Let’s pause for a moment, amidst all the noise and political posturing, and ask what it would take to achieve lasting peace in Syria. Tricky, isn’t it? As soon as you step away from the rhetoric of ‘let’s rush in there and bomb some stuff’ and actually think about what it would take to fix Syria, the horrendous scale of the problems become apparent. I have a most tenuous grasp on the politics, but let’s abridge it and say ‘there’s a lot of it’. Lots of different factions, ideologies, interests from other countries, no doubt lots of history as well. All other issues aside, when there has been this much bloodshed, there are no quick fix options.
Peace is not something you readily achieve by fighting. Sure, there are times when going in to forcibly disarm may be the best way to reduce violence, but why on earth are we even getting to that stage? The answer, is that for politicians and people who want power, the ends justify the means, and the intended end is more power for them. Human life, and human suffering are valued less highly than power, control, and status. When you start from the premise that lives are expendable and the important thing is winning at any cost, violence is inevitable, and peace is impossible.
It does not help that a small number of people make a great deal on money out of war. The arms trade is a lucrative one. I would bet that’s not the only way of turning a profit during times of conflict. It does not help that history books are full of battles and politicians with a desire to be remembered will all too often see a big, ‘heroic’ war as an opportunity to have a legacy. To be the next Henry the fifth, the next Winston Churchill, or for that matter, the next Adolf Hitler does seem to be attractive.
With all due reference to Henry the fifth, there’s nothing like a war abroad to distract public attention away from troubles at home. You can get all patriotic, sing songs, all pull together, it’ll be like the 1940s all over again. Roll out the nostalgia, forget the welfare cuts, the unemployment, the economic crisis, a war will distract us. All those opportunities for big speeches and dramatic photo opportunities. Oh yes, our politicians love a good war. Not least because they will stay at home, near the bunkers, while other people are sent forth to kill and be killed.
I think we lost something when starting a war no longer meant you would be expected to ride out at the head of your army. I think if David Cameron and his cronies knew they would be expected to put their own bodies in the front line, they would take these life and death issues a bit more seriously. They wouldn’t last five minutes.
Peace is a facet of culture. It is a state of mind and an attitude. You can’t force it on people, although you can make individuals, and countries behave. A peace based on someone else having a lot of guns and missiles, is not a very dependable sort of peace at all. To mean anything, peace needs to be based on a fundamental respect for life. When we start to value life more than we do power, peace will be possible. We have a long way to go.