Peace and War

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HMS Queen Elizabeth, June 2017.  Cost: about £4 billion

It’s that nostalgic time of year again when we are supposed to look back – hopefully not in anger, but frequently in regret – to the events of the last twelve months.  For some, this year has been a valley of Achor, a year of hope dawning, new beginnings. For others, loss, deprivation, refugee camps and unremitting terror.

Since early man began acquiring possessions, there has grown up with him the oldest technology in the world – the art of war – and 2017 has not escaped its ravages. We who are relatively untouched by violent conflict would do well to remember that with the crisis in Syria, who tops the fatality list for the third year running, the almost total defeat of Islamist militants in Iraq and the international ongoing stand-off in Afghanistan, it can sometimes feel like the whole world is at war. The sad reality is that this is in fact almost universally the case, according to a think-tank which produces one of the world’s leading measures of “global peacefulness” – and it has been suggested that things are only going to get worse. Given that violent conflict already costs nearly 13% of world GDP, this is not good news.

It  makes for bleak reading, but only eleven out of a total of one hundred and sixty two countries covered by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP’s) latest study were not involved in conflict of one kind or another in the last twelve months. Worse still, the world as a whole has been getting incrementally less peaceful every year since 2007 – sharply bucking a trend that had seen a global move away from conflict since the end of the Second World War. But, it’s really just about following the money. Factories in Sardinia routinely package bombs and other paraphernalia of warfare like Amazon deliveries and blithely ship them to Jeddah where the Saudis load up the warplanes and drop the ordnance on Yemen – in violation of all human rights legislation.

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Syrian refugees, border of Macedonia and Greece.

Neglecting the fact that war is good business for some, we might ask the moral question, ‘why do we fight?’  If there is a thread running like a shameful scarlet ribbon through mankind’s seemingly unslakable thirst for the blood of his enemies, it must be this. From the first moment we declared ourselves owners of something, whether land, material wealth or property, somebody else has wanted to take it from us and we have had to learn to fight to keep it. Riches are gained at someone else’s expense and kept by making sure that others are disempowered so they do not represent a threat. In the modern world, where colonial activity is considered undemocratic, one might imagine that conquest as causus belli could be relegated to the dustier and more shameful pages of history. And yet, we persist, more so than ever before, it would seem. Modern warfare, adjudicated by the UN, takes the peacekeeping initiative and conflict and land-grabbing on an historical scale is simply not tolerated in the modern world as Saddam Hussein found out to his cost.  Instead, people find something else to fight about. They fight over ideas and belief systems instead where the need is less for boots on the ground and more for drones in the air. Our media overwhelm us with footage from any one of a dozen theatres. We can cherry-pick a smorgasbord of slaughter from Nigeria to Syria, to Libya and Iraq and watch it live. We, the bystanders, both appalled at the consequences and relieved not to be part of them, align ourselves, or not, with protagonists on either side, either because we support the ideas they seek to spread or resent their attempts to spread them.

How little, I wonder, have we actually learned since the time when war as a glorious fight for liberty can now so much more easily be seen as a desperate and feral struggle for survival, mostly by people who, if given a choice, would never have wanted to go to war in the first place.

As we say farewell to another year, we all still hope for the magical paradigm shift, as if we could wake up from a bad dream and realise the futility of never-ending, Orwellian conflict and the ability to turn our backs on it forever.

 

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5 thoughts on “Peace and War

  1. I hate to agree with Marx but find myself bludgeoned into submission by his simple analysis of war. Essentially, follow the money. While today’s conflicts are sold to the masses as “protection from evil forces” it seems clear that the business of war and “making the instruments of war” has become an international cartel seizing profits from ill gotten gains made by “regime change” and other innocuous sounding policies introduced in sound bytes at podiums around the world. The statistic you cited with only 11 countries not involved in conflict sounds suspect and I wonder what the criteria were for coming up with those numbers. For me a more telling statistic might be how many years in it’s existence has a country been at war and the picture becomes fairly clear who the aggressors are in the world. Even Saddam’s blunder in the summer of 1990 looks different in hindsight especially since word leaked out that he was told directly through face to face discussion that there was no US interest. He took the bait foolishly and assured his perhaps rightful place at the end of a rope. Might it not have been interesting to keep him around for a bit and publish memoirs? Clearly some wanted him silenced as quickly as possible. Having celebrated with many others at the end of the Cold War I wonder now if it was not a bit premature. The fear of Armageddon produced by superpowers colliding has been replaced by real carnage as the power vacuums around the world are replaced by conflicts. So 1918 was the war to end all wars? Where is our Versailles and what’s lurking beneath it that is far worse than what we saw the last time?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have to agree – ‘following the money’ has kick-started and maintained conflicts since taxes became a popular way of funding them. It is probably true to assert that we are closer to Armageddon than we once were; Oppenheimer’s “destroyer of worlds’ is as much of a reality, plausible even, than it was seventy years ago.

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