Friday 30 January 2009

The Road to War

Wars seemingly happen for a variety of reasons.
Or so it would seem.
Looking back on some of the wars of history, we are often bemused as to what on earth they were really about.

But there are wars and there are wars. Wars only last as long as both sides can actually be bothered to fight them. As long as they have soldiers to fight and a civilian population prepared to support it. There has to be a war effort of some kind. And many wars are really just military operations. They are extensions of foreign policy. The state has an army, so it uses it. Nothing much changes back home. Once it starts to affect life at home, peace tends to be made.

But some wars are different. History hasn't seen many such wars, wars which were fought in which society itself was at stake. Wars that couldn't be solved by coming to terms, because there were no terms to come to. They were violent phasal shifts in human society, chemical reactions almost, wars which came to pass because human society itself had erupted.

A typical war would be the Falklands war. Or even Korea. And one could even say Vietnam. And further back in history, the Boer war. And the war of the Spanish Succession.
Politician's wars. King's wars. The ordinary citizen didn't mind paying for them, because it didn't make that much difference. The armies were already paid for and they didn't affect civilian life. And the reasons, if not always sounding good, at least weren't so bad that the civilian felt bad about thinking 'My country right or wrong'. As long as the civilian felt that, the state could carry on what essentially was a war between STATES.

But then there are wars like the Thirty Year's war. Or the Two World Wars. Wars which weren't just wars of states in conflict. They were societies in conflict. The civilians of the countries concerned felt the conflict and felt that their own lives depended on the outcome. These weren't wars created merely as an extension of foreign policy. These were wars fought because human society had become a powder keg waiting to explode.

An interesting point about the Second World War I often think is that we actually blame Germany with far more conviction than we blame Germany for the First World War. I suppose it's worth referring to this post for the reasons why blaming Germany for the First world War is actually pretty sound. Though what we should really bear in mind, is that war would have happened at some point, if not in 1914, than a year or two after. For the reasons outlined in that post.

In much the same way, we say the Second World War was 'started by Hitler', but it's not the whole picture. It depends what you consider as having started the war. Britain didn't declare war on Germany because Germany invaded Poland. That was the gloss put on it. And in fact, subsequent events meant an even bigger gloss needed to be put on it. Britain declared war on Germany because Germany invaded Poland by prior agreement with the Soviet Union after having signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, without having consulted Britain. And Britain was now worried about the potential of that alliance. It couldn't take them both on, so it declared war on the nearest threat.

Curiously, the person you can actually most say was behind this was- Guy Burgess.
Burgess informed his paymasters in July 1939 what the state of play in Britain was. That the British government was more than happy to come to terms with Hitler over Poland, seeing Hitler as a lesser evil than Stalin. Long term, Britain wanted to play Germany and Russia off against eachother, but for the time being felt it was better to build up Germany.

Stalin outmaneouvered them both by making overtures to Hitler. So in a sense, Hitler's biggest mistake, was the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Of course, had he not signed it, we'd still have probably had World War Two. Only it would have been Stalin who was the evil bad guy with the death camps where horrified allied tropps discovered skeletal corpses at the end of the war. And Hitler who stood side by side with Churchill and Roosevelt at- could very well still have been Yalta. Uncle Adolf, our ally against evil Stalin.

And at the end of it all? An Iron Curtain, no doubt.

The war was going to happen. It was going to happen the day the Wall Street stock market crashed.
The war happened, because the problem that had led to the First World War had resurfaced. The glitch in the economic mode of production and distribution. And it affected everybody. It even affected the Soviet Union. Because the Soviet Union was still part of the global Capitalist economy. It still operated a Capitalist system. The only difference was the state was the only Capitalist.

It was no longer possible for the amount of money accruing from goods being sold to exceed the amount of money the people producing those goods were paid. And it always has to, in a Capitalist economy. Because there has to be sufficient funds left over to pay the interest.
The situation generally results in a slowing down in the movement of resources. This leads to general unrest. And it causes groups to seek explanations for the apparent deterioration in circumstances. Things that once were scarcely relevant now seem highly significant.
The future becomes uncertain.

The mass psychology of an economic depression is different to that of prosperous times. Both politicians and their people are viewing things more hysterically and with greater anxiety than they might in normal circumstances.

For one thing, Hitler would not have come to power if Germany hadn't been on it's knees. But let's say he had. Let's say he had come to power in prosperous times. Would he have re-armed to such a degree? I guess he would still have re-armed, still have built concentration camps, still have done much of what he did. But before war broke out, was world domination actually his objective?

