At what cost do we sustain our lifestyles?

While playing another late night game of the wonderfully mind numbing Civilization 4, I learned that the Red China communist leader Mao Zedong once stated, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Even though it was said decades ago for an audience of communist party officials, this quote still holds a lot of relevance to today’s world.

The quote was Mao’s rationale for justifying military action to achieve political gain, but political gains for Mao weren’t about winning an ideological battle. It was a battle for power, control, resources and land. In reality, it was a justification to disguise the distasteful term of military conquest over the Chinese Nationalist Party with the more palatable concept of a political victory. Surprisingly, the 21st century version of political victory doesn’t seem too different from Mao’s.

In the time when Mao was at his peak, the Cold War was raging in every corner of the world, and it appeared that political gain was more about the spread of two different ideological principles. However, no one in the Western world was really concerned that the Communists held different values. They were concerned about the atomic bombs the Communists were ready to use to wipe out the West, and gaining the slightest military edge was all that mattered. A military struggle disguised by a battle between political ideologies—seem familiar?

So today, what is our current desire for military conquest that is disguised by a political battle of ideas? In this day and age, money is what rules the day, not the fear from nuclear holocaust. So the spread of democracy and the ideas of free market capitalism are all tied to gaining access to as many natural resources as humanly possible. The conquest of the rights to mine minerals and pump oil is the driving forces of today’s politics.

In many ways, international politics is a big game of Monopoly. The goal is to try and claim the rights to all the property on the board, slowly forcing all your opponents into positions of lesser and lesser power. It is not enough to ensure that other countries follow our model of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is also important that this country become a friendly trading partner. Actually, I take that back. In the case of countries like China and Saudi Arabia, we are so desperate for resources and markets that we don’t even obfuscate our true intentions.

Would it really be that big of a stretch to suggest that our foreign policy decisions are based on our needs for natural resources? Saying it at this point is almost cliché. If foreign policy was only relegated to the realm of negotiations behind the closed doors of government buildings, this might not be such a bad thing.

It’s a shame, however, that foreign policy has the tendency to lead to military deployment and the outbreak of war. If the events of Kuwait and the first Gulf War weren’t enough of an indication of the willingness to protect resource assets, the current chest beating with Iran is essentially a competition for the control of the Middle East and its oil fields.

If one ever turns on the cable news, the talk constantly turns to making sure our foreign policy anticipates a future war with China or Iran. It’s sad to think that many of us in this nation are seemingly so ready to go to war, considering its cost of human life.

It’s at this point that I sadly realize it is our inclination to take the life of a fellow human being for a barrel of oil, a bushel of fruit or a ton of steel. Sure, we all need to ensure that we maintain our quality of life, but does it make sense that our lifestyle standards are enforced by the military?

Do we need to spread out and consume more and more so that conflict becomes the only means of ensuring that our children have the shelter, food and clothing to comfortably survive? This game that we encourage our politicians to play destroys the lives of the sons and daughters of other mothers, just so that our own children may prosper. That’s pretty sick.

We’ve got smart people on this planet. We’ve got to figure out a way to make this foreign policy game of acquiring resources just a game. However that is accomplished, I honestly don’t care. As long as policies implemented by some countries foster a style of competition that can lead to war, I can guarantee global instability, and honestly, the prospect of continual global instability is a whole lot scarier than global warming, terrorist attacks, Mexican drug wars and bears.