries are doing to Yemen is the worst humanitarian disaster in years. The U.S. sells or gives weapons to 73% of the world’s dictators, and gives military training to many of them. Studies have found that there is no correlation between the severity of human rights abuses in a country and the likelihood of Western invasion of that country. Other studies have found that oil importing countries are 100 times more likely to intervene in civil wars of oil exporting countries. In fact, the more oil a country produces or owns, the higher the likelihood is of third-party interventions.

The U.S., like any other war-maker, has to work hard to avoid peace.

The U.S. has spent years rejecting out of hand peace negotiations for Syria.

In 2011, so that NATO could begin bombing Libya, the African Union was prevented by NATO from presenting a peace plan to Libya.

In 2003, Iraq was open to unlimited inspections or even the departure of its president, according to numerous sources, including the president of Spain to whom U.S. President Bush recounted Hussein’s offer to leave.

In 2001, Afghanistan was open to turning Osama bin Laden over to a third country for trial.

In 1999, the U.S. State Department deliberately set the bar too high, insisting on NATO’s right to occupy all of Yugoslavia, so that Serbia would not agree, and would therefore supposedly need to be bombed.

In 1990, the Iraqi government was willing to negotiate withdrawal from Kuwait. It asked that Israel also withdraw from Palestinian territories and that itself and the whole region, including Israel, give up all weapons of mass destruction. Numerous governments urged that negotiations be pursued. The U.S. chose war.

Go back through history. The United States sabotaged peace proposals for Vietnam. The Soviet Union proposed peace negotiations before the Korean War. Spain wanted the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine to go to international arbitration before the Spanish American War. Mexico was willing to negotiate the sale of its northern half. In each case, the U.S. preferred war.

Peace would not seem so difficult if people stopped going to such efforts to avoid it — like Mike Pence in a room with a North Korean trying not to indicate awareness of her presence. And if we stopped letting them scare us. Fear can make lies and simplistic thinking believable. We need courage! We need to lose the fantasy of total safety that drives us to create ever greater danger!

And if the United States had a democracy, rather than bombing people in the name of democracy, I wouldn’t have to convince anyone of anything. The U.S. public already favors military reductions and greater use of diplomacy. Such moves would stimulate a reverse arms race. And that reverse arms race would open more eyes to the possibility of advancing further in that direction — the direction of what is required by morality, what is necessary for the habitability of the planet, what we must pursue if we are to survive: the complete abolition of the institution of war.

One more point: When I say that war can never be justified, I’m willing to agree to disagree about wars in the past if we can agree on wars in the future. That is, if you think that before nuclear weapons, before the end of legal conquest, before the general end of colonialism, and before the growth in understanding of the powers of nonviolence, some war like World War II was justified, I disagree, and I can tell you why at length, but let’s agree that we now live in a different world in which Hitler does not live and in which we must abolish war if our species is to continue.

Of course if you want to travel back in time to World War II, why not travel back to WWI, the disastrous conclusion of which had smart observers predicting WWII on the spot? Why not travel back to the West’s support for Nazi Germany in the 1930s? We can look honestly at a war in which the U.S. was not threatened, and about which the U.S. president had to lie to gain support, a war that killed several times the number of people in the war as were killed in the Nazis’ camps. A war that followed the West’s refusal to accept the Jews whom Hitler wanted to expel, a war that was entered through provocation of the Japanese, not innocent surprise. Let’s learn history instead of mythology, but let’s recognize that we can choose to do better than our history going forward.

***

Video of Debate #2: Is War Ever Justifiable?

by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
World Beyond War
February 14, 2018

Our first debate was February 12th. This was our second, held February 13, 2018, at Eastern Mennonite University, moderated by Lisa Schirch.

The two speakers’ bios:

Pete Kilner is a writer and military ethicist who served more than 28 years in the Army as an infantryman and professor at the U.S. Military Academy. He deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct research on combat leadership. A graduate of West Point, he holds an MA in Philosophy from Virginia Tech and a Ph.D. in Education from Penn State.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie and War Is Never Just. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. He holds an MA in philosophy from UVA.

No comprehensive effort was made to survey the audience as to the debate’s impact. Indicate your response, please, in the comments section below.

