The Voices of War

3. Dr. Mike Martin - A Soldier-Philosopher

VOW 3 | Nature Of War

Today I’m speaking with Dr. Mike Martin, a former British Army Officer who has since become a prominent speaker and writer on conflict, particularly its causes. Mike has published several books on the subject, including ‘An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012’—which landed him in some hot water—and ‘Why We Fight’, a deep dive into the evolutionary reasons for war and conflict. More recently, Mike has been engaged by the Australian Defence Force to deliver a course on the impact cultural understanding can have on a conflict as a way to improve our collective understanding of the wars we have been a part of and are likely to be involved with in the future. Some of the topics we covered on this podcast include:

  • His reasons for delving into the profession of arms, both as a participant as well as a scholar of it
  • The true nature of war
  • Sense of belonging and the pull of ideology
  • The importance of the local context, particularly when fighting a war
  • The failings of the war in Afghanistan
  • Mike’s personal battle with getting his book ‘An Intimate War’ published
  • The five social problems we need to solve to prevent violence
  • The current crisis in the United States

You can find out more about Mike and his work on, including information on his books ‘An Intimate War – An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012’, ‘Crossing The Congo’ and ‘Why We Fight’.

Listen to the podcast here

Dr. Mike Martin – A Soldier-Philosopher

My guest is Dr. Mike Martin, a former British Army officer who has since become a prominent speaker and writer on conflict, particularly its causes. He has published several books on the subject, most notably one which has landed him in some hot water, as we will shortly discuss. It’s titled An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978 to 2012. He’s also published a book called Why We Fight, which is a deep dive into the evolutionary reasons for war and conflict.

Mike has also been engaged by the Australian Defence Force to deliver a course on the impact cultural understanding can have on a conflict. This is a way to improve our collective understanding of the conflicts we have been a part of and are likely to be involved with in the future. Mike, thanks for joining me.

Thanks for having me.

Before we get into your experiences of war and the subsequent research, maybe we will go back to what made you initially join the military.

I’d always wanted to go to war. I’m sure many young boys have this, age ten or something. They will play commandos or whatever. I did that, but I also had quite a deep interest in war, which has now become my profession. I felt driven to it in the same way that people are driven to become a doctor or a teacher. It’s a vocation. Warrior is an ancient vocation in the human species, isn’t it?

I can personally relate to that as well. As a young fellow, my first title was a soldier. I was three. I can certainly connect to that. This was in Bosnia.

My friends used to call me Commando Michael. They were taking the piss. The reason why taking the piss works is because there’s some truth in it, isn’t there?

It’s something one identifies with, especially when it becomes a name, title, or nickname that one associates with. I know it certainly was for me and has followed me throughout my life and ultimately made me join the military. It’s interesting because I joined the military after I experienced war. The audience of this show will already know that I have experienced the Bosnia conflict to an extent as a young kid, shaping my orientation towards conflict. What shaped your orientation towards conflict? You said from an early age you wanted to be a warrior, Commando Mike. Was that the trigger? Was that why you dove into the deep and murky orders?

I read a lot. Loads of people read a lot, but I was and am a bookworm. When I say I was interested in war as a youngster, it wasn’t so much the bang and blowing stuff up, shooting people side of warfare. That’s exciting. Having done some of that, I can attest that that’s one of the most exciting things, if not the most exciting thing you can do. It was the political side of warfare, where war meets society, or the negotiations surrounding violence or military conflict.

The books I read when I was a youngster were often things like King Solomon’s Mines, Beau Geste, or books about political officers or like Wilfred Thesiger, stuff like that where you have got a combination of exploration, both physical, but also mostly societal, combined with speaking the local languages and carrying out some tasks.

I’m not defending colonialism. Most of these books were reflective of the colonial era but they were trying to carry out some task and they were doing it in a particularly politically astute way through knowledge of the local societies and the ability to understand and navigate through that terrain. Occasionally, that meant using violence and occasionally, it didn’t. That border between politics, speaking, war, and fighting has always fascinated me. It’s a threshold that is probably not as distinct as we imagine. Particularly we in Western advanced economies, tend to think of war as an on or off thing.

The border between politics and war is fascinating. It's a threshold that is probably not as distinct as we imagine. Click To Tweet

It either there’s peace or there’s war, whereas it’s not that. That threshold I see is stretched out because violence is a method of communication and all those sorts of things. People use that to send messages when they are unable to send other messages or use violence in combination with messages they have delivered verbally.

That fascination with war, at heart, is a fascination with humans. War is an extreme environment that brings out some of the more extreme aspects or makes them more obvious to see because people are forced to take positions in war that they wouldn’t otherwise take. War strips away the airs and graces and lays bare the raw humanity.

By using the term humanity there, I don’t mean that it was a humanitarian gesture. I don’t mean it in that sense. By humanity, I mean the raw humanity in all of its glory, whether good or bad. The rawness of human emotions laid bare in a conflict. By studying conflicts, you can learn a huge amount about humanity, society, societies we have created, how we interact with others, how those societies interact with those societies, and so on.

It removes that fragile veneer of society that we hold so dear to our hearts. I think you hit the nail on the head that war brings it down to the parts of what it means to be human. We look at the Coronavirus in Australia, we saw the fragile, idea of a peaceful democratic society shatter over toilet paper. It’s laughable, but it speaks to that very point. It is something so fundamentally human, which is fascinating. That’s a far deeper and more nuanced appreciation of war and conflict that most people hold.

Also, a much more noble reason to get into the profession of arms. It’s important to note here that you were deployed to Afghanistan, but you are also a fluent Pashto speaker. How did that come about? We will talk about the actual conflict and Afghanistan, but why did you even learn the language? How easy or hard is it to even become fluent in a language?

I could come to that in two parts because you said something there that made me think of this quite important point, which is that there’s a tradition of philosopher soldiers or soldier scholars in many societies. Often, some of the most philosophical, deepest thinkers I have met have been soldiers because they have been faced with this rawness of humanity.

I think that we denigrate that or we ignore that or we don’t sustain that and support that at our peril because if you don’t have people thinking deeply about conflict, and by that, I don’t mean like professional military education. It doesn’t touch the sides. Thinking deeply about the undercurrents and the fundamentals of conflict, I think you have a huge problem. It’s a bit like was it Trotsky’s or Lenin’s?

I’m not sure who it’s attributed to, but that phrase, you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. This idea of the soldier scholar or the philosopher soldier or whatever you want to call it is something that we need to nurture and encourage amongst our soldiers. Particularly amongst our politicians, ultimately in the UK and Australia, in democratic societies as politicians that make the final call. How do I learn Pashto? We will come back to that.

