Jefferson County, Colorado, Unitarian Church
Some of you may know that I have been writing and speaking about the agency of truth and harmlessness to bring about the gradual emergence of the “civil” in civilization. Last Sunday at a church in Santa Fe, I spoke about harmlessness. Today, I want to speak about the sword of truth.
For most Americans who follow history and who treasure truth telling and compassion as hallmarks of our republic, these are not good times. The president of the United States seems continually committed to fabricate a case, with or without evidence of an imminent danger, to attack Iran. He was committed to attacking Iraq in the fall of 2002, and in the fall of 2007 he appears committed to attack Iran. He did not resist the temptation to filter and overstate the evidence against Iraq and he does not now resist the temptation to filter and overstate the danger from Iran. It is as if, following one mistake, he could divert our attention from the quagmire that resulted from that mistake, by pursuing a new mistake. He would be like King Edward III, in the Fourteenth Century, if he could, or the Black Prince, Edward’s son, who fought and captured the king of France, and Mr. Bush does not see the reality that he is more like Kaiser Wilhelm than the Black Prince. He is bluster and blindness and unwise and out of touch with the people he was selected to serve.
The lesson of the last century was that economic engagement almost miraculously changed the desperate enemies of Japan and Germany into allies. George Bush seems not to have noticed. He has instead relapsed into methods akin to those of the medieval king like Edward III: creating dungeons and imagining dragons; territories to be controlled, religious leaders to be manipulated, warlords to be deposed, temporary allies to be wooed, no permanent friends, no unassailable truth that cannot be spun to new and dangerous effect. He would conquer the evil pope if he could.
In October of 2002, Bush and Cheney ignored a CIA report stating that if Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons he was not likely to use them unless he was attacked by us. The president and vice president went ahead with their plans to attack anyway, intentionally risking Saddam’s nuclear response. Perhaps they knew that Saddam did not actually have nuclear weapons and that the danger from him was not great. In that case the mushroom cloud campaign was a fabrication and they lied to us about the threat. And, as likely—and these are not mutually exclusive—they were determined to attack Iraq no matter what and in that case they lied repeatedly about their reluctance to go to war.
Thus in 2002 they intentionally misled us in two ways. Undoubtedly, they had larger plans for American domination of the Middle East and the whole tempest about nuclear weapons was jingoism, a propaganda campaign to persuade the public that this was not about Haliburton, or oil, or empire, or even Israel. The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and the Congress all bought the WMD artifice like willing children at a Christmas pantomime. It was as if the trauma of 9/11 had paralyzed their rational capacities. Fox News of course survives on jingoism and does not need rational capacities.
2002-2003 were therefore the saddest times for truth and integrity, for journalism, and for congressional oversight, for the constitutional balance of powers, or, that is, for the necessary life support systems that bring liberty to a free republic; the saddest in our lives and perhaps in our nation’s history.
On December 3rd, 2007, the scenario was repeating itself. The combined US intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate stating that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, four years ago. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief, the president’s staff responded that the Iranians should have told us in 2003. The implication was that if Iranians did not reveal what they were up to then, they remain sufficiently dangerous for us to bomb them now.
For the six months, however, since June, 2007, when Mr. Bush himself has apparently known the contents of this NIE, that is, known that Iran had no nuclear weapons program, he has nevertheless continued on repeated occasions to assert to the American people that they do have such a program and that therefore no military options are off the table. He has therefore reserved the right, based upon facts he has known himself to be false, to attack Iran. He will reserve the right to attack because of their danger to us at some unknown time, in some unknown way, in some unknown circumstance. This is not “imminent danger” as is required by international law but speculative danger, personally imagined by a single leader, not enough to be legal, but sufficient for any tyrant in history who considers himself immune from the law.
“Iran was dangerous before; Iran is dangerous now; and Iran will be dangerous in the future,” the president said on December 4th. It is as if he could read the minds and hearts of the leadership of Iran; could weigh their intentions as they themselves weigh their intentions; could accuse, try and judge them based upon political rhetoric rather than modifying such rhetoric with questions of their real capacity, or with the risk to themselves, or with economic calculations, or with the counsel and wishes of Iran’s middle and business class. Mr. Bush will, without hesitation, put himself in the shoes of Ahmadinejad and declare that that man intends to attack Israel, or us, or Iran’s neighbors, as if Mr. Bush knew what Ahmadinejad will do. Mr. Bush, like the Lone Ranger, will stop the outlaw, but this time not wait until he has done some evil deed; he will take him out at home, in bed.
