“Who is doing this? Who is killing us? This great evil. How did it steal into the world?
We were a family. How did it break up and come apart?”
– Private Witt’s thoughts, The Thin Red Line, by Terrence Malick.
Records from the first century portray Jewish peasants – men, women, and children marching on the governor in Caesarea, protesting atrocities of the Roman army, prostrating on the ground, and offering their lives en masse. Since the dawn of warfare, there have been peace movements.
World War I, a century ago, was supposed to be “The war to end war,” but the world has since remained in the grip of almost perpetual warfare. In 1971, inspired by the Quakers, Greenpeace’s first campaign confronted nuclear weapons testing in Alaska, but we certainly cannot claim to have abolished militarism.
In Europe and Asia, over 100 million people perished in World War II, but the war never actually ended. The American and European victors partitioned the oil-rich Middle East, followed by continual war to this day. India broke apart into India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and escalated to war in 1967.
The US, France, Russia, and China fought over Korea and Vietnam, leading to war that spilled into Cambodia and Laos, resulting in some ten million deaths. The Korean War has not ceased, and the nation remains divided, on constant military alert.
Indigenous people fought colonizers throughout history, and even after the world wars, in the 1950s, African communities fought liberation wars against European and American armies in Guinea, Mozambique, Senegal, Angola, Zambia, Zaire, South Africa, Somalia, Liberia, Rwanda, and the Congo.
War has raged in Iraq and Iran, Cyprus, Afghanistan, Central and South America, Chechnya, Kosovo, and now in North Africa, Syria, and Ukraine. Most often, the smaller wars erupt as surrogate wars among the superpowers: The US and NATO, Russia, and China.
The horrors of war in the industrial era feel almost unspeakable: The Nazi holocaust in Germany, the rape of Nanjing, the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the disappeared in Argentina and Guatemala, indigenous cultures devastated, starvation, homelessness, and floods of refugees.
The Thucydides Trap
In the fourth century BC, Sparta, the dominant Greek power, feared the rise of Athens. In his book, The Peloponnesian War, Greek historian Thucydides, pointed out that Sparta’s actions to restrain Athens only increased Athenian fear, and the Athenian response increased Spartan fear. This cycle of hostility among competing superpowers became known to historians as the “Thucydides Trap,” mutual fear escalating to war.
In the 1950s, British anthropologist and ecologist Gregory Bateson refined the Thucydides trap, which he called “schismogenesis,” cycles of mutual fear and dysfunction. Bateson noticed in his work with the Iatmul people of New Guinea that rivalries could escalate, but that a ceremony called “Naven” – involving transvestism and comic theatre – would diffuse conflict and restore peace.
He wondered if this lesson could be applied to modern nation-states. Diplomatic solutions depend on breaking the cycle of hostile feedback loops. Bateson advised western nations with some positive effect during the Russian-American nuclear arms race.
Nevertheless, today, the major imperial powers – the US, EU, China, and Russia – appear locked in the divisive, dysfunctional cycle of fear that Thucydides and Bateson described, although modern warfare has acquired some new twists.
Today, smaller nations and rebel groups fight surrogate battles on behalf of imperial patrons. Modern warfare is also fought with computers, witnessed in cyber-attacks among Iran, the US, Russia, and China. War has always been about greed, acquiring land or resources, but modern warfare also appears as a currency conflict, fought for control of the entire global economy.
We can witness this financial warfare in the relationship between the US and China, the worlds two largest militaries. Both nations maintain fragile financial systems that show signs of impending collapse, propped up with fiat currencies, banking fraud, and increasingly tenuous monetary schemes.
Since the end of World War II, the US has been the dominant economic empire. The 1944 Breton Woods Conference hosted by the US, with 43 invited allies, established the US dollar as the global trade reserve currency, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and currency exchange rates based on gold.
Since then, all large, international trade – in oil, gold, critical resources, and currencies – has been conducted in US dollars, forcing all participating nations to hold dollars, thus inflating the US dollar value.
In 1971, the US abandoned the gold standard, which allowed the bankers to create US currency out of thin air, further devaluing the dollar. These schemes have given the US unfair economic advantage over all other nations, but those nations are fighting back.
The currency war
The modern currency wars appear as a classic Thucydides trap. The US, fearing the rise of other nations, has used their economic advantage to restrict trade, destroy competing institutions, and overthrow weak nations. Other nations responded in 2009 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, the first BRIC meeting, when Brazil, Russia, India and China discussed trade among themselves without the US dollar.
China organized currency swaps, free of US dollars, among the BRIC nations, with the Asian Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and later with South Africa, Iran, Pakistan, and Mongolia.
