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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Case Against a New Arms Race

Photo: Russian nuclear missile during a military parade in Moscow, June 2020 Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

Nuclear Weapons Are Not the Future

By Rose Gottemoeller

Foreign Affairs

August 9, 2022 - As Russian President Vladimir Putin marched his army into Ukraine on February 24, he issued dire warnings to the West. Any state that sent its troops to fight Russia, he said, would face “ominous consequences”—the likes of which the world has “never seen in [its] entire history.” His country was ready to act and had made “the necessary decisions” to respond if attacked. “I hope that my words will be heard,” he declared.

Putin didn’t explicitly state what those consequences would be, or what attacks he had in mind. But to anyone listening, the message was clear enough. If the West directly intervened in Ukraine, Russia would use its nuclear arsenal.

Putin’s invocation of nuclear war has reignited debates about deterrence and the utility of nuclear weapons. It has led Admiral Charles Richard, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command responsible for nuclear deterrence, to argue that the United States may need more nuclear weapons to deter and defend against Russia and also China, which are both modernizing their nuclear forces. “We do not necessarily have to match weapon for weapon,” he said in March. “But it is clear what we have today is the absolute minimum.” Proponents of a nuclear buildup point out that in the coming years, China could rapidly acquire more nuclear weapons, or that Iran, a newcomer, could develop and deploy them for the first time. The United States, the argument runs, risks weakening its own security if it doesn’t amass a larger nuclear arsenal to maintain its advantage over rivals.

But it would be a mistake for the United States, or any state, to embark on a nuclear arms race during this time, when a revolution is afoot in other types of military technology. New defense innovations promise not just to transform warfare but also to undermine the logic and utility of nuclear weapons. With advances in sensing technology, states may soon be able to track and target their adversaries’ nuclear missiles, making the weapons easier to eliminate. And with nuclear weapons more vulnerable, innovations such as drone swarms—large numbers of small automated weapons that collectively execute a coordinated attack—will increasingly define war. A fixation on building more nuclear weapons will only distract from this technological revolution, making it harder for the United States to master the advances that will shape the battlefield of the future.

NOWHERE TO HIDE

Although the Soviet Union considered using nuclear weapons for warfighting, for decades, nuclear weapons have primarily been seen as instruments of deterrence. These bombs, the thinking goes, are so destructive and invite such uncompromising retaliation that their use in wartime imperils the very existence of the human race. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev captured this idea at a 1985 summit when they declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Students, Teachers Call For Stricter Gun Laws at Beaver's March For Our Lives Rally



Photo: Community organizer Julian Taylor speaks behind students at Beaver County’s March For Our Lives rally on Thursday, calling for stricter gun laws. “These are our future lawyers, our future presidents, our future leaders,” he said. “It’s time for us to have their back.”

By Chrissy Suttles

Beaver County Times

June 10, 2922 - BEAVER — In April, Iain Eastman’s former student opened fire on two teens in a Chippewa Township parking lot.

Those bullets missed the intended targets – instead striking a nearby structure – but it’s not the first time Eastman’s been touched by gun violence.

A Blackhawk High science teacher and father, Eastman is also a hunter and gun owner of three decades. Responsible firearm owners, he said, have an obligation to advocate for common sense gun laws in America.

As an educator, he vividly remembers his first in-service day dedicated to active shooter training in the wake of Sandy Hook’s massacre. Rather than improving curriculum, he spent the day learning how to disarm an assailant and build barricades to protect his students.

“There’s not a safe place anymore,” he told a crowd of about 100 people on the steps of the Beaver County Courthouse Thursday night. “There’s no ‘Beaver bubble’ that’s gonna protect us anymore. I used to teach in Baltimore. Four years after I left, there was a shooting on the first day of school in the cafeteria.”

Blackhawk High science teacher Iain Eastman speaks at Beaver County's March For Our Lives rally in Beaver Thursday.

Just weeks after an 18-year-old man slaughtered 19 children and two teachers with an AR-15-style rifle at a Texas elementary school, local residents, politicians and activists honored the victims and demanded stricter gun laws at a March For Our Lives rally in Beaver.

Eastman said he knows gun control works because fully automatic weapons – as opposed to semi-automatic weapons like AR-15-style rifles used in Uvalde and other mass shootings – are already highly regulated in America and rarely end up in the hands of civilians.

'What if that happened to me?'

