Monthly Archives: May 2014

War: Does it make us richer or poorer?

In February this year, The Washington Post featured an op-ed titled, “In the long run, wars make us safer and richer,” written by Stanford Professor Ian Morris. The guts of his case is that if we take the long term view there has been huge progress in life expectancy and economic and social well being and fewer and fewer people as a percentage dying a violent death and this has come about through war. And according to Morris, war is the only way this degree of progress can happen.

The world of the Stone Age, …was a rough place; 10,000 years ago, if someone used force to settle an argument, he or she faced few constraints. Killing was normally on a small scale, in homicides, vendettas and raids, but because populations were tiny, the steady drip of low-level killing took an appalling toll. By many estimates, 10 to 20 percent of all Stone Age humans died at the hands of other people.
This puts the past 100 years in perspective. Since 1914, we have endured world wars, genocides and government-sponsored famines, not to mention civil strife, riots and murders. Altogether, we have killed a staggering 100 million to 200 million of our own kind. But over the century, about 10 billion lives were lived — which means that just 1 to 2 percent of the world’s population died violently. Those lucky enough to be born in the 20th century were on average 10 times less likely to come to a grisly end than those born in the Stone Age. And since 2000, the United Nations tells us, the risk of violent death has fallen even further, to 0.7 percent.
As this process unfolded, humanity prospered. Ten thousand years ago, when the planet’s population was 6 million or so, people lived about 30 years on average and supported themselves on the equivalent income of about $2 per day. Now, more than 7 billion people are on Earth, living more than twice as long (an average of 67 years), and with an average income of $25 per day.

So how did war contribute to this progress? Well according to Morris:

This happened because about 10,000 years ago, the winners of wars began incorporating the losers into larger societies. The victors found that the only way to make these larger societies work was by developing stronger governments; and one of the first things these governments had to do, if they wanted to stay in power, was suppress violence among their subjects.
The men who ran these governments were no saints. They cracked down on killing not out of the goodness of their hearts but because well-behaved subjects were easier to govern and tax than angry, murderous ones. The unintended consequence, though, was that they kick-started the process through which rates of violent death plummeted between the Stone Age and the 20th century.
This process was brutal. Whether it was the Romans in Britain or the British in India, pacification could be just as bloody as the savagery it stamped out. Yet despite the Hitlers, Stalins and Maos, over 10,000 years, war made states, and states made peace.
War may well be the worst way imaginable to create larger, more peaceful societies, but the depressing fact is that it is pretty much the only way.

Paul K. Chappell, West Point graduate and NAPF Peace Leadership Director, has provided a powerful and comprehensive response to this. His article, War makes us poorer argues that Morris’s argument is faulty on many counts

Firstly, it is faulty because it neglects to factor in the huge costs of war, and not just to people, but to the planet, to our resources to our and to our common good.

To illustrate this point he draws on the perspectives of, writers and politicians over time:

Sun Tzu 2000 years ago:

The common people are deprived of seventy percent of their budget, while the government’s expenses for equipment amount to sixty percent of its budget.”

George Orwell, dystophic author:

The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.

Dwight Eisenhower ex general:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children . . . Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Major General Smedley Butler:

War is a racket . . . A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

Secondly, he takes apart Morris’s data about murder reductions over the 10,000-year period

Professor Morris is correct that there has been a dramatic decrease in death by violent means over this time period but Chappell refutes that this has anything to do with changes in society brought about through war. Medical technology has completely revolutionized the impact of violence in society. To put it crudely, violence actions have not necessarily reduced but today we are far less likely to be killed by the same violent acts.

If we had 1930s level technology in America today, the murder rate would easily be ten times what it is. 1930s level evacuation technology, no ambulance services, no cars for most people. 1930s notification technology, no 911 systems, no phones for most people. 1930s level medical technology, no penicillin [penicillin was first discovered in 1928 but was not used widely until the late 1930s and early 1940s], no antibiotics . . . What if every gunshot wound, every knife wound, every trauma wound, there were no phones, there were no cars, and when you finally got the guy to the hospital, there were no antibiotics or penicillin? How many more would die? Easily ten times as many.

Thirdly, he argues that social, economic and political well being owes more to the actions of civil society and non violent protest than to war.

War may have been used as in part a means to win independence and end slavery in the US but these were pretty hollow victories. They did not bring with them mass changes in voting and other rights

Key aspects of human progress: more humane labour laws; democratic institutions, a free press, the right to vote, the rights of the child; civil rights, anti-discrimination laws, Occupation, health and Safety, maternity leave, childcare, universal education for all, superannuation, welfare services , unemployment benefits were not won through warfare but through civil society struggle and non violent actions.

These victories for liberty and justice were achieved because people waged peace, but most of us are not taught this important part of our history.
Although the American Civil War kept our country together, it took a peaceful movement—the civil rights movement—before African Americans truly got their human rights. And how many European countries fought a civil war to end slavery? Zero.
Recent research shows that another commonly believed myth in our society is also harming us. Professor Morris echoes this myth by saying, “People almost never give up their freedoms—including, at times, the right to kill and impoverish one another—unless forced to do so; and virtually the only force strong enough to bring this about has been defeat in war or fear that such a defeat is imminent.
However we have witnesses the end to unjust regimes that did not involve war time and time again, for example peoples powering the Philippines, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the re-unification of Berlin to name just a few.

