Have an Active Kellogg-Briand Day

Remarks at Veterans For Peace Convention, St. Paul, Minnesota, August 26, 2018

Tomb of Frank Kellogg - North Nave Bay J - National Cathedral - DC

There are a lot of things named Kellogg around here, and few who know why. The two biggest names in the news in 1928 were those of future white supremacist Charles Lindbergh and of Frank Kellogg. One of those names has lasted longer.

Frank Kellogg was a U.S. Secretary of State, and probably the one most worth teaching people about.

The list of U.S. Secretaries of State is quite a rogues’ gallery. There have been 108 of them, but 38 of those have been so-called “acting” secretaries of state, filling in until someone could actually be nominated and confirmed. Some names of secretaries of state might be recognizable because they were also presidents, like Jefferson or Madison, or almost presidents like William Jennings Bryan, or would have killed to become president like their husband had been. John Calhoun had a lake in this town named for him until it got its Dakota name back this year. I bet a lot of people could accurately tell me whether Daniel Webster was a politician, a celebrity chef, or a whale trainer. George Marshall and Henry Kissinger and John Foster Dulles have a little blood-soaked name recognition. Some will recall Alexander Haig claiming to be in charge when Ronald Reagan was in the hospital, and some could name the past 20 years’ worth of hucksters, weapons dealers, and thugs. Depending on your team loyalty you may take the most pride or shame in Madeline Albright defending the murder of a half million children or Colin Powell telling the United Nations fairy tales to unsuccessfully legalize a genocide in Iraq. Others have a little name recognition because they were part of this country’s favorite catastrophe ever, World War II. But who has ever heard of Frank Kellogg?

Of the 34 regular secretaries of state since there has been a Nobel Peace Prize, five have grabbed one. None of the five was qualified. The prize is meant to fund the work of war abolitionists, not to honor powerful Western officials who do something right that stands out primarily due to its contrast with the horror of what they usually do. The best you can say for Marshall, Root, or Hull getting the prize is that they weren’t consistently awful. You can’t even say that for Kissinger. But what about Kellogg?

You can walk down Kellogg Boulevard in St. Paul and not find anyone who can tell you who Kellogg was. If Frank Kellogg had launched a major war, he might be better known. But he is the only Secretary of State with his name on a treaty that bans war, and the only one buried in a section of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. dedicated to peace. When people visit Charlottesville, where I live, they’ll find that everyone from local liberals to visiting Nazis worships at the shrine of Thomas Jefferson. When I come to St. Paul I don’t find the same recognition of Frank Kellogg. I think it’s largely thanks to the work of Veterans For Peace that anybody has heard of him at all. Wikipedia does not list him as a notable person from St. Paul. The Wikipedia page on the Kellogg-Briand Pact is, however, somewhat less dishonest and dismissive than it was some years back, largely due to the publication of a book called The Internationalists, about which more in a minute.

I think the answer to the movement to take down racist war monuments (and rename lakes) is, first, hell yes; second, unless you can find me a non-racist war monument, that means the war monuments are all coming down; and third, we need monuments to movements and moments and causes and accomplishments and principles, not to individuals. Individuals are always flawed, always participate in some of the popular outrages of their time and place. So, I’d rather celebrate the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the movement that compelled Kellogg to create it, the good it has done the world, and the good it could yet do the world. I’d rather not celebrate Frank Kellogg as a hero or a deity. But he is the connection that the Twin Cities have to the Peace Pact, and if we must celebrate individuals and identify cities with individuals, he should be bumped up to the top of the list as a symbol of peacemaking.

The real Frank Kellogg was, like every other human being, quite a mixed bag.

While U.S. culture frequently employs the word “democracy,” it’s never remotely had such a thing. Rather, it’s had governments made up of people who want power. Back in Kellogg’s day, a movement to require a public vote before the United States could fight a war was stopped by powerful people in the U.S. government, which at its best has been partially representative. But in Kellogg’s day — I mean the 1920s, when Frank Kellogg was in his sixties — the U.S. government was in some ways more representative than it is now — not of racial or religious or ethnic minorities, not of children, but women could newly vote, and bribery was still treated more as a crime than a public service. The military industrial complex, as we’ve come to know and be ruled by it, hardly existed. Corporations did not yet have full human rights. Peace was not associated with treason or recklessness, but — if anything — with rejecting the backward war-making ways of Europe. Business interests, including those of farmers, favored peace. The mass media cartel and its propaganda skills, while dramatically advanced during World War I, were nothing like what they would become.

Most importantly, and in part because of these other factors, there was in the 1920s a peace movement the likes of which we have not seen since. It was not huge like in the 1960s. It was closer to all-encompassing. It had the four biggest political parties in the country backing the criminalization of war, including the Socialists and the Progressives — five with the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party. It was led, not by college students, but by university presidents, and bankers, and lawyers. The Outlawry Movement — the drive to outlaw war — was backed by the National League of Women Voters, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the National Association of Parents and Teachers, the American Legion, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ, the Methodists, the Baptists. If you can find an organization that existed in the 1920s it is likely on record for banning war and has almost certainly never retracted that position but simply forgotten it.

