*This op-ed was rejected by the New York Times
By: Jodie Evans
"The quest for peace is the highest patriotism," Women Strike for Peace declared six decades ago. The group was formed to oppose nuclear weapons because, they said, "the fate of humanity rests on a push-button." They were defiant, standing boldly for peace and justice. When subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, they asked a simple question: who should be under scrutiny, the warmongers or the advocates for peace? Their courage remains a beacon for peace activists today.
And yet, their burning question lingers: Why are those who advocate for peace and challenge established political norms consistently silenced, defamed, or subjected to political inquisitions? Historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. DuBois, Nina Simone, and Angela Davis once suffered the establishment's disdain for their peace-oriented views.
Today, people who condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine but advocate for a negotiated solution are labeled "Putin apologists." Those who want to avoid a devastating confrontation with China are accused of being in the service of the Chinese government.
The demonization of peace advocates doesn't just emanate from the political class; it is perpetuated by a media that often aligns itself with the congressional-military-industrial complex President Eisenhower once warned about. A media that marches to the tune of the war machine does more than merely cheerlead; it creates a strategic mechanism to manipulate hearts and minds.
Consider Iraq, against which the U.S. prosecuted an illegal war of aggression in 2003. Iraq did not pose a threat to the U.S. Yet, the U.S. government and the media fueled the rush to war with misinformation, much of it found within the pages of this very publication. State Department-sponsored PR specialists colluded with the media, painting Iraq as a terrorist state affiliated with al-Qaeda. Many in the public, unfamiliar with Iraq's geographical or political nuances, were led to believe that Saddam Hussein had orchestrated the 9/11 attacks and possessed "weapons of mass destruction." This false narrative, disseminated by a compliant media, preyed on an American public already vulnerable, traumatized, and incensed. These forces manipulated our emotions, turning collective grief into a force that backed a war against an innocent nation.
The resulting human suffering was overwhelming. Brown University's "Cost of War" project recently tallied the deaths in the Middle East and North Africa in the two decades since the 9/11 attacks. The count, which includes direct deaths and those from economic downturns, food shortages, ruined health facilities, and environmental damage, stands at 4.2 million lives. These victims had names and families, and their lives were ended by lies, manipulation, and manufactured hate.
So, where is the national outrage? How have our perspectives been so altered that U.S. citizens have consented to such violence? It's unfathomable that we, as a society, allocate a staggering 55% of our tax dollars to weapons and warfare, especially when our social fabric is unraveling from neglect, and our planet is burning due to global warming.
To validate skyrocketing military expenditures exceeding one trillion dollars, imminent threats from new enemies must be manufactured. The American people are told we must weaken Russia and brace for a confrontation with China, now portrayed as an enemy to be feared and loathed. This anti-China stance isn't merely a smokescreen for obscene military expenditures; it also brings about disturbing domestic repercussions, including a frightening 339% spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
As we struggle to confront global challenges that demand international cooperation, like the climate crisis, there's an urgency to dismantle the media echo chamber that instills hate, incites violence, and vilifies those who advocate for peace. Our current predicament is a stark reminder of our self-inflicted wounds stemming from years of uncritical acceptance of manipulated narratives.
Historian Howard Zinn noted, "The most terrible things—war, genocide, and slavery—have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience." With politicians and the media leading us toward wars with nuclear-armed Russia and China, throwing sand in the gears of the war machine might just save us from nuclear Armageddon.
One day after appointing a peace envoy to try to end the war in Ukraine, Pope Francis called for the laying down of arms and asked the international community to spare no effort to make dialogue prevail. "Please," he pleaded, "let us not get used to conflict and violence. We must not get used to war!"
There are so many pressing problems faced by humanity. We need the spirit of collaboration across boundaries to help solve these problems. Prompting war is the opposite of collaboration. Peacemakers want to build bridges, not bomb them.
For the sake of future generations, let us call on our leaders—and the media—to recognize that true patriotism lies in opposing war, reinvesting our resources in life-affirming activities, and building collaborative relationships with the earth and people around the world.
Jodie Evans is the co-founder of CODEPINK and the after-school writing program 826LA, and serves on the CODEPINK Board of Directors. She has been a visionary advocate for peace for several decades. An inspired motivator, Jodie invigorates nascent activists and re-invigorates seasoned activists through her ever-evolving, always exciting methods to promote peace. Whether in board rooms or war zones, legislative offices or neighborhood streets, Jodie’s enthusiasm for a world at peace infuses conciliation, optimism and activism wherever she goes.