From "We are Tired of War" to "We are Tired of Imperialism"

By Wayne Nealis

October 2, 2014

The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of World War I and the 75th anniversary of World War II.  The two great imperialist wars of the 20th century resulted in the mass murder of an estimated 80 million soldiers and civilians. This analysis is offered in the hope that 2014 might mark the year steps were taken to build a peace movement in the United States along anti-imperialist principles. What this meant by this is defined and analyzed in some detail below.

The tone, goals and spirit of this analysis is informed by a study of peace movements, in particular those organized to prevent WWI and the anti-nuclear weapons organizing following WWII upon the world witnessing the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The work and principles of the Anti-imperialist League of the United States founded in 1898 has also provided inspiration.

While these movements were not successful in stopping imperialist aggression and war, much can be learned from their work. In the first place the need to reach millions of people on a grassroots face to-face basis.

Arguments for a peace movement that will systematically speak to the American people about the nature of imperialism are numerous. First, however, is that in order to change people’s thinking and attitudes toward a foreign policy that is based on imperialism, people need to know that the main underlying cause of war and aggression[1] is capitalism’s imperialist competition for profits, markets and natural resources.

Without such an anti-imperialist understanding people become resigned to war as inevitable, see war as a human moral failing or scum to cynicism. Those actively opposed to war are constantly organizing to protest one war after another, yet after each war, bombing or escalation of sanctions activity fades and Americans know little more about the systemic causes of the aggression. As difficult as the anti-imperialist approach might be, without such understanding, making sense of geopolitical conflict will remain a mystery.

Understandably, many people are manipulated by propaganda selling war and aggression under the cover of noble-sounding reasons like fighting for freedom and democracy or the fear-laden messages so prevalent in the Cold War recycled for the war on terrorism. This masking of the real intent is another reason why an anti-imperialist approach is needed as it reveals the underlying motives behind United States foreign policy.

A consistent anti-imperialist program has the potential to end this deception by enlarging people’s consciousness such that they cannot be manipulated into supporting imperialist aggression. And, it allows for a consistent educational and organizing program regardless of the conflict laying the basis for a continuously expanding peace movement.

It is this writer’s opinion if any new organization or coalition were founded it might consider incorporating the term ‘anti-imperialist’ in its name. The name of the Anti-imperialist League did not leave the public in doubt as to its mission or that of it imperialist adversaries. This choice would also delineate the mission from other peace organizations that may not agree with the anti-imperialist strategy or find they cannot openly do so. Either way, this should not be misconstrued as a criticism of existing peace groups. The burden lies with those who opt for an anti-imperialist approach to demonstrate its effectiveness.  

Yet, another reason for an explicit anti-imperialist movement is to create political room for peace-minded liberal and progressive politicians, organizations and trade unions to more boldly challenge imperialist threats and structures. The public can then better draw lessons from the interplay and outcome of such a political environment.

Marking a significant shift in Americans’ thinking

A few public opinion polls indicate a significant shift in Americans’ thinking in the past couple years that open possibilities to build a mass peace movement on anti-imperialist principles. This turn-around is remarkable considering that the terrorist attacks of 9-11 convinced a significant majority to give unquestioned support to United States foreign policy and military goals. Within a few years, Americans grew skeptical and weary of war and aggression as they witness the failure of such policies to make the world more safe, stable and peaceful.

In the summer of 2013, for the first time, the American people stopped their government from taking an overt military action. The massive rejection across ideological lines of the Obama administration’s plan to attack Syria is perhaps the strongest indicator of a shift in public opinion and one the peace movement can cultivate and organize. 

A poll early in the debate, showed 60 percent of Americans strongly opposed Obama’s plan, while only nine percent lent him support. And later, after several weeks of the administration and the media trying to persuade the public with bellicose and fabricated propaganda the number rose to only 25 percent and that was qualified by an assumption that it would be proven that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.  A near majority of voters, 46 percent, continued to oppose an attack whether or not the Assad government used chemical weapons.[2]

The second indication Americans are beginning to be more skeptical about foreign policy is their response to Edward Snowden’s theft of intelligence files. The public quickly rejected the political establishment’s attempt to demonize Snowden as a traitor. In sharp contrast, Americans seemingly had found a hero and someone who expressed their underlying suspicions about government intrusion and a foreign policy of lies. A majority of 55 percent said Snowden was a whistleblower, not a traitor.[3]  These two examples show a growing skepticism in the legitimacy of the government by the governed.