Among the demonstrators Thursday were local students who shared the trauma of enduring regular active shooter drills and questioning their safety in the classroom. One Aliquippa Middle School student whose first name is Dashawn said he was afraid to return to school after hearing about the recent Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“What if that person came to my school?” he asked. “It just had me thinking…what if that happened to me? How would my mom feel?”

Residents of all ages honored the victims of gun violence and demanded stricter gun laws at a March For Our Lives rally in Beaver.

Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker’s sister, Diedre, was shot and killed by her former boyfriend at her Valley Terrace apartment more than a decade ago.

“She was murdered by a man that should never have had a gun, stole a gun and shot my sister,” he said. “My mom still cries. I still cry. I miss her every day. It’s been 12 years, and I still wish I could hear her voice in my head. But I can’t.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Understanding 'The Correlation of Forces'


Why Russia Fumbled in Ukraine, China Lost Its Way, and America Should Exercise Restraint

By Michael Klare

Tomdispatch

In Western military circles, it’s common to refer to the “balance of forces” — the lineup of tanks, planes, ships, missiles, and battle formations on the opposing sides of any conflict. If one has twice as many combat assets as its opponent and the leadership abilities on each side are approximately equal, it should win. 

Based on this reasoning, most Western analysts assumed that the Russian army — with a seemingly overwhelming advantage in numbers and equipment — would quickly overpower Ukrainian forces. Of course, things haven’t exactly turned out that way. The Ukrainian military has, in fact, fought the Russians to a near-standstill. The reasons for that will undoubtedly be debated among military theorists for years to come. When they do so, they might begin with Moscow’s surprising failure to pay attention to a different military equation — the “correlation of forces” — originally developed in the former Soviet Union.

That notion differs from the “balance of forces” by placing greater weight on intangible factors. It stipulates that the weaker of two belligerents, measured in conventional terms, can still prevail over the stronger if its military possesses higher morale, stronger support at home, and the backing of important allies. Such a calculation, if conducted in early February, would have concluded that Ukraine’s prospects were nowhere near as bad as either Russian or Western analysts generally assumed, while Russia’s were far worse. And that should remind us of just how crucial an understanding of the correlation of forces is in such situations, if gross miscalculations and tragedies are to be avoided.

The Concept in Practice Before Ukraine

The notion of the correlation of forces has a long history in military and strategic thinking. Something like it, for example, can be found in the epilogue to Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel, War and Peace. Writing about Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, Tolstoy observed that wars are won not by the superior generalship of charismatic leaders but through the fighting spirit of common soldiers taking up arms against a loathsome enemy.

Such a perspective would later be incorporated into the military doctrine of the Russian Bolsheviks, who sought to calculate not only troop and equipment strength, but also the degree of class consciousness and support from the masses on each side of any potential conflict. Following the 1917 revolution in the midst of World War I, Russian leader Vladimir Lenin argued, for example, against a continuing war with Germany because the correlation of forces wasn’t yet right for the waging of “revolutionary war” against the capitalist states (as urged by his compatriot Leon Trotsky). “Summing up the arguments in favor of an immediate revolutionary war,” Lenin said, “it must be concluded that such a policy would perhaps respond to the needs of mankind to strive for the beautiful, the spectacular, and the striking, but that it would be totally disregarding the objective correlation of class forces and material factors at the present stage of the socialist revolution already begun.”

For Bolsheviks of his era, the correlation of forces was a “scientific” concept, based on an assessment of both material factors (numbers of troops and guns on each side) and qualitative factors (the degree of class consciousness involved). In 1918, for example, Lenin observed that “the poor peasantry in Russia… is not in a position immediately and at the present moment to begin a serious revolutionary war. To ignore this objective correlation of class forces on the present question would be a fatal blunder.” Hence, in March 1918, the Russians made a separate peace with the German-led Central Powers, ceding much territory to them and ending their country’s role in the world war.

As the Bolshevik Party became an institutionalized dictatorship under Joseph Stalin, the correlation-of-forces concept grew into an article of faith based on a belief in the ultimate victory of socialism over capitalism. During the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras of the 1960s and 1970s, Soviet leaders regularly claimed that world capitalism was in irreversible decline and the socialist camp, augmented by revolutionary regimes in the “Third World,” was destined to achieve global supremacy.

