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 warmaking 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 than 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?”