Making War Obsolete

by John M Repp

We should have abolished war after World War II. That war was so lethal and so destructive, even before the dropping of the atomic bombs, that had people understood that there is a real alternative to deadly violent conflict, humanity might have taken another path. Instead, we took the path of nuclear deterrence which is a desperate and bankrupt policy that endangers our very existence.

Why have we not abolished war? Gene Sharp (now deceased) of the Albert Einstein Institute says it is because people see a need to defend themselves from foreign occupations, coup d’états and/or dictatorial regimes, and we do not know there is another way. The mythology of conventional history as told by the dominators rules our minds. Sharp spent his whole life trying to educate and convince people that there is a more effective way to solve inevitable political conflicts. There is a practical nonviolent substitute for war and violent revolution.

Civilian-based defense is the idea that a carefully prepared program where an educated and trained citizenry could defend a country using tactics like mass demonstrations, strikes of all kinds and economic shutdowns by for example mass stay-at-home campaigns. These tactics combined with a well thought out strategy involving the government and the whole society would prevent an invader from achieving its war aims like seizing land, taking gold, spreading an empire, or extending a religion, all traditional goals of invading armies. To envision civil-based defense in action, do not imagine a powerful anti-war movement like the movement against the American war in Vietnam. Instead, imagine all government officials of the invaded country, all the judges, all the teachers, all the clergy, all the executives of national companies, all the union leaders, all the media, radio and TV, plus all the people, working together nonviolently to prevent the invaders from achieving their goals.

Real life examples of civilian-based defense come from the 1968 Czech resistance to the Soviet invasion. The Czechs used work slowdowns, a refusal to obey Russian officers, and a refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the new regime. Clandestine radio broadcasts denounced the invasion as illegal. The Czechs succeeded in keeping the Russians at bay for eight months. The first 500,000 soldiers of the combined communist east-bloc force had to go home after the early months and were replaced by a completely new army. Sharp’s point is that this Czech nonviolent resistance was spontaneous and had no advance preparation. By way of contrast, with education, advanced training, and participation by the whole society and all its institutions, civilian-based defense would have been 10 times more powerful and effective than the Czech example.

Then in the 1980’s, the Polish working class organized the 10 million strong Solidarity, a large trade union with an advanced political consciousness and nationalist objectives. In a few years, the Poles did more to disintegrate the Communist system without firing a shot, more than what the Pentagon had done for decades despite its spending of billions of dollars. Sharp says CBD, or civilian-based defense, fully implemented, would cost us but one percent of the cost of our current military budget!

Sharp was particularly concerned with the dangerous situation in Europe and Japan after World War II, during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. He thought civilian-based defense should be used by the countries in Western Europe and Japan. He envisioned a period of transition called “transarmament” when CBD would be developed in those U.S. occupied countries at the same time as the American military forces would be gradually pulled out. This approach could have cut our military budget in half. Sharp understood that CBD would be harder to implement in a country as geographically large as the United States, especially since we are separated by the oceans from the eastern hemisphere.

If we and our government were more honest, we would agree that the justification for the buildup of nuclear weapons and the massive military spending was not just for defense. Our government has used our armed forces for more than just defending the homeland. The US has used its military force to project power all over the world so our corporations could own and exploit the natural resources of other peoples and keep in power “friendly” governments that acceded to the property demands of the corporate elites. We should also acknowledge here that this power projection has helped to keep the material goods consumption level of Americans higher than would have been the case otherwise. Also, the corporations that manufacture the military hardware want to keep the status quo we call the military-industrial complex, because of the massive and guaranteed profits in that sector. Finally, to implement a policy of civilian-based defense, would require much more actual democracy than our current oligarchs will permit.

Since the end of World War II our Federal Government has grown much larger with every war it has waged. Governments get big and more centralized when they fight wars. Real conservatives need to understand this and too many do not. It is not the benefits that the people receive from the government, like unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security that makes our federal budget so large. It is the military spending and the failed, never-ending wars.

If somehow, the human race and our governments can make the changes that Gene Sharp outlines, it would be “an evolutionary change of the same magnitudes as the invention of spears some 500,000 years ago.” We will have made war obsolete, before war makes us extinct. All other approaches to world peace, such as the United Nations, nuclear deterrence, multi-lateral disarmament conferences, and hopes that “human nature” will change have not worked. Civilian-based defense will take some time, but if we understand it well, we have a way to make war obsolete.