“Violence” has often been invoked in the context of describing the dreaded side of wars and physical fights casting aside the violent repercussions and trauma that equally accounts for the act of violence. Term violence has been perceived in a very narrow light, an idea that hitherto was understood by a plain definition of physical force intended to cause damage. A force greatly accounted during events of a physical fight, assassination, riots and bloodbaths in war kind of situations. However, the other aspects of violence like psychological, emotional and cultural violence remain untouched.
Objectives, Tactics and Techniques used in the World War period
Wars and armed conflicts took place in the past for territorial gains, sometimes waged for gaining political control and other times it was a reaction to an attack. With the world wars, battlefields shifted beyond lands to sea and air. The advancement in technology paved the way for the production and use of more sophisticated weapons. Chemical weapons including phosgene, mustard gas and others came to be systematically used in this war. Technology being a brutal multiplier played a role in making these conflicts even more prominent and bloodier. Regarded as the deadliest military conflict in history in absolute terms of total casualties, World War II is viewed as one of the most important precursors in establishing United Nations as an international peacekeeping body to prevent such horrific episodes to occur in future. The gory nature of world wars, Nazi persecution of Jews, economic loss and the subsequent economic depression after both the wars acted as push factors for the same.
As Freud remarked in 1915, Modern Warfare had produced situations that nobody was prepared for, mutilated bodies, the killing of many young people, massive destruction of homes and hope. Shellshock, a term coined in World War I to describe a type of post-traumatic stress disorder, that many soldiers were afflicted with during the war. The bombing of cities and civilians although was unacceptable even back then, however, it did happen, as historical evidence corroborates to it. It was assumed that a war between major powers involved all resources of the society from making people as a participant, war workers to transport, engaging them indirectly in the war.
So, it was noted that if a state wanted to achieve a political end and to undermine the morale of the enemy, the bombing of cities was acceptable. However, this way of bombing and making enemy state listen did not always bring favourable results. Dropping of bombs in Vietnam by American Air Force comes out as a striking example when American assumed this would lead to a collapse of North Vietnam and give way to democracy had resulted in Vietnam becoming a communist state. This provided an instance of how presumptions of getting desired results do not always come as bringing benefits. At some occasions, unwelcome force is retaliated upon with even greater force because there it was a question of protecting the honour and defending one’s state from foreign intrusion.
Changing Face of War
Around 1960’s the US, Britain and the Soviet Union all had nuclear stockpiles large enough to carry out massive destruction. The existence of nuclear weapon shifted focus to different forms of conventional warfare. In the Post-Cold War era, the nature of warfare changed from outright declaration of war to a more diplomatic way of pushing one's geopolitical interest.
There is an increasing effort to replace soldiers with machines. Drones and automated weapon system are being deployed that can strike beyond the borders. Again human bombs which are set off in public places, attacking civilians, with the sole objective of suicide bombing and spreading terror are some of the common ways of how violence spreads in the contemporary world. As Vincent Bernard, Editor-in-chief, ICRC highlights, “The contrasting figures of the drone pilot and the suicide bomber undoubtedly represent the two ends of the spectrum of contemporary violence.”
As part of the military, young soldiers voluntarily enrolled themselves and fought battles under an oath of defending their nation. But, the transition of using humans as tools further took on to another level with the emergence of militancy. With the rise in militancy and more young people being brainwashed into joining the terror outfits in the recent past reflects how violence has channelised a new way in which humans are manipulated into acting as tools of destruction without the fear of the state. In most instances, cultural and commercial places are turned into scenes of war. The distorted notion of heroism in present day context is viewed in light of glorious victory and broadcasted through channels like YouTube. As one can recall how ISIS group wearing black masks released such videos of slashing their victims, thereby effectively using media channel to spread violence.
Cyberspace has become a new environment for hosting ill-defined battlefield with no borders. Foreign electoral intervention is the new way of intruding in other country’s internal affairs. Russia meddling with US elections in 2016 resulted in the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, to win the elections. It is called information warfare, strategic use of information to gain an advantage.
Social media is one such active tool wherein public space can be used to manipulate information in a way to give leverage to one political side and bring conflicts among voters on controversial topics. Information warfare has other extensions in the form of electronic warfare and cyber attacks, a common attempt to harm people by stealing or gaining unauthorised access to their personal and confidential details. The barbarity of conflicts and wars that were earlier confined to the battlefield and further reflected through literature are now communicated through different channels that makes terror and violence even more intimidating. The war front has now moved beyond borders.
