Is there an alternative?

Published online 26 March 2011.

It appears that in the end we here in the US have been reduced to passivity before history — the standard argument for war justifies the existence of the military-industrial complex, and the military-industrial complex justifies its own war on the world, so there’s really no end to it.  We might as well wait until the ultimate crisis of exhaustion, since that’s what we’re for the most part doing already.  Or maybe there’s an alternative — let’s focus on that.

I suppose that today the focus of the DailyKos multitudes is upon Bob Herbert’s last column — let me direct your attention to disrael’s recent diary on the topic, since you might have read the others.  I might also be tempted to endorse laflaur’s diary, as well, for its important question of futures, of “how many wars after Libya?”.  But I have one caveat about that piece — embedded in that diary is a certain endorsement of existing systems of money and property:

The United States is in a chronic revenue crisis—while radicals in Congress are constantly threatening to shut down the government over excessive spending—and does not have the money to be firing off 110+ Tomahawk missiles at $1.4 million a pop and supporting at least 10 U.S. battleships or aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. We already cannot afford $16 billion per month in Afghanistan (estimate by economist Joseph Stiglitz).

The idea that the war isn’t “affordable” might have some merit, but I don’t see it as being real enough to qualify as a good argument.  I encounter this word “crisis” often in the now-and-then discussions of the “crisis of capitalism” — the mere invocation of the word “crisis” does not offer any assurances that anything “critical” is really going to happen.  There’s no “we cannot afford” here, when the “we,” the elites, can command the printing of money to finance anything “we” want.  Money isn’t an object like a rock is an object.  Money is a social convention — specifically, money is a claim upon wage labor, and the printers of money can keep claiming wage labor for the cause of the military-industrial complex as long as the wage laborers will accept the claim that money represents.

So the analysis has got to go further.  We can apparently have all the military industrial complex desired by those who command the printing of money for it — but when does it really end?

My main concern here is with the standard justification of military intervention, of which you see glimpses even in teacherken’s earlier diary about Libya.  It goes something like this: now and then you see these evil dictators, see, and they massacre their own people, and so we’ve got to send in the US military industrial complex, preferably under the aegis of “international opinion” (meaning of course the political class) but usually in the name of the US Armed Forces.  Oh, sure, the real motive of US military action is anticommunism, or controlling the oil, or corporate money, or establishing NATO or something like that.  It’s never anything benign.  You have to take the bad with the good.  But, you see, there are humanitarian successes which can be advertised for each of these wars, and so they’re all justified.  Clinton put Milosevic in his place, and so all of this stuff was basically OK.  Bush Junior rid the world of the genocidal Saddam Hussein, a task which neither his father nor Clinton had the daring to do, and Iraq is now (a million deaths and three trillion dollars later) at least formally a free-market democracy.  Afghanistan and Pakistan need protection from the woman-hating Taliban — never mind that the US Armed Forces are not very good at promoting feminism in AfPak (and that they’re paying the Taliban to fight the Taliban), they’re doing it, and so it’s worthwhile.  Obama is protecting Libyan rebels from the death-dealing mercenaries of Moammar Gaddafi, who is himself now perched on the precipice of insanity.  And all of this rhetoric is fundamentally valid — the wars it defends are, on balance, justified.  What’s really troubling about the immediate justification of “humanitarian warfare” and its variants is the seeming validity of its arguments — the antiwar side can’t really land a convincing defeat upon such propositions.

But do we really want a world in which the military-industrial complex is continually justified and rejustified under this ideology of “if you want peace, prepare for war“, and fighting wars in “roughly a dozen countries” at any one time?   Do we want a world dominated by a worldwide network of US military bases?

I want nothing of the sort.  What became of the ideal of peace?

it should be clear at this point that the ideal of peace will not be possible through a series of ad hoc responses every time some President declares war and justifies it as “necessary” and deserving of the backing of the already-mobilized military industrial complex despite all of the death that will ensue.  Those responses might be the popular responses to war, but we’re not going to get peace that way.

Now, I’m sure there are a number of good texts which have so far outlined the conditions for peace, the political situations in which peace is more likely to occur.  The discussion of how to get peace, long-lasting peace, has been around awhile, and there are plenty of people who have engaged and who today engage such a conversation; therefore it should be no secret.  To conclude, I’m going to cite a few short passages from Aldous Huxley’s pacifist tract (1937) Ends and Means which should point in the right direction.

(I suppose I’m choosing Huxley because he’s one of my favorite authors — but this sort of diary could be written with a number of other examples in mind, from Gandhi to Thoreau to any of the radicals.)

I have said that a country which proposes to make use of modern war as an instrument of policy must possess a highly centralized, all-powerful executive.  But, conversely, a country which possesses a highly centralized, all-powerful executive is more likely to wage war than a country where power is decentralized and the population genuinely governs itself.  (71)

So is our population genuinely self-governing?  Or are we merely in a coping process with our all-powerful executive branch?  It’s easy to see from the example of the Zapatistas that if we can’t push our government in the right direction, we ought to form our own.  The ideal of “mandar obedeciendo” does not fit well with a government which rules by communique.

The voters in every country desire peace.  But hardly any of them are prepared to pay the price of peace.  In the modern world the “things that make for peace” are disarmament, unilateral if necessary, renunciation of exclusive empires, abandonment of the policy of economic nationalism; determination in all circumstances to use the methods of non-violence; systematic training in such methods.  (146)

Now “economic nationalism” and “empires” were the stuff of expanding capitalism in Huxley’s day.  We might ask ourselves, then, what needs to be renounced in this day and age, then — the first thing which comes to mind is the economy of fossil fuels (and, for that matter, other resources vital to industrial society).  The global abandonment of industrialization in favor of a “conserver society” is, then, on the peace agenda.

The other point of Huxley’s, here, which deserves reflection is that of the methods of non-violence.  It may not be possible at first to use such methods exclusively; but to what extent, we might ask, is non-violence training promoted in the societies on Earth which struggle to be free?

Most people find example more convincing than argument.  The fact that a theory has actually worked is a better recommendation for its soundness than any amount of ingenious dialectic.  (147)

Do we really study the peace movement to see what works, and what doesn’t?

At any rate, all of the resources are there: for peace studies in the university, for peace institutes, for a Department of Peace as (for instance) was once advocated by Dennis Kucinich.   You should, then, with all of your brainpower and resources, be able to construct an avenue for the success of the peace movement which we don’t have, and thus the long-term initiative to establish peace on Earth.


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