Earlier this year, I received the following email (all spelling and grammar in the original):
So, when you were a Christian, did you have a relationship with the Lord? And if you did, did you not study the bible, asking Him how you should apply what is written into your life? Did you not realize all the he said, she said of different Christian religions is all man made, laws and rituals(earthly confusion I think making others/us separated from God ) and not to be our basis for judging one another, because that is God’s job anyways.
I was raised catholic. I married a divorced Lutheran, and my scales were slowly being removed, as my mother in law told me, you know there will be others besides catholics in heaven. ..that rocked my world. . Fast forward 25 years of living in Houston Texas and many different Christian churches, all having nuances that makes them their label, but the church began when Jesus started preaching? Or died? I don’t really know, but does that affect my salvation?
I believe no one shall come to the Father except through the Son. So, how did you break off your relationship with Our Lord? You know, He’s never let go of you and there’s nothing you can do to separate His love for you. I’m glad I don’t have it all figured out, because I bet you don’t have peace if you’re still lost in this stuff you’re trying to hold onto. Pride is a sneaky thing. But God loves His perfectly imperfect children.
Oh where, oh where do I begin. Let’s start (and end) with the statement, I bet you don’t have peace.
First, what is peace? Evangelicals love to talk about peace, yet they rarely give a concrete definition of what peace actually is. Evangelicals say Jesus gives them peace, but they never define that which Jesus gives them. The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:7:
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Maybe that’s the problem. Evangelicals can’t define peace because it passes all understanding. If peace passes all understanding, how, then, can the letter writer know whether I have it? What in my life and writing suggests that I don’t have peace? Because I yell at the television when the Cincinnati Reds are losing, and I do the same when the Cincinnati Bengals inexplicably throw away yet another game? What, exactly, is this peace I don’t have?
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Evangelicals believe Isaiah 9:6 is a prophetic passage of Scripture about Jesus:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
According to Evangelicals, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The angels of God came to the shepherds who were in the fields with their flocks and said of the birth of Jesus:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Jesus supposedly brought to earth peace and goodwill to all men. Yet, Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36 that he did not come to earth to bring peace:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is — present tense. Christians are to demonstrate love, joy, PEACE, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance in their lives. How many Christians do you know who manifest these things in their lives? Think of all your Christian Facebook friends. Do you associate them with the word peace? Remember, the fruit of the Spirit is the standard by which Christians are judged. How many Christians do you know who exude peace? The next time Donald Trump has a narcissistic pep rally, watch how attendees behave, and remember most of them claim to be followers of Jesus. The next time you read a story about Mexican or Latin American children being ripped away from their parents and housed in cages, just remember the people behind these actions profess to love Jesus. The next time the KKK or some other alt-right group holds a rally, just remember – these racists all believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Watch as sects and pastors engage in internecine warfare. Watch their attacks on fellow Christians and atheists alike. Listen to all the hateful, nasty, violent rhetoric, and just remember that these people say that they are followers of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and the almighty, wonderful Prince of Peace.
To the letter writer I ask: where can I see this peace you talk about? I am sure it exists somewhere, but from my vantage point all I see is churches and pastors fighting over who has the “truth” and who is the authoritative earthly spokesman for God. Pope Francis recently said that capital punishment — without exception — is immoral, yet some American Catholic politicians rejected the Pontiff’s order and said they had a duty to kill convicted criminals. Where’s this peace the letter writer talks about? There’s nothing peaceful about revenge killing, and that’s exactly what state-sponsored murder is.
Who are the primary supporters of the endless war on terror and the torture of enemy combatants? Who are the primary supporters of drone warfare, a violent, frightening way of raining death and destruction on solders and innocent civilians alike. Many of the loudest voices supporting the military-industrial complex belong to Evangelical Christians and members of other conservative sects. Where, oh where, is the peace that passeth all understanding?
To the letter writer I say this: perhaps your cause would be better served by getting your fellow believers to practice what they preach. You speak of peace, yet I don’t see it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the people gathered to hear him what was required of them to be his follower. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are the peacemakers. Not blessed are those who think peace is a good idea, but blessed are those who work towards making our world a peaceful place. (I’ll leave it to Christians to square what Jesus says here with what he said in Matthew 10:34-36. Good luck with that.)
I strive to be a peacemaker, first by being at peace with self, and then being at peace with my family, friends, and community. I am sure I fail at this almost every day, but I do strive to be a peaceful man. And on the global plain, as a humanist and Democratic Socialist, I work towards the cessation of war and violence. Many American Christians believe that the way to bring peace to the world is to use the U.S. military, NSA, and CIA to violently beat other nations into submission. Peace, then, is whatever the U.S. government says it us. We are the most violent and bloody nation on the face of the earth — read The Dominion of War by Fred Anderson and Andrew Clayton — yet we think the United States can bring about world peace. Until the U.S. is ready and willing to denuclearize, close up its military bases in Africa, Asia, and Europe, and stop being the world’s policeman, there will be no peace.
To the letter writer I say this: I am at peace with myself, my spouse, my family, and my neighbors. I am not an angry man, nor do I bear grudges. I do my best to practice what Paul said in Romans 12:18:
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
Not only do I strive to live peaceably with all men, as a humanist I do what I can to promote world peace. The Abrahamic religions have done little to bring about an end to violence, suffering, and death. Just look at the ongoing wars in the Middle East. George W. Bush was right when he called the war on terror a crusade. Now in its seventeenth year, the religious wars between Christians/Jews and Muslims, Jews and Muslims, and Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims continue unabated. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, millions of people have lost their homes, over a trillion dollars have been spent, and entire cities have been reduced to rubble. All praise be to God, Allah, and Jesus, right?
The letter writer thinks that I don’t have peace. He is wrong. I hope this post will cause him to think about the word peace, what it means, whether Christianity is truly a religion of peace, and whether I am the one who lacks “peace” in his life.
On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.
Is not nationalism—that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder—one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?
These ways of thinking—cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on— have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.
National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours—huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction—what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.
Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.
That self-deception started early.
When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession.”
When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.”
On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our “Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence.” After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: “We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.”
It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.
We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, “to civilize and Christianize” the Filipino people.
As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.”
We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.
Yet they are victims, too, of our government’s lies.
How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for “liberty,” for “democracy”?
One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on September 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.
We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.
We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.
This is the one hundred seventy-eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is God is On Our Side by Roxanne Cote.
Can’t you see the starving child? Can’t you see the corpses piled? A comedy of dirt and blood And God is on our side Sex slaves and trafficking Broken homes are for bidding Love at a price to buy And God is on our side Day and night I yearn for you by the dimmest light And I know I’m bearing my greatest fight Where religions were made to divide My brother and I For all the love we tried and Prayers we lied and God is on our side Monks and kings are born heartless Living in wild circus But your myths are here to guide And God is on our side Governing a red madness Fruiting a black sadness T he faith in me has died And God is on our side
Christopher Hitchens Monologue
Is it good for the world to appeal to our credulity and not to our skepticism? Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and guilt, is it good for the world? To our terror, our terror of death, is it good to appeal? To preach guilt and shame about the sexual act and the sexual relationship, is this good for the world? And asking yourself all that while, are these really religious responsibilities, as I maintain they are? To terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just of themselves, but of their parents and those they love Perhaps worst of all, to consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world? And can you name me a religion that has not done that?
Are you gonna hide forever? Are you gonna hide forever? Are you gonna hide forever? Are you gonna hide forever? Are you gonna hide forever?
In 2018, human rights are neither a topic of public discussion nor an apparent interest of American government policy. Both the president and his secretary of state think that torture is an acceptable practice as a part of our global military endeavors everywhere. The president really seems to like the North Korean dictator, a killer of his own people and his own family. President Trump “sword dances” with the new leader in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, while both give orders to dispatch warplane sorties that are destroying the poorest nation in the Middle East with bombs, blockades and ensuing famine.
