Sociological Perspectives on the War in Ukraine…

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having profound negative implications for not only Ukrainians but also the populations of every European country, and Russia itself.

This post explores some of the sociological concepts we might use to better understand the war and its consequences….

Students need to be able to apply contemporary events to their answers in their exams where ever possible, and this event is the most recent and ‘highest consequence’ event since the Pandemic, so it’s worth thinking about how you can make it relevant.

Global Development

This conflict is immediately relevant to the War and Conflict topic. It reminds us that conflicts do not only happen in the developing world and it’s also a grim reminder of the extreme social and economic consequences of war.

The war has disrupted the majority of Ukraine’s businesses meaning it’s economic output is well down, including its wheat production – which has implications for the cost of basic food stuffs in other countries as wheat is one of Ukraine’s major exports.

Also the damage done to infrastructure in Ukraine is going to mean billions of pounds of rebuilding after the war is over, hopefully sooner rather than later!

Crime and Deviance

Under United Nations conventions Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal – one country isn’t supposed to invade another member country of the UN without the agreement of all the other nations, and Russia doesn’t have this consent in this case.

From a ‘human rights perspective’ this invasion is also a disaster – Russia is shelling civilian areas and killing children, and allegedly forcibly deporting prisoners of war back to Russia.

However the international community has been powerless to prevent this invasion, showing us that those Nation States with huge military power still have the capacity to do what they want.

European nations are generally in consensus about the immorality and illegality of the war, but that’s nominal (in name only) – but they aren’t prepared to go to war with Russia preferring ‘softer’ sanctions such as stopping buying Russian oil, but so far that is having limited affect.

The Family

The issue migration is relevant here. Consider the contrast between how the UK welcomed wealthy Russian Oligarchs since the collapse of the Soviet Union, without really asking any questions about how they accumulated their wealth or what links they may have had to an increasingly repressive regime under Putin. In sociological terms these are the ‘global elite’ – countries tend to try to attract these types of immigrant by offering favourable tax policies and turning a blind eye to any shady business and political connections they may have.

Contrast this to the difficulties so many Ukrainian refugees have faced trying to get into Britain despite the fact that there are people who have signed up to let them live in their houses. The Home Office seems to be deliberately delaying the issuing of visas – this is typical, countries tend not to welcome the poor and needy.

Other relevant posts

You might also like to read this post on the relationship between the war and globalisation.

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine – A Grim Reminder of the Limits of Globalisation?

The Russian State’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine is both a grim reminder of the power of nation states and local/ ethnic politics, but also an illustration of how even Russia isn’t immune from increasing globalisation. Maybe the later point offers us some hope of an early end to this war?

The very fact that Putin can amass an army of hundreds of thousands to invade a country the size of Ukraine reminds us that he military industrial basis of society has remained an important aspect of global power relations even in an age of increasing globalisation.

Russia has used its military force in Syria, Georgia, Crimea so far this century, all of which most of us in the West have managed to ignore because they are far enough away from Europe for us to not worry about, but Ukraine borders with Poland and Romania, and that makes it feel a lot closer to home.

We might like to think we’ve been progressing towards a more cosmopolitan society with more democracies opening up, and the European Union expanding, but Russia’s invasion of Ukrain maybe reminds us that there are limits to globalisation – Russia’s governance relies on a very different, autocratic model.

Something else to ask yourselves is how important the media and social media especially are in this conflict – Russians are hearing a very different story about the invasion of Ukrain – the state media there is spinning it as ‘liberation from a Nazi regime’ (despite the fact that the Ukrainian president is Jewish?) and censorship of free-media has increased in Russia since the invasion.

I’ve no idea what the average Russian individual thinks of this invasion BTW, but it seems that those who protest it are being arrested.

It is interesting to contrast Russia’s approach to increasing censorship to the way that the Ukrainian president and other celebrities are masterfully using the media (including social media) to gain support for the defence of their country, although as the Russian forces penetrate further into Ukraine it’s difficult to know how far these messages are being heard by the Ukrainian people.

A test of the type of Globalism we’re living in?

First off, the fact that Russia is still a member of the United Nations and that it has invaded Ukraine demonstrates that any notion of us living in age of what we might call ‘political gloabliastion’ is a joke – clearly we live in a segregated world. It also reminds of us how powerless the UN is!

