Alberto Bradanini – Random reflections on war and its surroundings

The main beneficiaries of conflicts since the Second World War  has been the USA, once again in Palestine today.

Alberto Bradanini is a former Italian diplomat. Among many positions, he was Ambassador of Italy to Tehran (2008-2012) and to Beijing (2013-2015). He is currently President of the Research Center on Contemporary China

Versione originale italiana QUI

Translated by BRAVE NEW EUROPE


Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”  (George Orwell)

We may not deal with war, but it is war that deals with us. Depending on the criteria of reference, wars can be classified as just, opportune, and legal, or even in a mixture of these adjectives.

The criterion of justice depends on the ideology or ethics of those who invoke it, has a strong subjective content and is used by those who use military force to combat an alleged injustice (a term also open to a labyrinth of interpretations). The criterion of expediency, on the other hand, is characterised by a strong political dimension: at a certain point, according to the reasoning of some, war would emerge as the sole resolution of otherwise unsolvable disputes. The criterion of legality, finally, appears on paper to be the least uncertain, the only one that possesses the contours of any objective accountability: under international law, in fact, war becomes legitimate in two cases: a) when it is authorised by the United Nations Security Council (an event that is indeed very rare); b) in the case of legitimate defence, according to Art. 51 of the UN Charter, in which case, to remain within the fence of legitimacy, the reaction must respect the principles of moderation and proportionality.

In theatres of war, military violence codified by law is often accompanied by another practice, so-called terrorism, a practice whose shared definition is still absent from international norms. What has prevented this (there is no convention on the matter), despite successive attempts over time, have been the opposing positions of the United States – along with the Western/European countries, always bowing to the master’s orders, and America’s main ally in the Middle East, Israel – on the one hand, and the Arab-Muslim world on the other, on a fundamental aspect, the inclusion or non-inclusion of the notion of state terrorism. This hypothesis, in fact, supported in particular by the Arab-Muslim countries, would open the way for the possible formal indictment before the International Criminal Court (for the moral one, evidence is enough) of the aforementioned countries as well. It is in the logic of the evidence that an act of violence becomes terrorism when it is aimed at spreading terror, killing innocent people and destroying civil infrastructures (various national legislations, moreover, qualify it in this way). And it is such whether committed by armed groups motivated by political, religious, ethnic or other reasons, or if the perpetrators take refuge behind the protective insignia of a state (military apparatus, services, police, etc.). It is still terrorism!

It must be added that compared to the actions of armed groups, terrorist activity is more effective, violent, and systematic when it is perpetrated by a state (think of the Argentine and Chilean dictatorships of Videla and Pinochet, and what is now happening in Gaza), since the latter has much more substantial weapons, personnel, and technological resources at its disposal.

When it is an armed group that commits acts of terrorism, the state’s reaction against those guilty of terrorism should take on the contours of a surgical operation and respect the norms of legal civilisation, which eschews the medieval concept of collective guilt and does not seek an across-the-board revenge. Moreover, since terrorism is not a political phenomenon, since it is not a common criminal activity aimed at illicit enrichment, a state worthy of the name must address the roots of its emergence, laying bare the problems that generated it. In Palestine, the state of Israel (and its American protector) shies away from civilisation and merely copies the terrorism of others, following the practice of inhumanity and reprisal even against children, women, the elderly!

The reaction against perpetrators – be they sub-state movements or a state – must respect the lives of innocent civilians, lest it in turn become terrorism. In civilised life, no one would dare support the right of the police to set fire to a murderer’s house along with his family, even if it was proven that he was inside it.

When looking for the root causes of a conflict, religious, ethnic and economic ingredients are mixed in with those involving the interests of the empire(s) of the day. In the present case, the Palestinian issue is of an embarrassing simplicity, in spite of the contortions of analysts the world over who are vainly searching for complex ethical contours: there is an oppressed people and an oppressor people, the latter free to act with the utmost impunity because it is supported by the greatest military power on the planet, the United States. Full stop.

But as even former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, one of the greatest coup plotters ever to walk this earth, pointed out from the height of his venerable age: being an enemy of the United States is dangerous, being a friend of the United States is fatal. And the contours of history will tell whether the events unfolding today in Palestine/Israel will not present the bill, turning into the beginning of a strategic decline of the state of Israel.

As for peace, if its pursuit is not accompanied by justice, addressing the underlying imbalances of sovereignty and distribution of wealth, it remains in vain, while any achievements tend to dissipate in the tumult of events.

