US wars of “invasion, aggression and occupation” are no longer sustainable economically and socially, veteran war critic and US scholar Professor Bill Ayers told RT. He adds that if NATO, the US or Israel attack Iran, it would lead to a catastrophe.
The activist says America has an old colonial mentality and grotesque double standards. Washington is frantic about the possibility that Iran might have a nuclear warhead someday – but not frantic about the fact that Israel, as Ayers says, is the third-largest nuclear power in the world. And it is not part of nuclear non-proliferation treaty, or even admits to having the weapons.
Ayers is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he says has a growing “anti-war energy.”
RT: Let’s get started with protests in the United States. We’ve seen the Arab Spring, we’ve seen the uprisings in Europe, we’ve seen Occupy Wall Street in the United States. Who do you think is really the face of the modern protester in the US today?
Bill Ayers: Well, I think Occupy is an unpredictable but wonderful development and it comes directly out of the Arab Spring. The idea that people can actually make a difference is infectious. And so Occupy came out of Madison and Madison came out of Tahrir Square and Tahrir Square came out of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. So we kind of can see a real development where people are saying that the world as it is, is not the world as it must be, it could be otherwise and when people feel that way they get into motion, they get into action. Very exciting, very hopeful.
RT: We obviously have critics of Occupy Wall Street who say that the main flaw of the movement is a lack of a tangible unified message. Do you think this kind of message exists apart from the obvious Occupy Wall Street, what is it really about?
BA: Well, I think people are mistaken with that kind of criticism. Occupy is not a point of arrival, it is not a manifesto, it is not a demand. Occupy is an invitation and it is an opening of a public space. That means that every grievance, every complaint, as well as, every aspiration and dream can find a place in a new, open public square. I think Occupy already has accomplished something amazing, which has shifted the frame on how we discuss wealth, how we discuss war, how we discuss austerity.
The metaphor the 1 per cent, 99 per cent is a marvelous metaphor. But as usual power responds to these kids of upheavals in a pattern that is predictable. They ignored Occupy for a while, then they ridiculed it, then they tried to co-opt it with language like “what is your demand” and then they beat it up and then they repeat it. That is very typical of how these things happen, but Occupy is not going away: it’s morphed, it’s transformed. So Occupy is a marvelous thing and is still evolving and we shall see.
RT: Occupy also seems to have brought police violence and arrests that we have not seen in a while in the United States. And every time there are clashes, like we saw here in Chicago, it seems to be the protesters are saying the police are violent, the police are saying the protesters are violent. Who is right?
BA: What we see in our whole society is militarization of our society. So when NATO comes together for example for a summit, this is an organization all wearing suits and ties, all speaking very quietly, but they represent three-quarters of the military budget in the world, three-quarters are represented by the NATO-G8 world. And that is violence that is institutional violence.
So in Chicago, when there were clashes between NATO demonstrators and police we have to also note that the city was incredibly militarized. That is there were tens of thousands of police in the streets, gear that nobody had ever seen before, troop carriers, buses transformed into military vehicles. We take for granted in this country that the military must be under civilian control. If it’s not under civilian control it is a dictatorship. Well what is NATO under, how is NATO governed? Who takes care of making sure that it is not a military dictatorship and the problem is in many ways it is.
RT: Obviously people are quite annoyed to see millions spent on a summit, billions spent on wars abroad, whereas, obviously a lot of people are still not in the best economic situation. What is this all about? Is there a huge disconnect between those in power and the people or is this something that is purposefully being done?
BA: Well I think both are true. Is there a huge disconnect? Absolutely. What is NATO, if it is not kind of a fig leaf for the United States? NATO in Europe for example has 260 tactical nuclear weapons. Those are not allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but they are allowed because NATO is not a signatory. It is a way around the law, it is a way around common sense. But speaking of a disconnect, yes there is a disconnect: [only] 27 per cent of Americans support the war in Afghanistan and we can’t end it. This has been true for seven years. No one wants it.
Eleven years ago when the war started, we could have said “this is a police action, to get the people who did 9/11.” But no, it was an invasion and a war. We overthrew the government.
Where are we 11 years later? They are now talking about negotiating with the Taliban and moving out of Afghanistan, but leaving $4 billion a year in American aid. That is an outrage and it should be an outrage. That is why only 27 per cent still support that war, but we cannot end it. That is a disconnect between power and the people.
RT: The first time we interviewed you, four years ago, you said you wanted to create the biggest anti-war movement in the US. Are you closer to that? Is Occupy Wall Street part of that?
