“civil wars are always more brutal than other wars”

In a Facebook discussion:

it would have been interesting to see how the Balkan war late in the 20th C arose and why there was such genocide.

I can’t remember the ins and outs of it – but civil wars are always more brutal than other wars.

My response—off the top of my head—was:

  1. Civil wars are not covered so much by modern war legislation nor the ancient rules of war, so there are no limits to methods or violence.
  2. The opposing sides are not easily differentiated so anyone can be a target to anyone.
  3. In civil wars dividing lines shift as power struggles occur: you don’t know who you can trust.
  4. Civil wars often have a variable number of sides which keep changing as alliances shift.
  5. Civil wars have greater confusion as communication and hierarchies are far weaker than in conventional wars.
  6. External states always take advantage of them to weaken the warring state, usually by propping up the weaker side to keep it going.
  7. Civil wars are great opportunities for proxy wars which means external material and money to keep them going long beyond a natural end.
  8. Civil wars are a great opportunity to sell untested weapons to see how they perform, debug them and advertise them.
  9. Defeat in a conventional war is easier to identify as battle lines collapse so they stop sooner.
  10. A conventional war can end with one side giving up, a civil war often requires complete crushing of the loser.
  11. You cannot retreat to your own country in a civil war.
  12. The infrastructure is usually so badly affected that the injured cannot be sent somewhere to be cared for in a civil war.
  13. There is less likely to be a safe family at home to return to in a civil war.
  14. In a civil war there is a greater tendency for revenge and cruelty (exacerbated by armed militia and little legal constraint).
  15. In a civil war each side is usually more equally matched using the same techniques, language, cypher systems, weapons and training meaning they have to slog it out to round 12 to win on points rather than get a quick knockout in round 2 or 3.
  16. Civil wars make use of mercenaries and attract and welcome psychopaths, extremists, revolutionaries and criminals.
  17. Civil wars make use of untrained armed civilians who both die more messily and kill more messily than trained soldiers.
  18. Civil wars are invariably total wars meaning everyone and everything is a valid target.

That’ll do for now. Oh, please, lets have a 2000 word essay on civil wars!

Although, with hindsight, that is the makings of a book.  Or a thesis.  I left out child soldiers, PTSD in armed civilians, how much harder it is to catch the war criminals afterwards, how much harder it is to reconcile, the damage to the society, recovery of the post-war bankrupt economy, the long-term consequences of having had an armed civilian population and the opportunity cost.

What do we learn from history? That we are repeating it.

It’s funny where voluntary work can take you.

Yesterday I was helping someone put together words for inclusion in a United Nations report, responding to Human Rights Council resolution 20/2, proposing conscientious objection to military taxation be considered a form of military service thereby including it under article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1998/77 can then be used to advocate people be permitted to say they want the military part of their tax to be spent on peacebuilding.

Meanwhile Donald Trump is getting around human rights legislation and treaties by recreating the CIA’s secret overseas detention and interrogation centres for unrecorded and untried undesirables.  Their “black site” prisons where they humiliated, tortured, murdered and detained people without trial for years.

It must take an awful lot of volunteers to overcome the work of one powerful man’s pen.

It’s topical because I’ve been learning about the history of the SA, SD, SS, Gestapo, Gefepo and other Nazi tools of security and oppression.  They were granted authority above the law by order of the top executive.  Just like Donald Trump is about to do for the CIA.

Remember what they say about absolute power?  It corrupts absolutely.

The Woman-Power Debate, March 1941

In learning about the workforce requirements of total war, specifically the debate in the House of Commons about conscripting women to work on the land and in munitions factories in March 1941 Britain during World War Two, I saw a quote which gave me pause.

Agnes Hardie MP was arguing that “it has been a tradition for generations that war is a man’s job and women have the bearing and raising of children and should be exempt from war“.  I bet that comes up a lot in the gender studies modules of Peace Studies degrees.  (Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 376 (1941–1942), Parliamentary Debates November 12–December 19, 1941, Debate on Maximum National Effort 2/12 (1941), col. 1,079.)

