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Radical Peace: An Interview With Prof. William T. Hathaway

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William T. Hathaway is a US Special Forces combat veteran turned peace activist. He has just published his fourth book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War, which presents the first-person experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in North America, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany.

RADICAL PEACE has aroused controversy in the USA because of its positive portrayal of illegal resistance to war: helping soldiers to desert, destroying computer systems, trashing recruiting offices, burning military vehicles, and sabotaging defense contractors. Conservative critic Joanne Eddington described it as, "Loathesome ... further evidence that the hatred of America is reaching hysterical dimensions." On the other side of the political spectrum, Noam Chomsky described it as, "A book that captures such complexities and depths of human existence, even apart from the immediate message."

Hathaway wrote the following introduction for ISOCRACY about the book, and afterwards we interviewed him.

Radicals for Peace

It costs 50 million dollars to kill each Taliban, but when dead he becomes a martyred hero to recruit new replacements, so the numbers of Taliban are increasing. In Iraq the terror the US invasion unleashed still rages unabated, with hired mercenaries and local soldiers unable to stop it, as our troops before them were unable to. Yet we continue the fighting, and Obama the peace candidate has morphed into a war president. We are trapped in endless war.

To break out of this death trap, peace activists have turned to radical tactics. They've moved beyond demonstrations and petitions into direct action, defying the government's laws and impeding its capacity for mass murder. Some of them have become domestic insurgents, defying the Patriot Act and working underground in secret cells to undermine the US military empire. They are convinced the only way to bring peace now is to bring the system down. They tell their first-person experiences in a new book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War, just published by Trine Day.

The book portrays a group of pacifists who encourage soldiers to refuse to go to war. For those who want to desert, they offer a sanctuary network that helps them build new lives.

Some of the group have gone further than this and become saboteurs. Trucker is the code name of a man who burns military vehicles. He sees his sabotage as nonviolent because it doesn't harm human beings, only things. He states, "It's only because our culture worships property that we see destroying war machines as violence. What I'm doing is depriving the military of their tools of violence. I'm decreasing their ability to harm people. Since they refuse to disarm, I'm doing it for them. I'd never set fire to a building because someone might be inside. I even look inside the trucks to make sure no one is sleeping there."

The book also profiles a janitor who has destroyed computers at a defense contractor with electrical surges. "I'm sure the lost work and equipment has set back the war effort," he states, "and I'm looking forward to my next surge for peace."

A college student relates how she threw a rock through the window of an army recruiter after her friend returned from Iraq crippled. She plans to do it again but says, "I wouldn't throw a rock at the recruiter. I don't have anything against him as a person."

Other domestic insurgents are cutting phone and electricity wires into recruiting offices, slashing their tires, painting over their billboards. At universities they are attacking military research projects and ROTC offices: stealing their mail, squirting glue into their door locks, hacking into their computers. An autonome tossed a log under the wheels of an arms train and derailed it, but he was careful to do it in the middle of the train so no one would be injured.

The saboteurs in the book agree that such resistance must be nonviolent, that it not injure living creatures. Setting bombs and burning buildings where people could be inside can't achieve anything worthwhile. It just reproduces the same mentality that we're trying to change.

Rather than randomly smashing windows and torching autos, they restrict their activities to institutions that support or profit from the war. Their goal is to make the war too expensive to continue. A few acts of sabotage won't do that, but thousands can. Government and corporate resources are limited. Taxes and the deficit are already so high that they're crippling the economy. Every dollar the government has to spend keeping things running here is one they can't spend killing people overseas.

The militants believe that direct actions like these aren't a substitute for traditional organizing, but in critical situations like the present they can supplement it. Sabotage won't build a new society, but it can help weaken the old one so the new one can be built.

Interview with the Author

ISOCRACY: What made you write RADICAL PEACE?

Hathaway: I wanted to convince people — including myself — not to give up on their efforts to end this terrible violence. So many people have retreated into apathy and futility after Obama continued the aggression he'd pledged to stop. Their disappointment is turning to despair. Obama has shown himself to be another imperialist killing thousands of people just to maintain US power.

A similar betrayal of democracy occurred in 2006 when the Democrats gained control of Congress by pledging to end the war. Instead those same politicians then voted a huge increase in military spending and supported US troop surges.

The sad fact is that American voters don't control our government. Corporations do. The government represents business, not us. If business needs cheap oil, the president and congress will make war to get it, with time-out every few years for some campaign rhetoric about peace. It's obvious now their rhetoric is lies.

