"Peace — yes, that is the all-important thing. With peace assured, all nations and races will flower." — Paul Robeson
The Cold Warriors and the politics of the Cold War are once again dangerously on the ascendancy in the United States. The past and current administrations, hawkish politicians and representatives of the Pentagon and the U.S. military-industrial complex are calling for and implementing a "get tough" policy with the Soviet Union, ostensibly to counter "Soviet adventurism" abroad.
The influential forces of militarism, which made their presence felt profoundly under the Carter administration, have reached the pinnacle of power under Reagan. Indeed, they have succeeded in creating and fostering a war hysteria which has gripped Washington and is reflected dramatically in current U.S. foreign and military policy moves. The Rapid Deployment force, created by the Carter administration for quick intervention in trouble spots in the Third World, seems destined for use in the near future as the new administration provides more and more "military aid" and "peace keeping" escort services in places like El Salvador and Lebanon. The reinstatement of registration of our young people, agreed to by Carter and his Congress, has claimed its first victims as conscientious objectors are penalized and others who refuse to register are sought by government-sponsored bribes paid to those willing to inform on non-registrants.
Black Americans must be in the forefront of the opposition mounting both here and abroad to the insanity of Cold War revivalism and its partner, the spiraling arms race — the prescription for a nuclear holocaust. Why? Because blacks, other oppressed minorities and the poor are the most adversely affected by the arms race and preparations for war. This fact confirms that the struggle for black liberation is profoundly and inextricably linked with the fight for peace and disarmament.
Throughout our movement for equality, many people who have emerged as leaders have drawn clear links between racism, economic exploitation and injustice in the U.S. on the one hand, and U.S. foreign policy on the other. Among the most well known have been W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, William L. Patterson, Fredrick Douglass, Malcolm X and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King could have been speaking today when he challenged us to question the policies of our nation:
In the days ahead we must not consider it unpatriotic to raise certain basic questions about our national character. We must begin to ask: "Why are there 40 million poor people in a nation overflowing with such unbelievable affluence?" Why has our nation placed itself in the position of being God's military agent on earth, and intervened recklessly in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic? Why have we substituted the arrogant undertaking of policing the whole world for the high task of putting our own house in order?
Our task today is to recognize and apply King's wisdom as the world moves ever closer to the possibility of war. The missiles, submarines, bombers and tanks being created to destroy a foreign "enemy" are destroying us at home right now.
The passage of the $177 billion military budget in Fiscal Year (FY) 1982, coupled with the slashes in the budget for domestic services, has already had a measurable impact on human services for the poor. Health and medical care, education, nutrition, income maintenance, housing and other vital services have been cut back drastically as federal funds have been withdrawn.
Marion and James Anderson of the Employment Research Associates have released a series of studies demonstrating the severity of the economic tax burden placed on the public by the military budget. Other studies show that military spending is highly inflationary without creating jobs, that it prompts scarcity and poverty by consuming vital resources (coal, oil, precious minerals, water and land), and that it absorbs about half the scientific and engineering talent in our country. It also absorbs two-thirds of all federal research and development funds.
As with every U.S. economic crisis, black people, other racially oppressed minorities and the poor are bearing the brunt of the burdens imposed. For black people, today's economic crisis means a depression in our communities. Unemployment among blacks, particularly among black youth, is at depression levels. Inflation is eroding our lives and paychecks (those who are lucky enough to get them) like a deadly cancer. We are being deprived in an economy that has become thoroughly militarized. While the people pay, the giant arms manufacturers, with Pentagon and government support, reap huge profit bonanzas by creating and selling weapons.
If there were a World War III (which would no doubt be a nuclear war), a substantial portion of the earth and its people would be laid to waste. In April, 1979, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency released a report entitled "The Effects of Nuclear War" which concluded that in a general nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union:
(1) 25 to 100 million people would be killed from the short-term effects alone in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. This figure includes only those persons who would die within the first 30 days. Thirty to 50 million people would be injured. Thousands of others would later die from disease, starvation and other causes.
(2) Industrial damage in each country would range from 65 percent to 90 percent destruction of the key production capacity and 60 percent to 80 percent "collateral destruction" to other non-targeted production capacity.
(3) If attacked by only one weapon, the 200 largest cities in both countries would be destroyed, as well as 80 percent of all other cities with 25,000 or more people.
"Other effects of nuclear war" in the report were:
Housing: Over 90 percent of urban housing would be destroyed . . . and a substantial portion of rural housing would be damaged. Massive housing shortages would exist for years after the war.
Agriculture: If an attack took place during the growing season, up to 30 percent of the crops would be lost. Over half of the grazing animals would die and over one-quarter of large farm animals fed on stored food would die.
In the face of the threat of nuclear holocaust confronting all humanity, black people must take on the vital role which naturally falls to them in the struggle to avert calamity. We, who are in the most dire need of butter instead of guns, can contribute to that struggle by being cognizant of militarism's subversion of our group interests.