Chappell quotes the groundbreaking research of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, that debunks the myth that war isthe only way to overcome oppression. In fact, according to this research nonviolence has become much more effective.

From 1900 to 2006, nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies. And there’s more. This trend has been increasing over time, so that in the last fifty years, nonviolent campaigns are becoming increasingly successful and common, whereas violent insurgencies are becoming increasingly rare and unsuccessful. This is true even in those extremely brutal authoritarian conditions where I expected nonviolent resistance to fail.

Fourthly, Chappell argues that the ravages of warfare in terms of its impact on poverty, human rights and the environment can become triggers for more violence and warfare.

Even the military reports acknowledge this:

The 2009 U.S. Army Sustainability Report lists several threats to national security, which include severe income disparity, poverty, and climate change. The report tells us: “The Army is facing several global challenges to sustainability that create a volatile security environment with an increased potential for conflict . . . Globalization’s increased interdependence and connectivity has led to greater disparities in wealth, which foster conditions that can lead to conflict . . . Population growth and poverty; the poor in fast-growing urban areas are especially vulnerable to antigovernment and radical ideologies . . . Climate change and natural disasters strain already limited resources, increasing the potential for
War cannot protect us from any of these dangers, and if we keep believing the myth that war is the only way, we will not be able to solve the problems that threaten human survival in the twenty-first century. Because we have the ability to destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons, if we keep believing the myth that war is the only way, we will keep pursuing war despite the clear evidence that it threatens human survival. If we keep believing the myth that war is the only way, we will continue to create conditions that make us less safe.
His final argument is that the opportunity cost of the resources sucked up by being permanently on a war type footing must be taken into account:

And finally, Chappell comes back to his first point, that war sucks up huge resources that could be used to benefit all humanity

What could humanity achieve if we end war? According to a study conducted by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, an economy focused on peaceful priorities would employ many more Americans than an economy that wages war. In their study they said: “This study focuses on the employment effects of military spending versus alternative domestic spending priorities, in particular investments in clean energy, health care and education . . . We show that investments in clean energy, health care and education create a much larger number of jobs across all pay ranges, including mid-range jobs and high-paying jobs. Channeling funds into clean energy, health care and education in an effective way will therefore create significantly greater opportunities for decent employment throughout the U.S. economy than spending the same amount of funds with the military.
What else could humanity achieve if we end war? General Douglas MacArthur, who had a deep understanding of war that we can all learn from, said, “The great question is: Can global war now be outlawed from the world? If so, it would mark the greatest advance in civilization since the Sermon on the Mount. It would lift at one stroke the darkest shadow which has engulfed mankind from the beginning. It would not only remove fear and bring security—it would not only create new moral and spiritual values—it would produce an economic wave of prosperity that would raise the world’s standard of living beyond anything ever dreamed of by man. The hundreds of billions of dollars now spent in mutual preparedness [for war] could conceivably abolish poverty from the face of the earth.

 

 

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Perspectives on the Anzac Dawn Service: Remembering the Frontier wars

This year marked the 99th year of ANZAC remembrance. While many of us have found the “ANZACKERY[1]” of talk around this time of the year to be almost unbearable and have been inclined to hide away for the duration, it is inspiring to see that others are doing their bit to change the ANZAC conversation.

One of the most important challenges has come from Henry Reynolds and others, who are challenging us to connect the over-the top sepia toned ANZAC remembering to the lack of remembering, recalling respecting or even admitting to the wars that took place, not in a far off peninsular for king and mother country but on Australian soil. These wars were: bloody, and genocidal, they left deep and permanent scars that are still with us today; and they remain unrecognised in our formal war remembering infrastructure and rituals.

Dr Gary Foley challenges us to make this connection

In the process of the politicisation of Anzac Day and events almost a century ago on the Gallipoli peninsula, I feel that many Australians are further entrenching an attitude of denial about key aspects of their own history. They are seeking to divert attention away from earlier wars that had more to do with defining the Australian national character than Gallipoli did. By that I mean the colonial “wars” that many in Australia still have great difficulty in even accepting as wars.

Nelson claims that colonial conflict does not constitute what he and the War Memorial consider a “war”.  But, ironically Nelson and the War Memorial are much better disposed to the acknowledgement of Aboriginal involvement in the wars conducted by the Australian nation, even when some of those battles such as the Gallipoli campaign were more about fighting on behalf of Britain rather than Australia. This attitude reflects a broader national discomfort with the idea that Aboriginal warriors in the colonial era were fighting a “war”against an invading force

However, as prominent historian Henry Reynolds asserts, “If there was no war, then thousands of Aborigines were murdered in a century-long, continent-wide crime wave tolerated by government. There seems to be no other option. It must be one or the other.

