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Is it only mere optimism to suggest that sometimes wars are needed to get peace? Or a practical tour de force borne out on historical conscience? Or rather common knowledge needing nothing as punishing as rigorous insight? Or, when stripped of self-righteous rationalizations, a questionable ethic founded on a Marxist, far-right-wing, or progressive liberal-minded ideology?

Before consenting to any of these possibilities, we would have to point out two inevitable assumptions inherent in the suggestion itself. First, in plain view is the assumption that war is, sometimes, a requirement, or one among a requirement for peace, a bitter price to be paid today for a peaceful future. The second is the rather subtly hidden connotation that, sometimes, peace is the hoped-for conclusion to war, or what is the same thing, the reason behind war regardless of its untold outcome. To begin to think about the second assumption is to attempt to bring the first justice. For if the true motive for a war is first laid bare, we might hope to find compulsion in connecting its final achievements to its initial purpose, and learning something of its success as a means to its stated end.

Then there’s the unavoidable issue of knowing exactly what this stated end is, as, with every other concept, peace is as much fuzzy in its dimensions to offer up a cut-and-dried definition for our use. To keep this as clear as possible and at the risk of presenting so shallow, and in consequence meaningless, a simplistic model for truth we shall skirt around every entanglement that might waylay us journeyward and stick only to generalizations, digging in only occasionally, by way of examples, for clarification’s sake.

Before consenting to any of these possibilities, we would have to point out two inevitable assumptions inherent in the suggestion itself. First, in plain view is the assumption that war is, sometimes, a requirement, or one among a requirement for peace, a bitter price to be paid today for a peaceful future. The second is the rather subtly hidden connotation that, sometimes, peace is the hoped-for conclusion to war, or what is the same thing, the reason behind war regardless of its untold outcome. To begin to think about the second assumption is to attempt to bring the first justice. For if the true motive for a war is first laid bare, we might hope to find compulsion in connecting its final achievements to its initial purpose, and learning something of its success as a means to its stated end.

For our purpose, for the purpose of discovering the true motive of war made on a peaceful strength, we shall define peace then, as defined by them whose job description contains the legal right to make war, that is the governments of the modern nation-states. Because the right to rule of governments comes from the mandate of its subjects, peace must to them be a national state of affairs in which the lives of their subjects are successfully protected from both internal and external threats, the supposition, of course, being that democracy is that glittering opaque dress in which the government of the day strives to be seen, however deadening maybe its appearance in the nude. Defense from internal and external sources then is what, from here on, we shall mean by peace. Let us now depart from this point, and see where that takes us.

Peace as defense from an external source, be it a border skirmish with a neighboring country, aggressive air warning-strike from a rivaling nation, or terrorist threat from a foreign group or country, immediately sends us prying into the missions of global bodies already set up to mediate international relations in hope of some form of stable geopolitical order. Permit the UN to come to mind.

Sprung out in 1945 as a result of the distaste of witnesses to the large-scale inhumane ravages left in the wake of the war, the newly formed UN, a composition of countries grown averse to the idea of a global dispute of any kind, started to organize peaceful military missions in regions like post-war borderlands to ensure that the compromise reached between warring party countries were effected as agreed. Hitler’s war had been a military lesson in the inevitable danger of appeasing policies, and the UN had taken note. With only armored cars and light weaponry, the blue-beret UN soldiers served to intimidate the usurping elements into deterrence for the duration of the peacebuilding process. To keep the peace, the UN needed only to employ a tacit threat of violence, a will to act – a simple response that could have entirely prevented a second world war. Even after the murmurings of Hitler’s imperial ambitions heard in French and English towns had climbed to confident screams of aggression by Germany on her neighbors, the powers that mattered stood idly by, afraid to risk war, continually giving in to each of Hitler’s demands hoping that he could be appeased. But by the time it was too late to do anything, a war had penciled itself in the schedule of unfolding eventualities. “Throughout history,” says Erik Durschmied in his book, Blood of Revolution, “it has been the weakness of those in power, men who failed when the situation called for strong, even brutal measures, that allowed  the barbarous to take charge.”

History is scattered with such tales as weak leadership wreaking disastrous consequences. Before Wudi, the war-making Han Emperor of China, rose to power, other emperors had appeased barbaric straddlers who raided the empire’s borders and the result was always that they continued more aggressively with their raid, but it was only until the coming of Wudi that peace bribes were done away with and an army was fielded to force the barbarian’s retreat away from the borders and into the steppes.

Han Wudi
Han Wudi | Image from Ancient-origins

As we too well know, wars in the past have been fought between countries on the flimsiest of excuses from the prince of a kingdom bedding the queen of another, to unfounded ridiculous ideas like Manifest Destiny. But today we find that the simple threat of a nuclear attack is efficient enough to halt the splurge of spats between countries into a war. Witness this year’s (2020) US-Iraq conflict, and last year’s Indian-Pakistan Kashmir dispute, heated confrontations that eventually fizzled down to an airstrike or two, some fatal gunfights, and copious internet memes.

