Is war inevitable? The short answer, for any peace activist or anyone wanting to inhabit a world that can sustain life must be no! Is war an imminent possibility, then the short answer is, regardless of the hopes, wishes and desires of the people, an unfortunate yes.
Building a movement that makes war not imminent but unlikely, not probable but improbable is a big task. Are we just whistling in the wind? Are we tilting at windmills? Are our numbers so insubstantial as to make us idle dreamers? Is our species, given its history of slaughter, not pre-conditioned to war? The answer must be a resounding no! We are, by virtue of standing against war and the warmongers proof that ideas cannot be so easily destroyed.
Chris Hedges; former war correspondent, award winning journalist, Presbyterian minister, peace activist, and socialist, in his book, What Every Person Should Know About War, reveals that in the last 3,400 years of human history, just 268 were spent entirely in peace. That is just eight per cent of recorded history. He tells us that in the 20th century alone, 108 million people died in war and that a figure possibly close to one billion have died across recorded history. Hedges is an activist, pledged to halting such madness. Despite the bleak statistics, he remains an optimist.
Those same figures, or variations, are often used by the right to prove that we, as a species, are a huge warring tribe and that war, conflict and aggression are somehow innate characteristics of humans. It is much the same argument that says we are inherently greedy, avaricious and self-centred. But we are a social, socialised, gregarious animal.
War is not a natural state for humans. In every age there have been wars and, in every age soldiers have been coerced, forced, conscripted and latterly, paid to fight. They have rarely become willing sacrifices.
Human history and pre-history, was for many centuries marked by what is often called ‘primitive communism.’ Society was not marked by class, patriarchy, exploitation, or by war as we may regard it today.
Things changed when power devolved into the hands of the few. We see the worst excesses of that today. Everything and everybody becomes a commodity. Power is held by the few and we are constantly told that this is the natural order of things. In 1984, Orwell, warning against rising authoritarianism and the manipulation of thought, wrote that, ‘who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’
Regardless of the very best attempts by those who mislead us, and a highly propagandised media, voices are still raised against the status quo. The advocates of war and militarisation are consistent and tireless in their work to convince us that they are right and that there is only one way forward. Every outburst from the pro-war lobby group ASPI, magnificently funded from government and the international arms industry has, as part of its purpose the need to remind us of the lie that we are a warring species. Five years ago, when Washington declared an end to the ‘war on terror’ and a return to ‘great power rivalry’ a special edition of Foreign Affairs magazine was published. It was devoted to the question of nuclear conflict. One article was elegantly titled: ‘If you Want Peace, Prepare for Nuclear War: a strategy for the new great-power rivalry.’ Its author, Elbridge Colby, was one of the principal authors of the new Pentagon drive to war.
A number of connected things emerge. Firstly, there is a deliberate drive to war that comes from Washington and is supported by allies like Australia. Secondly, the war drive is inevitably linked to a furious demand on the part of the US and business to maintain control of global market share. Thirdly, any drive to war or actual war, must maintain a degree of support from the people. It is in this sense that the media plays such a huge role. We must be kept from the unpalatable truth that any future war will be for economic reasons. We must be kept from the fact that the enemy, China, is not a threat to us but rather to the interests of the US, politically, ideologically, and of utmost import, economically.
The anti-China rhetoric that we see, through the news, through madness like AUKUS, like creating mini-NATOs of Japan, South Korea and the US, of Quad group activities, of endless war games, of the entire militarisation of the region, is all aimed both at preparing for war and preparing the people to support war.
If the same media told us why such preparations are underway, that it will be war for profit, then support would fall away. The behaviour of America and its loyal allies are not signs of strength but of weakness.
It is one thing to know this and for small but tenacious groups of activists to know this. The problem lies in educating, agitating and organising a far stronger voice. The pessimist sees the odds that are stacked against us and despairs. The optimist recognises that the struggle is on-going; difficult but never impossible.
When we look about us, we see small numbers standing against antagonistic forces and widespread apathy. This is not a reason to be pessimistic. The fact that, despite the vast arsenal of government, media and an entire economic structure that demands a group thought, an opposition remains, is important.
Consciousness-raising is a slow process. We can only do so much. Our opponents, so hell-bent on destruction, also act to raise consciousness. When the state pours billions of dollars into armaments and leaves people to fend for themselves, to live insecurely, with poor health outcomes, in poverty, with growing numbers of homeless, then it does our work for us.
We need to remind people of the fact that the state is supposedly there to serve the people. Every poster, every placard, every leaflet, every letter to the editor, every person we speak to at rallies, public meetings, in our homes, schools or workplaces serves to raise the collective consciousness by that little bit. We cannot, of ourselves, turn a switch or wave a wand and resolve the problem but if we look around us we can see that our numbers are growing and our ideas are stronger than all the missiles that can be turned on the people.