To say it’s all kicking off seems a bit of an understatement. At the time of writing, America looks like it could be on the verge of war with North Korea, and by extension China. It’s not clear whether a Russia is a secret bestie or an arch-nemesis. The US military dropped the ‘mother of all bombs’ on an ISIS camp in Afghanistan a week after launching an air strike on Homs airfield in Syria, and has moved a fleet into the Korean Peninsula. America’s MOAB has caused Putin to brag about the ‘father of all bombs’ in his arsenal. And Kim Jong-Un is showing off his arsenal in the DPRK’s Day of the Sun parade, and is testing another nuclear weapon today.
Guys: pack it in. There are millions of lives at stake, and you are competing to see who has the biggest phallic missiles. You aren’t fooling anyone. You are trying to look like big tough leaders, but you are just making yourself look like fools.
The blasé nature of Trump’s military responses – blow some s**t up then play some golf – is irresponsible. And it shines a light on aspects of modern warfare that I find hard to stomach.
Despite my fondness for quoting Shelley, I’m not a pacifist. I think that, regrettably, war can be necessary, and I have the greatest respect for the men and women of our armed forces. But let’s go back a few centuries and map out how warfare has changed.
A medieval king often led a military charge. If he (and it was pretty much always a he) called for war, he was usually there, front and centre. He was not prepared to ask others to do something he would not do himself. This would make him look weak, and would undermine his authority. As a result, medieval kings needed to be tough, alpha males. There were plenty of issues with this, obviously. Muscles and brains don’t always go hand in hand.
Renaissance kings and queens were often present in battle, but tended to hang back a bit more. Brain power was more useful and valuable; diplomacy, languages, strategies- these were the tools of the era. But they still turned up- even Elizabeth I turned up in armour to inspire the troops and to make a show of solidarity.
What do our leaders do now? They phone it in, and then play golf.
Modern warfare seems to rely on this concept of damage from a distance. And I can see the logic behind this: why risk the lives of your own people, when you can destroy from afar? If you can have results without the risk, surely that’s sensible? Yeah, OK.
But is it ethical?
War is terrible. And it should be. It should never be taken lightly. And if there are technological means to make it easier, to make it less risky, then it can be taken more lightly. Leaders should wrestle with their conscience before waging war. They should weigh up the benefits with the risks. If you take the risks to the armed forces out of the equation, then what is to stop you?
If you make warfare seem like a computer game, you divorce the actions from their reality. If you are operating a drone from a bunker, and watching it on a screen, you are removed from the consequences of pressing that big red button. If you are prepared to use the weapons, you should have the courage and the decency to witness the devastation. If you can’t stomach that- and I am talking about leaders here, not military personnel who are just following orders- then you should not be making that decision.
Modern warfare does not only threaten professional armies. Another development of the 20th Century is this movement away from battlefields and assaults on military strongholds to inflicting as much damage on civilian populations as possible. It is about making life unbearable to encourage your opponent to surrender. It is about threatening mass annihilation and hoping that you are not called out on it.
That is why I find this week’s military posturing ridiculous. What is needed now is either diplomacy or the biggest high stakes poker game ever. Looking at the players at the table, I’m worried. Putin is a psychopath. Trump is a desperate buffoon. Kim Jong-Un is a dangerously unhinged narcissist. Assad is a monster. It looks like President Xi is going to have to be the grown up here, and his country’s human rights records aren’t exactly clean.
It’s probably not time to panic yet. Those italics aren’t particularly reassuring, I know. We shall know more in the next few days… Until then, enjoy your Easter weekend, and eat far more chocolate than you should. That’s an order. Peace and love x