I’ve often said I should write a one-shot blog about what causes wars. I don’t look forward to it because it’s going to offend a lot of people. But here goes.
To understand wars, you have to read a lot of history. Too bad that much of that history is bunk. For example, some people have written whole books about how the assassination of an archduke is what started World War One. And that’s just not true.
The assassination was the spark that fired all the guns; but this was a war that had been coming for decades. It would have happened even if the radicals who killed him had thrown flowers at the archduke; the war was coming and was long planned.
We did not go to war with Hitler because he was evil (as many books say) – though he certainly was evil. But as a killer and abuser, he came nowhere close to the British, French and American empires. Anyway, Canadians, Americans and British didn’t give a damn if he was evil. And we certainly didn’t care what he did to Jews. We proved that throughout the war, and even after. When Jews escaped from Hitler’s Germany during the war, Britain, the U.S. and Canada refused to accept them. They were sent back, with our leaders knowing all about the death camps that they were sending them to. The U.S.. Canada and Britain took a back seat to nobody as anti-semites.
The Korean War of 1950 is usually seen as the result of North Korea’s attack on the South. And some historians go so far as to say the U.S. organized an intervention in that war to protect the south and bring democracy. And that’s bunk.
The North attacked South Korea as a result of years of strained relations because South Korea was ruled by a savage dictatorship controlled by those South Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese when the Japanese occupied South Korea in World War 2. In fact, when the Korean war ended, far from having become a democracy under American guidance, the south was still run by that gang of collaborators for some years.
The U.S. entered that war not to bring democracy, but to conquer North Korea as a base for a war with China. (And no, the U.S. did not want to bring democracy to China, either. In fact, through World War 2 and after, it supported an unspeakably corrupt and murderous Chinese leader, Chiang-Kai shek, who was a notorious drug pusher on an international scale. Well, in fairness, he was also a Christian.)
We were fighting evil in World War One? Oh? So how come it took the U.S. three years to join?
And we were fighting evil in World War Two? Maybe. But I notice the U.S. took three years to make up its mind about fighting evil in that one, too. And then it joined only after Pearl Harbour was bombed. Why was it so shy?
In the same way, history books tell us about the gallant Americans who fought but were defeated by Mexican troops at the Alamo. Yep. True patriots.
In fact, Davy Crockett and the boys were a gang of slave dealers and land speculators who had no right to be in Mexico in the first place. Slavery was illegal in Mexico. That’s why the Mexican army attacked them. They were there to steal Mexican land and plant slavery. And that’s why the U.S. army joined the fight, eventually stealing from Mexico what is now most of the southwest U.S.
I had a distant relative who fought as a ‘patriot’ for Canada in our Northwest. (His medal is on display at a museum in Montreal.) He was there to kill aboriginals and Metis so they would not get in the way of the CPR and British settlers. I find it hard to think of that as an act of patriotism.
Patriotism, love of country, and hail to the monarch are really just buzzwords that are rarely used clearly, and that rarely have any clear meaning. I’m not at all convinced that patriotic can really mean a willingness to kill strangers.
Almost all wars in human history have been fought because one side is greedy. In fact, it can be and sometimes is that both sides are greedy. That’s the lesson of a good 3,000 years and more of history.
The Romans conquered land to get resources like gold and other metals, to create huge agricultural properties for Roman aristocrats. (They took Scotland for a time, but gave it back because it wasn’t worth while.) The kings and aristocrats of the middle ages fought wars to get lands and the peasants on them to add to their wealth. It was the attempt of British kings to loot France in this way that gave rise to Joan of Arc. The theft of agricultural land and other resources is what the Crusades were really about. In much of Europe, aristocrats fought each other to get control of cities that they could then tax. Kings financed Columbus and others so they could kill and steal for the kings. Columbus’ murder and plundering was intensive even by today’s standards.
Increasingly, the aggressive parties were commoners of some wealth, the people we now call capitalists. However, they, like the aristocrats, usually operated through the apparatus of the state since it could supply them with armies. Thus the spread of European (and American) empires from 1500 or so.
