The past month has been a busy one on the antiwar front. On June 9, I facilitated a Zoom presentation by John Rachel, author of “The Peace Dividend: The Most Controversial Proposal in the History of the World” for 1040 For Peace, Lancaster’s resident war tax resisters group. The link to the recording of the talk, complete with timestamps in the Description, can be found here.
It occurred to me during follow up discussions that the Peace Dividend refund idea is part of the “long game”, so to speak. Similar to getting a Libertarian elected to a national level office, it may take a while to get a Peace Dividend candidate elected. Or peace dividends in the form of tax refunds may just be a natural progression that follows when we are one day able to get military spending under control. But the fact that we Libertarians are invested in the long game might explain why this idea is being so well-received here. For this, I am grateful and encouraged.
But what are some ways that in the mean time we can achieve incremental change? After all, there is something to be said for measurable progress and small victories. For many, it is that which sustains hope and drives diligence in continuing towards the long game and the end goal of peace.
This is why in my article, “A Peace Dividend- The True Economic Stimulus” I suggested we tie peace dividend amendments to spending cut bills, and why I’ve been very focused lately on lobbying efforts for specific pieces of legislation. I had the pleasure last month of meeting with several members of Peace Action, and sitting in on seminars for their forthcoming lobbying sessions. This organization is self-described as “the nation’s largest grassroots peace network”. They have annually lobbied members of Congress to vote “No” on any NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) that does not cut military spending. But for many reasons, not least of which is the money that national legislators receive from weapons contractors, this has never happened. And that is why Peace Action also goes after specific programs in the hopes of cutting them off piecemeal in amendments.
But even these efforts to tackle spending cuts one by one have a very low success rate. Perhaps they would be higher if they each had a peace dividend amendment added? Spending cuts are not sexy…receiving a check in the mail is. Which one is more likely to engage the public, enough that they flood their local Congressperson or Senator with phone calls saying “yes, I want this bill passed”?
In addition to military spending cut bills, Peace Action has been pursuing legislation such as S.J.Res.10, H.J.Res.15 and 16, and H.R.255, to end bills which have been continually used to authorize wars, such as the AUMF of 2001 and 2002.
Overturning any of these could be a great measure of progress, but as Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, in the end they are just legalities that are often ignored. The recent air strikes by the Biden administration on Iraq and Syria are a perfect example. Biden did not use the AUMF as a rationale, he merely invoked Article II of the Constitution. Here is the official absurd statement: Statement by the Department of Defense
…and therein lies the problem with the idea of incremental change. What may seem like progress is often only symbolic, and even if a bad bill or authorization is overturned, it is immediately replaced with something equally abhorrent. One can visualize a metaphor here, of attempting to fix a poorly built dam, only to have another hole open up every time you succeed in plugging one. But the drawbacks of incrementalism are enough for a separate blog post.
In my opinion, if we are to fight the war machine bill by bill, we need to find one that has a loophole. The Defend the Guard bill is exactly that…the loophole is that it allows antiwar activism to be done at the state level, instead of national, and brings the relevance of the issue closer to home. It also directly effects those who serve.
The bill has been introduced in 31 states, and we aim to get a sponsor for it here in Pennsylvania. Sergeant Dan McKnight and I had an amazing meeting over Zoom last week with Senator Scott Martin, our second meeting with him regarding Defend the Guard. Senator Pat Stefano, the chair of the Veteran Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, also attended. Both Senators were extremely engaged and asked great questions. Pennsylvania has one of the largest National Guard units in the country. I am optimistic we will get sponsorship of the bill here.
Of course, sponsorship of the bill would be one bit of incremental progress. The bill actually passing, here or in another state, would be another. The mindset in the Defend the Guard movement is that if just one state passes it, there will be a domino effect among the others. It will force a national conversation, and a reckoning of how we deploy the men and women of our National Guard, which prior to 9/11, used to be for domestic emergencies, not deployment overseas for undeclared wars. That conversation has already started to happen, as seen in this recent PBS news clip: After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rethinking how National Guard members are deployed
Libertarians seem to understand better than anyone the minarchist principle that problems are best solved the more you localize them. Thus may be why the Defend the Guard bill seems to have found a home among Libertarians, and has such enthusiastic support here.
Though the Peace Dividend refund idea is less minarchist, in that it deals primarily with federal-level funds, I believe its appeal to self-interest is also a loophole that can be exposed in our current system. And one that, if it is also passed in any small form, will be enough to initiate the floodgates of national conversation and further bills.
For more information, go to https://peacedividend.us, or click here to sign up as a peace dividend activist.