When is a war not a war? Well, it depends on who is calling and firing the shots. As a young journalist, the first war I ever covered, albeit intermittently, was in Northern Ireland. I was told to refer to Operation Banner euphemistically as "The Troubles" because the UK government did not want the outside world to know that it was embroiled in a full-scale civil war.
What else would you call the 1969 deployment of the British Army in Northern Ireland? By the time I was sent to cover the tail end of the conflict over 3,500 people had been killed before the Good Friday, or Belfast, Agreement was signed in 1998. Of the dead, 1,441 were British soldiers and more than half were civilians, including 186 children. "The Troubles" turned out to be the longest continuous deployment in British military history involving more than 300,000 soldiers in all and, at the peak of this "non-war", around 21,000 British troops had their boots on the ground within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
When the end eventually came, women activists from across Northern Ireland's divide played a crucial role in securing the Good Friday Agreement and building a foundation of democracy, equality and respect which could ensure a lasting peace. Women, historically, have played major roles in bringing about an end to armed conflict, although some exceptions — in Britain's case, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stands out — have waged war and profited politically from war. In her case, it was the Falkland Conflict.
In 1982 Argentina invaded and occupied the British Overseas Territory of the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas, depending on your position on the issue) and seized the neighbouring island of South Georgia the following day. Neither Britain nor Argentina ever declared a state of war at any point, though, meaning that the conflict remained, officially at least, an "undeclared war"; journalists were briefed to call it a "conflict".
Fast forward forty years and, at the moment, Europe is on the verge of being dragged into another of America's never-ending, unwinnable conflicts, while the military-industrial complex and the defence industry that supplies it rub their hands with glee. I am talking about America's proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. This will probably get me labelled as an apologist for Vladimir Putin, but the truth is that I have no time for the psychotic Russian president who should never have invaded Ukraine, even if it does have right-wing tendencies. This is being portrayed as a local conflict, although a smirking Putin simply called his invasion "an operation". However, it is another world war in the making unless some common sense is applied, and quickly.
Meanwhile, most Western media, gullible politicians and avaricious arms dealers are circling the East European country like vultures. This is the "game of nations" at its worst, with blood-curdling roars from various NATO-backed foreign leaders goading and pushing Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to continue fighting, and feeding him an endless supply of deadly weapons in the process. His nightly broadcasts to his nation with his now trademark army fatigues are a far cry from his days as a comedian and bit-part actor.
Where do such deadly cheerleaders think this will all end? Statistics, logistics and common sense say that Ukraine cannot beat Russia, hopelessly outnumbered as it is in terms of weaponry and soldiers. Russia also knows that despite its brutal, scorched earth policy it could end up being bogged down in an unnecessary war for at least another ten years. It already has a hand in futile conflicts elsewhere, including Libya and Syria. And the spectre of nuclear weapons has already been raised.
I have walked through the killing fields of Palestine, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Libya. The list, sadly, is growing and each one has been given a different label but the end result is always the same: innocents are killed by bombs and bullets that do not distinguish between civilians or soldiers, children or adults, friends or foes. Death is death and war is war and only the winners — if anyone really wins in any war — get to decide what history will remember it as.
No one understood that war is futile like the Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish. He often used his Israeli-occupied homeland of Palestine as a metaphor for the carnage in the world today which usually ends in loss, dispossession, occupation, exile or death. His words have sustained generations of Arabs and others, so I'll end this sad observation on the futility of war with wise words from the late poet who understood the pain and loss it creates:
"The war will end. The leaders will shake hands. The old woman will keep waiting for her martyred son. That girl will wait for her beloved husband. And those children will wait for their heroic father. I don't know who sold our homeland. But I saw who paid the price."
Have our politicians not learnt anything from Europe's dreadful history of bellicose chauvinism?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.