We’ll Need More Than A Few Good Men

“You want the truth?” asks Colonel Jessop, head of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and stupendously played by Jack Nicholson, at the iconic climax of the film A Few Good Men. “You can’t handle the truth” (big spoilers coming fyi). He then proceeds to tell the film’s hero Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) why – because America needs the Marines and America needs these Marines to be brutally trained to obey orders and if it just so happens that one of these marines turns out to be a pretty poor soldier and is accidentally killed when some of his fellow Marines try and teach him a non-leathal lesson (oops, spoilers), then that’s probably a good thing for national defence because that Marine was weak anyway. “We live in a world that has walls,” says Jessop,  “And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.” Well perhaps this is the truth, at least for the likes of Colonel Jessop and those who like walls, but as Britain joins the bombing of Syria I don’t think this can be the only truth.

The truth is bigger than bombs and men with guns, as big as those things are, because the truth also concerns a globalised system of commerce, finance, fossil fuels, arms, the enforcement of debt, an addiction to consumerism and, amongst many other things, a totally unsustainable dependence on economic growth.  The truth, in other words, is bigger than the false choice of ‘to bomb or not to bomb’, that really isn’t the only question. Having said this I could now write another blog on why bombing Syria is a terrible idea – how innocent people will die in Syria due to British attacks just as innocent people have died in Sana’a, Khan Bani Saad and Paris, due to the attacks of ISIS. But in these brief paragraphs that’s not what I want to write about, what I want to write about is how, now more than ever, we’re going to need a lot of imagination.

That globalised system of commerce, finance, fossil fuels, arms, debt, consumerism and economic growth is going to need an exceptionally imaginative response because we’re tearing each other and the world apart trying to keep this system alive. For starters, this response will include the prevention of anti-democratic trade deals (Stop TTIP to begin with), ethical banking (Triodos perhaps), lots of renewable energy (ecotricity maybe), unlitaral demilitarisation (certainly CND, amongst others), something beyond debt based economics (David Graeber makes a good point or two), consuming less stuff (the Story of Stuff has some tips) but being happier for it (Action For Happiness is nice) and more than just absolute or relative decoupling between economic growth and resource usage but transcendence of the whole growth paradigm anyway (here’s Tim Jackson with plenty of great ideas about ensuring Prosperity Without Growth).

The point I’m trying to make is that so many of the answers we’re looking for, or at least the possibilities of answers, already exist and are already happening. The alternatives are many, diverse and dispersed, and I reckon every criticism we make against the system needs to be allied with a suggestion of how we can get closer to peace (just pick your favourite from the list above or go find a new one). So Colonel Jessop’s truth only applies if our priority is maintaining the supremacy and walls of the capitalist, military-industrial complex, whereas if we want something different then those walls will need to come tumbling down to let a much bigger truth in.

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