Lodestar of Peace

04/02/2015 07:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015

"Deeply sensible of their solemn duty to promote the welfare of mankind . . ."

What? Were they serious?

I kneel in a sort of gasping awe as I read the words of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty signed in 1928 - by the United States, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan and ultimately by every country that then existed. The treaty . . . outlaws war.

"Persuaded that the time has come when a frank renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy should be made . . ."

ARTICLE I: "The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another."

ARTICLE II: "The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means."

Furthermore, as David Swanson has reminded us in his book When the World Outlawed War, the treaty is still in effect. It has never been rescinded. It's still, for what this is worth, international law. This is nuts, of course. War rules and everyone knows it. War is our default setting, the ongoing first option for pretty much every disagreement among global neighbors, especially when different religious beliefs and ethnicities are part of the divide.

You know: "The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program." This is neocon nutcase John Bolton, George Bush's former ambassador to the U.N., writing from a pulpit in the New York Times last week. ". . . The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel's 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed."

Or: "President Obama informed (Egyptian) President al-Sisi that he will lift executive holds that have been in place since October 2013 on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits. The President also advised President al-Sisi that he will continue to request an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt."

This is from a White House press release, issued the day before April Fool's Day. "The President explained that these and other steps will help refine our military assistance relationship so that it is better positioned to address the shared challenges to U.S. and Egyptian interests in an unstable region."

This is the amoral chatter of geopolitics. This is what it has been my entire lifetime: hopelessly, cluelessly entwined in militarism. War, if not today then tomorrow - somewhere - is taken for granted in all verbiage emanating from the inner sanctums of the powerful. It's only challenged as "protest," which is marginalized speech, cordoned off from the corridors of power, usually treated in the corporate media as reckless tirade or naively irrelevant sentimentality.

The language of peace has no power. At best, the "war weariness" of the public can cause a certain amount of trouble for the military-industrial engine of geopolitics. In the wake of the Southeast Asian holocaust known, in the United States, as the Vietnam War, for instance, two decades of "Vietnam Syndrome" limited American military activity to proxy wars in Central America and in-and-out invasions of Grenada, Panama and, oh yeah, Iraq.

Vietnam Syndrome was no more than public burnout and despair. It never materialized politically into lasting change, or actual political power for peace proponents. Eventually it was supplanted by 9-11 and the (guaranteed perpetual) war on terror. Peace has officially been reduced to the status of wishful thinking.

The value of Swanson's book, which tells the story of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, ratified by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929, is that it brings a forgotten era back to life, a time - prior to the entrenchment of the military-industrial complex and the corporate convergence of the mass media - when peace, that is, a world free of war, was a solid and universal ideal and even mainstream politicians could see war for what it was: hell mixed with futility. The disastrous failure of World War I was still uppermost in human consciousness; it had not been romanticized. Humanity wanted peace. Even big money wanted peace. The concept of war was on the verge of permanent illegitimacy and, indeed, criminality.

Knowing this is crucial. Knowing that the peace movement of the 1920s could reach so deeply into international politics should embolden every peace activist on the planet. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, written by United States Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French foreign minister Aristide Briand, remains a political lodestar.

"Deeply sensible of their solemn duty to promote the welfare of mankind . . ."

Can you imagine, just for a moment, that such integrity could outshine all the lesser "interests" that crowd the corridors of power?

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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at