Although we can trust that sometimes wars, and the threat of them or fear of their consequences at least, are sometimes required to ensure international peace, how about the crises in the Middle East? They are to some countries as remote a problem as the fabled Armageddon, and an investigation into their hybrid nature reveals a complex tangling up of more than three ethnic factions fighting for hegemony, sometimes backed up with proxy agenda. Except to assume that these wars are fought to restore internal peace or to defend external peace by waging a global anti-Jihad crusade against Islamic terrorists, we shall not concern ourselves with these intricacies.

To internal peace. It is the agreed function of government that it should ensure peace whenever there break out sectional differences, terrorist elements, and anything at all within its geography that chooses to threaten the lives of its subjects, those from whose assent it derives its power. But when statistical evidence pronounces that six times more people worldwide were casualties of their own governments than of international wars, we might start to ponder a revisit to the meaning of peace. Do we take for granted that these casualties of government are usurpers of the peace, or do we contend that the government, legally wielding a monopoly to violence, has become a usurper itself, and is thus no longer qualified to offer us a proper definition?

If we are to select the second and more open-ended option, to whom does it fall then to rescue us from this semantic upheaval. The subject, on whose behalf the government exists, and who is better fit to make them more worthwhile assessment on the success of his/her being protected from internal or external threats? It cannot indeed be otherwise. So at any rate we are made to understand that the government itself can at times constitute an internal threat against which the subject should fend itself. And it is only when the glittering opaque dress of the deadening democratic politician in the fullness of time washes away transparent that the subject can discern the truth.

Nigeria is a country happily tolerant of abuse. Its people blunt their will to act when they too readily settle for national crumbs, and not least because they pine for a day when they can be just as moneyed as the corrupt politician of the time (there is a book in the works I have with this concern as its theme) when they can stand tall and influential among their peers.

There is also the material Marxist who, given to sentiments about food, would find it astute to suggest that man must live first by bread, and then faith or whatever keeps a man whole, and, if he were to be deprived of bread, would sooner die. So to empathize with the Marxist, protecting the life of the subject would go so far as including not depriving him/her of food. It becomes the prerogative of the subjects to bring war to such a system that they should think to normalize that kind of injustice. Such is the situation with civil wars, where a minority economically maligned and politically abused, fearing for its life, rebels and tries to secede, only to have war pronounced on it by the national government. Here too, we can hold the motive to be peace, purporting, from now henceforth, that it is the maligned subject or group who can lay claim to a proper definition of peace. There is the other peculiar case where the civil war is not between a maligned group and an oppressive government but among equal ethnicities such as seen in Somalia, or Congo. What then should we call peace here, when all warring ethnicities are just as afraid of the other and are struggling to be in power to protect the lives of its own people? That is of little relevance to us, if we are at once to recall that since all the citizens are “equally maligned” and are looking to change the status quo, then the motive for war here is also peace.

Having gained one more knowledge of this vague concept that is peace, should we not also recast our earlier assessments in a richer light, and so doing expect to make a more enlightened value judgement about peace-driven wars at the end of this noise-making?

Now that the authority of proclaiming the conditions for peace lies with the subjects, the international order would only be thought peaceful when every citizen in every country believes in the justness of the international economic systems of world tarrifs and quotas and political systems that do not provide for any kind of abuse or deprivation of bread. But it is not so. We have only to refer to the US accusations of unfair economic practices towards lesser countries and political manipulations of third-world country leaders that would go to make an american neo-imperial hegemony to see the futility of this resolution. Even religious pollution from western decadence has received its due blame in the reason for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If wars should be fought on these grounds, on the grounds that the war-makers are seeking a peaceful system adjudged from their perception of what is economic and political comfort, we should hope to see, on an international scale, the citizens of third-world countries, apparently deprived by bodies like the WTO, declare war on the profiting countries, we should hope to see Africans holding onto old colonial grudges, “nursing racial grievance like a virtue” as described by Naipaul’s Ralph Singh, at last given a vindictive opening for war, we should also hope to see relatively rich south korean tech moguls, whose 5G technologies unjustly deprived of American markets in a world of gradually liberalizing economies, in league with marginalized poor african peasants suffering from aggressive US agricultural tarrifs.

This last point automatically presents an irritating problem. Just when can you say you have been deprived of bread? The sensitive American, decrying his marginalization on social media by the big one percent of his country, does so from an Apple laptop in an air-conditioned room. How do we know, as finely put by Achebe in a Man of the People that “Nanga has taken more than the owner can ignore,” if he did take at all.