NB the existence of NATO also shows us this – Putin is responding to what he says is a perceived threat of NATO expansion and NB given that American has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq this century, there is EVIDENCE that the West can be the aggressors too.

Russia is still as dependent on global trade and financial flows and the main thrust of Europe and America’s response to this unproved war has been to impose economic sanctions on Russia – preventing ordinary Russians access to financial services (Russians abroad have been unable to access some of their banking services), and cutting of trade in Russian oil.

Some Wester companies, such as Mcdonalds have also stopped operating in Russia.

However, will restricting economic globalisation be enough to bring an early end to this war?

The answer is probably not – there are plenty of other trading partners – Africa and China and India for example, and possibly in the short term all these sanctions are doing is hurting ordinary Russians rather than the Russian State, and whether that puts pressure on Putin is difficult to say when Putin has control of the Russian media.

At the end of the day I think out hopes rest on a combination of the power of decentralised forms of global social media to get the non-Russian version of the invasion of Ukraine out to ordinary Russians, to the mothers of the Russian solders dying in a war neither they nor the Ukrainians want, for example, and then we might start to see some sustainable grass-roots movements for change in Russia, I think that’s what it’s going to take.

This all just seems so pointless, dying over territory in the 21st century?

But this, it seems, is where we are at!

Not All Afghan Women Feel Oppressed by the Taliban…

If you want an alternative point of view on the Taliban’s take over of Afghanistan, you should try following @janeygak on twitter.

She is pro-Taliban, anti-American, anti-liberal, and very active on twitter – constantly putting out tweets and re-tweets, such as this, stating that she doesn’t care about inclusivity or diversity in the Taliban government…..

And this is her take on capital punishment, she supports it…

NB – the account is semi-anonymous, I’m going with this article from CNN as confirmation that this is a woman rather than a man.

Either way, whatever the gender, it’s a great source to see the perspective of the other – most definitely NOT the mainstream American liberal view of what’s happening in Afghanistan at the moment.

NB – I don’t endorse any of her views, or those she retweets, this is strictly in the interests of giving some exposure to, a voice to someone actually inside Afghanistan, and it should help bust a few myths about how the ‘oppression of women’ works in Afghanistan.

This particular woman certainly isn’t oppressed.

NB – she’s also a bit fan of Bitcoin, in fact she provides a link to her Bitcoin wallet in her profile, and the reason she supports this cryptocurrency is because it’s a means whereby countries such as Afghanistan can break their dependence on US Aid and the US dollar more generally.

There’s a lot of commentary on how the Western media misreport what’s going on in Afghanistan, this is kind of like the modern day version/ interpretation of Neo-Marxist views of the media, but coming from an Islamist perspective.

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The Role of Developed Countries in War and Conflict

A summary of Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and David Harvey’s views on mainly American militarism

Developed countries spend a lot more on their armed forces than developing countries, and the USA spends more than the next nine biggest spenders combined.

Many developed countries have full time standing armies, navies and air forces and some have nuclear arsenals, all of which need paying and equipping, which in turn means research and development budgets into the latest military technologies.

This high level of military expenditure is typically justified on the basis that it is necessary to ensure ‘Peace and Security’ both at home and abroad, and since the end of World War II developed countries have frequently intervened in poorer countries abroad by arguing that force is sometimes necessary to bring about a more orderly or stable society.

The recent full-scale wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were justified as necessary to root out the terrorist forces responsible for the 11 September 2001 ‘terrorist’ attacks on the United States, and today the ‘War On Terror’ continues, having largely shifted to now take the form of a ‘Drone War’ against suspected terrorists, which is occurring in numerous developing countries, but most notably Pakistan. 

The USA and its allies continue to justify a high level of military expenditure and the continued use of force on the basis that it is necessary to ensure peace and security both at home and abroad. 

There are, however, a number of radical theorists that argue this is a lie. Below we look at three academics associated with Dependency Theory tradition who argue that the West actually uses military force abroad in order to get rid of peaceful put anti-American governments, to secure oil resources (Americans do like their cars!) and to make money: there’s nothing like a war to generate a profit!

Noam Chomsky: The USA as Rogue State

According to Noam Chomsky (2004) the USA has used military force or funded the use of military force in over 50 countries since the end of World War Two.   The USA has over 1000 military bases worldwide, and is far the biggest aggressor of the last half a century.