These were my prepared remarks:

Thanks for hosting this and being here. Pete and I debated last night at Radford. A video is at davidswanson.org. And we agreed, as the majority of this country has agreed for years, that military spending should be reduced. I want it gradually reduced to zero. I don’t know where Pete wants it, but he doesn’t want it at zero. However, I am certain that if military spending were significantly reduced, you would see a reverse arms race, a reduction in threats and hostility abroad, and consequently greater public desire to go on reducing it further. So, in a sense, we don’t need this debate, we just need democracy rather than wars in the name of democracy and a government that goes on year-after-year moving more money out of almost everything else and into militarism. But to build a movement powerful enough to influence the U.S. oligarchy we do need this debate, we do need a clearer understanding that no war can ever be justified, and therefore that dumping over a trillion dollars a year into preparing for a possible just war has to stop. After all, 3 percent of that money could end starvation on earth, 1 percent could end the lack of clean water, a bigger chunk could give us a chance against climate change (rather than serving as the leading cause of climate change). So it’s the institution of war that kills far more than the actual wars, and we can’t build the strength to reduce it as long as people imagine there might be a just war some day.

Pete and I also agreed that numerous wars have been unjust. I’ll talk a little about why the wars he claims were just were actually unjust on their own terms and in isolation. But I think the burden for a just war is even higher than that. I think a war, to do more good than harm, has to do so much more good than harm as to outweigh the damage done by all the admittedly unjust wars as well as by the diversion of funding from where it could save and improve millions of lives rather than wasting them. War is an institution, and for any war to be justified it has to justify all the damage done by the institution.

But Pete only named a couple of wars just and a couple unjust without ever giving us a method that would allow us to determine which are which when we turn to all the wars he didn’t label one way or the other. Those include wars he took part in: Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2006 Pete claimed the war on Iraq was doing Iraq lots of good. I asked him repeatedly what that good was and never got an answer. He did call the 2003-begun war “imprudent” and a “mistake.” If that’s what you call a war that radically increases the use of the term sociocide (meaning the total destruction of a society), I wonder what level of slaughter is needed before a war gets labeled something harsher like “bad” or “unpleasant” or “mildly regrettable.”

One current war that Pete agreed was unjust was the U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen. But will Pete join me in urging U.S. troops to refuse the immoral and illegal order to participate in that war? Isn’t that a moral duty comparable to that of encouraging participation in supposedly just wars? Doesn’t it expose one of the many problems with calling the U.S. military voluntary? Anything else you’re doing voluntarily you’re permitted to quit doing. What is the point of teaching soldiers morality if they aren’t supposed to act on it?

Pete will say that he has explained what a just war is, it’s a war fought because you’ve been attacked. Except that he’ll then readily admit that the United States has been fighting all these wars without having been attacked. So what he actually means is that someone else has been attacked, allowing the United States to step in as a gesture of generosity and assistance. But, as a rule, this stepping in is not appreciated, not requested, not actually helpful, on the contrary catastrophically counterproductive, and also, by the way, illegal. Who died and made the United States the world’s policeman? Nobody. But millions of people have been killed by the policing. The publics of most countries polled in 2013 by Gallup called the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world. Pew found that viewpoint increased in 2017. To begin to grasp why, just imagine if some other country began bombing several nations at a time out of the goodness of its heart. The shrieks of “Rogue Nation!” and “War Criminal!” would echo across every corporate news outlet.

Imagine if some country put missiles just inside Canada and Mexico aimed at the United States, the way that the United States does to Russia. Imagine if they justified this as defensive and pointed out that it was being done by their Defense Department which proved it. There’s a video of Vladimir Putin asking former U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock about U.S. missiles near Russia, and Matlock tells Putin not to worry because the missiles are purely a jobs program for back in the states. Would such an answer satisfy us if the case were reversed? Never mind that the studies done by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst show quite clearly that military spending costs us jobs rather than adding to them.

Although the one relatively recent U.S. war that Pete says was just cannot possibly outweigh the damage done by all the U.S. wars we agree were not plus the diversion of funding, the risk of nuclear apocalypse, the war machine’s environmental damage, the political and cultural damage, the counterproductive endangerment rather than protection, etc., let me look at that one war very briefly.

