Peace Now! War is Not a Natural Disaster

3 Aug

Department of Peace

Over at 3 Quarks Daily my current post reproduces a section of a slender book I’ve put together with the help of Charlie Keil and Becky Liebman. The book collects some historical materials about efforts to create a department of peace in the federal government, starting with at 1793 essay by Benjamin Rush, one of our Founding Fathers: “A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States.” It includes accounts of legislative efforts in the 20th century and commentary by Charlie Keil and me. The book is entitled We Need a Department of Peace: Everybody’s Business; Nobody’s Job. It’s available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback and eBook formats.

Below the peace symbol I’m including the Prologue, which is by Mary Liebman, an important activist from the 1970s. The book include other excerpts from the newsletters Liebman wrote for the Peace Act Advisory Council.

one of them old time good ones

War is not a Natural Disaster

The human race knows a lot about how to make war. We should: we’ve been doing it since Biblical times. Experts define “war” as any conflict in which the dead number more than 3,000 people. Below that number – by revolution, insurrection, armed exploration, native uprising, clan feud, violent strikes, lynching, riot, excessive partisanship of soccer fans, or plain personal murderousness – none of that counts until more than 3,000 people have been slaughtered. Then it gets in the record books as a war. Disregarding our barbarian ancestors, the Attilas and Genghis Khans for whom war was a way of life; overlooking two centuries of carnage in nine Crusades, and the Hundred year’s War, which occupied France and England for 115 years, just looking at the world since Columbus discovered America, we find that the world has been at peace less than half the time, and the wars are getting bigger and worse.

Out of this collective experience with war, we’ve learned how to do it. Homer left notes. We have the memoirs of generals and statesmen from Caesar down to modern times to guide us. There are textbooks to study. And almost everyone in government has served in the armed forces or some other war-connected duty. They understand it.

By contrast, what do any of us know about how to make peace? Nobody has ever done it. Until Hiroshima, few people talked very seriously about doing it. The Bomb changed things forever. We began to realize that no nation would ever again fight through to glorious victory. The celebrations, the cheering crowds in Times Square, the church bells ringing and the bands playing – those are sounds that belong to history. They will never be heard again at the end of any war, anywhere, by anybody. So while we are not better men than our ancestors, and maybe not much smarter, we are faced with the necessity of making peace – and nobody knows how.

Well, let’s start with what we do know. In any public undertaking, from building a dam to putting a man on the moon, we start by hiring somebody to be in charge. We give him an office, a staff, a desk, a typewriter, a telephone. We give him a budget. We say, “Begin.” It may come as something of a shock to realize that in this vast proliferating federal bureaucracy, there is no one in charge of peace. There is nobody who goes to an office in Washington and works 9-to-5 for peace, unhampered by any other consideration or responsibility. […]

War is not a natural disaster. It is a manmade disaster, directed and carried out by ordinary people, who are hired and paid by other ordinary people, to make war. It will stop when ordinary people decide that, whatever satisfactions and rewards war may have offered in the past, the risk is now too high and the return too low. If you are ready to invest in a new and exciting American enterprise, you can start by spending an hour telling your Congressman why you want a Department of Peace.

* * * * *

Mary Liebman published these words on the first two pages of the February 1973 issue of PAX, the newsletter for the Council for a Department of Peace (CODEP). It was a message she had been honing for two years and would continue for three more. We note that back then it was true, as she said, “almost everyone in government has served in the armed forces or some other war-connected duty.” That’s no longer true. Conscription ended in 1973 with the eventual result that most people in government are too young to have faced the military draft or to have friends and relatives who did.

Table of Contents

Prologue: War is not a Natural Disaster
Mary Liebman 2

What’s in this Pamphlet?
Bill Benzon 4

A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States
Benjamin Rush 6

Comments on Benjamin Rush’s Proposal
Bill Benzon 9

Why a Department of Peace?
Fredrick L. Schuman 12

Peace is Everybody’s Business; Nobody’s Job
Mary Liebman, Bill Benzon 29

Waging Peace
Charlie Keil 36

Resolution for a Department of Peace
Charlie Keil 42

Appendix: List of Selected Peace Organizations 44
About the Authors 46

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The Story of Civilization: Stuck in Traffic

22 Jan

Are things too big and out of hand? I’m bumping this one from September 2012 to the top of the queue.

