By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, April 26, 2020
David Swanson was to speak at a conference in Florence, Italy, on April 25, 2020. The conference became a video instead. Below is the video and text of Swanson’s portion. As soon as we receive the video or text of the whole, in Italian or English, we will post it at worldbeyondwar.org. The video aired on April 25 on PandoraTV and on ByoBlu. Details on the full conference are here.
Sadly, Giulietto Chiesa, director of Pandora TV, died a few hours after attending this conference on live-streaming. Giulietto’s last public participation was his presenting the portion of the conference that concerned Julian Assange and his father John Shipton’s interview.
Swanson’s remarks follow.
Text of this video:
This conference against war on Liberation Day in Italy, April 25, 2020, has been in the works for many months and was to be real-world. I was to see all of you in Florence. My heart aches for that not happening and for the reasons why, although being forced online and into refraining from burning jet fuel was always the better choice for the earth.
I’m recording this on March 27, 2020, almost a month early, to allow proper translation and preparation, perche’ il mio italiano e’ diventato bruttissimo. I cannot know what will be happening in the world a month from now. One month ago I might have been talking about the similarities between Michael Bloomberg and Silvio Berlusconi. Now I have the great pleasure of hoping you’ve never heard of Michael Bloomberg – who spent $570 million on advertisements to make himself U.S. president, and people didn’t care. That’s the best and possibly only encouraging news I can offer you from the United States, where people obey news broadcasters ever more like lemmings, as long as their directives are labeled news and not advertisement.
While I cannot see the future, I can see the present and the past, and they offer some clues. In 1918 the flu spread like mad from the trenches, and the newspapers predicted joy and rainbows, except in Spain where the truth was permitted, a mistake that was rewarded with labeling the disease the Spanish Flu. And a giant pro-war parade was planned in Philadelphia with U.S. troops just back from the war. Doctors warned against it, but politicians decided it would be just fine as long as everyone was instructed not to cough or sneeze. Predictably, the doctors were right. The flu spread wildly, including quite possibly to Woodrow Wilson, who during the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles lay sick in bed instead of taking part or even pretending to attempt to restrain French and British vengeance. The resulting treaty, of course, had wise observers predicting World War II on the spot. Now Western culture so adores World War II that an Italian beauty queen a few years back was mocked for saying that was the era of the past she’d have liked to live in – as if she could have said any other. Yet World War II might not have happened if people had listened to doctors in 1918 or to countless other wise pieces of advice over the years.
Now doctors and other health workers and all of the workers who keep necessary operations running in our societies are performing heroically and being ignored again. And we’re watching the warnings play out in agonizingly slow motion. But, looked at a different way, it’s like watching climate change or the nuclear threat play out on fast-forward. It’s been popular to imagine for decades that if things would just get a little bit worse or impact people more directly, then everyone would wake up and act sensibly. Coronavirus largely proves that wrong. Protecting ecosystems, ceasing to eat meat, investing in healthcare, or letting doctors set health policy are still considered crazy ideas even as the bodies pile up, just like going off fossil fuels and disbanding militaries are considered crazy ideas. People like buying stuff and eating meat and voting for sociopaths – would you take away those basic pleasures just so your children could live?
The U.S. government is throwing more money at its military with which to fight coronavirus, using the nonsensical excuse that only the military has the resources to do it, even as the military hoards resources needed by the public. War rehearsals and even wars are being paused and scaled back, but only as temporary measures, not as any shifting of priorities. You can read in the U.S. media both proposals that NATO declare war on the coronavirus and that NATO is a leading contender for the next Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile the Russiagate madness that the Democratic Party used to create an intentionally unsuccessful impeachment trial of Trump has blocked any possible opposition to NATO and removed the possibility of trying Trump for serious crimes ranging from wars to sanctions to abuse of immigrants to instigating racist violence to profiting from pandemics. And a leading advocate of the wars of the past generation, Joe Biden, is being marketed as the designated loser in the next election. Already we’re hearing that one shouldn’t change horses during an apocalypse. Already Trump is being declared, as if it were a good thing, a war-time president because of the disease he’s helping to spread, completely oblivious to all the actual wars he’s been waging since the day he inherited them from Obama and Bush. Awareness of climate collapse trails far, far behind awareness of coronavirus, while awareness that the nuclear doomsday clock is almost at midnight is virtually nonexistent. U.S. corporate news articles reassure us that the coronavirus has not yet impacted U.S. readiness to destroy all life with nuclear weapons. Almost a month ago I wrote about how ironic it would be if the coronavirus began shutting down parts of the war machine; now of course that has been happening – only without any recognition of the irony.
