By David Swanson
Anti-War Advocate: Is there a case that can be made for war?
Pro-War Advocate: Well, yes. In a word: Hitler!
Anti-War Advocate: Is “Hitler!” a case for future wars? Let me suggest some reasons why I think it isn’t. First, the world of the 1940s is gone, its colonialism and imperialism replaced by other varieties, its absence of nuclear weapons replaced by their ever-present threat. No matter how many people you call “Hitler,” none of them is Hitler, none of them is seeking to roll tanks into wealthy nations. And, no, Russia did not invade Ukraine any of the numerous times you heard that reported in recent years. In fact, the U.S. government facilitated a coup that empowered Nazis in Ukraine. And even those Nazis are not “Hitler!”
When you go back 75 years to find a justification for the institution of war, the biggest public project of the United States for each of the past 75 years, you’re going back to a different world — something we wouldn’t do with any other project. If schools had made people dumber for 75 years but educated someone 75 years ago, would that justify next year’s spending on schools? If the last time a hospital saved a life was 75 years ago, would that justify next year’s spending on hospitals? If wars have caused nothing but suffering for 75 years, what is the value of claiming that there was a good one 75 years ago?
Also, World War II was decades in the making, and there is no need to spend decades creating any new war. By avoiding World War I — a war that virtually nobody even tries to justify — earth would have avoided World War II. The Treaty of Versailles ended World War I in a stupid manner that many predicted on the spot would lead to World War II. Then Wall Street spent decades investing in the Nazis. While reckless behavior that makes wars more likely remains common, we are perfectly capable of recognizing it and ceasing it.
Pro-War Advocate: But what makes you think we will? The fact that we could in theory prevent a new Hitler doesn’t exactly put the mind at ease.
Anti-War Advocate: Not a new “Hitler!” Even Hitler wasn’t “Hitler!” The idea that Hitler intended to conquer the world including the Americas was ginned up with fraudulent documents by FDR and Churchill including a phony map carving up South America and a phony plan to end all religion. There was no German threat to the United States, and ships that FDR claimed were innocently attacked were actually helping British war planes. Hitler might have enjoyed conquering the world, but lacked any plan or ability to do so, as those places he did conquer continued to resist.
Pro-War Advocate: So just let the Jews die? Is that what you’re saying?
Anti-War Advocate: The war had nothing to do with saving the Jews or any other victims. The United States and other nations refused Jewish refugees. The U.S. Coast Guard chased a ship of Jewish refugees away from Miami. The blockade of Germany and then the all-out war on German cities led to deaths that a negotiated settlement might have spared, as peace advocates argued. The United States did negotiate with Germany about prisoners of war, just not about prisoners of death camps and not about peace. World War II in total killed roughly ten times the number of people killed in the German camps. Alternatives might have been horrible but could hardly have been worse. The war, not its supposed, after-the-fact justification, was the very worst thing humans have ever done to themselves.
The U.S. President wanted into the war, promised Churchill as much, did everything possible to provoke Japan, knew an attack was coming, and that same night drafted a declaration of war against both Japan and Germany. The victory over Germany was very largely a Soviet victory, with the United States playing a relatively bit role. So, to the extent that a war can be a victory for an ideology (probably not at all) it would make more sense to call WWII a victory for “communism” than for “democracy.”
Pro-War Advocate: What about protecting England and France?
Anti-War Advocate: And China, and the rest of Europe and Asia? Again, if you’re going to go back 75 years, you can go back a dozen more and avoid creating the problem. If you’re going to use the knowledge we have 75 years later, you can apply organized nonviolent resistance techniques to great effect. We are sitting on 75 years of additional knowledge of how powerful nonviolent action can be, including how powerful it was when employed against the Nazis. Because nonviolent non-cooperation is more likely to succeed, and that success more likely to last, there is no need for war. And even if you could justify joining in World War II, you would still have to justify continuing it for years and expanding it into total war on civilians and infrastructure aimed at maximum death and unconditional surrender, an approach which of course cost millions of lives rather than saving them — and which bestowed on us a legacy of all-out war that has killed tens of millions more since.
Pro-War Advocate: There’s a difference between fighting on the right side and the wrong side.
Anti-War Advocate: Is it a difference you can see from under the bombs? While the human rights failures of a foreign culture do not justify bombing people (the worst such failure possible!), and the goodness of one’s own culture likewise doesn’t justify killing anybody (thereby erasing any supposed goodness). But it is worth remembering or learning, that leading up to, during, and after World War II, the United States engaged in eugenics, human experimentation, apartheid for African Americans, camps for Japanese Americans, and the widespread promotion of racism, anti-Semitism, and imperialism. Upon the end of World War II, after the United States had, with no justification, dropped nuclear bombs on two cities, the U.S. military quietly hired hundreds of former Nazis, including some of the worst criminals, who found a home quite comfortably in the U.S. war industry.
Pro-War Advocate: That’s all well and good, but, Hitler . . .
