Lennon wall, Velkoprevorske namesti, Prague, Czech Republic (Adam Zivner)
Lennon wall, Velkoprevorske namesti, Prague, Czech Republic (Adam Zivner on Wikipedia Commons)

He’s the commander-in-chief of the “war” on drugs and drops the word “kill” so often some think that’s the limit of his English vocabulary. He’s the last person in these isles of violence one would expect to be a pacifist. But he sounded like one last April 9.

Speaking at the Mount Samat national shrine in Bataan during the 75th anniversary of the fall of that province to the Japanese in 1942, President Rodrigo Duterte told his audience of government officials and foreign dignitaries that “no matter the spoils, war is never worth it.” Although that sounded as if he was referring to all wars, he was apparently thinking only of wars of aggression, a word he indeed used in a subsequent remark, and as suggested by his use of the word “spoils.”

Renamed “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor), the surrender to invading Japanese forces of the Filipino and American defenders of Bataan and their subsequent incarceration in internment camps in Tarlac to which they were forced to march in what has come to be known as the Bataan Death March helped assure the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. The Japanese invasion was a war for resources as well as for strategic purposes; the Philippines was part of the “spoils” of the war between the United States and Japan, and, as every schoolboy should know, suffered horribly for it.

Despite Mr. Duterte’s statement, aggression for the sake of resources, territorial aggrandizement, or as a step in achieving strategic dominance, has always been lucrative for the aggressors although devastating to their victims. A resource-poor country, Japan’s war of choice in the Pacific enabled it to access the raw materials it needed for its armaments factories, and incidentally also enriched its military contractors and the Zaibatsu ruling elite. Germany’s conquest of much of Europe assured it essentially the same access to the resources, both material as well physical, of an an entire continent that fed the Nazi war machine with men and materiel in furtherance of its Bourgeoisie’s greed and its rulers’ dreams of a thousand-year empire.

Despite the obvious attractions offered by the spoils of war to aggressors, Mr. Duterte nevertheless urged the community of nations to “work for peace and development.”

Unfortunately, peace and development aren’t exactly the focus of the moment; war and destruction are. The world has never been closer than today to being engulfed in another, even more devastating war than World War II, thanks to the recent actions of the only remaining superpower.

Only three days before, on April 6, the United States had pounded a Syrian military base with 59 Tomahawk missiles (approximate cost: US million each), to the applause of various warmongers in the US and its ruling circles and the military-industrial complex, particularly Raytheon Company, which makes and handsomely profits from every one of the 2,000 instances in which their missiles have been used in US military engagements. The strike was supposedly in retaliation for an alleged Assad government sarin gas attack on its own population that was launched from the targeted base.

The British publication The Guardian, however, claims that the so- called “rebels” opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad and supported by the US and its allies knew about the gas attack days before it happened, which suggests that rather than the government they oppose, these “rebels,” also known as “white helmets,” may have been the culprits.

While the jury is still out on who was responsible for the sarin gas attack, the US strikes seem to have killed civilians as well, according to the testimonies of people on the ground, and what’s more, have brought the already tense relations between the US and Russia to a new low. Russia has declared in so many words that any further attack on its ally, the Syrian government, will have “consequences.”

On April 10, or a day after the Mount Samat rites, US President Donald Trump deployed a carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula, an act some analysts say could be more than a show of force but, as has been implied by Trump administration officials and Trump himself, a prelude to an actual attack on North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

Every US administration (and the US media) have described North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons as intended for use against the US, despite repeated statements from the NK government and even its citizens that they are for defense, and in anticipation of a US attack on it that has seemed forthcoming since then US President George W. Bush labelled North Korea in 2002 as part of an “axis of evil” together with Iraq and Iran. But even if its nuclear weapons are indeed for offensive purposes, and as bellicose as the statements of North Korean sources may be, says Mike Morell, former acting director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, sending the carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula only makes the situation worse.

How much worse is the question. Donald Trump, who now has the most powerful war machine in history at his disposal, is turning out to be as dangerous as he was portrayed by his rivals during the 2016 US Presidential campaign. He’s actually risking nuclear war on the assumption that US military superiority will prevail over any power on earth. The problem with that hare-brained view is that a nuclear war once it starts will result in the destruction of the entire planet.

An attack on North Korea, even if with conventional weapons, will invite retaliation with nuclear arms that can devastate, if not the US itself, at least the Korean Peninsula, with nuclear fall-out affecting Japan, and parts of China as well as the rest of Asia. An all-out nuclear war, whether triggered by the US in the Middle East or Asia, will result in what scientists call a nuclear winter, in which nuclear explosions will raise amounts of dust and sooty smoke extensive enough to cover the sun, leading to a plunge in global temperatures for many months or even years that will kill all vegetation and eventually, all animal life including humans who are dependent on the plant-based food chain.

There are necessary wars but there are also wars of choice rather than need. Among the former are wars against tyranny, against oppression and for the human ends of freedom, equality, social justice, and the right to live lives of peace in dignity. The wars that in the last century have ravaged the globe due mainly to the maniacal desire to rule other countries and to grab their resources, and which are threatening the world again, are not in that category. They are wars of choice, as the war on Iraq was, and as a US war on Syria and North Korea would be. Given the realities of nuclear proliferation and the consequences to the entire human species of a nuclear confrontation, they will be to nobody’s benefit. But that is apparently of no moment to the lords of death and destruction.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo by Adam Zivner.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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