Prospecting for Peace Amidst the Generals

by Thea Paneth
UFPJ Coordinating Committee Member
& Member of United for Justice with Peace, Boston

What is war?  War is maimed bodies and souls, neighborhoods/cities of rubble, choking smoke/fire explosions, and always, always injured children with their terrible gaze, those hollow and imploring eyes that ask: Why did you do this to me?  What did I ever do to deserve this?

War is not cheering ticker tape parades of lantern jawed heroes and sleek missiles that bring about democratic institutions of participation and engagement.  This is the romance, the fantasy, the delusion that obscures the reality.  

The war culture of the U.S. (a young nation that has been at war for 222 years out of 239) is a culture that prioritizes domination, bullying, controlling – especially access to resources (oil), owning, exploiting, and expanding at the at the expense of others who are disenfranchised, injured, even starved while justified on false grounds: of security, bringing democracy, protecting our interests. These justifications people hold dear and accept in an unquestioning way, the general population of the society trusts the military above all other institutions – including churches and small businesses.

Those who question such justifications, who have concerns about what is inflicted upon others, (war victims, refugees, the wounded/killed, the soldiers with PTSD, the ruined cities, lands, and nations, the lost artifacts of history) are held in contempt and ridicule by adherents of the war culture so that we get death threats, are called names, are spat upon, are on occasion beaten, jailed or worse.  

To bear a standard for peace in one’s town square is to know oneself as an outsider at home.  

Yet, “peaceniks” bear the standard because violence and war are not inevitable.  We understand that a complex interweaving of vested interests and psychological conditions drive wars in many cultures not only our own, and we seek to place certain concerns first, such as:  well being of all, enough to eat, a place to live, an education, healthcare as needed, clean water and air, systems that enhance and even promote life, basic economic and social justice and a decent future for younger generations.  

The U.S. has been at war for decades, if we calculate back to 1991, and the first war on Iraq.  Millions of Iraqis died in the wars, under sanctions, have been wounded and have been displaced. The agony continues across the Middle East from Iraq to Syria up to this very moment.  Ominously, the incoming President is larding his administration with generals from these wars.  

General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, for Defense Secretary, a career Marine, former head of the U.S. Central Command.  He is known for saying: “Actually, it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot.  It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.” (from 2005)

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, nominated for National Security Advisor, perhaps best known for having called Islam a “cancer” and saying “fear of Muslims is rational.”

Marine General John Kelly, nominated for Homeland Security Secretary whose previous position and head of the U.S. Southern Command included being in charge of the notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay where prisoners have been tortured and held for more than a decade without trials.

Lieutenant General , nominated for Chief of Staff/Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, former chief operations officer of the US coalition provisional authority in Iraq, and a Donald Rumsfeld favorite.  He ran the initial phase of the disastrous occupation of Iraq.  

As Andrew Bacevich aptly noted recently on Democracy Now! these generals share some characteristics – none has either “won” (emphasis mine) a war or brought a war to a conclusion, they are all hawkish-type generals, anti-Islam, anti-Iran.  While some of the generals are well thought of, others are known to be fanatical, or to speak without thinking through the implications of what they say.  It is unprecedented in our political system to have so many generals

As we move into the uncharted, unknown territory of an erratic, temperamental, unpredictable, completely unfit public figure to be President, what are some of the very real dangers we may face?

We are entering a time where many longstanding conflicts and crises are intersecting and need careful and thoughtful resolutions – not tweets/sound-bites/threats/ or jockeying for internal and external hegemony.

The conflicts and crises include the wars, all-too-real climate change, systemic poverty, refugees of the wars and famines, and the day-to-day basic domestic issues for every nation which must meet the needs of their populations and fail to do so.

Unpredictability is of great concern and a great danger because international relations are premised on acceptance of the rules of the great game(s) so that moves and countermoves require mindsets that are operating with the same series of premise/agreement/vested interests and this is all up in the air — with a promise of failing in these great games — wreaking tremendous chaos.  


The wars and military policies on so many fronts from the Middle East, to the “pivot to Asia that is challenging China and to Africa, (and always we must worry about relations with Russia), and the refugee crisis – 65 million refugees from war, violence, famine AND nuclear modernization – really a new arms race crisis – have severely taxed the capacity of the peace community to analyze and to organize, we are underfunded, understaffed and ageing (many of those who came of age during the horror of the Vietnam War have a deep and abiding commitment to peace that many younger folks who never had to face the draft do not have, despite growing up in the endless GWOT).

These are challenges that must be faced.  

Thanks to:  Mary Hladky, Michael Eisenscher, Andrew Lichterman.