This is the Persian Gulf War. Recall that the United States had worked to bring Saddam Hussein to power and had armed and aided him in an aggressive war against Iran for years. A company called American Type Culture Collection in Manassas, Virginia, supplied the biological materials for anthrax to Saddam Hussein. Only later, when it was clear Iraq had no significant biological or chemical much less nuclear weapons, the pretense that it had new vast stockpiles of them was somehow a justification to bomb a nation full of human beings, 99.9 percent of whom had never shaken hands with Donald Rumsfeld. But first came the Gulf War. Like every war, it began with a period of threats, which bore no resemblance to the immediacy and urgency of a mugging in a dark alley or similar analogy that Pete likes to use. In fact, during this particular drawn-out period, a public relations company coached a girl to lie to Congress that Iraq was taking babies out of incubators. And meanwhile Iraq proposed to withdraw from Kuwait if Israel would withdraw from Palestinian territories illegally occupied, and Iraq proposed a weapons of mass destruction free Middle East. Numerous governments and even a guy who’s supposedly never wrong called The Pope urged the U.S. to pursue a peaceful settlement. The U.S. preferred war. At further odds with irrelevant analogies to personal self-defense, the U.S. in this war killed tens of thousands of Iraqis while they were retreating.

Do you know why recent presidents other than Trump have not proposed big military parades? It’s because none of the U.S. wars since the Gulf War has been able to even remotely pretend to a “victory.” The point is not that we need a victory after which we should want a parade, but rather that there is no such thing as a victory — the Gulf War wasn’t one either — and we need to recognize that basic truth before we’re all turned into fire and fury. The endless bombings and sanctions (who remembers Madeleine Albright saying that killing a half million children was justified?), and the new wars, and troops in Saudi Arabia, and terrorism aimed at getting troops out of Saudi Arabia (what do you think 9/11 was, exactly?), and the further militarization of the Middle East, and horrible illnesses among veterans, and all the other horrors that followed from the Gulf War render grotesque the notion that it was a “victory.” Do you know what Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh said to excuse blowing up a building in Oklahoma City? Like a perfect Just War Theorist, he said that he had a higher purpose, so that the building and the people killed in it were merely collateral damage. And do you know why people didn’t fall for that line? Because McVeigh did not have effective control of any television networks.

By the way, I do believe we should offer Trump a deal: one parade for each war he ends.

Pete’s candidate number 2 for a Just War is Bosnia. As every war has a Hitler, the man Tony Blair labeled Hitler this time was Slobodan Milosevic. While very far from an admirable leader, he was lied about, the war failed to overthrow him, the creative nonviolent Otpur movement later did overthrow him, and the UN’s criminal tribunal later effectively and posthumously exonerated him of his charges in a lengthy ruling on another defendant. The U.S. had worked vigorously for the breakup of Yugoslavia and intentionally prevented negotiated agreements among the parties. Then-U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said, “In its first weeks in office, the Clinton administration has administered a death blow to the Vance-Owen plan that would have given the Serbs 43 percent of the territory of a unified state. In 1995 at Dayton, the administration took pride in an agreement that, after nearly three more years of horror and slaughter, gave the Serbs 49 percent in a state partitioned into two entities.”

Three years later came the Kosovo war. The United States believed that, unlike Crimea, Kosovo had the right to secede. But the United States did not want it done, like Crimea, without any people getting killed. In the June 14, 1999 issue of The Nation, George Kenney, a former State Department Yugoslavia desk officer, reported: “An unimpeachable press source who regularly travels with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told this [writer] that, swearing reporters to deep-background confidentiality at the Rambouillet talks, a senior State Department official had bragged that the United States ‘deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept.’ The Serbs needed, according to the official, a little bombing to see reason.” Jim Jatras, a foreign policy aide to Senate Republicans, reported in a May 18, 1999, speech at the Cato Institute in Washington that he had it “on good authority” that a “senior Administration official told media at Rambouillet, under embargo” the following: “We intentionally set the bar too high for the Serbs to comply. They need some bombing, and that’s what they are going to get.” In interviews with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, both Kenney and Jatras asserted that these were actual quotes transcribed by reporters who spoke with a U.S. official.

The United Nations did not authorize the United States and its NATO allies to bomb Serbia in 1999. Neither did the United States Congress. The U.S. engaged in a massive bombing campaign that killed large numbers of people, injured many more, destroyed civilian infrastructure, hospitals, and media outlets, and created a refugee crisis. This destruction was accomplished through lies, fabrications, and exaggerations about atrocities, and then justified anachronistically as a response to violence that it helped generate.

