War… Wo, wo, wo, what is it good for…
I never cease to be amazed by the predisposition of human beings for wasting resources, but in reality the greatest waste of human beings through history has been OF human beings (as in their lives).
To get a flavour of this there are several convenient sources on the internet such as the Wikipedia List of Wars by Death Toll Tables or the impressive graph at the Our World in Data website which shows the death rate by year relative to the global population encompassing all major conflicts over the last 600 years.
In World War I over 23 million lives were lost in conflict and as a result of the war, including disease and especially the 1918 flu pandemic which occurred at the conclusion which is considered to have been spread by the returning soldiers.
Around 50 million lives were lost in World War II.
The World in Data graph especially highlights the horror that was World War I and II to our humanity about as well as any data representation can.
Recently I saw an elderly investor speaking on Bloomberg about the persistent funk the Global economy is experiencing, with low inflation and so on, with the Central Bankers struggling to gain any traction at all with their previously considered experimental monetary policy tools which is often described as them “pushing on a string”. The Bloomberg presenter asked the investor for his view on what would get the global economy out of this malaise.
The response was alarming and it reminded me of the early realisations that I made on global economics back 25 years ago. The investors said that in the past what got the global economies out of funks like this one was a major war.
I do not know why it alarmed me so greatly. This was something that I already knew, and since early in the post-GFC period (note, I struggle to call it a recovery because I suspect that the only thing that has recovered is asset prices along with the Global debt engine) I have been acutely aware of the parallels between the current situation and the 1930s.
I guess I had not been directly linking emotionally between the parallels of the economics of then and the societal implications. However, when I heard a gentleman that lived through WWII – and in many ways looked like a veteran I might have seen at an ANZAC day parade some years back – the horror of that reality rushed to the forefront of my mind like a flashback to a horrendous formative event.
It is one thing to talk in theory of consequences of economic malaise leading to a more fractious geopolity and then to cold or hot war. But it is an altogether other thing to start to think exactly what was the lived experience for those who have had the great misfortune to have endured actual war, and to contextualise that in our modern world.
I have always appreciated the line in the Hollywood movie “Troy” – “Wars are young men dying and old men talking” – and when I went looking to find out who may be credited in history with saying it, unsurprisingly, again, it seems it was FDR – Franklin D. Roosevelt (though I have to admit I could not find equivocal proof on that).
While I am glad to say that now there is much greater appreciation for the diversity in both groups – those who talk and pursue diplomatic means, and those who overtly risk their lives in the defence of freedom – the entire concept of a major world war is terrifying in this world where the nuclear element means there is a pall of guaranteed mutual destruction hanging over us all from the very outset of conflict.
It does not pay to consider what might have been the outcome had history’s past megalomaniacs had access to such a final statement when their fates became obvious.
A leader, however, does not necessarily need to be a megalomaniac to have a predisposition to giving the order to put young lives at risk in a thinly justified armed conflict. If psychopathy is significantly more prevalent in the individuals that climb the ranks of our corporations it is hardly news that such traits are common amongst those who climb the political ranks.
And in recent decades political and bureaucratic leadership has grown a fond almost reverence for the phrase “never let a good crisis go to waste”.
Now I do have some thoughts especially around US President Donald Trump on this issue – that I will share in another post – but at this stage I am going to completely sidestep the reality that there are likely to be some “Dogs of War (and men of hate)” (thanks Dave Gilmore for the turn of phrase) arguing for the “benefits” of a “good” global conflict, and get right to the point.
Are we not already confronted with a crisis of our own making?
Is the great majority of our scientific community not warning us that we face a dire climate change crisis?
Of course the answer to both questions is an emphatic yes!
As an Australian the almost continuous devastating bushfires of this last summer has made it increasingly obvious to everyone – even our small “l” political leaders – that we are nearing a point where the general public is going to break ranks and get hostile to our leadership if they do not begin to show authentic leadership on this issue.
What I cannot help but keep on wondering at is why politicians have seemingly been operating under the parameters that they needed >90% public agreement on the climate crisis before they will act.
Why is the bar on public opinion set so very high on this particular issue, so much so that it would appear to mirror – literally, as the result is reversed – another well described period in Australian politics where there was much discussion of democratic deficit in Australia, in the lead up to the second Iraq war.
On that occasion public support for joining with the US in a second war against Iraq was underwhelming to say the least, so much so that before the war no poll showed the majority of Australians to support it. Moreover, many that were against our involvement were so strongly motivated around this position that they attended rallies against our involvement.
My most significant recollection of the second Iraq war was how it marked a new level of management of the media by the US military apparatus, where it provided a front row seat to the 24 hour news media – that is to the story that they wanted portrayed – by supplying the expensive necessary infrastructure and “embedding” the “journalists” within the military structure.
That, I would suggest, is a testament to just how concerned were the US and its allies as to the potential for public disapproval of the war even more once it commenced. If something was learned about the Vietnam war it was the need for public opinion management!
Irrespective of what the political analysts might say about what the polling and other analytics showed of public attitude prior to the war, and likely attitudes and consequences for the Government once the war commenced, it appeared – to this observer – that John Howard was always going to make the decision to put Australian lives (and that of many innocent bystanders) in harm’s way to support America, no matter how flimsily articulated the argument for war was made, on the principle of our shared history and formative culture, and to win additional favour with the hegemony of the time. And, I dare say, in no small measure to sate little Johnny’s desire to express his personal power.
Individuals get no say in which drugs are approved for use within sovereignties. Drug suitability is agreed by a panel of appropriately qualified people, though domestic politics may play a part in whether the public contributes by way of subsidising patient access.
Why on climate change is the populace treated like each individual has the analytical skills to read all relevant literature and make an objective decision on whether human-caused climate change is real?
Why is this issue so different to others in our history?
Sure, in Australia – like elsewhere – a major structural reorganisation of society and the economy will be required to combat the climate crisis. However, many of the people and organisations that supposedly our political leadership are so concerned to protect from this restructuring are already on board. They are prepared for mutual sacrifice for the greater good, which is considered to be uncommon in contemporary society (you know because we are all “greedy”).
So why waste that political and human capital?
For some difficult to fathom reason the noisy minority – in society and within the Government – are winning out and our response to climate change is muted, delayed and frustrated.
If our Australian and other global political leadership decide to grow into capital “L” Leaders and join with the few authentic Leaders working hard to take on the climate change crisis with all of the pride, passion, and determined fervour of a populace facing truly challenging circumstances with an uncertain outcome, the reality is that we will never know the counterfactual. The small number of skeptics that remain will always be able to say that it was never necessary and it was an enormous waste of financial resources and human effort.
But the very great majority of us, and our descendants, will forever know that any “waste” that might have possibly occurred along the way can never be in any measure anything more than infinitesimally small compared to the enormous waste of human lives by a power-hungry few, and compared with the enormous gift that is a quality life on this wondrous planet that we all share.
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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2019