Leaders of two internationally known peace organizations warned a Southern Oregon University audience Friday against the growing powers of militarism, nuclear weaponry, concentration of wealth in the top of the financial pyramid, and denial of climate change. With politicians too allied to the present system, they said, things can be changed only by “resistance” and more people taking to the street.
Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action (formerly SANE), said that in “modernizing” its nuclear weapons force, at great expense, the U.S. forced Russia to follow suit, with the result making the world less, not more safe.
“One man with a button can end life on earth,” he said.
Martin asked the audience of 150 to name, in one word, how they felt and got these answers: frustrated, numb, pessimistic, sad, encouraged, terrified, despairing, worried, outraged, petrified, hopeless, impotent, chaotic, angry, turbulent, scared, upside-down, astonished, bamboozled, anxious and courageous.
Martin said he feels “resolute” and loudly announced, “I get paid to fight fascism and when people ask me how I’m going to do that, I say ‘by fighting fascism.’”
In the sunny summer of 1914, no one expected World War I to start but one side started mobilizing and churning out “the propaganda of hate,” said Reiner Braun, co-president on the International Peace Bureau in Berlin. That, led to the deaths of 17 million, he said, adding “that’s what’s happening now, a period of confrontation between Russia and NATO.”
The nuclear threat faded following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Paris Charter of 1990, Braun said, noting that with the demise of the Cold War “East and West had a chance to come together in common understanding for a peaceful Europe.”
However, NATO brought in the nations of Eastern Europe and the alliance found itself with no foe, so, he said, militarists singled out Islam, starting with Iraq, as the new enemy. NATO also began a “march to the east,” triggering the insecurities of Russia, which was “poor, economically destroyed” and had vowed never again to repeat the losses of World War II in which it suffered 27 million dead.
“It’s a dangerous situation now,” said Braun, noting that NATO has a military budget in the billions and Russia is expanding its nuclear weaponry and missile force. Democracy and cooperation, he said, “cannot grow on top of tanks and rockets” but only through relations with Russians by common people and the building of a stronger peace movement.
"I encourage you all to become part of these people in the street," he said. "It will never happen with politicians alone.”
Martin bemoaned that Democrats lost the presidential election by nominating Hillary Clinton, whom he branded as a “militarist” and creature of the corporate world. He said the Democratic Party rigged primaries against Sen. Bernie Sanders, who would have defeated Donald Trump and would now have the nation focused on climate change, fighting racism and building peace.
“Our job now is to stop Trump,” he said, pointing out that, as Martin Luther King said, that America faces the “triple evil” of racism, materialism and extreme militarism. He noted the U.S. defense budget is more than half of the government’s outlay, and if Trump gets a requested $54 billion expansion, will exceed 60 percent.
“We’re approaching spiritual death ... bombing seven countries and spending more money on the military than the next 11 nations, and much more than on things that uplift society,” Martin said.
The U.S., he added, has a “thermonuclear monarchy,” in which one person can start a nuclear war without a declaration of war — and end life on earth.
“No one person should be able to have his finger on that button," Martin said. "... Combining climate and peace in marches, moving toward an international treaty, is where it needs to go.”
He said several proposed bills would spread the nuclear power among many people, including Congress, adding that no one knows what corporate ties Trump has with Russia and China and how they could influence his military choices.
He noted that Trump could have started with rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and his numbers would have gone up, but said he was happy the administration instead started with a travel ban aimed at several Muslim nations. That triggered “the resistance,” he said, describing the airport protests against as “phenomenal” in swinging public opinion.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.