That’s an interesting point. It’s worth exploring, particularly the notion about our politicians because perhaps the point you are making is that they are the ones who are sending people in uniform, men and women, to war. Potentially, they don’t have the context of what war is about if they are not, say, a philosopher soldier or somebody who’s had any experience of that rawness of war. Is that what you mean?

There’s something that you can’t gain about war without experiencing it. Even if you do experience it, maybe you haven’t done the requisite reading and so on to interpret those feelings. I’m saying there is a technical way of looking at war. We can look at it in terms of technological acquisition and statistics like our tank and their tank and weapon ranges. We can look at it in terms of signals intelligence and networks that build up target packs and all that stuff. There are lots of very technical disciplines in war, like in medicine. In medicine, the doctor needs to understand all the technical disciplines, but they also need to have a bedside manner and judgment to know which of those technical disciplines to use when treating the patient.

It’s the same in war. War has lots of science and technical disciplines in it, but there’s an art to it. By art, we mean there’s something that’s not rational, something that is emotional and very hard to learn from a book. You might be able to talk eloquently about the experience of war from an intellectual standpoint. Until you have experienced it, it’s hard for you to understand how that affects the outcome.

VOW 3 | Nature Of War
Nature Of War: War has lots of science and technical disciplines in it, but actually, there’s an art to it. And by art, what we mean is there’s something that’s not rational, something that is emotional, and something that is very hard to learn from a book.

The reason it’s important, if we go Clausewitz for instance, this guy that we go back to, he was a philosopher of war. The reason his stuff is still read is because it wasn’t focusing on the technical minutiae of war. It was focusing on the undercurrents. He spoke about the fog of war. If you can’t understand how the fog of war affects what’s going on and how that may end up with suboptimal decisions being made that then end up to situations finding out of control and therefore alliances breaking down or reforming or whatever. I’m just giving you a quick example.

Without having that emotional understanding of how the system itself will behave when it’s put under stress or how people will behave when it’s put under stress or without ever having experienced what it’s like to fight for your survival, then you are unlikely to be able to make good judgments about war. A key example of the wars that we have had, so Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen is we overscribe importance to ideology.

You say all the time people talk about this ideology, this right-wing ideology or this Muslim fundamentalism, driving people to commit violent acts or extreme suicide bombing. We are talking about the Taliban, to take an example I know very well, described as this fundamentalist organisation that’s intent on imposing.

That is such a beautiful black-and-white narrative.

It’s so easy. I would understand it if the politicians were using it to sell the war to the Western public, but it’s not that. We have drunk our own Kool-Aid and we think that that is what is causing the war. Therefore, in order to win the war, we need to do things that end up denigrating and defeating that ideology but that’s not it. Anyone who has fought for survival for themselves or their family understands very clearly that ideology comes well below survival.

That’s a powerful insight. It reminds me of when we were in Germany as refugees, my old man was in Bosnia on the front lines. He couldn’t leave because he was a fighting-age male. At the first checkpoint, he would have been killed. He fought on the front lines. While we were in Germany, I was between the ages of 10 and a half and 14 or something like that, a young man wanting to become a man wanting to do my part. I was almost very rebellious. I was hating the Serbs and the Croats. I was fighting Germans because that’s what you did.

It was this rage and anger within me. When my dad finally came out and joined us, he saw this in me, this rage and hate towards these groups, like in this instance, Serbs and Croats, who, throughout the Bosnian conflict, either shot at each other or shot at Bosnians. I thought in my diluted sense that I was espousing some notion of idealism or ideology and standing up for my people.

The first thing my dad said was, “Do not hate any of those sides. I have shot at both. They have all shot at me and I don’t hate them. It’s not about that. That is what’s superimposed on our beliefs.” That was a shaping moment because that flipped that very narrative that you are talking about. It flipped it upside down because here I thought I knew the answer. I thought I knew who the enemy was, whatever the enemy even meant. It was flipped by that very notion. That’s a very powerful insight and one that we so quickly forget because it seems to be a simple solution to a very complex problem.

You are lucky to have had the dad that you had.

Yeah, because I have seen the alternative in some of my friends and counterparts whose dads embraced that narrative and fundamentally passed that narrative on to the next generation, which keeps it alive.

Why do we embrace societal group narratives? Part of the reason we do it is because we are terrified. When you are terrified, the very natural evolutionary-driven instinct is to group with others. It’s protection in numbers. We lump ourselves in with a group narrative and genuinely consciously believe it.

When you're terrified and scared, the very natural evolutionary-driven instinct is to group together with others. Click To Tweet

We can talk about cognition, but we genuinely believe those group narratives because, through espousing them, we are articulating our membership of those groups. We are making it clear to everyone that we are Bosnian. We believe X, Y, and Z about the Croats and the Serbs. We are Bosnian. That soothes you emotionally and calms you because you then feel like you have a tribe that’s going to protect you when it goes wrong. If everyone’s doing that, then we understand how polarisation occurs and how spirals happen.

This is one of the key subtexts of the Why We Fight book. This sense of belonging is a key human driver. It’s a motivator. It becomes a motivator towards violence. Is that right?

Yeah. You have this mechanism. Your brain has evolved to pursue certain evolutionary goals like finding a mate, finding food, and so on. The reason you pursue them is because they help you survive and reproduce with the whole point of evolution. One of those things that we pursue is belonging to a coherent social group because it protects you, as we have discussed.

Through specialisation, you get a greater share of resources than if a group of ten is able to. One can hunt, one can do whatever. It gives you more access to a greater variety of sexual partners. That gets you at the incest trap, but also at a greater scale, giving you a much greater range of sexual partners and a greater choice.

We have this drive towards belonging, but the same mechanism that drives us towards belonging also divides the world into ingroups and outgroups. If you think about it, we could never have a mechanism that said group with everyone because then a lineage would evolve that takes advantage of that mechanism and everyone else and the whole system would collapse.

Mammals have the same mechanism. You see this behaviour involves chimpanzees. You can only evolve this grouping mechanism if you put boundaries on it. What creates ingroups also creates outgroups at the same time. It’s the same mechanism. The same hormonal pathways. What you find is that the more people are pulled into ingroups, I am Bosnian, the more that they denigrate or espouse hatred towards outgroups in terms of the unconscious mechanism. Our conscious brain can come along and try and smooth the edges of that. We are all educated and liberal. I’m British. I know that French people are the same as us, but maybe deep down, there’s an unconscious mechanism that is grouping the world into ingroups and outgroups. This is the basis for all racism.

