Does Society “Decide” to Engage in War?

by Joe Scarry

I think if you asked most people, they would say that (a) war is deeply ingrained in society; and (b) society over and over again decides to engage in war.

There is a growing discourse around point (a): people are starting to unpack the idea that “war is deeply ingrained in society,” and growing in understanding that this is not the same as saying “war is part of human nature.”

I worry that there is less insight around point (b). At least in the United States, I think people continue to believe that war is a societal choice. I think this is not true.

In theory our Constitution is all about the people — through Congress — maintaining control over the decision to go to war. As it stands now, as a practical matter, that’s not really what’s happening.

I invite people to study the graph of historical US military spending below. It shows that there was a time when military spending went up when the US began to engage in a specific war, and then went back down after that war. Later, that pattern changed.

US Defense Spending — FY 1800 to FY 2010
(More at

It is very interesting to consider why this change occurred. (Perhaps that’s a topic for a later blog post or two.)

But I think the more fundamental point is: at some point US society stopped being the “decider” about war. The US began to engage in war, and more war, and more war . . . but US society was no longer really making that decision in any real way.

(Think about US military action during your lifetime. In what ways, if any, did society at large determine what happened?)

If we confront this reality, what might this cause us to do differently?

Related posts

More than anyone else, the beneficiaries of permawar are the politicians who thrive on the power to make and control wars. The number one prime beneficiary is the President, as well as presidential aspirants. But it doesn’t end there . . . .

(See J’ACCUSE: The Beneficiaries of Permawar )

The decision about whether to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation is our decision. And that is why the entire country is mobilizing for mass action for nuclear disarmament in 2015. Are we capable of making sure the messengers — Obama, Putin, the other agents of government — hear their instructions from us clearly?

(See NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament )

Right now we’re “stuck” — the portion of the public that wants to cut military spending has hovered in the high 20%s since 2004; it just can’t seem to break the 30% barrier. (The percentage of people in favor of expansion is about the same.)

(See Cutting Defense: Are We STUCK? )

It’s essential that we demand our members of Congress get on the record now about the opposition to U.S. military intervention in Syria that they are registering from their districts.

(See On Syria, It’s Time for Congress to Remember Who They Represent)


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An Antiwar Thought Experiment: Swing the Swing States?

by Joe Scarry

There’s no time like the present — i.e. as the US stares down the throat of a possible Trump presidency — to tee up an electoral thought experiment.

Now I understand antiwar people have totally lost faith in the electoral process. It’s okay! So has everyone else!!

But this post is directed at a time in the not-to-distant future when there is a national awakening. (Think: David Byrne singing “My God! What have I done?”) I’m thinking about a time when a lot of people actually start to think about how they can have an impact about what this country is and does.

So here’s the thing: we all know that elections ultimately come down to the small number of uncommitted voters, especially in swing states. Anyone who wants to succeed devotes a lot of attention to what it will take to win over those voters, in those places.

Swing States 2016
(Source: UVA Center for Politics)

Now, consider a possible situation: any candidate who wants to win over those voters, in those places, will have to contend with a bunch of people who have been thinking a lot about how not to have war. What would happen if the antiwar movement zeroed in on that as a goal?

In other words, put aside for the time being the goal of turning every person in the country into an antiwar activist. In fact, put aside for the moment all of our accepted ideas about what it means to be “antiwar.” (And for sure forget about the idea that “antiwar” people look the same everywhere!)

Instead, just focus on this question: if we made a concerted effort, over a reasonable period of time, in a few select places, and paid attention to local circumstances, could we influence a bunch of people in those places to think a lot about how not to have war?

What might be different if that happened?

Related posts

It will be the 2016 presidential election that will provide the main form of entertainment and distraction to the U.S. populace between now an the end of next year. An enormous amount of political fluff will fill our lives — pushing aside, I suppose, vast amounts of sports fluff and shopping fluff and celebrity fluff and — well, you get the point.

