The Wall Street Journal of 23 September 2020, in an article written by John Scales Avery against the institution of war, would notably be a relevant piece of reading in all corners of the MENA region. The picture above is that of Kuwaiti oil fires set by retreating Iraqi forces during the Gulf War causing a dramatic decrease in air quality.
The ecological impact of militarism
Against the institution of war
As we start the 21st century and the new millennium, our scientific and technological civilization seems to be entering a period of crisis. Today, for the first time in history, science has given to humans the possibility of a life of comfort, free from hunger and cold, and free from the constant threat of infectious disease. At the same time, science has given us the power to destroy civilization through thermonuclear war, as well as the power to make our planet uninhabitable through pollution and overpopulation. The question of which of these alternatives we choose is a matter of life or death to ourselves and our children.
The crisis of civilization, which we face today, has been produced by the rapidity with which science and technology have developed. Our institutions and ideas adjust too slowly to the change. The great challenge which history has given to our generation is the task of building new international political structures, which will be in harmony with modern technology. At the same time, we must develop a new global ethic, which will replace our narrow loyalties by loyalty to humanity as a whole.
In the long run, because of the enormously destructive weapons, which have been produced through the misuse of science, the survival of civilization can only be insured if we are able to abolish the institution of war.
Because the world spends 1.8 trillion dollars each year on armaments, it follows that very many people make their living from war. This is the reason why it is correct to speak of war as a social institution, and also the reason why war persists, although everyone realizes that it is the cause of much of the suffering that inflicts humanity. We know that war is madness, but it persists. We know that it threatens the future survival of our species, but it persists, entrenched in the attitudes of historians, newspaper editors and television producers, entrenched in the methods by which politicians finance their campaigns, and entrenched in the financial power of arms manufacturers, entrenched also in the ponderous and costly hardware of war, the fleets of warships, bombers, tanks, nuclear missiles and so on.
Science cannot claim to be guiltless: in Eisenhower’s farewell address, he warned of the increasing power of the industrial-military complex, a threat to democratic society. If he were making the same speech today, he might speak of the industrial-military-scientific complex. Since Hiroshima, we have known that new knowledge is not always good. There is a grave danger that nuclear weapons will soon proliferate to such an extent that they will be available to terrorists and even to the Mafia. Chemical and biological weapons also constitute a grave threat.
Besides a humane, democratic and just framework of international law and governance, we urgently need a new global ethic, an ethic where loyalty to family, community and nation will be supplemented by a strong sense of the brotherhood of all humans, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Schiller expressed this feeling in his Ode to Joy, the text of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Hearing Beethoven’s music and Schiller’s words, most of us experience an emotion of resonance and unity with its message: all humans are brothers and sisters – not just some – all! It is almost a national anthem of humanity. The feelings which the music and words provoke are similar to patriotism, but broader. It is this sense of a universal human family, which we need to cultivate in education, in the mass media, and in religion.
No warming, no war: how militarism fuels the climate crisis
Here is a quotation from an article by Lorah Steichen and Lindsay Koshgarian:
In this report, we’ll lay out how militarism and the climate crisis are deeply intertwined and mutually reinforcing. The military itself, we explain, is a huge polluter – and is often deployed to sustain the very extractive industries that destabilize our climate. This climate chaos, in turn, leads to massive displacement, militarized borders, and the prospect of further conflict.
True climate solutions, we argue, must have antimilitarism at their core.
In the face of both Covid-19 and the climate crisis, we urgently need to shift from a culture of war to a culture of care. Funneling trillions into the military to wage endless wars and project military dominance has prevented us from investing in true security and cooperation. If we don’t transform our society and the way we confront crises, we will face even more unjust and inhumane realities in a climate-changed future.
Rebuilding after the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown light on the shortcomings of our militaristic concept of security. Our military establishments could not protect us from the virus. Indeed, even without the pandemic, our “defense departments” do not really defend us. This is most obvious when we think of a nuclear war, in which hundreds of millions of innocent civilians might be killed. At present, civilians are hostages in the power struggles of politicians. When we rebuild the world after the pandemic, it must not merely be “back to normal”. The old normal was part of the problem. We must build a new world in which the climate emergency is addressed, and rapid action is taken to prevent it. The Green New Deal, in which jobs are created producing urgently-needed renewable energy infrastructure, offers the best model for the new world that we want. Those who say that there is not enough money to finance the Green New Deal, forget the unimaginable amounts of money wasted. or worse than wasted, on militarism. We must divert this vast river of money from its present evil use, to the constructive task of saving our planet from the existential threat of catastrophic climate change. Email Share Tweet Share Pin ShareJohn Scales AveryJohn Scales Avery is a theoretical Chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is the Chairman of the Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (Nobel Peace Prize, 1995).
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