BA: The energy of Occupy is in part an anti-war energy. It is an energy that says our priorities are all messed up, our society is off the tracks spending trillions on war every couple of years while we ignore basic human needs, privatizing the public space, destroying the electoral process under the term “reform”, reforming everything from public school to elections to pensions. And what reform is, is a kind of cover for destruction. I think that the anti-war movement is represented in the Occupy moment. My hope is that we continue to evolve and grow.
RT: Do you think with the wars the US is fighting it is living beyond its means? Can it really sustain those wars?
BA: Absolutely not. And one of the things that happened to the old Soviet Union was that it spent itself into destruction. I mean, you cannot arm at this level and create the conditions for an arms war with China, with India, with Russia, with all the countries of South Asia. It is an outrage that we are now entering into a new arms race, which is going to spend us into catastrophe. It is anti-democratic, it is not what people want, it is not how we want to see ourselves and it is something that has to end.
RT: What do you think about US and NATO missile defense plans? Is that necessary?
BA: Absolutely unnecessary. If you think of all the toys and gimmicks and war materials that are being developed, what are they for? Why 150 American military bases abroad? What are they doing? Who are they encircling? So now it gives itself permission for preemptive war, for war against non-state actors, which can take the form of any country it wants to invade, so NATO in Afghanistan, NATO in Iraq, NATO in Libya – these are illegal, immoral, and unnecessary moves.
RT: We are hearing war drums beating over Iran a lot lately. Do you think we will see the US embark on a new military escapade?
BA: It would be a catastrophe for everyone if the United Sates or NATO, which is just the United States’ fig leaf, or Israel, went into Iran and attacked Iran. We can live in this world as a nation among nations, as long as we insist on the old colonial mentality that we can dominate other peoples, we can tell them how to be and have a double standard that is so grotesque. So we are frantic about the possibility that Iran might have a nuclear warhead someday. Meanwhile, we have 2,000 nuclear warheads and that doesn’t make us frantic.
Israel is the third largest nuclear power in the world, not part of nuclear proliferation and not part of even admitting that they have them. This is the world that is dangerous, that is unstable, but it is not unstable because of Iran. There is so many better ways to be a citizen of the world than to shake your sword every time you feel like it.
RT: The US has the biggest military budget in the world.
BA: A trillion dollars a year.
RT: What is really the necessity? We understand that if somebody attacks you, you have to be ready to defend yourself. But considering many people and critics of US war mongering say the US actually starts these wars, by itself builds this long list of enemies.
BA: Well that is my view. My view is that if you look at my whole lifetime, 67 years, the US has been engaged in a war virtually every year. And the wars are primarily wars of invasion and aggression, and occupation. Vietnam we can now look back and say well that was illegal, immoral, a tragedy, 3 million people were killed, 6,000 a week were killed in that unnecessary war – mostly civilians – and the US did it, it made it happen, under a lot of guises of bringing democracy and so on. There was a wonderful sign in the demonstrations recently that said “If you want to build democracy someplace, build it here.” And I think that is true. Peace is the answer and it begins here. We have to cut back our military budget, we have to close off our foreign military bases, we have to become a nation among nations, not the uber-nation exporting our will everywhere.
RT: We have the US elections fast approaching. Four years ago, a lot of people in the US were really hopeful that Barack Obama will become sort of a real face of change. A lot of Americans now say that it has not happened, democrats and republicans seem to be the same side of one coin. What should we expect? Is it naïve at this point to expect some real true change to come from elections, regardless of who wins those elections?
BA: I think we have to build a movement for change, I think that is what brings change. If you look back even in our fairly recent history, it wasn’t Lyndon Johnson, although Lyndon Johnson passed the most far-reaching civil rights legislation in history, he wasn’t part of the black freedom movement. He was responding.
Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t part of the labor movement, yet he accomplished all that labor legislation and social legislation. And Abraham Lincoln didn’t belong to an Abolitionist Party. Each of them was responding to movements on the ground. What we need if we want peace is to build a movement on the ground that could bring about real change from the bottom, and that is what I think we should be concerned about.
RT: During the last presidential elections obviously your name was talked about a lot by the mainstream media. What do you think is going to be the main controversy this time around?
BA: The one thing we know for sure is that money is always corrupting in politics. Not just here, but in Russia, in Europe, everywhere. Money corrupts politics. This election season in the US is going to see an absolute tidal wave of cash come in to this election. So last time out the Obama campaign spent half a billion dollars. This time each campaign will spend over a billion. It is hard to believe that anyone can look at that and say that this is what democracy looks like.
I think that is what plutocracy looks like – rich people throwing cash around, buying votes, buying legislators. And that is unseeingly and certainly undemocratic sight. I have no idea what the controversy will be, but you can be sure it will be dirty and it will be expensive.