The art of war has changed since Sun Tzu's classic by the same name. War has traditionally been the art of deceiving an enemy to gain tactical advantage. Today, however, the art of war is increasingly the art of self-deception.
RECALL THE LAST TIME you lazily sat outside a café sipping a coffee and watching the world go by. All sorts of people pass you, some tall, some short, smiling, happy, sad, angry, old and young. And if the weather is warm, but not too hot, you might feel a rising contentment; life at such times can seem perfect. After all, most of us reading this are probably living in free democracies, and we can congratulate ourselves on our good fortune that we were born in peaceful nations that respect human rights. A beggar might pass, and for a moment our satisfaction is stained by reality, but soon he shuffles off down some hidden alleyway, out of sight and out of mind. We return to our contentment and our coffee. But there is something that most miss; something very subtle that is off; something that more and more of us are refusing to ignore. That something is the terrible realization that most of the war, violence, starvation and pain of this world is actually rooted in this Eden… but we do not have the eyes or the heart to see it.
How could this be? How could our peaceful democracies be the seedbed from which wars and starvation arise? How could this life, this society, held up to the rest of the world as the ideal, as the goal, harbour death and destruction?
That answer is in the structure of economic and political interconnections that has developed worldwide over the last few centuries. Like the ecological food pyramids that shows carnivores at the top and plants at the base, there is a strict hierarchy in this international interconnectedness, with the developed world at the top and the undeveloped nations at the base. Naturally, the United States is at the pinnacle because it is the most powerful nation, both in terms of economics and military might. (Strictly speaking the different locations on this "food pyramid" are occupied by specific social strata within the different countries, as most countries themselves have quite an economic and power diversity within their borders.)
The "food" in this food pyramid is resources — including raw materials such as oil and labour. This wealth flows up the pyramid from undeveloped nations and concentrates at the top in the developed nations. (Whilst some wealth does flow from developed nations to undeveloped nations, the net flow is strongly towards the developed nations.) Those at the top do everything they can to maintain their position because life here, materially speaking, is rich indeed. What is more, rich nations and social strata have the means to forcibly maintain their position, using anything from outright genocide to conditional economic "aid" under the WTO.
For those at the top of the pyramid to maintain its structure, the ideal setup for nations at the bottom is for them to be dictatorships and in serious monetary debt. Dictatorships are the preferred because they actively encourage slave labour opportunities and a workforce brutally kept in check (usually with weapons supplied by those at the top). Dictators, being the insecure and paranoid individuals, are also much more likely to trade expensive military hardware for resources, and they can be counted on to personally siphon off a huge proportion of a country's wealth and foreign aid, effectively maintaining their low-wage advantage. Of course, popularist and democratic movements must be quickly quashed either directly (under the guise of "liberation", "controlling communism", "war on drugs", "war on terrorism" or some other devious scam) or indirectly by economic support of the ruling dictator, before this democratic venom can spread.
The other method used by those at the top is to encourage high national debt in developing nations. A nation in severe debt is easy to control and enslave, even if it is a democracy. This can be achieved in several ways including: deliberate and irresponsible over-lending by Western banks; playing one developing nation off on another to maintain rock bottom prices for their resources; destroying fledgling markets by forcing them to openly compete with mature Western markets; making developing nations sign away their souls in order to receive "free" aid from "world" organisations which are really just the front for Western control; and deliberately sparking wars and civil wars in order to ruin their economies.
Nations in debt are a goldmine… just paying the interest on the debt alone effectively allows the developed nations to confiscate their natural resources and enslave their populations. The desperate payment of just the interest on spiraling debt is one of the primary causes of ecological destruction around the world.
In this way, a system is set up in which the top of the pyramid is perpetually at war with the bottom part. For the developed nations, that conflict is about their insistence that the undeveloped nations supply them with the wealth and resources they need to maintain their lifestyles and top slot. And for the undeveloped nations, that conflict is about trying to resist this oppression. For these nations, this conflict is self-evident… people are starving, wages are inadequate, wealth is being funneled to rich nations, and their Western backed dictators are murdering their own people.
From the top of the pyramid, this perpetual war on those at the bottom is hidden. This is because its victims are invariably "over there", in far off countries — out of sight. And what we do see via the media is severely distorted, presented as unconnected tragedies that only reflect the misfortune of those poor foreigners, their lack of ability to run successful economies and the warlike nature of these uncivilized people. These are the media's lies. The media avoids at all cost showing the interconnectedness of our fortunes and their misfortunes. (And how can you do it anyway in a 30 second television sound bite?)
