To the Other Side of History

War is re-emerging in all our lives, like land reappearing from floodwaters. The lineaments are familiar, the paths laid out before us, the conditions under which we must move forward are those we always knew were there. We are all doing all we can to avoid thinking about this. For the forty years after the development of the H-Bomb we thought of war as a possible, but terminal, event. During the nineties it appeared absent, the Gulf War not withstanding. The absence of a Cold War and the take-off of an economic boom gave the appearance of a post-historical period in the West. The renewed visibility of economics and the conditions that support the way we live reminded us of matters material, before the planes going into the Towers caught and held our attention.

We are doing all we can to avoid thinking about what we must face in the coming years. This is understandable. For a fortunate minority in the West, the boom that followed the signing of GATT and establishment of the WTO has expanded the culture of image and consumption that was already a formidable force in the 1980s. The proliferation of such does not seem to make people happier — the contrary, if anything. It breeds an ennui expressed through a culture of irony, for the winners, and anomie, for the rest. Seinfeld and shockjocks, workouts and self-help, Prozac and gangs, are all variant responses to this, the best and worst of what a world up in the air can grasp.

But many understandably feel that it is better to tarry than to burn. The deep-seated desire to not think about the coming attack on Iraq, the chain reaction it may spark off, and the realignment of major powers over the next decades, comes from an awareness of what these wars would involve, and a reluctance to admit that we are not out the other side of History yet.

The articles in our expanded war section map out the terrain we are about to traverse. That it is a war for the control of the world’s oil supply, that it is bound up with the extension of global US-dominated markets, that it relies on a mythology of the US and the West and a predisposition to intervene would appear to be established beyond doubt to all but the most ideologically blinkered. But the wars — and peace — to come are about more than that. They are about making the journey from a world where technology and power exist each as expression of the other, to one in which a raised global consciousness begins to grasp the new relationship that humanity must have to both technology and power. There is no alternative to making this journey, and it necessarily leads through the parched lands of war — wars prevented as much as wars resisted. Whether we get to somewhere beyond it depends on the directions we take now.

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