Anti-War Advocate: You said that.
Pro-War Advocate: Well, then, forget Hitler. Do you support slavery or the U.S. Civil War?
Anti-War Advocate: Yes, well, let’s imagine that we wanted to end mass-incarceration or fossil-fuel consumption or the slaughter of animals. Would it make the most sense to first find some big fields in which to kill each other in large numbers and to then make the desired policy change, or would it make the most sense to skip the killing and simply jump ahead to doing the thing we want done? This was what other countries and Washington D.C. (the District of Columbia) did with ending slavery. Fighting a war contributed nothing, and in fact failed to end slavery, which continued under other names for nearly a century in the U.S. South, while the bitterness and violence of the war have yet to recede. The dispute between the North and South was over the slavery or freedom of new territories to be stolen and killed for in the west. When the South left over that dispute, the North’s demand was to retain its empire.
Pro-War Advocate: What was the North supposed to do?
Anti-War Advocate: Instead of war? The answer to that is always the same: not wage war. If the South left, let it leave. Be happier with a smaller, more self-governable nation. Cease returning anyone escaping from slavery. Cease economically supporting slavery. Put every nonviolent tool to use in forwarding the cause of abolition in the South. Just don’t kill three-quarters of a million people and burn cities and generate everlasting hatred.
Pro-War Advocate: I imagine you’d say the same of the American Revolution?
Anti-War Advocate: I’d say you have to squint pretty hard to see what Canada lost by not having one, other than the dead and destroyed, the tradition of war glorification, and the same history of violent westward expansion that the war unleashed.
Pro-War Advocate: Easy for you to say looking back. How do you know what it looked like then and there, if you’re so much wiser than George Washington?
Anti-War Advocate: I think it would be easy for anyone to say looking back. We’ve had leading war makers looking back and regretting their wars from their rocking chairs for centuries. We’ve had a majority of the public say each war it supported was wrong to begin, a year or two too late, for quite a while now. My interest is in rejecting the idea that there could be a good war in the future, never mind the past.
Pro-War Advocate: As everyone realizes at this point, there have even been good wars, such as in Rwanda, that have been missed, that should have been.
Anti-War Advocate: Why do you use the word “even”? Isn’t it only the wars that didn’t happen that are held up as good these days? Aren’t all the humanitarian wars that actually happen universally recognized as catastrophes? I remember being told to support bombing Libya because “Rwanda!” but now nobody ever tells me to bomb Syria because “Libya!” — it’s still always because “Rwanda!” But the slaughter in Rwanda was preceded by years of U.S.-backed militarism in Uganda, and assassinations by the U.S.-designated future ruler of Rwanda, for whom the United States stood out of the way, including in subsequent years as the war in Congo took millions of lives. But never was there a crisis that would have been alleviated by bombing Rwanda. There was a completely avoidable moment, created by war making, during which peaceworkers and aid workers and armed police might have helped, but not bombs.
Pro-War Advocate: So you don’t support humanitarian wars?
Anti-War Advocate: No more than humanitarian slavery. U.S. wars kill almost entirely on one side and almost entirely locals, civilians. These wars are genocides. Meanwhile the atrocities we’re told to call genocides because foreign are produced by and consist of war. War is not a tool for preventing something worse. There is nothing worse. War kills first and foremost through the massive diversion of funds to the war industries, funds that could have saved lives. War is the top destroyer of the natural environment. Nuclear war or accident is, along with environmental destruction, a top threat to human life. War is the top eroder of civil liberties. There’s nothing humanitarian about it.
Pro-War Advocate: So we should just let ISIS get away with it?
Anti-War Advocate: That would be wiser than continuing to make matters worse through a war on terrorism that generates more terrorism. Why not try disarmament, aid, diplomacy, and clean energy?
Pro-War Advocate: You know, no mater what you say, war maintains our way of life, and we’re not going to just end it.
Anti-War Advocate: The arms trade, in which the United States leads the world, is a way of death, not a way of life. It enriches a few at the expense of the many economically and of the many who die as a result. The war industry itself is an economic drain, not a job creator. We could have more jobs than exist in the death industries from a smaller investment in life industries. And other industries are not able to cruelly exploit the poor of the world because of war — but if they were, I’d be glad to see that ended as war ended.
Pro-War Advocate: You can dream, but war is inevitable and natural; it’s part of human nature.
Anti-War Advocate: In fact at least 90% of humanity’s governments invest dramatically less in war than does the U.S. government, and at least 99% of people in the United States do not participate in the military. Meanwhile there are 0 cases of PTSD from war deprivation, and the top killer of U.S. troops is suicide. Natural, you say?!
Pro-War Advocate: You can’t hold up foreigners as examples when we’re talking about human nature. Besides, we’ve now developed drone wars which eliminate concerns with other wars, since in drone wars nobody gets killed.
Anti-War Advocate: Truly you are a real humanitarian.
Pro-War Advocate: Um, thank you. It just takes being serious enough to face the tough decisions.