Such optimism prevailed until the late 1970s, when the socialist tide in the Third World began to recede. Most significant in this regard was a revolt against the communist government in Afghanistan. When the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party in Kabul came under attack by Islamic insurgents, or mujahideen, Soviet forces invaded and occupied the country. Despite sending ever larger troop contingents there and employing heavy firepower against the mujahideen and their local supporters, the Red Army was finally forced to limp home in defeat in 1989, only to see the Soviet Union itself implode not long after.

For U.S. strategists, the Soviet decision to intervene and, despite endless losses, persevere was proof that the Russian leaders had ignored the correlation of forces, a vulnerability to be exploited by Washington. In the 1980s, under President Ronald Reagan, it became U.S. policy to arm and assist anticommunist insurgents globally with the aim of toppling pro-Soviet regimes — a strategy sometimes called the Reagan Doctrine. Huge quantities of munitions were given to the mujahideen and rebels like the Contras in Nicaragua, usually via secret channels set up by the Central Intelligence Agency.

While not always successful, these efforts generally bedeviled the Soviet leadership. As Secretary of State George Shultz wrote gleefully in 1985, while the U.S. defeat in Vietnam had led the Soviets to believe “that what they called the global ‘correlation of forces’ was shifting in their favor,” now, thanks to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere, “we have reason to be confident that ‘the correlation of forces’ is shifting back in our favor.”

And yes, the Soviet failure in Afghanistan did indeed reflect an inability to properly weigh the correlation of all the factors involved — the degree to which the mujahideen’s morale outmatched that of the Soviets, the relative support for war among the Soviet and Afghan populations, and the role of outside help provided by the CIA. But the lessons hardly ended there. Washington never considered the implications of arming Arab volunteers under the command of Osama bin Laden or allowing him to create an international jihadist enterprise, “the base” (al-Qaeda), which later turned on the U.S., leading to the 9/11 terror attacks and a disastrous 20-year “global war on terror” that consumed trillions of dollars and debilitated the U.S. military without eliminating the threat of terrorism. American leaders also failed to calculate the correlation of forces when undertaking their own war in Afghanistan, ignoring the factors that led to the Soviet defeat, and so suffering the very same fate 32 years later.

Putin’s Ukraine Miscalculations

Much has already been said about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s miscalculations regarding Ukraine. They all began, however, with his failure to properly assess the correlation of forces involved in the conflict to come and that, eerily enough, resulted from Putin’s misreading of the meaning of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan. Continued

Monday, January 31, 2022

Can Ukrainians Survive East-West Conflict & Their Own Bad Actors?

 



The ethnic and cultural history within the formation of Ukraine, among other things, makes the resolution of the current situation immensely challenging.

By Jerry Harris and Garret Virchick

Ukraine has once again exploded into contention between Russia and the West. Where should the Left stand in this conflict? More importantly, caught between East and West, how can Ukraine resolve its internal problems based on its independence and self-determination?

To understand today’s situation, we need to start with a bit of history. In 1654 significant parts of modern-day Ukraine were incorporated into Tsarist Russia. The southern and eastern sections were added in 1920, while the far western region integrated in the 1940s, after 200 years under Austro-Hungarian rule. Crimea was added in 1954, and Ukraine as a modern nation came into existence in 1991, when 93 percent of the country approved a referendum declaring itself an independent state.

But that overwhelming vote in favor of independence contrasts starkly with the diversity of opinions about the current state of affairs in the country. There are deep divisions in Ukraine stemming from the regional divisions of history, language, identity, culture, and religion.

INDEPENDENCE AND THE RISE OF THE OLIGARCHS

After independence, the economy of Ukraine revolved around the export of raw materials, such as agricultural goods, iron ore, and coal. The eastern part of the country was industrialized and closely integrated with Russia. The western parts are more agrarian and looked increasingly towards the European market. The oligarchs that came to power through the privatization of state-owned corporations did little to develop the internal market, instead exporting billions to offshore tax havens.

As in many countries, globalization followed by the worldwide economic collapse in 2007 wreaked havoc in Ukraine. GDP fell, national debt grew, and millions left the country to find work in Russia and the EU, causing a 13% drop in the population. This economic crisis and the corruption of the ruling class brought on the recent turmoil. Although outside interference by Europe and the U.S. played a role in stoking the anger of the people, the root of the rebellion that took place in 2013 wasn’t foreign manipulation but internal conditions.

