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War: What is it Good For?

When the UK decided to go into Afghanistan in 2001, I felt it was the right thing to do. When we invaded Iraq, again I felt proud knowing the UK was taking the moral high ground and overthrowing a dictator with WMDs. Later, when we provided air support to the Libyan rebels, I felt we were doing the right thing; fighting for the common good against a madman. As far as I was concerned, these were noble campaigns and any talk of ulterior motives just bounced off me as the arguments of lefties and pacifists…

Between those events and now, my viewpoint has changed dramatically. The fact that, as recently as our latest skirmish, I hoped that the UK would enforce the “No-Fly Zone” to defend the Libyan people, is a testament to how quickly someone’s staunchest viewpoints can double back on themselves. My change of heart came thanks to an argument put forward by a comedian/political activist called Robert Newman, a very simple and blindingly obvious point which is quite simply putting the reasons for war in the best possible light:marketing for the Ministry of Defence.

Arguably, it started in WW2 when we boldly stood against Nazi Germany, not for resources or because we could easily win but because it was the right thing to do, fighting against fascism and totalitarianism; our finest hour. We had the moral high ground which did wonders for our national ego and made the aftermath much easier to swallow. It was no longer good enough to fight a war for national interests; it had to be about the good of mankind.

Unfortunately, with a huge empire to maintain, our noble streak couldn’t last. We had to put down various national uprisings for independence around the world, the most notable being the Suez Crisis in which the UK tried and failed to resecure the trade route to India from the newly confident Egyptians. However, Britain tried to make itself look like the saviour by stepping in to break up a staged conflict between the Israelis and Egyptians under the guise of “peacekeepers”, when said conflict had originally been instigated by both the British and the French. The simple matter of fact fact is that we performed atrocities around the world for the sake of ‘Empire building’. I’m proud of our past but acknowledging the blemishes is just as important as holding up our triumphs.

Due to a combination of naivety and national ego, we can no longer see ourselves for who we really are or recognise the seriousness of our dependence on foreign resources. Wars are, and have always been, fought for some kind of gain; strategic, economic or otherwise. I can think of no conflict in human history that has been fought, completely selflessly, for the liberation of a group too weak to defend themselves. We are currently in a situation in which we can no longer see (or are no longer shown) the true motives for war.

Every argument is framed from some moral angle to give us, the people, plausible deniability for not seeing the less noble, more rational reasons for war and why we are sending men, no older than ourselves, to fight in these conflicts.”We need to protect our freedoms”, “He’s got WMD’s”, “He’s killing his own people”, are all much easier to swallow than “They’ve got oil and we need it”. The closest we get to any openly selfish motives is that we are “Protecting our freedoms” and who can argue against that? We’re only defending ourselves (albeit pre-emptively).

Anyone who stands up and speaks about fighting for resources is labelled as a conspiracy theorist or someone who wants to discredit the sacrifice made by our soldiers who lost their lives fighting for their country. I am not trying to do that. It was right to defend the Libyan people and it was right to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Any step towards a democracy must surely be a good one.

But why help the Libyans when the Syrians are fighting against their own oppressor, not to mention the countless other unmentioned Arabic movements in Africa and the Middle East? Why convince ourselves that Iraq had WMDs when North Korea actually does? In my opinion, the best way to fight terrorism is not to be blinded by moral arguments and sleepwalk into a crusading mentality but to see ourselves how they see us, warts and all. On the global theatre, we believe ourselves to be the “Good Guys”, and we might be, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want our cut.

David Ward

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3 Comments on this post.
  • dan
    10 November 2011 at 17:33
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    ‘Arguably, it started in WW2 when we boldly stood against Nazi Germany, not for resources or because we could easily win but because it was the right thing to do, fighting against fascism and totalitarianism; our finest hour. ‘

    Ummm this started as a noble stand? Ask a Pole what they think of this? It started as a defensive war over regional power. We had to fight. Where was the noble stand in 1936 as Germany walked into the Rhineland or in 1938 when we sent the Czechs to their death?

  • dan
    10 November 2011 at 17:54
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    Actually I might have been a bit mean here! Its a good article. I just cant believe you were that naive in the first place!

    You see the ultimately moral rhetoric in Iraq recently. 9/11 opened the door to the Huntington school of analysis, an Us vs Them, Good and Evil discourse.

    I think you have to think deeper in your last paragraph where you mention fighting terrorism. The Vietcong’s tactics would be called terrorism now. In reality they are just war but another means, an extension of the total war which dates back before Genghis Khan or the Huns, later performed by the Germans with the V bombs, the US in its use of napalm. Terrorism is term for some attacks that occur but mostly we are talking about war.

  • Dave
    13 November 2011 at 16:02
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    Dan, thanks for your comments. I do realise I was vastly oversimplifying the causes for the second world war and I am aware that Britain stood by while Nazi Germany expanded and invaded neighbouring countries.
    What I meant was, from a nostalgic British perspective that is the common interpretation. I just didn’t want to get bogged down in this point early on in the article.

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