Salman, the crown prince of oil, sand and a very decadent Saudi royal family, is on the offensive these days. Support for this effort comes from the United Arab Emirates and the United States. For the skeptical reader, yes, this war on Yemen was started by President Obama. The war is now three years old and being waged against a sect of Islam that is close to the Shia sect of Islam. The Saudis first tried to raise a pan-Arab coalition, but that melted away faster than ice cream in the sun. The Saudis next turned to the Americans, and with their help in the form of aerial fuel-tankers, Saudi warplanes were able to refuel and to do double duty on destruction of Yemeni targets.
For an historical perspective, Salman ought to read the Pentagon Papers. Relentless bombing in Vietnam and Cambodia did little to bring the USA a victory in Vietnam. Saudi supporters are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel just like President Johnson did, but there may be none. During the Vietnam War, the light at the end of the tunnel ended up being the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese Army. Within a few years, the Americans were going home after losing billions and billions of dollars and losing at least 69,000 brave and wonderful young men and women. I believe that a similar quagmire could happen to Saudis in their war on Yemen. Not so much in terms of the pointless loss of young Saudi pilots’ lives, but in terms of lost capital and political embarrassment as killers of over 10,000 poor in Yemen.
Make no mistake. This war in Yemen is truly one of the rich against the poor. The combined resources of the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are almost beyond count. Yemen, on the other hand, has virtually no wealth and a currently dismal future because the country’s small resources are all practically leveled by now with the Saudis bombing mosques, hotels and factories. Famine has ridden in along with the Saudi onslaught. According to the United Nations, the only way to avoid the famine is to successfully move the “three amigos” of the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into a peace agreement with the Yemeni Houthis.
Warning: I paint with a broad brush in this post. If you are not the type of Evangelical mentioned in this post, no need to whine, complain, moan, and object to my unfair characterization of your tribe. Perhaps you should ponder why you are still an Evangelical instead of feeling butt-hurt over being unfairly characterized. When Donald Trump was elected, that was your cue to run, run, run. Unless you have no legs or wheelchair, I can’t think of one reason for thoughtful, decent, socially aware Christians to remain Evangelical.
Many critics believe that Evangelicalism is imploding; that the baby birthed by the Moral Majority decades ago has now turned into a full-grown, power-hungry monster. Drunk with political success, many Evangelicals have abandoned all pretense of being followers of Jesus. Eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, arguably the most unqualified, most vile man to ever sit in the Oval Office. Trump made and continues to make a mockery of virtually everything Evangelicals supposedly hold dear, yet the president continues to have widespread support in the Evangelical community. Trump is a pathological liar, capable of repeatedly contradicting himself in a matter of minutes. Showing all the marks of being a sociopath, the president has no regard for women, children, the disabled, or, quite frankly, the human race. Trump is a one-man band, and all that matters to him is the fawning love he receives at campaign rallies and from positive news coverage. Trump continues to attack the very foundation of our democracy. He daily lashes out at the media — except for Fox News — calling them fake, threatening them with punitive action. It is clear to all who are paying attention that the president’s election campaign was in bed with people out to destroy our country. Winning at all costs is what matters to Trump, and one has to wonder if this approach will one day lead to another depression or world war. Recent news reports reveal that President Trump, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — all of whom are professing Christians — think it is moral, decent, and right to separate children from their parents in their zero-tolerance pursuit of shutting off the flow of undocumented people coming into the United States. Despite all these things, Evangelicals still overwhelmingly support porn-star-loving, pussy-grabber-in-chief, Donald Trump. It seems the president was right when he said that he could murder someone and people would still vote for him. It leaves me to wonder if there’s anything the president could do that would cause Evangelicals to turn on him and demand his removal from office. I have come to the conclusion that, for the most part, the pathological desire for a return to the mythical days when America was white, Christian, and great precludes most Evangelicals from ever seriously asking themselves the question, what would Jesus do?
The current state of affairs has me wondering if there will be any Evangelicals in Heaven? I have my doubts. Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
According to this passage of Scripture — and yes, I am well aware of all the ways Evangelicals use to get around the clear intent and implication of this passage — there is coming a day when Jesus will return to earth with his angels and sit upon the throne of his glory. At that time, he will gather humanity together and judge them, dividing them into two categories: sheep and goats. The sheep will be rewarded with eternal life, whereas the goats will receive everlasting punishment as their reward. How will Jesus determine who is in what category? Will it be, as Evangelicals contend, right beliefs that put them in the sheep pen, and wrong beliefs that land most of the human race — past and present — in the goat pen? Is right belief the true gospel Evangelicals preach? Or is there some other standard by which Jesus will judge the dead and the living on judgment day? The aforementioned passage of Scripture is clear; it is good works and not right beliefs that determine our eternal destiny. I have long argued that one must ignore much of the Gospels to conclude that good works have nothing to do with salvation. Note carefully what Jesus said would be his standard of judgment:
Feeding the hungry
Giving drink to the thirsty
Taking in strangers and caring for them
Clothing the naked
Caring for the sick
Caring for those in prison
Considering the current state of affairs and Evangelicals’ continued support of the Republican Party and Donald Trump, it’s fair to ask if there will be any Evangelicals in Heaven. In fact, I wonder if the largest section in Hell will be reserved for American Evangelicals. Using Jesus’ standard of judgment, there will be few Evangelicals in God’s eternal sheep pen. And it’s just not their support of Republican policy and President Trump that will land them in Hell. For decades now, Evangelicals have increasingly found themselves on the opposite side of the teachings of Christ. While Evangelicals revel in their love for zygotes, many of them show little interest in life after birth. Once born, children are left to the wolves, expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps before they even own a pair of boots. Evangelicals overwhelmingly support government-sponsored violence. Ever the flag wavers, Evangelicals continue to support the murderous actions of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and countless other countries. Drones rain violence and death from the sky, and Evangelicals say nothing, believing that part of making America great again is fighting them [Muslims] over there [Middle East] so we don’t have to fight them here. Evangelicals seem indifferent towards the maiming and killing of hundreds of thousands of children, women, unborn babies, and innocent bystanders. I wonder what Jesus, the Prince of Peace, would say about Evangelical support of these things? Something tells me that, much like asylum-seekers on our southern border, Evangelicals will be turned away at St. Peter’s gate. You see, it’s behavior that matters, not beliefs. Don’t tell me what you believe, show me!
Evangelicals not only support the American war machine, but they are staunch supporters of unbridled capitalism and its immoral destruction of our planet. Jesus had a lot to say about money, and something tells me that if Jesus were alive today, he and Bernie Sanders might be best friends. Greed rules virtually every aspect of American life, yet most Evangelical preachers never say a word. How can they, with their fancy churches, stained-glass windows, and million-dollar church budgets. Something tells me that these modern moneychangers would find themselves at the end of Jesus’ whip as he overturned their media tables and soundboards. Think of all the good that could be done with the money Evangelicals spend on buildings, staff, and incestuous programs that do little more than entertain fat sheep — or fat goats. Evangelicals support the rich getting richer at the expense of working-class people. I wonder who Jesus would hang out with if he came back to earth today? The ruling class? The rich? The powerful? Big name preachers? I suspect, as the Joshua series of books — written by Catholic priest Joseph Girzone — so aptly showed, that Jesus would be found hanging out at the local pub and caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned — the very people Evangelicals have no time for. But Jesus, some Evangelical might say, we are having a worship service in your name tonight. Surely you will want to spend your time with us. Why, we even pray for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned. And you know Lord, once a year our church has what we call Serve Day (a local church does just that). For five hours, we do good stuff for people. Don’t you want to join us, Lord, as we take five hours out of our busy masturbatory Jesus-worship schedule to give back to our community? I suspect that Jesus might inquire as to where all their money went; the money he gave them to do good works; the money he gave them to, you know, care for the weak, the poor, the disadvantaged, and marginalized.
