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Understanding War – A Philosophical Inquiry | John McMurtry | Science for Peace (1989)

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

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Science for Peace gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Canadian Institute of International Peace and Security, the Pugwash Park Commission, and several generous personal donations toward the publication of the Canadian Papers in Peace Studies.

Papers submitted to the Publications Committee of Science for Peace for this series are each considered on their merits, having due regard to the purposes of Science for Peace. In addition, the Committee seeks authors for papers on topics that are thought to be of special importance at the time. The Committee has a general policy of submitting papers to independent referees for comment, but is not rigidly bound by this policy, and also seeks to avoid long delays when material of timely relevance is submitted.

Derek Paul, editor Physics Department University of Toronto Toronto, M5S 1A7


Anatol Rapoport

Almost everyone is against war or at least says so. Conceptions of war, however, differ widely and generate different ideas about how wars can be prevented. Some of these ideas are complementary, some incompatible. Sorting out these ideas, analysing them, weighing them against each other, and evaluating them in terms of what we know or can learn about the history of humanity and its present condition should constitute a major part of peace education.

Many people deeply devoted to the cause of stable global peace believe that the main difficulty in achieving it lies in human nature. They may not share the defeatist attitude that aggressiveness is an irremovable component of the human psyche and that therefore there will always be wars. But they do place the problem deep within the human individual. Stable peace, in their estimation, can be achieved only if individual human beings become more peaceful.

The present paper does not challenge the idea that pacification of individuals may be a sufficient condition for a stable peace; but it implicitly challenges the idea that it is a necessary condition. The main thrust of the paper is embodied in the idea that stable peace can be achieved by deflecting human aggressiveness (if, indeed, it is an important component of human nature) from human enemies to other enemies. Enemies can be either naturally given or created. The argument here is that there are no naturally given human enemies. Rather, those who are perceived as enemies have become enemies because they were perceived as such. On the other hand, naturally given enemies of humanity are easily identifiable. They are pestilence, destitution, degradation of the environment and, of course, war. It is against these enemies that human aggressiveness should be mobilized. Such mobilization would enhance the chances of establishing a lasting peace, because nothing brings people together more than does the perception of a common enemy.

War is an easily identifiable enemy of humanity (along with pestilence, destitution, and degradation of the environment) in view of the obvious threat of literal extinction posed by already existing and soon to be created weapons of total destruction. However, a war against war is incomparably more problematic than a war against the other enemies. To launch a war against pestilence, degradation of the environment, etc. requires a great deal of political will but not a radical restructuring of deeply entrenched beliefs. Much technical knowledge is available that is known to be effective against pestilence or stopping the degradation of the environment, and methods of obtaining more knowledge of this sort are already in use. Waging war against these enemies does not require a demolition of superstitions. When it comes to action making an impact on the physical environment, humans rely on science and think in the problem-solving mode. Such action and such mode of thinking are not paralyzed by encrusted dogmas and rhetorical shibboleths. Launching a war against war, on the other hand, requires not only a formidable political will but also a demolition of pervasive superstitions, which have consistently blocked efforts to mobilize such political will. Among these superstitions are the identification of national security with military potential, the belief in the effectiveness of ‘deterrence’, the belief that dismantling military institutions must lead to economic slump and unemployment, the belief that military establishments perform a useful social function by ‘defending’ the societies on which they feed, and so on. All these beliefs qualify as superstitions by the usual definition of a superstition as a stubbornly held belief for which no evidence exists. If anything, historical evidence tends to support the opposite view, namely, that highly militarized states are rather less secure from the ravages of war, that ‘deterrence’ has often been a rationalization of aggression, and that a war economy eventually leads to impoverishment rather than to prosperity. Above all, the claim of military establishments that they serve to ‘defend’ a country is belied by the uses to which these establishments all too often have been put, namely, to intimidate or to perpetrate violence against their own populations. And surely the weapons of total destruction cannot possibly ‘defend’ anything or anyone. They can only destroy everything and kill everyone.

All of these points, forcefully brought out by John McMurtry, contribute to the enlightenment of all who are willing to give serious thought to these matters.

Another formidable obstacle to be overcome in launching a war against war is the tendency of humans to see other humans as a source of threat. Throughout history, social organization was stimulated not only by the advantages of cooperating in coping with the environment but also, perhaps predominantly, by the necessity of cooperating in protecting one’s own against marauders, as well as by the advantages of cooperating in engaging in similar enterprises against vulnerable outsiders, that is, exterminating plundering, enslaving, or exploiting alien populations. This sort of cooperation reflects the tribal principle of social organization. It has persisted to the present day in the organization and internal cohesion of modern states.

Thus, the basic problem is that of erasing all we-they dichotomies: kin versus non-kin, believers versus non-believers, those who look alike versus those who look different, and so on. The stubborn persistence of such dichotomies, however, suggests that they fulfill some need. Perhaps the need to belong is fully satisfied only if it is made clear who does not belong. In launching a war against war, a natural dichotomy suggests itself. It has been drawn by Freeman Dyson in his book ‘Weapons and Hope’. The dichotomy is between warriors and victims. It cuts across all racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological boundaries. As McMurtry most emphatically points out, however, the dichotomy separates roles, not persons. In fact, the persons in the role of warriors are also in the role of potential victims, since weapons of total destruction do not differentiate.

The warrior roles are played not only by the uniformed professionals but also by their counterparts in war industries, in think tanks, in research institutes, in lobbies, in short by all having a stake in institutions engaged in the preparation of war and in nurturing the global war machine. A war against war entails an attack on the role of the warrior. It is to this attack that the Clausewitzian principle of ‘total war’, that is, a war aimed at destroying or incapacitating the opposing force, is most applicable. The object of this war is to destroy the institution of war and thus to instigate the atrophy of the global war machine by cutting off its nourishment.

A war of this sort can be waged by victims with a clear conscience, since it entails no violence perpetrated on human beings. Only the roles of the warrior are to be destroyed, just as the role of the executioner is destroyed when capital punishment is abolished without the erstwhile executioner having to be harmed, not even by employment, since the abolition of capital punishment may well entail finding an alternative employment for the hangman. The abolition of the institution of war may incur an analogous obligation.

Understanding War

John McMurtry

O for a voice like thunder, and a tongue To drown the throat of war! – When the senses Are shaken, and the soul is driven to madness Who can stand? When the souls of the oppressed Fight in the troubled air that rages, who can stand? When the whirlwind of fury comes from the Throne of God, when the frowns of his countenance Drive the Nations together, who can stand? When Sin claps his broad hands over the battle And sails rejoicing in the flood of Death; When souls are torn to everlasting fire, And fiends of Hell rejoice upon the slain, O who can stand? O who hath caused this? O who can answer at the throne of God? The Kings and Nobles of the Land have done it! Hear it not, Heaven, thy Ministers have done it! William Blake Part I The Problem

The thing is simply this, that out of an average 100 men along the line of fire during the period of in encounter, only 15 men on average would take any part with the weapons. This was true whether the action was spread over a day or 2 days or 3, … in Europe or in the central Pacific. … Each man who hadn’t fired his rifle thought he had been alone.

Colonel S.A. Armstrong, 1945

Sooner or later, if civilization is to survive … war must go.

General Douglas MacArthur in testimony to the US Congress, 1951

The reality is that there is a war to overcome.