EUROINTEGRATION VS NATIONALISM

The modern globalized economy has seen a heightening of the contradiction between transnational capitalists and national capitalists. Transnational capitalists in Ukraine called for deeper integration into the European economy. These billionaires advocated ending protections for the internal markets in exchange for recognition from Europe, which would destroy various sectors of industry and increase unemployment. This strategy was opposed by national capitalists still attached to the internal economy and lacking sufficient capital to join the transnational elite.

This contradiction laid the groundwork for political upheaval in 2013, as President Victor Yanukovych sought loans to meet Ukraine’s skyrocketing debt obligations. The $17.5 billion offered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came with neoliberal “reforms” that the transnational capitalists favored. The $15 billion Russian package contained no such reform demands and was backed by Ukraine’s national bourgeoisie.

Yanukovych vacillated between the two packages. His political base was in the country’s pro-Russian east. In the end he opted for the Russian package, which outraged Ukrainians in the country’s west who wanted stronger ties with Europe. This set off massive demonstrations that came to be called Euromaidan, after Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in Kyiv where the protests took place. The civil unrest combined with government repression became increasingly violent on both sides with 130 confirmed deaths. By February Yanukovych was forced to resign and fled to Russia.

DEMOCRACY OR NEOFASCISM?

While the mass of Maidan protesters were largely liberal pro-Western activists, the absence of progressive leadership left a vacuum that was filled by anti-Russian right-wing nationalists, many of whom celebrated the pro-Nazi activities of Ukrainian fascists in World War II. With an ideological, cohesive, and motivated membership, they were able to play a leadership role.

Yanukovych was replaced as president by one of the lesser Ukrainian oligarchs, Petro Poroshenko. Many people in the eastern region felt that this violated the national elections. Some had never fully accepted the 1991 split with Russia. A movement arose that began to call for autonomy or independence. In response, the new government in Kyiv launched armed attacks which they called an anti-terrorist offensive, even though the eastern protests were no different than the beginnings of the protests in the west. Ethnic and regional differences were inflamed. Supporters of the new government labeled Eastern Ukrainians as vulgar, ignorant, and less educated. In the east, the new government was painted as a fascist junta, a threat to Russian language and cultural rights.

This conflict led to civil war. The government formed by Poroshenko was in the hands of neoliberal pro-Western elites. But proto-fascist forces were an important part of the governing alliance. The Svoboda party, which claims the tradition of the pro-Nazi Ukrainian Insurgent Army that participated in the mass killing of 70,000 Jewish and Polish citizens in World War II, received six cabinet positions. In addition, to help put down the revolt in the east, right-wing militias like the Azov battalion were recruited. The Azov battalion carries the Wolfsangel flag, formerly used by Hitler’s SS.

Poroshenko was ultimately defeated by Volodymyr Zelensky in the 2019 presidential elections. Zelensky, a reality TV star, rode to victory on an anti-corruption campaign. But his popularity has been waning and his regime is becoming more autocratic. He recently banned an opposition news site and sanctioned its editor.

Ukraine regions. Map by Peter Fitzgerald, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

RUSSIA, CRIMEA, AND THE ROOTS OF THE CURRENT CONFLICT

Under attack and labeled as “terrorists,” the people in eastern Ukraine organized armed self-defense militias to combat the western military offensive. But the battle did not stay internal. Russian arms and volunteers quickly crossed the border to join the fight. Many of these volunteers were reactionary pan-Slavic nationalists. Alexander Borodai, who became prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in the Donbas region of Ukraine, came from a group that published the far-right newspaper Zavtra. His rebel commander, Igor Strelkov, is known as a Christian religious zealot.

In a violation of national sovereignty, Russia invaded Crimea in early 2014 and eventually annexed the region. Vladimir Putin maintained that if the people of Crimea or Novorossiya (a proposed confederation of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in Donbas) want to secede, they have the legitimate democratic right to do so. Left scholar and activist Alexander Buzgalin pointed out Putin’s hypocrisy, given his denial of democratic rights to nationalities within Russia that also want self-determination.

Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea led to economic sanctions by the West. As Russian Marxist Boris Kargarlitsky points out, “The situation confronting our elites in this respect is more or less straightforward; they cannot enter actively into confrontation with the West without dealing crushing blows to their own interests, to their own capital holdings and to their own networks, methods of rule and way of life.” According to Credit Suisse, Russia’s 110 billionaires control 35 percent of the nation’s wealth. There is no doubt that the economic boycott has hurt.

