How Do Wars End? (3 May 2010)
"Only about 400 rebels had been in the fight at the bridge, but as the day wore on the number increased to several thousand. They would shoot at the enemy column from behind fences, trees, barns, walls, from inside houses, then reload, hurry ahead, and then shoot again. This was a strange, new type of warfare to the British, who were neither experienced, nor trained for it. To them it seemed dishonorable, hiding and shooting at men in the open who could not even see their enemies. As one Redcoat wrote his family: They did not fight us like a regular army, only like savages".[i]
Sounds familiar, today. And as the American Revolution, the War of Independence beginning April 19 1775, on the road Boston-Lexington-Concord in Massachusetts. The savages won. 235 years later they are with the British against "savages" in Iraq, in Afghanistan and against terror. Is the victory foretold? No, the future holds not only victory and defeat for these three wars.
We may search for warfare origins in Greece, as told by the over-quoted Thucydides or under-quoted Xenophon. Or in feudal tournaments, armored men with lances on horseback unsaddling, ultimately killing each other, with umpires, later field marshals, naming the victor, and the vanquished conceding. Sport turned war, with beginning and end.
This was carried into modernity and the state system of the "Peace" of Westphalia 24 October 1648 by declaration and capitulation, bracketing the war as a succession of battles. The right of killing was contingent on the duty of risking being killed, with honor and courage and the ultimate honor to the most courageous of being a hero.
The nineteenth century witnessed the erosion of chivalry and sport to total war, "to the utmost limit", "continuation of politics by all necessary means" (Clausewitz, even more brutal than French Jomini on Napoleon's staff and the American Dennis Hart Mahan). Not limited to a battlefield: mobility, hitting the supply lines, massive attacks on one part after the other for the total destruction of enemy forces, and violence as a demoralizing force, attacking women, children, the old.
Historically we sense three, not exclusive, consequences.
First, the military being so brutal and so efficient, why not use (state) terrorism to fight civilians, unable to fight back, instead?
Second, guerilla, by civilians like 19 April 1775, predating the Spanish against Napoleon 2 May 1808, Vietnam against the USA and Afghanistan against the Soviets: winning no open battles, but the war.
Third, nonviolence, as invented by Gandhi, the heroic nonviolent warrior, ending colonialism and the Cold War, possibly inspired by the brutality of the British revenge for the Sepoy mutiny; unnoticed by Obama in his belligerent just war speech at the 2009 Nobel ceremony.
Clausewitz prepared his own undoing, and actually sensed that.[ii] The prediction is that the West will never defeat this triple, or an islam that will never capitulate to infidels, numbering five times the Americans. But our reptile brain has an alternative to fight: flight. The Vietnam exit: being unavailable for ultimate defeat.
Gone are the old days when might was right and unconditional surrender was the end of a 141-year unbroken chain of US wars, from 1812-the final battle in the War of Independence- to 1953, the Korean war armistice. And gone are the days when might was a sign of divine mandate, God is behind. Among christians God may favor the mightiest. Among muslims, perhaps. But certainly not across that divide.
Gone are the days of direct battle heroism. Sitting at a computer in the Pentagon directing drones, or in a cockpit at 44,000 feet hitting "coordinates", in favor of pure cowardice.
Or, rather: the risks change with the war. When more commit suicide than are killed in the field reality has changed.
Confronted with a choice between a very elusive victory, defeat, and flight, conflict resolution might grow in attractiveness.
The question is what it takes. It could be equally elusive.
Gradually the dominant war cost-benefit discourse, so natural in a militarist-capitalist country like the USA, with those in favor concluding it is worth the costs and those against it is not worth the benefits has to yield to a conflict resolution discourse about issues. But that may also prove elusive, given two basic assumptions.
The whole encounter has to be seen from above, all parties, their goals, values, interests and where they clash, the incompatibilities. The road passes through understanding Other's goals, and one's own. There usually are legitimate goals to respect on all sides.
And then resolution: neither for, nor against oneSelf, ideally something new accommodating all parties, acceptable and sustainable. Neither by threatening, nor by bribing; by the weight of a compelling vision supported by a compelling nightmare if all is left unsolved.
Rationality, common sense; but often scarce commodities. And it cannot be done by one party alone, has to be done by the parties in concert, preferably dialogue, under the guidance of an impartial authority, possibly an ad hoc UN conference.
For a USA used to dictate settlements after a victory, this is a far shot indeed. And added to unwillingness, maybe incapability.
What happens then? With neither victory, nor defeat, nor flight, nor resolution acceptable? Hanging on in there, of course, fighting for time. There will be money for the forces and for the contracted, still for some time. Possible promotions, higher pensions. And so on.
And what, meaning now what? None of the above, but No. 5: the USA making itself irrelevant. Others-Turkey? Iran? China? Russia?-will draft a conflict resolution. And the USA will withdraw, Vietnam-like, possibly from all three wars. Into the End of the Affair.
[i]. Joseph P. Cullen, History of the American Revolution, Harrisburg PA: The National Historical society, 1972.
