In times of great civil discontent, where economies stagnate and leaders are loathed, there is a grand tradition in American politics: start a war. Instantly, such actions polarize the public and kick-start production, and may well gain access to valuable foreign resources. The Bushes did it, Clinton did it, and now it looks like Obama may do it.

Seriously?

Again?

It’s hard to believe this is happening. It’s hard to believe it’s even threatening to happen. After the global embarrassment that was the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, the constant undeclared war in Pakistan or the emerging ugly details of NATO’s effect on Libya, one would think they wouldn’t be eager to do this again. Recent wars taxed coalition forces well beyond what they’d thought possible, and it’s hard to imagine where either the funding or the soldiers for such a war would come from. They’ve also failed to stop the spread of “Islamic terrorism” or perform any effective “nation building”. Worst of all, they’re once-again relying on the spectre of “WMDs” to drive the nation into war, even after the three letters came to symbolize everything wrong with George W Bush’s presidency.

Do I want to see Iran building nuclear reactors? No. There’s obvious military applications to all “peacetime” nuclear equipment – a predictable result of their military origin. Like too many other technologies, this is a humbling reminder that sometimes ploughshares can be beaten back into swords. That being said, I’ve seen nothing so far to indicate that Iranian reactors are a specific threat other than the sabre-rattling of the Iranian government, and know enough about nuclear technology to understand that any workable array of warheads is still years off. In any case, it’s very likely that these weapons, should they ever be build, would be used primarily as a deterrent, since there’s little doubt it would be scoured off the map by American and Isreali nukes should Iranian leaders be stupid enough to launch the few they have.

There is every reason here to discourage the spread of all nuclear technology. “Peacetime” reactors have already kick-started the weapons programs in India, Pakistan and China (thanks largely to Canadian firms). This would leave no market for “legitimate” purchases of uranium and no convenient cover for enrichment activities. Beyond that, the single best way to discourage weapons programs would be to dismantle our own. If America and Isreal want a nuclear-free Middle East, they could make it happen far more easily than any others. Sadly, the disarmament of their many nuclear weapons is off the table, as is any serious critique of the nuclear industry as a whole.

Iran’s allies have not been silent, especially Russia. Putin is now threatening the largest nuclear build-up since the cold war, and given that there’s a Russian military base in Iran, they’ve been none-too-pleased with talk of more war in the region. Active Russian involvement could turn such a conflict into WWIII, and there’s no telling where that could end. Putin, of course, has his own massive unpopularity (and upcoming elections) to deal with, and a war would serve him just as well as the others.

The winners here will not be the people or America, Iran, Russia, Israel or any others, but the leaders, of all stand to gain tremendously from the increase in nationalism and jingoism it would create. All have been threatened in the past year by massive popular protests, and all are ruled by militaristic zealots of one form or another. States are fundamentally violent institutions, and have no qualms about mass-murder when deemed “necessary”. No matter what cost a war would exact from “their” people, they may well feel war is in their own best interest.

What can we do? First, we can accept that the “Peace Movement” against Bush was largely a failure. There were demonstrations constantly for years, with some of the largest numbers since Vietnam and was profoundly nonviolent, but the effect on policy was almost unnoticeable. Eventually Bush was driven from power, but Obama is proving to be no more peaceful. If they attempt to go to war again, it won’t be enough to stand, chant and sing in the streets. If a popular movement is going to effectively resist this war, it’s going to have to physically interfere with the functioning of these war machines. Modern militaries are incredibly destructive forces, but they rely on modern economies to supply them with weapons, equipment and personnel. A general strike, a tax revolt or any serious challenge to the authority of the American government would give them far more to worry about than military adventurism in oil-rich foreign nations. Unfortunately, even this possibility means the same leaders have every reason to brutally repress any and all dissent “at home”, as has always been the way in these conflicts.

A century ago, the world was in a very similar state. The industrial revolution had transformed the globe and “robber barons” were conquering entire regions. A tide of popular unrest, particularly around work, had been growing for decades and unions like the IWW were starting to have very serious effect. Then, like now, governments pursued a strategy of military build-up as a result. In response to militarization in the build-up to the war, there were serious plans afoot for a general strike and other measures which would have forced peace on the warring governments. When the war began, many sided with the government (especially manufacturing unions) and countless others were arrested, deported or killed, a process which only accelerated after the war (particularly for anarchists). It’s impossible to know how many millions of lives would have been saved if popular movements had acted differently, or which of the century’s most brutal tyrants might never have emerged.

Given the political tensions, the mounting debts, the crumbling alliances and the worsening resource crisis, we have all the ingredients for a very serious war. What does that tell us about those in power? That mass-murder is seen as an acceptable form of political gamesmanship and economic stimulus? That oil is becoming so scarce that world powers are willing to take incredible risks to control the supply? Does it simply state that the lives of those involved are so cheap that they aren’t worth consideration? Or just that they’re willing to utterly destroy any territory they can’t personally control? This ugly background paints all of our local struggles in a very different light – we aren’t just fighting for ourselves. This has never just been about Canadians or Americans and it isn’t just our personal interests at stake here. If we claim to care about peace or freedom, we cannot stand by and watch this happen. We, the people of nations who’d wage war from afar, are the only ones in a position to do something about it. That gives us a responsibility, will we act on it?

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