These empires soon ravaged the whole world with a scale of slaughter that can only be guessed at. Even worse was the abuse of the living as free labour with the slavery of millions, including children. Something very close to that still goes on in places like Congo, Africa in general, much of Latin America, parts of Asia where children work at almost no wages from age six, where people who complain have a high mortality rate, where corporations pay no taxes so there is little public education and few social services of any sort. The U.S., Britain, France, Spain – yes, and Canada – have all played major roles in this.
And there’s a pattern that still exists. Our corporations and local power brokers have utter contempt for the people they rule and exploit. I got to know some of them in Hong Kong, and was struck by their arrogance and sense of privilege.
Indeed, that sense of privilege commonly created a sort of aristocracy in their home country that was (and is) very noticeable in a country like Britain. They are the ones who make fortunes out of the wretchedness they create in the colonies. Typically, very little of their loot makes its way down to the working class. That has produced a British wealthy class that has contempt not only for the colonials they exploit, but also for the majority of the English people.
If you are an Agatha Christie mysteries fan (as I have been), notice that almost all her mysteries feature upper class people living on their estates. The mass of the British scarcely exist. Winston Churchill was very much a product of that world. He had, for example, utter contempt for the people of India – which is why he allowed millions of them to starve to death late in World War Two when, in fact, the food was available. He was also the man who pioneered in the deliberate bombing of helpless civilians. The British people knew very well what Churchill was. That’s why they voted him out in 1945. They knew that he was servant of the very, very wealthy, and the common people would never get anything from him.
This age of a self-appointed ‘aristocracy’ of the very wealthy has, if anything, become more pronounced since World War Two. It affects most of the western world, and seems to be growing in places like Russia and China.
Of course, the ugliness of this had to be covered. In Britain – and other countries – this covering took the form of painting the empires as glorious things, even as signs of God’s approval. “Rule, Britannia, Britannia rule the waves...” Britain rose, it seems, ‘at heaven’s command’. You can find the same thing in what the U.S. calls its “American exceptionalism”. God has ordained the U.S. to rule the world. And the U.S. is ruled by its billionaires who are superior to the rest of us.
Raising the armed forces to plunder the world was easy at first. In Britain, for example, of the17th, 18th and 19th centuries, most people had no choice. The majority lived in wretched poverty. The army and navy were awful – but they were all there was. However, by the late nineteenth century, the appeal of military service was wearing off. The poet Rudyard Kipling found a way to rebuild the appeal – patriotism, loyalty to the Queen, honour. Perhaps the best example of it is the poem in praise of the American invasion of The Phillipines about 1900 with the usual slaughter, torture, rape and plunder. Kipling wrote about it as an appeal to honour, an encouragement to take up “the white man’s burden”. The Americans weren’t killing and torturing and raping and plundering. No. They were bringing civilization and Christianity to a primitive land. This was honourable. It was patriotic. And the whole British Empire wasn’t plundering. It was bringing civilization to the world. Why, we were really sacrificing ourselves to raise the ungrateful pagans.
Patriotism, honour, civilization, love of country became and still are the major themes of any discussion of war.
In 1872, after winning the Franco-Prussian War, Wilhelm 1 of Prussia united most of the German-speaking countries (but not Austria) into a nation called Germany. Suddenly, there appeared a new nation big enough to challenge the economic dominance of Britain. This was also the high season for industrialization, and the new Germany was big enough and rich enough to take advantage of that. Accordingly, it immediately followed the British lead in building an empire which covered much of Africa, the Pacific, and edged into British dominance in China. (This is a note of some importance to lovers of Tsing-Tao beer, the much admired beer of China. One of the German colonies in China was Tsing-Tao where the Germans immediately built a German brewery. The beer was so good that the Chinese kept the brewery and keep it to this day with the original recipe.)
Another reminder of German. imperial expansion was a popular, American comic strip of the 1930s and 40s called ‘The Captain and the Kids’. This was about a German colonial officer for one of the German Pacific island colonies, and his rambunctious sons.
