Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson on Peace and War

Why is it that we – humans, Americans, patriots, progressives, veterans, educators and educated, thinkers and doers – have never been able to get violence out of our system? This question screamed at me, again, as I pondered the unlikely existence of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed by most of the world’s nations in 1928.

Perhaps you’ve seen reports from St. Paul, where Minnesotans seek to honor Frank Kellogg, who, as U.S. Secretary of State, wrote this landmark agreement with the Foreign Minister of France to outlaw war as an instrument for resolving international conflicts. If not, you may be surprised to learn that such a treaty is still legally in effect, internationally and for the United States. Although the pact is violated almost continuously and has no enforcement provisions, it has been effectively used to prevent territorial expansion through military force, although territory has lost a great deal of ranking in reasons for war.

If you consider the number one reason for war, today, you might be tempted to say “oil,” but I think we can safely say that is only a part of the real priority for countries on the lookout for a good, bloody, international fight. A more comprehensive incentive is indicated by signs and bumper stickers that appeared in the Spokane area a few years back. Bill Niggemeyer and the Lay Franciscans used the slogan, “Take the Profit out of War,” a worthy challenge for any peacemaker, particularly in a country that famously rewards corporate war profiteers. Indeed, looking back, we see that corporate greed not only gets us into wars, it keeps us there. While banks collapsed and auto-makers begged and other manufacturers sent their jobs offshore, Halliburton and General Dynamics celebrated unprecedented power and profits. While casualties and suicides spiked for the military, companies like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin kept their bottom lines healthy with sales to the Pentagon. And with the old arms race morphing into the war technology race, life is good for the top people in the death business.

Even among peace folks, there will be some sincere beliefs that our country had to ignore Kellogg-Briand to save the world from Hitler and/or Hirohito, but as the history of that war matures, we find more and more reasons we should have pressed for the ban on war. That pact was desperately needed by the people of our planet, but peacemakers got very little attention.

It began as a treaty between France and the U.S., perhaps because M. Briand felt sorry for us or was afraid of us because Congress shunned the League of Nations.

The League of Nations didn’t outlaw war. It was designed to discourage military aggression by providing ready-made alliances to defend countries under attack, and, I believe, was Woodrow Wilson’s attempt to atone for letting himself be persuaded that there could be such a thing as a “war to end all wars.” Of course, many of those who persuaded him to enter WWI, further punished him by trashing his plans for the League, which continued to ineffectively operate without the U.S. or much influence until after WWII. Then, we signed on to the Nuremberg Principles, the ‘horses-out-of-the-barn’ agreement on war crimes and another law the U.S. officially ignores.

In the United States of 1928, one could find a huge variety of opinions about war. Most observers had been stunned by the brutality of the Great War’s life and death in trenches, huge lethal explosions from distant artillery, and frightening clouds of toxic gas. From there, an opinionated person might decide it was mandatory to end war…or necessary to step up our training and resources so the U.S. military could out-brutalize any other fighting force. It was still unthinkable, I believe, that war should result in the deaths of hundreds of innocent children and other noncombatants, not to even dream of the hundreds of thousands considered collateral damage in our 21st Century, undeclared wars.

Speaking of undeclared wars, do you suppose the Kellogg-Briand Pact may be partly responsible for our failure to declare war since 1941. We have this treaty that bans war. Let’s avoid the W-word and go over there and kick some butt in a police-action/freedom-spreading exercise/quasi-military operation. Hey, it won’t last long, will have few casualties, and will be good for business and our balance of payments. Hardly like a war, at all.

I want to know if our congressional delegation knows about this treaty, heck, if anybody in Congress knows about it. Anybody in the State Department? Anyone among our allies? Enemies? How about the N.S.A? Ed Snowden? They didn’t teach this stuff in my history classes, but I graduated from high school in Georgia in 1962, and my American or world history teachers thought their courses had gone well if we reached the establishment of the United Nations by the end of the year. It was a bonus if a few of us learned how lame the League of Nations had been. Kellogg had been a senator from a yankee state, Secretary of State under a forgettable president, and then an international jurist, so he certainly couldn’t take valuable lesson time away from Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee. That’s my excuse. You might have a better one if you couldn’t find Kellogg-Briand in Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

If it takes a personality to teach us about possibilities for peace, I’m all for it. I hope the folks in St. Paul make a big splash and put Kellogg’s name in perpetual lights. But I’m the kind of guy who might be a little skeptical about that. I don’t trust the school systems or the media to be of much help when there are more recent historical icons like Norman Schwartzkopf and John Wayne. How do we in the Northwest treat the memory of Jeannette Rankin? Do Montana school children know her name? She was the first woman in the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1917, she cast one of 51 votes against declaring war on Germany. The Helena Independent called her, “a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the U.S., and a crying schoolgirl.” The abuse was worse when, 24 years later, she stood alone to oppose declaring war on Japan.

Our senators and representative are much too sophisticated to risk that kind of criticism without a huge campaign contribution to mitigate the insult. They don’t get to vote on declarations of war, these days, but they all agree that our armed forces should have the best of everything, including funerals and treatment for the wounds to their bodies and their souls, as long as it doesn’t detract too much from spending at Fairchild and plush contracts for Boeing.

Having been a hawk, a warrior, and now, a pacifist, I can take up the mantra of the ever-popular NRA: We don’t need new laws (treaties). We just need to enforce the ones we have. – RN