“There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.”
~ Sun Tzu, The Art Of War
“War is ...a continuation of politics by other means.”
~ Carl von Clausewitz, On War
A not very long time ago, in a world not so very far away...
There was a thing known as war. It was a nasty, unpleasant business, for all participants, the winners as well as the losers. Mostly, nations would try and avoid it unless there was no alternative; and then, when they did fight, they would try and finish it as quickly as the military and political conditions would allow.
Most importantly, wars were fought for a reason – there was some kind of goal. It could be (perceived or real) self-defence. It could be a straightforward grab of territory and/or resources. It could be revenge for a real or perceived slight. It could be to solve an otherwise intractable dispute. Whatever it was, the sides involved would try and get it over at the earliest, so that they could get on with enjoying the fruit of their fighting, if any – or lick their wounds and possibly prepare for another round.
Wars, in other words, were fought to be concluded as quickly as possible.
Now, though, things are changing, rather quickly. The earth’s resources are being plundered, the planet is heating up, fascism is rising across the globe, the old nation states are blurring their identities in regional groupings, and...
...almost unnoticed, the old paradigms of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz are being overthrown by the rise of a new kind of nation, one likely never seen before in history.
I would call it the Warstate.
What are the features of the Warstate?
As the name indicates, the Warstate is wedded to a condition of permanent war. Unlike Sun Tzu’s dictum that war should be short, the Warstate seeks endless war; and contrary to Clausewitz’ principle about the reason for war as politics by other means, the Warstate’s war is the first option, not politics or diplomacy.
But why should any nation seek endless war?
Consider the situation of an industry. It produces, say, cars. For the car industry, obviously, the need is for people to keep buying cars, and the worst thing that could happen would be if people stopped buying cars. If people, in very large numbers, switched to public transport, that would be a disaster for the car industry, even though it would be great for the environment and people in general. Massive traffic jams and vehicular pollution is what the car industry needs to keep creating, at all costs, if it is to survive.
Now consider what happens if – like cars – there is an industry that depends on war. (In fact, as I’ll point out in a moment, it’s not just one industry; it’s a whole interlinked mass of industries, all to a greater or lesser extent dependent on war.) Just as the car industry would collapse in ruin if everyone switched to public transport, this war industry would implode if peace was to break out.
Therefore the war industry’s requirement is perpetual conflict. Its direst enemy is peace.
And if the war industry is the only – or only major – export of a nation, that nation, of course, will pursue war to the exclusion of everything else, even its own long term interests. Such a country is the Warstate.
What is the war industry, then, on which the Warstate depends?
On the one hand there’s the direct war industry, what might be called, pace Dwight Eisenhower, the military industrial complex. It comprises three parts: the direct fighting forces, including the army, navy and air force, and a Marine Corps if one exists as a separate service; the mercenary units, increasingly important in the Warstate’s scheme of things; and the myriad of factories which produce the equipment and munitions, the uniforms and rations, the weapons and vehicles which keep them going.
Normally, the soldiers, sailors or airmen are the people who – since they put their lives on the line – might be expected to be somewhat unenthusiastic about unnecessary wars. But war is the way to military glory, and later political careers, for the generals and admirals; and in the absence of conscription, the general public has, as they say, no “skin in the game.”
Besides, with the kind of modern stand-off weaponry a Warstate can bring to bear, conventional conflict can be waged without a single casualty, simply by obliterating a target nation with cruise missiles, drones and long-distance air strikes – as long, of course, as the target is unable to fight back on equal terms. This is a reason the Warstate selects weak opponents, which can’t do major damage to the aggressor’s military infrastructure or hit back at the homeland. But such a war is also likely to be of short duration, and once it’s over, the war industry has to start over again from scratch.
Far better is a war which results in a colonial occupation, and an open-ended guerrilla war. The longer this kind of war goes on, the better it is for the Warstate. Maybe the ordinary soldiers keep getting killed and maimed; but, as I said, they aren’t conscripts and so the society as a whole doesn’t suffer for their deaths and wounds. These losses, in fact, are welcome in that they become an excuse to keep extending the war for even longer, on the plea that otherwise the sacrifices made will have been in vain.
If the bloodshed gets so severe that the endless war becomes unpopular in the homeland, there are the mercenary forces waiting in the wings. They, too, are armed and clothed and fed by the same factories as the official armed forces, but they have one crucial advantage: their losses can be kept hidden from the general population, who can over the medium term even forget that the war is still being fought.
But in case it is expedient that they should remember, there are the ancillary industries that depend on the military-industrial complex. There is the media, which is now wholly corporatised and sells news as a packaged consumer product. Wars make for great theatre, and stocks in media corporations surge whenever there is war talk in the air. On the other hand, nobody is interested in peace.