No criminal code in the world, and no international treaty or principle of international law, allows someone to be attacked, wiped out, eliminated and his family or people eliminated simply because of rhetorical statements or political oratory. But George Bush gives every indication that he reserves the right to attack Iran, (probably sometime in the spring), just as he attacked Saddam Hussein.
David Brooks of the New York Times and other conservative commentators met with the president this fall and Brooks then assured listeners on the Lehrer News Hour that the president absolutely will not attack. The assurance is hopeful but not entirely persuasive since two weeks before the attack in 2003 the president told the whole press corps that he had not made up his mind whether to attack Iraq. Thousands of tanks, troops, airplanes and ships were deployed on that March 6,, 2003, and the president looked the press in the eye and said, he did not know what he would do. Now he looks David Brooks and other conservative writers in the eye and says that he has not made up his mind to invade Iran. Significantly, however, it is not the Vice President who is saying that he has not made up his mind. Three American carrier task forces are stationed offshore from Iran in the Persian Gulf. They are not carrying soldiers for the war in Iraq. They carry planes.
Bush said at that press conference on March 6, 2003 : “Either he will disarm, or we will disarm him,” as if Saddam had the initiative, or as if Saddam were Hitler marching into the Sudentenland. But Saddam was not Hitler marching into the Sudentenland and Saddam was not the decider.
Dare we believe, therefore, David Brooks’ reassurances —and Brooks is an honorable man—and dismiss the war propaganda, the last six months of presidential statements about Iran’s nuclear intentions, deployment of three US carrier task forces to the Persian Gulf, the constant belittling and cynicism about Iran’s intentions, the repeated drumbeat that Iran’s religious leaders are part of the global terror network? Which of these pieces of evidence tells us the most about Mr. Bush’s intentions: the assurances of Mr. Brooks and other moderates on the one hand—and they are all honorable men—or the deployment of forces and continued threats on the other hand?
Presidential war propaganda never mentions that Iran has the right under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Article IV, to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Iranians claim that that is what they are doing and for the last four years that they have had no other program. But Bush and Cheney have led the UN to pass resolutions denying Iran its rights under Article IV, creating a conflict in international law and therefore an excuse for military action. Does this, too, not weigh against David Brooks’ sanguine assurances?
According to this administration, Iran must give up these treaty rights which are also held by India, Pakistan, North Korea—as well as all other countries enriching uranium for peaceful purposes—before the US will come to the table. Iran must therefore agree to give up the rights that are to be the subject of the negotiation, in advance of the negotiation.
How can any self-respecting president of any country give in to a proposal that it give up its solemn treaty rights as a condition to meet to talk about those rights? How can the leading economy of the Middle East, one of the leading powers of the Middle East, give in to bluster and intimidation without seeming to be led by cowards? And how can any Islamic country today seem to seem to act like cowards and expect to survive politically at home?
Bush and Rice and Hadley and Cheney must know that Iran cannot realistically make those concessions, and therefore know that by making demands that cannot realistically be satisfied, they increase the probability for war. They are not stupid, and of course, unlike Unitarians, they have a different appreciation of the benefits of war.
Neo-cons who study Plato and Machiavelli know that war diverts the popular attention to sensation and entertainment as much as did circuses in the Coliseum of ancient Rome.
War seeks to root out and destroy the tradition that the law shall forever be above the king, a sacred institution granted to freemen “forever” by the Magna Carta of 1215.
War is the feeding tube, for Blackwater, Haliburton, Bechtel, and increasingly for Fluor, Shaw, CH2M Hill, and this is akin to when war was the life blood for a whole class of armed and hooded knights who ravaged Europe in the 13th century. An upper class of corporate mercenaries today survives, as those knights did, on, first, the destruction of villages and then the reconstruction of the very villages their wars have destroyed.
War invades the temples of democracy, undermines the will and courage of the Congress much as it did the Senate in ancient Rome, the Estates General in France in 1349 and the Parliament of England in 1369, leaving them all ancient memories.
War rejects limitations on the royal prerogative, limitations on the royal right to imprison, or to deny counsel, or to torture, or to impose religion, and therefore increases the power of those next to the tyrant and reduces the power of all who oppose tyranny.
