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Book Review
Last Updated: 07/07/2008
Who benefits from global violence and war?
Jan Oberg

Key Words: capitalism, christian, corporations, foreign, fundamentalism, globalization, government, imperialism, killing, media


Marc Pilisuk with Jennifer Achord Rountree
Who benefits from global violence and war?
Uncovering a destructive system

Praeger Security International –
Series Contemporary Psychology
2008, 316 pp

If you want all the facts and a wealth of sources to back them up about the incredibly violent and resource-wasting system called market-cum-monopoly capitalism, this is the book you should plough through, require your students in political science and international relations to read and work to have translated to all the world languages.

Professor Emeritus Pilisuk and doctoral student Rountree leave no stone unturned in their empirical analysis of the US foreign policy system, global militarism, empire, lies and violence. The stockpiling of evidence against the world’s so-called leading democracy is devastating, their outline of the Western values on which it is based and the “delusional megalomania” we see in practise so crushing that it is difficult, if not impossible, to lay down this book without a deep sigh and a sense of hopelessness.

Their honest, meticulous research is the strength of this book – it’s criticism without really asking what we can do about it before we end up in global fascism is undoubtedly its main weakness.

The structure of the book is not that clear to this reviewer but each chapter makes eminent sense. Pilisuk and Rountree deal with the global war system, its mechanisms and costs; with the hidden structures of violence – hidden to both the media and to decision-makers themselves, they offer numerous case-studies, penetrate power networks, secret power societies, individual ties, the government-business-expert-military networks – or what I use to call the MIMAK, the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex, and they expose the proto-fascist and fundamentalist Christian orientations of U.S. foreign policy under George W. Bush as well as the role of propaganda, deception, manufacturing of consent and the willing megaphone called mainstream media and their ownership structures and embeddedness with power.

You get no new or grand theories, no clues to a more comprehensive understanding, you get a lot of well-researched facts and analyses, some new, some known among connoisseurs but indeed linked in new and comprehensive ways. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in international affairs and – hidden – global trends as well as in mechanisms that transforms democracy to authoritarianism.

While reading I was constantly reminded of Gandhi’s dictum that Western democracy is little but diluted fascism. And you cannot but help ask yourself: How come that all this is freely available and printed in this book but NEVER makes it the headlines in Western mainstream press. The authors ask that and give some answers to which I shall return.

I would take issue with the title of the book. By and large it does not deal with violence and war globally, its focus is U.S. violence and war. There are no analyses of the roles of Russia, China, India, Japan, etc. in global structural and direct violence – and international organizations are treated cursorily. The title should have reflected that or it ought to be made explicit by the authors that what they are out to do is to analyse U.S.-based global violence, not the sum total of violence and war caused by the most violent and dominating states. Those who benefit are therefore also Americans, we hear nothing about Russian oligarchs, Saudi Arabian sheiks, or dictators here and there. In sum, this is not the total analysis you may expect, but be this as it may it is makes an extremely informative and rewarding reading.

The headline of the last 27 pages is Values and Habits That Maintain a Violent System. Personally, I found that the most engaging, perhaps because I have a fairly good sense of the facts and mechanisms of global violence displayed before this chapter. They start out this chapter by saying that “the thesis posed so far in this book is that military and economic violence and power in the global era is a reflection of the increasing concentration of wealth and power among a few dominant players and exclusion of others”. That is difficult to disagree with – and it is a thorough illustration of how democracy is being undermined systematically no matter how we prefer to define it. Pilisuk and Rountree here try to explain why “we” have let these powerful elites create a world that is more and more inhuman and dangerous – and that is a good question.

They mention the role of propaganda, the diminishing coverage in Western media of international affairs, and our remarkable lack of sense of history, and they list a series of Western domain assumptions and value priorities which, together, make up what they call the Western worldview. They mention how reality if not only socially constructed but also deliberately manipulated to serve these elite interests and how we all run on ‘metaphorical meanings. And they summarize it all with this very important statement that “the power of the core beliefs, however, does not reside in their popularity. Rather, it resides in the assumption, widely supported in the media, that they describe a historically inevitable path while providing advantages over life in countries that live by different assumptions.”

This superiority-driven set of assumptions, basic to imperialism and economic-military globalization but not to democracy and humanism, could have formed the basis of a more cosmological-philosophical or even existential discussion where psychological approaches and world order development could have been fruitfully merged and- perhaps – have yielded new insights. However, the authors have decided to stop exactly there with some comments about American greatness, exceptionalism and manifest destiny. It all makes good reading but it is less innovative than one would have wished after the long travel through the empirical parts.

On the three last pages we get some examples of why the authors somehow still see hope – examples of the new resistance, the global social movements, the fiasco for the U.S. elites and their world dominating project, etc. It’s all well and good. But it is a little like five drops of water in a limitless dessert…

I for one would have loved a stimulating exposé of how NON-violence has actually changed the world, how new theories and practices may give us at least some hope in the face of the colossus they have described. I am sure Pilisuk and Rountree could have done it – and I look forward to what I hope will be their next book on Who Benefits from Global Nonviolence and Peace – Imagining a New Peace System. It’s somehow the duty of a doctor to not only diagnose and prognose but also suggest cures. So too for psychologists in our seemingly doomed world.

Few books help us know so well what we are up against, and we must know the facts of the world to change, dialogue and confront. No matter how depressive.

Read this book and use its facts in your political struggle. And ask any media editor you know to put just a few of its facts on the front page tomorrow.

Jan Oberg is the co-founder and director of The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF). Dr Oberg is a former director of the Lund University Peace Research Institute (LUPRI); former secretary-general of the Danish Peace Foundation; and a former member of the Danish government's Committee on security and disarmament. Many more of his articles and commentary are available at www.transnational.org.


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