While one side argued in the Woman-Power Debate that female war work was heroic and liberating, this was countered with concerns that increasing state management of women’s lives threatened to undermine both family life and femininity.  Agnes Hardie argued that mothers were “doing a far more important job for the future generations…than filling shells with which to kill some other mother’s son” (Hansard, vol. 370 (March–April 1941), Woman-Power Debate, cols 351–3).

As King Baudouin I of Belgium said: “It takes 20 years or more of peace to make a man; it takes only 20 seconds of war to destroy him”.

Note for later: I wonder if the Bill to conscript women permitted the the right to conscientious objection, like the Miltary Service Act 1916 did for men?  I think it may have been the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939, but there’s also “In December 1941 Parliament passed a second National Service Act. It widened the scope of conscription still further by making all unmarried women and all childless widows between the ages of 20 and 30 liable to call-up.”  If so, I think it permitted them the right to object to military service, but does that include filling shells?  They did, however, get the choice whether to work in factories or on the land.

Military Spending Calculator error

The Conscience Online web site has a military spending calculator on its home page that shows how much has been spent so far this year globally on military expenditure. I noticed it displaying an 11-digit number despite it only being the 7th of January. “Oops” I thought, “I need to change it so it starts again from zero on 1st of January”.

I thought it did that automatically, but decided I must have been mistaken. There is no way we could have spent £22 billion on war-making in under a week.

So I went to see what was wrong and found the error: we spend too much on war-making. In the first six days and nine hours of 2017 the world has already invested £3 per person on killing or readiness to kill one another.

The global news was making a fuss yesterday about the cost of Donald Trump’s proposed wall between the USA and Mexico likely to be about half that with pessimistic estimates expressing concern it will be about the same. If the cost of the wall is a scandal, why isn’t spending 50 times that amount every year on delivering premature death and suffering also a scandal?

Less conventional postgraduate peace degrees

In a discussion about transferability of degree modules, it got me thinking about the history of universities and how 900 years ago one could switch between Bologna, Paris and Oxford universities willy-nilly because they offered the same curriculum.  Now it is really hard to get one university to give credits fro study in another even in the same country.  Division and protectionism, even in education.

Anyway, international peace degrees.

The University for Peace or UPEACE is (according to Wikipedia) “an intergovernmental organization with university status established in 1980 and based Costa Rica“.  I have looked at it before and eliminated it primarily on not having $US15,000 and partly because of lack of recognition for the qualification.  I also wasn’t too impressed with the course content.

The United Nations University or UNI is (according to Wikipedia) “the academic and research arm of the United Nations, established in 1973.  Based in Tokyo, Japan, has since 2010 been authorized to grant degrees. It provides a bridge between the UN and the international academic, policy-making and private sector communities.”  Most of its programmes seem to be about international development with the exception of the Institute for Sustainability and Peace Tokyo (Wikipedia) (their web site is down as I write this).  Even their Master’s Degrees are about the environment, sustainability and public policy rather than peace.  So, no conflict prevention type degrees.

Both are dead ends for me.

This is the sort of work I want: peace informatics

There is a group on LinkedIn called Peace Informatics describing itself:

This group brings together researchers, practitioners and other professionals who want to explore how Big Data can be applied in the field of peace and security. The group’s moderators provide regular updates with cutting edge information about related developments and aim to exchange views among network members about lessons learned, latest insights and potential collaboration.

Peace Informatics is initiated and run by the Peace Informatics Lab at Leiden University (Campus The Hague). The Peace Informatics Lab consists of a number of interconnected projects that explore new ways of Big Data methodologies in the field of peace & security.

I’m not convinced about the hype around ‘big data’ (my views come from decades of experience working with large databases, data analysis and business analysis rather than marketing bumf), but I am impressed with what I have seen of Leiden University, having done some of their MOOC courses.

But this could be a field where my IT experience would be very useful.  Now, how to get my foot in the door…?

