'A timely and necessary book. It explodes the myth of war's inevitability.' Martin Bell, OBE, journalist and former Independent MP
Is war ever a just way to resolve conflict? Diana Francis argues that it is not. With passion and eloquence, she mounts a head-on challenge to the belief that war as an institution is either necessary or effective for good.
Refuting the notion that human nature condemns us to perpetual carnage, she argues that we can change the ways we think and the systems we live by. In a tightly reasoned discussion of the ethics of war and peace she asserts that war is a gross denial of the core values on which peace depends, and that the Just War Theory has failed and deceived us.
The book explores alternative ways of confronting aggression and injustice, showing that these are neglected but well proven. Francis argues that our security can be enhanced by recognition of our shared responsibility for each other and our planet. Practial solutions require a new level of participation in public affairs. Recent events have shown that this is possible. Francis outlines the steps we must take to bring about the radical shift so urgently needed.
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About the Author
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Where Are We?
The time is out of joint.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
EVENTS AND REALITIES
I write at a time of great turbulence and distress. It could be argued that no time has ever been otherwise, yet the first years of the third millennium do seem to have witnessed an extraordinary coming together of crises and exceptional displays of human ineptitude and brutality. In the last 15 years the cruel proxy wars and global tensions of the Cold War have been replaced by wars of secession, states on the verge of collapse, terrible regional wars for power and economic gain and control and inter-ethnic and sectarian violence of terrible ferocity.
At the same time we have been confronted with the full reality of the uncontested military and economic dominance of the US which has long had military bases in over 40 countries (including several in Britain) and now has them in every oil-producing and oil-distributing country in the world. The expression 'unipolar world' not only suggests the out-of-jointness of this state of affairs, but indicates a world view in which the reality of life beyond the shores of the US is scarcely recognised. This disregard is evidenced by the US refusal to be brought into the Kyoto climate change agreement or to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
The events of 11 September 2001 came as a very great shock but perhaps, with hindsight, they should not have done. A world in which a wealthy elite in one nation (albeit in collusion with wealthy elites elsewhere) seeks to gain 'full spectrum dominance' – to control the entire planet and its resources (and even outer space) – is unlikely to be a safe or sustainable one. While the power of control may seem to be concentrated in a few hands, the desire for it is far more widely distributed and the resentment generated by attempted monopoly is infinite.
We are witnessing intensified polarisation between the West and 'the rest', one that is increasingly (however inaccurately) seen in terms of a confrontation between historic Christendom and the world of Islam. The notion and language of identity, particularly 'ethnic', 'cultural' and 'religious', now dominate discussion about conflict and justice. (I have put these terms in quotation marks because the concepts they represent are all – in my view rightly – contested.)
There were over 100 million war-related deaths in the twentieth century. In its last year, 110,000 people died in armed conflict. Despite all legal conventions, civilians are the main casualties in modern warfare. In a world in which the possibility of man-made catastrophe seems ever more imminent, those who live in the rich world are increasingly 'risk averse' and the major military powers resort more and more to the kind of war-fighting that minimises losses among their own forces. It is as if war and death should no longer be associated. To this end the human 'enemy' is made more and more invisible in that knowledge of the numbers of their casualties is withheld.
At the same time, those who fight against overwhelming military odds are becoming ever more willing to face certain death in their bid to inflict damage. Once more civilians are the main casualties, and, even more importantly, the notion of military security loses its meaning. It is clear that a war is no answer to 'terror'. Moreover, the idea that war is terror is gaining ground.
I believe that the phenomenon of 'suicide bombing' brings into relief another fundamental reality: that material concerns do not hold the dominant position in the motivational hierarchy that modernists would argue. It would appear that feelings of affronted dignity and values can generate greater hatred than simple want or insecurity and that beliefs play a powerful role in motivating action. This is relevant not only to the consideration of war but also to any project for its abolition.
In the last two years, we have seen the supreme irony of countries that have spent the last five decades and more developing and accumulating ever more devastating weapons of mass destruction using any attempt by others to develop such weapons as a justification for unbridled military aggression. The only state on earth to have used nuclear weapons – one that has bombed 27 countries (some of them more than once) since World War II, and covertly attacked many more – has seen fit to designate a collection of weak countries as a threat to the world's security.
