There is no such thing as a good war, especially not in 2018. History, both recent and otherwise, has proven this statement. No war in the past seventy years has made the world a better place. In fact, in most cases those wars have made the world more dangerous. Furthermore, these wars—most of them waged by the United States and its clients—have wreaked environmental destruction, made life even more difficult for those who have little to begin with, and created an economy whose very existence not only demands but depends on the waging of and preparation for war and more war. In other words, a permanent war economy.
According to most commentators on the subject, the term “permanent war economy” was first discussed in detail by Edward Sard in a 1944 article in Politics magazine. (Politics, 1:2 (February 1944), pp. 11–17, writing as W. Oakes.) His understanding of the phenomenon was that this type of economy is a form of military Keynesianism. In other words, it is a way to transfer wealth from the working classes to capital by means of government taxation. He further argued that developing a permanent war economy was the only way contemporary capitalism could survive. As any reasonable thinker would acknowledge today, not only has capitalism survived, its reach is so ubiquitous there is essentially no alternative to its deadly but profitable presence.
In the wake of the US defeat in Vietnam, the Vietnamese economy became part of the international capitalist economy. China, whose economy once represented an alternative to the monopoly capitalism dominated by US money and power, is now a capitalist economy vying with the United States for world economic dominance. The majority of the former republics of the Soviet Union find themselves in a similar position, especially in the case of Russia. Yet, the world’s doomsday clock is closer to midnight than it has been since the height of the Cold War in the 1980s between Washington and the nominally communist Soviet Union. Why is that? If every nation’s economy is capitalist, then why don’t they cooperate to exploit the world’s already exploited even more?
The answer is actually quite simple. The reason we are closer to war than we have been in decades is precisely because all of these powerful nations are capitalist. They are not arguing or battling over ideology like they were in previous decades; they are arguing and battling over profits and markets, resources and control. In other words, the current arguments, trade wars, military positioning and conflicts potential and real are elements of imperialism. Just like competition is essential to capitalism, so is it essential to imperialism, which is nothing but capitalism on a national/international scale. The difference between the competitive rivalries between local capitalists and capitalist nations is measured in body counts and blood. In other more general terms there is no difference. In other words, the working people lose and the most powerful capitalists win.
Let me get back to the situation at hand. By this I am referring to Syria and the situation in that nation’s cities and countryside. As I write this, unverified stories of a chemical attack in a rebel-held section near Damascus are being used to justify an attack on that already beleaguered people and nation. Even if this chemical attack did occur and even if the perpetrators are those the western media are quick to blame, the military action by the US and other western nations is unlikely to do anything but further inflame the situation. This is especially true if Russian or other foreign troops allied with the Syrian government are killed in any such attack. Indeed, if that occurs, the likelihood of a greater conflict reflecting the current state of inter-imperialist rivalry increases to a level that is incomprehensible to most US residents alive today, most of whom have little or no memory of the US wars on Korea and Vietnam and have little connection to the current conflicts waged by US forces today. Unfortunately, this lack of historical memory means many of those residents can be manipulated into supporting not only an attack on Syria, but a greater conflict with other forces the US war machine considers the enemy, if only because they are not supplicant to Washington’s foreign ambitions. Some will support it simply because they see themselves as patriots who must support the military no matter what. Others, many of them liberals and even leftist, will support it (if only tacitly) in the name of human rights.
The fault with this latter premise is that US capitalism tramples human rights every second of the day. It does so when it supports authoritarian regimes in countries where it has investments. It does so when it supports the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Israeli military’s murder of Palestinians. It does so when it signs trade agreements that encode the exploitation of labor and the destruction of local environments. It does so when it abrogates those agreements and allows even greater exploitation and destruction. It violates human rights when its police forces kill unarmed residents and then sanctions those murders. It violates human rights when its immigration police pick up and detain immigrants based on their appearance and separate parents from their children. It violates human rights every time an armed drone kills an individual in a foreign land and every time a Special Forces unit kicks in the door of some family’s home somewhere in the world. Then there is the reality of invasion and war, neither of which are humanitarian in nature no matter what the neocons and neoliberals say. This list could go on for pages, but the reader should get my point.
Capitalism does not care about human rights. Capitalist nations do not wage wars for human rights. Capitalist nations engage in military conflicts to serve the needs of those that rule those nations. They may do so directly via invasion and armed drone attacks or via proxy forces they train, fund and provide public relations cover for. Recent examples of this latter approach by the US include the contra forces in Nicaragua, the mujahedin in Afghanistan (including Bin Laden and his forces), and various tribal, religious and ethnic militias in Iraq and Syria. Some intelligence sources have also stated that ISIS is such an operation, although the truth of this possibility may never be known, for somewhat obvious reasons. These operations have proven murderous beyond comprehension. Any deeper involvement of US forces would only intensify the catastrophe.