Revelations by the retired Swedish United Nations chief arms inspector Hans Blix about the Iraq war, and increasing indications that Iran could also be attacked in the not too distant future, have stimulated me to reflect on modern violence, albeit somewhat impressionistically.
With the arrival of modernity through from Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1492 to the application of James Watt’s steam engine to factory production in the 1780s, societies began to put unprecedentedly large scale resources into bureaucratically organized ways of dealing with issues. These included issues of violence at both international and local levels. Those with this new power have also often been more than a little prone to exercise it without a great deal of care or scruple.
At the same time, the inhabitants of small rural villages were continuously uprooted from these to become individuals competing en masse in cities for business or jobs to enable them to purchase the products of the industrial society.
How sustainable is this form of modernity, now beset with huge economic and environmental crises? Is it possible to develop new solutions, indeed a new form of modernity, one in which the local can exert constructive influence instead of being acted on with little or no say as to how?
Some current events are reviewed here to help sharpen up an immediate sense of the problems and to help point, indicatively, towards new kinds of potential solutions.
Hans Blix told the British Chilcott enquiry into the Iraq war this week that in his “firm view” the Iraq war was illegal carried out as it was without the needed backing of the United Nations.
In quite dramatic language, he elaborated, “The US in 2002 … threw it [the UN process] overboard. I think they were high on military at the time. They said, ‘we can do it’.” He added that the progress to war with Iraq was “almost unstoppable” by early 2003 and the UK was “a prisoner on that train”.
Making a pointed contemporary parallel he also said “I think the use of force against Iran today would be illegal” although he also added that he considered current economic pressures on Iran were legal.
To cite Winston Churchill: “Jaw, jaw jaw is better than war, war, war.” As well as the obvious humanitarian reasons for this, economic and resource crises now also render war as a glaringly unaffordable and obsolete response to problem-solving. Neither the United States nor Europe, mired deeply in the worst world economic recession since the 1930s depression, can really afford to pay for extended wars followed by extensive and endless garrisoning of areas in which they have fought.
Indeed, the independent-thinking, right-wing economic historian Niall Ferguson has warned that the United States debt will become unsustainable, as happened with the British Empire, at about the point where the interest payments on its national debt exceed its defence budget. He projects that this cross-over tipping-point could occur by 2014.
Nor, it must be added, can the world as a whole afford the massive use of critically diminishing energy and other resources involved. The inhabitants of the planet, including those of the NATO nations now in Iraq and Afghanistan have much more pressing social, economic and ecological priorities to attend to. They cannot really afford to add Iran to their list of invaded and dislocated crippled nations.
An earlier Village-Connections blog began to show how local villagers in New Zealand could, through local-to-local diasporic networking, help with the brokering and implementation of more effective, on-the-ground solutions in Afghanistan. Effective local development is ultimately essential if there is to be a solution to the problems of that very afflicted country, and is something that almost everyone involved in Afghanistan, from the United States to the people who live there in villages – want badly.
It will be most useful for the West to ask itself about the solutions it has to offer to places like Afghanistan, from the village level up. How good are its own societies at developing solutions?
Judging by the situation here in New Zealand, not all that well. The Churchillian dictum about war and jaw also has echoes that reach down to very local, even school levels in this part of the world, and I suspect much-where else as well.
The latest Ladder Award was made to organizations that implemented and publicised highly-effective restorative justice intervention at St Thomas’s College in Canterbury (New Zealand). This programme begins to illustrate how a “stitch in time” can help to pre-empt, or greatly reduce, extensive, expensive and repeated resorting to coercive and vastly more costly incarcerations. This does not so much generate solutions as more, unresolved problems. And in a society that also sees itself as financially very stretched! All of which does not look like a very intelligent way to go about things.
It would seem to make sense to bring local communities in and support them appropriately as bases from which to develop more effective, less costly solutions. The new British prime minister David Cameron is making some interesting moves in this direction with his “Big Society” programme aimed at reducing “big government”. It is not too clear how well thought out this is or how well implemented it will be, but we at Village-Connections will be watching closely.
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