As we lose in our fight for jobs with decent pay and stand in long unemployment lines, let us remember the MX missile, funded at a cost of $2.4 billion for FY 1983. As we lose our fight against dilapidated, rat-infested slum housing, let us remember the $2.2 billion dollars for Phoenix and Sparrow air-to-air missiles. As we lose in our fight to put shoes on our children's feet and adequate clothes on their backs, let us remember the Pershing II missile. As we lose our struggle to put enough food on the table, let us think about the Minuteman-3 missiles.
As we shiver in our homes and apartments this winter because we can't pay our utility bills, let us reflect on the Polaris and Poseidon missiles. As we witness plant closings, the resulting massive layoffs in our communities and the shutting down of day-care centers, let us think about the SSN-688 nuclear attack submarine, built at the cost of a whopping $900 million each! As we fall further into debt, let us remember the five-year, trillion-dollar defense budget and the fact that all the Pentagon's bills are paid while ours aren't.
As we see our dreams deferred, let us think about our nation's distorted and misplaced priorities — think about the fact that while we suffer, the Pentagon and the arms manufacturers thrive and profit — all in the name of some kind of false national security.
As we protest the myriad problems afflicting our communities and society, we should always link them with the military budget. We should make it clear to those who rule our society that we do understand how huge military expenditures affect our daily existence. Black people must oppose draft registration and the draft. Registration is a prelude to the draft, and the draft is always a prelude to war. To be sure, young blacks are already being sucked into the military through the de facto poverty draft. Thousands of our youth have been forced to go into military service because the civilian economy offers them little opportunity.
Regarding the draft, we must not ask "why shouldn't we go?" but "why should we?" Why should our young people — who are subjected to racism, unemployment, drug addiction and prison — go and fight for the United States of America? Why should our young men who see their brothers, mothers, sisters and children murdered and mutilated by a resurgence of racially motivated violence, often with the collusion of the police and other law enforcement personnel, go and die for the U.S. in some absurd adventure thousands of miles from home? Why should we participate in an imperialist war that will have us shooting at our sisters and brothers who are struggling to liberate Namibia and South Africa? Or our brothers and sisters in El Salvador, Panama or Grenada? Why should we go, when once again we will be first to die abroad as we are the first to die in the ghettos at home? Hell no, we shouldn't go. Our fight is here against the broken promises of America — not abroad in a war for Exxon or the Pentagon.
A 1978 United Nations study reports that world military expenditures are about $50 billion a year at today's prices. They are so gigantic that each year world military activities "absorb a volume of resources equivalent to about two-thirds of the aggregate gross national product of those countries which together comprise the poorest of the world's population." We cannot stand idly by and watch such a squandering of the world's resources while starvation, disease, poverty and illiteracy plague Africa and the rest of the Third World. We must demand not that our nation be the world's number one exporter of arms as it is today, but that it take the lead in helping to shift the world's resources towards meeting human needs instead.
Black America must stand up and be counted loudly and clearly in support of detente as a central cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. The fight for detente is a struggle to bring about friendship, cooperation, mutual trust, respect and peaceful coexistence among nations with differing social systems. This is especially important in relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and their respective allies. The essence of detente is the curbing of the threat of war and possible nuclear holocaust.
Paul Robeson said in 1949 that he was "convinced — and time has only served to deepen that conviction — that a war with the Soviet Union, a Third World War, is unthinkable for anybody who is not out of his mind." At the Sixth Summit Conference of Non-Aligned Nations held in Havana, Cuba, in September, 1979, the African nations and other members of the non-aligned movement, in urgent recognition of the need for peace, reiterated:
The endeavor to consolidate detente and to extend it to all parts of the world, and to avert the nuclear threat, the arms buildup and — in one word — war, was a task in which all people of the world should participate and exercise their responsibilities.
We must heed this call of the non-aligned nations. As citizens of the U.S. and, indeed, as citizens of the world, we must work with other peace-loving people to push for arms limitation and control talks between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as part of the struggle for detente. We must also work to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons among the world's nations.
We must examine the fundamental problems which give rise to war and violence in regions and countries throughout the world such as Southern Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean. We must resolutely oppose colonialism, neocolonialism, racist minority rule and apartheid. All of these phenomena breed war and violent conflict in relations between nations and peoples. It is important that we as black people fight against the policies of our nation which support the racist, anti-democratic and anti-liberation forces throughout the world.
If we are to be successful in our struggle, we must write about, sing about, organize for and, if you will, pray for peace. We must involve the broadest sectors of our community in this urgent struggle. Black leaders must speak out even more on this question of peace. Black organizations should establish permanent special task forces on disarmament and peace within their respective groups and develop and distribute materials on the arms race/peace issue aimed at the black community. We must launch research studies on how the military budget affects blacks and other minorities and distribute these widely for study and review. We should make it a point to have a workshop on disarmament and peace on the agenda of every annual organizational convention. Black organizations should make efforts to send delegates to national and international conferences on disarmament and visit other countries to have exchanges with their leaders and their people on these questions.
In doing all this, we should be ready to work with all people, both here and abroad, who seek a peaceful and just world.
Damu Imara Smith is on the Washington staff of the American Friends Service Committee. He is also on the executive board of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and serves as regional coordinator for the National Black Independent Political Party. This article is excerpted and updated from a longer version which appeared in Freedomways magazine in 1980 and is reprinted with their permission. (1982)