War Is Just Another Form Of Class Conflict

A few weeks ago, the #WWIII was trending on Twitter, filling feeds across the world with nihilist memes about the possibility of conscription thanks to the assassination of Iranian major general, Qasem Soleimani. Although these memes were all varying degrees of hilarious and worrying, they reflect one of the biggest issues with worldwide conflict: it is just another form of class warfare.

From the catalyst of conflict to the ratification of a peace treaty, all stages of the war are venues for the upper class to manipulate the working class. In a tweet posted by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she stated, “The rich and powerful who open war escape the consequences of their decisions… It is often the vulnerable, the poor, & the working people — who had little to no say in the conflict – who pay the price.” And this rings true across all of human history.

World War I was caused by a series of complex alliances fuelled by nationalist and imperialist motivations and was eventually catalyzed by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. These causes are all primary concerns of the rich and powerful, and yet army recruitment posters primarily targeted the working class by painting war as an ‘adventure’ or an opportunity to finally leave one’s small town. Although some upper-classmen became military leaders, many had never seen the battlefield and as such, enacted strategies that treated poorer, frontline soldiers as cannon fodder while the major generals, captains, and colonels stayed in bunkers far from the no man’s land. The war resulted in an estimated 9.7 million military deaths and any surviving soldiers were plagued with ‘shellshock’ (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder) or life-altering injuries that prevented them from returning to work.

These same ideas are reflected in the more recent Vietnam War of the 1960s. U.S. intervention in Vietnam was arguably an act of neocolonialism that attempted to prevent the spread of communism. Given the hysteria that revolved around the alleged ‘domino effect of communism’, it could be argued that entry into this war was at least somewhat supported amongst the population. However, the use of conscription as a method of recruitment forced the poorer populations to participate, regardless of whether they supported President Johnson’s agenda. At the same time, the sons of the economic, professional, and political elite were generally spared the costs of the Vietnam War. This is shown in James Fallow’s 1975 article “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?” which also highlights that the upper-class draft evasion served to prolong the war, and in turn the exacerbate costs for the poorer working-class soldiers.

However, some may argue that most soldiers opt to fight and are passionate about the reasons for warfare: that war is not a class conflict but rather a fight fuelled by patriotism. It is said that countries cannot go to war unless the populace votes to do so, and as a result war is the choice of an entire country – not just the rich and powerful. But this is untrue, even in some of the most democratic countries in the world.

A landmark 2014 study conducted by Princeton professor, Martin Gilens, and North Western University professor, Benjamin I. Page, found that the preferences of the affluent classes had a much bigger impact on policy decisions than those of middle to lower class Americans. By surveying thousands of Americans on 1,779 different issues, they concluded that “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule – at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.” As such, this study reflects the idea that the more impoverished classes have little to no say on the instigation and continuation of war, even though they are the demographics on the front line.

Alarmingly, this is evident in the recent assassination of Soleimani and the consequences that may soon follow. President Trump, against the guidance of his advisors, decided to enact the most extreme solution to the perceived threat from Iran. In doing so, he has opened the possibility of another full-scale world war. A war that will fuel the production of nuclear missiles for decades to come, a war that only he and other elites asked for, a war that marches the impoverished to the front line for slaughter: a war that is fought for the rich but suffered by the poor.