Everyone says that they hate war, and most people really do, yet war has always been a part of human life. Nearly all societies throughout history have engaged in some form of warfare. And for as long as there has been war there have been good people trying to end it. Unfortunately, despite minor successes lasting peace has been a dream that has been impossible to realize. That dream has not died, however, and people continue the fight to end all war. A recent example is the new campaign called World Beyond War(WBW).
At the WBW website, the organizers call for new ideas and ask for feedback on the strategies outlined there. Their approach to ending war calls for “defeating the propaganda of war promoters and countering the economic interests of war promoters with alternative economic possibilities.” Furthermore, WBW stresses the need for “a combination of disarmament and investment alternatives.” This means that nations must disarm, stop selling arms, and negotiate disarmament agreements.
How to accomplish such things is the problem. The disarmament ideas would require governments to dramatically change course but the governments are often led by the “war promoters.” Changing the governments in any substantial way would necessitate a dramatic change in the mindset of most citizens. Similarly, although there are theoretical ways to counter the economic interests of war promoters, such as coordinating the purchasing and tax-paying decisions of citizens en masse, organizing for it would require unprecedented changes in public opinion. The arguments of the past won’t make that happen.
Like many others, I believe that unprecedented changes in public opinion can be achieved by taking a more courageous and committed approach to one of WBW’s key objectives. That objective is to “communicate the facts about war and discard the myths.” It takes courage to really examine the facts and myths about how wars begin and how they are maintained because most of us—even people who see themselves as peace activists—play a part in that process.
How do wars start, for what reasons, and by what mechanisms? To answer these important questions it might help to begin by dispelling several powerful myths about the origins of war.
Wars are often mistakenly seen as disputes based primarily on the differences between religions. But a closer examination of individual conflicts shows that this is not true. Sometimes differences in religion are emphasized by war promoters as a means of dividing the people and pitting them against each other. But war is not ever fundamentally about religion. The Arab-Israeli conflict, for example, began as a political and nationalist land grab following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Only later did various arguments about who might be God’s “chosen people” play a part. Similarly, the 350-year long conflict in Ireland never had much to do with the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. Although Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan, he was sent purely for the purpose of seizing the land.
War is also not about vengeance. It’s true that some people have been known to spend years seeking vengeance in small-scale acts of violence. The Apache chief Geronimo is an example as described in his memoirs. He spent decades killing Mexicans in guerrilla raids because of the murder of his wife and children in a place now called Arizona. But Geronimo and his small band of fighters ultimately fought, as did most Native Americans, simply to keep their land.
To be clear, war is not about religion or vengeance—it’s about the land and its resources.
The beginnings of every war can be traced back to efforts by a powerful few to control land and its strategic benefits. This fact is most easily seen in the wars that have been fought by the United States, the country that WBW hopes to focus on first. Whether it was for trade routes, or bases to establish military presence, or some other corporate access, all of the wars in which the U.S. has engaged have been about securing strategic property.
The ability to start and perpetuate large-scale war depends on the ability of the few to manipulate the emotional state of the masses. An old saying is that “truth is the first casualty of war” but that is misleading. War is born of deception and is manufactured for the benefit of the wealthy few. It is supported by people who gain through the military-industrial complex, and it is sold to everyone else through more deception.
The lies used to start and maintain wars are based on manipulating the natural mechanisms by which individuals protect their self-image. The most common form of this trickery was described by the founder of the Nazi Gestapo, Hermann Göring, who said “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? [But] the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
Göring and his cohorts used that very mechanism of deception to bring the Nazis to power in 1933 via the Reichstag Fire. The result was World War II and 60 million people dead. Since that time, the wars in which the U.S. has engaged have been initiated through the same kinds of lies. The U.S. military was committed to the Vietnam War as a result of a false claim about an attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. And the 1991 Gulf War was started by way of false testimony from a Kuwaiti girl who claimed that Iraqi troops were killing babies. Dick Cheney then falsely claimed that satellite photos showed Iraqi troops massing at the Saudi border. The cooperation of the American public and the Saudis followed quickly thereafter.
How are wars started? By telling the people that they are being attacked and by inventing outrageous claims that demonize the intended enemy. You know, the terrorists are out to get us. They want to steal our freedoms. They are a dark people with inhuman culture and violent religion. We’ll never know where they will strike next.
Once started, wars are perpetuated through propaganda that manipulates the public’s sense of patriotism. Whoever doesn’t support the war is accused of not supporting the troops. Whoever reveals anything truthful about the situation is accused of putting the country at risk, or of being a conspiracy theorist.
Knowing these things helps us understand that WBW is right. It is actually possible to eliminate war. The first and most important step is the same as for solving any other challenge. It is to realize the problem. As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “All warfare is based on deception.” Therefore war can only be ended by realizing and managing the mechanisms by which we are deceived. How do we realize when mass-deception has occurred? We can understand it academically or by rationalizing. But it is only a gut-wrenching here-and-now realization that can move us to do anything about it. Emotions are what drive people.
This leads directly to the war-ending idea that has been ignored by many peace activists for the last 13 years. It’s an idea that has been shared by many others, including over one third of the American public according to a 2006 Scripps Howard poll. We don’t know what happened on September 11, 2001 and many people understand that fact. But it is overwhelmingly clear to anyone who examines the evidence that the accused 19 young men could not have accomplished most of what happened. And it’s clear that the 9/11 events and government responses followed the pattern of a war-initiating deception.
Those facts lead people to a catastrophic and catalyzing realization. The crimes of 9/11 represent the greatest war-generating scam of our lifetime. What a great opportunity to begin solving the problem of war! If we have the courage to re-evaluate our understanding of that seminal event, we might still have the chance to leverage the resulting emotional power to drive the changes needed.
Do we want to defeat the propaganda of war promoters and counter their economic interests with peace-promoting possibilities? Do we want to disarm, stop selling arms, and negotiate disarmament agreements? If so, we need to be willing to face the problem of war fundamentally and get out of our comfort zones. The good news is that 9/11 provides a real opportunity to do that and we still have time.