Thanks to widespread ignorance concerning matters of science, many Evangelicals are also global climate-change deniers. Believing that the earth is six thousand twenty-two years old, created in six literal twenty-four-hour days, will ruin the best of minds. Besides, why worry about increasing sea levels, increasing temperatures, and wildlife habitat loss when the return of Jesus is eminent? To heck with the world, Evangelicals say, God is in charge of the weather, and if he wants increasing sea levels and increased temperatures, who are we to object?
Everything that I’ve written above will likely just piss off Evangelicals. I’m an atheist, humanist, pacifist, and a socialist, so Evangelicals will likely ignore what I have to say. I’m just a guy with an axe to grind. I hate God, so it’s no wonder that I have it out for God’s chosen ones. However, Evangelicals might consider that perhaps I am right, and that their continued support of Republican politics, Donald Trump, capitalism, and a host of other anti-Christian behaviors might earn them a bunk in Hell. Perhaps Evangelicals need consider Pascal’s Wager — you know, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, caring for strangers, and all the other things that Jesus said are the markers of a man or woman who follows after him, just in case Jesus really meant what he said. Yes, I am an atheist. The miracle working Jesus of the Bible is a myth, but the human Jesus who walked the streets of Jerusalem and the shores of Galilee said some good things that Evangelicals might want to put into practice if they expect to be singing with the Angels in the sweet by-and-by. And even if there is no Heaven or Hell, no afterlife, no judgment — don’t you want to kind, thoughtful, and helpful to others? I know I do.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
American soldiers droppings bombs on civilian Syrian men, women, and children — not an atrocity.
American soldiers raining drone missiles down on the heads of civilian Syrian men, women, and children — not an atrocity.
American soldiers shooting with bullets civilian Syrian men, women, and children — not an atrocity.
American allies bombing and shooting civilian Syrian men, women, and children — not an atrocity.
Leveling Syrian cities and villages with American bombs and missiles — not an atrocity.
Turning Syrian children into orphans — not an atrocity.
Two decades of maiming and killing tens of thousands of Syrian, Afghani, and Iraqi civilians — not an atrocity.
All the murderous violence perpetrated in the name of the war on terror and fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here has been deemed business as usual — regrettable collateral damage.
Americans are expected to believe that some sort of imaginary red line has been crossed with the alleged gassing of Syrian men, women, and children. What makes these dead more dead than previous deaths? What are we to make of President Trumps faux-moral outrage — as if the man has a moral compass to begin with? How is the President’s saber-rattling anything more than an attempt to distract from the Mueller investigation? What’s the one thing that brings Americans together? War. Not the endless war currently fought in the Middle East. No, what President Trump, Republicans, and some Democrats want is a good, old-fashioned, tit-for-tat, bombs-bursting-in-air war. What better way to say to the world that Trump didn’t collude with Russia to pervert justice and steal an election than to get into a shooting match with the Soviets? What better way to direct our attention away from trillion-dollar annual deficits — thanks to Republican tax cuts — than to give the military-industrial complex billions in new revenues; money that will be spent waging war against Communism and Islam? War is good for the American economy, and it sure as hell is good for the souls of people who think that the United States has been given a divine mission by the Christian God. What’s more thrilling than blood offerings to the God of war?
I wonder, where will God and Republicans be when notifications are made to families about the deaths of their loved ones? Where will God and the ruling class be when a regional war spins out of control and paves the way for an apocalyptic military confrontation between the United States and Russia or the United States and China, or even the United States and Iran or the United States and North Korea? Why not pick two and take them on? We whipped Germany and Japan, right? Surely, we are more than ready and able to use our military might to assert our will across the globe, thinks Donald Trump. Why have soldiers and weapons of mass destruction if you aren’t going to use them? (Trump asked this very question about nuclear weapons.) Now that President Trump has rid his cabinet of people who could temper his murderous ambition, who will stand in his way as he embroils the world in war? Who’s going to keep the toddler-in-chief from pushing the shiny big red button on his desk; not the one meant for ordering take-out from McDonald’s; the other red button, the one that unleashes the book of Revelation on planet Earth?
The warmongers — who never met a war they didn’t like — and the rich — who never met a war they couldn’t turn into profit — are now running the show. American soldiers are little more than tools used to advance a nationalistic, theocratic, hyper-capitalistic agenda. Men and women who deeply love their country will die, and to what end? Exactly what change will come from American blood being spilt on Middle Eastern sand? Pray tell, what will be gained by killing more Syrian civilians? What will be gained by dragging the world into a homicidal armed conflict? Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing.
There’s never been a time in history where war brought peace. Only peace begets peace, and until the United States understands this, countless civilians will continue to die. President Trump and Congress have the power to put an end to war. Every past president and congress had the same power. War will end the moment we lay down our weapons and choose a peaceful path. As long as American policy is enforced by violence and death, we can expect never-ending war and conflict. A bleak prospect indeed, but we must not avert our eyes from the reality unfolding before us.
This is about humanity, we’re talking about humanity, and it can’t be allowed to happen. We’ll be making that decision very quickly, probably by the end of today. We cannot allow atrocities like that. If it’s the Russians, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out. You don’t see things like that, as bad as the news is around that world, you just don’t see those images. (Donald Trump, April 9, 2018)
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
Twenty-seven psychiatrists and mental health experts have produced a book called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which I think, despite stating that the fate of the world is in the hands of an evil madman, understates the danger.
The case that these authors make is one that I believe would strike most readers not loyal to Trump as common sense. The evidence that they compile, and with which we’re mostly already familiar, strongly supports their diagnosis of Trump as hedonistic, narcissistic, bullying, dehumanizing, lying, misogynistic, paranoid, racist, self-aggrandizing, entitled, exploiting, empathy-impaired, unable to trust, free of guilt, manipulative, delusional, likely senile, and overtly sadistic. They also describe the tendency of some of these traits to grow ever worse through reinforcing cycles that seem to be underway. People, they suggest, who grow addicted to feeling special, and who indulge in paranoia can create circumstances for themselves that cause them to increase these tendencies.
As the Justice Department closes in on Trump, writes Gail Sheehy, “Trump’s survival instincts will propel him to a wag-the-dog war.” Of course, this builds in the assumptions that Trump stole the election and that we will all remain dogs, that we will start approving of Trump if he starts bombing more people. Certainly this has been the U.S. corporate media’s approach thus far. But need it be ours? The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists disapproves and has moved the doomsday clock closer to zero. The Council on Foreign Relations has begun listing the United States as a top threat to the United States. A Congressional committee has held a hearing on the danger of a Trumpian nuclear war (even while feigning impotence to do anything about it). It’s not beyond the realm of imagination that the U.S. public could refuse to cheer for more mass murder.
In this regard, certainly most past presidents have been more successful, not less, than Trump at what Robert J. Lifton calls the normalization of evil. He gives as an example the creation of the acceptance of torture. And certainly we’ve moved from Bush Jr. secretly torturing to Obama refusing to prosecute to Trump publicly supporting torture. But many still deem torture unacceptable. Hence this book’s assumption that the reader will agree that torture is evil. But murder by bomb or drone missile has been so normalized, including by Barack “I’m really good at killing people” Obama, that it’s passed over by this book as simply normal. Lifton does refer to the normalization of a nuclear threat during the (previous) Cold War, but seems to believe that phenomenon to be a problem of the past rather than one so successfully normalized that people don’t see it anymore.