(See What Will Dominate Election 2016? (ANSWER: ISIS and #BlackLivesMatter) )

The decision about whether to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation is our decision. And that is why the entire country is mobilizing for mass action for nuclear disarmament in 2015. Are we capable of making sure the messengers — Obama, Putin, the other agents of government — hear their instructions from us clearly?

(See NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament )

Yesterday, as all the other senators sat patiently through the obfuscation of Barack Obama’s Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse — Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey — Rand Paul gave ’em hell.
“Stand up for us and say you’re going to obey the Constitution and if we vote you down — which is unlikely, by the way — you would go with what the people say through their Congress and you wouldn’t go forward with a war that your Congress votes against.”

(See Obama’s Syria “Vote” in Congress: Democracy? or Theater? )

Posted in American Military Culture, The Left's Challenge, The New Peace Movement, The Right's Challange, World War III | Tagged | Leave a comment

In 2016, Walk the Talk: “Anti-Islamophobia.” (You can do it.)

by Joe Scarry

December 6, 2015 — This week, American Jews are participating
in a series of nationally coordinated actions against Islamophobia
and racism to mark the eight days of Chanukah with a rekindling
of their commitment to justice. (See

As a person working to put a stop to war, it is clear to me that the conflating of the ideas of “the threat of Islam” and “the global war on terrorism” are the biggest obstacles to peace today.

Simply stated: Islamophobia fosters war.

We live in a 24/7 entertainment and media culture, and it is a constant struggle to shift from being a passive participant in the dominant cultural narrative to being an active influence on the ideas circulating in our communities.

Numerous groups are leading an effort to replace Islamophobia with education and conversation. (See links below.)

In particular, as an active participant in several church congregations, I recognize the responsibility of people of faith to move from contemplation to action. (Apostles act.) I invite us members of Christian communities to ask ourselves:

What are we doing to bridge the gap between ourselves and Muslims?
(If we are not the ones to create the bridge, who is???)

Here are some of my recent blog posts on the subject of Islamophobia:

We all wish to be judged by our good intentions. But the way people know us is through our actions. So … what do people in the Muslim world know about us here in the United States?

(See They’ll Know Us By Our Actions)

The iPhobe is a humanoid robot that spouts anti-Islamic rhetoric and encourages fear and hatred in an unprecedented variety of ways.

(See Like your iPhone? You’ll LOVE the new iPhobe!)

If we are going to stave off a U.S. war against Iran, we are going to have to have some very difficult conversations with other Americans. Some people are extremely hostile. It’s confusing and a bit frightening, but we’re going to have to confront it.

(See Why Does Iran Arouse So Much Hostility?)

In 2013 America, we have been conditioned to feel anything associated with Middle Eastern and/or Muslim men should trigger feelings of suspicion, fear, and hatred. And when those cues are triggered, all of our objectivity and healthy skepticism goes out the window.

(See Orwell and the Uses of Hate)

Here’s something that would be courageous and valuable, in my opinion: zero in on the handful of people in the world who have their fingers on triggers of the massive nuclear arsenals that threaten us, and bring them to heel. That would be impressive.

(See The Wrong 3,000,000 Covers: Quel dommage! )

I wonder if the outrage that many Muslims seem to feel at the suffering of other Muslims doesn’t put us Christians to shame.

(See Fighting Back: It’s alright as long as you’re a Christian, right? )

The biggest idea coming out of the 2013 Drone Summit? We will only deal successfully with the crimes being committed using drones when we understand them as part of the much larger war against communities of color . . . .

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color )

“Yes, I tell everyone: I’m Sicilian — but,” she said, “that doesn’t mean I’m Mafia — and German — but that doesn’t mean I’m a Nazi.” And then she added: “And being Muslim doesn’t mean someone’s a terrorist! That’s what I tell people!”

(See Kairos: “Muslim” Doesn’t Mean “Terrorist”! )

I was back in New Jersey to visit with high school friends in July. It gave me the opportunity to visit the newly opened 9/11 Memorial. Not surprisingly, what I saw made me spend days and weeks thinking about the memorial itself, and the larger issue of 9/11 in our national life. Out of all that I have seen and heard and read and thought about, several thoughts keep rising to the top.