One day I waited an hour in traffic to go a quarter of a mile so I could enter the Holland Tunnel and cross under the Hudson River to my home in Jersey City. While sitting in the cue and kept thinking why why why? Why?

In answer the question with a boiling-frog story, a parable about Happy Island. I conclude by suggesting that the world is happy island and we’re stuck in traffic.

Tunnel Traffic

I live in Jersey City, New Jersey, which is across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. Whenever I go to Manhattan I use public transportation, which is reasonably good, though just a bit inconvenient from my present location.  Driving my car through a tunnel or over a bridge and parking it on Manhattan, that’s VERY inconvenient. And so I avoid doing it.

But I had to go to rural Connecticut to meet Charlie for a trip up to Vermont. I could have taken public transportation to a point where Charlie could pick me up. But that’s a longish walk and four trains, or a longish walk and three trains and a long walk or a cab. Which was a hassle. So I decided to drive. Yes, I’d have to cross the Hudson River, but the Holland Tunnel’s nearby and I could avoid rush-hour traffic on both trips, too and from. And driving on Manhattan was a bit of a hassle, but not too bad on this trip because I’d be mostly on the West Side Highway.

So I drove. I left on Thursday morning at, say, 9:45 AM. By 11:30 I’d crossed off the northern end of Manhattan and was headed toward Connecticut. That’s an hour and forty-five minutes to go the first 15 miles, and probably an hour to go the first four miles, from my place in Jersey City through the Holland Tunnel and onto the West Side Highway headed North.

And that wasn’t rush-hour.

Nor was it rush-hour mid-afternoon on Saturday when I made the return trip. It took at least 45 minutes to get from West Side Avenue and 12th street into the tunnel, and traffic was unusually slow inside the tunnel, for whatever reason. Continue reading

When Ravi Bhalla was sworn in as Mayor of Hoboken US Senator Cory Booker spoke of love

4 Jan

Sometime in the late summer or early fall of last year, 2017, I noticed that Ravi Bhalla, who was running for mayor of Hoboken, where I live, was holding a meet and greet at a coffee shop near the supermarket where I do much of my shopping. I went, talked with Ravi and others on his team, including James Doyle, who was running for councilman-at-large, and liked them. Some, come November, I voted for him. And he won.

And so I decided to attend Bhalla’s inauguration on January 1, 2018. I had no particular expectations about what this would be like, but I was a little surprised to see a packed auditorium with the aisles ringed with TV cameras. This, apparently, was a big deal.

It didn’t occur to me that we would say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the ceremony. It’s possible that high school was the last time I stood, hand over heard, saying those words. I remembered the words, and felt a lump in my throat as I said them.

A big chunk of the (progressive end) of the local Democratic establishment was in the audience, and several of them were on the stage, along with New Jersey’s two US Senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker; the Governor-elect, Phil Murphy, sent Gurbir Grewal, his nominee for Attorney General, as his representative. Grewal, like Bhalla, is a Sikh. The opening prayer was offered by a Sikh, Giani Raghvinder Singh, and a Jew, Rabbi Robert Scheinberg, offered the closing prayer. A Roman Catholic offered the benediction, Monsignor Michael Andreano. This was an all-nations program.

As it should be, for Hoboken, along with its southern neighbor, Jersey City, the whole of northern New Jersey, and metropolitan New York, is an all-nations region. That was the theme of Senator Cory Booker’s remarks. As background he referred to the divisiveness and “darkness” in the country in 2017; he didn’t name names, but we all knew who and what he was referring to. Against that he talked of America’s ideals, fully acknowledging that our founding documents did not reflect those ideals – women were not mentioned and African-American’s were said to equal only 3/5s of a person – he argued that, in time, those ideals having been winning against the darkness.

It’s in that context that he talked of love. I was a bit surprised and shocked when I first heard the word, love; it’s not one that politicians use very much (if at all), and I forget his exact phrasing. But he must have used the word at least half a dozen times – love love love love love love – though obviously not in immediate succession (he wasn’t channeling the Beatles). His point was that when Robert Menendez was the first Latino elected to the New Jersey General Assembly, that was not merely a victory for Latinos, it was a victory for American ideals. Love. And when Barack Hussein Obama was elected President of the United States, that was not only a victory for African Americans, but, and more importantly, it was a victory for American ideals. Love. Nor is the victory of Ravi Bhalla – a “towel-head” at a time when He Who Shall Not Be Named legitimized and valorized such epithets on the national stage – only a matter of pride for his fellow Sikhs and Asian Indians. That victory is something for which all Americans can be proud, for it exemplifies and further amplifies the ideals equality and justice on which this nation was founded. Love.