I'm not entirely sure it was. I think it became that, once war had started, because of the relative ease with which he conquered most of Europe. But if Britain and France hadn't declared war in the first place? He was a megalomaniac in some ways, who came to believe in his own myth. I think he himself was surprised how easy it was to march into Paris. I'm not saying he was a peaceful chap. He certainly saw war as a kind of invigorating force, something to forge his brave New Germany out of. And he had whipped the German people up into almost wanting war, seeing war as the only way they could break the deadlock of a world political order skewed against Germany. People in Germany had come to believe that war was necessary for a better future.

But- we ignore the fact that the mass psychology was the same elsewhere. To be sure, we didn't see our politicians over in Britain whipping up the populace and glorifying war but- how did people FEEL about war?

The Oxford Union debate which famously voted that 'That this House would in no circumstances fight for King and Country' is often held up as proof that the British public were pacifists.
False logic. The people taking part in this debate were largely public school boys, with a future guaranteed. No, they don't want a return of 1914. They want to go off and work in Daddy's bank.

But when clouds of war start to loom, the real question that matters for most of the male population is 'How do I feel about going off to fight?' and for the women 'How do I feel about my man going off to fight?'

In 1928, you could have shown the British public actual evidence of the gas chambers and people still wouldn't have wanted to go to war. Not if it looked too serious. A little war, maybe, one that involved the armed forces, but conscription? No. Let paid soldiers deal with it, but if it involves taking Joe Public away from his job and his family, forget it.

But in 1939, there are enough people looking at the newsreels and thinking 'Oh well. Looks like war. Well, it might not be so bad. Our family might be better off. Because the army will be paying for my keep, I'll be sending pay home, and of course there will be factory work for the missus too. True, I might get killed, but at least I fed the kids. More dignity in a Tommy uniform than standing in the dole queue'.

And Industry? How does Industry and Commerce feel? Once a war would be bad for them, when times were good. It would prevent growth. So they would use their influence on government to urge for peace. Not now. They don't need employees, and there are millions of potential employees out there to replace any taken away by a war. What they really need is consumption to go up. And a war will certainly increase consumption.

So people aren't any longer actually looking at the newsreels and hoping that it doesn't come to war. They're weighing up the pros and cons of how it might affect their lives and it doesn't seem such a bad thing as once it might have done.

It has become far easier to convince people that war is the right answer. But really, the point is that what everyone wants is for something to happen that means everyone has something to do, productivity is heightened, goods are consumed and people aren't starving. And fortunately, the climate of anxiety has meant that people have other people to blame. They have taken their worries about their own future and projected them elsewhere. Hitler got the Germans to focus on the Jews. Stalin got his people to focus on Trotsky and so-called revanchists. And we focused on Hitler and Stalin.

But the real reason the war happened and became the conflagration it was, was because enough people in the world believed that their lives during a war wouldn't be that much worse and that maybe at the end of at all, their lives might be considerably better. Because whatever it was that had brought human life to this state, would be gone.

Maybe we shouldn't be too worried right now. Because if they're trying to sell us the concept of the Axis of Evil, they're not entirely succeeding. But we still should be concerned.

What really matters is if the political situation in the Middle East comes to the point where a major Arab nation declares war on Israel. Let's just say, the Arab League as a whole, declares war on Israel and commits itself to removing Israel from the face of the Earth.
A Pearl Harbour moment. Would the West risk a full scale war to save Israel? I'm not talking about an Iraq type war, because that's not what it would be.

It would be this; the West could respond by mobilising, or it could abandon Israel to its fate, let it sink or swim. Now at one time, the second option is the one that would have been followed. Think Yom Kippur. But now? Look at how subtly the landscape has changed. Not to support Israel would be a climbdown. It would be allowing the 'rogue states' Syria and Iran to 'get away with it'.

So the West would certainly respond by sending in troops. But the difference is, this problem doesn't need to be solved in a matter of weeks, like with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Because it actually doesn't matter that much who the chattering classes think is right or wrong.
From an economic point of view, war solves a lot of problems. It speeds up consumption and it provides employment. There are many more people out there now thinking 'Well, if it comes to war, it may not be so bad'.

If the government started putting out recruitment posters, they'd get more interest than they once would have done.
And the psychological mindset is almost ready. People would say 'It's a chance to deal with these Muslims once and for all. We got to beat them and beat them properly. No more of these little wars, we got to end it'.

