By David Swanson
If you saw a book in Barnes and Noble called “How Not to Go to War,” wouldn’t you assume it was a guide to the proper equipment every good warrior should have when they head off to do a little killing, or perhaps something like this U.S. news article on “How Not to Go to War Against ISIS” which is all about what law you should pretend authorizes a violation of the UN Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact?
In fact, the new book, How Not to Go to War by Vijay Mehta, comes to us from Britain where the author is a leading peace activist, and it is actually a set of recommendations for how to not go to war at all ever. While many books spend their larger first section on a problem and a shorter concluding part on solutions, the first two-thirds of Mehta’s book is about solutions, the last third about the problem of war. If this confuses you, or if you’re unaware that war is a problem, you can always read the book in reverse order. Even if you are aware of war as a problem, you still may benefit from Mehta’s description of how technology, including artificial intelligence, is creating horrific new possibilities for wars worse than we’ve seen or even imagined.
Then I recommend that the reader jump to Chapter Five, toward the end of the book’s first part, because it presents a solution for how we might think and speak better about economics and government spending, a solution that simultaneously illuminates what is wrong with our current way of thinking.
Imagine there’s a billionaire who “earns” a lot of money each year and spends a lot. Now, imagine that this billionaire hires a super-expert accountant who figures out a way to add to the positive side of the ledger whatever amount the billionaire spends on fences and alarm systems and guard dogs and bullet-proof SUVs and private guards with tasers and handguns. This billionaire brings in $100 million and spends $150 million, but $25 million is on “security” expenses, so that moves over to the income side of things. Not he’s bringing in $125 million and spending $125 million. Make sense?
Of course, it doesn’t make sense! You can’t get paid $100 million, spend $100 million on guns, and now have $200 million. You haven’t doubled your money; you’re broke, buddy. But this is exactly how an economist calculates a nation’s gross (and I mean gross) domestic product (GDP). Mehta proposes a change, namely that weapons-making, war industries, not be counted in GDP.
This would reduce the U.S. GDP from some $19 trillion to $17 trillion, and help visitors from Europe understand why the place looks so much poorer than the high priests of economics tell us it is. It might even help politicians from Washington D.C. understand why voters they believe to be doing so well are so amazingly angry and outraged.
While military spending actually reduces jobs and economic benefit in comparison with not taxing money in the first place or with spending it in other ways, military spending equals economic “growth” on paper because it’s added into GDP. So, you get to be poor while living in a “rich” country, something that the U.S. government has figured out how to get a lot of people to put up with and even take pride in.
Chapters 1-4 address ways to develop systems of promoting and maintaining peace, exactly what we’re trying to do at World BEYOND War. One of Mehta’s focuses is on creating governmental departments of peace. I’ve always favored this and always thought it would fall far short, that a government would have to turn toward peace in its entirety, not just in one department. Currently, the U.S. military and the CIA sometimes, as in Syria, have troops they’ve armed and trained fighting each other. If a U.S. Department of Peace were sending people into Venezuela right now to help avoid war, they’d be up against the U.S. agencies that are trying to start a war. The U.S. Institute of Peace doesn’t oppose, and sometimes supports, the wars engaged in by the government of which it is part.
For the same reason, I have always been dubious about the idea espoused by Mehta of transforming militaries into institutions that do useful nonviolent things. There is a long history of the U.S. military pretending to act for humanitarian reasons. But anything we can do to develop peace departments within governments, or peace centers outside of them, I’m in favor of.
Mehta believes there is major funding out there in the pockets of wealthy individuals and organizations ready to invest it in peace groups. He believes some compromises to get it are worth making. This is no doubt true, but the devil is in the details. Is the compromise an avoidance of blaming the world’s biggest war makers, a focusing on poor countries as the supposed sources of war. Is economic aid to places at war going to do as much good as might be done by advocating peace in the distant imperial capitals engaged in the wars?
“Serious violence is generally perpetrated by young males.” Thus opens chapter 4. But is it true? Isn’t it actually perpetrated by old politicians who manage to get younger people, mostly male, to obey them? Surely it’s at the very least the combination of these two. But establishing peace centers that educate young people about peace and provide them options other than war is certainly to be desired.
So is developing the understanding that it really is possible to not go to war ever again.