Many military invasions and so-called “ideological wars” often have have commercial interests at their heart. Modern public opinion of the Iraq war, for example, held much tension over the oil that Iraq provides the Middle Eastern region.
Reviewing past conflicts for their business-oriented origins shows that money is often the primary driving factor. Even great wars have substantial financial components.
The American Civil War
Whereas slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation are commonly understood to be the root cause of the Civil War, the presence of strong commercial interests promoted both initial and sustained conflict. Cotton, the primary cash crop of the southern states, was driven by slave labor. This industry held great value to both southern states and their primary trade partner, Europe. Certain commercial interests in Europe answered the southern states’ calls for assistance by purchasing bonds, which could be redeemed for cotton at a later date.
Germany’s Invasion of Russia in World War II
The German war machine demanded commodities that central European couldn’t offer, such as high-yield grain fields or rich oil wells. This demand was caused by a German navy that was increasingly landlocked due to the massive British armada. Russia was seen as a high value target for both of these necessary items, and this prompted Germany to launch its first attack on Russian soil.
The American Revolution
History paints the battle between the British and the struggling 13 colonies within a patriotic light. The two sides not only held a strong division in governmental philosophy, however. The European viewpoint held that the fighting was over newly established trade routes that were highly profitable. The West Indies and East Indies were a veritable gold mine of trade and cash crops. Where land battles were rejoiced in the Americas, naval battles that secured these trade routes were seen as the true victories back in England.
The Iraq Invasion of Kuwait
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was regarded by the world as an attempt to gain access to Kuwait’s considerable oil resources. Iraq relayed that their reason for battle rested on slant-drilling operations being operated by Kuwait. Iraq claimed these practices were siphoning off oil from Iraq, which Iraq considered an act of war. Many regarded Iraq’s high amount of debt and high desire to increase global oil prices as the primary impetus.
British Takeover of India
The massive death toll at the Battle of Plassey belies a sense of duty to one’s country and political ideology. Yet, the truth is that one of history’s bloodiest conflicts was primarily fought for control of highly valuable trading routes and Indian goods. As the controlling regime of India, the Mughals, waned in power, England was quick to exert considerable military influence in the region. This pressure further destabilized the regime, which culminated in the massive Battle of Plassey. After their decisive victory, England was free to control trade of sought-after spices, gems and opium.
The “date that will live in infamy,” or attack on Pearl Harbor, was seen by Japan as an effective means of disabling US force in southeast Asia. This attack was meant to free trade routes that had been previously embargoed by US forces. Japanese forces hoped to secure many precious metals, oil and food crops out of the area when the US backed off. This commercially-driven attack sparked one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever seen.
Jeff Brady is a military historian and guest author at MilitaryEducation.org, where he has contributed guides to top-rated military degree programs online.