Taking the same context of violence insinuating in contemporary times is the reference to the most dangerous weapon, nuclear weapon, a tool with the capacity to destroy the massive population. Hannah Arendt, a German-born philosopher and political theorist, asserted that human affairs are shaped by violence. She highlights the revolution in technology, a revolution in tool making that was marked in warfare. With these war-making industries and the growing need of acquiring such lethal weapons is what keeps the combat going. The glamour of soldiers fighting each other during wars has now been replaced with the activation of dangerous weapons, or at least a threat of doing the same is taken as a war call. The recent conflict between the US and North Korea on launching nuclear missiles and the significant focus that was given by news channels covering this issue sparked a row of a possibility that could lead to Third World War. Apart from this, use of suspected biological weapons during the Syrian conflict by the Syrian state as alleged by the US marks another way of how some conventional and non-conventional weapons can be as effective in causing destruction using unethical means.
Transition into Trade Wars and its impacts.
Trade wars have come to define new ways of one country competing and fighting against another country attempting to protect its industry. It involves placing high tariffs on the imports entering the country giving one’s domestic industry an advantage over its competitor. With the US and China entering a trade war after the US imposed aluminium and steel tariffs to protect American industries followed by other fields like aerospace, machinery etc. China in retaliation placed fees on a wide range of US products. This could lead to a global trade war, with the severe economic loss.
This economic conflict takes us to another dimension that often remains less addressed while invoking the idea of violence. The power of an economic sanction and its possible adverse effects especially on the civilians has been evident from past experiences. The US placing economic sanctions on Iran in 1984 over Iran’s nuclear ambitions is one of the most riveted examples. These sanctions categorised into tariffs, quotas, embargoes, non-tariff barriers, asset seizures are done with the objective of forcing a country to alter its behaviour. The immediate impact of these sanctions is that the country’s exports are not purchased abroad. The economy of the target country begins to witness a crippling effect. The target country’s suffering is primarily borne by its citizens. Unable to purchase goods resulting in economic loss through unemployment. Such situation if undressed can act as a breeding ground for extremism.
Violence at present times cannot be defined merely by physical action or force involved in committing a condemnable act with subsequent resulting physical damages. Wars that were earlier fought on lands have transcended its boundaries and transformed its nature receiving impetus through technology advancement. Possession and use of dangerous weapons, even though, prohibited on paper under international framework on conventional and non-conventional weapons are used by non-state actors. Given the direct repercussions are on innocents. The civilians often end up as collateral damage between two warring sides. The objective of defeating the enemy party has demanded price in the past and continued to do so even today. Earlier it was one state against another state, different countries involved in a war with each other and now it is state versus the non-state actors with different states making attempts to cooperate to combat the issue of terrorism.
This changing shape of wars has familiarised us with new notions of violence. By applying one’s political dominance to suppress the other party by imposing sanctions which in a way automatically opens the most systematic form of violence wherein the entire economy suffers and is brought on the verge to collapse. Using information technology to create conflicts is another such route where reliability on state administrative systems can be seriously questioned. Weaponising tools in the real world, as well as the virtual world, can prove to be lethal as long as it is intended to harm the other party. It is to identify the crux of any issue whether it is military, political or economic. Adopting and giving way to new forms of violence will never provide meaningful and long-term solutions. For immediate results, the overall situation looks better, but the real question remains, is it better? With the changing nature of war, Terrorism continues to dominate as major security concern globally because of more violence and unpredictability that comes along with it. An issue that remains a serious challenge for countries with diverse ideologies and interests to arrive at a joint meeting point with an effective solution.
- Arendt, Hannah. (2002). (Ed. Catherine Besteman). Reflections on Violence. Violence A Reader. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
- (2015). International Review of the Red Cross, Humanitarian debate: Law, policy, action. Retrieved from, https://www.icrc.org>irc_97_900-full
- Radcliffe, Brent. (14 October 2018). Investopedia. How Economic Sanctions work. Retrieved from, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/10/economic-sanctions.asp
- Swaine, Jon. (19 October 2018).The Guardian. US charges Russian woman with interfering in 2018 midterms. Retrieved from, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/19/russian-woman-charged-us-election-interference
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