History on Our Side

May 6, 2003

Craig S. Barnes
A Meeting sponsored by the Veterans for Peace
Lensic Theater, Santa Fe, New Mexico

My friends, in searching through the clouds on our dark horizon this May, let us remember that the people ended the Vietnam War. The explosion of teach-ins, revelations of presidential untruths, the release of the Pentagon Papers, the impact of the draft upon young people, the death of over 50,000 young men and women, all combined to create a body of opinion sufficiently strong to overcome the religion of capitalism versus communism, to overcome the driver of the military industrial complex and the arrogance of presidential imperialism. Those were powerful forces, all combined, and yet the people’s dissent overcame them all.

The Vietnam war was the best we ever had because the people ended it and that extraordinary event happened in our life time. It happened because of people like Ken Mayers and Charlie Clements both of whom are here this evening; both of them were whistle blowers and got out of the military because of presidential lies during that war. I say that to honor them of course, but even more to honor you because if two people of great courage sit with us, and look like us, they could as well be sitting out there and look like you. We are the people who end wars of imperialism and we have done it before.

Let us also note in passing that for hundreds of years war between France and England was a given. Henry V of England fought at Agincourt, and Elizabeth I at Calais and Wellington at Waterloo. Today war between England and France is unrealistic, unprofitable, and unthinkable.

Three times in the last 150 years war between France and Germany erupted to claim millions of lives. Today war between these two is unrealistic, unprofitable, and unthinkable.

For seventy years war between Russian communists and western capitalism seemed probable; Marx said it was inevitable. It was avoided non-violently, diplomatically, without the use of nuclear weapons. Eisenhower resisted the use of these weapons when urged, as did Kennedy. Not only the people can avoid war, so can presidents. Or, we might say, even presidents can sometimes rise to the challenge of making peace.

There is a gradually increasing area of the planet where war has become obsolete.

We notice these things to counter or to draw a contrast to the story that war is a given or that it is everywhere and for all times our destiny. That is just propaganda. Propaganda is the life blood of war. It is necessary to support the planning, the preparations, the investment. War does not come from anger or aggression run rampant but from ideology run rampant It comes from the propaganda on behalf of that ideology. It has been coming at us since Homer’s Iliad and today for the first time in human history the story of war as glorious, the propaganda, is in trouble.

Today, on a global scale, from the internet, from our experience, from our computers each of which has become a little private printing press the propagandists of war have met their match. As a result, in the last 40 years, since Vietnam, the culture of war has been desperately holding on, rallying from that first defeat, crying out for help by rushing off to easy victories in Grenada and Panama, Nicaragua and Somalia. The propaganda of war was damaged in El Salvador and seriously damaged by what happened in Mogodishu; it was damaged again in Afghanistan for the Russians in the 1970s and now again for us in modern times.

The 30 million people who were on the streets on February 15, 2003, were out there because the culture of war has been having a hard time controlling the masses. We came close, for the first time in history, to a global uprising. Thirty million people have never been in the streets at any time in the human experience, and they were there because of what they know, because in our life time the propaganda is wearing very thin.

In the great tide of the information age, in the rising waves of democracy that have swept the planet in the last 200 years those powers which seek to rule us and make us into minions and draftees and blind subjects of corporate advertising have made a fatal error. Those forces which seek today to recreate oligarchies of imperial power, to mimic the Hapsburgs of Austria or the Medicis of Florence or the Caesars of Rome are the last gasp of an age that is no longer running with the tide. Those media moguls and oil empires and weapons manufacturers who think that they are dealing with the cannon fodder who fed the plains of Gallipoli, or marched with Napoleon to Russia or with El Cid through Spain, those empires of the mind which began with ancient Homer to propagandize the value of human killing and the depravity of the human spirit did not imagine that 30 million would understand, and understanding, say no.

Forty years ago before Vietnam this meeting would not have happened, but we learned from Vietnam. Ninety years ago, before the First World War there would not have been 20 people in this room. Two hundred years ago, before the Great Napoleonic Wars there would have been no one in this room. We say that there is progress in human history because we are not burning witches any more. Because Genghis Khan would not have had to take his case to the United Nations. Because we no longer glory with the Roman Centurion in the slaughter of barbarians or because we no longer believe that to die for Athens will take us to the Elysian Fields to live forever. Because we no longer can be told that Iraqis are "the enemy" or that it is "liberation" to burn libraries and museums. One day in the past that message might have sold. Today, that message will not sell. No matter how many times Mr. Rumsfeld says to us that in a war "stuff gets burned," that was not stuff. We the people, in the last 200 years have become the fertile soil on this planet from which all government takes its authority and we are not pleased that you burned our history, Mr. Rumsfeld, we are not pleased that you put the tanks around the oil ministry and not around the Codes of Hammurabi. The first law code and first arithmetic were important to us. We noticed what you did and you were not on the side of civilization. That is what we will say. We are alive and we noticed. Not just one of us, but millions of us noticed.

