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Arms and our Species.

LAHORE: Stanley Kubrick's cinematic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey is considered by many as one of the greatest films ever made. Its extraordinary opening sequence depicts the dawn of time, with a band of apelike creatures foraging for food and cowering from predators. One of these proto-apes picks up the thigh bone of a dead beast and discovers that it can be used as a club. With this, he kills a large animal and the band of apelike creatures feasts on meat. There is a battle over a water-hole with another band of proto-apes, and the use of the bone-club as a weapon decides the battle.

The club-wielding ape, who has just killed another of his own species, leaps and dances about in triumph. Exulting, he throws his blood-stained weapon up into the air, higher and still higher. The camera tracks it up into the blue, and then darker blue, of the sky. And, suddenly, on the screen, in the place of this primitive weapon, we see a sleek space ship, shuttling its passengers towards a space station circling the earth.

The symbolism is irresistible: Man's immense progress is a function of his aggressive nature, of his weapon-making and fighting skills.

Kubrick took the idea from the discovery in the Alduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where researchers had found a pre-Palaeolithic skeleton, whimsically code-named 'Lucy'. This three-and-a-half foot high proto-hominid was apparently a killer-ape, who used bone clubs to break the skulls of attacking baboons. Since then, of course, the human race has developed better and better weapons and trained more skilled soldiery and established military institutions for conducting the wars that have never ceased to be waged somewhere or the other - usually at multiple places - around the world.

Let's face it. Fighting and warfare have always been the way of the human race and our heroes and rulers have been warriors of one kind or another.

My pacifist friends will be outraged. Surely, one cannot approve of fighting and killing and militarism, they will say. The point is that no approval or disapproval is suggested, but only the recognition of a reality.

Cave art from 10,000 to 5,000 BC depicts warfare

Moving on, let me point out that wars do not end. They perpetuate themselves and spread in a kind of domino effect across the globe and alternately simmer or flare up through the decades. So long as there are armies, there will be wars. And, so long as there are states, there will be armies. Because all states so far, whether yesterday or today, are essentially military entities. That is my next point.

In historical times, states were congruent with the military conquests of monarchs or dynasties. Such monarchic states were amoeboid entities, which shrank, expanded or coalesced according to the relative military and political skills of particular rulers. In more recent times, violently and painfully, the specifically modern institution of the nation-state has emerged.

Now, the point of the nation-state -- whether its justification lies in ethnic homogeneity, linguistic unity, religious differentiation, ideological commitment. or any other motivation -- is that it is a more or less unified geographical area that commands the continuous institutionalised loyalty and commitment of its citizens over and above their fealty to a particular monarch or dynasty. It has therefore a considerably greater degree of continuity than old-fashioned monarchic states, and this in turn has permitted superior political and economic evolution.

The stability or otherwise of a nation-state is not really affected by its ethnic or linguistic homogeneity. The Germans have arguably been among the most intensely nationalistic people in Europe; yet German ethnicity is quite happily divided between the three state entities of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Pakistan's giant northern and eastern neighbours, China and India, despite their enormous vertical and horizontal diversities and competing consciousnesses, remain quite stable. They are there as facts of geography, as durable as other features of our planet.

China has been involved in a massive modernization of its military capabilities - with an eye on immense US military spending

And that is precisely the point. A nation-state, whatever narrative is chosen to justify its existence, is a piece of geography -- a militarily defensible and economically unified portion of the planet. This is as true for Pakistan as for any other nation-state. It also follows that a nation state needs to be militarily strong in order to maintain the defence and economic well-being of its citizens.

Philip Bobbitt's outstanding work The Shield of Achilles sees the state as primarily a military construct. Bobbitt describes the interplay, over the last six centuries, of war, jurisprudence and the reshaping of states. He posits a militarily determined progression through the princely state, the kingly state, and the nation-state, Bobbitt is also interested in what lies beyond the nation-state.

The world is at a pivotal point, argues Bobbitt, at which the nation-state, developed over six centuries as the optimal institution for waging war and organising peace, is becoming an anachronism. The themes today are complementary economies and free trade, growing freer still as initiatives like the Chinese Belt and Road dilute the monopoly of sea-going trade routes. And these developments are incompatible with the rigid borders and military preoccupations of the nation state.

This brings me to my next point. This essay began with the assertion that we humans are an aggressive species, to whom warfare comes instinctively and naturally. As Toynbee says, the pages of peace are the blank pages in our history books - blank, because uninteresting, and anyhow few and far between. It is warriors whom we admire and who define our identities and our institutions. But - and this is the point - times and technologies change. Unlike the wars of the past, the consequences of modern warfare are horrendous in the extreme. Picture what has only recently been happening in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen; think of the irrecoverable devastation that has been visited across those lands. Think of the economies, roads, factories, homes, lives destroyed. Consider the ranks of the jobless, the homeless, the destitute, and the endless streams of refugees who have lost everything. Picture the children orphaned, killed, maimed, traumatised. Again and again, writers and commentators have decried the senseless destruction caused by warfare. Certainly, warfare is irrational, causing completely gratuitous destruction. And this is without even considering the apocalyptic horrors of nuclear war.

At the very least, as we in Pakistan are discovering, modern armies and weaponry are extremely expensive, requiring large portions of the nation's GNP to sustain. Even the mighty USSR crumbled, unable to support the military expenditure necessitated by its superpower status. Thus, war is clearly an economically senseless enterprise. If a nation must destroy its people's livelihoods and homes in order to defend them, what exactly is it supposed to be defending?

Here, then, is the dilemma. The nation state, with its military underpinning, is becoming a self-destructive anachronism, a fact that is underlined by the spawning of violent bigots like Modi, Trump, Putin, Netanyahu, and other such. But, so far, we know of no alternative to the nation-state. Modern warfare is massively destructive and, what is more, now offers the very real possibility of destroying the entire planet. But we know no other way of resolving our differences.

Where do we go from here?
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Publication:Friday Times of Pakistan (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 1, 2019
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