What is the Democratic party going to do with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the most outspoken anti-war candidate in the primaries? Gabbard’s provocative campaign presents an irony for Democrats. She is more consistently anti-interventionist as a soldier than all the other candidates (except Sanders) who are civilians.
Liberals who feel ill-at-ease in the presence of an anti-war soldier fail to understand that, in the words of Chris Hedges, “Those who hate war the most, are the veterans who know it.”
In her quest for peace Gabbard draws inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Almost all other candidates, in contrast, seem indifferent to King’s teaching about the folly of U.S. militarism.
In a 2018 address, Gabbard said: “Dr. King’s convictions were formed in the crucible of Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War. Dr. King was a forceful voice against the regime-change policies that create a perpetual state of war, fueled by the military-industrial complex.…Dr. King’s powerful message represents the values of aloha that I grew up with — respect, compassion, and love — and that are so needed in our world today.”
Gabbard was not even born when Dr. King delivered his prophetic anti-war address at Riverside Church in New York, April 4, 1967. What makes King’s address so relevant to the coming election, especially to Gabbard’s campaign for peace, is not King’s denunciation of aggression, important as that is. It’s how King demonstrates the role of militarism in causing economic inequality, unrelieved destitution, and a loss of idealism and hope among American youth.
Dr. King saw our domestic crisis coming, when social reforms of the “great society” were being put on hold. “A few years ago,” he began from his well-lit pulpit, “there was a shining moment in our struggle…There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched the programs broken.” The war abroad destroyed the war on poverty at home.
Like Dr. King, Gabbard sees regime-change wars as the enemy of hope and social reform. “There is one issue central to all the rest, one issue central to our ability to address our needs, and that issue is the cost of war—the ongoing regime-change wars, and this new cold war, the nuclear arms race.”
In recent years, the U.S. has conducted serious bombing campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen — killing civilians, destroying infrastructure, and causing environmental ruin. At the Watson Institute, Gabbard gave an impassioned address, “Build, Don’t Bomb.” Gabbard called on us to use our “limited resources to meet the needs of our people and communities.
Because the reality is, that as long as we are wasting trillions of dollars preparing for nuclear war, whether it be with a country like Russia or China, as long as we continue waging one regime-change war after another, we will not be able to provide healthcare for all.
We will not have the resources we need to make sure our kids are getting a good education. We will not have the resources we need to make the kind of bold investments in green renewable energy.
Do we want to continue … to be the world’s police, intervening in one foreign country after another, toppling one dictator after another, or focus on rebuilding our communities. We cannot afford both. We cannot afford to do both.”
Gabbard is incisive, practical, and convincing, where other candidates are silent. “Have you ever wondered how it’s possible that this country, the wealthiest country in the world, can’t afford to maintain our roads and bridges … Can’t afford to make sure that every American has clean water to drink? How is it possible that this country cannot provide healthcare for its people? We look to the cost of war.
Since 9/11 alone, we spent anywhere from $6 to 8 trillion on regime-change wars. The U.S. spent over a trillion dollars in Afghanistan alone. We continue to spend $4 billion in Afghanistan, dollars that are coming out of our pockets every single month. Four billion dollars a month. We’ve seen countless lives lost, both American and Afghan lives… For what? For what?!”
As Dr. King put it: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” King said famously: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.”
Tulsi Gabbard is bending the arc of history away from war toward peace.
Paul Rockwell is a resident of Oakland, Calif. and a frequent visitor to Kauai. He is columnist for the East Bay Times and his commentaries have appeared in The L.A.Times, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News.