These swindles have led to a voter rejection of both parties. Now that elections, demonstrations, and petitions have failed, people are searching for alternative ways to end the two new directions the radical peace movement is taking. We're no longer content with just demonstrations and petitions. Those methods try to build public opposition to the war in the hopes that will pressure our politicians into ending it. The first part, the building of opposition, was a success. The great majority of Americans have turned against the war and want it ended. In 2006 they voted the Republicans out of control of Congress and voted the Democrats in because the Democrats promised to stop the war. Instead, a few months later the Democrats voted a huge increase in military spending and supported US troop surges. In 2008 the voters elected Obama president because he promised to stop the war. Instead he sent even more soldiers to Afghanistan. He expanded our air strikes in Pakistan. He shifted the fighting in Iraq onto hired mercenaries and local soldiers, so it doesn't make the news in the US anymore. And he persuaded Congress to vote even more money for the war, to kill more thousands of people.

These betrayals of democracy make it clear that American voters don't control the government. Corporations do. The government represents business, not us. If business needs cheap oil, the president and congress will make war to get it, with time-out every few years for some campaign rhetoric about peace. It's obvious now their rhetoric is lies.

ISOCRACY: Have you given up on politics?

Hathaway: Many peace activists have given up on major party politics. Obama's switch into a war president was the last straw. It showed that the system can't be changed through elections. Both major parties are designed to prevent basic changes, to divert the public's demand for change into dead-end streets that don't challenge the power structure. The Democratic Party exists to drain our potentially radical energies off into superficial reforms that actually strengthen the establishment.

ISOCRACY: What do you have to offer instead?

Hathaway: Well, as you might suspect, we have radical solutions to offer. The mass media have distorted the meaning of 'radical,' but it comes from the Latin word for 'root.' Radical peace activists want to get to the root cause of war and solve the problem there. But some of us disagree as to what that root cause is, so we take two different approaches to ending war.
One group says the root cause is our economic system. This group is doing direct action to bring that system down. They're using sabotage to make mass murder too expensive for the government, so war is no longer profitable. They're undermining the work of recruiters so they can't keep feeding fresh bodies into the machine. Helping soldiers to escape from it. Lowering the fighting morale of the soldiers who remain by showing them why the government is sending them over there to kill and die. The war doesn't have anything to do with freedom. It just has to do with dominating the Mideast for profit.

The other group says the underlying cause of everything in the universe, including war and our economic system, is consciousness. The collective consciousness of humanity creates these conditions, so we have to change that collective consciousness.

ISOCRACY: Which group do you favor?

Hathaway: I favor them both, they're both necessary. But I think the second has a deeper view of the world and more to offer in the long run. These two groups often oppose each other, and one of my purposes in writing Radical Peace was to bring them together.

ISOCRACY: Let's focus on the first group first. You talk about making the war too expensive for the government to fight. Won't the politicians just increase the deficit and raise taxes?

Hathaway: Taxes and deficits are already so high they're destroying the economy. There are limits to how much money the government can burn up in wars. The kind of sabotage we're doing helps push it over that limit.

ISOCRACY: Won't these tactics you're talking about really make our lives worse?

Hathaway: Our lives have been slowly getting worse for 30 years. Young workers now are earning less than their fathers did. That's the phase of capitalism we're in. That's going to continue until we stand up and take control of these corporate giants, free ourselves from their dominance. They're attacking us with wage reductions for the same reason they're attacking the Muslim world with bombs: to keep their profits growing. They have to do that. It's the nature of capitalism.

Fighting back against them will be a struggle. Many people are afraid of that, but it will end up making our lives better. This struggle energizes us; it's a vivid, meaningful life. As it is now, the government generates mass fear to make us obedient. Many of us are so depressed by our situation that all we can think about is holding on to what few comforts we have. But we owe it to future generations to make basic changes, to take the power away from these robot corporations.

ISOCRACY: Won't your efforts to weaken the US military just lead to a victory of the terrorists?

Hathaway: They probably will take over, and that's unfortunate. But the US created these terrorists. We trained and armed bin Laden and the Taliban to kill communists in Afghanistan. The war we sponsored against the communists there killed two million people and brutalized a whole generation of Afghans. We turned these fanatics into the most powerful force in the country, so of course they took over the government. And the US didn't object to them at all until they refused to let us build a pipeline through the country. Only then did the corporate media start portraying them as these terrible monsters who need to be destroyed.

In Iraq we helped Sadam Hussein come to power and supported him militarily, until he started opposing us. In Iran we overthrew their government in the 1950s because they planned to nationalize the oil industry. We installed the Shah and kept him in power as one of the most brutal dictators in the world. In Libya right after al-Gaddafi came to power as a socialist and nationalized the oil industry, we started economic warfare against him, subverting his government and trying to overthrow him. We turned him into an enemy. The list goes on and on. In every country where we now have anti-American terrorism, the USA first did terrible things. That's why they hate us. Now we're paying the price for our aggression.

