Having Enemies Is a Choice

What’s something that nobody can give you unless you want it?

An enemy.

This ought to be obviously true in both the personal sense and the international sense.

In your personal life, you acquire enemies by seeking them out and choosing to have them. And if, through no fault of your own, someone is cruel to you, the option remains of not behaving cruelly in return. The option remains of not even thinking anything cruelly in return. That option might be extremely difficult. That option might be one that you believe is undesirable — for whatever reason. Maybe you’ve consumed 85,000 Hollywood movies in which the greatest good is revenge, or whatever. The point is purely that it is an option. It is not impossible.

Declining to think of someone as an enemy will often lead to that someone not thinking of you as an enemy. But perhaps it won’t. Again, the point is purely that you have the option to not view anyone in the world as an enemy.

When peace activist David Hartsough had a knife to his throat, and told his assailant that he would try to love him no matter what, and the knife was dropped to the ground, it may or may not be that the assailant ceased thinking of David as an enemy. It may or may not be that David managed to love him. David could have easily been killed. The point is, again, merely that — even with a knife on your throat — your thoughts and deeds are your own to control, not somebody else’s. If you don’t accept having an enemy, you have no enemy.

A Sandinista leader named Tomás Borges was forced by the Somoza government in Nicaragua to endure the rape and murder of his wife, and the rape of his 16-year-old daughter who would later commit suicide. He was imprisoned and tortured for years, with a hood over his head for nine months, handcuffed for seven months. When he later captured his torturers, he told them “The hour of my revenge has come: we will not do you even the slightest harm. You did not believe us beforehand; now you will believe us. That is our philosophy, our way of being.” You may condemn that choice. Or you may think it too difficult. Or you may imagine you’ve somehow disproven something by pointing to the Sandinistas’ use of violence. The point is only that, no matter what someone has done to you, you can — if you want — choose to take pride in NOT mirroring their repulsive behavior, but rather in asserting your own better way of being.

When murder victims’ families in the United States advocate for joining most of the rest of the world in abolishing the death penalty, they are choosing not to have enemies that their culture expects them to have. It’s their choice. And it’s one that they apply as a political principle, not just a personal relation.

When we move to international relations, of course, it becomes dramatically easier to not have enemies. A nation doesn’t have any emotions. It doesn’t even exist except as an abstract concept. So the pretense of some human impossibility to behave or think better can’t even get a toehold. In addition, the general rule that enemies must be sought out, and that behaving respectfully to others leads to them doing the same, is far more consistent. Again, there are exceptions and anomalies and no guarantees. Again, the point is purely that a nation can choose not to treat other nations as enemies — and not what those other nations might do. But one can be pretty darn sure what they will do.

The U.S. government is always very eager to pretend it has enemies, to believe it has enemies, and to generate nations that actually view it as an enemy. Its favorite candidates are China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Even when not counting free weapons to Ukraine and various other expenses, U.S. military spending is so enormous (as justified by these enemies) that China’s is 37%, Russia’s 9%, Iran’s 3%, and North Korea’s kept secret but relatively tiny, compared to the U.S. level of spending. Looked at per-capita, Russia’s is 20%, China’s 9%, Iran’s 5%, of the U.S. level.

For the U.S. to fear these budget militaries as enemies is like you living in a steel fortress and fearing a kid outside with a squirt gun — except that these are international abstractions which you’d really have little excuse to allow fears to distort even if the fears were not ludicrous.

But the numbers above radically understate the disparity. The United States is not a country. It is not alone. It is a military empire. Only 29 nations, out of some 200 on Earth, spend even 1 percent what the U.S. does on wars. Of those 29, a full 26 are U.S. weapons customers. Many of those, and many with smaller budgets too, receive free U.S. weapons and/or training and/or have U.S. bases in their countries. Many are members of NATO and/or AUKUS and/or are otherwise sworn to jump into wars themselves at the bidding of the United States. The other three — Russia, China, and Iran, (plus the secretive North Korea) — are not up against the U.S. military budget, but the combined military budget of the U.S. and its weapons customers and allies (minus any defections or fits of independence). Looked at in this way, as compared to the U.S. war machine, China spends 18%, Russia 4%, and Iran 1%. If you pretend these nations are an “axis of evil,” or you drive them, against their will, into a military alliance, they’re still at a combined 23% of the military spending of the U.S. and its sidekicks, or 48% of the U.S. alone.

Those numbers suggest an inability to be an enemy, but there’s also the absence of any inimical behavior. While the U.S. has planted military bases, troops, and weaponry around these designated enemies and threated them, none of them has a military base anywhere near the United States, and none has threatened the United States. The U.S. has successfully sought out a war with Russia in Ukraine, and Russia has disgracefully taken the bait. The U.S. is intent on a war with China in Taiwan. But both Ukraine and Taiwan would have been much better off left the hell alone, and neither Ukraine nor Taiwan is the United States.

Of course, in international affairs, even more than in personal, one is supposed to imagine that any violence engaged in by one’s chosen side is defensive. But there is a stronger tool than violence for defending a nation under attack, and numerous tools for reducing the likelihood of any attacks.

So preparing for the possible emergence of enemies can only make sense for a government organized around the principle of desiring enemies.

David Swanson