A bit like Pavlov’s dog hearing a bell, some on the left instinctively salivate at the sound of falling bombs. It allows them to use some of their favorite slogans – “The poor pay for the games of the rich” or “Yes to peace, no to NATO”.
They assume that whenever a politician does something that is socially or physically destructive, the decision must have been made at the behest of others who would benefit from it.
MPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly have been at the forefront of this type of rhetoric, evident in their thinly veiled justification of Russian aggression.
The focus is on NATO expansion (something that happened decades ago), but there is an old-fashioned assumption that this expansion is not related to sovereign countries’ desire for the protection of a collective military alliance, but rather to capitalism.
Wallace tweeted that the war was “everything to do with the interests of elites who profit from guns, fossil fuels and the financial industry.”
Socialist Party TD Mick Barry, in a debate on Ukraine, railed against “those in the Western ruling classes who would exploit this crisis to advance their imperialist and militarist aims”.
Even President Michael D. Higgins used this year’s St. Patrick’s Day message to reiterate some of his greatest hits from the 1980s: “The defense industry is consuming our human, intellectual, and technological resources while children die and conflicts deepen. Militarism dominates the discourse where ideas of peace could thrive.”
It’s not quite as catchy as what he used to say — like any aging rock star, he just can’t get the tones he used to have — but Michael D might as well have blamed Ronald Reagan and the military-industrial complex again – the coalition of private military contractors, the US military and Congress – absolve the Soviet Union of all responsibility for everything that is wrong in the world.
The long-held theory that the rich are always warmongers because war makes them even richer didn’t even come from the left.
US Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower – himself a distinguished general who served as the supreme commander of European allies during World War II – originally warned of a military-industrial complex having “undue influence” on US politics.
His 1953 Chance for Peace speech could have been delivered by Michael D. this week: “This world in arms doesn’t just spend money. It squanders the sweat of its workers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. Under the cloud of impending war, humanity hangs on an iron cross.”
Eisenhower wasn’t even the first US President to warn of a never-ending war. More than a century earlier, John Quincy Adams saw the danger that the US would wage “wars of interest and intrigue, of individual greed, envy and ambition.”
But the war in Ukraine was terribly bad for Russia’s oligarchs.
Stripped of their yachts and mansions, dispossessed of their football clubs, they have benefited little from the war, even as the prices of the commodities they normally trade have skyrocketed. Putin’s war was clearly driven by nationalism, not a military-industrial complex.
After the dead or displaced Ukrainians and the betrayed Russian soldiers, the oligarchs might be next in line to get our sympathy – well, not quite.
But war isn’t really good for anyone. A recent book by historian Walter Scheidel argues that mass warfare is one of the most important events throughout history to even out inequality. In other words, war is bad for the rich.
Wars are unpredictable and destructive. Wars seem apocalyptic, but after “the dust has settled, the gulf between the haves and have-nots has sometimes shrunk dramatically”.
Someone will always benefit from war. Scammers like the so-called defense contractors in the US made sacks of money out of the US-instigated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean these wars were started to monetize them. No one who will benefit financially from Russia’s invasion was likely able to influence its initiation.
This is a problem with the theory that business and government conspire to make war decisions that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.
More commonly, these disruptive events result in wealth being destroyed or wealth being transferred from one group of empires to another group of empires. The wealthy owners of the Irish planes likely to be stolen by Russia will not benefit.
And there is usually no conspiracy. Events like plagues and pandemics, which historically wipe out wealth and inequality, have certainly made some rich people richer this time around.
Amazon owner Jeff Bezos has weathered the lockdowns very well. But that doesn’t mean Bezos had any say in how a state responded to the pandemic.
The slogans parroted by the left, that the poor are paying for the rich’s war, roll off the tongue lest they be given up so easily. But these slogans are only half true. The poor pay, but so do the rich.
Eoin O’Malley teaches Politics and Public Policy at Dublin City University
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/rich-or-poor-war-is-no-good-for-anyone-despite-what-those-on-the-left-say-41466424.html Rich or poor, war is no good for anyone, despite what the left says