By Saswat Pattanayak
War and peace have always been said almost in the same breath, even as they are semantically polar opposites. Whether or not, absence of war results in prevalence of peace perhaps remains doubtful in the academia, and constantly reinventing political wills of ruling classes, but suffice it to say that majority of the world desires peace and peace alone. But is peace attained through hoping for it, or is war caused by imagination? Is peace really about inaction and war about radical solution? With constant conflicts with our neighboring nation, with our implied support to Zionist causes in the Middle East, with our seeking assistance from the world’s biggest militarist nation, if there was ever a time to reflect on what we must do about peace, and think about war, this is it.
Peace: Choosing Sides
Peace comprises no wishful thinking. Its not just ironic that Shalom, the greetings of the Israeli nation, means peace, harmony and wholeness of life, and yet the country has turned itself into one of the biggest militarist states in modern history. Its no mere trivia either that Hitler continued spree of massacres under very umbrella of the peace preaching Vatican which found greater necessity to condemn godless Soviets than speak up against religious race bigotry of the Nazis. To this day its not just incidental that despite the peaceful sacred texts of the self-proclaimed moralists, most acts of terrorism and organized warfare are borne out of religious zeal than any other.
Attainment of peace requires no indifference either. Quite the contrary! A world weaved around material acquisitions and power privileges often is made to believe that acts of dialogue are signs of cowardice. Some of us seek a false sense of pride and superiority in ourselves as taught by the families struggling for identity restoration. Towards that, many young people in our age embrace a “Just Do It” philosophy that must necessarily rid itself of critical reflections. Critical thoughts and emancipating philosophies are sneered at as passivity in our age of scientific precisions.
Rest of us – a huge majority – professes stoic silence. A silence characterizing genocidal mentality comprising “psychic numbing” – a state of indifference that considers organized warfare as statistical aberration. As consumers of war reports, we turn pages and switch channels faster than we would if we came across the “news” of Angelina Jolie’s newest adoption. Numbing goes alongside sheer entertainment, insofar as core issues of survivals are kept aside. More comforting is the idea of dealing with the local immediate problems that are easy to resolve or at least enticing enough to complicate, than stretch imagination to unearth and combat seeds of human hatred – a process that must implicate, thereby stress, us.
Both reactionary actions and lingering silence are expressions of indifference towards the need of actuating peace. Neutrality in times of crisis, is an act of disgraced privilege, an inclination to maintain a status quo of secured lifestyles of a few at the alter of uncertainty for the most. As Howard Zinn famously is quoted, “You cannot be neutral on a moving train.” When World War II was being unleashed, few European countries chose to profess neutrality – an act of indifference ultimately strengthening Hitler’s regime. During the period of “Cold War” (which by no means was cold), colored people were sent in thousands to war on behalf of American military, to fight other colonized peoples throughout the world. Paul Robeson addressing a peace conference in Paris in 1949 said, “It is unthinkable that American Negroes will go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations against a country (the Soviet Union) which in one generation has raised our people to the full dignity of mankind”
Robeson had famously declared that even as an artist, neutrality was not an option: “Through the destruction, in certain countries, of literary heritage, through the propagation of false ideas of national and racial superiority, the artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. This struggle invades the former cloistered halls of our universities and all her seats of learning. Every artist, every scientist must decide, now, where he/she stands. There is no alternative. There are no impartial observers.”
The struggle to collaborate and join hands with other oppressed peoples everywhere around the globe had led to formation of several movements. Closer home, Indians were pioneers in Non-Aligned Movement – an astute declaration for global disarmament. We found our natural allies in the newly liberated nations of Asia and Africa and the still colonized ones. Pt. Nehru commanded international respect for India’s commitment to world peace. Lal Bahadur Shastri was heralded as Ambassador of Peace. We were open to dialogues, discussions, summits – anything that could delay the prospects of war. Our culture of peace was enriched with concerns for majority poor everywhere. Peace at any cost was not a political slogan. It was what India professed to an extent that even a right-wing politician like Atal Behari Vajpayee attained his hour of fame by echoing the national sentiments at the UN – that no matter what, India shall never nuclearize herself. Alas!
