Many citizens in Britain are puzzled. Why do we always seem to be at war? How can this come about? What does it mean? At the same time, we seem to think of ourselves as a peaceful nation. In seeking answers, let us list a few notable characteristics of our current wars.
- Our wars are fought by of our young men; those who enlist. The rest of us (including most of our young men) are essentially out of it - not affected - not involved - focused elsewhere.
- Most of the young men in the armed forces are from relatively poor families and have not benefited from higher education.
- The people who are killed from our side in our wars are these same young men from poor families. They have no political clout. The rest of us are at no physical risk.
- The great majority of the people who are killed in our wars are foreign civilians in poor countries. These people are of a different culture from ours. We know little or nothing about them.
- A high proportion of the foreign civilians killed in our wars are women and children. Of course, we do not experience this as though it was our own women and children who are being killed.
- The people who start the wars and direct them are middle aged and elderly politicians and senior army officers.
- The politicians and generals who start and conduct our wars are not at risk of death or physical injury; nor, generally speaking, are their offspring or other relatives.
- Our current wars are being fought in very distant lands and we citizens who pay for them know almost nothing of the vast suffering that they inflict on these far-off people.
- Our wars are fought by a rich country fielding well-armed forces with high-tech equipment against badly-equipped poor countries, the citizens of which resort to home-made bombs (improvised explosive devices or IEDs).
- After starting our wars, politicians who shared the responsibility and who subsequently appear at enquiries may speak out and contend that at the time they had doubts about the legality/wisdom/necessity/effectiveness of going to war. Similarly, the generals, after they retire, may speak out and say that at the time they had doubts about the legality/wisdom/necessity/effectiveness of going to war.
- Wars generate huge profits for individuals and corporations. The people who reap the profits are not the same people who risk their lives and lose their limbs in fighting the wars. The overall organization of those who make the profits is known as the military/industrial complex.
- There has been a cosy relationship between the military/industrial complex and the government; for example government officials may move into senior positions in arms manufacturing firms and vice versa.
- Our government encourages the flourishing of the military/industrial complex by awarding it invaluable assistance and privileges. For example, there is a unit of 180 individuals employed within the Department of Trade and Investment whose sole work involves selling the output of British arms manufacturers to foreign governments. The salaries of these individuals are not paid by the arms manufacturers but by us citizens, the taxpayers.
- As befits a profit-focused capitalist economy, war is gradually becoming privatized. In the past, young men were dragooned into war by conscription. At present, many are presented with life choices such that the armed forces appear the best option. We are moving towards a future where making war is merely one of the services offered by the corporate sector. Consequently, the term 'mercenaries' is being superseded by 'private militaries' and 'security companies'.
- Another accelerating 'improvement' is the replacement of combatants on the battlefield with robots. In the case of the drones destroying villages in Western Pakistan, the 'combatants' can be seven thousand miles away; well out of harms way. Not so, of course, the aforementioned civilian women and children. They are more at risk than ever.
- Politicians justify their wars by claiming (often not overtly) that it gives us (them) prestige, gets our (their) feet under the top table, makes us (them) a powerful player on the world stage.
So does this short list give any clues as to why we always seem to be at war? It does seem to hint at how our physical and psychological distance from the carnage helps to sustain our self-belief as a peaceful people.
The final point raises another noteworthy question. How do they (the establishment) get away with it?
Here are a few suggestions.
- Fear - The twentieth century's most successful master of propaganda declared, "Naturally the common people don't want war. But....the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." These are the words, at the Nuremberg Trials, of Hitler's senior henchman Herman Goering.
- Lies - Indispensable from time immemorial. "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators." So said General F.S. Maude, commander of British forces in Iraq - in 1917. Blair told the British people and parliament that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed in 45 minutes.
- No accountability - Also in operation from time immemorial. Rudyard Kipling wrote in 'Epitaphs of War,' "Now all my lies are proved untrue, and I must face the men I slew, what tales shall serve me here among, mine angry and defrauded young." Kipling was mistaken. There is actually no need to worry. The worst than can happen is the Chilcot enquiry.
- Obfuscation - Weird language will prevent 'the little people' (to use a BP executive phrase) from knowing what is going on. Thus, those who fight back when we invade another country are 'insurgents.' When the 'Coalition of the Willing' wants to kidnap citizens and deport them to be tortured in distant dungeons, the practice becomes 'extraordinary rendition'. When the establishment wants to bypass the Freedom of Information Act, requested documents are 'redacted'. Military speak for wiping out military targets is 'counterforce'; for wiping out cities with nuclear bombs is 'countervalue.' However, whether you are killed by 'countervalue' or a genocidal atrocity, you are just as dead.
- Change the focus - We are in Afghanistan to find Osama-Bin-Laden and defeat Al Qaeda - No, sorry; to defeat the Taliban; - No, wait; to win hearts and minds - No; to establish democracy - No, to protect the women of Afghanistan - No; to hand over to the legitimate government. Well, it is partly legitimate anyway. The establishment wants to keep Trident renewal. So keep it out of the defense review and assess it by some separate criterion, never mind how absurd. Let's say 'value for money.' It has been estimated that the millions of people who can be killed by Trident submarines work out at about 3,600 pounds per dead person. Is this value for money? Are there cheaper ways of killing people on a genocidal scale?
These are some of the means they use to get away with it. But Herman Goering was right. The people do not want war. And the good news is they (the establishment) may not get away with it for much longer. 90 thousand leaked documents is more than just a dramatic coup. Their publication presages vast new power in the hands of 'the little people,' or (more correctly) the citizens.