Ruben Zamora FDR/FMLN negotiator, El Salvador, 1984 Underneath the increasing militarization of social life over the past half century has grown a subversive sentiment. Contemporary humanity has learned to abhor the military system of war. There are leading exceptions to be sure, but even amongst men specially conditioned to launch city-destroying attacks from remote foreign sites sunk in mountain-bunkers, the organized killing of people in large numbers has become repugnant to moral intuition. This marks a revolutionary change from the past when the sacred traditions of all dominant cultures have glorified the mass-kill method as Yahweh’s, Krishna’s, Jupiter’s, Allah’s, Isanagi’s, or Christ’s way of winning great conquests and imposing His will on tribal enemies. Humanity has largely outgrown this genocidal pattern. For ever greater numbers of our species, the mechanized routines of social murder prescribed by the military program are now beyond the pale: the obsolescent last gasp of a megalomaniac tradition increasingly out of touch with the limits of reality 1. Our established systems of political rule, however, continue to posit the capacity for mass homicide as the ultimate measure and ground of ruling will. Ascendant vested interests by no means confined to the armed forces, derive many empowering advantages from this arrangement and so refine and escalate national and nation-group buildups with no apparent limit to the number of world-destructions they assert as necessary to threaten each other’s populations at public expense. Since democratic representatives or their surrogates are everywhere constrained by these interests, they lag behind their constituencies’ increasingly shared skepticism of the armed force solution to the problem of ‘peace and security’. At the same time, scholars in the relevant disciplines tend to presuppose these interests and their imposition as the very framework of the world’s construction. Or, if in the critical minority, they presuppose the military form of war, and consider only pacifist non-violence or norms of lawful carnage as alternatives. The upshot is that while public disquiet with the military and, in particular, nuclear-military method is increasingly widespread, no philosophical or theoretical confrontation of the established military paradigm yet exists to give undertakings of national war any foothold of alternative conception. Part II Basic Fallacies of the Military Paradigm 1. What one finds in surveying the vast philosophical and social-scientific literature on war is that a particular and narrow subtype of it is invariably assumed. This presupposed form is so reductively prescriptive that one might be excused for regarding it as a gesture of gallows humour were its intention not so conventionally taken for granted: namely, war is organized armed engagement that seeks by maximally efficient means to kill or mutilate large numbers of other human beings 2. A family of characteristics normally accompany this presupposed principle:

  1. social segregation of a specialist arms-monopolizing group to execute its objective;

  2. a rank-ordered command structure relying upon motivation by fear to coerce its membership into performing and risking its mass-kill prescription;

  3. immersive programs of obedience conditioning, indoctrination, and life-uniformity to liquidate individuality and choice;

  4. an autonomous technological development whose scientific telos is ever more destructive homicidal weapons; and,

  5. to provide moral sanction for this overall program, an enshrinement of heroic life-sacrifice for military goals as a supreme ethical good 3. From this customarily stipulated presupposition of war’s necessarily mass-homicidal nature, two main kinds of reflective or theoretical argument have arisen over two millennia of consideration:

  6. arguments which consider those types of occasions when large groups of other humans are to be systematically killed or maimed with good moral reason (i.e. ‘just war’ theory, ‘moral means’ arguments, and the like) 4;

  7. arguments which seek by game-theoretical or other ‘rational’ calculation to prescribe those strategies for systematic human killing or maiming which will by threat or enactment maximize payoffs for one side in the conflict 5. Further narrowing this assumption base of established war thought is another a priori principle regulating war judgement, namely, the understanding and recommendation of mass-kill methods from the standpoint of a predetermined side’s interests and moral assumptions alone, the side upon which one is placed by the circumstance of one’s national or allied citizenship (what we may call the tribal a priori6. It is difficult to discover a single argument in the immense and varied literature of war that does not conform to these radically reductive and unanalysed premises. Even where the philosophical or theoretical concern is vitiative and seeks to place moral or legal limits on war’s methods or targets, the program of killing and disabling other humans in great numbers remains presumed as an a priori given of war thought. In sum, an all-or-nothing fallacy – mass-homicide and maiming on the one hand or pacificist rejection of all violence on the other – stands as the ultimate foundation of recognized war choice, while a systematic bias towards one side’s moral and material self-interest determines subsequent judgement from this premise. The depth and consequence of unexamined assumption here are breathtaking, but unnoticed. Our species has, it seems, become so accustomed to its mode of civilizing by military conquest and terror, so locked by its historical practice into homicidal structures of prevailing over perceived hostile groups, that we have become oblivious to the most fundamental choices of which ‘making war’ consists. 2. Established military and geopolitical thought is typically impaired by these premises into an escalating sequence of inferences. These follow a common pattern. If T is an extra-territorial or internal group perceived to be in a state of hostility to a position of a state or states, U, then U’s national or international command reasons as follows: therefore,

  8. T is opposed to, and

  9. is an enemy of U. Therefore

  10. T is immoral, and

  11. must be made to yield to U. Therefore

  12. U must be able to prevail militarily, and

  13. be willing to deploy this ability to prevail over T

  14. to maintain U’s national interest. Therefore,

  15. if T continues to flout U’s national interest, U must threaten or attack T; and

  16. if effectively resisted, must seek to destroy the enemy, T, by large-scale homicide, disablement and life-means destruction 7. No step of this thought sequence follows. But all of its non-sequitur moves are conceptualized in customary war thought as steps of ‘necessity’. This spurious apodeictic of military logic is affirmed with hypnotic repetition in its standard formulae of justification: strategic necessity, military necessity, necessity of national security, necessity of defence, necessity of the national interest, and so on. One need only lay bare the pattern of inferences here that assert one petitio principii after another in an undeviating lock-step towards mass-homicide conclusion, to become aware of the extent of the cognitive disorder. There is in its sequence a closure of reason and choice that, in the context of individual behaviour, would be judged as systematically and criminally insane 8. But convention has normalized the pathological. In the matter of intrahuman war, our brains have, so to speak, turned into gears. What is remarkable is that this monolithic killer program, so repugnant to ordinary human sensibility (and known as such by the boot-camp and totalitarian methods needed to implement it) has been so long and widely taken for granted as a dictate of rational choice. What is required here is some opening of the philosophical windows. Unexposed in the military paradigm’s inferential sequence is a hidden edifice of metaphysical moves whose every step of construction admits of a spectrum of various and opposed alternatives. What is conventionally advanced as a simple march of national self-interest to the measure of necessity is, in truth, a concealed architectonic of world-ordering choices, on each of which balances the fate of countless human lives. Part III Who is the Self of National Self-Defence? The opposition between self and other admits of as many varieties in the making of war as it does in general, because the basic relationship between self and other can always be a war, an annihilative contest in the widest sense. Even in the very restrictive sense of war between human groups with homicidal weapons of engagement, there are many different possibilities of self-other axis at the heart of these oppositions. At the most primitive level of disjunction, there is the Hobbesian possibility of merely individual selves, organic or national, driven by inborn appetites of power or fear to wage a bellum omnium contra omnes, with different concepts of self possible within these parameters: from, at one end, the self posited as a brutish shortness of existence, a mere pawn of chance in the mortal struggle, to, at the other end, vain glorious self-concept whose negation of otherness spans across the state of nature in an infantile structure of omnipotence (as in the assumed self-identities of ‘great powers’ or would-be world conquerors). On the other hand, there are countless other, less atavistic possibilities of the national or individual self underlying the life-and-death struggle of war: the self as ultimately seller in a market-place contest of survival and elimination; the self as immaterial soul seeking the annihilative conquest of all attachment to material objects of desire; the self as a vehicle of genetic reproduction in the evolutionary war for continued life; the self as exclusive occupant of a bounded world space drawing lines of death by its very processes of metabolic exchange with the world, and so on. These various underlying conceptions of self obviously lead in very different directions and, in particular, to radically different sorts of occasion for taking up arms or otherwise warring against one’s fellows. What might be the commercial self’s opportunity for exchange could be the spiritual self’s deadly insult. What could be a provocation of racial impurity to the genetic self, might be a gesture of amity to the spatial self. What might be a provocation to war for any of these selves, might also be for any a stimulus to agreement under a different construction of thought. There is, in short, a myriad of possibilities of war that may be generated from different concepts and interpretations of who or what we are: hence war’s universal invocation of identity in the declaration of its intent, from the self-adoring boasts of ancient Homeric warriors to current nation-states’ declared wars against ‘communism’. On the other hand, the self presupposed in war may be a community member at bottom: an ancestral organ of a tribal or kinship body; a loyal vassal of a warrior clan or imperium; a selfless functionary of a party-led state or pact; a patriotic citizen of a national or transnational demos, and so on – each type or subtype of self here variously bound by ties of obligation, group paranoia, or other supra-individual program of action towards different kinds and occasions of war. What would be an intolerable insolence to the Japanese bushido sword might be a frank exchange among friends in a different community. What might be to the individual self of a capitalist order a simple right of sale could be to the collective self an act of moral enormity. What might be the expendable death of the enemy to one type of collective self, might be a barbarous waste of transfigurable human potential to another. Then too, the self-other disjunction might be class structured, and the real self, as Marxians suggest, determined by ownership relations: neither a fully collective nor individual self but rather, confined to an economic class role whose limits of action are set by a given mode of social production – as in wars where the opposing ruling classes support each others’ mutual group interests against their own peoples, with the members of all classes remaining throughout ‘in their place’ 9. Despite some Marxian disavowals of choice here, this underlying self as well is open to alternative or there would not be unpredictable cases of deviation from class structures and roles. These are only a few distinctions of alternative to self-other lines of being at the most fundamental level of being-towards-war. Yet each itself, in turn, admits of many further subtypes of possibility. The supra-personal patriotic self, for example, is protean in its varieties. Aside from the many kinds of private self-interest – glory, power, envy of youth – for which patriotic identity may be merely customary pretext, there are different kinds of authentic national identification. One might for example, conceive of one’s self and one’s nation in terms of its geographical integrity and preservation (as I, a Canadian, do); or its current framework of civil and political institutions (as is conventional in the British tradition); or its remembered line of the past (as is essential to the Jew); or its potential contribution to human well-being (as world citizens aspire to); or, as some superpower citizens currently do, in terms of an assumed destiny of world dominion or ‘being number one’. These are all general options for the patriotic self facing toward the possibility of war. The underlying portals of choice here are numberless; and each can provide the basis from which judgement leads to non-military war – for example, against illiteracy, or flies, or corruption. Let us suppose, however, that the self sense from which war’s project and weapons are chosen is that which is normally only pretended – the self as national being (e.g. American or Soviet patriot) guided by the interest of protecting and advancing some higher human value (e.g. ‘freedom’). This self-base obviously opens onto a very different horizon of possibilities than the self-base for which it is, in fact, often merely the disguise: that is, the self as essentially acquisitor of ever more of the world. For example, the believer in national and global freedom could not consistently elect the plan of transferring a maximum of wealth or power from poorer countries to itself, with military arms as the ensurer of conformity to this purpose. For such a project of exploitation would obviously contradict declared patriotic identity. On the other hand, such a program of choice and action would be quite consistent with the underlying self that seeks national accumulation or ascendancy before all else. Which self one is here, that is, chooses to be, on either the individual or aggregate levels gives the ontological bearings of what a nation decides to do, to oppose, to conquer, and its mode and means of so doing. This is what is ultimately meant by the insight that war reveals a society’s inner nature. That is, war expresses by the lines of life and death it draws what a people will sacrifice to what they will keep, what is ultimately their self and what is not. Almost anything at all is possible here, from nationally distributed self-delusion and the sovereignty of narrow capital or party interests to, at the other end of a nation’s accessible range of self-conception, the authentic political will to the world’s common wellbeing. What cannot be ignored is that whatever historically bound horizon of possibility is in practice adopted here, it is not given, as political leaderships and their advocates are wont to assure us, by a priori requirements of national necessity. For nations, as the individuals composing them, self-conception is a radically open question, and with it what they are willing to war against. Part IV What is the National Purpose? From different concepts of Self flow different projects of relating to its Other. The strictly military concept of the self, for example (to which civilian rulers do not subscribe as overtly as they do to its military means) is a primary premise upon which military war’s strategies ultimately repose. The self here is presupposed as:

  17. malleable in either its individual or group forms;

  18. motivated most effectively by physical fear;

  19. regulatable only by punitive, vertically structured authority; and

  20. achieving its highest expression in the organized armed power of the nation state 10. From this underlying idea of the national self, higher levels of purpose, such as co-operative autonomy, are necessarily ruled out, and other ranges of more consistently brutal possibility are ruled in. For example, the project of appropriating another country’s specific interests as one’s own, in ultimate commitment to peaceful mutuality (as in United Nations Charter ideals), is incompatible with the national self of the military metaphysic because these concepts of human nature are oppositely structured in their ideas of effective human motive and capacity. On the other hand, the project of appropriating another country in the sense of subordinating its productive resources, its economic system, its political rule, its diplomatic posture or, at the totalitarian extreme, all of these at once, is quite consistent with the general military idea of national selfhood (as in traditional US ‘defense’ policy in Latin America, or Soviet ‘internationalism’ in Eastern Europe). Accordingly, the current norm of great power relations with weaker or less developed countries is accepted by established geopolitical strategy as ‘realistic’ and ‘necessary’ to maintain vital interests 11. There are two points to be made here. First, national projects do not simply follow from underlying national self-concepts, but generally fall within limits of scope that these mark out as consistent or rational parameters of possibility. For example, very different designs of state are compatible with even the national self of military assumption – from, on the one extreme, force-backed appropriation of the entire world as one’s sphere of interest, to strictly defensive armed capacity to repel invasion or internal revolution. These are very different and even opposed projects: the former unlimited in its aggressive reach, and the latter simply self-reproductive. Both extremes, and those many alternatives that lie between them, repose on a common basis of national self-concept. The second point is that these extremes of option within the range of the underlying military concept of the national self, are not standardly distinguished in geopolitical discourse, but are customarily presumed to be the same. That is, not only is the alarmist military notion of the national self’s nature so taken for granted that its negation is conventionally dismissed as ‘naive’, but even within this dwarfed baseline of decision, the opposed alternatives of national aggression and national defence are made to look as if there were no choice between them. Thus we have regularly heard the advocates of one superpower or another over recent years characterize its armed force invasions of smaller countries as ‘defensive’, as ‘necessary to defend its borders’, as ‘repelling enemy aggression’ and so on, even when these attacks on the declared enemy are unilateral, unreciprocated, against impoverished foes, or thousands of miles distant from the invader’s national borders (as in Vietnam). Since various other weaker, stand-by nations typically endorse or reiterate this equation, and call invasions ‘defence’ and their choice ‘necessity’, the abolition of fundamental distinctions and contradictions of terms is normalized, and the myth of national security by mass-homicide aggression is perpetuated. What usually motivates this systematic liquidation of alternatives is that it provides an acceptable cover for a hidden agenda of ruling group self-interest. For example, it is a well known fact from the distanced vantage point of historical hindsight or cultural opposition, that ruling groups use the goal of national defence or national security as a recurrent pretext for what is, in fact, the increase of their own privileged positions of office or wealth. What is represented as the nation’s salvation from external threat is, in truth, this ruling minority’s quite private advantage – its continuance in authority in the face of domestic unrest redirected towards an external ‘enemy’, the extravagant profits of its leading business members from national arms races, or the seizure of foreign lands, markets, resources, strategic sites or labour pools to increase its memberships’ state or capital empowerment 12. Though these concealed projects of appropriation are perfectly obvious underneath claims of the national interest when pursued by rulers made objective to us by time or geopolitical division, they do not normally appear this way to us when pursued by the leaderships of what we suppose to be our own countries. In this way, the many other options available to national self-purpose are kept closed from the view of national citizenries who are in the position to advance and press them. Once conditioned to acquiesce in the military program of thought as a dictate of necessity, civilians are not only restricted to a primitive concept of national selfhood, and then blinded to distinctions of option by an all-justifying imperative of national security, but held from seeing the real interests this train of thinking serves by an imposed identification with it as their own freedom. A closed circuit of thought is thus forged – upon which poor men’s bodies are piled as on pyres – from which it becomes almost impossible to escape without inviting the charge of disloyalty to national cause as a ‘subversive’, ‘unAmerican’, ‘counter-revolutionary’, ‘terrorist’ or whatever. Insofar as there are these hidden agenda of ruling group advantage underlying and governing what is incanted as national security, an arresting and far-reaching distinction follows. The collective interests of the civilian bodies who continually pay and die for the military program’s implementation are, in principle, opposed to the interests of the non-combatant beneficiaries of this program who lead them. If so, and this pattern we know to be widely so where we are sufficiently distanced from its control, then we can understand why the lock-step sequence of the military paradigm is so routinely advanced by those who preside over its prescriptions. Its programmed presupposition conceals this contradiction of interests behind a pretended communality of national defence, and renders anyone who exposes it as a violator of the ‘national interest’. The more customary and automatic the military paradigm’s acceptance is, the more deeply interiorized its metaphysical premises of national selfhood and purpose become, and the more widely these permeate the overall reproduction of civil life, the more totally closed to change the hidden agenda becomes. Once thus ensconced at the very foundations of the nation’s identity and purpose, the military program’s further elaborations in defining the national enemy, morally denouncing its opposition, and preparing to annihilate it with maximally destructive means, follow as dictates of national necessity. But these steps of the program’s prescription – however habituated and culturally universal – are covert choices whose examination reveals other and deeply variant possibilities. Part V Who is the National Enemy? Who is the national enemy? The answer here is generally presupposed as given by the nature of the world. But it admits of radically various and contradictory options any one of which may decide the fatal course of national or global life. Assuming placement in war-contest, the opposition is perceived as something to annihilate. But even if we thus assume the opposition as a presence to be annihilated, what this opposition is taken to be makes all the difference to the war we wage against it. Consider. We are not, with good reason, inhibited as national selves from waging war against insect infestations, pestilence, disease or plagues. These are not merely wars in metaphor, but deadly serious wars in the strictest sense of the term. For, as the usage of this concept everywhere confirms:

  21. war is a deliberately organized campaign to obliterate the existence of perceived enemies 13. It follows, therefore, that war need not ever be, as the pre-emptive military version of it misleads us to believe, a menace to humanity. Its target can be only non-human enemies to vital life. Yet with the military form of war, the existence that is obliterated, or planned to be, is very large numbers of other human beings: possibly tens or hundreds of millions, their limbs and organs and other faculties, and their basic means of life-support, along with untold by-product casualties of natural beings and entire ecosystems of fauna and flora. This is a pathological form of war. Although it intends by such devices as hundreds-of-miles-deep safe places for its non-combatant leaders to keep some beings still alive, technological development is now at the stage where even its ruling beneficiaries suffer threat of annihilation. It is really a striking feature of the contemporary human condition that the military program of war is still assumed as war’s proper form. What adds to this pathology of fixation upon the military program is that we are perpetually engaged in other kinds of war, wars that do not destroy human beings but enable them. Our very historical development and ecological adaptation have, indeed, depended upon our waging these wars – against pathogens, disease-bearing pests, insect and rodent hordes, civil corruption, tyrannies, toxic pollutants … The list is long. Its pattern underlies both our cultural and evolutionary success as a species. War of the non-military sort is the external immune system of humanity’s advance on Earth. But the military format of this species-defensive function is one of destruction that kills at all levels at once, until life itself has become the potential object of its immolation. The military pattern of absolutist command and destruction is now, after epochs of ruling group imposition, out of control and undergird even industrial devastation itself, whose machine and chemical razings of entire ecosystems find their historical prototype in the military model of conquest. We can make a generalization about war which puts its evolutionary function in an entirely different light than its military perversion. The human capacity to make war is, in proportion to its cooperative inclusion, a species-distinctive ability upon which humanity’s survival and development depend. Much could be said about this. I suspect that an interesting history of human evolution and development could be written from its standpoint – humanity’s wars perhaps beginning and certainly playing a primary role in the organizational structures of cooperation characterizing the species’ pre-historical and historical advances in collective capacitation. Survival against larger predators, the weeding techniques of the agricultural revolution, the effective coping with vermin and pestilences of all kinds, the conquests of a long succession of plagues and diseases, the recent movement to war on the microbial level, the progress of modern allopathic medicine and hygienic practices to the present day – the theme of war’s deliberate annihilation of other beings is very long, and complex. Humanity’s pattern of increasing powers is largely explicable in its terms. Today we are waging wars – not in metaphor but, past hypocrisy, with liberative intent, on more levels than ever before: against carcinomatous cells, official lies, industrial wastes, self-pity, criminal conduct, nuclear war itself. The mind dances with the richness of war’s profusion of forms, which seem somehow to be all struck from the scroll of possibility once the military form of war engages the conditioned schemas of our thought. What makes the primary difference between enabling and pathological wars is that the latter by their intention and instrumentation massacre and mutilate large numbers of people, whereas the former do not. War achieves this pathological extreme the more it destroys humans and human capacities. Non-military forms of war do not normally do this, intentionally or unintentionally 14. When they do, as in inquisitorial wars against perceived satanic influences, it is interesting that they too move into closer and closer family resemblance to that set of characteristics of the military program of war identified in part II. The military form of war, in other words, is a derangement, a deformed variation of an evolutionarily distinctive capacity, and increasingly so with the advance and dominance of its administrative and technical powers. Because war admits of such hidden polarities of possibility – the very extremes of species health and morbidity – what we elect as the war enemy is decisive in the formation of our life-world. The choice determines whether our wars are humanly liberative or, like Brecht’s ‘hairy baboon’s ass’, an abominable tool of the acquisitive and power-addled. As William James has argued, the martial propensities need not be repressed, but can be appropriately and virtuously expressed 15. Whether they are discharged ‘against Nature’ in the form of militant youth work crews doing public service (James’ rather limited substitute for war), or against human lives in the form of selectively enriching and vain glorious mechanisms of slaughter, makes all the difference. It is what is identified as the enemy in war, not war itself, which is the essential, world structuring choice. There is no a priori constraint on what we elect here: not only regarding the opposition’s nature, but also its precise lines of presence. We might concur, for example, with the US government’s oft-declared projects to eradicate international terrorism, government waste, and violations of human rights by totalitarian regimes, but observe nonetheless that choice remains as to what are identified here as the precise adversaries to be warred against. There is wide room for option. One might choose, for example, to overlook the fact that most murders by death-squad and assassinations of civilian leaders are perpetrated by military regimes trained and financed by the very administration that has declared national war against terrorism 16. Or one might neglect to consider that the greatest proportion of government waste occurs through global purchase of unproductive weapons whose leading producer and distributor is this same great power 17. One might choose, in these and other ways, to identify as the enemy to the national project almost anything at all, including forces quite other than those that most evidently qualify. One might even come to identify as the opposition to every national project a single monolithic Enemy – as devil theories throughout history have done – against which public resources are increasingly mobilized to wage a perpetual and preoccupying war of extermination, whether or not the identified opposition has, in reality, anything to do with the limiting conditions to be overcome, as in witch-hunts in former times 18. Suppose, for example, that a state leadership’s underlying national objectives are:

  22. to secure the collective interests of its ruling political party or ownership group; and

  23. to increase these collective ruling interests by subordinating further areas of domestic or international civil life to military control under the direction of these same interests. Suppose, further, that such objectives are achieved by:

  24. direct armed aggression and occupation of client states seeking economic or military independence;

  25. military buildup to secure foreign investments, debtor-nation loan payments, external natural resources, strategic sites or cheap labour pools;

  26. imposition of state-of-siege law to control internal unrest from below;

  27. conversion of social expenditures to military industrial uses that maximize corporate profit opportunities;

  28. investment of national technological leadership in military-related research and development subsidizing private or state industries; and