Sometimes it has even used its military power to overthrow democratically elected governments that do not support American Interests.   Chomsky points out that if America really wanted to support freedom and democracy around the globe, then it would, by now, have tackled the oppressive communist regime in North Korea, and it probably wouldn’t do business with countries such as Saudi Arabia and China which have dubious records where human rights are concerned.  

Noam Chomsky’s view is backed up by John Pilger’s documentary ‘The War Against Democracy’ in which he points out that the use of military force against foreign governments that do not support American interests has formed the backbone of America’s foreign policy since the end of world war two.   Afghanistan and Iraq are just the last two in a very long list of countries that the United States has used organised state violence against.  

List of Countries Bombed by the USA since WW II  

  • China 1945-46
  • Korea 1950-53
  • China 1950-53
  • Guatemala 1954
  • Indonesia 1958
  • Cuba 1959-60
  • Guatemala 1960
  • Belgian Congo 1964
  • Guatemala 1964
  • Dominican Republic 1965
  • Peru 1965
  • Laos 1964-73
  • Vietnam 1961-73
  • Cambodia 1969-70
  • Guatemala 1967-69
  • Lebanon 1982-84
  • Grenada 1983-84
  • Libya 1986
  • El Salvador 1981-92
  • Nicaragua 1981-90
  • Iran 1987-88
  • Libya 1989
  • Panama 1989-90
  • Iraq 1991
  • Kuwait 1991
  • Somalia 1992-94
  • Bosnia 1995
  • Iran 1998
  • Sudan 1998
  • Afghanistan 1998
  • Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999
  • Afghanistan 2001
  • Libya 2011

Video – Noam Chomsky : The United States is the World’s Biggest Terrorist

David Harvey: The War on Iraq was ‘All about Oil’

The contemporary Marxist Geographer David Harvey (2005) has taken the above even further. Harvey argues that the Iraq War was really ‘all about oil’. He points out that the continued global economic and military superiority of the USA is dependent on securing for the future a reliable supply of oil, most of which lies in the Middle East. According to Harvey, there is documented evidence that members of George Bushes’ cabinet expressed a desire to increase US influence in the Middle East for precisely this reason. In this context, 9/11 and the linking of Iraq with the threat of terrorism provided a legitimate reason for the USA to secure its interests in that region.

Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein goes even further arguing in‘The Shock Doctrine’ (2008) that the American government uses war to destroy infrastructure in developing nations so that American companies can make a profit out of rebuilding that infrastructure. To support this Klein points out that Dick Cheney, vice president of the United States when the US went to war with Iraq, was also CEO of a Corporation called Halliburton, a company which won $2 billion in contracts to rebuild Iraq after the war.

Sources/ Find out more…

Just so you’ve got the proper academic links to the books:

Noam Chomsky: Hegemony or Survival

Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine

David Harvey: The New Imperialism

Signposting and Related Posts

War and Conflict is taught as part of the second year sociology optional Global Development Module and related posts include:

Ongoing Wars and Conflicts in the World Today

The worst ongoing wars in 2021 are in Afghanistan, Yemen and Mexico….

It is sad to say, but there are currently ongoing wars or minor conflicts in around three dozen countries, most of them in the Middle East, North West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Wikipedia lists around 40 ongoing wars and conflicts with over 100 combat deaths in 2021 or 2022. NB Wikipedia is a useful starting point for this topic as it provides us with a statistical and historical overview which is relatively easy to understand, but keep in mind that you’ll need to verify sources and check up on how valid the data is!.

Map of Conflicts in the world today

See (1) below for source

Categorising Wars and Conflicts…

Wikipedia categorises ongoing conflicts as follows:

  • Major wars (dark red) with over 10 000 direct conflict deaths in the current or previous year – there are currently SIX of these (double the amount from a year ago) which are: the Afghanistan conflict, the Yemeni civil war, the Mexican drug war, the Myanmar internal struggle, the Ethiopian civil war and the Ukraine-Russian war.
  • Minor wars (red) with 1000 to 9999 deaths in the current or past year – there are around 12 of these.
  • Minor Conflicts (orange) with 100 to 999 deaths in the current or past year – around a further two dozen fall into this category.
  • They also list ‘minor skirmishes’ (yellow) which have resulted in 1 to 99 deaths.

