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Justice is Best Weapon in Fight for Peace
Published on Tuesday, July 19, 2005 by the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Justice is Best Weapon in Fight for Peace
by Alison Broinowski
 

We used to read our children a book, long since lost, called Six Men. It was about a little band of men seeking a country where they could live and work in peace.

They found one, and built a farming village, and all went well until they realized there was another village across the river. Knowing nothing about it, they assumed that its people would be envious of their prosperity and freedom. So they built a tower to observe the other village, and soon they saw its people do the same.

Then they made bows and arrows and spent so much time training to use them that their crops began to fail. The same happened on the other side.

One day, desperate for a good dinner, a watcher in one of the towers shot at a passing duck: his arrow fell across the river and all hell broke loose.

This tale's moral message is obvious, and so is its 1970s subtext about the dangers of relying on military technology to assure mutual destruction and hence security. How things have changed in our lifetime.

Today's sophisticated bedtime audience would notice the six men's shortcomings in protective security and technological superiority. Absent, too, from the story is ideology.

Nowadays the six men would claim to be defending their "civilization" against "evildoers" on the other side, crying "Our weapons are good, and our war is just. The other side's weapons, aimed at us, are evil and must be destroyed. To protect our way of life, we must wage endless war for endless peace." If it works, it's legitimate, the young now notice, power makes the rules, and ideology justifies destructive technology.

Ideology and technology march side by side to war, and each is deployed in the service of the other. Modern leaders plan their defense strategies on having the best available technology to deter enemies and win wars, but also to keep each new generation of young people signing up to fight in them.

By promising to win the "mother of all battles", as Saddam Hussein did, or to inflict "shock and awe" on Baghdad, as the US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, did, both were trying to convince their troops that because they had overwhelming force and God on their side, the war would be quick and successful.

Indeed this is what warlike leaders have done for as long as there have been civilizations.

Ideology occasionally goes to war lacking technology, as it did when ancient Britons wearing nothing but woad faced invaders wearing armour. In the Philippines and parts of East Africa, militant tribal groups took on their enemies, armed with little more than magic amulets, powerful potions, a few blowpipes - and conviction. Their impact was not great, nor was their life expectancy. In other cases, though, ideology is more potent than weapons.

The marauding Assassins in Iran, the Japanese army on its advance down the Malay peninsula by bicycle, and the puritanical Taliban, controlling life in Afghanistan, all owed more to ideological inspiration than technological sophistication.

Subversive operations, large or small, can run for years on maximal ideology and minimal technology. Think of the Bader-Meinhof gang, the Vietcong, the Palestinians, and the Zapatistas. And, of course, the hijackers of September 11, 2001, and the bombers of July 7, 2005, who got in under the radar.

Still we rely on overwhelming military and intelligence technology to keep us safe. All a born-again president or prime minister has to do is add ideology and stir.

Credulously, we now go along with Star Wars, which we thought laughable during the Reagan years. This month, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review conference collapsed, but did we panic? No. We were relaxed, comfortable, or focused on industrial relations. Our leaders pride themselves on being hard-headed, practical and not ideological. But ideology has beaten technology in recent encounters, and we still have Iraq and Afghanistan to go.

War is a theatre in which ideologies, armed with technology, compete for supremacy. Those who want to star want to give it all they've got. The US military-industrial complex can virtually tell Congress and the White House who to fight, where and with what. An American who had been in Canberra explained to me recently that the Pentagon and his company, Boeing, were jointly planning not only future weapons but the wars to use them in. He didn't seem to have any ideological issues, as we say these days, with that. Nor, apparently, did Madeleine Albright who, as secretary of state, asked why the US had such an array of weapons if it wasn't going to use them.

What, then, stands in the way of technology-fueled devastation? In fact, ideological resistance. For just as technologies can be safe or destructive, ideologies can, and do, serve benign or malign ends.

Terrorist attacks for two decades - if we add them up - have been hitting back at what their perpetrators see as humiliating foreign occupation of Muslim countries. Yet in Europe, where for centuries wars powered by religion, greed, xenophobia and technology were waged for the ideologies of patriotism and alliance, the euro has at last dropped.

Bosnia and Kosovo helped prove to the Europeans the futility of such fights. Even in Croatia people told me in June that they still hated the Serbs, but they had more important things to do than fight them. Libya after Lockerbie was dealt with by law, not by invasion; London will deal with its criminals the same way.

Haltingly, the European Union is trying to evolve as a community that can sink its civilizational differences (even if they still hate each others' cuisine). Perhaps the evolved Europeans will eventually stop exporting arms too.

This year, Australia has an opportunity to evolve ideologically and put war behind us. Our neighbors in the Association of South-East Asian Nations, who have observed the EU's progress for over 40 years, wrote into their Treaty of Amity and Co-operation a similar regional ideology of non-intervention.

If our government, which says it is "values-based", is serious in acceding to the treaty, it will be obliged to forgo its declared determination to invade our neighbors at will in pursuit of terrorists.

Much derided by reactionary Australians, accession could be a wise move, if it's not already too late.

Dr Alison Broinowski's forthcoming book, with Jim Wilkinson, is The Third Try: Can the UN Work?

©2005 Sydney Morning Herald

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