Inarguably, an important part of the study of war is why war in the first place. To this, many explanations have been given over the centuries: religion, power, competition for scarce resources, some inclination to war that is supposedly innate to mankind’s psyche. Yet, beneath all of these lie one common thread: the desire for wealth. To wit: war is almost always a result of the friction between the longing of those who do not have wealth to acquire it, and the need of those who have it to both retain it, and acquire more.
It should be noted that by wealth, I do not necessarily mean the fabulous riches enjoyed by those at the top of the economic ladder, although that is indeed the motivation for some. For the common man – whether represented by the proletariat of old or the working classes of today – the acquisition of wealth merely represents the desire for that which all people should have: a minimum standard of living and a decent life that is free of famine, filth, and fear. For those who already have this wealth – the olden bourgeoisie and the modern middle class – it is the desire to retain this wealth at all costs that drives them. And for those who have attained the dream of perpetual wealth – the aristocrats of old and new – the desire is to enhance, protect, and perpetuate the power that comes with their great riches.
Beneath all of this, of course, lies the plight of the very poor, who are generally too overwhelmed and demoralized by the distress of constant survival to raise their heads in consideration of anything else, and for which history neither matters (to them), nor is written. Yet, they too play an important part in war, if only as cannon fodder for the struggle of those higher on the economic scale, and as a source of both anger from the lower classes to keep the aristocracy from going too far, and as a warning from the aristocracy to those in the middle that things can always get worse if they stop supporting the game. For this is the fundamental reason as to why no one can be neutral in war: the struggle for wealth involves us all – even those who have no hope of ever acquiring it – for the struggle for wealth has only two sides from which to choose: the side which has an interest in preserving the current rules of the economic game, and the side that wishes to change them. Even apathy, after all, is merely a choice to preserve the status quo by choosing to not fight against it.
When defined as such, therefore, it should come as no surprise that nearly every war that deserves the name can be outlined as a struggle between those who want to alter the contract, and those who want to preserve it: the war between the common laborer who is fighting for something to gain, and the masters of capital who have something to lose; the war between those who wish to climb the economic ladder, and those who wish to crystalize it; the war between those who wish to win (or at least preserve) a decent way of life, and those who wish to crush it.
Certainly every civil war follows this pattern. Even the American Civil War was, at its roots, merely about the distribution of economic power between the North and the South, although the fight to end slavery was, inarguably, a vitally important subtext to end the plight of those who were exploited as such: for what is slavery but the ultimate imposition of the will of the rich on the poor, with those in the middle the enablers? Yet even modern wars are defined by this struggle. Indeed, it would seem that, even today, all those in power have to do to stir the lower classes into battle is to make the case that “those others” are attempting to somehow attack their livelihoods, and they will nearly always, and quite predictably, come around.
Thus, if one understands the nature of this struggle, then it becomes quite a simple thing to see where the battle lines are really drawn, no matter the government’s story: merely follow the money. For capital is only loyal to itself, and loves and supports itself more than anything else: more than democracy, more than freedom, more than human rights, more than “good” vs. “evil,” indeed, more than life itself. After all, there were many American and European capitalists who, if not directly, then indirectly, even supported Nazi Germany so long as it continued to meet their business interests, and they only came around when they realized the threat that Hitler’s ambitions met for their own. And we continue to see this behavior today, with the manner by which current business interests have aligned themselves with China, for example, in order to bring to that country the wonders of “free market democracy” in the form of low-wage sweatshops, environmental exploitation, and the like. And there can be little doubt as to which side they will choose should the Chinese people begin to actively demand a larger share of the wealth.
For if one wishes to truly come to terms with why a government chooses to support one side or another on the battlefield, then follow the money. It will never lie.