A point of note is that the Mexican Drug War actually had the highest death toll in 2020 – with over 50 000 deaths, but it’s not classified as a ‘major war’ because most of those deaths are murders rather than as a result of direct armed conflict between the drugs gangs and the Mexican armed forces.

Examples of recent and ongoing conflicts (list taken from Wiki)

ConflictDeath TollYearsCombatantsCountries
Rwandan genocide800,000April–July 1994Hutu people vs. Tutsi RebelsRwanda
First Congo War250,000–800,0001996–1997Zaire and allies vs. AFDL and alliesCongo
Second Congo War2,500,000–5,400,0001998–2003See Second Congo WarCentral Africa
War on Terror272,000–1,260,0002001–presentAnti-Terrorist Forces vs. Terrorist groupsWorldwide
War in Afghanistan47,000–62,0002001–presentsee War in Afghanistan (2001–present)Afghanistan
Iraq War405,000–654,9652003–2011See Iraq WarIraq
War in Darfur300,000+2003–presentSRF and allies vs. Sudan and allies vs. UNAMIDSudan
Kivu Conflict100,000+2004–presentsee Kivu ConflictCongo
War in North-West Pakistan45,900–79,0002004–2017Pakistan, USA, and UK vs. Terrorist groupsPakistan
Mexican Drug War150,000–250,0002006–presentMexico vs. Drug cartelsMexico
Boko Haram insurgency51,567+2009–presentMultinational Joint Task Force vs. Boko HaramNigeria
Syrian Civil War387,000–593,000+2011–presentSyrian Arab Republic vs. Republic of Syria vs. ISIL vs. Syrian Democratic ForcesSyria
Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017)195,000–200,000+2014–2017Iraq and allies vs. ISILIraq
Yemeni Civil War233,000+2014–presentYemen’s Supreme Political Council vs. Hadi Government and Saudi-led CoalitionYemen
Russo-Ukrainian War40 000 – 100 0002014 – PresentUkraine (and allied support) and RussiaEurope
Ethiopian civil conflict300 000 – 500 0002018 – PresentEthiopia, Eritrea, SudanEast Africa

It would be worth spending some time exploring some of these conflicts to get a feel for their differences and similarities.

But even if you don’t do any ‘deeper digging’ just a quick skim through Wiki’s list of ongoing conflicts can be informative – it shows you that MOST contemporary high death toll conflicts occur in developing countries, mostly in the middle east and Sub-Saharan Africa, and it also shows you just you that some countries have suffered ongoing or successive conflicts for several years – we see this in the Congo, and in Iraq and Syria.

Wikipedia also looks at conflict deaths by country from 2016 to 2020 – Mexico tops the list in 2020, and this along with Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Nigeria have had particularly high levels of conflict deaths over the past 5 years.

The Russian-Ukraine Conflict in Perspective

So far in 2022 the Russia-Ukraine conflict has the most cumulative fatalities, just for 2022, but in the grand scheme of things the total death toll is relatively small compared to some of the other ongoing conflicts (sad to say).

Of course we hear a lot about this particular conflict because it is closer to home and because, geopolitically it involves Russia invading Europe, so the rest of us in Europe will feel the impact of it more (the effect on increasing energy prices for example, although IMO that’s got more to do with the failures of neoliberalism rather than the war).

There are many other global conflicts with higher death tolls overall, but we just don’t hear about these because they are further away and they have less impact.

Signposting and related posts

This post has been written mainly for students studying A-level sociology (AQA focus).

War and Conflict is a topic within the optional second year Global Development Module.

Other related posts you should read alongside this one include:

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Sources/ find out more

(1) Nice info map graphic – By Futuretrillionaire, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22118731

America’s New Space Force

Despite being a third world country, as  judged many and varied social indicators of development, America is set to spend $8 billion on a new ‘space force‘ over the next 5 years.

China and Russia are currently competitors for military advantage in space, and it seems this has got America worried. In 2007 China successfully shot down one of its old weather satellites, orbiting 500 miles above the planet. In 2015, Russia launched a successful test of an anti-satellite missile.

Approximately 1800 active satellites currently orbit earth, half of them sent up by America, are vital to many of our day to day activities. We rely on satellites for the following:

  • Anything using GPS positioning for navigation – which includes various civil and military organisations
  • Financial markets depend on them for super-sensitive time-synchronisation
  • Weather forecasting
  • Traffic lights
  • Various mobile phone applications.
  • Some television and video conferencing.