In the year prior to the bombing some 2,000 people were killed, a majority by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas who, with support from the CIA, were seeking to incite a Serbian response that would appeal to Western humanitarian warriors. At the same time, NATO member Turkey was committing much larger atrocities, with 80% of their weapons coming from the United States. But Washington didn’t want war with Turkey, so no propaganda campaign was built around its crimes; instead weapons shipments to Turkey were increased. In contrast, a slick propaganda campaign regarding Kosovo established a model that would be followed in future wars, by connecting exaggerated and fictional atrocities to the Nazi holocaust. A photo of a thin man seen through barbed wire was reproduced endlessly. But investigative journalist Philip Knightly determined that it was probably the reporters and photographers who were behind the barbed wire, and that the place photographed, while ugly, was a refugee camp that people, including the fat man standing next to the thin man, were free to leave. There were indeed atrocities, but most of them occurred after the bombing, not before it. Most of Western reporting inverted that chronology.

Last night Pete also labeled the Israeli Six Days War of 1967 as the quintessentially justifiable war on the part of Israel. Israeli General Matti Peled, popular hero of that war, has a son named Miko Peled who wrote this six years ago:

“In 1967, as today, the two power centers in Israel were the IDF high command and the Cabinet. On June 2, 1967, the two groups met at IDF headquarters. The military hosts greeted the generally cautious and dovish prime minister, Levi Eshkol, with such a level of belligerence that the meeting was later commonly called ‘the Generals’ Coup.’ The transcripts of that meeting, which I found in the Israeli army archives, reveal that the generals made it clear to Eshkol that the Egyptians would need 18 months to two years before they would be ready for a full-scale war, and therefore this was the time for a preemptive strike. My father told Eshkol: ‘Nasser is advancing an ill-prepared army because he is counting on the Cabinet being hesitant. Your hesitation is working in his advantage.’ . . . Throughout the meeting, there was no mention of a threat but rather of an ‘opportunity’ that was there, to be seized. Within short order, the Cabinet succumbed to the pressure of the army, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

A so-called preemptive mass-slaughter, followed by decades of illegal genocidal occupation, justified by a danger 18-months away, I propose, bears zero similarity to what you should do if you see someone confronted by a mugger in a dark alley in Harrisonburg. As mugging victims and surgeons and good Samaritans never justify their behavior with war analogies, how about we do them the same courtesy and not justify war with analogies to such unrelated endeavors?

In 2011, so that NATO could begin bombing Libya, the African Union was prevented by NATO from presenting a peace plan to Libya.

In 2003, Iraq was open to unlimited inspections or even the departure of its president, according to numerous sources, including the president of Spain to whom U.S. President Bush recounted Hussein’s offer to leave.

In 2001, Afghanistan was open to turning Osama bin Laden over to a third country for trial.

Go back through history. The United States sabotaged peace proposals for Vietnam. The Soviet Union proposed peace negotiations before the Korean War. Spain wanted the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine to go to international arbitration before the Spanish American War. Mexico was willing to negotiate the sale of its northern half. In each case, the U.S. preferred war. Peace has to be carefully avoided.

So when someone asks me what I would do instead of attacking Afghanistan, I have three answers, progressively less flippant.

  1. Don’t attack Afghanistan.
  2. Prosecute crimes as crimes, don’t commit new crimes. Use diplomacy and the rule of law.
  3. Work to create a world with systems of justice and dispute resolution and economies and politics that do without the institution of war altogether.

PS: All the questions will be about World War II regardless, so I’ll just save that one for the Q&A.

Thank you.


David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. War Is A Lie: Second Edition, published by Just World Books on April 5, 2016. I’ll come anywhere in the world to speak about it. Invite me! Support David’s work.

see also:

The World Is My Country: Important New Film about Garry Davis’s Fight for Global Citizenship (watch the film online for free from Feb. 14-21)

from the archives:

A Trumparade Would Stir Up War Fever by David Swanson + What Banner Would You Carry In The Counter Parade? by Rivera Sun

David Swanson: The More The US Spends On Weapons, The Less Safe We Are

One Of The Key Reasons To End War Is That War Impoverishes Us by David Swanson + Rev. Dr. William Barber on Militarism

War = Capitalism, Capitalism = War by William Bowles

David Swanson: Why End War

Howard Zinn: Myths of the Good Wars (Three Holy Wars) (must-see)

75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies by David Swanson

Don’t Enlist, But Don’t Just Take My Word For It by Lo

2 thoughts on “David Swanson VS Pete Kilner: Is War Ever Justifiable?

  1. Pingback: Underestimating The U.S. Military Budget, Altruism and Sadism by David Swanson – Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: Possible New War Opponents by David Swanson – Dandelion Salad

Please add to the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s