[ii]. Dale O. Smith, U.S. Military Doctrine, New York NY: Little, Brown & Company, 1955, p. 54.
The US Economic Crisis: 10 Proposals
Stavanger-Norway, September 29, 2008
What a cynicism to talk about "crisis" as a phenomenon of a month or a year or two, when every day about 125,000 die from system-produced hunger and curable-preventable diseases! Much of the responsibility lies buried in an economism privileging the transaction system above the basic needs of the actors. Economics as a "science" is capital and system, not needs and human oriented. Capital-ism is exactly that, not a human-ism. And yet, there is a crisis on top of the permanent crisis. With a credit squeeze in an ailing finance economy transactions suffer, and so do the actors, even more than before. How come?
In a sense "capitalism as usual", but that is too general. Capitalism is a system pumping wealth from the poor, up to the rich, with a tiny trickle down if there are no counter-measures. The net result is obvious: poverty, even misery at the bottom of national and global economies with wealth accumulating in rich countries and rich people, and particularly in rich people in the rich countries. Capitalism had to continue the flagrant inequity of the feudal economy it replaced. It met the bill.
In economic terms: a deficit of acquisitive power-except by borrowing and credit cards-at the bottom (meaning, say, the bottom 70% in the USA) and an excess of liquidity at the top. So much so that only a fraction can be used for consumption. But long term investment in productive enterprises in a sluggish real economy is limited. Hence, "investment" turns into short term speculation in the finance economy and the bubble grows.
Any real economy produces products for consumption. But it also needs a finance economy producing products, like loans, for buying and selling. The two have to synchronize; if not: crisis.
As long as that speculation is in black tulips or gold it may pass as a pastime for the rich. When the buying-and-selling craze is in commodities for basic needs, like houses, food and health resources, then it is serious. The lack of compassion-more important than John McCain's diagnosis, greed-makes everything go. This is the situation we are in.
But there is something new. With a sluggish real economy and excess liquidity, differentiation of finance products was to be expected. Hence "leverage", "hedge funds", "futures", "options", "derivatives", etc., where we used to have stocks and bonds, loans and interest. And a little more. So, before Bear and Stearns collapsed they informed customers that one of their financial products had become (close to) valueless. Its name: "High Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage Fund." One might add, and not only in hindsight, that anyone falling for that to the point of buying deserved what happened. Maybe that also applies to CDS's, "credit default swaps" and CDO's, "collateral debt obligations." And to the dollar, $, itself.
Lack of transparency compounded by incomprehensibility. Much of it from the 1973 and thereabout US academic work by people like Fischer Black, Myron Scholes and Robert Merton.
So maybe the cause, intervening between capitalism with its greed and the present crisis, is incomprehension? The system is on top of its creators rather than vice versa; they have been taken for a ride they do not master. Of course, greed is there, but perhaps more than greed the sporting aspect of the market, to win, to be No. 1, to make the Fortune list to start with, heading for gold, silver, bronze. At the expense of everybody else, certainly also of themselves, like their souls, if such a thing exists in such calculating machines.
Is there a way out? Of course, but not the 700 billion bailout taken from poor taxpayers given to the banks, including the very rich. This is capital-ism as usual, and will not work. Given massive money printing, this throws bad money at bad money; second, it rewards massive incompetence bordering on fraud; and third, it diminishes further the acquisitive power for most Americans, making real economic growth even more elusive.
Consider instead these ten points that would work. To wit:
 Massive keynesianism: massive funding to improve the crumbling US infra-structure, creating millions of jobs, including building schools and polyclinics. Job preference to disadvantaged groups. More acquisitive power at the bottom.
 Massive redistribution: push taxation upward, progressive, luxury taxes; and tax relief for the bottom 70%, with subsidized housing and health. More acquisitive power lower down.
 Government takeover of housing mortgages contracted between bubble start and bubble burst, relieving the debtor of the burden while also bailing out the banks. Drop any distinction between deserving and non-deserving; the system was at fault.
 Stop all foreclosures, find a fair solution for each one.
 Finance this by cutting the Pentagon budget for too much American Empire (Ron Paul) like bases. Take what the taxpayer must pay for US reconstruction from the budget for destruction around the world, not from health care, education, welfare.
 Let the worst banks/financial institutions sink, the most greedy with the least backing for their transactions and the highest ratio between CEO salary/benefits and average employees. The Japanese pattern of public CEO apology on TV for betrayal of customer confidence might be enforced. Suicide not.
 Rule out as illegal most new financial products, unless they come with a tested guarantee that both buyer and seller of such products are fully cognizant of their working and consequences.
 Celebrate banks that keep direct client-bank relations, those that announce clearly that the loans stay with us and our guarantee and make sure that all small script is understood.
 Publish M2 to make the US economic system more transparent.
 Massive dollar devaluation, maybe a third or a half, to a new dollar to cut the debt service burden, to make remaining US products more competitive, and to avoid massive inflation.
Problem: ideologically blocked by the Democan-Republicrat consensus. Alternative: let the system sink.