Swans Commentary » swans.com January 17, 2011  



Beating Swords Into Ploughshares


by Femi Akomolafe





"... beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."
—Isaiah 2:4.

"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develop the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes... known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare"
—James Madison


(Swans - January 17, 2011)   It is difficult to understand why we human beings choose to call ourselves Homo sapiens, or thinking beings. A lot of what we do simply does not make any sense whatsoever. In fact, many of the things we do portray us as the "unthinking beings."

Take for instance our penchant for destroying the very habitat we live in with chemicals and other pollutants. Our behavior has resulted in grievous harm to the very environment we need to sustain life, yet we meet, talk, speechify and pontificate without doing much to stem the tide that could destroy us as a species. Our weather patterns have been thrown out of sync with heavy rains denuding parts that were supposed to be in dry season.

Take this as another example: In 2009, the nations of the world collectively spent US$1,531 billion on military expenditures -- war toys with no other utility aside from killing ourselves.

One point five trillion dollars spent on military hardware whilst millions go unfed or underfed. Millions of human beings are without shelter and millions are without access to potable water, yet huge resources continue to be poured into manufacturing the tools that will make us better killers. Millions of people, yours truly included, are still being served with epileptic electricity supplies, yet military budgets continue to grow.

To put this into perspective, the total budget of the United Nations and all its agencies is US$30 billion a year. The UN, with all its shortcomings, still provides succor to millions across the globe, including the millions of refugees and internally-displaced persons (what a phrase!). Yet the budget of this all-important world body is only about three percent of what we clever, thinking beings splash on military expenditure.

Actually, the UN budget is less since about US$1 billion are owed the world body in arrears.

As usual, the "United Snakes of Amerikkka" leads the way. God's own country owes the UN about 90% of the arrears, yet it is the nation that still splashes 661 billion dollars on its defence.

That represents a staggering 43 percent of the world's total. No nation even comes remotely close. Second place China spent 61 billion dollars, which is only 6.6 percent of the world's total. That was the 2009 outlay. The 2010 budget for the military under Nobel Peace Laureate Emperor Obama is a mind-boggling 768 billion dollars. According to Wikipedia:

When the [military] budget was signed into law on October 28, 2009, the final size of the Department of Defense's budget was $680 billion, $16 billion more than President Obama had requested. An additional $37 billion supplemental bill to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was expected to pass in the spring of 2010, but has been delayed by the House of Representatives after passing the Senate. Defense-related expenditures outside of the Department of Defense constitute between $319 billion and $654 billion in additional spending, bringing the total for defense spending to between $1.01 and $1.35 trillion in fiscal year 2010.

Winslow T. Wheeler once said:

The articles that newspapers all over the country publish today will be filled with [military spending] numbers to the first decimal point; they will seem precise. Few of them will be accurate; many will be incomplete, some will be both. Worse, few of us will be able to tell what numbers are too high, which are too low, and which are so riddled with gimmicks to make them lose real meaning.

Economic meltdown or not, many nations continue to maintain their military budget or pruning it less than the cuts in budgets for education or health.

For example, whilst the UK's education budget will be slashed by a whopping 25% with teachers facing a two-year salary freeze, defence will only be cut by 8%.

Whilst many poor people will have their meager allowance ruthlessly cut off, her Majesty's government will still find the money to maintain her fictitious Independent Trident Missiles.

We might argue that big nations need big armies and that the bigger you are the bigger the muscle you need to project. Point taken.

But where is the sense in a big power joyfully rolling itself into insolvency because it wants to impress the world with its military prowess? There will hardly be a dispute were the USA to be an economically and financially solvent nation. But the sad truth is that the once invincible USA is debt-ridden and economically bankrupt and this is visibly telling in the waning of the influence by the once almost omnipotent Uncle Sam. This should not surprise anybody; no one respects a beggar or an insolvent. How do you respect a nation (hyperpower or not) that is staggering under an immense debt burden of some 11+ trillion dollars; a country with a budget deficit of 400+ billion dollars? How does a country that manufactures virtually nothing of commercial value outside war machines gain respect?

Okay, okay, the US of A is still bristling with impressive military hardware that continues to wow its citizens and make them jump for joy at military shows.

But how silly can one get? A truth that appears to be escaping many is that most of the expensive military toys that are so dear to the Pentagon and its military contractors are mere paper tiger, to borrow Mao's succinct expression. The expensive, high-tech weaponry America is deploying has failed to win it a war since WWII -- unless we count the Grenada Invasion of 1987. And despite all the high-tech wizardry deployed and the US$1 trillion (and counting) allegedly spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Uncle Sam's troops are still mired in a quagmire.

Since the dawn of time, the arguments put forward for maintaining this huge waste remains the same: fear of the Bogeyman.

I remember during my undergraduate years in Europe when the immediate threat was said to come from the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. The lie was sold that Europe needed expensive tactical nuclear weapons to counter what was said to be over the Warsaw Pact's overwhelming superiority in men, field guns, artillery, and tanks.

The arguments were postulated that the Soviets were bloody no-goodniks who could not be trusted not to take over Western Europe. As part of a course on international relations we were made to tour the NATO headquarters in Brussels, where high officialdom tried to impress upon our young impressionable minds the clear danger posed by the evil Soviets and its Evil Empire (a term coined by Ronald Reagan).

In the meantime, there were huge protests across Europe against the deployment of the Cruise and Pershing II nuclear weapons on Holland and other Europeans sites. Occasionally, the mighty riots turned very bloody indeed as many Europeans refused to buy into the argument that they needed the bloody weapons, which they claimed, logically, would make their countries prime targets for any Soviet countermeasures. Many right-thinking Europeans thought they needed the weapons like they do holes in their heads.

