A state of perpetual war

It is the American historian Charles Beard who is credited with coining the phrase, “Perpetual war for perpetual peace”.
I think this was then used as the title of a book – to which Beard contributed ‑ that sought to critically analyse American military adventurism during the Franklin Roosevelt Presidency.
Political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, had alluded to a similar concept some 300 years earlier in his “Leviathan”.
For many people, “Leviathan” is better known for giving the world the memorable quote that says “the life of man (is) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
This wretched state of mankind, according to Hobbes, is our condition when we are in a perpetual war.
And, according to him, we are in perpetual war because of our hypothetical “state of nature”: ie, man is never satisfied and is always in contestation for space, resources and women with his fellow man.
While Hobbes, typical of the man, melded a solid theoretical base to practical application, “perpetual war” has been given a very earthy and eviscerating meaning by its political practitioners in America today. The term found new currency with the rise of the neo-con cabal that was called the Bush Junior Presidency. That administration bequeathed a global legacy whose ramifications we will continue to grapple with for centuries if we do not adopt the same mindset as the cabal that created it.
Back in 1997, a group calling itself the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) issued a statement of principles agitating for increases in defence spending to push “a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad”. In that group were Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz among other personalities that were to become so dominant in the W Bush Presidency.
In 2000, an internal document by PNAC became public. It was titled “Rebuilding America's Defences: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century” and it outlined how the Bush government should lay the foundation for creation of a “blueprint for maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests”.
At the heart of such a push was perpetual war, and we are seeing it today as America’s theatre of operations spreads from the Middle East into Africa.
PNAC described American armed forces as “the cavalry on the new American frontier”, and said international military action demanded “American political leadership rather than the United Nations”. And since 2000, the American military has officially been engaged in operations in Yemen (three times), Macedonia, Afghanistan, The Philippines, Colombia, Iraq, Liberia, Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Libya and Uganda. These are just the official deployments, and they have come at the cost of hundreds of billions of US dollars and innumerable casualties in addition to much injury and misery to people all across the world.
Was Hobbes wrong to thus characterise our existence as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”?
What is extraordinary about this is that through it all, America’s governing classes – both Republican and Democrat – have been in agreement on the need for perpetual war.
Harvard International Relations Professor, Stephen Walt, last year called this a “neocon-liberal alliance”.
He said, “The only important intellectual difference between neo-conservatives and liberal interventionists is that the former have disdain for international institutions (which they see as constraints on US power), and the latter see them as a useful way to legitimate American dominance.” It is easy, on the basis of this, to label America despicable. But are they not simply doing what any power has done throughout the centuries, from the Babylonians and Persians down to the Romans and now the Americans? They are united behind a cause, which they are hell-bent on achieving whatever the cost. Yes, it is despicable – but at the same time it is also admirable. Their dedication to a cause is something that Africa failed to build on after fighting the wars of liberation against direct colonialism. For Africa to take up arms against colonialists was no easy thing. We were David and they were Goliath. And 99 percent of the times, Goliath wins; but our dedication saw to it that David notched up a rare victory.
But why is it that the same determination that steered the liberation struggles has not been found in the battles for a more just economic order?
Africa, it seems, did not realise that the world is in a state of perpetual war and after the liberation struggles, the war would continue in the boardrooms, the cultural arena and in the classrooms.
There was no attempt in most African countries at Independence to create the institutions necessary to carry on fighting this perpetual war.
We have acted as if all we wanted were our own flags, national anthems and constitutions. As if the most important thing was for us to drink the same whiskey that the settlers enjoyed (and how whiskey has literally killed Africa’s political, business and cultural classes is quite a topic on its own, but we shall save that for another day)! Cuba, under the guidance of the Castros and Che quickly realised that we are in a state of perpetual war and they created the institutions that today produce a citizenry and leadership that stands in defence of the totality of the liberation struggle. That is why today, though well more than 60 percent of the Cuban population was born after the elder Castro came to power, the population is still by and large firmly rooted in the idea of “homeland or death”. The war is perpetual; we should plan for it adequately.

February 2013
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