British and French capitalists were not amused this German growth.. The new Germany could become militarily and industrially and imperially powerful enough to challenge British and French capitalists. It had to be stopped.
Britain even considered getting rid of its Canadian colony. It feared, correctly that the invasion of Canada by an aggressive U.S was quite possible, and would be a drain on British resources and military strength that would be needed more to hold off a growing Germany. And, indeed, the U.S. had sponsored invasions of Canada by American Irish veterans of the American civil war in the late 1860s. It also threatened to attack Canada in 1904 when Canada disputed the American claim to the Alaska border along the southern part called The Panhandle. Britain immediately dumped Canada by voting for the American position. It has no intention of risking a war with the U.S. for the sake of Canada.
(That move by Britain is what led to the creation of The Canadian Club to discuss Canadian affairs free of British intrusions. There’s lots of triva in history.)
All of these quarrels were essentially economic. The only concern of Britain or France or Germany or the U.S. was to serve their own capitalists. The common workers of those countries were treated wretchedly by their own governments and their capitalist owners.
But Germany’s growth, economic and military, continued to be robust. British capitalists realized they were going to need the whole empire, including Canada, for a war with Germany. And that led to a decision taken about 1900.
British capitalists wanted to conquer the Dutch colonies of South Africa. Those colonies sat on massive stores of gold. This could be a land of unspeakable wealth – for British capitalists. Britain could certainly have handled the Dutch farmers of South Africa alone. But it didn’t need just the gold. It needed a precedent so that in a future war with Germany, the whole British empire would automatically fight for the fortunes of British capitalists.
But how to do it? The various parts of the empire were not required to fight British wars unless they, themselves, were invaded – as had happened to Canada in the War of 1812. But there was little chance of Germany attacking, say, Canada or Australia or India... So – how could this be sold?
The answer lay in patriotism. Yes. Patriotism was noble. Patriotism – and the Royal Family . God Bless the Queen or King – or whoever.
And, oh, it worked. In 1914, when World War One threatened, most Canadians fell for the same pitch. Yes. God bless the king. Canada, the True North Strong and Free. We stand on guard for thee – even when the war has nothing to do with us.
Americans, more intelligently, stayed out of a war that was somebody else’s problem. American capitalists, in particular, waited for three years to see if they could make a few bucks out of this without doing any fighting. They did okay, too, selling weapons to Britain and France. And, who could tell? If Britain and France lost, then maybe the U.S. could grab a few colonies on the cheap for the American Empire.
Meanwhile, the news media of all the major countries, almost all owned by major capitalists, poured out the propaganda to a degree never before seen. On our side, the Germans became oh, so evil. They were ‘bosch’ or ‘bosche’. The might have mean rascal or cabbage head – or something else. To this day, nobody knows what the word means. But it doesn’t matter. Patriots don’t have to know how to think or understand or what meaning is. The only important thing is to be - you know – patriotic.
The Germans were also Huns. Yes. And not one person in a hundred knew what that meant, either.
And what did the murder of an archduke have to do with causing all this? Nothing – except for the timing.
British, French and German capitalists and their militaries, had known that a war was coming since 1872. By then, they were absorbing the great lesson of the U.S. civil war – the importance of moving troops by railway. This called for extensive railway building and a plan of rigid scheduling to move troops to key areas. All the major powers quickly realized that, and made plans accordingly.
But there was one, terrible flaw. Once any power began moving its troops, all the others had to follow suit immediately or face disaster. This for several decades was the curse that hung over Europe.
Then, a young man shot the archduke and his wife.
I don’t know who reacted first. It really doesn’t matter. Nobody took take the chance of being second. The greatest war in history up to then had begun. There was nothing rational about it. It was a war to serve billionaires on both sides. It just had to happen. And, to maintain enthusiasm for the killing, we all had to hate each other (without anybody actually knowing why), and we all had to be patriotic – which meant hating and killing.
