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The war

War is contempt for life
Forfatter: Linn Stalsberg
Forlag: Res Publica (Norge)
FRED / Linn Stalsberg identifies in his new book that accepting war as a human normal state is one of the great danger signals today. We have become accustomed to the idea that war is a necessity, and that war can be morally required on top of that. At the same time, religion is often used cynically as a tool to promote a warlike development – ​​this extends from Pope Urban to Putin and Netanyahu to Hamas.


Since February 2022, there has been war in Europe again. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has created an atmosphere that we have not experienced for many years. Most people want to see a free and peaceful Ukraine. And where, not so long ago, Ukraine's desire for possible membership was generally viewed with skepticism EU, you are now more than willing to draw a line over the country's perhaps lax dealings with democratic principles and offer a hearty welcome to the European club.

At the same time, there is an almost unquenchable will to support the Ukrainians' war efforts against Russia. As the war enters its third year and more or less bogged down in a devastating war of attrition that could bring grim reminders of the First World War, not many are still asking how long to let young Ukrainian conscripts sacrifice their lives in this maddened conflict. The debate is more about how best to support Ukraine militarily, and the Ukrainian application from September 2022 for NATO membership no longer seems to have been plucked completely out of thin air.

With the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, Stalsberg explains how most of us are brought up within the system in such a way that we contribute to consensus.

Elsewhere in Europe's immediate neighbourhood, another war is raging. When the Islamic Hamas movement launched a bloody terrorist attack on Israel on 7 October last year, most people spoke of the Israelis' obvious right to «defend themselves». Israel's far-right government took full advantage of this by launching a brutal military invasion of the Gaza Strip, resulting in an outrageous loss of civilian Palestinian life.

Cultural influence

«Israel is crushing Gaza to crush Hamas. But at the same time they crush many other things: the hope for peaceful coexistence in the Middle East in the future, the belief in a two-state solution, the trust in the UN's authority and what we like to think is a modern idea of ​​the inherent human dignity of all people."

The quote is from Linn Stalsberg's latest book, which is a long and thought-provoking essay on fred. As a start, she records the situation with the two current wars, which are in many ways fundamentally different, and yet have a number of grim commonalities. Not least, she points out that wars have a tendency to bring on themselves like rings in the water, which you can clearly see when it comes to Ukraine and Gaza. And since both scenarios include powerful players with nuclear weapons, it only seems even more mindless that so many seem to accept the wars as an inescapable fact.

To accept war as a human normal state is one of the major danger signals that Stalsberg identifies in his book. In order to provide a deeper understanding, the author takes the route around the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). He was a communist and in Mussolini's fascist era he formulated his thesis on hegemony. It explains how the elite of a society use cultural influence in all its guises to control the soul of the working class. I guess that's what we call the folk soul today. It is this important element, Gramsci believed that Karl Marx had overlooked in his thinking. The system is based on the fact that most of us are brought up within the system in such a way that we contribute to consensus.

This is the reason why it is so difficult to do away with warism, which is the author's word for the opposite of pacifism. In this lies the fact that, even though no one likes war, we have become accustomed to the idea that war is a necessity, and that war may be morally required. In other words, it can be "a just war", although the expression is obviously absurd if we put two and two together. It is something of the same absurdity when we talk about setting up tighter rules to make war more humane, because how can war be humane in any way?

In 2022, Norway exported weapons worth NOK 4,6 billion.

This kind of obfuscation and rewriting takes place, among other things, because there are enormous financial interests at stake. According to Stalsberg, it is estimated that the world's total military expenditure in 2022 will reach 24.000 billion Norwegian kroner, which corresponds to 2,2 percent. that the globe's total GDP, and this is maintained i.a. by arms industryeven lobbyists are constantly helping to run the race in Washington. According to figures from the World Health Organisation, just 12 per cent would of this gigantic amount be enough to eliminate famine worldwide. By the way, Norway is quite well on the bandwagon: In 2022, Norway exported weapons worth DKK 4,6 billion, and a considerable part went to Ukraine and Qatar.

Here we can add: According to Vårt Land, Norway delivered armor for more than one billion kroner to Qatar in 2022. It is the arms manufacturer Kongsberg that delivered its Nasams-2 air defense system. It is the largest single contract in the company's history, wrote NRK.