No doubt, this movement in public opinion has been setback somewhat by the fear surrounding the victories of ISIL. Yet, even after horrific images of beheadings, the violence of ISIL forces and warmongering by Democratic and Republican leaders polls show a near majority are wary of the administration’s plans and 70 percent oppose any use of ground troops.  The pendulum will swing back, perhaps even more so, as the military solution will once again worsen the situation as Americans have witnessed over and over again from Libya, to Somalia, to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On the question of war and peace these events indicate a significant majority of Americans no longer trust the two parties. Americans need and want an outlet to channel this discontent, distrust and frustration. They are tired of war.

Foreign policy establishment alarmed

The imperialist foreign policy establishment is alarmed by this trend as indicated in a speech by Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, in May 2014, at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  In what could be characterized as a lecturing tone, Hagel remarked:

Although Americans today are increasingly skeptical of foreign engagement and global responsibilities, it is a mistake to view these responsibilities as a burden or as charity.  Let us remember that the biggest beneficiaries of American leadership and engagement in the world are the American people.”[4]

This is a risky admonishment given the trend in public opinion as many Americans could easily take it as arrogant and condescending. The “beneficiaries” that Hagel seeks to convince are growing tired of what they increasingly see as the high costs of “policing” the world.

Hagel went on to make it clear what the imperialist establishment intends to do and what it wants wary Americans to support with their blood and money. “We want our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines active around the world, deploying with greater frequency and agility, with the skills and expertise needed to build security capacity in each region.”

Hagel, a Republican, who was lauded by some analysts as a lessor imperialist during his confirmation period, is quite candidly telling Americans, be ready for more of the same i.e. pursing global domination.  If this is not slowed and reversed it will require those threatened by U.S. imperialism and its European Union allies, particularly Russia[5] and China, to expend more on their military elevating the arms race.  And at the same time it will engender more conflicts, as well as, resistance around the world.

On a collision course: Imperialist goals and a skeptical public

The contradictions between the goals of imperialism and a skeptical public will continue to create opportunities to renew the American peace movement along an anti-imperialist program. A subjective analysis of various public opinion surveys show that perhaps 20 to 30 percent of Americans would be sympathetic to an anti-imperialist outlook, especially among youth. This is a good starting point to build on.

How to do so may take two parallel communicative and tactical approaches to move public opinion. Many people opposed to the wars and military aggression are not ready to act on an explicitly anti-imperialist program. So the peace movement needs to assess the sentiment of the leading edge of anti-war opinion and encourage millions to express it in some public manner. At this moment, that edge is best described by the attitude of millions who say they are tired of war.

A message can be anti-imperialist without demanding or expecting anti-imperialist consciousness; for example, a message that urges support for a demilitarized foreign policy of diplomacy, negotiation, cooperation and non-interference in the affairs of other nations. This statement challenges the right to interfere and offers an alternative to a militarized foreign policy. Anecdotal evidence expressed in media interviews and letters to the editor show a growing sentiment that “we should mind our on business.”[6]

When such messages get a foothold in the public it will set opinion on a trajectory that leads to a conflict with imperialist goals and reduce the effectiveness of militarist propaganda. Such a development will demand of those in charge like Hagel to resort to more lecturing further exposing their true aims.

Another key strategic avenue to build on is the festering doubt that the cost of maintaining and expanding foreign military bases is bleeding the nation of much needed domestic capital investments. A shift in public support on this issue is a direct threat to the structural power of imperialism–overseas bases and ports.

The total cost of foreign bases in 2011 was estimated at $102 billion annually, not including the bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why it should be asked do United States bases constitute 95 percent of all foreign bases?[7]  This creates doubt as many Americans assume each major military nation has a plethora of bases thus justifying the U.S. keeping apace. An important tactic in this context is to link the cost of each base with unmet domestic needs at the national, state and local levels all across the United States in an attempt to build on the rising “pocketbook” doubt about military costs.[8]

In order not to be dismissed as naïve or unrealistic, demands to close bases should include constructive alternatives to perceived security threats and actual security threats exacerbated by imperialist foreign policies. This means urging people to demand the government engage in serious negotiations to replace foreign military bases with security guarantees and treaties.