Outrightly disgusting is the reality that peace is, first and foremost, a mundane matter of comparison, an ideal striving for equality, and later a genuine fact of oppression. It might be true that all humans are equal. but it is more so true that, a la George Orwell, “some are more equal than others,” for a time at least. Yes, western abundance was an invariable consequence of precolonial mercantilism, slave trade, and colonialism. But it is easy to forget that the form western exploitation takes today is made possible by the present corrupt third-world leaders when we gloss over our internal realities and focus rather on scaling both African and Western economies, not knowing that industrialization was no more expenditure of mental energies of generations past than it was an investment funded by cheaply acquired African raw materials. When we begin to look to ourselves, first of all, basing our own growth on our own energies, releasing ourselves from the consequences of our local corrupt politicians, when we do this and still sense an unfair economic world order bearing down on our liberation from neo-imperial dependence, then we can resume lamenting the old injustice of the White Man again and thereupon bring war to his doorstep. So too with the sensitive American who, year after year, ungratefully scales up his economic comfort, so that he always manages to be in a position to cry poverty at such time as there should be a war to be made on an economically oppressive government.

 We must not agree with the Marxist, who believes in some clockwork contradiction that timely arrives in the shape of a revolution to drive society to another needed phase of equality and hence prosperity, just epochs shy of that much-awaited moment in the horizon when the worker shall rule for all eternity on the behalf of all his fellow equal comrades. Nor must we agree with the liberal man who, given the optimum opportunity, merely sows the seed of anarchy in a point of man’s history to flower in the annals of posterity.

That leaves us with one basic condition on which to wage war: upon deep dialogue and understanding. It is too often said that if the Treaty of Versailles had been ratified with the weakness of the defeated Germans taken into account, they would not have felt humiliated enough to do over a global war. But it is also my belief that if the German principalities had not been strengthened well beyond their capacity for policing the imperialist tendencies of post-Napoleonic France, they would not have felt any exaggerated national pride and any vainglorious need to militarize and draw the other powers into an imperial world war, only to be defeated and, in a chronic bout of inferiority disorder, to pronounce themselves a superior race worthy of an empire.

When wars are mindlessly fought for the sake of peace, without a deep dialogue to ascertain what this peace is in terms of the strength and weaknesses of both sides, then it is at best a temporary or fragile peace, and at worst an invitation to the repeat of another war. Take the Nigerian civil war for instance. The Northerners were suspicious of Igbo economic dominance, the Igbos of northern political dominance. But what if they had parleyed in brotherhood? What if they had come to the understanding that the leaderless and enterprising Igbo, the least inexperienced in state administration, could for the time relinquish genuine democratic power to the North while piloting the economy for the newly independent people, making the peaceful Yoruba a mediating group to see through this understanding and as well protect its interest and that of the other minorities until some gradual communalism lumps each of these groups into one national whole? Could we have seen the hatching of a roughly democratic nation-state? We may never know. If only because first, inconsolably inflamed sensibilities are a natural given in the haunt of newly familiarizing strangers, and second, the African state was at the time mired in the complex web of neocolonial interests which it had no time to contemplate.

Nigeria Civil War
Ojukwu and the Biafran Soldiers | Picture from Vanguard Nigeria

But we do know that after a civil war and a pronouncement by the Nigerian government that there was “No Victor, no vanquished,” the ethnic tensions between these two groups to this day still run as deep and fresh as sixty years ago.

The difficult question still remains, is the price for peace, war? To this, I offer nothing as nearly absolute as an answer, but only caution: war should be waged, only if deep dialogue and understanding have failed. A dialogue that probes into the capabilities of the subject citizen, to see if his being alive, taking into account the activities and beliefs that keep him so, is hampered by the state, an understanding that his strengths are not exaggerated in his agitation for peace, an understanding that holds governments accountable to their citizens,  an understanding that a genius in a capitalist state who has worked out his wealth from value creation must not prey on the worker’s right to live, renumerating him as handsomely as his skill demands, an understanding that the worker in turn, wholly satisfied with his job and not possessed of the mental equipment to churn out value or wealth but is still able to support a modest fairly-holidaying lifestyle, must not, in comparing himself to the genius, confess to marginalization and start seeking a redress of wealth through orchestrated revolutions. He must view himself as one more unique tool in the service of humanity, and nothing more. It is all too sad that gratitude has lost its virtue.

Lastly, we live in an age where truth has dropped its proud universal airs and come to settle among the dwellings of mortal men, and we see this plurality of truth (that most sophisticated weapon of the liberal man), attempting to unravel some four hundred years of nation-building work. With little foresight one can understand why in these times it is only with patience that we can dialogue and understand the varying opinions of one another. Though the results might be uneasy compromises, skewed in favour of the most dogmatic, patience will always weed out the unfavourable policies, and love . . . love conquers all.