Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In your opinion, is the United States of America a true democracy or is it a plutocratic regime?
Mike Ferner: The U.S. was never intended to be a true democracy.
First of all, it is a republic, meaning elected representatives, not people directly,institute the laws. This was modified somewhat when some states instituted initiative and referendum laws, allowing citizens to put proposed legislation directly to the voters by getting large numbers of signatures on petitions.
Secondly, and more to the point, even the republican form of government was extremely limited from the beginning. When the U.S. Constitution was drafted, only about 10% of the nation’s inhabitants were able to vote. Native Americans, women, slaves, indentured servants and males without certain amounts of property were excluded. It took nearly 200 years for this to be legally changed and even now efforts are continually made to limit the vote.
Third, even with the entire population legally enfranchised to vote, the political system is corrupted with money which insures that the voices heard and the choices presented to voters overwhelmingly represent the elite and monied interests.
One can draw their own conclusion for what to call this system, but it is definitely not « democracy. »
What is the impact of the anti-war movement on the imperialist policies of the United States?
That has been frustratingly difficult to determine, but it can’t be denied it has had an effect. Those in power always want people to think they run the show and nothing we do or say influences them. To the extent people believe them, the status quo gains more power. But those working for peace and justice know how this dynamic works and are not deterred. For example, in every community, no matter how small, there were people who spoke out to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some people may think it had no effect, but sometimes we often don’t learn what effect it has until years later. For example, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon publicly disdained protesters but when tape recordings and documents were later released, it was clear that both men and people in their administrations were clearly concerned about how far they could press the war without causing a greater rebellion.
How do you explain that from Vietnam to Iraq, etc., the imperialist wars led by the US did not stop? Does the United States have a vital need for wars?
Volumes have been written on this topic so I’ll try to be brief.
The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower belatedly warned about is very real, very powerful and getting more so all the time. The U.S. budget reflects this clearly. With vast economic power comes vast political power, no matter what economic sphere you’re talking about. The U.S. has a permanent war economy and two common adages I’ve heard over the years sum up our situation quite well: 1) if you build up huge military capability you will eventually use it and 2) even losing wars make money.
It is a function of our lack of democracy that the U.S. foreign policy is so militaristic and destructive. That policy serves neither real domestic interests nor real international interests, yet it continues because the levers of power are held disproportionately by those who profit from this system. I highly recommend reading what General Smedley Butler had to say about war and about his involvement in the Marine Corps. Of course, he spoke out only after he retired, but his words are as true today as they were when he uttered them in the 1930’s. He also stopped a coup plotted by industrialists to depose President Roosevelt.
In your opinion, is there not a fundamental link between individual violence and the militarization of the State?
I believe there is. And it unfortunately is a link that is almost never included in any discussion about crime in this country. The reason I think there is a connection is from this universal saying that applies to raising children: « We learn by what we see, not by what we hear. » Or put another way, « Actions speak louder than words. » Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s seminal speech, « Beyond Vietnam« , given one year to the day before he was killed, is full of references to the fact that our national budgets prioritize death and war. Given that, how can we expect individuals not to be influenced that the way to settle disputes, to project power and influence, is through violence?
In front of the NRA, we have seen the emergence of a group of citizens who have risen after mass killings that occur almost every week in the United States. Is not the anti-arms movement that we have seen an antimilitarist movement that can politically weigh against US imperialist interventions?
That is a possibility, however, I don’t see those linkages being made very often at all. Veterans For Peace does, but it has a very small voice in the national discussion.
The license to kill in the United States guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the Constitution is not it a big problem?
You overstate the case. The Second Amendment is not a guaranteed license to kill. It has, however, been twisted over the years to mean almost unlimited access to guns when an equally valid interpretation of it means that access to guns is limited to a « well-regulated militia, » and not every citizen. That is a significant part of the problem, but I believe the problem it is deeper than that. It has to do with how violence permeates our culture and is institutionalized in our national budget priorities.
You wrote « War and Peace and Democracy ». Why is it necessary, in your opinion, to have strong anti-war movements to counter the intervention and interference policies of the US and its allies around the world?
The struggle between powerful elites who benefit from the status quo, from violence, from militarism and those who advocate for the common good, for social and economic justice, is one that has raged throughout our national history and indeed well before that. If we are to reduce suffering in the world, improve the human condition and now literally save the planet we depend on for life, we cannot abandon this effort.
In your book « Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq », you deliver a valuable testimony about Iraq destroyed by the belligerent politics of the Bush administration. In your opinion, is the Trump administration not as dangerous as the Bush administration? Is there not a risk of total war against the Russians?