The mindset is there. That an apocalyptic battle between West and East is coming, Freedom versus the Imams. People are ready to believe it, they do believe it and whilst life was good, they hoped that if it kicked off, the army would be enough. Now they are thinking that they might as well be part of the 'solution' rather than collecting a giro. Because they can't even afford to go for a pint.

There are getting on for four million unemployed in the UK now. And this means that most of them aren't habitual unemployed, they're people whose sense of self worth has been affected and going off 'To fight for freedom against the Muslims' would give them self esteem. So they'd do it.

And Finance and Industry? Well, it would certainly suit them. Increased productivity with reduced costs. Because in a war everybody 'pulls together'. Guaranteed sale. It's a seller's market.

So psychologically, humanity is conditioned to be ready for war. We're probably as close as we've been since 1939 to really being in a state of war hysteria, though we don't realise it. As in, enough people being in the frame of mind where they feel 'War? Why not?'

But the thing is, once it starts no one is really in control.

And this war will have one characteristic no war has ever had before. And this fact will escape ordinary people.
There will be nuclear weapons on both sides.

So once this war has started, the world as we know it really is over.

It will end in global revolution and these buttons will be taken away for good.

Or it will end in global totalitarianism.

Or it will end in a lot of mushroom clouds.


Anonymous said...

It would be nice if the end happened in a quick and painless (as much as is possible) manner.

There's a cheery thought. :)

Anonymous said...

Great post, very interesting.

When will we every say enough is enough to bombs and killing each other and suffering? I know it's a simplistic view but bloody hell - haven't we all learnt enough from lessons past about what war achieves?

I like to believe we're a much more educated and well balanced population, but there are stark examples that we are not, actually, and those examples are everywhere you look.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...We declared war on Germany because we'd been embarrassed enough over Czechoslovakia and there was no way even Chamberlain was going to let Hitler take Poland - we'd guaranteed its independence. The Soviet Union's invasion started on the 17th, two weeks after Hitler's, under the terms of the secret protocol of the Pact. You're right that the Pact frightened us though. After all, as Stalin said, they'd just spent ten years "pouring buckets of shit over each other".

Interestingly, one of the guys in that photo of the Eiffel Tower is Albert Speer, whose extremely slippery testimony saved his life at Nurembury and whom Gitta Sereny thinks lived out a lifelong battle with truth - her book on him is brilliant.

Don't get me started on the Bomb though - I still think about Threads every day!

If however, you have had a body in the house for more than five days, and if it is safe to go outside, then you should bury the body for the time being in a trench, or cover it with earth....

That would only be the end of civilisation. The struggle for survival would only just be beginning. And those idiots who so desperately wanted August 1914 would have finally reaped their reward...if you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

YOu make a good point about the differences between States wars and cultural wars. I kind of realized this intuitively but had never quite put it into words.

Anonymous said...

Sweet Cheeks- Well, we have to hope it doesnt come to that.

I like to think we the people can say 'No' when the time comes.

Kate- People csay it's simplistic, but the power really does rest with us. Collectively we really can stand up and say no.

But yes, you sum up the problem. They really do keep us sedated on the treadmill.

TD- Not quite right- The British government had already agreed what it was prepared to grant Hitler. Had he not signed the Nazi-Soviet pact, and the meting had taken place, I think he'd have taken it. It was another Munich, basically. Poland would have to give back th Germn speaking parts of West Prussia and also allow Germany to build a motorway connecting East Prussia to the Reuch which would be under German sovereignty. And Danzig would be reincorporated.

Britain was actually happy to agree to this.

I can't make my mind up on Speer. I've read his Inside the Third Reich and his Prison Diaries and I agree, he kind of fooled himself but I think he was basically a decent man. This is the scary thing, because I don't think all the Nazis were evil nutcases. Some clearly were, but most of the really sick ones evaded capture.

I sometimes wonder how long it would take us to rcreate it all if we were wiped out, ninety percent of us. If it really would take centuries to rebuild it.

To be honest, I'm not sure. Actually I think now, probably not. I think it's all about knowledge. And the knowledge wouldn't be destroyed.

Charles- Funny how many thingsthere are like that, isn't it? I find that quite a lot. Something hits me and I end up writing about it and I realise its not a NEW idea, its just I've realised how to express something. And when you express it, it makes sense.