I was dismayed when I heard Barack Obama was given the Nobel peace prize. A shock, really, to think that a president carrying on two wars would be given a peace prize. Until I recalled that Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Henry Kissinger had all received Nobel peace prizes. The Nobel committee is famous for its superficial estimates, won over by rhetoric and by empty gestures, and ignoring blatant violations of world peace.
On that 50th year after the execution, the New York Times reported that: "Plans by Mayor Beame to proclaim next Tuesday "Sacco and Vanzetti Day’ have been canceled in an effort to avoid controversy, a City Hall spokesman said yesterday." There must be good reason why a case 50-years-old, now over 75-years-old, arouses such emotion. I suggest that it is because to talk about Sacco and Vanzetti inevitably brings up matters that trouble us today: our system of justice, the relationship between war fever and civil liberties, and most troubling of all, the ideas of anarchism: the obliteration of national boundaries and therefore of war, the elimination of poverty, and the creation of a full democracy.
This current financial crisis is a major way-station on the way to the collapse of the American empire. The first important sign was 9/11, with the most heavily-armed nation in the world shown to be vulnerable to a handful of hijackers. And now, another sign: both major parties rushing to get an agreement to spend $700bn of taxpayers’ money to pour down the drain of huge financial institutions which are notable for two characteristics: incompetence and greed. There is a much better solution to the current financial crisis. But it requires discarding what has been conventional "wisdom" for too long: that government intervention in the economy ("big government") must be avoided like the plague, because the "free market" will guide the economy towards growth and justice.
GMS: Let's start with the second resolution of the March 4 Manifesto: "To devise means for turning research applications away from their present emphasis on military technology toward the solution of pressing social and environmental problems." Would you explain the importance of this idea of scientific reconversion?
It's been a long-standing problem of science being used for destruction or for construction. It goes back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki—it goes back to the atomic bomb. In fact, that probably was the first really dramatic instance of the use of the latest scientific knowledge to kill human beings.
We might wonder why no Democratic Party contender for the presidency has invoked the memory of the New Deal and its unprecedented series of laws aimed at helping people in need. The New Deal was tentative, cautious, bold enough to shake the pillars of the system but not to replace them. It created many jobs but left 9 million unemployed. It built public housing but not nearly enough. It helped large commercial farmers but not tenant farmers. Excluded from its programs were the poorest of the poor, especially blacks. As farm laborers, migrants or domestic workers, they didn’t qualify for unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, Social Security or farm subsidies. Still, in today’s climate of endless war and uncontrolled greed, drawing upon the heritage of the 1930s would be a huge step forward.
If somebody invaded your home, and smashed things up, and terrorized your children, would we give them a timetable? When I look at this latest Democratic proposal for a timetable, you know, maybe 18 months from now, at the same time funding the war for another 140 billion dollars, you know, it’s as if you gave an intruder in your house a timetable for withdraw, and meanwhile, made a nice dinner for him. No, we can’t do that, we have to get out. We don’t belong in Iraq. The people in Iraq do not want us there, the American people expressed themselves clearly that the American people don’t want us there. It seems the only people who want us there are the members of Congress and the Bush administration.
There is something important to be learned from the recent experience of the United States and Israel in the Middle East: that massive military attacks, inevitably indiscriminate, are not only morally reprehensible, but useless in achieving the stated aims of those who carry them out. The United States, in three years of war, which began with shock-and-awe bombardment and goes on with day-to-day violence and chaos, has been an utter failure in its claimed objective of bringing democracy and stability to Iraq. The Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon has not brought security to Israel; indeed it has increased the number of its enemies, whether in Hezbollah or Hamas or among Arabs who belong to neither of those groups.
"For those who find a special inspiration in Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism or whatever, fine. If that inspiration leads them to work for justice, that is what matters."
In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.