VOW 3 | Nature Of War
Nature Of War: Here’s an unconscious mechanism that is grouping the world into in-group now groups. And this has the basis for all racism.

Social identity theory.

They interact. The more pressure you are put under from an outgroup, the more you coalesce on your ingroup and the more you coalesce on your ingroup, the more you project denigration, hatred or negative feelings onto the outgroup. There’s a bunch of other ingroup mechanisms, but that’s the main one. That’s what you find in war. It’s like a ratchet. It’s what you find in politics as well. It’s most extreme in war. It’s a ratchet and it clicks slightly tighter every time a leader does something or there’s some incident.

It’s about how it leads to conflict. You have hit the nail on the head there. The more we identify with our ingroup, the more we exaggerate the likeness of our group and the differences between us and whoever that perceived that group is.

Within our ingroup, we see heterogeneous. We can see the fine differences in our ingroup. The outgroups are all the same. They are all bad.

This may be a good way and a good place to return to your learning Pashto. You stepped outside of the narrative of the British military officer. You almost stepped over into a completely different narrative. That is the local narrative of the local Afghani experience. Firstly, what was the reason that you learned the language and how did that shape your understanding of the environment?

I was in the British Army Reserve and I’d been living in South America. I came back and I was trying to find a job in the UK. I wanted to have a job that travel and learn the languages.

Have you learned other languages by this stage?

It was French and Spanish. I’d been living in South America for years. As with many armies, you can move in between the Reserves and the regulars, depending on what you are doing at that stage of life. There was a scheme where you could go in full-time for 3 years, which I eventually extended to 6.5. You can go in full-time for 3 years and do a 15-month course in either Pashto, Arabic, or Farsi because Iraq and Afghanistan were going on at that time. You do two 6-month tours, supposedly as an interpreter and that will be it. You will be done. Why was I driven to do that? When I was growing up, we spoke about what I wanted and I was like, “Someone’s going to pay me to learn.”

They said, “What language do you want to learn?” I said, “Pashto,” and they were like, “Why is that?” I was like, “It seems like it will be the most interesting one.” It probably wasn’t the most practical one because if I’d learned Arabic, I could have gone on and done business in the Arab world or something. Persia is an ancient civilisation that Pashto was a tribal language spoken by 60 million mostly illiterate people. I thought, “That will do.”

It turned out to be a sound choice.

All history makes sense.

It’s all in perspective.

I did that and I did my course and that was fine. The Army hired taxi drivers from Shughlah because they were the only Afghans they could find to teach us Pashto, so it was pretty chaotic.

They were highly qualified teachers.

None of them are language teachers. What they had was they were native speakers and then a few of us banded together and put some rigour into it. I went to Afghanistan as an interpreter. It’s so stupid that the British Army was paying. It’s indicative of the whole approach, but we were paying British officers to learn a language, and then become interpreters, but for almost all things, you can buy an interpreter in Kabul, like an Afghan, but whatever.

Through a series of events, I managed to get out in about three weeks. I got out of that and then talked myself into trialling a new role because I said to my boss, “Who is this colonel?” We don’t have a clue what’s going on in Afghan society. Before I went to Afghanistan, I had this in my mind’s eye, I had this idea of all the books that I’d read when I was growing up.

It’s going to be so sophisticated. We are going to have good knowledge of what’s going on in the society. We are going to be carefully pulling the strings and we are going to be helping advance the Afghan government and all the good stuff. I was a true believer. When I got there, it was stunning how poor the intelligence picture was. By intelligence, in a broader sense of what was going on in the society.

If there’s a bomb attack, there will be some faction. In the village, someone will plant a bomb or an IED and someone else in the village will hate him, so they will sell him to us. We had a good idea of there’s going to be an IED on that road. That’s easy. If you offer a reward to your informants for every successful IED that’s brought in. That’s so easy.

Did we have an idea even of those factions that were causing that? No. No idea of the tribal dynamics. It was unbelievable how poor and how simplistic it was. You’d read these operations orders. There’s this operation going on here. We are going to get into this village. You’d look at it and go, “Is this like a pastiche of an Orwellian of we are going to go in and spread the will of the Afghan government? I was like, “Who believes this?”

We believed it.

Did you believe it?

I never bought into the narratives because maybe I was fortunate to have experienced the Balkans or had had an intimate knowledge of the Balkans to know that nothing is what it seems. I was part of it. While I tried to induce some level of context, at least the reporting that I was responsible for, without a shadow of a doubt, I was also dumbfounded by some of the things we were doing like what you are saying.

Did you also not dig into it too much? Subconsciously, you knew that if dug into it too much it wouldn’t add up. It’s much easier to psychologically defend yourself from that dissonance. We are all dissonance reducers as human beings. You knew that what you were seeing on the ground didn’t necessarily match the narrative. You thought, “I’m not going to worry too much about the narrative and get on with stuff.”

It’s also part of the belonging. You are there as part of a particular ingroup. I sleep easily at night because I’m comfortable with the decisions I am responsible for and the decisions I make. I have done them with my ethics in mind. This is not some dark disclosure, but you end up being part of a much bigger system. It’s a big machine. It’s rolling and you can fall on your sword very easily if you choose but then become part of the outgroup. You ultimately get banished by your chosen ingroup.

You could describe the same event. An attack on a village, training the police, paying a source for information, and building a well. These are all activities that occurred in Southern Afghanistan. You can describe all of those events in about 3 or 4 different moral frameworks that give you slightly different answers. It depends on what level of zoom you are looking at. The idea of a just war is incredibly difficult to apply to most conflicts. There are very few conflicts that you can apply the just war concept to.

Who is justice and who interprets justice? That’s fascinating. To now get back to you. You were a fluent speaker and you were advising some pretty senior officers. How did the story unfold from there?

As a result of throwing my toys out at the beginning of my first tour, they said, “You have got six months to go and try and shape this job. Make this job a thing. Tell us what it looks like.” I had a good guy who was my boss colonel and it is heartening to see that the good ones do rise. He’s now a three-star general. He told the battle group that I was working with to facilitate. If your job is talking to people, then you need to get around, be protected and all that stuff. That was cool.

The conclusion that we came to that the role of that person, that officer who spoke Pashto and had a good knowledge of Afghan tribal society, I suppose, in someone like Helmand’s, their job was to build relationships with notables in local community tribal leaders, drug lords, landowners, militia commanders, and all the usual council members.

