War, Peace, and the Net

Editor’s note: The following is the text of a speech given to the Perdana Global Peace Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Dec. 16, 2005.

I wish to thank Tun Dr. Mahathir and the Malaysian peace groups for organizing this historic event.

The themes of this conference are war and peace. Almost everyone claims to hate war and to love peace. So where is the controversy?

Well, if we judge people and institutions not just by words but by actions, it is clear that, while most claim to favor peace, many in fact do not act that way.

Even the Bush administration claims to love peace. President Bush has invoked the word “peace” many times to defend his War on Terror and his war in Iraq.

More than two years ago, President Bush said, “A free Iraq, a peaceful Iraq will help change an area of the world that needs peace and freedom.” He also said, “Free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don’t attack each other. Free nations don’t develop weapons of mass destruction. There will be a free and peaceful Iraq.”

Now, in saying that free nations are peaceful and don’t develop weapons of mass destruction, he probably wasn’t thinking about the United States. For over half a century, the U.S. has been attacking countries and developing weapons of mass destruction – all in the name of peace, of course.

During the Cold War, the pretext was promoting peace and freedom by fighting Communism. But peace and freedom were stood on their heads. Nearly any regime, no matter how murderous, was a candidate for U.S. assistance as long as it was anti-Communist. The U.S. even financed and trained some of the terrorists that are now its enemies in the War on Terror.

None of this rampant imperialism did what was promised of it. The Cold War extinguished lives, tore societies apart, and brought tyrants to power. None of it brought about world peace and freedom.

In the process, America became distrusted, feared, and resented. The international goodwill America had enjoyed for many years gave way to the appearance of an arrogant, belligerent, and hypocritical empire.

Some had a lot of patience because of the perceived Soviet threat. But when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, the U.S. empire did not retract. The first President Bush dragged America into the Persian Gulf war, killing many thousands of Iraqis. President Clinton launched military actions in Haiti, Bosnia, and Serbia; and he bombed Afghanistan, the Sudan and, on many occasions, Iraq. The U.S. and the United Nations also enforced sanctions on Iraq throughout the 1990s, contributing to the deaths of half a million children.

This is especially worth noting. Did the fact that the United Nations supported these sanctions make them any more moral? And if the UN had backed the invasion of Iraq, which was a distinct possibility at the time, would that have made for a "better" war against the Iraqi people? When I went to a prewar peace march in 2003, I cringed when I saw signs that said "No War Without United Nations Approval." I don’t see how having more participants in what was clearly an immoral act would make it any better. In fact, it would have made it worse. Often, the UN is nothing more than a tool of U.S. imperialism.

Interventions in the Middle East have been especially disastrous. Starting in 1953 when a CIA coup put the Shah in charge of Iran, U.S. policy in the Middle East has not brought about world peace. In fact, it brought about 9/11.

The U.S. response to the blowback of 9/11 has been more violence and war, in Afghanistan and Iraq – and perhaps in more countries to follow.

Since 9/11, instead of spreading freedom and the best of America’s values, the U.S. government has tarnished them with its brutal and unworkable methods. Instead of winning over the hearts and minds of Iraqis and people everywhere, U.S. foreign policy has made people more cynical about America and its supposed values than ever before.

I’ve come from America, here to Malaysia, to meet people from dozens of nations to talk about war and peace. I believe in peace, in freedom. I believe in these so-called American values.

And I say that those of us who really believe in peace know that it must be upheld in action, not just word. It is only by peaceful means that the value of peace will conquer the world.

The free flow of communication and information is especially important. When people from around the world can talk to each other, connect with each other, exchange ideas and innovations with one another, and see their common humanity, they have less incentive to want to fight. It is in the peaceful exchange across geographic boundaries that we see the bright side of globalization, of internationalism.

It is through the free flow of information that peaceful institutions can stand as examples to the world and people can become inspired to free themselves of oppression. It was ultimately the free movement of people, goods, and ideas that brought down the Soviet Union – not the bombs, bullets, and battalions of the American empire.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Antiwar.com. Antiwar.com reaches 100,000 unique visitors with 3 million page views a day with news and commentary about the war. I stand confident of the power of information to promote peace where war has failed.

The Internet is, in fact, peace in action. It is not imperialism. It is not run from a central war room of the global hegemon. It is instead a highly decentralized network of hundreds of millions of computers, Web sites, and users. And it has done more in the last five years to advance peace than all the actions of U.S. politicians in the last 50.

It has certainly done more to spread good values universally, to lead people to tolerate and celebrate each other’s differences, to learn about each other’s cultures and share and learn from new ideas. It is largely due to the Internet that people around the world still see the good side of America. American culture is still widely admired, even in the Middle East. Because of the Internet, people on every continent know that not all Americans are as jingoistic as our rulers. They associate America with popular music and film, with entertainment and the arts, with commercial ventures based on human needs and mutually beneficial trade.

Likewise, Americans know more about the rest of the world due to the Internet. We see other countries that are focused on becoming more prosperous and free instead of more militarily dominant and powerful. We can see the great example of Malaysia, which spends about $70 per capita on military. The U.S. spends 20 times that amount per capita.

The Internet runs counter to the interests of war. People are more likely to want to kill foreigners if they are ignorant of their culture, their history, and their grievances. The Old Media establishment, a crucial ally of the imperial warfare state, is fading in importance as alternative online media gain in popularity. The truth is now much harder to suppress, and much less intimidating to speak. Instead of feeling marginalized, those who love peace can find like-minded people around the world.