The Obama administration continued in large part the policies of the Bush administration, plus increased drone warfare and abandoned any pretense of holding torturers accountable. The Trump administration has dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than Obama’s, plus there are those in his administration and in Congress who are actively reigniting the Cold War with all its dangers. The question is, « why? » Our national leaders, our national priorities, our national economy needs a « bogeyman » to frighten enough people to continue its deadly policies. When the Soviet Union dissolved, there was a moment when the bogeyman disappeared, but it was quickly replaced with « terrorism » and general fear of the « other. »
An imperialist war is occurring right now, led by a strategic ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia, which is crushing the people of Yemen. Why, in your opinion, the whole world is turning a blind eye to this war?
The whole world is not turning a blind eye to it, as can be determined if one reads international publications in some depth. That said, the war and the suffering goes on because not enough people are aware and speaking out. That includes the peace movement. There is some opposition to that war, but not nearly enough. For too many, it is a war far enough « away » and the victims are too easily ignored. It is a national and international shame.
Do not you think mainstream media have lost all credibility?
Not all, but a considerable amount. In fact, I think it’s credibility has increased marginally of late because people are beginning to place more value on traditional reporting after seeing how the Trump administration and right-wing outlets distort reality. That said, the way the corporate media (including Public Broadcasting) covered the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was nearly across the board, pathetic. Few corporate outlets did a credible job. McClatchy was one of the few exceptions in this country. For those paying attention, the difference between how the U.S. mainstream press covered the wars and how the foreign press covered them was vastly different.
In a recent article, you mentioned Palestine, including the King-Crane commission. Why, in your opinion, were the recommendations in its report not retained from the beginning?
Oil and empire
The Palestinian people have been crushed by Israel since 1948 with the support of the United States. Why, in your opinion, do international law and international bodies defend the strong and despoil the weak?
Look who is running the show.
Why does the world turn a blind eye to Israel’s massacre of Palestinians?
Many reasons, including Israel’s control of the narrative (they are always responding to Palestinian violence), the influence of decades of official U.S. policy, political pressure from AIPAC are among them.
You are a member of POCLAD. Can you explain to our readers the missions of this collective?
In 1992 POCLAD began researching the answers to the question « Why are activists always fighting the same battles repeatedly with such little progress? » To find fundamental answers, we researched the history of the modern corporation, going back to the British East India Co. and other royally-chartered corporations. They were granted divine authority, via the king, to raise armies, collect taxes and essentially govern in the colonies they were chartered for. After the American Revolution, power to charter these entities was given to the states and corporations were on a much shorter leash. People, including elected officials and judges, understood more widely that economic power led to political power, so corporate power was seen as something to be feared and limited. That changed throughout the mid-1800’s until today, as corporations were given more rights, including eventually, the same constitutional protections as natural persons.
We hope that with that understanding, environmental, social and economic justice movements can move beyond fighting one corporate harm after another and address the fundamental dynamics of the power imbalance between corporations and people. That work provided the intellectual foundation for the Occupy Movement that briefly flowered for a couple years 2010-12, but has influenced activists’ thinking to today. It is helping activists, and through them more of the general population, see clearer what democracy means and why it is the fundamental issue beneath all others.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Mike Ferner?
Mike Ferner grew up in rural Ohio, worked on farms much of his youth, attended Catholic elementary and high schools and enlisted in the Navy right out of high school in 1969.
During three years as a hospital corpsman he nursed hundreds of wounded soldiers returning from Viet Nam, an experience that radicalized him for life starting with his discharge as a conscientious objector.
From 1989 to 1993, Mike was an independent member of Toledo City Council where he sponsored the largest investment in energy efficiency for municipal buildings in Ohio, expanded curbside recycling, championed the effort for a public electric system and engaged citizens in city budgeting. He has been a candidate for mayor; an organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Communications Director for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy and served as national president of Veterans For Peace.
As a non-traditional student he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Affairs and Community Service from the University of Toledo in 1994.
Just prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he lived there for a month with a Voices in the Wilderness delegation, returning in 2004 for another two months as an independent journalist and wrote « Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq » (Prager 2006). His activism includes several arrests for “disturbing the war,” including disrupting a session of Congress.
Currently he is coordinator of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, a citizens’ group working to hold public officials accountable for the health of that Great Lake.
Published in American Herald Tribune, November 22, 2018: https://ahtribune.com/interview/2647-mike-ferner.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.241118.htm
In French in Réseau International: https://reseauinternational.net/mike-ferner-cest-en-raison-de-notre-manque-de-democratie-que-la-politique-etrangere-des-etats-unis-est-si-militariste-et-destructrice/