Through building those relationships, leverage them to gather information on society to understand what’s going on in it and try to influence it. It was a two-way communication role. It’s a political officer. It’s the same job that the Brits, and to a lesser degree, the French did for hundreds of years in all the far-flung bits of the empire and lots of other empires have done it as well. I’m not defending colonialism, but given that task, that was the way they came up with carrying it out. I’m not defending the war in Afghanistan. It was BS. Given that task, the best way of carrying that out is to generate people with expertise and language skills so they can build links for the local community.

At the end of that six months, we’d had a good run. It seemed to work. We weren’t blundering about so much. We were starting to understand what was going on. We were a bit more nuanced. It wasn’t black and white government, Taliban, all that stuff. Coincidentally, a senior general from the UK came to visit a guy called David Richards, who ended up being the Chief of the Defence staff.

The colonel was like, “I’d like you to give him a brief when he gets here on this.” Coincidentally in the UK, they’d started a project team that had been set the task to how do we understand more about Afghan society? These things came together. He said, “Can you write me something that I can give to them?” I’d already written a paper. I said, “Here you go.” I gave that to him. That was right into my tour. About a week later, I was getting off a plane in Oxfordshire and I switched my phone on and there was a message from the guy running that project team in the MID who said, “We have been given a paper by General Richards. I know you are on leave, sorry, but do you mind coming in?”

I went in and then that was it. They took that paper and turned it into what became DCSU, which is the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit. I spent that summer working with them and with various other bits of the MID to flesh it out. I went back out there for another year-long tour that September. I got back in May or something. I then went out and then to follow me later on were other linguists. The linguist training pipelines are slow. It takes a long time. They then started sending out linguists to me in 1s and 2s and I trained them up.

You trained the follow-on guys.

That summer, we ran a trial course, on what the course would look like for DCSU, which looks nothing like the one that you and I worked on for the Australian government. It’s ten years of benefit. We ran that course, but that didn’t work. It didn’t quite touch the right notes, but they used to come out to theatre and I used to train them. I used to give them a three-day package and I was like, “Give me linguists and I can turn them into officers who are linguists.” I sat at brigade and then we had one of those in each battle group. Slowly, we started developing what was going on.

I don’t want to overblow what we achieved. We didn’t change the course of anything. We did make it a bit less crap, the strategy was set in London and Washington and that wasn’t going to change. Given those sets of tasks, we made our activities a little more nuanced, which means that there are less Afghans that are dead. There are less Brits, Aussies, and American coalition soldiers who are dead. From that point of view, it was a success. I don’t want to overblow it, how we changed it.

I understand that. The policy was set and as we spoke before, ultimately by those who don’t know what war is about and have never felt war, which is perhaps a much longer discussion. What would be good for me to hear particularly as someone who’s also learned other languages and learned to live in different cultural codes or cultural programs, is when you learn Pashto and you started speaking to the locals, I’m guessing I know the answer.

You started uncovering something you already knew you would uncover and that is a completely different story. To what extent was that true? Was this an a-ha moment, “We have got this all wrong?” I suspect you had an inkling that that is the case. From there, it was a matter of proving that hypothesis to be true. Is that how it unfolded? What was that experience like?

It took four years. I was in and out of Afghanistan for four years, because I did eighteen months in uniform. After that, the Army paid for my PhD to go. I was going to leave the Army to go and do a PhD. They were like, “Don’t leave. We will pay for your PhD if you stay in the Army.” I wore jeans and a t-shirt and went back to Afghanistan to work as an advisor for the general, but also to collect my PhD research. I was interviewing, but carrying on talking to the same network that I have been speaking to.

You are now recording it.

Making notes. I knew right from the start that what the narrative was didn’t match what I was seeing. That was immediately obvious, almost within a week of getting into this. I was like, “What is this?” Could I articulate that in any other way than to say, “That’s BS?” No. Many people don’t get beyond that because they don’t have the luxury of the time to explore it like I was.

I created my job to allow myself to explore this problem, which the Army created the space to allow me to do because they found that useful. I went on and did a PhD on the same question of what is this war about. Over time, I became more articulate about what was going on. Many things I had to bring together. There were the language skills, the network I was building and lots of reading about Afghanistan in general, the South of Afghanistan in particular, but the tribal system, politics, religion, drug trade, and all these different things that you need to understand what those are. It’s what you might call regional expertise.

In addition, I had to do a huge amount of generating up on, because I knew nothing about it, all these different conflicts like scholarship, civil wars, counterinsurgency, Clausewitzian stuff, and all that stuff. There is a huge amount of conflict in scholarship as well. I’d go to Afghanistan and work and read and then I’d come back and do a period of study and then I’d learn a bit more later, go and do more later, then I’d come and write some stuff. There was a constant process of doing, thinking, writing, and reading that went on for years.

I was involved in Afghanistan from the beginning when I started learning to the end in about seven years. I’m still involved in Afghanistan in that sense. It took a lot of that time to pick apart all of that stuff and define it into what it is now, which was not a black-and-white thing driven by land, water, very parochial concerns, revenge feuds, and all that stuff. That was what drove most of the violence. People selected ideologies in order to give themselves cover to carry out that violence. Understanding the interaction between outsiders who supply the ideology and the funding for the fighting.

People selected ideologies in order to give themselves cover to carry out violence. Click To Tweet

The insiders who are providing the manpower and the intelligence and then understanding that the most rare of those four things is the intelligence. That’s what insiders use to manipulate outsiders into funding their local wars. You can see each of these developments and layers as I gathered more evidence and understood things. This is why it’s so exciting.

For a long time in Afghanistan, all the time, it was like peeling the layers off an onion. You peel one layer off, you are like, “That’s what it is.” You go and have a few more conversations, and peel off another layer. You are like, “That’s what it is,” and then so on. It keeps going. I have got to a point where my understanding is fairly stable, but that has taken a long time. A couple of people who reviewed the book, they have said that they could see in the book that the scales were dropping from my eyes. As I was going through this project, I was like, “That’s one way of describing it.”

That’s the benefit of having someone understand the cultural context. The book you are referring to is An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978 to 2012, which then ultimately got you into some hot water for it to even be published. That was the big challenge. Even though, if I understand it correctly, it was essentially your PhD thesis reworked into a publishable book. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

VOW 3 | Nature Of War
An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict

The PhD that the Army had paid for. After my six years in the full-time Army, I went back to the Reserves, travelled in Africa for a while, and then came back. By that point, I’d got a publisher that was like, “We will take that. You need to rewrite it a bit. Make it a bit less PhD and a bit more narratively.” It was the PhD that they’d paid for.