In the USA we blank out this history. But people in those countries are very aware of it. And they're not putting up with it anymore. What we call terrorists are really just people fighting back with the only weapons they have.

Considering the atrocities of US foreign policy, America needs to lose this war — for its own sake and for the sake of the world. We have to stop dominating other countries.

ISOCRACY: If the insurgents take over again, won't they keep attacking us at home?

Hathaway: Our government tries very hard to make us believe that. There's a huge PR campaign to convince us that the Taliban and al Qaeda want to destroy us, conquer America, force us all to become Muslims. They are portrayed as insane mad-dog killers that we need to exterminate. But that's nonsense. Their actual demands are never published in the Western media because they're so reasonable. Basically they come down to, "Go home and leave us alone. Pull your soldiers, your CIA agents, your missionaries, your corporations out of Muslim territory. If you do that, we'll stop attacking you." Nothing about destroying the West or forcing it to become Islamic. Just that the West should stay in the West.

ISOCRACY: What about Israel?

Hathaway: They consider that Muslim territory, and it's been Muslim ever since the days of Mohammed. To them the formation of Israel was another European invasion of their area. Just because ancestors of the Jews lived there two thousand years ago doesn't give them any claim to that land today. The Romans forced them out back then, not the Arabs. And the Arabs didn't have anything to do with the Holocaust. So why should their land be taken? If the Jews needed a homeland, it should have been taken from the Germans. That would've been fair. But making the Arabs pay for the sins of the Germans is a fundamental injustice. And the Arabs are refusing to accept it. There won't be peace until Israel gives up major territory or gives up the idea of a Zionist state.

ISOCRACY: Some of the actions you describe in Radical Peace are quite violent: burning jeeps, smashing windows, destroying computers. How can you call yourselves peace activists?

Hathaway: Violence means harming living creatures. It's only because our society sees property as more important than people that it labels destroying property as violence. We are destroying the government's means of violence, the equipment it uses to kill people. And we're very careful not to injure anyone while we're doing that. In other words, we'll throw a rock through the window of an army recruiting office, but we won't throw a rock at the recruiter. We don't have anything against him as a person. And we don't have anything against the police as people. It's the system we're trying to break, and breaking its windows, burning its trucks, and zapping its electronics helps with that.

ISOCRACY: Why do most Americans reject your ideas?

Hathaway: Most people identify with the system. It's all they know, so they accept it. They're threatened by the thought of major changes. They're afraid of losing what they have, so they don't want to defy the power structure. Children are raised to love their country. In school they are taught a very selective view of our history and almost nothing about foreign policy. And they're put through patriotic rituals that make them identify the country with their family, especially their fathers, because it's a patriarchal structure. So they react very defensively when the country is criticized. That's emotionally painful to them, like an attack on their family. We have a deep need to believe America does good in the world. I felt that way myself until I spent enough time outside the US to get a different perspective on it. And I learned about aspects of our history that are ignored in our media and schools.

ISOCRACY: What makes you think that wars are a result of the system and not just of human nature?

Hathaway: We're bombarded with propaganda to convince us of that. Conservatives say war is human nature, capitalism is human nature, our current gender roles and family structures are human nature. That same sort of person in previous centuries used that argument to support slavery, the divine right of kings, the subjugation of women. But those things were changed, and we can keep on making changes. I think our drive to change things shows our real human nature: to take control of our fate and improve our situation.

ISOCRACY: But if you look at history, it's been one war after another.

Hathaway: That's the history only of our patriarchal civilization. The early matriarchal civilization of southeastern Europe enjoyed centuries of peace. On many of the Pacific islands war was unknown. And the ancient Vedic civilization of India had meditation techniques that preserved the peace. We can use those today. War is not inevitable. Our human genes don't force us to make war on each other.

ISOCRACY: But our closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzees, make war. Doesn't that say something about our evolutionary heredity?

Hathaway: It's true that in certain situations chimpanzees do raid neighboring colonies and kill other chimps. Those studies on killer apes got enormous publicity because they implied that war is inevitable, it's hardwired into human nature. Most scientists weren't claiming that, but the mass
media kept reinforcing that message.

But further research led to a key discovery: the chimps who invaded their neighbors were suffering from shrinking territory and food sources. They were struggling for survival. Groups with adequate resources didn't raid other colonies. The aggression wasn't a behavioral constant but was caused by the stress they were under. Their genes gave them the capacity for violence, but the stress factor had to be there to trigger it into combat. This new research showed that war is not inevitable but rather a function of the stress a society is under. Our biological nature doesn't force us to war, it just gives us the potential for it. Without stress to provoke it, violence can remain one of the many unexpressed capacities our human evolution has given us.

ISOCRACY: But isn't stress inevitable in life?

