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Veterans Against Apocalypse

Trump has said he would tamp down hostile relations with Russia yet at the same time he has also amped up inimical rhetoric toward China. He says he will scrap NATO. At present the U.S. has at least 5,000 troops in Iraq but we all know what Trump has said he plans to do about the forces of the enemy our own policies created-namely ISIL. Among other things he says he will also bring back jobs, revamp the health care system, and regenerate impoverished African-American communities. Has he ever been serious about these matters? One thing is certain. He, like all of us, is in thrall to the military-financial-industrial so called national security complex. That’s why the unelected masters of this deep state opposed him and Sanders and Jill Stein.  We shall soon see what they have in store.

In 1944, as defeat of Germany and Japan drew near, the chief of American war production, who had also been CEO of the General Electric Corporation, had a serious problem. What was to be done with 16 million veterans returning to the states? Would they again face unemployment and bread lines? More importantly, how would the tax guaranteed profits of the giant arms industry be maintained. “What we need,” he declared, “is a permanent war economy.” Well, that is exactly what we got, as well as a permanent tax burden to support the Merchants of Death, instead of a society devoted to human welfare.

What he neglected to add is that this snug deal between Big Finance, Big Business and pliant politicians cannot work without permanent enemies and we have cultivated these enemies ever since. Since the end of World War II every one of our wars has been a war of choice calculated to sustain this unholy alliance. Tell me, my fellow veterans, how did the peoples of Indochina and the Muslim world actually threaten our national security and deserve the terrible toll we have inflicted on them? For what have tens of thousands of our troops died: For what have hundreds of thousands more been permanently wounded in body and soul?

We all know about the ongoing demonization of both Russia and China and their alleged threats to our national security. To the extent that they are capable of threatening our security that is because we are moving our deadliest weapons to their very borders and in grave apprehension of our intentions they are rapidly upgrading and priming their own. World War III will be caused by our preparations for it, the great sociologist C. Wright Mills once warned, and we are doing exactly that, moving ever closer to the brink.

World War I killed 20 million human beings and World War II almost five times as many. How many will die in the World War III now heating up? Who will be left to count?

The History Channel has a new series and I can’t stop thinking about one episode. It’s called Doomsday and depicts ten ways by which the human species may become extinct. All except one so far shows events outside of human control like asteroids, black holes, solar flares etc. One episode graphically illustrates the doomsday possibility that has been manufactured by humans…namely nuclear war. I challenge you to view it if you have the fortitude. It alarmingly and distressingly illustrates exactly how the nuclear holocaust we are preparing for ourselves will transpire and the dreadful and horrific aftermath those who survive will face.

My fellow veterans. There are 22 million of us. Who among you would ever claim that war is noble or glorious? Who can claim that the many wars of the last half-century were absolutely necessary instead of the consequences of the dead-end greed and aggression of our banks, arms manufacturers and the politicians who serve them? With the exception of those few wretched refugees of war who have made it to our shores, only we, among the American people, know the true meaning of war and militarism. Why do so many of us remain silent and allow our fellow citizens to believe that war and preparation for war results in anything other than the predictable grim consequences we see all over the globe?

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the proverbial “handwriting on the wall.” No one can claim we haven’t been warned. Yet we creep closer to it day by day.

Most of my life I’ve heard that nuclear war is so terrible to contemplate, so unspeakable, that no official would ever allow it to occur. Somehow someday someone will abolish nukes.  But I well remember the Cuban missile crisis which occurred when I was 15. Our own Joint Chiefs were itching for full scale war with the Soviet Union and the U.S. Navy tried to sink Russian submarines. In response a Russian sub commander intended to launch a nuclear missile against us. We now know that at the most critical moment a Soviet admiral countermanded these orders and thereby saved humanity with only minutes to spare. Both Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk later said they went to bed on the last night of the crisis believing they would not live to see the dawn. In 1995 Norway launched a scientific research satellite that the Russians mistook for the first stage of an all-out attack and were within minutes of retaliating against every NATO member, including, of course, the U.S. And that was only one of many such glitches that brought us all to the edge of extinction.  I recall too that in the aftermath of the Missile Emergency Soviet Premiere Kruschev said that we must never again allow such a crisis to occur for if we ever do escalate to nuclear war those who survive will envy the dead. Today we ignore the fact that the weapons that could have ended human civilization more than half a century ago were mere toys compared to the killing quotients of today’s nukes.

When I query my students at UMass-Boston about the Missile Crisis I usually get blank stares. Yes they’ve heard of it but most have no idea how close we came to snuffing ourselves right off the face of our planet. I tell them that if the crisis had gone the distance none of them would have been born. What, I ask, could possibly be more important than that? Why have they been taught nothing about this most perilous moment in the history of the human species?

Upon taking office Barack Obama declared that he would devote energy to the abolition of nuclear weapons yet just recently he has done precisely the opposite and set a trillion dollar modernization of our nuclear triad in motion.  Hillary Clinton proclaimed she would not hesitate to wipe Tehran off the map saying “we would be able to totally obliterate them.” Two weeks ago the vast majority of the United Nations voted to initiate a universal treaty to abolish nuclear weapons. Guess which way Samantha Power, our ambassador to the U.N., voted?

Most ominously Donald Trump has pointedly asked why, if we have nuclear weapons, we cannot use them. Is Trump positioned to alter any of this madness when he wallows in it himself??

Humans like to think of ourselves as the only really intelligent species, able to use logic and rationality to solve problems but there is little evidence for this certainly when it comes to matters of human welfare, whether we speak of social and economic justice or to protect ourselves from the evils of warfare. And so we drift, slaves to magical thinking that despite all evidence to the contrary this unimaginable horror will not be allowed to occur. Yet the probability increases daily before our very eyes as we pull the blinders on and continue to believe that preparation for war can result in anything but war.

Our tiny globe is 93 million miles from the sun. If it were 1 million miles closer, or farther, conditions for human life would be impossible. Thus mother earth is our lifeboat, the only one we have. President Kennedy, knowing first-hand how close we’d come to sinking it, declared in no uncertain terms that we must abolish these infernal weapons or they would abolish us.

Note that JFK’s emphasis was on “WE,”not the masters of war. The day of reckoning draws near.

Remarks by Paul Atwood at Veterans for Peace rally Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, November 11, 2016.

Paul Lewis Atwood is a founding member of the Smedley Butler Brigade of Veterans for Peace and is semi-retired from the University of Massachusetts Boston. His book War and Empire: The American Way of Life was published in 2010. He can be reached at

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