War – A Redefinition

To those who follow Mark Twain’s maxim “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”. Whilst so far this century we’ve not had a global crisis on anywhere near a big enough scale to be referred to as a ‘World War’, we have been witness to our own era of extensive conflict. In 2016, according to authors of the (10th annual) Global Peace Index,1 there were just 10 countries in the world which could be considered completely free from armed conflict.

Whilst the Second World War resulted in an estimated 60 million civilians being displaced, the UN estimates that in 2017, 65.5 million people existed as refugees resulting from conflicts worldwide.2 With more than 6 million people displaced from their homes in Syria alone, this all equates to one child, woman or man being displaced every 3 seconds. (In 2019 this figure in Syria has surged past 11 million).3

The industry of war is also at all time high levels. American defence spending as a proportion of GDP might be down since WWII, but in reality this is only because GDP overall has risen considerably over the same time period. In George Bush’s post 9/11 America, 53% of all tax revenue in America was spent on defence in 2012. This all amounts to a staggeringly huge amount of money - somewhere to the tune of 1.6 trillion dollars.4

In 2017, the US signed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth 350 billion dollars over the next 10 years.5 This isn’t just a significant waste of money, but also a hugely short-sighted waste of human resources too. For example approximately 40% of our top scientists are currently caught up working in defence. To quote Bob Hunter, founder of Greenpeace: “If there is intelligent life on this planet, it isn’t necessarily us”.

Imagine for one moment, we used the same money, skills and resources to rapidly decarbonise our global economy instead – within the same ten year period. Coincidentally, this is approximately the same amount of time which scientists widely estimate we have remaining to prevent runaway climate change. The organisation known as Extinction Rebellion, won’t be the first or last to talk about the urgency of a ‘WWII style total cross sectional mobilisation that caused a complete economic and industrial transformation’, which last time around, completed its objectives in just five years. As Brian Eno says: "The military would be much better if they had something real to do".6

Western troops may now be mostly withdrawn from Iraqi and Afghan soil. But the serial blunders of the politicians who sent them there, has led to an increase in terrorist related activity which can now be seen working on a global scale. These miscalculations, combined with revelations that our governments lied to get us here, have contributed to a collective realisation that we as individuals can act more responsibly than the politicians who supposedly represent us.

Add to all of this the 2008 banking collapse, subsequent world recession, BP gulf oil spill, natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the Fukushima disaster, and even human tragedies such as Grenfell Tower two summers ago. These events all appear to be leading us to a place where we trust old world institutions less. Protests on the street are such a frequent occurrence, many don’t even make the headlines any more.

Carne Ross, an Independent Diplomat, and former Middle East expert in the UK’s delegation to the UN points out: “One thing which is also undeniable is that we will face completely different circumstances in the 21st century than we did in the 20th century.”7 How acts of aggression, division, or war manifest themselves this next 100 years are guaranteed to play out differently. Population displacements caused by military action are already being shadowed by significant displacements caused by climate change ‘inaction’.

This is all before you factor the wholesale threat to our world’s remaining forests, or to the critical balance of overall biodiversity. Mass extinctions, and complete colony collapses such as those experienced by the emperor penguin in Halley Bay, or the loss of one third of the great barrier reef in 2016, become only ever more frequent. In the summer of 2019 reports from Brazil emerged that people in cities 'literally couldn't breathe',8 as man-made fires throughout the Amazon burned out of control.

Thus a growing consensus views the present system as one of never-ending aggression against both people and the planet.8This rethink of our relationship with the natural world prompted Greta Thunberg to say on August 28, 2019, with perfect clarity: “Our war against nature must end”. A myriad of very difficult questions lie ahead, but no matter how events play out, they are all but guaranteed to lead us back to the same poignant question already posed by Edwin Starr back in 1969 when he asked: “War. What is it good for?”

It was Bob Hunter who said during the 70’s in the midst of the founding of the Greenpeace organisation: “It was gnawing away at the back of our minds that humanity could do great damage to itself even without war.”9 This observation has the potential to become only increasingly poignant, unless we can begin to fundamentally change our collective attitudes and behaviour right now. This can only start with a wholesale redefinition of what the destructive and wasteful boundaries of war encompasses.
Illustration: War - What’s it good for? Q&A.

Next ︎
Chapter 8 —
The Ulm Age of Methods

Credits & Notes:
1 – 2
Global Peace Index 2016

Wall St Journal
Migrant Crisis –
A History of Displacement

Where do 53% of your Tax dollars go?
Tragedy & Hope / Al Jazeera

2017 United States –
Saudi Arabia arms deal

Srećko Horvat & Brian Eno
in Conversation
EartH – Tues May 14 2019

Carne Ross
Accidental Anarchist –
Life Without Government BBC Storyville

Andrew Anthony
meets Srećko Horvat –
The current system is more violent than any revolution
The Observer – Sun 21 Apr 2019

Manuela Andreoni
Covering Climate Now:
A New Era for Journalism?
Frontline Club (Thu 05 Sep 2019)

How to Change the World
Film 2015 – Writen / Directed by Jerry Rothwell

Military budget of the United States

Science Direct
How Large Are Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies?

The Sustainers — 21st Century Pioneers
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