Wars are rackets – some more than others?

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. – – – It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

Smedley D. Butler

Major General Smedley knew what he was talking about. He achieved the highest rank possible in the US Marines and was the most decorated marine.
He said the only two reasons for armed conflict were the defence of our homes and of basic laws and rights. One is an external threat and the other is an internal threat. Currently we face the second.

The defence of one’s homes comes as a result of existential conflict. All other wars are optional.

Perhaps, there is more than one type of optional war.

In 2005, the United Nations World Summit agreed upon a global commitment labelled “Responsibility to Protect” or “R2P”, to address genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This is a legal war of humanitarian benefit. It has three essential requisites – sound, objective proof of need, legal endorsement by the UN and a net benefit for the nation to be helped by the intervention.

The R2P in Libya complied with the second, may have complied with the first and failed horribly on the third. Having been the most prosperous state in Africa, with good economic provision for its citizens and a remarkable degree of equity for its women, it is now totally wrecked and Sub-Saharan Africans are daily bought and sold in its slave markets.

Current efforts to get at least some of the “West” to intervene directly and militarily in Syria lacks the first two and the actual consequences of the Libyan example presents a strong case that it lacks all three. There is no international agreement and Mrs May uses phrases such as “all the indications” and not words of proof.

Such insecure comments bring us to the need for us to stand up for our basic laws and rights. These include the presumption of innocence until guilt is proved, the right of the accused to present their case and the application of one standard to evidence and proceedings so that they are used in an even-handed manner.

None is being applied by HMG or the great majority of the main stream media, which appears to be encouraging direct armed conflict. If we do not protect and apply such basic laws and rights we are asking for their diminution or loss for ourselves as well as others.

We may even attack a nuclear power without the democratic involvement of Parliament.

The wicked harm done to the Syrian children screams, “Justice!” If we act without secure evidence we deny justice.

Why did the UK and US oppose a compromise resolution on Syria, proposed by Sweden, seconded by Russia, seeking investigation into the alleged or real chemical attack on Duma?

Why is there such an emphasis on emotion and so little on analysis and genuine proof of guilt?

Might the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have affected more children with death, mutilation, madness, dispossession and being orphaned than those actually or really gassed in Syria?

Might it help if we were to follow Smedley Butler’s advice and check out the money in these, and all conflicts?

Photo above of Brigadier Smedley Butler is from USMC Acrhives via Flickr Creative Commons Licence.

* Steve Trevathan is chairperson of Lyme Regis and Marshwood Vale Liberal Democrats.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • There is certainly the first in Syria. The second is prevented largely by Russia – and one of the reasons some have proposed a ‘responsibility to protect 2’ with more objective criteria. The third is entirely subjective and impossible in such a prolonged, entrenched and complex conflict. You could also have referenced the Geneva protocol on the use of chemical weapons: https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/bio/1925-geneva-protocol/

    Whatever happens, our response will be imperfect and people will die needlessly – at this stage we can only hope that our politicians have clear objectives and a commitment to see through whatever those objectives are within the chaos that they know they are stepping into.

    One thing that I find grating in all of this is that both sides too often claim moral authority where there is none on either side – just an intractable conflict that harms everyone it touches. The two responses broadly fall into either a desire to try and ameliorate the problem with however imperfect a response, or a deep fear of doing further harm with a disproportionate or wrong response. Both are reasonable in their way given no one can predict the future but ultimately to govern is to choose.

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Apr '18 - 4:52pm

    Let the nation/coalition that is without sin discharge the first missile.
    No nation or coalition is without fault and, indeed, it is better for the children and everyone else if there is the avoidance of either/or, right/wrong, good/bad approaches.

    Perhaps it might help if the main stream media and politicians were more consistent and less one sided in their comments and information.

    Currently, the Russian Federation is being portrayed as a devil and we, “The West”, are encouraged to consider ourselves as saintly rescuers.

    Here is some relevant mathematics:
    Armed conflict involving Russia and/or its associates 12
    Armed conflict involving the USA and/or its associates 121
    Syrian children killed by gas – not clear but seems to be about 1,000
    Iraqi children killed by UN sanctions prior to the Iraq War [2003-2011] – 576,000
    [All data from Wikipedia]

  • David Cooper 13th Apr '18 - 6:05pm

    Nice article. I find it ironic that “Responsibility to Protect” is being used to justify the most irresponsible president in my lifetime launching a military adventure. The sooner “Responbility to Protect” is junked the better.
    A better principle would be “Responsibility not to meddle”.

  • The “Fog of War” applies. Where does truth end and propaganda begin?

    Consider the protagonists: Assad is certainly no democrat – but then neither are any of our “friends” in the middle east. However, he has always run a non-sectarian government where Syria’s many minorities, including his own Alawite community and Christians among others, are free to practise their own religion. He poses absolutely no threat to Europe and is supported by most Syrians. They may not like him but he’s the best available.

    Conversely, the assorted jihadists, many of them foreigners, are vicious in the extreme and have created a reign of terror across Syria and much or Iraq. The least suspicion that someone is gay is enough to get him thrown off a high roof or worse. (And some Lib Dems support them!!!) Moreover, the jihadists explicit intention is to export their terror to the rest of the world – as we have already seen in relatively small measure on European streets. If they should get uncontested control of a state, even one as devastated as Syria, the likely consequences are just too awful to contemplate.

    Then there are the Americans. We now know the Iraq war was based on a mountain of lies and scare-mongering about mythical WMDs. It has cost by some estimates nearly 1.5 million lives. The 99% probability fake Ghouta gas attack is claimed to have cost 40 – 80).

    Charles Kennedy saw through the deception of the war party to his enormous credit. And now in Syria? The war party remains immensely influential, entirely unreformed unrepentant and clearly dedicated to overthrowing Assad – surely the exact opposite of R2P.

    The war has endured this long only because the jihadists have received immense quantities of US weapons. They’ve even supplied MANPADs to Al Qaeda-linked terrorists! UK taxpayers fund jihadi propaganda.

    The Russians who, unlike US and UK forces, are in Syria legally now say (very reasonably IMO) that they’ve had enough. US forces have already made multiple direct attacks on them (excused as ‘mistakes’ or disguised as jihadi operations). They say they will strike the launch vehicle next time a Russian is killed.

    Welcome to WW3. And all to help some very nasty terrorists!

  • A Social Liberal 13th Apr '18 - 6:37pm

    Steve Trevethan

    You are playing statistics and even then being mealy mouthed about it. For instance, associates? Does this include Syria, who have been involved in 80 years of military shinanigans against Israel (indeed, I think that they may still be at war with that state), or Iraq who also intervened militarily until Saddam was deposed.

    And how far back would you like to go? The end of the USSR, the setting up of the Soviet Union, the formation of the Russian Empire? 12 military acts – I could name more than that BEFORE I resorted to my history books.

  • A Social Liberal 13th Apr '18 - 6:39pm

    David Cooper

    You would then, I presume, be willing to let innocents continue to be targeted by state players?

  • Ed Shepherd 14th Apr '18 - 6:30am

    These air strikes will make the situation in Syria worse not better.

  • Steve Trevethan 14th Apr '18 - 9:31am

    Is the timing of the France, UK, US airstrikes chance, ineptitude or planned?

    How will air attacks and the damage to/destruction of SUSPECTED Syrian chemical weapons facilities affect the gathering of evidence in this matter by the OPCW inspectors?

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