Since the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations there have always been those who have spoken out on the immorality of war and acts of violence carried out by the ruling elite. Thousands of years later mine is just another voice.
Today the movement to end war is bigger than it’s ever been, but large scale acts of violence are still being regularly committed even by the most civilised and democratic states. Here’s a list of major military aggressions undertaken by the British and U.S. armies just in my own lifetime.
Falklands War (1982)
Gulf War (1990–1991)
Bosnian War (1992–1996)
Kosovo War (1999)
War on Terror (2001–Present)
War in Afghanistan (2001–Present)
Iraq War and Iraqi insurgency (2003–2009)
Libyan Civil War (2011)
A ball park minimum figure for the total loss of life (civilians and soldiers) as a result of all these acts of violence is 293,000, based on mostly government figures, although in reality it could be much more.
I expect there will be a few more major aggressions before I draw my last breath. The War on Terror will almost certainly not end before I shake off my mortal coil for two reasons. Firstly, Terror(ism) is a strategy not a group of people. You can’t wage war against an ‘ism’ any more than you can wage war against pincer movements. Secondly, terrorism is, as Doug Casey has observed, ‘open-source warfare’ and is massively parallel. One terrorist sees what another does and learns from it. Infinite variations and programs of attack can be created. A failed act of terror, like the ‘Shoe Bomber’, is almost as good as a successful one. With every attack or attempt, the ideas of how to mount such attacks spread, just like open-source software. From the point of view of governments terrorism is impossible to defend against in the long-run because there is no leader, there are hundreds, even thousands of heads to the hydra. The attacks will keep coming and eventually some will get through.
Defending the undefendable
A very common moral defence of military aggressions by governments is the supposed good intentions behind them. Even if there were good intentions behind them it’s irrelevant because intentions don’t exist and therefore mean nothing in reality. What does exist is the consequence of all these acts of violence by governments, which is a huge pile of corpses. The other common defence takes the form: “if we hadn’t have done X, then it would have been worse”. This argument is invalid because the morality of an action cannot be defined by its effects, let alone hypothetical ones resulting from the absence of the action. It can only be defined by the attributes of the action, what the action involves doing.
The Iraq invasion, ten years on
One of the most recent and bloody aggressions was the British and America led invasion of Iraq, which lasted eight years. It was a particularly unpopular war with the British public in large part due to a significant Muslim population, but not so much with the American public who still had 9/11 ringing in the ears. Not that any Iraqis had anything to do with 9/11. Although the majority of the American public and even their elected leaders seemed to be confused about who was responsible, I think it’s fair to say they didn’t really care about being wrong at that time. They just wanted to see the blood of some dark skinned people wearing diapers on their heads being spilled. We shouldn’t forget that there were a significant number of Americans rational and conscientious enough to oppose the Iraq invasion, but their voice was drowned out by the talking heads of the media and the patriotic chanting of the ignorant and mournful.
Wrong place at the wrong time
At least 134,303 ‘Iraqi’ civilians have suffered violent deaths as a result of military action by the invasion forces, according to Iraq Body Count. If the deaths were evenly distributed over time it would equate to 36 people a day, three of them children. Among slightly more than 50,000 victims, about whom demographic information could be obtained, men numbered 38,441 (77%), women 4,373 (8.7%), and children 4,191 (8.4%). That averages out to a child a day for the last ten years.
The Iraq Body Count estimate is the most conservative of the several that have been made, by some considerable margin. There are other organisations who claim that the death toll is much, much higher. JustForeignPolicy.org cites a figure of 1.4 million dead.
Huge loss of life was not the only consequence of the Iraq invasion. The intense bombing campaigns destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure and of course many people’s homes, plunging millions of people into poverty.
Those who chose to be there
4,804 American and British ‘soldiers’ with an average age of 23 have died in Iraq in the last decade. Vulnerable young men and women duped into murdering on behalf of sociopaths who believe mass murder makes the world a better place.