The peace movement of the 1920s was not created by a draft. It was not created by selfish appeals to people’s financial interests. It did not succeed by outdoing the warmongers in its devotion to flags and troops. It was an explicitly moralistic movement opposed to the mass killing of foreign and American soldiers alike. And it took hold of Frank Kellogg, flipped him upside down, shook him five times, set him on his feet, kicked him in the pants, and won him a Nobel Peace Prize for which he never thanked anyone beyond the portly one-eyed hot-tempered drunk he saw in the mirror.

Kellogg entered the drama that I covered in my book When the World Outlawed War with some anti-corporate credentials. He was a Republican lawyer who had busted up monopolies for Teddy Roosevelt, including General Paper Company, Union Pacific Railroad, and Standard Oil. If Frank Kellogg had been a foreign ruler a generation later, the CIA would have overthrown him. But in the early 20th century one could talk about economic matters, not mention the military, and make perfect sense. Today everybody does that, and nobody makes any sense at all — it’s crazier that actually having an elephant in this room and never mentioning it. This week a friend of mine, Sam Husseini, the same guy who was tossed out of Trump and Putin’s press conference for fear that he might ask a question about nuclear weapons, asked what question he might best ask Senator Elizabeth Warren. I recommended this question: “Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar, all likely to be in Congress in January, propose slashing military spending to pay for human and environmental needs. Do you agree?”

Sam asked a variation of that, and Warren uttered a bunch of words that amounted to a flat refusal to answer the question. She was speaking at her announcement of a big new plan to supposedly fight corruption.

In a far less militarized era, Kellogg was an Elizabeth Warren. As a senator from 1917 to 1923, he backed or generally failed to oppose a World War, and U.S. military actions in Russia, Panama, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Honduras, Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Turkey, China, and West Virginia. He backed one resolution suggesting that U.S. troops be withdrawn from Russia “as soon as possible.” He backed free passage for U.S. ships through the Panama Canal. He ultimately opposed the League of Nations. As Secretary of State, Kellogg threatened Mexico with war if it tried to profit from its own fossil fuels. The Marines stormed into Panama, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Kellogg signed arbitration treaties with 19 nations but was unpopular and widely mocked prior to the creation of the Peace Pact. When U.S. peace activists first placed words suggesting what would become the Kellogg-Briand Pact into the mouth of French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand, Kellogg cursed the French as a set of bleep bleep bleepity bleep fools. And if there was anything Kellogg hated, he said, it was the bleepity bleeping pacifists.

If people in the mid-1920s had all thought the way many think today, there would have been nothing the peace movement could have done but wait for an election in hopes that it might install a bunch of better senators and a new cabinet. Today we cheer when politicians claim never to be influenced by public opinion. When someone like Hillary Clinton switches her position on gay rights, she’s not credited with — for once — following public opinion, but mocked for being inconsistent. If she’d ever been inconsistent on militarism that would have been a step up. Today we’re told that transforming the U.S. government into one through which a public demand can impeach and remove a fascist like Donald Trump would be a bad development because of who Mike Pence is. But the peace movement of the 1920s created a new law banning all war and got it through the U.S. Senate by changing the whole culture and influencing the actions of existing officials, not replacing them with others. Those officials could be threatened with unelection far more credibly than they can today must have helped, but they could also be threatened with shame. The poor senator from Wisconsin who cast the only vote against Kellogg-Briand was censured by the Wisconsin legislature. Senators who made speeches against the Peace Pact voted for it, explaining that they wanted to be allowed back in their states.

How was such a thing possible? The U.S. Senate couldn’t bring itself to oppose slavery or any other horror. It would not block or punish the arming and funding of the Nazis in Germany. It had been created explicitly to stifle democracy. It is why the United States is the one nation outside the Convention on the Rights of the Child, why the United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court, why the United States is party to fewer major human rights treaties than almost any other nation on earth. How did people get banning all war through the U.S. Senate 90 years ago? How did they get Frank Kellogg jumping at the command of the peace movement, outraging his own cynical staffers, and telling his wife he thought he might get himself a Nobel Peace Prize?

The story I tell in my book is one of a divided and struggling peace movement that united and grew. The Europhiles and the isolationists had to come together. The prohibitionists and the drinkers had to join hands. The outlawrists had to develop a vision of a transformed world and convince people it was possible. The case had to be made to the public with moral passion and urgency. There had to be an endless stream of flyers and pamphlets and books and meetings and petitions and lobby visits. Women’s groups and men’s groups that had sold out during World War I and those that had not had to put their shoulders to the wheel together. Those who wanted a world court and those who didn’t, those who wanted a League of Nations and those who didn’t, and those who wanted to focus on disarmament, and even some of those who wanted to focus on condemning U.S. imperialism in Latin America had to decide that outlawing war was one useful and achievable step and pour everything into it for a year or two, forego sleep, and work literally in some cases to the point of heart attack.