Love is not all we need. We need hope, imagination, courage, and determination as well. But, yes, we do need love, for it is the foundation on which the others rest.

* * * * *

Cory Booker on The Conspiracy of Love.

President Trump, Thank you! Thank you for all the women who have come forward with stories about being harassed and raped

30 Nov

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Yes, citizen Trump has played a major role in the parade of accusations, albeit an indirect and unintended role to be sure.

The president of the United States serves two functions: 1) he governs the nation and, 2) he’s a symbol of the nation. The British separate these functions. The monarch is a symbol of the nation, but has no power to govern. The monarch doesn’t introduce legislation or sign it, doesn’t negotiate and sign treaties, doesn’t issue regulations, and so forth. Those are functions of government, and those functions belong to the prime minister. But the prime minister is not asked to shoulder the burden of being a national symbol.

It is in his role as national symbol that citizen Trump has motivated and energized these women to tell their stories. As a symbol of the nation citizen Trump represents our ideas and ideals, our hopes and aspirations, our values and commitments. These women are telling us that they do not want a sexual predator as the symbol of our nation, and they are saying this in the most powerful way that they can, but outing the powerful men who have preyed on them.

No more!

To be sure, citizen Trump is not the first president with unsavory sexual attitudes and actions. But he has come to office at a time when the press, for whatever reason, has decided that it will no longer look the other way. Moreover, he has come to office, not from a career in politics, but from a show-biz career. Thus it is fitting that men in show business are among the most prominent predators being called to account before the public, if not before the law.

Yes, Ronald Reagan was a movie star. But he came to the presidency after two terms as governor of California. And he knew something that 45 does not, he knew there was a deep and fundamental distinction to be made between his personal interests and activities and his actions as head of state. Citizen Trump treats that distinction with utter contempt and disdain, the way he treats women.

By ignoring the distinction between his person and the nation he governs, citizen Trump dishonors and damages the nation. Powerful men ignore a similar distinction, perhaps even, when you think about it, the same distinction, when they prey on women who serve them. When these women speak out to demand recognition, redress, and above all, dignity and respect, they are by that fact speaking on behalf of the nation. Let them and their actions symbolize these United States of America.

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Impeachment Arguments on Water Issues

1 Nov

A guest post by Jonathan A. French, Ph.D

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The President has sworn to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” whose preamble reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The common defense must be not just against soldiers and bombs, but also against hurricane winds and rain, against fire and earthquake, and against the wanton destruction of our resources, immediate and future.

The general welfare depends on protection from these same threats, natural and man-made.

The Environmental Protection Agency was established by law in 1972. Its mission is to encourage, guide and enforce the protection of our water, air and soil—and thence us—from man-made pollution.

The President has willfully and intentionally, and with little public analysis, attacked and frustrated the EPA in this mission. The President, through his EPA Administrator, has sought to reverse, reduce, or nullify many EPA regulations:

Concerning the oceans and the life within them, he has sought to overturn:

  • Offshore drilling bans in the Atlantic and Arctic.
  • A ban on seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic.
  • The Northern Bering Sea climate resilience plan.
  • The status of 12 marine areas.
  • Regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels.

Concerning wetlands, streams, rivers, the life within them, and the water that is drawn for water supply, he has sought to overturn:

  • The decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • The decision on the Dakota Access pipeline.
  • Mining restrictions in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
  • Wetland and tributary protections.

Concerning groundwater that is drawn for water supply, he has sought to overturn:

  • Fracking regulations on public lands.
  • Groundwater protections for uranium mines.

Furthermore, the President’s EPA has overturned flood building standards, to keep buildings out of flood zones, and to enable buildings to survive flooding.

To weaken or overturn these standards and regulations without due technical deliberation is to put populations in danger, and is as treasonous as reckless disarmament within sight of an enduring enemy.

Over the weekend the Nacirema Nationals trounced the Trumptastic Bombers

25 Sep

The Trumpistas went up against the Nacirema and were creamed. How’s this going to work out? What makes the question an interesting one is that many Trumptistas are also partisans of the Nacirema ( = “America” spelled backward). I grew up in Western PA, Trump country, but also football country. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out. Will Trump double-down after his defeat by the NFL? Will the players persist? What of the owners, many of whom are Trump partisans?

