It was 90 years ago today

We don’t have to dream.  All we have to do is enforce the law.  War is illegal by International Law, and war is illegal by United States law, and any president who sends troops abroad, any senator or congressman who votes to authorize fighting, has reneged on his oath of office.

David Swanson tells the story in a book.  The American people had been hoodwinked into joining World War I.  No one could even explain what the fighting was about, but by 1917, U.S. banks had lent so much money to France and Great Britain that the banks couldn’t afford to let them lose.  Can we, in 2018, imagine a time when the U.S. government was more influenced by what is good for the banks than what is good for the people?  Stretch your imagination.

The cost of the war was devastating.  Idealistic men were loaded onto boats for Europe, partying and singing songs, full of patriotic enthusiasm.  They came back shell-shocked, traumatized, permanently damaged with fear in their eyes and  cynicism in their hearts.   My grandfather was one of those who left America as a happy-go-lucky high school grad, and came back a nervous, obsessive zombie—which is how I remember him 40 years later.  Of course, 100,000 of our boys didn’t come back at all, and another 700,000 Americans died in the influenza pandemic that was carried around the world with the soldiers.

Americans were divided in their opinions about many things, but fully agreed on one thing: never again, would we sign on to someone else’s war.  If attacked, we would defend American soil, but never would we send troops overseas.  Not only was the Kellogg-Briand pact ratified by the American Senate, it was an American initiative from the start.  And it was a grass roots movement, imposed on our leaders by a people united in one voice.

The story I tell in my book is one of a divided and struggling peace movement that united and grew. The Europhiles and the isolationists had to come together. The prohibitionists and the drinkers had to join hands. The outlawrists had to develop a vision of a transformed world and convince people it was possible. The case had to be made to the public with moral passion and urgency. There had to be an endless stream of flyers and pamphlets and books and meetings and petitions and lobby visits. Women’s groups and men’s groups that had sold out during World War I and those that had not had to put their shoulders to the wheel together. Those who wanted a world court and those who didn’t, those who wanted a League of Nations and those who didn’t, and those who wanted to focus on disarmament, and even some of those who wanted to focus on condemning U.S. imperialism in Latin America had to decide that outlawing war was one useful and achievable step and pour everything into it for a year or two, forego sleep, and work literally in some cases to the point of heart attack.

Happy Kellogg-Briand day!

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