It resulted in heavy political damage, but eventually the Netherlands, like other European countries, succumbed to heavy American arm-twisting and allowed the deployment of the missiles.

Of course, the crazy Soviets did not invade; they were busy with their own palavers including the misadventure in Afghanistan (rings a bell?). The Evil Empire, which couldn't provide its citizens with bread and butter, imploded; the rest, they say, is history.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the deployed Pershings and Cruise missiles lost their rationale for existence. They had to be dismantled and shipped back to their owners. There was great fanfare and ceremony as the weapons were stripped and crated back home.

What was baffling, at least to yours truly, was the cynical ease with which the military-industrial complex people took credit for the monumental waste.

Billions of dollars were used in building, shipping, assembling, maintaining, dis-assembling, and shipping back these weapons yet no one questioned the enormous waste. The only people we saw were puffed-up officials who believed that Reagan should be given a Nobel Peace Prize for the colossal waste.

Coming from a poor country that is struggling to get the basics of things right, I could only shake my head in amazement at what unfolded before my very eyes. In debates with my fellow students, I confessed my bewilderment in understanding their (Western) mindsets.

First is the question of whether the West is truly democratic as they claim. Civics books define democracy as the government of the people by the people and for the people. What manner of people's government will so disdainfully and callously disregard the opinion of the vast majority of the people? The Dutch have to get the kudos for doing everything to stop the deployment; that they failed shouldn't count against them; the powers arrayed against them were simply beyond their control.

Although the military was mismanaging the affairs of my country then, not even they could have so totally disrespected the people's wishes as so very strongly expressed by the Dutch people.

Also in classroom discussion, I found it very difficult when the arguments were posited that the missiles should be deployed because the Soviets could not be trusted. In my opinion, the question of trust shouldn't have come into the equation at all. The question was whether the Soviets were rational actors with enlightened self-interests or were they Samsons playing at bringing the whole temple down?

Why would the Soviets risk total annihilation just to grab some territory when they had serious problems maintaining the real estate under their care?

These are not the questions the power elite want to hear. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the smooth operators that they are lost no time in morphing their erstwhile client, Saddam Hussein, into the new Bogeyman.

I am sure Saddam Hussein would be wondering unto his last gasp of breath why his former allies turned so suddenly against him. If he had read it, he would have found the answer in a brilliant essay written in 1968 by Jules Henry. This is among what Mr. Henry wrote:

It is clear, therefore, that in preparation for modern war an interdependent world political economy has within it sufficient conflicts of interest to make all nations potential enemies to all others. One of the "evolutionary achievements" of modern culture has been to make the idea that "anybody can be my enemy at any time" acceptable. A consequence of the definition of the enemy as part of one's own social system is a psychological predisposition to accept almost any nation at all as inimical when the government chooses to so define it. The absolute division of the world into communist and non-communist nations multiplies the probability of enemies. Here we must ask, who divides the world into communist and non-communist? And the answer is, of course, those who stand to gain by it.

The point at issue here is that the social organization of the world has no essence. The delusion that is made to appear as essence is manufactured by those who stand to gain by it and it is burned into the minds of the population by the media, which are, of course, controlled by the same people. This delusion then takes on the character of a true perception of the world, seeming as absolute to the average man as the difference between red and green. In the United States the world is simplistically perceived by most people as made up of communist and "free" nations, and all the former are perceived as enemy -- as the enemies of "freedom." (Jules Henry, "Social and psychological preparation for war," quoted in The Dialectics of Liberation, edited by David Cooper, Penguin Books, pp. 50-51.)

What is truly marvelous is the ease with which Western nations can manipulate their own citizens. That they try to fool the rest of the world is bad enough, but the cynical way they turn their own citizens into mindless zombies is truly staggering.

The fertile minds of Western leaders/scholars are forever busy concocting images of imaginary enemies hell-bent on doing in the West.

This might have something to do with a guilty conscience, given the vast crimes the West has committed (continues to commit) across the world; I simply do not know. What I do know is that we in Africa just want to be left alone to manage our own affairs.

So within a space of a generation, the Enemy Image in the West has changed from the Soviet Bogeyman to Saddam the Ogre and to the Iranian Sand Niggers.

Officials relentlessly talk about the dangers these invented enemies pose; the newspaper people are dragooned to sell the lies; Hollywood is called upon to lend some visual gimmicks to make the imaginary look real. Of course, it is usually presented as the direst danger to Western civilisation since the Crusades. Opinion polls are concocted to show the overwhelming majority of citizens begging for protection. Of course, the first duty of governments is to protect its citizens, so billions of dollars of scarce money have to be found to counter the danger. A few years later, the enemy will vaporized as mysteriously as it appeared.

Saddam was said to possess weapons of mass destruction that could, according to Tony Blair, be activated with 45 minutes. The question never asked or answered is why Saddam, however crazed, would risk his own total destruction by threatening the West with whatever puny weapons he had. The other question that is never asked or answered is who sold the weapons to him to begin with.

The contempt in which these military-industrial complex people hold the rest of us is best revealed in their throwing exactly the same jejune arguments they use against Iraq into our faces in their war-mongering against Iran.

Listening to these war-mongering "analysts" (as they call themselves), it is difficult to imagine that we inhabit the same planet. Lacking any credibility whatsoever, they still want us to believe that they are capable of telling a truth. Iran has a history that stretches back about four thousand years. My mind simply refuses to accept that they would be suicidal enough to jeopardize all they have managed to achieve since their revolution by threatening the West.

Will they, or will they not invade Iran? To keep my sanity, I have long ceased to second-guess the Westerners. Their history makes guessing their intentions a crazy enterprise.


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About the Author

Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published January 17, 2011