Greed, the Father of War
In the prologue of his novel The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins describes the storming of Seringapatam, which took place in 1799. During the battle, a British soldier named John Herncastle brutally murders three Indian men in order to confiscate a large, yellow diamond, called the Moonstone, which he coveted. I remember thinking at the time, “How can someone value a diamond over human lives?” Of course, that thought was immediately followed by the realization that most of the killing that happens, and has happened, in the world is due to greed – due to someone, or a group of people, believing that their personal comfort is more important than another person’s life or well-being. Humans are inherently selfish creatures, after all. Cartoonist Boardman Robinson depicted Greed and Pride as the father and mother of War (see picture above).
Collins’ account of Herncastle and the diamond is fictional, but the battles fought between the British and Indians were real. Why did the British take over so much of India in the first place? To protect the business interests of the East India Company. The economic stability for a British company was deemed more important than the self-determination and well-being of the local Indians. Of course, the British also saw themselves as a civilizational and missionary force in their colonies, but those were not the real reasons they were there. Were the Opium Wars fought in the interest of enhancing the well-being of East Asians?
The British are not the only culprits. Many other European countries colonized parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, wiping out or enslaving the original inhabitants, stealing land and resources, bringing diseases and foreign intoxicants, and overturning local leadership. Today, countries continue to fight each other over land and resources, especially oil. Do those in charge ever stop to think that the owners of these resources are also human beings, and that they deserve to live in safety and comfort?
In The Moonstone, several human lives are sacrificed for the sake of a diamond. In our times, blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, fund militants and utilize unpaid and/or forced labor. Child labor, unpaid or underpaid labor, and forced labor is an issue in many industries, including chocolate, cotton, clothing, and electronics. By buying chocolate without a Fairtrade label, I could be giving money to someone who beats underage workers who were tricked into taking a job on a cocoa farm, and who are now not allowed to leave. By choosing the cheaper chocolate, am I not placing my own comfort and enjoyment over the lives of others? Do I know who harvested the cotton for my clothes, or who stitched the fabric? Do I know where all the components of my computer came from?
With our modern lives, it is next to impossible to answer all these questions with certainty. The supply and production chains are too long and non-transparent. Most of us cannot imagine life without computers, mobile phones, airplanes, plastic, and sugar. Most of us do not know how to make our own clothes and, even if we did, we don’t know how to weave the fabric from ethically-sourced cotton. Because of this, we are all guilty.