By David Swanson
In the late 1980s when I was a teenager and an exchange student in Bassano del Grappa I loved Italy for the same reasons I’ve loved it ever since, reasons that include natural and human-created and human beauty. I found Italians on average to be friendly, kind, generous, loving, fun-loving, humble, self-critical, and intelligent. It may have also helped a little that when I told other young people that I was from the U.S. they typically thought that was super cool. Older people told me that the United States had saved Italy from Nazism.
I didn’t know enough to point out that the U.S. government and U.S. elites had fueled the rise of Nazism which had drawn on Wall Street funding, U.S. segregation laws, U.S. eugenics programs, U.S. camps for Native Americans, and the support of the U.S. government. I didn’t know enough to point out that the notion of the United States as savior was being kept alive by the failure of the U.S. troops to ever leave Italy, but that they were in Italy for the purpose of aggressively attacking other countries for reasons that were anything but rescuing people from Nazism. I didn’t know that the U.S. government had considered Russia a threat to extreme wealth, inequality, and global domination, and had viewed the Soviet Union as the primary enemy right through the rise of Nazism and Fascism, right through the war, and following.
I didn’t know the U.S. left troops and saboteurs and spies behind, interfered in Italian politics, and viewed Italy from Day 1 (day 1 in U.S. culture is Pearl Harbor Day) as a piece of an empire to be imposed in the name of anti-imperialism.
I had no clue that there was more than one way for a people to be saved or to save itself. I had attended the best schools the United States had to offer, and nobody had told me that nonviolent campaigns had overthrown tyranny and even foreign occupations more successfully than violent campaigns. If Italy had been saved in some ancient time that I knew nothing of, and if that somehow explained why it was normal for there to be U.S. troops in Vicenza, who was I to question?
I made friends with one of those U.S. troops, skipped school, and went skiing with him. He was quite a nice guy, nothing violent about him. Nobody told me what the U.S. military did, that it illegally kept nuclear weapons in Italy, that it poisoned Sardinia practicing mass murder, that flying airplanes into ski lifts was not a price to be paid for something necessary but a price to be paid for something sociopathic. Italians told me that the most offensive thing U.S. troops did was wear blue jeans to go skiing.
I’d never heard of Evian, France, not far from Italy and the site of one of the conferences at which the governments of the world publicly and shamelessly decided not to accept the Jews out of Germany.
I’d never heard of Veterans For Peace or one of the heroes of that group, Smedley Butler. Here was the most decorated U.S. Marine there had ever been, a famous model general, a hero to all war lovers and all veterans, who was imprisoned for having publicly stated that Benito Mussolini ran over a little girl with his car and made some casual remark about only looking forward as he sped on. Speaking badly of Mussolini was bad for U.S.-Italian relations. The U.S. government loved Mussolini. So, Smedley was locked up. But later, the wealthiest people in the United States tried to hire Smedley to lead a fascist coup against President Roosevelt. Historians think it might have succeeded, except that Smedley went to Congress and exposed the plot. He also denounced war and his own career as a criminal racket.
Years later, when I did know a tiny bit of what I should have, I visited Vicenza to participate in protests against base expansion. I also met with U.S. Congress members in Washington together with Cinzia Bottene and Thea Valentina Garbellin, two of the leaders of the No Dal Molin resistance to the bases. I remember the Congress members and staffers wanting only to ask one question: If not in Vicenza, then where should we put a base? And Thea and Cinzia, to their eternal credit, answered: Nowhere! — which was far more polite than where I wanted to tell them to stick it.
U.S. and NATO bases are not helping Italy. They’re not protecting Italy from . . . well, from what? They have no enemy. The United States spends half of the world’s military spending. The other NATO nations are badgered by Donald Trump into spending another quarter. That’s three-quarters of world military spending. NATO nations also account for some three-quarters of foreign weapons sales. The regions of the globe with most of the wars manufacture almost no weapons. The United States sells weapons to 73% of the nations that it considers dictatorships, and trains most of them. U.S. and NATO wars generate enemies. And yet, when you watch U.S. officials try to explain to Congress why they need over $1 trillion to fight their enemies, the results are comical. Russia spends a few percent of what NATO does on war. A recent drone attack on a Saudi oil plant, which was apparently far more serious than the bombing of human beings in Yemen, cost less than the student debt of a single U.S. college student, and could not have happened without the U.S.-led creation of drone wars and the U.S.-backed genocidal assault on Yemen.