(See 9/11 Memory: Grieving and Celebrating Valor, Leaving Vengeance Behind )

Useful links to anti-Islamophobia resources

10 Strategies to Counter Islamophobia – Presented by Imam Malik Mujahid at 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago, January 27, 2016.

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Drones: We Need Debate, Not Sound Bites

by Joe Scarry

It’s an election year in the US. National security is becoming a top issue. Everyone’s talking about ISIS, and terrorism. The evolving US militarism is bubbling just below the surface.

Okay: let’s put the question on the table.

REAL debate is not the 3-ring circus that you see on TV during prime time,
full of personalities and ad hominem attacks, but rather a knowledge- and
research-based exchange of argument and counterargument directed at
focused analysis of a specific question. Passion and competition, yes,
but, more than anything else, debate is an exercise in critical thinking!

Let’s hear some real debate: Is military action the solution? Is violence the way to fight violence? Are we going to “drone” our way to a peaceful world?

Before we let some politician get away with a cheap sound bit, let’s subject the question to real scrutiny:

Does the use of drones really offer countries like the US the best solution for addressing violent threats?

Let’s see a real debate.

Related posts

Anyone who has had to write a speech knows that the hardest part is to land on the main idea. Once you’ve got that right, the rest practically writes itself.

(See “The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence.” on Scarry Thoughts.)

A virus is able to be so successful precisely because it (most of the time) doesn’t kill its host. I can’t help thinking that we simply are not being intelligent about how to respond to violence. How might recognizing the “viral” nature of violence help us to respond to it more intelligently?

(See Violence: Taking Over Like a Virus on Scarry Thoughts.)

We can now entrust all the dirty work — including war — to robots. (Or can we?)

(See A Modest Proposal: Debate the Drones on Scarry Thoughts.)

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#PeaceDay 2015 – Ten Thoughts on Peace

by Joe Scarry

Rainbow peace sign flag
(Image: @fieldsforever58)

Yesterday was the UN International Day of Peace.

The day nudged me to think about what — if anything — I feel I really know about peace and the movement for peace.

Here are 10 things that are true for me . . . .

(1) Nuclear abolition

The risk from nuclear weapons is so great, the only responsible course is total elimination now.

(See What’s YOUR “appetite for risk”? (Eliminate nuclear weapons NOW!) )

(2) Getting with the times

The means available to us today for eliminating war vary greatly from those available from those working to eliminate war in decades past.

(See Not Your Father’s Antiwar Movement )

(3) Social media power

One means that can be the source of enormous power is social media.

(See News Worth Spreading: “There IS An Alternative to War!” )

(4) Intersectionality

We face a whole lot of obstacles to peace and justice. To be a peace activist means committing to work on multiple fronts.

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color )

(5) Grounding oneself

Where do people find the grounding to sustain their work for peace?

For many people, grounding is found in community and/or faith.

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry) )

(6) The centrality of nonviolence

Eventually, it becomes clear that “nonviolence” is not just an aspect of style, and somehow optional, but is, in fact, a central source of the essential power needed by anyone working for peace.

(See Chenoweth on Why Nonviolence Gets Results (The “Cliff’s Notes” Version) )

(7) A challenge to the Church

How much attention should Christians give to the work of actually opposing war?

To me it seems clear that Jesus’ “good news” is a subversive, anti-imperialist, anti-establishment, anti-status quo call to action.

(See How Shall We Live in the Face of Empire? (Reading Mitri Raheb) )

(8) Peace work

Peace is a system, and we should approach it as something to work at.

Peace work requires resources: hours, money, skills.

(See A Global Security System: An Alternative to War from World Beyond War.)

(9) Permawar

The main characteristic of war has become its persistence. Why?

(See J’ACCUSE: The Beneficiaries of Permawar)

(10) Go ahead, say “never”

One of the best things we could do is get out of the “little bit of war” habit. Saying “no” is the first step to finding alternatives to war.

