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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