I can’t tell you the praise that I got from the Army because they turned it into everyone sent around to everyone. It’s all part of their big lessons learned thing. As a PhD, it automatically is a public document. It goes on the shelves at the University of London, so it’s all out there. I’d been very careful that everything in there was unclassified and I didn’t draw on any of the more sensitive pieces of information.

I know that’s the case because I developed all of the information that went into that and classified it myself as unclassified. These were overt conversations that we had with lots of Afghans. That was all fine. Unfortunately, the Army had a bit of a knee-jerk reaction and said that I needed to submit it for vetting. I said, “Here’s another copy, but you have had it for about eighteen months by this point as an unclassified public document.”

I feel so sorry for this guy. They got a Lance Corporal to read through the whole thing and write it down because officers are too lazy to do that thing themselves. They had him write down where it broke the Official Secrets Act. His conclusion, which I know because whilst I was being hauled in over the coals, they let me look at some email chains to demonstrate that I needed to wind my neck in and not publish the book. Unfortunately, I scrolled down too far. This guy’s conclusion was that nothing in here breaks the Official Secrets Act, but it’s embarrassing.

Up until that point, I was willing to be amenable. I was like, “What do you want me to do?” I read that and I was like, “This is BS. What’s not happening is you are not banning this or bullying me to not publish it because of your embarrassment. That’s why we end up with poorly executed wars.” I got a direct order from the assistant chief of the general staff not to publish.

I thought it was an odd use of a military order. He misunderstood the relative value in my mind of publishing the book versus my Reserve commission. I resigned and then a friend of mine was the defence correspondent for the Times. I rang him up and said, “You might be interested.” I was thinking he’d probably get a small thing on page fifteen or something. Anyway, it was a slow news day. It was the front page of the Times of London. The Army tries to ban its book.

Talk about some free advertising for you.

I spent the next two days traipsing around TV studios and doing media like UK, US, and internationally. The same thing happened when it came out a bit later on in Denmark. It was on the front page there. Lots of Danish troops in Helmand. I got some good reviews and it has done well. A lot of people have said that it’s a good example of the new crop of books that have come out in this period of Afghanistan. That’s nice. It’s giving a voice to the Helmandies. They were 90% illiterate. The only way to tell the story of the war from their side was to sit down, drink tea, talk to them, and then write that down. Everything that’s written about Afghanistan is written by outsiders, like 95% of it.

That’s very common for most conflicts. It’s generally the outsider who comes in as the peacemaker and peacebuilder, knows how to democratise and makes it a liberal democracy in most cases. We are going to try and include you in this Western idea.

Those are all the narratives, but they are bollocks. They don’t match the actual behaviour of the country’s intervening, the diplomats, the soldiers on the grounds. I know they believe them. Hundreds of people who are both in the Army and off the Army believe what they are saying, but their actions don’t match their words. The natives, if I can use that term, in someone like Afghanistan look at this divergence or this dichotomy between what the outsiders are saying and what they are doing.

They are like, “What? That doesn’t make any sense.” With respect to the literature in Afghanistan, there’s so much money swilling around the Afghan war, like trillions of dollars, that you don’t need much than a tiny percentage of trillions of dollars to generate hundreds of thousands of pages of reports and books and all that stuff. Funny enough, it’s all written in the vernacular of whatever the paradigm is of the people who are paying for it all, which is counterinsurgency, good and bad.

Colloquially known as the self-licking ice cream. It’s a revolving door of the narrative that keeps promoting itself for the sake of development.

Development consultants go and to become development lecturers at universities. They go and set up their firms, then go and work for the USA, then soldiers become soldiers and then private military contractors. They become academics who write about conflict and so on and forth.

It’s a monstrous industry. War is a huge industry, but peace-building, peace-making, and development work is a monstrous industry. Both you and I have done some work in there. You have done a lot more than I have, but my eyes were open. I spent some time in Iraq as a development consultant. It was insane that the figures that were being thrown around for various consultants came in to retell the same story in a different way to apply the same solution.

I don’t mean to be cynical, but I’m amazed that those people can look you straight in the eye because beyond being ineffectual, most of the time they are exacerbating the conflicts. I will give you an example. You are a development consultant going into Baghdad. Your job is to write a paper on the opportunities for reform in the interior ministry or something.

It’s written with zero knowledge of Iraq, not written by an Arabic speaker, someone who’s come in for a week, and spoken to four people, all of them White. They have made their token trip to the ministry to talk to the minister. To get them into the country, you probably had to bribe the embassy or whatever to get the visa. I’m sure you have had this experience.

At the same time, someone else will be writing papers on how to stop corruption in Iraq. Someone else will be writing papers on ensuring civilian control of the military or something, all this stuff. All of it’s disconnected. None of it is done with any knowledge of why the systems are like they are. They are like, “Here’s what the system is like in the Iraqi interior ministry. Here’s what we want it to be like. Therefore, these are the reforms they need to do.”

There’s no real knowledge of why the systems are like that because they don’t understand how Iraq works. They will try and then institute some of those reforms by bribing people with development funding. If you create a director of internal policing, that’s one of the reformers we need. We need a corruption watchdog. If you institute that, we will pay for X, Y, and Z new photocopies in the office or whatever it is. This game goes on because what the consultants are interested in or the development agencies are going home at the end of their time being able to point something and go, “I did that.”

If everyone is doing that, at the end of twenty years, you have this situation like we are having in Afghanistan now. When you look at Afghanistan, after twenty years of foreign intervention, trillions of dollars, and what was the statistic I heard on the radio? Half of Afghan children are malnourished. We are not talking about have they got access to the latest antiretrovirals. We are not talking about whether are they going to university. They don’t have enough food. After twenty years, half of Afghan children do not have enough food. That tells you something about what Western intervention achieves.

What should we do? That’s a monstrous question and you have been very kind with your time already.

Yes, but what should we do where?

What should we have done in Afghanistan?

There was potentially an argument right at the beginning after the toppling of the Taliban or once the Taliban messed off. At the Bond conference, there was a window of opportunity there to reshape what was going on. In the Bond conference, what they did to remind your readers was they enshrined a government in Afghanistan by one of the factions of the civil war, the Northern Alliance, and put a figurehead on Karzai, who was from the Southern Pashton who traditionally produced the leaders of Afghanistan. They supported the government to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remnants and then rebuild the country.

If you come in and end the civil war and then immediately start supporting one side in that civil war, probably what you are going to do is fuel that civil war or at least reignite it. That’s what happened. Everyone waited for a couple of years to see what would happen. By 2004, things were starting to slide away. The sides were starting to divide.

