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We Need No More War

We Need No More War
 

This little essay is partly a statement of deeply felt personal opinion, for whatever it’s worth, and partly an appeal, for those similarly disposed, for a discussion of possible action. It’s an invitation to create an urgent collective voice for peace.

The recent appointments of a new secretary of state and a new national security advisor, both presumably quite bright but both extremely hawkish, has to be the subject of real concern – as many editorialists have noted. We now have folks in office who have openly called for so-called preemptive action against, potentially, both North Korea and Iran, and who have been dismissive of diplomatic alternatives. Their new access to power is a chilling prospect. And while the problem is widely noted, we have not figured out how to move beyond laments.

We can easily agree that life would be easier if North Korea and Iran had different regimes; but they don’t, and responsible policy should be directed at figuring out how to co-exist with them while working to reduce the threat. There is no moral or practical justification for considering another round of military intervention, particularly as we are still trying to manage the effects of our last disastrous effort.

New war – short of retaliating for a really direct military attack – or even creating a situation (with Iran) that is likely to encourage action by others in which we might be quickly involved, would have a host of evil results. It would kill many innocent people, including (at least in the Korean case) a number of Americans. It would further drain our treasury and distract from building the conditions for ongoing economic strength. It would have (as did our previous action against Iraq) a host of unpredictable consequences, and would further isolate us in the larger world. There is real and present danger here.

Now, maybe our new leaders will in fact consider more constructive policies; we can hope, despite their prior proclamations. Or maybe they will be constrained by other personnel. The obvious problem is that we can hope but cannot be sure. And there is the widely-discussed possibility of a decision to move out militarily in hopes of rallying the nation behind a regime beset by growing problems at home.

Assuming that this analysis is correct or at least plausible, the obvious question is, what might be done – at least in advance of a potentially disastrous new conflict. We have a mixed track record at best. Public pressure certainly helped end the war in Vietnam, but this was after years of struggle, which I don’t believe we can afford another time around. Mobilization of a minority against the anticipated invasion of Iraq (joined by massive protests elsewhere in the world) generated a truly impressive outpouring in 2003, but they did not prevent. (And, as a recent Pew poll indicated, 43% of all Americans still think that this action was a good idea – an attitude shared by at least one of the President’s new advisors.) We clearly must consider our precedents, but also the need to surpass them – another reason to devise an active program now.

This first vital step has already been taken: a substantial stream of editorial warnings. Yet how much restraining impact these will have is questionable, particularly given the range of crises and protest goals that besiege us almost daily and given the speed with which a military confrontation might unfold.

And this is why at the least, we need to begin talking about additional possibilities, in advance of some imminent action and in various venues including, inevitably, college campuses. We need to encourage new ways to promote nonmilitary priorities, along with being ready to respond as vigorously as possible if potential threats come closer to actuality. We almost certainly need to add a peace-first check to the various questions we want to pose to congressional candidates prior to the upcoming elections, despite all the other issues, from guns to medical care, that we also seek to vet. And we need to stimulate existing representatives, including established leaders like Tim Kaine and John McCain, to reactivate discussion of the War Powers Act and other constraining measures – at least to have the issues in public view, even if no action is yet possible.

American leaders have learned how to make war without much apparent domestic disruption, which complicates any effort to sound a new alarm. But even our existing wars have taken a real toll – in casualties, in costs, in ongoing psychological distress – and there is real reason to fear that any new action will cause damage still worse.

And this is why, despite all the challenges, it is time to discuss the importance of peace , and the conditions that will best assure it, even beyond solid editorials. Let’s begin, those of us already concerned, by raising the issues as widely as possible and welcoming creative strategies in response. Let’s not wait for new disaster to provide a more compelling spur. Our recent experience demonstrates how hard it is to stop a war once begun. It’s imperative not just to lament the apparent new policy turn, but to insist on countervailing constraints.

For my part, recognizing it’s a baby step, I am working with some faculty and students colleagues to stimulate a campus discussion and seek connections to activists at other universities, to stimulate barriers to war. Allies, and better ideas, are urgently welcomed.