This year a small band of people marched at the end of the rally to remember the Frontier wars. One of the participants in this event, Jasmine Pilbrow, has provided a moving account of her experience on her blog site. An extract from this account follows:

I’ve been to my fair share of protests and vigils. I’ve been out of my comfort zone and been confronted by injustice, oppression, occupation and discrimination. But this past ANZAC day in Canberra was one of the most emotionally confronting experiences I have had…

I was attending the march to be a part of, and support the Indigenous Australians in their fight for recognition of the Frontier Wars…

Here is an extract from Reynolds’ book:

“And while Australian servicemen and –women died for their country, with few exceptions they didn’t die on the continent itself. And that makes all the difference in the world. They were often the invader but never the invaded. They had no experience of the profound and terrible trauma of conquest. They never saw their homes overrun and wrenched from them by force. Never saw their sacred places occupied and desecrated. They didn’t have to come to terms with imposed conditions that made the old way of life unsustainable. They never knew the despair that arose when the conquerors displayed outright contempt for their language, culture and traditions. And while Australian soldiers saw many mates killed in battle, their families were, in almost every case, living in safety far from the conflict. Aboriginal survivors, on the other hand, had seen their children, partners and parents shot down or watched while they died from traumatic, untreated gunshot wounds. Before they conceded defeat they had lived for years under a reign of terror….

We meet at 10am, ready to join the end of the ANZAC day March procession….

We were carrying signs which read “Lest we forget the Frontier Wars”, placards with the dates of massacres throughout Australia and the Indigenous flag. We were mourning the deaths of those who fought in the Frontier Wars. We were not there to protest or oppose ANZAC day; we were there to pay our respects to all those who fought. As we marched the servicemen and women in front of us (including a massive U.S. flag) all marched into the War Memorial where the service was to commence. I did not see one Indigenous flag go through. Once we reached the entrance we were blocked by a row of policemen. This was as far as we could go. This was the extent to which we were allowed to remember the dead….

Standing there, face to face with the police, we simply stood. With our signs in hand and the beautiful signing of the words ‘lest we forget’ by some ladies in the group, we remembered the Frontier Wars.

We stood there unable to move forward. While we stood Tony Abbott’s face was broadcasted on big screens as he addressed the crowd.

At the time I felt defeated. I was shattered. We couldn’t do anything. We weren’t there to protest. We weren’t there to chant or disrupt ANZAC day. We were there to remember.

How could that be denied to us?

How come Indigenous people were not allowed in but the United States flag went right through?

We then turned around and walked back….

That afternoon we had a group discussion about the march. I had been feeling pretty down and shattered with our country. …When we discussed the day many people raised different things. What I took away and learnt from that discussion was the complete opposite to how I originally felt. We didn’t fail. We were not defeated. This action was one of the most successful actions I’ve been a part of. When we marched along the parade we were shown support. As the crowd watched everyone in front of us go through, they then saw the police move in and stop us. The lack of respect and second class treatment that Indigenous Australians received was highlighted so strongly in those moments. The people in the crowd witnessed this injustice. This action caused people to think and really question what was happening.

It is my hope that this has started a new campaign and that in our 100th ANZAC year this small start becomes amplified.

[1] David Stephens, from Honest History at the ANU uses this term, first coined in 1967, to refer to ‘inflated rhetoric that has burnished the story of the Dardanelles campaign into a national myth” http://www.independentaustralia.net/article-display/anzac-day-anzackery,6416

Making Sense of WILPF’s New Campaign: Women’s Power to Stop War

As part of our celebration of our 99th year, WILPF is rolling ourt a new global campaign under the bold banner headline Women’s Power to Stop War.
If you, like me, are inclined to feel a little ambivalent about the ‘stretch ‘ of the vision behind this slogan, Cynthia Cockburn’s article, “Women’s power to stop war: Hubris or hope?”, is definitely worth a read.
She asks the following question:

Bold… but also bald. The slogan stops people in their tracks, we find. They pause and puzzle over it. Are WILPF making a statement of fact here, or is this mere aspiration? The story of the Hague Congress hardly inspires confidence in women’s power to stop war. Besides, the very fact that we have a centenary to ‘celebrate’, that we have had wars to contest throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, suggests not power but impotence.

And she concludes:

If we really mean women have the power to stop war, in what does that ability reside? why has it been ineffective till now? how may we believe in it? It is this holistic, multi-facetted struggle for a nonviolent revolution in the relations of gender, class, ethnicity and nation to which we shall soon commit ourselves anew in our forthcoming centenary Manifesto. If we assert, with breath-taking optimism, Women’s Power to Stop War, it’s not to suggest that women ‘have power’ – on most counts we have little. Rather, it’s to remind ourselves that we have agency. Of course, not all women lack privilege and security. Nonetheless, women as a sex have seen millennia of injustice, many of us have learned how to organize, and above all we have reach, into every corner of life, into the heart of families, into civil society and, increasingly, into the structures of governance. ‘Our weapons’, reads our campaign website, ‘are dialogue, knowledge and insistence.’ Women as women are the ones who have the potential to translate the principle and practice of ‘care’ from the individual to collective, so that a caring society becomes the principle of politics, embraced by men and women alike. And war becomes unthinkable.

To follow the argument I strongly encourage you to read the full article