Across the Nation

On three teams, nearly all the football players skipped the national anthem altogether. Dozens of others, from London to Los Angeles, knelt or locked arms on the sidelines, joined by several team owners in a league normally friendly to President Trump. Some of the sport’s biggest stars joined the kind of demonstration they have steadfastly avoided.

It was an unusual, sweeping wave of protest and defiance on the sidelines of the country’s most popular game, generated by Mr. Trump’s stream of calls to fire players who have declined to stand for the national anthem in order to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.

 What had been a modest round of anthem demonstrations this season led by a handful of African-American players mushroomed and morphed into a nationwide, diverse rebuke to Mr. Trump, with even some of his staunchest supporters in the N.F.L., including several owners, joining in or condemning Mr. Trump for divisiveness.

However:

But the acts of defiance received a far more mixed reception from fans, both in the stadiums and on social media, suggesting that what were promoted as acts of unity might have exacerbated a divide and dragged yet another of the country’s institutions into the turbulent cross currents of race and politics.

 At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, videos posted on social media showed some Eagles fans yelling at anti-Trump protesters holding placards. At MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., before the Jets played the Dolphins, many fans, a majority of them white, said they did not support the anthem protests but also did not agree with the president’s view that players should be fired because of them.

Moreover, there is a rule:

The Steelers, along with the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks, who were playing each other and similarly skipped the anthem, broke a league rule requiring athletes to be present for the anthem, though a league executive said they would not be penalized.

In other sports:

In a tweet Friday, Mr. Trump disinvited the Golden State Warriors, the N.B.A. champions, to any traditional White House visit, after members of the team, including its biggest star, Stephen Curry, were critical of him. But on Sunday, the N.H.L. champion Pittsburgh Penguins said they would go to the White House, and declared such visits to be free of politics.

Nascar team owners went a step further, saying they would not tolerate drivers who protested during the anthem.

American Ritual

If you google “football as ritual” you’ll come up with a bunch of hits. It’s a natural. It’s played in special purpose-build facilities and the players wear specialized costumes. The teams have totemic mascots and the spectators will wear team colors and emblems of the totem. Ritual chants are uttered throughout the game and there’s lots of music and spectacle. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When anthropologists go to faraway places and see people engaging in such activities they call it ritual. We call it entertainment. It’s both.

While not everyone actually plays football, a very large portion (mostly male) of the population has done so at one time in their life. When I was in secondary school touch football was one of the required activities in boys gym class. Those who don’t play the game participate vicariously as spectators. The game is associated with various virtues and so participating contributes to moral development.

Other sports are like this as well and other sports have been involved in anti-Trumpista activity. But let’s stick to football as that’s where most of the action has been so far.


And then we have “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States, which is played at football games at every level, from local high school games to top-level professional games. As a 2011 article from ESPN Magazine points out, “it’s a battle song.” The lyrics are from “The Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key, a poem written to commemorate the defense of Baltimore in the War of 1812. The song became linked to sports in the early 20th century. According to the ESPN article:

THAT STORY BEGINS, as so many tales in modern American sports do, with Babe Ruth. History records various games in which “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played dating from the mid-1800s, but Ruth’s last postseason appearances for the Boston Red Sox coincided with the song’s first unbreakable bond with the sports world, in 1918.

Ruth was pitching for the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series. It’s the seventh-inning stretch:

As was common during sporting events, a military band was on hand to play, and while the fans were on their feet, the musicians fired up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They weren’t the only active-duty servicemen on the field, though. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas was playing the Series while on furlough from the Navy, where he’d been learning seamanship at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago. But Thomas’ months of military training had hardly dulled his diamond skills. According to the Society of American Baseball Research, the station’s commander, Capt. William Moffett, was a baseball fanatic who actively recruited athletes for the training center’s team. Thomas, who started playing professionally right out of high school in Wisconsin, later said he “had it made at Great Lakes. All [I] had to do was play baseball.” So after the Red Sox went through nine third basemen during the season, they took a shot and asked the Navy whether he could join them as they took on the Cubs. The military said yes, and Thomas stood at his usual position on the diamond during Game 1’s seventh-inning stretch, present at the creation of a tradition.