All these deaths, the soldiers and the civilians, do not represent the ‘cost of freedom’, as the US and UK governments believe, but rather the cost to humanity of violent power in the hands of a few. Soldiers believe that to die for your ‘country’ is the ultimate act of heroism, but in reality it is a convoluted potential suicide. Soldiers are merely a disposable tool used by their generals to achieve their bloody ends. Most of those soldiers that come back alive are necessarily dead inside. Studies on and testimonies from soldiers of previous wars have shown that most find warfare a painful departure from their own moral values. As Mark Kurlansky observed in his excellent book ‘Non-violence: Twenty Five Lessons’:
“The miracle is that despite films, books, television, toys, plaques on buildings and monuments in parks, lessons in school, and the encouragement of parents, most human beings enter the military with a strong disposition against killing. It turns out that we are not built for killing other people. The purpose of basic training is to brainwash out this inhibition and turn the recruit into an efficient killer.”
The only way to cope with the emotional pain of acting in opposition to what you know is morally right for a sustained period of time – i.e. being in a soldier in a war- is to find a way to become numb to it. Some resort to narcotics, others take the plunge and become that which they know is evil. The biggest challenge for soldiers who make it back alive is integrating into society upon their return. For many the trauma inflicted upon their minds and souls as a result of killing people is too great to overcome, and a life of love and friendship is impossible. They are the walking dead who have been drained of their humanity and discarded like spent shotgun shells by government. Numbing the pain becomes their only purpose in life.
The violence of society is dwarfed by the violence of governments
We live in a society where one division of government, which is the institution we entrust with the ‘education’ of our children and to care for the poor and sick, acts with a sickening indifference to the human life outside of its jurisdiction. To say this is morally perverse is an understatement.
Governments are not part of the society that you and I experience everyday when we interact with others on a voluntary basis. Governments as institutions use coercion, they have a monopoly on the use of force, which makes them unique, and it is their raison d’être to exercise it. As Mark Kurlansky observed: “Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.”
The US government developed the ultimate ‘deterrent’ in the atomic bomb, which it ended up exploding over the defenceless inhabitants of Hiroshima. America remains the only nation to have ever deployed an atomic weapon. The widely accepted narrative was that this act was morally justified because the Japanese aggressed against America by bombing Pearl Harbour. But Pearl Harbour was a military target and population, Hiroshima on the other hand was a civilian population. Yes, Japan committed a terrible act of violence, as all acts of war are, but by the ‘rules of war’ they were playing fair. America escalated the violence and retaliated in the most monstrous way. Violence does not resolve, it always leads to more, and sometimes to worse violence.
Being ruled more deadly than being a soldier
20th century wars have extinguished over 35 million lives, but incredibly war wasn’t the 20th century’s biggest killer. It has been calculated that in the 20th century alone an astonishing 260 million people were killed by governments (de facto and non-democratic), which is six times more than those who died in combat in all the foreign and internal wars of the century. This figure is a measure of democide, which is defined as any actions by government: designed to kill or cause the death of people and that cause death by virtue of an intentionally or knowingly reckless disregard for life (which constitutes practical intentionality).
It’s hardly surprising that there has never been a case of a democracy carrying out massacres, genocide, or mass killings of its ‘own’ citizens. That would be like a farmer slaughtering his own cows. But slaughtering some other farmer’s cows, now that makes sense. Especially when that farmer’s got resources you want for yourself.
It’s like Mark Kurlansky said: “The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power”.
The nature of power is violent. Right from the power parents have over their children, which lures them into using corporal punishment on them, to the monstrous power at the disposal of the American president; who at the stroke of a pen one morning can instruct his army to extinguish the lives of thousands of people in far away lands and then go home in the evening to have dinner with his wife and children.
It seems little has changed in two and a half thousand years or so in terms of power and nation states, but there is cause for an optimistic outlook on the future. The two most aggressive nations of the world, the US and the UK, have two fundamental economic problems to face. Firstly, they are heading towards bankruptcy in the next decade or so unless they slash their spending. Secondly, both are facing diminishing incomes in the form of tax revenues as a result of the increasing ability of richer people to move to more tax friendly places and ageing populations (less taxpayers). Also, as more nations develop nuclear weapons the viability and appeal of war to the leaders of the most powerful nations decreases. War is no fun when you could be killed just as easily as your soldiers on the battlefield. Nuclear war is essentially suicide. Those in power are just human beings. They want to live. They don’t want to die for their cause, they want others to die for it and care little if at all about those who die because of it. Technology and the laws of economics might just shoe-horn humanity into a future bereft of large-scale acts of violence. We can only hope.