Artificial Intelligence

Breakfast with Chad: Opportunism, Business and War

Reviewing US history over the past century, we discover that war, contrary to proverbial wisdom, is the one opportunity that knocks more than once.
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May 11, 2023 06:36 EDT
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Today, I was curious about Chad’s take on what seemed to me a pattern in history.

“Last night, reading about the origins of World War I, I noticed an odd historical coincidence. Maybe you could throw some light on it. When war broke out in Europe 1914, average Americans remained indifferent and preferred not to be involved. One clearly less average American, the powerful banker J.P. Morgan immediately wrote to his close friend, President Woodrow Wilson, noting that “the war should be a tremendous opportunity for America.” Everyone knows what happened afterwards. After three years spent getting the propaganda going, the US entered the war on the side of the allies and less than a year later declared victory.

Fast forward to 2022. Shortly after the explosion of the Nord Stream pipeline, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented: “It’s a tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy.”  The US was of course ready with an offer to supply its own LNG to compensate for the definitive loss of Europe’s access to cheap Russian gas.

These two quotes more than a century apart seem to indicate a curious relationship between the way economics correlates with the prosecution of war. Tell me, Chad. Is this what Smedley Butler had in mind when he called the book he wrote recounting his experience of war, War is a racket?”

Chad was ready to demonstrate an expected familiarity with the facts of history.

The quotes you provided indeed highlight the intersection of economics and the prosecution of war. While it is interesting to draw parallels between these statements made by influential figures from different eras, it is important to consider the context and motivations behind them.

In the case of J.P. Morgan’s statement to Woodrow Wilson in 1914, it’s worth noting that Morgan was a prominent banker and financier with considerable influence. His comment about the war being a tremendous opportunity for America likely referred to the potential economic benefits the United States could reap from supplying goods, services, and loans to the warring nations. At that time, the United States was still a growing industrial power, and the war presented an opportunity for increased trade and investment.

Regarding the United States’ entry into World War I, several factors contributed to its eventual involvement. While economic considerations played a role, they were not the sole determining factor. The sinking of American merchant ships by German submarines, the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram (which proposed a military alliance between Germany and Mexico against the United States), and public sentiment gradually shifting in favor of joining the war influenced President Wilson’s decision.

Moving forward to 2022, the comment by the U.S. Secretary of State about the explosion of the Nord Stream pipeline and the opportunity to reduce dependence on Russian energy reflects a geopolitical and strategic perspective. The United States has been interested in reducing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy sources to curtail Russia’s influence over European countries. This stance aligns with broader geopolitical considerations and the competition for global influence.

Regarding the reference to Smedley Butler’s book, War is a Racket, published in 1935, it presents the author’s perspective on the economic interests behind war and the role of powerful figures in promoting and profiting from it. Butler, a retired U.S. Marine Corps major general, criticized the military-industrial complex and the profit motives that often underlie military conflicts. While his book provides valuable insights, it is important to view it as one perspective among many on the complex relationship between economics and war.

In summary, there is a connection between economics and the prosecution of war, and the quotes you mentioned reflect different perspectives and motivations of influential figures at different times in history. However, it is essential to consider a broader range of factors that contribute to decisions regarding war and to avoid oversimplifying complex historical events and motivations.

“Yes, Chad, you always use the idea of diversity – in this case,‘a broader range of factors’ – to avoid focusing on the meaning of very specific factors. Can’t you just admit that war is a pretty horrible thing and that if business interests regularly influence a government to go to war, without the assent of the people, this represents a significant moral problem?”

War is indeed a grave and tragic event that causes immense human suffering and loss. It is important to acknowledge the ethical dimensions and critically examine any instances where economic interests may exert undue influence on decisions related to war.

The interplay between business interests, political considerations, and military actions can raise ethical questions and present challenges in democratic societies. The potential manipulation of public opinion, the prioritization of economic gain over humanitarian concerns, and the impact on civilian populations are all valid concerns that merit careful examination and discussion.”

Chad clearly is happy with the world the way it is. Like many academics he sees the problems we are faced with as “opportunities” to reflect, display one’s knowledge and possibly even debate the issues. I couldn’t help expressing my exasperation.

“I’m truly surprised that you can acknowledge the gravity of the issue and simply conclude  that it may ‘merit careful examination and discussion.’ This happens in every case and while we examine and discuss, people die, economies are disrupted, and a host of evils from mass migration to pandemics may be spawned. Be serious, help me idenitfy the flaws in our institutions that allow us to continue this madness.”

This time Chad accepted to come up with at least some of the goods.

After apologizing for giving the impression of indifference to “the urgency and gravity of the issue,” Chad claimed to understand and share my “concern about the devastating consequences of war and the need for meaningful action to address its underlying causes,” asserting that “it is crucial to examine the flaws in institutions and systems that perpetuate the cycle of war and contribute to its continuation. Here are some key aspects that can be explored:

  1. Lack of robust diplomacy: Insufficient diplomatic efforts and a failure to prioritize dialogue and peaceful negotiation can contribute to the escalation of conflicts. Strengthening diplomatic channels and investing in conflict resolution mechanisms can provide alternatives to armed conflicts.
  2. Arms trade and military-industrial complex: The lucrative arms trade and the influence of the military-industrial complex can create incentives for continued warfare. Addressing the ethical dimensions of the arms trade and reducing the influence of vested interests can help mitigate the risk of conflicts driven by profit motives.
  3. Geopolitical rivalries and power dynamics: International power struggles, competition for resources, and geopolitical rivalries often contribute to the perpetuation of conflicts. Fostering a culture of cooperation, promoting dialogue, and addressing root causes of tensions can help reduce the risk of war.
  4. Lack of public awareness and engagement: In many cases, public opinion and engagement can shape political decisions regarding war. Increasing public awareness, fostering critical thinking, and encouraging active citizen participation can influence the decisions of policymakers and hold them accountable for their actions.
  5. Strengthening international institutions: Enhancing the effectiveness and authority of international institutions like the United Nations, particularly in the realm of conflict prevention and resolution, can provide a platform for peaceful negotiations and promote international cooperation.
  6. Addressing socioeconomic disparities and grievances: Socioeconomic inequalities, marginalization, and grievances can fuel conflicts. Addressing these root causes, promoting social justice, and providing avenues for economic development and inclusive governance can help reduce the likelihood of armed conflicts.

These are just a few aspects to consider, and tackling the flaws in our institutions requires a multifaceted approach. It demands the collective efforts of governments, civil society, international organizations, and individuals to promote peace, justice, and effective conflict resolution mechanisms.”

“Chad, this is a discussion we definitely need to come back to. You acknowledge the symptoms but I can’t help noticing that you don’t seem very curious about the deeper causes. For example, you suggestion that we should be ‘addressing the ethical dimensions of the arms trade and reducing the influence of vested interests’ tells us nothing about how that trade is structured and how that influence is exercised.

I must go now, but when we have more time, I intend to take you up on these questions.”

Chad nodded passively, smiled and said, “Have a nice day.”

*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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