The world order grift -Express Tribune

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“Dialogue is useless”. Did you know Charlie Chaplin barely escaped an assassination attempt by sheer dumb luck? No, it is neither revisionist history nor any form of alleged Mandela effect. It is called the May 15 incident. Look it up.

For the readers in a hurry here is the gist of it. Chaplin was on a three-week tour in Japan at the invitation of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. The promotion of his 1931 film City Lights was an added benefit. Since the film was silent it had quickly transcended the cultural boundaries. On the 15th he was to attend a reception by the Prime Minister, but the PM’s son offered to take him to watch a sumo wrestling match before the main event. Chaplin went along. And while they sat watching the match, the Prime Minister’s residence was attacked by young naval officers and he was shot by eleven men. These men wanted to kill Chaplin to start a war with the United States. The dying premier’s words were, “If I could speak you would understand”. To this one of these men replied, “Dialogue is useless”.

These were tumultuous days and ultranationalists were seeking to overthrow the political order. In 1933 another naval pilot plotted to bomb the Japanese parliament and the prime minister’s residence. The reason why I brought up the ‘Chaplin plot’ is to draw your attention to the motives of the plotters. To start a war with the US. The argument went that the resulting anxiety in Japan would lead to the ‘restoration’ in the name of the emperor. Strange logic right? But the plotters would get their heart’s desire in slightly over a decade when the bombing of Pearl Harbour led to a direct military conflict between the two countries.

Wars have perverted logic and lives of their own. Once started you never know when and how they would end. In Japan’s case, it ended with the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the nation’s surrender. Despite so many warnings from history, there seems to be no dearth of fanatics who want more wars.

Do you want to see how the idea of war warps some minds? Here is an example. During the 2019 Pakistan India standoff, when the Indian PM was hell bent on using a conflict to shore up his muscular image to win an election, and the world looked on with bated breath fearing this could lead to a nuclear conflict, a piece in a western publication caught my attention. The author had argued that a limited nuclear conflict between the two countries could set off a chain reaction which would in the end result in…. wait for it … a reprieve from climate change. So what if it would kill 125 million. Hey, this is for the greater good, right? Last year, an article in Nature magazine told us that scientists routinely study the cons and even pros of such conflicts. I can understand the scientific need to explore and weigh all outcomes of a potential conflict. But that while the two countries are rapidly climbing the escalatory ladder publishing such a story seems like saying, “hey buddies won’t you be a good sport and kill 125 million of your own so that the rest of us can live.”

There is a reason why you are reading all of this. For a recent television debate, I wanted to see how international media was covering the Ladakh standoff between India and China. When I looked it up on YouTube I was surprised to see a never-ending stream of shows and television discussions on the matter by Indian channels. As I decided to go down this rabbit hole I was surprised to see some of the content out there was literally ‘out there’. How could pundits of any country want war(s) so badly? Have they not heard of nuclear mutual assured destruction? But then it occurred to me. This wasn’t audience-driven content. When your media wants to placate the ruling elite, its business model is inverted and demand is manufactured, content induced. LK Advani, the BJP’s co-founder, once had this to say about the Indian media (and presumably punditry): They were only asked to bend, they chose to crawl.

But India is not alone in this. Talk to your own pundits and they, very self-assuredly, tell you that the US has decided to fight China and in this conflict, India is going to be its proxy in the region. Interrogate them further and some of them even have an entire timeline worked out. In 2023 India and Pakistan will go to war. In 2024 China will invade Taiwan. And then we have a world war after that. I am sorry but did Nostradamus telephone you personally?

The problem is that nothing is set in stone. That the world we live in is out of its depth grappling with a plethora of unknown and unforeseen variables. How can anyone be so sure of the future of any organising principle among nations of the world then? Social Sciences are awfully imperfect. Why? Because they seek to generalise human and social behaviour.

Just see how nearly infinite variables counteract in social realms. Why is it that Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide in Tunis sparks the Arab Spring, but a similar suicide in Iran by 38-year-old Ruhollah Parazideh or identical suicides in Pakistan do not have any impact? Today every pundit bores you with the claims about the US being a declining superpower while forgetting to mention that the term ‘superpower’ was coined by an American, William TR Fox, in 1944 explicitly to describe the US? No other country before the US was called that while it was anywhere near that status. There is nothing inevitable about war, whether big or small, hot or cold. There are only wily exploiters and some useful idiots who inhale their propaganda, like the 11 Japanese young men we mentioned, and end up starting wars. Wars do more damage than you can perceptibly discern, and not just to the vanquished but the victors as well.

But why do people advocate wars, project world orders, and justify irrational acts and worldviews? Because all of this is a grift. Dr Ken Booth has got their number. In a 1996 speech titled “Utopian Realism”, he pointed out that while the job of an international relations expert is to speak truth to power, many due to blind ambition, choose to speak power to truth. It was clearly a reference to Samuel Huntington. In other words, intellectuals like him tailored their theories and conjectures in accordance with the needs of their political paymasters.

We breathe in the third decade of the 21st century and were very nearly vanquished by a tiny microbe. If we still cannot learn to get along now perhaps we have never understood history.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2021.