It would seem that satellites have somehow become the ‘foundation’ of our daily postmodern, globally networked lives.

What might space war look like…

Besides firing missiles into space, there are other options: lasers could be used to blind or dazzle satellites in order to disrupt their functionality, or cyber attacks could be ‘launched’ to hack into them.

As with most things warfare, it seems that the USA is already years ahead of its competitors. The USA first launched a successful strike against an obsolete satellite in the mid 1980s, and they are already ‘hardening’ existing satellites against attack – by positioning redundant satellites to act as back ups, for example, and they are looking into giving them their own defensive capabilities.

What are the possible consequences of Space War?

If there was an all-out space war, it could create a debris-cloud which would render space unusable for future generations, however, if global relations deteriorated to this point, we’d probably be more worried about the radiation sickness from the previously deployed nukes!

Relevance of this to A-level sociology…

Quite a useful example of the continued power of the Nation State in a global age…. seriously, how many nations have the power to shoot down satellites…. really just a handful, and no other body besides them!

Sources/ Find out More

The Week, 25 August 2018.

Comparing Military Blogs and Civil War Letters

This post outlines an interesting comparative research study of secondary documents (‘private’ letters and a more public blog) which could be used to get students thinking about the usefulness of such sources in social research.

I’ve taken the summary below straight from Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods:

It is tempting to think that the century and a half that separates a solider writing a military blogs and the letters and diary of a solider in the American civil war will be far apart in tone and content.

Shapiro and Humphreys (2013) compare the military blog of ‘Dadmanly’, who was in the US army for just over four years beginning in August 2004 and who served in Iraq for 18 months, with the letters and diaries of ‘Charlie Mac’, who joined the Union army in 1862, whose writings continued until 1865.

Dadmanly’s blog is looking like a bit of a historical artefact already. with its last update in 2012, but he did make some contributions to the more recent ‘blog of war’ book, which brings together different bloggers from the front-line of war.

There are clear differences between them:

  • Dadmanly wrote for a general audience the vast majority of whom he would never know
  • Charlie Mac wrote primarily for his large family, although he seems to have anticipated that that they would passed around to others, as they have a tone which implies they will have a more general readership than just his close family.

However, there are also various common elements:

  • Both writers show a desire to reassure family and friends about their safety and well-being.
  • Both expressed opinions about the progress of the war, and offered political commentary on them;
  • both wrote in large part to maintain contact with their families during the wars,
  • and the writing was therapeutic for both of them.

Shapiro and Humphries conclude that this comparison is significant because it shows that changes in communications technologies do not necessarily result in changes in the nature of the content of communication.

one question you might like to consider is whether Dadmanly’s blog is any less valid as a source of information about war than Charlie Mac’s letters?

 (Source: Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods)

America’s War in Yemen

Given the correlation between Peacefulness and economic and social development, I’d say there’s a strong argument that the level of peacefulness in a country is one of the most valid indicators of that country’s level of development; it’s also important for the potential of other countries to develop further, given that violence in one country can so often retard development in other countries.

Unfortunately for America, it doesn’t do well on measures of peacefulness. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI), it ranks a dismal 114th out of 163 countries, down 8 places from the previous year, and bucking the general trend which is for more wealthier countries to be more peaceful (Scandinavia + Canada are towards the top!)

The Global Peace Index includes several indicators to establish its rankings, and so there are many reasons for America’s low peacefulness (and high violence) ranking – the high homicide rate being linked to the national addiction to guns, and neither does its high military and nuclear expenditure, or its involvement in drone-killings abroad.

One recent event, which won’t have been included in the 2017 GPI data, is America’s enhanced role in Saudi Arabia’s current war in Yemen – Following Donald Trump’s recent state visit to Saudi Arabia, The United States is set to become more complicit in this war. Saudi Arabia ranks 132nd on the GPI, Yemen 4th from bottom at 159th.

Amnesty International calls the conflict in Yemen the ‘forgotten war’ – it’s basically a conflict involving one group of Yemenis known as the Huthis who support the former Yemeni president, and a second group who, along with the Saudis, support the existing president. The conflict has been going on since 2015, with civilians caught in the middle.