The media are also complicit in deliberate fearmongering, which, of course, is necessary to stop people asking why it’s necessary to keep fighting endless wars. It’s not difficult to instil fear, as long as one repeats the same lies often enough. And once fear is instilled, it’s time to move on to the saviour who would rescue everyone from the source of the fear.
In an article I wrote a couple of years ago, I had mentioned something I called the Heroic Soldier Myth. This is the idea of the soldier as valiant superhero, someone to be looked up to as the highest ideal, and militarism as the peak of glory. This, of course, pertains only to the serving soldier; once he outlives his useful service, what happens to him is irrelevant, either to the public or to the military officers who make a living out of war.
But as long as he is a serving soldier, the ancillary industries of the Warstate – the media and the film industries – are more than willing to praise him to the skies. The military also takes a more than passing interest in this; if the makers of a film wish for the cooperation of the military in their enterprise, they had better be ready to project the “message” the military wishes; that is, the Heroic Soldier Myth and all that goes along with it, including the myth that the Warstate is engaged in a Righteous War.
And, of course, in order to wage a Righteous War, one needs an endless supply of enemies. If enemies can’t be found, they have to be created, if necessary from one’s friends of yesterday, and history adjusted accordingly. George Orwell foresaw this, as he did so much else, in Nineteen Eighty Four: “We are at war with Oceania. We have always been at war with Oceania.”
For this kind of constant rewriting of history to work, of course, a population with a mayfly attention span is essential. People who take the time to think aren’t welcome, because they remember things and are potential troublemakers. Fortunately, once the majority of people are adequately dumbed down, they tend to police themselves; the few who – as an old friend of mine likes to say – Stayed Awake In Class can be, and are, called traitors and fantasists, and either discredited or silenced.
Note that – for the Warstate to work – it does not matter if the military doesn’t manage to achieve a single objective it is set. In fact, there’s no reason to set it a definite objective. A definite objective, in fact, would mean that once it was achieved the pressure would be on to end the conflict. A constantly sliding scale of “objectives”, with no fixed goal, is perfectly suited to the Warstate, because the war can then be kept going indefinitely. No matter if tribal farmers in turbans and flip flops hand the troops their heads in a grinding conflict of attrition in a foreign land; the imperative is for war to go on and on and on.
Nor, since the Warstate does not need to actually win any war, does it require a military capability geared to achieving victory in the conflicts it’s going to fight. In any such conflict, which will of course be against low-tech guerrilla forces, the equipment necessary will also be fairly basic. But mine-detection equipment, body armour and the like don’t earn big money for the military-industrial complex; that’s reserved for weaponry that is never going to be used in any conceivable combat, and therefore does not need to actually perform.
For instance, the Warstate could introduce a new, allegedly ultra-high-tech fighter, which is supposed to replace all other fighters used by its various military arms. This ultra-high-tech fighter could be a piece of flying junk, easily outclassed not just by its opponents but even by the aircraft it is supposed to be replacing. That doesn’t matter at all, since it’s not meant ever to be actually used; what matters is that the military-industrial complex earns money out of it.
Where is this money to be coming from? Apart from weapons sales to vassals, something dependent on said vassals’ ability to pay, there is only one source. It’s the people of the Warstate, who fund all this military hardware with the taxes they pay, not to speak of the ancillaries by the movie tickets they buy. These taxes, of course, should normally go to finance the infrastructure maintenance, pensions and other requirements of a healthy society. The Warstate is a parasite on its citizens. They are ultimately, also, its real enemy.
That the citizens are its real enemy in one sense is well known to the typical Warstate; it will spend a substantial amount of the funds obtained from the people on surveillance of them, and on internal security services to keep them under control. No real dissent will be tolerated, though a few harmless “hotheads” will be allowed to blow off steam as a safety valve. If there are actual mass protests, they will be speedily infiltrated, subverted and crushed.
But there is another way in which the Warstate will never conquer its citizens, and which will finally grind it down to dust. That will happen when the populace has been sucked so dry of funds that, despite all the fear mongering and the crushing of dissent, all the propaganda and the Endless Wars, they simply cannot pay to maintain the Warstate any longer in the style to which it has grown accustomed. What happens when the source of funds finally runs completely dry?
Since the Warstate is a quasi-living organism, it will fight back against its approaching demise by any and all means possible. What it will do, one cannot predict without knowing the exact circumstances. But there is a high possibility that it will attempt to resuscitate itself by provoking a major war with a major opponent – precisely the kind of conflict it never imagined it would have to fight.
And when that war is over, one way or another, the Warstate will be history.
Note: I am, of course, largely talking about one particular country (which it would be superfluous to name) as a Warstate; but there are those in India who would dearly love to make this nation one as well. I responded to an article by one of the worst of them some time ago.