War is the death knell to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, or the right to assemble or to protest plutocracy and was the core of the people’s response led by Jefferson, Adams and Tom Paine in 1789.
War feeds the media empires of Rupert Murdoch, Viacom and Disney as much as it did that of Wm. Randolph Hearst when the US attacked Cuba and the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.
War feeds the fury and righteousness of those who live in the mentality of danger, deceit, destruction and the final judgment, those bound for the Rapture, much as it fed the delusions of believers in the Aryan myths, the ideological foundation of fascism, in the 1930s.
War feeds the corporate coffers of Haliburton and General Electric and Lockheed and General Dynamics and Blackwater—by the billions—as much as it fed the treasuries of Germany’s Krupp and Siemens in the 1930s.
War mutilates all truth, encourages and suborns the falsification of evidence—even under the best of leaders like Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson—creates a climate of falsification in which prisoners become “detainees,” torture becomes “extreme pressure,” criminality becomes “terror,” and dissent becomes “treason.” As the Neo-cons know—and it is a price they are happy to pay—without authenticity and truth neither democracy nor a free economy can long survive.
For such abuses as these committed by this administration, our ancestors beheaded Charles I in 1649, and deposed James II in 1688. Such abuses were the foundation of the English Bill of Rights of 1689.
Bush and Cheney, their minions, Hadley, Rice, Addington, and Yoo, today dare the Congress and dare the American people to resist these war powers, much as Julius Caesar dared the Roman Senate to resist, which that body did not do, and which therefore spelled the end of the Roman Republic, and which the American Congress and the American people are so far unwilling to do, which reticence casts a dark shadow over the future of the American republic.
None of this is new to Unitarians. You will, if you are healthy and intellectually awake, be discouraged. What can we say about the chances of liberty to survive the onslaught of this war fever that the president says and expects will give unlimited powers to him and his successors “indefinitely?”
All of my life has been in support of non-violence, both at home and abroad, and many times our movements have been successful. People’s movements brought off great cultural upheaval in the 1960s significantly changing the role of race and gender in employment and sports. We the people ended the Vietnam War and the Cold War; we helped birth the dawn of a new consciousness concerning the environment.
Many times, therefore, in the last 40 years we have used the tools that have been given to us by those in a constant line that descends from Socrates through Jesus to Quakers, Unitarians, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Andrei Sakharov. Our history is not all dreamy do-goodism. There are methods, states of the mind and heart that dissolve power even as a cleaning solvent dissolves a chemical compound. If one examines the deep structure of non-violent resistance, or that is the responses of people without power to those who have power, over the last 2,500 years, one can extract patterns, instructions, templates for successful non-violent change.
In my list, five things are required to change the culture of violence or the direction of violence. They are courage, information, organization, persistence and deep caring, both for one’s own principles and for the dignity of the opposition.
I am going to assume that today that you do not need to hear the importance of knowledge and information, having the facts. You do not need a recitation of the early patriarchal myths that discourage knowledge, the myths of the Sirens, or Eve who stole the fruit from the tree of knowledge, or the Sphinx who destroyed men who did not have female knowledge, all stories generated by the powerful which describe knowledge as dangerous (to them). And I am going to assume that we agree that Socrates had more influence on western civilization through his teaching, that is, his imparting of knowledge and the art of questioning, than did his contemporary military leaders none of whose names we any longer remember. I am going to assume, too, that it is evident that during the Dreyfus Affair in 1898, the great novelist Emile Zola had more impact upon France than his contemporaries in the General Staff of the French army, or that is that he was right to proclaim that the sword is only the sword but that the rights of man are a tidal wave.
And I will leave for another day, all the rest of my list of requirements for a successful people’s movement and focus now only on courage.
Because today I am going to suggest a solution to our crisis of governance that cannot be met without courage. I am going to suggest that the only way to head off the onslaught against Iran is to understand the meaning of the terms “war crime,” “war profiteering,” and impeachment.
We must have courage to call a crime of aggression a crime of aggression and we must have courage to describe the destruction of hospitals, bridges, schools and utilities as crimes against humanity. And we must have courage to label aggression and crimes against humanity as war crimes and war crimes as high crimes under the provisions of the constitution for which impeachment is expected.
