[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
David Swanson is a prominent anti-war activist who served as press secretary for Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign and as a communications coordinator for ACORN. He is perhaps best known for his sustained efforts to promote awareness of the Downing Street memo, the secret note of a July 23, 2002 meeting of British government officials that revealed that the Bush Administration’s plans to invade and occupy Iraq had been cast at least ten months before the actual invasion and that Washington was striving to piece together a legal pretext for the invasion—“intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” in its remarkable words. Although the Bush Administration and the Blair Administration both scrambled to deny the obvious import of the memo, it remains a highly damning document which could in fact figure in a prosecution of the war’s promoters on a war-of-aggression theory, if such a prosecution were ever to be mounted.
This perhaps can help us understand Swanson’s interest in the international movement to outlaw war (the “Outlawry movement”) from the 1920s, which is the subject of his current book, When the World Outlawed War. The Outlawry movement was global in its scope, but Americans assumed a clear position of leadership. Swanson portrays a “hot tempered Republican from Minnesota,” Frank B. Kellogg, who as Calvin Coolidge’s secretary of state, brought the effort to surprising fruition with the execution of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 which provided “for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy.” But his work features a parade of dimly remembered figures from U.S. history who played equally important roles. The book resurrects “the ubiquitous Salmon Oliver Levinson,” a corporate lawyer from Chicago who was persuaded that his clients’ interests were invariably better served by agreements than by litigation, and who took a similar attitude towards affairs of state. And it recalls Senator William Borah, the prominent Idaho Republican, whose ascendency to the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at just the right moment helped put the movement over the top by insuring Senate ratification.
Today we live in an America where the “robust” use of military force sits at the core of a bipartisan foreign policy consensus, where media streams speakers building a case for war against various countries almost continuously and where those who question bellicose rhetoric are instantly derided as weak and dangerously idealistic. Swanson’s book reminds us that less than a century ago the political landscape in America was dramatically different. At the heart of the Republican Party were men (and a few women) who expressed open skepticism about the benefits that war and military resources could ever hope to bring, and who systematically opposed foreign entanglements. Church groups pressed aggressively for reconciliation and an international peace process. University presidents, like Columbia’s Nicholas Murray Butler and prominent academics like John Dewey were enlisted as leading public advocates of the peace cause. Democrats regularly questioned the nation’s colonialist ambitions and the costs associated with them. When a case was made for war, it was discussed loudly, even hotly on the public stage, benefits and costs were claimed and efforts were made to mobilize public opinion on both sides. Significantly, the case for and against war tended to cut through both political parties and engendered passionate feelings. Most significantly, the size of the military establishment at this time was miniscule compared to today and there was little role played in the public debate by the interests of a defense industry.
It is remarkable that this period—the decade following World War I—produced an enormous backlash against the warmongering of the war period and caused disparate threads from across America (but especially from the Midwestern heartland) to unite in the cause of peace.
Swanson believes that this era has something valuable for us today, and that its prime accomplishment, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is worthy of being studied and remembered. Indeed it is troubling that it and the entire era that gave rise to it are so little recalled today. Swanson’s call for a more suitable national remembrance is surely worth taking up.
Welcome David Swanson to the FDL Book Salon. We’re open now for questions directed to the author.