One of the main reasons was that the government the international community supported were utterly rapacious in the way that they pursued their previous enemies from the civil war and the way that they accumulated profits from the drug trade, in a way that they stole international development money. Effectively, the international community, the Americans, didn’t keep an eye on that and allowed it to happen because their only goal was to pursue Taliban and Al-Qaeda remnants.

Accepting that the Taliban in Al-Qaeda are pretty different things with pretty different goals. Just because they had a marriage of convenience during one period of time does not mean that they are joined at the hit forever. Think about our earlier conversation about ideology. From a Western point of view, they are both crazy Islamists or fundamentalists. They are the same thing. What should we do?

There was a window of opportunity and I have no idea whether this would work. It seems to me like it would have been a bit more successful than what we did, which was to accept that at that point in 2001, Afghanistan had been at war for about 25 years, give or take, depending on when you date. Twenty-three years from the revolution, but there was conflict brewing before that.

Twenty years of civil war, the country was utterly devastated. The golden opportunity there to perhaps look at some international administration. The UN Muslims would head that path. The on-the-ground face of it would be led by Muslim countries. I don’t know whether Indonesia is game for this, but this is a major Indonesian country but out of the region. That’s an obvious benefit. It’d be international. You have other countries involved. It wouldn’t have any countries in the region, so India, Pakistan, and China. Bordering countries wouldn’t be part of that.

They have a vested stake in how it unfolds.

It’d be funded largely by Europe, America, and all that stuff. The idea would be that you’d have some international administration. We have had them before in Cambodia and where you are from as well. The idea is that you go into it with effectively a peace-brokering mentality where you accept that. A whole bunch of frozen conflicts now over land and whatever have been swept aside or caused by the last several years of war.

From the bottom, we need to start. We need to look at the law. We need to get people where they are from. We need to provide basic services and all that stuff. Critically, the most important thing we need to do, the two things are, as always, we need to provide some justice mechanism that’s accepted that enables things like land disputes to be solved and potentially that we need to talk about war crimes.

Are there any war crimes? What are we going to do about that? Are we going to punish them or are we going to have a truth and reconciliation? What are we going to do? There are strong antecedents for this in Pashton culture around this. It’s not like maybe starting with a blank slate. We need to look at security and justice, as always, the two most important things. Security needs to be impartial like justice. How would you provide that? One thing Afghanistan has is manpower, but officership could perhaps be provided by Nepalese or Indonesians.

Security and justice are the two most important things. And security needs to always be as impartial as justice. Click To Tweet

It seems there is this idea of understanding the local context whether that is building a sense of identity. If we are talking about, say, Indonesia, the Islamic cultural understanding and nuances, that would ultimately be a much easier bridge to build or create a sense of belonging between or almost an ingroup between those coming from outside and those inside.

In other words, to then lead by example and help shape the future of a country. In this case, Afghanistan. I think that’s when we look at your book, Why We Fight, that seems to be the sub-context that there are ultimately two reasons, status and belonging, are the key motivators to help us solve a number of critical social problems, which maybe we will touch on in a second. Is that where you are going?

What you end up with in this situation is that you start with manpower being provided by Afghans, but all leadership and administrative functions being provided by this international body. Rather than having an Afghan government, which is one side in the civil war and an international coalition, they are separate.

No. They are one thing. Gradually, as you train up carters of Afghan civil servants, you lift up and off until eventually, you are over several years, you are moving into in the latter part of that period, elections and all that stuff. Instead, what we did was we went in, created an Afghan government, and immediately set it up to become the protagonists in a conflict, which we then blindly supported them and pursued their enemies, exacerbating all the divides in the country. We tipped loads of money with outstanding what we are doing and then had elections and like, “It’s a democracy.”

Every one that was against it, even remotely, was a Talib, regardless. It was such a clear line.

Rather than, “That guy in the government who you are supporting stole my land. I’m on the side of justice here.” None of that was recognised. Also, not putting the appropriate emphasis on justice and security, instead focusing on other things. I’m not saying these other things aren’t important. Health, road building, these things are all important, but if you don’t get to grips with solving people’s problems and providing a low level of security that stops interpersonal violence, you are screwed. You can build as many schools as you like, it will all backslide. That’s exactly what’s happened. There was zero reform of the Afghan justice system. The police were the most rapacious militias around supported by the international community.

The problems you are referring to, you explore in depth in your book Why We Fight, which is a book I highly recommend. I finished it. You talk about the five basic problems that need to be solved, creating individual human violence in groups, one of them being identity, the next one being a hierarchy, then trade, then the disease in group main, and then punishment. You have touched on some of these. Could you maybe explore a little bit more about those and why they are so important?

In Why We Fight, I talk about the fact that there’s the benefits to living in groups. There are benefits to living in bigger groups versus smaller groups. That’s only the case if those groups function and they are coherent. They only function and are coherent if they solve those five problems. Identities like who are we, where’s the boundary of the ingroup and the outgroup? All of these five problems have mechanisms in our cognition that help us sense them on a subconscious level. Identity, that’s the ingroup and outgroup mechanism.

In other words, you mean rooted in evolution in a sense. We can now cognitively formulate them as a cognitive understanding. It’s very much rooted in things that we weren’t necessarily consciously aware of in our past.

They are subconscious mechanisms. I will mention them as I go through each one. They are subconscious mechanisms that as we have grown as a species from tribes to tribal confederations to chiefdomships, to countries to quasi-global empires that we have now, we have consciously constructed systems of thought that reflect those five problems and those emotional mechanisms. Religion is about solving those five problems or at least it speaks to those five problems in a way.

All of these systems of thought that we have, these societal frameworks speak to those five problems. They say, “These are our five solutions to those five problems.” If you are British, this is how the British have solved those five problems. You have got identity, which is ingroups and outgroups. That’s who are we, what are the costs of membership in our group, and what does it mean to be British?

Who we are not importantly as well.

We are not French. I can say that I’m such a Francophile.

Just like we can say we are not British.

One of my interview subsets for my PhD was Helmandies who lived in London. It was touching because they would use the phrase we and I didn’t always know whether they meant we British or we Helmandies, which is touching. Identity ingroups and outgroups. Who are we? That’s that ingroup mechanism. Hierarchy is about who’s in charge. Why are they in charge of our group? Critically, what do we accept as the distribution of wealth?

Every society accepts that those in charge pretty much every society has a tacit acceptance that those in charge should have a bit more. The question is to what degree. That’s the key question. A lot of national politics is about that and a lot of instability. I’m putting a proposal together for a book. You read it here first exclusive.

