Thursday, September 29, 2016

Who's Going To War?

War is only bad for those who have to fight it, but it is good for everyone else.

For governments, war is a good way to remain in power. Every President or Prime Minister wants to be a war leader, which allows them not to worry about hard promises such as economic development or jobs, and keeping power just by sending a few poor people to their death. If things go really wrong, one can just blame that on anti-national elements, suspend rule of law and put them in jail; and indeed, one can suspend elections altogether and stay in power as long as the war goes on. It's a pity we do not have the 'hundred year wars' anymore. 

For businesses, there may be a nervousness about risks, but on the aggregate, war is good as it means new contracts, and good replacement demand. A bloated real estate economy can do with rebuilding some houses, and housing some displaced people, as long as the government is paying for it.

For the media, it is news. How much better is it to report on real fighting going on at distant fronts - real deaths, real bullets and for a change, even real heroes - rather than conjuring up storms on little tea-cups and hosting endless shouting matches on live TV. 

For the well-off middle classes and the WhatsApp diaspora, it is a real great opportunity to renew patriotism and live, or at least pretend to live, a real life outside the boredom of project endings and beginnings, rise and fall of house prices and tracking mortgages. 

If the description horrifies someone who has seen real wars, they are a minority among well-off middle classes. There are countries with emergent middle classes, where millions of people has never seen a war, never lost anyone dear, and never suffered a loss of property. They have grown up on a diet of media stories about distant and foreign wars, seen movies of heroism and mastered the rhetorical ideas of fighting and higher purpose: In their minds, the wars are clean, where bad guys die and good guys win the girl, without blood, soil, tears and mud. The wars they imagine and celebrate are most like video games, and fought by other people.

In the middle of this, we may have forgotten how incredibly messy wars can be, how deeply damaging to both the emotions and economies, how real people can die in them. The American Government, and the American movie directors, made a virtue of distant wars, comfortable as they are in their monopolistic control over war technology and war capital; but for most others in the world, wars, as and when they happen, are real, hurtful and close to home. A generation brought up on a diet of American Dream, gadgets and degrees may have forgotten this, but wars, when they come, it will hurt.

So, for everyone else in the world, it is best to keep wars short, phoney and ephemeral, as India and Pakistan have managed to keep theirs so far. There are incursions and insurgent, political claims and political denials, real deaths and imagined assailants, but the people who killed and got killed are perhaps a few poor Jawans and a few poor terrorists. At this level, everyone gets what they want: Indian government an excuse to look tough, Pakistanis a chance to straighten their military, media a story and punters a bear-and-bull to make money. But this far and no farther:  The horrors, the deaths and the destructions that may follow may not like swift or surgical, and the WhatsApp heroes would soon be outed as cowards they are if the real war hits home.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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Will be to arrive where we started
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