As much as I want to say that the Western world has learned its lesson about war, I cannot be confident. There is still an ambivalence to war profiteering, particularly in America, and it remains an unfortunate fact that defense contracting and military hardware exports remain a major industry that employs millions of people and accounts for a much larger portion of the economy than official numbers would have us believe.
Meanwhile, the UN continues to allow war profiteering from the six permanent members of the security council (all of which are involved in that enterprise) while insisting that the cannabis industry- one that could open a new, peaceful, and sustainable economic powerhouse- remain criminalized. In China, marijuana users and growers are routinely executed by firing squad to mark the anniversary of the UN’s declaration on controlled substances, and in the US, marijuana users and growers are often given lengthy sentences in for-profit prisons (yet another ugly industry to come out of the same privatization measures that gave us the military-industrial complex).
But, well, we are doing better when it comes to public support for war.
I remember the anti-war protests in the early 2000s. Before the war in Iraq started, there were a handful of protesters here and there, and most were standing obediently in cordoned-off “free speech zones.” And of course, if the media showed them at all, they went for the one who looked like the average American stereotype of an anti-war protester and mocked them. It was all “our country right or wrong,” and nobody questioned or said anything just like it had been since Nixon put the kibosh on the anti-war movement. Peace activism was dead and “peaceniks” were deemed traitors.
Something about it disturbed me deeply. Something triggered within me, just below the surface, and I suddenly had the intense yearning to go to the UK that was hard to understand or explain, even though they were aiding and abetting the war.
I spent a good portion of 2003-2005 living outside the country. I found that although the UK had contributed support, they at least had a lot of popular resistance, and the media criticized the war and Tony Blair openly. In 2003, I marched with millions of others through Piccadilly Circus against the Iraq War.
If I had known that the patriotic fervor I saw in America had triggered me largely because it reminded me of the fervor I had seen in 1914, then maybe I would have understood why I felt the way I did about making my way back to the UK. It wasn’t rational; I was just scared and I wanted to go home, and I didn’t know it. I spent a year and a half of wandering the English countryside like a disoriented ghost, unknowingly looking for a home I never found because I didn’t know where to look or what to look for. That time, though I remember it sentimentally, was actually one of the most emotionally difficult and crushingly lonely periods in my life in part because even if I didn’t readily recall memories of John’s life, I was triggered into feeling the brunt of nine decades of unresolved emotions.
In the last 11 years I have watched a profound change in attitudes. There were already signs that the country was tired when both the Tea Party and Occupy both took a (nominally) anti-war stance. I was reluctant to say that anything changed at first, but the recent news about relations with Syria and Iran has forced me to admit that the people have finally come around to the realization that war is not and should never be the first response to a crisis. Just today I got an e-mail saying that a major conservative lobbying bloc had dropped its support of new Iran sanctions being discussed before talks with Iran were complete.
This doesn’t mean that war is over, or that war profiteering will simply go away on its own. I still fear that the next enterprise in warfare after neocolonialism will be civil war or a revolution to topple the civil government. The cannabis industry, while it would help reinvigorate the economy in some regions and would provide new materials from industrial hemp and the waste products of recreational cannabis (e.g. hemp stalks and seeds), cannot entirely fill the void left in the economy once war is no longer a profitable and easily-sold enterprise. In all, I cannot see a road to peace without extensive, lengthy, and painful economic lessons not unlike those experienced after the abolition of slavery. But already, people have begun looking for a solution because it’s painfully clear that we need one.
The people haven’t learned their lesson yet, but they are learning. Don’t give up. Take the high road, even if it means an austere future. In the long run, we will prosper more without relying on death and destruction to pay our bills.