In the West, Gideon Rachman, the political editor for the Financial Times made similar observations: “The deep connections between politics and business in modern Russia mean that the country’s most powerful people often have a direct personal stake in the continued prosperity of Western Europe. They have business relationships to maintain, investments to protect, houses in the south of France, children at school in Britain…people with international business interests tend not be nationalists. They cannot afford to be.” But this also held true for Western transnational capitalists; the ties are a two-way street crossing borders and nationalist politics. Hurting Russian economic interests hurt Western interests as well.

While the sanctions have hurt, in the long term Russia’s strategy seems to focus on keeping Ukraine out of NATO, protecting Russian language and cultural rights, and maintaining strong ties with the Ukrainian economy.

NATO AND THE RUSSIAN BUILDUP ON THE BORDER

The Ukrainian people are bearing the brunt of the conflict between competing capitalist interests. Transnational capitalists want a country integrated into Europe, and they unite with proto-fascists to ensure that direction. Capitalists rooted in the internal economy support right-wing nationalists and religious zealots to maintain their power. Russia amasses troops on the border demanding that Ukraine not join NATO. Western elites say it’s up to Ukrainians to decide, while holding meetings with Russia without Ukrainian representatives. But what do the Ukrainian people really want?

In a recent article published in LeftEast, Volodymyr Ishchenko points out that Ukrainians are far from unified about NATO. He calls the Euromaidan movement a deficient revolution that did not form any national unity, but simply benefited a section of elite oligarchs. Ukraine’s neutral status is ingrained in its constitution, which expressly forbids it from entering any military bloc. In fact, NATO membership was supported by only a small minority prior to the events of 2014. Although support for NATO membership jumped up to 40 percent after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it may still be a minority opinion in the population.

Ishchenko further points out the reasons for the increase in support. One is that Russia’s invasion convinced previously skeptical Ukrainians to seek protection against further Russian hostilities. But also, and perhaps more importantly, the survey no longer included the most pro-Russian Ukrainian citizens in the east of the country!

IS THERE A PATH FORWARD?

In December of 1917 the First All-Ukrainian Congress of Councils declared the formation of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. The Congress formed a close alliance with the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and after a long civil war, in 1922 became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These first worker-led revolutions inspired millions of people around the world. But while there were tremendous advances made by the working classes, there were also serious mistakes made in these first attempts at building socialist society. Socialism in Ukraine ended in failure with the breakup of the USSR in 1991. To build a truly democratic socialism today it will take a critical examination of both the internal and external factors that led to this collapse.

In the past 31 years post-Soviet Ukraine has done little to solve the problems that arose during those 75 years of Soviet-style socialism. And it is equally true that geopolitical maneuvers by the United States and EU in the West or Putin’s Russia in the East will not provide the answers. Ukraine’s problems must be solved by the diverse sectors of Ukrainian society.

To that end, the U.S. Left must oppose any attempt by the Biden administration to include Ukraine in NATO. The expansion of NATO is doing little to provide peace and stability. Rather its move into Eastern Europe is seen as a provocation, heightening the tensions in the region. CODEPINK, the women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarization, has put out a petition demanding NATO and the US stop escalating the conflict in Ukraine.

Ishchenko suggests that the Minsk Accords, which brought about a ceasefire after the Russian invasion of Crimea and massive fighting, might offer a path forward by involving the pro-Russian, breakaway eastern portions of Ukraine with the rest of the country in decision-making about the country’s future. But there is no international body with the legitimacy and the will to elbow Russia and NATO out of the way and bring all factions of Ukrainians to the table.

As this article goes to press tensions are high in the region, with Russian troops amassing on the border of Ukraine. While nothing is certain, a Russian invasion is a strong possibility. When and if that happens, civil war within Ukraine is likely. There is already maneuvering in Kyiv. Poroshenko recently returned to Kyiv to face charges leveled by Zelensky, who accuses him of treason and support for terrorism during his tenure as president, when he allowed the purchase of coal from mines controlled by Russian-backed separatists in the east. Poroshenko, who has a base in Ukrainian nationalist politics, is criticizing Zelensky for giving ground to Russia in peace negotiations.

