A Culture of War

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Since 1945, Europe has become the most peaceful and indeed, the most humane region in the world, constantly striving to invest its energy, harnessing its intellectual potentials and exploring science to improve the quality of life of its populations. Above all, most of the warring countries in Europe embraced democracy.

But this should not obliterate the fact that murderous and destructive internal conflicts plagued much of Europe, turning it into the most violent place on earth for many centuries. The unity of the countries was achieved after much fighting and bloodshed prior to the building of nationhood. For centuries, the favourite pastime of Europeans was to slaughter one another. In the process, the forging of a culture of war enabled Europeans to conquer most of the world, shocking the victims who “were appalled by the all destructive fury of European warfare” in the words of Geoffrey Parker, British military historian, and to impose on its conquests what Adam Smith called “the savage injustice of the Europeans.”       

Global conquests took a particular horrifying form in what is called the ‘Anglosphere’ — England and its offshoots, settler colonial societies in which the indigenous societies were devastated, and the populations dispersed or exterminated. In the most populous parts of what later formed the U.S., utter extirpation of the Indians was carried out by means |more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru.” This was the verdict of General Henry Knox, the first Secretary of War of the newly liberated colonies. John Quincy Adams, the grand strategist, intellectual author of the Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine referred to the fate of “that hapless race of native Americans who we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty… among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring (it) to judgment”.

J.Q Adams himself contributed to the “heinous sins” years before he made this statement. Australia had its own extermination feats, just as the brutal deeds of other ‘offshoots’ in South Africa.

The First World War was supposed to be the war that should end all wars. The statement was one example of the jargon used by western powers when they address one another on matters concerning ‘the world’ or ‘international’ issues. Post-1945, new European countries including Nazi Germany inaugurated an era of democratic peace for themselves which brought tremendous prosperity. Democracies do not fight against one another, and by the way, ‘civilization’ has developed means of destruction that can be used against those who are too weak to retaliate. The game of slaughtering one another is over.

The violence was transferred to the occupied lands, protectorates, colonies across the world whether by direct involvement, murder of nationalist leaders or support of brutal local authorities well after the post-decolonization era in North Africa, Africa, the Middle East, Malaysia and Indonesia. As the American intellectual Noam Chomsky keeps recalling, the objective of the western powers was to maintain a grip on the resources of those countries to prevent them from enriching themselves. So-called ‘international’ bodies at the UN were set up to foster the interests of powerful western countries, institutions the US and its allies can do away with even today.

Imperial Japan was said to have been aware of the B-17 Flying Fortresses the US was threatening to use against ‘the paper cities of Japan’. By today’s standards of ‘anticipatory self-defence’, which western powers apply to themselves, Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbour in 1942 was totally justified. Hiroshima was not enough to assuage the American fit of rage, incendiary bombs intended for civilian targets were dropped on Nagasaki. The grim aftermath of chemical warfare and crop destruction in North Vietnam, virtual concentration camps in South Vietnam ‘to protect’ civilians needs no introduction.

Apart from the effective intervention in former Yugoslavia to put an end to the genocide of Bosnian Muslims, the other interventions increasingly smack of the ferocious destructive fury of western warfare.

Under the influence of powerful lobbies and Christian fundamentalists, George Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ justified the invasion of Iraq, whose population had already been suffering from a 10-year embargo imposed by the West. Opportunities to topple down strong leaders who challenged western domination have been promptly seized up. Why then should Iran not have the right to possess nuclear bomb if the principle of ‘anticipatory self-defence’ is to be applied to one and all? One wonders if one of the main functions of the international institutional order will continue to serve the purpose of legitimating the use of deadly military force by western powers on the powerless.

* Published in print edition on 25 November 2011

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