I remember the day Obama was elected quite clearly in my mind. I had decided Monday evening to set up a “Cemetery of the Innocents” on my college campus exposing the truth of the children lost to abortion in the United States. There were about eight students who worked together the night prior to the 2008 election to create 3,000 tiny crosses with popsicle sticks and hot-glue, and then we stuck them in the cold, hard, frozen ground. We were up all night. We lost sleep. We made signs exposing then-Senator Barack Obama's comments on abortion and the facts of human development. At the time, I was focused almost solely on abortion when it came to his policies. I was proud to use my voice to stand up against this injustice. Then that day came and went, and we had President Obama come January 20, 2009. Though I was upset at his stance on abortion, I was optimistic about him ending the seemingly endless war, because he seemed so peace-loving and diplomatic.
And over time, I realized that though his policies on abortion were extreme, there was very little he would be able to accomplish during his tenure as president to regress our abortion policy in any extreme fashion. And yet, all the promises he had made to bring peace came to naught as the U.S. became engaged in drone warfare, Guantanamo remained open, and our military got tied up in proxy wars all over the Middle East. The most stunning aspect of all of this, however, is the horrific silence of the political Left in the face of war crimes perpetrated by a Commander-in-Chief of their own party. I remember being in high school and aching to participate in all of the anti-war protests against the Bush administration's war policies. And yet, when I got to college and Obama was elected, those rallies and vigils ceased. The peace-loving principles seemed to vanish.
Suddenly, it was a Democrat who was the head honcho of the military. Suddenly, it was a Democrat who was ordering the detention of whistleblowers. Suddenly, it was a Democrat who was overseeing our policies of drone strikes and bombs dropped. And suddenly, the Democrats shut their mouths, seemingly did an about-face on foreign policy, and ceased caring. And a Nobel Peace Prize was given to a candidate who, now 7 years later, has bombed 7 different nations, has kept Guantanamo open, and has been the head of a national military that has committed human rights abuses. And it occurred to me, then, that I couldn't trust the Democrats to truly stand for peace – instead of just facing the Republican neocon war machine, we had a duopoly two-party war machine. And we still do, if we're being totally honest.
Peace-loving people don't stop caring about the victims of war just because of who pushes the big red button, or who signs the declaration of war. Do we really stand for principles at all if, when they come into conflict with our political affiliation, we abandon them? There is a terrible tacit approval on the Left of the way that the United State has continued to bomb innocent people just because it's happened under Obama's presidency.
Speaking out against a wrong committed by the other tribe is easy: it takes little courage, it bolsters you, it rallies your tribe itself. But speaking out against a wrong committed by your own tribe is difficult: it takes an immense amount of courage, it can be alienating, it can cause infighting and declarations of backstabbing. But if you do not speak out when your own tribe commits violence, when your own tribe acts against the principles for which they claim to stand, do you really stand for those principles at all? The people of principle must stand up and speak the inconvenient and uncomfortable truth.
But where does that leave us right now? Another election has just come and gone: and the Democratic candidate has lost, Hillary Clinton won't be sworn in come January. Perhaps president-elect Trump won because of hateful, divisive rhetoric. I don't want to say that's not a reason: I'm sure some people voted for him because of racist, misogynistic aims. But I think there's a reason that we might be forgetting: though neither candidate presented a truly peace-loving perspective, Hillary represents a long and proven history of hawkish military strategy, and Trump could arguably be said to be the less war-hungry candidate. Instead of seeking non-interventionist, nonviolent, or diplomatic policy, Clinton championed an interventionist philosophy that seeks to topple and overthrow foreign leaders in the name of “human rights,” and now supports a “No-Fly Zone” over Syria, basically taunting Russia into conflict.
Our interventionist foreign policy has created a cycle of blowback in which we install new leaders, they become dictatorial, and then we arm insurgents and rebels, creating groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, and then we have both the dictatorial government to deal with (that often perpetrate crimes and human rights abuses against their own people), in addition to the radicalized Islamic militants. That policy is what Hillary represents. And yet – of the Hillary supporters I interviewed this year, none really seemed to care. Where have the peace-loving liberals gone? I think we must consider the probability that people of principle who continued to work for peace even during the Obama presidency refused to vote for more of the same endless war; whether they voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or Mike Maturen (or even Donald Trump), many sought a lesser evil than Clinton's hawkish stance.
And as I write this, today is Armistice Day around the world: a commemoration of the moment that arms fell at the end of “the War to End All Wars.” It's considered a sacred moment by many, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, that we pause and pray and promise to seek peaceful resolution to international conflict and remember the lives lost to war. But here in the United States we now celebrate Veterans Day, where we solely honor the men and women who have served in our armed forces. Kurt Vonnegut, an atheist humanist, U.S. veteran and POW of World War II, wrote this in his strangely truthful book Breakfast of Champions:
“It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.”
I find Vonnegut's words to be incisive and prophetic: the honoring of our military men and women alone does not speak to our responsibility as a nation to prevent war and to seek nonviolent and peaceful resolution first. It does not speak to war as a last resort. It does not speak to our role as guardians of peace for our posterity. Like the transition from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, I find that perhaps the foreign policy of the Left has abandoned the peaceful and just reasons they protested war during the Bush administration. We must keep our reverence, not just for the lives of our own veterans, but for every human being's life. Going forward, I hope that liberals rediscover their peace-loving principles and demand better of the Democratic party (or heck, even throw more support to peace-loving third-parties to destroy the two-party system): I don't think the Democratic party will win the presidency again without a firm commitment to peace. Oh, and I feel I must mention my other point of goodwill: if the Democratic platform actually embraced pro-lifers, I doubt they would lose another election. Think of how common sense it would be to have a platform that actually respected, valued, and protected the life of each and every human being, in all circumstances, instead of human rights being an exclusive club: not only would our world be a better place, but people of principle could stand firm and confident in their tribe to do right.
So, if/when the Trump administration engages in unjust war policies, I will be there as a peace-loving person of principle: I hope to be there with all of you liberal, peace-loving people, standing shoulder to shoulder, for the dignity of the bombed and the tortured and the weak. I hope that you will find your voice for peace. And I hope that you will be people of principle, speaking for peace regardless of who is in office. Be consistent. Not only do the victims of unjust foreign policy need you to speak peace, but I think you need to speak peace, for your own benefit, too.