We believe in something else more decent than destroying libraries to save them and this something else is life’s survival. We believe in something other than violence to solve problems and this something else is the capacity of the human for self knowledge, the advance of modern psychology, the rise of personality studies, the spread of common education through the masses of us who used to be coal miners and carpenters, the flow into this country of non-violent Buddhism and Sufism and independent Catholicism and liberation theology and a thousand non-profit organizations that protect the earth, and millions of women who for the first time in Western history are allowed to lead and write and cry out with a pain that matters. All these have changed us below the surface of the hardened crust of militant America, all these have affected the soil of our politics, and the heat just below the surface is rising. Oh yes, there is global warming and it is from movements like these, and evenings like these where all over the globe we are saying that if war is healthy for Haliburton and Harkness and Bechtel it is not healthy for human beings. If war is healthy under the corporate charter it is not healthy under the constitutional charter which gets its moral authority because it protects human beings. We are not draft eligible numbers, or ten-digit-call-back numbers, or 16-digit-credit-card numbers or weekly un-employed numbers; we are not ledger numbers or ciphers, or percents of GDP, or construction starts; we are people!

These movements and this consciousness has changed the global culture and because of all these changes we are able at last to say we are not that, we are this; we will not stay with you in the land of nationalism and aggression, we have seen the promised land and it is not that, it is something else than that and unlike the children of the past whom you marched off to the Crusades or to the Ardennes or to Que San, we the children of the future intend to not go with you there, but to lead you somewhere new.

There is talk of a second American revolution and that means that this time around we will honor women because they, more than property, produce life, and we will honor the sun because it, more than oil, produces life and we will honor water because it more than the stock market produces life, and the seasons, and decency and human dignity because they illuminate life, and while property is so terribly important, it is not more important to us than life. That is the second American revolution. That we will secure our future through the quality of our being, through the nature of our community, through our relationships rather than working longer hours for less wages, rather than mortgaging not only our homes but also our children’s education, rather than pledging our credit, we will pledge our trust in each other as human beings and if it is to "be all that we can be" it will not be by going off to watch the museums of Baghdad burn.

Let us remember that it is veterans who called us together this evening. Let us remember that it is veterans who have seen war, seen what it does to life, seen what it does to truth, seen what it does to decency and veterans do not write the poetry of war. Tonight we are all veterans. Veterans scarred by the scourge of a military budget. Veterans of schools that are under funded and hospitals that are understaffed. No American is not a veteran and all of us are heroes. And tonight we enlist again. Tonight we re-enlist in an old cause. Tonight we re-enlist on the side of civilization.

The president was fond of saying this last year that 12 years of Saddam’s regime was enough. Well, the glorification of war began in 800 BC with Homer and we are here to say that 2,800 years of glorifying war is enough!

When a people accord with the natural law that protects life, when people act in accord with the principles of survival, they are with God, with what ever we, or they, or anyone, might mean by that term. We are right with the natural order of the universe and we are more likely to survive because the universe has bent toward life. The universe has made you and me into success stories. Everyone of us is a success. Every one of our ancestors successfully made it to the point where he or she could survive and carry on the species. The universe bends to life and you and I are proof. The core principle of how life has succeeded is that it is interdependent. Ants know that. Bees know that. Birds know that. People know that. The hours of the day that we spend in cooperation with other people far exceed the number of hours that we spend killing people. Think about it. We stop at stoplights. We pay taxes. We call people back on the phone. We do our share making dinner or picking up the house. We are all earning money and sweeping the floor. That is cooperation and not once this week did I kill anyone. For thousands of hours in my life I have been in cooperation and not once did I kill anyone. It is nonsense to say that we kill naturally. It is practical good sense, every day sense, that we humans cooperate more than we are violent. Don’t let the great war propaganda fool you. Killing easy is their story not ours; that is the advertising, but that is not the truth of who we are. When we are cooperating we are acting in accord with the natural laws which have kept the species unfolding and growing and learning for this last 2 million years. Two thousand, eight hundred yeas ago Homer and the patriarchs glorified and propagandized war to secure property and corral women but they were against the long tide. Today neither our property nor any women are theirs for the taking!

We as a species are not naturally out there hanging outlaws before lunch. If we got here by killing we would all be dead. It is nonsense to spread the ideology that we have to be tough and punish the French to survive, or punish the Syrians to survive. That is just Homer urging the Greeks to Troy, that is Caesar urging the Romans across the Rubicon. That is Nero burning his own city. I got here tonight, and you got here tonight, because someone helped with dinner and the dishes. That is the program. That is the human DNA. That is what works. And we are here today because everyone of our ancestors made it work well enough to bring you and me here.

The true story of humanity is that being friends and having neighbors is what works; it is what makes us more secure. We know that. I grew up in rural Colorado where we all helped each other clean irrigation ditches in the spring, helped put up hay in the summer, helped chase the horses that were out in my neighbors’ fields. America was built on neighbors helping neighbors. Communities were built on that. That is the story of America and it is the story of humanity.

So we say to them: Hang on, you warlords, the tide is against you. The proclaimed success of the rugged individual is propaganda. Individualism is, unhappily, a myth. Alexander the Great never made his own sword. Caesar never made his own toga. They needed friends. The policy of going against the world without friends will not work. Ask Napoleon. Ask Antony. Ask Thucydides. Ask Herodotus. War is not a policy for success. War is an aberration, a failure. Thirty million of us already know that. More will be learning with each museum you burn, with each civilian who is shot down.

As the flower bends slowly toward the sun, in the long term history bends toward life. Friends, friends of life, friends of cooperation and decency and caring, we are the ones’as the Hopi say’ who we have been waiting for, we are the ones who have gotten us this far and history is with us!