My neighbor and friend, the antiwar activist David Swanson, recently published a terrific book that takes on, one by one, all the main myths/lies that warmongers use to try to persuade people that wars are effective, moral, and necessary. The book’s title ‘War is a Lie’ is a subtle reference to (and its contents a good complement to) Smedley Butler’s 1935 classic study ‘War is a Racket’.
Here are some of David’s chapter titles:
- Wars Are Not Fought Against Evil
Wars Are Not Launched in Defense
Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity
Wars Are Not Prolonged for the Good of Soldiers
Wars Are Not Fought on Battlefields
Wars Are Not Won, and Are Not Ended By Enlarging Them
David shares the fruits of some of his wide reading on the subject, packing really informative quotes and arguments into each chapter.
One of the most important chapters is Ch.8, “Wars are not fought on battlefields”. Here, he takes on the notion that many people still somehow have– and that also, I should note, is sustained to some degree by the way the international laws of war are framed– that warfare is something that takes place on a defined “field” that is outside and separate from heavily populated areas like cities… and that therefore the lethal effects of wars can somehow be prevented from inflicting too much damage on noncombatants. Well, that may have been the case back in the mid-19th century when the laws of war were first being framed. But the wars of the 20th century were increasingly fought in the midst of, and against, large concentrations of civilians. (And then, of course, there was Israel’s Gaza War of 2008-2009… ) So the notion that wars can somehow be ‘safely’ fought without harming civilians– or even, in the extreme warmongers’ fantasy, to help to ‘save’ civilians!– is clearly long out-of-date.
In that chapter, David notes further that within the war-planning and operations parts of the U.S. Pentagon and the CIA, the concept of a “battlefield” has been extended even further– to include just about anywhere where the U.S. government agencies feel they want to employ their lethal force, whether that is in (already war-ravaged) Somalia, (already war-ravaged) Yemen, Pakistan, or elsewhere… and also, that the protections that the U.S. Constitution gives to citizens at home in the U.S. are also, these days, frequently suspended in the name of a “war-on-terror”-related state of emergency. The “battlefield” has now become so large and so amorphous that it has swallowed us all up, to some degree.
Chapter 11, “War Does Not Bring Security and Is Not Sustainable” makes the key argument of the book. As I have argued here at Just World News for many years now– and also in my 2008 book “Re-Engage”– throughout the 20th century the instruments of military power were very rapidly losing their utility in real, geostrategic terms, that is, in terms of being able to actually realize and sustain the geopolitical goals their authors claimed for them. Indeed, in many cases, the use of military power rapidly ends up being seriously counter-productive for its user at the geostrategic level. The U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel’s assaults against Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-09 all fall into that category.
The reasons for the now actually counter-productive nature of warfare are several. But the three I would focus on are:
- (1) The fact that war wagers have progressively lost the capacity they once had to control the information environment, which throughout the 20th century became increasingly multi-faceted and globalized. That trend has accelerated in recent decades and cannot be reversed– thank G-d! So though the war wagers may continue with their lies and fabrications, they are no able to control what has now become an increasingly globalized, and multi-sourced, “message”.
(2) The fact that norms of human equality became increasingly institutionalized and internalized throughout the 20th century. In the 19th century, colonial powers fought wars of extermination throughout the global south with only very infrequent references to the fact that the beings they were wiping out were actually just as fully human as themselves. (The one author I wish David had included in his book is Sven Lindqvist, whose “Exterminate All the Brutes” and “A History of Bombing” are really informative classics on this subject.)
(3) The increasing financial burden that war waging and war preparations impose on countries that rely disproportionately on this instrument of global power. Does this development need explaining any more, today, to the U.S electorate???
Well, here we are in the 21st century of the Common Era, and given the violent history of the past decade, evidently the arguments about the disutility of warfare still need to be made, again and again and again… Depressing, really. But thank goodness David Swanson has taken up the effort. Buy the book!