Summer’s here and war is all around. Or, as the great Bob Marley put it, Everywhere is War. The commemorations of Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day are all presented as celebrations of our war dead, symbols of the freedoms we love so dearly and seek to export to the rest of the world and, perhaps most important, the unquestioned rightness of our cause.
In a deeper, sadder, reality, the celebrations are of imperialist war, with the talk about the hallowed dead covering the murderous nature of US foreign policy. Ritualistically celebrating the dead – note that the dead celebrated are just the American dead, not any of the millions killed by US aggression or by its client states – is designed to render anyone who asks the wrong questions a traitor or a terrorist. That US troops are involved in war crimes and that polished, well-educated men like Barack Obama are war criminals is unthinkable. War criminals look like Osama bin-Laden, Saddam Hussein and those other nasty people far away, over there.
It’s also the summer of the centennial of the start of what was once known as the Great War, the greatest blood-letting in history except for that of the Second Great War barely two decades later. Of one thing we can be sure, the lessons drawn from mainstream discussions of World War I will be all the wrong ones – particularly neglecting to draw any poignant conclusions between WWI and, say, our current Worldwide War. Worse, the spectacle of the intelligentsia waxing eloquent about the horrors of World War I, while unflinchingly cheering on the warmakers in Washington, will be accepted by one and all as perfectly reasonable – as beyond discussion, in fact.
In recent weeks, meanwhile, mainstream commentators have been shocked – shocked! – to discover that things in Iraq are not all right. Who knew that an invasion predicated on lies of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s love for bin Laden, designed to secure control of massive oil supplies, would go wrong? The political class didn’t, or at least they pretended they didn’t, but millions around the world who demonstrated against the invasion before it was launched did, underscoring that a US invasion would fuel sectarian divisions and violence, precisely as has happened. Al-Qaeda, which did not exist in Iraq prior to the invasion, now flourishes while an offshoot, the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rampages throughout the country.
The response of many in the US political class, naturally, is for more war. Apparently preferring violence over diplomacy, Obama has sent a strike force to Iraq, which grows larger by the day. Whether the people of the US can come together as we did last summer when we prevented Obama from attacking Syria remains to be seen – but we must at least try.
Also on the war front is the Veterans Affairs’ disgraceful neglect of ex-soldiers in need of medical care, as Sen. Tom Coburn’s report finds bad VA care may have resulted in the deaths of more than one thousand veterans. At the same time, political elites are blocking decent benefits for veterans while happily purchasing malfunctioning F-35 aircraft from Lockheed Martin at about $200 million a pop. It is especially outrageous that those most enthusiastic about the illegal Bush-Cheney invasions, the reductions to the VA’s budgets and the tax cuts for the one percent now pretend they care about soldiers.
Last but not least is the saga of the much-vilified Bowe Bergdhal, a heroic young man who came to see the criminal nature of the US invasion of Afghanistan. Over the past 13 years of US aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly 59,000 soldiers deserted the military – about 378 per month. The refusal of working class youth to fight wars is a ruling class nightmare and the attacks on Bergdahl show some sense of the punishment for those in uniform who dare challenge their imperatives. A decisive aspect of the movement that ended the US carnage in Southeast Asia waswidespread opposition of veterans and active duty resisters. Avoiding a repeat of such resistance is central to imperial objectives. Rather than joining in the Bowe Bergdhal lynch mob, US soldiers everywhere, not to mention those with loved ones in the military, would do well to support him.
As clearly delineated by the 1946 Nuremberg Judgment, a war of aggression, such as committed by the US against Afghanistan and Iraq, “is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from all other crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” The same standard must apply to the United States. If the allegations of treason levied on Bergdahl are true, not only was what he did proper, it was obligatory.
So, starting now and for every summer hereafter, amidst the celebratory flag-waving and speechifying that glorify war, we should celebrate and fully support Bergdahl and prisoners of conscience like Chelsea Manning. We should demand that all services that veterans require be provided, all soldiers be returned home, bases and detention centers around the world be closed, and that the US cease its campaigns of endless aggression. And as enticing as it may seem in such desperate economic times, we should counsel young people to emphatically reject the military – no matter how bleak the alternatives may be. Then, perhaps future summertime celebrations will include jubilations for the final end to global war.
Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and award-winning author who writes for CounterPunch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.