By Robert C. Koehler
“At the same time, values and ideas which were considered universal, such as cooperation, mutual aid, international social justice and peace as an encompassing paradigm are also becoming irrelevant.”
Maybe this piercing observation by Roberto Savio, founder of the news agency Inter Press Service, is the cruelest cut of all. Geopolitically speaking, hope — the official kind, represented, say, by the United Nations in 1945 — feels fainter than I can remember. “We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . .”
I mean, it was never real. Five centuries of European colonialism and global culture-trashing, and the remaking of the world in the economic interests of competing empires, cannot be undone by a single institution and a cluster of lofty ideals.
As Savio notes in an essay called “Ever Wondered Why the World Is a Mess?,”: “The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities.”
And after the colonial era collapsed, these carved-out political entities, defining swatches of territory without any history of national identity, suddenly became the Third World and floundered in disarray. “. . . it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions.”
Whatever noble attempts at eliminating war the powers that be made in the wake of World War II — Europe’s near self-annihilation — didn’t cut nearly deep enough. These attempts didn’t set about undoing five centuries of colonial conquest and genocide. They didn’t cut deeper than national interest.
And global peace built on a foundation of nation-states is an oxymoron. As historian Michael Howard noted in his book The Lessons of History (quoted by Barbara Ehrenreich in Blood Rites): “From the very beginning, the principle of nationalism was almost indissolubly linked, both in theory and practice, with the idea of war.”
All of which leads me to the $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive warplane ever built, or not quite built. The aircraft, designed by Lockheed, is now seven years behind schedule, but the Pentagon had planned to display its new baby this week at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Airshow in the U.K. This debut has now been called off because the engine of one of the planes caught fire on a runway in Florida in June, and officials feared the problem was systemic.
In other words, it could happen again. It could happen at the airshow, with the jet’s prospective customers — Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan and eight other U.S. allies — in attendance. Grounding it was a business decision. Indeed, it was a decision made at the delicate intersection of business and war.
“The setbacks follow a series of technical problems and development delays that have affected the F-35, one of the world’s most ambitious weapons programs, with estimated development costs of around $400 billion,” Nicola Clark and Christopher Drew wrote this week in the New YorkTimes. “Analysts said the timing of the problems, just as Lockheed Martin was hoping to demonstrate the plane to prospective export buyers here, could not have been worse.”
What I found interesting — well, overwhelmingly depressing, actually — was the fact that this story ran in the Times’ International Business section. When Savio writes, “Attempts to create regional or international alliances to bring stability have always been stymied by national interests,” this may be what he’s talking about. National interests are business interests. In the mainstream media, this is simply a given.
And the ongoing setbacks and escalating cost don’t matter. The F-35 project is still going forward, even though, as Kate Brannen wrote recently in Foreign Policy, “over the course of the aircrafts’ lifetimes, operating costs are expected to exceed $1 trillion.”
The warplane’s supply of funding is inexhaustible, apparently. Congress is behind it all the way. And it’s hardly news. “Lockheed has carefully hired suppliers and subcontractors in almost every state to ensure that virtually all senators and members of Congress have a stake in keeping the program — and the jobs it has created — in place,” Brannen wrote.
Austerity is for losers. There’s always money to wage war and build weapons, indeed, to continue developing weapons, generation after generation after generation. The contractors are adept at playing the game. Jobs link arms with fear and patriotism and the next war is always inevitable. And it’s always necessary, because we’ve created a world of perpetual — and well-armed — instability.
The problem with the United Nations is that it’s a unity of entities defined by their hatred of one another and committed to the perpetuation of “the scourge of war.” We won’t begin creating global peace until we learn how to bypass nationalism and the single, unacknowledged agreement binding nation-states to each other: the inevitability of war.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
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