The decades of struggles on part of free and unfree nations to respect each other’s sovereignty helped actualize what Voltaire had said centuries ago: that, peace could only be guaranteed when the person who started a war was punished as a common criminal. United Nations laid down strict diplomatic laws that brought shame to war-mongers of the world and united global opinion on need for sustainable peace. For the first time in history, peace was imagined through organized interventions. Several progressive nations sponsored peace marches. With the arrival of labor as a recognized force in the world economy, united efforts aimed at dismantling colonial/imperialistic interests were made possible. Root causes of wars as depicted by Engels in 1845 were addressed almost adequately: “The present society which sets the individual person at odds with all others produces in this way a social war of all against all. Our aim is to abolish the conflict between individual people and all others – we counter the social war with social peace.”
Attempts at establishing social peace proved inadequate subsequent to victory of American/NATO bloc in the period of cold war. The visions associated with Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Organization of African Unity (OAU), and even the United Nations (UN) were reduced to irrelevance 1980’s onwards when the world witnessed a Reaganisque free-market triumph and defeat of public redistribution policies at the same time. Peace Studies were more or less replaced with Strategic Warfare. Disarmament as a word suddenly sounded obsolete. Cooperation was truncated by Competition. Harmony was purged by War.
War: End of Imagination
Present age poses the most uniquely debilitating era. Not just economically depressed, but morally devoid as well. Following the heels of American foreign policy thinktank that brilliantly devised a “Patriot Act” to end imaginations for the alternatives, many countries have discovered this smooth act of rule to silence popular opposition without potential conflicts. In the guise of patriotism, laws are now enacted in most countries – beleaguered as they are without common platforms for organizing interests – that target peaceniks, peace activists, fellow travelers and sympathizers of dissent against military-industrial complex. In place of state-sponsored peace marches, today state is routinely arresting peaceful demonstrators – Bush regime even put “Grandmothers Against the War” in jail. In place of funding peace instructional groups to spread and recruit young students, today’s governments are infiltrating using their police forces into peace meet-up groups and arresting peace “suspects”. News media organizations instead of covering demands of peace activists have solely become mouthpiece of governmental propaganda. Even in my training as a journalist at New Delhi-based Government sponsored Indian Institute of Mass Communication, courses were offered by military personnel who “advised” how to cover wars with national interests in mind.
Not only there is an acute lack of initiatives towards institutionalizing peace, there is an unforeseen amount of official attempt at establishing war as the most viable option. What else can justify the recently witnessed unity among leaders across political parties in Indian parliament when they unequivocally called for a need of war against Pakistan, with the permission and aid of America? The very fact that ISI’s motives – the point of contention for India – were in fact the handiwork of American foreign policy is totally lost on the amnesic statesmen of India. Or, that Bin Laden group- the organized terrorist gang generating passionate support for the US intervention- was indeed the creation of American interests in Afghanistan to rid it of the secular regime of Dr Najibullah? How could India- traditionally a natural ally of the oppressed peoples and formerly colonized countries- be projected as an inevitable ally of militarist rogue nations such as the US and Israel?