Amnesty cites the following human toll of the conflict so far:

  • 4 600 Civilians have been killed, 8000 injured
  • 3 Million people have been displaced
  • 18.8 million people currently rely on humanitarian assistance

According to Time, Donald Trump recently agreed $110 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

‘The weapons sale was one of the largest in history, totalling close to $110 billion worth of tanks, artillery, radar systems, armoured personnel carriers, Blackhawk helicopters, ships, …Patriot missiles”

The $110 billion figure is almost certainly exaggerated, as it includes the renewal of some existing deals with are ongoing (so no new money changing hands), and some potential, yet to be agreed, future arms-deals, but whatever the exact figure there is sufficient evidence of closer war-links between America and Saudi Arabia:

According to Al-Jazeera, what we do know is that Trump is ramping up arms-sales to the Saudis:

‘Trump is green-lighting sales of precision-guided, air-to-ground missiles that Obama had withheld because of concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and civilian casualties. In addition, Trump is moving forward to replenish and expand the Saudi supply of battle tanks and armoured vehicles, replacing equipment damaged in the Yemen conflict. Separately, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon both announced major sales in connection with Trump’s trip but this seems more in the nature of a promise than a finished deal.”

Somewhat worryingly, is the rather blase attitude displayed to all this by the American politicians involved:

According to Time:

Policy advisor Jared Kushner high-fived National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster as he entered the room where they held talks with Saudi officials. Aide Gary Cohn told pool reporters the deals represented “a lot of money. Big dollars. Big dollars.”

According to Al Jazeera:

“The Saudis are in a war in Yemen and they need weapons. You want to win, you need weapons,” Senator John McCain, a Republican, told Al Jazeera. “We are in a war.”

More worringly still, according to the Ron Paul Liberty Report, the U.S. military is also directly involved in the Saudi – Yemen conflict through advising the Saudi’s on identifying and picking targets to bomb in Yemen and through fuelling Saudi war planes, (first few minutes in the clip below…)

Of course not everyone in America believes that the United States should be involved in the Saudi’s war against Yemen, so I’d hate to tar all Americans with the same violence-brush, but unfortunately for the rational peace lovers, the neoliberals in power are using the machinery of the America state (ironically for neoliberals) to escalate violence in the Middle East.

SO if  we are to include peacefulness in our assessment of how developed a country is, then on the most recent evidence of the Saudi arms deal, we’d have to conclude that the United States has regressed even further than the Global Peace Index suggests.

 

 

 

 

 

The US bombing of Afghanistan – A $16 million distraction from the harms of neoliberal policies at home?

America’s two latest attacks on Syria and Afghanisatan have been headline news in the last fortnight – in case you missed either of them…

In Syria – the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to damage and air base in response to the claimed use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians.

In Afghanistan they deployed the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb, at a cost of $16 million, to take out an ISIS stronghold.

The US claims the Syrian attack was because Assad crossed a line in using chemical weapons, and much of the news has focused on the declining relations with Russia (who support Assad), and they claimed the scale of second attack was to get into the underground bunkers used by ISIS, and here the news has focused on the message this sends to North Korea.

But why is the Trump administration playing ‘global policeman’ when just 6 months ago they campaigned on a ticket of focusing on domestic policy and making life better for ordinary America?

Noam Chomsky offers an interesting perspective and answer…

Noam Chomsky recently claimed that the Trump administration would need some kind of scapegoat or distraction to disguise the fact that their neoliberal policies are clearly in favour of big business and against the interests of the ordinary working class American, whose side Trump claimed to be on during the election campaign.

One good example of a recent neo-liberal policy which will make life worse for especially poorer working class Americans is the abolition of Obama’s anti wage-theft legislation this required a company to publish details of any violations of minimum wage or health and safety law that they’d made. The regulation forced businesses to disclose each time they broke a law in the past three years, including violations relating to civil rights, health and safety, and minimum wage and overtime violations.

There was also Trump’s recent attempt to repeal ‘Obamacare’ – which would have left 20 million more (poor) Americans without health insurance, but that was defeated, however, the defeat is an embarrassment which fuels the need for a distraction according to Chomsky.

So maybe there is some truth in this? Maybe now the real Trump is showing his colours and enacting policies which support big business and make life worse for the working man, what’s needed is a distraction – and what better than to bomb a few people, which will obviously just generate more problems abroad and more terrorist attacks on US citizens, possibly all ending up in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you like this sort of Chomskian analysis, you might also want to check out Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’, what’s going on here seems to be an evolution of what she argues too.