At the end of the war, the winning side had the advantage of being able to accuse the losers of starting it – nicely ignoring that everybody had started it. They used that advantage to pretty much destroy the German economy under heavy financial penalties, thus creating the resentful Germans who would vote for Adolph Hitler and created World War 2. The also used Germany’s ‘evil’ as an excuse taking the German imperial colonies for themselves.
Oh, and Britain set up the world for a future move – the sending of all Jews to an Israel (taking it over from the arabs and Jews who had already been living there for thousands of years.) And, no, the intention of the so-called Balfour Declaration was not to help Jews. It was to get rid of them, to send the Jews of Europe and Britain and Canada and the U.S. to a land where Christians wouldn’t have to bother with them. That plan lay dormant until it was revived to create an Israel thirty years later. It was the West’s answer to the problem of getting rid of the Jews.
World War 2 was simply the same act as World War 1. All sides had exactly the same motives as they had had in World War 1, and all for exactly the same reasons. Britain was desperately trying to hold on to its empire of nations it had abused for centuries. Hitler was anxious to address the wants of German capitalists. (Forget the nonsense about Hitler being a socialist. His Germany was solidly capitalist, and he was a servant of the major German capitalists throughout World War Two. And at the end of the war, the victorious capitalist countries did almost nothing to deal with the role of major German capitalists in exploiting slave labour from Jews and foreigners.) Nor was their any attempt to examine the role played by major American capitalists – like Henry Ford – in financing and supporting Hitler.
Again, the U.S. just sat and watched as American capitalists happily played both sides. Even the attack on Pearl Harbour was a set up. The U.S. wanted a war with Japan. It began preparing for it in 1919 when it shaped its navy to fight a war against the Japanese fleet. The key was to be the development of aircraft carriers and naval aircraft.
It didn’t want Pearl Harbour to happen. But it did want a war with Japan. It wanted control of the huge market of China. That’s why it cut off all oil to Japan. It wanted to provoke Japan into an attack of some sort as an excuse for American retaliation. It did not expect the attack on Pearl Harbour – but it was certainly good enough as excuse for a war with Japan. (The U.S. was just lucky that the American carriers were not in port that day.)
The real American purpose in the war was to get control of China and its huge market. That’s why, in the closing stages of the war, it ordered the British navy NOT to enter Hong Kong harbour. Americans were to take over the China trade. But the British ignored the order.
American capitalists still want the China trade. That’s what the Korean war was all about. And that’s still the target of American capitalists. But the years are going against them.
All wars are fought for greed on at least one side – and often on both sides. And how do we get people to fight wars and to die to make billionaires richer? We load our news media with stories about how evil the other side is, and how good we are.We tell Canadians they have to be patriotic, yes, and honour the Queen, yes. And what a load that is.
There was nothing patriotic about Canada going to war in 1914. Germany was no threat to us. And fight for the Queen? Hell...the Queen and her advisors would have been happy to toss Canada as toast to the U.S. in the years before 1914. The U.S. would have been happy to steal the British empire colonies in Asia in the 1940s. There was nothing glorious about the Korean war. Korea was no threat to Canada. And South Korea was hardly a nation of freedom lovers. Why did we send troops to fight and die in Afghanistan.? Afghanistan was no threat to Canada – or to the U.S. It had nothing to do with 9/11. The ones behind that were the rulers of our good friends in Saudi Arabia. Why did Canada bomb Libya? It had nothing to do with us, everything to do with American oil billionaires. What was patriotic about killing Libyans? What was patriotic about sending Canadian troops to train muslim terrorists to kill Syrians? What is patriotic about selling Canadian weapons to Saudi Arabia so it can kill starving children in Yemen? And what was patriotic about sending Canadian ‘peacekeepers’ to help the U.S. overthrow the elected government of Haiti, and replace it with an American stooge?
Would you kill people ‘for the Queen’? Wanna think about that for a while? Want to think for a while about ‘patriotism’ and what that means? Does it mean killing Libyans so western oil companies can steal their resources? Does it mean helping to train terrorists to kill Syrian civilians? Does it mean killing Afghanis who want U.S. billionaires to leave them alone?
