WILLIAM BRIGGS. Snow globes on the road to war


I stood the other day in a post office queue. Among a range of souvenirs marking the centenary of the end of WWI, were commemorative snow globes. It suggested all that is perverse in marketing, but then it might be argued that marketing is a perverse science. Australians are increasingly being convinced to ‘buy’ a product that they neither want or need – militarisation and all that goes with it.

The local Murdoch daily in Hobart has posted a series of articles to celebrate a hundred years since the end of the war. There will, by November 11, have been 100 such stories, spread across 100 days. It has been one of those years and it feels that it has been going on and on and on. For months leading up to ANZAC day there were placards and life-sized cut-outs of solemn warrior figures making sure that we would ‘not forget’. We then slid, seamlessly, into the build-up to Remembrance Day.

There has also been the Invictus Games. None dare criticise this event, but one rather telling interview speaks volumes for the way we live now. A representative of the Australian Ukrainian community spoke of the ‘dream’ that wounded Ukrainian fighters might awake, healed, so that they might once more re-join battle. Lockheed, Raytheon and Boeing, as sponsors of the Games, would warmly endorse such a sentiment, while simultaneously counting the profits they make each year from providing the military hardware that guarantees future Invictus athletes.

Governments find it important to remind Australians to ‘remember’ and to remain committed to a growing militarisation of the state and the economy. Our budget is edging closer to the 2 per cent of GDP target for ‘defence’ spending. There has been a consistent political campaign, a sleight of hand, with the aim of persuading us that spending on weaponry and the military is a new industry policy and not a means to preparation for war. Unfortunately, there is a bipartisanship in this. Militarisation, for our politicians, means jobs and not potential destruction. Such is the disturbing thinking of our political masters. Australia is undergoing the greatest increase in spending on military hardware since World War II. The list of new warships, fighters, anti-shipping missiles, or drones, are spoken of in the gentlest of terms. They are not offensive weapons but innocuous requirements for national defence and to keep us ‘safe’. Who we are being kept safe from is another matter. It is just possible that other governments are spending to keep their people ‘safe’ from unnamed threats as well. It might not make sense but then we must simply trust to the good offices of those who know better than us.

In this topsy-turvy world of unreality, we are told that billions of dollars spent on weaponry makes us ‘safe’. That might sound a little Orwellian, but it pales when compared to a headline in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. The magazine has devoted the entire issue to the question of nuclear conflict. The article in question is titled: “If you Want Peace, Prepare for Nuclear War: a strategy for the new great-power rivalry”. It would be nice to think that Elbridge Colby was offering us a warning to pull back from some apocalyptic abyss, but that was not his intent. Colby, incidentally, was one of the principal authors of a paper published by the Pentagon earlier this year that explained that the ‘war on terror’ was effectively over and that the US military was recommitting to the concept of great-power competition and confrontation.

Things can sometimes move quickly in international relations. The US-inspired trade war is pushing the world toward a new cold war. The cold war was, of course, framed by ideology. Any new versions are less ideological and more economic in nature. The stakes remain high and especially so given the fragility of the global economy and America’s place in that global economy. Tensions between the US and both China and Russia are becoming more and more acute. Interestingly, Colby’s article appeared just days before the US announced that it would be withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, that prohibited Washington and Moscow from developing short and medium-range missiles. Increasingly it would appear that the unthinkable is being thought and given consideration.

The new thinking, as articulated by Colby, acknowledges that the “risks of nuclear brinkmanship may be enormous, but so is the payoff from gaining a nuclear advantage over an opponent.” To make sure that nobody was uncertain, he went on to state that any “future confrontation with Russia or China could go nuclear … in a harder-fought, more uncertain struggle, each combatant may be tempted to reach for the nuclear sabre.”

Yes, this is unthinkable, or it ought to be. Nobody with an ounce of sanity or humanity could countenance such a thing and yet position papers, not the ramblings of deranged individuals, but of institutions with responsibility for the future of the planet are daily contemplating such nightmarish scenarios.

This seems a long way from celebrating the centenary of the signing of the Armistice, but it is not really so very far away. The people, in the years leading up to WWI, learned to celebrate their unique nationalism. They learned that threats were real and becoming closer. Enemies were found, and animosities engendered. The wheel, it would seem, has turned. Enemies are being identified, threats are being ‘discovered’ and insecurity is being fostered.

When next you stand in line at your local post office and look at the snow globes, consider that it was probably made in a factory, in a country that is now being considered a threat, by a worker who is rapidly becoming an ‘enemy’. Consider also that we might just possibly be being manipulated.