This would call the question the deceptive imperialist practices around negotiations intended mislead the public into thinking they are acting in good faith. Such an approach also reassures the public that peace advocates recognize their concerns and fears. If this demand were to gain support it has the potential to drive a wedge between the militarist foreign policy and the public’s demand for alternatives. This tactic also links U.S. peace movement goals with anti-imperialist and nationalist movements worldwide trying to close bases in their respective countries.  

Making private sentiment public

When private anti-war sentiment is expressed publicly, and not just in polls, public opinion can shift at a faster pace. This change occurs when people find they are not alone in their thinking within their families, neighborhoods and workplaces. When talking with people about the wars today it is clear they are somewhat reticent to say what is on their minds. There are many pressures to remain silent and fear of taking action. It is urgent to find ways to encourage people to speak out and act.[9]

A neglected sentiment on which to develop anti-imperialist awareness is the often-expressed notion that the United States should stop being “the policeman of the world.” Given the skepticism opened by the lessons of 12 years of war, there is an opportunity to help people see this “policing” is the use of the armed forces as a private tool of capital to protect and enlarge national and transnational capitalism’s profits by the control of oil, minerals and markets. This is a big leap all at once, yet again, without talking about imperialism the public will not move any further toward this understanding.

Today many more Americans, especially among younger generations, know this is the game. They no longer believe as Hagel preposterously stated after 12 years of waging war for oil in Iraq that the mission is to “help build a peaceful, free and stable world.”[10]


Making elections an anti-imperialist arena in the 2016 election and beyond

The Democratic and Republican parties both of which have long supported the bi-partisan imperialist foreign policy, will not raise any criticism of United States foreign policy in the 2014 or 2016 elections. That is the task of the peace movement. While time has run out for 2014, the hope of this initiative is that 2014 will also mark the beginning of an anti-imperialist electoral strategy to challenge the status quo in the 2016 national elections.

The 2016 elections should become an arena of anti-imperialist struggle, education and become a referendum and an alternative to the two major parties’ foreign policies of war and aggression. 

Imagine the potential effect on public opinion, if 100 candidates for congressional seats were to run on a program for a peaceful, non-imperialist foreign policy. On an order of magnitude this is both a necessary goal and one that is possible to achieve, perhaps within a few electoral cycles.  The sentiments captured in the polls mentioned above urgently need a means to be expressed in the electoral arena.

The greatest burden and responsibility

In 1912 a peace congress was held in Basel, Switzerland called by socialist political parties, peace groups and left-led trade unions across Europe. The purpose was to stop war preparations and inter-imperialist conflicts that were about to engulf Europe and the world, and did in 1914.  The Congress manifesto noted that the working classes and peace-minded people of Germany, France and England had the greatest responsibility and opportunity to prevent the looming war. Heading this list today is the United States.[11]

The American peace movement and people have the greatest burden and responsibility in this struggle. Staying mindful, however, a victory against imperialist in any nation could cause a ripple effect that could derail existing and new plans for aggression and war.  As such, the responsibility lies across all borders.

Today, the World Peace Council remains an international organization dedicated to unifying peace and solidarity advocates on a regional and global basis. At the same time, the WPC maintains a staunch anti-imperialist posture. Those hoping to link movements across borders and build an international front against imperialism in the spirit of Basel will find the WPC and it US affiliate a collaborative, experienced partner.

Without the organized resistance of tens of millions, imperialist aggression, intrigue, sanctions and destruction will continue; it would be naïve to expect anything less. The plans, alternative plans and the alternatives of the alternative plans have been developed and practiced. There is no better or more opportune moment to stop these plans. That moment must be made.

