War and rumours of war

Barely two months into a New Year and the ghost of Lord Kitchener has begun to haunt the news agenda. General Nick Carter, former army officer and Chief of the Defence Staff, was quoted (4 February) as saying the British Army would rapidly ‘exhaust their chief capabilities after the first couple of months of engagement.’

This was in response to a report of the Commons Defence Select Committee concluding that ammunition supplies are ‘far below the level required to counter with certainty a threat from the Russian army’.

That there has ever been any certainty, other than a mutual slaughter, in any conflict is risible. Every November what is termed an act of remembrance seems more like a collusion in amnesia. Whatever happened to the war to end all wars?

The very idea perished in the rubble of the blitz, Dresden and Hiroshima, the blood-soaked land around Stalingrad, on the beaches of Normandy. Then, just five years later Korea, closely followed by Vietnam, became the killing ground.

Russia and the USA facing off over and around Cuba in 1962 made the prospect of nuclear war a serious concern. Subsequently, there has been an incessant state of war around the world with, in modern parlance, pop-up conflicts of varying scope and intensity.

It has been argued that the designations of First and Second World Wars are erroneous, that what occurred in 1939 was simply a continuation, after a pause, of what began in 1914. There is a precedent of this in that the Hundred Years War was one of sporadic, not continuous, conflicts.

In which case, it is arguable that the present manifestations of bellicosity are episodes in a Hundred Years+ World War. The original Hundred Years War was the result of competing feudal powers for control of wealth-generating land, mainly in France.

The cause and sustaining factor of the present international nature of armed confrontations is, at base, again economic, only now it is capitalism that’s the dominating system. Land, and its resources, is still worth competing for, as are markets, trade routes and productive capacity.

Then there is war itself as an economic instrument. Armaments have developed dramatically since the longbow proved decisive at Agincourt. Rather than showers of barbarously tipped arrows the air is shredded by military drones and cruise missiles.

Yet, the bloody battlefields of the Somme and Ypres haven’t been completely deserted as the seeming stand-off between Russia and Ukraine demonstrates, with trenches, artillery bombardments and massed assaults over open ground.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Dresden is being re-enacted as towns and cities are reduced to rubble with civilians being by far the greatest number of casualties killed and maimed. The justification, as if there can be any for mass killing of children, is the wickedness of those lording it over the victims: Hamas in Gaza, Nazis in Dresden, but civilians dying in huge numbers in the cellars.

The response of politicians and their media mouthpieces, such as compliant journalists and retired generals, to perceptions of war to come, is more munitions, more men, and now women. In Britain this is often reinforced with reference to the bogey of appeasement.

All leaders of regimes deemed to be a threat to freedom and democracy in general, and Britain in particular are apparently exemplars of reincarnation, in that each is apparently Hitler reborn. For example, unless Ukraine is successfully defended Putin will direct his forces into wider Europe.

If Putin really is Hitler transmogrified he wouldn’t have learned anything from previous experience should he pursue such a policy. As the rather more limited present military adventure is proving, war is a no-win/no-win situation, with dreadful costs both financial and in lives.

Even a declared victory has undeterminable consequences such as a revitalised Germany and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Thousand year Reichs tend to be rather shorter in duration, as the British Empire showed.

If the perceived enemy is not personalised by an evil Fuhrer then it is terrorist, an organisation of fanatics, religious or political or both. As such, extra-judicial assassination is justified, with missile or drone strikes across the borders of presently non-belligerent countries, or even nominally allied ones.

When American soldiers are killed in their Middle Eastern base, the Commander in Chief directs his forces to exact vengeance on alleged perpetrators without the inconvenience of having to legally establish guilt. The question is rarely posed as to why American boots are stationed on the ground so far from home territory.

An irony is that the UK military can be deployed in such ‘anti-terrorist’ operations despite the fact that capital punishment has been abolished even for murderers who are proven guilty of crimes analogous to the outcomes of terrorist actions.

Are we really looking to return to the fearful nonsense of ‘Protect and Survive’, that 1970s – and 80s guide at the height of the Cold War, to surviving a nuclear attack by unscrewing a door, leaning it against a wall and huddling beneath it. ‘What wall?’ might well have been the question.

Unspecified experts have opined that the country is woefully unprepared for conflict on British soil. Plans are required for developing cover from air attacks, evacuation, rationing and appropriate technology (whatever that might be).

As to the armed forces, presently apparently underfunded despite an additional £2 billion funding last year, it seems there is a larger number of personnel leaving the army than are being recruited. This has led to, again unspecified, senior military officials speculating about some form of conscription.

There can surely be no doubt that the root cause of war is economic. Israel and Gaza land is the issue, and has been since 1948, with the economic implications of being deprived of it. The fighting over Ukraine has historical roots stretching back to pre-capitalist times.

Developing animosity between the USA and China is very obviously economic competition threatening to become military. Trade routes over the Red Sea are contentious for disrupting western capitalism, while enabling those least favoured by capital to flex their somewhat diminished military muscles.

It is natural for people to wish to protect themselves and survive, but war is the very antithesis of such an outcome. The only way towards any real prospect for peace is removing the fomenter of war, which is capitalism.

While the driving force behind politics remains the pursuit of profit by competing capitalists, often expressed as bellicose nationalism, war will continue to a lesser or greater extent. The achievement of real peace, not just an absence of war, requires socialism.

The ending of wealth creation for private advantage, replaced by a system meeting people’s needs without the rationing effect of money, itself a spark of conflict. By necessity, the system will have to be worldwide, with abolition of nations and their contentious borders.

Then war will no longer be even a rumour, but merely an exemplar for future generations of how people used to allow their own suffering by following leaders and failed ideologies, rather than acting together in their mutual best interests.


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