Most of the symptoms found in Trump have existed in various degrees and combinations in past presidents and in past and current Congress members. But some of the symptoms seem to serve only as icing. That is, alone they are deemed unobjectionable, but in combination with others they point to severe sociopathy. Obama switched positions, lied, schemed, falsely marketed wars, reveled in the commission of murder, joked about using drone missiles on his daughter’s boyfriends, etc. But he spoke well, used a better vocabulary, avoided blatant racism, sexism, and personal bullying, didn’t seem to worship himself, didn’t brag about sexual assault, and so on.
My point, I very much wish it were needless to say, is not the equivalence of any president with another, but the normalization of illnesses in society as much as in individuals. This book goes after Trump for falsely claiming that Obama was spying on him. Yet the unconstitutional blanket surveillance of the NSA effectively means that Obama was indeed spying on everyone, including Trump. Sure, Trump was lying. Sure, Trump was paranoid. But if we avoid the larger reality, we’re lying too.
The symptoms from which Trump suffers may be taken as a guide to action by his followers, but they have long been understood to be an outline of the techniques of war propaganda. Dehumanization may be something Trump suffers from, but it’s also a necessary skill in persuading people to participate in war. Trump was given the presidential nomination by media outlets that asked primary candidates questions that included “Would you be willing to kill hundreds and thousands of innocent children?” Had a candidate said no, he or she would have been disqualified. The authors fault Trump for his joining the long list of presidents who have threatened to use nukes, but when Jeremy Corbyn said he wouldn’t use nukes, all hell broke loose in the UK, and his mental state was called into question there. Alzheimer’s may be a disease afflicting Trump, but when Bernie Sanders mentioned important bits of history like a coup in Iran in ’53, the television networks found something else to cover.
Is it possible that refusing to confront reality has been normalized so deeply that the authors join in it, or are required to by their agent or editor? Academic studies say the U.S. government is an oligarchy. These doctors say they want to defend the U.S. “democracy” from Trump. This book identifies Vladimir Putin as being essentially the same as Adolf Hitler, based on zero offered evidence, and treats Trump denials of colluding with Russia to steal an election as signs of dishonesty or delusion. But how do we explain most members of the Democratic Party believing in Russiagate without proof? How do we explain Iran being voted the biggest threat to peace in the world by Americans, while people in most countries, according to Gallup and Pew, give that honor to the United States? What are we to make of the vast majority of Americans claiming to “believe in” “God” and denying the existence of death? Isn’t climate denial child’s play beside that one, if we set aside the factor of normalization?
If a corporation or an empire or an athlete or a Hollywood action film were a person, it might be Donald Trump. But we all live in the world of corporations, empire, etc. We also apparently live in a world in which numerous men enjoy abusing women. That all these sexual harassers in the news, some of whom I am guessing are innocent but most of whom appear guilty, have convinced themselves that women don’t really mind the abuse can, I think, be only a small part of the explanation. The large part seems quite clearly to be that we live in a country of sadists. And shouldn’t they get a chance to elect someone who represents their point of view? Trump has been a public figure for decades, and most of his symptoms are nothing new, but he’s been protected and even rewarded throughout. Trump incites violence on Twitter, but Twitter will not disable Trump’s account. Congress is staring numerous documented impeachable offenses in the face, but chooses to look into only the one that lacks evidence but fuels war. The media, as noted, while remarkably improving on its enabling deference, still seems to give Trump the love he craves only when he brags about bombing people.
The U.S. Constitution is and has always been deeply flawed in many ways, but it did not intend to give any individual beyond-royal powers over the earth. I’ve always viewed the obsession with the emperor that this article I’m now writing feeds as part of the problem of transferring power to him. But the authors of The Dangerous Case are right that we have no choice but to focus on him now. All we’d need would be a Cuban Missile Crisis and our fate would be sealed. The Emperor Formerly Known As Executive should be given the powers of the British queen, not be replaced by an acceptable Democratic emperor. The first step should be using the Constitution.
Similar analyses of George W. Bush’s mental health, not to mention a laundry list of abuses and crimes, never resulted in any action against him. And despite this new book’s claim to defend “democracy” it does not use the word “impeachment.” Instead, it turns to the 25th Amendment which allows the president’s own subordinates to ask Congress to remove him from office. Perhaps because the likelihood of that happening is so extreme, and because further stalling and protecting of Trump is naturally a means of appearing “reasonable,” the authors propose a study be done (even though they’ve just written a book) and that it be done by Congress. But if Congress were to take up this matter, it could impeach Trump and remove him without asking permission of his cabinet or doing any investigations. In fact, it could impeach him for any of a number of the behaviors that are studied in this book.
The authors note that Trump has encouraged imitation of his outrages. We’ve seen that here in Charlottesville. They note that he’s also created the Trump Anxiety Disorder in those he frightens. I’m 100% on board with treating fear as a symptom to be cured.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
Not even a year has passed since Donald Trump’s election victory. Yet already, his over-the-top, pugnacious rhetoric and actions have exacerbated Washington’s conflict with North Korea to the point where some observers are comparing it to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.1 But how are people being educated and informed about this crisis in the mass media? We are shown bountiful coverage of North Korean problems, such as Kim Jong-un’s own over-the top rhetoric, his government’s human rights violations, rapid development of nuclear missiles, and soldiers goose stepping, but hardly any coverage of American problems, such as our history of aggression on the Korean Peninsula, the “Military-Industrial Complex” that President Eisenhower warned about in 1961, and the ways in which Washington has been intimidating Pyongyang. Below is an outline of some myths that must be dispelled if Americans are to gain some basic understanding U.S.-North Korea relations today and if they are to feel motivated to pressure their government to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Myth Number 1: North Korea is the aggressor, not us; they are the problem
No. Most serious international relations experts would say that Washington’s past actions have been a major cause of the present crisis, if not the main cause. Yet the impression that many people are naturally left with after watching the news on TV is that North Korea is the problem; their belligerent behavior, especially their constantly conducting missile and nuclear bomb tests, has brought this crisis about. While Washington might not always be portrayed as completely innocent, North Korea is viewed as the main one doing the provoking and escalating the tensions. Let us dispel this myth first.
Undeniably the corporate mass media tend to portray the United States as a cautious and responsible member of the “international community,” and the government of North Korea as the one doing the provoking. But before and during the Korean War that ended in 1953, during the 64 years that have passed since the fighting was temporarily halted, and even during the rising tension during the last year between the United States and North Korea, the U.S. has always been the aggressor. As Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, the U.S. is the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” That was true in his time and it is now. In the case of North Korea, the importance of its governments’ focus on violence is given recognition with the term “garrison state.” This is how Bruce Cumings, the most prominent historian of modern Korea, categorizes it. This term recognizes the fact that the people of North Korea spend a lot of their time preparing for war. That is true. And none of us wish we could live there. But no one calls North Korea the “greatest purveyor of violence.”
Guess which country has engaged in the most overseas wars and invaded the most countries since the Korean War ended: the United States. Guess how many overseas military bases North Korea has: Zero. Guess how many the United States has: Hundreds. Guess how many aircraft carriers North Korea has: Zero. Guess how many nuclear weapons the United States has: Thousands. With just a little thought and study, anyone with Internet or library access can figure out for themselves that there is no question that the U.S. is more powerful, both economically and militarily.
As we seek to understand this reclusive state, let us keep in mind that violence is a weapon of the strong against the weak. It is not a first-choice option for weak states against strong states, just as it is not for women and children trying to solve conflicts with big, strong men. This is not to say that the weaker party never resorts to violence, just that he/she/it will first attempt to solve conflicts non-violently with the stronger party before taking a huge gamble on a probably unsuccessful attempt to physically overpower them.