There are openings that we can use to push things in a better direction of course. As people watch U.S. senators profiting from the deaths of U.S. citizens they can come to recognize the routine practice of profiting from the deaths of people in other countries. Ceasefires could prove so preferable to wars that they are extended beyond the crisis that creates them. U.S. bases could be understood as bringing to nations around the world, not only war and the poisoning of water and the localized scourge of drunkenness and rapes, but also contagious and deadly diseases. Already we’ve seen the European Union violate U.S. sanctions against Iran. That could become the norm. The new plague could make people aware of what European diseases, in combination with the equivalents at the time of war and sanctions, did to the indigenous people of North America, which could lead to a complete rethinking of our approach to the earth. The breakdown of our current systems in the face of a disease could be made to aid the transition to systems that don’t drive us toward the twin dangers of nuclear war and climate disaster. And Joe Biden could retire for any number of reasons. By the time you hear these words, the Emperor could be standing naked in the piazza. More likely he’ll be wearing a few gold-plated rags.
I had always wanted “We will be Italy” to mean we will have beautiful architecture and countryside and farmers’ markets and wonderful food and warm friendly people and decent levels of leftist activism and government. Now “We will be Italy” is a reference to coronavirus and to the trends that of course suggest that the United States has chosen to be much worse than Italy.
On this Liberation Day in Italy 75 years ago, U.S. and Soviet troops met in Germany and hadn’t been told they were at war with each other yet. But in the mind of Winston Churchill they were. He proposed using Nazi troops together with allied troops to attack the Soviet Union, the nation that had just done the bulk of the work of defeating the Nazis. This was not an off-the-cuff proposal. The U.S. and British had sought and achieved partial German surrenders, had kept German troops armed and ready, and had debriefed German commanders on lessons learned from their failure against the Russians. Attacking the Russians sooner rather than later was a view advocated by General George Patton, and by Hitler’s replacement Admiral Karl Donitz, not to mention Allen Dulles and the OSS. Dulles made a separate peace with Germany in Italy to cut out the Russians, and began sabotaging democracy in Europe immediately and empowering former Nazis in Germany, as well as importing them into the U.S. military to focus on war against Russia.
Let’s celebrate the ending of World War II but not the waging of it. Certainly not the waging of it by nations like the United States that led the refusal to accept the Jews at conferences like Evian, that financially supported Nazism and fascism, and that chose not to bomb Auschwitz while the King of Saudi Arabia was opposing the migration of too many Jews to Palestine.
Let’s recognize the tales of benevolent occupation and spreading of democracy to Italy found in books like A Bell for Adano as precursors to the occupations of today and as part of a politics that actually stifled movements for more decent policies in Italy 75 years ago.
One hundred years ago the United States would have led in public opposition to jumping into someone else’s war. Now that honor goes to Italy and Greece, according to a Pew study in February, and the U.S. government is mad at the Greeks and Italians. The U.S. public should be learning from them.
Italy needs a different sort of liberation now. It needs the doctors sent by Cuba and not by Cuba’s large neighbor. I think even in Italy on April 25 we should look to the 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal that ended a dictatorship and Portuguese colonization of Africa with almost no violence.
When I saw that the actor Tom Hanks had coronavirus, I immediately thought of Inferno, the movie starring Tom Hanks, not the book. As in virtually all movies, Hanks had to save the world individually and violently. But when Hanks actually came down with a contagious disease in the real world, what he had to do was follow proper procedures and play his bit role to avoid spreading it further, while encouraging others to do the same.
The heroes we need are not to be found on Netflix and Amazon, but are all around us, in hospitals and books. They’re in The Plague by Albert Camus, where we can read these words:
“All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.”
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.