And what good did it do? When the Kellogg-Briand Pact isn’t ignored, it’s dismissed by holding it to a standard no other law has ever been held to. The fact that murder still exists is generally not taken as proof that Moses was a starry-eyed liberal putz who should have focused on establishing regulations for proper humanitarian murders, and not tried to abolish murder. The first time a drunk driver was pulled over for breaking a law, the police officer did not announce that the law against drunk driving had been proven a comical failure that would henceforth be disregarded. Police cars didn’t have their sides plastered with beer advertisements from the next day forward. Yet, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is mocked because war exists. If we held every law to that same standard, we would have no more laws that served any purpose whatsoever. Inventing a fantasy in which the Outlawrists supposedly imagined that the Kellogg-Briand Pact alone would immediately end all war doesn’t help the cause of rejecting this law, as long as facts still matter.

In reality, the Kellogg-Briand Pact has done what it set out to do, and it is up to us to take additional steps that its creators were well aware would need to be taken. The Pact has stigmatized war, has made it necessary to argue for war. The Pact very quickly ended and prevented wars. The very first prosecutions for violation of the Pact, at Nuremberg and Tokyo, have been followed by a reduction in wars that has most notably included the absence of any further wars waged directly between wealthy well-armed nations — at least so far. That the big weapons dealers arm and bomb small poor countries is horrific, but if wealthy nations ever go to war against each other again, as was the norm before the Pact, we may not survive it. War was legal in 1927. Both sides of a war were legal. Atrocities committed during wars were almost always legal. The conquest of territory was legal. Burning and looting and pillaging were legal. The seizing of other nations as colonies was legal. The motivation for colonies to try to free themselves was weak because they were likely to be seized by some other nation if they broke free from their current oppressor. Economic sanctions by neutral nations were not legal, though joining in a war could be. And making trade agreements under the threat of war was perfectly legal and acceptable, as was starting another war if such a coerced agreement was violated.

The world after 1928 was different. The outlawing of war reduced the need for large nations, and smaller nations began to form by the dozens, exercising their right to self-determination. Colonies, likewise, sought their freedom. Conquests of territory after 1928 were undone. The year 1928 became the dividing line for determining which conquests were legal and which not. International trade has flourished, for better or worse, in the absence of legal conquest.

Enormous positive changes have come about as a result of a treaty generally mocked when not ignored. But they don’t, sadly, add up to the super-positive view of the world pushed by people like Steven Pinker who manipulate statistics to claim that war has virtually vanished from the earth. It hasn’t. The recent book, The Internationalists, by Oona Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, details how the Peace Pact changed the world, but also endorses the exceptionalist view in which war is something done by anyone other than the United States.

War is in fact principally done by the United States and is uniquely accepted in the United States, the only country where a moderator of a presidential election debate has asked candidates if they would be willing to kill hundreds and thousands of innocent children as part of their basic job responsibilities. Senator and would-be Vice President Tim Kaine recently spoke in Charlottesville. He has a bill to expand presidential war powers under a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, that he describes as if it did the exact opposite. And he has a bill to basically move war powers from Congress to the President by re-doing the War Powers Act of 1973, which he also describes as doing the opposite of what it does. Kaine wants wars but claims to want Congressional wars and actually wants presidential wars. He spoke about his outrage that Trump had sent missiles into Syria without coming to Congress first. He claimed that this made sending those missiles illegal.

I asked Kaine how an act that is criminal under the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the UN Charter could be made legal by a president coming to Congress. Using many more words, Kaine admitted that it couldn’t, gave a shrug, and re-stated his false position as if nothing had happened. But imagine if Syria had sent missiles into Washington, D.C. I dare you to even try to imagine Senator Tim Kaine giving the slightest pretense of a damn whether the missiles had been sent by a Syrian president or a Syrian legislature. A crime is a crime. And no crime is more a crime than mass murder.

Now, the UN Charter has loopholes that some have always claimed the Peace Pact had too. But the Outlawrists had no use for the concept of defensive war and made certain it was not in the Pact. No recent wars fit the UN Charter’s loopholes. But everybody imagines they do. So, we need to raise up the standard of the Kellogg-Briand Pact and of the thinking behind it. We need to learn from the movement that created it. We need to ask nations that are parties to it to reconfirm it. We need to ask new nations to join it. And we need to do what Veterans For Peace has done in St. Paul and others have done in other places, and that is make tomorrow, August 27th, a war abolition holiday, a peace holiday, Kellogg-Briand Pact of Paris Strangest Dream Another World Is Possible Day. Tear down a war monument. Raise up a peace treaty.

Thank you.