Home > Uncategorized > We need a peace movement now – posted 9/11/2022

We need a peace movement now – posted 9/11/2022

In my lifetime, I have experienced three peace movements. There was the enormous anti-Vietnam War peace movement, the international nuclear freeze movement in the 1980’s and the smaller movement that opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

What is worrisome about our own time is that there is not a comparable peace movement even though a hot war danger remains high. Both Ukraine and the situation with China raise the spectre of possible nuclear war.

At least in the 1980’s masses of people were afraid of nuclear war. Now it seems like people simply assume it won’t happen. Our time lacks forceful voices emphasizing diplomacy, negotiation and peace-making. Neither political party appears to see or address the increased militarism and war risk.

This is probably not surprising considering the history of empires. Like the British Empire and other colonial empires before it, the American empire wants a unipolar world where it calls the shots. After the Soviet Union disintegrated, the United States sought to establish global political and military dominance.

Instead of a peace dividend after the Cold War, power to control world affairs has been the agenda of our political elite, whether Republican or Democratic. Like 19th century imperialists, our leaders remain stuck in old ways of thinking. It is like lessons are never learned from past wars. Vietnam and Iraq don’t register or even cause pause. We have a need for an enemy and it is on to the next war.

Not enough leaders of major powers take seriously the reality of looming climate catastrophe and how it requires change. The science could not be clearer. Carbon dioxide emissions are the leading source of greenhouse gases which are responsible for global warming. Combustion of fossil fuels is primarily behind the emissions.

If we do not trigger an immediate decline in such combustion, the results will be nightmarish. They are already quite evident. Take your pick: the devastating floods in Pakistan, the heatwaves in China, Europe and California. And the raging forest fires in the western U.S.. Superstorms and flooding are in our future.

Even though the Inflation Reduction Act passed Congress and it has laudable climate provisions, action on climate ranks behind military needs among almost all American leaders. In 2020 the United States spent an estimated $778 billion on its military. That represents almost 40% of the world’s military expenditures even though the U.S. composes 4.25% of the world’s population.

In a bi-partisan way, we throw many billions of dollars into the war in Ukraine. Our military leaders want to weaken Russia. They still see it as an enemy, even not being communist. There is precious little talk of a negotiated settlement in Ukraine although there must be such a settlement.

I oppose the Russian invasion and I think there should be an immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine. But the narrative that western powers are blameless is simple-minded. As Jeffrey Sachs has persuasively argued “the real history starts with the Western promise to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not enlarge to the East”. That was followed by four waves of NATO aggrandizement.

The war needs to end. No one wants to think about it but the threat of nuclear war remains too high. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukaine, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, has come under fire. Shelling by either side could lead to a Chernobyl. If the war continues to go badly for Russia, would a desperate Putin play the nuclear card? Probably not, but speculation is not that reassuring.

Similarly, the U.S. should not be escalating tensions with China. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was ill-advised and unnecessarily provocative. Tensions with China must be de-escalated.

China and the U.S. are the world’s largest carbon emitters. Last year, U.S. Climate Evoy John Kerry and China Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua issued a joint statement to strengthen the Paris Agreement by adopting long-term strategies aimed at net-zero greenhouse gas emissions to keep the world’s temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

After Pelosi’s visit, China broke off climate talks and launched large scale military drills. The foolishness of scuttling U.S.-China climate talks should be obvious but hawkishness appears to be in vogue. And unfortunately that is not an accident.

Powerful economic forces, our military-industrial complex and particularly weapons manufacturers, want war expenditures to always remain high. They always want to modernize weapons systems regardless of whether it is nukes, fighter planes or battleships. It is fundamentally about profit. As Randolph Bourne said over 100 years ago: “War is the health of the state’.

A new peace movement is needed to challenge our misguided priorities of military dominance and empire-building. America still maintains 750 foreign military bases spread across 80 nations. Our military is the world’s largest oil consumer and causes more greenhouse gas emissions than 140 nations combined. What good will an American empire be if the world is not habitable for our children and grandchildren? War should not be taking precedence over climate.

In the 21st century, there is a need for a new definition of national security which would make the climate emergency and prevention of nuclear war our highest priorities.

Hamilton Nolan has written:

“We are like the drivers of a car accelerating toward a brick wall, unwilling to take our foot off the gas pedal and hit the brakes, because we don’t want to disturb the passengers in the back seat.”

As the old saying goes, there is no way to peace, peace is the way.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 11, 2022 at 11:06 pm

    Thanks, Jon. A great resource is the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament, and Common Security, led by Joseph Gerson. They sponsor informative webinars, share excellent analysis on the issues you named, and issue periodic action alerts. Visit them at https://cpdcs.org/ or find them on Facebook.

  2. jlewandohotmailcom
    September 12, 2022 at 3:12 pm

    I’m feeling a little called out this morning. (; You’re right, though–as big a peacenik as I was in the Viet Nam and Gulf Wars eras, my attention (and that of most of my CA anti-war cohort) has become diffuse. It’s hard to figure out what to pay attention to these days, but as you say, peace is the way.

  3. October 1, 2022 at 2:23 pm

    For an important reason for so few advocates for peace, see my new book, The Trillion Dollar Silencer: Why There is So Little Antiwar Protest in the US, Clarity Press. I am a NH writer and have sections in the book about NH, also a map. I would be delighted if you would review it for the Concord Monitor. Email me at jroelofs@keene.edu for a review copy pdf.

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