When casting a glance at the genesis and responsibility of conflicts, it becomes unequivocal that it is always certain power groups that get rich, both in the countries that initiated them or remained neutral, and in those that suffered them. A long line-up of analysts (see Lindsay O’Rourke, Covert Regime Change, Cornell University, 2018) have been repeating for years with documents and articles/interviews (easily available on the web) that since the Second World War the main beneficiaries of conflicts have been the United States. The reasons are known by all and so we take the liberty not to repeat them here. In the present world, they constitute the supreme strategic-military guarantor of extractive hegemonism, an aggressive plutocracy that promotes human rights by bombing defenceless peoples, exporting democracy with napalm bombs, spreading an instrumental holocaustic guilt complex that can only be discounted in eternity, imposing the mystique of a superior culture, of the pathology of a nation willed by God to rule a restless world – for the purpose of which the 800 military bases scattered around the world would be necessary – plus other pearls of mythological preeminence. This statement should not be evaluated on the basis of an anti-American prejudice, since the adversary – it bears repeating loud and clear – is certainly not the American people, politically among the most illiterate on the planet, but its plutocratic, predatory and belligerent oligarchy.

In his magisterial book, 1984, George Orwell argues that the purpose of war is not to defeat the enemy, but to preserve the same divisive structure within the warring society, i.e. to protect the privileges of the rich and keep the poor in their condition, with the help of the serving classes, politicians, journalists and bureaucrats (army, police, academia and so on), all compensated with honours, careers and lavish salaries. Peace and war, in Orwell’s critical insight, tend to overlap, losing their characteristic of opposing contexts, and become two profiles of the same destiny, framed in the ontology of immutability: the Ministry of Peace is charged with preparing war, the Ministry of Truth with fabricating lies, the Ministry of Love with practising torture, the Ministry of Abundance with making goods and services scarce, in an endless dystopia, reflecting the well-known oxymoronic trilogy: Peace is War, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. By becoming perennial, the notion of conflict ceases to be conflict and becomes war-peace, a fusion state where the contours are lost in the fog.

It is not the people who want wars, but governments. According to the justificationist narrative of the ruling classes, in a democratic system, governments always reflect the will of the people. In truth, our democracy is a semiological mystique. It is governments that control the people, not vice versa. A few but fitting examples: on 1 September 2022, the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, said: ‘even if the majority of Germans are against sending arms to Ukraine, we don’t care, we shall do it anyway’. A few months earlier, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel – later followed by former French President, François Hollande, and former Ukrainian President, Petro Poroschenko – candidly confesses that when she was at the helm of Germany, she had only joined the Minsk 1 and 2 Agreements (2014 and 2015) to gain time and better prepare for war against Russia, her intent was not the solution to the tragedy of the Donbass, which if it had obtained the linguistic/cultural autonomy provided for in the aforementioned Agreements – signed also by Russia! – would have remained under Ukrainian sovereignty, sparing the world the calamity of war.

A philosopher of the last century stated that armed conflicts would all end forever if the following universal constitutional rule was adopted: ‘those who declare war must go to the front themselves, together with their children and relatives’. The powerful decide wars, but it is always the poor people who die.

Small politics (that of our governments) deals with small things, with a fake dialectic between parties that are only characterised by their different capacity for evening entertainment. Big politics, on the other hand, wants to change society, fights for justice, work, freedom from want, public services, cultural emancipation, and on the international stage opposes war, massacres, colonialism/neocolonialism, fights for the emancipation of peoples, respecting their rights and diversity.

Emerging from servitude requires political awareness and courage, a path fraught with obstacles, which is not just around the corner. In the Cold War years, when the Soviet Union was a political, military and ideological power, it was possible to dissent, in the media and in the public realm. Today, the prefabricated Big Lie does not tolerate the shadow of dissent. For some, it is a matter of power arrogance, the opposition having been shattered and rendered harmless. For others, it is a sign of weakness, our preferred hermeneutic. Hope is not dead. The time will not be short, but there is light on the horizon.

“Fear, doubt, and hypochondriac caution are locking us in a cage. Instead, we need the breath of life. There is nothing to be afraid of. On the contrary, the future holds more wealth, economic freedom, and life opportunities for us than we have ever enjoyed in the past. There is no reason not to feel daring, open to adventure, active and looking for many possibilities. There in front of us, blocking the way are just a few elderly gentlemen, tight in their cassocks, who need to be treated with a bit of friendly irreverence and knocked down like skittles’. These are not the words of the writer, and it was not Marx or Lenin who uttered them, but John Maynard Keynes, the greatest liberal economist of the 20th century (a school to which we, too, do not belong), a man who fought for an ethical economy and shared prosperity, sensitive to the primary needs of mankind, the first of which, for him and for us, remains peace.

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