Short of the emergence of a progressive people’s movement in Ukraine, there may be little that can be done to stabilize the country and prevent bloodshed. But what is also needed, given the role of Putin’s Russia, is a strategy the Bolsheviks called “revolutionary defeatism.” Lenin called on revolutionaries to wage a campaign advocating the defeat of their own government during World War I as the Tsar sent countless Russian soldiers to die in that imperialist war. Progressives in Russia should consider this if Putin decides to invade Ukraine. Learning the lessons of the past is the order of day for all of us working to build a better, more socialist future.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Stop the new Nuclear Weapons Money Pit Missile, the 'Ground Based Deterrent System'


By Kevin Martin

Peace Action

The U.S. is in the early stages of developing a new nuclear weapons system, an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) dubbed the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent or GBSD but more accurately described as the Money Pit Missile. Its initial price tag is $100 billion, with a lifetime cost of well over twice that. The GBSD is designed to replace the Minuteman III missiles now deployed in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. Northrop Grumman serves as the main contractor, with many subcontractors involved as usual in large military projects. 

1. Legislation:Critics, including Peace Action and dozens of other organizations, think the GBSD is too expensive and unnecessary, even dangerous and provocative, and runs counter to the direction the US and the world needs to go in, toward eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide. The program’s fate will likely be decided this year, so action to stop this monstrosity before it gets too much traction (and funding) is timely. Following are resources for education and action:

U.S. Senator Ed Markey’s and Representative Ro Khanna’s ICBM Act (Investing in Cures Before Missiles Act)

2. Articles/Reports:

Peace Action President Kevin Martin’s op-ed in Common Dreams

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (long but good article by Elisabeth Eaves, it delves into local, national and global aspects of the issue.)

Excellent op-ed by Judith Mohling of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

The Guardian on the early state of play on the issue

Covert Action Magazine’s article adds information on policy and politics.

Federation of American Scientists’ report on Alternatives to GBSD. Another report is to be published soon. 

Report by William Hartung (Center for International Policy) on the special interest lobby behind Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Can History Teach Us Anything About The Future Of War – And Peace?

 


Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) march in Beijing, China, 2019. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

A decade on from psychologist Steven Pinker’s declaration that violence is declining, historians show no sign of agreeing a truce

By Laura Spinney

The Guardian

Nov 7, 2021 - Ten years ago, the psychologist Steven Pinker published The Better Angels of Our Nature, in which he argued that violence in almost all its forms – including war – was declining. The book was ecstatically received in many quarters, but then came the backlash, which shows no signs of abating. In September, 17 historians published a riposte to Pinker, suitably entitled The Darker Angels of Our Nature, in which they attacked his “fake history” to “debunk the myth of nonviolent modernity”. Some may see this as a storm in an intellectual teacup, but the central question – can we learn anything about the future of warfare from the ancient past? – remains an important one.

Pinker thought we could and he supported his claim of a long decline with data stretching thousands of years back into prehistory. But among his critics are those who say that warfare between modern nation states, which are only a few hundred years old, has nothing in common with conflict before that time, and therefore it’s too soon to say if the supposed “long peace” we’ve been enjoying since the end of the second world war is a blip or a sustained trend.

In 2018, for example, computer scientist Aaron Clauset of the University of Colorado Boulder crunched data on wars fought between 1823 and 2003 and concluded that we’d have to wait at least another century to find out. Clauset doesn’t think it would help to add older data into the mix; indeed, he thinks it would muddy the picture.

“It’s up to researchers who study substate-level violence to substantiate their claims that the dynamics of such violence are relevant to the dynamics of war and, in my view, they haven’t done a great job there,” he says.

Most researchers accept that there is a difference between war and interpersonal violence – and that these two things are governed by different forces – but there is disagreement over where to draw the line between them. Historian and archaeologist Ian Morris of Stanford University, author of War! What Is it Good For? (2014), is among those who say that the nature of collective violence hasn’t changed much in millennia, it’s just that human groups were smaller in the past. For him, therefore, a massacre of a couple of dozen of hunter-gatherers in Sudan around about 13,000 years ago, the earliest known example of collective violence, is relevant to a discussion of modern warfare.

Archaeologist Detlef Gronenborn of the RömischGermanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz, Germany, agrees. In 2015, he and others described a massacre among Europe’s earliest farmers at a place called SchöneckKilianstädten in Germany, about 7,000 years ago. More than two dozen individuals were killed by blunt force instruments or arrows and dumped in a mass grave, their lower legs having been systematically broken either just before or just after death. The absence of young women from the group suggested that the attackers may have kidnapped them. Gronenborn says that massacres of entire communities were frequent occurrences in Europe at that time and that one of their hallmarks, judging by the human remains, was the desire to erase the victims’ identity. “The only difference between then and now is that of scale,” he says.

