By Erin Lale
The war drums are beating up Iran. The justification that Iran is a threat, that they have weapons of mass destruction and sponsor terrorism, is the same old refrain that played us to invade Iraq. There is already a B part to this melody, singing for the blood of Syria, which could lead to a confrontation with Russia. It is worth remembering that the reason we never got into a shooting war with the Soviet Union is because we chose not to.
We talked to them, we negotiated borders and arms treaties, we struggled against them in a cold war that involved a lot of spying, a lot of boycotting, rivalry that was channeled into positive ventures like the space race, and an unfortunate number of proxy wars against their non-nuclear-armed allies. We realized that if the USA and the Soviet Union got into a nuclear war it would wreck the planet. We chose to do whatever it took not to get into a war with another nuclear nation, for the good of the Earth and humanity, and the Communist enemy did not take over the world. Eventually, they experienced revolution and regime change without any bombs dropping, either theirs or ours. We chose not to have a war and that choice was positive.
We can choose not to start a war. Can we choose not to have a standing Army? Could we choose to return the money that supports our wars of aggression to the American people? A standing Navy is authorized by the Constitution, but a standing Army is not. When the United States was founded, the States were individual colonies of the British Empire, and our Constitution was an attempt to take the good parts of English law, especially the rights outlined in the Magna Charta, expand on the rights and do away with the parts of English law with which our founding fathers disagreed, such as bowing and scraping to royalty. The founding fathers did not want the USA to become an Empire like the British Empire. They did not want the USA to have colonies, and wanted their new country to avoid foreign entanglements. They saw the need for a standing Navy to protect the USA from foreign invasion and to protect our shipping from pirates and privateers, but they saw a standing Army as a possible threat to liberty, because the existence of armed squads inside cities might tempt those who govern to use troops against American civilians.
Today’s world is different. Not only do we have a standing Army which inhabits hundreds of foreign bases, we have an Empire in which we have attacked, conquered, and occupied multiple foreign nations, and are gearing up to go to war with yet another one. We have militarized police forces that have armed far beyond pistols and shotguns to include tanks and drone aircraft just like on the battlefield.
Getting back to a Constitutional military from here will be challenging. We cannot disengage overnight. We would first have to achieve peace before we could go any farther. It would not be safe to stand down our non-Naval armed forces the day after concluding the last of the necessary peace treaties, because we have been initiating hostilities all over the world for so long that if we stood down our Army it is likely that those we have been bullying would hit us back. We have kicked sand in too many faces to go relax on the beach the moment we decide to stop making war. The countries of the world which successfully exist without a standing Army have different histories than we do. Costa Rica and Switzerland did not first engage in aggressive imperialism before disarming. We might want to emulate Costa Rica, where there has been no Army since 1948 and therefore its citizens simultaneously enjoy national health care and low taxes, a combination America cannot achieve today.
However, at the time that Costa Rica stood down its Army, it did not have the kind of web of foreign entanglements from which to extricate itself that we do today. Japan did engage in aggressive imperialism, but then they were conquered by us and we committed to defend them from those countries they had recently attacked and occupied, such as China. Between Imperial Japan and today’s peaceful, prosperous economic giant Japan was Occupied Japan, and the military bases we established then are still there, generations later. That is not a history any of us would hope to emulate.
Nevertheless, we can disengage from war and imperialism; we just have to do it slowly and with common sense. We cannot simply declare peace all over the world and stand down our Army tomorrow, but we could do it over the course of a generation. If we start now, today’s babies could become Generation Peace.