Hathaway: That assumption is deeply entrenched in our society. Many of our social and economic structures are based on conflict. Capitalism's need for continually expanding profits generates stress in all of us. We've been indoctrinated to think this is normal and natural, but it's really pathological. It damages life in ways we can barely perceive because they're so built into us.

We don't need to live this way. We can reduce the stress humanity suffers under. We can create a society that meets human needs and distributes resources more evenly. We can live at peace with one another. But that's going to take basic changes.

ISOCRACY: That's an idealistic goal, but how do we actually get there from here?

Hathaway: We decrease stress, both in the individual and in society. Some of this can be done by transforming politics and economics, which is the approach taken by the first radical peace group we discussed.

But the second group takes a different approach. They feel that to really change the system, we need to change the collective consciousness that has produced it. Until recently changing that seemed impossible. But techniques are now available that enable us to directly influence the collective consciousness.

Our resistance needs to be nonviolent, not injure living creatures. Setting bombs and burning buildings where people could be inside can't achieve anything worthwhile. It just reproduces the same mentality we're trying to change.

Rather than randomly smashing windows and torching autos, we restrict our activities to institutions that support or profit from the war. Our goal is to make the war too expensive to continue, to convince the politicians they don't have enough money to conquer Iraq and Afghanistan. A few acts of sabotage won't do that, but thousands can. Government and corporate resources are limited. Taxes and the deficit are already so high they're crippling the economy. Every dollar the government has to spend keeping things running at home is one they can't spend killing people overseas.

Chapters of RADICAL PEACE are posted on a page of the publisher's website at A further selection of Hathaway's writing is available at

Commenting on this Story will be automatically closed on April 12, 2011.


The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. … Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"ISOCRACY: What makes you think that wars are a result of the system and not just of human nature?"

Human nature is competitive and every folk contains a certain amount of etnocentrism. Those who do not have the ability to defend do neither have the ability to attack and will once be swept away from this planet. Natural selection leaves only the best people out there, noone is equal.

CONCLUSION: Isocrats are people who use isocracy for justifying being different and particularly weaker than others. Thank you for not listening and shouting in my face.

Insofar that humans have any natural inclination for war and ethnocentrism it is far less than that which is socially constructed, otherwise one would not witness the enormous variation in the propensity towards war in different cultures and times.

I would also suggest that if you're going to bandy around phrases like "natural selection", that you at least distinguish between natural inequality and moral equality.

In any case that the possibility and inclination towards war can be redirected towards universal rights and especially federalism. Seeming that you are interested in a biological line of reasoning, you may wish to read Stephen Rosen's recent text War and Human Nature, Princeton University Press, 2005. I especially recommend - in the context of Hathaway's remarks - the role of social and individual stress in the escalation of violence.

This interview inspired the following address at the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church:

Radical Peace: The Spiritual Basis of Non-Violent Direct Action

In 1832 the Prussian military general and theorist Carl Von Clausewitz famously described war as the "continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means". In an identical manner, Mao Zedong argued that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" and that "war is the highest form of struggle for resolving contradictions", that "the seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution". This idea of war being something to aspire to is repeated by the reactionary popular novelist of the early 1920s, Ernst Jünger, who argued against the liberal values of freedom, of democracy, of security. Instead Jünger argued that war, the mixing of blood in steel into machinery for killing, was an a mystical experience elevated the individual.

What we are Unitarian-Universalists supposed to think of such claims? The suggestion that war is merely a different way of doing politics, or the highest form of revolution, or the greatest personal experience? In this Church, a memorial to those who dedicated their lives to the cause of peace? With our religion, founded on universal principles of freedom of conscience, expression and the unity of reason? As Hannah Arendt wrote in her influential essay, "On Violence", legitimate political power is only achieved through the approval of those that effects, whether through reason, reputation or respect. A threat of violence, whether from an individual or through the organisation armed forces of the State, can force servility, or even execute those whom are disagreeable. But it will never be met with the approval of those that it is directed against and it has no lasting foundation. Indeed, the use of violence is the very antithesis of the use of reason. It is not politics by other means, but the very negation of politics. It is not the highest form revolution, but the ultimate tool of reaction. It does elevate provide a mystical elevation of the individual, but rather lowers one to the most prosaic and brutish.

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I love what your organization is doing. I am an American citizen and I believe in having a peaceful world that allows for individuals to participate directly in the government.

jason @

... for the kind words Jason. We'll do our best where ever we can. Hope all goes well with Jackrabbit, it looks like you're doing valuable work.

Best wishes, Lev

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Radical peace has been a controversy in the USA because positive portrayal of illegal resistance to war. Hathaway’s introduction for isocracy about the book was simply amazing and knowledgably good. I have book marked your page. Keep up the good work. Regards.