We must call to account the war profiteers Blackwater, Haliburton, Lockheed, Kellogg Brown and Root, CH2M Hill, and pursue them like coyotes after rabbits, or maybe like crows after worms.
And we must have the courage to speak out to call to account those of among us who have done these things in Iraq and to call out in advance against the impending commission of these crimes in Iran. And we must have courage to demand of the Congress their attention to their constitutional duty to prosecute such crimes and hold any man who would hold himself immune from the law, or who would be king, to awful account, for such men are now doing awful things.
I do not think that it is an absence of the facts that keeps us, most of us Americans and most good-willed Unitarians, from seeking impeachment or going directly after war profiteers. I think that it is, rather, the fear to be outlandish, or unreasonable, or too dramatic, too forthright, or most importantly, too alone.
But Unitarians are almost by definition those who stand against the crowd, and therefore it might be Unitarians above all who would carry the banner for the rule of law, for the containment of the royal prerogative—which Mr. Cheney’s lawyers David Addington and John Yoo call the “unitary executive”—and for the cessation of patriotic spin by which CNN and Fox News use to justify a war that may last forever and therefore justify unlimited yellow journalism for as long as it turns a profit. I do not think that it is an absence of facts or information that holds us all back. I think it is an absence of commitment on our own part to stand in the face of power as early Unitarians and early Quakers and followers of Gandhi and King once stood in the face of power.
We share a clearly justifiable personal fear, fear of ostracism and isolation from Denver’s and Jefferson County’s—and for me, from Santa Fe’s— mainstream and it is therefore courage that is needed above all.
We have already noted that the bill of particulars for articles of impeachment against Bush and Cheney is similar to the bill of particulars advanced against King James II of England when he was deposed in 1689, and is remarkably similar to the bill that was advanced against King Charles I when he was beheaded 40 years earlier in 1649. That is to say, there have been lawyers and professors and upstanding businessmen who have run the risk of opposition in the past and have succeeded.
Can we not impeach for the same crimes for which a king was deposed 300 long years ago? Can we regain again the courage of our forefathers, or even of Harry Truman, to name the war profiteers?
Nor must we look for inspiration only to the men. In 1765, Catharine Macaulay published a history of England in which she lambasted the reticence of the Whigs of 1689, saying that they had not gone far enough, and that those lazy Whigs had already, less than 100 years later, returned to the king and the lords all the power that they had once wrested from them in 1689. Macaulay—a stunning woman by all accounts—was so bold and so convincing in her scholarship that she had a profound impact upon American revolutionaries including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and John Wilkinson. She was not allowed to vote, or to sit in parliament, or on a jury, or to captain a ship. But she could write, and she helped spawn the American revolution, the most far reaching revolution in the history of the rights of man.
Can men and women of conscience today muster the courage to impeach a president and a vice president, prosecute war crimes and war profiteering, and protect the ideas of the rights of man and virtue? Can we do all this when we are not threatened in our homes or threatened in our daily lives, or threatened in our consumption, as those who withstood the royal prerogative in times past were threatened? Can we be courageous without the wolf at the door?
We are not yet called to offer our lives, as Socrates offered his life, for our principles. We are not yet called to stand before the firing squad as Doestoevski once did for his political ideas, or to stand before a court of law to defend his principles as Emile Zola did in 1898, but we might at least acknowledge the line of our true ancestors. Are we not more akin to these heroes in the cause of virtue and truth than like Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon? And would any of these, Macaulay, or Tom Paine, or the lawyers who penned the Bill of Rights of 1689, let these crimes go unchecked without crying out for prosecution of war crimes and war profiteering? For impeachment of any and all of those who turn their backs on their sacred duties to the people?
These are questions for today’s true patriots and I believe that now when this courage is needed we will have it. Never did the story of liberty depend so much upon our awakening but now those who are awakening are not so few as they were only five years ago. Patriots in the cause of constitutional liberty are spreading; we will not be denied the achievements of 700 years of constitutional history; we will not be denied the mature institutions we have already purchased at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives; we will not be denied the benefits of the contract signed by King John in 1215 that the law shall be above the king and that this principle—that we today call the rule of law—shall be the right of freemen “forever.” We are still part of forever! We will not let one rogue regime take us back to the Middle Ages and certainly not back to Rome under the Caesars. We know too much—we know way too much—and knowledge is the great solvent, the great dissolver of royal power. Let the tidal wave of truth and freedom roll on!