Is ‘a just war’ still a meaningful argument?

I’ll try that argument again by expanding on another view: leaders start wars but the citizens suffer – how is this just?

Are the citizens of a state so responsible for not preventing the internationally unacceptable actions of the leaders of that state, or so responsible for the previous actions or perceived misdeeds of their predecessors, or guilty of a crime by nature of having different cultural values of those of another state, that it is reasonable for the sovereignty of that state to be disregarded such that they can be killed by the orders of the leader of another state?

That is, the rules of just war determine whether it is considered acceptable by political leaders for state A to attack state B.  They do not consider whether the citizens of state B or even state A consider the war to be just.

Is it appropriate in global, internet-connected societies with so much freedom of movement with so much cultural intermingling that it should be considered right and proper that people be killed according to the arbitrariness of their current place of residence at the time of a declaration of war?

In a democracy, is it just that those who vote against a policy should be equally vulnerable to death by the weapons of another state as those who voted the other way?

Where feudalism has been abolished and blind nationalism is no longer credible, I don’t see how ‘a just war’ is possible any more.

Principles of Just-War Theory

Lynn Roulstone at the Open University raised the questionsWhat do we think to Aquinas’s Just War theory?  Is it ever possible to have such a thing?” and provided a link to a short explanation of the seven principles of Just-War Theory.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by them and this was my response:

1. Last Resort
Sartre, Ghandi and Jesus said a violent response need not be the final resort.  Deciding not to use violence is also an available option.  It was certainly the best way for your civilisation to survive an invasion by the Roman empire, the Mongol hordes or many other invading forces who purpose was to subjugate.

2. Legitimate Authority
We have a representative democracy so if Tony Bliar decides to start a war despite dodgy evidence and 3 million people protesting, he is perfectly entitled.  If Obama declares war on Mexico tomorrow, he has legal, personal, absolute authority to do so under USA law.

3. Just Cause
Righting a wrong done to A committed by B by killing C is as logical as bombing for peace.  It just results in tit-for-tat feuds that need never end.

4. Probability of Success
If it is wrong to fight in case you lose – and there is always the possibility of unexpectedly losing – then one should not fight.  Conversely, if one has such overwhelming power that victory is inevitable, there must be diplomatic alternatives to using overwhelming violence.

5. Right Intention
A hollow argument.  The victor is always right, after the event.  Also, if the intention of war is to re-establish peace, then the best outcome is genocide of one’s enemies and destruction of their culture since that best guarantees peace.

6. Proportionality
The minimum amount of force absolutely necessary is often the assassination of one person or one dynastic line.  However, international conventions have long, long agreed that targeted execution of the leaders of sovereign states is against the rules.  Killing millions of the people who happen to live in the same country is OK though.

7. Civilian Casualties
The concept of total war (which is thousands of years old) means that the economy and production ability of the enemy are part of the war machine and valid targets.  Bombing dams to flood valleys is fine.  Armaments factories employ civilians as do the mines and refineries that serve them.  There is no point continuously killing their soldiers if they just keep breeding and equipping more – one must raze their cities, salt their fields, sabotage their infrastructure and starve the population into defeat.  The civilian capacity to raise armies must be destroyed.  The alternative is to not use total war, but then you lose to someone who is.

I do not see how there can be a just war.  Expedient, yes, but just, no.

Chilcot, briefly

At the most sympathetic interpretation, the second Gulf War was initiated on poor quality intelligence, incomplete intelligence, contrary to evidence-based failure to find WMDs, an overly-keen desire to initiate war, a premature decision to initiate war, a lack of collaborative decision making and not listening to objections and alternatives.

So, it should not have been initiated.

Tony Blair is a war-monger.

I don’t think we learned anything we did not know already.

There’s also no discussion going on about alternatives – which is what I have been feeling and saying for years.  Stop looking for reasons to go to war – which is what happened here – but instead look for evidence-based, properly-researched, alternatives.