Peace: Abusing Illusions
The constant assertion that conventional warfare is moral insofar as it targets soldiers and not civilians is intrinsically flawed and pathetically depressing. Commentators, both liberal and conservative alike find it politically incorrect to oppose national armies precluding from their worldviews a non-mechanistic concept of the warriors. Young men and women, largely drawn from economically depraved situations, and mostly uncared for by the state, are recruited by the national defense forces everywhere in the world. Once in uniform, they are glorified as “officers and gentlemen”. Added to that is the potent ingredient of “serving” the country – a sense of pride and elation traditionally attached with narrow patriotism. A demarcation between those serving the military and the rest is emphatically made in popular culture to such an extent that acts of their omissions or crime are almost deemed forgiven by the society at large. In recent instances, Anu Malik seated as a judge for a reality show Indian Idol 4 overlooked the errors in performance of a singer because the latter was serving the Indian Army during Mumbai bombing days, thus reaching a confrontation with Javed Akhtar who despaired into wondering if all contestants should join the armed forces in order to win praises. Likewise in the much tainted and publicized Blackwater case, the US army veterans who have been for years killing and torturing civilians in Iraq are still roaming freely, exonerated from allegations of vicious crimes while fellow citizens are languishing in jails over petty thefts and without trials.
The bold distinction being made between the civilians and the military personnel is part of the reason why a holy cow tag is attached to defense behavior, and budgets. This is also the reason why Tehelka was subject to public scrutiny and its mode of investigative journalism was derided, instead of bringing the existing philosophy behind Indian defense forces to rigorous critical questions. In the War Games proposed and directed by the ruling classes, it is natural that sympathy will lie with the pawns in the game: the officers and soldiers. At the same time, there is a need to locate the military within the population, not outside. There is a need to admit that socio-economic backgrounds of the recruits coincide more with civilians across the borders, than with the political instigators and high-ranking corrupt officers inside their land. Situation of peace as well as war presupposes natural inclusion of all people in any given land. Its more than just surprising that ruling classes work overtime to create an overarching zeal among all subjects during the time of conflicts to promote war, and not during time of harmony to promote peace.
The high priests of war and their unaudited pawns let loose almost exclusively enjoy privileges of abuse of power that no other group in the society does. The pragmatic rationale is they secure the country, while the moral one says they do a noble job. However the fine dividing line between the nobility/security and corruption/torture is so pervasive that it would be a universal fallacy to overlook it. Abu Gharib prison tortures were worthy of being reported. Goes unreported are the racist music firing up the blood of tank drivers on warfield. Goes unreported are the provocations of the officers to motivate young dreamers into becoming cold murderers. Hatred for the “other”, craving for blood, strength of physique, a display of masculinity, a quest to conquer are all part and parcel of a war mentality that must necessarily be instilled in the minds of the holy cows.
What follows are mayhems that are passed for matter of facts. Rapes of “enemy” women as raptures of conquests. Maiming of children as necessity to contain future enemies. “War” is pronounced with unusual confidence, and those who oppose war are mocked at as cowards or traitors or unmanly. In a market economy where exhibitionism of acquisitions, pomposity, and masculinity hold the key to consumerist success, it becomes natural that children are forced to role play gender-specific acts, teenagers to compete fiercely even in most trivial pursuits of life, and adults to behave like men. Thus a female soldier must also need to prove her strength or be left behind. Once admitted, there is no place for womanly emotion in the military!
War: Abusing Economy
The sole “superpower” in world military map, the United States is in reality a big rogue white elephant. There is more than $10 trillion gross national debt owed by the US, not to mention the fact that the US is the largest borrower in the world (its public debt is more than double the Third World). Because of the debts, the US must borrow capital from its taxpayers and from foreigners who invest in Treasury bonds. And to retain foreign capital, the US must offer high rates of return. The burden of the world’s poor thus is directly connected to the US defense budget: to expand its military, the US borrows heavily and pays high interest, and most developing economies debt is payable in dollars resulting in US rate largely determining the world interest rate. And to facilitate the ongoing war game, armament sale to the world’s poor is conducted by the master: more than 20% of the third world debt is owed to purchase of military hardware from the US – an investment that knows no return for these countries.
Naturally enough, Congress and the White House allocate $522 billion a year to the defense budget, whereas alongwith its wealthy partners, the US account for 75 percent of all military spending in the world. The disparities are so glaring that its worth noting: the US alone spends 47% of all military spending in the world, its NATO allies spend 23%, rest of the world spends $29%, whereas countries that are projected as “threats” to global security – Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria etc – together spend just 1% of all military spending in the world.