But our actions most certainly do have very real consequences in the Third World. We are connected whether we accept it or not. It is no coincidence that the Western world has a food glut whilst the Third World is starving. It is no coincidence that we enjoy relative peace in our home countries, whilst wars continually rage in far off places. It is no coincidence that Iraq is a problem after we have deliberately supplied a minority group billions of dollars worth of military hardware. It is no coincidence that Indonesia has virtual slave labour market whilst we supply its dictators with weapons and economic "aid". It is no coincidence that the South American economies are bankrupt whilst we have not allowed them to protect their own fledgling economies. It is no coincidence that Africa, one of the richest continents in the world in terms of natural resources, starves whilst natural resource exports to developed nations has never been greater. And it is no coincidence that the world's ecology is on the brink of annihilation whilst the West ameliorates its guilt by token gestures such as recycling soda cans. The list is endless, a shameful testimony to centuries of Western attrition.
Of course, the truth is there for anybody who bothers to look. But it is much easier to turn away and pretend that our Eden entirely rests entirely on our own genius, our own ingenuity, our own technologies and our own civility. After all, accepting responsibility for our actions might mean we have to do something; we might have to give up some of our luxurious lifestyles. But why should we? We are the FREE world with free markets; we are the embodiment of fair societies, and we can and should be able to do and have everything and anything we want. Any restraint to that "freedom" is communist, or dictatorial, or unpatriotic (God Bless America), or un-American (God Forbid!). Doesn't't God Himself "Save Our Gracious Queen" and "Send Her Victorious"? We are at the top of the heap by divine appointment.
We are not prepared to give up our lifestyles. We are not prepared to limit the free market capitalist system that only serves to pour wealth into the hands of a tiny minority. We are not prepared to drive ecological cars that might mean we look less powerful behind the wheel. We are not prepared to offer a fair price for resources, labour and products from the Third World. We are not prepared to stop this ridiculous military spending to maintain our dominance (forget self-defence). We are not prepared to stop the ecological destruction of this planet for the sake of our own individual prosperity. We are not prepared to accept that a human life in the Third World is equal in value to one in our Eden. We are not prepared to give up our foolish patriotism that only blocks our identification with those who suffer from our actions. We are not prepared… because we instinctively know the art of war. We are experts at self-denial.
So the way that we kill and rape, the way we maim and destroy, is much more subtle over here. It is a bit like the butterfly effect, our seemingly innocuous choices producing a tornado in some poor and far away place. The simple choice for an SUV over a smaller car, for example, is an act of violence. (Our thirst for oil is the reason why hundreds of thousands of Iraqi's are soon to lose their lives.) The simple choice to eat a hamburger and fries is an act of violence. The simple choice to eat genetically modified foods is an act of violence. (GM products are ecologically dangerous and were cynically developed for economic reasons, not to feed the world.) The simple choice to be patriotic, to raise our flag, is an act of violence. The simple choice to elect governments that sell military hardware is an act of violence. The simple choice to label any limit to our freedom to destroy this planet as undemocratic or un-American is an act of violence. A simple choice to allow capitalism to take precedence over all human considerations is an act of violence. A simple choice to allow the mainstream media and our governments to dictate to us their disconnected worldview is an act of violence.
Our violence is enfolded in our everyday choices, in how we conduct our lives. We can be kind and peaceful people making choices that bring destruction, poverty and death. As individuals fortunate enough to be at the top of the food chain, we must learn the consequences of our actions, for only by knowing these consequences can we learn responsibility, and stop waging perpetual war.
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The Art of War is self-deception.
The Art of War is being patriotic and waving a flag.
The Art of War is unfettered capitalism and free markets.
The Art of War is disconnected news sound bites.
The Art of War is using vehicles with low fuel consumption.
The Art of War is eating GM foods.
The Art of War is supporting Bush and Blair.
The Art of War is eating fast food.
The Art of War is shopping for the sake of shopping.
The Art of War is not giving back to the Third World.
The Art of War is refusing to question our beliefs.
The Art of War is buying more than we need.
The Art of War is allowing our governments to become less accountable and more centralised.
The Art of War is not stopping our governments selling arms to developing nations.
The Art of War is eroding liberties and free speech in the name of public protection.
The Art of War is caring only for ourselves and our own bank balances.
The Art of War is forcing our capitalistic creed on developing nations.
The Art of War is attaching conditions on aid to starving countries.
The Art of War is not valuing human life in other countries.
The Art of War is insisting on a low price for imports rather than a fair one.
The Art of War is contentedly drinking coffee on summer afternoons, when all the world about us suffers because good men and women are doing nothing.
Copyright © 2003 Jenny Marsh