Nuclear weapons certainly pose a threat. The proliferation predicted by the anti-nuclear movement from its very inception has indeed taken place and consequently the world is a more dangerous place. The collapse of the former Soviet Union has – as was also foreseen – made the acquisition of nuclear materials and technology more susceptible than ever to clandestine use. Despite the fact that there is now no plausible threat to the US, and in spite of the obligations of all nuclear weapons states under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to work towards total nuclear disarmament, the arms race – with its virtually lone contender – continues unabated, with new attention being given to the development of 'useable' weapons on the one hand and space-based defence on the other. Britain, ever the compliant friend, is set to host vital elements of the 'Star Wars' system. Nuclear disarmament remains as urgent a need as ever and is an entirely possible project. It seems hard, nowadays, to imagine anyone outside the circles of power mania opposing it.
While the global peace which the UN was founded to promote seems further away than ever, the justice that would characterise it is no nearer. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. It is morally obscene that while poverty, famine, contaminated water, lack of basic health care and lack of education continue to blight the lives of millions, global military expenditure for 2002 amounted to $794 billion – without the costs of war. Even the relatively paltry £2 billion that were agreed for tackling the scourge of AIDS in Africa have not been forthcoming. In wealthy Britain we 'cannot afford' to sustain a national health service or transport system or provide free tertiary education, and the care of the elderly – among other things – is starved of funds, yet £3 billion were set aside by the chancellor for the Iraq war (an amount that seems likely to have been exceeded).
The UN itself, whatever the vision of its founders, and notwithstanding some excellent work, remains the creation and tool of the globally powerful, and whatever credibility it has retained or won has been shredded, if not destroyed, by the scorn with which it has been treated by the US and its allies. The notion of a 'defensive pre-emptive strike', and the context in which it was used, have blown a gaping hole in international law.
Political violence and poverty have created a level of human migration that represents misery on a vast scale and has caused political friction and a degree of genuine social stress in the countries where those migrating – with whatever degree of compulsion or choice – arrive.
While children in unthinkable numbers are kidnapped and forced to fight, day-to-day violence against women and children continues on a shocking scale, amounting to a chronic, hidden war. Not only does it take place within the 'normal' structures of societies but illegal 'trafficking' has grown to epidemic proportions. While wars may divide most people, at the same time they open up routes and opportunities for this kind of exploitation.
The international arms trade, with a $21 billion turnover (excluding unauthorised trading, which is vast), continues to make the world more dangerous for its citizens, fuels wars and diverts much needed resources. To say that it provides jobs is no kind of moral justification and indeed the arms industry creates remarkably few jobs per pound. In the UK it is subsidised out of public funds, receiving 50 per cent of all export credit guarantees for what constitutes 2 per cent of all the country's exports.
While states are still the primary wielders of military power, 'informal' armed violence is on the rise everywhere and civil wars are rife. Armed interventions by the US and others also challenge the notion of the integrity of states, and global businesses are usurping their power in many spheres. The 'military industrial complex' remains alive and well, corrupting politics in every part of the world.
The US has secured control of Iraq's oil and will establish military bases there, so replacing those that are no longer viable in Saudi Arabia. But the political chaos and human misery in the Middle East go from bad to worse. The 'road map' has led nowhere and Arab bitterness has intensified. It is hard to see where all this will lead.
In other parts of the world – Chechnya, for instance, and Mindanao in the Philippines – the War on Terror has created a climate in which governments have felt free to deal with armed dissidents with greater than ever harshness, knowing that the US would give them tacit support. (In Sri Lanka, on the other hand, the proscription of the Tamil Tigers seems to have contributed to a ceasefire in the decades-old civil war.) In countries around the world, civil liberties have been under attack and human rights violated in the name of security.
Technology has done much to improve human life, but our technological aptitude is not matched by our wisdom or sense of responsibility for consequences. A culture of personal gratification and instant satisfaction has seen a relentless rise not only in military threat but in ecological exploitation and destruction, in waste and pollution. While the health of all of us is threatened, the earth is being littered and contaminated and the climate is changing inexorably. As with any threat, it is the poor who have the least protection and who are suffering most.
Not only is our technological genius accompanied by folly – and cruelty – it is also paralleled by carelessness and ineptitude. During the war on Iraq, most of the 'coalition' troops who died were killed by 'friendly fire'. 'Smart bombs' strayed into neighbouring countries, landing in Syria, Turkey and Iran. And now the whirlwind that is being reaped in Iraq has placed coalition soldiers in situations they simply cannot handle, despite all their weaponry.