  29. transfer to industrialized societies of non-industrial societies’ wealth by export of progressively more expensive armaments to these societies’ established ruling groups. What in such circumstances is the national enemy? It is clear that from the standpoint of national citizenries, the enemy is this process of ruling group exploitation and militarization itself. Yet what will be predictably identified as the nation’s enemy will be those persons or groups who oppose this very process. That such people or groups will be targeted as the official enemy is an easily testable hypothesis. It is widely confirmable, and nowhere clearly disconfirmed in the world today. The ‘enemy’ that is in this way identified may be a rival superpower (if there is, in fact, such opposition, as distinguished from, say, tacit imperial collaboration), but may be any group, domestic or external, real or contrived, which is perceived as disturbing the fulfilment of these objectives. Whatever group is chosen, and however irrelevant to a national people’s real life-and-death problems it may be, we can predict that it will be selected in accordance with this pattern as the mortal adversary under some culturally accepted rubric of diabolic qualification, such as ‘communists’, ‘terrorists’, ‘anti-Soviet agents’, ‘foreign infidels’, or the like 19. Having been thus identified as the enemy to justify the escalation of militarization, and thereby the increased fulfilment of the objectives, this enemy becomes indispensable to perpetuation of the pattern. Its posited threat, along with claimed vulnerabilities to its attack, are required to sustain the game 20. In this way a closed loop of ruling thought and action is formed which is generally re-enforced, not weakened, by armed resistance to it: to the present point of multiples of globe-destroying weapons of ‘defence’, and military expenditures of 1. 7 million dollars per minute devoted to the struggle against designated ‘national enemies’. This is the inner program underlying determination of the national enemy where none may, in fact, exist of the kind constructed. But thought is not so easily controlled as to render this underlying pattern the sequence of necessity it is made to appear as. There are other choices open to national populations than acquiescence in a program so fundamentally inimical to their own collective survival and security. One such choice is to consider the evidence of militarily armed groups in fact posing a danger to the lives and security of national citizen bodies. In most countries of Central and South America, the Far East, the Middle East and sub-Sahara Africa, the greatest and often only armed threat to their inhabitants has for many years demonstrably proceeded from their own militaries who ”being inclined to view the civil populations they rule as the national enemy, have established order by such means as mass civilian terror and slaughter, despotic imposition of laws and government, violent looting and extortion, and despoliation of public resources 21. Even with the superpowers, if we consider the matter from the standpoint of other than counterfactual imagination, the military industrial complexes of the US and the USSR have endangered the security and lives of their own citizens far more palpably than either’s aggression against the other: essentially by vast expenditures on arms that have correspondingly derogated from tribute-free citizen time and the safety of social environments, but also by thousands of mutilations and deaths of their own citizens incurred by these superpowers’ military invasions of smaller countries 22. Such a method of defending a nation’s people is in the end absurd, because its practice systematically contradicts its declared objective. In countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, Uganda, Kampuchea, South Africa or Chile, national security establishments have been more destructive of national social life than invasion by a foreign power. Who is the national enemy, then, is a question whose proper answer is often, perhaps generally opposite to what the military program would have us believe. If humanity’s species-distinctive capacity to make war is to be rationally directed, the primary enemy to target would seem increasingly to be the military system itself. Part VI Discovering the Just War Once the opposition to national well-being is identified, the value ascribed to the chosen adversary remains posed as a problem for judgement. Though unreflective consciousness assumes opposition to itself to be evil, this is an inference that allows of alternative. Rollerball patriots and evangelicals, not to say the invested leaders of their governments, assume a moral justification to destroy opponents to their will. But their judgement is distorted by what Hobbes has called the ‘notable multiplying glasses’ of self-interest. Such magnifiers not only predispose the outlook of fictional idiocyncratics like Ahab, who judges the great whale he chooses to war against as ‘all evil visibly personified’, but can govern real heads of state too who may view their chosen opponents as ‘the focus of all evil in the modern world’. Absolute disvaluation of one’s opposition is, however, not a necessary consequence of even annihilative intention. It is an option of ethical judgement. It could more diffidently conceptualize its adversary in opposite terms and, like Heraclitus, conceive of the opposition in even military war as just by its very nature, in that it ensures that no part of nature can overstep its measures, and thereby orders the world as it ought to be ordered, whether or not one’s own self or state is thus restrained by cosmic propriety 23. Evaluation of the enemy one intends to eradicate may also make an enabling distinction. It may distinguish between the enemy it seeks to destroy by war and what ought not to be destroyed – other human lives. Thus, just as with morally unimpeachable wars against organic diseases and other unambiguously destructive patterns, which are best waged against highly specific and invariant enemies whose elimination entails no loss of human life, the moral war seeks only to expunge the disabling pattern. This pattern is judged to be the enemy (e.g. bubonic plague), not necessarily the being that bears it (e.g. the rodent). Applying this fundamental but overlooked distinction to human enemies, we can say that such and such a pattern of behaviour (e.g. Nazism) is an utmost evil, and that it obliges us to go to battle to the death against it. But such a value judgement does not necessitate the death of persons bearing the pattern of even Nazism: it is not persons as such who are finally depraved (because they can and may reform), but rather the murderous pattern they choose or are forced to bear. Analysts of moral choice in war have hitherto failed to consider this fundamental difference between agent and structure of action. Yet it emerges as a foundational option where human enemies are concerned because agency here involves the capacity to choose an alternative to the deadly pattern, whereas non-human disease bearers have apparently no such capacity. They (the diseased ones) traditionally have been killed to get at the pattern (the disease), whereas humans, as such, need not be. Some humans may become ‘beasts’, and this is the deep meaning of the epithet: they have abandoned their elective capacities and hold incorrigibly to inhuman and viciously destructive programs. In these cases, usually confined to those who derive social command from such programs, the only way to annihilate their pattern may be to annihilate them; or to eliminate by permanent imprisonment their capacity to perform such deeds. But these inalterable cases are far rarer than can warrant the mass-terrorist leap by military thought to projects of killing or threatening to kill thousands or millions, perhaps billions, of people as a ‘necessity of self-defence’. Insofar as the military program itself increasingly endangers the security of unarmed citizens everywhere, its implementation poses the very systematic violence and threat to civilization and peace it purports to defend against. Because it produces and propagates the organized attack on civilian peace and security that its putative value is to prevent, its practice plainly contradicts its goal. More subtly, the evil of the enemy that it upholds in order to justify this practice supposes the very enemy capacity for choice which its homicidal methods overlook. For since moral good or bad presupposes choice, this judgement entails the adversary’s option of other course. From the premise of the military position itself, then, it does not follow that the persons of the enemy’s general population, as distinct from the disabling pattern they are constrained to bear, require to be killed. This fundamental distinction between persons and the patterns they bear is deeper than the well-known distinction between civilians and soldiers advocated by more discriminating advocates of military solution like Elizabeth Anscombe 24. Under our deeper distinction we do not have the right to kill even those who are militarily determined to kill us. Rather, our war is properly to be waged against the pattern they bear, which is typically imposed from above, and by a command which is structured to be untouched by military attack. Entirely different consequences of action follow from this distinction. One doesn’t look for ways of blowing up enemy soldiers, but of fighting the economic-military program by which they are bound. This fight can proceed by any number of long-term or short-term strategies of non-military war – from abolishing or deposing professional armies themselves (as in distinctively peaceful Costa Rica or post-war Japan), to national and international activisms of UN peacekeeping, weapon-dismantling, total boycott, coordinated strike, collective disobedience, ideological war, tax-strangling, mass revolt, or political expunction of state terrorist permissions 25. Again, the underlying distinction here is not that advanced by Thomas Nagel in his hallmark article ‘War and Massacre’ which, like Anscombe’s, restricts the proper objects of military killing to enemy combatants. We agree in specifically condemning as moral evils ‘the indiscriminate destructiveness of anti-personnel weapons; napalm – cruelty to prisoners; massive relocation of civilians; destruction of crops – piecemeal wiping out of rural civilian populations in airborne anti-guerrilla warfare’ 26. However, Nagel’s more judicious and humane alternative of engaging the ‘person’ of the attacker and no other, and then only in those respects in which this person or persons are a threat (not their families or community or other ‘irrelevant aspects’ of their being), falls far short of the deeper wedge of distinction proposed here. For it is precisely not the person, who as such is capable of an alternative mode of expression, who warrants destructive targeting. Rather, we argue, it is the disabling program the combatant is now a bearer of, the form of social life coercively governing him, which is the proper object of annihilative attack. Military combatants are, after all, normally forced to be military combatants. They have little or no choice in performing the role for which they may, even according to Nagel, be rightfully killed. The paradox that thus arises – of justly tearing people to pieces for what they did not choose to do – is only resolved if we recognize that it is the coercive pattern, not the people bound by it, against which deadly counter-attack is appropriate. Recently, Laura Westra has also argued that Nagel’s position does not acknowledge the requirement of ‘culpable intent’ in his distinction between combatants and civilians. She writes:

