This April 4th will be 100 years since the US Senate voted to declare war on Germany and 50 since Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against the war on Vietnam – 49 since he was killed on that speech’s first anniversary. Events are being planned to help us try to finally learn some lessons, to move beyond, not just Vietnam, but war.
That declaration of war on Germany was the Great War, the war to end all wars, the war without which the conditions for the next war would not have existed.
When the war finally ended – after the US had actually been in it for about 5% the length of the war on Afghanistan thus far – just about everybody regretted it. The losses in life, limb, sanity, property, civil liberties, democracy, and health were incredible.
Death, devastation, a flu epidemic, prohibition, a permanent military and the taxes to go with it, plus predictions of World War II: these were the results, and a lot of people remembered that they had been warned, as well as that the ending of all war had been promised.
The peace activists had warned the US government to stay out of the war – not out of foreign relations, just out of mass-murdering foreign relations. And they had been right.
The regret was intense and lasted right up until the worst result of World War I came along in the form of World War II.
The massive peace movement that outlawed war in 1928, had been widespread, mainstream, and aggressive before 1917 as well. Antiwar Congress members had entered into the Congressional Record a sample of the flood of letters and petitions they had received urging that the US stay out of war.
Peace groups had held marches and rallies, sent delegations to Europe, met with the president, and pushed to require a popular vote before the launching of any war, believing that the public would vote war down.
We’ll never know, because the vote was never taken. Instead, the US jumped into the war, thereby preventing a negotiated settlement and creating a total victory followed by vicious punishment of the losing side.
The understanding that war should be ended, which reached its peak perhaps in the 1920s and 1930s, saw something of a comeback during what the Vietnamese call the American War. Martin Luther King did not propose a different war or a better war, but leaving behind the entire war system. That awareness has grown even as the Vietnam Syndrome has faded and war been normalized. Now, the US popular mind is a mass of contradictions.
In a recent poll, 66% of people in the United States are worried that the US will become engaged in a major war in the next four years. However, the US is engaged in a number of wars right now that must seem pretty major to the people living through them, wars that have created the greatest refugee crisis so far on the planet and threatened to break similar records for starvation.
In addition, 80% of the US public in the very same poll say they support NATO. There’s a 50/50 split on whether to build yet more nukes. A slim majority favors banning refugees who are fleeing the wars. And over three-quarters of Democrats believe, for partisan rather than empirical reasons, that Russia is unfriendly or an enemy. Despite the warnings of the wise for over a century, people are still imagining they can use war preparations to avoid war.
One thing that could help keep us out of more wars is the Trump face now placed on the wars. People who will hate Russia because they hate Trump may at some point oppose Trump’s wars because they hate Trump. And those getting active to support refugees may also want to help end the crimes that create the refugees.
Meanwhile, German tanks are again rolling toward the Russian border, and instead of soliciting denunciations from groups like the Anne Frank Center, as recently done to combat Donald Trump’s anti-Semitism, US liberals are generally applauding or avoiding any awareness.
One thing is certain: we will not survive another 100 years of this. Long before then, we will have to try something else. We will have to move beyond war to nonviolent conflict resolution, aid, diplomacy, disarmament, cooperation, and the rule of law.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War’.