According to National Priorities Project, for each $100 income tax that a person pays in the US, $42 goes to past and current military, $22 goes to health, $10 goes to interest on non-military debt, $9 goes to anti-poverty programs, $4 goes to education, training and social services, $4 goes to government and law enforcement, $3 goes to housing and community development, $3 goes to environment, energy and science, $2 goes to agriculture, commerce and transportation and $1 goes to international relations. If that is the income tax breakdown, how does discretionary budget work in the US: 50% is spent on national defense, 10% on education, training, employment and social services, 6% on income security, 6% on health and so on.
In recent instance, the US budget for Iraq in 2007 was $4,988 per Iraqi. Which translates into three times per-person GDP of Iraq. Logically it should be easier to simply grant that much money to Iraq to develop itself instead of causing further massacres there, and investing money on the most non-profitable business: the American military.
Not factoring in the human costs (more than 1.7 million US military personnel engaged in wars on Iraq and Afghanistan) and the loss of lives (more than 1,307,320 Iraqis slaughtered, millions wounded; 4,800 US service members killed and 33,000 wounded), more than $904 billion have been spent for Iraq and Afghanistan only. For the first part of 2009 (yes, through the economic depression), $66 billion have been already sanctioned to cover war-related costs. CSBA, the national security policy analysis projects the budgetary cost of these two wars alone will run to a total of at least $2.1 trillion before 2018 ($1.65 trillion for Iraq, $402 billion for Afghanistan and $36 billion for homeland security activities). And these figures do not cover social costs (e.g., life insurance payments, disability benefits). They certainly do not cover the future wars already planned almost meticulously.
Final Words: Clausewitz On War
Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831)’s documents on military tactics still hold validity in the present age. Famously, he declared, “War is only a continuation of state policy by other means”, and current waves in international relations prove how wars are inseparable from the political systems that engender them. In case of warring countries, one needs to examine the existing policies. As Clausewitz hinted, “Defense is the stronger form of waging war,” it is imperative that we analyze how much in the name of national defense, military budgets are escalated and majority’s needs are ignored. It could then be possible to understand that a necessity for war perhaps is a politically opportunistic need than a social one.
Investment in war might be logically counterproductive (after all, what can a bomb give back in return?) but from a policy standpoint, it’s the most profitable of all businesses in the present era. With demise of outright colonialism, imperialistic agendas of the race supremacists have spread wings into sustaining warfare in third world countries. US/NATO-backed Israel’s aggression against Palestinian peoples is the most alarming of such wars as we embrace 2009. Despite a clear violation of UN’s directives on territorial sovereignty (“an inalienable right of the peoples of Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, of the Palestinian people and of all peoples under colonial or alien domination … to self determination, national independence, territorial integrity … without external interference”) and an abject insult to the UN declarations on declaring Zionism as a “form of racism and racial discrimination”, Israeli forces are continuing uses of conventional and chemical warfare against the Arab world, to the disgusting silence of “free” countries.
Come 2009, American president Obama is likely to pursue policies targeting Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan while continuing war on Iraq and alliance with co-aggressor Israel. Indian government, with Israel and the US on its side, will push its agenda to attack Pakistan. And they will all project the root cause as terrorism, to garner moral support of their citizenry, whereas in reality making economic profits and political gains, from the political act called war. The sphere of influence that clouds of war have over population is unmatched in sheer unison with which people extend solidarity with their hitherto corrupt politicians when it comes to imagine killing unknown neighbors. As Clausewitz further reminded us, “The War of a community—of whole Nations, and particularly of civilized Nations—always starts from a political condition, and is called forth by a political motive. It is, therefore, a political act.”
In our times, a political act that deserves no more support. As the bumper sticker reads, it is not important who is right in a war. The question is, who will be left.
(By Saswat Pattanayak, Senior Columnist, Kindle Magazine)