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Friday, March 24, 2023

Superducks and underducks

By Eduardo GaleanoEVERY day we spend $2.2bn on killing each other. Global military spending in effect pays for huge hunting parties in which hunter and hunted are of the same species; the winner is whoever kills the biggest number of his peers. Think how all this money could better be spent to provide food, education and healthcare for deprived children worldwide.The first impression is that such vast expenditure on arms is grotesque. Does it appear more justified if we look closely at the context? The official line is that the wastage is essential to the global war on terror. Yet common sense suggests that terrorists are grateful for the many weapons in circulation and so much military action under way. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have greatly stimulated terrorism: you do not need to be a statistician to notice the increasing number of attacks. Wars are state terrorism, which feeds and is fed by private terrorism.Recent figures have shown signs of a recovery in the economy of the United States, with growth returning to a satisfactory level. Many experts agree that this growth would be much weaker without funds released in connection with the war in Iraq. Invading Mesopotamia was great news for the US economy. It was not such great news for those who died or their relations. Which makes more sense: the economic statistics or the voice of Spanish politician Julio Anguita, speaking as a grieving father, who said “a curse on this war and all wars” (1)?The five largest arms producers are the US, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France. They are also the countries with a veto in the United Nations Security Council. It insults common sense to make those who provide the world’s weapons the guarantors of world peace.These five countries are in charge. They run the International Monetary Fund and all (except China) are among the eight countries that take most key decisions at the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, where the right of veto exists but is never used. Surely it would be common sense for the struggle for world democracy to begin with the democratisation of international organisations. But common sense hardly has a chance to be heard, let alone vote.Many of the worst crimes and injustices on earth are carried out through these three international organisations: the IMF, World Bank and WTO. Their victims are the disappeared – not the people who vanished under military dictatorships but the things that have gone under democracy. Over the past few years, my country, Uruguay, has seen jobs, decent wages, pensions, factories, lands and even rivers disappear. The story is the same all over Latin America and in many other regions. We are even seeing our children disappear, reversing their forebears’ emigrant dreams and heading for Europe and elsewhere. Does common sense tell us that we have to endure avoidable suffering and accept these tragedies as the work of fate?Little by little, the world is getting less and less fair. True, the difference between a woman’s salary and that of a man is not quite the gap it once was. But at the current sluggish rate of progress, wage equality between men and women will not be reached for 475 years. Common sense does not advise us to wait for it to happen: as far as I know, women do not live that long.True education, based on common sense and leading to it, tells us we must fight to regain what has been taken from us. The Catalan bishop Pedro Casaldaliga (2) has worked for many years in the heart of the rainforest in Mato Grosso, one of the poorest states in Brazil. He says that it may be true that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day while if you teach him to fish you feed him for life; but there is no point teaching anyone to fish when the rivers have all been poisoned or sold.A circus trainer teaches bears to dance by hitting them on the neck with a spiked stick. If they dance correctly; the trainer stops hitting them and they get fed. If not, the torture continues, and the bears go back to their cages hungry. The bears dance for fear of blows and of going hungry. To the trainer, this is good sense. But do the bears see it that way?After the second hijacked plane of 9/11 hit the second tower of the World Trade Centre, it began to disintegrate; people rushed to the stairs to get out quickly. A Tannoy message ordered all workers to return to their desks. Workers had to use their common sense: no one who obeyed that order can have survived.To save ourselves, we must work together. Like ducks in the same covey. Collective flying works like this: a duck sets off and makes way for two others, who are then followed by another pair, whose energy inspires a fourth pair to join, and so on, so that the ducks fly in an elegant V formation. Each duck at some time flies both at the head of this V and at its tail. According to my friend Juan Diaz Bordenave (3), who is no palmipedologist but still knows what he is talking about, no duck ever felt like a superduck when it was heading the V nor like an underduck flying at the tail. At least ducks have kept their common sense.Note: Eduardo Galeano (above in the picture) is a Uruguayan writer and journalist. His (Memory of Fire trilogy (1985-89) was published in English by Quartet, London and WW Norton, New York. His most recent book published in English is Upside Down: a Primer for the Looking-glass World (Picador), New York, 2000.This article was first published in Le Monde Diplomatique.

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