Let us compare the acts of aggression on the part of Pyongyang with those of Washington. First, I list 10 examples of Washington’s aggression below. Many American readers will be surprised to learn of this violence, both real and symbolic, that has been committed in our name:
1. Contrary to his image as a peace-loving politician, former president Barack Obama promoted nuclear weapons development in a way that has threatened and will continue to threaten all rivals of the U.S., including North Korea, by building America’s “first precision-guided atom bomb,” i.e., a smaller type of nuclear missile that can hit its target extra accurately. Gen. James E. Cartwright, one of Obama’s “most influential nuclear strategists,” favored this investment in American nuclear weapons technology, but even he admitted that “going smaller” makes use of the weapon “more thinkable.” (My italics).
Another investment in a new, dangerous, and geopolitically de-stabilizing nuclear weapons technology, one that few journalists have paid attention to, is a new “super-fuze” device that is being used to upgrade old W76-1/Mk4A thermonuclear warheads and is now probably deployed on all US ballistic missile submarines. It apparently greatly increases the destructive power of nuclear missiles by allowing warheads to detonate above targets at just the right moment. This is outlined in an article that came out earlier this year by the nuclear weapons policy researcher Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council Matthew McKinzie, and the physicist and nuclear weapons systems expert at M.I.T. Theodore Postol: “The US submarine force today is much more capable than it was previously against hardened targets such as Russian ICBM silos. A decade ago, only about 20 percent of US submarine warheads had hard-target kill capability; today they all do.” The “nuclear forces modernization program” sponsored by Obama “implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing—boosting the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” (My italics). This threatens Russia since all their ICBMs could be destroyed, and indirectly it threatens North Korea, since Russia is one country that could conceivably come to its aid in the event of a U.S. invasion.
This is the result of Obama’s spending American tax dollars on a “plan to ‘modernize’ our nuclear arsenal at the unfathomable cost of about $1 trillion over the next 30 years.” During a time when many Americans were tightening their belts, Obama dedicated $1 trillion to technologies that increase the likelihood of nuclear war in general and threaten North Korea and other countries instead of spending that money on relief, education, health care, and other benefits to such Americans. (This will be Obama’s legacy—committing Washington and our economy to nuclear weapons in the years to come. No wonder President Trump is jealous—that his predecessor could do that and come off as a liberal humanitarian). Of course, Russian generals will be aware of these U.S. weapons capabilities, and they will be more likely to keep their “finger on the trigger,” knowing that a U.S. first strike could be so deadly.
2. Last year during the election, even before Donald Trump became president, he made the shocking suggestion that maybe Japan and South Korea should build their own nuclear weapons. Once Donald Trump had won the election, it became more likely that a nuclear arms race would ensue, or be accelerated (unless Obama had already accelerated it). It was not the first time that North Korea would have been concerned about South Korean nuclear weapons development. Under the American-backed dictator Park Chung Hee (1917-1979), Seoul began developing them in the mid- 1970s. The project was supposedly stopped, but South Korea already has conventional long-range missiles today that can hit anywhere in North Korea’s territory, and the conventional warheads on those missiles could easily be refitted with nuclear warheads.
3. In April of this year Washington deployed the THAAD (terminal high area altitude defense) system in spite of intense opposition from South Korean citizens. It is only supposed to intercept North Korean incoming ballistic missiles on their downward descent, but Chinese officials in Beijing worry that the real purpose of THAAD is to “track missiles launched from China” since THAAD has surveillance capabilities. One can say, therefore, that THAAD threatens North Korea directly and indirectly, by threatening an ally of North Korea.
4. Also in April, Washington sent a submarine equipped with nuclear missiles close to the Korean Peninsula on the very day of the celebration of the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.
5. North Korea is constantly under threat from the militaries of the U.S., South Korea, and increasingly Japan, through frequent military exercises such as the annual “massive sea, land and air exercises” in South Korea called “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” involving tens of thousands of troops. Not wasting an opportunity to intimidate Pyongyang, these were carried out in 21-31 August 2017 in spite of the rising tension. “Continual economic, propaganda, and psychological warfare” is also conducted against them.
6. In early September 2017 “a provocative idea at a dangerous time,” a new way to threaten North Korea was discussed with the government of South Korea: putting nukes back in South Korea, where Washington had once stockpiled them during the Cold War. Although Washington was not supposed to introduce any qualitatively new weaponry to the Korean Peninsula according to the armistice that Washington signed on 27 July 1953, in 1958 it went ahead and introduced nuclear missiles to the Peninsula. A year later it “permanently stationed a squadron of nuclear- tipped Matador cruise missiles” there. These were aimed not only at North Korea but also at China and the USSR, who were North Korean allies. These and other later-installed nuclear weapons were removed in 1991 because they were obsolete, not because they violated the agreement that Washington had signed. 70 nuclear artillery shells, large numbers of “ADMs” (atomic demolition mines, which were designed to contaminate areas of South Korea in order to stop an armored attack from North Korean forces) and 60 nuclear gravity bombs were among the obsolete weapons that were replaced with more effective, high-yield, conventional weapons.
7. On 11 September 2017 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2375. This increase in the severity of the ongoing economic sanctions will cause many innocent civilians to freeze to death this winter, without contributing to changes in Pyongyang’s policies and without doing anything to prevent the restart of the Korean War. Washington and Tokyo have tried similar tactics before, such as tying their food aid to politics. Tokyo ended their food aid to “famine-stricken North Korea” in the late 1990s. Between 1995 and 1997 there was a famine in which 2 to 3 million people, out of a population of 23 million, died as a result of food shortages. North Korea is mainly mountainous; there is little quality farmland, so during famines it is difficult to increase food production. The U.S. basically did the same thing. As Bruce Cumings wrote in 1997, “Kim Jong Il’s failed Utopia contains 23 million innocent people who need to be fed” but even American food aid to North Korea was “much too little.” That is the kind of strategy pursued by Washington and Tokyo for helping North Koreans struggle against the dictatorship and build a democratic government. But widespread starvation is not really a common feature of effective democratic movements.
As South Korea’s chief negotiator to the Six Party Talks Chun Youngwoo wrote, “Pressure and sanctions tend to reinforce the regime rather than weaken it.” This is because under pressure and sanctions, North Korea is “besieged, squeezed, strangled and cornered by hostile powers,” and it is precisely under such conditions that militarism thrives and democracy wanes. Try normalizing Pyongyang, and what you will get is the present government being put under the spotlight, where they will be forced to respond to the “demands of their people for improved living conditions and greater freedoms.”
But if improved living conditions and freedom led to democracy in North Korea, such a change would endanger the nineteenth-century-style, imperialist, “Open Door” fantasy that guides Washington’s international relations policies in East Asia. That fantasy, according to Paul Atwood, has been to gain “untrammeled right of entry into the marketplaces of all nations and territories and access to their resources and cheaper labor power on American terms, sometimes diplomatically, often by armed violence.” He provides a very brief and useful summary of the history of American geopolitical maneuvering in East Asia as it relates to Korea. This should have been on page 1 of the “Modern Korea” section in our high school history textbooks. U.S. policy towards Korea has always been about China and, as he explains, for the last two centuries there has been an “obsession” among the American elite business class with “opening” China. Faced with two possible paths in East Asia, either continuing to pursue the Open Door fantasy, or building through diplomacy a non-nuclear future in which homo sapiens might survive, Washington is once more taking the former path. A nuclear-free Korean Peninsula would give Americans more safety and security, too, but that is also a lower priority for Washington than profits for stockholders, CEOs, and the like.
8. Washington frequently sends its bombers to fly by North Korean airspace and scare North Koreans, such as on 24 September.
The above eight types of acts of provocation are very recent developments. The final two in this list below were done long ago, but they are surely remembered in North Korea, and thus continue to have an effect today.
9. Invading the DMZ. In 1976 a group of American and South Korean soldiers entered the “DMZ” (Demilitarized Zone), the forbidden buffer zone dividing the two countries, in order to cut down one poplar tree that was blocking their view of the North. This almost got the war going again.
