Saturday, October 26, 2013

Charnel of war reframed to house of peace: Review of War No More

David Swanson self-publishes and I always hesitate to read or review self-published books--where is the check and balance the editors provide? This is the rare exception for me; Swanson has produced a great little book, readable, creatively powerful and urgent.
Yes, many of us have books on aspects of ending war, of stating the problem of war, of suggesting partial or systemic solutions. Swanson presents no startling new blindingly brilliant plans. What he does instead is jump right into a basic reframing of just how unacceptable all war is, period, and gives us multiple simple ways to reframe all the basic challenges to the desire to end all war. He removes all justifications for all wars, not using religion but unafraid to state and defend some basic human moral stances.

Swanson embodies what Grace Paley fittingly self-described as the "combative pacifist." He parses and dismantles the exceptions that so many make--but what about this sort of war, how about this circumstance or exceptional condition? He asks us to think about just how many other "natural" human activities (e.g. slavery, torture, dueling to the death) we now view as utterly immoral and uncivilized--and how we can make war into that sort of past bad behavior.

Kathy Kelly, arguably the most pure and brave peaceworker alive, provides a fine foreword, and Swanson then offers a short introduction followed by four sections: War can be ended, War should be ended, War is not going to end on its own, and We have to end war.

Like the journalist he is, Swanson generally includes the references he needs to verify most of his claims in the text, which is the weakest part of the book for academics and for those who want bombproof arguments. As critical readers, we editors are bound to ask, "Says who?" when something is asserted without visible means of support. Swanson is astonishingly prolific and his occasional missing reference is understandable, forgivable, but needs to be noted. As I was reading I was thinking, I need to assign this book to my graduate students and require them to provide citations wherever they are missing. This would be such a learning experience for them. Swanson is a stunning rhetorician; he needs a little disarmy of research assistants to get him the missing footnotes, reference list, and index.

Swanson just challenges the basic structures and nominal purposes of all aspects of the US military, for example:
The permanent stationing of a million soldiers in some 175 nations doesn't help prevent provokes it (p. 66).

As an example of his openly inquiring approaches, Swanson absorbs, dissects, and asks about the quality and effect of media in the context of our war culture, showing us some revelatory and creative ways to engage:
A couple of years ago, National Public Radio interviewed a weapons executive. Asked what he would do if the hugely profitable occupation of Afghanistan were to end, he replied that he hoped there could be an occupation of Libya. He was clearly joking. And he didn't get his wish--yet. But jokes don't come from nowhere. Had he joked about molesting children or practicing racism his comments would not have aired. Joking about a new war is accepted in our culture as an appropriate joke. In contrast, mocking war as backward and undesirable is just not done, and might be deemed incomprehensible, not to mention unfunny. We have a long way to go (pp. 143-144).

It is this sort of ethical challenge to each of us, to all of us, that makes Swanson's turns of mind so helpful, so challenging to those of us who search for successful ways to question how we can more effectively help others to see the deep problems of war. He does this sort of reframing throughout the book in scores of fascinating and inspirational passages. If our minds ever start to close around any pieces of what we are working on in the peace movement, Swanson has a hard-earned gift for prying our brains back open.

Order copies: and give them out. Swanson is not in this to sell books to make money--you can even get the pdf for $2. He's tireless and authentic. Order 10 hard copies for just $60--he can't be clearing his expenses, but these little books need to be distributed, and need to be read. A beginner peace activist can read this and start producing "A game" arguments, which is how the social psychologists tell us social norms can shift. That is Swanson's goal and he does great work toward making it happen. Helping him along is a smart peace strategy.

Swanson, David (2013). War no more.

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