‘Perhaps ignorance, based upon a wilful external effort to present facts, situations and actions in an appropriate rose-coloured light might place drafted enemy armies at the level of partial innocence (something like the legal notion of extenuating circumstances perhaps). This should still be sufficient to spare them from ‘rightful obliteration’ at our hands’ 27. While Westra, like her forbears Anscombe and Nagel, continues to advance an important distinction between the guilty and the innocent in military war, she also continues to miss the basic point. Merely personal intentions do not and cannot get to the bottom of the matter. Disclosure of groups within the enemy population whose intentions do not deserve the death or mutilation the military system prescribes for them, does indeed draw the curtain away from the established monolith ‘Enemy’. That is all to the good. But as this process of analysis leads from bystanding civilians to conscripted soldiers themselves, it reveals in its wake an underlying form of social coercion and destruction within which the vast majority of those at war on both sides are involuntarily imprisoned – the military form of war itself. It is this imposed program of war and its ruling group interests that are the real enemy against which some new form of war is morally justified, and imperative to the species. The solution to the problem of whom one can rightfully kill in war will continue to evade us until we move to this deeper ground of the social structures within which both sides of military war are normally constrained to act. Here innocent or guilty intentions must be given their context if we are to understand more than mere appearances and symptoms. The full problem can be plumbed only when the underlying form of social rule within which the majority are largely cogs and victims – specifically, the military program by which this rule is sustained – is brought front and square into the moral picture. Until then, we are without the bearings we require to understand what we judge, floundering about in assessments of guilt and innocence of mostly helpless bit-players in a compulsory killer game. It is this game itself and the various economic, political, and military beneficiaries who preside in safety over its civil imposition, which require moral targeting. That is the step for which recent philosophical exposure of the innocent enemy has prepared us, but which has not yet been taken. When we do move towards the social-structure framework within which war’s massacres occur, and consider in reflection more coherent alternatives of which national security and self-defence admit, much emerges to notice. The enemy which threatens us most directly, we begin to see, is within our own borders, as is theirs, and it is the ruling military-industrial complex itself. This understanding leads to very different and more far-reaching modes of war. It radically reduces the right to kill humans, if any such right remains at all, to those alone who freely persist in murderous actions. At the same time, it systematically widens the enemy to be annihilated to those militarist patterns that prescribe such programs. Part VII Modes of War: From Genocide to Liberation Once we understand the nature of the war-enemy, there arises the question of what mode of annihilation to choose against it. There remain world-defining options here. But for the military form of war, these options are radically determined. With the notable exception of the ancient strategist, Sun Tau, large-scale massacre has been the chosen method, and ever more efficient means of mass homicide the direction of its historical development 28. When we turn to the normative cornerstone of Western civilization on the issue, we find indeed that total destruction of men, women and children and systems of life support is specifically commanded by the Almighty of the Judaic-Christian tradition. Thus to His voice is attributed the still believed intention to take ‘the whole land of Canaan [for Israel] to own in perpetuity’ (Genesis:17:21); and, in explicit prohibition of any ‘pact with them’, to ‘exterminate’ all of Palestine’s inhabitants, ‘Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusite’ (Exodus: 23:24). It is instructive to compare this genocidal norm of military war whose prescription remains conventionally reversed as the work of God, with Sun Tzu’s more civil but ignored counsel 2300 years ago recommending infliction on the enemy of the fewest possible casualties 29. The traditional form of military war has nevertheless prevailed. It has been applied by our military allies in recent decades to the cities of Dresden and Hiroshima in the second world war, and since, to various Vietnamese, Indonesian, Chilean, El Salvadorean, Guatemalan, Timorese and Nicaraguan peoples and villages 30. The more limited intent to kill only the part of the opposition that resists its society’s enslavement or domination is a more lenient intent in military history. Its pattern is a connecting thread between imperial systems from ancient Egypt and Greece to the present. It not only occurs, for example, in the Old Testament as another option reportedly entertained by Yahweh, but is celebrated in the Hindu Rg Veda and Arthasastra as a rightful reward for stronger kings. It is also implied by Plato, Aristotle, and other classical thinkers as a requirement for reducing ‘barbarian’ peoples. Over two thousand years later, it remains vigorously endorsed by Hegel as the most basic relationship between humans. ‘Each aims at the destruction and death of the other’, he argues, until one is terrified out of choosing a transcendent attitude to the body and submits in bondage to his adversary. The institutionalization of this process in nation-state wars is then exalted by Hegel as the ‘spirit’s ultimate instrument’ for ‘universalizing Right and Law on Earth’ 31. The goal of reducing other societies to servitude by military terror continues to be upheld in the most recent century. ‘War’, says von Clausewitz in his still axiomatic definition, ‘is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will’. Von Clausewitz also posits as the end of military war the purely annihilative goal of ‘destroying the adversary’, but his apparent inconsistency on this point is resolvable if we retain the agent / pattern distinction of the previous section. That is, annihilation of the enemy may proceed by killing people, or by expunging the pattern they bear. Von Clausewitz unwittingly employs this distinction, without recognizing it or the general principle it limitedly expresses 32. Note the bridge between those military modes of war which seek the absolute death of the other, and those which seek merely the liquidation of his autonomy. This transition marks the principal difference between civilization’s earlier and later forms of military genocide. The advance that occurs here is that the opponent is no longer to be slaughtered and left as waste, but is to be incorporated alive into the proprietary domain of the conqueror, as in slavery, feudal bondage, and colonialism. As with all advances of conquest stage, the governing principle of ascending value here is more inclusive enablement, which follows from the fact that the defeated adversary or victim is not destroyed but preserved, albeit in a form that is reduced to extension of another’s will. In general, intertribal and international contest has remained confined to one or other of these military genocidal forms of war. Non-homicidal arenas of conquest – by economic competition, by cultural superiority, by the relentless battle for a better life – have been less favoured as modes of international combat than proof of greatness by kill-capacity. We remain with the military paradigm largely stuck at the killer-gang stage of waging war. On the other hand, the choice exists for non-pathological modes of war. Nations, like individuals, might, for example, elect a form of purging, educative war governed by an opposite principle: to abolish the enemy by any means possible that does not prescribe the death or subordination of human life. Consider, for example, Yeshua’s attitude to a ‘right arm that offendeth thee’, or Gandhi’s self-declared ‘fight to the finish’ with the British rule in India 33. Both propose a war to the death with a chosen adversary judged evil, but each recommends a mode of war that will not destroy, but will more inclusively enable human life by the annihilative victory it seeks. As with the enlightened warrior exemplars of other cultures, from Vedic seer and Tibetan Buddhist to Toltec Indian, war to the death is here a form of contest which repudiates the mass sacrifice of human beings as a method, and wages in its stead a ‘fight to the finish’ that does not destroy but capacitates 34. This is not at all to say that non-violent forms of war are the only alternatives to military mass-kill as types of intrahuman war. One need not suppose that to reject military war one must also reject all violence. War can be violent in a myriad of ways not prescribing or threatening mass-homicide: war by total disruption, non-lethal sabotage, weaponless martial art, for example, not to say other imaginable modes of war neither non-violent nor mass murderous in nature. Here again, the range of understood options opens with the mind’s release from absolutist military assumptions. War by human sacrifice remains, however, a ritual given of the military program. We can discern its compulsive operation in laboratory-test isolation in contemporary military strikes against identified national enemies. Consider, for example, the currently fashionable armed-force raids to ‘punish’ declared enemies in foreign societies. The pure pattern is exemplified in ‘anti-terrorist’ attacks against weaker third-world cities and settlements in the Middle East and southern Africa by Israeli, American and South African militaries, and takes the form of launching homicidal attacks:

  1. that cannot but kill known innocents in large numbers;

  2. that do not, in fact, kill those alleged to be the wrongdoers against whom the attacks are made;

  3. that produce no proof before or after that the identified enemy’s wrongdoing is or will be deterred by the attacks; and