But while some researchers may agree with Pinker that prehistoric and modern warfare are essentially the same phenomenon, they don’t necessarily agree with him that the evidence points to a longterm decline. Pinker based his claim that prehistory was extremely violent on around 20 archaeological sites spanning 14,000 years. Those sites unequivocally attest to ancient violence, says historian Dag Lindström of Uppsala University in Sweden, “but they cannot be used for quantitative comparative conclusions”. We simply have no way of knowing how representative they were.

Collective violence has been one way in which societies have reorganized themselves to become more humane and prosperous

“The further you go back in time, the more difficult it becomes to have an accurate assessment of how many people died in battle,” says historian Philip Dwyer of the University of Newcastle in Australia, who coedited The Darker Angels of Our Nature. Civilian death counts are even less reliable, he says, and have likely been significantly underestimated throughout history. In Dwyer’s view, all war-related statistics are suspect, undermining attempts to identify long-term trends.

Others think the statistics can be informative. Gronenborn’s work is feeding into larger-scale efforts to identify and explain patterns in collective violence. One such effort is the Historical Peace Index (HPI), a collaboration between Oxford University and the group behind Seshat: Global History Databank – a scientific research project of the nonprofit Evolution Institute – to map warfare globally over the past 5,000 years. Their goal, as the name suggests, is to try to understand the causes and consequences of war, with a view to building more peaceful and stable societies.

The argument of those taking this kind of approach is that the more data you gather, the more you can identify meaningful patterns. Gronenborn, for example, says that it is beginning to look as if collective violence was cyclical in neolithic Europe. One hypothesis he and others are testing is that mounting internal social tensions fuelled explosions of violence, with external shocks such as climate fluctuations acting as triggers.

The awkward truth is that collective violence has been one way in which societies have reorganised themselves to become more humane and prosperous. But as societies changed, so did the reasons they went to war.

“People always want to know: what was the earliest war?” says bioarchaeologist Linda Fibiger of Edinburgh University. “But it would be more interesting to ask: how did neolithic people define violence? What was their concept of war?”

Any debate over the decline – or not – of war must take into account its changing nature, Dwyer says, adding that it didn’t stop changing 200 years ago. In the decades since the second world war, for example, major international conflicts have become less frequent, but small wars have proliferated. This has happened, argues Yale University historian Samuel Moyn in his new book, Humane, in part because over the 20th century the justification for war shifted to peacekeeping and the defence of human rights, ensuring that war shrank in scale but became “for ever”.

The trouble with small-scale wars, as Clauset and others have found, is that they have a strong tendency to escalate, especially if they go on for a long time. In 2019, political scientist Bear Braumoeller of Ohio State University published Only the Dead, in which he argued that the risk of escalation today was as high as it had been when European leaders sent their troops to war in the summer of 1914, believing they would be home by Christmas.

“When it comes to the propensity of war to spiral out of control and produce mindboggling death tolls, we live in the same world that they lived in,” he wrote.

Why war escalates so easily is not well understood, but Braumoeller says it’s a “good bet” that technology is a factor. Scientist Peter Turchin of the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna, one of Seshat’s cofounders, agrees. He says that stepwise advances in military technology – he calls them “military revolutions” – may have been major drivers of collective violence.

The military revolution, singular, is the term historians use to describe the period of rapid technological and social change that began in the 16th century with the advent of portable firearms. But Turchin says there were others. One of the most important got under way about 3,000 years ago, across a swath of Eurasia south of the steppes, when archers armed with irontipped arrows first mounted horses.

Each time, the technology handed an advantage to those who had it, stimulating a technological and eventually social arms race. And that technology wasn’t even necessarily devised for military ends. The farming revolution, which ushered in the neolithic period, was also a military revolution, because the advances that gave farmers new tools also gave them new weapons. And some have argued that war became more lethal in the early 1800s in part because of the newfound ease of moving troops and supplies by rail.

“The upshot was that, with more soldiers on a given battlefield, it took more deaths on both sides to win a battle and therefore more deaths to win a war,” Braumoeller says.

Many people perceive technological change to be accelerating. The 20th century saw at least one military revolution, as a result of which we have nuclear weapons and the capacity to wage war in space. The early nuclear weapons were so destructive and so bad at hitting targets that they acted as effective deterrents and helped usher in this current period of stability, Morris says, but counterintuitively, we may have more grounds to worry now that they are generally smaller and more precise.