I’m putting together a proposal for a book about World War III because, in the 2020s, we have probably more than a 50% chance of ending up in a global conflict. One of the factors that I talk about is seven structural trends. One of them is inequality. Anyway, we diverge. The mechanism that underlies that hierarchy thing is status. We all sense status. We have hormonal pathways that enable us or cause us to seek status. We are very good at judging. Within a quarter of a second, people are able to judge the status dynamics in a room like who’s it’s interesting.

Trade is about I have call it trade, but at its most basic. It’s like reciprocity. If I capture this bison and share it with you over the next month, if you catch something and I don’t get anything, then I’m expecting to get something back. That idea of fairness, is it a fair trade? That’s been demonstrated. This isn’t just humans that have this. They have done experiments on chimpanzees with grapes. Chimpanzees love grapes. If you give grapes to some and cucumbers to others, they sense the injustice. It’s fascinating.

All these things are interlinked. Who we are, who’s in charge, and what’s there? These are all interlinked, and so is the rest of your brain. They are not separate. It’s not like my arm moving up and down and my leg moving from side to side. In your brain, all the mechanisms are conjoined. Fascinatingly, when I wrote the book in 2018, it’s coming out in paperback, Why We Fight. Watch for that. When I wrote the book in 2018, I was like, “Disease. It is important.” The disgust mechanism is what underlies it.

It’s about when you have got groups of humans who share genetics, as people are related, then the disease is very easy to spread amongst, so how we deal with health and disease and what the rules are and who we let in and don’t let in to protect ourselves from disease, sexually transmitted disease, and all that stuff. That’s important. I was like, “Should I include that? It doesn’t seem like a major shaker.”

Finally, punishment. We have all those rules above, how do we punish people if they break the rules? What do we feel is a fair punishment? Most societies don’t think we should punish. If you commit a crime but are declared insane, we shouldn’t punish you. In France, there’s le crime passionnel where if you murder someone, if you walk in on your wife and she’s with another man and you killed him, that’s a mitigating circumstance in France.

Most people are like, “We shouldn’t punish or we should care for elderly and disabled people and stuff like that. These are rules on care and punishment and what we think is appropriate in our society. We need to manage that because otherwise, it feeds into imbalances in society. Those are the five things that we need to get right. If you look at laws, I always say to people they should do this. They should go and put up any law you like on the Australian government website. Any law will be a derivation of 1 of those 5 problems if not more than one of those problems.

VOW 3 | Nature Of War
Nature Of War: These rules on care and punishment and what we think is appropriate in our society. We need to manage that as well because otherwise, it feeds into imbalances in society.

That’s interesting because as you are talking, I can naturally recognise this in a lot of the conflicts that I have studied or gotten to know intimately. As you were talking now, perhaps this is a very easy target, but it helps contextualise it. Thinking back, given that we are doing this in late January 2021, what’s happening in the US with Trumpism and Trump and the cult of Trump ultimately, the storming of the Capitol and so on, it fits all of these so neatly. First, when we are looking at the identity component, who’s in and out, it’s so obvious.

What does it mean to be American?

The sense of the loyal and true American that’s going to stand up against the stolen election and so on. The narrative that that embraces.

You tell me because I grew up in London. Whilst I have experienced war and studied it and all the rest of it, I never grew up in it. I have never lived in a country that was descending into civil war, although I was in South Sudan as it was descending through civil war. When you look at the US now, and particularly the political narratives, politicians, militias, and that stuff, do you look at that and think, “I have seen that before?”

It’s funny you say that. I have started drafting an article called The Balkanisation of the US. It’s very much a play on the words because the term Balkanisation, as we know, has come into usage because of what’s happening in the Balkans. That signifies that it’s the breaking up of a whole.

The causes are a bit different because, as far as I can tell, it seems to me that the main thing that’s got America to where it is now is it exposed its society and economy to the ravages of the globalised economy without appropriate health education and social welfare supports in place for that population. That’s the cause, uncaused. That has led to other ideological polarisation and what it means to be American.

These are merely narratives to justify that. They are merely narratives to explain it, which is why I think there’s a lot more similarity in what happened in the Balkans. While the context is different, it’s a completely different economy, different setups, different nations, different sizes, different geopolitical dynamics that surround it, and so on and so forth. It still comes down to even the five reasons you have given. Trade was certainly one. There was a massive aspect of the fall down, the breakup of Yugoslavia, or even identity that was again imposed.

I don’t know the Balkans that well. It seems to me that the similarity between the Balkans and the US is that there’s a population disquiet. In the Balkans, it was caused by the breakup of Yugoslavia and that sense of identity. In the US, it’s been caused by half of the country being economically devastated by globalisation and the other half getting very rich out of it.

That has led to levels of societal disquiet, which causes people to disattach from their old identities and to reattach to new identities. People are competing for those identities. In the Balkans, it was leaders of different ethnic groups. In the States, it’s the Proud Boys or whatever the militias, the anti-Democrats. The politicians have their militias.

Some of them are calling themselves Trump’s Army, the Proud Boys and that sort. They are embracing these martial narratives and have very much shown that. It’s fascinating.

I wonder if that’s the real commonality. You can have a disattachment from a sense of belonging or a group that you belong to for various reasons. After you started to break up, the economy crashed.

It crashed beforehand. That was part of the lead-up to it. It was a huge debt that Tito hadn’t carried. The fall of the Soviet Union certainly helped because it was a huge economic attachment to the funding. To the West, the oil crisis had a huge impact which amounted to debt. The economic crisis preceded the identity crisis.

In that case, it’s identical to what’s going on in the US.

That is why there are far more similarities. I have read somewhere people compare even a few years back Milošević to Trump. He’s hitting the nerves of those who are, in many ways, left behind or those who, in some way, feel that they have experienced a grave injustice at the hands of this other. In the Balkan case, the other was the other ethnic groups who wanted to separate from this national hole and were stealing and taking more than they deserved. In the US, that’s very much the technocrats, the swamp. It’s the 1%, which superimposed globalisation on that.

I heard an interview on the World Service that I thought was fascinating where this BBC journalist was interviewing a Trump supporter. It was before the sixth. He was still saying it was a stolen election, all that stuff. It was very heartfelt. He was saying that for decades now, no one had been looking out for him. Trump came along and started looking out for him. He started choking up and crying. Such was the force of his emotion about how he felt that Trump was finally speaking up for him. Nobody was speaking up for him. Millions of people like him. When I heard that, I thought, “US civil war is a major conflict risk over the next decade.”