Since the bombing of the 'Twin Towers' and the Pentagon and the launching of the War on Terror, the terrible grip of violence on our global society has been brought into the forefront of our attention – even for those of us whose daily lives have seemed very safe. While the war on Afghanistan brought many thousands more deaths to its people, for most Afghans it brought neither peace nor development. Since the recent war on Iraq (which most Afghans, having tasted the ashes of 'liberation', fiercely opposed) devastated that already ruined country, removing its dictator but bringing chaos, the elusive forces of terror – and their support – have been augmented and new attacks have taken place. The UK Parliamentary Select Committee on 'defence' has concluded that the war on Iraq got in the way of addressing the threat from Al Qaeda and made Britain less rather than more secure. The political price is beginning to be paid both here and in the US.
While the war on Afghanistan was widely opposed outside the West, the war on Iraq was fought against the wishes of a vast and vocal majority of Europeans, who made common cause with the millions who opposed it around the world (including the US) and held demonstrations of unprecedented size in a vast and sustained campaign. This opposition has not only been sustained but has increased since the war, especially in the US. This movement is significant not only because of its magnitude and concertedness, but also because it took shape in a context of deepening cynicism about politics and politicians – across the world, including not only established 'democratic' countries but those emerging from decades of Soviet control and those that have never known anything other than colonialism, corruption and tyranny. While the anti-war movement expressed this disaffection, it also was a sign that the worm can turn – disaffected and apparently supine populations can spring into life and take to the streets.
The level of public engagement was, I believe, unprecedented and here in the UK for once the media took notice. Though for a long time it was apparently unnoticed by the BBC, this time the scale of the movement was such that it eventually could not be ignored and, as the war on Iraq approached, radio, TV and newspapers kept the issue and related events constantly in the forefront. (It would be interesting to know if anyone has monitored public health and the frequency of stress-related illnesses in the West since 11 September.) The peace movement failed to prevent the war on Iraq – maybe earlier coverage would have made a difference. But its analysis and predictions have been so plainly vindicated that it is possible that there may at last be some delayed recognition that it has been right in the past, too, and that it should be taken seriously now.
PRESENTATION AND PERCEPTIONS
In my school days, history presented war as a vista of grand sweeps and movements in which heroic battles were won and lost, political geography made and remade, nations constructed and deconstructed. In the war paintings of past ages, though the carnage of battle may be portrayed, the paintings are heroic in style as well as scale. The human experience of war is not their focus. And in the centres of (Western) cities, men on horseback brandish swords triumphantly, honoured, it seems, for their naked, violent power, rather than their humanity.
War memorials of the last century are more sombre, recording deaths or depicting weary soldiers weighed down with heavy packs and guns. The poets of World Wars I and II drew their readers into the hellish realities they endured and the huge questions which these engendered. Nowadays it would seem unthinkable to depict war directly in triumphal statuary. The acts of human violence of which war consists have become an embarrassment. There is, as recent events have shown, a growing sense of unease about war as an instrument of human aspirations – a growing awareness of the moral norms it breaches. And yet military leadership still holds its place as the archetype of heroism and greatness.
It is one of the great ironies of the twentieth century that the unprecedented scale and destructiveness of war was accompanied by ever-growing revulsion or moral squeamishness in the face of its effects. That could, of course, be put the other way round: that in spite of growing moral concerns, war not only flourished as an institution but became ever more terrible in scale and brutality. Either way, the two trends ran in parallel. In the war on Iraq, some UK soldiers, it seems, had not been prepared for the realities of what they would be asked to do and refused orders. A military commentator remarked that maybe in recent years we had put too much emphasis on the professional training that military service could offer and not made recruits sufficiently aware of the fact that one day they could be under orders to kill.
In the past, geographical remoteness helped to distance people from the hideous effects of war. Distance still attenuates their reality. The glorious tranquillity of the spring days in England during the early stages of the Iraq war made its horror seem far away and unreal – even to those of us who so passionately opposed it, watched every news bulletin and were constantly and oppressively aware of what was happening. Though unspeakable violence was being committed in our name, our own lives continued in safety and prosperity, and this both intensified and assuaged the pain.
Wars in which the West plays no visible part still receive scant attention here and impinge very little on popular consciousness.
Nonetheless, the growth in public communications in the past century has shrunk the globe and led to an inevitable growth in public awareness of war and its realities. It has made people more aware of each other, so that those who rule them cannot so easily hide the effects of their actions.
Excerpted from "Rethinking War and Peace"
Copyright © 2004 Diana Francis.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
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