Motivation for war

Howard J. Ehrlich

January 11, 1991|By Howard J. Ehrlich

THERE is a major disinformation campaign under way about the meaning of American involvement in the Persian Gulf.

The establishment news media, especially television, are regorging substantial amounts of misleading, superficial and often irrelevant ideas and images of this grotesque crisis. The result is that many people are left with the feeling that they know what's gong on when, in fact, the information they have been assimilating keeps them from asking the pertinent questions. If you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers.

There is no way to inoculate people against disinformation. But you can get people to question what they know. One way is to model an alternative, that is, to present another world view. My own perspective derives from the belief that a shooting war is not the way to achieve peace in the gulf -- or, for that matter, in the Middle East.

I do not believe, as do Henry Kissinger and his epigones, that peace is the absence of war. More than that, I believe that the motivation of the political and military elites of this country have almost no connection to the goals of peace. They fanned the flames of the Iran-Iraq war, accepted Syrian and Israeli occupation of parts of Lebanon and have systematically turned away from the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. Here are my perceptions of their motives:

* to project President Bush's image as a decisive leader in preparation for the next election.

* to provide a basis for the U.S. to control the world's oil pricing.

* to distract people from the savings and loan crimes and the increased national debt incurred by the bank failures.

* to eliminate the "peace dividend" and re-finance the military and intelligence agencies.

* to revive the idea of nuclear power as an alternative to "oil dependency."

* to abandon environmental standards so as to allow domestic oil exploration in Alaska, off-shore and elsewhere.

* to continue U.S. protection of the Saudi Arabian royal family whose contributions (in the billions of dollars) to CIA projects in Nicaragua, Libya, Afghanistan, Mozambique and Angola have obviously been highly valued.

* to justify continued military aid and assistance to Israel (although Israel will become less important to American foreign policy however this crisis is resolved).

* to provide an opportunity for the U.S. military to test new weapons and to season troops.

If my perspective appears radical, in part it stems from an underlying principle of my political philosophy: The means and ends of social policies need to be consistent. You cannot install democracy by autocratic or military interventions. Further, no government has a legitimate claim to be a democracy if it supports other governments which systematically repress people by race or religion, or gender, or political belief.

Central to the ideal of democracy is the presence of an effective political opposition. If the elites win all the time, or even most of the time, we lose the essence of democratic government.

Democracy requires an engaged and resonant conflict, not a politics of consensus. Congressional cooperation with the president and the complicity of the establishment news media, as well as the ineffectiveness of the peace movement, make it clear that the stakes are even higher than a war in the Middle East.

Finally, I believe, philosophically and practically, that we may not threaten to do what we think is morally wrong. If war is wrong, and I think it is, then we may not use its threat as a means of social policy.

Howard J. Ehrlich is a Baltimore writer and radio producer. He is B the editor of Social Anarchism, a magazine of current anarchist writing.

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