  4. that invariably result in further deaths and dangers to innocents of the same nation as those who command the attacks. The persistent compulsive choice of such a mode of interaction with enemies one would annihilate in the face of its failure to work, demonstrates the military program’s depth of hold. Its prescription of mass homicide in contradiction to evidence, consistency, declared principles of justice, and the security of the defended national body itself discloses a pattern of ratiocination that if adopted by a non-state intelligence would be judged as irredeemably and criminally insane. But it is nevertheless advocated and justified as if there were ‘no choice’, as if the ‘national will’ required such an expression to survive. What makes the problem a deep structural derangement in the regimen of current civilization is that this military line of thought is transcultural, and more programmatic in state-terrorist ‘fights against terrorism’ than in the ‘terrorist’ movements these fight against. It is a decision-pattern of military commands in general. Its program is not, however, prescribed by some immutable flaw of the human form. War, organized annihilation of the enemy, admits of as many forms of relationship with its object as life does drawing lines of what will and will not be allowed to exist; and these lines of battle are as open to enabling or disabling choice as are our intentions to fight to the death against plagues, monsters, or self-limits. It is the specific type of war dictated by the military paradigm that afflicts us. Compulsory military service, taxation and command are not expressions of human nature, but impositions by force of war’s military mode. Part VIII The Political Economy of Militarization Once the military mode of war has been chosen in ignorance of more rational forms of combat that do not prescribe mass murder as a method, the choice remains as to the weapons to be used to obliterate the declared enemy. It seems only with this final aspect of war intention that the idea of choice has entered seriously into mainstream political thought: the choice of instruments and strategies of group-kill. Here, if nowhere else, the researched options are detailed, inventive and comprehensive. For efficient means of human slaughter under official command, there is no want of established support. Weapons are, after all, increasingly the world’s most lucrative business. The ancient game of contriving means to kill and mutilate great numbers of other human beings is more rewarding than ever to its non-combatant principals. Indeed what is foundationally new in modern warfare is that the interests of military and business commands increasingly coincide in military industrial economies, where once they were opposed. In this new context of expanding partnership between military and business leaderships, funded by escalating state support of armaments purchase, weapons manufacture has almost certainly become the most thoroughly and expensively explored range of choice in humanity’s history. From single Trident submarines over two football-fields long and bearing 2040 Hiroshimas’ worth of nuclear strike, to Star Wars military schemes costing the national income of entire countries to research, the panoply of proposed and realized military commodities and strategies is bizarre in its extremes. No systematic ignorance and evasion of option exists here as on the other levels of war’s choice matrix. There are too many pay-offs in revenues, powers, and perquisites to business, military and political leaderships by weapon buildups to choose out of the game. Were Marx alive today, he would be profoundly interested in the political economy of military production: (1) because of its increasing centrality in the process of production and exchange (which he never anticipated); and (2) because of its now systematic and normalized role in contemporary states’ management of economic and political crises. Let us consider these developments in turn.

  5. Armaments have exceptional and generally unseen advantages as commodities for profitable manufacture and sale. These advantages together operate as a hidden structure of economic determination biasing capital investment towards armaments production:

  6. the military product’s uniquely high per-unit price, whether sold as an overall weapon system or as an individual component, accessory, replacement, or part (e.g. $26,000,000,000 for the first five years of research and development of the US Strategic Defence Initiative system, or $7,417 paid by the U.S. Air Force to General Dynamics for two one-cent pins) 35.

  7. the specially rapid rate of obsolescence and turnover of military goods: which follows necessarily from continuous development under established arms race conditions as well as from destruction by use – a pattern that generates, in turn, a sustained or escalating effective demand for more military commodities;

  8. the monopoly or semi-monopoly position of established military manufacturers which follows: (a) from the designation of military production designs and methods as state secrets; (b) from the high capital costs of armaments technology and manufacture; and (c) from the privileged linkages of established military producers with government defence and procurement agencies;

  9. the large-scale and secure capital financing of military research, production, and cost-additions: a funding which is ensured by coercive state mechanisms of public taxation, resource allocation, and national debt imposition, and which is available to no other system of commodity production 36.These hidden distinguishing features of the military product disclose a rational self-interest for the arms race that is generally overlooked. Theories of an unconscious human drive to aggression, a national territorial instinct for expansion, an inborn destructive propensity of the human id, a peculiarly demonic enemy bent on world conquest, an inherent irrationality of nation-state divisions and other such general ideas to explain the madness of the arms-race are ideological mystifications which conceal its real function. The arms race is a mechanism of economic and political rule. It systematically serves the advance of ruling-group interests in the ways we have identified earlier (part IV) and specifically provides peerless commodity advantages for military-industrial businesses. By its nature the arms race continuously reproduces and expands the demand for its products and opportunities for profit which are unavailable to any other form of commodity production – particularly during times of economic recession or depression.It is this underlying transnational economic base of the arms race that explains its occurrence in the face of its tendency to contradict the very interests of civilian peace and security for which it is said to be pursued.