So, Congress members shamelessly claim that expanding NATO to Russia’s border is a jobs program for weapons jobs in the United States. Jack Matlock said this to Vladimir Putin who looked at him like he was crazy. And U.S. military officials anonymously admit to U.S. newspapers that the whole new cold war is driven by the desire to keep NATO and the Army rolling along and weapons profits flowing, even though economists will tell you that war spending is the worst possible thing for an economy.
NATO has now illegally and disastrously bombed Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya, exacerbated tensions with Russia, and increased the risk of nuclear apocalypse. But U.S. media tells us NATO is a way to cooperate with our friends in Europe, as if there are no nonviolent ways to cooperate with anyone — and that NATO is a way to legalize wars, as if a crime is not a crime when you get a gang together for it. And the mental disease called militarism has taken such root in Europe that plans are developing for a European military. The solution to NATO is not to clone it.
The case that we make at World BEYOND War is that, not only can no war be justified on its own, but no war can achieve the infinitely higher mark of justifying the existence of the institution of war. Three percent of U.S. military spending could end starvation globally; a little over 1 percent could end the lack of clean drinking water. A bit larger slice of military spending could put up a serious, and hardly dreamed of, effort to reduce the environmental catastrophe we are facing. Tiny bits of the military budget in humanitarian aid could make a nation loved and honored around the world rather than resented. War is a top cause of environmental destruction, of refugee crises, of the erosion of civil liberties, of the militarization of police and culture, of racism and xenophobia, of the risk of nuclear apocalypse.
By building a coalition that takes on war and all of the other evils it contributes to, we can find the numbers and the power to change things. This is why many of us risked arrest to shut down Washington for the climate on September 23rd.
World BEYOND War is working on three areas. One is education. We talk to college classes, and in less than an hour virtually every student is moved to drop the common belief that sometimes war is justified. Another is divestment. We’re getting local governments and universities and investment funds to take money out of weapons. The third is closing bases.
I believe that Italy should make friends with the U.S. public and the people of the world by kicking U.S. bases out. I recommend showing widely the video by CNGNN called “Italy is One Big U.S./NATO Military Base.” Second, let everyone in the United States know how much they’re paying for the bases, troops, weapons, and related wars. Tell them you want to save them money. They love money. Third, do everything you can to annoy Donald Trump and push him to demand that Italy pay higher fees for the privilege of being occupied by U.S. bases. Fourth, investigate the poisoning of drinking water near each U.S. base for carcinogenic permanent chemicals that kill forever, and which have sickened and killed people around U.S. bases all over the world. These chemicals are found in foam used to practice putting out fires, and much of the world uses safe alternatives. Fifth, make sure every person in Italy knows what they are paying, and knows that the United States can fight its wars without Italian bases or any foreign bases because it has airplanes, and knows that the United States views Italy as a colony, and knows that the United States builds its bases and poisons the environment without conceding any rights to Italians, and knows that Donald Trump thinks they are idiots, and knows that millions of people in the United States would be thrilled if Italy declared itself a peaceful and neutral nation.
By the way, a law passed by the U.S. House but not yet by the Senate would require that every foreign U.S. base be justified as somehow making the United States safer. So please start preparing reports on every base that does NOT make the U.S. more “secure.”
I’m on my way this week to World BEYOND War’s annual conference which is in Ireland this year near an airport that the U.S. military sends troops and weapons through purely in order to involve Ireland in its wars. We’re working to end that practice and establish Ireland as a model of neutrality.
I’m going to pass around a two-sentence pledge to help end all war that has been signed in 175 countries and is found at worldbeyondwar.org Please sign it if you agree with it. Perhaps one of these years we can have our conference and rally in Italy.