After 9/11, sympathy for America swept the world, but the majorities of most countries did not believe that striking at the people of Afghanistan was the right response. A vocal minority of Americans spoke out against war. It is inconceivable that, without the Internet, there would have been such loud cries for peace after the World Trade Center was brought down.

In the days after 9/11, Americans went online to read about the terrorism, the war, the history of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. There was sophisticated and thoughtful debate.

As the U.S. marched toward war with Iraq, the dissenting voices amplified. Every deception of the administration was immediately scrutinized and exposed through the networks of electrons moving at light-speed across the planet. While the Old Media, including the liberal New York Times, seemed fully loyal to the war effort, there were thousands of online sources that presented overlooked facts and dissenting opinions. Bush’s now-famous claim in his 2003 State of the Union address about Saddam Hussein seeking uranium in Africa was debunked before the war and exposed as a lie on the Internet. Only many months later, after the war started, did the mainstream newspapers begin to notice.

The day after the first day of bombings, Web surfers saw pictures of the casualties and war dead. The image of Ali Ismail Abbas, a young boy who lost all his limbs as well as his entire family to the U.S. bombing, was soon known by millions worldwide. Many other pictures have become emblematic, including the Abu Ghraib prison scandal photos. The horrors of war are more visible than ever, thanks to the instantaneous ability to send images, audio, and video on the Internet.

The Internet has served peace in other ways. Three years ago, 20 million people in more than 800 cities around the world congregated at peace rallies. This would have been unimaginable in previous times. Activists depended on e-mail and Web sites to coordinate these mass protests.

The demands for peace have only spread since. Truth and the principles of justice are contagious. More and more people are demanding an end to the U.S. intervention in Iraq as they learn the facts of this horrible war, which, after an immense cost in human lives and treasure, has only a new theocratic tyranny in Iraq to show for it. The torture scandals, the cronyism, the lies and devastation – these are exposed far more widely than would have been possible a few years ago.

Most Americans now think the Iraq war was a mistake and it’s getting time to leave. We can say that it has taken far too long, but it would have taken longer without the Internet.

The Vietnam War took such a long time to end and consumed far more lives than the Iraq war has, largely due to the government’s stranglehold on the media. And Gulf War I was much more popular, and much less opposed, than Clinton’s war with Serbia. Gulf War I was an Old Media war, whereas Clinton’s Kosovo war occurred in the age of the new media and so was more carefully scrutinized. We could only imagine what Bush would have done since 9/11 if it weren’t for the counter force of the Internet.

A wartime government knows that a free, independent press poses a serious threat to its agenda. We have recently learned that the U.S. government has been secretly bribing Iraqi newspapers to print stories that cast the occupation in a good light. One military official was quoted saying, “Absolute truth was not an essential element of these stories.”

Wartime rulers want unquestioning obedience, and so they want to monopolize information. The Old Media establishment has long been a monolithic mouthpiece for the warfare state, but the Internet offers no such aid and comfort to the war party. There is no way to buy off every webmaster and online journalist. And once one of them speaks the truth, anyone with a connection can see it.

U.S. politicians are confused by the Internet. They have for years trumpeted military force as the best vehicle for changing humanity. With the Internet, we see the precise opposite principles and methods in play. Whereas American politicians believe themselves to be examples for the world to follow, even as they wage aggressive war, the Internet is an example of what the world’s billions of people are capable of, when only left in peace to cooperate, exchange, and share ideas freely with one another. The Internet unites and connects and uplifts humanity in ways that the U.S. empire never could, not with all the military bases and nuclear weapons in the world.

I have a radical suggestion. I propose a 50-year moratorium on all U.S. government foreign military interventions.

That’s a 50-year moratorium on all the bombings, the covert and overt killings, the assassinations and espionage missions, the invasions, occupations, sanctions, and wars.

For the last 50 years, U.S. government foreign policy has done nothing but sacrifice foreign and American lives, destroy property, waste trillions of dollars, threaten American liberty and world peace, and, at best, occasionally replace one vicious tyrant with another.

So, for the next 50 years, the U.S. government should just stay out of other countries’ affairs. It should not pick winners among dictators or pick losers among revolutionaries. It should not bomb one more child in the name of peace.

For the last 50 years, the U.S. government has made Americans less safe by poking its nose into hornets’ nests around the world and funding its future enemies. It has led many to falsely equate American society with American power.

So for the next 50 years, the U.S. government should no longer pretend to be the face of America. It should let America’s culture and commerce speak to American values and to the values of peace and freedom.

Even if you think war is sometimes a necessary evil, the U.S. government has only proven itself incompetent, incapable, and inhumane in its foreign adventures for more than five decades. Even when the U.S. government tries to fix what it has broken, more disasters follow. The world is full of problems, but U.S. intervention only adds gasoline to the fire.

The U.S. government has had more than 50 years to prove itself as an instrument for peace in the world. It has failed. Let us change our approach.

I suggest a 50-year time-out for the U.S. empire. In its place, let us uphold the Internet and all the new methods of peaceful social organization and exchange. Let us reject the paradox of war for peace.

In 50 years, the world can change so much for the better, far beyond what any of us here could probably imagine. Let information flow freely. Give peace a chance where war has failed.

My greatest thanks to my good friend Anthony Gregory for helping me to organize my thoughts.