10. Last but not least, there was the Korean War. This civil war did not end with a peace treaty and a process of reconciliation but only an armistice in 1953. The armistice left open the possibility of the War being restarted at any time. This fact, that the war did not result in a peaceful resolution of the civil conflict, is only one of its tragedies. It must be considered one of the most brutal wars in modern times. With the armistice, Koreans both north and south have been able to enjoy some peace, but their peace has been temporary and uncertain.
America killed millions of civilians on the Korean Peninsula, north and south, largely through aerial bombing. These attacks “hardly left a modern building standing.” Many villages were “washed downstream” by dams that were bombed in Kusong and Toksan (a recognized war crime), and even the capital city of Pyongyang, 27 miles away, was badly flooded. The “barbaric air war” destroyed “huge irrigation dams that provided water for 75 percent of the North’s food production.”
This near obliteration of infrastructure in Korea and the resultant suffering must remain deeply entrenched in the memories of North Koreans. As a result of the War, Koreans in the north have had to live continuously under the military hierarchy and oppression of a “garrison state.” Cumings employs the following definition: one in which the “specialists on violence are the most powerful group in society.”
Now as to the list of Pyongyang’s provocative actions, I lied. I am not going to bother writing about those because, well, most readers will already be familiar with them. Just do a search on the term “North Korea” on the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. We are well- informed about the wrongs done to us by other states, but have been kept in the dark about our own government’s wrongs. Such wrongs are “ours” in the sense that they have been committed in our name by Washington, even if we did not know about them.
What does Pyongyang want? Here are some of the key changes in the international relations of that government that it has demanded in the past: 1. A peace treaty with the U.S., the natural next step after the armistice that ended the Korean War 2. An end to threats from Washington 3. Recognition of its government
Myth Number 2: Beijing holds the key to resolving the present crisis
No. Washington does. Washington is the powerful aggressor on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is a problem of Washington’s making. In fact, it should be referred to as the “American problem” rather than the “Korean problem,” as Gavan McCormack has pointed out. The term “the North Korean problem,” he writes, “commonly assumes North Korean aggression, irrationality, nuclear obsession and repression, and contrasts it with the United States’ rational, human rights based, globally responsible character. To thus shrink the framework of the problem, however, is to ignore the matrix of a century’s history—colonialism, division, ideological conflict, half a century of Korean War, Cold War as well as nuclear proliferation and intimidation, and to ignore what I have referred to as the U.S.’s aggressive, militarist hegemonism and contempt for international law.” McCormack rightly questions the way that the whole country has been “denounced in fundamentalist terms as ‘evil.’” Former president George W. Bush created the cartoonish category “the Axis of Evil,” and portrayed North Korea this way, along with Iraq and Iran. Without a critical investigation into this claim, many people who lack a basic understanding of modern Korean history readily buy into this easy simplification of the problem, as McCormack’s article demonstrates.
Anyone can see that the government based in Pyongyang violates the rights of its citizens in terrible ways, but people who sincerely seek peace on the Korean Peninsula and who wish to avoid a nuclear conflict and a possible World War III, must study a little history and acquire an adult view of the country, especially one that distinguishes between the actions of the military dictatorship that rules the country and the actions of ordinary citizens.
China certainly has a role to play but this is the “America problem” of the Korean Peninsula, and it is fair to point the finger at Washington. The American election system produced a winner and installed Donald Trump as president. He ramped up the tension with Pyongyang instead of talking to them as he said he would. And so here we are. The people of other nations have some role to play, but no matter how much we would like to ignore this crisis, it is we Americans who have to rise to the occasion, and stop this saber rattling in East Asia before it gets out of hand. As we know from Asia- Pacific War history, once the mad genie Mr. War is out of the bottle, it is very hard to put him back in.
Myth Number 3: Washington keeps its promises
No. Pyongyang has been better about keeping its promises than Washington. Making deals with Washington is frustrating for other states because it so often does not keep its promises. Just ask Native Americans. Ask their opinion of Washington’s trustworthiness when it comes to treaties. Washington violated virtually every treaty signed with Native Americans.
For a recent example of not honoring international agreements, consider the Trump’s about face on the Paris Climate Accord that was signed under the Obama administration.
Specifically, with respect to North Korea in recent decades, Washington repeatedly violated one important agreement. In line with a deal made under the Clinton administration, Pyongyang suspended its plutonium production from 1994 to 2002. Under this deal Pyongyang and Washington had also promised to not bear “hostile intent” toward each other. Pyongyang kept up its side of the bargain, but when George Bush lumped North Korea in with the “Axis of Evil” and announced a new policy of using preemptive strikes as a defense against an immediate threat to the security of the United States, the deal was off. Bush not only verbally threatened North Korea in this way, he demonstrated his resolve by invading Iraq, in violation of international law. Iraq was not an immediate threat to the U.S. Up until that point, i.e., that violation of the agreement with North Korea, a non-nuclear North Korea had been possible, if not a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. And this stands up to common sense—that the weaker state would have an interest in upholding promises than the stronger state. Why wouldn’t Pyongyang hold on to the possibility of peace with Washington for as long as possible? Again, violence is a weapon of the powerful.
Myth Number 4: War on the Korean Peninsula is thinkable
No. It is unthinkable. National security adviser H.R. McMaster said on 15 September, “For those who have said…commenting about the lack of a military option, there is a military option.” (His emphasis). McMaster may say so, and the Trump administration may be laying plans in the hopes of implementing a military solution, which is usually the U.S.’s ace card, but war on the Korean Peninsula is simply unthinkable. Many experts have emphasized that even with just the conventional weapons, an unacceptable number of South Koreans and Americans would die, and an unacceptable level of destruction would occur. If such a war spread to Japan or China or other countries, their citizens also would die in large numbers. There would be a high chance of nuclear weapons being employed. That could cause irreparable harm to our planet’s environment, causing suffering for many generations in the future, not only our generation.
Myth Number 5: The UN Security Council represents the will of the “international community”
No. They do not even represent the governments of the world, let alone the governed of the world—you and me. In other words, even if all the governments of the world were perfectly democratic, the Council would not represent the “international community.” Only states with nukes have veto power on the Council. It is obviously biased in favor of governments with nukes. The “Nuke Haves” want to hold onto theirs, and keep others from getting them. It is the “Nuke Have-nots” who want to purge the world of them, as we saw in the recent treaty banning nukes, known as the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” Even Tokyo, representing the only country to be attacked with nukes, did not support the Treaty. The fact that Japan enjoys the protection of Nuke Have Number One and has a military that is increasingly integrated with their military, and that Japan’s government is currently headed by an ultranationalist prime minister, are a few reasons one might imagine as to why Tokyo did not support it. The UN Security Council is the exclusive Club of imperial Nuke Haves. What it is doing is clamping crippling sanctions on North Korea, a newcomer knocking on the Club’s door. The Club does not wish to share its privileges with any other states. It is not a coincidence that none of the Nuke Haves signed on to the treaty to ban nukes, and almost all the Nuke Have-nots who also have no state sheltering them with a nuclear umbrella, did approve of it.
Myth Number 6: Americans understand how terrible a nuclear war would be
No. Americans as well as people in many other countries know little to nothing about what happens when a nuclear bomb is dropped on a city. Naturally, Japanese are much better informed about the effects of the atomic bombing of the major cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki than Americans. Many Americans who visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum speak of feeling great shock and emotional stress when they first go to the Museum and learn about the victims of the nuclear bombs that their government mercilessly dropped on civilians in August 1945. We were taught in school that these two bombings were humanitarian acts that ended the War quickly, saving the lives of both Japanese and Americans. But there is no question that the Nagasaki bombing was morally indefensible and unnecessary since it was committed only three days after the first bombing. Even the bombing of Hiroshima was arguably a war crime. One of the primary requests of the survivors is encapsulated in the anti-nuke chant, “No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis!” The A-bomb victims (hibakusha in Japanese) themselves and people close to them generally express the hope that there will never be a full-blown nuclear war.