China also established an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to rival the IMF and World Bank. “The AIIB,” said China’s Finance Minister Lou Jiwei, with diplomatic understatement, “is a milestone in the reform of global economic governance system.”
The US and Japan declined to join the Asian bank, but some G8 members – France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and Russia – joined, along with Australia, India, South Korea, Indonesia, and Brazil. The member nations are now proposing a “basket of currencies” to replace the US dollar as the global reserve currency.
Since these economic moves threatened the US monopoly, the escalation of fear was underway. The US retaliated by claiming regulatory jurisdiction over the Bank of China because it had a branch in New York. The US coerced allies to join sanctions against Russia and Iran, and they blacklisted one of China’s largest telecom companies, ZTE.
China responded by expanding its global pay network, UnionPay, competing with western banks, Maestro, Visa, and Mastercard. Then, in 2015, China began dumping billions in US Treasure bonds.
China knows that the US dollar is artificially over-valued, and expects that US assets will eventually decline in value. The US debt has reached over $19 trillion dollars, the nation runs a $1 trillion annual deficit, and faces over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
The US debt is growing faster than its economy, and although this enriches western bankers, the US is technically bankrupt, buttressed by the requirement that other nations hold their inflated currency. China, however, cannot dump all their US Treasury debt onto the world market at once without crashing the dollar too fast, and losing value themselves, so they are moving slowly.
However, the Asian Infrastructure bank, non-Dollar/Euro international bank machines, and the non-dollar trade in oil, disrupts the US petro-dollar monopoly. This makes the US bankers and elite even more nervous, and this currency war has spilled over into real war, in which people die, nations collapse, resources are squandered, and Earth’s fragile ecosystems suffer.
The shooting war
The US invaded Iraq in 2003, based on the deceit about “weapons of mass destruction.” Once this pretence proved false, people wondered about the real reason. The obvious answer is “oil,” which is true, but not that simple. In looking for the cause of war, ask: “Who benefits?”
The underlying reason for the US invasion of Iraq appears now to be a response to the threats against their petro-dollar monopoly. In the 1990s, OPEC, Russia, Iran, and Iraq, began negotiating future oil contracts in Euros and Roubles.
In 2003, the Financial Times reported, “Saddam Hussein in 2000 insisted Iraq’s oil be sold for Euros.” The ability to buy and sell oil in Euros, Roubles, or Yuan would reduce worldwide demand for US dollars, expose the inflated dollar, and begin the inevitable decline of value in US assets. US bankers and elite investors wanted to avoid this.
After the Iraq invasion, the western bankers and oil companies got what they wanted, for a while. They overturned the Iraq/Russia oil deal in Euros and retained their petro-dollar monopoly.
The western banks got to finance another $2 trillion in war debt, the weapons and engineering companies – Lockheed, Boeing, Halliburton – got their fat multi-billion, no-bid contracts, and the private war-making outfits – Blackwater, Xe, Unity Resources, CACI International, L-3 Services – got fat contracts for doing the dirty work of killing civilians and torturing prisoners.
Hundreds of thousands died, communities collapsed, children starved, trillions in resources were squandered, while the disintegration of Iraq and US financing of Syrian rebels has given us the charming spectacle of ISIS. Nevertheless, the corporations and banks profited, and the US dollar clung to its reserve monopoly.
The US, acting out the cycle of fear as Sparta did 2,400 years ago, now has 1,000 military bases around the world. Counting the off-book expenses, they spend some trillion-dollars annually on warfare to maintain their tenuous power.
Creating peace has always been left to the people. Here are some organizations that are helping:
Society of Friends, the “Quakers,” who inspired the early Greenpeace campaigns: quaker.org
The Fellowship of Reconciliation, Interfaith Peace Organization in the US: forusa.org
Amnesty International, peace and human rights: amnesty.org
Doctors without Borders: doctorswithoutborders.org
Control Arms Campaign, to diminish the arms trade. controlarms.org
African Great Lakes Initiative: aglifpt.org with a great film about their Rwanda Healing Project.
Alternatives to Violence, peace and violence-response training: avp.international
Halo Trust, to eliminate land mines: halotrust.org
Human Rights Watch: hrw.org
Seeds of Peace, teaching conflict resolution: seedsofpeace.org
Orgnaization for World Peace: theowp.org
Millennium People’s Assembly, advocating a permanent UN Global People’s Assembly: ourvoices.org
Peace Boat, in Japan: peaceboat.org
See also, Military spending is going up. Don’t let it take us down by Jen Maman.
And please add your local peace groups in the comment section below. Thank you.
*Rex Weyler is an author, journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International.