Upon hearing the opening notes of Key’s song from the military band, Thomas immediately faced the flag and snapped to attention with a military salute. The other players on the field followed suit, in “civilian” fashion, meaning they stood and put their right hands over their hearts. The crowd, already standing, showed its first real signs of life all day, joining in a spontaneous sing-along, haltingly at first, then finishing with flair. The scene made such an impression that The New York Times opened its recap of the game not with a description of the action on the field but with an account of the impromptu singing: “First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”

And thus a venerable tradition was born, though it took awhile. Interestingly enough, the article concludes:

Congress didn’t officially adopt the “The Star-Spangled Banner” until 1931 — and by that time it was already a baseball tradition steeped in wartime patriotism. Thanks to a brass band, some fickle fans and a player who snapped to attention on a somber day in September, the old battle ballad was the national pastime’s anthem more than a decade before it was the nation’s.

Think about that for a minute. The song became the nation’s anthem only after it had been anointed on the ball field.

Whoah!

Fast forward to 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest during the medal ceremony for the 200 meter race at the Olympics. Smith had come in first and Carlos come in third. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played, each raised a black-gloved fist and kept it raised until the anthem concluded:

In his autobiography, Silent Gesture, Smith stated that the gesture was not a “Black Power” salute, but a “human rights salute”. The event is regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games.

The gesture had special force in that context because the Olympics was (and remains) an international event. Smith and Carlos were making a statement on the world stage.

And that’s the context for Kaepernick’s 2016 protest during the 49ers final preseason game. The practice, obviously, is spreading, and spreading.

Trump’s Twitter Finger

How far will it go?

There’s no way to tell. A long depends on Trump’s twitchy twitter finger. We know that, in his narcissistic grandiosity, Trump doesn’t differentiate between his own interests and the nations. His ardent supporters (aka his base) have let him get away with it – for all I know, this behavior is all but invisible to them. But now he’s messing with sports, telling owners what to do, bossing the players around, all with his itchy twitter finger.

We’ve got a very complicated dynamic being played out in real-time in various national media including, of course, the Twitterverse. I have no idea how this will play out.

I does seem to me, however, that a great deal depends on Trump’s Twitter fingers. It’s absolutely clear that he likes/needs to push back. He’s called for a boycott of the NFL. Will the fans do it? If so, will the players continue? Will the owners let them? If not, will the player’s defy the owners? Strike! If the fans don’t boycott, will Trump ramp up the action however he can? What then?

But if he backs off – fat chance! – will it all die away, a tempest in a teapot, just a little trumper tantrum?

Stay tuned.

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The city-state redux

16 Sep

Jamie Bartlett, in Aeon:

Until the mid-19th century, most of the world was a sprawl of empires, unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travellers crossed without checks or passports. As industrialisation made societies more complex, large centralised bureaucracies grew up to manage them. Those governments best able to unify their regions, store records, and coordinate action (especially war) grew more powerful vis-à-vis their neighbours. Revolutions – especially in the United States (1776) and France (1789) – helped to create the idea of a commonly defined ‘national interest’, while improved communications unified language, culture and identity. Imperialistic expansion spread the nation-state model worldwide, and by the middle of the 20th century it was the only game in town. There are now 193 nation-states ruling the world.

But the nation-state with its borders, centralised governments, common people and sovereign authority is increasingly out of step with the world.

Maybe Trump was right”

On 17 September 2016, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted: ‘A nation without borders is not a nation at all. We WILL Make America Safe Again!’ The outcry obscured the fact that Trump was right (in the first half, anyway). Borders determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s a citizen and who’s not, who puts in and who takes from the common pot. If a nation cannot defend its border, it ceases to exist in any meaningful way, both as a going concern and as the agreed-upon myth that it is.

Trump’s tweet was set against the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s offer, one year earlier, of asylum for Syrians. The subsequent movement of people across Europe – EU member states received 1.2 million first-time asylum applications in 2015 – sparked a political and humanitarian crisis, the ramifications of which are still unfolding. It certainly contributed to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU. But 1.2 million people is a trickle compared to what’s coming. Exact numbers are hard to come by, and notoriously broad, but according to some estimates as many as 200 million people could be climate-change refugees by the middle of the century.

Tough, of course, The Donald doesn’t believe in climate change. Continue reading

Billions for War, only a Pittance for Peace: We Need a Department of Peace

16 Aug

Rex Tillerson’s reassurances about the threat of a nuclear exchange with North Korea leave me cold. My alarm bells are ringing not only because the two most impetuous fools on the planet (Trump and Kim Jong Un) are playing at nuclear brinkmanship, but because they’re doing so in the context of a militaristic culture whose default response to conflict is threats of violence.