Causes and Consequences of The Civil War in Syria

Below are a few resources focusing on the causes and consequences of the ongoing (hopefully soon to be recent) civil war in Syria. (‘War and Conflict’ in relation to development is part of the A Level Sociology Global Development topic).

middle-eastThe causes of the civil war in Syria

This Guardian video does a reasonable job of explaining some of the causes of the Syrian Civil War in five minutes. NB it has its critics – see below!

The trigger event which caused the Civil War in Syria was when 1000s of people took the street in January 2011 to demand political reforms (e.g. elections) inspired by ‘The Arab Spring ‘ – a wave of violent and non-violent protests which had swept across many North African and Middle Eastern Countries in December – January 2012.

The protesters were protesting about the brutal rule of dictator president Assad who had ruled Syria in the interests of a relatively small elite since the year 2000, when he took over from his father, who had ruled the country since the 1970s, having modernised it while brutally repressing any dissent.

Assad’s response to the protests was to violently repress the initially non-violent protests by shooting over a hundred demonstrators. Over the coming months some of these armed themselves and formed small groups of rebels – the ensuing conflict between Assad’s security forces and the rebels resulted in 60 000 deaths in the first 18 months of the conflict.

The root of the conflict can be further traced back to the after math of World War I when France and Britain established the boarders of the Middle Eastern Countries, lumping many different ethnic groups and religions into Syria. The ethnic/ religious breakdown of Syria’s population is approximately 12% Alawites (President Assad’s ethnic group),8% Christians, 3% Shiites, and 74% Sunnis.

NB – The video has an equal amount of likes and dislikes – with many of the commentators pointing to the fact that the video misses out the role of the USA in causing conflict all across the middle east – commentators argue that the US has a long history of arming rebel groups in the Middle East as part of its foreign policy to deliberately destabilise the region.

 

Who is Fighting Who and Why?

This second video by VOX starts off by pointing out that the war in Syria is a mess, with four main groups involved:

  • The Assad/ government forces, backed by Russia and Iran,
  • The Rebels, backed by the Saudis, Turkey and the USA,
  • The Kurds, also backed by the USA
  • ISIS, which established a ‘Caliphate’ in an area which spread across the Syria-Iraq border.

This video focuses more on how the conflict has develop and points to the important fact that Syria has now become a ‘Proxy War’ in which other nation states are effectively fighting each other by funding different factions within the conflict, but without being directly involved themselves.

By 2013 money and troops were being funneled to the rebels by Sunni Muslims (e.g. the Saudis) While Iran (Shia Muslims) funneled money and troops to Assad.

In late 2013, the USA stepped into the war when Obama signed a secret deal for the CIA to train and equip the rebels.

In February 2014 ISIS emerges – which focuses on fighting the rebels and the Kurds, not Assad, and the US now has an ongoing dilemma which confuses matters and possibly prevents the US from taking effective action – who is it’s real enemy – ISIS or Assad?

Up until this time, Assad was losing ground to both the rebels and ISIS until September 2015 when Russia stepped in by bombing US backed rebels, and to date (December 2016) it seems like Assad is likely to defeat the rebel forces.

NB – As with the previous video, this also has its critics, so as with all sources, be skeptical of the validity!

Causes of the Civil War in Syria – A Summary 

To my mind, for the purposes of A level Sociology you can simplify the causes of this conflict thus:

  • Nasty bad men (dictators) in the middle east don’t allow people to vote and oppress anyone who opposes them.
  • People in many middle eastern countries want the right to vote and basically governments who don’t abuse their human rights.
  • They use social media to organise and publicise protests – which spread all over the middle east and quickly to Syria
  • The nasty dictator, Assad, wants to cling onto power so he kills hundreds of the protesters
  • Other nations have a role to play in perpetuating the crisis – Russia and Iran by funding Assad and the USA by funding the rebels.
  • NB – Don’t fall into the trap of seeing the USA as backing the ‘good guys’ and supporting democracy versus the bad Russians and crazy Muslims who want to keep the evil dictator Assad in place because that’s in their economic/ ideological interests – the USA has a history of backing ‘evil dictators’ itself, when they support US interests at least. 
  • You could further trace all of these problems back to the ethnic and religious divide/ tensions in Syria, which in turn was at least partially created by the French and British when they invented the country by drawing up artificial boarders after World War I.

The Consequences of the Civil War in Syria

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