Conflict, conquest, weaponry, wars and the power of propaganda
Ever since the Stone Age, man has made himself weapons, initially to help slaughter animals for food but then to fight other tribes to gain power one over the other. Because of human ingenuity, over the centuries more and more sophisticated weapons have been developed, in order to gain supremacy in conflicts between individuals and groups. So, what may have started with hand-held stones and clubs, escalated into bigger and bigger, more sophisticated and more powerful, weapons, until we are where we are today, with nuclear weapons that can destroy humanity, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, that can do the same, and missiles that can be fired from distant places, well away from the battlefield, and guided remotely to their target.
The escalation and production of weapons was facilitated and enhanced by the industrial revolution until, towards the end of the Second World War, the nuclear bomb was developed – and released over Japan – which has the potential to destroy the population of the whole world, human, animal and plant. The recognition of the potential of this lethal weapon to trigger a nuclear war, which would destroy us all, led to the Cold War and a tacit agreement not to use nuclear weapons. But this has not stopped conflict and hatred between nations, suspicion, a lack of trust between nations and the desire to find a (safer) weapon to demonstrate one nation’s perceived supremacy over another. The latest development is the use of satellite-guided drones and missiles, to wipe out targets (people) from a distance, but many mistakes have been made with these, with innocent people and children being slaughtered unnecessarily.
The purpose of this book is to show the interconnectedness of all things, not to get into an argument about the rights and wrongs of wars, but I think it might be worth a look at some of the psychology behind the use of weapons, if we are to find a way of moving to global co-operation in order to save the planet.
I believe that the Hollywood film industry has a lot to answer for in its portrayal of “macho” men, firing guns in order to wipe out the “enemy”, both in their early Westerns and, more recently, in promoting different kinds of aggression, associated with maleness, as being the norm. Many young men watching such films are influenced by this and identify with the macho culture, so that it becomes part of their sexual identity, much the same as the glamour culture clearly influences young women.
The parallels that can be seen between a potent form of male sexuality and the firing of a gun are obvious to all, though rarely acknowledged. Examples of this are the rapidly-increasing numbers of mass killings in the USA by young post-pubertal men wielding repeating rifles and the unwillingness of the American male gun lobby to support legislation banning guns from general use, as it is seen as a form of emasculation.
This macho culture, rivalry and the desire for conquest has even crept into sport, with victory celebrations often using a bottle of champagne, shaken to mimic ejaculation.
The Hollywood macho film culture has been exported successfully overseas too, with young males in many countries identifying with this aggressive gun culture and the need to conquer and eliminate rivals.
I am, of course, seeing this from a woman’s point of view and acknowledge that it is not only men who are responsible for instigating, or participating in, wars. Britain’s Margaret Thatcher set in motion the Falklands War, which led to thousands of needless casualties from Argentina and the UK, when agreement could have been reached through diplomacy.
A hero image is frequently propagated to entice young men to fight for their country, even though the reality of war is very different from the glamorised image. During the First World War, many young men (some barely out of childhood) volunteered to go to war, only to find that trench warfare was far from glamorous and many of them, if they did return home, never really recovered from shell shock (or post-traumatic stress disorder). Yet, those who opposed the concept of war at that time, were frequently put into prison and scorned as cowards. Those who deserted the army were often executed.
So, why is this hero/glamour myth taken on board by so many? Why does the glamour/hero culture perpetuate despite the shocking experiences of the First World War and later wars? I think the rise of the Hollywood gun culture during this period has a part to play here. Plus a mind-set in politicians that a successful war will enhance their reputation, each aspiring to be a modern-day Churchill or Nelson.
Fig.55: A young soldier firing an automatic rifle during the Afghanistan war
The arms industry
Another factor at work here is the arms industry. Like other businesses, which have international trading opportunities, there is an assumption that selling arms to other countries, even to those who are potential enemies, will be beneficial to our country, to the business, jobs and to the economy. It is a contradiction and leads to the development of more and more sophisticated weaponry, all leading to more carbon emissions, greater conflict and more mass killings. The economic reasons, used as an excuse to allow the escalation of the arms industry, are about encouraging economic growth will be dealt with in the next chapter.
Power and prestige
There are power issues at work here too. For example, the USA sees itself as a super-power and certain right wing elements within that country desire to see this power maintained or enhanced. For example, at the end of the Cold War, when the USSR was split into individual countries, some power-hungry American groups thought that this would be an ideal time to increase their power in the world. There have been suggestions that, even before the Iraq War, there was a consensus among these right-wing groups that Iraq should be a target, with regime-change and the elimination of Saddam Hussein being a priority. The war, of course, was a disaster, especially for the people of Iraq, with a vacuum being left there, which has been filled by anti-west terrorists, causing thousands of refugees to flee to Europe for their safety. There are also historical power issues associated with Russia and its control of former-USSR countries, as shown by the invasion of the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014.
And suspicions between countries, who were once at war, linger on and are exploited by a xenophobic irresponsible media hype. Propaganda has been used to increase suspicion, racism and xenophobia between nations. It was used very much in the two world wars to encourage and recruit young men to join the armed forces (“Your country Needs You” etc.) and used during the wars to wrong-foot the enemy. But today, it is frequently used by the right-wing media to drive and panic our population into open hostility towards people of other nationalities and ethnic groups. Most of what is written is lies but, if repeated often enough, it is believed and taken on board by the gullible, precipitating a fear that we are being swamped by foreigners, who are taking our jobs and our housing. It has led, in this country, to the formation and popularity, of the UK Independence Party. People with racist tendencies have flocked to it in huge numbers.
