Activist draws on his talents to expose U.S. militarism


American sociologist and antiwar activist Joel Andreas, 46, is the author of “Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism.”

Though “Addicted to War” is in the form of a comic book, it is far from being caricatured, comic-book fare. Thoroughly researched, it carefully portrays how the United States has involved itself in military actions both at home and abroad throughout its history. A mother and son lead readers through the chronological account that not only describes what happened, but also highlights the benefits (to whom) and costs — both financial and human — of U.S. militarism. Finally, readers are asked to consider what they can do to change the situation.

Since a revised edition came out in April 2002, a decade after its original publication, the book has won support from antiwar activists and concerned school teachers, and has sold more than 80,000 copies in the United States.

The message of the book has also spread overseas. In response to the efforts of an antiwar activist here, Japanese became its first foreign-language edition. Published here in October, the Japanese version of “Addicted to War” has already sold more than 60,000 copies. It has also been translated and marketed in Korea, while German, Spanish, Danish and Thai editions are in the pipeline. The book is also being made into an animated documentary movie in the United States.

Born to a family of pacifists in Illinois — a Mennonite father and an antiwar activist mother — Andreas, who has lived in various cities both in the United States and abroad, says his activism was sparked by the Vietnam War, which was raging while he was still a high-school student.

After gaining his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Los Angeles this year, Andreas, a specialist in Chinese social-class issues, will begin teaching sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland from September.

Andreas recently took time for a telephone interview with The Japan Times, and shared his views on the reasons for the book’s popularity, and how he believes it can make a difference.

What motivated you to write this book?

That was right after the first Gulf War and the initial idea was to write about what that war was really about, because it was presented in a very one-sided fashion in the U.S. news media.

When the United States goes to war, the news media become, as you see in my book, basically “cheerleaders.” The information-providing service just disappears. They are gung-ho for war.

And that’s what happened during the first Gulf War just as it did in the most recent war. I really thought that the American people needed to hear the other side, needed to understand some of the background of the war, some of what went on during the war that they weren’t getting in the regular news media.

The original idea was to do only 8 to 16 pages, just about the Gulf War. But then as I got into it, I realized that, to really explain what the war was about, I needed to also add some history, because people don’t really recognize the U.S. as a militarist power. Here [in the United States] they don’t; they don’t learn about this history. So it just expanded.

Why did you choose a comic-book format?

As a young person, I liked to draw. And then I became politically involved in the antiwar movement in the late 1960s and early ’70s. And I was inspired to draw a political comic book by a Mexican author and illustrator named Rius. During the ’70s, he was doing a regular weekly comic book that ran to thousands of copies in Mexico. A number of his books have been translated into English. I borrowed from his style, which is a documentary comic book telling some aspect of history or current events. He doesn’t spend as much time documenting as much as I do, but he’s fact-based. He’s telling history and then illustrating it. His actual drawing and writing style are very different from mine, but that was my inspiration.

In the ’70s, when I was in high school, I did a comic book about the Rockefeller family — an unauthorized biography.

It was actually my father who encouraged me to write a comic book on the Gulf War — he knew I had done it before.

The second edition, that came out in 2002, has already sold 10 times more than the first edition. Why do you think that is?

The main reason was that the person who published the second edition, Frank Dorrel, distributed it much more aggressively and vigorously. He promoted it in the antiwar movement, and they got it out.

The other reason was that the antiwar movement had grown by the time it came out, April 2002. There was build-up for the second Persian Gulf War and so all during that time, people were very concerned about these questions about U.S. militarism, and so it sold.

The war was over by the time the first book came out, and at that point the U.S. was not yet on a path to make constant war. So the war was not on the agenda and was not on people’s minds.

I think now, George W. Bush has made war into this constant occupation, this endless threat of war, so people are more concerned.

What sort of responses are you getting from your readers in the U.S.?

People tell me they give it to their relatives who are in the military or relatives who are conservatives who support the war and it actually has an influence on them. They can talk to them about these issues.

That’s exactly what I want people to do with it, so it makes me happy to hear that.

Did you receive criticism as well?

You know, not much. Frank and the trade publisher get it, but not much. They have had letters and phone calls and e-mails that are hostile, but only a handful.

And then there are a few people who write with specific criticisms, but that’s what you would expect. Some of them are perfectly constructive criticisms with particular points, saying this point is not clear, you need to take this into account. But of course, it’s always possible to meet those kinds of criticisms.

You have been concerned about the American “addiction to war” for a long time. What did you think when 9/11 took place?

That was a very traumatic event for everyone, probably all around the world, but particularly here in the U.S.

And of course, we could recognize too that it was provoking and there would be a response to this, and it would be very ugly. We didn’t recognize at that point how it would give the U.S. government an excuse to just basically create this constant war policy. It really has changed things tremendously. I didn’t recognize that at the time.

Although when they started talking immediately after Sept. 11 about waging war in Iraq — I don’t know if you remember, but Rumsfeld and Cheney were talking about waging war in Iraq right after Sept. 11 — at that point, they did not prevail and they had to wait a year before they really implemented the plan again.

