On War and Personal Behaviour

= March 2003 =

[1] As I write, an army of US-American, British and Australian troops are invading Iraq. Their declared aim is to free the Iraqi people of their dictatorial leader Saddam Hussein.    
[2] Although most governments and many private people are agreed that Hussein is a ruthless dictator they are very divided as what to do about him and his regime. As the Western Allies march towards Iraqs capital, Baghdad, the press is full of reports on worldwide demonstrations against the war.    
[3] In many cases the demonstrators do not simply oppose this particular war. Broad anti-American expressions ranging from burning the Stars-and-Stripes flag to vaguely voiced fears of an American supremacy over the world are also reported.    
[4] Many people regard this war as driven by Americas need to strenghten its strategic hold on the Middle East in order to secure a long term availability of oil. The implicit argument runs that as this war is only motivated by economic considerations it is both morally unjustified and politically avoidable. Whereas the first conlucsion may well be true the second certainly is not.    
[5] This war is about defending a way of life that must, by the logic of limited resources, be restricted to only a fraction of mankind. If the two billion Chinese and Indian people demanded their share of oil-fuelled mobility what would be the price of oil and how long would the exploitable deposits last?    
[6] Could we, technically, allow all the people on earth to eat as much meat as we do in Europe, given that pastures for cattle are limited?    
[7] And is there enough fresh water in the world for all humans to live like an average Central European?    
[8] And are there sufficient technological and financial resources to adjust dams, agriculture and water supplies to a likely change in the global climate to give all people on earth a chance of survival and welfare?    
[9] The answer to these questions is most likely no. Studies funded by international organizations like the United Nations point out that this is numerically not possible. And if the limited resources in question are either strongly wanted or vitally needed by more people than can have a fair share there must be some sort of fight (unless some people are content with less than their fair share - which is quite unlikely). In this sense wars like the present one fought in Iraq cannot be avoided politically unless consumer needs change. The US instinctively tries to keep its control over the Middle East before some emerging super-consumer like China or India does the same. It acts according to the rule of limited resources. It literally defends its way of life against the threat that too many people should demand the same right in some future time.    
[10] Is it then justified to point at the US as a major aggressor and to condemn its war as morally corrupt? For the reasons laid out above this would only be justified within a broader accusation that addresses many more people than just US-Americans. Anybody who either lives, aims at or promotes a way of life that can only be achieved by a privileged fraction of mankind should consider himself a defendant rather than a persecutor in this case. This includes most Central Europeans as well as many well-to-do and aspiring people throughout the world. Indeed, it would include almost every human as it seems to be a marked streak in humans never to be content with what they have but always to want more.    
[11] Let us then look at Germany. The German government as well as many citizens condemn not only this war but war in general. At the same time, Germany finds herself amongst the major consumers of limited resources. Germany is expecting and planning to increase road traffic by a third within the coming years. Her economy vitally needs a reliable and reasonably cheap supply of oil. Oil, however, is amongst those resources that will probably be the most fiercely contested in the future. And rather than develop a strategy to keep out of the struggle for oil Germany exports her oil-intensive life style by tying her national welfare closely up with car exports to fast-growing economies such as China.    
[12] Such a policy makes two rather undesirable scenarios quite likely. In the first case, Germany actively engages in the fight for oil, actively supporting wars to protect oilfields against any power unwilling to show and prove its willingness to supply us with however much oil we ask for. This is emotionally undesirable because it lacks morals.    
[13] In the second case Germany renounces her present share of oil when it either gets too expensive or politically untenable to enforce it. This is economically undesirable as many industrial branches won`t be prepared for the shock.    
[14] To avoid either future conflicts necessitated by a fight for limited resources or dramatic and therefore economically painful changes of policy we have to develop life styles that are characterized by the word sustainability. The sooner the better.    
[15] The United Nations have long ago initiated a programme called Agenda 21, a list of locally executable actions for the 21st. century. Many locally organized groups are trying to apply the idea of sustainability to their personal behaviour. They suggest using bikes or public transport rather than cars whenever possible. They promote the marketing of locally produced goods to avoid long-distance transports and they advertise the use of modern technologies for insulating houses. Many of the suggestions put forward by people involved in this process can be carried out by individuals, which makes them both effective and demanding.    
[16] There is no need for me to convince a politician that it might be a good idea to spend my holidays in the neighbourhood rather than fly to Sri Lanka. I do not need to be involved in tiresome political decision-making processes to eat less meat. And the allegedly imperialist US-governement would most probably never interfere with my installing solar heating on the roof of my house. But such and many similar actions could help to ease the pressure on globally limited resources. And if it can be proven that a personal life-style in accordance with the idea of sustainability can be quite enjoyable and luxurious then we have the strongest argument - apart from military force - to offer our solutions to other nations as a possible course of action.    
[17] So, demonstrating against war in general or against the US-policy more specifically may express an understandable longing for peace and justice. But it is dangerous in so far as it misses to point at the underlying causes of wars. Moreover, it is intellectually unsound if we should be part of these causes. And by pointing at others as the main wrong-doers it misses a chance to show what each one of us can or should do to reduce the likelhood of future wars fought for limited resources such as oil.    
[18] Instead of "No War" banners should read "Buy local". Instead of accusing the American president of warmongery demonstrators should say "yes to solar heating". And instead of cultivating a vague and unreflected sort of anti-Americanism we should try and understand how best to use the international economic and political system for the welfare of all humans alike. If ever nations were in a state to do so without risking their material well-being the nations of Europe are amongst them.    
[19] Preventing future wars (and other injustices) is as much a matter of personal behaviour as it should be a political issue. Because no government, however willing, can avoid a war if the people of its nation insist on getting resources that can only be got by force.    

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