Imagine if the hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians killed in the initial bombing and aftermath were able to speak to the living today. What would they say now, at a point in history when we homo sapiens are at the “brink of global catastrophe,” i.e., a tragedy of unprecedented scale in which Washington’s greed and bullying on one side and Pyongyang’s resorting to the “nuclear deterrent” on the other lead to a nuclear war? One can only imagine their shock and anger that in 2017 such a catastrophe was still in the cards. They would certainly agree wholeheartedly with the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” and would urge us to work hard to ban nukes. They would be overjoyed to see that 122 countries, the majority of the world’s countries, just banned nukes, even if the countries with nukes did not participate and still do not show any inclination to relinquish them. They would see the Treaty as a first step towards complete abolition. They would urge us to keep pushing until all the world’s countries had signed it and it was implemented. They also would support the bold initiative of World Beyond War to ban not only nuclear weapons but war in general.
Opening debate remarks by David Swanson at the University of Pennsylvania on September 21, 2017, on the following proposition: “Are America’s wars in Syria and Afghanistan just and necessary or have we lost our way in the use of military force, including drone weaponry, in conducting US foreign policy?”
Wow, I’ve already gotten more applause than Trump got for his whole speech at the UN.
U.S. wars and bombings in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines, and threats to North Korea are unjust, unnecessary, immoral, illegal, extremely costly in several ways, and counterproductive on their own terms.
The idea of a just war comes down to us over some 1600 years from people whose worldview we share in almost no other way. Just war criteria come in three types: non-empirical, impossible, and amoral.
The Non-Empirical Criteria: A just war is supposed to have the right intention, a just cause, and proportionality. But these are devices of rhetoric. 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. Identifying a government’s intention is far from simple, and attaching a just cause like ending slavery to a war doesn’t make that cause inherent to that war. Slavery can be ended in many ways, while no war has ever been fought for a single reason. If Myanmar had more oil we’d be hearing about genocide prevention as a just cause for invading, and no doubt worsening, the crisis.
The Impossible Criteria: A just war is supposed to 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. None of these things are even possible. 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. Every time we urgently need to bomb Iran or we’re all going to die, and we don’t, and we don’t, the urgency of the next demand to bomb Iran loses a bit of its shine and the infinite options of other things to do become a little easier to see. If war really were the only idea you had, you wouldn’t be debating ethics, you’d be running for Congress.
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. Remember that Just War theory began with people who believed killing someone was doing them a favor. Noncombatants are the majority of casualties in modern wars, so they cannot be kept safe, but they are not locked in cages, so prisoners cannot be treated like noncombatants while imprisoned.
The Amoral Criteria: Just wars are supposed to be publicly declared and waged by legitimate and competent authorities. These are not moral concerns. Even in a world where we had legitimate and competent authorities, they wouldn’t make a war any more or less just.
Now, we can examine any number of specific wars, and with most of them in a matter of minutes arrive at the conclusion that, well, this war isn’t just but some other war could be. The Afghan government was willing to turn Osama bin Laden over to a third country to be put on trial. The U.S. preferred a war. Most people in Afghanistan not only hadn’t had anything to do with 9/11 but still haven’t heard of it to this day. If planning 9/11 in Afghanistan was grounds for 16 years of destroying Afghanistan, why not even a little bombing of Europe? Why no bombing of Florida? Or of that hotel in Maryland near the NSA? There’s a popular myth that the UN authorized attacking Afghanistan. It didn’t. After 16 years of killing and torturing and destroying, Afghanistan is poorer and more violent, and the United States more hated.
Syria was on a list of governments to be overthrown by the U.S. for many years, and the U.S. working on that for the past decade. ISIS came out of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, which (along with wars on Yemen and Syria, and with many parties to blame) has to rank high on a list of crimes this century. ISIS allowed the U.S. to escalate its role in Syria, but on both sides of the same war. We’ve had Pentagon trained and armed troops fighting those trained and armed by the CIA. We’ve read in the New York Times that the Israeli government prefers neither side win. We’ve watched the U.S. reject numerous peace efforts over the years, preferring war. And beyond killing, injury, destruction, starvation, and disease epidemics what is there to show for it?
North Korea was willing to make agreements and abide by them 20 years ago, and, contrary to some U.S. reporting, is open to negotiations now. The people of South Korea are eager for the United States to agree to talks. One man burned himself to death on Tuesday in opposition to more U.S. weapons in South Korea. But the U.S. government has declared diplomacy impossible in order to threaten its preferred “last resort.” Trump told the UN on Tuesday that if North Korea misbehaved, “We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” — not just war but the total destruction of 25 million people. John McCain’s preferred word is “extermination.” Within 60 seconds, Trump went on to demand action against Iran on the grounds that Iran supposedly openly threatens mass murder.
Some wars won’t fit into these opening remarks. I’d like to be permitted at least 5 whole minutes on Rwanda, 10 on the American Revolution or Civil War, and 30 on World War II, which — in fairness — you have probably all consumed thousands of hours of propaganda on. Or, even better for us all, I could shut up and you could just read my books.
But once you’ve agreed that a lot of the wars are not just, once you know enough about how wars are carefully started and peace avoided at great effort so that you can laugh or perhaps cry at Ken Burns’ claim that what the Vietnamese call the American War was begun in “good faith,” it becomes harder to claim that any of the other wars are just, even the ones you start out thinking of that way. Here’s why.
War is an institution, the biggest, most costly one around. The U.S. puts about $1 trillion a year into war, roughly equal to the rest of the world combined — and most of the rest of the world is U.S. allies and weapons customers that the U.S. actively lobbies to spend more. Tens of billions could end starvation, the lack of clean water, or various diseases globally. Just the amount that Congress has just increased military spending this week could solve such global crises AND, as a bonus, make college free in the United States. Hundreds of billions could give us a fighting chance against climate change if redirected. The top way in which war kills is by diverting resources. War (and I use the term as shorthand for war and war preparations, with the latter being the most costly in many ways) is the biggest destroyer of the natural environment, the biggest cause of militarized police and eroded rights, a major generator of bigotry and justification for authoritarian and secret government. And with war spending come all the unjust wars.
So a just war, to justify the existence of the institution of war, would have to outweigh the damage of the diversion of resources away from good works, the further financial costs of lost opportunities, the trillions of dollars in property destruction resulting from wars, the unjustness of the unjust wars, the risk of nuclear apocalypse, the environmental damage, the governmental damage, and the societal damage of war culture. No war can be that just, certainly not wars fought by the war giant of the world. The United States could start a reverse arms race quite easily. By steps we could move toward a world in which people found it easier to recognize the meaning of nonviolent successes. The meaning of those successes is this: you do not need war to defend yourself. You can use the tools of nonviolent resistance, noncooperation, moral and economic and diplomatic and judicial and communication powers.
But the belief that you do need war, and that attacking oil-rich countries has something to do with protecting people goes a long way toward endangering you instead. Gallup polling finds the U.S. government believed by majorities around the world to be the top threat to peace on earth. For another country, let’s say Canada, to generate anti-Canadian terrorist networks on a U.S. scale, it would have to bomb and kill and occupy a lot of people. But once it did, the payoff would be huge, because it could point to those enemies of Canada as justification for more and bigger weapons and campaigns to generate yet more enemies, and so on. Those enemies would be real, and their actions really immoral, but keeping the vicious cycle spinning at a proper speed would depend on exaggerating their threat dramatically.