Almost all wars, on at least one side, sometimes on both, have nothing to do with defence or patriotism or honour or even The Queen. They are about greed, the greed of people as vicious and evil as any this world has ever seen. The British Empire murdered, enslaved, debased, starved, exploited more people than Hitler ever did. The U.S. has been doing it since the first English settlers landed. Canada did it to its native peoples. We have gone a long way and a long time to make honour, glory and patriotism into dirty words.
(And, lest we forget, our native peoples sometimes did it to each other before we got here. How do you think they spread across North America?)
And this takes us to November 11, and armistice day.
We glorify war. Those who fight in it are noble and patriotic and servants of the Queen and defenders of the nation. (Unless, of course, they are on the other side.)
(We’ll just forget the noble, patriotic Canadians who were servants of the Queen and defenders of the nation in the Boer War, a war that never came close to Canada. It was also the war in our heroes were responsible for the deaths of some 16,000 Dutch farmers, women, elderly men, and children, who died of starvation and neglect in camps run by the Canadians.)
And the Canadian dead of Afghanistan? Remember how their coffins were carried along the street called the ‘highway of heroes’? What was heroic about it? Afghanistan was no possible threat to Canada. Out troops were simply bumboys for the American army that had no right to be there, either.
It was glorious to sign up for World War 2? Get a little bit real.
I was only a child of six or seven as the older boys of my father’s scout troop came by to show their new uniforms in 1939 and 1940. They had no sense whatever of what the war was about. What they did know was there were no jobs and had been none for ten years of dreadful depression when the government of Canada didn’t give a damn about what happened to its own people, when big companies were allowed to get away with, literally, murder.
The war meant jobs. It meant travel. It meant excitement in a horribly drab time. It meant neat uniforms.
My district was a poor one even in good times. In the great depression years, for married men in their twenty and thirties, war meant monthly cheques for the wives and children they couldn’t feed. It hadn’t been possible to feed them since 1929. And Canadian governments did nothing. Nor did Canadian big business which dumped pensions, lowered salaries, left the elderly with not even a penny, made holidays unpaid.... That was why my father joined up. My sister and I had, somehow, to be fed.
And there were those, like one of my relatives, who joined up for the first contingent so he could dump his wife and children, and have a good time. He was at Dieppe and D Day. But all he ever talked about for the rest of his life were the parties and drinking and dancing. He just loved the war.
Then there was Bertie. He was a big kid of 16 who played with me because he was very retarded. He quit school while failing grade 4 when he was 15. Then he stole his brother’s draft card, and joined the army. Well, he was a big kid, and it wasn’t hard to get past the medical inspection. Years later, I heard about him from his sergeant.
“He just loved marchin’ and clickin’ his heels. Then we got sent just inside the German border. We were all lyin’ on the ground with German machine guns cuttin’ the air. I think Bertie was cryin’. Yeah. He was cryin’. Hey, he was just a kid. Then he jumped up, and the machine guns cut him in half. Craziest thing....when he jumped up, he was screamin’ for his mother.”
We invent and propagandize a world of patriots eager to ‘serve their country’ and ‘their king or queen.’ And we make proud boasts of how they died to make a better world. Armistice Day is always like that.
The reality is very different. The promise of a better world? We threw that away a long time ago. Since 1945, Canadians have fought and died in wars that had nothing to do with our country or with any of the promises we made. We, like Britain and France, have sent our soldiers to kill innocent people for U.S. billionaires as we once sent them to kill for British billionaires.
It’s time, more than time, for us to tell the truth on armistice day. Honour our veterans by all means. We owe that to them. But honouring them does not mean lying about them. And honouring does not mean fighting more wars for billionaires.
Let’s use Remembrance Day for honest remembrance. Let’s use it to remember the promises we made in past wars. And The Canadian Legion, too, should should demand that we honour and remember those who sacrificed, what it was we told them were sacrificing for, and how terribly we have betrayed all that.
And let’s skip all the crap about patriotism and glory and ‘our country’. And let’s save the monarchy for those people at the magazine stands who actually care about prince what’s-his-name’s wedding.
Let’s be honest.