It is easy to whip up hate. Encourage some ultra-extreme group to do something stupid and destructive. Then fill the papers with diatribes against the guilty group, and convince everyone that these barbarians are poised to attack on every side; the barbarity of the crime proves that they will stop at nothing. So the conflagration begins again, and each new outrage adds fuel to the fire.

This same scenario, with regional variations, is played out all over the world. And it is all based on the perception on all sides that people who are different from us are out to get us. It works between social groups as well as ethnic. Women are constantly being told that men are out to control them. Farmers are set against city dwellers, commercial interests against residential, the middle classes fear the poor, the list is endless. Whatever groups we can identify ourselves as belonging to, it seems that there is some other group to be suspicious of.

And yet the whole thing breaks down at the only level which is in fact intrinsically reliable, which is the personal level. The only thing we can really judge is that which we have experienced personally. And our actual personal experience is that people are people no matter where they come from and no matter what color they are. Some of them are saints, and some of them manifest only evil, and the rest are somewhere between. Almost everyone has a capacity for cruelty, and almost everyone has a capacity for selfless courage. It all depends on which buttons are pressed and by whom.

So if people are just people, and if a bomb set in the midst of your enemy’s camp will kill an equal proportion of good and bad people as one set in your own camp, how do you get people to kill each other willingly? It is not an easy or inexpensive task. You need a class of people who are unthinking enough to accept uncritically whatever attitudes you feed them. It also helps if they do not actually have to see or hear their victims. Ever since the advent of the crossbow we have been moving further and further in the direction of impersonal warfare. You need to inculcate in them an attitude of fierce group pride. They must believe that their way of life or religion is the only true one, and that everyone who is different is automatically inferior. You also need to dehumanize the enemy in their eyes. They are less than people and need to be eliminated.

So who benefits from all this? Not the regular citizens of either the winning or the losing side. Another effect of modern warfare is its effect on non-combatants. Even as late as the Napoleonic Wars (the early 1800’s) it was possible for an Englishman to travel freely in France even though the countries were at war. If you were unfortunate enough to actually live at the spot where two opposing armies decided to duke it out, you would of course be highly inconvenienced. Also if you were a peasant you would probably find yourself involuntarily donating your grain and flour to any army that was passing through, but by and large the only people who got killed were in uniform. Today, of course, this is far from being the case. As a matter of government policy civilian populations are subjected to military attack, and houses and public building of no military significance destroyed. Economically, too, the population must inevitably suffer. Certainly weapons-building can give some temporary and local prosperity as a result of war, but this never lasts beyond the end of the fighting. The net result is that money passes from the population in general to a small group of people who own the businesses who make the armaments. Even the politicians, often perceived as the warmongers, do not really gain from the situation except perhaps for a momentary rise in popularity.

What can we do? First we can educate ourselves. We can travel, see for ourselves what people of other lands are like. We can recognize that no matter what, warfare does not benefit us or anyone we know and like. We can understand that the ordinary population of every other country in the world is far too busy scrabbling about to make a living to want to fight anyone. We can see who in fact keeps it all going. Wars take huge amounts of money. No government today can afford to pay for a war of the taxes they can raise; they have to borrow money. This is done by selling government bonds, which are bought largely by people in high tax brackets, who benefit most from their tax-free status. The profits from these bonds further enrich the already rich, at the expense of the national debt. Thus an ever-greater proportion of our current taxes (which are born disproportionately by the middle classes) goes to pay interest payments to the wealthy, effecting a constant upward transfer of wealth. The whole thing is a scam. The same people who are making and selling us the weapons are also lending us the money to do so, and, to add insult to injury, the profits on the money lending are tax free. It shouldn’t be hard to think of creative ways of fixing the situation if you could ever achieve a political climate that was conducive to actually doing so. Until then, at the very least we need to be aware of what is happening.