I have just read the book When the World Outlawed War by David Swanson. He highlights a fascinating part of history following World War I, climaxed with the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact in Paris on August 27, 1928. What started as a potential peace agreement between the United States and France eventually resulted in a treaty among over 50 countries outlawing war. In January 1929 the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 85 to 1, ratified the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and in July 1929 President Hoover declared it to be binding as the Supreme Law of the Land. It remains so today.
It didn’t take long for President Roosevelt and all succeeding presidents and Congresses to ignore the law. Over eight decades have passed and we seem to have developed a collective amnesia. I can understand why the military-industrial complex wants this amnesia to persist indefinitely. “War,” which we generally call “Defense,” is our major industry, consuming about 60 percent of the federal discretionary budget. But is amnesia the proper response?
My first reaction to Swanson’s book was why haven’t I known that countries have come together to outlaw war? As I reflect back over all the human history that I’m aware of, the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact was the most outstanding achievement. I think August 27, 1928 was Our Greatest Day, and August 27 ought to be an international Peace Holiday. Think about it. Everyone who yearns for peace knows how difficult it is to turn from a culture of violence and dominance to a path of mutual respect and nonviolent conflict resolution. But if human civilization has a future, peace through nonviolence is the only path. We have to start somewhere. We already have taken Step 1. Let’s celebrate it!
Why is this so important? Two reasons: 1. Respect for the Law and 2. Progress towards Peace.
We don’t respect the law by ignoring it. As a duly ratified treaty the Kellogg-Briand Pact, according to the U.S. Constitution, which our government has taken an oath to preserve and protect, is the Supreme Law of the Land. People have told me that it’s not a real law because it can’t be enforced. Clearly, this law was and is intended to be self enforcing. It depends on its enforcement by the full faith and credit of those who have signed onto it. Our honor is at stake. If we consciously decide to ignore the law because no one can force us to obey it, we are proclaiming anarchism. Why should any country enter a treaty with us again?
This brings us to the second point. Instead of lip service about wanting peace how can we realistically reverse the trend towards war? Thirty three years after Kellogg-Briand, President Eisenhower warned that the military-industrial complex was taking on a life of its own. Now, almost 84 years after Kellogg-Briand, the military-industrial-congressional-financial-media complex controls and guides the world’s only superpower on a path of death and destruction, all in the name of defense of liberty. Do Americans want this? Do the people of the world want this?
I believe we have already taken Step 1, when countries came together and formally declared that War is Against the Law. The intent was and is to not only prevent starting a war, but to reduce the instruments of war and using the threat of war as a diplomatic tool. We (and the other signatories to this treaty) should acknowledge publically that we have not been true to our word. We have gone astray. Our pursuit of advanced weaponry, our unilateral use of drones to “take out” anyone on the president’s secret terrorist list, our continued deployment of nuclear weapons, and our ever expanding military bases in every conceivable piece of earth and space are a few examples of contempt for the Kellogg-Briand Pact and must stop. And certainly the use of 60 percent of our federal budget for such purposes while poverty keeps increasing and the middle class keep decreasing in the world’s richest country cannot be morally justified. All of this is against the spirit and letter of Kellogg-Briand.
I think August 27, 1928 was the greatest day in human history and should be made a National and International Day of Reflection. Not as a holiday that can easily be co-opted to promote consumerism or even militarism, but a day when we just remind ourselves of the day we outlawed war. We don’t even need a day off work – just a one hour break to reflect on our response to Kellogg-Briand.
As a leader of the West Suburban Faith-based Peace Coalition I will do my part to cure amnesia by making sure our 600 members, including individuals, groups, clergy and laity are fully aware of Kellogg-Briand. I should point out that one of our members is Kathy Kelly, who was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and it was she that gave me David Swanson’s book. Please sign my petition and circulate it widely among your family, friends, and faith communities.