A subjective factor that might spur action and hope around the world would be Americans launching a systematic, persistent challenge to U.S. imperialist foreign policy from within. While people of the world recognize the difficulty, they are waiting for such a signal emanating from the most powerful of the imperialist nations.[12]

They know that only a change in the consciousness of the American people can impede and end the imperialist foreign policy. It is time to act more vigorously, systematically; armed a consistent anti-imperialist program that can fulfill the American peace movement’s obligations to the working classes and peoples of all nations.

Endnotes
[1] There are certainly other reasons for people and nations to go to war as Johan Galtung discusses in his book “The True Worlds.” The Free Press, 1980, New York.  Here I am only concerned with those clearly of an imperialist nature or traceable to past imperialist aggression and colonial plunder. In large part this accounts for most wars and conflicts in modern history.

[2] Reuters, 2013. “As Syria war escalates, Americans cool to U.S. intervention: Reuters/Ipsos poll.” Lesley Wroughton.  URL:http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/25/us-syria-crisis-usa-poll-idUSBRE97O00E20130825.  Accessed: September 4, 2013.

[3] Quinnipiac University National Poll, July 10, 2013. URL: http://www.quinnipiac.edu/institutes-and-centers/polling-institute/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=1919

[4] Speech by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Chicago, Illinois, Tuesday, May 06, 2014

URL: http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1845.  Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

[5] Putin announced a weapons modernization program to counter Western aggression.  http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/putin-weapons-counter-threats-russia-25403122

[6] "Public Sees U.S. Power Declining as Support for Global Engagement Slips"

Full report at: http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/12-3-2013%20APW%20VI.pdf

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in association with the Council on Foreign Relations.

NOTE: The poll found 52 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that the United States “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.”  This is the highest and only majority reaction to this question since 1964 when it was first asked as part of a quadrennial survey of foreign policy attitudes that PEW conducts in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Just 10 years ago only one in three Americans agreed. CFR members called it “war fatique and cost concerns…” according to the PEW report.

[7] Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “No one builds bases like Americans,” Dan Drollette Jr., June 23, 2014.  URL: http://thebulletin.org/no-one-builds-bases-americans7258.  This includes Iraq and Afghan bases. The Pentagon officially reported 865 in 2009. In the book, The Bases of Empire, Catherine Lutz, Ed. 2008, estimates 909 military facilities worldwide. URL:http://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/archives/book8s/basesofempire-intro-lutz.pdf

Accessed September 29, 2014.

[8] A useful tool is the National Priorities Project database.  See: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/.

[9] This should not be confused with a lobbying approach designed to influence politicians. While this may be an outcome and what may even appears to be, the goal is to educate, organize and move public opinion in an anti-imperialist direction.

[10] Hagel, Ibid.

[11] Japan also gives diplomatic and financial support for imperialist aggression and maintains a foreign policy largely allied with the United States and the European Union. In July, Japan’s cabinet, with the encouragement of Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, lifted a ban in place since World War II that prohibited Japanese troops from being deployed outside Japan’s borders.[11] [NOTE: This still requires a two-thirds vote of parliament.] This provocative act, encouraged and urged by the United States, was met by massive protests organized by the Japanese peace movement. “Japan gov’t allows foreign military deployment, earns China’s ire.”  URL: http://rt.com/news/169712-abe-japan-constitution-china/ Accessed September 29, 2014.

[12] In my travels, particularly in Latin America political conversations inevitably lead to asking me what am I doing to get the U.S. off our backs and why is their not more resistance to U.S. militarism.  The expressions of impatience are palpable. The anger over the U.S. supported coup in Honduras is just the latest disappointment. At the recent United Nations summit on climate change held in New York City, leaders of nations around the world, in particular from Latin America, once again voiced scathing criticism of U.S. led imperialism. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia summed up is these words: “Wherever the United States intervened, it left misery, hate and death in its trail, but also left wealth in the hands of the arms and oil industries.  A culture of peace required the eradication of extremist fanaticism, as well as the warmongering promoted by the United States.” The goal of the peace movement is to bring millions Americans to understand and agree with Morales. This is in a nutshell the difficult task of peace. URL: http://www.un.org/en/ga/69/meetings/gadebate/24sep/bolivia.shtml







Joomla SEF URLs by Artio

Google Translator


WFTU Poster Contest Winner

WFTU Poster 1st Prize