Sunday, October 06, 2013

Peace Luddites: Reversing the industrialization of war

We are taught--at least in the West--that mid-18th century marks the beginning of our modern era, with the invention of the steam engine, the cotton gin, the transition to coal power, more machines instead of hand tools, and other components of what came to be known as the Industrial Revolution. We are still taught that this was how the average person attained such a high standard of living (at least the average people worth mentioning, right?). We can skip any mention of coal miners or coal transporters or engine-room workers.

That Industrial Revolution went through phases and eventually became the Technology Revolution. All along the way, as soon as they could, war makers coopted the best of the new technologies into the service of killing, but historians rarely note that downside to their praises of the Industrial Revolution.

So the workers breathed in the coal dust and soot, cut off limbs or were otherwise mangled in machines, were sent into dank and deadly mines, moved from the forests to filthy company towns or urban warrens, and were conscripted to kill or die in defense of their new 'improved' lifestyle. What's not to like?

Conscripted? Yes. It all started with Napoleon's levee en masse, his 1793 command that all able-bodied men were legally required to join the military in defense of the French Revolution (yes, some conscription had occurred in past wars, but only to defend monarchs or other dictatorial forms of government, not a democratic revolution. Nota bene--that universal draft was usurped into a surprising defense of the dictator when Napoleon declared himself Emperor). This, then, was the human side of the industrialization of war. Mass production was in its infancy and now mass conscription joined to produce the first version of the Industrialized War System.

Industrialized War System 2.0 came into existence when various versions of machine guns were developed and deployed to the American Civil War, the slaughter of tribes in the US and across the world, and back into European theaters to showcase the grand improvements of the lifestyles of the average man, who was cut in half by the millions starting in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and spectacularly in World War I. It just doesn't get any better than this, right?

OK. Cue the very soft Indiana Jones music, which starts just when you have given up all hope. Our nonviolent Indiana Jones was Mohandas Gandhi, who lived in a land victimized by the various versions of the Industrialized War System, but who was closely watching the actions taking place and the theories formulating around the world. Gandhi's genius was that he brought them all together for the first time and began to both industrialize the nonviolent response to the Industrialized War System and began to erode the pillars of its support.

Gandhi learned from the writings of Elihu Burritt, for example, that it might be possible to organize workers internationally as a collective bargaining unit for peace.
Burritt thought big and thought peace, positing that workers could strike against war and stop it. This is a guy who was born in 1810 and was trained as a blacksmith, not to think industrially, and yet he contemplated this. His prescient ideas are still worth emulating and Gandhi picked up on them.

Gandhi grasped the interlocking mechanisms of machines, mass action, mass consumption, and oppression. He spun, by hand. He organized, by mass media, and took the warmaking and oppression out of mass action. His unique and pan-cultural approach to this monumental task and world-changing development still stands as our best hope in countering the power and danger of the Industrialized War System. As more and more civil society movements arise around the world, seeking freedom, seeking justice, and seeking a sustainable detente with Mother Nature, we are witnessing the birthing of a Global Peace System.

Our work is to move it forward faster, to join humanity in making that diving catch, to save the world from the war machine. We can do it. Nonviolence is the keystone of it all.

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