(See Greenwald Was Right: “Humanitarian” War in Syria? It’s Just More War )

What’s true for you?

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Why Are These Military Experts Saying CUT CUT CUT Nukes?

by Joe Scarry

I was shocked by this sentence in The New York Times four years ago:

“The Pentagon has now told the public, for the first time, precisely how many nuclear weapons the United States has in its arsenal: 5,113. That is exactly 4,802 more than we need.

(See “An Arsenal We Can All Live With” by Gary Shaub, Jr., and James Forsyth, Jr., May 23, 2010 in The New York Times.)

I was even more shocked when I read the identities of the authors:

Gary Schaub Jr. is an assistant professor of strategy at the Air War College.

James Forsyth Jr. is a professor of strategy at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.

Who are Schaub and Forsyth? Why do they say the U.S. should hold no more than 311 strategic nuclear weapons — less than 1/10 of its current levels?

Anti-nuke? Not by a long shot . . .

Gary Schaub

Gary Schaub taught at the Air Force Research Institute and Air War College, both at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He is currently a tenured Senior Researcher at the Centre for Military Studies of the University of Copenhagen, where he and his colleagues “conduct research-based consultancy work for the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Defence Committee of Parliament as well as scholarly research on international security issues.”

Here’s James Forsyth, Jr.’s profile from the Air Universitywebsite: “Dr. Forsyth received his PhD in International Studies from the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. While there, he studied international and comparative politics, as well as security studies. He has taught at the Air Force Academy and Air Command and Staff college, where he served as Dean. His research interests are wide ranging and he has written on great power conflict and war.”

Schaub and Forsyth are military experts.

And, in general, they favor the existence — though not the use — of nuclear weapons.

They come right out in their op-ed and say, “The idea of a nuclear-weapon-free world is not an option for the foreseeable future. Nuclear weapons make leaders vigilant and risk-averse. That their use is to be avoided does not render them useless. Quite the opposite: nuclear weapons might be the most politically useful weapons a state can possess.”

Still, they have called for deep cuts in U.S. nuclear weapons.

Doing the math

Col. B. Chance Saltzman (left)
in his capacity as 460th Operations Group commander
( U. S. Air Force photo/Dennis Rogers, 7/7/2011)

Schaub and Forsyth’s op-ed grew out of a paper: “Remembrance of Things Past : The Enduring Value of Nuclear Weapons”, which they published in conjunction with B. Chance Saltzman (Colonel, USAF) in Strategic Studies Quarterly, Spring 2010.

Even if you are usually unconvinced by the game theory and other heuristics usually relied upon by proponents of nuclear strategy, the “Remembrance” paper is worth reading, because it does something insightful: it points to the degree to which the U.S. (and others) have been constrained by the relatively small arsenals of other countries (e.g. China). They suggest that, in fact, a significantly reduced nuclear arsenal would accomplish deterrence. 

In addition, they provide useful discussion of the need to reach reductions by steps — i.e. steps that even those resistant to reductions can swallow.

What is “strategy,” anyway?

If you’re wondering what Schaub and Forsyth have up their sleeve, it may be contained in these sentences:

“We need a nuclear arsenal. But we certainly don’t need one that is as big, expensive andunnecessarily threatening to much of the world as the one we have now.(emphasis added)

Two little words — “unnecessarily threatening” — go a long way to suggesting why Schaub and Forsyth think the U.S. would be better off with fewer nuclear weapons.

Any advocacy for the elimination of nuclear weapons must sooner or later get around to the specifics of the steps by which we get to zero. U.S. nuclear strategists recognize that 311 is still alarge number of strategic nuclear weapons for the U.S. to hold. Shouldn’t our minimum demand be to get U.S. to this level (or below)?

Related posts

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position — willalways be in the position — to say, “No” ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will nevergive up its nuclear weapons, becauseit has the power and the rest of the world doesn’t?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen.