The Pentagon spends $587 billion a year on weapons and military operations. The Defense Department includes not only the army, navy and air force but twenty agencies devoted to all manner of weaponry, logistics and intelligence. Meanwhile, the State Department’s measly budget for foreign aid and diplomacy is in the President’s crosshairs. Little wonder then that we’ve been embroiled in a seemingly endless war since 2003.

Imagine if the United States were to create a Department of Peace whose secretary serves on the Cabinet. Such an agency would provide a powerful counterweight to the choir of generals and war profiteers currently whispering in the President’s ear. If this proposal seems improbable, why is that? The more outlandish it seems, the more needed it is.

Erica Etelson

MAGA: A conspiracy of oligarchs vs. the rest of us?

12 Jul

Just a quick take: We know that prior to becoming President Donald Trump was doing business in Russia. We now know that the Trump campaign – DJ Jr., Kushner, & Manafort – had a conversation with well-connected Russians about dirt on Hillary Clinton. We don’t yet know whether or not anything illegal has been done – expert opinion seems divided. But at the very least, it’s unseemly. Is this how to make American great again, collaborate with a nation that, not so long ago, was America’s fiercest rival?

But is this about nations, or just about the oligarchs and plutocrats that run them? We know that any self-respecting Russian oligarch is going to have an apartment in London, or New York, perhaps Singapore, or Dubai? The Chinese too? And folks on Jersey City, across the Hudson from Manhattan, have been getting exercised at son-in-law Jared’s sister dangling HB-5 visas before potential Chinese investors in their projects.

It’s looking like “Make America Great Again” is just the brand name under which a loose transnational gaggle of oligarchs manipulates politics in the USofA.

Meanwhile, I keep reading these articles about the waning of the nation-state as a vehicle for governance. The most recent of these talk about how states and cities in America are going around the federal government on climate change. That is to say, on this issue, they’ve decided to conduct their own foreign policy and foreign policy, we know, has traditionally be the prerogative of the nation-state. That’s why nation-states exist, to conduct foreign affairs.

What’s it all mean?

Trump’s foreign Policy: An end to American hegemony?

23 Jun

Writing in The American Conservative, Andrew Bacevich notes a post-Trump nostalgia for a world order characterized as, “Liberalism, along with norms, rules, openness, and internationalism: these ostensibly define the postwar and post-Cold War tradition of American statecraft.” He goes on to note that such a view leaves out a few things:

Or, somewhat more expansively, among the items failing to qualify for mention in the liberal internationalist, rules-based version of past U.S. policy are the following: meddling in foreign elections; coups and assassination plots in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Cuba, South Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, and elsewhere; indiscriminate aerial bombing campaigns in North Korea and throughout Southeast Asia; a nuclear arms race bringing the world to the brink of Armageddon; support for corrupt, authoritarian regimes in Iran, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, South Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Egypt, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere—many of them abandoned when deemed inconvenient; the shielding of illegal activities through the use of the Security Council veto; unlawful wars launched under false pretenses; “extraordinary rendition,” torture, and the indefinite imprisonment of persons without any semblance of due process.

A bit later:

Prior to Trump’s arrival on the scene, few members of the foreign-policy elite, now apparently smitten with norms, fancied that the United States was engaged in creating any such order. America’s purpose was not to promulgate rules but to police an informal empire that during the Cold War encompassed the “Free World” and became more expansive still once the Cold War ended.

Rather

Trump’s conception of a usable past differs radically from that favored in establishment quarters. Put simply, the 45th president does not subscribe to the imperative of sustaining American hegemony because he does not subscribe to the establishment’s narrative of 20th-century history. According to that canonical narrative, exertions by the United States in a sequence of conflicts dating from 1914 and ending in 1989 enabled good to triumph over evil. Absent these American efforts, evil would have prevailed. Contained within that parable-like story, members of the establishment believe, are the lessons that should guide U.S. policy in the 21st century.

Trump doesn’t see it that way, as his appropriation of the historically loaded phrase “America First” attests. In his view, what might have occurred had the United States not waged war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and had it not subsequently confronted the Soviet Union matters less than what did occur when the assertion of hegemonic prerogatives found the United States invading Iraq in 2003 with disastrous results.

In effect, Trump dismisses the lessons of the 20th century as irrelevant to the 21st. Crucially, he goes a step further by questioning the moral basis for past U.S. actions. Thus, his extraordinary response to a TV host’s charge that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a killer.