And some in Britain still hanker for a return to the power we formerly wielded over the commonwealth countries. Questions have been asked about why Britain still needs nuclear weapons and whether it is moral to commit some £80 billion on the Trident programme at a time when benefits are being cut for the disabled and others living in poverty, in the name of ‘austerity’. The defence of the country is usually the explanation for this significant outlay but others believe that it is not about defence at all but about prestige. Trident (together with worldwide military capacity) is a badge of power and, without the Trident submarine and its ability to launch nuclear warheads, our presence on the UN Security Council and other international bodies might be questioned. Successive governments have been only too willing to use taxes to promote and maintain this profitable and prestigious industry.
A few months ago, there was an interesting report in The Independent66 that a senior serving general in the British army had warned that the government could face mutiny from the army if it were to downgrade its weapons. The unnamed general was quoted as saying that, if the government tried to scrap Trident, pull out of NATO or announce plans to “emasculate or shrink the size of the armed forces”, they would be challenged. An interesting use of semantics in view of my earlier comments about the association between male sexuality and weaponry. Needless to say, the Ministry of Defence stepped in to say that we live in a democracy, so the general’s implied threat of a coup d’état was unlikely to take place. The incident does, however, further reinforce the theory of a strong link between male sexuality and the desire to possess and use powerful weapons.
Friendship between nations
It is these kinds of attitudes which prevent moves away from xenophobic hostility to international co-operation. However, the Queen’s example of developing friendship between commonwealth countries could be seen as a model for moving away from domination and control to friendly egalitarian partnerships.
Nelson Mandela’s example of relinquishing the desire for revenge on his release from many years’ of imprisonment, is another example of what can be achieved. His legacy of using peaceful means to achieve greater racial harmony in South Africa has had a far-reaching (and global) impact.
Any military strategist will tell you that if, during a battle, the circumstances and priorities change, then a new strategy must be quickly developed. I believe that we are now in such a situation in the world, with climate change and the imminent destruction of the planet completely changing the goal posts. It is now totally irrelevant to be maintaining nuclear weapons (of mass destruction), whether for prestige or for defence, at a time when we should be rallying together globally to avert an impending global disaster.
The carbon footprint of war
It has been estimated that the carbon footprint of a small nuclear exchange in a nuclear war would release 690 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, through the burning of cities; this would be more than the current annual emissions of the UK.
But a war doesn’t have to be nuclear to have a large carbon footprint. It seems obvious to me that the detonation of large bombs and the fires that are frequently caused in the aftermath of an explosion, are adding substantially to the overall carbon emissions. It has been suggested67 that the US military operation in Iraq may have clocked up around 160–500 million tonnes of CO2e, plus a further 80 million tonnes for the healthcare of injured troops. If the coalition forces’ activities are added to this, and the effects of a poorly resourced insurgency, this might increase to 250–600 million tonnes. And that’s excluding the direct emissions from the explosions that took place.
If we are to find a way out of the global, climate-change, crisis that is affecting people of all nations at this time, we have to find a way of moving on from old hostilities, rivalry and mistrust to a new form of global co-operation. Other great, international icons have also sounded a similar note, suggesting peace instead of warfare as the superior route:
And Gandhi said, “There is no path to peace. Peace is the path.”
Surprising in a way that none of these three great iconic statesmen of the past, who promoted peaceful methods of achieving societal harmony, came from the white communities. Is that a lesson for us? Is the white community to blame for the aggressive lack of harmony in the world?
The relationship between poverty and war
Professor Paul Rogers, in his briefing paper to the Oxford research Group (2012)6,68, argues that, in recent years, there has been significant economic growth across the world, with a super-elite of very rich people developing alongside (but totally unaware of) large numbers of marginalised and exploited people, who have not shared the fruits of economic success. The super-rich have become so through trading systems dominated by transnational corporations, which produce low-cost commodities at the expense of poor farmers and miners across the world. Because of improved communications, a consequence of this is that poor people are becoming more aware of their own marginalisation and have developed new social movements. There has been widespread anger and frustration particularly manifesting against the Middle East autocracies, leading to the so-called Arab Spring. Rogers expects this to grow across the world, and to combine with a growing environmental awareness of the damage that is being done to global ecosystems by powerful corporations. He believes that the socio-economic divisions alone, even without the environmental constraints already manifesting, point to a very disturbed future, with a greater risk of revolts from the margins, leading to wars.
It has also been calculated that, for the cost of the Iraq war, we could have ended world hunger for 30 years (John Greenberg, 2014)69. It would seem that those in power have got their priorities all wrong.
So, in summary then: the production of modern weaponry in itself contributes no more than other products of the IR continuum to increasing carbon emissions, but their use is strongly likely to do so. What war does is to promote a cycle of defensive aggressiveness and hostility, which adds to the escalation of more and more sophisticated weapons systems and increasing suspicion and division between nations. Unless this cycle is transformed, redirected or even better reversed, then the global co-operation needed to prevent the destruction of the planet will never happen.