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Why I dare to not vote for war-minded candidates


As in every election cycle, patriotic calls are going out to the citizenry to exercise the sacred right to vote. The bromides range from the old standards -- voting is a civic duty, voting is a privilege -- to pietistic guff: Brave men have died to keep democracy alive. How dare anyone not vote.

I dare. I look forward to Nov. 7 and the deep joy of not voting. As a pacifist, and with increasing leanings toward the philosophy of nonviolent anarchism, I stand with that small band of conscientious non-voters ever wary of presidents and vice-presidents who take an oath of office by which they swear to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”

But this is a document written by war-minded men who spelled out their militaristic beliefs with no ambiguity in Article l, Sec. 8: Congress shall have the power to declare war and raise money for the “armies and navies,” with the president being “the Commander in Chief.”

All Congresses and presidents since have feverishly fulfilled their oath. Voting means supporting politicians who spend public money to finance soldiers to kill people whose behavior or thinking the U.S. government disapproves. A vote for any national candidate is a vote, first, for death, and, second, for the monstrosity of a military budget that totals $305 billion this year (or $700 million a day, $8,000 a second, about $4 a day per person), which is 49 percent of every federal tax dollar and is more than 22 times as large as the combined military budgets of the nation’s seven alleged enemies.

Martin Luther King’s 1967 judgment still holds: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is our] own government.”

How violent? Historian William Blum has devised the Quick Political Scholastic Aptitude Test (QPSAT). He lists the countries that the United States has bombed since the end of World War II: China 1945-46, Korea 1950-53, China 1950-53, Guatemala 1954, Indonesia 1958, Cuba 1959-60, Guatemala 1960, Congo 1964, Peru 1965, Laos 1964-73, Vietnam 1961-73, Cambodia 1967-70, Guatemala 1967-69, Grenada 1983, Libya 1986, El Salvador 1980s, Nicaragua 1980s, Panama 1989, Iraq 1991-2000, Sudan 1998, Afghanistan 1998, Yugoslavia 1999.

The test: As a result of this half-century of interventionary death-dealing, how many democratic governments, respectful of civil liberties and human rights, were created? Choose one of the following: (a) 0 (b) zero (c) none (d) not a one (e) a whole number between -1 and +1.

When telling my voting friends that I can’t in conscience vote and that people who do vote unwittingly endorse killing as a way of settling differences, I’m chided, denounced or damned for being a misguided purist, an addled idealist or a dyspeptic lefty that only the editors of the National Catholic Reporter -- suspect subversives themselves -- would give space to.

Perhaps my friends are right. But first I’d like to see some evidence that voting has made America less militaristic or more humane. At the same time that Congress funds the Pentagon at $700 million a day -- three times more than what the Peace Corps gets in a year -- it gives so little money to foreign aid that the United States is last among industrialized nations for the percentage of wealth given to developing nations.

Elections are overfunded charades for pseudo-progress, staged for the gullible who prefer representational democracy to personalist democracy. Election day voting isn’t needed for a personal commitment to the works of mercy and rescue. It isn’t needed to live simply or nonviolently.

All lasting social reform comes from below, not above -- and least of all from the current crop of Gores, Bushes and their orchestrators. Voting means transferring power to the top where little happens except entrenchment. Not voting means denying credibility to the ethic of violence, whether perfumed by the scent of the Constitution or cushioned by a war-based economy. It means affirming one’s own power -- lasting moral power, not passing political power -- to confront it.

Colman McCarthy directs the Center for Teaching Peace, Washington D.C. His e-mail address is colman@clark.net

National Catholic Reporter, November 3, 2000