Some futile words on peace

by | 9 Feb 2023

David Pratt is urging an escalation in Ukraine. He needn't worry - it's in the bag. What we should all worry about is what happens to the world when it happens.

There are few things I ever write which are more futile than writing about peace. The war machine always escalates. That’s what it does. It escalates. There are never enough bombs, never enough guns, never enough bullets. As soon as a war comes along (which they do an average of every two years since the Second World War) the ratchet is ratcheted.

I write this to reassure David Pratt who is calling for a big military escalation in Ukraine. David, you don’t have to worry, you’re going to get everything you want. Everything and a lot more.

How can I write this with such confidence? Because Nato is now way over its first set of red lines in how directly it is going to confront Russia in Ukraine. And the rule about red lines is that once you’ve crossed one, you don’t have any. Nothing is now impossible in Ukraine – Simon Tisdall in the Observer wants Nato troops on the ground shooting Russians.

This has very obviously been coming for a long time now. As is always the case, the voices for peace in the world have much less sway than the combined might of the arms manufacturers and the hawks. Peace never wins. You know this David so I amn’t sure why your concerned that peace might win this time.

As a believer in peace I now need to state the obvious – what Putin has done is wrong, is brutal and horrible and there is no justice in it. It should not have happened in any way. I need to state that because the war machine always slander people like me. That is another thing it does. It escalate and it dehumanise opponents.

And it lobbies. It lobbies a lot. If you’ve followed the coverage of the war over the last year you’ll have noticed that anyone who makes noises about peace is then put under great pressure to recant. People asking for more war? Generally they remain unchallenged.

The war machine escalates and dehumanises and lobbies. And it directs propaganda. Let me be clear, because this a war and its one of the rare wars we’ve decided is a bad war (the rest we support or perpetrate or ignore), it’s not hard to create anti-Russian sentiment. It is natural. But nothing isn’t presented for the sole purpose of supporting more escalation. Generally our media is also pretty keen on war.

Plus right now the US war machine is very specifically generating and accelerating a ‘war of civilisations’. China is the real target but they’re practicing on Russia. Because expanding wars is something the war machine does almost as much as escalating them, dehumanising opponents, lobbying ruthlessly and running propaganda.

The rule about red lines is that once you’ve crossed one, you don’t have any

The counter of this is… a few wiser heads inside the war machine calling for restraint and people like me (this very considered article by Kevin Pringle) setting out the patently obvious – that a further escalation is not going to bring peace. We always lose. Always. We never win. There is always a war, because there is always profit from war.

And once a war is in place the war machine is in power. The war machine has never seen a horrible war that it didn’t believe would be less horrible if it was escalated. The terms for this change because after Vietnam you couldn’t say ‘offensive’ and after Afghanistan you can’t really say ‘surge’.

But since I’ve been old enough to read there isn’t an instance of an escalation in a war that led to peace, or at least not a peace worth the name. They fail. They fail because peace isn’t really the goal – victory is the goal.

That is the only way the war machine ever sees peace. For the war machine victory is always a synonym for peace. To show you that you can go and dedicate the very significant portion of your life it takes to watch Ken Burns’ really excellent history of the Vietnam War.

You can go back and look at the promises made by the war machine on the surge in Afghanistan – one more push, nearly there. Or Iraq – with enough bombs liberal democracy is inevitable. Or check out the war machines promises over Syria. Do you remember when Hillary Benn said that we had to bomb Syria for peace and the war machine liberal media wet itself in delight?

Have you seen Syria now? Syria used to be a developed middle-class economy. So was Libya, perhaps the most appalling of all the lies the war machine has told of late. We took a stable, substantially-developed nation and bombed it into such a state that there are now open slave markets in the streets. Hurray for Western Values (TM)!

That’s the one part of David’s article that was just too much for me, the bit where he writes that the world order he sees Russia as violating has maintained a “largely peaceful international system since 1945”. Surely that is the whitest thing anyone has ever said since ‘see you at the country club Chad’.

Where to start with this? I’ve already pointed out that there has been an armed conflict every two years since the Second World War. What are we talking about here – Vietnamese peace? Korean Peace? Cambodian peace? African peace? Peace across Latin America? The Middle East for god’s sake.

Just as a reminder, as part of that Latin American ‘peace’ the United States established an institution known as the ‘School of the Americas’. It trained local fascist militias on the most devastating forms of torture and unspeakable brutality to its civilian opponents – you know, mutilating people to within an inch of their lives but then dropping them back at their house to die horribly in front of their family. Just in case anyone else gets ideas.

Yes, US domination has mostly kept war away from white-majority countries, but to call that peace takes some kind of imagination. And yes, supporting that system as the basis for stability is a perfectly reasonable argument. Like supporting slavery in the US as a necessary means for economic stability was.

The world isn’t fair, and until we make it so we can at least recognise that and try to find a degree of fairness in peace

The theory put about by people who are not in the war machine but find themselves closely aligned with its goals (like David) is that if only Putin can be forced out of every single part of Ukraine (including Crimea) then obviously the result will be liberal democracy – and definitely not the rise of even more worrying demagogues capitalising on the nation’s humiliation.

It also makes clear that Nato (the West) will fight absolutely anyone which challenges its power to dictate to the world. Until now China has not really put a lot of effort into its military or global power projection through military violence. The US has 750 overseas military bases, China currently has one. We’re now making sure that will change. Yet we still call China the threat, not us.

Here’s the thing; when war breaks out there is no good outcome. You’re picking between bad options. And when the instigator of the war is a ‘great power’ (Russia is still just about that), you end up with a list of even worse options. No-one wins from war, but when one side is a ‘great power’, the other side will definitely lose worse. That’s the reality.

The only way out of this in the long term is Ukrainian concessions. Fair? No, not one bit. But then neither is the treatment of the Palestinians and we expect them to put up with it forever. The world isn’t fair, and until we make it so we can at least recognise that and try to find a degree of fairness in peace.

I don’t like it, but that’s the reality if we don’t want things to get worse. But my words of futility mean nothing. David is going to get what he wants. He’s going to get almost continual escalation in Nato’s participation in Ukraine. The hardware is going to get more and more deadly and Russia is going to have no option but to respond in kind.

Then we’re going to get a Europe flush with deadly weapons, a massive turn into inordinate military spending and hence another giant arms race. This all always comes with a horrible shift to the authoritarian right in domestic politics (when people feel afraid that’s what happens). That is going to take us into an unstoppable global war of civilisations that will not be over in my lifetime.

That will derail all climate action and the planet will slowly die. And all the time the bodies will pile higher and higher and higher. And all of that is the optimistic version where things don’t go nuclear.

I know that David Pratt is a good man. I know that he is driven by his revulsion at the horrors he sees. I understand that. When he gets what he wants here (and he will) and it spirals out of control in the manner in which it will, he’ll be horrified. In fact in a few years he’ll probably write a heart-wrenching article about how when he said escalate in Ukraine, he didn’t mean…

Because that’s what they all do. They all write heart-wrenching articles about how if they had understood the the human catastrophes that was going to result from action they called for, they’d never have called for it.

It won’t really matter though. It’ll all have started over again, and a bunch of younger, well-meaning people will be writing articles about how the horrors in [FILL IN COUNTRY] means we must escalate, accelerate, expand…

For peace, you understand.

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