If the U.S. were to join international treaties, engage in disarmament, provide aid on a fraction of the scale at which it provides war making, and pursue diplomatic paths toward peace, the world would not be paradise tomorrow, but our speed toward the edge of the approaching cliff would slow considerably.
One of the many significant ways in which war hurts us is by hurting the rule of law. It is a carefully kept secret, but the world banned all war in 1928 in a treaty that was used to prosecute the losers of World War II and which is still on the books. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, as recently documented by Scott Shapiro and Oona Hathaway, transformed the world. War was legal in 1927. Both sides of a war were legal. Atrocities committed during wars were almost always legal. The conquest of territory was legal. Burning and looting and pillaging were legal. War was, in fact, not just legal; it was itself understood to be law enforcement. War could be used to attempt to right any perceived injustice. The seizing of other nations as colonies was legal. The motivation for colonies to try to free themselves was weak because they were likely to be seized by some other nation if they broke free from their current oppressor. The vast majority of conquests since 1928 have been undone based on 1928 boundaries. New smaller nations unafraid of conquest have multiplied. The UN Charter of 1945 re-legalized war if it was labeled defensive or UN-authorized. Current U.S. wars are not UN-authorized, and if any wars are not defensive then wars on impoverished small countries halfway around the globe must be in that category.
But, since 1945, war has generally been considered illegal unless the United States does it. Since World War II, during what many U.S. academics call an unprecedented golden age of peace, the United States military has killed some 20 million people, overthrown at least 36 governments, interfered in at least 82 foreign elections, attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders, and dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries. With U.S. troops in 175 nations according to U.S. sports announcers, the U.S. president went to the UN on Tuesday and demanded respect for sovereign nations, blamed the UN for not achieving peace, threatened war in violation of the UN Charter, and mocked the UN for putting Saudi Arabia on its human rights council while clearly quite proud of the U.S. role in helping Saudi Arabia kill huge numbers of people in Yemen. Last year a debate moderator asked U.S. presidential candidates if they’d be willing to kill hundreds and thousands of innocent children as part of their basic duties. Other countries don’t ask that question and would be demonized if they did. So, we have a problem of double-standards, exactly what Robert Jackson claimed at Nuremberg would not be so.
No Congress or president has any power to make any war legal. A single nuclear bomb could kill us all through its climate impact, completely regardless of whether Congress authorizes it. U.S. wars violate the Peace Pact of 1928, the UN Charter, and the U.S. Constitution. A vague Authorization to Use Military Force also violates the Constitution. Yet when members of the House this year tried to vote un repealing an AUMF, the so-called leadership did not allow a vote. When the Senate held such a vote, just over a third of the Senate voted to repeal, and most of them because they wanted to create a new AUMF instead.
I haven’t said a lot about drones, because I think the essential problem of sanctioning murder is not a problem of technology. But what drones, and other technologies do, is make murder easier, easier to do in secret, easier to do quickly, easier to do in more locations. The pretense of President Obama and of military-backed propaganda films like Eye in the Sky that drones are only used to kill those who cannot be captured, those who are guilty of some kind of crime, those who are immediate threats to the US of A, those who can be killed with no risk of killing anyone else in the process — that’s all a demonstrable pack of lies. Most people targeted are not even identified by name, none of them have been charged with a crime, in no known case could they demonstrably not be captured, in many cases they could simply have been arrested quite easily, innocents have been slaughtered by the thousands, even Hollywood could not concoct a fictional immediate threat to the United States, and the drone wars are the height of counterproductive blowback creation. One does not hear Obama praising his successful drone war on Yemen very much these days.
But if we’re not going to pick men, women, and children on Tuesdays to murder with missiles from drones then what should we do instead?
NOT pick men, women, and children on Tuesdays to murder with missiles from drones.
Also, join and support international conventions on human rights, children’s rights, weapons bans, the new treaty banning the possession of nukes (only one nation that has nukes voted to start that treaty process, but you wouldn’t believe me if I named it), join the International Criminal Court, stop selling weapons to future enemies, stop selling weapons to dictatorships, stop giving weapons away, stop buying weapons that have no defensive purpose, transition to a more prosperous peaceful economy.
Examples of more peaceful approaches can be found everywhere, including in Pennsylvania. A friend of mine, John Reuwer, points to Pennsylvania as a model for others. Why? Because from 1683 to 1755 Pennsylvania’s European settlers had no major wars with the native nations, in stark contrasts with other British colonies. Pennsylvania had slavery, it had capital and other horrific punishments, it had individual violence. But it chose not to use war, not to take land without what was supposed to be just compensation, and not to push alcohol on the native people in the way that opium was later pushed on China and guns and planes are now pushed on nasty despots. In 1710, the Tuscaroras from North Carolina sent messengers to Pennsylvania asking for permission to settle there. All the money that would have been used for militias, forts, and armaments was available, for better or worse, to build Philadelphia (remember what its name means) and develop the colony. The colony had 4,000 people within 3 years, and by 1776 Philadelphia surpassed Boston and New York in size. So while the superpowers of the day were battling for control of the continent, one group of people rejected the idea that war is necessary, and prospered more rapidly than any of their neighbors who insisted it was.
Now, after 230 years of almost uninterrupted war making, and the establishment of the most expensive and widespread military ever seen, Trump tells the UN that the U.S. Constitution deserves credit for the creation of peace. Maybe if they’d let the Quakers write the thing that would have actually been true.
We deserve Trump, though. God, do we deserve him. We Americans have some good qualities, too, don’t get me wrong. But we’re also a bloodthirsty Mr. Hyde nation that subsists on massacres and slave labor and leaves victims half-alive and crawling over deserts and jungles, while we sit stuffing ourselves on couches and blathering about our “American exceptionalism.” We dumped 20 million gallons of toxic herbicide on Vietnam from the air, just to make the shooting easier without all those trees, an insane plan to win “hearts and minds” that has left about a million still disabled from defects and disease – including about 100,000 children, even decades later, little kids with misshapen heads, webbed hands and fused eyelids writhing on cots, our real American legacy, well out of view, of course.
Nowadays we use flying robots and missiles to kill so many civilians and women and children in places like Mosul and Raqqa and Damadola, Pakistan, in our countless ongoing undeclared wars that the incidents scarcely make the news anymore. Our next innovation is “automation,” AI-powered drones that can identify and shoot targets, so human beings don’t have to pull triggers and feel bad anymore. If you want to look in our rearview, it’s lynchings and race war and genocide all the way back, from Hispaniola to Jolo Island in the Philippines to Mendocino County, California, where we nearly wiped out the Yuki people once upon a time.
This is who we’ve always been, a nation of madmen and sociopaths, for whom murder is a line item, kept hidden via a long list of semantic self-deceptions, from “manifest destiny” to “collateral damage.” We’re used to presidents being the soul of probity, kind Dads and struggling Atlases, humbled by the terrible responsibility, proof to ourselves of our goodness. Now, the mask of respectability is gone, and we feel sorry for ourselves, because the sickness is showing.
So much of the Trump phenomenon is about history. Fueling the divide between pro- and anti-Trump camps is exactly the fact that we’ve never had a real reckoning with either our terrible past or our similarly bloody present. The Trump movement culturally represents an absolute denial of our sins from slavery on – hence the intense reaction to the removal of Confederate statues, the bizarre paranoia about the Washington Monument being next, and so on. But #resistance is also a denial mechanism. It makes Trump the root of all evil, and is powered by an intense desire to not have to look at the ugliness, to go back to the way things were. We see this hideous clown in the White House and feel our dignity outraged, but when you really think about it, what should America’s president look like?
Trump is no malfunction. He’s a perfect representation of who, as a country, we are and always have been: an insane monster. Frankly, we’re lucky he’s not walking around using a child’s femur as a toothpick.