Morris sees parallels between the period we’re living through now and the late 19th century when international conflicts were few, but small-scale insurgencies and civil wars proliferated, and some of them, such as the Boer war, spiraled out of control. That long peace was finally shattered in 1914 and this one will be eventually too, he thinks.

What the cause and who the belligerent parties will be in the war that breaks the peace is not yet possible to say of course, though there has been much speculation – for example that it may involve Chinese military action against Taiwan. Nevertheless, for those who believe that the past can be instructive about the present, just not in the way Pinker does, Better Angels recalls a slew of books published on the eve of the first world war that proclaimed that war between the great powers was a thing of the past.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

America Doomed? Or Huge Opening for the Progressive Agenda?

 
















By Thom Hartmann
Independent Media Institute

Some Americans feel like we’re living through a “last days” biblical Revelation kind of scenario.

There’s a worldwide pandemic that is even killing our children; climate change has drowned the East Coast while the West Coast is on fire; emergency workers and firefighters are struggling with Covid; and a group of rightwing billionaires and religious freaks have seized control of one of our political parties and are hell-bent on pushing us back to the 19th century, crushing democracy and rolling back voting rights while taking ever-more control over women and minorities.

Many Americans are being crushed by this. People losing their homes to wildfire or floods; losing their jobs to an economy battered by recession, pandemic and environmental crisis; facing huge medical bills simply because they got sick in America. Others are caught in doom-scrolling loops, obsessing on all the bad news that fills our airwaves.

For some it’s so overwhelming they simply give up or check out. They retreat altogether from reading the news and participating in politics, immersing themselves instead in alcohol, yoga or Netflix.

Some will give up and walk away from political activism, giving the billionaires, trolls and the GOP what they want; others realize the importance of doubling down now on our activism.



But, as the old cliché goes, times of great crisis are also truly moments of great opportunity, and, while some will give up and walk away from political activism, giving the billionaires, trolls and the GOP what they want, others realize the importance of doubling down now on our activism.

My SiriusXM colleague Joe Madison has taught me the difference between “movements” and “moments.”

In 1872, Susan B Anthony voted in the presidential election; she was immediately arrested and convicted the following year for voting while female. It was a moment that seemed like a setback, but it was also a turning point that reinvigorated a movement.

When Reconstruction failed in 1876, it was a terrible moment for African-Americans, but it didn’t stop the broad and growing movement to create a true multiracial, multiethnic democracy in this country. Examples from that time to today number in the thousands, and thankfully activists never gave up.

We have a Republican Party entirely captured by rightwing billionaires and polluting industries; members of the GOP are now calling for “bloodshed“ as a way of solving political conflict. Some participated in an attempt to seize the US Capitol and assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

The so-far-successful effort to use vigilantes to intimidate low-income women in Texas is poised to spread across the United States through newly energized Republican-controlled legislatures. Five hardcore rightwingers on the Supreme Court have given it their stamp of approval.

Republicans, again with SCOTUS approval, have changed voting laws in 19 states now so they can rig elections to maintain their power in defiance of the majority of American voters.

This is a true moment of crisis on so many different levels, which is why it’s not only critical that we seize this moment to throw ourselves into meaningful political activism, but also to take care of ourselves at deep emotional and spiritual levels.

Louise and I have been going in “awe walks” where we take a walk for a mile or two and go out of our way to look for things that strike us with “moments of awe.” 

Clouds, trees, a particularly extraordinary plant, a squirrel preparing for winter, a group of enthusiastic young people: life is such an extraordinary miracle and it’s so easy to take for granted. We go out of our way to look for the awe-inspiring and miraculous every day, and then to be thankful for and appreciative of it.

We’ve been reaching out more to old friends, too, and reestablishing regular family Zoom meetings and other ways of maintaining human contact. There’s some fascinating new research that shows that maintaining meaningful human connections through life extends both the quality and length of life more effectively than even a good diet!

However we do it, we need to keep ourselves well-charged, inspired and enthusiastic during this time of multiple and seemingly an ending crisis.

Throughout most of our 20s, Louise and I had a poster on our bedroom wall with a saying that has been attributed to many over the years but most often to Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

thom hartmann

As Bernie Sanders loves to say, and I echo every day on my show, “Despair is not an option.” We must persist.

There is work to do, and, as a wonderful bonus, it gives life meaning and keeps us deeply connected with great allies! 

Tag, you’re it!

Thom Hartmann
Independent Media Institute