But at that point you knew that they were going to use this for really large-scale military operations. Yeah, they’ve really raised this addiction to a whole new level now.

So you believe the “addiction” is worsening?

Oh yeah. It’s never been as bad as it is now.

The U.S. always has been a militarist power ever since it was born. In steps it became more militarist. During its early history, it was expansionist in terms of Indian wars and conquering territories. Then it went overseas and it built a navy and started getting involved in taking colonial possessions overseas, but it was a small player in that. Then, after World War I, it became more powerful. After World War II it became one of the two superpowers. But it had to contend with the Soviet Union. And since the Soviet Union fell, now it’s the sole superpower.

At first it wasn’t clear what it was going to do with that power. Now it’s clear that the U.S. intends to just use that power to basically impose its will on the world through military force. I don’t think it’s ever been as militarist as it is today.

I think it’s going to reach a crisis. I think they are overreaching. They are extending U.S. power through military force, and they are enraging the world. And I think it’s not going to be sustainable in the long run.

How do you view the influence of the U.S. “addiction” on other countries, including Japan?

I think it is impacting different countries differently.

Japan has a conservative government now, but it doesn’t feel threatened so much by this. And of course, Japan is dependent on Middle Eastern oil and it’s been getting it from the U.S. companies and I think they’ve accepted that arrangement. And they have a tense trade relationship with the U.S. and so I think they find it convenient to support the U.S.

Japan is one of the few countries that does. Almost every country in the world opposes this. It’s only the English-speaking old British Empire — Australia, the U.S. and Britain — that really are strong supporters of this war.

And even the people in those countries aren’t. The Australians and British are very upset about the war. And in Canada, people were very upset and the government refused to go along, even though it’s part of this Anglo-American bloc.

So the U.S. is very isolated on this from the world, and amazingly so. And in some ways, they are trying to impose their will in the world by force, but it may end up really isolating the U.S. and making things difficult in all kinds of ways, including trade.

Your book is now being published in several languages. Did you expect an overseas audience?

No. Not at all. Especially because it’s a book that’s really directed to Americans. I mean, the entire text is speaking to Americans.

So for instance, when Yumi Kikuchi in Japan told be that she wanted to translate it into Japanese, I thought, well, it’s not going to be appropriate because the words are directed to Americans. But actually it has been obviously very popular in Japan and in other countries as well.

I think that the book gives a chance to see how Americans might see this issue. So the fact that it’s directed to Americans, in some ways, people find that interesting.

How do you analyze the American people’s attitude toward militarism?

Ever since the opposition to the Vietnam War, there’s been a segment of the U.S. population — at a minimum, about 25 percent — that has really been strongly skeptical about any U.S. foreign war. That is, I’d say, the hardcore of the antiwar movement in this country. And to have a quarter of the population at any point against the U.S. going to war, that’s a strong bloc.

And then, the truth is, the American people in general don’t want to go to war, and you can see that before every war. During the build-up to this war, according to the polls, most people did not want to go to war. That was like 60 to 70 percent.

I would say this is the 25 percent that strongly opposes the war plus that 50 or 40 percent in the middle who are really not favorably disposed to going war in general. Then, there’s another 25 to 30 percent who are just gung-ho to go to war anytime. And they’ll support any war.

So does that mean that the people in the middle are the key?

Right. They are the wavering middle. They don’t pay that much attention to what’s going on. They don’t have strong opinions about it. They generally don’t want to go to war, but their opinions change once the government declares war and says, “We’ve got the troops fighting now and it’s your duty to support the troops and support the president.” That’s what the whole U.S. media says and these people in the middle are receptive to that.

Then when the war was quick and there were not a lot of U.S. casualties, they basically thought, “Well, that wasn’t bad.”

I think they are becoming more skeptical now as it becomes clear that this is an occupation of Iraq.

At the end of your book, you ask the readers to think what they can do to stop militarism. What is your answer?

I think the antiwar movement is very, very important.

There has been, ever since Vietnam, a strong antimilitarist movement here and it’s really had an impact. After Vietnam it stayed the hand of the U.S. government in terms of waging war overseas. They recognized after that they couldn’t sustain large U.S. casualties and that’s still the case. And they’ve decided ever since then that they can’t do it. So that is really a control on U.S. militarism.

I think that the American people really do have a lot of power, and we need to be organized. The main thing we need to do is education. We need to extend the movement by educating more people about what these wars are about and why they need to oppose them.

Do you think the fact that your book is being read by many people is a sign that the antiwar movement is getting stronger?

Yeah. I think the fact that so many people have bought the book and are distributing it to other people is one indication of the vitality of the movement. There’s many indications of that. I mean, the huge demonstrations in this country and around the world leading up to the war, I think, were strong indications.

The book has sold 80,000 in the U.S., which is a lot — but it’s a small number compared to the population of this country. The vast majority of the people in this country don’t really understand, and they’ve never read any material like it. So there’s a lot of work to be done — and there’s no limit to it. As much energy and as much effort as we put into it, it all helps, because we just educate more people. And once people get educated, they don’t forget. They understand the world differently after that.