Especially given how many weapons there are in the country and the availability of weapons, which is one key contributing factor to the likelihood of violence. It is amazing. The international crisis group released ten wars to watch and they were thinking about whether should they have America or not. I listened to a podcast about it. The need to now study the US as a potential conflict, which, as the beacon of democracy, as the land of the free and the home of the brave, is a fascinating place for the world to be.

It’s a terrifying place for the world to be. Civil wars tend to suck in outsiders unless they are in places that nobody gives a damn about if you are from a small country. Civil wars like that inevitably will suck in outsiders. At a minimum, Central America, Mexico, and South America are likely to be drawn into that conflict. I don’t see how Canada can fail to, at some point, not be pulled into like a major civil war in the US. People might in Europe and East Asia decide to stay out of that. At a minimum, I would expect the Americas to be drawn into that conflict. That’s a billion people.

The effects from that globally, whether it’s been traded, in just reputation, or even the absence of an America on the global stage. That vacuum will be filled.

You need somebody. You need somebody to you need a framework like everything. You need a framework and you something or someone to enforce it.

That solves these five problems, which I find fascinating. It does explain a lot about how the world functions. As you said, pull up any law and it will fit. Will we always need to fight? We know it’s a human condition. Is it an enduring one?

If you look at human macro-history, the levels of violence have gone down, relatively speaking. Absolute terms have gone up because the population has gone up. In terms of deaths per head, they have gone down massively. They have gone down massively because we live in bigger groups than we used to. There’s an inverse correlation between levels of violence and group size. Groups go up, and the levels of violence go down. Groups internally are drawn by that.

VOW 3 | Nature Of War
Nature Of War: There’s an inverse correlation between levels of violence and group size. Groups go up, and levels of violence go down because by definition groups internally are cohesive.

There’s an entity that keeps them together.

If there are bigger groups, there are less of them, which means there’s less chance of war starting accidentally. This happens all the time. People think that war is a deliberate design. More often than not, underlying structural trends get triggered by random events. Everyone talks about World War I being about Ferdinand and Sarajevo, all the rest of it but if it wasn’t that, something else would have sparked it off. There were huge structural trends in Europe at that time that were leading to that.

It was the spark ultimately that lit it all up.

In 2020, we are now at a stage of being on the cusp of a global society. It might not seem like it, but we have been there for the last many years. The nation states the last successful level of organisation that we have gone to. We have got some supernatural stuff like the EU, trading blocks, and stuff like that. They are not fully successful in the sense of solving the five problems like the nation-state was. The question is perhaps we will jump to a regional level where those five problems are solved at a regional level or perhaps the EU is having a good go at that.

Perhaps we will jump to a global society. The problem is, at the moment, we have got loads of problems that fit between those two levels that aren’t being solved, that can’t be solved at a national level and aren’t being solved at a global level. Migration, data sharing, collapse in maritime ecosystems, climate change, terrorism, and international tax evasion. I could go on and on.

There are so many problems that are building up in the system because we can’t solve them at the national level and we won’t solve them at the global level. That is why I’m writing this book about World War III. We are at an inflection point. We need to get our act together on a global level and start solving problems or we will end up in a major war.

The tensions are building. You used the example of World War I. For anybody even remotely keeping abreast of what’s happening globally, tensions are building in a number of different areas. What you are suggesting is that perhaps there will be another Ferdinand in Sarajevo that will ignite it all again.

Here’s the danger. Modern political systems and the commentary act, over-privileged rationality when it comes to war. They can pull up spreadsheets and whatnot that say, “No, everything is getting better. We will be fine. No one is going to go to war. That’s too stupid.” We have heard this before. What they fail to recognise is that war is an emotional act. It’s not a rational act. It’s not rational because if it was rational, we wouldn’t do it. Nobody wins. Sun Tzu says, “There’s no example of a nation that’s benefited from prolonged warfare.” True then, true now. Everyone gets poorer. By definition, it’s not a rational act. It’s an emotional act, which means that you can’t predict it.

War, by definition, is not a rational act. It's an emotional act, which means that you can't predict it. Click To Tweet

The basic argument of the forthcoming book, if the proposal gets accepted by the publisher is that there are a number of structural trends in the world at the moment that are progressing. I’m not going to pontificate about triggers because, in a sense, that doesn’t matter. What matters is where these trends come together and increase fragility in the system. Therefore, almost anything could spark it off. That’s where we are at.

That fragility is caused by many of these problems that sit between the global and the national level. These global problems end up manifesting themselves within countries. Inequality in the US has been caused by China and Eastern Europe, the labour in those countries joined the global trading system, leading to deflation, leading to the people holding assets getting richer and those working for wages getting poorer.

Global trends manifest themselves within countries which then cause those countries to stop acting in a constructive way on an international level. They pull out of agreements and treaties and that makes the system more fragile. Politicians and leaders in those countries are forced to act almost as a way of re-establishing the coherence of their nations. The disquiet felt within America through inequality or migration or whatever it is reimposed by the clarity of war. War imposes emotional clarity.

Remember, we come back to come back full circle to where we started. War strips bare and exposes the brass tacks. It leads to clarity. The disquiet that’s coming about in many countries and regions around the world through migration, climate change, and inequality. It can be re-clarified by war because then we know who we belong to, who we are fighting and who’s in charge. We know all this stuff.

Finally, war tends to solve these problems. War reduces inequality massively. If you think about it, war is about putting money into guns and firing them up and then it explodes and the money disappears. It’s a destroyer of capital, as is a pandemic. War does solve those problems. It reimposes clarity and tends to solve the problems that caused the war to break out in the first place. The question is there a better way of solving those problems without resulting in war? That is the big question of the 2020s and I’d put it no better than 50/50 that we managed to escape it or that we managed to fall into it.

It is a very sobering thought. When you look at it in the context of even Trump’s sentence, “You need to fight like hell or you won’t have a country anymore,” it puts emphasis on the importance of that. If you are looking at the bell curve, the 68% might look at that and go, “Whatever. That’s just rhetoric.” It might be, but to the 12% upfront that is drinking the Kool-Aid, that is the ultimate call to arms. “We are locked and loaded. We are going.”

That 30% want emotional clarity. That’s what they want.

“Simplify it for me. Who’s the bad guy?”

Also, who are we? Who’s the bad guy? Who’s in charge? It’s so calming. We can reimpose that clarity through social safety nets, enhancing their material prospects, and retraining. We can do all that stuff. I feel it may be too late in America. I don’t know. We will have to see. It’s all there.

Mike, it’s been a fascinating chat. Thank you for giving me so much of your time. I appreciate it. Very sobering conversation and insightful, as every engagement with you. Thanks very much. I appreciate it. Stay safe.

Thanks. You, too.

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