William Briggs recently completed a PhD at Deakin University. His special interests and expertise lies in area of International Relations, Global Political Economy and Political Theory. He lives and works in Hobart.


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4 Responses to WILLIAM BRIGGS. Snow globes on the road to war

  1. Colin Cook says:

    A very pertinent article – many thanks for articulating the dangerous stupidities being espoused in high places. I am reminded of Mrs Thatcher’s declaration on opening her first Farnborough Air Show – late 70s – that ‘our best and most creative brains are employed in the defence industry; therefore we must export these weapons to capitalise on their talents’. Not her exact words but the sentiment was clear. The following years saw the decline and near death of locally owned car and vehicle production for civilian purposes. UK military exports are still high.
    The enthusiasm of the present-day Australian government to embrace military hardware/arms production as a way forward – a means of building a prosperous future – is just sickening.

  2. Tony Kevin says:

    William Briggs, “Snow Globes on the Road to War” . Pearls and Irritations 28 Oct.

    This is a most important and insightful article. So far, our academic strategic community seems largely silent – I have only found one article by Ramesh Thakur, published outside Australia and helpfully republished 28 Oct in P and I , and one brief report by Hamish McDonald in his World Page in latest Saturday Paper . In Moscow and Washington, by contrast , lively public debate is underway. Kennan and Wilson Centres are both holding seminars to be published online. NPR All Things Considered is covering (see article I put up on FB). Moscow Radio Sputnik is broadcasting a range of interviews with scholars from all over the world ( including, flatteringly, me) .

    So where is Australia? it seems, on another much safer planet in a galaxy faraway.

    ANU should be mounting a public seminar on this Involving a balanced range of views and perspectives, . Where is SDSC? ASPI? Lowy? Wheeler? ABC News and Current Affairs ?

    Our great ally is deliberately and needlessly reigniting the nuclear arms race under a mad strategy concocted by Robert Bolton, who more and more resembles Dr Strangelove – but there are many like him In the US power elite – and we stick our necks further in the sand. It ain’t real, apparently. Or important .

    I guess we are still digesting the news? . That, or prudently choosing to ignore it?

    Tony Kevin.

  3. Jim KABLE says:

    William BRIGGS:

    I had a couple of sessions at the Athletics Stadium of the Invictus Games at the end of last week. Thinking of my near kinsman currently undergoing PTSD counselling – following the six-month “tour” mission to Afghanistan – the work he did there compounded by the kind of officer bullying those of lower ranks apparently have to put up with but none of us back here in civvie-land are supposed to know about. I got into a discussion with an English couple here to cheer on Team UK (and everyone else – as we were all doing) and the chap spoke of his military service in The Falklands and in Northern Ireland (way back when a mere 18-years old). And he’d had time in West Africa. What he loved about Invictus was the clear and strong support for every participant – that it was not about “winning”, that all participants had gone through struggles, but with support (spouses/families) had come to these games and to a kind of family who understood exactly where they were coming from – physically or mentally maimed. Unlike, he added, his own separation from his military career. I didn’t question further but it was clear that he had been through hard times – and his wife alongside him an important element in his recovery – if I can call it that.

    The officials, the crowds, the Invictus athletes – was this entirely supported by the Dept of Veteran Affairs? (Or no support at all?) You have mentioned Raytheon, Lockheed and Boeing. I saw advertising from UNSW (ADFA), from Jaguar. There were lots of young people around Homebush in military uniforms – handing out maps – pointing out directions – military bands…I crossed paths with a noted pram-pushing ex-PM/associated figures. Oh right – the son-in-law is now an RSL heavy. On evening TV summaries I saw the current PM, I saw Christopher Pyne – for god’s sake – the present pusher of those ugly WMD which had put most of the young athletes into their present predicaments. These for me were the truly jarring moments. Bloody politicians – the war-mongerers – the murders and maimers of our young – among whom they come and smile. Ugh!

    Nothing was said about the Department of Veteran Affairs but DVA is in fact the single institution most responsible for the suffering of our young service people. The statistics on suicide wrought by the bureaucratic insensitivities require a Royal Commission investigation – and the names of the significant bullies within its structure made public.

    Bravo to the Invictus Family – Harry & Meghan – Bravo to the ABC coverage – Bravo to the example of generosity and sharing and kindness to others – what a games – no medal tally counts by country – these games for me marked the end of any respect I might have had for the Me! Me! Me! Gold! Gold! Gold! of the Olympics – that kind of sporting competitiveness is now totally passé – selfishness write large!

  4. Tony Kevin says:

    So well written and so true. This is the new reality we are, in blissful ignorance, entering. When will the penny drop for our political class?

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