After the collapse of the Soviet Union, anti-war movements have failed to garner significant support — and for a good reason. The movement’s failure is not a surprise as its argument relied heavily on two main ideas: unwillingness to kill, and the perceived pointlessness of war. With the progression of military technology and the rise of dictatorships in the Middle East, these talking points have given way. Lyrics from 1950s pacifist songs like Boris Vian’s “Le Déserteur” are proof that the anti-war movement is no longer relevant. The United States must protect its interests in global oil markets by supporting the surviving revolutions of the Arab Spring.
Boris Vian, a French writer and musician, released “Le Déserteur” on the seventh of May, 1954. The song was written as a letter to the French president, René Coty, explaining why he refused to fight in the First Indochina War. The message of the song is considered to be summative of the philosophy of the pacifist movement. Vian published the piece as a reaction to the rumor that the Fourth French Republic would start enlisting men to fight the Viêt Minh in southeastern Asia. The lyrics remained extremely pertinent in the Algerian War that started a few months after the song’s debut. The lines from the song can be analyzed in a postmodern context, to determine whether or not its meaning is relevant.
One of Vian’s more impactful lines in “Le Déserteur” is “Si vous me poursuivez, prévenez vos gendarmes que je n’aurai pas d’armes, et qu’ils pourront tirer.” The line roughly translates to “if you come after me, tell your officers that I won’t have arms, and they can shoot.” This lyric is an acknowledgment of the risks he would have to take were he to refuse to serve in the war. A lot of anti-war rhetoric is about not wanting people to be forced to travel across the world to risk their lives and take the lives of others. At the time, this argument was especially effective. Going to war was already unpopular enough — the idea of conscription was even more hated. However, this contention no longer holds up in the 21st Century, and certainly will not survive the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Dr. Warren Chin, a senior lecturer in international relations, war, and strategy at King’s College London, theorizes a future of war that is independent of humans in his article published in the Oxford University Press’s International Affairs, “Technology, War and the State: Past, Present, and Future.” “In this scenario, future war is imagined as a symmetrical contest between conventional forces on an increasingly automated battlefield. Within this space, humans will be augmented and in some instances replaced by AI and robots contending with increasingly lethal forms of weaponry.” In a situation where artificial intelligence becomes progressively superior to human ability, conscription would not be necessary in an advanced state. Without the threat of mandatory military service, the principal argument of the campaign loses validity. The movement loses its personal aspect which was responsible for much of its success in the 1950s. And it should be noted that the future that Chin speculates is not distant; the shift began decades ago. Though this change alone is not enough to end the pacifistic campaign.
Near the beginning of Boris Vian’s, “Le Déserteur”, is the line “Je ne suis pas sur terre pour tuer des pauvres gens.” Vian is telling President Coty that he is not on the Earth to kill poor people. This line goes back to the moral rejection of induction into the military, but it also brings up the idea that war is pointless. Vian was by no means the only individual making this point. Many people felt that the conflicts that the members and allies of the North Atlantic Alliance were getting into with the partners of the Warsaw Pact were unwinnable. There was a definite feeling that war was futile. And although this argument is still made today, it has lost some of its legitimacy with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the United States as the singular world power. The United States has the ability to determine the outcome of conflicts in the Middle East in favor of its national interests.
The two most important things to understand about the role of the United States in the Arab world are global oil markets and the Arab Spring. These two factors have undeniably been two of the most dominant influences in the United States’ Post-Cold War era foreign policy. Dr. Jeff D Colgan, a professor of political science at Brown University, published an article that explores the effects of oil on war-related decisions in the postmodern world in MIT Press’s International Security, titled “Fueling the Fire: Pathways from Oil to War.” Colgan finds three principal manners in which oil influences such decisions: the necessities filled by oil, the fear of a singular nation dominating the market, and the inequality created by the oil industry in second-world oil-rich nations. The second has had the most impact on United States world politics.
To most Americans, the international crude oil industry is not something of great concern. But to understand world politics, one has to understand the oil industry and its effects. Simply put, the developed world depends on oil. Industry, transportation, food production, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and much more are all contingent on access to oil. Consequently, it matters which companies and countries control the flow and purchase of crude oil. As Colgan points out, had there not been a large allied response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, “[Iraq] might have exploited its market power to increase the price of oil, thereby enriching itself at the expense of oil importers.” This might not surprise anyone who has learned about the dangers of monopolies in a free market. If the anti-monopolistic economic argument is not enough, there is a second point that incorporates both the aforementioned contention and a humanitarian argument: the Arab Spring.
For anyone who does not already know what the Arab Spring is, it began in the 2010s as a streak of revolutionary protests throughout the Arab world. And although the movement is often dismissed as a failure, Marwan Bishara points out in his article published in Al Jazeera, “Put the spring back in the Arab Spring,” “[The protests] are already putting Arab regimes on the defensive, forcing leaders to resign and pressuring parliaments to reform, setting new precedents for peaceful change. Such slow and frustrating processes are crucial for reforms to be truly democratic. Unlike totalitarian revolutions, democratic revolutions are evolutionary by nature and take a long time to change the political culture and transform society.” The Arab Spring is not dead. There still exists in the Arabic people, the political will for democratic change within their nation-states. The Arab Spring has created an opportunity for the United States that it must take.
Supporting the movements in the Middle East would create demand from the United States Military for private corporations to create advanced technology. This, of course, would boost the economy of the United States. The providing of military aid to form democratic governments in the Arab world would also help the West command the oil industry. Democratic governments are more likely to participate in free trade with OECD nations like the United States, and less likely to ally themselves with authoritarian regimes like Russia and the People’s Republic of China. A free Middle East opens up opportunities for American and European companies to drill for oil and build pipelines to Europe. The free flow of oil and the construction of infrastructure throughout the Arab world would employ Americans abroad and lower gas prices domestically.
The collapse of the anti-war movement is reflective of its loss of relevancy — this is no secret. Dr. Richard Seymour, a Marxist writer from the United Kingdom, admits in an article in The Guardian, “The anti-war movement’s dilemma — and how to resolve it,” that the movement is dying. The future of United States foreign policy in the Middle East should not be radical pacifism, nor should it be radical militarism. The lyrics of anti-war songs act as evidence that the movement has lost its relevance, and now does more harm to the interests of democratic nations than it does good. The United States can help both its citizens and the people of the Arab world by providing aid to political revolutions through the deployment of advanced military technology, which will also allow the Western world to have more control over the global crude oil market.