Tuesday, 28 September 2010

War, Peace and Morality

Many people have "Support our Troops" magnets on their cars these days. Just what does that mean? Does it mean that they support the use of our troops in the war in Afghanistan? Does it mean "support our troops--bring them home because this war is ridiculous and not worth the loss of lives"? Or does it mean that they gain security in knowing that we have young people willing to sacrifice their lives to go and kill others that the government has decided, for better or for worse, are the "bad guys"?

I have a great deal of respect for the veterans of WWII. Hitler and his cronies needed to be stopped. Perhaps this could have been accomplished sooner, with less loss of life, but I am no military strategist, and hindsight is 20/20. However, one thing is clear: there was a moral imperative (genocide) that made this fight necessary. There was a clear goal, and once that goal was achieved, the war came to an end. Yes, there were some financial benefits, and perhaps that did motivate some leaders to participate, but in the end, World War II was about stopping a tyrannical, murderous regime bent on genocide (well, also in recovering from the effects of World War I, but this is long enough without getting into that here as well!).

I would argue that the threat of genocide is grounds for military action when other, more peaceful means have been exhausted, or when the threat is so immediate as to eliminate that possibility, such as in Rwanda. Remember Rwanda? When the threats became real, not only did the international troops stationed there fail to respond; many countries actually evacuated their troops. It is estimated that the genocide could have been avoided with the addition of more troops, and that this could have easily and quickly been achieved had western countries responded. But there is no oil in Rwanda, only people, and not very wealthy ones at that.

Afghanistan? This is all about revenge on an entire region for the events caused by a small group of individuals. The financial benefits for a handful of elites seem to be as much a part of the incentive as anything else. In the name of "freedom" (for whom??) and "women's rights" (a side effect that hasn't truly come to be), we are asked to continue to support a war that can neither be won nor lost. People seem surprised that the Afghans often feel scorn for western soldiers, but how could they not with so much turmoil, so many civilian deaths, and so much assumed "control" by those with very different agendas than their own? There is a cultural arrogance at work here when elected officials are thrown out of office because the foreign armies simply don't like their politics. No, I am not referring to the Taliban.

It is not lost on many of us that the involvement of Canada's troops in Afghanistan has and continues to free up more US troops to fight the pure oil greed war in Iraq. Many like myself are frustrated that so much is wasted on that effort--lives, money, materials, time etc. that could better be used towards more sustainable ends--ends that would decrease or perhaps eliminate the need for foreign oil. While no one alternate energy solution is likely to do that, the combination of what we can do now as well as research into improved efficiency and technology, and better consumer education (better yet, revolution), can quite possibly do the trick. Much human energy is wasted in arguing various strategies against each other--we need to use it all: wind, solar, geothermal, true energy pricing, biomass, government incentives, relevant taxation, elimination of oil and gas subsidies, adoption of renewable energy subsidies, investment into efficient mass transit, overhauls in the food industry, investment into renewable and sustainable infrastructure, etc.

Capitalism, as unchanged and powerful as we have let it become, has grown into a religion, a political force, and a huge stumbling block to progress. It has become an entity unto itself that threatens our future. We have given corporations levels of power and rights that far exceed the powers and rights of citizens. There is a difference between the free market and the market that becomes God. We have lost sight of our economy as a tool for trade and have elevated it to the status of the ultimate goal of our society--beyond those of the rights, freedoms and happiness of our citizens. We are a society increasingly ruled by fear, and we are more concerned about security now than in building our own cultural identity. We invest more and more into war and security and less into education, health, science, non-military research, arts and culture. We are so bent on protecting ourselved that we are losing anything worth protecting. In our dealings with foreign nations, we have become tyrannical and greedy, therefore creating a cycle in which increasing security and military measures become necessary. It is a vicious cycle from which we cannot easily escape. Capitalism, as practiced by western nations (esp. in North America), has stagnated. It is time to review our options and improve the system. We are smart enough and able enough to do better. We owe it to ourselves and future generations.