In light of this, it is clear that the peace movement, conscientious objectors and pacifists quickly come to stand as a bunch of worldly fantasists. "The example of Norwegian arms sales to countries at war shows that despite the fact that the idea of ​​peace has led to supranational bodies such as the UN and international law and law around conflicts, the peace movement has lost to the military-industrial complex," writes Stalsberg. And when you take into account that the US accounts for 45 percent of the global arms export, you are clearly up against powerful forces.

A special element in the devil's game is religion. It is rarely the direct main cause of war, but often comes in from the sidelines as a clever method of legitimizing destruction and killing. It is clearly easier to convince people to risk their lives for a god than for a king or emperor, because the god can offer something that even the mightiest earthly ruler does not have in his bag, namely the promise of eternal life.

Here, the book takes in a historical perspective, which gives it a greater dimension. A shining example of this problem is the church meeting in the French town Clermont, where Pope Urban II delivered in November 2 what historians have described as the most effective speech in European history. Here the Pope called on the French to go to war against the Muslims, and it was the prelude to the next 1095 years of crusades.

Historically speaking, religion has also played a role on the peace wing. With a strong pacifist stance, several Christian groups have left their mark on the peace movement, and this should not be denied. But in addition to this, when reading the book, one gets the impression that religion stands as the instrument of those in power when it comes to the aggressive part of the matter. It probably also holds water a long way down the road. Currently we also see that Vladimir Putin has the Russian Orthodox Church behind him during his crusade against Ukraine, and as far as Israel is concerned, the Gaza war has probably become so brutal mainly because Netanyahu has made himself dependent on Jewish fundamentalists. But conversely, we also see that Hamas is largely waging war with religion as its backbone – and Hamas can neither be described as a state actor nor a holder of power in that sense. So it is probably rather that religion is often used cynically as a tool to promote a warlike development, and this extends right from Pope Urban to Putin and Netanyahu to Hamas.

Military refusers

Up through the ages has a long line activists and idealistic groupings made attempts to do away with warism. There is the classic example from the First World War. In one of the war's bloodiest battles on the Western Front, the Battle of the Somme in 1916, it was around 20.000 young men who refused to take part in the war, but had been forcibly discharged anyway and sent to the front. When preparing for the big battle against the Germans, the 50th maintained conscientious objectors on the British side their refusal, even if this would entail the death penalty. Only by extensive lobbying in London were their lives spared and they all returned home safely.

"The peace movement has lost to the military-industrial complex"

The remarkable case of the Somme is largely not mentioned in the historiography. It is a great shame, because of course it is important to remember and highlight this kind of thing in order to reach a better world. Here one can also object that the 50 were in such an extreme situation, and in an atmosphere of exalted nationalism, that most people would probably refrain from doing anything.

That is why it is perhaps just as relevant to look at other examples where different forms of civil disobedience have contributed to political course changes. Stalsberg highlights the popular protests in Hungary after the Soviet invasion in 1956. It came after the Hungarian government had tried to implement political reforms and declare the country neutral, and the result was dramatic clashes between protesters and occupation tanks. Hungary became a model for many, and it has undoubtedly served as a model for many freedom movements in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The same can justifiably be said of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989. It probably gave the country's citizens a number of democratic freedoms, but it can be difficult to see any showdown with militarism. Ten years later, the Czech Republic joined NATO and Slovakia followed in 2004.

Linn Stalsberg

On the whole, Stalberg's essay is full of wise insight and good intentions, but in certain places it is as if the visions fade a little. She places great emphasis on non-military service, but also admits that it is only a very small minority who dare to stand up in that way, especially if it is not in peaceful societies like today's Norway. Then she refers to classic forms of action such as demonstrations, protests, meetings and strikes, but here you also have a slightly sinister feeling that there are methods that have been used countless times, while the hegemony of those in power, to refer to Gramsci, today is probably stronger than ever.

« nonviolence is the only thing we have", she writes. "Often we have the advantage of being the most numerous, and that we are the ones who work and keep society going. Then we can stop it too, together. If we are able to be patient." It sounds beautiful and true. But how to convince the vast majority that this is also the way forward? How long can one maintain patience when the results after so many years of work are still so modest? This is probably where, first of all, some new thinking and alternative ways of approaching the matter are needed, and in that regard one might have expected some clearer visions in this particular book.

See also ours other review of this book.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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