1990s >> >> no-1056-august-1992

War—what it means and why

A figure based on statistics for civilians killed in military conflicts throughout the world between the years 1900 and 1990 is a staggering 115,119,000. This estimate given in World Social and Military Expenditures 1991 produced by World Priorities (Box 25140, Washington DC, 2000. USA) is on the low side since it does not take into account the wars of 60 minor nations.

Further, these statistics can only hint at the millions left orphaned and widowed and those who die from the famine and disease that invariably follows war. And we can only gasp in disbelief at the damage done to high-productive arable land, at the loss forever of mineral resources and at the effects of pollution, caused by these wars.

Governments and leaders who instigate wars have become masters of military rhetoric, for they can send millions to their deaths using such excuses as patriotism, religion and democracy. Even in our own century these have been the alleged causes of wars.

Socialists, however, recognise that we live in a world of capitalist domination in which the drive for profit comes before other concerns, and that wars are in reality fought over trade routes (Suez), areas of domination (the two world wars) and mineral resources (Gulf War).

If the recent Gulf War was fought to “defend democracy”, then why did $9 billion find its way into Saddam’s hands between 1984 and 1989? Why didn’t America retaliate when the USS Stark was attacked by Iraq in 1987 with the loss of 37 US lives, or when Saddam gassed 2000 Kurds in Halabja in 1988?

The Gulf War was fought for several capitalist-oriented reasons: to stabilize the world oil market, to protect Americas strategic imperialist interests in the Middle East and, as Simon Tisdall observed recently in the Guardian (20 May), “Bush also quickly realised that here was a crisis that might be blamed on him: hence the overwhelming magnitude of his response”.

War today means huge profits for sections of big business. For instance, “three quarters of Britain’s biggest companies help to support oppressive regimes” (Guardian, 17 May). Between 1985 and 1989, US firms made $52.8 billion from arms exports (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook 1991), while at home British tank manufacturers Vickers bid for orders worth $2.5 billion. As well as this, governments sell military knowledge. Between the years 1979 and 1990 “Britain provided military training for 110 countries . . . Training in Cambodia included sabotage and mine-laying courses” (Guardian, 15 January).

The capitalist system of profit before need is fraught with contradictions. Six times as much public money in the world is spent on weapons research than on health research programmes (World Social and Military Priorities 1987-9). And in the Third World there are slightly over 8 soldiers for every one doctor, in spite of the fact that “the chance of dying from social neglect, malnutrition and preventable disease is 33 times greater than dying from war” (Ruth Leger Sivard, World Social and Military Expenditures, World Priorities, 1989).

During the 80s, NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries provided 89 percent of Third World arms. This has done nothing to bring peace, stability and prosperity, “only chaos and carnage to the very peasants whose sweat and toil earn Africa the foreign exchange to buy these weapons” (New Internationalist, July 1991).

The death of over 115 million people in the interests of profit is proof that the need for world socialism has never been more pressing. War is competition for profit writ large, the continuation of business by other means. It is not enough for the capitalists that the workers must suffer from continual exploitation, earning only enough to keep them in a fit mental and physical state in order to accrue more profits for their “masters”. What adds injury to insult is when the workers are conned into fighting workers of other nations suffering under the same exploitative system—all for the right to be exploited by the more affluent victor. The working class has in reality only one enemy: the capitalist system.

John Bissett