(See Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians) )

In light of the upcoming review of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and the fact that organizations throughout the country and worldwide are organizing to press the U.S. to substantially reduce its stores of nuclear weapons, it seems like a good time to use social media to get EVERYONE on board!

(See 5 Ways YOU Can Make a Difference on #NoNukesTuesday )

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon – a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War – deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of “Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom” by Elaine Scarry )

Done correctly, the questioning of physicist “Ash” Carter will allow for one of only two possible conclusions: (A) The continuance of the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons renders the U.S. unsafe; OR (B) This Secretary of Defense nominee is not really competent as a physicist, as he claims.

(See ASK THE PHYSICIST: “Ash Carter, are we safe with all those nukes?” )

Other related links

“Even our generals are telling us we have too many nuclear weapons.” Senator Diane Feinstein in the Washington Post, December 3, 2014: “America’s nuclear arsenal is unnecessarily and unsustainably large”

Posted in American Military Culture, Barack Obama, The Left's Challenge, The New Peace Movement, The Right's Challange, World War III | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Want #NoNukes in 2016? TAKE ACTION!

by Joe Scarry

A Ban on Nuclear Weapons
(Read statements of 120+ countries supporting.)

Following the the World Nuclear Victims Forum in Hiroshima (WNVF) I have written a lot about the many places in the world that people have been harmed, and continue to be harmed, and are likely to be harmed more in the future, by nuclear radiation.

But even more important is to tell people about the progress being made to stop nuclear weapons, and to urge everyone to take action.

Tonight is the State of the Union address in the US.  Despite the hopes of many, President Obama seems to have forgotten his call for the elimination of nuclear weapons.  The good newsis that a bill is in Congress to eliminate US nuclear weapons and convert the money and resources to safe, renewable energy. YOU can help by joining with thousands of other activists and getting your member of Congress to become a co-sponsor of “The Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act.”

The movement to eliminate nuclear weapons from the UK
has grown in success through the courage of thousands
in taking to the streets and putting their bodies on the line.
(What are you prepared to do?)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the movement to get nuclear weapons out of the UK is coming to a head. For years, dedicated activists have built a consensus to get Trident nuclear submarines out of Scotland — and effectively out of the UK. A powerful bloc in Parliament, led by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, is pressing hard on this issue. YOU can help by participating in the Mirror UK poll saying you support eliminating Trident.

Most exciting of all, a movement is underway WORLDWIDE to ban nuclear weapons. At this writing, 121 countries have joined the call for a global treaty to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons. You can help by sharing this information with others and meeting with your government representatives to help increase support.

Make no mistake: we face a profound challenge to overcome an Empire that threatens annihilation and has a thermonuclear monarch sitting at its head.  Most of what passes for politics is really just another layer of entertainment in a pervasive entertainment culture — especially in 2016 in the US. But there is something new happening: the fact that you are reading this online, and can use social media to take action and encourage others to do so, too, points to the tool we can use to liberate ourselves.


* Use the Roots Action petition to get your member of Congress
to become a co-sponsor of HR 1976

“The Nuclear Weapons Abolition and
Economic and Energy Conversion Act.”
* Take a few seconds to say 
“YES – the UK should Scrap Trident!”* Write to your foreign minister and
call for a BAN on nuclear weapons
using the easy ICAN web form.

Related posts

Hibakusha is a word that has traditionally been used to refer to people affected by the nuclear blasts in Hiroshima and Nagaski.  It is now being broadened to recognize the many additional victims of acute affects of nuclear radiation (including fallout from tests and radioactivity from mining and processing). In fact, we are all subject to the impact and threat of nuclear radiation spread indiscriminately by nations and corporations.

(See HIROSHIMA: What does it mean to say, “We are ALL ‘hibakusha’?”)

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen.

(See Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians) )

The decision about whether to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation is our decision. And that is why the entire country is mobilizing for mass action for nuclear disarmament in 2015. Are we capable of making sure the messengers — Obama, Putin, the other agents of government — hear their instructions from us clearly?

(See NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament )

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