• The Party We Never Had – on peace and prosperity

    by  • August 10, 2010 • Everything Else • 4 Comments

    (play this, and read on)

    In 1991, to all intents and purposes, world peace broke out. The US had won. Truth, Justice and the American Way – democracy itself – had been vindicated by the economic collapse of the Soviets. Even with 50% defense spending in the US, even with tensions between the US and China, even with all the small wars, the world was at peace with America victorious. The last gasp of the nuclear weapon, the stray terrorist bomb, continued to haunt us but it was a threat we could face, unlike the threat of mutually assured destruction and its unspeakable, unimaginable true meaning: the loss of all life on earth in a single day.

    We had arrived at the place longed for and sought for through generations of sacrifice. 20 years later the world is bankrupt and America is broken. What went wrong?

    The country failed to make the turn, to adapt to peace, and now it is losing wars and bankrupted.

    What happened? For 10 years, 1991 to 2001, the US maintained huge defense spending. The “peace dividend” was tiny. Most importantly no new social roles were opened up for former soldiers. A declaration of victory, of peace, followed by slashing defense spending and using the money to put former soldiers and defense contractors back into the peacetime economy, a Marshall Plan for America is what was needed.

    But the standing army was left standing. The communal celebration which could have saved America’s soul was not held. The party that could have saved our civilization was not thrown. Without the communal celebration of the collapse of the Soviet Union the relief that was was over never became a part of our collective consciousness, our social narrative. Project for a New American Century nibbled away at the wires, and when finally Bush came to power the chance to demilitarize, re-arm, and go after Permanent Sole Superpower Status came with 9/11. The agenda in Rebuilding America’s Defenses was tried, and failed.

    The US is mired in two wars. Real unemployment figures hover around 20%. The world financial system has been bailed out by borrowing money from future generations which will never be paid back. The entire thing is rickety and clapped out, with none of the resilience needed to cope with climate change and the onrushing crises of globalization because of the Puritan reluctance to declare Jubilee.

    In 1991, we needed to declare victory. We needed to throw the party to end all parties – indeed, the party to end all wars. We needed to tell ourselves, and each-other, that we were safe from Stalin’s legacy and that if we worked together, the peace dividend could last forever.

    And one man ended this dream. You may want me to say Osama bin Laden, but it was not. It was George Walker Bush who, with his backers, took a tragedy and started two religiously inspired wars of opportunity, to finally fly the Christian flag over the middle east, and the American flag over its oil reserves. We watched them invade Iraq, a country completely unrelated to the 9/11 attacks. We watched them kill a million people there, give or take.

    Now President Obama claims that it is legal to murder American citizens and to criminalize those who would offer those citizens legal council.

    All of this because we were not willing to declare victory when the Cold War was won. We did not declare peace, we did not cut military spending, we did not make new social roles for the former members of the military-industrial complex returned to productive employment.

    And now the world is bankrupt from the most expensive war in history. Blood and treasure burned in the sand, a false sacrifice to the vain gods of Empire.

    This financial collapse did not just happen because of lax banking regulations. It happened because a society cannot maintain a war footing for nearly a century, cannot maintain the hypocrisy of preaching peace while making war, of exporting democracy at the point of a sword, and of leaving its own children ill-fed and poor while shattering the lives of entire generations.

    I have worked closely with the military, specifically the American military, trying to forge paths to peace. I went as an infrastructure specialist, as somebody who knew how to rebuild and remake. I went to try and build a road out of the quagmire. I will not say it was for nothing, but it was glacially slow progress and not much to show for nearly ten years. One rather good paper, and its associated project, is not what I’d hoped for.

    Now, at the end of my rant, let me propose the three conclusions.

    • The failure to declare victory, or to declare failure, damages us by trapping us in old struggles, whether we won or lost them.
    • The celebration, or the sorrowing, is the emotional phase of letting go of an old way of life.
    • If we do not do this for the time of material abundance we have enjoyed, at the cost of mortgaging all life on earth to our greed as we burn the biosphere for industrial productivity, we will not be able to exit this phase cleanly.

    We need a ritual to exit the phase in history when we, the victors, had everything and when the Earth was sufficiently strong to shoulder the burden of our foolish and absurd greeds without visible complaint.

    We stand at the gateway of a new chapter, when peace – the silent, quiet peace of a world at bay – and war, the bloody war over the last scraps of oil-fueled prosperity – are both possible.

    How are we to have the celebration and the sorrowing for our industrial prosperity, and for the over-consumption which has blotted our our fears of nuclear annihilation for generations as we labored under the Cold War’s umbrella of unholy terror?

    Now that the nuclear rockets are gone from our skies, we can think straight, open our eyes, and look at the world around us, and each other, and say – sober and sane – that we have gone astray. The terror blinded us, and we slaked our fear at the mall.

    It is over and we must clearly, consciously and without reservation come in our hearts to the realization that our madness has ended, and it is time to clean up from our insane century of war, holocaust and nuclear terror. It is possible to think again, because the flash from the skies is gone.

    I want us to throw the party which never came, the party at which we declared war is over, and peace has come. I want us to throw it in the ruins of a bankrupt America, as the troops come home because there is no financial alternative. I want us all to set the world to rights by acknowledging that it is over, the terror from the skies, and we can stop shopping, start taking care of each other, and building a world worth living in for everybody.

    Because we did not declare peace when we had the chance, we got another round of war. When the chance for peace comes again, as it must, let there be celebration and sorrowing, and the admission the world of war and excess, which we have suffered and reveled through, is ended.

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    4 Responses to The Party We Never Had – on peace and prosperity

    1. August 12, 2010 at 3:51 pm


      You’ve opened up an important field of inquiry here! There’s so much wrapped up in this short post. It cannot be left to languish as a one-time statement. I know I’ll be thinking about this and looking forward to writing more on what you’ve laid bare.

      The need to celebrate, and to mourn, is great and has been long unacknowledged. Both have been trivialized within infantilizing consumer culture when both are awesome acts and deep responsibilities – rites – as they were called in earlier times across many cultures. These rites make up part of the backbone of what it is to be human, living within a viable culture.

      As to the specifics of the “End of the American Century,” I would say there’s a closer coupling between the dynamics behind all of the so-called winners and losers of the Twentieth Century to be able to say that this particular victory was THE moment, or that having celebrated it would have created the watershed we need.

      You are right, and I felt it, as did many others at the time, that a tremendous opportunity was being wasted. Looking back, I think it had to go to waste because it didn’t cut deeply enough. Like VE and VJ Day – a holiday here in Rhode Island! – we were well on the way towards the sequel before the first cork was popped.

      I think you are spot-on concerning the need to celebrate and mourn, while I think your essay here just scratches the surface of the layers of pathology that need to be sorted through before we can clearly see both what we need to mourn and what we need to celebrate.

      To begin, let’s celebrate this landmark essay!

    2. August 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      Amen. Warriors against the reality-based community haven’t quite given up the fight, though – nice cartoon:


      If anything, today’s lot make PNAC look relatively sane – and there’s not a small risk they might be in power in just over two year’s time. The inability of large swathes of people to be able to distinguish between “mass murdering arseholes who fly planes into buildings” and “muslims” is really creeping me out.

      p.s. I hope you’re watching the Daily Show – gives me endless hope for the US, though we may have to end up giving John asylum over here…

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