  10. On the political level, the use of rapidly developing military means for blocking or destroying political and labour movements that pose a danger to private capital ownership has long played an indispensable superstructural role in maintaining post-colonial capitalism as an economic system through social, labour and public debt crises. This is especially true of poverty-ridden third world societies where military or militarily controlled governments have been the rule from Latin America to South-East Asia since their decolonization. This pattern of capital-benefiting militarization has historically impelled and sustained an anti-capitalist militarization by aspiring or established state-socialist regimes. That is, the dominant pattern of revolutionary socialist movements and states from the Bolshevik success on has been to militarize their own industrial and political structures under the central command of Communist Party leadership, which has traditionally characterized itself as the ‘general staff of the revolution’. This centralized, militarily-secured rule has, then, served the interests of its commanding beneficiaries as systematically as militarized commodity production and political rule serve industrial, merchant and finance capital. Against the military-industrial complexes of capitalism, in historical consequence, now stand the military industrial complexes of state socialism: both rapidly growing, each generating privileges and protections to their respective ruling groups, and both variously dependent upon resort to armed force in sustaining their systems of mutually reinforcing hegemony. In this manner, an escalating militarization of control of society has been historically engendered across both capitalist and socialist camps alike, with its overall pattern of power and advantage to the ruling blocs of both systems remaining unrecognized by Marxian as well as anti-Marxian analysis 37. Because human societies across the world in this way increasingly reproduce themselves as military bodies and reflex-systems poised for the destruction of discerned group-enemies, non-military options for conquering adversaries have been generally ruled out a priori. This mind-set corresponds to the structures of rule that military buildups globally serve and protect. It is, in the language of Marx, a ‘form of social consciousness’ that reflects ruling-class interests of control and exploitation. Even if military war is not the God-ordained necessity that religious and patriotic fanaticisms across the world now declare it is, a calmer ruling belief persists that no feasible alternative to the strategy of mass homicide exists to secure us from the threat of foreign enemies. What this dogma of national security conceals however, is a novel aspect of our contemporary condition – namely, that the nature of the military program’s pursuit has so qualitatively changed in the direction of destructive capacity and ongoing production cost that traditionally accepted arguments for its defensive necessity no longer apply. The historically unprecedented dangers and costs of military buildups can no longer be justified by the external threats of invasion they are held to defend against. The need for such justification, if not its subversive implication, was obliquely admitted by the recent U.S. Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger who asserted ‘It’s the threat that makes the budget’ 38. An alleged proof of proportionality between threat and military budget is now achieved on the basis of three illicit assumptions. Claimed and often invented threats are treated as facts. A causal connection between counter-threat and effective deterrence is supposed without demonstration. And the dangers of provocation by one’s own military buildup are simply ruled out of account. Moreover, no justification has ever been given even within these question-begging parameters to demonstrate that a military program is worth its great risks and costs to the national citizenries paying and dying for it. If we insist on logical and scientific method in ascertaining (i) probability of being attacked; (ii) proportionality of defensive counter-measure, and (iii) the effectiveness of poised mass-kill as deterrent, and do not merely presume the truth of official assertions on these matters, we are left without any good reason to suppose that any major military program is still justified 39. The assumption of a rational realism on the part of current military advocacy, then, does not stand up to scrutiny. It is a myth: merely an unverified belief whose propagation corresponds to ruling-group advantage. What then, if not military buildup, has deterred military war among industrialized nations in recent decades? The answer is discoverable in the technological, economic and civic contexts within which the industrialized nations’ military mechanisms have been and are now located. These more basic conditions of social and political life have developed in still more profound and far-reaching ways than military means since World War II. Unprecedentedly, the general populations of the industrialized nations have become domestically secure in the reproduction and development of their means of life – their food, shelter, employment, health care, and literacy. Corresponding to this historically unparalleled security of social base has grown an ever greater interdependence, interconnectedness and similarity of rational method, production technique, standard-of-life aspiration, and cultural exchange. An overall system of widely distributed life-welfare has thus developed in which actualized military warfare between industrialized nations no longer qualifies as a feasibly self-interested strategy for any dominant population or ruling group. It is this vastly deepened and more inclusive socioeconomic interest in maintaining mutual security which best explains the political refrainment from armed warfare by the nations and peoples involved. Conversely, the undermining of this socioeconomic base – by massive unemployment, by increasing ruling-group appropriation of society’s wealth, by dismantling of public welfare systems through the militarization process itself – constitutes the most fundamental if unseen danger to this privileged enclave’s achievement of military peace. Very real as well as contrived conflicts of regime interest still persist between the capitalist and state-socialist blocs within the industrialized world. But contest between them is sufficiently intense – and expressive in non-military arenas, and so historically discredited and impractical on the plane of direct military attack on one another, that these blocs’ respective military build-ups may be better accounted for as a function of internal requirements of rule and profit than as essential to deterring external invasion. The latter option is in neither population’s nor ruling bloc’s interest, given the continued stability and advance of their respective socioeconomic foundations. If mutually destructive military capacity is the factor by which we are to explain the refusal of industrialized nations over 40 years and countless disputes to engage in actual military war with one another, then this explanation is quite unable to account for the fact that the United States or the USSR, with incomparably greater military force, a well-known priority for national self-interest, and vast resources to win by conquest, have not invaded, say, adjacent Canada or Finland. Nor, more generally, can such a mode of explanation account for the fact that a more powerful NATO did not attack a much weaker Warsaw Pact for over 20 years of declared intense enmity. What has protected the latter countries from such invasion cannot be their development of military programs; for Canada, Finland, or the outlying nations of the Warsaw Pact have not had the weapon parity to prevail militarily against such aggressions. On the other hand, what can account for these countries’ relative security from military attack by stronger neighbours is a systematic combination of non-military factors: not only the social reproduction bases of the societies concerned, but, as well, political and ideological-factors such as the civil memory of the Nazi disaster and customary patterns of international intercourse whose armed-force usurpation would so violate dearly held norms of group life as to make subsequent occupation unviable. Perestroika and glasnost are outgrowths of this shared civil context of social security and law. Where military invasion has exceptionally occurred between industrialized nations in the post World War II era (e.g. the USSR-led military occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968), it was to secure an already-established dominion, and was achieved (at irreparable ideological cost) by the systematic co-operation of the invaded nation’s own armed forces: a contingency which would seem best preventable not by a national military program which in fact assisted it, but by prepared systems of society-wide civil disobedience. Indeed it is precisely these non-military systems of social war that have already prevailed with less developed civilian contexts to work from, against powerful alien militaries in India, Thailand, Iran, the Philippines, Argentina, and perhaps soon in other countries like Burma, Palestine, or Chile. They have arisen, moreover, without any of the enormous resources and support structures of the military system: without public taxation bases, technological infrastructures, long-term training and scientific research, civilian drafts, censored media or traditional patriotic inculcation to establish them as means of collective defence. The pre-emption of these systems of non-military social war from nation-state thinking is not on account of their impossibility as forms of effective national defence, but because of their inherent incompatibility with the military system’s advantages to established power elites. What is finally ignored by the conventional ideology of military ‘national security’ is the unintended effect of its continued implementation. It is possible that, without anyone’s knowledge, the world’s current militarization serves some long-term historical purpose other than the safety or security of national peoples, or even ruling-group power and maintenance. The vast tax revenues such militarization increasingly demands in the face of business opposition to government control of capital may fulfil the hidden function of concentrating control of social wealth in the hands of the contemporary state: an unforeseen and rapid conversion of citizens’ private money to state ownership that, in the long run, could provide the government controlled surplus wealth to base a state-socialist economy. Under this view, it would be the ironic consequence of military-industrial capitalism’s claimed opposition to Soviet domination of the world that it creates the material conditions and the regulatory impetus for the very statist order it is claimed to prevent. Certainly, there is a systematic transferral, by government loan financing and present and future tax imposition of private monies into state control with military, and war economies. This unseen pattern of what we might call universalizing military statism is not only implicitly present in capitalist economies of substantial military-industrial composition, but calls forth its explicit version in actually existing military statisms, which have become similarly reinforced to compete with and survive against the armed forces of their capitalist adversaries. Whatever the eventual outcome of this process of state militarization maybe, it can hardly give comfort to even those whose priority it is to protect the free world of investment capital, let alone to those who still imagine that defence establishments are there to secure civilian lives from military terror and aggression. Part IX Conclusion The bias of our social and political thought towards homicidal weapons systems for self-defence is, in the end, a transcultural prejudice – underwritten by ancient patterns of hostility to extra-tribal groups, and increasingly reinforced by coinciding profitability to economic and military leaderships. It has become now the most dangerous prejudice that has ever existed. Its revanchist ascension to state office in recent years under the guise of ‘deterrence’ has redefined national priorities, multiplied public debts to crisis proportions, and expanded military industry to a normalized race of kill-capacity beyond the limits of planetary life itself 40. The logic of armed-force resolution has come, indeed, to structure the contents of mass entertainment and national self-definitions, not to say visions of revolutionary alternative themselves. Human culture seems on the verge of default to the military program as the final shared framework of empowerment and meaning. The established criterion of national legitimacy has long been, it is true, the recognized power of authority to impose its will on a population by demonstrated monopoly of organized armed force. But this underlying measure of national legitimacy and sovereignty operates in accordance with a law of progression: the more military means are developed in command of social labour and resources, range of deployment and violent effect, and capacity for universal surveillance, the more human existence passes under military control. Because such a pattern of increasing military capacitation and cost has in fact followed from the arms race and growth of national security establishments, the ascension of military, militarily imposed, or militarily expanding governments to control civilian existence is the now established, if hidden, crystallizing pattern of our global social order. Its phenomena can be seen everywhere, and are all connected: military threats or interventions to ensure labour supply or intensification; military models of corporate management and marketplace competition; military priorities of public expenditure; military toys, arcade games, fashion designs, and schoolchild chants; armed force heroes and plots of mass television, film, book, and newsprint media; military organization and contents of leisure contests, spectator sports and spectacles; conceptualization of religious aspiration, political conflict, social development, and organic defence itself in terms of military-bearing battles and attacks; celebration of national collectivity and conscience in the symbology of military displays, anthems, and invocations; and, in increasing closure to alternative means of proving national strength, denigration of non-military options as ‘weak’, ‘soft’, or ‘unrealistic’… These all manifest a way of life in the world that is unified by a culture of military a priorism that runs increasingly beneath conscious understanding and control 41. Yet there are, as we have found, other options. The Zen master chooses a sudden slap in the face of the ignorance he would war against. Contemporary populations from the Americas to the Far East have brought down military power-structures by relentlessly systematic noncooperation. Evolutionary attrition, annihilative ridicule and exposure, society-wide disobedience, economic boycott, technological or cultural displacement – these have all won collective victories far more economically and durably than any modern military machine. Unlike the military program, their logic is not to destroy persons, but to transform human agency; not to centralize command and weaponry, but to distribute social power and civilian choice. The most broadly effective deterrent of social aggression from the time of the ancient Chinese to the contemporary global village has been the power of public shame. Indeed, given the new media mechanisms of world opinion to administer public censure, the peculiar sensitivity of even hardened tyrants to its experience 42, and the willingness of most recruits to war to die rather than suffer it, it is an option for behavioral extinction that more readily recommends itself to reason than mass-kill methods which are increasingly known to terrorize and bankrupt the very civil bodies they purport to protect. Contesting the lines of life and death is a far more open matter than the military paradigm assumes. The nature of the national self and its projects, what is judged the enemy, why, how, and by what means its annihilation is sought – these all admit of profound if unexplored ranges of choice. Humanity’s essential conflictedness cannot, of course, be wished away by a utopian flight into pure peace, beyond contesting and conflict, where communion is won by some final war or renunciation 43. Men and nations are condemned to the freedom of drawing the lines of the world, of determining what is to live and what is to die, now more than ever by the demands of their technologies and numbers. But even on the most elementary level of reality’s definition, war is made not given, a theatre of possibilities reduced to uniformity and the logic of armed terror not by national or natural requirement, but by the military necessity of commanding civilian bodies against their own interests and wills. The consequence of the military program is, in the end, to reverse the order of war’s proper object in ever greater extremes, raising pathogenic command as human life’s defence, and destroying the civil, the vitally productive, and the individual by its very nature. The human struggle for survival is, at this juncture of its history, no longer against natural or foreign enemies or even war as such, but against the military program itself.


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