Concerning the Trump resistance:

Say this for the anti-Trump resistance: while the fascism-just-around-the-corner rhetoric may be overheated and a touch overwrought, it qualifies as forthright and heartfelt. While not sharing the view that Trump will rob Americans of their freedoms, I neither question the sincerity nor doubt the passion of those who believe otherwise. Indeed, I am grateful to them for acting so forcefully on their convictions. They are inspiring.

Not so with those who now wring their hands about the passing of the fictive liberal international order credited to enlightened American statecraft. They are engaged in a great scam, working assiduously to sustain the pretense that the world of 2017 remains essentially what it was in 1937 or 1947 or 1957 when it is not.

The Nation State as an Agent of War

29 May
Tyler Cowen has a recent post consisting of the abstract to a working paper by Alberto Alesina, Bryony Reich, Alessandro Riboni, “Nation-Building, Nationalism and Wars”. Here’s that abstract:
The increase in army size observed in early modern times changed the way states conducted wars. Starting in the late 18th century, states switched from mercenaries to a mass army by conscription. In order for the population to accept to fight and endure war, the government elites began to provide public goods, reduced rent extraction and adopted policies to homogenize the population with nation-building. This paper explores a variety of ways in which nation-building can be implemented and studies its effects as a function of technological innovation in warfare.
Here’s a link to an ungated version of the paper.

Does this imply that as long as the nation-state is the focal-point of political organization we will be fighting wars? Is that why that United States has managed to engage itself in useless and immoral wars since the end of World War II? Perhaps it’s time we create other ways to organize our political life.

Here’s several opening paragraphs from the paper:

The interplay between war and the fiscal capacity of the state is well known. However, guns are not enough to win wars; one also needs motivated soldiers. In modern times, the need for large armies led to a bargain between the rulers and the population. The elite had to make concessions to induce citizens to comply with war related demands. Rulers promoted nationalism to motivate citizens and extract “ever-expanding means of war – money, men, materiel, and much more – from reluctant subject populations” (Tilly, 1994; see also Levi, 1997).

The “ancient regimes” in Europe used to fight wars with relatively small armies of mercenaries, sometimes foreigners, paid out with the loots of war. As a consequence of the evolution of warfare, countries changed the conduct of war, switching from mercenaries to mass armies recruited or conscripted almost entirely from the national population. Roberts (1956) explained how warfare underwent a “military revolution” starting between 1560 and 1660 and reaching a completion with the “industrialization of war” (McNeill, 1982) that occurred in the nineteenth century. The source of this revolution was due to changes in tactics and weapons, such as, the use of gunpowder technology and the invention of new styles of artillery fortification, higher population growth, changes in communications and transport technology which allowed states to put a large army in the field, and the adoption of techniques of mass weapon production. The electromagnetic telegraph, developed in the 1840s, allowed the deployment and the control of the army at distance. Steamships and railroads moved weapons, men and supplies on an entirely unprecedented scale (Onorato et al., 2014). In the middle of the 19th century, the adoption of semiautomatic machinery to manufacture rifled muskets made it possible, and relatively affordable, to equip a large number of soldiers (McNeill, 1982, p. 253). As a result, the size of armies increased and, as Clausewitz (1832) put it, “war became the business of the people”.

This paper examines nation-building in times of war. Mass warfare favored the transformation from the ancient regimes (based purely on rent extraction) to modern nation states in two ways. First, the state became a provider of mass public goods in order to buy the support of the population. Second, the state developed policies geared towards increasing national identity and nationalism. In particular the states had to hold in distant provinces to avoid the breakdown of the country, which would have interfered with war effort, and to motivate soldiers and civilians located far away from the core of the country. In addition, nation-building in times of war also included aggressive negative propaganda against the enemy and supremacy theories.

When the armies had to increase in size, the elites needed to build tax capacity. This is a well studied point as we argued above, and we return to it at the end to close our argument. We focus here on a different issue, the selection on how to spend fiscal revenues to motivate the population to endure wars. The composition of spending is quite relevant. For instance Aidt et al. (2006) argue that total spending as a fraction of GDP did not increase that much in the 19th century up until WW2. What mostly changed was the composition of the budget: in the 19th century and early 20th century, spending on defense and policing was partly substituted by spending on public services (transport, communication, construction) and later on public provision of public goods (education and health).

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