Brian Eno: Why We Need Stop the War
Stop the War's new President on the importance of the anti-war movement
Stopping wars isn’t something that happens when hostilities have already begun. It starts much earlier than that, in the very fabric of society. Our society is increasingly built around war - or the threat of war - and a lot of people have an interest in keeping things that way.
Who are they?
First there are the ideologues, those so certain of their moral (and military) superiority that they’re ready to force it down another’s throat. In their minds, war is supported with the excuse that it’s ‘for the good’ of the other side: to liberate them from ignorance and tyranny. The intellectuals behind the Iraq War, for example, were convinced that, bristling with guns and bombs and chewing gum, they would be welcomed as saviours. They predicted a ‘cakewalk in Iraq’ which would be ‘over in weeks’. Such sunny predictions are always part of the recipe.
Then there are the weapons manufacturers. Britain is the 4th biggest weapons exporter globally. BAE systems, for example, one of our largest companies, makes over 95% of its (huge) income from defence contracts. We sell weapons indiscriminately, to almost anybody who’ll pay: and our biggest clients are the Saudis, who in turn fund extremist groups like Isis. The world is awash with lethal weapons, many of which we built, and these often end up being directed against us...and then we spend even more on weapons to defend ourselves.
Beyond the technology of war - the weapons systems and the material - there is the science. Advanced weaponry systems employ lots of scientists and technologists, people who could be doing something useful in the world. A climate of endless war has to be maintained, otherwise people might start to wonder why we spend so much of our national resources building generations of jets and tanks and ships that never see action, and why all that expensive brainpower is being squandered while the world is melting.
Think also of the media: they relish the prospect of war, and talk it up relentlessly. They know that alarm sells papers and gets clicks, and that’s often all they want. It’s the rubberneck syndrome: we can’t help looking. Most of the media business is about turning attention into money, holding your attention so that you can be advertised to. On the other hand, peace talks are a bit dull by comparison, so nobody bothers reporting them. So, intentionally or not, the media nurture and perpetuate the climate of continuous war.
And think of the politicians, anxious to advertise their ‘strength’ and ‘determination’, shoring up failing popularity by rattling sabres. Think of Blair and Bush swaggering about the White House as though setting fire to a whole nation was some kind of laddish game. Or think of Trump with his ‘Fire and Fury’ tough guy talk. Again, the media revel in this. It’s what editors call ‘great copy’.
And then there’s the ‘security’ business - one of the only growth sectors on the British employment scene. As ‘security’ increases, society becomes tighter, more paranoid, more spied upon and suspected, than ever before. It shouldn’t be called the security business: it’s the insecurity business. The business is to create insecurity, to make you scared, to make you believe that war is the only option.
How did all this happen? Why are we where we are now? The truth is that the economies of both the US and the UK (and lots of other countries) have become so centred around military production that they have grown to need an ongoing threat of war. America emerged from WWII as a very wealthy country, having learned that the people who really win wars are the people making the weapons.
But they learned something else too:
Societies can be made coherent - can be held together - in two broad ways. One is through hope; the other is through fear. But for a society to be held together through hope there has to be a credible sense of promise in the future: a majority of people have to believe that things will get better. Until perhaps 25 years ago that majority existed, but, with neoliberalism rolling back post-war social arrangements like the welfare state, unions, free education and job security things started to look different. The prospect of automation, which ought to have liberated us, instead translates into even bigger profits for the elites. As a result, working people now look forward to a much more precarious and uncertain future than they have done for decades.
You can't have a hopeful society if its elites prioritise aggressive foreign wars and 6 billion pound floating bombing platforms over social spending. You can’t have a hopeful society focused on fighting aggressive foreign wars which in turn flood your shores with refugees.
What we now have instead of hope is rising unemployment, a surfeit of both overqualified and underqualified young people, the gig economy, zero-hour contracts, and automation. Our politicians could be working on that problem, on rethinking our future prospects, and throwing off the disastrous market fundamentalism of neoliberalism. But, by and large they are timid minds who live in mortal fear of the press and run a mile from anything that might conceivably be called socialism, so they don’t. Instead they default to option two…fear.
Fear is a great paralyser. A frightened population is easy to govern. In a climate of fear, people are willing to allow their rights and freedoms to be limited. They’re willing to follow orders and penalise resisters. They’re willing to fall for easy, quick and ill-conceived military ‘solutions’. They’re willing to serve as defenders of the state without asking why that state needs defending, or from what.
So it’s fear that keeps the hamster-wheel turning; but it’s hope that will get us out of the cage.
Stopping war means building a society based not on relentless consumption and profiteering but instead on sustainability and conservation and sharing. It means making a world that is worth saving for everybody, so that the idea of war - of destroying all that - becomes unthinkable, ridiculous.
It means breaking up those entrenched hierarchies that regularly produce over-privileged halfwits - con-artists who know how to talk but not how to think, and who exist in some eternal public-school-of-the-mind*. Their unshakeable sense of natural superiority fosters a hubristic arrogance with which they ride into war after war, certain that they couldn’t possibly be wrong.
And stopping war entails, perhaps beyond anything else, distributing the wealth of the planet so it doesn’t automatically accrue in the hands of the already-powerful but instead is used to build a world where more people get better chances.
We live in the wealthiest societies in history. The creativity and ingenuity and labour of generations of humans has produced enormous wealth. With that wealth properly deployed, a world of peace is more feasible than ever before.
Stop the War Coalition is part of a big, wide movement to change the way we think, and what we think about. Instead of making destructive wars, let’s think how we make a creative peace. Instead of thinking how we get more as individuals, let’s think how we can better share what we already have as a society. Instead of thinking that our role in life is to keep our heads down and be obedient shoppers, let’s stand up straight and proud and create something new together.
Brian Eno 2017
*I remind foreign readers that ‘public school’ in English means ‘least public of all schools’