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Did you know that war is illegal?

Published Saturday, August 26, 2017

To wish there were a law against war seems a pipe dream. But far from fantasy, it turns out there already is a law against war. Really. And it's still on the books. It's called the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed in Paris on August 27, 1928, on which the US Senate voted 85 to 1 in favor of ratifying (with nine senators not voting). 

Frank B. Kellogg was US Secretary of State from 1925-29 at the same time Aristide Briand was the foreign minister of France. The Pact made aggressive war a crime. As David Swanson points out in his book "When the World Outlawed War," in the culture of the 1920s before the military-industrial complex existed, it was cool to be against war. Even the robber barons supported peace.

Eighty-nine years ago tomorrow thirteen other nations signed the pact. Two days later President Coolidge signed the treaty into law. After forty-seven more nations signed on, the illegality of war became an almost universally supported law and became the basis for the crime against peace.

President Trump has said he would not take nuclear weapons off the table, and he wants to add $54 billion to 2016's defense budget of $585 billion--not counting the $12.6 war billion hidden in the Energy Department to maintain America's nuclear weapons stockpile or its $5.8 billion to clean up the environmental consequences of producing nuclear weapons. The US still has 450 nuclear ICBMs in silos on high alert. 

How can we obey the law against war if we don't know about it? If we've never read the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution or Bill of Rights or discussed what government is for or what a law is or are unaware of the history of weaponry and war and have never thought about the psychology behind violence? Thinking requires good teachers.

All Americans need to commit to memory those famous words first drafted by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men . . . ."

As Lincoln saw it, the Constitution of the United States is not a stand-alone document but is meant to be read through the eyes of the Declaration of Independence. (See What is government except an organization for securing our rights, that is, keeping our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness safe? The government does this by writing laws and enforcing them. What is law but the line drawn to keep us from infringing on other people's rights and they from infringing on ours?

According to the legal dictionary, "regulations have the force of law, since they are adopted under authority granted by statutes, and often include penalties for violations." Right out of the gate, as CNBC reported, not long after his inauguration, President Trump, believing rules for corporations have "gotten out of control," promised that "we're going to be cutting regulation massively . . .by 75 percent or even more."

Bringing us back to the Declaration of Independence, George Lakoff, retired professor of Cognitive Science and Lingistics at Berkeley and now director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society, says that we would understand the word "regulation" better if we substituted the word "protection" for it--the protections (instead of regulations) of our rights. The purpose of the Food and Drug Administration, for example, is to keep us safe from such things as defective medical devices, cancer, poisoning, addiction, and irradiation.

"From the viewpoint of corporations and other businesses," Lakoff says, 'regulations' are limitations on their freedom to do whatever they want no matter who it harms, but from the public's viewpoint, a regulation is a protection against harm done by unscrupulous corporations seeking to maximize profit at the cost of harm to the public."

How can we obey the law against war? First, to acknowledge the law and speak out against war. Second to recognize that our real enemy is ignorance. The antidotes to ignorance have always been consciousness and education.


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