As a 12-year-old in 7th grade, I had to read a book and report on it. I no longer remember the name of the book I chose, but it was about the daily death-in-life of American prisoners of war in Korea. The book horrified me, of course. As I had been horrified by Hiroshima when I was two and a half, sitting at my mother’s feet while she cheered the news on the radio. For her, that meant my Dad would come home from the war. For me, it meant the world would end in my lifetime.
Traumatized at a very early age, I was naturally drawn to retrigger the trauma, which is what drew me to that book. But what to write about it? Especially since I was so shy, uncertain of myself, and had to weigh every word before committing it to paper.
Well, on that day, a strange sentence flew out of me onto the page. A sentence that I didn’t fully understand. It was this: “Since the world is made of individuals, there will always be competing ideas. Ideas which, down through the ages, have always led to one thing: war.”
The rest of my book report was much more clunky and sincere, like me. Talked about how if the soldiers had believed in (my Roman Catholic) God it would have been easier for them, etc.
When I got my book report back, the teacher had circled the first sentence in red, and wrote, “See me after class.” Trembling, I held my books to my chest as I went up to her desk. She accused me of plagiarism. Said that it was the most profound thing she had ever read. I freaked out. She was right! It was plagiarized. For I didn’t know where it came from. It flew forth in a rush, without thinking. The rest of the paper had been hard work. I was used to hard work, not to this kind of effortless transmission.
In the mysterious language of that sentence, can we now say that the age of “individualism” is ending?
September 16, 2013
by David Swanson
When something goes right
Oh, it’s likely to lose me
It’s apt to confuse me
It’s such an unusual sight
Larry Summers has proven unacceptable to oversee the continued destruction of the U.S. economy. The U.S. public has successfully rejected proposed missile strikes on Syria. My Congressman was among the majority who listened. Today was beautiful. The Orioles won. The Cowboys lost. The University of Virginia avoided losing by not playing. My family is expecting a new baby. I’ve finished a new book, which Kathy Kelly has written a beautiful foreword for. I have a sense that if the universe were right now campaigning on “hope and change” I might seriously consider voting for it.
I’m also pretty sure that if everything in my personal life were going slightly to hell and Larry Summers were crowned king of Wall Street, and the Dallas Cowboys were to win (darn them!), my sense of this moment in the movement against U.S. militarism would remain essentially the same. A major victory has been won, and we need to claim it and celebrate it.
Imagine the euphoria — or don’t imagine it, just remember it — when this country elects a new president whose main redeeming feature is that he isn’t the previous president. For personality fanatics that’s big stuff. And there are big parties. For policy fanatics — for those of us interested in seeing policies change rather than personalities — that kind of moment is right now. We need some parties, and if spontaneity is beyond us, perhaps we can use the International Day of Peace on September 21st for a combination celebration / discussion during which we explain to ourselves that it really is OK to celebrate.
Yes, many people in this country and around the world are suffering horrible tragedies in their personal lives and as a result of public events. Yes, the horrors in Syria, as in many other places, continue. Yes, the CIA is arming terrorists in Syria. Yes, the president whose missile strikes we prevented is taking credit for that restraint, just as he would have taken credit for the carnage had we not stopped him — and he’s threatening to bring the missile strikes back. Yes, if we let down our guard for a moment, the president and Congress and the CIA will do their worst. Yes, the danger for Iraq and Libya really loomed large after they had given up nuclear and chemical weapons, not before. Yes, lots of people opposed bombing Syria because they didn’t think Syrians deserved such favors. (No, I’m not making that up.) Yes, the corporate media is pretending that the threat of war brought peace, ignoring the successful insistence on peace by the people of the world.
But that’s why we have to celebrate what really happened. We have to announce it. The point is not to take credit. No one person or group did this. People espousing a variety of ideologies did it. And they did it over many years. Millions contributed. The point is that war was popularly rejected.
Why does this matter? It’s not a case for optimism, or for pessimism. I continue to have very little use for either bit of self-indulgence. The forces that press for more wars have not gone away. Neither have they been empowered. The point is that those who nonsensically proclaim that stopping wars is impossible cannot get away with saying that anymore.
You know the types. They show up at meetings, wait for the question-and-answer period, and then give a speech on how everything is utterly hopeless. Those speeches should be laughed away within the first five seconds now. And the many, many people who had begun ever so slightly to take that defeatist nonsense seriously can now be relieved of that weight. The danger now is not of being a sucker who proclaimed good news just before a genocide. The danger is of joining in the foolish campaign of the war propagandists by pushing the lie of powerlessness on people just after they prevented a war.
Do we still have to prevent a war again this week? Of course, we do. Do we have to take on the larger task of organizing peace and preventing crises? We do. Do we need to build a movement for the abolition of war that reaches beyond opposition to each immediate war proposal? You’d better believe it. But this is what we wanted in 2001 and 2003. Well, some of us did — that’s the point. We’re larger now, even if it’s not made visible. As long as we went on failing to prevent wars, people could say we’d never prevent them. There’s no science or logic behind such an assertion, but it still has power in it. Or it did, until now. Now we can claim with equal validity that we’ll stop every single war proposed from here on out. Of course we might or we might not, but we know that it’s up to us, that it depends on what we do, that little steps that appear useless at the time can help, and that changes to our culture can outweigh changes to the Pentagon budget, the global climate, crises in capitalism, or any other supposedly unstoppable force.
After World War I, people in the United States understood the need to eliminate war. Again, after Vietnam, many understood it almost that much. They developed the Vietnam Syndrome, a level of healthy resistance to more wars lamented as a disease by Washington. Now we’re moving back in that direction. War resistance is the health of the people. We’re not developing a syndrome. We’re developing an immunity. We’ve been vaccinated against war. We’re not as allergic to the propaganda as we once were. We’re war resistant, and our task is to compel those in power not to lament our syndrome this time, but to share in our contagious good health.